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Capturing The U.K.'s Disappearing Wrestling Culture

Photographer Daniel Patrick Lilley likes to cheer for the underdog.

As a kid in Southampton, England, he often watched World Wrestling Federation matches on TV and was a fan of the Triple H, a menacing anti-hero.

"I've always rooted for the bad one," he says.

Fast forward to 2010, when Lilley was able to revisit his curiosity for this action-packed genre — this time not as a fan but as a photographer.

According to Lilley, wrestling in England is waning in popularity. In fact, he says he thinks wresting itself is somewhat of an underdog in the sports and entertainment world.

"[This] is part of what drew me to this project," he says. "Nobody that does it now makes any money ... They all do it for the love."

Lilley found his subjects by searching online; he says he was surprised by how many wrestling leagues he found.

Rather than capturing over-the-top moves like chokeholds and dropkicks, Lilley makes his images backstage.

"I thought it would be more authentic to catch [the wrestlers] for a few minutes during their performances and take their photograph," he says.

With his Hasselblad camera, Lilley captures the quirky personalities and colorful costumes of the performers while still maintaining their dignity.

"These people pour time and money into this because they enjoy it so much," he says, adding that few are able to make a living wrestling.

And while he never found that childhood love he once had, Lilley does respect the wrestlers' underdog passion. "I never really managed to recapture my interest in it, hence the tone of the images [is] a bit, well, funny."

"If more people did this, the world would be a better place."

Abbey Oldham is an intern in NPR's Multimedia department.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.