This past Wednesday (June 19), Scottish professional wrestler Adrian ‘Lionheart’ McCallum passed away. He was 36.
A professional since 2002, Lionheart was a mainstay of the UK independent scene, winning titles in Pro Wrestling Elite (PWE), British Championship Wrestling (BCW), Next Generation Wrestling (NGW) and Preston City Wrestling (PCW) amongst others.
Lionheart debuted for PCW in 2011 against Jack Gallagher, becoming a regular for the company as they hit their boom period between 2012 and 2016. The Coventry-born wrestler won the promotion’s heavyweight title three times, most recently in 2018, and also picked up the tag team belts alongside Sha Samuels. However, it was the broken neck Lionheart suffered in a match against AJ Styles that was perhaps his most memorable moment in the promotion. After that severe injury, which came following a Styles Clash, Lionheart was told that he’d struggle to walk again. He was not to be kept down though, returning to action just 377 days later.
The promotion Lionheart was most consistently associated with throughout his career, though, was Glasgow’s Insane Championship Wrestling (ICW). His career there began in 2007 with a singles defeat against James Wallace and over the next couple of years he’d face some of the fledgling promotion’s bigger names like Chris Renfrew, Red Lightning and Wolfgang. Lionheart picked up his first ICW title in August 2011, defeating Noam Dar for the Zero-G championship, although his reign would only last two months, with Dar winning back at Fear & Loathing 4.
Lionheart won the title for a second time in April 2016, defending it against the likes of Lewis Girvan, Zack Gibson, DCT and Kenny Williams over the course of a seven-month reign. Williams would be the one to win it from Lionheart, triumphing in ICW’s first Stairway to Heaven Ladder match at Fear & Loathing IX.
From there ‘Hearto’ moved into feuds with Joe Hendry, one that veered into a shoot at points and saw Lionheart threaten to ‘stick a blade’ in Hendry, and Zack Gibson in 2017, with the latter culminating in a triple threat match at Fear & Loathing X also involving Rob Van Dam.
Jackie Polo had memorably called out and mocked Lionheart on his return to ICW following that career-threatening injury in 2014, resulting in an emotional match at Barramania in March 2015. Polo and Lionheart would rekindle their feud in 2018, clashing at Barramania 4, Shug’s Hoose Party 5 and Fear & Loathing XI, the latter of which saw Lionheart claim ICW’s richest prize, the World Heavyweight title, for the first time. With many of ICW’s top stars appearing for the promotion less in 2018 as a result of their growing WWE commitments, Lionheart became a more prominent feature. That trend continued into 2019 as the 36-year-old successfully defended his title against Shigehiro Irie, Jody Fleisch, Angelico, Mark Coffey, Ashton Smith, Rampage Brown and Alexander Dean. The match with Dean was to be Lionheart’s last, coming just three days before his untimely passing.
The plan moving forward had been for Lionheart to defend the title against Wolfgang at the end of July, with former Black Label stablemate Red Lightning poised to cash in his Square Go contract at any point. That, of course, will not happen now, but at a time like this, belts, titles and the like become irrelevant.
The customary tradition upon a wrestler’s passing is to recommend the best matches they were involved in, so fans who were perhaps unfamiliar with their work could relive the high points in their careers. That doesn’t really work with Lionheart, as he wasn’t that kind of wrestler. He wasn’t a workrate wrestler, instead someone who could connect to crowds and excel as a character whilst delivering consistently solid, if far from ground-breaking, work in the ring. If I were to recommend one match of Lionheart’s for you to watch though, it would be his clash with Jackie Polo from Shug’s Hoose Party last year. Although their match at Fear & Loathing had higher stakes, the pay-off at Shug’s was greater and on that night, Lionheart and Jackie Polo leaned into the psychology and history of their feud to deliver a territory-style emotional classic. I watched the match back recently and everything about it worked, from the Styles Clash spot to Lionheart finally vanquishing his greatest foe. It was one of the best long-form bits of storytelling ICW have ever done and one of the best matches they’ve ever produced.
Lionheart was not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea. His moveset was a little cookie cutter for some but it is important to recognize that his ability to connect with a crowd was pretty much unparalleled in Scotland, and landing the superkick, Rock Bottom and Frog Splash were part of that. Outside the ring, Lionheart was by all accounts a consummate professional and as the swathe of tributes since his passing have shown, a key member of the BritWres community for fans, including famed Scottish comedians Greg Hemphill and Robert Florence, and wrestlers alike.
