There are now so many Scots wrestling for WWE that they’ve got their own WhatsApp group chat – with the Braveheart-inspired name “Freedom”.
For the latest pair of warriors to get called up to the sports entertainment giant’s top shows, it’s a culmination of years of hard work that’s taken them from community centres across Scotland to the big arenas of the world.
The tag team of Kayleigh Rae, who performs under the name Alba Fyre, and Courtney Stewart, who is known as Isla Dawn, were stunned to receive a promotion from developmental brand NXT on the live televised WWE draft last month.
It means they’ll now be performing on SmackDown, which airs on Fox every Friday to audiences of over two million in the US and many more across the world, including here in the UK on BT Sport.
One in a million
Still NXT women’s tag team champions, they are among nine Scots on the roster, five of whom currently hold championship gold.
“There’s five million people in Scotland, so we’re one in a million,” Courtney laughed.
“It’s so out of this world, because we are such a small country and we never thought this would happen. It’s a big opportunity for us to be inspirations for people in Scotland.
“We’ve got the accents, but we’re on live TV Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. We’re hoping that we can show people that you can come from Scotland and the sky’s the limit. We’re testament to that.”
Kayleigh added: “We always thought the accents would hold us back, but they love it here.
“We never thought a couple of wee lassies from Johnstone and Glesga could ever be doing this!”
The path for British female stars in professional wrestling began with English star Paige, whose life story is told in the film Fighting With My Family, starring Florence Pugh and The Rock.
For Scots, Ayr’s Drew McIntyre led the way, and was the face of the company during the pandemic as WWE champion, while Nikki Cross was the first Scottish female world champion.
The introduction of WWE’s NXT:UK developmental brand and partnerships with Scottish-based Insane Championship Wrestling led to talent filtering into the system and making the most of the opportunity.
“We’re everywhere, at least one Scot on every brand,” Kayleigh, 30, said. “That’s incredible to us. When Paige first signed for WWE we thought, they’ve got a female from the UK, they don’t need us.
“Then Nikki went and we were like, they’ve got a Scot now, they definitely don’t need us. For whatever reasons, that’s all changed really quickly.”
The other Scots in WWE at present include Piper Niven, Noam Dar and the faction Gallus, made up of Wolfgang and brothers Joe and Mark Coffey.
Hard work and a strong ethos of supporting one another seems to have been the recipe for success.
Courtney, 29, said: “We weren’t all best mates and hung out all the time, but we all really supported each other and we would give feedback to each other constantly.
“We’re like a wee gang that push each other to be better. I’ve come back from a match and the Scottish boys have said ‘ah that wasn’t your best’ and they’ll give you the hard truth and it makes me better.
“We’ve got a wee community supporting each other, and now we’re all in America, having fun!”
With their characters taking inspiration from Scottish mythology and incorporating a more mystical element to their storytelling, the tag team are proud to be able to bring a bit of Scotland to the ring with them.
“It’s been really fun,” Kayleigh said. “Whether it’s fully true to history or not, we’re creating a character, a story.
“Even the stories I thought I knew about, I’m learning so much more.”
Courtney added: “It’s nice to give little nods to our heritage. I’ve always got a bit of tartan on my ring gear. It feels like we’re representing a very small place on a very big stage.”
WWE and the wider wrestling world is increasingly coming to the UK not just for talent but also huge showcase events. Last year, Wales hosted the first UK stadium event since 1992 when Clash at the Castle came to Cardiff’s 80,000 capacity Principality Stadium.
Next month, WWE’s annual Money In The Bank event heads to the O2 in London and fellow US promotion All Elite Wrestling is running All In at Wembley Stadium in August.
“The crowds in the UK are next level,” Courtney said. “They deserve it – and it’s exciting for us to wrestle in the UK again because it is madness. It’s the best.”
And they’ve been hassling management about a Scottish event for a while, with Kayleigh adding: “Wales has got theirs, London’s got one, so Scotland must be next!”
A proud uncle
For Burnistoun star and long-time wrestling fanatic Robert Florence, there’s an even bigger sense of pride at seeing Scots stars flourishing – he’s Courtney’s uncle.
“My family have always been into wrestling and it was inconceivable that one day one of us would be in the WWE, wearing a title round their waist, it’s crazy stuff,” he said.
“Courtney’s always been special and has been certain about going her own path, really independent. She’s always wanted to do something different and when she went into wrestling it wasn’t long before she went over to Japan and you knew it was serious.
“It takes an incredible amount of bravery – I know I couldn’t have done it at her age. She’s worked so hard. She’s earned it.”
Florence, who hosts the Wrestling Daft podcast alongside Grado, wasn’t surprised to see Courtney and Kayleigh make it.
“They’ve both been so great for such a long time,” he said. “That’s them right at the top, it doesn’t get any bigger than that.
“Obviously, I work in Scottish telly, and you maybe get 100,000 people if you’re lucky watching your stuff. You’re trying to explain to people ‘see my niece, right? She’s on this major American TV programme on a major network that millions of people watch!’ It’s hard for people to even conceive, it’s a massive gig, a total dream.”
Ronda Rousey having to experience being annoyed by my wee sister, a feeling I've endured for decades, amuses me. pic.twitter.com/Oln4gxfBqz
— Louise Stewart (@LouiseStewart) June 10, 2023
Florence reckons they probably won’t be the last Scots to make it to the top either.
“I’ve got four daughters and showing Courtney to them on the telly is fantastic,” he added.
“We’ve always had a lot of talent and it’s nice that things seem to have changed in America where they seem to be far more open to Scottish wrestlers.
“There’s always been a good camaraderie here among all the wrestlers. I’ve always been quite surprised by how, fundamentally, everybody’s pals. People like seeing their pal do well and that’s a great thing.”
WWE Money in the Bank will air live from London’s O2 Arena on July 1, 2023, the first Premium Live Event to be held in London in over two decades. Friday night SmackDown will also air live from London on June 30, the first time ever that SmackDown will broadcast live from the UK.
The Scots stars of wrestling
Here are some of the big names from Scotland who are currently making waves in the world of WWE and other wrestling companies
From Ayr, Drew has been a trailblazer for Scottish talent, first signing for WWE in 2007 and pushed as chairman Vince McMahon’s “chosen one”.
He fell down the card and was eventually released from the company but, after reinventing himself on the independent scene, returned in 2017 and became the company’s first ever British champion in 2020.
He remains a main event star.
Under her “almost a superhero” persona, Nikki, from Glasgow, won WWE’s Money In The Bank ladder match in 2021 in one of the first events back in front of crowds.
She cashed in the contract to become women’s champion and has also been women’s tag team champion several times.
The man “fae the tap end of Stevenston” has become a familiar face as an actor on Two Doors Down and Scot Squad, while also regularly taking to the ring in shows across Scotland.
Like many others, he got his big break through Glasgow-based Insane Championship Wrestling (ICW).
Hendry, from Edinburgh, represented Scotland in freestyle wrestling at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018.
Famed for his entrances where he performs parody songs relating to his opponents, he was a top star in ICW and is now a champion for Impact Wrestling, the third largest promotion in the US behind WWE and AEW.
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