I’ve said before that the word ‘legend’ is bandied about too much these days. It’s become a term of endearment in everyday language and somewhat distanced from its origins. The same can be said for many words we use, but one which still retains some of its original meaning is trailblazer. The dictionary definition for the word is ‘a person who is the first to do something; an innovator’. This is the perfect definition and when people use it correctly, it adequately sums up the thoughts and feelings about a particular person. Last week prior to NXT Takeover UK Cardiff the WWE Network aired a documentary about one particular trailblazer; Adrian Street.
The documentary itself was too short for me, lasting about 20 minutes, but in the small time-frame, it managed to catch the history and spirit of a man who changed professional wrestling forever. Born in 1940 in Brynmwar, Wales, Street was expected to follow his father into the main line of work for men in that part of the world at that time; coal mining. To those not familiar with the mining industry in the UK at those times, it was the lifeblood of communities. Mines would employ thousands of men in one area and provide income for many more thousands of families. The mining industry in parts of Scotland, the North of England and especially in places like Wales meant that entire towns and cities were built upon land where coal was mined deep below. It was a dangerous job and many men were injured and killed doing their work. Conditions weren’t great and without the health & safety standards we have in workplaces today, many men would descend the huge elevators into the dark pits not knowing if they would ever return.
But not everyone born into these communities aspired to follow their father’s footsteps down a coal mine. One such young man was named Adrian Street. He didn’t want to be a miner. He wanted to be a professional wrestler. He’d been inspired by the Buddy Rogers, Lou Thesz and Don Leo Johnathan’s of the industry and wanted to be just like them. Standing 5’7 tall, Street wasn’t the tallest of men to be a wrestler, but he had a dream and wanted to pursue it. He told his family and at sixteen years old, left his home to train to be a wrestler. His father told him he was wasting his time and would soon be back at the mine with his tail between his legs. He did return, but we’ll come back to that later.
Street had his first wrestling match in 1957, but his career was only starting out and he began to sense that he needed to change in order to stand out more. One evening, a few years into his career, he taunted the audience and began to get a reaction. He taunted some more and the audience became louder. He knew then that perhaps if he rubbed them up the wrong way, provoked them or taunted them even more, he could have something. Street changed his look and style into something much more flamboyant. He tied his long blonde hair into pigtails. He wore pink makeup with sequins on his face. He wore lipstick and feathers in his hair – also to make him look taller – and began to prance around the ring and blow kisses to his opponent. The audience, and bear in mind this was in the 1960’s, so not the most liberal or accepting of times, naturally felt uncomfortable around this oddball and began to boo or shout at him louder and louder each night. In wrestling terms, Street was over with the crowd.
Street aligned himself with a manager/valet in the form of Miss Linda. Miss Linda was no wallflower and proudly led Street to the ring where she would be in his corner and play the dastardly heel manager in helping her man win matches. Street comments on the documentary that sometimes when he was approaching the ring, fans would try to take a swing at him and more often than not, Miss Linda would be right there to swing a fist back in their direction. She was no joke and played her part amazingly. In later life, Street proposed to Miss Linda in 2005 and the pair married soon after. Don Leo Johnathan was his best man.
Street traveled all around the UK as a wrestler and did make it across the pond to the US. He wrestled some of the territories where his unusual look and style caught the attention of the American public. Brian James (Road Dogg) talks about how he first saw Street wrestle when he was young and though he was impressed by the European/British style of wrestling on show, he can vividly recall the look and performance of Adrian Street; the leaping around the ring, the costume, the sequins, the makeup and the kissing. It was so different and new, he was stunned by it. Street’s style and look certainly made him a trailblazer, and it’s fair to say without his impact in those early days, would we have seen a Goldust? Would we have seen a Velveteen Dream? Who knows? Many wrestling alumni and knowledgeable fans will say that Street had an impact on professional wrestling unlike any other before him.
Street was invited to the NXT UK Performance Center where he works as a trainer and imparts his wisdom on the students. Street wasn’t just a persona, he could wrestle extremely well and could fight when he needed too. Men who grew up in mining towns and especially in the Welsh valleys, knew how to look after themselves. Speaking of the valleys, Street’s popularity at his peak outside of Wales, had caught the attention of the local press who called his friends and family for interviews. Street agreed to do an interview and photo opportunity, but only on his terms. Knowing what time his father finished his shift down the mine, Street took the photographer to the mine elevator and when his father walked out, grabbed him and told him to stand still for a photo. Street was dressed in full costume and makeup and the look of bewilderment and shock on his father’s face – as well of those in the miners behind – is there for all to see. Street returned to the mine, just as his father predicted, but this time he was a champion and a trailblazer.
I really enjoyed the documentary, but still think it was far too short to go over Adrian’s early life and upbringing, which gave him his appreciation for hard work while knowing what career he would have had he not been such a success as a wrestler. The wrestling parts were focused mainly on his appearance and style, but didn’t show that much of his matches and in-ring work aside from his flamboyant behavior. I would have liked to see more of his matches and especially hear more from big names in wrestling who knew him, wrestled him or were inspired by him – perhaps some words from the current generation.
I think WWE have produced something well-polished and informative and I think they should do more about wrestlers from the 60’s, 70’s and perhaps 80’s too. The younger fans around now may not know or be aware of these iconic people who paved the way, broke down barriers and made themselves stars through hard work, determination and grit. Adrian Street’s story is a great example of that and also pays tribute to the era of British wrestling in Town Halls and small indoor stadiums that have long since vanished around here.
I’d highly recommend watching it if you haven’t already.
Side note – I posted on Twitter that I’d enjoyed the documentary and was contacted by @FilmAdrian who have produced a feature-length documentary about Adrian Street that will be released soon. I’ve put their YouTube clip of a trailer below and would encourage you to give it a look and give them a follow. I’ll certainly be watching it.