'Bad guy' wrestler mixes it in ballet for boys
Shane "The Technician" Whitehead calls professional wrestling "ballet for boys".
The motorcycle groomer, who spent much of his childhood growing up just outside the north Waikato town of Te Kauwhata, is one of a new breed of Kiwi professional wrestlers to feature in a 13-episode Prime TV series, Off The Ropes, beginning this month.
Wellington-based Whitehead, 21, said he had been involved in amateur Greco-Roman wrestling for eight years after a move to New Plymouth. He has claimed national and Oceania titles in the sport in under 84kg divisions but has always been a fan of the dramatic yet somewhat scripted professional sport-come-entertainment.
Currently clocking in at 95 kilograms, Whitehead said he'd "played every sport under the sun" in recent years – including cross-country running and rugby – but had found his niche with wrestling. He moved to Wellington in early 2008 to train for the Junior World Wrestling Championships, but instead found himself lured into the Kiwi Pro Wrestling ranks.
"I needed a break (from training) really, something to take up my time. I've always been a big (pro-wrestling) fan, seen it on TV, and I thought `I can do that'."
While there is little doubt professional wrestling requires considerable strength and athleticism, the results of bouts are pre-determined and the wrestlers themselves communicate regularly to ensure they produce the most spectacular action for the fans.
Whitehead said it was the one aspect he had to learn to deal with: "I do very much miss the competitive side of amateur wrestling, but this is a whole different level – you're in there, working with the other guy to put on a show.
"Winning or losing doesn't matter to you, because it's not a competition – it's all about making it look good for the fans."
Whitehead felt pro-wrestling was a blend of both sport and entertainment: "A lot of the moves are very athletic, and do still hurt, but obviously not as much as we make it look like it hurts."
But he thrives on the environment and the scene, and described his character as "an arrogant jerk, really".
"I am a `bad guy', and there's nothing like going out there and having 600 kids booing you. As strange as it sounds, it's actually a really great feeling."
Whitehead has his own trademark move – the Techniplex – which combines a common move called a suplex and a move known as a falcon arrow. The bouts are not as pre-determined as American professional wrestling, and Whitehead said the wrestlers were keen to improvise in the ring.
"It's like ballet for boys – that's how I like to think of it."
Whitehead said the inner sanctum of Kiwi Pro Wrestling included some of the veterans from the days of On The Mat, the New Zealand pro-wrestling series of the 1970s and 1980s.
He would like to break into the American professional wrestling scene, and Kiwi Pro Wrestling chief executive Rip Morgan believed his young charge had the skills to make it big.
Morgan said Whitehead's amateur wrestling background had been important to his development as a professional wrestler, as had his willingness to listen and learn from others.
"I think he plays that (bad guy) role really well. Like everybody in this business, your character evolves. People boo him, but they love and respect him in the ring."
Off The Ropes launches on Prime TV on Sunday, November 15, at 1.30pm.