Posts Tagged ‘Bret Hart’

There comes a time in every man’s life, when he looks at what he has accomplished and accumulated to this point and what lies beyond, yet to pursue.  I found that when I hit the pivotal age of forty back in 2013, I took stock of my life at large and contemplated the brevity and breadth of it all.

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When you step back and take a look at your life from the outside, you can assess things at face value for what they are and what they have meant. (Photo: Hannu Eskelinen)

Forty is like a half-way marker.  It’s a brutal, unforgiving assessment of what is, for real.  It’s half-way to eighty, and eighty is an age that spells pretty much the end of one’s life here on Planet Earth.

I look back at the greatest, single influence on my pro wrestling career early on, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, the 16-time world heavyweight champion in our grand game of professional wrestling.  I recall the year 1990, when Flair was wrestling against Lex Luger at a WCW (World Championship Wrestling) pay-per-view event called WrestleWar ’90, that it also happened to be on his birthday.  The announcers tried to sell it as if it was Flair’s 40th birthday, when in reality, it was his 41st.  Nonetheless, I remember this detail speaking to me in volume even back then.

Ric Flair

When I started my pro wrestling career, I always asked myself “What would the ‘Naitch do?”

My old friend Chris Jericho currently wrestles for WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) as their US Champion, a belt that he will be defending against fellow Canadian grappler Kevin Owens next weekend on April 2nd at Wrestlemania 33.  Jericho is about three years my senior, now age 46.  He’s still doing well, hanging in there at the top of his game, arguably on one of his last runs with the company.  I applaud him.  He’s done very well, staying in shape and being able to connect with a changing audience and parlay his character across various generations of wrestling fans.  Yet, the end is drawing nigh, even for my old pal Y2J, simply based on age.

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When I started my pro wrestling career in Calgary, Canada in 1994, they used to call me Jericho Jr.  Really, I didn’t mind.  Chris has done incredibly well in the business, and I’m happy for him.

Now, back to my original point: the things left to pursue in one’s chosen career or life path.  Tallinn, Estonia was such a waypoint for me personally this past weekend, the reason being that the event I took part in was a professional boxing card.

For the longest time, since the onset of my personal pro wrestling career, I’ve been fighting to defend the credibility of my fighting art, called professional wrestling.  There have always been detractors and shit-talkers and there always will be.  Still, I have always felt compelled to defend the honor of my business, which many see as a faux sport.  Like one of my early role models, Bret “Hitman” Hart, said in his autobiography some years back, “It seems as though I’ve been defending professional wrestling my entire life.”

Bret Hart vs Ric Flair

Bret Hart and Ric Flair slugging it out back in 1992 in the World Wrestling Federation.

For me, I’ve always prided myself on being legitimate when I step into the ring.  I take my sport seriously.  Regardless of how many people – some contemporaries included – have prostituted and bastardized our trade, for me, I’ve always strived to take the higher road of credibility.  I’ve gone the extra mile and fought tooth and nail to retain integrity in the believability of professional wrestling.  For me, it’s a matter of professional pride.

Being able to parlay my skills and take part in the Warrior Fight Series 1 event this past Saturday night in Tallinn, Estonia on March 25 was a true milestone for me.  It was history in the making.

Photo by Karli Saul 15

Photographer Karli Saul captures my ring entrance in Estonia in dazzling colors.

I was able to step into the ring in front of a virgin audience, engage them and win them over, making believers in the process, as I fought against a true athletic stud in Vladimir Kulakov of Russia.  This was an international match of epic proportions: the time-tested, world-traveled ring veteran against the younger Russian pro wrestling champion and a literal wolverine amongst his peers.  It was action and reaction, just as professional wrestling should be, in front of an audience that was there with an open mind, ready to make their initial assessment of the grappling game that is professional wrestling.  It was an ambitious endeavor to win over a new fan base and build where no one else had built or wandered before.

Photo by Martin Ahven (2)

Photographer Martin Ahven gets a good shot of the intensity of my match with Kulakov.

It is in this – venturing out into new, uncharted territories – that I take personal gratification in at this stage of my pro wrestling career.  I pioneered the business in Finland back in 2003 along with promoter Patrik Pesola, which launched an entire scene in the country.  My hallmark is set in stone as the most successful professional wrestler ever out of the Nordics and the northern sector of Europe.  My track record globally attests to that claim, and my championship reigns worldwide, along with my lengthy list of name opposition all around the world support that argument.  Now, I need a new mountain to climb.  A new challenge to contest.

