Adrian Street: Made To Be Seen | TrailBlazers

Adrian Street came from a coal mining family in Brynmawr, Wales. Before he was one year old, his father, Emrys Street, was conscripted into WWII. The young Adrian only knew of his father through what his mother told him. The British Army stationed Emrys in the Pacific, where Japanese forces captured him. The time spent in the P.O.W. camp made Emrys bitter. Adrian describes his father as “a hateful bigot who never had a kind word to say about me in his life.”

Emrys went back to coal mining upon his return from the war. He would often threaten to get his son a job in the pit when he misbehaved. One day, when Adrian was 15, he made good on his word. Adrian hated coal mining and dreamed of fame and fortune. He wanted to be a star like Lou Thesz or Buddy Rogers, who he read about in American wrestling magazines. At age 16, he decided to pursue that dream, leaving his home in Wales for London. Adrian had taken up weightlifting at 11, but at 5’7” he didn’t cut the imposing figure of a wrestler. Instead, he became a boxer. He worked at a fairground, earning £1 for each of his 7 daily fights. But he wasn’t a very good boxer, as he couldn’t keep a handle on all the rules. Pro wrestling, on the other hand, had fewer rules.

Adrian Street | Trailblazers
Beginning as a Wrestler

Adrian Street’s first match was against “Gentleman” Geoff Moran at the New Addington Hotel on August 8th, 1957. The 16-year old was billed as “Kid ‘Tarzan’ Jonathan” after Tarzan Tyler and Don Leo Jonathan. Both men were prominent North American wrestlers at the time. Before the match, Moran went over the spots he meant to do. However, Street did not know pro wrestling is staged. He believed Moran was revealing his strategy. When the bell rang, Street disregarded all of Moran’s instructions and dislocated the man’s shoulder to win the match. Backstage he got an earful from not only the promoter but Moran’s wife. The promoter felt there was something to this Welsh kid, however, as he instructed Street to go to Johnny Kilroy’s gym. There, he was to ask for “Iron Jaw” Murphy and Tony Scarlo and ask them to “Teach me to die.”

5 years into his wrestling career, Adrian felt that he was lacking in the ring. He was definitely skilled, but he was indistinguishable from everyone else. He felt that if he could fix this, he would become the next big star. Looking at American wrestling magazines for inspiration, he began emulating Buddy Rogers. He dyed his hair blond and bought a powder blue ring jacket and tights to match. He even copied the nickname, becoming “Nature Boy” Adrian Street. This was a bold move, as professional wrestling in 60’s Britain was about working-class men fighting it out with little fanfare. The showmanship of American wrestling hadn’t yet made its way to England.

As Street recalled with inews.co:

“I had a 27-inch waist, a 48-inch chest and a great suntan. I knew I looked fantastic and thought the audience would go ‘wow, what a great athlete’. Instead, they shouted ‘Ooh, isn’t she cute.’”

Though this wasn’t the reaction he expected, he came to enjoy it. He started blowing kisses and pouting at audience members who catcalled him. “At first I was horrified,” Street told the BBC, “But I have always been a sucker for attention and wanted more so I began strutting around, playing up to it and pushing it farther and farther.”

Pushing The Envelope

One day, his opponent mockingly greeted him in the ring with a limp wrist. The crowd chuckled at this playful insult. Then, Adrian got an idea. He waited until his opponent turned his back, then ran over and slapped him on the buttocks. His opponent turned around in shock, only for Adrian to kiss him on the mouth before pummeling him. The crowd erupted, and Adrian realized he was onto something. “Back in the dressing room, I didn’t want to give the other wrestlers the satisfaction of being right,” he said. “So I pretended that was my plan all along. It’s like when you want to make an entrance at a party, except you trip and fall face-first into the sherry trifle. You get up like, ‘Yeah, I meant to do that.’”

Street started experimenting with this new gimmick. He began designing his own costumes with platform boots and sequined robes. The more pageantry he could bring to the character, the bigger the reaction he got.

“It was a way to get attention. But I was also purposely painting a target on my back because I knew the other wrestlers would resent it – and I wanted them to bring their best fight.”

Working as a heel, Street would often come to the ring accompanied by security. Even with protection, Street often found himself fighting his way out of a building after defeating a local hero. This gimmick brought him championship reigns across The UK and Europe.

