Posts Tagged ‘Lance Storm’

Recently, I’ve thought about doing select interviews from an industry perspective with certain standout contemporaries in the pro wrestling business.  I figured these would work as useful education and insight to aspiring young wrestlers and those looking to break into pro wrestling alike.

So it is, that I come to my first installment of what I call Talking Shop,with Tom La Ruffa, who wrestled extensively in both WWE’s NXT as well as TNA Impact Wrestling.  Tom is one of those people, who has “been there,” and thus, is able to shed some light on what it takes to “get there” for those amongst you who have that elusive dream of making it to the big time in pro wrestling.

So, let’s get busy Talking Shop: with Tom La Ruffa!

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1. Thanks for giving your time to do this piece, Tom.  You’ve done a lot in pro wrestling since I last saw you on some of the same shows in France back in early 2009.  Even back then, you were wrestling some damn good, solid matches against Robin Lekime, against whom you worked a program for quite awhile.  What are your memories of that said program?
Thanks, Michael. Always a pleasure to talk with a veteran like you. Indeed it’s been quite a while and a lot has happened to me since these big shows in France with the Wrestling Stars promotion. Actually I remember we started pretty much at the same time with them. At that time, WS in France was one of Europe’s best promotions. Three to five shows every week, sold out most of the time. It was never anything big on the internet, because of its old-school, keep-it-kayfabe-and-underground mentality, but I LOVED it.
It is indeed in Wrestling Stars that I learned that being a good wrestler isn’t enough to truly connect with a mainstream audience. You will connect with the wrestling FAN, but to truly reach an entire crowd and different part of a demographic, you need a STRONG character that the crowd can relate to or understand easily.
That program with Sir Robin truly allowed me to connect deeply with my Greco-Roman character, which I was only playing with at the time.
Robin, alongside his valet, Janine, was such a STRONG heel in his aristocrat character that my Spartan character immediately stood out as a strong babyface, and for the dozens of matches we had together, we killed it every night, because not only did we have good wrestling chemistry, but the story of our matches were perfect for our characters.

2. You were trained by the same guy that trained me also, Lance Storm, in Calgary, Canada.  What year were you trained in?  Were there any other notables in your class that went on to become someone in the wrestling world?  What made you choose Lance’s Storm Wrestling Academy and how did you experience Lance as a coach?

I trained with Lance during the last quarter of 2006.

I enrolled in his school after years of amateur wrestling, kick boxing and gym. My goal was to go there in the best shape possible, because an endorsement for his school by Tommy Dreamer on the Storm Wrestling Academy website said something like Dreamer (head of WWE talent relations at the time) would not ask for a tape or a picture to give a try-out to a guy that Lance would put his name on. I’ve always thought that if you want to be the best, you’ve got to learn from the best. And that’s what I did. I never regretted it.

Nobody from my class really made it to the big time, but Tyler Breeze was in the session right after mine, I believe.

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In over 12 years of running his school, I believe Lance is the trainer that had the most students that made it to the big leagues, worldwide.

Why? Because he’s been there. He’s been head of developmental in OVW (Ohio Valley Wretling, a prior WWE farm league). He knows what it takes to make it. He’s the one teaching you, and most of all, he’s not full of BS, unlike A LOT of people in this industry. He gives you all the tools, then it’s your hard work that’s gonna make the difference. I loved it, and after my 12 weeks camp in Calgary with him, I knew I already knew more than any of the French talents I went on to face back in France.

3. What year did you get signed to NXT and what route did you go getting your try-out and hook-up with WWE?

I got offered a WWE deal early 2012, after a 2 days try out in Liverpool in November 2011.

I want to believe my signing was a slow process, but you can never know for sure.

I first got backstage as an extra for WWE in 2008 in California. But I was MILES away from being anywhere near ready at that stage. But it made me realize what I HAD to work more to get truly noticed. I actually had a one-on-one talk with John Laurinaitis (former head of WWE talent relations) at these shows in 2008, and I told him that I wouldn’t want to be in WWE to be a low or mid-card guy. I wanted to be THE top guy, so I needed more time to get ready…

So, I went back to the drawing boards in Europe. Worked on my body. Started working with WS, which allowed me to get enough ring time and connections throughout Europe to build my brand/name.

But it truly was the World Of Hurt TV reality show from 2010-11, that we filmed with Lance, that got WWE to notice me again. 

 

The show made such a big impact on the dirt sheets back in those days, especially with Brian Alvarez, that the WWE European scouts contacted me and offered me to try out that year.

