February 14, 2006
Misty & MVP: An indy love storyLove and wrestling go together for Ontario couple
By COREY DAVID LACROIX - SLAM! Wrestling
Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.
Quotes abound world wide in describing that magical feeling of discovering love. For countless couples around the world, Valentine's Day presents an annual ritual of reflection and celebration of all things that make relationships so wondrous. For a certain Ontario wrestling couple, exploring the love they have for each other goes hand in hand with the passion they share for pro wrestling.
Meet Michael Von Payton and Misty Haven. Those are their ring names of course. If you look at the marriage certificate, the names are Michael Leduc and Stephanie Landry. Having just got married this past summer, you would think that this Valentine's Day would have special meaning for the two newlyweds. Think again.
"This Valentine's Day won't be special at all since I'm working a 12-hour shift. It'll be spent mostly wrestling and training," said Haven in an interview with SLAM! Wrestling. "Quite frankly, we've just been so incredibly busy we haven't had time to think about it."
As is typical for many couples when they first meet, it was a mutual acquaintance that brought the two youngsters together on July 18, 1994 in Clarence Creek in eastern Ontario, not far from the town of Rockland.
Payton had only located to Clarence Creek two years earlier after spending his life as a military brat, following his parents to various postings across the country. "My dad took his final posting from the air force and we were looking in the Ottawa area and we just so happened to have a relative who lived in Clarence who we had visited in the past and we actually liked the area. So we came out here on a house hunting trip and we all agreed that this was a nice, quiet, little town."
Two years after settling there, fate would catch up with Payton when he was 15, in the form of a phone call from a sports teammate.
"A guy I played hockey and baseball with called me to go over to his place and meet this girl he went to school with. I almost didn't go over since I was tired from working construction that day," said Payton, who was enrolled at Rockland District High School.
But he did go over and the girl happened to be Haven, who was nearing the age of 14 at that time. A native of the Rockland area, she attended École Secondaire Catholique L'Escale. She made it clear that her presence with the mutual friend was under false pretences.
"This guy pretended to date me and to prove it to his friend Michael, persuaded me to go for a bike ride where conveniently Mike would be," explained Haven.
"He had pretty much taken half his day to coax her to come out to Clarence Creek and hang out for the day," added Payton.
"The second that we had a moment alone, I mustered up the courage to spew out 'Are you really this guy's girlfriend?' She just turned around and said 'No way,'" said Payton.
"When I met Mike, I just thought he was drop-dead gorgeous," said Haven bluntly. "From that point on, we just ignored the mutual friend and took the rest of the day to get to know each other. We exchanged our phone numbers at the end of the night when the parents came and picked me up. I called him the next day and from then on, we saw each other every day after."
What started as a chance meeting bloomed into a high school romance. Even so, there was another romance in Payton's life that he was keeping from Haven.
He was in love with professional wrestling.
"Growing up in Quebec, I was watching wrestling all the time - renting videos, staying up late or getting up on Saturdays to watch Maple Leaf Wrestling," admitted Payton.
But when he relocated to Clarence Creek, Payton discovered to his horror that wrestling was no where to be found on the local television channels. Desperate action was needed to get his fix.
"It just so happened that a couple of guys from school were always talking wrestling. They were tape traders -- they had a couple of friends with cable and they were always taping stuff. It started off as good intentions where we would we skip during our spares (at school), but our spare time turned into missing half of the day or even missing a full day to watch WWF or WCW. Friends would tape pay per views and we would meet up in front of the library. We wouldn't even acknowledge that we were at school, we would just go to the house and there would be six or seven of us around the TV watching the pay per view."
So why keep this secret from the most important person in his life? "I think it was the fact that I was missing school to do it. I was a pretty decent student, but I just didn't want to be there. But I didn't want her to get that impression that I was slacking off and disappearing from school."
But for sake of an honest relationship, Payton finally worked up the courage to tell his beloved the truth during his last year of high school.
So how supportive was Haven when he told her?
"When he did, I started laughing," said Haven. "To me it was like 'What? You're kidding me -- little tights and everything?' I just thought the whole thing was just a pure joke like everyone else. It's acting, it's fake, why would you have any interest in that?"
