Belfast Bulls wrestling club opens with dreams of Olympic gold, reports Sinead McNicholl
Wrestling is one of the world's best sports for overall physical development. Requiring not only strength but stamina, balance, speed and technique, it teaches its pupils important life lessons like self-reliance and self-discipline.
Three wrestling clubs are currently in operation in the NI - the Knockagh club in Greenisland (known as The Raiders), the Larne Panthers and the Waterside Sharks. And NI can also boast a WWE wrestling superstar - one Dave Finlay, otherwise known as the 'The Celtic Bruiser'.
Now a different form of wrestling is coming to Belfast, thanks to national coach John O’Rawe. The former wrestling competitor has seized the opportunity to establish The Belfast Bulls, a freestyle wrestling club running from the Loughside Recreation Centre.
'I decided that I was going to start the club here, in Belfast,' confides O’Rawe. 'I love this sport and I want to see it everywhere in Northern Ireland. I want a centre of excellence for wrestling. I want to see it in schools and I want freestyle wrestling on the TV.'
Household names like The Rock, The Undertaker and Hulk Hogan may be known as professional wrestlers, but freestyle wrestling is where they started their careers. O’Rawe describes how freestyle wrestling differs to the professional scene.
'This is a real sport. The guys go out with the intention that they are going to win a match. They are not out there to jump over ropes, do somersaults and hit each other with chairs. They are using their techniques to gain and score points with the ultimate aim of getting a pin. There are a lot of rules such as no headlocks, chokeholds, pulling hair, no biting, punching or kicking.'
O’Rawe has been wrestling since the age of nine, catching the bug after watching professional British wrestlers compete on television. Arriving at his first lesson, he was surprised to find that freestyle wrestling didn't involve a ring.
'The disappointment didn’t last too long,' O’Rawe fondly recalls. 'I saw that the guys were still throwing each other around and I thought it was just fantastic. I thought "I’ll have a go at that".'
O'Rawe has competed in America and had the chance to go into the 'professional' world, but ultimately chose to stick at what he knows and loves best - freestyle. His experience in America and the influence of close friend Dave Finlay, are the driving forces behind O'Rawe's ambition to promote the sport in NI.
'The idea of being more competitive has come from America. I have brought their tactics with me and pass them on to every wrestler that I teach here. At the minute there isn’t enough wrestling in this country to raise the level, but by building more teams and developing more wrestlers in the country we can do that. Competing against each other will raise that level further.'
O'Rawe's students benefit not only from his enthusiasm, but his life experience in the sport. O'Rawe has competed in local, national and international competitions, including the Commonwealth Games.
'Walking around the stadium and hearing the crowds cheering was unbelievable. I have never had anything like that before. When you're in a tournament that size and knowing that you're going head-to-head against the world’s best, it is just awesome.
'I want these youngsters to go through the ranks like I did. I want them to go to the Irish, Northern Irish and British championships and pick up medals, to work their way through and get themselves up to international standard and get to the Commonwealth Games. And if we get them the experience they could even make it to the Olympics.'
And with freestyle wrestling on the calendar of events for the 2012 Olympic Games, O’Rawe’s dream could yet become a reality.
For those interested in the sport, it is important to start at the beginning. Like any sport, freestyle wrestling demands high levels of self-discipline, but O’Rawe also stresses that wrestling has to be fun.
'It would really mean something to me to see the kids learning a new move on the first night and walking away happy that they have learnt it. I have seen kids come in and their confidence has grown and seeing that is payment in itself.'
The Belfast Bulls train on Tuesdays at the Loughside Recreation Centre, Belfast, from 7 - 8.30pm.