Posts Tagged ‘Ric Flair’

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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The news was just released officially this week that I would be facing my former protégé Mikko Maestro at the annual flagship supershow in Finnish professional wrestling, Talvisota XI – which translates to Winter War 11 – this coming February 18 at the Nosturi club in Helsinki, as promoted by FCF Wrestling.

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I was there at the inaugural Winter War on December 2, 2006 – an event that I coined and created back in the day to be the Finnish wrestling equivalent of Wrestlemania – and here I am over a decade later, turning another page.

This match-up against Maestro is significant on a few levels.  Firstly, it’s arguably the biggest match to date in the six-year career of young Maestro.  Secondly, I took the kid under my wing back in early 2013 to groom him for the years ahead, seeing that his charisma was catching on with the Finnish wrestling audience.  This made him my protégé, a pet project that I invested considerable time and coaching into, and Maestro finally was able to up the ante and make a breakthrough in 2016 against top competition like Ivan Markov of Russia, Mark Kodiak of Holland, Swedish champion Harley Rage and Heimo the Wildman here in Finland.  Thirdly, Maestro has shown himself to be ambitious in the fact that he has gone on to countries like Denmark, Germany and the USA to gain more experience.  This last bit is something I’d like to elaborate on.

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Maestro was able to defeat Heimo the Wildman in a Last Man Standing match at Talvisota X in March 2016, which gave him major momentum.

Every talent out there with any inkling of ambition will take the chance to spread their wings and test their mettle in the shark-infested waters of global pro wrestling.  Many young wrestlers will end up having to pay their own way just to get exposure, build a resume and get noticed, as they build up their personal value in order for a booker or promoter out there to invest in them.  If they are lucky, and to any degree own a moderate modicum of talent, they will be able to make headway in a very convoluted age in their aspirations to become stars in the world of pro wrestling.

Maestro has shown ambition.  He has gone out there and found a way to get noticed and get booked where other contemporaries, even those with greater in-ring talent, have fallen short.  Maestro has shown heart, even over-ambition at times, if you ask me.  Nonetheless, he’s been able to consistently climb the ladder rung by rung.  That brings us to Talvisota XI / Winter War 11 on February 18.

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Mikko Maestro wrestling a marquee bout in California during 2015.

As with any young talent, everyone has role models that they aspire to pattern themselves after and learn from.  At the start of my pro wrestling career in 1994, my biggest influence was Ric Flair.  I believe that for many of my generation, growing up a teen in the 1980s, Ric Flair was the consummate pro to look up to, if you had any understanding of the complete package that made a pro wrestler.  For the Millenials to a large degree, that role model became Shawn Michaels and a bit later on The Rock and Stone Cold.  In Finland, for many, including one Mikko Maestro, that role model was StarBuck, the founding father of Finnish pro wrestling.

I recall a young Mikko Maestro back around 2009, when I was cycling near Munkkiniemi Beach in Helsinki.  It was there that I ran into the kid for the first time.  As I was riding by, getting in my cardio, Maestro recognized me as he walked down the street and yelled out “StarBuck!”.  I simply smiled, recognizing his fanship, and kept on cycling. One year later, he showed up for wrestling schooling.

As a mentor, I took Mikko Maestro as high as I could.  The rest, of course, was all up to him.  At the Winter War event in 2013, I took Maestro as my tag partner for a heated, key match-up against Stark Adder and his protégé, Ricky Vendetta.  The vet and the pup against the vet and the pup, as it was, back then.  It was the starting point for my on-hands mentorship of one Mikko Maestro.

Time passed, Maestro gained experience and confidence, and alas, in September of last year, he made a bold challenge.  Mikko Maestro wanted to publicly challenge the man that taught him, the role model that he aspired to pattern his career after, and see if he was up to the task.  I figured this day would eventually come, but I don’t think Mikko Maestro is anywhere near ready to take on the old war dog yet.  He still has some miles to go before he can realistically hang at my level, and believe me when I tell you: he’s going to need all the help he can get, ‘cos the fans and their cheers won’t make a bit of difference when he finds himself overwhelmed by 23 years of ring experience on the other end of the spectrum.

