Maybe Wade Barrett was always destined for a career putting both life and limb on the line.
The Preston-born wrestler, who lived in Penwortham until he was six-years-old, is one of World Wrestling Entertainment’s biggest box office stars and is a huge name in America – more famous than David Beckham!
Barrett has grappled in the ring with some of the world’s strongest men, including US mega stars John Cena and Randy Orton.
Perhaps his route to the bear pit world of WWE can be traced back to the day when Barrett’s father decided one day to take his young son to watch Preston North End at Chester City.
The baby-faced youngster was aged just six in 1986 when he travelled to Sealand Road with his old man to watch their beloved North End.
In his wisdom, Barrett’s dad decided to shield his son from the rough and tumble of the terraces and instead opted to take his son to the seating area of the ground.
What Barrett, whose real name is Stuart Bennett, didn’t realise at the time was that his dad was taking him into the home end of the ground – where they sat smack bang in the middle of Chester’s supporters.
Barrett said: “Probably my earliest and most vivid memory of watching North End was when we played Chester City away.
“I was about six and I went with my dad. We went to the Chester ground and because back then in 1986, the crowds were a bit more rough and violent, my dad decided to take me into the seating area which was where the Chester City fans were.
“The game was 0-0 right the way through until the 90th minute when Preston scored.
“I can’t remember which player scored, but I just remember being horrified when my dad jumped up and started dancing in the stands around all these miserable Chester City fans.
“I was convinced, as a six-year-old, that we were going to be slaughtered by all these Chester fans.”
While Barrett’s survival instincts kicked-in as early as the age of six, he has used them impressively since to forge a career in the dog-eat-dog world of WWE.
He is also hoping North End can survive this season and preserve their status as a Championship club.
“It’s obviously been a very tough couple of years for Preston,” he said.
“They’ve obviously got it rough at the moment. It’s horrible to watch your team and see them in that position.
“It’s difficult for me to comment on the team and the players because I have been away and I haven’t been able to watch.
“It’s horrible to see. I’ve been down to meet the players and the manager at the training ground – they seem very upbeat and a good bunch.
“I hope they can pull through this season but we’ll just have to see.
“I look out for North End’s results all the time – I have my dad emailing me team news. He’s well up with it all and I check out the results on the BBC and Lancashire Evening Post websites.
“The last time I was on Deepdale was about five years ago although I can’t specifically remember the game
“To be honest, I’ve probably seen North End more away from home than I have at Deepdale because I left Preston when I was aged six and moved to Wales and I was living in Cardiff for a long time and after that I lived in Slough, the Isle of Man and Liverpool, so I haven’t actually lived in Preston all that long.
“But I used to go and watch a lot of games along the M4 corridor so when Preston used to go and play at Reading, QPR, Luton, Cardiff City, the two Bristol sides, Shrewsbury...I would be going to all those games.
“I don’t think I would call Preston home because I only lived there until I was six.
“I don’t really call anywhere home. I have got some family who live here and some family who live in Cardiff – but North End has always been my football team.”
Standing at an imposing and muscular 6ft 7in, it is easy to see why Barrett has become such a big hit in WWE.
He is famous for being the leader of the Nexus group – a group of bad boy wrestlers who have ganged-up and attacked a number of high profile wrestlers.
On meeting Barrett outside the ring, it is difficult to imagine that he has a bad-boy image in America.
A charming, well-spoken individual, Barrett boasts a degree in marine biology.
He admits he has no interest in being a crowd-pleaser, and is solely focused on becoming the best wrestler in the world.
Even when he returned to these shores late last year as WWE was performed to a UK audience in arenas such as the MEN, in Manchester, and London’s O2, Barrett discovered his home crowd was against him.
He added: “I was quite surprised when we came to the UK last year. Normally when people go back to their home country and wrestle, they get a lot of cheers.
“I know when William Regal comes over to the UK, he gets a lot of cheers so I was half-expecting when I came back to the UK that people would cheer for me but no they weren’t cheering for me either.
“Luckily I am not offended easily. I was a little surprised not one person cheered for me but I can handle it.
“I never went into sports entertainment to be somebody who gets a pat on the back or to be liked. Some guys like Rey Mysterio and John Cena go out into the ring and are looking to get the crowd cheering for them and they do stuff which pleases the crowd.
“But that’s never been on my agenda – to get people cheering for me.
