(Bump in the Road is a multi-part story detailing my attempts to get into wrestling school and the wrestling business. Part 1 discusses my growing up on wrestling and some brief backyard wrestling. Part 2 dives into my brief time in Halifax, Nova Scotia and a burgeoning wrestling school. Part 3 involves my first major nervous breakdown and suicide attempt. Part 4 begins the story of my time at a legitimate wrestling school in Toronto.)
This chapter is kind of a side-tangent. Originally, this was going to cover some of the creative process, but also on my struggles with bumping and holds. Turns out, I had more to discuss about the creative process than I’d planned. It still relates to my time at Rob Fuego’s school, don’t worry. I just wanted to talk a little bit about the creative process and homework that Mitchell and I did between classes. I think it’s just as important as the actual training. We’ll get back to the wrestling part next time, I promise.
One thing I’ve always prided myself on – at least something I’ve always enjoyed – is my creative mind. No matter what I’m doing or where I am, I’m constantly coming up with ideas, even ridiculous ones that would never work (or maybe need more thinking of make it work). As a teenager, those ideas tended to come out as horror stories, resulting from the endless bullying I received. Later, it turned into superhero story ideas that still permeate my thoughts. Of course, being a wrestling fan and a writer means I’ll also think up ideas for gimmicks, angles, or just something to do in the ring. During my time at Fuego’s school, this was certainly no different.
As I mentioned in Part 1, my friends and I played a home-brewed tabletop wrestling role-playing game. I’d also participated in online e-wrestling. Naturally, also being a gamer, I’ve also enjoyed creating my own wrestlers. My personal favourite was Toro, the Mexican Manbeast, who was a mix of Tazz, Mantaur, and Rhyno. If you’re interested, I uploaded a video onto YouTube from one of the Smackdown games where I created Toro.
My point is, even during my time at Fuego’s, my creative mind was constantly buzzing with ideas. I couldn’t help it. It’s a natural thing. This was the same for my friend Mitchell, who constantly brainstormed with me on potential gimmicks, stories, and things to do in the ring.
Our gimmick, for example, hearkened back to our days growing up in the Maritimes. Mitchell was born and raised in Prince Edward Island while I was born in New Brunswick, though I’d moved a few times (to Cape Breton and to PEI, where I met Mitchell in middle school). We never thought of a solid name for our team, but we leaned towards the idea The Maritime Connection. Given that I was the bigger of the two of us, we thought that we could be a Hart Foundation-like team: Mitchell playing the smaller, faster one and me playing the bruiser. We never settled on a team finisher, but we had the name: The Halifax Explosion, including getting the crowd to countdown from 5 to the “explosion.” We did, however, finalize what I think were solid ring names.
“Unbelievable” Mitch Ripley played on Mitchell’s growing up in PEI, especially one of his favourite tourist spots in Cavendish: Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. He had some brilliant names for his moves, including the PEI Poke and the Slam of Green Gables. Since I was the bruiser, we came up with a great nickname for me: The Brick. To play up on my New Brunswick heritage, my full ring name would be Nick “The Brick” Brunswick. To this day, if I were ever to try returning to the wrestling scene, I would fight tooth and nail to ensure that was my ring name. It’s catchy, it rhymes, and sounds similar to some of the greats that I grew up on like Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
While training, Mitch and I basically ate, slept, and breathed wrestling. Our trainers told us to constantly watch wrestling and watch how wrestlers would bump. If fact, we were even told to count the bumps in a match. That really opened my eyes to the business. For example, I counted the bumps in some classic, one-hour matches between Ricky Steamboat and Ric Flair. As far as I remember, the bump count was less than 20. For an hour. Yet their series of matches are arguably some of the best in the business. Today’s more fast-paced wrestling has more bumps, but they’re still not as many as I expected. Another thing we were told to keep an eye on was who bumped more in a match. Usually, if you count the bumps between the two wrestlers in any match, the heel takes more bumps. It makes sense, but it’s something I’d never considered before.
