April 6, 2012
SLAM! Wrestling Canadian Hall of Fame: Michelle Starr
REAL NAME: Mark Vellios
BORN: May 30, 1968 in Torrance, California
AKA: Michelle Starr, Mike Starr (WWF, Mexico), Inferno (BC), Blue Demon (BC), Slam in the Serbian Liberation Army Movement (with partner Tackle, better known as Rocky Dellaserra)
6'2", 275 pounds
Mark Vellios was a fairly typical California teen in the eighties. But then a friend hooked him on pro wrestling.
He started going to the matches and ended up doing his own little scoop sheet, called California Wrestling. That in turn got him into all the local shows for free, including the WWF.
Then Vellios got hired on as a WWF ring crew guy at fifteen years of age, and did that for almost three years.
"I kept the cage at my house!" he remembered during an August 1998 interview with SLAM! Wrestling. Working the ring crew paid pretty good ($125 a night), plus he made cash carrying jackets from the ring. "You get to hang around all the wrestlers .. .it was really cool."
Also helping to set up the rings in California was Billy Anderson. A long-time WWF 'enhancement' wrestler, Anderson is one of the better known trainers in the business, having sent Sting, Ultimate Warrior, Louie Spicolli and many Mexican wrestlers to the big time.
And so, Vellios enrolled with Anderson and learned the mat game in East Los Angeles. Work-outs were two or three times a week, and it was only a couple months before he debuted as Mike Starr, partnered with Billy Anderson against Ricky Atoki and Tim Patterson. Vellios can't remember the result, but does "remember landing on my head that match!"
After a few indies in California, Sweet Daddy Sampson got him booked in Tijuana. "Three matches under my belt and I'm working lucha libre matches," he recalled. "I get there, and I look at the marquee and I'm in the main event! ... It was pretty scary because the crowds are much larger than they were in southern California."
In Tijuana, he worked 26 Sundays in a row but didn't do the other shots in Mexico, as the pay was less and "they didn't want to bring the American guys to the other towns."
E.T. Stanton got him booked with Al Tomko's All-Star Wrestling, based out of Vancouver, in March 1988. And that was where he became Michelle Starr.
"I was already doing the queer gimmick in Tijuana ... I would wear the pink colours and stuff, and put a star on my face and wear lipstick. When I came to Canada, I had this outfit. They had this outfit with a mask that they wanted me to wear first, learn to work a bit before they had me work without the hood. So I guess the houses were bad and Al [Tomko] didn't know what to do, and I guess he was talking to [Dan] Denton, and I guess Denton said 'hey, I saw a tape of Starr's from Mexico and he was doing the queer gimmick. And you've told me you're looking for a guy to do the queer gimmick.' So they decided to start letting me do my gimmick again. So I re-bleached my hair, started doing the gimmick.
Al goes, 'Mike Starr, I don't know about that. Why don't we call you Michelle Starr, which is the French name Michel, right. But make it like it's a queer. So he's the one who gave me the name Michelle. It's stuck with me. I had a lot of TV exposure with it. That's what the people here know me as."
For Vellios, the early days in Vancouver were "a good time". He was still in his late teens and worked with other youngsters like Buddy Wayne, Rick Davies and The Frog. "I was kind of married to The Frog," he joked.
But things weren't that great business-wise in All-Star. The WWF was on the top of its game and knocked almost every small promotion out of business.
"Crowds were pretty rough. We'd go to some towns and there'd be 50 people," Vellios explained. "There used to be one or two good towns where we'd go in and get two-to-three hundred people."
Sgt. Al Tomko himself was "a funny guy. He had all these old stories that he'd tell you about a hundred times about his old days working for the AWA and stuff. You'd hear each story about ten times a week."
Vellios credits 'Dirty' Dan Denton as being his biggest mentor. "He taught me a lot of things. How to handle myself in this business."
When All-Star Wrestling finally folded, Vellios bounced around, trying to find work in the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver had a hold on him, and he had settled down into a family life. All-Star grads Mike Rosselli and Rocky Dellaserra both tried promoting, but neither caught on.
Vellios tried a hand at promoting, running West Coast Championship Wrestling from 1991-95, financed "by the seat of my pants." He relied on ticket sales to make back his money. Besides wrestling, he worked construction and promoted sports card shows, which were then in a real boom time.
"I was taking all the money out of the sports card shows and pouring it into wrestling, which in turn almost ruined me," he said.
Then came ECCW -- Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling, in which he is one of three partners. The others are Terry Joe Silverspoon (John Parlett) and Dave Republic, who came on board recently and got the group aligned with the National Wrestling Alliance, and recognizes Dan Severn as their World Champion.
"We've changed our show to be a little more adult-oriented, which is like the WWF. We swear, they swear. We do suggestive gestures, so do they. A lot of our matches are Death Matches, bloody and stuff. Over the years wrestling has always had bloody matches but we try to portray ourselves as doing that on a regular basis. We go through tables. I guess we're kind of modeled on the one in Philadelphia [Paul E. Dangerously's ECW]."
The Glamour Order of Discipline -- Michelle Starr and Loverboy Johnny Canuck -- are the current ECCW tag champs.
