Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Bingo Ballance Interview

Irish Wrestler Bingo Balance talks Indy grappling

By Phil Allely

Phil Allely was lucky enough recently to catch up with veteran Dublin born wrestler Gary ‘Bingo’ Balance. Their conversation took in many aspects of Indy wrestling in the UK/Ireland and offered forth some interesting things about just what life is like for someone in Bingo’s place. Having toured Ireland, the UK and Europe the 26 year old now has his sights firmly set on cracking America.

PA: So Gary, firstly thanks for taking the time to chat with me, can you tell me how long you have been in the wrestling industry and how has it changed since then?

GB: I’ve been involved in wrestling since 2005, a little over six years, now. To be honest, I don’t think things have really changed that much. If anything, I tend to see the same trends, and the same things, popping up over and over, like a numbing, never-ending carousel of inevitability! (laughs) not to put it too bleakly! The industry itself hasn’t changed much, to my mind, since I began. All I have to go on, really, is the Irish scene, and that’s receded quite a bit over the years. There was a notable boom period during 2006 and 2008, but it’s not been repeated since. Shows are still being run, and there’s still some great talent in the country, but the lack of cooperation between promoters- even on the most rudimentary level- prevents the scene from growing and reaching a larger audience. It’s a shame, but there are a lot of personal issues, residual bad blood, and people grinding axes, and I don’t think the scene will ever reach the heights it did a few years ago. Pessimistic, perhaps, but that’s my own outlook.

PA: Even with the faltering audiences do you still enjoy what you do?

GB: Oh, definitely, yeah. If I wasn’t still enjoying it, I wouldn’t be doing it. There are aspects of being involved in wrestling that drive me mad, I’ll admit, but I still get a buzz from performing, and being in the ring and, overall, the good outweighs the bad. I take pride in my work, so if it ever got to the point where I was “phoning it in”, I’d just stop. I never want to be at the stage where I’m just going through the motions.

PA: So Gary where have you been fortunate enough to travel?

GB: I’ve had the pleasure, first off, of seeing a lot of Ireland itself. If I wasn’t involved in wrestling, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to see a lot of the places I’ve seen, explore the country I live in, and experience the things I’ve experienced, good and bad. I’ve had the chance to wrestle in front of huge audiences in Waterford, Tallaght, Balbriggan, Donnycarney and Cork, but also in front of tiny audiences in places like Wicklow and Offaly. I’ve been to places where we’ve had plush dressing rooms and conference rooms to hang out in, but also spent shows getting changed in caravans, corridors of restaurant kitchens, alleyways, outdoor sheds, or in the back of a ring van. To get to experience both is quite sobering, and keeps you grounded.

Travelling to- and seeing- a lot of the UK has been really enjoyable too. I’ve worked a lot in England, and in Scotland, and always enjoy travelling over. The only minor negative is that sometimes you don’t fully get to “take in” a place, if you get me. You’d pretty much just arrive at the Airport, get picked up, go to the venue, wrestle, and go back to where you’re staying. That said, I’ve enjoyed times where I’ve had a few hours to kill in a place I’m not used to. I had occasion to hang out for a few hours in Newcastle, Milton Keynes and Stonehaven, recently, in Scotland, and enjoyed the chance to see those places very much.

I’ve also been over to Germany a few times, which was cool. The last time, though, was a bit of a trial. It involved a ten hour car journey (round-trip) in the company of guys that didn’t speak English, it was bitterly cold, and I had to spend about six hours at the airport before my flight. I was dying to get some sleep, but was paranoid about someone stealing my stuff, or missing my flight! I’m back in Germany in November, though, so I’m hoping that trip will go a little better!

I’ve really valued being able to travel around, though, and see a bit of the world, while doing something I really enjoy.

PA: Have touring former WWE, TNA, WCW stars proved to be helpful and inspirational to you, do any of them pass on ideas/help?

GB: Some have, yeah. Irish Whip had a good few ‘imports’ back in the day, and it was a great learning experience picking up bits and pieces from them. Assimilating advice has been something I’ve tried to do, and get better at, over the years; some advice I’ve gotten wouldn’t necessarily work for what I do, while other advice might definitely help flesh out my performance, so I’ve found it helpful to mentally filter stuff I’m told, and see what I can use.

