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SLAM! WRESTLING: Guest Columnist

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SLAM! Wrestling







Wednesday, March 7, 2001

SLAM! Wrestling Guest Column

Top 10 in Alberta today

By MICHAEL DEAN KOZBIAL -- For SLAM! Wrestling

  The years between 1989 and 1999 were a dark time for fans of professional wrestling in Alberta. With the demise of the original (and legendary) incarnation of Stampede Wrestling, mat fans in the Wild Rose province forever lost a piece of their culture, a piece of their history, and a piece of themselves.

  A few daring individuals and their coteries, managing somehow to take out sufficient liability insurance and calling themselves promoters, tried bravely to continue the propegation of benchmark wrestling excellence maintained by Stampede for so many years, but failed because, quite frankly, their shows really weren't all that good.

  Forced to subsist on semi-annual visits from the World Wrestling Federation for their live grappling needs, Alberta fans decided that this was too little and not often enough for their liking. Month after month, year after year, the halls of Alberta pro wrestling fandom reverberated with the murmurings of its discontented members, and the cry continued to go out for the one thing that would truly satisfy them -- live grassroots wrestling.

  Thankfully, those dark days of wrestlinglessness are a thing of the past here in Alberta. Not only is so-called "indy" wrestling alive and well here, but mat fans in this province have not one, but TWO outstanding promotions to help scratch their live wrestling itch -- W.O.W. Stampede Wrestling and Western Canadian Extreme Wrestling.

  W.O.W. Stampede is the resuscitated version of the original Stampede promotion that was run by Stu Hart from 1948 to 1989. The neophyte incarnation of Stampede is operated by two of Stu's wrestling sons, Bruce and Ross Hart, and commenced operations on 2nd April 1999. Western Canadian Extreme Wrestling began staging cards here on 20th October 2000. Billing itself as the "dawning and continuation of a new era in professional wrestling", WCEW has (as of this writing) been widely acknowledged as the more successful of the two promotions -- although, a week being a long time in politics and pro wrestling, that could very easily change after only a few more shows. Each promotion stages bi-weekly cards on opposite Friday evenings in different areas of Calgary, and local wrestling fans are privileged to avail themselves of the regular offerings of both.

  As a fan of the sport since the early 1970s, and hopefully as a service to readers of SLAM! Wrestling, I have assembled a list of whom I believe are the top ten wrestlers currently performing in both Stampede and WCEW. With no apologies, my picks for the top ten are:

