The first time I came across Hakeem Waqur was a few years ago at the Wreslo Wrestling Symposium at Aberystwyth University. I was giving a paper on Joshi, but there were many other guests, Claire Warden of De Montfort University, and one that fascinated me was a paper on wrestling at Holiday Camps and their social history. She talked about All Star’s work in camps and described the heavily xenophobic storyline of Britain vs the US, which All Star had promoted. Also, there was mention of an Arabian wrestler being taken to the task for being a shockingly stereotypical flag-waving middle eastern character. All Star these days still court controversy as they go from town hall to town hall at local authority venues with their current Brexit storyline of British workers working against the Evil EU. Which you can imagine pleased my mate to no end when I said he should take his European partner and daughter to their family-friendly high-quality wrestling show. I should have known better.

Hakeem does laugh about the incident now, but there is no doubt it cost him touring work in the UK in the long run. However, let us start at the beginning. “Like every wrestler in this world, well most of them, I come from Israel, and I’ve lived in Germany since 2003. I remember getting the WWF shows at the beginning of the nineties back in Israel. Then I studied dentistry, and after the first half of the studies, I put it on hold because I found a wrestling school and started to train there,” Hakeem explained. The wrestling school in question was owned and run by Alex Wright, formerly “Dancin’” Alex Wright of WCW fame or, if you prefer the fiendish heel, Berlin. His father, too Steve Wright works at the school. Steve is actually British, was an international traveller who started out in the 1970s at Wrighton’s gym in Manchester as a pro alongside Marty Jones, and like Marty, he was a Wigan Snakepit shoot wrestling veteran, which not only gives him a world of experience it makes him one of the toughest human beings alive. “It was a dream to go into the wrestling ring, for us in the Middle East, it is a bit different. You know here, and in Europe and the UK, people know the indie scene and all of that. In Israel, we just know wrestling from TV.” These small indie shows in Israel now over the last few years, they are new people, we didn’t know about that, we just knew WWE shows. So for me, finding the school was something special, you can’t miss that.” He built on his experience with the Wright family by moving on to the WXW wrestling school under current WWE NXT UK Champion Walter and then All Star’s training regime under British great Dean Almark. “It’s a bit different style, I had a lot of seminars with Walter in Essen, and I am thankful for that. I was able to work for WXW and the same in the UK with Dean. However, from 2008 until 2015, I was with Alex and working for him.”

His big influence as a character has the Iron Sheik as an obvious comparison, but he wants to be a bit different. “I try not to copy. I want to bring a bit from everything, not to copy to bring my own ideas.” His in-ring style is much more influenced by the classic wrestlers of the eighties than the characters. He is influenced highly by the Dynamite Kid, and if you’ve seen the vicious frenetic heel Dynamite Kid from eighties Stampede, you’ll see the connection instantly. “Brock Lesnar, as the Beast, I’m not talking about the wrestling skill, I mean as a beast in the ring, its something you love to see.” He also keeps an eye on the UK scene and admires a lot of “Big lad” workers like Rampage Brown and Johnny Moss. 

When asked what his most productive phase was, Hakeem shoots back with a laugh, “Before the Corona Crisis.” but he thinks his time in the UK was the most creative and rewarding period of his career. One of his favourite opponents is current NXT Tag Champion Fabian Aichner, the former Adrian Severe. Sadly, he missed out on Walter before he began his WWE run. “Maybe one day, haha.” he wistfully said as we talked about his favourites. As far as immediate plans are concerned, he has had enquiries from the US and Mexico, but those are obviously on hold until Europe is out of lockdown. However, he has plenty of work to keep him busy. He is reflexive about his future, “I’d love to get more experience as a pro in Japan, USA or Mexico, but I won’t be depressed if I don’t. I enjoy every moment whether I work in Europe, a big show or a small show. However, I would love more experience abroad too.” 

The All Star story actually started before a guest complained. Working as a heel, Hakeem had taken to using the Saudi Flag in his corner. Using the Israeli of Palestinian Flag would have been asking for a lot of trouble, and All Star shows are high on pantomime drama. For audiences that don’t know, wrestling things have to be telegraphed. However, a Butlins employee had taken exception to the flag’s use. “She was always complaining about me using the Arab Flag on the entrance, but what could I do? I took it with me to the ring, and the guys took it away before the match. Then suddenly from nowhere, there was this complaint from this guy who was a journalist.” The journalist in question, Christian Ceriso, wrote in the local paper of the appalling racism at the show and the negative stereotyping as Hakeem wrestled Tommy Spitfire. The story was picked up nationally with the blame, aided by All Star claiming the offending segment was against agreed content, landing in Hakeem’s lap. One of the few positives on his behalf came from the Guardian’s Arwa Madahi, who realised it wasn’t always the wrestler who was to blame. All Star have not booked Hakeem since. As Hakeem says, “He (Ceriso) made a load of things up, that I was British and I made fun of Muslims, but that’s bullshit, I am an Arab. Then he said, I take the Islamic, but it was the flag of a country. We then wrestled for fifteen minutes that day with a broken ring corner, 15 minutes without running the ropes!” Which as most wrestlers will tell you, is a minor miracle for a modern audience to get their head around…   

Hakeem’s character is a bad guy who happens to be Arabian. However, five years is a long time in wrestling, and many more positive characters have come along. Mustafa Ali, for instance, is perhaps the first mainstream Muslim character to reflect positively to the WWE audience. There is also the fact that being an Arab, as with most things in life, is complicated. There are Christian Arabs, there are secular Arabs, there are Arabs who want to have nothing to do with politics or religion at all, and Hakeem clearly falls into this category. However, wrestling, especially at such a base level, is ill-equipped for subtleties. 

At the end of the day, Hakeem is a great pro, and he should have a bright future ahead of him, and hopefully, somewhere he can tell his much more complicated story.    


Follow Hakeem on Twitter here.

Featured Image courtesy of Hakeem Waqur Facebook.

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