June 15, 2013
Storm left success in his wake
By JAN MURPHY - Chinlock.com
Many a professional wrestler will tell you about the first time they saw wrestling, that unforgettable childhood memory that drew them to the passion that would eventually become their life.
For Canadian Lance Evers, better known as Lance Storm, that moment didn't come until much, much later.
"I really started watching late," Storm said over the phone recently. "My dad was always 'you're not watching that fake s--t -- people will think you're stupid, and you believe it.' So I really wasn't allowed to watch it until it was later, and I was home by myself more.
"It was probably, I'm guessing, (the) mid-'80s before I started watching ... and even that was relatively infrequent. I would have been 15 or 16 already. I got into it a little bit, occasionally watching it on the weekends, when I could.
"There wasn't a lot of the childhood 'going with your grandfather to wrestling' stuff that you hear a lot of guys talking about."
Ironically, there are likely plenty of kids who grew up during Storm's successful run who may well have had one of those moments with gramps while watching Storm at work.
"I wasn't the 'I saw Jimmy Snuka jump off the cage and knew I had to do this' guy," revealed Storm, who will be one of the headliners at Tommy Dreamer's House of Hardcore 2 in Philadelphia on June 22. "I never had that."
Even before he climbed into the squared circle and became one of the best workers in wrestling, Storm was all business.
"I was in university, and planning on becoming an accountant, getting a business degree," he said, adding that he eventually began to lose interest in his schooling.
"I was beginning to think 'well if I don't continue with this, what else am I going to do?' And then I just started thinking ... you know, I'm big enough, I'm a good enough athlete, maybe I could actually give this a try. It was more just a conscious decision, after weighing some cons of what I was doing in school, and decided if I'm going to do this, I should probably do it sooner, rather than later."
At that point, he had a plan.
"I gave myself a five-year window, (during which) if I didn't think I was making reasonable progress, and have an aptitude and a chance of success, that I was going to pack in the wrestling thing and head back to university. But fortunately, probably about three years in, I was making my living at wrestling, and making progress before that, and I've never looked back."
He put his plan in motion rather quickly, too.
"I withdrew from university, I moved back home, and I enrolled in the Hart Wrestling Camp. It was about a six-month period from when I made the decision to when I pulled the trigger."
Obviously, dropping out of university to become a pro wrestler is a big move. And one that might not sit too well with those at home.
"My mom was a bit disappointed; she wanted me to finish university," Storm said. "But I had been fairly driven, and successful, in everything I had done to that point. I think she figured I'd give it my all, at least, she just wished I had finished university first. My dad ... my parents had split up, so I didn't have a lot of close contact with my dad. I had already completed training, and had a couple of matches before I talked to my dad again, and said 'Oh by the way, I now live in Calgary, and I'm a professional wrestler.' He didn't have too much to say about it. I can't imagine he was too thrilled, because he didn't have a lot of love, or respect, for pro wrestling."
Calgary is famous for many things -- the Stampede, Rocky Mountains and Angus beef come to mind -- but none have put it on the map any more than the legendary wrestling Hart family.
There's not much to say about the Harts and wrestling that hasn't been said, over and over.
"I don't want to get all philosophical, or anything," Storm said, "(but) thanks to Bret being such a big success and such a great star, it brought a lot of attention to Calgary more than any other city in Canada, I would imagine. You know Montreal was big back in the day, with Dino Bravo, and all those guys coming out of there, but with Bret being WWE champ, it took everything to a different level."
But it wouldn't be a Hart who would have the biggest impact on Storm's career. Rather it was a fellow aspiring wrestler from Winnipeg, one Christopher Irvine, who would prove crucial to Storm's future. Irvine is better known today as Chris Jericho.
"If it wasn't for Chris, my world would have been a very different place," Storm said. "I don't know if you've ever been to wrestling camps, and stuff, but there's a lot of dreamers that show up that don't really have much of a chance for success. I got out to Calgary, and ... I was doing doubles in the gym, training like crazy, trying to be the best that I could when I got out there, and the first half a dozen people I meet are just unathletic, out of shape people, and I'm thinking 'What in the hell am I doing ... is this thing a joke?' I was expecting a whole bunch of big, jacked up, in-shape athletes and I was actually, after I had seen four or five of them, like 'I gotta get out of here! This is not legit.' "
In fact, he almost packed up and left.
"I was starting to think 'is my ticket refundable? Can I change it?' And I had looked into the Power Plant, in Atlanta, as another option, but I didn't want to leave the country."
