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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 19 February, 2020
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'I eat three whole chickens a day!' Rihanna's ex-bodyguard is coming to wrestle in Ireland next week

Tiny Iron tells The42 about accusations of doping, his upcoming appearance at Over the Top wrestling and watching the London riots from his bedroom window.

Tiny Iron poses for the camera.
Tiny Iron poses for the camera.

Updated at 10.19

EVEN BY WRESTLERS’ standards, standing at over six feet tall and weighing an estimated 270 lbs, Tiny Iron — real name: Andrew Harrison — is one of a kind.

The wrestler, who is set to appear next week at an Over the Top Wrestling event in Dublin’s Tivoli theatre, is unique too in terms of his personality.

I’m pretty sure no one else I’ve interviewed has ever referred to me as “brother” throughout a discussion, and he’s definitely the only athlete The42 has come across who, in a thick London accent, says things like “I’m half-man, half-amazing,” and “I call myself Tiny — I always say it’s a great invitation for a conversation”.

Yet for all his macho bravado and despite his gargantuan physique, even he can be a sensitive soul at times, it seems.

Rihanna — who was just one of the many high-profile celebrities Harrison once worked for as a bodyguard — describes him as a “sweet guy”.

Harrison admits that strangers are often intimidated when they initially come across him, owing to his extraordinary stature, but says they invariably warm to him eventually.

“The first impression is always: ‘Oh gosh!’ When they see me taking pictures and smiling with the little kids and high-fiving them, they realise I’m a cool dude.

“And I call myself ‘Tiny’. For me to call myself that, I’d have to have a sense of humour… You don’t really get anywhere being mean. No one wants to work with you. No one wants to help you. No one wants to give you the things you need to progress in life.”

A Londoner of African descent, he was the youngest member of a large family and grew up on a notorious council estate in Tottenham. He admits to being “scared” and peering out from his bedroom window, when the London riots began “right beside my home”.

He describes his “tough” upbringing in which he sought escapism watching WCW, and idolising wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior, as well as action heroes and the Greek god Zeus.

“It was just a question of how am I going to change my environment, what opportunities can I get,” he recalls. “I can’t help where I grew up, but I can always change where I end up. So I like to think that I’ve accomplished goals and I’ve become someone. [Tottenham] was somewhere where there was basically no hope.

“There were all these kids, always trying to bully you, take money from your pockets, so you had to have your own self-defence. That was part of how I got myself to this condition. I started very young. I’m 33 now, but when I started training, I was only 13 or 14 years old. That’s also when I started to work on my character — Tiny Iron… I thought, ‘I’m going to make this happen, and turn the dream into reality.’”

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Harrison describes himself as a “showman” and says wrestling was “always something I wanted to do”. Following a period in his 20s living at home with his parents with no income and no job, he decided a menial job in the entertainment industry was the best route to success.

The 33-year-old athlete’s gigantic frame rendered him the perfect fit for the security business, and before long, he was looking after a series of high-profile clients, including Jay Z, Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, Rihanna (with whom he was also linked romantically) and the Black Eyed Peas (“the most dangerous thing was when the girls got excited,” he once told flavourmag). He describes 50 Cent and Akon as his two favourite clients (“50 Cent was bling — I still speak to him now”), but says he ultimately was forced to quit the business.

“It came to a time where I couldn’t do the job anymore, because people started following me. The celebrities started getting upset because I was getting all the attention. They weren’t happy, so I had to leave that game. I don’t regret stopping, because I knew that it was time to step forward and have people following me now. I had to be the leader, I had to be the one up front.”

His big break came from a somewhat unlikely source — ex-Wimbledon footballer Vinny Jones invited him to audition for a role in his film, after the pair met in the early 00s at a West End nightclub.

“I was looking after one of my clients and there was a little trouble, and he saw the way I dealt with it, and he was like: ‘By the way, we’re making a movie and we need a big lump.’”

He has made a number of film and TV appearances since then, with his credits including Jeffrey Archer: The Truth and the 50 Cent-starring Dead Man Running, in addition to being shortlisted for the role of Mr T in the A-Team movie.

Moreover, Harrison still divides his time between acting and wrestling, and sees no reason why he shouldn’t continue to do so.

“I’m just living life, travelling the world. I’m wrestling, I’m doing a film, I’m trying to make my own movies, there’s a lot of stuff I want to do. There are a lot of things in the pipeline. I have my own brand — Tiny Iron. So it’s basically just a question of me putting things together and putting it out there for people.”

He is looking forward in particular to his appearance at Over the Top Wrestling in Dublin next week, in which he promises to be “bigger and better than ever”.

“The crowd love me, you know? Even though I look like a bad guy, the crowd always love me.

“Whoever they put in the ring with me is in trouble. It’s an over-18s crowd, they’re not kids anymore, so I’m not holding back — they better bring the paramedics and all the precautions.”

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And while Harrison has been wrestling all over the world in places as disparate as Lebanon and the Middle East since making his debut in the business in 2007, he has yet to receive an offer from WWE — the kind of chance most wrestlers dream of. But does he still hope he might end up working for Vince McMahon and co some day?

“I’m happy travelling the world and being free,” he explains. “Money isn’t an issue. Money’s always been in my pockets.

“I’ve promoted myself so well that people know of me. The WWE knows of me. TNA knows me. So if they want me, they know where I am. They can give me my invitation, but they haven’t, so I’m not going to beg anyone, I’m going to live my life.

“I’m not a major on TV every week, but I’m still a superstar. I still can’t walk down the road without 100 people following me, so what more do I need in life?”

A passionate believer in the importance of hard work, Harrison says it’s not easy to maintain his incredible image.

“I eat three whole chickens a day every single day. I train all day every day in the gym. It’s very difficult, but that’s what I’m committed to. Training is my religion and the gym is like my church. It’s what I have to go through every day.”

In addition to the intensive training it generally requires, wrestling has long had a problematic relationship with steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, and WWE has often sought to promote smaller stars in an ostensible bid to alleviate speculation that their top athletes are doping.

Source: MrValkabious/YouTube

Harrison acknowledges that people are skeptical about how he cultivated his enormous physical size (his 24-inch biceps are said to be the biggest in Britain), but he insists he has never taken PEDs.

“I’ve been doing this since I was 13 years of age,” he says. “For me, I’d be ashamed to look how I look if I was taking performance-enhancing drugs. Everybody knows what they have to do to get to where they’re going. If you do this since you’re a kid, by the time you’re an adult, you’re going to look a certain way. If you play football since you’re six years old, by the time you’re old, you’ll be playing Premier League football.

“The work you put in is what you get out of it. Usain Bolt runs 100m in 9.5 seconds. But he’s been running since he was eight years old. In this day and age, certain people can’t believe you’re a certain size because these people are new [to training]. They read a magazine and think: ‘Wow, I want to do bodybuilding.’ They just started two or three years ago and wonder: ‘How did he get where he is?’

“You have a lot of new people coming in because there are loads of gyms opening up now. Before, it wasn’t a fashion. In my day, gyms were old and weights were cold. The heating or the showers didn’t work. They were not pretty places.

“So when new people come to the gym and see people like me, they can only assume one thing. It’s because of all the talk of steroids, the internet is there now, drugs are more visible now, so it’d be a normal thing for them to assume. They think: ‘He might be doing this because I saw it on TV,’ or ‘I went on YouTube and watched a video.’ There are a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon. That’s all it is.”

All images provided courtesy of Leonard Hanna.

You can catch Tiny Iron and others at the latest Over the Top Wrestling event in the Tivoli Theatre on Saturday, 21 February. More info here.

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Paul Fennessy

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