 
(1) GARY WILLIAMS
The choice for the number one slot was a no-brainer. "Bad Boy" Gary Williams is quite simply the best wrestler on the local scene today, and one of the very best in all of North America. Anyone who has ever had the privilege of seeing him wrestle live cannot help but be awestruck by the abilities of this supremely talented individual. His conditioning is superb, and his aerial tactics -- particularily his amazing top rope bodysplash -- are nothing short of breathtaking. Whether he chooses to exhibit straight scientific wrestling, or the hardcore style, tag team, or even a dash of comedy, Williams has proven that he is one of those precious few wrestlers who can literally do it all. The scary part is, I don't think he's reached his peak yet. [Editor's Note: Williams was 'Wildman' Austin in Grand Prix the last couple of years.]
(2) "MAD DOG" MIKE MCFLY
When it comes to being top dog at one's game, few compare to "Mad Dog" McFly. The current WCEW heavyweight champion was trained by both Bret Hart and Leo Burke, which explains why he's one of the best in the business today. His signature manoeuvre, the McFlyswatter -- a devestating sit-down forward suplex -- is original among finishing moves. McFly is exactly the kind of heel you wish you could just reach out and throttle with your bare hands. He's slimy, he's nasty, he's talented, and he's a damn good wrestler. McFly is building a reputation in WCEW right now that can only help propell him to stardom in the future.
(3) ALI "THE BEAST FROM THE MIDDLE EAST"
If being world champion meant anything these days, Ali would be the one touted most likely to succeed to this role someday. Like a cobra sidling rapidly across the dunes of the Arabian desert, Ali strikes at his opponents with lightning quickness and lethal accuracy. His displays of wrestling knowledge have been balanced with some amazing exhibitions of aerial manoeuvres and bone-jarring power moves. His charisma is electric, his ring presence is commanding, and his popularity is through the roof. It also doesn't hurt that Ali's name lends itself easily to the arena-rocking chants that accompany him wherever he goes. See him wreslte now before the price goes up!
(4) DAVE SWIFT
The single greatest talent currently on Stampede's roster. Swift's best asset is his incredible athleticism. If anyone has a shot at carrying a match at least thirty minutes these days, put this guy at the top of the list. When he combines his athleticism with his vast array of technical knowledge, heartfelt realism, and ability to execute even difficult moves flawlessly, Swift is always a joy to watch in the ring. He frequently reminds one of some of the great English wrestlers from the 1970s and '80s. Whether he's in a wrestling match or a streetfight, Swift always brings on his "A-game". Either the British Commonwealth mid-heavyweight or North American heavyweight championship belts would look mighty fine around this deserving young man's waist.
(5) THE SLEDGEHAMMER JASON ANDERSON
The old truck stop ditty "I've Been Everywhere Man" could accurately describe this man's wrestling career -- provided one augmented the lyrics to include places such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Palestine, Australia and Japan. With a passion in his heart for his craft that fuels his tireless in-ring talent, Sledgehammer has chosen to eschew the bright lights and mega-hype of "sports entertainment" to largely wrestle in places where many fans in North America didn't even know there were places -- and win numerous titles in the process. Currently on tour with New Japan Pro Wrestling, Sledgehammer has a lot more miles to log and places to visit in his quest to remain one of the very best in wrestling today. [For more on Anderson, see his SLAM! Wrestling bio.]
(6) PRINCIPAL RICHARD POUND
The former primary school headmaster has consistantly earned top marks for being ruthless toward both his opponents and his Honour Roll flunkies. This guy is a first class, old school heel all the way. Watching Pound live is always highly entertaining. This is a man who is always so into the kayfabe, he could sell oceanfront property in Edmonton to a seasoned realtor. His wrestling abilities are nothing to be sneezed at, either. A former British Commonwealth mid-heavyweight champion, Pound is surely destined to cheat his way to the top many more times in his career.
(7) GEMINI
One of the brightest young lights in WCEW today. Gemini wrestles with a skill and a comfort level far beyond the years he has actually spent in the ring. He is just as convincing when he's putting an opponent over as when he's going over himself. Such versatility is rare, and makes Gemini a valuable asset to any promotion. He's also in excellent physical condition, and although his endurance has not yet been seriously tested, one suspects that the competitive fire that burns within him would propel him on in a lengthy match, even if natural physical ability alone were to prove insufficient. Definitely a guy to keep your eye on.
(8) GREG PAWLUK
As "Pistol" in Stampede and "Prime Time" in WCEW, Greg Pawluk has been tearing up the scene in Alberta as only he can. Pawluk's flawless technical abilities and trademark open-throttle enthusiasm make him one of the best performers anywhere. He has had numerous memorable singles and tag team matches with the likes of Principal Richard Pound, Tiger Khan, Duke Durrango (aka Dick Raines), Johnny Devine and Gary Williams, all of which allowed Pawluk to exhibit his proficiency in several divergent styles of wrestling. His realism is chilling, especially when selling for an opponent. A wrestler more on fire to succeed I have seldom seen.
(9) EDDIE MUSTANG
If anyone has more fun in the ring than Eddie Mustang, I have yet to see him. An extensive amateur background makes Mustang that much more talented in the pro ring. His blend of athleticism, technical wrestling and comedy have consistantly been a winning combination for him. I don't care for his "one toke over the line" bit, but he's a gifted athlete with an amazing ability to sell his in-ring persona and make people buy it. It's not for nothing that Mustang has been featured in Stampede's main events consistantly for the past several months.
(10) KIRK MELNICK
Although still considered "green" by industry standards, the wrestler formerly known as the Black Ninja has proven time and again to fans and critics alike that not only are his abilities technically sound, but that he is one of the fastest rising stars in the business today. Melnick combines wrestling knowledge with flawless martial arts skills and a desire to be the best he possibly can be, which has almost invariably led to victory in the ring. And his tenacity cannot be questionned. After all, how many other wrestlers would sustain a duck egg-sized bump on the forehead after being introduced to a ringside chair courtesy of the Cuban Assassin, only to come back and compete in a battle royale later that same evening? Melnick himself would probably admit that this was a difficult thing to do, because it's not easy being "green". But his willingness to continually push the envelope of his own capabilities ensures that he won't be "green" for long.

** Photos courtesy Western Canadian Extreme Wrestling web site and Stampede Wrestling web site.
Michael Dean Kozbial is from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He can be emailed at marychristopher@angelfire.com.

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