January 8, 2004
A look at Western Canadian Wrestling in 2003
By JASON CLEVETT -- SLAM! Wrestling
Although many have looked at the past 12 months as a dismal one for wrestling, in Western Canada there have been a lot of standout moments for the stars and promotions that dot the land from the Pacific Ocean to Prairies, as well as for the WWE. So what happened in 2003?
Stampede Wrestling stars branched out in a big way. "Hotshot" Johnny Devine and Dave Swift started the year with a lengthy tour of the UK with All-Star Wrestling. Swift also embarked on his first tour with New Japan Pro Wrestling in the summer, while Devine made waves in Border City Wrestling with matches against Chris Sabin and a three-way dance with Petey Williams and Jerry Lynn. Devine has become one of the top babyfaces in No Holds Barred and Prairie Wrestling Alliance.
T.J. Wilson debuted in Ring of Honor and also did two tours of Japan while Apocalypse just returned from his first tour there as "The Shadow". It was a busy year for Apoc, as he also toured with No Holds Barred and Pro Outlaw Wrestling.
Ted Hart impressed fans with his performance in the NWA-TNA Super X tournament. He wrestled twice in Ring of Honor, once against Wilson and once in a scramble cage match with partner Jack Evans. It was the scramble cage match that sparked controversy and made Hart the most talked about man on the Internet.
Stampede Wrestling had a few familiar faces like Duke Durrango return, and the Stu Hart 88th Birthday Tribute on May 2nd with two Match of the Year Candidates - TJ Wilson & Harry Smith beating The Black Dragon & AJ Styles and Sabu winning a war over Ted Hart, was considered a huge success by everyone. The promotion was unable to capitalize on that momentum but still provides great wrestling every two weeks at the Bowness Sportsplex in Calgary. The company also runs frequent shows in rural Alberta towns, which makes it the promotion with the most shows in Western Canada.
The Prairie Wrestling Alliance was seemingly reborn this year putting on monthly cards at NAIT that have been getting rave reviews. July saw witness to a brutal Tables Ladders and Chairs match for the PWA Tag Team Championship. With seemingly unbreakable tables and innovative spots, in the end Duke Durrango and Greg Pawluk survived over the teams of Chris Steele & Highlander, The Funky Bunch, and Johnny Devine and Bill Yates to grab the straps. In October NWA-TNA star Don Callis joined the promotion and it continues to grow by leaps and bounds every month.
Monster Pro Wrestling, also based in Edmonton, introduced a unique concept with its "Under 18 division" of trainees in the MPW camp who are, well, under 18. With many teenagers wanting to break into wrestling and being forced to do it in non-traditional environments, the promotion provided an opportunity for youth to work for a legitimate company. The promotion also featured veteran wrestlers like Massive Damage, Steve Rivers, Chi Chi Cruz, and Gary Williams alongside newer wrestlers like Johnny Handsome, JD Michaels and Matt Richards.
Calgary's Hybrid Wrestling Coalition, which launched in August 2002 and was run by former WWF stars Bad News Allen and Rick "Fake Razor" Titan promoted regularly in Calgary using both Stampede and out of town talent. Although they still run a weekly training camp in the city, they have not promoted a show since the spring and the promotions future is up in the air.
Alberta's wrestling community faced heartbreak this year with the loss of three Alberta stars. Matt "The Gladiator" Vershine died in a car accident on August 13 at the age of 21. Stu Hart died at the age of 88 on October 16th, and Mike Lozanski, who wrestled as Mike Anthony, passed away December 18th.
The wrestling world was saddened when one of Western Canada's most respected wrestlers, Dr. Luther, announced his retirement in June due to cumulative injuries. Luther had been in the business for more than 13 years, breaking in with Chris Jericho and Lance Storm. Luther continues to be involved with wrestling as a commentator for the new Portland wrestling promotion.
Juggernaut cut back his schedule and left Stampede Wrestling. The "King of the Parking Lot" has remained active in PWA, POW and NHB. His battles with Sabu in NHB and POW this year were fan favorites, as well as his first singles match with Jerry Lynn.
Saskatoon's Pro Outlaw Wrestling started the year well before losing their regular location. Despite the blow they put together a series of six days of wrestling at the Saskatoon Exhibition, bringing in former ECW Champions Sabu and Jerry Lynn. The promotion was unable to capitalize on the momentum from the festival and hasn't had a show since September. Plans are to continue to look for a new home and relaunch in 2004.
Saskatchewan's Wavell Starr attended the OVW tryout camp in March in Louisville, KY. After a week of intense training and assessment, he was offered the opportunity to work out with the OVW crew. After moving to the States in September his career immediately took off when he was rechristened "Standing Thunder." Also a highlight for Starr was two Match of the Year candidates with Jerry Lynn at the POW Ex.
