“Wrestling was my Lifeline” – RP Davies Exclusive Interview

British Middleweight boxer Ryan P. Davies was 12-1 with a nine-match winning streak when the threat of brain damage forced him into retirement in 2017. Two years later, he returned to the ring, but this time, a slightly different one. We had a chance to sit down with RP to discuss his literally life-changing decision, transitioning from combat sport to sports entertainment and saying goodbye:

Image courtesy of RPDboxing.com

So when you retired, you were on a nine-fight winning streak?

Yeah, I was on a bit of a roll. Basically what happened was I’ve been boxing my whole life, but I only started competing when I was 22 which is pretty late to be fair. It was in the family, my father, and my grandfather were both boxers. I ended up going to some unlicensed boxing matches and winning the British title twice in different places.

Now because I did that over quite a short length of time, people talked to me about turning pro because I didn’t compete in any amateur fights, I just went straight to the unlicenced fights. And I thought: “Yeah, why not?’ because with the unlicenced fights, I was able to perform in front of a live audience. And it was going well, I had 13 fights, and I won 12 of them with my last 9 all wins. At one of my matches, I’d won an international title, and I was just about ready to challenge for the British middleweight title and, obviously in the world of boxing, you need to be confident to make it but they were highly confident that if I got the shot, that I was going to win it.

Long story short, I had my medicals, and I had my annual brain scan, and some abnormalities showed up. I went to see a doctor, and they said “well this can happen with boxing, getting hit so regularly in sparring, and in fights” but normally we have a ‘three strikes, and you’re out’ policy with this kind of thing. So as this was my first I kept on going, and six months later, I had a scan, and another showed up. That’s two in six months! So I just had my thirteenth fight, and also my daughter had just been born, but the choice was put to me then, do you want to be a boxer or do you want to be a Dad? Which I thought was a bit harsh, but obviously, I wanted to be a Dad, but also it was in my genes to be a Boxer, and I could’ve been a successful boxer.

Ultimately, I went to see a specialist who said that I should retire. I could keep going and do another 40 fights and be fine but equally, I could have one more match and, that something could go wrong, and that would be it. We just decided that it wasn’t worth taking the risk. It was gutting, absolutely gutting but the good thing is we set up a boxing gym while I was competing so I could train, but since then, that’s become my business, training all sorts of people of different levels of experience, young, old, whoever. And because of my boxing, I’ve got a good reputation in the area, so it’s worked out well. Some good came out of it.

You retired in late September 2017 and then this April, you made your pro wrestling debut for Grand Pro in Wigan?

Yeah, Grand Pro, they put on really good shows, and I think they’ve got a good reputation up here in the North West. Wrestling has been a saviour to me. After I’d retired, I’d put so much time and effort and just so much of myself into boxing and then it was over. I started to get a bit lazy and unmotivated by just living a normal life.

Then I got a phone call from John Brannigan who runs Grand Pro, but he’s also a friend. I’ve always been a vocal wrestling fan, I’ve been a fan since I was five, and I’d always go to shows and loved watching it but when he said had I ever considered giving it a go, I laughed it off. I’d packed up boxing. I thought my days in the ring were firmly behind me and I’d have to learn so much in a short time, I didn’t know. But then I realised this could be exactly what I needed to break myself out again. And since I started, I haven’t looked back. It’s been brilliant. It’s a fun, exciting vibe but really, I don’t know what I’d be right now without it.

Your early memories of wrestling?

My earliest memories are of Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania 6. As a kid, I loved it. I had the figures and posters, and I’d go to shows, I’d go to independent shows as well, not just WWE. It’s always been a passion of mine.

With your entry into boxing through your Dad, did he ever watch wrestling with you?

No, he hated it. He was old school, he was an old school boxer, and he didn’t get the theatrics of it, but I loved it, and I only loved it more as I grew up. My hero growing up was Stone Cold, but then I guess of my age, most people’s are. The thing was, there wasn’t anywhere around my area, or at least that I was aware of, where you could go and train as a wrestler, so I fell into boxing instead because my dad trained it and taught it, but had there been anywhere to train as a wrestler, who knows?

Is your daughter showing any signs of interest in boxing or wrestling?

Not yet, she’s a little bit young. She’s only two, but I would imagine she will because she takes interest in anything I do, I’m her best mate. I’d hope she wants to come to watch me someday.

You quit boxing because of the risks to your long-term health, talk to me about the relative risks from wrestling?