The rest, as we say, is history…

4. How many years did you spend with NXT and what are the most important things that you learned in your wrestling education under the WWE banner?

I worked for NXT/WWE for three years and a half.

To list all the things I learned about the business there would be nearly impossible. Training everyday there made me so much better in the ring, working on the small things with some of the best coaches in the world, like Terry Taylor, Norman Smiley, Joey Mercury, Billy Gunn and Robbie Brookside to name a few…

I think the biggest lesson I learned was that “wrestling is an opinion” like Steve Keirn would always say back in FCW (Florida Championship Wrestling). And the only opinion that truly matters about you and for your career is the boss’. No one else. To put it simply, in Europe, I was a Spartan slaying giants in the ring, with the crowd loving me for it. In the USA, in the WWE, the officials just saw me as a loud-mouthed, arrogant Frenchman. I didn’t mind it, because I played the part well, and I love being a heel. But in the end, you can only go so far as a semi-comedy act.

5. Why did you leave NXT and how do you feel today about that departure?

So now I believe you see why my tenure with NXT ended. I didn’t ask for my release. I would never have done this as: 1) I had worked WAY TOO HARD to give up on a WWE contract, and 2) I respected this opportunity given to me (the first for a Frenchman since Andre the Giant) way too much to spit in the face of all my fellow Europeans that would die for a job there, by quitting.

But as the months and years rolled by, my body not getting any younger or healthier (I had two major knee injuries while in NXT). I started feeling miserable about not being used, while at the same time, they were bringing in so many indy guys, not even under contracts, and giving them TV exposure while I knew I was for the most part, as good, if not better than them, especially on the microphone.

It really started getting to us (me and my tag partner, Marcus Louis aka Baron Dax) and we expressed our feelings several times to officials.

The thing is, I knew the office loved me as a manager when I was nursing my first knee injury. And two, we knew our French tag team, The Legionnaires, was also a big hit with the crowd, and could have been huge on the main roster. Just put us on TV with a French flag, and you have heat…

So in the end, instead of keeping us under contract to do nothing, WWE released us with no hard feelings. Just the “we don’t know how to use you” deal.

It was totally fine by us, as we went on to sign with TNA and had a nice one-year run there working TV’s every week!

Tom LaRuffa vs Jeff Hardy TNA

Tom battles Jeff Hardy in TNA

6. What are the biggest changes or tweaks that you had to make to adjust the WWE way of doing thing, in terms of your in-ring work and character presentation?

To me, I’ve always protected my work and my brand. Remember in WS when we would keep kayfabe to the max? To me it’s the only way to go. If a fan boos me during a match, don’t expect me to go shake his hand after the show, because deep inside, at one part of that match, I hated that mf’er for booing me, so I wanna keep it that way. Plus, the guy paid to see me, so I’m not gonna be his buddy after the show. You gotta keep  your “star power.”

So, this protection also goes with how you work in the ring and how you present yourself outside of the ring. If you want to be a star, you have to look like one.

WWE allowed me to push that mentality to the extreme!

I was on 24/7. I bought, while living in Florida, about a dozen different suits, all in different colors. I had to look the part, especially at TV tapings, because that’s where all the big players were present (Triple H, William Regal, Dusty Rhodes, Michael Hayes, Michael Cole…). I wasn’t gonna make head turn with my size but I sure would make them turn with the way I looked.

And I did. All the coaches kept praising me for it. Everybody else was showing up in plain black or dark suits, I would be there in bright red, yellow or baby blue suits, just to look special. And it worked. I made it to TV before a lot of these guys.

As for in-ring work, I mainly had to adapt working TV’s, which means working for the camera 90% of the time. The other 10% are for the crowd who you keep your back turned to most of the time but don’t want to kill at the same time…

7. How important do you hold one’s gimmick to be in today’s pro wrestling marketplace?  What would you say is the overall, most important attribute that a pro wrestler must have in order to be successful in today’s wrestling world?

Lol, I think I already started answering that question…

But I will quote Paul Heyman on that one. I once had the huge opportunity to talk to him. That’s something every aspiring wrestler should do: go ask questions from the people that have been THERE, people that we all watched on TV…

I went up to Paul and asked him one single question, because we were at RAW, and I didn’t want to bother him. So I had to think of a good one, one where I could learn from the answer… so I asked him “With all the stars you’ve managed over the years, people like Steve Austin, Rick Rude, Lesnar… what was the common thing in them that made them connect so much with the crowds?”

He thought for several seconds, and told me it was the best question he had ever been asked.