Well, when he last needed my help, I was there.  But… he didn’t listen.  At the crucial, key point in Maestro’s match against Ivan Markov of Russia in December of last year, the kid chose to disrespect the deal that we had set forth going into the match.  In short, he went into business for himself, disregarding his coach, and pulled out his ridiculous, asinine “stinkface” maneuver, which he found funny enough to rip off of WWE Hall of Famer, Rikishi.  In a serious match-setting, where a killer like the Russian Markov was present, I expressly told Maestro to leave the gimmicks, bells and whistles at home.  But no.  He had to take the forbidden fruit.  He had to dally out onto thin ice.  He had to do things his own way.  And it was at that point, that I disowned Mikko Maestro as a protégé.

There comes a time in life when every person is going to have to stand on their own, no supports and no crutches to be had.  This is that time for Mikko Maestro.  At Talvisota XI, my former protégé is going to find out that legends don’t die, they just get better with age.

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Tickets 28€/22,50€ (all ages) to Talvisota XI on Feb. 18 at Nosturi in Helsinki available online now: http://www.ticketmaster.fi/event/197193

Man, this one has been a long time in the coming… on Friday, Nov. 18, I will travel to Randers, Denmark to take on my old, storied Danish rival, Chaos, inside of a 16-foot high steel cage!

sb-vs-chaos

Chaos and I have an extensive past as adversaries, stemming back to 2009.  We have spilled each others blood, beaten each other black and blue and done a lot of damage to one another.  Both of us represent the veteran guard of our respective pro wrestling cultures in Denmark and Finland, making this a feud of Baltic and Nordic proportions.  We are literally the standard-bearers of our trade in our respective countries.  Two warring leader wolves, looking to out-do the other.

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In 2009, the Street Fight match Chaos and I had left both of us busted up.

Last summer in Denmark, the DPW (Danish Pro Wrestling) organization dropped my booked match against Chaos and instead, opted to put Ken Andersson of TNA fame (Mr. Kennedy in WWE) in my stead.  Then, they simply positioned me as a guest referee in that match, to add insult to injury.  Well, as you might expect, I took exception and laced into Chaos with a timely superkick at an opportune moment late in has match, leaving him a prone duck to be pinned by Anderson, as I counted to three.

Referee StarBuck

Annulling my match and putting me in there as a guest referee was not smart of DPW…

At Talvisota X (Winter War 10) in Helsinki, Finland this past March, I faced Chaos in a No-DQ grudge match, following the events in Randers last summer.  In Helsinki, Chaos beat me within in inch of my life, ambushing me from behind with a steel chair as I made my ring entrance.  I literally fought for my life inside of the ring that night, and managed to even walk away with a victory after delivering a devastating spike piledriver to my opponent.

TSX Chaos moonsault

Our last match was off the charts intense! (photo: Marko Simonen)

Now, on November 18, things come full-circle.  Chaos and I lock horns inside of an unforgiving steel cage on his turf in Denmark.  Both of us will fight like dogs, I am assured of that.  I know things will get violent and I am prepared to sweat, bleed and pay the price, to quote the legendary “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, so that I will be able to walk out of that cage with my hand raised in victory.

Chaos, you asked for the beating you are about to receive this coming Friday!

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I make no bones about the fact that I am an old school representative of the pro wrestling trade. My style, psychology and etiquette are all derivative of the old school and I highly espouse the way things used to be versus the way things are nowadays. But instead of sounding like a grumpy old stalwart, let me digress and let’s take a look at the supporting arguments et al of the old school against the new school.

In many ways, I do enjoy the colorful variety of modern day pro wrestling, especially when it comes to WWE, NXT and New Japan. Lucha Underground has a very compelling product, which cannot simply be seen as just pro wrestling. Lucha Underground is really more of an action carneval show, and that, in their case, is a good thing. It’s different, and it’s almost grindhouse in a way. I could see Quentin Tarantino or even Robert Rodriguez scripting Lucha Underground.

As the industry leader, WWE does a lot of things right, and arguably a lot of things wrong. But they can get away with it, because their brand overall is stronger than the action or stories in and of themselves. I can really appreciate the strength of the NXT product nowadays, and Triple H is doing a lot of apparent good with that product. A plethora of capable hands are coming up down in Florida with NXT and their system just seems to work the way that it is orchestrated nowadays.

