Former British wrestler who currently makes money by cutting hair recalls how injury-plagued career cost him his pro-wrestling dream

KJ Riley shows off his strength by dropping his opponent onto the ring mat. Picture: Rob Brazier @ Head Drop

By Shazad Hussain

KJ Riley smiles when you call him a pro. Clients who take a seat in his salon know Riley’s idea of turning professional means more to him when he’s reminiscing about his glory days as a British wrestling star.

The once self-proclaimed Most Beautiful Wrestler in the World made his People’s Republic of Wrestling debut in July 2017 defeating The Future Cal Adams for the PROW championship.

But one year later, the 32-year old was forced to rethink his future in wrestling after being on the receiving end of a bad landing on the side of the ring apron.

“The injury was a lower back problem which developed into sciatica where I was dropped hard on the apron at a camp show in August three years ago.

“But the lack of rest and the want to wrestle more aggravated it even more.

“Then a suplex through some chairs five months later and a powerbomb outside the ring in Trowbridge in March 2018 was the last time I took high risk manoeuvres as I knew something was wrong.”

The Cornwall-born barber started to gradually fade out of the scene by cutting the hair of his fellow wrestlers – and subsequently forging a pathway back into a profession he was involved in for 17 years.

“As I really wasn’t a popular wrestler, it wasn’t hard for me to fade out of the scene.

“Four years ago, I won an accreditation award in London as British Master Barber in the UK. That helped me as I used to cut hair for a few of the wrestlers at Progress Wrestling before a show when I was training.

“When I was younger I’d always experiment with my hairstyles and that’s where my interest in the profession began.

“I decided that I wanted to be a travelling barber instead of working in one place because I enjoyed the travelling lifestyle of wrestling. I enjoyed meeting new people and being in different cities so I wanted to keep that.

“I’ve travelled to different cities to cut hair, from Cornwall to London to now in Melbourne.”

KJ Riley poses for a photoshoot with Progress Wrestling as he looks ahead to his career as an indy wrestler. Picture: KJ Riley’s Facebook page

As a result of the constant injuries, Riley hardly wrestled in the summer of 2018 and gave up altogether a couple of months later.

He wrestled his last UK match against Chris Murphy and Jezz Gardner.

Riley tried giving it another shot in Australia but the injury was still there and he decided enough was enough.

“I was prepared for that. I saw it coming. That’s why I was a barber by day and wrestler by night.

“Injuries came in my way and didn’t let me flourish and perform to the level I hoped I would or to the level my friends were competing at.

“I was nowhere near as good as the guys I trained with such as The OJMO, The NIC, Chuck Mambo, Darrell Allen and Eddie Dennis to name a few.”

The former Prince of the Republic champion said the conversation with his business colleagues regarding his decision to exit the business went smoother than he anticipated.

“Friends of the business alike were supportive and still speak to me today even though I don’t do much in wrestling anymore.

“So, because of that the transition was pretty smooth from being a wrestler to a barber.

“It wasn’t all glitz and glamour like my idols had but I can honestly say it was a very hard business to be in. You had to sacrifice a lot just to get that ten minutes in the ring.”

Having been out of the business for two years, Riley keeps his wrestling championships in the salon he works at as a token to remember his wrestling years.

KJ Riley shows off his barbering skill with a fade cut for one of his clients. Picture: KJ Riley’s Instagram page

Even more, he misses the energy he felt when walking out from behind the curtain to the thunderous roar from the passionate fans, as well as helping up and coming talent to find their place in the industry.

“I was still very much a rookie and made it to Progress Wrestling events and competed in dark matches, so I guess I miss that rush, that energy that you got from performing in front of people, playing off of their reactions.

“I took over PROW after I won my title with another wrestler named Gangster and had a taste at promoting as well and gave talent who couldn’t get on bigger shows a chance.

“We did about ten shows, a few camps and four bigger shows. The capacity was around 200 people, but worked mainly with a charity organisation called Stepping Stones in Trowbridge.

“The moment that stood out for me the most was when I performed in my hometown of Redruth in Cornwall in my old night club that I used to go to a lot called Zone.”

Even though Riley’s fighting days now seem like a distant memory, his barbering clients who rely on him to help them stay looking sharp still like to hear his wrestling anecdotes.

“I have clients who are regular customers of mine and every single time they always want to hear another road trip story or what training was like or even about how everything happens behind the scenes.

“It’s become a thing now. And it’s a good way to pass time while they’re sitting in the chair getting their haircut. Whenever a customer does want to hear a wrestling story, I try to make it worth their while.”

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