Ottawa wrestlers chase The Dream
There's plenty of blood, sweat and tears on the way to the top
TIM BAINES - Ottawa Sun
OTTAWA — In the lower level of a building where bettors fret about things such as exactors and triactors, where busloads of casino-goers stuff slot machines full of 20-dollar bills — sweat-soaked men are hip-tossing and bodyslamming each other.
Some of these wrestlers are chasing a dream. They want to be the next Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin or Randy Orton. They know there’ll be plenty of blood, sweat and tears to go along with bumps, bruises and broken limbs. They’re willing to get smacked over the head with a folding chair or thrown through a table — whatever sacrifices need to be made. All to get to the big time — pyro-filled entrances, action figures and T-shirts with a catchphrase.
The fact is very few will make it. They know that. But they still dream The Dream.
This is Bodyslammers Wrestling Academy, located down the escalator, on the bottom floor of the OLG Slots at Rideau Carleton Raceway, a cavalcade of bright lights in the middle of the darkness of Albion Rd.
The academy takes nine students through two months of training sessions. They train four days a week. They learn how to hit, how to fall. And how to respect the profession and each other.
When the students graduate, they get a diploma and a match on one of the regular cards produced by Bodyslammers along with Rage Wrestling Entertainment and Big Time Pro Wrestling. That’s when the hard work begins. If their goal is to get to the big leagues of wrestling, there are plenty of stops in between. Fledgling wrestlers talk of road trips from hell, driving through blinding snowstorms, stuffing themselves full of cheeseburgers at truckstops, then being paid little more than gas money for 15 minutes of punishment in the ring. But that doesn’t matter. Not when they’re consumed by The Dream.
“The first thing you tell them when they come in is that whatever you think you know about wrestling, forget it,” says 41-year-old Wayne Cryderman, Bodyslammers trainer, who as Crusher Kline is a destroyer of bad guys in the ring.
Dean Danis will be 42 soon. A general contractor, he wants to be a big-time wrestler. He’s got The Dream. He knows gain will not come without pain.
With more than 600 matches, he’s got a laundry list of injuries — to his shoulder, biceps, ribs and knees.
“I’m trying to make it,” says Danis, who wrestles as Maximus Primal. “My goal isn’t to just be a weekend warrior. When you get into the ring, that rush you get ... you just can’t beat it. There are a lot of times I wonder if I have what they’re looking for. But I know I have to keep focused.”
He’s had two WWE tryouts. He knows a phone call from WWE could change his life. That’s why he accepts the broken bones as a means to an end. He was booked for the Sept. 18 Smackdown! in Hamilton. His on-screen appearance came as a member of Teddy Long’s security detail. That moment, being that close, is plenty of motivation.
Also invited to Smackdown! that day was Dave Tierney, 31. In the ring, he’s Dave Titan. He’s been wrestling since 2001.
“The first guy I met when I signed in was The Undertaker,” says Tierney, a personal trainer. “They told us to get into the ring. It was nerve-wracking, knowing all the (WWE) wrestlers were looking at you.”
“I don’t want to look back and say I didn’t try enough,” says Danis. “Age is irrelevant. If I can make somebody money, they’ll use me. (When I was at Smackdown!), I approached everybody. Chris Jericho told me: ‘Just keep knocking on the door. Don’t give up.’ “
Anthony Gattas, 32, is Prof. Adib Mansour. He’s affiliated with The Twin Terrors. That’s what wrestling does in its focus on good vs. evil. It creates factions.
“We do not play the terrorist gimmick,” he says. “I don’t call myself a sheik. I’m a professor. I use my brains. I was raised on class. You were raised on hot dogs and beer. Fans hate me for who I am.”
In real life, Gattos is a self-employed computer systems administrator.
“Who wouldn’t want to be a big star in a big company?” he says. “I have an alter-ego. It’s very easy to be both. It’s like you’re an actor in a Hollywood movie. One minute, you’re walking down the street, the next minute you’re an axe murderer. Or maybe you’re a real jackass in real life and you have to become a goody-two-shoes. It’s acting.”
Glenn Kulka has experienced The Dream. A player in the Canadian Football League for 11 seasons, the 45-year-old Kulka was signed to a six-figure developmental contract with the then-WWF. He worked circuits like Grand Prix Wrestling in the Maritimes, travelling along with future WWE stars Christian and Edge.
“Edge’s character, his original vignette was supposed to be me. They put me over on him on a show in Ottawa. That’s how close I came.”
A broken leg in a match against The Jackyl in Regina in 1998 shelved Kulka’s dream. He spent six months in rehab, but would return to the ring.
And Edge (Adam Copeland) was already on his way to becoming a main-eventer.
“(Wrestling) was a dark period of my life,” says Kulka. “I don’t mind selling dreams, it’s important to follow your goals. But at the end of the rainbow, is it really worth it?
“How many of these guys make it without abusing themselves? And it’s not like I was coming into wrestling after playing 11 years of badminton. I was in excruciating pain.
“(With Grand Prix), we did something like 55 shows in 52 days. We travelled maybe 2,500-3,000 km a week. Two guys would jump out of an Explorer and get a motel room. We’d drive around the back of the motel and five of us would pile out. We’d throw mattresses on the floor and do rock, paper, scissors to see where everybody slept.”
Once upon a time, wrestling was secretive. It would be disastrous if a “good guy” was seen socializing with a “bad guy.”
The truth is, for the most part, these guys admire each other. They have to. Wrestling’s moves are so intricate, health and safety are jeopardized if there isn’t a trust between the competitors. Learning how to do something the “right way” is paramount.
