How a knee injury didn't derail my Mexico adventure
SEBASTIAN SUAVE - For SLAM! Wrestling
|"Iron Lion" Sebastian Suave in Mexico. All photos courtesy the author.
I am writing this on a flight back home from Mexico City. These past weeks have meant so much more to me than anyone could understand. With all due respect to North America, I was making my way to one of the very few places where professional wrestling is still respected. There are many great promotions in North America that provide some of the best wrestling but I'm talking about the bigger picture where the sport has a cultural impact on society. By the time you are done reading this write-up you will get the difference.
I made my way from Toronto, Canada to Mexico City on October 14th. I was nervous, excited, and eager all-in-one. The best way to describe it is like the first few days of college for a young freshman. You are in a whole new environment and there are no familiar faces around. You really don't know what to expect. You hardly have any money and you know that you can't afford a second chance if you mess up. Nevertheless, you are ready for the challenge.
Immediately upon landing I encountered my first and most common challenge -- the language barrier. Even at the airport there were no guarantees of having someone speak English with you. Over the course of my visit I learned to quickly pick up some key Spanish words and sentences to at least get by without relying on others. I always carried my cell phone around as I kept that list on it.
Upon my first few days I was immediately exposed to the difference of pro wrestling in Mexico versus North America, and I loved it! Fellow Canadian Teddy Hart arrived the same day as I did and I had the pleasure of meeting him along with a graduate of Lance Storm's school, Taya Valkerie. Teddy and I were picked up from the house and brought to the AAA head office. This was the real deal. The big property was gated and was as professional on the interior as any successful business. While at the office I took part in a photo shoot and that was followed by an interview for Super Luchas magazine. That would lead to a full-page spread a week later. This was a very humbling experience for a small time kid who is scratching and clawing to break out to the next level.
That weekend also included my attendance at the first of many AAA TV tapings. What a way to be introduced to my first live event in Mexico!
As we arrived to the parking lot, the car had to make its way through thousands of people, all of whom were staring at our car, with many shouting "Teddy!" As we exited the vehicle we were swarmed to the point that we couldn’t even get to the trunk. Teddy was signing autographs and taking pictures, and for some reason I was as well. The venue was solidly packed with 4,000-plus in attendance. I have competed in front of 2,000 or so, and this was easily double that. More importantly, every single person was there because they loved the sport. The fans would blow their horns, chant in unison, clap their hands and bang their thunder sticks. The passion these people put on display would even put a die-hard 13-year-old Sebastian Suave to shame. This was wrestling heaven!
Now things were a little tough on me as I was broke as hell and eating one-third the food consumption I am used to. The lack of calories would hit me hard as I was training twice a day and hitting the gym another time in a hot climate. But that, and many of the other struggles I had to deal with, are part of the sacrifices you must be willing to make in this business and are those that make you a better man (or woman) down the road. The rewards were reaped quickly so I saw it as a fair exchange anyway.
In a short time I was blessed with the opportunity to sit down and discuss my career and goals with wrestling legend, Konnan. I was able to befriend the likes of Teddy Hart, Samurai Del Sol (one of my favourite wrestlers), Taya Valkerie, Jack Evans, Psychosis, members of the Psycho Circus, and many others. I was blessed with the opportunity to train up to 10x a week with the likes of Silver King, Gran Apache and Heavy Metal, who all come from great wrestling families. Most of all I got to bond with a good friend of mine -- Jennifer Blake, a fellow Ontarian. She went above and beyond in making me feel welcome and for that I will forever have a great deal of respect for her. Jennifer has done very well for herself. She is a star and that is no overstatement. The crowd's acknowledgement and her impressive ring work is a testament to her work ethic in past years.
Jennifer and others not only have the privilege of being stars in the ring but out of the ring as well. When we hit the Rock & Road concert hall we were greeted and treated as VIPs. Jennifer took pictures with the event models and our table was continuously replenished with snacks and alcoholic beverages without us asking for anything. The same went for others. A group of us attended a wrestling themed restaurant where the Psycho Circus was signing some autographs. In return we were seated at a private booth where we all got fed endless amount of a Mexican delicacies. The stories go on such as when Taya was recognized on the subway by a couple from Argentina or when the police went in reverse because they recognized Konnan and had to shake his hand. Part of this is because how the wrestling community treats their fans. Konnan being one of the most recognizable figures in past decades leads by example. Any time, any place he would take a picture or sign an autograph. Even when we left the building one rainy night he took pictures and signed autographs for over 20 minutes despite our car being 30 seconds from the doors. The amount of class and respect he demonstrated was unreal.
