***DISCLAIMER: this interview contains language that some may consider inappropriate***
Today we timorously knocked the door of The Asylum, the headquarters of Insane Championship Wrestling, to have a chat with one of the most relevant faces in the promotion that is bringing a revolution into professional wrestling, the mouthpiece (and arguably the leader) of the New Age Kliq, the man who holds the Square Go briefcase for the second year in a row after having taken it from the hands of Dickie Divers, the top heel in Scottish wrestling – although so many people love him… the one, the only CHRIS RENFREW, who also works on the booking side of the promotion.
WtW: Hi Chris. I won’t be asking you the usual questions, when and why you started training, because I’m sure the answer can be easily found on the internet.
CR: Yeah, that’s good.
WtW: One thing, though: is there any specific person you need to thank for who you are as a wrestler?
CR: It’s hard to pick just one, because obviously there’s people who helped me in different ways…
WtW: Mention as many as you like then.
CR: Yes, I’ve been around for so long, there’s different people who helped me on the way. If we speak about the early days it has to be Adam Shame, whom we now know as Coach Trip, and “Conscience” PJ Murphy.
Conscience was my first trainer: in 2004, when I started, he ran the SWA school I trained at, in Linwood near Paisley. He took me under his wing, he got me bookings down south, in Coventry, Middlesbrough and such, it was good to get that experience in my early days.
Adam nurtured the aggressive side of me, he immediately saw that there was something to work on there, he installed a lot of anger and aggression in me, in a good and positive way.
But the one person has to be Mark Dallas because he has created the platform to give the entire scene a voice. Everyone that has got a voice right now, everyone that is making a dent on the scene at the moment pretty much has done so on the back of ICW, or we’ve been the platform that allowed them to step up. If he had never decided to resurrect the product when he did…
And then, of course, there’s the New Age Kliq: BT Gunn, Stevie Boy and Kay Lee Ray; that’s more of a personal thing, they’ve been my friends for all my life, and I want to thank them. Especially when I was going through a darker stage, I was disillusioned with the whole thing – it was around 2008, 2009 – they were there. Your friends are those who stay with you through the bad times, not only the good times right? So I want to give them a shout.
WtW: Had you completely quit wrestling at the time?
CR: I didn’t really quit, but I had taken my foot off the gas. It was 2009, I was bored of wrestling, it wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore, it wasn’t fun, so I wasn’t looking for bookings, I didn’t train much, I wasn’t really active.
Then, in 2010, I decided I was going to call it a day, I was just… it wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore. Funny enough, my last booking was in ICW: it was a street fight. It was me, Wolfgang and BT Gunn against Mike Musso, Lionheart and Red Lightning.
Before the show Dallas told me: “You’re not gonna quit.” And I said “No, seriously, I’m not enjoying it anymore.” “But this is gonna be different”, he said. “We’re gonna be the fuckin’ best thing you have ever seen, this isn’t like anything else.” I was “Well, yeah, OK.”
Now we’re maybe a little accustomed to that style now, in this country, because we did so many arena-wide brawls, with weapons and all, but we hadn’t done it yet then, so I got a taste of the anarchy, I saw the crowd’s reaction, how the story developed.
After the match Dallas told me again: “You’re not gonna quit, are you? Do you want a booking in April?” And I went: “Yeah, cool.”
So I just stayed with ICW.
It’s only in the last couple of years I decided to get really active again, purely based on the fact that ICW kept me around.
I never quit, I was never officially gone for a while, I was just not very active for a long time, then ICW basically resurrected everything.
WtW: After that you were the fun-loving, slightly overweight babyface, despite a very aggressive style: you were pretty much the face of the company. Did you enjoy that?
CR: I loved it.
Mind, the character was based on one run-in. It was an ICW show I did in 2009, I came through the crowd to help BT Gunn who was getting beaten up. I didn’t want to come out of the crowd in my wrestling gear, why would someone be in the crowd in his wrestling gear? So I got out in my street clothes, took my t-shirt off and I started the good old Glasgow-style “I’ll rip your head off” patter. Dallas immediately said “I wanted a character like that, and you’re it: just be yourself”. At the time he didn’t really know me personally, not until the next year, when he realised that it really was just me, only louder.