As it turned out, it was Payton who had the last laugh as Haven soon became a wrestling fan herself, compliments of Stone Cold Steve Austin.
"I think she had a bit of an attraction to him at the time, she liked the way he looked in his jean shorts," said Payton.
"I got hooked on it the first night after watching Stone Cold Steve Austin," admitted Haven. "I absolutely loved the presence that he had as an entertainer; he was so over the top. He always kept me on edge, wondering what he would do next."
The two lovebirds took their affection for wrestling with them upon enrolling at Algonquin College in Ottawa in 1998, where they juggled a hectic schedule of school, working, and time for each other. Yet, they were able to find time to make a very important decision involving their relationship.
"She was not suspecting this at that time because I was trying to keep it a secret," Payton said, describing his plan to ask Haven to marry him. "I had told her I wasn't going to and that I didn't want to get married. Meanwhile, everyone else around us knew what was coming -- except her. I gave these flowers and she was surprised because I had never, ever given her flowers, maybe once on a Valentine's Day a few years prior."
What she got was more than just some roses.
"He slid a ring off a rose onto my finger," Haven recalled. "It was on my nineteenth birthday. It basically happened where we live right now. It was very special indeed."
"She just looked at me stunned. That's when I got down on one knee and proposed to her. She was in total disbelief. She said 'You're joking, this can't be real.'"
It was real and Haven committed. But wouldn't you know it, that old love of Payton's came back in the picture.
That's right -- he started his training to become a professional wrestler.
"I was a bit skeptical about it because I didn't quite understand what was behind it," admitted Haven. "But I was completely supportive because I thought it would just be a weekend thing. Then he expressed that he wanted to do it as a career and that's when I started worrying. Here I was picturing myself in the future with Mike in a wheelchair and I was just freaking out."
In an attempt to tame her skepticism, Payton invited Haven to attend one of his training sessions. As it turned out, she became more than a fretting girlfriend on the sidelines.
"It just got me so curious," said Haven. "I wanted to understand why these guys were willing to put their bodies through this. I sat outside the ring for an entire year before I even put one foot in that ring."
"She would come to see me train every now and then. She became very interested and asked me if she could train, to which I said no," told Payton. "At that point, I didn't see her as a very tough person. To her credit, she wouldn't let the idea go so I said yes, assuming that she'd be too sore to continue and just leave it be and go back to being a fan. She showed me; turns out she's a pretty tough person."
But they soon discovered being tough in the ring would pale in comparison to the arduous hurdle that would test their relationship. On January 7, 2000, Haven's mother was rushed to the hospital. Eventually, she was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder of the brain. The illness incapacitated her mother to the point that Haven had to assume responsibility for keeping the family together, as her father had left the home some years earlier. Whatever wrestling aspirations she had were placed on hold.
"I had to work 35 hours a week on top of college to try and get money to support my family and raise my sisters," said Haven. At one point, a hospital social worker contemplated taking Haven's two younger sisters into custody. Her relationship with Payton was put on the backburner for the sake of keeping her family together. "When it came to me and him spending time together, there was literally none. The time we spent together was the time we were at college. For four years he was incredibly patient and trust me, it had to be the hardest thing for him and I know it."
Far from being put off, Payton pitched right in. "Honestly, I never looked at it from the stand point of 'What about me?' It was definitely a more difficult time for them than for me," said Payton. "They were in a situation and they needed each other. I had known them for a number of years by this point and I guess I was the closest thing to a brother that her sisters had. My mindset was let's work together, like a family, and get everyone through this."
"She (Haven) would be off to work, I would be at home preparing supper or making lunches for her sisters to go to school with. Then I'd drive in to pick her up from work and we'd go to the hospital to visit her mom. I can remember there were times were we'd be up rotating in cycles until four or five in the morning typing up projects, getting an hour sleep and going back to school. When you really love someone, you just do whatever it takes to make it work and that's pretty much how I felt at that time. I saw her family as an extension of my family. Their problems were my problems."
