Posts Tagged ‘Chris Jericho’

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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One week from today, it’ll be time to lace up the proverbial boots and step into the pro wrestling ring for the first match of 2016.  Just this past week, on January 7, I passed my 22-year mark since my first live wresting match as an active competitor.  Now, here in 2016, this old dog is still alive and kicking.

Hell, I’m sure there are some that would just wish an old warhorse like me would die out and fade away, but that just ain’t happening.  Not yet.  I will be the one to dictate when and where, barring serious injury or an Act of God.

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There are days that I wonder how long I will want to keep up actively wrestling.  There is a limit to all things, a bump card that keeps filling up, and every year, I just have to find a way to wrestle smarter and navigate better.  It’s a challenge, but one that I embrace.  After all, at heart, I am a fighter.

At 42-years of age, I look at many contemporaries in our business and size myself up against them.  Old friends like Chris Jericho are a mere couple years older than me, and still in good stride, able to compete at the highest level.  My old wrestling coach Lance Storm of Storm Wrestling Academy in Calgary, Canada, gets in the ring daily with his wrestling students and has actual matches against them to help them improve, and Lance is three years my senior.  Heck, when I lost the SMASH championship title to Dave “Fit” Finlay in 2011 in Tokyo, the legendary Irishman was just over 50 at that point, and he ran me ragged!

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Dave Finlay was an absolute beast inside of that ring past the age of 50!

Alas, here in 2016, I sit at my desktop computer, writing this blog, and I ponder my own situation.  I’ve been at this grappling game for a good number of years now, putting in the miles, flying here and there, up against the best competition around the globe.  I look at a guy like Keiji Muto in Japan, a man whom I look up to greatly for his legacy and longevity in our business, and see how beat up his knees are past the age of 50 now.  I think of guys like Triple H, in his mid-40s now, wrestling a very limited schedule, with only a few shots a year at most.  And then there is The Undertaker, who continues to hang on, also grappling a mere few times a year, as everyone asks when his last Wrestlemania moment will be.

As a veteran, it’s hard to hang it up, because at the heart of it all, we are all fans of this game.  Look at Terry Funk, the legendary old NWA World champion and hardcore wrestling legend.  He could never exorcise the wrestler out of his system, and the number of his announced “retirements” has been baffling.  That’s because Terry Funk loves pro wrestling.  Just like the other veterans out there, who refuse to die out and fade away.

I recall Bret “Hitman” Hart saying in his autobiography, that he never wanted anyone to see him wrestle as an old fart, past his due date.  I can relate to that, as it becomes a matter of personal pride in your own legacy and accomplishments.  You don’t want to be in a place where you are just a shell of what you used to be at your prime.  As long as you can produce top-notch matches and carry your personal piece of business with your head held high, I say go.  Don’t let anyone stop you.

And so it is in 2016, that 22 years into the pro wrestling game, I look at the date of January 16 at the Pressa Club in Helsinki.  I look at the match I will have that night and the tag team partner that I am paired with that evening: Stark Adder.

Adder is another veteran, a year older than Yours Truly, but equally a warhorse of high fortitude and morale that keeps the flame alive.  We’ve fought each other numerous times over the past decade, and we have nothing but the highest mutual respect for one another.

Now, on January 16, Adder and I will join forces to do battle with Adder’s former tag team partner and ex-protege, Ricky Vendetta, and his partner, FCF champion, Valentine.  This is a huge tag match on paper, a monumental bout that will see Adder and Vendetta lock horns for the first time since Vendetta turned on his former mentor about a half-year ago.

I warmly welcome you all out to Helsinki on January 16 to see what very well may be deemed as “The Veteran’s League”, as we clash with the kind of opposition that will surely translate into a classic match at the Pressa Club in Helsinki, with a showtime start of 18:00 and doors opening at 17:30, tickets 20e/person.

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20-year anniversary of my wrestling debut.

Today as I opened my Facebook, I was greeted by my old pro wrestling coach Lance Storm, who reminded me that today – January 7 – marks the 20-year anniversary of my very first wrestling match, which was coincidentally against Lance himself.  The bout was held at the Victoria Park Civic Center, next to the legendary Calgary Saddledome, on the premises of which Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling used to run, at the old Corral.

The story behind my debut against Lance Storm is a peculiar one.  Over the course of 1993, Lance and I were training partners at The Gym in Calgary, where we would train together three times a week.  During our weightlifting sessions, Lance one day told me: “I see the passion that you have for pro wrestling.  If you want, I will train you.”

Did I take to his offer like a fish to water?  You bet I did!

Lance had a guy coming in from Australia for wrestling training, and he needed a sparring partner for the guy.  Never did Lance even once ask me to pay him a single penny for coaching me back then.  He did it out of friendship, to help out a poor 20-year-old kid, who had a big dream.  For that, I am forever grateful to him.

My first official promo pic from 1994 (photo by Sam Leppänen)

My first official promo pic from 1994 (photo by Sam Leppänen)

The promoter of Rocky Mountain Pro Wrestling, for whom I worked as a ring announcer at the time, and for whom Lance wrestled, did not like me at all.  His name was Ed Langley, and for anyone who would like to get an understanding of who is in question, I warmly recommend that you read my old buddy Chris Jericho’s stellar life story, A Lion’s Tale.  To make a long story short, Ed Langley hated my guts for whatever reason.  He tried to blackball me already back when Beef Wellington was running the show by dispelling bullshit stories that I was trash-talking the RMPW operation to Smith Hart, older brother of former WWF/WCW champion, Bret “Hitman” Hart.  Ed Langley ousted me for a few months from RMPW when he took over as promoter in 1993, but once my other old wrestling coach Karl Moffat (Jason the Terrible in Stampede Wrestling and for Carlos Colon’s WWC in Puerto Rico) took over as booker, I was brought back into the fold.

