Wrestling training at New Wave Wrestling Academy. Credit: Eoin McCaul

The Welsh professional wrestling academy helping fans pursue their dreams

New Wave Wrestling offers not just training in a discipline that blends sport and theatre, but also a tight-knit community

JAMES Ellis spends his days working in a steel works, but every weekend he steps into the ring as his alter-ego – ‘The Brilliance’.

He said of the transformation: “It’s just me turned up to 11. A bit of an arrogant person who thinks no matter what he’ll find a way to win in the wrestling ring.”

The academy that makes such a dramatic change in persona possible is New Wave Wrestling, which started in Cathays nearly two years ago.

James, 26, started wrestling five years ago, and within a short period of time, he was competing in the ring.

He said: “I was training and was in the ring within five months, which probably shouldn’t have happened because I wasn’t ready.

“But that’s just the way it goes, everyone’s journey is different and everyone finds a path to somewhere new.”

Brendan White, head coach and founder of New Wave, started wrestling at 13 in friends’ back gardens before starting to take it more seriously at 21.

Brendan White at New Wave Academy. Credit: Eoin McCaul

He said: “It’s just something I’ve always loved – what it means to me is just literally everything.”

Now 35, Brendan performs in around 100 shows every year, making him one of the most recognisable stars of Welsh wrestling.

When not performing, he coaches the next generation of wrestlers at New Wave, which has now moved from Cathays to Flawless Combat Club in Newport.

He said: “It’s my livelihood. It’s the thing I love doing and it’s something that I want to be able to pass on to other people.

“I think the general misconception is that all we do is fake – to a point we know the wins and losses, but the falls and the bumps and all that kind of stuff really takes a toll. It does hurt.

“You just gotta assess damage limitation and how to keep yourself as safe as possible.”

But is pro wrestling more sport or theatre? He said: “I think it’s more of a sport because it’s quite physical what we do. 

“But we can’t deny the theatre side of things when it’s telling stories in front of an audience – I feel like it’s a real 60/40.”

During Sunday’s induction class Brendan flawlessly did a headstand in the corner of the ring, demonstrating the impressive combo of acrobatics and muscle mass needed to perform in the ring.

The class took turns copying the move, supporting each other’s attempts by offering a round of applause for every success.

April Granelli, a personal trainer who comes to the classes, said yoga and wrestling actually complement each other.

“You’d be surprised how much yoga helps with this stuff,” she said.

April, who is 27, owns a gym in Llanishen and also does a bit of martial arts.

She said: “I didn’t know there was a school that did it until last year, I’ve always wanted to give it a go.

“I used to do acting a lot and it’s the perfect balance of acting and physicality which is like my jam really.

“You’d be surprised, we’ve got dancers, musical theatre people… it all interlinks. The things that you wouldn’t think would help, do really help.”

April Granelli (left) and Brendan White (right). Credit: Eoin McCaul

Rhys Degnan used to do musical theatre, performing in pantomimes and musicals. Now, he plays Duke Degnan, “a smarmy piece of s***,” he told me.

Rhys said: “After spending so long around musical theatre people who are, the ones who are taking it seriously, very intense and there’s a lot of drama. 

“I was kind of sick to the back teeth of that and I was looking for something new.

“It’s similar in a lot of ways, it’s about performance, it’s a lot of physical activity, but it’s different – I thought I’d try it out.”

Louis Clare works in tech support, he started training in 2016 for a year and a half before giving it up. He said: “I’ve regretted it ever since so in February of 2023 I came back to give it another go.

Louis hopes to progress to the advanced class, and  make his debut in the ring this year.

He said: “Wrestling means fitness, toughness, dedication, but also I think more than all those things – probably family. 

“Everyone here I would consider a member of my extended family, and if I’m having a really bad day, nothing cheers me up more than coming here.”

New Wave now has around 50 members, but when it was just starting out, Brendan said: “I remember one session – there were three people there and two of them were coaches.

“The Welsh wrestling scene at the moment is probably the best it’s ever been and I feel that it’s down to New Wave to be honest.”

Interest in wrestling exploded in 2023, with Wales outpacing England.

Welsh wrestling rose in recognition after Flash Morgan Webster and Mark Andrews signed with WWE back in 2018 coming from humble beginnings in Cathays.

They went on to win the tag-team championship a year later at NXT UK TakeOver in Cardiff.

James now wrestles every weekend, and has wrestled and trained in Scotland and Ireland too.

He said: “It’s what I wanted to do when I was younger and I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do it.

“Don’t get me wrong, I like my job and I like the place I work but this is a dream I never thought I’d have.

“Potentially in five years if things go right and I get the right opportunities, I might be able to do it full time but who knows. I enjoy it and that’s the main thing.”

New Wave’s next show in Cardiff is on Friday, March 22, in St Andrew’s Church in Roath.