True or not, I don’t know if he was telling the truth, but this is something everybody in this business should be aware of: we don’t perform for us or for internet people, we perform for the crowd paying to see us in the arena or on TV. So you HAVE to make them react. Whether it’s with your body, your looks, your personality, your wrestling skills… you have to bring something to the table that’s gonna make people go “WOW! That guy has something, I gotta keep watching!”… in other words, you have a to create a CONNECTION with the crowd.

Paul Heyman summed it up the best with his answer to my question: “All of these guys I managed throughout the years, when they walked through the curtain, they KNEW they were a star”.

Paul-Heyman-and-Brock-Lesnar

8. What advice would you have for any aspiring, young talents looking to get a try-out with WWE?  What should they look out for?  What should they definitely not do?  What specifically should they do?

Most of all, go to the gym. Get in shape. I’m not saying “be like Batista” (even though that wouldn’t hurt someone’s career!!), but look special. Look like a star. Look like you can beat someone up (and actually, be able to beat someone up is always useful, so do combat sports, too).

Keep in mind, WWE is run by Vince McMahon, HHH and Stephanie McMahon, all three being gym freaks. If you want to impress them, impress them at their own game.

Everything else, including wrestling and psychology, comes second, because if they hire you to send you to developmental, they will start from scratch and teach you THEIR basics.

So keeping this in mind.  Of course, it can not hurt to go to the wrestling school of a true pro, someone who made it in the business, especially internationally. They will teach you the right stuff, like Lance did with both of us.

Also I wanna point again to the combat sport thing. It will teach you the right instincts and positioning of a fight. William Regal would always quote Fit Finlay: “Most people don’t know how to sell because they never took a beating in their life.” This is the sad truth. Young guys now watch WWE or indy stuff and they reproduce the selling they see on their screen, instead of living, feeling, and selling from their heart. 

And to truly live and feel a WRESTLING match, it won’t hurt at all to be used to fighting competition like amateur wrestling, boxing or MMA.

WWE nowadays is BIG on realism. Phony, over the top, comedy wrestling is a big no-no there now.

Also, with the WWE Network now, WWE started hiring and pushing independent talents. If you can’t get signed right away, keep pushing and try to make it outside of WWE. If you’re really good, they will always end up contacting you…

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9. For a time, you also worked for TNA Impact Wrestling after your NXT departure.  What are the biggest differences in the in-ring styles between the two offices?  What are the differences in their approach to treating contracted talent?

Dude, I loved my time in TNA. It almost felt like all the training myself and Mikael (Marcus Louis/Baron Dax) went through at the Performance Center was made for us to deliver on Impact TV. This was an awesome time. To sum up best my time in TNA, I will quote Simon Diamond, our agent for our try-out match there, who got us signed right away afterwards. This advice was such an eye opener to what wrestling truly feels like to me.

In NXT, remember you’re given a script, a character, and you’re not allowed to stray from it.

So we show up in TNA, we get a TV MATCH for a try-out, and so I ask Pat (Simon) before our match whether he wanted us as a French badass duo, or moreso a French stereotype comedy/anti-USA heel act. We had a promo and a match, total segment on TV 18 minutes. This was a HUGE opportunity.

His answer was the best thing I’ve ever been told in my career: “Consider these 18-minutes like your job interview. Show us why we should sign you.”

The rest is here:

We got offered a deal 10-minutes after walking back through the curtain.

10. What all do you think it would take for TNA to become viable competition for WWE?

Wow, that’s a tough question. I don’t think I’m quite experienced enough in the business to give the right answer to that one.

I think it would simply come down to finding the right investors. With money, you can do anything. 

WCW got in the way of WWF at the time by having enough money to secure/steal HUGE stars like Hogan, Hall and Nash, and put their product on national TV at prime time. 

Without Ted Turner’s money, none of it would have been possible…

With enough money, TNA could definitely breed their own stars, while at the same time, bring in HUGE, current names like maybe CM Punk or people outside of wrestling, to get more media attention.

11. You have now returned to Europe, and you are back living in France.  How do you see the European wrestling market these days?  What is your view of the general, overall health of the professional wrestling game on a continental scale here in 2017?

It really depends on how and where you look at the industry here.

I consider wrestling a JOB. A PROFESSION. Which means you should be able to make a living out of it, or at least be treated like a true pro, especially after the career I’ve had so far, working with the two biggest companies in the world, each time making it to TV’s, quite regularly.

I don’t think there are that many workers in Europe who’ve done what I’ve done, and I say this in all modesty. It’s just a fact.

