Sunday, May 28, 2017

Wrestlers thump the capital’s four-frou image


xxxvka-wrestling-475801-jpgIt was a year ago this week that we last saw Chicken.

He was swapping nostalgia with Natasha Wild at a table in Monty’s, where he worked for the best part of 16 years. Wild, an exotic dancer, was about to perform the last act of the brass pole ballet before the peeler bar closed for good.

As you might expect, Natasha Wild was not the name on her birth certificate. Nor was Chicken the name on his. He picked up the nickname years ago in a throw-a-rubber-chicken-in-a-beer-bucket bar contest.

Fast forward to today. Chicken is better known as Wayne Kalnciems now. His long ponytail is gone, sacrificed to a cancer fundraiser. He has reinvented himself as a wrestling promoter.

Not a big-time, big-arena kind of wrestling, mind. No, this is more like the brand Kalnciems grew up watching at Memorial Arena and the Esquimalt Legion. The Velox rugby club, where he has staged three events since last summer, holds just 325 people.

It’s still a reminder, though, that there’s more to Victoria than the tea-and-flowers image we sell the tourists (and ourselves).

On Wednesday, Kalnciems was at Langford’s Crusher Combat Sports to promote the Jan. 25 ECCW Victorious show at the Gordon Head Road rugby club. ECCW stands for Vancouver-based Elite Canadian Championship Wrestling, with which he has teamed. Tickets are being sold at Lyle’s Place on Yates.

Again, this isn’t the flashy WWE experience that boomed in the 1980s and 1990s with the likes of Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Bret (The Hitman) Hart.

This is closer to the 1960s All-Star Wrestling show broadcast from Vancouver with the likes of Gene Kiniski and the Brute, or the Stampede Wrestling events that Bret’s dad, Stu Hart, once staged in small-town rinks and cow palaces across Western Canada.

Don’t confuse it with the brutality of mixed martial arts, which has elbowed wrestling into the shadows. MMA is blood sport. Wrestling is family-friendly theatre, they say.

“It’s a show,” says Scotty Mac, who both performs in and runs ECCW. “There are storylines. There are characters. There are plot lines.” It’s up to the actors to convince the patrons to suspend their disbelief, just like at the movies.

Every player has a role. Ravenous Randy is a bad guy — flame-haired, punked out, every father’s worst nightmare. John Atlas is the baby-faced good guy. Scotty Mac is a good guy in Vancouver, but rotten to the core on this side of the water, where Kalnciems plays his evil manager. (Kalnciems isn’t a wrestler, but inevitably gets clobbered by somebody. “I got spit on by an old lady at the last show. She hit me with her cane.”)

No one is getting rich. Everyone has a day job. Wrestler Lak Siddartha, who grew up on the Ultimate Warrior and the Undertaker, drives a Bluebird Cab in Victoria. John Atlas will be better remembered by Victorians as football and rugby player Mike Mizerski, the doorman who was shot in the leg outside the Strathcona Hotel last February.

Atlas/Mizerski loves being on the circuit, even when it means five guys in a car driving to Kelowna for a Saturday night show, then back to Vancouver for another on Sunday. “You have to have the passion for it,” he says.

If the fights are scripted, the pain is real. Concussions are common. Ravenous Randy broke his leg once. Scotty has broken his nose, his wrist. He no longer does a move where he comes off the top rope. “My hips can’t take it anymore.”

Yet these guys are all genuinely pumped about what they do. It’s endearing.

It’s also refreshing that this all flies in the face of Victoria’s oh-so-precious stereotype. There wasn’t a tweed jacket or pair of skinny jeans in sight Wednesday. (Here’s a stolen joke: Q: How many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb? A: It’s an obscure number. You wouldn’t know it.)

It was, in fact, a reminder of a side of us that some don’t see. For every bohemian coffee shop there’s a Tim Hortons. LoJo might be packed with frou-frou boutiques, but it was the opening of Target that made Victorians squeal like schoolgirls. Neither the McPherson Playhouse nor the Royal Theatre can hold the kind of crowd that Western Speedway pulls on a summer Saturday night. We’re still Canajun, eh?

This might be the City of Gardens, of the Symphony Splash and the Art Walk. It’s also a city where guys named Chicken can make 10-year-olds happy with wrestling shows.

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