From Premier League player to wrestler, Grant Holt on his love of grappling, meeting Billy Gunn and WWE
Grant Holt is a man who scored 190 goals during his professional career with 26 of them coming in the Premier League.
He is also a man that can get in a wrestling ring and put on a decent match – something that is far, far harder than it sounds.
In May 2018, following the conclusion of his football career, Holt signed with WAW, a Norfolk-based wrestling promotion run by the legendary Knight family from which the first-ever NXT Women’s champion, Paige, hails.
As a lifelong fan, Holt decided to give pro wrestling a try and began building up to his in-ring debut at WAW’s Fightmare event.
Speaking to talkSPORT, Holt explained how he got involved with wrestling.
“I got approached by WAW to do a charity event and they asked if I’d be interested in going in and doing it, have a bit of swansong at the end and join in,” he said.
“I basically said yes because that’s the kind of guy I am; if someone gives me a challenge I’ll just do it. And it was for charity so why not go and do it? That’s how it started.
“I had to pull out of the first one I agreed to do because it clashed with work and I was still playing at the time. So I said ‘look, I’m going to have to cancel’ which is not really like me.
“So I said I’ll tell you what I’m going to do: ‘next year I’m definitely retiring. If you put on another show, I’ll do it.’ That was it. I retired a little bit earlier than I hoped and then I was it.”
The former Norwich man quickly caught the wrestling bug and wanted to do it properly.
In fact, he thinks he would have skipped football altogether if he could have trained to be a wrestler as a kid.
“It started off like, I’ll just do it,” Holt said.
“Then I thought if I’m going to a show, why don’t I do it properly? Why don’t I do it properly for the year and build up to the show. What I didn’t want to be is someone who stands on the apron, comes in, kicks someone and they say ‘oh yeah, that footballer.’ I didn’t want to be that.
“I wanted to do it properly, know the holds, the ins and outs. I wanted to give it the deserved effort. If I’d have known what I do now and people could have taught me how to wrestle when I was a kid, I would have been all over it. It just wasn’t there where I was.”
At the event, WWE legend Mick Foley was involved along with other former stars Billy Gunn and Hardcore Holly, to name a few.
“It was wild. I remember picking up Billy Gunn from the airport, one of my idols from when I was a kid, and he’s lying sleeping in my car with a WWE Hall of Fame ring,” Holt recalled.
“And what a great guy he was – absolutely massive too! You don’t realise. Mick Foley was another great guy.”
The age old issue with wrestling to most people is the idea that it is fake.
It’s not fake – it’s scripted. And there is a huge difference in that.
Holt says he was a proud wrestling fan during his playing days and thinks most people don’t realise what a taxing, hard profession wrestling is.
“I had it last week. Some guy went ‘ah, he’s the wrestler. You do know it’s all fake!’ etc, etc,” Holt started.
“I said ‘I tell ya what, here’s what we’re going to do: You stand over there and I’m going to walk over there and then don’t move. I’m going to hit you with a closeline from that distance and then you tell me if it hurts or not.
“And he’s like ‘oh no, no’ – I said ‘No, you’re telling me it’s fake. You stay there and let this 16 stone man run full length at you with a clothesline and see how you get on.’ And that’s the thing, these people don’t realise these boys finish wrestling and their bodies are in bits.”
WWE have their own UK arm these days with their NXT UK brand (which airs on BT Sport and the WWE Network) and they have only two Performance Centers in the world – one in Orlando and one in London.
Has Holt ever had any talks with WWE about a big stage appearance?
“I was meant to go to the Performance Center in London and then the one in Orlando when I was in Tampa, but both times it didn’t end up happening. Just on a visiting type deal, but it still would have been cool,” he said.
“I’d love to do it. I enjoyed it, it’s a real good, fun thing for me and as I say, I never wanted to just go in there because of my name and where it’s from, I wanted to make sure that if I did it was because I’d done everything around the circuit.
“I don’t think it was right to just get bumped up and you should do things properly. You never know, I might just make the Royal Rumble next year…”
During his time with WAW, Holt also trained with another professional sportsman who was looking to transition into wrestling – Anthony Ogogo.
The Olympic bronze medallist is now thriving in AEW and Holt is not surprised at all.
“Anthony was another one, when he first started training at WAW he was like ‘I want to know the ins and outs’,” he said.
“The first one he came and learned the basics and then he learned a bit more and then he was in the ring with Ricky Knight – who is fantastic, he’ll probably be the next one who is going to go down the WWE/AEW route, he’s that good.
“Anthony just wanted to work hard, do the right things, make sure he could do it justice and look at him now. Fair play to him, he’s smashing it. Literally [laughs]. That lad has got it.”
So have we seen the last of Holt in a wrestling ring? He may be 40 years old, but the former striker says he plans to wrestle in the future and hopefully for charity.
He added: “I’m going to wrestle more when things open up again. I’ve been asked to do loads since [my first stint with WAW], but like everything, wrestling has struggled in the UK during this lockdown stuff.
“I did some events with Anthony Ogogo while training with the Knight family. COVID has just got in the way, but I will be back in at some point, but it will be more so charity events now. I want to raise money around Norfolk or wherever I can because why wouldn’t you?”