"He was asked to be a father figure to my two younger sisters. He didn't have to take on that responsibility whatsoever, but he did. That's when I knew we were going to fine from that point on," added Haven.
According to Payton, Haven returned the favor years later when his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Making it all the more challenging was Payton's own reluctance to express himself emotionally.
"Her and her sisters are very vocal, they communicate a lot with each other," explained Payton. "I keep things inside. Even with Stephanie, I wouldn't let everything out, but I knew she was always there and if there was anything I wanted to discuss, that she was always there to support me and my mom in anyway that she needed."
In spite of his overflowing list of responsibilities, Payton remained an active wrestler. Haven found the time to train on a more frequent basis, becoming active in 2001 as a manager.
The couple spent their early years working exclusively for Ottawa-based wrestler/promoter Dave Dalton, who was also their trainer. While Payton was developing his skills in the ring, Haven was molding a heel persona for herself outside of the ring.
"To me, it was just something that came naturally," reflected Haven, crediting her high school drama classes with nurturing her ability to get a rise out of fans. "Just being myself, I like to kid around and poke fun of people constantly. That's something Mike had picked up on and had suggested that maybe if I concentrated on oversizing that aspect of my personality that it might just come in handy to become the ultimate bitch."
Fate intervened once again for the couple in the form of a chance meeting with veteran grappler from Osgoode, Ontario, Crusher Kline (Wayne Cryderman) who had moved back to the area after spending several years wrestling south of the border.
"They were originally training at a school right near where I grew up," said Cryderman. Now residing in Saint John, New Brunswick, Cryderman is the marketing and promotions manager for the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. "I called up and asked if I could sit and watch. Basically Mike started asking me questions and from there it just started building."
Cryderman became a mentor to the couple, sharing the wealth of knowledge he acquired training wrestlers at The Body Slammers wrestling school, owned by Al Snow. In addition, he shared the crucial lessons of etiquette that can make or break relationships with promoters and other wrestlers outside of the ring.
The most important advice Cryderman gave Haven and Payton was that they needed to seek more bookings with other promotions if they truly wanted to expand their careers.
"I got good guidance when I trained," said Cryderman. "They wanted to get better and that's why they started asking questions. The only guidance I gave them was that this is the way the business is, as I was taught. There was no difference between me and them, except they had been isolated to an area, for no other fault but that they weren't told to. They were solid in the ring even then and so that's why I couldn't understand why they hadn't worked anywhere else."
"We didn't know any different," admitted Haven when it came to their naivety towards working for other independent promotions. "We thought it was the normal way for proceeding (career wise). We were always being told that we were not ready to leave the promotion, and that was after two and a half years. This new concept of getting work was actually introduced to us at the training school by Wayne Cryderman. We quickly realize 'What the hell are we doing here?' If it weren't for (Cryderman), I wouldn't have gotten my first match. It was a huge awakening."
"If you don't know that there's anything else out there and you're led to believe that this is the only thing, then you don't really go looking too hard for anything else. Every ounce of knowledge that we had in the business to that point was supplied by him (Dalton). You never assume that your teacher is going to lead you in the wrong direction," added Patyon.
With that, Haven and Payton parted ways with Dalton in June of 2003 to branch out and work for other promotions. Their greatest success was with Canadian Professional Wrestling (CPW), the Hull, Quebec-based promotion.
"Once they started taking what I said and following it, they would come back and say 'What you said was true. It worked exactly like it said it would happen,'" Cryderman said.
"It just opened up this whole new avenue where we're in control, not someone dictating to us. From that perspective, that was something that we didn't realize was available to us at all," said Payton.
While the two were mastering their craft, they also had to contend with distinguishing between their status as a couple and being individual professional wrestlers in the locker room.
"In the earlier days when I was a manager, when introducing myself to workers, since some of them knew I was with Mike, I was being ignored. Completely ignored -- pushed aside; I was basically his shadow," Haven said. "What we decided to do is go into the wrestling business and establish ourselves as individuals, as two separate workers. A lot of people will notice that we are hardly ever together in the backstage environment, mainly because he wants to do his own thing and I want to do my own thing. That helps me establish myself as a worker -- he's his own person, I'm my own person."
