SLAM! Sports SLAM! Wrestling
   Fri, August 31, 2007



News & Rumours
Bios
Obits
Canadian Hall of Fame
WrestleMania 30
WrestleMania 30 photos
Video
Movie Database
Minority Mat Report
Columnists
Features
Results Archive
PPV Reviews
SLAM! Wrestling store
On Facebook
On Twitter
Send Feedback




Photo Galleries

Raw in Chicago


Titans in Toronto VI


WWE Night of Champions


Legends of the Ring fan fest


Heroes & Legends IV fan fest


NXT Takeover: Fatal 4 Way


ROH All Star Extravaganza VI







SCOREBOARD
PHOTO GALLERY
VIDEO GALLERY
COMMENT





Shayne Bower obituary from the Globe & Mail
By GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling


Shayne Bower was a professional wrestler under the name Biff Wellington who had to not only leave his hometown of Calgary to become a star, he had to leave the continent entirely. It was in Japan that Mr. Bower found his fame, competing there on almost 30 tours during the height of his career.

At 6-foot, 240 pounds, Biff (or, sometimes, "Beef") Wellington was not the biggest or most chiseled competitor. With short cropped hair, mustache and clad in black leather clothing, he gave the impression of a tough, street brawler. However, in the ring, he had the capability of taking to the air, flying across the ring with dangerous, high-risk maneuvers that would draw outbursts of applause from the appreciative Japanese audiences.

"I did all my best work in Japan, by far," Mr. Bower once said. He would bring video tapes home to show family and friends. "The stuff that he did in Japan, I've got a library of tapes that would blow your mind," said his best friend Devon Fielding.

Growing up in Calgary, Shayne Bower was one of the city's most promising athletes. He was an outstanding hockey goaltender, often facing future Stanley Cup winner Mike Vernon in the opposite net. In baseball, he was a pitcher, tossing his squad to the Alberta championships as a 12-year-old. Basketball and motocross racing were other interests. "Anything that had to do with sports, he excelled at it, right to the top," recalled his father, Lindsay. Asthma derailed a scholarship offer, said his mother, Tanya.

The Stampede Wrestling promotion was hot in Calgary in the 1980s, and encouraged by his neighbour Milad Elzein, who was friends with the Hart Family, Mr. Bower entered the Hart Brothers Training Camp along with 60 other aspirants. He was one of two students to survive the grueling workouts to make it to the television show, broadcast across Canada on TSN, in December 1986. "He had an incredible work ethic at camp and he really did stand out," said Jim Kristensen, who was at that camp.

Because the Hart boys were the local heroes, Mr. Bower couldn't be billed as coming from Calgary. "They said his name was Biff Wellington from Lloydminister. He's not from Lloydminister, he's from Calgary. But that was his wrestling name," said Lindsay Bower. "That's the name that Stu Hart gave him, because the only people that ever came out of Calgary were the Harts, so they didn't want somebody else as competition."

In Stampede Wrestling, Mr. Bower was paired with an up-and-comer from Edmonton named Chris Benoit. They would become a tag team both in Calgary, where they won championship titles, and in Japan. For the rest of his career, Mr. Bower's career would be compared to Mr. Benoit's. While Mr. Benoit would go on to find fame as a WWE world champion, and later infamy for the June 2007 slaying of his wife and son in Atlanta, Mr. Bower never made it close to those heights. "It definitely could have been me," Mr. Bower once told me. "I made some wrong decisions, got steered by some people I shouldn't have listened to, being young. 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."

There were two turning points in Mr. Bower's career. In Japan, where loyalty is valued, he elected to defect to a new, upstart promotion instead of staying with the established company. The new outfit folded shortly after his arrival and the work in Japan dried up.

The other turning point was taking his first pain pill to combat the constant aches and pains of working as a professional wrestler. "One of the wrestlers said, 'Here young fella, take this pill. That'll make you feel better.' So he did, and it made him feel better. But it wasn't just one. He took two, then three, then four, then after that, you know what happened," said his father.