So keeping this in mind, I feel like I should be paid according to the knowledge, talent and brand that I bring to the table.

In France, nobody can hire me, because the business has become such shit that fan promotions now steal shows from true pros/veteran promotions.

I think that is a big problem. To truly bring something to the business, you have to understand it, and most of all have a goal to MAKE MONEY with it.

Nowadays, everybody buys wrestling rings, because they want to fulfill their WWE fantasies in their own backyard/town. Some people say it’s awesome, because you have 10 wrestling shows every weekend.

I say IT SUCKS, because it takes away the uniqueness you need to be able, or even just be allowed, to step through the ropes.

Wrestling is A LOT about presentation. The gift needs to be good, but the wrapping does A LOT of the work of selling you on it. These indy fan promotions usually don’t have enough money to present a truly unique product. They just set up a ring in a room or worse, a field or a street, and they have their wrestlers come out of a fucking BARN. How the hell do you wanna be considered a star walking out of a muddy barn, or a dusty shitty looking locker room?

Anyway… I’m a bit pessimistic here, but the problem is you can love wrestling all you want, once you’ve known and worked for some of the best companies in the world, it only goes downhill from there.

I still love wrestling, performing and entertaining people with my abilities. But Im also 33 years old, had two knee surgeries, so I need to be smart and pick my battles/bookings accordingly.

Luckily there are a few promotions out there in Europe that have a GREAT product. To me right now, Germany is awesome and treats me super well. I love the German fans and promotions that bring me in. 

12. What is it that you wish to still achieve in the wrestling world?  Have you achieved your main goals, or is the big one still waiting to be realized?

Like everyone else, I’d love to make a tour or two of Japan. But unlike a lot of “workers” nowadays, I don’t want to pay for my plane ticket to go there, as this is the kind of stuff that kills the biz for us.

To be honest, my original goal wasn’t WWE or the US. It was Japan. I always thought that considering my size (5’10 and about 205 lbs) I would need to travel the world to get noticed by WWE. So I worked so hard to get there, that I eventually started getting pretty good, and this allowed me to go try out for WWE with enough confidence.

So this is why no matter what you set your mind on achieving, always go for it, because you never know where you’ll end up.

As of now, my career is riding along nicely. I’d love to wrestle in countries I’ve never been to. Wrestling is good in that aspect, that it allows you to travel the world and get paid for it.

Also, someone really needs to do something about how bad the biz has gotten in France. I’m thinking about opening a school there down the line.

Tom LaRuffa vs Enzo Amore NXT Takeover

13.  What advice would you give to anyone looking to break into the wrestling business, regardless of where they live?

First of, learn how to speak English.

Secondly, be aware it is a job, not a passion. Be ready to spend money to make some: spend money on a good wrestling school, your body, your gear, travel to get more experience. So be ready to make a lot of sacrifices, too. All of my relationships ended because of wrestling during my twenties.

I also have a saying: if you want to be the best, you have to learn from the best.

Read books, biographies, interviews of people who have been where you wanna go. Learn from them…

14. Thanks for your time.  It’s been cool to reconnect with you after all these years.  Perhaps down the road, we’ll butt heads in the ring somewhere.  In closing, the floor is yours.  Any last words or comments you wish to state?

Thanks for asking the right questions! This is why I do very few interviews online, especially with fans, because the conversation quickly goes to “who was your best friend in WWE?” Things like that won’t bring anything to the table…

Maybe in closing, I will say why I have been so long-winded with my answers: out of respect for you, StarBuck. Even though our paths haven’t crossed in many years, and I have done A LOT since 2009, I still consider you to be my elder in this business and have respect for you. So for your website starbuck.fi, I wanted to really give an in-depth testimony about my path over there in the States, so that potentially, aspiring young wrestlers could be inspired by this, if they have the courage to read it all…

Thanks again for giving me the stage, and yes, hopefully we will wrestle one-on-one soon!

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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.

valentinericky_adderbuck

With another year gone in the history books, I’d like to glance back and assess the past 12 months both personally and professionally.

The last two years have really been life-altering times of change for me. In 2013 I got married, starting a new chapter of my life. Professionally speaking, 2014 signalled the end of the WNC (Wrestling New Classic) organization that I grappled for, marking the close of an era there also. The financial crunch in Europe began to sting and affect businesses across the board, spreading to Asia, including professional wrestling. Less shows were in the offering and the money just wasn’t there. I find myself amongst the hard-nosed veterans of the grappling game who find themselves working a limited number of dates due the poorly paying scene in general, not counting a few decent promotions on the grappling map who are still putting out top dollar for top talent still. 2014 was no cake-walk for independent pro wrestling, folks.