In Manitoba, NWA affiliate CWF ran regularly in Winnipeg, ably promoted by Ernie Todd, who also serves as the Director of the Woman's World and Canadian Titles and is the Japanese liaison for the NWA. The CWF and the AWE (Mike Davdison)ran regularly at Coyotes nightclub.
Tony Condello, who has had many promotions in the past and is the man responsible for the infamous "Death Tours" of Northern Manitoba started "Tony's Championship Wrestling". Condello also was involved with No Holds Barred wrestling, which is run by TNA star Don Callis. Former ECW stars like Sabu, Shane Douglas, Jerry Lynn and Justin Credible all stepped into the NHB ring in the 'Peg and Thunder Bay, as well as Western stars like Crash Crimson, Juggernaut, Johnny Handsome, Highlander and Wavell Starr. Evil Eddie Watts was also a major part of the promotion, while Dr. Luther was their heavyweight champion prior to his retirement. Local wrestler Ivan Sozynski also had a big year, competing not only in NHB but in some Mixed Martial Arts competitions as well.
Callis jumped back into the national spotlight this year after obtaining an MBA he joined NWA-TNA as a "Management Consultant." In addition to that role he promoted NHB, was a vital part of the success of the POW Exhibition shows, and also appeared in the PWA. He's also a part of the No Holds Barred Radio show with Joe Aiello, which celebrated its fourth anniversary in 2003.
However all is not well in Manitoba. Former Premier Championship Wrestling owner John Nguyen committed suicide in mid-December.
There are too many promotions in Manitoba, and in an alarming trend that is spreading throughout the wrestling business, a number of second-rate promotions that some call "backyard" have popped up. Charging very little for their shows, they draw fans who see sub-standard wrestling and assume all independent wrestling is the same, making it harder for legitimate promoters and wrestlers to make a living. Similar promotions have popped up in other provinces as well. The provincial government of Manitoba has even arranged for an investigation.
Winnipeg was also where an idiot fan poured beer on Eddie Guerrero at ringside and taunted him about his past. Guerrero, a recovering alcoholic, went after the fan who was escorted from the building. Guerrero got on the microphone and apologized to the crowd, who gave him a standing ovation. The WWE also visited Brandon, Saskatoon, Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Kelowna.
Alberta fans were excited when rumors started that Edmonton would be hosting a WWE PPV in 2004, with Calgary getting a TV taping that week. It appears now that it won't be happening. August's Alberta house shows only drew a few thousand people despite a solid card, which may or may not have had an impact on the decision.
The WWE took on a Canadian feel in August when it invited Western Canadian talent to wrestle in dark and squash matches during a RAW taping in Vancouver and a Smackdown taping in Kelowna. Tony Kozina, Buddy Lee, Andy Anderson and Harry Smith all participated in some form in the tapings. As well, Timothy Flowers worked a dark match in Seattle at RAW the night after Wrestlemania.
In B.C., All Star Pro Wrestling frequently ran cards around Cloverdale and Abbotsford, with established West Coast stars like Black Dragon & Tony Kozina.
Dungeon grad and ECCW star Chance Beckett made waves on America's East Coast earlier this year. In addition to an appearance with Ring of Honor on June 14th against Matt Stryker, Beckett participated in ECWA's annual "Super 8" tournament on April 5, an event that has in the past included stars like Low-Ki, AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels and the Hardy Boyz. Beckett suffered a nasty gash on his chin that reportedly "poured blood all night", but defeated Sedrick Strong in the first round and upset WWE star Brian "Spanky" Kendrick in the semi-finals before losing the final match to Paul London. He has since returned to his home in ECCW where he has recently started feuding with Vance Nevada.
ECCW had their own tournament in January, holding their 2nd annual 2-day tournament dubbed The Pacific Cup. Fan favorite Scotty Mac defeated Chance Beckett, Tony Kozina and the Black Dragon in the first three rounds. Mac then beat "American Dragon" Brian Danielson to winwhat he called "My fantasy Pacific Cup." Mac was a major player in the promotion as NWA/ECCW Champion, before losing the belt in a bloody cage match in September to Vance Nevada. Running 16 shows in the Vancouver area, this year also saw the return of veteran Rocky Della Serra as he feuded with mainstay "Gorgeous" Michelle Starr. Also having a strong year were the Raines Brothers, Dropkick Murphy, Matt Classic and Moondog Manson.
Overall, it has certainly been an eventful year for those who risk their bodies to entertain fans in the West. Many classic matches occurred, and there are some hungry young stars that are names to watch out for in the future. You can only see these guys and these fantastic matches if you support independent wrestling. So do yourself a favor in 2004, help make these promotions and wrestlers get bigger and better, by going out and supporting the shows.
Western Canadian wrestling Websites
Jason Clevett is from Calgary and is a big supporter of independent wrestling, having traveled to Saskatoon and Edmonton in addition to regularly attending Stampede Wrestling shows in Calgary to catch some of the best wrestling in North America.