Grand Prix a learning environment
By GREG OLIVER -- SLAM! Wrestling
Wild Man Austin is talking outside the dressing room during an Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling show in tiny Berwick, Nova Scotia. He's got a big future ahead, and is being groomed to head to WCW in the near future.
Austin is a heel on the traditional summer circuit, yet during the
interview, a young fan comes up and hands him a photo -- it's of Austin and
the young boy, and it's for him to keep. In a true reversal of roles, the
fan has given the star a memory.
"The crowds have been great," explained Austin, who is based out of Calgary,
and wrestles there under his real name of Gary Williams. "They've been real
supportive and they come out and give their 100% as fans."
Atlantic Grand Prix is an anomaly, a throw-back to the way wrestling used to
be. It's not about interview time, fireworks and short matches. It's about
competition between equals, signing autographs for the fans, and shows every
day of the week in small, Maritime towns that don't necessarily see a lot of
other excitement come their way. It's where legends like Leo Burke, The
Beast, No Class Bobby Bass and the Cuban Assassin
can still suit up and show
the youngsters, like Austin, Rene Rougeau and The Mighty Hercules
, how it is
And it's probably the best training ground anywhere for future wrestlers,
even if it only runs full-time from June to August. Veterans of the tour
read like a veritable who's who: Randy Savage, Edge
, Rick Martel
, Bad News Brown
, Lanny Poffo, Rowdy Roddy Piper
, Andre the Giant
, Ric Flair, J.J. Dillon.
Joe E. Legend
Toronto's Joe E. Legend was the champion of the circuit when SLAM! Wrestling
was in Berwick. He loves the seven nights of the week action. "It helps get
you a lot sharper than the twice a week or whatever you do on weekends," he
Legend, who has been to a WWF 'dojo' training camp, definitely believes that
this Maritime tour is a stepping stone to the big leagues. When he told the
WWF that he was doing this tour, he said that they were excited, and knew
all about promoter Emile Dupre's skills as a trainer and a leader of young
talent. Plus, former superstar Paul Orndorff was recently in Halifax on a
scouting mission for WCW.
Rene Rougeau, of Shediac, New Brunswick, is on his second summer tour. "The
Grand Prix tour is everything to me," explained the youngster. "It's the
best place to learn how to wrestle. If you're a beginner, this is the place
Rougeau, a genuine heart-throb with the young girls in the crowd, has had
his ups and downs this tour. An up was meeting The Cuban Assassin, who he
used to watch on TV as a kid. A down is definitely his recent concussion,
where he got knocked out after hitting his head on the concrete floor and
had to go to the hospital.
This is 'Nature Boy' Cliff MacDonald's first tour with Grand Prix. In fact,
it's his first real experience in wrestling, outside of training with Scott
D'Amore in Windsor a year ago. The Truro, Nova Scotia native is on a
part-time schedule, wrestling when he can get time off from his regular job
in a plastics factory.
"It's a blast. I have a good time," said MacDonald, thinking over his
future. "I imagine I'll continue with it. I don't know what my plans will be
after this tour is over."
It's been a lot of fun for Butcher Vachon to be on the tour too. It's not
the 'real' Paul 'The Butcher' Vachon, brother of Maurice 'Mad Dog', but
rather Roger Theriault from New Brunswick, who's been wrestling off-and-on
"For me, it's like a vacation -- the [Annapolis] Valley, the Maritimes are
very nice. Go to Cape Breton, and see all the mountains, the rivers, the
ocean," said Vachon, who is taking time off from his job in construction to
do the tour.
He's done numerous tours before, and said that Grand Prix is where he
"really learned to wrestle" before naming off the legends his spent time
with over the various summers.
The Beast has his hand raised by referee Frank Parker this season in Halifax. -- photo by Andrew Murphy
Two of the legends are Leo Burke and the Beast, real life brothers Leonce
and Yvon Cormier respectively.
The Beast got the call from old friend Emile Dupre, the promoter of the
tour, back in January. He reluctantly agreed to the tour, despite
semi-retiring in 1980 ("easing up" the schedule, as he calls it).
Yet, he's enjoying himself yet again.
"It's going good so far. I get to see all my old friends," said The Beast.
And for one week, he got to see his brother Leo Burke on the tour, as he was
"just passing through", visiting family, and watching some of his proteges
like Wild Man Austin and Mighty Hercules wrestle.
"This just gives me a chance to come back, see my family -- a farewell tour,
so to speak," said Burke, who trains wrestlers in Calgary for WCW. "I really
didn't want to wrestle, but I got talked into it ... it's good to see all
the wrestling fans, my friends over the years. So I'm catching up."