November 9, 2003
Blood, sweat and tearsIt\'s about passion, not money, as wrestlers put limbs on line
By TIM BAINES -- Ottawa Sun
It\'s lights out as my eyelids flutter shut, my knees buckle and I slump face-first to the mat.
Thanks to a fist to my head from a sneaky Righteous Rick Sterling, my professional wrestling debut at Gatineau\'s Robert Guertin Arena has screeched to a thudding halt.
In the ring, the hero, Pierre Carl Ouellet, somehow overcomes the odds and defeats his opponent Thunder. It\'s Ouellet I\'m helping, handcuffing myself to JJ Crooke, Thunder\'s conniving manager.
I cannot see Ouellet\'s arm raised in victory, I\'m still kissing the canvas.
As I struggle to my feet and wobble to the back, selling Righteous Rick\'s knockout blow, my own wrestling dream is over with more than 1,000 spectators feeling little sympathy for a flabby 225-lb., 44-year-old sports editor. Never mind that I\'d just taken one for the team.
It\'s small solace to know that, if only for a few fleeting moments, I was a small part of a culture where clandestine trickery has evolved to being \'what you see is real ... yet, not real\' ... and the wrestling promoters no longer try to hide the dirty little secret.
What seems real and hurtful is actually contrived in order to minimize the pain. It\'s mostly optics when you see the assortment of devastating blows -- piledrivers, suplexes, chokeslams, elbow smashes, legdrops and punches to the face. But make no mistake about it. These performers, many chomping at the bit to enjoy bigger success in bigger arenas, have loads of talent and charisma, without the hefty bank account to show for it.
This kind of sports entertainment is all about a combination of soap-opera theatrics and high-flying action.
Where guys and gals of all sizes put their limbs on the line night after night.
Where adults paint their faces, put on masks and create alter egos. The Freak, The Butcher, The Legend. Face of Death.
Wacky and intimidating at the same time.
The question has to be asked: Why? Why do they do this?
For a few bucks? Not likely. Many nights, they do not get paid. Not money. Not for gas. Not for a dingy roadside motel room. Not for a Big Mac and a Coke. Nothing.
For glory? Maybe it\'s more for the thrills, the exhileration.
Or do they still hold onto the dream? Ah, the dream!
Meet 23-year-old Stephanie Landry. In the ring, she\'s Misty Haven, a naughty, scheming vixen. \"You\'re not going to hear about a lot of people who drive 41 hours in one weekend -- Windsor to Maine -- to make $10, but I did,\" she says. \"This is a passion for me, a dream.\" That passion only took a slight detour a while back in Montreal when a fan threw a bottle that bounced off her forehead. \"I was shocked and threw the bottle back,\" she says. \"I was mad for real.\"
Meet 24-year-old Mike Leduc, known as MVP Michael Von Payton. \"I\'ve loved wrestling since I was five or six,\" he says, remembering that he used to mimic Macho Man Randy Savage by flying off a couch with a wicked elbow smash aimed at whoever happened to be lounging below. \"And when I started training, the unthinkable became reality. I became a wrestler. As much as you grow to love this, performing in front of people, it\'s like a disease. You can\'t let go.\"
Meet Shawn Demers, known as Mr. Know It All in the squared circle. \"I started selling tickets for these guys ... and then I got involved in the wrestling side of it,\" he says. \"I\'m not doing this for the money, but it\'s important to get the exposure. It\'s takes a lot of sacrifices.\"
Meet Joel Racine, who has no illusions of the big time. The 32-year-old document technician with Communications Canada is known as manager JJ Crooke. Married for six years, Racine stretches out to 5-foot-6 and weighs 140 lbs. soaking wet. On this night, he winds up on the receiving end of an Ouellet chokeslam. \"There\'s usually no money, no pay in this,\" says Racine, who also helps promote the events. \"But I\'ve loved wrestling since I was young. I watched guys like The Four Horsemen, Dino Bravo and Rick Martel with my mom and grandparents. This is it for me. I\'ve got a good job and a wife here.\"
Meet 48-year-old Guy \"The Legend\" Sauriol. He began wrestling at age 15. \"I\'m the last of the old guys,\" he says. But he quit wrestling when he got married, returning 18 years later after a separation from his wife. \"I don\'t make a career out of this,\" says Sauriol, who\'s currently helping out as a carpenter at Specs Audio. \"I\'ll be finished pretty soon. My move is the big splash off the top rope. That isn\'t easy at this age.\"
Meet 35-year-old Dean Danis. He\'s muscular Damien Styles, one half of Aftershock, along with his 31-year-old brother Dave, who wrestles as Drake Styles. The duo has been wrestling a little under a year. Self-employed and in the construction trade, the older Danis has been a bodybuilder for 22 years. \"If it came to heart and dedication, I\'d be a champion,\" he says. He hopes wrestling is more than a dream. \"I\'ve been wanting to do this for a long time,\" he says.
As the lights go down and the TV cameras are shut off, I slink toward the dressing room of Abdullah the Butcher, the night\'s star attraction who has just carved up and made a bloody mess out of his opponents Dave LeJusticier and Guy Sauriol. He literally forked them.
A big meaty palm reaches out to shake my quivering hand. A smile crosses his face. Out of love, I\'m sure, he puts me in a headlock and mockingly threatens to sink his teeth into my ear. Abdullah, The Madman from the Sudan, is the star of the show. Real name Lawrence Shreeve, from Windsor, he now lives in Atlanta where he operates Abdullah the Butcher\'s House of Ribs and Chinese Food. Now 66, he\'s in his sixth decade of wrestling. \"I can\'t stop,\" he says. \"I want to pound on somebody. I just get a kick out of it.\"
I walk down the hall. Sitting alone on a bench, a bloody welt stinging his forehead, is Dan Gervais, Wild Dangerous Dan for wrestling purposes. From Vanier, Gervais is one of the driving forces behind Canadian Professional Wrestling, which has booked this show. Pain and blood are nothing new. At 43, he\'s travelled the world. \"I\'ve wrestled with 10,000 thumbtacks in the middle of the ring, with light tubes ... I don\'t think about my health. It\'s a risk. When you go to a place like Puerto Rico, they expect you to perform. If you pulled a guy\'s arm off, the fans would love it.\"
I walk toward the back door of the aging arena, hang a left at the Zamboni and I\'m out into the misty darkness of the night. Most of the event\'s spectators, who, despite a popular stereotype, seemed equipped with a full set of teeth, have left the parking lot. I\'ve had my 15 minutes, my Andy Warholian flirtation with fame.
Inside, the curtain has come down on the actors ... athletes ... performers ... the sequins and frilly tights are replaced by T-shirts and blue jeans.
Another night. Another performance.
For some, it\'s another step closer to the dream. For others, well, the the dream dies hard, sometimes in a puddle of blood.