And not unlike his spectacular entrances of today, enter Chris Jericho.
"Then I ran into Jericho," Storm said, "and I was like 'Oh, thank God, here's another guy who looks like an athlete.' So we gravitated to each other, right away. Having someone else there that seemed to think that this was the right place to be, and that you were going to move on and do something with your life, it was like 'So if he's here, it's not a complete joke. I'll Hang 10 and see how this goes.' So if it wasn't for him, I might have changed my ticket, and looked into the Power Plant in Atlanta, and then who knows what would have happened."
Storm, who retired from full-time wrestling about a decade ago, now runs a wrestling school in Calgary, where it all began for him.
During a very successful career, he worked for every major wrestling promotion out there, beginning with the legendary Extreme Championship Wrestling, including a brief stop in now defunct World Championship Wrestling and finishing in World Wrestling Entertainment.
Some of his accomplishments include three runs as ECW tag-team champion (Chris Candido once, Justin Credible twice), WCW Cruiserweight Champion, Hardcore Champion and three-time United States Champion and a four-time WWE tag-team champion and Intercontinental champion. In 2001, he cracked the top 15 in Pro Wrestling Illustrated's top 500 singles wrestlers, checking in at 13.
Despite all that success, and hardware, Storm admits he's not one to dwell on the past.
"I'm not really a look-back kind of guy," he said. "I enjoy the moment and look toward the future. I think looking back and thinking about your legacy is too much of a stroking-your-ego kind of thing for me. Again, any legacy or body of work that I leave, it's up to everybody else. If they like it, and enjoy it, great. I'm glad. If not, it doesn't really change my life any.
"I had a good career, and I had a lot of fun, and I'm home with my family now, and I'm happy. So whether my body of work was significant or not really doesn't change that I'm happy with the way things went and happy where I am."
Family has always been a priority for the 44-year-old Storm. In fact, it was a motivating factor behind retiring while still in his prime.
"Because my family is so important to me, my career has always been a balance between sacrifice and reward," he said. "And if the reward becomes less than the sacrifice, then it's time to pack it in. It was a case of my wife starting to get tired of the road. She was like 'maybe another year, or two, but I'm just about at my wit's end.' "
Of course, the wear and tear of a long wrestling career had also taken its toll.
"My back was bothering me a little bit, and I was having a hard time getting the problem diagnosed," Storm added. "It wasn't until after I was in (Ohio Valley Wrestling) teaching that I finally got it diagnosed and fixed pretty much."
And his decision was made easier, he says, by the simple fact that he didn't care for how he was being used at the time.
"Creatively, WWE was doing nothing rewarding with me, so there wasn't any real creative artistic satisfaction in the job. It just ended up being, like, 'it's not really worth the sacrifice at this time, because I'm not being creatively or emotionally fulfilled, and I'm not doing anything of any significance.' So at that point I started to look into other options, and that's when I started talking to Johnny Ace and Jim Ross about potentially being an agent, and then they suggested the trainer gig, and it ended up working out really well."
That trainer gig, at the aforementioned OVW, was the beginning of a new career for Storm, one that he continues to this day. This reporter even suggested that Storm continues to give back to the business that has given plenty to him.
"I agree," he said, hesitating, "but again, just to be honest, you're painting me a little favourably ... I'm still making my living. I'm still getting something out of running my school, as well."
That said, Storm's passion for pro wrestling shines through.
"I do enjoy (teaching)," he said. "It's not so much that I'm trying to give back to others -- even guys in NXT right now, I'm helping coach via email, I'm not getting paid for it -- I just do it because I love it. I want to help keep the business as something that I've enjoyed. And I think often, especially now, a lot of the details of the wrestling aspect of it get pushed to the side, overlooked, or forgotten sometimes. I'm still trying to hang in there ... maybe that's still at a selfish level, I don't know. Anytime I can preserve a little bit of ring psychology, or reintroduce a little bit of technique that's getting lost on things, it makes me enjoy the sport more, and hope that it will continue on. As little details get omitted from the business as we move forward, I don't want them to be lost forever."
Storm always struck this reporter as someone who was all business, who took wrestling very serious and held certain values and trade secrets close to his chest.
"Considering that I was a pretty smart-assed, obnoxious heel for the predominance of my career, or at least my televised career, I'm not like that at all any other time."
That said, wrestling remains near and dear to Storm's heart.
