SA’s lord of the ring

He uses his upper body and left arm to pin down his opponent and his biceps bulge as he rapidly shifts position so he doesn’t lose his grip. His opponent uses all his might to break loose but when the referee pounds the floor for the third time he gives a last jerk and submits.

The crowd in the arena goes wild and as Justin Gabriel raises his hands triumphantly it seems he can’t stop smiling. And for good reason: he has made history by becoming the first NXT newcomer to beat a professional WWE wrestler. He’s also the first South African in the history of professional wrestling to land a WWE contract.

With his muscular body, sweatband, white wrestling costume and tousled black hair he looks similar to any of his American colleagues. But Justin Gabriel is Paul Lloyd, who was born in Cape Town and has spent most of the 20 years he has been wrestling fighting in South African rings.

To hear crowds applauding him now is like a dream come true and Paul often has to pinch himself to make sure it’s all real.

He was mad about wrestling even as a kid, the 29-year-old strongman says from the American state of Florida, where he has lived for the past few months.

In his day his grandfather was an amateur wrestler and professional boxer and his dad, also Paul Lloyd, was a seasoned wrestler known as The Pink Panther.

So the sport was in young Paul’s blood and as a boy he would often watch his father’s fights. The wrestling bug really bit when the spectacular contests of World Wrestling Entertainment were broadcast on local TV for the first time.

Now he’s part of this exciting world and although he did not win this year’s WWE NXT season he has signed a contract with WWE Raw and will make a guest appearance in the second season of NXT.

Find out how the South African wrestler made his dream come true in YOU’s 15 July issue. And look out for him on our local screens.