As an eight-year-old boy, John Mossop sat in the crowd of a wrestling show at Whitehaven Civic Hall, and instantly found himself mesmerised by the larger-than-life characters going head-to-head in the ring.
Fast forward a couple of decades filled with bruising battles and broken bones, and John – aka Johnny Moss – is about to realise his lifetime’s ambition.
He’s spent a 20-year in-ring career wrestling all over the world with some of the biggest names in the sport, and next week he’s jetting out to Orlando to start his dream job – training the next generation of superstars for the most famous wrestling company on the planet, World Wrestling Entertainment.
“From the day of seeing that show in Whitehaven when I was eight, wrestling is all I’ve ever wanted to do,” says John, from Egremont.
“Not long after, they started showing WWF, as it was then known, on Sky TV when I was around 11 and I was totally hooked.
“I collected all the videos and magazines; I was absolutely obsessed, and still am. I thought to myself: “I’ll do that one day…”
Johnny’s new role with WWE, synonymous with names including Hulk Hogan, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, will see him work in its NXT Performance Centre in Orlando, helping to coach the next generation of men and women hoping to be the next big thing in the profession.
Under the tutelage of WWE legend and NXT supremo Triple H, he’ll work daily with the up-and-comers, alongside icons such as Shawn Michaels and William Regal, teaching them the all skills, charisma and showmanship it takes to be a pro wrestler.
“For me, that’s the biggest compliment they can pay me. The fact that WWE puts enough trust in me to teach their next generation is the ultimate pat on the back.
“If I can help someone break into the business and maybe even one day headline WrestleMania, that will be a dream come true for me.”
The heights that await Johnny in Florida are a far cry from his gruelling start in the sport.
At 17, he spotted an advert for a wrestling school in Kent run by top trainer Andre ‘Sledgehammer’ Baker and would made the arduous round trip every weekend, travelling through the night, to Baker’s famous Hammerlock school.
Under Baker’s watch, he started to hone his craft and gradually gained enough ability to begin having public matches, making his debut in August 1997.
His reputation as a no-nonsense smash-mouth competitor grew and he began to be booked on shows across the UK and in Europe, eventually establishing himself as one of the most sought-after talents on the circuit.
His CV of opponents and those he has shared a bill with over the years with reads like a who’s who of professional wrestling: Ric Flair, Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart, Mick Foley, Rey Mysterio, Daniel Bryan, Booker T, Fit Finlay, Scott Steiner, Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, the list goes on.
He famously helped train current WWE superstar and former Universal Champion Finn Balor – now a close personal friend – and the pair even formed a tag-team at Whitehaven Sports Centre in 2004.
In fact, when Balor won the NXT title from Kevin Owens in Tokyo in 2015, he Tweeted to credit Johnny with being his greatest inspiration.
“It’s fantastic to see him doing so well; I always knew how incredibly talented he was and I’m proud to see what he has gone on to achieve.”
Other highlights for Johnny over the past 20 years have been numerous. From his first tour of the United States in 1999, his match against Jeff Jarrett at Wembley Arena in 2011, being in the main event of the revival of the iconic World Of Sport which aired on ITV last New Year’s Eve, to an historic first tour of Qatar, which included wrestling in a sandstorm!
‘I’ve got to travel the world, doing what I love to do,” he said. “And I’ve had the privilege of working with some amazing people.