"I go out of my way to protect the integrity of the business, as far as trying to maintain the professionalism of it," he said. "And the level of difficulty of it, and trying to bring some integrity to the business. But I don't know that's so much that I'm trying to protect it. I'm just saying how I honestly feel about it. I really think it is a tremendous skill and a talent to do this job well, and I don't think people understand how difficult this job is. I think there's a lot of fans that like to sit back and be like 'Oh that guy's crappy,' but do you have any idea how much skill it takes to be a crappy worker?
"You'll have somebody in WWE, and I don't want to point fingers, and name specific names, but there will be people who think are pretty bad. 'Oh he's terrible,' and they make fun of him, and it's like 'You have to be really talented to even get that far,' and I think that's something that even a lot of the students, and I even say that to them. You know, they show up, and they've got their prejudice of 'Oh this guy sucks, and this guy sucks.' After two months in the ring, and doing stuff, you're like 'Yeah, you're realizing now how hard it is to be that shitty.' And they're like 'Yeeeeah.' Even just running ropes takes a degree of skill and ability."
Storm will once again trade in his training gear for wrestling gear and step inside the ring at House of Hardcore in Philadelphia, where he'll work for his friend Dreamer.
"If it wasn't his show, I wouldn't be at it, to be honest," Storm said. "I'm at a point in my life where I'm not looking for bookings. But I love and respect Tommy so much that I know it's going to be a professional show, which means a lot. And Tommy, to an extent, is one of my longer, and more rewarding feuds in my career.
"In WWE, you have a feud, you have a few matches, you do a DQ finish once in a while, then you wrap it up," he said of a typical scenario.
"Where the Tommy Dreamer one, because we did it with tag teams, where him and Raven were together doing their angle working with Justin and I, then we had the long singles run where we did the thing with Beulah, with Dawn Marie as Beulah. There was a lot of story and angle and creativeness and just, again, emotional and creative reward that we did.
"And having so much input with it, you know, Tommy and I really were left to our own devices. It was a really great time in my career.
"I'm looking at this as a new chapter in a Lance and Tommy thing, not a 'hey we're looking to relive our ECW days.'
"Tommy is, I think, one of the more universally liked people in the industry, so to do this show with, and for him, will be a lot of fun. Really the only reason why I take bookings any more is if I think they're going to be fun, and rewarding. I did the one in February with Jerry Lynn, and doing one with Tommy will be fun. And the plus side is, I know Tommy is never going to blow me up," he said with a laugh.
House of Hardcore will be a chance for Storm to climb into the ring with Dreamer again, but it represents much more than that.
"It allows people to gain experience by being on shows (like this)," he said. "It allows fans to experience good quality shows. And the fact, too, I've talked about trying to bring as much respect and integrity to the business as possible. When you know it's going to be a show run well, you're not going to have the stories of guys not getting paid, or this person being conned, and this person being lied to and all the disasters you hear so frequently that put the business in a poor light.
"You know having someone like Tommy run a show, those are going to be factors. There's not going to be a story like 'This newspaper company didn't get paid for the ads,' somebody else who supposedly had their flight booked, and it wasn't -- all the stories you hear ... they're not going to be attached to a Tommy Dreamer show."
And then there's the card.
"He's got an incredible lineup," Storm said. "The amount of people he has involved in the show is incredible. And you know it's going to be a great experience for the fans, too. There will be a lot of people that you haven't seen in a while, and some big names. It's going to be great for the fans, and the boys, and everybody, I would think. And Terry Funk and Ric Flair are going to be there, to my understanding. If that's not reason enough to show up, I don't know what is."
For Storm, being in the same building with Funk is always a treat.
"Terry Funk is one of my all-time favourites," he said. "I absolutely love the man. I was fortunate enough to wrestle him twice in my career, and just getting to see Terry again will be great. If you don't like Terry Funk, you really need to be a fan of a different industry."
After he attempts to teach his old nemesis Dreamer a thing or two, it will be back to his students at Storm Wrestling Academy.
What, he was asked, is the biggest piece of advice he gives aspiring wrestlers.
"The biggest thing I tell my students is that you have to be as diverse and well-rounded as possible," Storm said. "You have to plug as many holes in your game as you can. You need to be in the best shape you physically can, you need to really work on your promo skills, you need to be able to have ring psychology, you need to be able to brawl a little bit if you have to, technical wrestling if you have to ... the more things you can do, the more chances you have, because you never know when that door is going to open, and you never know what flavour of ice cream they're going to be looking for at the time.
