July 14, 2011
SLAM! Wrestling Canadian Hall of Fame: Johnny Devine
By WES WETANKO -- For SLAM! Wrestling
REAL NAME: J.P. Parsonage
BORN: April 27, 1974 in Merrit, B.C.
Johnny Devine has been the "Hot Shot" of the independent circuit in
Calgary for the past five years. Starting out with Stampede Wrestling,
then moving on to WCEW he now runs his own promotion Young Lions
He was born in Merrit B.C., but grew up in Manitoba, living in Thompson
until he was thirteen before moving to Winnipeg where he lived until he
was twenty. While in Winnipeg he attended school at Garden City
Collegiate and Maple's Collegiate, Garden City for it's strong academic
program, and Maple's for it's football team. He played for the Maple's
Marauders as well as the North Winnipeg Nomads, who were city champs at
one point. His heart though, was always with wrestling having idolized
the stars of the WWF, AWA, NWA, UWF and of course, Stampede Wrestling
since he was four years old. His father, who at one time performed in
the wild horse races at the Calgary Stampede, lived in Alberta.
"Every summer I would come and stay with him for about a month," Devine
told SLAM! Wrestling. "Every Friday I would be like 'OK, can we go? Can
we go? Can we go?' Gotta go to Stampede Wrestling every Friday, had to
anyway at that time."
Such Stampede Wrestling stars as The Dynamite Kid, Brian Pillman, and
also Owen, Bret, and Bruce Hart inspired him.
In grade eleven, Johnny and his friends organized their own wrestling
show for their high school. None of them had any training prior, but
they did manage to rent a wrestling ring from one of the most well know
promoters in Manitoba: Tony Condello. Johnny hoped that Tony would
train him, but
Condello did not at first see a future star in Devine
"Tony looked at me, him being five foot four or whatever he is, he
looked at me and said 'You're too small.' And basically crushed every
dream I had in three words."
Upon graduation from high school, he traveled south to Minnesota where
he attended college, planning to major in biology, then in zoology or
marine biology. His life took another turn though when he decided to
join the marines. Unable to get a green card in order to join the
American army, but still undaunted he headed back home and joined the
Canadian infantry. A couple years later he was stationed in Calgary
and at the 1997 WWF In Your House: Canadian Stampede show he met Bruce
Hart. He recalled "As soon as I found out where the Dungeon was, you
couldn't keep me away from the place; you couldn't beat me off with a
Devine joined the Hart brothers training camp taught by Bruce and Ross
Hart out of the infamous "Dungeon" in their father Stu's basement. The
Dungeon has turned out some of the greatest talent that the wrestling
industry has seen, but the punishment endured within has turned away
just as many.
"It was probably the hardest thing I've ever done, and this is speaking
from military experience, and being a marathon runner in the military,"
he said. "The whole stigma of the Dungeon being very stiff and very hard
on bodies is very true.
"When I first got there, there was me and four or five other guys and we
beat the crap out of each other, and had the crap beat out of us. The
padding of the Dungeon was very sub-par and our bodies were hurting a
lot, but we loved it."
Bruce Hart did the majority of the mat training; Johnny spoke of him
with a lot of respect.
"The thing about wrestling is you get out of it what you put into it.
The training you get is what you put into it, so if you show up three,
four days a week, train your ass off, put your time in and Bruce will
put his time in with you. You get a lot out of it. I've never seen him
put out a bad guy yet, well, who put his effort into it."
LEARNING THE ROPES
Devine made his in ring debut October 27th, only two months after he
began training, on a Stampede Wrestling card in Cranbrook, B.C. He
wrestled his long time friend whom had joined both the army and the
wrestling camp with him, Vince Salemi. He debuted under the name "Hot
Shot" Johnny Devine and has wrestled consistently under that name except
for a short time in Can-Am Wrestling where he was begrudgingly given the
name Shawn Jericho.
In April 1999, Stampede Wrestling made its official return to the
public's eye, holding a near sold-out show at the Victoria Park
Pavilion. Johnny Devine joined The Black Ninja and The Cuban Assassin
in a six-man tag against Keith Hart, Todd Douglas, and Irish Red
O'riroden in the opening match. Stampede continued on at the Pavilion
and did sporadic tours with Devine wrestling the opening match on all of
them. Stampede Wrestling began to run into problems though when the
lack of a strong talent base was starting to be noticed by audiences,
and crowd sizes began to dwindle. With only one or two veterans
wrestling for the promotion, and the rest of the workers still being
very new to the sport, it was hard to relive the glory days as Bruce and
Ross Hart had truly intended. Stampede was forced to move to a much
smaller venue, The Ogden Legion, and crowd sizes continued to fall,
despite a television deal with 'A' Channel. The lack of a strong talent
pool, though hurtful for the company as a whole, proved to be an
opportunity for Devine. In less than a year, Devine was accelerated
from the opening match to the main event, and had captured the
International Tag Team Titles with partner Greg Pawluk.