Yet, 2014 was musically one of the better years that I recall as of late. With my southern rock act Crossfyre we blazed across Europe and all around Finland over 2014, having one helluva time! We toured Poland, Estonia and Germany at the start of the summer and hit a slew of summer festivals and biker gigs to boot domestically. I got to see Lithuania and Latvia in transition between countries on tour and overall it was great experience. Crossfyre really evolved even further over 2014 as a working man’s hard working band, and for that, I am proud.

2014 started off with a bang, as fast food giant Subway had me play the lead and do the voice-over for their American Steak House Melt sub sandwich. I got to play my redneck self, complete with my Michael Hayes-like finger mannerisms, familiar to wrestling fans far and wide, who’ve seen ”The Rebel” StarBuck in action.

2014 also marked my 20th anniversary since debuting as an active combatant in the world of pro wrestling. On January 7 this past year, my old wrestling coach Lance Storm sent me a public message on Facebook, congratulating me on my career milestone. It was Lance who was my first opponent, whom I had a very decent 7-minute match with back in Calgary, Canada in my debut bout. Since that time, I’ve gone on to see the world, kick ass and take names far and wide. Thank again, Lance, for setting me off on that fantastic journey!

Speaking of pro wrestling, FCF started off 2014 with a bang on January 11 in Helsinki, as my four-man team of Mikko Maestro, Sly Sebastian, Kristian Kurki and Yours Truly downed the team of Valentine, Conny Mejsel, Steinbolt and Robert Holmström in a hellacious Survivor Series-style elimination match. This tag bout stands out as one of my personal favorites from 2014, as everyone clicked on all cylinders and the action was hot and heavy-handed.

In another huge tag team outing, I teamed with FCF’s King Kong Karhula against the duo of Sweden’s Conny Mejsel and Harley Rage in Gothenburg on February 1, which turned out to be perhaps the hottest tag team match that I have ever wrestled. I am speaking solely about fan reaction to the bout here, but I am in no way undermining the quality of the wrestling in that match. Everyone brought their A-game to the show, and I am glad that my Spandex Sapiens movie producer Oskari Pastila was able to come and film the bout, because this crowd and atmosphere was most definitely worth capturing on film.

The Gothenburg fans went bananas when their hero Conny Mesjel got the upper hand on me.

The Gothenburg fans went bananas when their hero Conny Mesjel got the upper hand on me.

Speaking of Spandex Sapiens, premature expectations had the 100-minute documentary movie about my persona and wrestling career coming out in 2014. Yet, director Pastila decided to wait out the possible financial commitments of various third parties before tending to the actual release, and thus, the movie debut was delayed until 2015. Now, the release has been set for autumn 2015 and all signs are go at this point. I personally can’t wait! In addition, 2015 will mark the return of Mad Max to the silver screen, as Fury Road comes out in the summer. When I was a kid, Mad Max: The Road Warrior was my favorite movie.

2014 also saw Yours Truly doing a guest DJ spot on Finland’s top rock radio station, Radio Rock. This was a personal milestone for me, much like getting featured in an exclusive article in Hustler magazine several years ago (true story!) about my wrestling career (Hustler publisher and boss Larry Flynt has always been an icon to me as an anti-establishment kind of guy who swims against the stream at large). I got the opportunity to play whatever I wanted, chosing obscure songs by lesser-known bands like Living Sacrifice, Bolt Thrower and even my own bands, Overnight Sensation and Crossfyre. Talk about a great PR opportunity!

February 27, 2014 was a huge day for me in my wrestling career. I defeated ”The Japanese Buzzsaw” Tajiri for the WNC championship in Tokyo, capturing my second title in Japan to date (I became the first champion in SMASH history back in October 2011, also defeating Tajiri then in a tournament final). Tajiri is arguably my greatest nemesis of all time, over the entire span of my wrestling career. He and I have waged numerous wars, both in Japan and Finland, and I am honored to have had such a great fighting chemistry with him.

