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Jackyl: Wrestling's warrior prophet


By STEPHEN PEDERSEN -- Halifax Herald
 Can you believe this guy?

Don Callis is six foot two, weighs 210 pounds, wears his lanky brown hair well below his shoulders, has a build as lithe and fine-tuned as an Adonis, and flashes a set of precision-groomed teeth white enough to cause snow-blindness.

Would you believe that a guy like this, who looks like a movie star in his tailored, black leather jacket and modest T-shirt, can make a seven foot one, 350 pound giant named Kurrgan, who has the manners of an angry grizzly bear, and gets paid to tear men apart on international TV, tremble in his wrestling boots?

Well, Don Callis can't. But Kurrgan's manager, Jackyl, can. And that's who Don Callis turns into every time he steps into a World Wrestling Federation ring. He puts on a pair of wire-rimmed blue shades, grabs a headset from an announcer and says things like, "Life is an incurable disease. And so am I."

The Jackyl
Photo by Peter Parsons, Halifax Herald.


Jackyl is an intellectual, a rarity in the gladiatorial ring where beef bullies' brawn and brains are something one tries to spill. He hates violence but is really into mind control. He thinks of himself as a warrior prophet. To him, men are sheep crying out for a leader. He calls them the wretched, the soiled, the troglodytic masses, then rubs it in with a sarcastic apology for the big words.

Though Jackyl denies it vehemently, WWF announcers have compared him to cult leaders like David Koresh. At a recent live WWF show in Waco, Texas, people displayed signs saying, We Are Branch Davidians. Jackyl Koresh Is Our Leader! and, On The Eighth Day God Created Jackyl.

But it's his mesmeric control over Kurrgan in the WWF ring that makes Jackyl scary. "Kids often ask me, 'Is Kurrgan afraid of anything?'" he says. "Of course, being a giant you'd think he's not. I'm not a big overwhelming brute, and I'm certainly not a man of violence, but he actually fears one thing: Kurrgan fears my intellect. Kurrgan fears looking into my eyes and seeing disappointment."

Kids will get a chance to talk to Jackyl this morning from noon to 3 p.m. at the Halifax Forum at the opening of ticket sales for the big Don't Trust Anybody card the WWF is bringing to the Forum on May 24th. It'll be a meet and greet, autograph signing event, and nobody need fear Don Callis.

Though his WWF character has been called the smartest man in the WWF, Callis, at an interview in a Halifax pub, flashes a ready smile and says, "Yes that's true - which would make me the 18th smartest man in this bar - there's, like, 19 people here?"

Callis is a proud Canadian from Winnipeg with relatives in Halifax (his favorite city, he says). As an athlete, he has wrestled all over the world - South Africa, Germany, Japan, Lebanon and North America. But since he joined WWF six months ago, he's become an entertainer. These days, he says, he only trains to look good in his clothes.

But his easy facility with words, rare among professional wrestlers, has not only given rise to his character, but made him a valuable advance man for the multi-million dollar industry's live shows.

"The WWF see my value as someone who can go out and cut a live interview for five minutes and get the same or a better reaction than another person can get wrestling," Callis says.

To him, the question of whether what goes on in the WWF is real or fake is only annoying because it's simplistic. "If you're asking me that, then you're missing the point," he says. "If you're watching our TV show, and all you can think about is 'Is it real or fake?' then we've already done our job, because you don't know."

"Do people sit there watching Titanic in a movie theatre ask, 'Is the ship really sinking, or is it just me?' It's suspension of disbelief. People go to wrestling because it's great fun - for the same reason we watch Melrose Place, go to a movie or a football game."

Except, the difference is, football games don't always deliver. Sometimes they suck. They're boring."

WWF wrestlers are sports entertainers, Callis says. They are also top-notch professional athletes. And while outcomes of matches are pre-determined, how that outcome is achieved is not. There is no script, no rehearsal. Like jazz musicians, professional wrestlers improvise on their way to an planned ending. And sometimes that can hurt.

"What the guys do in the ring is very athletic. The physical toll on our bodies is arguably greater than in professional hockey or football. When a football player gets hurt, he goes on reserve for a couple of weeks until he heals up. With us, we're in a different town the next night, and we have to go on. So what ends up happening is you wrestle with these nagging injures. The injury rate is very high."

Though Callis says people commonly think the ring is a sort of trampoline, it is in fact two tons of steel with a plywood floor over top of it covered with a thin, hard mat.

"It's not bouncy. It's not like falling on a judo mat," he says. And although wrestlers are trained like judo practitioners in how to fall safely if they can, ankles get turned and backs get hurt from landing too hard. The wrestlers just take it in their stride.

"Like they say in the Back (the locker room), it ain't ballet," Callis says.

While ballet dancers might be inclined to respond that their own physically demanding art ain't wrestling, nobody can deny that WWF is big-league entertainment.

It's a multi-million dollar industry that is seen 52 weeks a year on TV in more than 110 countries, attracts close to a half billion viewers, and, since 1991, has staged more than 300 events in 25 countries.

Cards like the May 24th Forum Don't Trust Anybody show, pit Kurrgan (with Jackyl) against Vader, and feature wrestling's hottest property, Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Undertaker and Ken Shamrock. The supporting cast includes such characters as Dude Love, Kama, Headbangers, Kane, Road Dog and Billy Gunn, and a bout of women wrestlers.

Tickets for the Halifax show are $25, $20 and $15.

RELATED LINKS
  • Cyrus / Don Callis story archive