— Greg Hemphill (@greghemphill96) June 19, 2019
I always looked up to Lionheart’s professional approach to wrestling when it was far from that at the time. People like him were pivotal in the growth of a scene that has lead to so many people being able to do this for a living.
Thoughts are with those close to him. https://t.co/8WAtPTu0Il
— Pete Dunne (@PeteDunneYxB) June 19, 2019
“It’s just another path, one that we all must take.”
Rest easy boss, till next time down the road ? pic.twitter.com/CnggUozVeS
— ????? ?????? (@LewisCEGirvan) June 19, 2019
A GoFundMe page was set up to help cover the costs of Lionheart’s funeral and within a day of it going live, it has already got more than double the target amount of £6,000 – a testament to Lionheart’s impact on people across the UK. Promotions have also stepped in to do their bit in the wake of his passing, with PCW giving all the money raised from tickets, merchandise and the raffle at their June 28th show to help with the funeral costs.
Adrian McCallum’s significance in the British wrestling industry went beyond just wrestling as Lionheart. He owned PWE in his hometown of Ayr, a promotion that gave a platform to many of the up-and-coming Scottish talents he helped train at the GPWA wrestling school in Glasgow alongside Jack Jester, Wolfgang, BT Gunn and Stevie Boy. He also joined a number of other ICW stars in helping cheer up ill children in Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.
The tough guy persona that the Lionheart character always tried to embrace was challenged by the recent series ‘Rogue to Wrestler’ on BBC Scotland, where Lionheart and Jester helped train a number of ‘rogues’ from Glasgow into potential future stars for ICW. Although he was clearly a hard taskmaster, Lionheart demonstrated both a softer side towards the trainees when they struggled and a clear love for every element of professional wrestling. Just two weeks ago, Big Fraser, who was eliminated within hours of the first day of filming for Rogue to Wrestler a year ago, passed his first induction at the GPWA thanks to the help of Lionheart and Jester. Lionheart wanted people to achieve their dream, much as he had and was doing.
Could not be prouder of this guy.
Fraser walked in to @GPWAsylum on the first day of #RogueToWrestler and was eliminated first within hours
Here he is now,moments after flying through his first induction.
He turned rejection into motivation and it worked
“The Big Man” is back! pic.twitter.com/NQpz5WinLK
— Jack Jester (@GlasgowJester) June 5, 2019
I didn’t know Lionheart personally but he always seemed polite at ICW shows and a central part of the promotion. Hero or Fanny, face or heel, he resonated to at least some degree at least with everyone in attendance. His passing will be felt keenly in ICW and across Scotland.
Accordingly, it is vitally important that we remember both Lionheart the wrestler and Adrian McCallum the man. Remember Lionheart, who worked dark matches for WWE and TNA in 2011 and challenged for the ROH title in 2008, but also Adrian McCallum, the 17-year vet who was a cornerstone of the Scottish wrestling community for more than a decade as promoter, wrestler and trainer. Remember Lionheart, who was seemingly peaking as an in-ring performer after winning the ICW world title, but also Adrian McCallum, a man who will be so sorely missed by hundreds in the business. Remember Lionheart, a charismatic star capable of getting a reaction anywhere, but also Adrian McCallum, who like so many of us deeply struggled with numerous personal demons.
Adrian McCallum’s passing this week was an untimely reminder of how fragile life is and how tight-knit the wrestling community is. It is also reaffirmed that there is always time to tell those around you how much they mean, don’t miss out on it.
Lionheart’s iconic theme song begins with the line ‘Say my name I’m history’. Adrian McCallum certainly left a historical imprint on me as a fan and British wrestling as a whole, it’s just a shame he’s gone so soon.
Rest in Peace Adrian McCallum, a man with the heart of a lion.
So sorry to hear the news of Adrian @LionheartUK McCallum’s passing. He was a big wrestling star in the UK. Loved and respected. Never had the opportunity to shake this man’s hand but sending his family, friends & UK wrestling community love, support & strength. pic.twitter.com/TbmVizhnr0
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) June 21, 2019