One week after winning the WNC title, I hit an all-time career low, as I lost both the WNC championship and the BWA (British Wrestling Alliance) Catchweight belt in the same night at FCF Wrestling’s biggest annual showcase event, Talvisota VIII, on March 8. With my wife Diana as my wrestling valet, I also put her career on the line against Valentine in what I can now assess was a bad case of overconfidence on my part. Valentine pulled out a tainted win, complete with brass knuckles, as I lost the BWA title to him. Immediately thereafter, Belgian powerhouse Bernard Vandamme demanded that I wrestle him and defend the WNC title. Never one to back down from a fight, I valiantly did my best, losing in grand fashion in two minutes. It was possibly the lowest point of my career, and it haunted me for the rest of the year in all of my Finnish matches. I can see now, that it was psychologically a demon and monkey on my back, losing my wife as my valet, along with two championships, in one night. In 2015, I plan to rid myself of that jinx for good.

I was able to grapple again in Belgium in March 2014, this time laying waste to a promising young rookie named Tyson Heel out of Andorra, along with a return to Germany to wrestle for EPW. Things were going great for me outside of Finland, as the wins kept coming, but my jinx returned when FCF’s Jatkosota 2014 rolled around on April 12 in Helsinki once again. In a six-man tag team match, my team of Sly Sebastian, Kristian Kurki and myself lost to Heimo Ukonselkä, Stark Adder and Ricky Vendetta when Ukonselkä assisted Vendetta in gaining a pinfall over this disgruntled Rebel. Ricky Vendetta would go on to brag and boast about gaining the biggest pin of his career, shooting his mouth off all throughout 2014 at my expense. Vendetta became a real thorn in my hide at this point.

I became embroiled in a bitter rivalry with young Ricky Vendetta this year (photo: Marko Simonen).

I became embroiled in a bitter rivalry with young Ricky Vendetta this year (photo: Marko Simonen).

2014 marked my 19th country in pro wrestling, as I went to Holland to wrestle for a fabuolus company called Dutch Pro Wrestling on June 1 against Bernard Vandamme. I was out looking to avenge myself and beat Vandamme into the ground, but as fate would have it, Vandamme found a way to thwart my end goal, eeking out another victory over Yours Truly. That WNC title loss really stung bad after that repeat defeat, I can assure you!

On June 8, I had the pleasure of playing the 2014 Harley-Davidson Super Rally in Tallinn, Estonia with Crossfyre. We had the main stage, we got to meet Mr. Bill Davidson of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, and we got to treat throngs of bikers from all across Europe to our special southern rocking brand of rock’n’roll from the north. Top of the line hotel, top treatment, top spot on the event line-up = no complaints!

Bill Davidson mugs between me and Crossfyre's session bassist Sami Salminen.

Bill Davidson mugs between me and Crossfyre’s session bassist Sami Salminen.

The summer of 2014 signalled the end of the WNC organization that I wrestled for in Japan. Tajiri, Akira Nogami, Yusuke Kodama, Rionne Fujiwara and a couple of other wrestlers moved on to Keiji Muto’s Wrestle-1 organization, while everyone else from WNC went their own, separate ways. I was saddened to say goodbye to my old Synapse teammates Syuri Kondou and Akira, with whom I enjoyed a tremendous chemistry. We travelled a lot of miles up and down the roads in Japan, kicking asses and taking names for almost two years together. It was a memorable time, and Synapse will always live on in my memories as a unit that I was truly happy to be a part of.

The summer gigs that we played with Crossfyre live strongly in my memories, as I mentioned at the start of this blog. The summer of 2014 was awesome and we really rocked all summer long, as the lyrics to a certain song go. The shows we had in Poland especially warm my heart, as we had Polish audiences dancing on tables and losing their inhibitions (in a good way!) every single night. Poland was one helluva time! I also warmly recall going for a kebab after our gig on the Reperbahn in Hamburg, Germany with a black 74-year-old jazz and blues musician, whose name now escapes me. Talk about experience and the wisdom that only comes with years!

Photographer Igor Uciński captures one of the best shots of me on stage in Poland.

Photographer Igor Uciński captures one of the best shots of me on stage in Poland.

The summer of 2014 also saw FCF Wrestling join forces with fast food restaurant Snacky in Finland for an event called Snacky Slam at the end of July. This show was held outdoors, and we had more media exposure through Snacky for FCF than I recall en masse in recent years. Finland’s top entertainment magazine, 7 Päivää, jumped in as the media sponsor for the event, proving to be the ideal, perfect match in terms of hype. I am proud as punch of the promo work that FCF and myself got to do through 7 Päivää, and the vast, new audiences reached thereby. It was at Snacky Slam that Ricky Vendetta was able to gain yet another tainted win at my expense in a six-man war, featuring myself along with Sly Sebastian and Mikko Maestro against Vendetta, Stark Adder and Pyöveli Petrov in a super-hot match that had the Snacky outdoor audience rocking. Adder was the pivotal man to assist Vendetta this time, leading to the pinfall win for Vendetta over good ol’ StarBuck. Ricky Vendetta was really beginning to piss me off at this point.

