River City helps rookie rasslers master moves
By DOUG LUNNEY -- Winnipeg Sun
Ronnie Attitude goes to the mat thanks to a vicious leg hold by Mentallo. Photo by Brian Donogh
Graffiti is splashed on the walls behind autobody repairmen as they
bang out dents and apply coats of primer.
In the same building, Vern May climbs into a wrestling ring where he
applies chin locks and cross-over toe holds to young men and women.
It's hard to imagine Hollywood Hulk Hogan or Stone Cold Steve Austin
starting out this way.
Madman Moses Luke goes for Vance Nevada's throat outside the ring.
But it's here -- in a building on Sutherland Avenue that is shared with an
autobody shop -- that May attempts to launch rasslin' careers as the head
instructor of River City Wrestling.
"It almost looks like it was previously a gang hangout," says May, whose
wrestling name is Vance Nevada. "(Autobody customers) are goose-necking as
they're walking by, almost like at a car wreck. They can't believe they just
walked in off the street and this is what they're seeing."
River City is holding tryouts with dozens of applicants, most of them from
Manitoba, who pay a $25 introduction fee.
"For 75 per cent of the guys, that's the last money we see from them," says
May, a seven-year veteran of the independent scene at just 24 years of age.
"They go through the paces for two hours. If there is really something special
about the person, we'll train them for free."
May's record is 35 minutes for having someone quit on him at an initial
training session, which is supposed to last two hours and only includes the
basics (no leaps from the top rope or pile-drivers). There have been times
where hopefuls have lost their lunch from the physical demands.
Then there are those who don't get beyond the telephone call.
"Some guys come down and really apply themselves, but other guys will say
'I'll call you back, I've got to call my tag-team partner first,' " May says,
rolling his eyes. "At that point you know that even if this guy does come out,
he doesn't have the mindset that we need. They think, 'Oh, yeah, we'll be a
tag-team, go out there and kill 'em all.' "
May likes his rookies to have 40 hours of training under their belts before
they appear in shows. The more polished performers appear on cards every
Monday night at Bumpers Bar on Ellice Avenue, while those who are still rough
around the edges get their feet wet every second Wednesday night at Chalmers
With the three major leagues of wrestling on television almost every night
of the week, young wannabes often envision a quick road to fame. They picture
themselves with belts around their waists and curvy women on their arms.
"I tell the guys that for every Steve Austin, there's 10 Brooklyn
Brawlers," May says with a grin.
"You really don't get a grasp of how many guys don't make it until you go
to the southern United States. You're wrestling in little towns on a crew with
20 wrestlers, all waiting to get a break and you've never heard of a single
one of them."
Originally from Souris, May was trained by Ernest Rheault in a Somerset,
Man., gym, which was a ring in a converted machine shed. May would sleep, eat
and train in the wood-stove-heated shed for five days at a time before
debuting with River City in 1993.
His tales of pro wrestling's grim realities can grab a student's attention
like a backhand across the chest.
"In West Virginia, three of us were quoted by a promoter that we would be
making $40 each a night, wrestling at a junior high," May recounts. "We pulled
into a gas station there and the guy said 'We don't have a junior high here
anymore. You must mean the old school.'
"There was no running water in the school. It was the middle of June and
the floor was sweating. We performed in front of maybe 125 people and at the
end of the night the promoter handed us each $10. At that point there's
nothing you can do. You're 7,000 miles from home, so you just write it off."
SMACKDOWN PALACE: Vance Nevada gets Moses Luke in a crippling headlock.
Like many independent outfits, May says his wrestlers are fortunate if they
get their gas money for shows. He and owner/promoter Wayne Stanton don't ask
their wrestlers, who range from 18 to late 20s, to sign a contract and they
wish them well if they get the chance to join a higher-profile company.
If May feels young wrestlers have promise, he'll pass their names along to
"But we've got a few guys who've started this year, they're family men and
they've got careers here," May says. "It's almost like a release for them.
Instead of joining a bowling league, they wrestle."
River City's prized product is 25-year-old Andy Anderson of Edmonton, who's
working in Puerto Rico after stints in Mexico and Japan.
"He's exceptional, a natural," May says. "I think he had four training
sessions and he was in the ring. I took him under my wing for about a year. We
went across Canada and the States, went down to Tennessee."
Anderson got his break while on an American tour with another Winnipeg
promoter, Tony Condello. It recently led to a brief guest spot in a skit as a
security guard on WWF's Monday Night RAW.
"Andy got paid $300 to get thrown into a garage door by Steve Austin," May
says with a chuckle.