Tom Canning has been serving theatrical beat-downs for roughly the same amount of time as he’s been serving pints behind his bar at the Plough in Shepreth, Cambridgeshire.
"There are companies up and down the country with people like me who've got real jobs but who, on Sunday afternoons, put on some spandex and fight men for a paying audience.”
Having relocated to the area from Bradford around 12 years ago, Canning’s current site – which hosts regular live music and an upstairs art gallery – has recently been named Cambridge and district CAMRA cider pub of the year.
However, Canning, who has been in the pub industry for close to 20 years and a wrestling fan for even longer, found his way into the wrestling ring via a social media post last year as he sought to remedy a lack of fitness.
“Last year, I realised I was woefully unfit," Canning explained.
“There was a wrestler who I'm a big fan of put up an advert on his Twitter saying he was starting to do private coaching. I sent him a message and asked 'is it worth me doing because I'm 37 years old and woefully unfit?' and he said 'yeah, come down’.
“It's been a year now that I've been training. It's done wonders for my health but it's also created this 'Jethro' character."
Getting into character
The full name of Canning’s spandex clad alter-ego, Jethro Roose, is an amalgamation of two famous Cambridgeshire pub landlords – John Roose of the Blue Ball in Grantchester and Jethro Scotcher-Littlechild of the Cambridge Blue.
A reflection of his career beyond the ropes, Canning’s character between them lovingly riffs on stereotypes associated with his day job and experience in the pub trade.
"A lot of people say, 'is it just an Al Murray rip off?' Nothing could be further from the truth. It's more of an everyman sort of bumbling idiot with a heart of gold," he said.
"There's a theory that the best characters are an extension of yourself or a part of your personality, which is turned up to 11.
“I know pubs, I run pubs, so that's obviously a good place to start from.
"If you throw somebody out of the ring it's 'get out, you've 'ad enough!' and various stupid things. Like when you're punching somebody in the face it's 'scampi and fries are part of your five a day!' and all kinds of stupid things like that – 'beer is food too!'
In the year that Canning has been wrestling, he has stage-punched and suplexed his way across the country, wrestling in front of audiences of between 200 and 400 people most Sundays.
Canning explained: “I initially started doing one-on-one sessions with this guy called Ritchie down in Portsmouth.
“He told me about a company called Ultimate British Wrestling based in Hitchin, which is a lot closer than Portsmouth is to Cambridge.
“I hit up the guy called Paul, who's the owner, and said 'I'm doing a bit of training, is it worth my while coming along and training with you guys?'"
Despite an unexpected workload, the now three-time holder of Ultimate British Wrestling’s Infinity title has managed to maintain accolade-worthy standards both inside and outside of the ring.
"Running a pub is a full-time job. It is all encompassing, you're the first one there in the morning, you're the last one there at night. I didn't realise how hard the wrestling training would be.
“I try and train at least once a week because the cardio you need for wrestling is unbelievable.
“You need to be fit, you need to be sharp in order to have matches and put on a show so that what you're doing for a paying audience is worth their time and money.
"The crossover is that 90% of our regulars know what I do when I'm not at the pub, which is the wrestling.
“Everybody is very very supportive, a lot of them buy tickets to come and see the shows – bring the kids along – it's a strange crossover but it gets people interested in the pub.
"They come along with their kids to see a wrestling show and then they see me behind the bar – it's a great thing for a kid, to see this larger-than-life character there behind the bar in front of them.”
Good guys, bad guys
Much like during his time behind a bar, Canning encounters a massively diverse range of characters during his time spent between the ropes as Roose.
“There are good guys and there are bad guys," Canning revealed.
“Our current champion is a chap called Tommy Kyle who's a fantastic young wrestler and who I think is going to go very far.
“But we've got bad guys like the Heathen Heart-throb – a beautiful man, but he's a villain.
“There's a stereotypical Flying Irishman called Paddy O'Connor, there's a couple of big bully tag teams, older guys who just want to beat people up.
“There's a couple of guys who do like a fitness trainer character. There's all kinds of colours and all kinds of characters to get behind.”
However, there’s no doubt over which side of the divide Jethro Roose falls.
"You can't have an evil pub landlord. I'd go bust."