In August, I had the pleasure of coaching a week-long training camp for young wrestlers in Denmark. I was able to take my wife along for this trip, and we had our official summer vacation in the process. Danish Pro Wrestling organized the camp, and I had kids from four different countries attend. I saw some real potential amongst the 21 participants that busted their asses that week, and I am sure the world of pro wrestling will be hearing from some of them in the future.

The summer of 2014 also allowed me to mend the fence with Boogie Mustonen, the seven-time Finnish heavyweight bodybuilding champion. Boogie had trash-talked Finnish pro wrestling and my personal legacy many years ago on a certain Finnish bodybuilding online forum, and I had taken personal offense to his derogatory comments. You see, Boogie had once wrestled in the neighborhood of about 20 matches, after getting his training in Australia around the mid-’90s. Since speaking out less than favorably about Finnish pro wrestling, Boogie had amended his opinions and views. Back then, Boogie had never really understood the pro wrestling business, and his career was cut prematurely short after failing to convince in his match against Tony Halme (Ludvig Borga in WWF) in Joensuu, Finland back in July 1997. I had been the referee for that specific match, and it had been Boogie’s tryout bout to get into Otto Wanz’s CWA promotion (Austria) back then. To make a long story short, the match was flop. Boogie went on to concentrate on his bodybuilding career and Halme went on to become a boxer before getting into politics and then eventually killing himself in early 2010.

It's like the past never happened, Boogie is a great guy!

It’s like the past never happened, Boogie is a great guy!

I had a blast doing another TV commercial shoot during the summer, this time for Vesileppis Sport & Spa Hotel. Hotel manager Kimmo had been the promoter for FCF’s Karjalan Turpakäräjät show in Nurmes, eastern Finland back in October 2012. Kimmo thought StarBuck would be a great fit as a main actor alongside Vesileppis Hotel’s ladybug mascot, to provide a comical contrast. The end production speaks for itself, so take a look…

During the summer, I also got to do a TV commercial shoot for Finland’s biggest dairy manufacturer, Valio Ltd., with NHL ice hockey legend and Stanley Cup winner, Teemu Selänne. The double exposure of both Subway and Valio definitely lay down some serious exposure for me in preparation for my Spandex Sapiens movie next year, as my mug will be familiar to the entire nation pretty much. As the Bible says, the Lord works in mysterious ways!

2014 was a bit of a transitional year for my hard rock band Overnight Sensation, as we have been focusing on writing new material by and in large. We only had a handful of domestic gigs this past year, and granted, we could have done more. Nonetheless, we are planning on releasing a mini-LP of sorts featuring our new songs with our current drummer Jesper in 2015.

On the 13th of September, I finally had the chance to gain a measure of retribution on Ricky Vendetta here in Finland, as we met in a singles match in Helsinki. Yet, Ricky didn’t want to face me square-up. Earlier in the evening at FCF Wrestling’s Syyskuun Selkäsauna, I introduced the new debuting Class of 2014 to the fans present at Hotel Presidentti. Seven new trainees had passed their 2014 schooling to enter the world of professional wrestling, and during this presentation ceremony, Ricky Vendetta chose to attack me with a monkey wrench in his hand. In the ensuing melee, he bruised my ribs, leaving me at less than 100% for our singles match later that night. Regardless of my best efforts, Vendetta thwarted yet another bullet and managed to gain another tainted win over me. I had promised to make Vendetta tap out for his insolence, not content with just pinning him. I promised to make him scream for his life and submit. That is still going to have to wait for another day, and luckily, my opportunity lies in achieving that goal at FCF’s Talvisota IX event in Helsinki on February 9, 2015, when I will face Vendetta in a submission-only match!

