British wrestling is enjoying something of a resurgence – but the sport’s 60-year association with top grappling events in Worthing could soon be at an end.
That is according to promoter John Freemantle, who put on his first wrestling show in the town in 1994.
Since then, the match-maker has presided over more than 1,000 bouts, but says a change in policy at Worthing Theatres could spell an end for his Premier Promotions events at Worthing’s Assembly Hall.
“If anyone wants to run a wrestling show in the future I think they would have to be prepared to lose a lot of money or charge a lot more for admission,” said John.
“The hire fee alone that they are proposing is between three and four times that of the previous arrangement.
“I would say that’s not viable for any wrestling promoter. It’s certainly not viable for the type of shows I present.
“On the face of it, it looks like there’s not going to be any more wrestling at the Assembly Hall.”
The blow to wrestling in Worthing has come with the sport’s fortunes on the up in Britain, with global wrestling juggernaut WWE – World Wrestling Entertainment – crowning its first-ever UK champion last month, just days after ITV brought back 1980s favourite World of Sport Wrestling for a New Year’s Eve special.
While the move spells bad news for grappling fans in Worthing, John fears it could be bad for the town as a whole. “I think this is the thin end of the wedge,” he said. “The venue is there. Local people come and support it.
“Others come into the town and spend money. They have something to eat, something to drink.
“And sometimes they stay in a hotel overnight.”
John said it looked like there was now no way back, explaining that his previous arrangement with Worthing Theatres, which had been in place since 1994, was being stopped.
“I have had an arrangement which has lasted since that time and it hasn’t been queried,” he said.
“Now they want to charge the full commercial rate for the venue.
“We get a couple of hundred regular fans, but they are putting wrestling on a level with artists like Jimmy Carr and Ken Dodd.
“They are taking the view that if it doesn’t make them a reasonable amount of money they don’t want to put it on.
“I have had meetings with them but it’s become fairly obvious it’s non-negotiable.
“I have a show on February 20 and then one on April 10. Then wrestling could be coming to an end after 60 years.
“I don’t really want to pack it in but there’s an old saying that you should know when to go.
“I’m looking at one or two options but at the moment I’ve not decided what I will do.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years all told, and the business has changed a lot in that time.
“There isn’t the same respect as there was when I started.”
Barney Warrington, the commercial and sales manager for Worthing Theatres, which runs the Assembly Hall, said: “John has been a valued promoter for many years.
“As with all events taken as a co-promotion we must be confident that we will, as a minimum requirement, cover our costs to open and staff the venue.”