Biff Wellington has no grudge against Benoit
GREG OLIVER - Co-Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
BORN: April 18, 1965 in Calgary, Alberta
DIED: June 2007
6'0", 220-260 pounds
AKA: Bobby Hart in Atlantic Grand Prix
It's impossible not to draw parallels between the careers of Biff Wellington (Shayne Bower) and Chris Benoit. Both Albertans worshipped The Dynamite Kid, and broke into Stampede Wrestling about the same time, and later excelled in Japan.
They also tagged up on a number of occasions, most notably a run with the Stampede tag titles in 1989, and, on June 22, 1992, against Jushin "Thunder" Liger and "Flyin'" Brian Pillman at WCW's Clash of the Champions XIX.
But only one of them is world champion today. The other wrestles a few times a month while awaiting back surgery that might just end his career for good.
"It definitely could have been me. ... I made some wrong decisions, got steered by some people I shouldn't have listened to, being young," Wellington told SLAM! Wrestling recently. "As far as Chris, I don't have any animosity or nothing. It's great that he's doing what he's doing. But, oh yeah, I could have been there. No problem."
Now 39, Wellington has a number of skeletons in his closet, complete with full servings of 'what ifs?'
He entered the Hart Brothers Training Camp at a young age. "I was always an athlete. I was a big Dynamite Kid freak. It was just something that I wanted to do. I always wanted to do it," he said. His primary trainers were Mr. Hito and Hiro Hase.
The Harts saw something in him, and gave him a break. He debuted in December 1986, a year after Benoit. "I got lucky. Out of about 60 guys, just me and one other guy got work out of it. I was lucky to get on with Stampede when I did," he said. "Even before TSN, I started there. I'll tell you, it was next to impossible to get a spot."
Biff Wellington (or sometimes the tastier Beef Wellington) grew into a solid hand in Stampede, working as a heel for his first months in the territory, then going babyface all the rest of the way. His only Stampede title was the tag belt with Benoit, and he shared some of his frustrations with the way the Harts ran the promotion.
"I broke in with them, and in their eyes I was a nobody to them, because they trained me. Bruce never liked me, Owen was jealous. It was just a bad spot to be in. I still got to work and got the same pay, anyway. I don't really care about that," he said. "They screwed with Chris [Benoit] too, all of us mid-heavyweights at the time because of Owen. But that's the business. They owned the office."
But Owen Hart was extremely talented, Wellington will admit, and was destined for big things. "But when you had to go make Bruce look like a million bucks, it was kind of hard some nights."
After just a couple of years in the business, Wellington got his first chance to go to Japan. He figures he did 28 tours or so from 1988 to 1994.
"I did all my best work in Japan, by far. I had some great matches with Liger, Jushin Liger. That would probably be the highlights," he explained. "Actually, one time me and Chris Benoit had a match. We were always tag partners. We were on TV and something happened in Sapporo, Japan, and they put me and Chris against each other and gave us 15 minutes of live TV. I'll tell you, that was probably a highlight. We had a hell of a match."
His training with Hase in Calgary would come in handy as New Japan brought in some Russian amateur wrestlers to learn the professional version of the sport. "[Hase] showed me a lot of Olympic style and everything. In New Japan, we had to work a lot with the Russians, eh? ... They were full shooters. They didn't know anything about our style of wrestling at all. It was a fight for your life, let me tell you, every night. Those guys were serious."
By his own admission, Wellington had a spot for life in New Japan. He considers his decision to leave the promotion the biggest mistake he ever made. "I won't mention any names, but this other office was starting up. They had dreams. The money they offered me was just, I think I was 26 years old, 24 years old, maybe, they were just promising me the world. I was listening to guys who were supposed to be working for me as agents and stuff, guys that I trusted that were telling me, 'This is a good deal, switch offices.' I ended up switching and it was the worst mistake I ever made in my life. I went over to SWS and I went once, and they paid me what they said they were going to pay me, and then they folded. I never heard from them again."
Over the years, Wellington was smart with his money, and is still living off past income. "It's not going to last forever. I've got another 30 years before I have to retire. It won't last me forever. I did well in Japan. I was pretty smart. I saved most of it."
Unlike many of his contemporaries, he didn't travel to countless countries, as he was secure enough with his finances to be able to turn things down. For example, he always said no to South Africa. "I'd just heard too many horror stories about that. I didn't think it was worth it, especially the money they were paying me. It wasn't worth the risk the way I looked at it."
"I know guys who have gone around the world. I can't believe what they went for as far as money and stuff. Guys will do anything to get into this business," he said. "To do it on your own dime isn't the way to go. I know guys who have bought their own tickets to Japan, their own plane tickets. I know guys who have gone over there and owed the office money."
Besides Japan, he worked across Canada, including the Maritimes, where promoter Emile Dupre dubbed him Bobby Hart, and Mexico. In 1997, he worked for Paul Heyman's ECW promotion for a number of shots.
Recently, he's done the occasional show for Michelle Starr's BC-based ECCW promotion. Wellington is still recognized around Western Canada. "I still have a good following around here, especially, for some reason, in Edmonton. I don't know why, but Edmonton was always a good town for me. But these spot shows I go to, it's hurting. They're lucky if they have 100 people."
At the end of July, he is going up to Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory along with tag team partner Steve Rivers and headliners Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart and The Honkytonk Man for a pair of shows. Wellington has been told that 2,500 tickets have been sold already, a sell out. "But there's nothing up there. This is the first wrestling show they've had in about 12 years."
It may be the end of the line for Wellington. "I'm waiting for an operation on my back," he said. "Until I get my back operated on ... I may be done already. I don't want to do be, but we'll see how it goes after the operation."
June 24, 2007: Biff Wellington dead at 42
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Greg Oliver founded SLAM! Wrestling with John Powell way back in
1996, and has been writing about pro wrestling since 1985. He is the
author of the recently published book The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame:
The Canadians from ECW Press. Order it from the SLAM!
Wrestling Store. He can be emailed at email@example.com.