As atheletes, today’s top new stars are leagues beyond what the old school wrestlers used to be. Guys and gals are in crazy crossfit shape and can go like nobody’s business when the bell rings. Whereas old school grapplers like Dick Murdoch, Terry Funk and Lou Thesz could go out there for 60-90 minutes a night and put on a compelling grappling clinic, their pacing was worlds apart from the hyper-athletes of today such as Seth Rollins and Dolph Ziggler, who do more in a lesser amount of time. And what they do is damn impressive from an athletic standpoint on any level.

So wrestlers today are much better at the dynamic body movement part of the game, performing all kinds of leaps, spots and such that the old guard would never have dreamt of doing. The talents today are more akin to living incarnations of superheroes in their athletic performance than Ric Flair or Hulk Hogan could ever have dreamed of in the 1980s. Their conditioning is second to none, and they can burn at a faster pace, like a spinter versus a marathon runner. The old school were the marathon men, they shifted diesel gears. The guys today shift turbo-charged gears. Both approaches are commendable, but there is more…

Hulk Hogan didn't have to do nearly as much as Seth Rollins for an equal response.

Hulk Hogan didn’t have to do nearly as much as Seth Rollins for an equal response.

If one looks simply at the probable outlook for the career longevity of many of today’s newer stars, I’d wager to say that should they keep taking the crazy, high risks that they do – only to elicit a pop from the audience – then their longevity will be short-lived indeed. Let me expand on that one, single argument here. I stand to argue that had these younger modern talents understood the nature of capturing human emotion in their audience, they would not need to go out on a proverbial limb to risk their own health doing spots that will typecast them and be damn hard to top, follow or live up to the next time around. If you condition your audience to expect and want more and more from you, you will find yourself up against the wall before long. And your health will pay the price. And for what, just a pop? I understand utilizing a certain style to ”get over” with the audience, and then working an altered style to ”stay over”, but most of that is all geared toward instant gratification at a high personal risk and cost. And belive me when I tell you, that instant gratification is short-lived and frivulous, demanding more of the same, demanding to up the ante, the next time around.

Everyone remembers Jake The Snake, right?

Everyone remembers Jake The Snake, right?

Another thing that really strikes me as funny and befuddling at the same time has been the inability of many of the newer ”stars” to ”stick” with their audience or have the audience ”buy” them as lead players over the past several years. As a point of comparison, in the ’80s, once a guy like Jake ”The Snake” Roberts made his imprint on the national stage, the people ”bought” him as a lead star. Whether he won or lost, it did not matter. He was ”made” – a recognized, household name – and he was perceived as being a big deal. People to this day still fondly remember the old guard and remember them as larger-than-life stars. I would argue that the characters of bygone years, like ”Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, The Iron Sheik, Dusty Rhodes and Bruiser Brody were much more organic and at the same time they came across as more ”authentic” and thereby unique, as compared to the vast majority of talent that parades across our screens these days. The same could be argued for classic era wrestlers like Gorgeous George, Buddy Rogers and Lou Thesz. Perhaps much of this aforementioned ailment has a lot to do with today’s apparent oversaturation of media visibility, which waters down everything and everyone, due to the inane amount of shows on tap these days, in addition to the limitless internet. Perhaps it simply becomes an insurmountable challenge to rise above the programming deluge, which tends to make the viewer more prone to instant gratification and lends greatly to a near-complete lack of attention span. Would that lend credence to why nothing seems to ”stick”? It stands to reason and it does present a valid question.

The force-fed lines of script that today’s talent are given to spout and embrace create a situation where I can see many having grave difficulties in finding their own ”voice”. Back in the day, when Dusty Rhodes talked, shucked and jived about hard times, you bought into every word. When Ric Flair ranted about breaking Ricky Morton’s nose, people were genuinely infuriated. When Roddy Piper verbally lambasted Jimmy Snuka and cracked a coconut over his head, it went to live on in infamy. That kind of emotion is really missing these days, and it’s rather apparent in the lack of connection between the newer ”stars” of today and their audience.

Now, I understand that everything evolves. But in the same breath, you will always know the tree by the fruit that it bears. If something isn’t connecting, there has got to be a glitch, be it in presentation, character or credibility. Once again, back in the day, people were legitimately scared of Abdullah the Butcher, The Original Sheik and ”The Ugandan Giant” Kamala. Fans in Japan scattered out of the way like ants when Stan Hansen, Bruiser Brody or Tiger Jeet Singh made their ring entrances. I don’t see anyone scattering these days. I don’t see anyone who is legitimately afraid of a said wrestler, with the possible exception of Brock Lesnar.

