From Bangor Castle Leisure Centre to Madison Square Garden. World of Sport to Wrestlemania. And Big Daddy to the Undertaker.
Carrickfergus-born David Edward Finlay has travelled an incredible but bruising journey during the last 30 years.
And today, in the crazy and spectacular multi-million dollar business of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), he is one of the top superstars in the corporation.
For 48-year-old Finlay, despite his advancing years, performs in front of thousands of adoring fans in fabulous arenas, has his own merchandise range, travels all over the world at WWE’s expense and is an icon to millions.
Just two weeks ago in Houston, Texas, the proud Ulsterman was one of the main attractions in a Money in the Bank ladder match at Wrestlemania.
The 25th Anniversary show, billed as the Superbowl of wrestling, was produced in front of 70,000 delirious fans and had a worldwide television audience of tens of millions.
In just five days time on April 24, Finlay — who resides just outside Atlanta in the state of Georgia with his German wife and three sons — will be back in his native Northern Ireland to take part in a Wrestlemania Revenge Tour at the sold-out Odyssey Arena.
And he has promised plenty of mayhem when he gets in that ring.
“Performing in Belfast will be very special for me and you’ll get to see me at my best and toughest,” says Finlay.
“It’s a place I know very well. I’m sure my family will be there and I’m looking forward to catching up with dad.”
It is all a far cry from the Seventies, when a young Dave Finlay, a third generation wrestler, fought for a few quid and was lucky if a couple of hundred people turned up to watch him display his undoubted talent in a ring.
Finlay learnt the art of wrestling from a young age and at just 14 was placed in his first professional match.
“It was 1974 and I was simply thrown in at the deep end,” said Finlay.
“My dad was running a promotion in Glynn, some guy didn’t show and I was told to take his place. I borrowed my dad’s wrestling boots, trunks and in I went.
“I was only a kid but I was wrestling guys who were as old as my dad.
“It’s all I’ve known and all ever I wanted to know.”
After perfecting his craft in Northern Ireland, Finlay’s talents were soon noticed by English promoters and during the Eighties he was a regular on ITV’s Saturday afternoon programme World of Sport.
Fighting as ‘Fit Finlay’ and standing 6ft tall, he came up against household names such as Giants Haystacks, Rasputin and fans’ favourite Big Daddy.
But the glitz and glamour of America soon came calling.
At first, however, Finlay wasn’t at all enamoured about
wrestling Stateside. He says: “I was doing fine in Europe but I got a call from World Championship Wrestling (WCW) who wanted me to go and work for them. I agreed but only went for a short time as I’d promised my promoter in Europe I’d do more tours for them.
“I went back but then in 1996 WCW got in touch again and that really kickstarted my wrestling career in America.”
However it was during a match in the US 10 years ago that he feared his career was over.
His opponent Brian Knobbs, from Nasty Boys fame, threw him through a table which |shattered and badly injured his knee, severely lacerated a |nerve.
While sidelined, WCW was bought by WWF (which later became WWE), so Finlay was given the job of training the Divas — the stunning women wrestlers — including Stacy Keibler and Michelle McCool.
But it was always his ambition to make a return to the ring and in January 2006 he stormed onto the Sky Sports screens in a match against Matt Hardy and brutalised anything his path.
He was immediately given the nickname ‘The Fighting Irish B*****d’ and certainly made sure he lived up to that gimmick taking on the biggest and meanest superstars in the WWE.
Bobby Lashley, Batista, JBL, Rob van Dam, Rey Mysterio, Ric Flair, The Great Khali and Kane all felt the force of the Carrickfergus born star.
“Sure, every morning I get up I have aches and pains but that’s all part of the job,” he says.
“I’m going to wrestle until my bones turn to powder, that’s the Irish work ethic for you. I may be turning 50 next year but my |enthusiasm is as strong as it has ever been.”
Finlay has enjoyed great exposure on WWE, been in some classic confrontations with legendary superstars and has taken part in all the pay-per-view events, including three Wrestlemanias.
He has also been involved in one of the strangest storylines in sports entertainment history as for the last 14 months he has played the father to a little dwarf named ‘Hornswoggle’, who accompanies him to the ring and sometimes interferes in his matches
“He’s fun to work with and we make people laugh,” says Finlay, who has a ring at his home in the States.
“But I don’t have any say or input in the storylines, nor do I want to. I leave that up to the creative team at WWE.
“There is of course the times I’ve appeared at Wrestlemania and the Royal Rumble (an event where 30 wrestlers compete in an over-the-top rope challenge) — all amazing in their own way because of the response I get from the fans. The Irish support I get is mindblowing.”
Finlay should feel right at home then in the Odyssey this week as he returns to Northern Irish soil, where it all began over 30 years ago.
An extra special ovation awaits the bleached-blonde haired grappler in the state of the art 8,500 all-seater arena.
And a Belfast brawl would ‘Fit’ the bill.