Scotland

The wrestler getting 'hit like the boys'

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Media captionThe Scottish woman breaking the wrestling mould

Viper has been a professional wrestler for a decade but the past year has seen her career take off with an appearance in a WWE tournament.

She has also lived and worked in Japan and appeared on a UK television wrestling revival show, sporting a Saltire singlet.

The 26-year-old wrestler, whose real name is Kimberly Benson, says she first discovered the sport when she stumbled on a wrestling programme on TV when she was nine.

Image copyright Kimberly Benson
Image caption Kimberly made her professional wrestling debut at the age of 16, one year after she began training

"I went past something that was, for a split second, flashing lights and music," she says.

"I was really taken in. I just thought 'this is amazing, this is fantastic'."

Kimberly kept her love of wrestling secret at first.

She was worried that her female friends would think she was "weird" for liking wrestling because they considered it a boys' sport.

It was only when she was 15, and her oldest nephew began to watch wrestling, that Kimberly's passion was rekindled and she was open about enjoying wrestling.

Image copyright ICW/David Wilson
Image caption Viper was chosen as Kimberly's wrestling name because of her love for WWE wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin, who is also known as The Texas Rattlesnake

Her introduction to professional wrestling was at a training school near her Ayrshire home.

She says: "I got beat up, totally beat up. I remember lying in bed the next day, being so sore and in absolute agony, but I just loved it, I had to go back."

'You'll get hit like one of the boys'

Kimberly made her professional debut a year later.

In professional wrestling, wrestlers adopt 'characters' who they portray in the ring, to make the matches more entertaining.

At 16 years old, it took Kimberly a while to get used to what was expected of her.

She says: "It was really awkward for me when I first started.

"Teenage girls don't know who they are, so how can you expect them to play somebody else?"

"Everyone was like 'Oh, you're big so you have to be a bad guy and be grumpy'.

"But if anyone knows me in real life, they know that's not me at all."

Treated differently

In other ways, however, Kimberly has nothing but praise for her early experiences.

She says: "The way I was brought up in wrestling was that you train with the boys, you're one of the boys, and you'll get hit like one of the boys.

"If I was constantly pandered or treated differently then I definitely wouldn't be here today."

The perception of gender in wrestling bothers her.

She says: "People will say things like 'it's such a good woman's match' - why is it not just a good match?

"I hate that. Sometimes you're segregated in a way.

"If you're going to put in the work and break the mould, you can be a good wrestler".

'I had a wee cry'

Kimberly was part of the ITV World of Sport special on New Year's Eve 2016, and until April was set to appear in a revival of the series.

One month before filming was set to begin, however, the project was postponed indefinitely.

Image copyright One Fall Sessions
Image caption Proud of her Scottish heritage, the former bagpiper often wears a Saltire singlet in her matches

"I was utterly devastated. It was one of the worst days of my life," she says.

"To have it all come crashing down was so hard."

Not long after, a phone call came from WWE, one of the world's largest wrestling companies, asking her to be part of the female tournament, Mae Young Classic.

"I had a wee cry. I thought I'd missed both opportunities," she says.

Kimberly travelled to America, one of two Scots among the 32 competitors. She made it to the third round.

Image copyright ICW/David Wilson
Image caption Kimberly returned to the UK in October to tour with Glasgow wrestling promotion ICW

"It was amazing just being there. It was great, seeing everything and how high-class it was."

As Viper is already the name of a WWE star, Kimberly had to adopt a new wrestling name.

She chose Piper Niven because she played bagpipes as a child, and Niven is her dad's first name.

She says: "It should be important to everyone to be proud of where they come from.

"Scottish wrestling is huge at the moment, I think it has some of the best wrestling in the world. I'm quite proud of my heritage."

But representing Scotland was not something she did lightly.

"It was a bit daunting," she says.

"There's a couple of Scottish wrestlers signed to WWE currently, so I had to keep up that reputation."

Image copyright Kimberly Benson
Image caption Kimberly was often given toy Pikachus by the wrestling fans in Japan

Her international experiences have not always been so positive.

Viper has lived in Japan, wrestling as part of Japanese women's company World Wonder Ring Stardom.

The trial period she spent with the company was difficult.

She says: "It was the roughest, hardest three months of my life.

"So many nights I'd be on the phone crying to my mum and dad saying I want to come home. It was really horrible sometimes."

Kimberly stuck it out, and went from being a gaijin (outside person) to having the honorific san attached to her name.

She says: "Over time I did win over people's respect. I'm just one of them now, I'm just the big, blonde, adopted child in the ring."

Homecoming

An industrial unit is home to Glasgow Pro Wrestling Asylum, where Kimberly now trains.

She is part of the Insane Championship Wrestling (ICW) promotion, once the focus of a BBC series.

"It really is my home. It's where my friends are, it's the place I've come back to, it's the place that grounds me." she says.

Image copyright David Wilson
Image caption Kimberly was overwhelmed after becoming the first ICW women's champion in 2015

The largest ICW show of the year is taking place at the SSE Hydro on 19 November.

Kimberly is taking part in a triple threat cage match, in which three wrestlers aim to be the first to exit a 15ft steel cage, to decide the women's championship.

She is excited by the prospect.

She says: "We want to show that we should be in matches like this and we should be having stipulations like this - why shouldn't we?

"We're absolutely knocking it out of the park in every other situation you put us in."

She considers her upcoming match a "homecoming".

"It feels like it's time for me to bring everything that's happened this year home," she says,

"It's time to remind everyone that this is where I came from and this is where I'm always going to be.

"This is my crown and this is my throne, and I'm taking it back."