Now I’ve hit the provebial nail on the head, so let’s talk Lesnar as a case example of a moment. Lesnar was ”made” in pro wrestling back in 2002-2003. He went on to become a WWE and UFC champion, adding to the legitimacy of his tough guy aura. When Brock came back to WWE a few years back, he was as believable as they came. People bought into him being the real deal. When Lesnar broke The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at Wrestlemania 30, he was the only guy with the solid arguments to be ”the guy” to be in that spot. People perceived Brock Lesnar to be a badass, to be the real deal, and therefore he was projected as a star. With Brock, it doesn’t feel like he is playing any character. He is his own man, himself. What you see is what you get. So with the real life aura of a beast and monster, everything about Brock Lesnar, from his movement to his offense to his body language, is rock solid and believable. With that thought, I would wager to argue that Brock Lesnar is the last ”real” superstar from the newer stock (taking into consideration his second run with WWE) who has the aura of must-see stardom, across-the-board legitimacy and match believability. With Lesnar, you don’t get any bullshit, smoke or mirrors. (Keeping my fingers crossed that they don’t finally pull that valuable rug out from under Lesnar against the gimmick-heavy, mystical Bray Wyatt at Wrestlemania this year.)

Brock Lesnar

Brock Lesnar

Pro wrestling gets a lot of flack and criticism for not being a legitimate competitive sport. With the reality TV era upon us, every single televison product out there is scripted, and pro wrestling is no exception. With programs vying for the same viewership demographic in prime time (or any other time) against other entertaining shows, viewers must be manipulated and hooked, so as not to change the channel. The problem that pro wrestling encounters nowadays, in my assessment, is that with the talent being labeled as ”sports entertainers” versus professional athletes (which, trust me, pro wrestlers truly are), the ”boys” (and girls) in the business are stripped of the requirement to come across as legit, and the matches are no longer reminiscent of an actual fight. The talent simply become characters, and as characters, why should they make their product credible and believable in a ”real fight” sense when they can simply aim to be entertaining and get reactions? I see this as a huge problem in the modern era, and it lends understanding to why so many holds are applied so loosely and sloppily that no viewer out there can buy into what they are seeing. Snug that shit up, people! Have some pride in your craft!

Someone please point out who taught Cena his STF...

Lou Thesz sure didn’t teach John Cena his STF…

Me personally, I enjoy much of what I see nowadays, as I can appreciate the athletic endeavor of the talent themselves. It’s damn entertaining! No bones about it. But a lot of it is also forced, unnatural in flow and lacks believability. To paraphrase something former WWF champion Bret ”Hitman” Hart once said about match psychology, ”If you can’t see it happening in a bar fight, it shouldn’t happen inside of a wrestling match”. I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but I still want to believe. When I compare some of the old school matches to what I see today, I see a lot more in the way of emotional investment and credibility. I see talent that got more mileage out of doing less, thereby saving themselves and prolonging their career longevity. I see masters of the craft that wrestled more than 300 dates a year on average, at whose matches people both young and old alike hollered and screamed like their lives depended on it. I look at matches from the bygone past that are so believable that anyone would have a problem finding fault in them, bouts like Ric Flair dropping the NWA championship to Ron Garvin in a 1987, where the real fight vibe was all over the place.

So in the end, with all of the aforementioned assessments and arguments, I would have to still tip my hat to the old school approach and philosophy to pro wrestling in favor of the modern product. I just believe it was better for business back then. I believe when the talents were looked at and treated as athletes versus entertainers, they put out a better product and showing. I believe the personas of times past were more organic and believable, and also more charismatic in a natural way. I believe that at the end of the day, people still want to come out and see a fight, not just a show.  And on top of that, pro wrestling used to be a trade where c0untless men and women that didn’t wrestle for WWE and chances were you never heard of them made a living, fed their families and did this as a full-time job.  Sounds like a better world to me all around back then…

Call me old-fashioned, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

When I was young, just like any boy, I had my heroes.  These were male role models that I looked up to, icons of strength and heroism.  Actually, I think that those two attributes and characteristics resound in any young boy’s psyche, regardless of the convoluted and gender-confused age that we live in modern days.

