(Bump in the Road is a multi-part story detailing my attempts to get into wrestling school and the wrestling business.. Part One discusses my growing up on wrestling and some brief backyard wrestling.)
In Spring of 1999, I moved in with my sister in Halifax. While waiting for Devin Chittick to set things up for his wrestling promotion and school, I found a job dishwashing at a local restaurant. It was minimum wage, no tips, but free meals, so that helped cut down on expenses. It was a two or three-kilometre walk from home to work, so I was walking minimum half an hour every day. The walk became light jogs or sprints to and from work. I didn’t do much else for exercise, but I was slimming down. Occasionally, I used some dumbells at home.
As I said, Devin was still setting things up on the business end. Little did I know how long that set up would take, along with broken promises and broken dreams. Little did I also know that by the end of the year, I would have one of the worst emotional breakdowns of my life. But we’ll get to that.
While I worked, I hung out on occasion with Devin and his family. At the time, he lived with his girlfriend and her daughter (I believe his, but I could be wrong). He was a charismatic guy with big dreams and big talk. He was a bit of an oddball, but hell, who was I to judge? Like me, he idolized Bret Hart, wanting to mimic how the Hitman worked in the ring. Not necessarily to the point of a complete homage, but at least in terms of a technical or submission expert. And Devin certainly could talk. He had me and two other guys convinced that he had the contacts, he had the money (an upcoming bank loan), and he had the gumption to really make his fed a big thing in the Maritimes.
For years, the Maritime provinces had its own promotion known very well locally: Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling. Run by Emile Dupree (father of former WWE star Rene Dupree), Grand Prix would tour The Maritimes, often in smaller towns, and was even televised on CTV on Saturdays. Many Maritimers even today remember big names like Leo Burke and the Cuban Assassin. But Grand Prix wasn’t what it once was. They did short summer tours on occasion, but that was about it. Devin wanted to fill that void and create a new, ongoing wrestling product.
He had a trainer, as well, who would train not just us, but Devin as well. Up until then, I’d hadn’t heard of Sledgehammer Spike, but he was apparently a wrestler from times past, like Leo Burke. He and his son, Scott (I think that was his name), would be training. For whatever reason, they kept having troubles even just moving to Halifax. I never knew the whole story, but all I heard from Devin was “Any day now! Any day!” This went on for months. Finally, they arrived in early September. Scott was still an active wrestler: tall, lean, charismatic. I don’t recall his ring name, but he often wrestled under a mask. Sledge was of average height, long grey hair and well-trimmed beard, pot-bellied, and showing his age. You could tell, though, just by looking at him, that he was a tough S.O.B. He had a good humour about him, laughing with us and such, but other times he had this almost spaced-out mean look to him like he considered ways to hurt you.
Sledge also bragged about his close contact with the WWF, showing us a letter from head of Talent Relations J.J. Dillon. He said he could get any superstar he asked for to come be on our show. A big red flag went up for me. Not only was the letter dated from almost 10 years ago, Dillon worked for WCW now, Jim Ross was now head of Talent Relations and – biggest of all – WWF dealt in exclusive contracts. There was no way they’d allow The Undertaker to come appear on some schlub independent show when he had house show appearances or signings to make for WWF. Along with Devin’s constant promises that seemed empty, I was hesitant to put my trust in Sledge or his training.
Finally, though, Devin finally managed to secure a facility for us to train…which was out in Sheet Harbour (Devin’s hometown): about an hour and a half drive out of Halifax. This was horribly inconvenient for me and the two other guys, only one of whom had a car. There was no bus transportation out there, either. Another red flag went up, but we soldiered on because finally, finally , we were getting trained.
In Sheet Harbour’s local arena, we came to our first class on a Saturday. Sledge’s ring was small and rickety, but that wasn’t surprising since most independent rings are small and rickety. I finally got to stand on an apron for the first time. I got to climb through the ropes for the first time. I finally got to bounce off the ropes for the first time. Now, for anyone who has never been in a wrestling ring, let me tell you: those ropes hurt. They are basically made of steel cables or wires wrapped in tape or whatever else. They’re stiffer than anything Viagra could create and if you hit them hard or often enough, they’ll leave bruises on your back.