It has it’s own, if anything, it has more than boxing. Where it differs is the brain problems, in wrestling, you’re not constantly, regularly getting hit in the head. Now I say this as someone who has done both, and it might be harder to learn to properly wrestle than to box because there’s so much to it, and if one thing goes wrong, it can be dangerous. The pre-planned nature of it does help, but there’s always a risk, but it’s more like breaking my leg or neck rather than brain damage.

With your boxing background, do you ever find yourself thinking “that’s not how you throw a punch”?

(Laughs) to be honest, no. I like to think I’m a laidback guy, but also, I’ve come into this as a lifelong fan, this is a dream come true, so I’ve got nothing but respect for all the performers. So every time I’ve been in there, I’ve never gone in thinking I know better than anyone because I’m there to train and to learn. I’ve started late, and I’m working hard to catch up and be as good a worker in-ring as I can. I respect there’s a reason in the ring you throw punches like you do because, for one thing, you’re not actually trying to hit the other person, it’s more about the show and the visual. I find it fascinating, and I’m loving watching it.

How was it adapting to the multiple performance styles of wrestling with working alongside ultra-serious competitors and comedy wrestlers?

It’s been a challenge, but a much-appreciated one. I’m having possibly the most fun I’ve had in my career doing this and part of that is the variety of it: learning about technical showcases and comedy matches and hardcore matches. I also can’t thank all the lads at Grand Pro enough, they’ve all been so welcoming, and helped me improve massively. Obviously, I’ve come in with my reputation from boxing, but if I then was rubbish in the ring, it wouldn’t mean much. So the lads working with me and helping me improve has made me better, but it also makes them look better, so it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. Obviously, I can bring new eyes to Grand Pro, and I want to because I really can’t thank them enough.

If you could, would you go back to boxing or would you stick with wrestling?

It’s difficult because boxing was my first love, it was the first sport I got into but wrestling, I’ve always loved to watch, but as I say, I didn’t have any access to it outside of watching it. So what I’d say is I think it was destiny for me to make it as a wrestler. I wouldn’t choose one over the other. but I always thought I’d make it big as a boxer and while I made it, I was never quite as big as I’d have liked to be. But at the time, I couldn’t understand why but now I feel it was that I was meant to find my way to wrestling. It feels like this is the final chapter in a story, and I can’t stress how much of a happy ending to it this feels like. Both of my matches have gone so well, crowds loved it, and the other wrestlers had nothing but nice things to say. I just want to carry on now and see where, as a full-time ambition, see where I can take it.

What boxer would make a good wrestler?

Well, Anthony Joshua just lost the Heavyweight title, and he looks the part. He’s 6”5, built like a brick shithouse. He’d certainly fit the bill because he has a body like The Rock. He’s got the look. In terms of being able to adapt to the style, I’d say Vasiliy Lomachenko. He’s an excellent fighter and an athletic one. He glides around the ring and can do handstands. I think he could turn his hand to any sport he put his mind to. I think lighter weight classes lend themselves to adapting because they’ve got that greater manoeuvrability. I’ve always considered myself quite an agile athlete.

On the differences between training for the two?

Well, in either discipline, you’ve got to have good cardio. Whether you’re going 12 rounds or 20 minutes in a wrestling ring, you’ve got to be able to perform at the highest calibre for a good length of time. In terms of wrestling, I’ve found myself doing more weight training because I want to look the part as well as act it. But they are such different disciplines. A 12 round fight is brutally hard, wrestling is hard, but in a different way. Everything in boxing is on the fly, the plan can go out of the window in a moment, so it’s almost all adapting. Wrestling, it’s more set than you’d think, and there are points you’ve got to get to and from and that’s almost harder because then if you miss one or something goes wrong, you’ve got to adapt. They both have their challenges, but that’s what appeals to me, I like a challenge.

Anything else you’d like to say?

I just want to put across that I feel honoured to be allowed into the wrestling world. I hope to be as good as I can and that my following continues to grow. I have a decent one already from my boxing career, but I hope to win over the wrestling fans. I’m starting to do it at GP, but hopefully, I can do it on a larger scale. I feel like I owe wrestling because it has been a lifeline to me. It saved me. I wasn’t in a dark place that much, but I wasn’t doing much, and now, I’m having the time of my life. I just want to continue to improve, to perform, and to give back to Grand Pro and Wrestling.

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Image courtesy of Grand Pro Wrestling. Credit: Tony Knox

Grand Pro Wrestling is back at the Monaco in Wigan on August 16th, tickets can be found here.

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