“I was taught if you’re not sure you can do something, don’t do it,” says Cryderman.
“We always tell our viewers, don’t try this at home,” says WWE star The Miz. “Find a great independent school and learn. It is a very dangerous sport. I don’t like to discourage people from going for their dreams because this was my dream.”
The first match for Cryderman, who learned under former WWE star Al Snow, was vs. Koji Kitao, a grand champion sumo wrestler.
“I got lucky,” he says. “For a lot of guys, their first match is in a bingo hall. My first match was in Tokyo, in front of 5,000 people. I got $2,000 US for one match. When reality kicks in, though, and you get back to the States, you’re getting $15 for a 5 1/2-hour one-way drive in a beat-up Hyundai Pony.
“That’s why I love wrestling. You get beat up and you end up with less money than you left with.”
At Bodyslammers, the wrestlers will learn the basics, including the nuances and sequences to a match. Then there are the extras, little things like the proper way to swing a folding chair and how to set up and hide a razor blade, just in case a little “juice” is needed.
There’s no blood at the shows, which have been geared toward kids.
Students at Bodyslammers come in all shapes and ages.
Josh Kelly recently moved to Ottawa from Saint John, N.B. Now 22, he’s been training for the past two years. He’s been watching wrestling since he was four. Along the way, he’s cheered on the likes of Triple H and Hogan. Now, he wants to become one of them.
“I came into this blind, with no expectations,” he says. “My goal now is to do this for a living. But I don’t necessarily need to be famous to be happy with it.”
“A lot of people like hockey and want to play it. Others like football and want to play it. This is what I like,” says 21-year-old Marc Dionne. “It’s like being a stuntman.”
“I was always the small, silent kid,” says 22-year-old Nick Dansereau, a web specialist with the federal government. “Now, I want to leave a lasting impression. Fame is important. I want to be remembered. But you always need a backup plan.”
“If wrestling was all about the money, we’d all have quit by now,” adds Dionne, who often teams with Dansereau and owns a small flooring company. “Any money we make goes back into wrestling. Sometimes you think, ‘Let’s quit and do something else ...’ ”
Dansereau finishes the sentence: “But then you spend another 10 minutes in the ring and you can’t leave.”
Dionne and Dansereau sometimes pile into a Ford SUV and drive hours. Last year, there was an 18-hour trek to Chicago for a CHIKARA show. But they’re getting their names out there. Sometimes, making it to the big time is about being in the right place at the right time.
“You can be as good as you want, but if you’re sitting at home, nobody is going to notice you,” says Cryderman.
Yves Drouin is 44. He’s already been a champion in arm wrestling and strongman competitions. He lives in Cheney, near Hammond.
“They call me The Hammond Strongman,” he says with a chuckle. “Wrestling is a dream I had when I was 14. I was a real skinny guy. And I always wanted to look like Raymond Rougeau.”
Now, he figures, the time is right. His son is 21, his daughter is 18. His wife Diane asked him recently: ‘What’s next?’
“As a joke, I told her bullriding,” says Drouin, who has worked for the federal government as a cartographer for 20 years. “She’s always supported me.”
He decided to try wrestling.
“I never limit myself. I’m thinking WWE,” says Drouin. “I’d like to take Hulk Hogan, Dino Bravo and Macho Man Randy Savage and merge all three. That would become me in the ring. But if it doesn’t happen, I can do this locally.”
He knows it won’t be easy.
“(Last night) after training, I had to take two extra-strength Tylenols,” he says.
C4: Capital City Championship Combat
holds regular shows at the Knights of Columbus Hall (260 McArthur Ave.), bringing in top-notch indy talent from outside Ottawa as well. The next show is scheduled to be May 1. (Check out the website at c4wrestling.com
Bodyslammers Pro Wrestling Gym
is looking for students. (Check out bodyslammerscanada.com). In conjunction with Rage Entertainment and Big Time Wrestling, regular shows are held at the Rideau Carleton Raceway on Albion Rd. The next show is April 10. (Check out ragewrestling.net
For some, wrestling is a passion, but it’s still a hobby.
Shawn Demers, who just turned 30, works in food and beverage operations at Algonquin College. He’s got the gift of gab and as Mr. Know it All, plays the role of heel manager as good as anybody. Surprisingly, he says: “In real life, I’m a really shy person.”
There’s definitely potential there, but for him, it’s a hobby for now.
“I’ve been a fan all of my life,” says Demers, who has an 18-month-old baby girl Hailey and wife Josee to think about. “My family is my priority. Right now, just like some guys play hockey, this is my activity, once in a month. So I live The Dream at a different level. But you never say never.”
Daniel Poirier, 34, wrestles as Trey Hugh Mongus.
A salesman of computer hardware at a Gatineau Future Shop, he says: “This was never a dream for me. This was always to get out my weekend frustrations. To me, it was doing what I had been doing since I was a kid.
“One day in school, in February, they had different activities they were offering for us to do. Me and my buddies went to the gym and put down mattresses and went at it.”
For most of his eight years of wrestling, he’s played a hired gun character. And that’s plenty fine with him.
It’s usually a bumpy road to stardom — the bright lights, pay-per-views, rides in limos and expensive restaurants. On the way up, there are no pay-per-views. Instead, the wrestlers are performing in front of a hundred fans in dark gymnasiums, car-pooling to shows and gobbling up Big Macs in roadside motels.
It’s a price many are willing to pay.
Tim Baines is the Sports Editor for the Ottawa Sun and can be emailed at Tim.firstname.lastname@example.org.