Thursday, June 26, 2014

Reference Points: Drew Gulak and The Lost Heroes Of British Wrestling

Like Drew Gulak? Then check out Billy Robinson and Jim Breaks
Photo Credit: Scott Finkelstein
If you're a fan of wrestling beyond the big box WWE model, you've either already heard, or are soon to hear, about Drew Gulak. He's going to be making his debut for perhaps the final level for indie guys, PWG. He's already done a great job through the Northeast rotating scenes of CZW, Beyond Wrestling, and the Chikara/Wrestling Is.... universe. Those 3 feds I mentioned? In no way similar. At all. And yet, Gulak is the highlight of pretty much every card he's on.

But as I watched him, I noticed something. And it's something you can notice about every top non-big box wrestler, although there are some wrestlers in those formats who you can see this with as well. You can see their influences, what type of wrestling and what style spoke to them enough that they added little bits and pieces of it to their style as they went along. (E.G. Davey Richards is doing Dynamite Kid cosplay to an almost uncomfortable degree, as the American Wolves are doing on a lesser scale with the British Bulldogs.)

The good wrestlers, though, show you those influences without beating you over the head with them. And the top-level guys, the creme de la creme as it were, show you those influences and make you want to run to your computer to see what they saw. Drew Gulak is exactly that guy. But before I link you to some of those matches I am talking about, allow me the chance to explain something about British wrestling.

Everyone knows about Johnny Saint. Some of this is because he appeared on one of the most acclaimed shows ever, the Michinoku Pro card These Days where he wrestled against Naohiro Hoshikawa. Some of this also probably comes because he's competed in America on multiple occasions, and is what people have come to think of when they think of British wrestling.

But what no one understands is that World of Sport is more than just Saint. That style lasted for so long because there were more guys in it than Saint, brilliant though he happens to be. And if you're watching Drew Gulak, and you want to see hints of what he does so well in other places, here's where you start.

Firstly, there's Billy Robinson. In the long history of Pro Wrestling, ever since it was first done in carnivals, there has always been a place in it for hard men. From Lou Thesz to Fit Finlay, with stops off in between, there has always been a spot for the guys who were supposed to make sure that everyone played by the code, understood the code, and didn't dare think about breaking the code. And of those hard men, I find it difficult to believe that there are very many who were harder and tougher than Billy Robinson. But he wasn't just a shooter. In a lot of ways, he is a wrestler's wrestler. He's the guy you watch and see so many little things, so many refined fundamentals, that watching him is addicting. I included one of my favorite matches of his, against another guy who (spoiler alert) you will be seeing again in another edition of this feature.

The second guy I want to talk to you about is perhaps, judging for era and whatnot, the greatest non-southern heel of the 70's and early 80's. (Keep in mind when I say this that southern heels were so utterly reviled that riots routinely occurred. Not Twitter riots, either. Actual, people throwing bodily fluids and rushing the ring riots. God, I wish we had that level of heat now.) He also developed, and patented, one of the coolest submissions ever seen.

Jim Breaks is more than just "the guy who got crazy heat", though. He's also one of the best British wrestlers ever. It's not his fault that he just has a real punchable face. He was as good an example of that champion who always finds a way to win and keep his title.

So there you have it. if you enjoy Drew Gulak, watch some Jim Breaks and Billy Robinson. it will make your wrestling world a better place.