I had the pleasure of returning to Japan again on October 10 for my good friend and former Synapse tag team partner Akira Nogami’s 30th anniversary show in Tokyo. Whereas I celebrated 20 years in pro wrestling this year, Akira’s landmark was a decade better. In the main event of Akira’s 30th anniversary card, I wrestled against my old friend Nogami and also against Pancrase founder Masakatsu Funaki in a triple threat match. I got to find out first-hand about Funaki’s legendary kicks, which I felt on numerous occasions during that match. In the end, even I was astounded at the fact that when all was said and done, I had pinned Akira at his own anniversary show! Japan has always been a very special place for me, and my favorite country to wrestle in, and this event once again reminded me just why that is.

lineup Akira 30th anniversary

Akira’s 30th anniversary show line-up

 

On November 1, traveled to Stockholm to fight Ken Malmsteen in a Last Man Standing match. I took it upon myself to teach Malmsteen a stern lesson about respect for the way that he disregarded and cheapshotted former Swedish Olympic hero, Frank Andersson. Frank had wrestled in WCW and New Japan way back in the day circa. 1993-1995 or thereabouts. He had made his comeback to pro wrestling this past year in Sweden, challenging Malmsteen to a match for the Swedish wrestling championship after Malmsteen first cheapshotted him when Frank was a special referee in a prior bout. Frank went on to make good and capture the title, but after the match he was diagnosed with a concussion after a loaded uppercut from Malmsteen in their match. On November 1, I beat Malmsteen from pillar to post and was well on my way to busting him open good and proper. Malmsteen got hold of the STHLM Wrestling title belt and blasted me in the face with it during our no-DQ outing, which sliced my head open, instead. After yet another shot with the title belt to my wounded head, I was unable to get to my feet by the referee’s 10-count, and the match was awarded to Malmsteen. At least I did manage to soften up Mr. Malmsteen for Frank Andersson the next time they meet…

I was thinking I had Ken Malmsteen beat (photo: Johannes Tegner).

I was thinking I had Ken Malmsteen beat (photo: Johannes Tegner).

On November 7, I travelled to France for the first time in five and a half years, which was a welcome return to fight for Wrestling Stars. I had become accustomed to wrestling mixed tag matches with Synapse in Japan over the past couple of years, and this time I teamed with the feisty Miss Agathe against French fan favorite Jimmy Gavroche and Sara Elektra from Finland. I don’t think Sara had ever been rag-tagged so badly in her life as in that match, and it was a valuable lesson for her about the relentless world of pro wrestling. I have always had the same philosophy with training and wrestling, regardless of whether it’s been a man or woman. Pro wrestling is an incredibly hard and remorseless grind physically, and if there ever was a thing called Sexual Equality, the world of pro wrestling is such a place. Hell, I recall facing multi-time Japanese women’s wrestling champion Kana on several occasions a couple of years back, and her kicks were on par with those thrown by Masakatsu Funaki!

On November 15, I celebrated my 20th year in pro wrestling with The Roast of StarBuck at Hotel Presidentti in Helsinki. Although January 7 was officially my anniversary career landmark, FCF Wrestling wanted to toast and roast my contributions to the grappling game at year’s end. Many names from my past dropped by to grill me, including media personality Wilma Schlizewski, Renne Korppila of Radio NRJ, my uncle Lasse, former amateur champion Jouni Mörsky and FCF’s Valentine and Robert Holmström. The best verbal jabs were dealt by Holmström, Valentine and Korppila, who had no mercy on my poor person. Regardless, I was a good sport and hung in there for the duration, until once again, Ricky Vendetta tried to ruin even this occasion as my wife Diana gave me a closing blindfolded lap dance. Vendetta tried to assault me with the trophy FCF handed to me as a commemorative token, which I was able to avoid and then procede to lay a beating on Vendetta, sending him scurrying out of the ring to await his final judgement at Talvisota IX this upcoming February 7, 2015 in Helsinki.

To cap off my eventful 2014, I was asked by Europe’s biggest MMA organization M-1 to ring announce their M-1 Challenge 54 / ACB 12 event in St. Petersburg, Russia on December 17. I did the ring announcing for the M-1 Semi-Finals in 2010 in Helsinki, and M-1 president Vadim Finkelchtein recalled that I did a great job for his organization then. One of the things that I have always prided myself on is having a strong voice and dynamic delivery. This has proven to be an asset for me over 2014, as I have had a slew of voice-over jobs through Finland’s oldest voice-over agency, Dictum.fi. I was once again able to parlay my talents and offer my voice to ring announcing for the M-1 Global live stream of their event from St. Petersburg. I was told the organization was more than happy with my work this time also, and hopefully we’ll be able to work together in 2015.

Yours Truly in a snazzy suit ring announcing M-1 in St. Petersburg.

Yours Truly in a snazzy suit ring announcing M-1 in St. Petersburg.

Thanks to all my fans for the support over 2014. 2015 should be even bigger and better, as the Spandex Sapiens documentary movie about me hits the silver screen this autumn. Stay tuned to http://www.starbuck.fi for developments and all the latest!

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!

*  *  *  *  *  *

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