Tallinn was the beginning of another chapter in my personal pro wrestling career.  I want to thank the promoter of EST Boxing, Mr. Grinkin, for having the faith to present pro wrestling on his card.  I want to also thank the Estonian media at large for covering the match to the degree that it has received media attention, which you can see e.g. from the link below:

http://sport.delfi.ee/news/voitlussport/poks/delfi-video-esmakordselt-eestis-ameerika-wrestlingu-sou-naerutas-tondiraba-publikut?id=77670846

Every one of us has the chance to build our own legacy in whatever our chosen endeavor is.  The true question is, how much heart do you really have to pursue your ambitions and goals, turning your dreams into a reality?

Life is short.  Make yours spectacular.

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Last night in Helsinki we almost had a tragedy take place.  FCF Wrestling held it’s 10th anniversary of Finland’s equivalent of Wrestlemania, Talvisota X (Winter War 10).  With 500 frantic fans showing up to our mega-show, we had nine matches slated on the card, with the FCF title bout between champion Valentine and challenger King Kong Karhula in the main event.

However, earlier yesterday, we got word that my opponent for the evening, Chaos of Denmark, had been delayed in Copenhagen.  His SAS flight had left for Helsinki and had been turned back after take-off due to a fuel shortage.  SAS rerouted him through Prague later in the day, only to make it to Helsinki airport for 22:30!

Now just me personally, talking not only for myself but for the fans on hand, and in light of the significance of my imprint on the Finnish pro wrestling scene in general, as the pioneer of the sport in our country, for my match to have been left off the card of this 10th anniversary show would have been an all-time low.

Back in 2006, when the first, inaugural Winter War took place in Vantaa, Finland, I was the main event against Bernard Vandamme of Belgium for the Eurostars European championship.  At that event, I won the European title for the first time in my storied career, putting Finnish pro wrestling and FCF as a company on the continental wrestling industry map.

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The night I took the European title off of Bernard Vandamme in 2006

Now, 10 years later, the boys that were in the opening match of the very first Winter War in 2006 found themselves at the top of the card, in the advertised main event of Winter War / Talvisota X this year, a decade later.  Valentine and King Kong Karhula had one hell of a match last night, which stands to be applauded on all levels, and I was amazed at the public reaction to the newly-turned Karhula as a babyface.  It seems that the Finnish fans really vouched for him and have taken him as a fan favorite fore-runner.  Pitted against one of the greatest heels ever – if not THE greatest heel ever – out of the Nordics, Valentine, both challenger and champion tore the house down with a multi-faceted, highly intricate and masterful match.  Valentine retained his strap, but Karhula won over the entire audience with a moral victory.

About half-way through Valentine’s match with Karhula, Chaos arrived at the Töölö Sports Hall, rushed to the venue via taxi to make it for our advertised match.  He had changed into his wrestling gear during the ride to town, and he was primed and ready to go 15 minutes before our match went on.  Talk about a near-miss!

My Eye of the Tiger theme music began to play and I wondered if Chaos and I could follow the stellar main event match set by Valentine and Karhula.  Still, as a 22-year veteran, I knew I could be certain of what I could produce.  I was also dead-certain of what my opponent could produce.  We had an issue to attend to, a rivalry that crossed national boundaries.  I wasn’t expecting a high-flying match or a technical showcase.  No, what I was expecting was a WAR.  And a war I got!

Chaos lambasted me from behind with a steel chair from the blindside as I made my ring entrance, beating me six shades of senseless before I even knew what was going on!  The man tore into me, literally like a pit bull, unrelenting and vicious in his assault.  I found myself literally fighting for my life in there.  There was no surcease, no slowing down, as Chaos just kept the pressure and heat on me.

Yet, I wasn’t succumbing.  I wasn’t laying down or staying down.  This was Winter War 10, dammit!  Winter War, my personal brainchild and concept, which has since been branded and recognized as the most important pro wrestling event annually in the country of Finland!

StarBuck vs Chaos Winter War 10 (3)

Chaos blasts me with a mean uppercut! (photo: Timo Muilu)

My adrenaline started kicking in.  I struggled hard to clear my head of the cobwebs of Chaos’ vicious assault.  I got in one punch… then another… and another.  I rallied hard, fighting back with the intestinal fortitude of a dozen Finnish war veterans that fought hard to retain Finland’s independence in 1940.  I wasn’t just fighting for my professional wrestling heritage in this country, I was fighting for every person at the Töölö Sports Hall that rallied with me.  Every punch and blow that I could land was delivered with the force and emotional investment of the people that believed in me and my personal contribution to pro wrestling in Finland since 2003.  All of a sudden, my fight became larger than life itself in that moment.

StarBuck vs Chaos Winter War 10 (2)

A brief rally that didn’t last too long, but did the damage intended! (photo: Timo Muilu)

I finished the first Winter War with my head held high back in 2006, and I wasn’t willing to leave the ring last night with anything less than that same feeling and raw emotion.  I finally nailed Chaos in the face with a boot as he charged me in the corner.  With the Dane stung, I blasted him with a second rope clothesline that would have done former WWF world champion Bret “Hitman” Hart proud.

