Speak, sleep, show, repeat: a Welsh TNA wrestler’s life

Mark Andrews wrestlingMark Andrews, the professional wrestler who won TNA British Boot Camp 2014, zipped into Coffee#1 like a guitar-swinging bolt of energy.

This Cardiff-born talent’s debut ring name, Lightning Kid, was spot on. Just as lightning never strikes the same spot twice, Andrews is forever on his way to new places, new experiences since his days at the Newport wrestling school.

Take last weekend for example. On Saturday he was flown to Canada, where he did two shows and two seminars before returning to the UK to kick off his punk band Junior’s tour on November 9. How does he juggle wrestling and music? “If there’s ever a time to burn the candle at both ends, it’s now – in our sit-com years,” he says.

“You know, the time when you start acting like Friends,” Andrews laughingly explains. “Honestly, it’s weird. Half my friends are off getting married and I’m sort of like, oh should I be settling down and not just swiping right on Tinder?”

Mark Andrews jumpAndrews began wrestling a week before his 13th birthday and, 10 years later, he has come far since his time at Cardiff High School. “I’m an extrovert so I like being around people but I had quite a hard time at school… It didn’t get me creatively.” Wrestling grew from escapism to his main priority, despite teachers’ eye-rolls and parents assuming it was “just a phase.”

“Luckily I landed on my feet, otherwise I might have just carried on simmering,” he adds.

While thousands of worldwide fans (and a blue tick on Twitter) might typically inflate an ego, fame has – if anything – humbled this young talent. Andrews talks of how much he looked up to wrestlers whose shows he saw early on, but as for his own TV appearances he says: “That’s a larger-than-life thing. Little do [fans] know that on the weekends I still just go out on my skateboard and play in a band”.

“Wrestling has taught me to take everybody off the pedestal. I realised – it sounds a bit crude – but Hulk Hogan, the biggest name in wrestling ever, right? He still shits, you know what I mean?”

This down-to-earth approach may well stem from Andrews’ trips to wrestling camp as a teenager. It was a maturing time for him, he recalls: “I was 14 years old, living in one-star B&Bs for a week with all these older dudes, going out and getting trashed.”

Mark Andrews tattooModesty aside, it came as a hilarious highlight of our meeting to see the images of Andrews’ face tattooed onto a few of his more zealous supporters. “Wrestling has its die-hard fans,” he grins.

And yet, as inevitable, the darker side of fame creeps out now and again. “I try to ignore it but I do get a few trolls. It sounds terrible and guilty but I’ll let you into it – I do name search as well,” Andrews says. “So if I’ve just been on TV I’ll type in #wrestling just to see what people think, you know?”

Though he acknowledges social media has been vital for boosting his career, Andrews isn’t totally convinced by its merits: “If it wasn’t for my work, I’d delete Facebook. As much as I like having the memories there and keeping in touch, I’m really against people hiding behind their online profiles.”

He aims for a Twittery middle ground between self-promotion and normality, but admits this is a struggle in what is essentially a vain industry: “It’s all about image, it’s all about pushing yourself.”

Andrews becomes contagiously animated as we get onto the subject of wrestling psychology and match structures. “Often on a surface level it’s hard to appreciate how much depth there is to it when it just looks like two grown men play-fighting,” he says.

Wrestlers’ approaches vary between pre-planning and improvisation but Andrews tries to blend the two: “You talk in the ring in clever ways that no one notices. That’s why you train for so long, you’re learning the code essentially – the language of wrestling.”

The UK’s communal atmosphere is, according to Andrews, another factor behind his success. “Britain is currently the best-kept secret on the planet for pro-wrestling,” he says.  “We have so much talent in such a small place. I think it’s because we’re such an intimate scene, we learn from each other.”

Mark AndrewsHe remembers his wrestling debut at nearby Cathays Community Centre – a building which has a huge but understated history in the field, having hosted WWE wrestlers such as Wade Barrett and Finn Bálor.

“I’ve never been as nervous as I was for my first match. I still get nervous. I wish I didn’t but at the same time I’m kind of grateful. There have been times when I haven’t been nervous and it hasn’t gone so well.”

Nostalgia soon turns to talk of the future. For Andrews, the wrestling world has a shelf life: “Every bump is kind of like a mini car crash. There are only so many bumps you can have on your body.”

“I’ve had a really good career so far and I’d rather keep it open-ended. A different venture.”

And there, in that one line, is a nutshell of Mark Andrews: appreciative, ambitious, and always always active. We part ways as he heads to a band session with Junior and I’m left with zero doubt that this is a guy who pulls no punches in any life goals. It’s just a question of where Lightning Kid will strike next.

Follow Mark Andrews at @MandrewsTNA and visit @musicofjunior for details of the pop punk band’s tour this week.