We also watched shoot interviews to get more ideas about the business itself and how storytelling in matches worked. Our personal favourite, hands down, was Al Snow’s shoot. Whenever he met a wrestling trainee, his first question to them was “Why do you want to be a wrestler?” Answers included money, fortune, fame, and women, but the answer he always looked for was, “Because I love it.” And to be honest, that was the answer I would’ve given if I were asked that. I didn’t have any other answer. His biggest advice regarding storytelling is surprisingly simple: act like you’re trying to win and trying not to lose. It was so simple! Try to win, try not to lose. Boiled down to its most rudimentary facet, that is every wrestling match, regardless of the story behind it. Yet there are so many wrestling matches that don’t try to do that. Snow discussed an X-Division match in TNA. He asked, “How do you win that match? You climb up and grab the X.” So when he related the time that the X fell, what did the wrestlers involved do? They stopped and looked to the back. In Snow’s opinion – one I agree with – this basically broke the audience because the wrestlers just admitted that it was all a show. The guys were so ingrained on doing the match a certain way that they forgot the most basic storytelling device: try to win, try not to lose. He said someone should’ve just dived on the X, ideally the guy booked to win. It wouldn’t be the planned finish, but it was still a finish.
Similarly, he mentioned a lot of guys these days follow a script so hard that they forget when to do the right thing during a match. He talked a about a match in OVW (where he was a trainer) involving a tag team of twins (I think the Bashams). The finish involved one twin holding their opponent open for the other twin to hit them. Their opponent would duck and the twin would hit the other twin causing them to lose. It’s a classic finish. However, during the match, when the moment came, the twin to get hit ducked along with their opponent. At which point, they immediately repeated the spot with the proper finish. Once in the back, Snow demanded what happened. They said, “The wrong twin was in place.” Snow reamed them out because it didn’t matter! They were twins! The audience didn’t know who was supposed to be in what place! They just exposed that to the audience!
Al Snow pointed out something that was also a pet peeve of mine: spot monkeys. Basically, a wrestler doing some amazing, fantastical move that has next to no follow up or repercussion. This is why I couldn’t watch most of ROH. Not all, mind you, just most of it. I found that the matches involved some amazing, mind-blowing moves that got the biggest reactions from the audience…and then they would proceed to do upwards of half a dozen more. It’s like they would do six finishes in one match when just one would have been memorable. That’s one thing I think WWE does well most times: storytelling. Generally, they know how to build a story to a good finish, whether you’re happy with the outcome or not. Chikara is generally good with this as well, though I found they would fall into the multiple finishes problem sometimes as well. On a related note, it also bothered me that some guys would do the most insane, body-breaking moves just to get a reaction. This is referring more to the bloody hardcore matches in CZW than in ROH. Snow had advice for this as well: don’t do something you’re not willing to do every night for the rest of your career. Good advice, if you ask me.
Mitchell and I also discovered Johnny Saint, an incredibly famous, old school British grappler who has inspired the likes of William Regal and Daniel Bryan. Old school British wrestling is very different, you see. The match is split into rounds, like a boxing match and is more focused on grappling ad holds than impact moves. In fact, punching is illegal. It’s a more polite style, as well, as you must allow your opponent to get back to their feet if they’ve been knocked down. Look up Johnny Saint on YouTube and be as amazed as we were. He made even the simplest moves like a wristlock look like it meant something. The way he (and to be fair, his opponents) wormed his way into a reversal was incredible. During sparring sessions at the school, we tried mimicking this style as best we could. For example, Mitchell had me in a waistlock. Instead of just switching into the subsequent reversed hold, I would try things like reaching behind me to grab his head (which he would deftly dodge) or other variations. Some of the other trainees noticed this, mimicking us or praising us for trying to do little things like that.
Next time, we’re back on the right road, on the struggles at the school, bumping, getting hurt, and having a sudden realization. Part Six will likely be the final entry, not including a final epilogue or afterword.