After a spirited last-ditch, desperation comeback, I got caught out on the outside of the ring by Chaos, as he ran my kidneys hard into the ring apron.  Rolling me back into the ring, Chaos hit his trademark moonsault and damn near crushed my legs on the landing.  It would be hard to kick out, with my thighs knotted up, but kick out I did!

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Chaos hits a mean moonsault on my fallen corpus (photo: Xeniya Balsara)

 

Chaos picked me up for a side back breaker and then ascended the ropes for another huge moonsault, which he hit perfectly across my chest cavity, knocking the wind out of me.  He went for the cover, but just barely, I managed to kick out once again.

At this point, Chaos seemed to be scrambling for ideas, so he went after the steel chair that he used before the start of the match to beat me senseless.  Bringing the chair to the ring, he prepared to blast me with it, but I hit a superkick into the chair, sending the steel into Chaos’ face and knocking him senseless for a change.

Now was my time.  It was now or never.  I hoisted Chaos for my trademark spike piledriver and dropped him with the very maneuver that has put away competition all over the world during my wrestling travels in 20 countries worldwide.  But… he kicked out!!!

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My piledriver has a match-ending odds on favorite rate of about 98% (photo: Xeniya Balsara)

I was stunned.  Hardly ever had anyone… anyone at all… kicked out of my spike piledriver.  In Japan, “The Japanese Buzzsaw” Tajiri managed to kick out of my piledriver once, and once only.  On that night, Tajiri became the FCF champion back in 2010.  But such are so scarce occasions, that they only happen once in a blue moon, or perhaps, as with most, only once in a lifetime.

I blasted Chaos with yet another spike piledriver and that was finally enough to put away the tough bastard at Winter War 10, as the audience counted with every slap of the referee’s hand against the mat, as Chaos’ shoulders were pinned for the 1-2-3.  And my goodness, the sound of the pop that the live audience emitted at that point could have been registered on the Richter Scale!

What could have been a disastrous night on many levels turned into one of the most satisfying and memorable matches of my 22+ year pro wrestling career.  Thanks to everyone who was on hand, and for those who weren’t, there is a DVD of this event in the works, which will be out in the coming months for sale!

Winter War veterans

The FCF Wrestling veteran crew that has taken part in every single Talvisota / Winter War to 2006 -2016: (left to right) King Kong Karhula, StarBuck, Valentine, Stark Adder (photo: Satu Tapaturma)

 

20-year anniversary of my wrestling debut.

Often I am asked who my favorite pro wrestlers are, which ones have had the biggest impact on my career and style, and who were my idols when I was growing up.  Hereforth, in this special theme blog for Christmas 2011, I offer my top picks to close off the year:

MY TOP 5 WESTERN  PRO WRESTLERS OF ALL TIME

Ric Flair – without doubt, the man who made an indelible impact on me when I was a kid and a youth.  When I first started my wrestling career back in 1994, as a rookie I tried to copy much of the pyschology of Flair in my own matches and mannerisms.  As time wore on, of course I developed my own, trademark image and style, but Slick Ric was the ultimate combo of mic skills, charisma, ring work and larger than life character to aspire to.  Very simply, for many of my generation, The Nature Boy was THE measuring stick which the business was graded by.

Dan Kroffat – I believe his real name is Phil Lafon, but Dan Kroffat was just an amazing talent in both Canada for Gino Brito’s International Wrestling out of Montreal in the 1980’s, as well as Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling, where I believe he was called Phil LaFleur.  A lot of people think I “stole” my superkick from Shawn Michaels, which is not true.  I “borrowed” it from Kroffat, who used to superkick opponents while they were trapped in the ring corner.  Ouch!  Kroffat was one of the greatest, lesser-known talents in the history of the game.

Dick Murdoch – the best puncher that the wrestling industry has seen this side of Killer Karl Kox.  What an amazing talent Murdoch was, from being an ass-clown when he felt like it to wrestling amazing, technical classics like I saw him do against Barry Windham back in 1987 on Bill Watts’ UWF Wrestling show over 45-minutes on TV.  Dick Murdoch was definitely one of the greatest wrestlers never to hold the World Championship, and I borrowed his “cattle brander” knee-to-the-skull top rope bulldog for my own repertoire many years ago.

Tully Blanchard – never have I seen someone do so little and make it mean as much as Tully did in the ring.  Blanchard was the ultimate bad guy, like a mangy mongrel all over his opponents from bell to bell.  His natural cockiness made him easy for the masses to dislike, and he just had a way of carrying himself that I have seen few pro wrestlers master.  His “I Quit” cage match vs. Magnum TA from Starrcade ´85 will forever be remembered as one of the most legitimate outings there is to be seen in pro wrestling.  It’s a shame his career fell off the map in 1989 after being let go/leaving the WWF, after which, by all intents and purposes, he really should have carried on in the NWA as part of The Four Horsemen.