My first heroes were The Incredible Hulk (both the Lou Ferrigno TV version and the Marvel comics version), Godzilla and Conan The Barbarian (both the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie version and the Marvel comics version).  Very soon thereafter, however, I discovered pro wrestling’s Hulk Hogan.  Let me tell you, as a kid, nothing was more real and more potent as a tangible idol than Hulk Hogan.  I recall watching mesmerized in front of our old, snowy television set in Thunder Bay, Ontario, watching Hulk Hogan battle the likes of Nikolai Volkoff and King Kong Bundy on late night Saturday Night’s Main Event broadcasts on the NBC station.  I was sold for life, marking the beginnings of my foray into the wonderous world of professional wrestling, a journey along which I found many more icons and tangible heroes.  Whether it was a Canadian wrestling star like Dan Kroffat or Steve Strong out of Montreal’s International Wrestling scene, or American stars like Ric Flair, The Road Warriors or Bam Bam Bigelow, I had discovered real life heroes that resonated with me at my very core.

I recall  drawing detailed, color portraits of guys like Bigelow and Flair, and at specific wrestling events, I would boldly walk up to the promoter or agents prior to the event and tell them that I would like to present my artwork in person to the star.  NWA promoter Gary Juster allowed me behind the curtain in Boston, Mass. to meet Bigelow, whereas arena security in Calgary at the Saddledome allowed me the chance to meet Flair.  As a kid, those were milestone moments, where I got to even fleetingly meet my heroes for real.  I have no idea if those stars ever retained or treasured the artwork that I drew of them, but as you all can see from the Artwork link here at my website, I am a very proficient graphic artist with an extensive resume nowadays.  I was pretty damn good back then, too, even if I say so myself.

Tom Zenk (left) and Dan Kroffat (right) mug for the TV cameras with Milt Avruskin interviewing

Tom Zenk (left) and Dan Kroffat (right) mug for the TV cameras with Milt Avruskin interviewing

As I became a professional wrestler myself, actively starting my in-ring career in 1994, I purposed myself to become more than just a plagarized copy of my heroes: no, indeed, I would become an original.  Once I found my groove in terms of my wrestling style and persona, the doors opened up for me.  I became one of the most popular wrestlers in all of Italy over 2005, so much so that the promoter even noted it in front of the entire locker room.  I became one of the most loved foreign bad guys to ever frequent Norway from 2003 onwards.  Girls would bring “StarBuck is a starf*ck!” signs to the shows, which, of course, I plead innocence to!  I would become one of the most popular foreign stars in all of the country of Japan in 2011, a buzz that lives on even to this day.  In Finland, I have become an icon of the country’s pop culture fabric, due to my contribution above all in professional wrestling, and secondly as a rock vocalist, fronting my various bands over the years.

Streamers thrown into the ring are a sign of popularity in Japan

Streamers thrown into the ring are a sign of popularity in Japan

I recall strapping young lads, like a teenage Mikko Maestro, who now wrestles for FCF in Finland, run into me while jogging seaside, telling he’s a big fan.  I recall wrestling in Tallinn, Estonia in 2007 and making such an impact on one young fan, that he turned away from partying, drugs and alcohol, choosing to follow my example.  I recall signing loads of autographs for sick children at a special charity wrestling match at the American Car Show in Helsinki in 2009, with broad smiles on those children’s faces.  I recall my numerous trips to Japan, where fans have eagerly treated me to the finest restaurant meals, presented me with spectacular gifts and cheered me on in the ring unlike any other audience prior or since.  In short, I reached my goal and fulfilled my aspiration of becoming not just an original, but a hero to others myself.  For this, I am extremely proud … in a good way.

When my wife last visited her homeland of Romania and gave one of my signed photos to an 11-year-old kid there, I was told that he looks forward to the day that he can take a picture with me and mug together for the camera.  All he has is YouTube and the Internet to follow my wrestling exploits, but for him, that is suffice.  To know that I have made an indelible impact on a complete stranger like that, who doesn’t even have the opportunity to see live wrestling events, speaks volumes.

Looking back on my career and lifetime contribution, I know that I have done something right, knowing somewhere out there, I am somebody’s hero.

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

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.