(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. Part Two dives into my brief time in Halifax, Nova Scotia and a burgeoning wrestling school. Part Three involves my first major nervous breakdown and suicide attempt.)
For years, I gave up on the idea of wrestling school. In fact, I was okay with that. I was happy that I finally decided to finish my university degree in English Literature. While studying, I worked at Blockbuster Video, which provided me with free movies, video games, and an assortment of customer stories. At some point, I might write another series on those stories.
Unfortunately, depression reared its ugly head again. I dropped out of school and instead, started working full-time at Blockbuster. I was miserable. In 2006 and ‘07, I dedicated a lot of my energy to rediscovering myself. I tried different things, like horseback riding. I started hitting the gym on a regular basis and wound up dropping around 40 pounds. Heck, my arms – especially my biceps – became something one might call a gun show. Health-wise, I had a newfound confidence in myself. I was in the best shape of my life.
However, I really wasn’t doing anything with my life. School was an afterthought for now, but I wasn’t really doing anything except working and going to the gym. Fortunately, this would change very soon.
Around this time, one of my oldest friends, Mitchell, started attending a wrestling school in Toronto. Squared Circle Wrestling was run by Rob Fuego, who taught a Mexican Luchador style of wrestling, something Mitchell was always a fan of. Every once in a while, Mitchell would relate some of what was going on at the school, such as “Chop Day.” One trainee would stand in a corner of the ring while each of the students – and trainers! – took turns delivering chops. Then they would switch out. This was how they taught moves, Mitchell told me: everyone would get in a line and either deliver or take the move from one person, then switch places. The day after Chop Day, Mitch told me his chest was absolutely covered in stinging welts.
This school sounded considerably more reliable and upstanding than whatever Devin Chittick tried to get off the ground in Sheet Harbour. They had their fair share of graduates as well, including Gail Kim, Sinn Bowdee (aka: Kizarny), and Xtremo, who wrestled in CHIKARA.
Well, it all sounded fantastic to me – too fantastic. Mitchell started suggesting I move to Toronto and join the school. I could get a transfer from Blockbuster (there were at least 20 stores in the city) and even move in with him and his girlfriend (and a third roommate, who was hardly there because he travelled often for work).
So…I did. Really, I had little to nothing going on in Fredericton and a change of pace might do me some good, I thought. For the move, I sold off a great deal of my stuff, including all my furniture. I basically moved up with the three Cs: my cat, my comics (or like a tenth of my collection), and my computer. The room I lived in was actually a tiny sun room, small enough to fit a single-sized bed and a dresser. It was…cramped. My roommates were a bit more into the late-night party scene than I was, but it got me out of the house and helped me see the city. And they were a bit messier than I was used to. I imagine there were times I wasn’t a charm to live with, either, though. But it didn’t matter because I would finally, finally, realize my dream as a pro-wrestler. Within a week, I was working as a supervisor at Blockbuster and got a membership at a nearby gym.
Before our first class, Mitchell suggested I buy a pair of kneepads and some wrestling boots or something similar. He suggested some training sneakers from an ultimate fighting and martial arts store on Yonge Street. They felt incredibly flat-footed. I wondered to myself if that would make the best sound if my foot stomped or landed on the mat.
Mitchell joined me for my first class, showing me how to get there via transit, which took about an hour and a half. The school was in a more northern part of the city, closer to York University. We lived in the Annex of the city (near University of Toronto; relatively close to downtown). I wasn’t used to such long rides, but I started bringing my laptop with me, so Mitchell and I started watching wrestling matches and discussing wrestling. We became enamoured with watching an old British wrestler by the name of Johnny Saint. Seriously, you should look up some of his work on YouTube because his technical wrestling is astounding.
The school itself was in an industrial park area of the city. When I walked in, the first thing I noticed was the walls were covered with posters from shows, some old and some more recent, showcasing a plethora of wrestling stars of yesterday and today. I wasn’t surprised to see so many Canadian wrestlers on many of the cards, as I imagine many former WWF/WWE stars like Rhyno enjoyed working the Canadian indy circuit. I even recognized some posters from Scott D’Amore’s federation in another part of Ontario.
The entrance led to a small office; behind it, a small (sometimes pretty cramped) dressing room. And to the left was the large training area. There was a workout bench and some free weights, along with a punching bag. In one corner was a TV and VCR for studying tapes. In another corner, which made me giggle, was an old WWF WrestleFest arcade machine. For me, this was heaven.
When I first walked in with Mitchell, Rob Fuego and the other guys were watching an old WCW match. I was trying desperately not to geek out or mark out.