Yeah, it was great. To be the most popular guy in something that was becoming the most popular thing in the business was obviously a great experience, a great buzz. Being in the category of “the face of the company” was a huge compliment, it was me, Jack Jester and the Bucky Boys who were considered the top good guys back then, the ones everyone would call “the ICW guys”.
During that timeframe I was having the time of my life, we had the feud with the Gold Label that was the one that essentially put us on the map… that was the greatest thing ever. When people are into what you are doing, no matter what side of the fence you are, it’s a great buzz.
I fitted the mould of what ICW was at the time: we were very rough, a lot rougher around the edges than now, we were a bit chubby and a bit drunk, we swore a little more, and I personified that. To be the guy who was considered, even for a short time, the personification of what the company meant, especially during the growing period, has been an honour.
WtW: Sure when I started going to the show you were one of the first people I started liking.
I always got compared to the Sandman, which I think was a bit unfair, because I never wrestled like him, I never had the same style, I wasn’t just swinging kendo sticks: it just happened that I had access to a kendo stick. I only used it for so long because the first one lasted forever, it just did not break. And it wasn’t even me who broke it, it was Mikey Whiplash on Jack Jester during their Last Man Standing match a couple of years ago – and then he got me a new one, which I broke. At that point I decided that it was dead as a gimmick. I mean, I do see where the Sandman thing came from, but I always wanted to be just a guy who was an ICW fan – only a bit tougher: your pal, but also your mad mental uncle or cousin, you know what I mean? I wanted to be a different guy.
Sometimes, when you watch wrestling posters, you only see washboard abs, nice haircuts, tight shorts… you’re not going to appeal to the general public like that, to the guy with a beer in his hand going out for a laugh. I wanted to be a guy who, when they saw me on a poster, would be considered a bit different. I wanted to be a guy from the streets who just happened to be able to wrestle, get me?
WtW: Then, at a certain point, you changed your gimmick and your style with that long feud against BT Gunn, that lasted the best part of a year.
CR: Talking about BT Gunn, I don’t think he did – or ever will – get the credit he deserves for what he has done for the company. I mean, if you create a list of the top five most high profile matches or feuds in ICW, there’s a good chance he’d make all five of them, or four anyway. The one with me, the one with Wolfgang, the one with the Gold Label, the one with Mikey Whiplash that’s happening right now… the same guy was in all of them.
WtW: That’s very true. It all started when he interrupted your title match against Red Lightning, didn’t it?
CR: Yes, he came in, first he nailed Red Lightning, and then he nailed me. Another thing he’s not credited for, the shock of that. That turn was big, people were chanting his name, it was his big return, and then he turned heel. I think it was September.
WtW: That show is not available online yet, is it?
CR: No, it isn’t. We need to put it out, part of the library is on DV8 tapes somewhere and we need to get it transferred, there’s a lot of good stuff around that hasn’t been seen.
The OffCom angle is also completely unavailable, that was the greatest angle no one remembers. Three months, three shows, and it went down great. They were so hated…
WtW: Wasn’t the OffCom Jamie Feerick and Scott Maverick, supported by Charles Boddington and Nikki Storm? Not the most threatening wrestlers around…
CR: No, but the characters, man…
WtW: By the way, will all the shows in the history of the company be available on ICW On Demand, sooner or later?
CR: I’d say so. Probably we’ll put a disclaimer ahead of the first few, you know. And we’ll need to edit some things. But yes, we plan to, eventually.
WtW: Let’s go back to the feud. During and after it, you went from being a chubby, funny babyface to being a lean, mean arsehole.
CR: Yes, I was, the evolution of my character to what it is now came later.
My feud with BT Gunn was one of the hottest feuds at the time, two guys who were in a way the representation of the company and had gone their separate ways.