"It's really strange. He's such a big man to play up to the fans in a homosexual kind of way and play to me that way too," Vellios explained about his partner. "We get over quite well. We don't act like pansies however. We really annihilate our opponents. We're really hardcore. We bleed lots, do lots of extreme type matches."
Years of hard work have paid off for the man known as Michelle Starr. He's running a wrestling school, and the grads work the undercard of the ECCW shows, or move on to the two other semi-regular promotions in B.C. -- ICW, promoted by Streetfighter Tim Flowers and BCW, promoted by Shaun Myall, Derek Veenkamp and Scott Fuller.
Vellios just wishes that everyone was on the same page.
"Tim [Flowers] and I used to be friends. I'm not saying that we're not friends now, but we have our business differences. He has his thing, I have my thing. His goal, not necessarily my goal, is to be the only guy, the only promoter in all of B.C. I think there's room for both of us and the fans have supported both promotions."
"I'm not saying we're Canada's biggest wrestling promotion, but we'll probably have a hundred shows this year, or pretty close. Most of our shows are fund-raisers, done at high schools to raise money for dry grad, the wrestling team and the rugby team."
For one of the two promotions to really become dominant, Vellios knows "TV is the key. Neither one of us here in B.C. has television. The stations here have been pretty uncooperative."
Though he thinks he "became [a wrestler] ten years too late because when I got in the business, wrestling was pretty much on its downswing, territory-wise," Vellios firmly believes that things are on the up-swing again.
"There's definitely a change in independent wrestling," said Vellios. "With ECCW, things have pretty well turned around. Last year was a break-even year for us, and it looks like this year we'll be ahead."
-- By GREG OLIVER, SLAM! Sports
April 18, 2012: Starr, Webster, Kertsen, Lauer honored at CAC Baloney Blowout June 26, 2003: Della Serra, Starr resume feud
January 31, 2002: Michelle Starr shines overseas
June 13, 2001: Canadians succeeding in Korea's WWA
First off let me thank Starr for breaking me into the buisness.My first match was a battle royal in surrey. A sold out house. What a break I got to work with the top names in the promotion, Buddy Rose, Michelle Starr, Oly Olsen, Tim Flowers, just to mention a few... and I was declared the winner at the end of it all what a break!! When I started in the buisness I didn't know the difference between a wrist lock and wrist watch,some would argue I still don't......but I'm over, go figure! Starr taught me to work with what I had, a background in boxing and a nack for working the people into a frenzy. I'm a brawler who loves a good fight!! Thanks to Starr my wrestling skills have improved,he's the only one who work me with out crying I was to stiff...We've had our fueds.....but we've joined forces of late to form the most extreme tag team in professional wrestling today......Thanks for the memories coach!!!
Loverboy Johnny Canuck
My best memory of Michelle Starr was when I had the privilege of managing him when he was Slam of the Serbian Liberated Army Movement. He gave me an opportunity to work in professional wrestling and for that I am thankful.
He is hard working and only wants the best for wrestling, I am going to wish him the best and hopes he has a long and glorious career
The best memory I have is the night Sandy Barr decided to kick my ass in the Delta inn. And when it was all over Starr comes up to me in the hall of the hotel after they pulled me out of the room and he says "weolcome to the "biz" you look terrible brother". I think he respects me for it and I respect him for not stretching me himself after just to get some licks in like so many of the others did that night. Later Starr told me that that is the side of the business he hates and tries to put Professional before his name, and it is a well deserved title on his part.
My favorite Michelle Starr moment (or the one that sticks out the most), occured at my first ECCW show in November 97'. Him & Canuck were facing Generation X. After watching that match and seeing Starr go with both members of Gen X, two 180lbs guys, and he was keeping up with them like he was 180lbs, except he's 280lbs. When I saw that match I could tell that my next year and a half as a ECCW fan/enthusiast (which I still am) would be well speant watching Starr going on to win the Tag Titles numerous times!!
I'm a referee for ECCW and have taken more of my fair share of beatings from Starr. During a road trip which had already included several "ref bumps", I had taken some muscle relaxers to ease my pain a bit. Unfortunately, I fell asleep in the heel dressing room on a bench. I woke up to Starr's ugly mug telling me it was time to the first match, let's go. As I got up I found that someone *ahem Starr* had poured water on the crotch of my pants. After taking some ribbing, I went to the face dressing room to make sure they were ready to go. As I passed a mirror, I caught sight of myself in the mirror. My hair was full of powder and I had lipstick, also Starr's I'm sure, all over my forehead. Good rib Starr.
Starr is a great wrestling mind and a great wrestler. People get caught up on his gimmick and don't give him credit for his skills, but let me tell you from personal experience, this guy can tie you up in knots. He's always up for a good "shoot" either in the dressing room, the ring, or back at the hotel. Starr is a great teacher and a great wrestler. He's worked hard lately to get in shape and his hard work is starting to pay off. Congrats on winning the NWA Canadian Title Starr, you deserve it.
Mr. Thug, NWA Pacific Northwest/ECCW Senior Referee