Since the inception of Calgary’s Stampede Wrestling, Alberta has never been at a loss for quality professional wrestling. It goes without saying that the industry owes an incredible debt to the Hart Family; without Stu Hart’s inventive booking, the star power of his sons Bret and Owen Hart and his entire family’s involvement in the business the wrestling world today would surely be much different.
An excellent article from Mike Malowany details some of the talents that have passed through Alberta over the years. In fact, some of the finest wrestlers in history have graced our province; legends like Gene Kiniski and Archie “The Stomper” Gouldie put Alberta on the wrestling map in the sports early days, with The Dynamite Kid, Davey Boy Smith and the aforementioned Owen & Bret Hart carrying on the promotion in the wrestling boom of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Even today, the world is feeling the Alberta influence, with wrestlers like late-generation Stampeders Tyson Kidd, Natalya Neidhardt and Davey Boy Smith Jr reaching the upper echelon of worldwide wrestling talent.
Unfortunately, Stampede formally closed its doors in 2008 after struggling in its later years. While a number of revitalizations have been attempted in subsequent years, Stampede has never returned to the heights of its glory days despite a number of talented wrestlers passing through the organization. These wrestlers, however, that have helped lift wrestling in Alberta to the highest peak since the glory days of Stampede.
Since Stampede’s closure, Alberta has continued to produce high-quality talent at an incredible rate. Michael Richard Blais, one of the most highly-regarded wrestlers in Western Canada, sees it as a natural development in the industry. “Thirteen years ago,” he says, “you had TJ Wilson, Apocalypse, Duke Durrango, Johnny Devine, Juggernaut, (etc) all here in the upper echelon of talent, with a bunch of hungry young guys wanting to get to their level. Now it’s just changed to different people; basically, the guys that stuck around moved up into those (veteran) roles and now there is a new group of hungry young guys.”
Not only is Alberta’s talent being recognized provincially, but it’s more visible on a worldwide platform. In 2017, Calgary saw it’s first WWE Champion in 20 years crowned when Jinder Mahal defeated Randy Orton for the title. Seven Alberta-bred female wrestlers were featured on this year’s PWI100, an independent list ranking the top wrestlers in the world. Countless Alberta-trained wrestlers like Taya Valkeryie, Gursinder Singh, and Rachael Evers consistently feature in promotions like Ring of Honor, IMPACT!, and Stardom.
A major reason for the continued success of Alberta’s wrestling scene in the Storm Wrestling Acadamy in Calgary, founded by former WWE and WCW wrestler Lance Storm. His stellar reputation as a trainer has drawn many raw talents to Alberta, with a wide variety of graduates going on to experience success both in Alberta and abroad.
“Maybe the biggest change is the sheer amount of young guys that come around every so often through Lance’s classes,” continues Blais. “Training at SWA is like the Harvard of wrestling schools,” says Mo Jabari, a graduate of the school. “I think it attracts wrestlers and people striving to be wrestlers from all over the world to come to Alberta and experience it. You want to go to the best school to get the best education from the best professor.” As a testament to the quality of the training, names like Chelsea Green, Oney Lorcan, and Tyler Breeze are all SWA graduates making major names for themselves in the WWE, with countless others continuing to impress locally.
With so many talented individuals departing Alberta, however, how does the scene continue to stay relevant?
Alberta’s Independent Scene
Like any sport, the key to success for many Alberta-based wrestling promotions is its continued development of quality stars. Alberta’s own Prairie Wrestling Alliance - of whom, coincidentally, Storm is a former booker - is one of the largest providers of professional wrestling talent worldwide, with no less than ten wrestlers that could be considered Alberta-based littered throughout the WWE roster today. More and more talent from promotions such as Monster Pro Wrestling and Real Canadian Wrestling are starting to make waves on the international scene, too; RCW Women’s Champion Angelica recently toured both Mexico and British Columbia, with a number of others making inaugural excursions abroad to fine-tune their wrestling skills.
Despite many of the province’s stars graduating to bigger promotions in recent years, many of the top independent talents in the world still reside in Alberta. There’s no lack of talent in any of the major promotions in Edmonton; The Western Lions, the Millennial Rebels and Sheik Akbar Shabaz have been staples at the top of the PWA card for years. Headline Shawn Martens, “Nasty” Nate Nixon and Mitch Clarke are internationally recognized wrestlers coming out of Monster Pro Wrestling. Chris Perish, Dirty, Inc, and the duo of Top Talent (Heavy Metal & Big Jess Youngblood) of RCW are all regarded as some of the top names outside of WWE today plying their trade in Alberta. That’s just in Edmonton, too; the list could go on and on if you include talents like Dylon Stone, Pride and Jude Dawkins of the Canadian Wrestling Coalition, Kyle Sebastian and Sydney Steele of Pure Power Wrestling and a number of other names poised to make an impact on the worldwide wrestling scene.
The talent in Alberta is truly at an all-time high; however, has it reached the peak?
While wrestling in Alberta may be of the highest quality it’s ever been, many still feel as though the Great White North doesn’t get the recognition it deserves compared to its worldwide counterparts. “I think you could put a lot of the wrestling that happens here against anywhere else in the world and it would hold up, if not surpass some places, ” Blais remarked early in our conversation, “but most of the wrestling community doesn’t know about it. My biggest example is always this: I was Samoa Joe’s second last indy match before he was officially in WWE. Most people outside of here don’t know that unless I tell them. Not to mention some of the other amazing matches we’ve had here over the years, with “names” and even just our guys. There is so much that deserves to be seen and recognized by a wider audience.
But how does the province not only continue to succeed but eclipse its past success?
“The big thing is needing to find ways to appeal to the outside wrestling community,” Blais remarked. “I also think the more our own guys get themselves out there the better it’ll be here. I know from experience that it is easier said than done, but it can be done as I’ve shown at times and keep pushing for more.”
While a WWE contract is always the goal, said MRB, there’s simply something about wrestling in Alberta.
“There are people here who have seen the ups and downs all of us have gone through. There are people here who made the comparison between me and TJ Wilson before I ever saw it myself which is one of the highest compliments I’ve ever gotten.”
“More than anything I want to travel the world & be a superstar, but this will always be home.”
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