But I knew all that before. I knew the ring didn’t have much bounce or tickle when I hit the mat. I was still nervous as hell. When we practised collar/elbow lock-ups for the first time, I accidentally smacked Scott right in the ear, causing him to wince and jump around for a few seconds. Worse, when he went to do a sunset flip? Instead of falling onto my back, I wound up only sitting on his head. He laid prone, groaning for a few moments. Being concerned, I held up some fingers and asked how many I was holding up (I was kind of an idiot 18-year-old). Sledge walked over, threatened to pull his pants down and said, “Hey Scott! How many of THESE fingers am I holding up?” to which Scott chuckled and told him to eff off.
So even though it took half a year to start up, the training facility was an hour and a half away, we were finally getting trained. The first day was little more than collar/elbow lock up and a few light bumps. But on the drive home, the other two guys and I started talking. Since Devin got the bank loan, he was “celebrating” a little too much. While he wasn’t drunk 24/7, he was suddenly buying a lot more alcohol. On top of that, we wondered what kind of business we were getting into where the promises rarely delivered and the trainer’s qualifications were, well, questionable.
We collectively chose to quit. Classes took place maybe – maybe – every couple of Saturdays. Sometimes a month or more would go by without a class. In retrospect, we were young and very impatient, but I still believe some of our concerns held ground.
By this time, I was hit heavy bouts of depression. I’d dropped out of school for this. I’d moved here for this. I’d wasted almost a year of my life waiting for this to start. I’d also lost my job and was working part-time at Subway. My girlfriend – my high school sweetheart – moved down to start university, but the cracks in our nearly 3-year relationship starting showing. I felt like I had nothing in my life and that I was wasting it by pursuing this empty, hopeless dream.
While over the phone with my parents, I finally broke down crying and screaming. Depression got the best of me and I had my first major emotional breakdown. This all occurred about a month after the guys and I decided to leave Devin’s school. I really had nothing else in my life.
Deflated and defeated, I moved back home to live with my parents.
Looking back, it was a blind jump. I enjoyed living in Halifax, but moving there on empty promises was a bad decision. It was impulsive. I should’ve researched other potential schools. One summer before I moved to Halifax, I went to a Grand Prix show in P.E.I. with my friend Mitchell. I had the pleasure of meeting Scott D’Amore, who would go on to be a major part of TNA as a member of a Canadian-based group. We discussed what I needed to do to get into wrestling and he gave me his contact information. He had a school in Ontario somewhere. I never went to his school and again, in retrospect, maybe I should have. Well, as you’ll learn in a future edition of Bump in the Road, Ontario was still in my future.
As far as Devin is concerned, I honestly don’t hold any grudge against him. I don’t have his side of the story and I could be wrong on many accounts. I know he briefly served some time in jail over something a few years later. But I also know he finally opened his wrestling promotion. Working primarily out of Sheet Harbour, Mainstream Wrestling was, from what I understand, successful. At least for a few years. My friend Mitchell briefly worked for them as a referee, reffing a match that included The Honky Tonk Man. Chittick worked under the ring name of “X-Ray” Kyle Kruze. I don’t know if he still works in the business, but I truly hope he’s still well.
I’ve never heard what happened with Sledgehammer Spike or his son. I don’t know if they stayed with Devin to train or if they worked for Mainstream wrestling. I can’t seem to find any information on him, either.
I was apparently wrong about Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling. They had a summer tour in the Maritimes in 2013. Personally, I’d love to see a consistently touring wrestling product that also airs on television again, but I think that’s wishful thinking. My friend Mike Coughlan works as a ring announcer for XWA, a Saint John-based federation that does some shows in Fredericton and Moncton, as well. I guess I just miss seeing local wrestling on local television.
The next installment of Bump in the Road will be…a little different. I mentioned my nervous breakdown. Next time, I want to talk a little about what happened in February 2000 and how Mick Foley’s retirement wound up being the last, little thing that drove me to attempted suicide.