Moving forward, the training was something special I would like to speak about as well. The wrestling rings were generally in a multi-floor, multi-purpose facility which housed fitness, boxing, and wrestling gyms amongst other features. They were health-oriented facilities that put hard-working winners in a goal-driven environment. At the "Nuevo Jordan" gym, where I would train with Silver King, you would easily find 40 or so athletes all sweating buckets in the boxing section. Upon making your way to the wrestling room you would be watching the previous class which consisted of children as young as six years old training. Mind you, they were doing lighter drills, but they showed better grace and form than half the wrestlers I know. At Nuevo Jordan, Silver King put us through light conditioning followed by more difficult drills before we got in the ring. He comes from a disciplined training background so if you messed up you didn't get a retake. You knew you were held accountable on every drill. As well, whether you did well or not, you would always perform some conditioning right after your drill for some added sweat.
I also had the pleasure of training with Apache at Star Gym. Apache is an overly-friendly class act who is on par with the likes of Dean Malenko when it comes to knowing every hold. The man is a machine! However, despite his kindness and extremely patient approach to training he would push you well past your limits during conditioning. We hit over 1,000 squats on my first day and proceeded to do well over 20 other drills that involved coordination and timing. Only then could we get in the ring and begin training. This was very difficult as your legs were numb and you are dying for water. I quickly learned to have two Gatorades a class with me at all times. The more and more I trained in the art of lucha libre the more I realized it was different in every way. I mean, I have had the blessing of learning a decent amount of lucha from my trainer Rob "El Fuego" Etcheverria, but it's a whole other game when you're there. Whatever wrestling psychology, style or comfort I had went out the window. It was almost like learning a new sport. Would you believe it that an armdrag is called a suplex in Mexico? However, despite the difference I learned to appreciate it because of the Mexican fans. It's not about what's right or wrong, it's about what works and in Mexico this style works. It actually works too well as the proof is the long-lasting health and growth of the sport in Mexico. The sport is culturally embraced and admired for its athletic and artistic displays. Without a doubt, pro wrestling is alive and well in Mexico.
The good times were rolling until one unfortunate day where I injured my right leg during training. I was working on my moonsaults with a crash pad. I eventually veered to the side on one and having a crash pad became a deterrent as my right leg landed off the padding. Thus my knees came down at different point and on a tilt. I immediately gripped my leg knowing something wasn't right. I had too much pride though, so I got up and pretended that I just needed to walk it off. After all, I was training in Mexico City and was a week away from a series of matches in front of the largest crowds I have ever performed in front of -- and a big TV audience to boot! Sadly the pain did not go away and I eventually had to make my way to Silver King's gym for my second class of the day. Every step I took from walking to the subway to the infinite staircases and the buses consisted of the most excruciating pain I have ever felt. Common sense would dictate that you should not participate in rigorous physical activity if you require taking two steps to climb each step of a staircase while heavily leaning of a handle bar. The pain was unbearable and when I got to Nuevo Jordan's I ran, I did squats, I hit the ropes, and I performed many aerial moves that did me no good. Every move sent a shock of pain down my leg yet all I could think about was not disappointing my new trainer and looking like a broken fool in front of my new peers. On several occasion, I would tear up and would have to take deep breaths to avoid breaking down. I apologized for my weak performance and then took a half-an-hour sit on the balcony to regain some kind of composure. Everything just hit me mentally and it felt worse than the physical pain.
Over the course of the next five days I constantly was stretching, heating, icing, wrapping, and bracing my leg. I did my best to not waste my days out of the ring by training my upper body at the gym with the boys and attending every class as a spectator. I tried to return to the ring on three occasions through the rest of my trip, but each time I felt that stinging pain that buckled me down. This got worse towards the end of the trip as I had to pass on three matches and a possible fourth. Part of it was because I was being smart about my health. The other part was because I did not want to leave a poor impression on my first Mexican bout and represent Konnan/AAA with anything less than 100%. It even killed me more realizing that October is my busiest month with many big opportunities coming up and being followed by my three month stay in Japan with Zero-1. I was officially in hell.
Upon landing, I visited my doctor and chiropractor. I've had an ultrasound and an X-ray done, so now I wait. The early guess is that I will be back in a ring by Sunday, October 28 for Smash Wrestling in Toronto. It's a new promotion receiving some early hype and where I'm excited to reunite with my best friend Josh Alexander to tag once again (check out Smash Wrestling's website
and on Twitter
Despite the many terrible injuries I have had, this one is worse because at least with the others I was able to tough it out and do what I love most. I was able to perform my craft in front of an equally passionate audience. The last TV taping was hard to watch knowing I was supposed to be in that ring. Fortunately, I made a good impression with the AAA team and those who trained me. I have been offered a return invite and look forward to my second visit to Mexico. When the time comes I will have a lot of unfinished business to take care of and when I do I will be better, faster, stronger and sure as hell hungrier than ever.
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"Iron Lion" Sebastian Suave is a Toronto based independent pro wrestler since December 2007. He is currently breaking out into the international scene with AAA in Mexico and Zero-1 in Japan.