Yes, pro wrestling does exist in New Zealand - and one of its stars is poised to make a comeback.
Not many people can say they’ve made a career out of an obsession, but this Otago lad isn’t your average person.
Wilbur McDougall, 28, is an actor, comedian and wrestler who came to prominence in the New Zealand wrestling scene in the late ‘00s with his alter-ego “Wilbur Force”.
Before Wilbur became the “Force”, the self-confessed beach boy grew up in the coastal-suburb of Broad Bay, Dunedin. “I was obsessed with wrestling from the age of 9, it’s a bit embarrassing but I have about 50 toys that I’ve kept.”
As a young boy his wrestling heroes were Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, but his parents - a playwright and a painter - were more refined influences.
“They were quite new age liberal parents and having my parents writing and painting around the house definitely moulded me into someone who was going to get into the creative industry.”
He decided to take up acting at Bayfield High School before going to study theatre at Otago University.
Wilbur was always the character of the classroom. “I was very loud and a bit of a pain in the ass. I didn’t pass, but I went! I got a lot of experience out of it.”
In 2009, Wilbur was living in Wellington, pursuing a career in theatre and television, when he was given the chance to become a Kiwi Pro Wrestling commentator. “They wanted someone with colour and character who could play the bad-cop commentator.”
After becoming heavily involved in the wrestling scene, attending Sunday practices and learning tricks of the trade from other performers, it wasn’t long until he swapped his microphone for spandex and elaborate coats. “I was going along to these wrestling sessions, but we didn’t have any big men and most organisations do have a big fat guy.”
Wilbur got his break when fellow wrestlers Jade Diamond and Whetu the Maori Warrior told the boss he was better than some of the men already there.
“I became Wilbur Force - he’s loud, mean and aggressive. He’s a brutal force of nature.”
Wilbur’s career took off. he was wrestling with some of the greatest in New Zealand and became a strong character in the KPW scene. “There’s nothing greater than walking out of the arena with all of the children screaming at you, hating you.”
But due to money issues and a training facility being pulled, the number of shows dwindled from once every three months, to once every six months until only one show was produced a year.
“I was always a big guy, but when I stopped training I put on more weight and got lazy. I was unmotivated and I went downhill. I didn’t like my job, I pulled out of plays in Wellington and without those awesome things I got sick of Wellington.”
After three years in the business, he returned home to Dunedin.
Back home Wilbur remained unmotivated with no job or wrestling federation to be a part of when former uni mate J. Ollie Lucks pitched a short film to him and about him called Wilbur Force.
“I wasn’t a fan, but then he put wrestling into it. The film is about being the best version of myself. In the film he’s trying to get me off my ass, out of my room and to start using my talent.
“It felt pretty honest and true to me watching it. This film captures me.”
WATCH: Director J.Ollie Lucks talks to Wilbur McDougall about wrestling:
Three years since leaving his creative outlet, Wilbur is following the film’s character and is getting back into the ring.
“I never thought it would happen while I was living in Dunedin. Just as I was getting off my backside and into performing again, I got a call from my mate T-Rex saying he wants to put on a wrestling show in Invercargill.
“I’m a good mixture of creative and lazy. I never really gave it a proper go so now maybe this is the chance to go out there and be brave.”
* Wilbur Force premieres at Queen St Cinema in Auckland tonight before the screening of I Am Thor as part of the NZ International Film Festival. You can also watch it on The Wireless tomorrow.