Rob was a very good, personable guy and incredibly patient. I told him a little bit about my time with Sledgehammer Spike and Devin Chittick. Rob’d never heard of Sledge, which made me feel a little vindicated in leaving when I did. He did chuckle at the shirt that I wore from Wrestling Reality. WR was a one-season show which followed a Maritime tour of wrestlers over the summer. Some of the guys had seen the show and had to laugh because the guys in charge weren’t even a decade into the business and acting like they were wrestling gods. Still, I think Rob picked up on my lack of confidence in myself because he was pretty patient. During the first few sessions, I kept apologizing for doing certain things wrong.
For my first night of training, I joined with the rest of the students (all of whom, like Mitchell, were several months ahead of me) in the opening warm-up. This included various types of rolling, likely to prepare yourself for being thrown around or flipped upside down (not to mention the flip-flop nature of Luchador wrestling). I struggled with this at first, but caught on relatively quickly over the next few weeks. In fact, this warm-up wound up being of my favourite things to do in the class. One I struggled with at first was a high, long shoulder roll where I had to roll onto my shoulder from standing and pop up on my feet. See, there was a trick to getting to your feet quickly involving crossing your legs and managing to pop up basically from a lunge position. It took me awhile to get that, but I did get it.
Between these drills, I stood aside while the rest of the guys went through a series of wrestling moves like hiptosses, bodyslams, and running the ropes. Their focus tonight was on calling moves, such as getting into a rest-hold position while one guy would call out about half a dozen moves to perform. They all made it look so easy. One guy, Brent Banks, was this tall, lean black guy who had a basketball player gimmick when wrestling. He made everything look so unbelievably easy, as he had perfect form and fluid motion in everything he did. Both Mitchell and I were constantly in awe of the guy. What amazed us most was also how humble and down to earth Brent was. He was by far one of the best guys I met from the school.
Mitchell was even part of these drills, which amazed me given he hadn’t been active at the school for some time due to an injury. I’ll get to that. But it amazed me because he was able to bump with the rest of these guys no problem. Mitch said one thing he prided on was his bumping ability and I could definitely see that. Additionally, because of his background in acting and theatre, I found his facial expressions in selling a move were better than many of the guys.
Between drills, Rob brought me back into the ring. He invited Mitchell to join me, partly for moral support from a familiar face, but also to practice some things he needed to work on. To begin, we practiced some light bumps. A “bump” in wrestling is how a wrestler lands a certain way not just for safety but also to make the most resounding impact for the audience. Rob started us on our knees and had us flop forward. These were “front bumps.” Generally, front bumps started from standing, but I was still beginning. For “back bumps,” we squatted and held onto the bottom rope, then threw ourselves backwards like we were in a swimming pool pushing ourselves off for a backstroke. Each time, Rob wanted us to attack the mat, slamming our arms down as hard as we could to make the most dynamic sound possible. I struggled with that because I was admittedly a little afraid of hurting myself…especially when Mitchell had previously told me about his broken rib.
You see, months before I’d arrived, Mitch told me about a time they were practising side-slams. A side slam involves being scooped up under your opponent’s arm and dropped flat on your back. One trainee, who fortunately no longer attended, dropped Mitch not on his back, but on his side. Mitch told me how he rolled out of the ring, gasping for breath, and in excruciating pain. Rob’s response? “Popped a rib, huh?” in an almost glib manner. Yet, when asked if he wanted to end it for the night, Mitch actually said no and got back into the ring. Mitch thinks he earned some respect from Rob, believing that Rob thought, “Huh, this little pipsqueak’s pretty tough if he’s getting back in the ring so quick.”
Well, I certainly didn’t think that just yet. In fact, I was growing more and more frustrated that I couldn’t do a lot of these bumps. Particularly, my foot placement was horrendous. To slowly break us into flip bumps (for moves like a hiptoss), Rob had us start from a handstand and dropping on our backs (or vaulting over from a handstand position). For flip bumps, we need to plant both feet flat on the mat. Every time I came down, though, my feet were crossed – likely a byproduct from the rolling we did earlier. However, I knew – I knew – what I was doing wrong and how to fix it, but I just couldn’t break that habit of dropping onto, say, my ankles instead of flat on my feet. I could feel it what needed correcting. I just needed practice.
At the end of the night, I was sure of two things: my neck was sore as hell…and I was hooked. I was undoubtedly in. Even though I was a total newbie, I felt completely at home there.
The next morning, though? Good lord, I could barely move. Every single inch of me hurt. I’d never woken up feeling so stiff or sore in my life. What’s funny, though, is that even though I could barely move, I would’ve been back in class again that night if I wasn’t already scheduled to work.
I may have been certain I was on the road to a wrestling career, but there was something ahead that I didn’t expect: a new-found phobia. A crippling phobia, in fact, that ensured I’d likely never be a pro-wrestler. We’ll cover the beginning of that next time, along with learning new wrestling holds, struggles with bumping, as well as some of the brainstorming that went on between Mitch and I in terms of a gimmick for our potential tag team.