Most of the guys that came over were sound, bar one or two, maybe. Most inspirational to me, I think, was Doug Basham. I really liked his attitude, he was refreshingly down-to-earth, and he had a great work ethic. Along with that, he never played the “veteran” card, despite having infinitely more experience than the rest of us. There have been guys that came over that threw the whole “veteran” thing around, who I might respect out of courtesy- purely for having been in wrestling longer than me- but not as people. I respected Doug as a worker, though, and as a person. I was disappointed not to have gotten a chance to work with him while he was over, and think we would’ve had quite a good match together.

PA: so for those of us on the outside looking in, can you describe your life as a wrestler today, what does a week/month offer you?

GB: I’d generally have a few shows per month, at home or in the UK. It depends on the month, really. Some, I could have a load of bookings, while others I might just have one or two. It depends how many I’ve managed to secure. Sending off mails seeking bookings is one of the most soul-destroying aspects of independent wrestling, I have to say! A lot of places won’t even bother responding, which is frustrating, but not unexpected. It pays off, though, when you manage to get your foot in the door somewhere. I get enough to keep myself busy and active, anyway. Sometimes, a promotion might get me to do a training seminar, as well, which I enjoy. I was the Head Trainer in IWW for a number of years, and have always liked teaching, and helping guys along.

Along with shows, I go to the gym a few times a week, play football- which I’ve found great for helping with my cardio- and spend time with my girlfriend and family, and some of my wrestling mates like Se├ín South, Bam Katraz, Brother Skelly ,The Ballymun Bruiser and Vic Viper.

PA: so tell me Gary is this your dream job?

GB: On balance excuse the pun I think it is, yeah. As I said, there are aspects of it that vex me a little, but that’s the same with every job. You take the good with the bad. If I could comfortably make a living through wrestling, though, it would be a dream job, yeah.

PA: So what if one of the big US league’s (WWE/TNA/ROH) came calling would you go? and would you miss the smaller local shows you do?

GB: I don’t expect WWE to turn up at my front door with a lucrative contract any day soon, though I obviously MIGHT consider it if they did! (laughs). I actually tried out for TNA earlier this year, in London, and was happy that I gave a good account of myself. I knew that I wouldn’t get a call-back, and that I wasn’t what they were looking for at the time, but I was glad to have done it and put myself on their radar at least. I got good feedback from D’Lo Brown afterwards, which was encouraging.

I have a realistic view of my own performance, and what I have to offer, and I genuinely don’t think the idea of me turning up in one of the bigger promotions one day is that crazy, to be honest. Would I take up the offer if it arose? I would. Absolutely. I’ve been working away for the past six years, and I’d be kicking myself when I’m older if I didn’t take the chance, and go for it. I’d miss the shows I do domestically, but I think any wrestler who’s serious about what they do wants to wrestle in front of larger audiences, and do it on a bigger scale. I’d have to give it a shot. Definitely.

PA: if you were forced to retire tomorrow, what would be the one moment that you would want to be remembered for?

GB: I hope my most memorable moment is still to come, to be honest, but if I did have to retire tomorrow, I guess it would probably be the Zero Gravity tournament win in 2007. It was a big night for me, and truly a surreal moment to become IWW’s first Zero Gravity Champion. There was an opening ceremony at the start of the show, where all fourteen participants were introduced to the crowd, and it was a truly humbling experience standing there in the ring with some of the best cruiserweights around- guys like Kid Kash, Pac, El Ligero- knowing that at the end of the night, I was winning the belt. It was weird! My worry at the time was that me winning would be an anti-climax, considering some of the other competitors involved, and the fans would s**t on it. (Not literally- that would be hideous.) The atmosphere in Balbriggan was electric that night, though, and the crowd responded fantastically when I got the win. I couldn’t have asked for a better reaction. It was an incredible night.

