Best of British – The Fit Finlays

Tomorrow I’m going to do a tag team turmoil review, with matches including the likes of Owen and Bruce Hart, William Regal and Robbie Brookside, and Rocky Moran and Fit Finlay, but today I thought I’d have a look at this documentary featuring Finlay and his family talking about their history in wrestling.

Soundbites at the beginning of the documentary, which was produced by Irish television, include Finlay talking about matches with him being like a near drowning experience (“You’re not gonna drown, but you’re not going to forget it”), with peers calling him one of the best in the world.

Finlay returning to wrestle in Belfast provides the chance to talk to his friends and family in Carrickfergus. He was born to Dave and Evelyn Finlay, and Dave Sr. was a wrestler himself, as well as a promoter. Fit was training from a young age. He’d get days off school to build the ring as a kid. His sister, who looks just like the dad, talks about the local kids coming to train in the ring in the back garden too, amateur-style first. They even have very clean video footage of him wrestling as a teenager and getting a trophy.

There’s some talk of the Troubles happening too when he was a teenager. When he turned 14, his dad was a man short for a show, so Fit got drafted in, wearing his dad’s gear that was too big for him. He’d claim he wasn’t nervous, but he was. Friend Eddie Hamill, who wrestled as Kung Fu, talks about how he already had the build for it. Irish wrestling flourished when the UK guys stopped coming over, yet they could wrestle in both republican and loyalist areas.

At the same time, a guy kept showing up at their shows wanting to challenge the wrestlers and wanting to wrestle. They’d tap him out and he’d keep coming back, so they decided to train him. That was Johnny Howard, who even at the time of recording was still a character, who they gave the character of Rasputin. He would be a mad monk, with beard and long hair, cassock and candle. Rasputin and the dad show moves they’d do on one another and talk about “blue eye” (face) moves and villain (heel) moves they’d use. Rasputin even has a personalised garden gate with his name on it.

Hamill talks about how he would wrestle in a judo gi and do a lot of high flying and martial arts stuff, which was popular at the time. Fit was given a Roman gladiator gimmick as Young Apollo, with leather outfit and helmet, which was constructed from flattened beer cans on leather and a toilet brush.

The increased problems with the Troubles meant they couldn’t keep promoting shows, so they went to North Wales and worked with wrestler/promoter Orig Williams, who made himself a national hero after a long run as Mexican heel El Bandito (with Pancho Villa moustache) and sombrero because “Nice guys die in the gutter… It was better to be a bad man from Mexico than a peasant from Wales, because that’s what I really was”. He was massively impressed with both Finlays, so Fit came and lived with and worked for him when he was 16. Drew McDonald briefly talks about how good he was too.

Aged 21, Fit decided he was going to live permanently in England and work there, which was upsetting for his mom because she loved him very much and would talk for hours with him, so she missed him a lot but got used to it. As he grew older, he got bigger, he got nastier, because there was a massive anti-Irish sentiment in England. He played it up with his traditional Irish gear with shamrocks on his tights. More and more he grew into the Mr. Nasty role, growing a moustache and jokes about starting the mullet. Not mentioned, but shown, is that he had a female manager too, Princess Paula, who was an American Indian and had a mouth on her.

Business took him to Japan and Germany, where he was especially big, doing the circuit with a mobile home, which he’d parked up outside the arena. Clips are shown of him wrestling Matt Borne as Doink when he was getting what bookings he could get after leaving the WWF. He and Rasputin talk about having lots of time on their hands, so they lived in the pubs (“It was a hard life!”, remarks Rasputin). Rasputin also fesses up to being a ladies man too. Fit would walk to the front of queues and not pay to get in clubs, because he could get away with it because of his level of stardom.

Talk moves to fights with punters, with Rasputin talking about how anyone who wanted to come in and try it with them was welcome to, no rules, eyes and balls not off limits, but the same went for the wrestler. He wiped the floor with all bar one. Fit would deal with anyone who thought wrestling was fake by taking their thumb, applying pressure to it without breaking a sweat and singing a song, then snap it, dislocating it, which he did hundreds of times. It was a way of establishing his own legitimacy.

Fit met a girl in Germany, Mel, who as soon as he saw he said he was going to marry. She was 18 and didn’t like him and wouldn’t serve him at her job. She proved hard work for him for four years. They did end up together and had their first son, David, in 1993. Motherhood was difficult for her and she felt very alone while he continued wrestling and, worse, partying. He had to knock the latter on the head, so the drinking slowed down and the breaking thumbs stopped entirely. At the time of recording (2010), David was 17 and an amateur wrestler at high school in Georgia.

In 1996, Mel discovered a lump on her breast and needed an immediate mastectomy (she’s had a full reconstruction since then). She was upset for a minute and then came round and realised she needed to pull herself together to get through it. Fit was upset for longer, especially when the doctor told him he might have to plan a life for him and his son without her. His Christian faith got him through it and he recalls an actual storm that he thought symbolically would wash the cancer away. The surgery was successful, no chemotherapy or radiation needed, so she’s in agreement. She now leads bible study groups. Women from the group talk about how she has inspired and helped them.

They also have another son and a daughter now, who Mel apparently breastfed. The doctors couldn’t believe it because of the full mastectomy. Fit talks about how God was their doctor.

The documentary moves to his debut in WCW, assaulting Lord Steven Regal and doing an introductory promo to camera, based on an Irish vs. English rivalry. Not mentioned is that he only did about three months in 1996 and went back to Germany, but they do mention that he and his family moved to America permanently in 1998. The limited schedule drove him mad, because he wanted to wrestle every day. They talk about how his leg got torn up in a hardcore match with Brian Knobbs, to the point where the doctors said he might have to lose it and if he didn’t he’d only have 20% usage of it. He started transitioning backstage and became an agent, but in WWE he started training again and returned to the ring. Again, his faith got him through it, including his dad praying for him.

He prefers being a heel, because being cheered reminds him too much of the Young Apollo days. He did his first WrestleMania at WrestleMania 25, with Hornswoggle. It was a big difference from the days in the seventies where they had one bulb over the ring.

Back to Ireland, where Fit finds out, in the midst of recording, that Orig Williams has died. Fit and his dad talk about how he was the sort of guy you’d think would be round forever. It marks the end of an era for them. They attend his funeral, where many wrestling luminaries and personalities, including Brian Dixon and Mitzi Mueller, the recently departed Mark Rocco, Tony St. Clair and others, are in attendance. Wrestlers act as his pall bearers and flowers are shaped in the letters of EL BANDITO, the casket draped in the Welsh flag. In a separate recording, Fit talks about how he hopes Orig was proud of him, as well as his dad, becoming tearful as his dad confirms he is.

Dad, even at his advanced age (and even today) trains amateur wrestlers. Fit at the time of recording had his big job as a producer for WWE, while also training his son, taking his dad’s role. Being called just like his dad couldn’t be a bigger compliment. He also tries to be an ambassador for his country too.

Conclusion: The documentary is very well produced. Not a lot of time spent on his runs with the big two, but I didn’t mind because I wasn’t as interested in that. When I saw Finlay wrestle when I was 9 he was the scariest wrestler I’d ever seen in person, even more than Giant Haystacks or Kendo Nagasaki because he was just more vicious than anyone else. It’s almost comforting years later to find out that he loved his mom and dad and his wife and his kids and was as vulnerable as anyone else. The producers knew how to hit the right emotional notes, which in a way was contributed to by the death of Orig Williams. I wouldn’t even say the profession of faith in the episode was overbearing or obnoxious either. Well worth a watch.