Dublin-based ‘Over the Top Wrestling’ (OTT) has become one of the hottest independent wrestling promotions in the world in recent months. Last year The Circular spoke with OTT founder Joe Cabray and Irish wrestling sensation Karen Glennon, better known as ‘Session Moth Martina.’ They both shared their reflections on how childhood obsessions with the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) in the 80s & 90s have led to a boom period for the wrestling scene on this side of the Atlantic over the past decade.
It wasn’t so long ago that the idea of hearing an Irish accent in the super-charged, trash-talking world of WWE might seem a bit far-fetched. Pre-Conor McGregor in the UFC, the masters of verbal put-downs were predominantly American wrestling icons such as Ric Flair, The Rock and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. But much has changed in recent years. The likes of Sheamus, Finn Balor & Becky Lynch have broken the mold by establishing themselves as major stars in WWE while inspiring a new generation of young Irish wrestlers in the process.
The stepping stones to international stardom can now be found in Dublin. Five years ago, having spent several years performing all over the world as ‘Luther Ward’, Dubliner Joe Cabray formed OTT with the aim of offering Irish fans a viable wrestling show that could compete with the level of independent wrestling he had experienced in more established markets like the UK, Japan & Germany.
“It was also a way of showcasing the Irish wrestlers as well, the top Irish wrestlers that weren’t being showcased. They were doing shows in GAA halls and places like that. It was dingy and it needed to be brought into what’s going on now.”
What’s going on now is a far-cry from when Joe and others were starting out in Ireland in the early 2000s. Since 2014, OTT has built an audience while regularly running shows at the Tivoli Theatre in Dublin, and in the last two years they have attracted audiences of over 2,000 for several shows at the National Stadium on the South Circular Road. This week they held their ‘Homecoming 2’ event at the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght, supported by a social media buzz-worthy hype video promoting the match between David Starr and Bray-native Jordan Devlin, one of the rising stars of Irish wrestling who is also a part of WWE’s ‘NXT UK’ brand.
The quality of storytelling in OTT’s hype packages and the production of their live shows is continuing to improve as their audience grows, and this is all built upon a high-level in-ring product that features the best of the Irish talent mixed with top names from the international independent wrestling scene. Cabray is a big believer in developing a wrestling product that caters not only to the loyal, hardcore fan base but also those less familiar with wrestling who might not be interested in the physical aspect, but find more appeal in the theatrical elements of pro-wrestling.
“There’s a psychology that goes into building a good wrestling show. I always believe that you have to have a variety. There are some shows you can go to in the UK and they’re just solid, hard-hitting wrestling. What I always find is that I can watch it for an hour and then its like, right I need to see something else. The psychology around OTT is to give something different to everybody….maybe you’re not a wrestling fan but you can appreciate the comedy.”
The comedy element of OTT shows is a huge part of their appeal for many. Dubliner Karen Glennon performs as ‘Session Moth Martina,’ a character she describes as a Penney’s pyjama-wearing, ‘loudmouth drunk.’ She has emerged as one of the most popular figures in Irish wrestling and her ring-entrances to the sound of Mark McCabe’s ‘Maniac 2000’ are the stuff of OTT legend. Glennon is making a name for herself in the UK and Japan, and while she has spent eight years perfecting her craft between the ropes, she attributes a large amount of her success to her character’s ability to stand out and connect with the audience.
“Once I decided to play the character where I was so hungover from my birthday that I just fell and lost the match because I was dying….It was really fun to play….I pride myself on my character because it is something that nobody else has, anywhere. That’s why I’ve kind of exploded in the UK. There are phenomenal girls out there but none of them have a character like me. No girls do comedy wrestling at all, and its just become my niche now.”
While WWE remains the marquee, televised promotion in the world of ‘sports entertainment,’ there are growing numbers of fans flocking to the independent wrestling scene, facilitated by the availability of online streaming services and social media. The recent success of Irish stars in WWE and the local indie scene with OTT has created a pathway for aspiring Irish wrestlers to make a name for themselves in the industry, something that didn’t really exist in Ireland at the turn of the century. Joe Cabray himself admits that he “never thought it would blow up to this level.” Internationally, independent wrestling has never been more popular, and OTT has helped put Irish wrestling on the map.