It is a case of following the leader, said Mr. Fielding. "You get on the independent level, because you're looking at the top guys, and the top guys are doing steroids, they're drinking, they're taking pills, painkillers and stuff, and sleeping pills, and you figure, if they're that good, you must have to do the same to get to that level."

"He could have made it big. It's the drugs, man, I'm telling you, it's the pills. He was a great worker when he broke in, and he started taking that shit, and things started going for the worst," said Mr. Elzein, who became a ringside manager named Abu Wizal in Stampede Wrestling. "Then when Benoit made it and he didn't, it got even worse."

In 1992, Mr. Bower got involved with the Canadian Rocky Mountain Wrestling promotion in Calgary, which was trying to fill the void left behind by the closure of Stampede Wrestling. Besides being a headlining talent for the company, Mr. Bower was also a behind-the-scenes matchmaker, deciding who would win or lose. That lasted until early 1993, when he had a falling out with the owner.

Resigned to competing around the Prairies for various small-time, independent promotions, often with less than 100 people in the crowd, Mr. Bower was a positive influence on new talent. One of the wrestlers Mr. Bower helped break into wrestling in 1994 was Devon Fielding. Mr. Bower was "very, very protective" of young wrestlers, said Mr. Fielding, guarding them from the cruel jokes that veterans played out as a type of hazing ritual. "He liked a good laugh, but he was not into seeing anyone else humiliated."

As his best friend and roommate, Mr. Fielding ended up being the babysitter when Mr. Bower was at his worst. "I used to sit on the couch and hold his head while he fell into his comas," Mr. Fielding said. "Everybody kept saying to me, 'Why do you keep doing it?' I'd go, 'He's my friend.' Everybody said, 'Well, he's got lots of friends.' 'Yeah, well I don't.' There's a long period of time where I had to clean him up, dust him off, carry his bags and get him to the next show."

Mr. Bower had one last crack at the big time in 1997, when he was invited to Philadelphia to compete in Extreme Championship Wrestling, a surging national promotion at the time. After a half-dozen appearances, he returned to Calgary and the small-time circuit.

The wrestling injuries were not the only reason Mr. Bower had turned to painkillers. He had hurt his back swimming with his brother in Kelowna, B.C., and, in 2001, he was stabbed in the stomach. Less than a month after the stabbing, bored of sitting around at home, Mr. Bower returned to wrestling. "He promptly tore his stitches out," said Justin Richardson of England, who was on that Alberta tour as wrestler Justin Richards. "It wasn't his head that was driving him in wrestling, it was his heart."

Getting clean from painkillers required regular doses of another drug, methadone. Heading to the clinic for doses became an impediment to finding 9-to-5 work, said his father, who would take his car-less son in for his medicine. Sleeping pills became another addiction.

Attempting life outside wrestling, Mr. Bower tried driving a gravel truck, but the 12 hours a day in the cab were too much for his bad back. In early June, he was hired on as a sales rep at a Calgary Chrysler Dodge dealership. Sales manager Dick Yee could see that Mr. Bower needed a break. "No one was giving him a chance all over town. He was looking for work. I guess I'm one of those guys who needs to give everybody a chance. I thought he'd obviously worked hard to be a wrestler. I thought he could put the same effort into car sales."

Over the last number of years, Mr. Fielding and Mr. Bower had discussed what should be written in Mr. Bower's obituary. They had seen the list of dead wrestlers growing and Mr. Bower's body, bloated and out of shape from years of abuse, was giving out. He had had a pair of strokes and came close to dying in 2006. "He always said to me, 'There's nothing I hate worse, if I hear one more story about an ex-wrestler who's broke, and strung out on drugs, pissed off at people and owing everybody money, I'm going to throw up,'" said Mr. Fielding. "He was on his way back up at the end. He was clawing his way back up."

Shayne Alexander Bower was born April 18, 1963 in Calgary, Alberta. He died June 20, 2007 in Calgary. A cause of death has not been established. He is survived by his daughter Alexandra and stepdaughters Caroline and Autum, his parents, Tanya and Lindsay, his brother Sheldon (Angel) and nephew Dylan.

Greg Oliver can be emailed at goliver845@gmail.com.