Good as that was, though, I’d hope to be remembered for more than one moment, and that I’d left a decent body of work behind. As I say, I hope my best moments are still to come. Here’s hoping…

PA: For those people that have never had the opportunity to see Bongo Balance in action describe your style and why those people should see you in perform?

GB: I wrestle a fast-paced, high-flying style, but without a lot of the superfluous flips, and bells-and-whistles associated with “indy” wrestling. I have nothing against that kinda thing; done well, it can look fantastic, and there are guys out there that can put together and perform these intricate spots superbly. For me, personally, though, I couldn’t work a loaded sequence of flips, leaps, ducks and switches in without making it look horribly choreographed, and I try to avoid that, wherever possible. I hate stuff looking overly-rehearsed. I’ve been influenced by guys like Austin Aries, Paul London, Evan Bourne, Amazing Red, Chris Jericho, Brian Kendrick and Eddy Guerrero, amongst others, for most of my career, but my own style has evolved over time, albeit subtly. I would’ve been a big ROH fan when I started out, and enjoyed that type of wrestling; its influence could be seen in my early stuff. Nowadays, though, I’d favour WWE’s style of pacing matches, and feel I can work better within that kind of structure. Condensing that waffle into a snappy, media-friendly soundbite: “I’m a high-flyer.”

People should see me perform as, regardless of the number of people in the crowd, I always aim to give an audience their money’s worth. I still remember what it was like to be a fan, myself, and never want to short-change someone who’s taken a chance on local wrestling. Along with that, I would wrestle a style uniquely different to what’s in WWE at the minute, so you would definitely see something in one of my matches that you hadn’t seen before. I enjoy innovating, and coming up with my own moves, and a number of the ones that I use are my own creations. That’s really the extent of my “hard-sell”!

PA: So what does the future hold for Bingo Ballance?

GB: Though I’d love to say, “a lifetime of RIDICULOUS wealth”, I think, realistically, that’s a little unlikely! For something actually achievable, though, I want to venture into the States and Canada next year, and sort out some bookings there. I’ve wanted to do that for quite some time, but due to commitments over here, and my own procrastination- the eighth deadly sin- I haven’t gotten around to organising anything. I’ve only myself to blame! I hope to give that a proper go next year, though, and sort something out. Long-term, I still want to be doing this in five years’ time, if my body hasn’t packed it in by then!

PA: Do you think UK/Irish wrestling is losing out due to a lack of TV programming? Could we claw back the old Big Daddy style of popularity if we tried?

GB: That’s a really good question, I have to say. Truthfully, I don’t think British/Irish wrestling will ever be as popular as it was back in the World of Sport days, or as popular as WWE is at the moment. That may be a little bit negative or pessimistic, but I just don’t see it happening. For it to happen, there would need to be a British promotion getting a regular, prime-time slot on terrestrial television, and I don’t see that as feasible. If Channel 4 couldn’t get a decent following airing WWE, I definitely don’t think it would get one airing British wrestling. Don’t get me wrong: I think the level of quality in British wrestling at the moment is phenomenal- and there are some truly terrific workers out there- but public perception, I’ve found, towards British or Irish wrestling isn’t good.

The growing trend for a lot of promotions is to advertise “American pro wrestling” or “American-style pro wrestling.” It’s smart, and it’s good marketing, but it’s very revealing. Certainly, in Ireland, the prevailing attitude of your average Joe Soap is that anything Irish-made- be it TV, films or whatever- is inferior to its American equivalent. Thus, promotions tend to exclude “Irish wrestling” from posters and promotional material. I can’t presume to speak for the average British punter, but the fact that “American pro wrestling” is touted does say something. To get the public to follow British wrestling again would involve radically changing perceptions, and I think in the modern age of consumerism and self-entitlement, that is a huge uphill battle. Huge.

That aside, to even get a show “TV ready” you’d need super production values, and a lot of financial backing, and I think wrestling’s too big a gamble for any investor.

PA: Thanks for your time Gary, I’m sure all of our readers will be watching out for your name on upcoming local wrestling cards and we’ll maybe even see you grace the ring of the WWE/TNA someday soon too.

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