Inside GradoMania – A Look At The Internet’s Most Beloved Scottish Wrestler
By Aaron Walker
If you’re reading this article, chances are that you’re a wrestling fan in some way shape or form and like myself, have sat in front of the TV watching WWE, TNA, NJPW or tapes and clips of various independent promotions from around the world and thought to yourself, “damn, I wish I could do that”. Well this is the story of one man from Scotland, who did just that
Grado was born Graeme Stevely in Ayrshire, Scotland on June 5th, 1984. Like most fans of wrestling he became hooked at a young age. At the age of 12, Graeme would stay up late on a Friday night to watch the UK replay of Raw and then get up early the following morning for Smackdown, then broadcasted on Sky One. Graeme became enamoured with The Rock and his larger than life character, being quoted as saying “That guy is the coolest man on the planet”. As he grew up and the internet became a more readily available means of communication, young Stevely began to join online wrestling chat rooms and fan sites, including Wrestling Talk, a radio talk show on TalkSport , where he would eventually get his first potential opportunity to step into the world of professional wrestling.
After talking to one of the wrestlers that appeared on the show, Graeme was offered a chance to talk to a trainer backstage at a Scottish Wrestling Alliance show in his native Scotland but unfortunately due to his age at the time, he was turned down and told to return when he was older. Not to be put off, he did just that and in 2002 he began training under now-former WWE wrestler Drew Galloway and Kid Fite and then heading back a few years later to train in SWA with Adam Shane. Grado would make his professional debut in 2004 under the name Grant Dunbar, teaming with Glen Dunbar as the Lowlanders, capturing the SWA tag straps twice in the time they teamed together. After spending a few years on the local wrestling circuit finding little to no success, his career took a surprising turn during a lads’ holiday to Magaluf. After being locked out of his hotel room one night, he decided to head to a local tattoo parlour to pass the time. Whilst in the studio, the tattoo artist asked him what he would like done, and in a decision that he has no recollection of still to this day, he asked for the name “Grado” on his upper arm. Deciding to roll with the mistake, he adopted the nickname and turned it into his wrestling moniker too.
After wrestling for a few years, Grado started to pick up steam in 2012 with a series of videos aimed at getting him booked in ICW, the Glasgow based Insane Championship Wrestling. “Get Grado Booked” became such a sensation that crowds at ICW shows were chanting for Grado even though he had never been mentioned by the company itself. Eventually, Grado was booked by ICW owner Mark Dallas and a match was made, for the main event of Smokin’ Thunderbowl in an ICW title bout against Red Lightning.
In the meantime he was part of a Vice documentary following him as he talked about his beginnings in wrestling and followed him as he prepared for the match and his debut for ICW. On August 5th, 2012, Grado made his in-ring debut for ICW, winning the ICW title from Red Lightning in a decision that was then overturned due to the latter having his foot under the bottom rope, allowing Lightning to retain in the immediate rematch. But even though Grado came out the loser on that night, ICW had seen its first proper glimpse of Grado, and they were hooked.
In the coming months, Grado would boom in popularity, wrestling for ICW, SWA, SWE and PBW among others. At a show in Aberdeen for WrestleZone, Grado would take on a former WWE wrestler and a favourite of a younger Stevely in Scotty 2 Hotty, beating him in front of a sold out crowd. Later that year, Grado would go on to win the Pro Wrestling Elite heavyweight title from british wrestler, Dave Mastiff at the aptly named Gradomania event, his first official singles title as Grado. Later that year, after facing American star Colt Cobana in a singles match at ICW’s “Dave’s Not Here Man” show, the two would go on to team together and win the ICW tag titles at the ICW Fringe Tour defeating Chris Renfrew and BT Gunn, giving Grado his first ICW title since debuting two years earlier. The two would lose the belts back to the former champs only a few days later.
Grado was slowly becoming a cult icon in his homeland of Scotland and in the UK but in the US he was a relative nobody. That was until TNA came knocking with their second season of the Uk based reality show, British Boot Camp. Grado was chosen as one of the participants in the competition but was thrown out by trainer Al Snow after (kayfabe) missing the second round due to “having lunch and losing track of time”. He was brought back in after multiple attempts by himself and fans, making it to the finals and the top 6, then being eliminated by Al Snow. Grado would challenge Snow to a match at the Glasgow tapings of the British Boot Camp tour, where he went on to win and earning Snow’s respect in the meantime.
Grado became headline news recently with the #sayyesmadonna trend on twitter, in which the “Chubby Wee Chancer Fae The Tap End Of Stevenston” begged the queen of pop Madonna to let him use her famous classic “Like A Prayer” on televised events, as she had previously refused. The song, which has been his signature entrance theme to an entrance that is as much his trademark as well-known as his shenanigans in and out of the ring, was never a problem before as it had never appeared on syndicated TV networks before, but during his run with TNA it would appear on Challenge in the UK and Destination America in the US, therefore needing her permission to use. She has yet to agree however, but the trend still continues in the hope she will one day change her mind.
Grado is an amazingly organic act, one that is true to himself in character as what you see is as much Graeme Stevely as it is Grado. He is a fan of the sport that he dabbles in and a fan of the product that he produces. Who knows where Grado will end up, or indeed to which heights he will attain, but right now, regardless of the destination, Grado is definitely enjoying the ride.
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