Bret Hart – I was brought up in the wrestling business in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, which happens to be the home of the infamous Hart Family.  I never went out of my way to copy Bret Hart, but I did feel a certain affinity to the way that he orchestrated himself and worked in the ring.  You could call it a case of kindred spirits style-wise.  Bret Hart’s style was not a high-risk deal, and that said, he could be as believable as anyone without taking ridiculous chances with his health.  Bret Hart was smart about his piece of business, and it’s a damn shame that his career ended the way it did in the freak accident he had wrestling against Goldberg at WCW’s Starrcade ’99.

MY TOP 5  JAPANESE  PRO WRESTLERS OF ALL TIME

Keiji Mutoh – I have always liked Mutoh’s style a lot, and this past November in Tokyo, I was finally able to wrestle against him in All-Japan Pro Wrestling, which was a dream come true for me.  Mutoh has incredible ring presence, amazing psychology and impeccable timing.  Basically, the man has all the tools of the trade, and he has kept with the times in changing his gimmick and look to stay fresh, without compromising where he came from.  Just an amazing mind for the pro wrestling trade.

Hiroshi Hase – an amazing talent, and as complete of an all-around worker as there is to be had in the pro wrestling game.  As a booker, Hase was incredibly giving, which is more than can be said for most match bookers who double as wrestlers.  Hase had credibility, in everything that he did, and had so many show-stealing matches that anyone could easily lose count.  Hase could make anyone look good, and that in itself is a feat in our business.

Mitsuhara Misawa – the late, great Misawa certainly took too many risks and ended up paying for them with his health before his untimely death a couple of years back, but it was hard to beat Misawa at his prime.  The man mastered his craft and stayed on top as a main player for over 15 years, which is an amazing accomplishment any way you look at it.  Misawa also spearheaded All-Japan Wrestling in the 1990’s, post-Tsuruta, driving the company to great success before moving on with his own NOAH promotion, which seemingly was the #1 company in Japan for a spell before eternity called Misawa to the other side.

Riki Choshu – The last two picks in this short list are a bit of a toss-up.  I was going to pick NOAH’s KENTA, but he has not yet proven himself on the longevity level.  Anyone with under 10 years of experience really cannot be considered yet.  I was going to pick Antonio Inoki amongst the last two, but considering he was the promoter of New Japan, I felt perhaps he had a bit too much leverage in terms of a tilted playing field.  When I was a kid, I first saw Riki Choshu in a match on a VHS tape against legendary shooter Fujiwara.  The thing that struck me straight away about Choshu was the fact that he came off as a rebel, kind of a Japanese rock and roller, with his long hair and aggressive energy.  The more I saw of Choshu’s matches, the more I liked his work.  At his best, Choshu was hard to beat, and could really make the people believe in what he did.

Tatsumi Fujinami – I really struggled between Fujinami and Jumbo Tsuruta for the last pick.  Before moving up to the heavyweights, Fujinami was a damn fine junior heavyweight, and I still recall one of his stellar matches against the Dynamite Kid in Japan, which was one hell of a hard-hitting altercation.  Fujinami had that special something, an explosive dynamic about him, which made watching his matches truly enjoyable.  The fact that he still moves at a surprisingly good pace at his age today is a testament in and of itself, and I am amazed that his knees are still holding up sans kneepads after all these years!

BEST OF THE REST

There have been numerous other personas and key factors that have played a part in StarBuck becoming what I am today in the pro wrestling world and beyond.  Irish wrestler Dave “Fit” Finlay, whom I lost the SMASH Championship to back on November 24, 2011 is one of mat technicians that I highly respect.  British ring generals Mark Rocco, Dynamite Kid and Johnny Saint all rate highly in my book also.  North American top wrestling stars of the past like Arn Anderson, Barry Windham, Ricky Steamboat and The Road Warriors all offered valuable learning material.  Comic book heroes from my youth like Conan The Barbarian and The Incredible Hulk, in addition to Godzilla, all left an indelible imprint on the formation of my psyche.  The action movies of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone did their part in impacting me in my youth, in addition to perhaps my favorite flick of all time, Mel Gibson’s Mad Max II: The Road Warrior.  Several top wrestlers of the past decade from Chris Benoit to Shawn Michaels to Triple H have all made a notable imprint, especially in terms of being able to draw from their ring psychology, pacing and idiosyncracies.

So all in all, there have been a whole slew of personas and greats that have really “lent” a hand in the formation of StarBuck as a professional wrestler.  Perhaps I’ll post a blog about which musical influences played the biggest impact on my rock frontman career over the past 12 years, but maybe you’ll have to wait for that one to start off 2012.