Joint Promotions British Heavy Middleweight title (1982, 1983, 1987);
· Joint Promotions British Light Heavyweight title (1983);
· (Great Britain) World Mid-Heavyweight title (1983, 1984)
· Joint Promotions British Heavy Middleweight title (1987);
· All-Star Promotions British Heavyweight title (1990);
· CWA (Catch Wrestling Association) World Tag Team titles (1990);
· CWA World Middleweight title (1991, 1992, 1993);
· CWA Intercontinental Heavyweight title (1993);
· CWA British Commonwealth title;
· WCW World Television title (1998);
· WWE United States title (2006).
‘Some people call me a fighting Irish bastard’, growled Dave Finlay Junior, ‘but NOT TO MY FACE!" With this immortal catch-phrase, the wrestler from Carrickfergus launched his brilliant comeback in 2006 as one of the star performers of the multi-million dollar World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) business.
To date, Dave has held twenty-two championships including the British Heavyweight Championship, the WCW World Television Championship and the WWE United States Championship. He presently operates as a trainer in WWE and is a member of the Smackdown roster.
Wrestling as a sport appears to be as old as humanity itself. It was the pastime of choice for the ancient Greeks and featured prominently in the original Olympic Games. Henry VIII of England was an enthusiast. International freestyle wrestling was codified in 1920 and, by the 1970s, the sport was winning huge numbers of fans across the world.
Raised on the shores of Belfast Lough during the 1960s and 1970s, wrestling was part of Dave’s life from his earliest age. ‘I was brought up in a family of wrestlers’, he says. ‘Both my grandfathers were wrestlers and so was my dad. My sister was a referee and my mother helped my dad run the actual wrestling business’.
Dave’s paternal grandfather, William John Finlay, was a Presbyterian blacksmith’s son from Muckamore, Co. Antrim. Born in 1904, he was regularly to be found both wrestling and boxing in Ulster’s fairground booths in his younger days. Dave’s other grandfather, John Douglas Liddell, was born in 1914 and became an active promoter of the sport in Belfast in the mid 20th century.
Born in Whiteabbey, Co. Antrim, in 1936, Dave’s father David Finlay Snr was a master of both the Olympic freestyle and Pro Wrestling styles, performing at venues across Britain and Ireland. He went on to organize some of the very first freestyle wrestling bouts ever witnessed in Ireland. During the 1970s, he and his son travelled together all over the country, promoting wrestling in an age that coincided with the rise of the late great Martin ‘Giant Haystacks’ Ruane whose parents were from Co. Mayo.
Dave began wrestling at the age of 8, perfecting the Olympic freestyle. From his early teens, his father also trained him in the Pro style. In 1974, deliberately or not, another wrestler no-showed for a bout Finlay Snr was promoting in the village of Glynn outside Larne. Fourteen-year-old Dave slipped into his fathers’ boots and trunks, stepped into the ring and a star was born.
Over the next four years, with his father as trainer, Dave wrestled full-time across Ireland, providing welcome entertainment in a time of political strife. He then moved to England where he was spotted and signed up by British Wrestling Federation President Orig Williams.
In June 1982, the Ulsterman secured his first major title, becoming British Heavy Middleweight champion, before going on to defeat Ringo Rigby to win the British Light Heavyweight title.
During the early 1980s, Dave repeatedly won and lost the World Mid-Heavyweight title, frequently trading it with English wrestler Marty Jones, who became the first of his many nemeses. He also won the All-Star's British Heavyweight Championship which enabled him to team up with Jones and win Germany’s Catch Wrestling Association tag title.
He remained a major player on the European and Japanese circuits throughout the 1980s, regaining the British Heavy Middleweight title in 1987.
In the early 1980s, Dave enjoyed some TV stardom on ITV's World of Sport, most memorably when pitted against ‘The American Dream’, Steve Adonis. Sporting a greased mullet, Dave was managed by his then wife Princess Paula.
His on-screen appeal was further enhanced in 1996 when ‘Monday Nitro’, the weekly wrestling show broadcast a parking lot brawl between Dave and Lord Steven Regal, one of the icons of an English wrestling stable called the Blue Bloods. Their notorious feud culminated in a showdown at the Tupelo Coliseum in Mississippi, during which, fighting as the Belfast Bruiser, Dave was attacked by the Blue Bloods and broke Regal’s nose.
Dave’s antics caught the attention of Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in Atlanta, Georgia, who invited him to come on board. He remerged as ‘Fit Finlay’ and, with a little push, pinned Texan hulk Booker T to win the WCW World Television Championship in 1998.
As well as his trademark Rolling Fireman's Carry Slam move, Dave was now a specialist in backbreakers, brain-busters and, his preferred finish, the Tombstone Piledriver. In 1998, he also became a Born Again Christian.
In July 1999, Dave won the "Hardcore Junkyard Invitational" in Florida. However, just days later, his career hung on a thread after he was thrown onto a glass table in Jackson, Mississippi, during a contest. The table shattered, badly lacerating a nerve in his leg. Although he regained the use of his leg, the momentum of his Junkyard victory was lost and he was ‘out’ of the game for nearly five years, during which time he began training young wrestlers for the WWE.
He returned to the ring on 2003, hamming it up as a proud Irishman. Perhaps his greatest fight took place in April 2006 when he delivered a Celtic Cross to defeat the late Canadian champion Chris Benoir in the ‘King of the Ring’ contest. Dave was pinned in the semi-finals by his great rival, martial artist Bobby Lashley. Their match coincided with another televised parking lot brawl in which Lashley attempted to overturn a car onto him. Dave went on to seize Lashley’s United States Championship crown.
In ensuing contests, Dave’s Oirishness was complimented by the frequent assistance of ‘the Little Bastard’, a four foot four inch midget from Wisconsin who came on stage dressed as a leprechaun. Also known as Hornswoggle, wrestling lore subsequently held that the Little Bastard was Dave Finlay’s son.
Nearly forty years after his first bout, Dave continues to impress as a wrestler, trading to the SmackDown brand in June 2009. ‘I've been around a while and I know all the tricks’, says the ginger-haired veteran. ‘I'm just as tough as I ever was. It's a great business to be in but you've got to look after yourself.’
He has three children by his German wife Manuela. David, his eldest son, was born in 1993 and has already followed in the family footsteps and taken to the ring. The Finlays live in Georgia but return to visit Ireland whenever opportunity knocks.
Dave also operates as a Road Agent, or producer, planning storylines and helping young wrestlers, particularly women, to set up matches. He is also working with Dublin-born WWE champion, Sheamus. His father continues to teach youngsters at the Knockagh Raiders Wrestling Club in Greenisland, just outside Carrickfergus.