“If they want to cheer for me, that’s fine.
“If they want to boo me, that’s fine also.
“I just want to go out there and get success – it just so happens most people don’t appear to like me.”
Last year was a massive break-through year for Barrett. He made his debut in WWE on the Smackdown brand in February.
He quickly became embroiled in a long-running feud with Cena while he had two bitter losses to Orton when he competed for the world heavyweight title.
“It’s been a huge year for me,” said Barrett.
“I got to perform on some of the main events...a lot of the pay-per-views like Summer Slam, Survivor Series and TLC.
“I got to wrestle with some of the best wrestlers in the world like John Cena and Randy Orton.
“Those guys...they are very tough to wrestle with and they are at the top of their game for a reason. They are very experienced and multiple-time world champions, so I was really testing myself against the best when I fought those guys.
“In terms of personalities, I don’t necessarily get on with those guys too well – they are not really my type of person.
“People always ask me, ‘Are you guys friends outside the ring’?
“But to be honest, there are a lot of guys you are not friends with.
“It’s like any job, I have worked in offices and laboratories before, and there are always people you do and don’t like and WWE is no different.”
On his feud with Cena, Barrett added: “It was great for me because I was fighting one of the top guys in the world who was very tough and very experienced.
“It also gave me a lot of publicity and it also gave me a chance to learn from the best.
“When I’m fighting a guy like Cena I have to make sure that I am on form all the time and I’m performing to the best of my ability just to keep up with him.
“So yeah it was really good for me. It was a really good learning experience and for the advancement of my career.”
Barrett, whose inspiration behind his stage name has roots in Preston – he was a big fan of former England rugby star and Grasshoppers player Wade Dooley, began watching WWE as a wide-eyed boy.
He added: “I started watching back in the day of Hulk Hogan and Brett ‘The Hitman’ Hart and people like that.
“I always wanted to be a footballer when I was really young but that didn’t quite work out for me – I wasn’t quite good enough.
“So then I moved on to my second love wrestling.
“I was a fan from the age of nine or 10 and started seriously thinking about being a wrestler when I was about 20-years-old.
“I started working out and making my muscles bigger and started putting on weight because I was very skinny at the time.
“At the age of 23, I started training to become a wrestler in the UK and wrestling on the independent circuit.
“When I was 27 I was lucky enough to be signed by WWE and taken over to the United States.
“I think when I was a kid, I loved the showmanship and how different it was and how crazy the characters were and how different they were to normal life.
“As I got older I started to appreciate the athleticism and the talent the guys had for entertaining crowds and I really felt with my athletic background and my size, it was something I could have success in.”
While his life in America appears all glitz and glamour, Barrett admits that he spends a lot of time on the road and in the gym practising all his wrestling moves.
His finishing manoeuvres are the ‘spinebuster’ and ‘the wasteland’ while his signature moves include the ‘slingshot backbreaker’, the ‘big boot’ and the ‘European uppercut’.
Said Barrett: “You get very little time off – you’re on the road for 300 days a year travelling from city to city.
“I am lucky if I get one night per week in my own bed so that part of the job is very tough.
“But also what is very tough is the training part of the job and learning how to become a wrestler and that takes a lot of years and we always say to people don’t try this at home because it can be very dangerous.
“I have had some terrible injuries in my career and I have only been wrestling seven or eight years.
“So we always say to people, ‘Listen guys, don’t do what we do’.”
Barrett is looking forward to another exciting year. He will be appearing in Wrestlemania in Atlanta, USA, on April 3rd, which is the biggest pay per view event of the year for WWE.
He is also part of a new team of wrestlers called The Corre. He added: “I have a new group now called The Corre. We’re on Smackdown. Overall I would say the quality of the guys in The Corre is better than the overall quality of Nexus.
“So we are expecting big things from The Corre.
“But first and foremost, my goal is to wrestle at Wrestlemania on April 3.
It’s a huge event for us – the biggest one of the year.
“After I have achieved that I want to go on and fight for the heavyweight world title, which is currently being held by Edge and I want to become the first English world champion.
“I wrestled Randy Orton a couple of times on Bragging Rights and Survivor Series. I wrestled Randy twice for the world title.
“I was unsuccessful both times but I am not going to be deterred by that and I want to come back bigger and better and hopefully next time will be my turn.”