Adrian Street | Trailblazers
The Picture That Won’t Stop Talking

Adrian Street

In 1973, Adrian Street captured the European Middleweight Wrestling Championship, and a national newspaper picked up the story. He agreed to a photoshoot, on one condition: It had to be at the old mines, next to his father. Adrian insisted on returning to the Blaina colliery for the photoshoot to show his father and co-workers what he had become. Over a decade prior, they had told him he couldn’t make it as a wrestler. He returned as an internationally recognized champion. Having his picture in a national newspaper made quite an impact on Adrian’s career. Promoters who had previously told him to “cut out the [slur] stuff” wanted him on their cards. But more than just that, the photo found fans in an unexpected place: Rock music.

As Adrian Street’s star began to rise in the UK, so came the rise of Glam Rock. Marc Bolan of T Rex listed Street as one of his inspirations when asked about his look. Elton John took inspiration for his bold costumes. With the lightning bolt face paint and bright red boots, the similarities between Adrian Street and David Bowie are hard to ignore. Street told Huck Magazine

“Whenever I went to the States, interviewers would ask if I invented glam rock. I’d always say, ‘I didn’t invent it, though we sure borrowed a lot from each other.’ I often wonder if Ziggy Stardust wasn’t a direct copy of what I was doing at the time.”

Later on, Street started a band, known as The Pile Drivers. They recorded songs such as “Sweet Transvestite With A Broken Nose” and “Imagine What I Could Do To You.”

Coming To America

In the early 1980s, it seemed like pro wrestling was on the way out in Britain. In the years before, the public was clamoring to see competitors like Shirley “Big Daddy” Crabtree and Giant Haystacks. By 1981, that feud was well and truly over, leaving promoters with no clue how to fill the void. Adrian decided it was time to seek greener pastures and went across the Atlantic. First, he went to Canada, where he wrestled for the legendary Stampede Wrestling promotion in Calgary. There, he clashed with Bruce Hart, Mike Hammer, and Davey Boy Smith. Soon after he made his way to Mexico, where he learned about the Exóticos of Lucha Libre. This gave him the nickname that completed his gimmick: “Exotic” Adrian Street. Now that his gimmick was complete, it was time for him to take America.

The first place Adrian went to was the Continental Wrestling Association in Memphis, Tennessee. He went to the CWA on advice from Bill Dundee, who told Street that the Tennessee territory thrived on cowardly heels. In the CWA he worked against Dundee and rising star Terry Taylor, and briefly joined forces with Jim Cornette. He went to Florida in 1983 where he faced Magnum TA, Barry Windham, and Dusty Rhodes. In 1984, he joined Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling for more tangles with Dusty Rhodes and a program with Jimmy Valiant where Street briefly turned babyface. Adrian Street returned to the CWA in 1985 for a feud with “Macho Man” Randy Savage,  Randy’s last in the company before he left for the WWF.

Adrian Street | Trailblazers
Later Career and Retirement

In the mid-1980s, Vince McMahon was intent on making his World Wrestling Federation a national brand. He did this by purchasing his competition in other territories. If they wouldn’t sell, he’d offer big contracts to their top talent. However, likely due to his advancing age, the WWF never seemed to reach out to him. This left him as a big fish in a pond that was becoming increasingly smaller. In mid-1985, he went to Continental Championship Wrestling, where he captured the NWA Southeastern Heavyweight Championship from Austin Idol. He would spend 1986 and 1987 trading the title with Norvell Austin, Wendell Cooley, and Tommy Rogers before losing it for the final time to Dutch Mantel in 1987.

Following this, his appearances became more sporadic. He wrestled only a handful of matches in the 1990s. During this time, the WWF finally reached out to him, offering him a role as a manager. The WWF had signed two British wrestlers and planned to bring them in as The Skinheads. They wanted Adrian to shave his head and be their racist manager. He turned down the offer, saying that though he would have been good at it, he refused to play a racist.

He came back to the ring in 2005 for the WrestleReunion battle royale, which Greg Valentine won. This effort brought him to NWA Wrestle Birmingham, in Alabama, where he wrestled until 2010. He wrestled his final match on November 19th, 2010, a winning effort against Aeon Flexx. Adrian Street formally announced his retirement in 2014, at the age of 63.