In April 2000, Stampede Wrestling brought ECW legend Sabu to the
territory for a short stint, and it was Devine who got the privilege of
wrestling him in Calgary and on TV.
"Stampede is only going to put the guy that they feel can keep up with
that kind of superstar and that can draw that kind of heat," he
explained "It was an honour to wrestle him at that point."
One of the other highlights of Johnny Devine's Stampede career was
winning the British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight Title, the only title
that he ever really wanted to hold.
"Titles don't really mean that much, titles are just who's getting a
push, that kind of thing, and to me that's just it, it's an extra ten
pounds in your bag," he said. "The only reason I wanted that title
[British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight] was that because to me that title
is history. That title was held my every major superstar that I've ever
idolized. For me to put my name beside them, saying that I've held that
belt means something."
Though the Sabu-Devine match did draw a decent house on the tour, and
the Stampede talent base had improved ten-fold, things were still not
looking up for the promotion as a whole and they were facing serious
"Stampede's houses were really, very poor and there wasn't money to pay
the guys," he said "They were covering their costs and their overhead
but there just wasn't money to pay the guys. So for six months me and a
lot of other guys worked for free."
For the past year and a half, he worked not only for Stampede but also
for the Can-Am promotion, in addition to holding down two full-time jobs
so that he could have money to travel with the two promotions. Devine
recalled the time he spent with Can-Am: "I'll always enjoy my time with
Can-Am because they always paid, no matter what,." he said. "They only
do really guaranteed shows. They're always a lot of fun to work because
you know your getting a paycheque. You have your fun on the road, you
go out and have a good time, and the guys there were pretty good."
While touring with Can-Am wrestling, Johnny also got the opportunity to
travel and work with former WWF star Phil Lafon.
"Phil Lafon, without a doubt is, one of the best wrestlers I've ever
wrestled, he's fantastic," he recalled. "I spent two months on the road
with Phil Lafon at one point, we went out to Ontario and back. He is,
without a doubt, one of the most genuinely nice people you will ever
meet, and he helped me so much."
Some of the other people that Johnny credit's for helping him in the
beginning are Bruce and Ross Hart, Jason Anderson (Jason 'The
Sledgehammer' Neidhart), Bad News Allen (Bad News Brown of WWF fame),
and more recently Don Callis (Cyrus of ECW fame), Dr. Luther, and
WCEW AND BEYOND
Though the money was there with Can-Am wrestling, life on the road can
be tough for an independent wrestler. There are hotel rooms to be paid
for and meals to be bought, and Devine found himself coming back home to
Calgary time and time again, where the only promotion was Stampede and
for six months they had already been working for free.
"At the end of six months we just had enough of working for free," he
said. "You're putting your body on the line and everything ... after two
years and at that point almost five hundred matches, my rookieness was
done and I wasn't working for free anymore, I had to make a living at it
because I was giving up too much time for that to make nothing."
Devine was losing weight from barely being able to afford groceries or a
gym membership, so when the opportunity to work for a new promotion that
guaranteed to pay its workers arose, he jumped on the opportunity.
Western Canadian Extreme Wrestling was formed, with a good financial
backer behind them and a lot of the workers from Stampede Wrestling now
working for them. Devine along with Greg Pawluk, Dirty Dick Raines (who
became Duke Durrango), Irish Red O'riroden (who became Dean Durrango),
Bill Yates, Jason Anderson and a few others all jumped shipped/helped
form this new promotion. "They asked the guys they wanted to ask to come
work for them, or the guys who offered to come work for them said
'yeah'," he explained. "They paid us every night that we worked and
that's the way that Western Canadian Extreme Wrestling was, you were
guaranteed a paycheque."
Unfortunately, WCEW only lasted a year before it started facing problems
"They had gone through a number of different bookers and office, because
of a lot of interior office problems," he said. "In August, when Jordan
Clark [Duke Durrango] quit booking for them, and that whole thing was
done I offered, I had nothing better to do, I had some really good ideas
and was ready to put a tour together.