I had felt the crowd changing, I knew the tide was turning before it actually did. It changed when Grado showed up, the fans weren’t so much into me anymore, into what I was doing. I had started going down the card, and I felt it was time for a change: my babyface run was coming to an end. I could grasp on it like so many people do, they grasp onto a spot because they want to get cheered – but I never understood that, I always wanted to be the best performer I could be, no matter what side of the fence I was on. The crowd will tell you what they want you to do. So, when the crowd starts moving away from you, you need to realise it’s time for a change and to evolve.
I wanted my story with BT Gunn to be something that never had a conclusion, do you know what I mean? It’s technically still going on. That’s what I always wanted. And I wanted it to be absolutely shocking. I had always in my mind that I wanted this thing with BT Gunn. You know, we never ever beat each other in ICW. We wrestled three times. The first one at Summerbam [in August 2011], and the Gold Label ruined it; then another one, and the referee pulled us apart and stopped the match; and then that one, the heel turn.
Obviously we had planned the big finish of the feud, but we didn’t know how big a reaction we’d get. Sure, it was a big turn, we were hoping for something big. I love the poetry of wrestling, everything has to make sense, to go full circle.
That feud was really a fun period, especially how we ended it without really ending it. I can pretty much guarantee that not a single person in that building had seen that finish coming, and I don’t think we’ve ever captured that same reaction. It was a loud silence. Obviously you can get a flat out silence because nobody gives a shit, but that silence was loud. It was the loudest silence I’ve ever seen us produce. I enjoy watching the faces in the crowd.
Some people thought Mark Dallas would turn… everybody was wondering what would happen, but nobody thought I’d be the guy.
I mean, the past years have really been monumental for me, I think I’m having the best run in my life, but that’s still one of the pinpoint moments of my career.
WtW: It definitely is one of the moments that defined me as a wrestling fan, on a level with Mick Foley falling from that cage and, when I was a child, Hulk Hogan bodyslamming André the Giant.
CR: That’s great.
This is what’s so good about ICW: emotions. To me, wrestling is… I mean, there are different ways to watch and enjoy wrestling, sometimes you want to watch an exhibition of great performers, Lucha Libre stuff, pure action, you just want to see people doing Moonsaults, reversals, not really caring about the story. Me, though, I’ve always been deeper into the drama, the stories.
The realest part of wrestling for me is how emotionally attached people can get, how much you can make someone forget about everything that’s real, allowing them to get lost in that moment in time, to really care about what’s happening. To me, that’s what wrestling is, and I think that’s what we created in ICW. Nowhere else on the planet right now we would have been able to pull off that story.
Obviously the WWE would have done a whole big presentation, but the crowd wouldn’t have cared so much, they wouldn’t have had that same emotional attachment.
Thinking about that right now gives me the chills, it was special.
WtW: I think it also happened exactly I the right moment, the company was growing, but most of us still knew you personally, at least by sight – so it had an even stronger effect. You drove that feud, with BT Gunn never talking. How had you planned it?
CR: Originally I had based it a lot on the feud between Bret and Owen Hart, where Bret was refusing to fight his brother. That was my angle, I refused to fight BT Gunn, and eventually it got to the point where Adam Shame cut a promo on me for the Square Go, using that as a catalyst. There I thought “Wait a minute. If he’s calling me out on it, the same guy who shat it from me one year ago, he’s saying that I’m a shell of my former self… what have I become?” That’s what I tried to use.
I always look at thing from the past, and if I like something I’ll try to take it and add a twist. I think we should always look back at history, at the greatest things that preceded us; take elements of them and then make them our own.
I liked to play that card, “I don’t want to fight you”, you know, because… why would you immediately just fight, why does it have to be so black and white? “You hit me now I fell out with you”: it never happens. Have you ever been at a bus stop with a friend who just took a swing at you, maybe because he’s drunk? You are heartbroken, you can’t get over it. It’s like “I don’t want to fight him, he’s my friend”. This added more depth.
This is it for today.
Next time we’ll keep talking about that epic feud – and we’ll discuss the NAK.