But that did nothing to address the fact that Haven was a woman in a male-dominated domain. It was only a matter of time before she was confronted with blatant advances from other wrestlers and promoters.
"How did I handle it? As professional as I possibly could," said Haven, crediting Cryderman once again for teaching her how to present herself in the locker room. "To be honest with you, it has a lot to do with how a girl carries herself in the backstage area. Even myself, I've grown so much in just the way I will come into a new locker room. When I first started, I would smile and be overly friendly and blend in with the other flakes, the ring rats or the hired strippers. Guys don't differentiate easily when everyone blends.
"When I enter a locker room now, I have a serious face on, I carry myself with confidence, I introduce myself as nothing but a worker. From that point on, the guys actually respect me."
"She carried herself differently from pretty much any of the other girls that I was seeing," added Payton. "She wasn't jumping into peoples' laps and kissing and hugging, which was what the other girls were doing. She was going around, shaking hands and introducing herself properly. I think she garnered more respect from most of the name talent, who saw these other girls as just valets and bimbos.
"Through that, she was able to talk to these guys. They actually asked her some questions and stories -- here they are saying 'That's how you do it. That's how you go out there on the indies.' Then you have all these other girls at the other end of the room scowling at her because here they are, practically throwing themselves at these people and they couldn't care less."
The education Cryderman provided can still be seen as they both remain active with various promotions in Ontario and Quebec. Payton has evolved in a well rounded, in-demand worker while Haven has extended her foul-tempered attitude to the ring, continuing to grow as a serious wrestling performer. They have even taken the leap into promoting wrestling shows with the Rage Wrestling Entertainment promotion.
Outside the ring, things have also improved. Haven's mother made it through her health crisis with the assistance of medication that permits her to maintain an independent life. Payton's mother is responding well to treatment and winning her battle against cancer.
While the couple is not making six figures working for World Wrestling Entertainment, they both hold down full-time jobs, Haven at the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa, and Payton in a managerial position with Staples. Life seemed to finally be settling into a pattern, leaving only one thing left to do.
On August 26, 2005, Haven and Payton finally got married.
"All I remember from that day was excitement," recalled Haven when she tied the knot before a gathering of family and friends. "Basically, I felt the way I feel before a match. I was excited, I was pumped, I was ready to get the show on the road. All I wanted to do was have fun. I wasn't stressed one bit."
"There was almost a big sense of accomplishment; finally that day is here," Payton said. "I don't think I could have been any happier with the way the day went, it went off pretty much according to plan."
The most memorable moment for those in attendance was the high-five the couple gave each other after their first kiss as husband and wife.
"So many people still talk about it to this day; 'I can't believe you gave him a high-five.' It's just something that we always did to each other backstage that we just carried out to the wedding itself," said Haven.
"There's not a lot of things that bring tears to my eyes -- what a privilege," Cryderman said about the emotions he felt that day. "I had only known them for a couple years. To have the type of effect on them that they would want me in their wedding party just floored me."
"The people who did attend are basically people we've grown to know very well over the past couple of years," explained Haven. "Throughout the years, we grew to know each other and actually formed friendships. I also grew to respect those guys basically for respecting me and treating me like one of the guys. A bond was definitely formed."
"We wanted them to share in the moment. We had felt that we had formed friendships with a lot of these people and they definitely wanted to be part of that day," added Payton.
Even though this wrestling couple may not be pursuing any kind of romantic rendezvous this Valentine's Day, the love they have for each other remains as vibrant as ever.
"I adore him. I admire him. He has to be my best friend in the entire world. I look him up to him a lot and value his opinions. I respect the shit out of him. He's been there for me since I was 13 years old. I just love him," said Haven.
"She's my soulmate, there's no question about it," Payton said. "We definitely complete each others' lives. We've grown so much together. She's definitely one of a kind. I can't really imagine what life would be like without her."
Corey David Lacroix had the honour of attending Stephanie and Mike's wedding and can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that true romance is alive and well. He can be emailed at email@example.com.