When punters arrive at a venue and take their seats, the first thing they see is the ring, but have you ever thought who puts the ring up, and the work that is involved?? The ring is up and ready a good hour before the audience arrives and the ring crew are rarely seen. When us wrestlers are on our way home, the ring crew are just starting to take the ring down, they are the hardest working team of the whole show, and get a poor wage to show for it.
The town hall in Kendal was a nightmare for the ring crew, the main hall was on the top floor and because of the length of the ring supports, they would not go in to the lift or go round the corners on the stairs, so the whole ring had to go round the back of the hall, go up the fire escape, with 2 men standing at the top, lowering a rope down and hauled every piece of iron up. It took about four hours to put the ring in place, which would normally take about 1 ½ hrs, and then of course, after the show had finished, the ring had to be lowered back down again. The poor ring crew would not get home until 3.30am and if they had another show the next day, they would get a few hours sleep and then set off again. It was a hard life, and I should know, as I have done it.
The ring crew worked very hard, but were not paid well, some of the young lads did it to serve their apprenticeship, and learn the wrestling game. If they went on a two weeks tour, they would get their bed and breakfast paid for on top of their wages, but to earn extra money, they would not book into a B&B, but save the money and sleep in the back of the ring van. They would bring sleeping bags with them, lay the carpet felt out in the back as a bed and kip down for the night. This was ok in the summer, but in the winter, the inside of the van was like a fridge. The ring crew and the wrestlers got on very well, after all they were part of the show. Infact when the ring was up, some of the wrestlers would coach the young lads in how to wrestle, so at least they would be getting something out of being ring crew. You would be surprised how many well known wrestlers started off that way. Me included.
There were some terrible rings that you had to work in, like Liverpool stadium, which was not a wrestling ring, but a big old boxing ring, which was too big and the floor was like concrete. If you ran from one corner post to the other, you would be out of breath. A wrestling ring is made so that there is a lot of give in it when you land, and absorbs a lot of force when you hit it. I think the best ring I ever worked in was made and erected by a fellow wrestler, Alan Miquet. Because Alan was a wrestler he knew what was needed in a ring construction. In the middle of the ring underneath, he had a massive spring to support the floor, so when you landed on the floor, say from a body slam, you would bounce about 3” off the canvas with a loud bang, the effect was great and the punters would let out a gasp think you were getting smashed up. However the ring was so good, you never got hurt and the all round show was a lot better. Which goes to proves, the better the ring, the better the show was.
Because good rings were very expensive, some promoters would have cheap ones made and paid lads off the street who knew nothing about wrestling or wrestling rings to put it up. I have worked in some of these where the top rope has snapped when I hit it, sending me crashing to the floor, or the boards breaking and my foot going through the canvas. I was wrestling once when the board broke in the middle of the ring, one of the crew was sent underneath to try and repair it while the bout was still going on. However, I didn’t know this and as I slammed my opponent, the middle of the ring collapsed, hitting the guy underneath, knocking him out. If they had been a good ring crew, they would have stopped the bout and repaired the broken board. Again a good ring and crew, make a show.
Myself and Ian St John (not the footballer) was the ring crew up in Scotland, the show was in Wick, which is right at the top of the country. The next show was at Tranmere Rovers social club, but we knew that if we left the next day from Wick, it would take us all the next day to drive down and it would be a rush to get the ring up in time. So we decided that we would drive through the night after we took the ring down at Wick. We went to a café for a bite to eat and then set off down south, taking our time and stopping at services for coffee to keep us awake. We arrived at the club and as the cleaners were already there, we decided to put the ring up. After a few hours it was all ready and we lay down some carpet felt and fell asleep. We were wakened hours later by the punters coming into the hall. Everyone had been looking for us, but we were curled up under the ring, snoring our heads off. We crawled out from under the ring to the amazement of the punters, and we just pretended that we were inspecting it, and then of course we were also wrestling at night, as well as taking the ring down afterwards. That was one of the longest and most tiring days I have ever had.