February 9, 2009
Johnny's still got the Powers!World Champion wrestler looking for agri-tourism possibilities in Niagara Region
By TOM WILKINSON - West Niagara News
Don't make the mistake of asking Johnny Powers if wrestling is fake.
The 6-foot, four-inch world champion wrestler will look at you quietly and tell you that's not a very professional question to ask.
Even at 65 years, you're not going to ask Johnny that question twice. He still looks big and strong.
This big man, who has been up and down and up the success scale three times, who is one of the fathers of extreme fighting, is also a gentle man, and a gentleman, who talks about his mother with reverence and gives her a lot of credit for helping him over the years.
Johnny, it seems, will never retire. He loves working and loves looking for new opportunities.
Johnny was born as Dennis Waters in Hamilton, Ontario.
At the age of 15, he was 6-foot, three-inches tall, and weighed 153 pounds.
"My mom paid my way down to a gym, Jack Wentworth's, in the east end of Hamilton," he said.
In the next year, Johnny worked out regularly and weighed 268 pounds when he was 16 years old.
He was also exposed to wrestling at the gym.
He asked owner Jack Wentworth if wrestling was fake.
"He said, 'young man, that's not a nice word to use about our profession. Why don't you step into the ring?'" Johnny got into the ring, and got a real lesson.
"He beat me up so bad. I learned the hard way, how to defend myself." Johnny took up wrestling, at first as only a hobby... and a way to meet girls.
"I didn't think of it as a career yet. I thought I wanted to be a geologist and a part-time poet." Johnny likes to write a poem a day, and has been writing poetry since he was a youngster.
Jack offered him, at 17, a chance to wrestle for money in Detroit, and Johnny decided to take it.
Johnny said that while aspects of wrestling may be scripted, the match itself isn't, and wrestling can be like an art between two good wrestlers, who challenge each other physically and put on a good show.
He's proud of his beginnings in Hamilton and said in the wrestling world, the city is called 'The Factory'.
"More good fighters came out of Hamilton than any other city in the world," he said.
He describes himself at the time as tall, shy, a young man who blushes easily. He got along with others.
"I had some sports aggression in me, but not social," he said.
In Detroit, he stepped into the ring with Ivan Kalmikoff.
"He beat me up, he didn't destroy me," Johnny remembers. "I was what's called 'fresh meat'. I was basically destined to lose."
He was nervous up to the point of stepping into the ring, but once he got there, he was fine.
"For whatever reason, I'm a natural in the ring," he said. "It feels like I'm home. The fear goes away." When he came back from Detroit, he made the decision to quit McMaster University, where he was studying geology.
"It was the inner fire," he explains. "I had to see if I was any good." To be a good wrestler requires much more than knowledge of wrestling and physical prowess. You have to be a show man. You have to be a businessman. You have to advocate for yourself.
Johnny was able to do all of these things.
"You have to get your hand raised a lot or the fans won't come back," he said. You also have to convince promoters to give you a shot at being the champion, you have to be able to put on a show that will bring fans out.
Johnny's wrestling career took him around the world. At the age of 21 and 22, he was making $75,000 a year, a lot of money in 1964.
Along the way, Johnny got into the business of wrestling, purchasing territories, becoming a promoter himself, and he had a successful wrestling television show in Buffalo, called Championship Wrestling with Johnny Powers.
At 30 years of age, he lost it all.
"I got cocky," he says. "I got the big head. I did 17 businesses at a time and a health club. I had 17 startups in 18 months." He over extended himself financially, and lost everything.
He turned back to wrestling to help build up his fortune again.
"I thought it would take me a year to get back up," he said. "It took me seven years."
"Out of that real life education I learned how to create and manage a successful business."
He retired from wrestling at the age of 39. It was in front of an audience of 60,000 in Nigeria.
"I walked into the ring. I was down $45,000 (he'd already lost this on the match by guaranteeing the purses of some other fighters)." His opponent wanted to give the audience a show, and suggested that he and Johnny "do it the hard way".
"I had anger in me anyway," said Johnny.
Also worth mentioning is that Johnny is one of the fathers of extreme fighting. He had taken some time off wrestling to train and learn Tae Kwon Do, training six days a week, six hours a day, for six months. "I developed a unique style," he said. "I took that style and did over 500 fights,most of which were not pre-arranged."
"Over his career, he was a world and international champion nine times and a North American champion seven times. From 1963 through 1983, he was a pro wrestler and pro fighter.
Johnny's last promotion was the Warrior Spirit Challenge in Simcoe on July 13, 2007.
He's working on other promotions, other deals in Mexico, Japan, U.S. and Canada.
Some of his heroes include Winston Churchill and John Wayne.
"I play at life," says Johnny of his current work. "I love people."
"My primary business is media and brand building," he says.
He took the name Johnny Powers and built it into a very successful brand, and can help others who want to build their brand.
"I'm basically a ticket salesman. I love to market things ," he said.
He moved to West Lincoln because he wanted to be closer to his mother, and he has fallen in love with the area.
"I'd like to assist the agri-food business with agri-tourism," he explained.
He's looking at starting a winery if he can find the right property to do that.
"I love vitaculture," he said. "I always liked wine but I never thought about being in the business." He says Niagara Region is full of undiscovered potential, including Niagara Falls, which he says has the potential to become a Las Vegas.
He'd also like to be able to help farmers find second incomes through creative use of their property.
Johnny mentioned he would like to hear from people with ideas, developers, etc., especially around agri-food, agri-tourism, wine business, farm land development and obviously media, both online and traditional.
He can be reached at 905-957-0824; email: email@example.com web sites www.johnny-powers.com, www.vrg-world.com. Johnny is waiting to have his knees replaced, as well as a hip, but he's already thinking ahead.
"I want to get back on the mat and tussle," he said. "I love tussling."
Johnny, your mom must be proud of you.
Tom Wilkinson is the Editor of the West Niagara News.