I told Lance of Ed Langley’s disdain for my person, concerned that Ed would not allow me to train at the Hart Bros. Wrestling School, which Ed more or less headed up, and for which Lance was a trainer.  Even though the Aussie guy was slated to come in, Lance told me: “If Ed doesn’t want you, then I won’t do it.”

There’s a lot of water under the bridge, but that’s something I won’t ever forget.  I remember where I came from, I recall my roots.  I’ve never gotten a big head over the success that I have enjoyed in professional wrestling, because if it wasn’t for Lance, who even vouched to be my first opponent and set me off properly onto my trek into the wrestling world, maybe I wouldn’t be part of the game today.  Lance gave me a competitive seven-minute match, letting me shine in the process, and in so doing, he was very unselfish.  I should also mention, that Chris Jericho gave me and old pair of his wrestling boots and lent me a pair of his Sudden Impact (his tag team in Canada with Lance) tights to get me started as an active grappler for that match.

Me against Lance Storm in my very first match ever (photo by Rob Haynes)

Me against Lance Storm in my very first match ever (photo by Rob Haynes)

So for the 20th anniversary of my wrestling debut, I would like to dedicate this memory to Lance Storm – a hell of guy and a great wrestling coach to boot!

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For anyone who would like to do a little follow-up reading to this blog about the early stages of my career, Slam! Wrestling’s website out of Canada has an extensive article on me, which can be accessed HERE – it’s worth the read!

For a long time now, I have not bothered taking on any new protege’s in pro wrestling, as I just have not had the spark to do so.  In 2007, I took on Pasi “Salama” Suominen, whose career ended prematurely, less than two years into his pro wrestling life, after he lost heart following an elbow injury that required surgery in late 2008.  In 2010, I took on Japan’s Hajime Ohara, and our collaboration disintegrated over the summer of last year.  After that, I just haven’t had the interest to pick up the next “project”.  I have not seen the needed heart, drive and attitude in anyone … until now.

Academic standout and funny guy Mikko Maestro might fool a lot of people with his comical shtick, but underneath that exterior image is a kid whose heart burns for this business.  He might not be the most talented kid out there, he might be a bit rough around the edges, and he might be a jackass for real, but this kid has the one thing that a lot of people in this business are missing: Heart.

TS7 tag match

I faced Maestro this past summer in Kerava, Finland, and tested the kid good and proper.  He lost rather decisively, but he didn’t lose heart.  Instead, he’d continue to ask me for advice on how to improve his personal game time and time again.  When I proposed to my fiancee Diana this past January 4th in Lohja, Finland, I even decided to ask Maestro to bring the engagement ring to the wrestling ring, so I could take care of business and ditch the bachelor life.  It was a big moment for Maestro, who understood that out of everyone in the FCF Wrestling locker room, I chose him to the courier in that memorable moment.

SB proposes

You can teach someone to wrestle, you can teach someone the psychology of mat warfare, you can teach someone proper etiquette … but the one thing that you cannot teach is the intangible element of heart.  You either have it or you don’t.  When push comes to shove, when injuries arise and when the business and those inside of it treat you like shit, your real passion and drive come to light.  Some just wither and fade away in the heat of those negative barbs, whereas others rise to the occasion and work through the disparaging elements.

When I started out in the wrestling business as an active competitor in January 1994, I was not the most talented guy out there.  In my second or third match, I recall my coach Lance Storm and my friend Chris “Y2J” Jericho sitting in the audience of an indie wrestling card in North Bay, Ontario.  I took a leap off the second turnbuckle out of the corner at my opponent, attempting to hit him with a clothesline.  My well-meant attempt was met with Jericho’s disparaging remark after the match, when he asked “Did you slip off the ropes?”.  Yeah, that was not the message I was trying to get across.  It took a long time for me to become a world-class athlete and one of the best out of Europe today.  It demanded years of immersion, a humble attitude, incessant tunnel vision and TONS of heart … but I “got there”.  I became a 3-time European wrestling champion, and a titleholder in many other countries.  I faced the best of the best, and ultimately I was pushed to become the best at my chosen game and profession.

TVII_maestro_info_card

Now, at Talvisota VII on February 2nd in Helsinki at Sokos Hotel Presidentti, I will take on a new protege in Mikko Maestro.  We are up against my old nemesis and Finnish wrestling veteran Stark Adder and his new protege, Ricky Vendetta.  After all, it was Adder to whom I lost the Finnish title back on May 26, 2006 in Helsinki.  Now, it’s the old dogs and the new pups on both sides of the fence.  It’s a matter of mentorship, and moreso, a matter of personal pride.  As Vendetta is to Adder, so Maestro is to me: They are our personal investments, and we are their impresarios.

To many, Maestro might still be a joke.  It is my personal agenda to make the wrestling public take note of Mikko Maestro as a serious competitor, to push him to become more, to show the world that under the right guidance, he can become a force to be reckoned with.  It might be a rocky road ahead, but dammit, I have walked the straight and narrow all my life.  I am used to the hard road.  Now, Mikko Maestro has the opportunity to learn through integration, and he is willing to sweat, bleed and pay the price, as 16-time world champion “Nature Boy” Ric Flair so aptly coined.

Prepare.  February 2, 2o13.  Talvisota VII.  Helsinki.

Talvisota VII

02.02.2013 @ 18:00

Sokos Hotel Presidentti

Eteläinen Rautatiekatu 4, Helsinki

Tickets in advance: 12e, at the door: 15e (+ door charge)

Pre-order tickets here: www.fightclubfinland.fi/kauppa

Pre-orders close on 27.01.13