World champ Eric Young hasn't forgotten his early days
GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
|New TNA World champion gets a hug from O.D.B. after beating Magnus for the belt. Photo by Lee South, courtesy TNA
Eric Young is the new TNA World Heavyweight champion and hosts his own TV show on Animal Planet, but he hasn't forgotten his humble beginnings and the people who helped get him to this point.
The 34-year-old Young started wrestling when he was 17, at a wrestling school in Cambridge, Ontario, that was run by Ike Shaw (Joe Frocklage), a hustler from the word go who had a cup of coffee once in Stampede Wrestling, and Waldo von Erich, a wrestling legend, who was the sane contrast to Shaw's schemes.
It was there that this writer first met Jeremy Fritz, then trying out the nickname "Showtime" Eric Young, playing up a connection to moviemaking.
Young can't help but chuckle at some of the memories, with the school's dorm room closer to a flophouse than anything educational, and Shaw's constant demands and chores.
But it helped build him into Eric Young, the confident, undersized veteran of the TNA roster for almost 10 years.
"I received very good training there. I was trained mostly by Carl Leduc. He was insane, completely insane. But he knew wrestling. He lived at the Hart House, grew up in pro wrestling, had been around it his whole life," recalled Young.
His debut came after about three months of training. He said that the other trainees pushed each other to succeed.
"I was around an insanely talented group of guys while I was there: Tornado, who is still wrestling around Ontario, Jack Damage from back in the day; Stylin' Ryan Silver; TJ Harley; a bunch of guys. We pushed each other and I think it created such an amazing base for me to start from. I couldn't do anything but get better being around all those guys."
Did you ever envision being a World champion one day while bumping around that Cambridge gym?
"You always try to envision it. Everybody who gets into wrestling, they envision getting the World title, being The Guy or The Girl," admitted Young. "Back then, I was 18, 17 years old, and it was not obtainable, but it was always something I dreamed about -- and here we are. It's been quite the journey, that's for sure."
The Godfather of the Ontario pro wrestling scene for many years was Windsor's Scott D'Amore. Young praised the former backstage brains for TNA television and the leader of the Team Canada faction in front of the cameras.
Eric Young from his early days on the Ontario indy scene. Photo by Corey David Lacroix
"Scott is probably the biggest reason that I'm talking to you right now as TNA World Heavyweight champion," said Young. "Things he did for me, I will never forget them. He went to bat for me, got me my first shot at TNA, and it went from there. Being able to be there that long, that's on me, getting hired, that's on me. But the door was open because of Scott. I'll be forever in his debt. Forever. He's a great guy."
In that decade in TNA, Young has seen a ton of people come and go.
"I've been here 10 years almost. That's a huge accomplishment on its own, to say that you've been an active wrestler every week on TV for basically for that long is a massive, massive accomplishment," he said. "You miss guys that are gone, but it's cool seeing new guys come in. That's pro wrestling, it's constantly changing. I'm always going to be Eric Young, but pro wrestling's going to be different every day. I just hope to adapt and play an important role, that's the only thing I can hope for."
Unlike many of his peers, the indy wrestling world isn't really an option for him with his filming schedule for Off the Hook: Extreme Catches, which debuted in the summer of 2012 on Animal Planet.
"The indy scene for me, I've done a few the last couple of years, but I've been so busy I haven't been able to," Young said. "There's always going to be guys out there, that's where the bulk of really talented guys comes from that, guys that go to a school and learn and hone their craft, and learn who they are, learn what works for them by experience. You can't teach the things you learn yourself by doing the long drives, wrestling in front of 25 people in a bar somewhere, where no one's paying attention -- that's where you learn. That's where you become good and become who you are. There are a lot of good independent promotions. I-pay-per-view has changed a lot of things for independent wrestling, and allowed guys to have some notoriety even on a small level. Guys who aren't on national television are known all over the world."
His ultra busy schedule doesn't always allow for a lot of time to just be Jeremy Fritz.
"Right now, just being myself is tough, man. I never envisioned myself as a guy with two jobs. But they both require a lot of hours and a lot of travel, but I wouldn't change it for anything. I love 'em both," he said. "I'm actually out on the road shooting the new show right now that is going to premiere on Animal Planet on the 30th. I'm pumped for people to see it. I'm really hoping it airs in Canada, is what I'm hoping for."
Young's recognition factor has increased because of the TV shows.
"he show did well on Animal Planet. We're going into technically the third season of it, so it's been doing well for them. They like the show, they like me. But I almost can't go anywhere without being recognized," he said.
But sometimes he is mistaken for the bearded wonder of Major League Baseball: Brian Wilson who found fame with the San Francisco Giants and now plays in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. "Everyone who's got a beard is the same person, apparently -- you can't have a beard and be a different person. It's cool, though, it's such a positive thing that people stop me. A guy stopped me the other day, and said that him and his son, last summer on Sundays, that was their thing together, that was their show that they watched together, and they both loved it. That was their time together on Sundays. That's a cool feeling."
Of course, there's another hirsute World champion in professional wrestling: Daniel Bryan of the WWE. Young has heard the comparisons, from the beards, to their common small frames, to the underdog fighting his way to championship status.
"Any time you want to compare me to someone as talented as him, go ahead. That's fine with me," said Young. "I don't write the show. I don't decide. It worked out the way it did. This is the direction that we're going. It's similar, and it's their decision. It has nothing to do with the other. They do their thing, and they don't worry about us. We do our thing and don't worry about them. That's how I look at it."
Young won his TNA World title on the April 10th edition of Impact Wrestling, winning a battle royal earlier in the night to win the right to face the champion, Magnus. He upset the British monster, but has to face him in a rematch on Sunday at the TNA Sacrifice pay-per-view at the Impact Wrestling Zone in Orlando, Florida.
He reflected on the title win and what is to come on Sunday.
"I was super-proud of the match that we had on Impact. That was my second match of the night -- it's a lot of wrestling in one night," he said. "I take being World champion very serious. You've known me a long time. I take my matches very serious, I always have. Whatever role I'm in, I'm going to give 100% and work as hard to fill that role and fill that spot -- and this is the biggest role and the biggest spot in pro wrestling. I don't take that lightly. I'll be ready on Sunday. People will remember, they'll talk about it forever I'm hoping."
The rest of the Sacrifice card looks like this: Madison Rayne vs. Angelina Love for the TNA Knockouts title; Bully Ray vs. Bobby Roode in a tables match; James Storm vs. Gunner in an "I Quit" match; Kurt Angle and Willow (Jeff Hardy) vs. Ethan Carter III and Rockstar Spud; Sanada (c) vs. Tigre Uno in Match 3 of the Best of 3 Series for the TNA X Division Championship; Mr. Anderson vs. Samuel Shaw where the loser will be sent to a mental institution; and Robbie E and Jessie Godderz and DJ Z vs. Eddie Edwards and Davey Richards in a 3-on-2 Handicap match for the TNA World Tag Team Championship.
Young is looking forward to the show and named some future challengers.
"The roster, I think pound for pound, is the best in wrestling," he said. "I watch as much of the show as I possibly can there live, I'll sneak out and watch from behind the curtain or whatever. Bobby Roode, I consider him one of the best in the world, Austin Aries, Bully Ray -- these are guys all at the top of their game and I hope to step in the ring with all of them at some point and test myself. I'm ready for that for sure."
June 15, 2005: It's always Showtime for Eric Young
Greg Oliver has been writing about pro wrestling since 1985, and can't help but feel joy for people like Eric Young that he saw wrestle all those years ago as they reach their dreams. Greg can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can follow him on Twitter @gregmep.