"We went out and we started out in Winnipeg and we had two weeks worth
of shows, to work our way back. And, the second day of our tour, we
started on Monday, the Tuesday of our tour was September 11th, and the
New York city bombing, and that pretty much killed anything we had for
that week, and the next week after that our houses were awful
"The advertising was all done properly, everything had been done
properly it's just the timing just couldn't have been worse. The owner
of WCEW lost a lot of money on that two-week tour because our houses
were so awful and basically said until we get paid shows we're not doing
anything. So, I spent two months working for WCEW for free because I
expected these shows to go well, and I was going to make my money from
booking and promoting and doing all that kind of stuff, off these two
weeks of shows. But because we lost money I ended up working those two
months for free.
"I had to say that I can't work for free anymore, I have to get a day
job so someone else is gonna have to run the company, and I guess nobody
else has stepped up to the plate to run the company or book anymore
shows. Until somebody else does that company is pretty much dead as far
as I'm concerned."
WWF AND ECW
During his time wrestling on the Canadian independent circuit he has had
the opportunity to wrestle tryout matches for both ECW and the WWF. His
first visit to ECW was during a Can-Am tour of East Coast Canada. ECW
was doing a show in Buffalo followed by a show in Canada the next
night. Devine dropped off the Can-Am show a couple days early and
instead did a couple ECW shows. Tiger Khan, a friend of Devine's from
Stampede Wrestling, was there to introduce him to a few people.
"The first time they just wanted to have a look at me on TV," he said.
"What they do is they run their workouts before the shows where they get
all their trial guys to stand up around the apron and they run like a
continual tag match, where you just tag in a new guy at all times. Just
to watch how you work, see how you work with each different guy."
He received very positive feedback from everyone involved, including
Paul Heyman and Tommy Dreamer.
"Tommy Dreamer pulled me aside, my first tryout, and as far as I saw I
was the only guy he pulled aside, and he talked to me for about five
minutes, asking me some stuff, it was fantastic."
He returned to ECW several months later in Richmond and did several
shows with them teaming with The Musketeer against Julio Deniro and EZ
The opportunity for a WWF tryout came when they returned to Alberta in
May of 2001 for a Raw Is War telecast from Calgary and a Smackdown!
taping in Edmonton. Greg Oliver spoke with some of the indy workers,
including Devine, who participated in dark matches and matches for
Jakked and Metal in an article entitled "The Alberta WWF tryout
experience" which can be found in the SLAM! Wrestling archives.
In Calgary Devine wrestled Eric Freeze in a dark match that got them in
a little trouble for doing too much. "The first match in Calgary I
didn't get any direction on, so Eric Freeze and I went out there and had
a big high-spot-fest, just to show 'em what we had, and that was a big
mistake." The following night in Edmonton he was given a second chance,
but only after a lot of direction from Kevin Kelly. "I was very limited,
I was given a lot of direction for the second match, I wasn't aloud to
do any high-spots, wasn't allowed to punch - just mat wrestle."
YOUNG LIONS AND THE FUTURE
Though the tryout he had with ECW went very well, ECW folded soon
afterwards. And though the tryout with the WWF went very well, they
soon merged with WCW, which Devine blames for leaving him and a lot of
other workers out in the cold. "What do they need another five-foot-ten
guy with blonde hair for?" He joked "They've already got five of them."
Currently Devine is out of action with some severe nerve damage in his
right shoulder, making it so that he cannot fully lift that arm.
Recovery time should be another three to four months.
In the mean time, following the demise of WCEW Devine has teamed with
Spencer Tapley (Mark DiCarlo of Stampede Wrestling) to form the Young
Lions Wrestling promotion. Young Lions features some of the guys from
WCEW as well as from the Next Generation Wrestling (MatRats) promotion.
For now Young Lions is running a show every Thursday night in Calgary at
Until his nerve injury is resolved, it is hard to say what the future
holds, other than booking and promoting Young Lions. Devine says that he
will be working for Don Callis in IWA or NHB at the end of January when
Callis will be doing five or six shows.
"I'll be doing those shows for sure. Arm or no arm, I'll be doing those
shows, if I have to work in a sling, I'll work in a sling. I don't
care. I'll go out there and kick the crap out of myself I don't mind,
those shows are so much fun you can't miss them."
With the WWF having the stranglehold on the industry that it does, the
moral of most independent wrestlers is pretty low right now. Hot Shot,
like a lot of other workers, tries to keep his head high and stick with
it, and just wait for the next opportunity.
Johnny Devine SLAM! Wrestling column
JOHNNY DEVINE STORIES
Jan. 24, 2006: Devine
fined in attack on patron
Oct 21, 2003: Stu Hart: A Dungeon Perspective