Today Norwich, tomorrow the world: How city’s junior wrestling academy has WrestleMania in its sights

Zak Knight, left, coach at the WAWYC (World Association Wrestling Youth Club) with some of the youngsters learning the moves. From left, Sonny Branson, 14; Dylan Self, 12; and assistant coach, Tony Valentine. Picture: Denise Bradley Zak Knight, left, coach at the WAWYC (World Association Wrestling Youth Club) with some of the youngsters learning the moves. From left, Sonny Branson, 14; Dylan Self, 12; and assistant coach, Tony Valentine. Picture: Denise Bradley

Saturday, April 5, 2014
6:30 AM

In a peaceful corner of a Mile Cross industrial estate, a generation of junior Giant Haystacks and Big Daddies is deep in training.

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A family business

When Rowdy Ricky Knight bowed out of the ring last year, there was only one way to do it – against his own sons, Zak and Roy.

After all, wrestling is the family business, with Ricky’s wife, Saraya, a wrestler who has competed in America.

Ricky’s daughter Saraya-Jade has also made her name in the ring and is better known as Paige from the world famous WWE circuit on the other side of the Atlantic.

In a career spanning more than 30 years, Rowdy Ricky faced some of the biggest names in the sport, including Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy, before bowing out with a final family bout last September.

And the man leading them has just one thing on his mind: nothing less than world domination.

The youngsters, aged between six and 15, are students at the World Wrestling Association Youth Club run by ‘The Highlight’ Zak Knight, where they learn to tell their clotheslines from their suplexes.

More than 50 children already attend the weekly classes at the Knight family’s gym – but they are now on the lookout for others keen to learn wrestling’s dramatic blend of all-action stunts and theatrical showmanship.

Zak, the son of ‘Rowdy’ Ricky Knight and brother to Roy, the Zebra Kid, has high hopes for the academy.

He said: “In boxing, football or cricket, everyone starts really young. I had this vision with my dad about a year ago: what about these kids – how do they get into wrestling?

“I was six years old when I started, so that’s 15 years I’ve been in this business now. I want them to be able to start early, so that by the time they get to 18 they are already 10 years ahead of most 20-year-olds in America.

The 22-year-old hopes that some of his proteges have what it takes to go on and conquer the world.

“We are trying to get their feet planted and get them learning young so that when they are 18 or 19, Norwich wrestlers are the biggest in wrestling,” he said.

“My biggest dream is in 20 years to see the students I’ve brought up from six years old headlining WrestleMania, or on a British TV show with British wrestlers. If I get at least one of them up there, then I have done my job.”

Students at the academy on the Ashbourne Industrial Estate, off the ring road, learn moves and sequences from Zak and Tony ‘Mr Sexy’ Valentine, then get the chance to practise them in the ring.

Fourteen-year-old Sonny Branson has been attending since the academy opened nearly a year ago.

He said: “You get taught how to do the moves properly and we do a lot of practice on each move so that we do it right and don’t hurt each other.”

Blake Hale, 10, who trains with his nine-year-old brother Brandon, said he had been inspired by Zak and his family.

He added: “I’m hoping in the future my career is a famous wrestler like John Cena.”

Do you have an unusual success story? Email mark.shields@archant.co.uk

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