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Starving. I was starving for, and because of, wrestling. Wrestling was paying nothing and getting me nowhere on the West Coast in 2002. I never wrestled more than once a month, but figured if I could do more wrestling things would improve. I solved this the smartest way I could – I signed up for college, took out a student loan, and used it to buy a flight into Toronto and out of Winnipeg. Stylin’ Bryan, my former roommate, had arranged three shows in Winnipeg for myself and the whole crew from wrestling school, a brief reunion of sorts. The trip there was a miracle of good times. And it was a miracle we made it to Winnipeg at all.
Barreling down snow-covered roads at 100km/hour for 24 hours straight, we arrived just in time to wrestle our first matches. We didn’t get paid after the first show because we were banking our PO’s to save up for a grand lump sum at the end of the tour. Bryan had worked for Ernie Todd before and assured us we would be taken care of properly. That made sense; we were all working hard and had been asked to come out. Ernie sounded like he appreciated our travel and would take care of us. We didn’t know better.
JC Owens and I won the NWA Canadian Tag Team Titles on our first night. The match was ok, but I got caught with an elbow by an opponent and burst my ear drum. The second night, we wrestled a couple of kids in pajamas who weighed maybe 300 pounds combined. JC and I together were 700 pounds, but we still had to make them look good while they fucked up just about every spot in the match. It was awful. We started doubting the value of the trip, especially since the crowds hovered around 50 people per show. But the grand finale was supposed to make up for it. It was, after all, booked in community hall that could hold up to 400 people.
This grand finale saw us lose the tag titles back to Ernie Todd, who was suddenly a tag team wrestler. Then we were sent into a twenty man, barbed-wire, fans bring the weapons, hardcore battle royal. As JC and I looked at the run sheet for who entered the match when, another wrestler came up and asked us when we planned on getting colour. In plain language, he wanted to know when we planned on cutting ourselves to bleed during the match.
“Uhh, never” I spat, looking like I’d smelled a fart.
“But it’s a hardcore battle royal. Everyone has to get color” he said, as though he should be teaching us something about wrestling. I looked at the guy, let’s call him Baldy Oldshits, and looked at his forehead covered in blade marks. I had never heard of him. Nobody had. It was obvious why.
Baldy Oldshits was wearing the trusty outfit of sweatpants, runners, and a tank-top, the attire of a hardcore wrestler. A kendo stick dangled by his side, another sign of being a hardcore wrestler. And judging from his scraggly, skinny, McDonald’s diet build, he had never seen the inside of a gym, which really cemented the fact that this guy was a legitimate, certified, hardcore wrestler. In other words, he didn’t belong in the ring.
JC did his duckface as baldy stressed the importance of bleeding to make the match good. Starving or not, I had no plan of bleeding for dollars. And even though we were to get paid more bleeding, I had my doubts. Clearly Baldy Oldshits thought getting color was the only thing there was to wrestling, and his IQ probably hovered around the single digits. JC and I made eye contact. Baldy pleaded to us “it’s a huge match, we all need color,” then we both disdainfully scowled at him and said nothing. He left.
Our eyes traced Baldy across the community center meeting room as he talked to the other “wrestlers”, many of whom had less wrestling gear and less of a build than him. The other wrestlers nodded when he talked to them, presumably confirming their timing for getting colour. One kid even went as far as grinning and pulling out his razor-blade to get Baldy to approve it. They probably felt they had too - for lots of wrestlers, the only way to get money was to bleed, especially if they couldn't wrestle. This was a bad sign. We didn’t want Hepatitis C, HIV or anything else that might come from a stranger bleeding on us. But if we wanted to get paid, we had to do the match. JC and I conferred.
We decided then and there to no-sell everything and not let a single idiot hit us with a weapon. We were entries number 8 and 11 in the battle royal; we would have to watch each other’s back.
When we got in there, JC grabbed a traffic director’s stop sign and I grabbed a golf club. We clubbed everyone over the head. Then they dropped to the mat, gigging themselves with razorblades while JC and I ignored their offense. We weren’t going to let a single idiot get up to bleed on us. After three minutes, the mat was painted in sweat and blood from 10 different wrestlers. The only people we didn’t stiff were our friends or the one or two locals who got the biz enough to leave the weapons alone and hit us with headlocks and punches. As the insanity progressed, JC laughed gleefully, even at one point singing to his stop sign. He was genuinely enjoying himself. All things must pass.
As the final combatant entered, JC looked at me, then at the soles of his boots covered in blood and thumbtacks.
“Bomber, throw me out” he cried.
“What? We’re partners! That makes no sense.”
“Yeah, but I don’t trust any of these guys. Give me a shitty punch towards the ropes with no barbed wire,” he said.
I assessed his assessment of the situation as he pointed to the ropes he meant. Blood was everywhere. Weapons were in reach of everybody. It was just a matter of time until one of us got caught by something, at least accidentally. And we’d already wrestled once that night. He was 100% right.
“Hussaw!” I yelled, punching him with a terrible haymaker and dropping my golf club. JC twirled his arms then clumsily stumbled over the ropes all by himself, artfully avoiding as much barbed wire as possible. I quickly followed suit. What a night.
Sore and tired, we waited to grab our PO’s and say goodbye to Ernie Todd. He was beaming as he held onto his new belt and handed us a wad of crumpled money in a semi-secretive handshake. He reached over, palm down in a fist, then handed opened his hand into our waiting palms, nodding as if it were a big secret that we got paid for wrestling. As soon as I got mine, I turned around and opened it. At first I was excited; it was thick and the outside bill was a twenty. Then I realized it was just folded over multiple times. All the other bills were fives. I deflated as I unrolled my whopping PO of $50.
“There’ll be more next time” he hollered. $50 for 3 matches. What an unappreciative dick. I had learned another lesson in wrestling; never trust a promoter to do the right thing, especially if you haven’t personally agreed to anything. Bryan, to his credit, had been taken care of properly on previous shows with Ernie. He was shocked at the PO too, but none of us wanted to confront Ernie Todd. He did tours up North and we actually might want to (or have to) work for him again if we wanted to keep wrestling. What could we do? The old fallback reared its head.
We drank our asses off after we got our PO’s (payoffs) to make sure nothing with the stink of Winnipeg would follow with us, including the $50. The next morning, I flew home and the boys drove back to Ontario. It was time for drastic changes to my career.