"If, for whatever reason they say 'Geez, nobody here can wrestle anymore,' and then you can walk in the door and you can wrestle, then you get a job. And if they say 'No one can cut a good promo,' and you walk in, unless you can cut a good promo, you aren't getting that job. And then once you get your foot in the door, you can display all of your talents. But if you're missing that one element that they're really keying in on, you can end up getting passed over. And it's tough getting that second, third, and fourth look. You really have to plug as many holes in your game to get as diverse and well-rounded as possible. They're not searching for that silver lining, they're searching for that sky with no clouds whatsoever. So you need to have as few clouds as possible in your horizon."
What, then, can someone walking in off the street in search of a trainer expect?
"I'd beat the living hell out of you," he said, pausing, before laughing.
The process is for training may be easy -- "you've gotta apply, and I ask for some personal information, as far as athletic background, weight and stuff, to give me an idea of where you're at," Storm said -- but that's where the easiness ends.
"There've been people I've tried to talk out of coming, just because of their size, and their athletic background," Storm said. "You know, you just think that they don't have any hope whatsoever."
Once accepted, it's on.
"We do a lot of conditioning, and strengthening and stuff the first day so I can find out really what kind of shape you're in, and what kind of athlete you are," he said. "But starting right from Day 1, it's learning how to roll, learning how to fall, and doing a lot of that first. Because you've gotta start with your foundation and your building blocks first. We don't get into doing anything too exciting first, it's all about getting into shape, and learning how to bump is a big part because you're going to get hurt."
Training at Storm's academy lasts three months.
"My school is different than most," he said. "It was the way that I was trained, and I think it's the best way. Everybody starts on the same day, and we run twelve weeks, five days a week, three hours, sometimes longer than that. Three hours is a minimum every day. And we start at square one, and we finish at the end.
"Some people are like 'Wow, 12 weeks, is that it?' And it's like 'I had eight.' And I firmly believe that if you have an aptitude for this job, and you're going to be a success, you're going to learn what you need to in those 12 weeks to start getting bookings, and gathering experience. You know, once you've learned how to bump, and how to execute things well, and learned a degree of ring psychology, then you really gotta go out and get some experience. You know you don't go to law school for five 10, 15 years. You go to law school, then you've gotta out out and get a job at a law firm, and find out how to actually do the job."
Storm trains anywhere from 10 to 15 students at a time, a number that almost always drops by one or two.
"The majority of them do finish, because it's different because you can't just beat the shit out of people anymore," he said. But there's a lot that finish that I honestly don't think have a career ahead of them. But there's some that surprise me, and they go out and they have, for their level, a successful indy career. I don't think they're ever going to have it as their sole source of income, but they're happy with what they're doing. We usually lose two or three. My current session, we started with 16, and we're down to 12. If you get one or two (who quit), they quit after a day or two. They expect it to be easy, because it's fake."
Fake is the worst word ever used to describe pro wrestling.
"It really is," Storm agreed. "It's just the easiest word to translate that it's not legitimate, for lack of a different term. But yeah, when they take a bump and realize it hurts in real life and that you have to be a really good athlete to do the job, because regardless of whether it's predetermined, you're still being a professional athlete and there's a lot of athletic requirements to it. So you lose one or two that were just completely unrealistic in their goals. It depends on people ... they get homesick, and all kinds of different reasons.
In pro wrestling, the term "it" factor has been applied from time to time to describe someone who was born to be a wrestler. Guys like Shawn Michaels and The Rock are some of those. For his part, Storm is doesn't care for the term.
"I don't like labelling the "it" factor," he said, "ecause at the end of the day, it's how the booker, the writer, and the promoter books them, and decides to use them. There can be some people who, if booked properly, can be an all-time great Hall of Famer, and again, I would use Bret Hart as that example. If bookers didn't give him a chance, he could have wallowed in the mid-card, underutilized. But, thankfully, the industry came where they needed to give the guy a chance, and he took it, and ran with it, and he's one of the greatest ever."
You'll never get him to admit it, but Storm knows a thing or two about greatness.
If you want to see for yourself, get down to Philadelphia next weekend.
Jan Murphy is the news editor at the Kingston Whig-Standard and has written about wrestling for 15 years. He recently launched Chinlock.com to archive his wrestling stories, and this is his first original interview for it. You can follow Jan on Twitter at @Jan_Murphy.