A trip down memory lane [Saskatoon & Regina]
Last Saturday night I spent some time hanging out with several WWE wrestlers talking old times and swapping stories. They lived their life as I did, bag in hand, off to another show and another town. I enjoyed meeting so many of the WWE boys who got there after I left and was grateful when they told me that it was watching me work that made them want to become wrestlers in the first place. I hope they’ll find the same rewards that a wrestlers’ life gave me - the places, the faces and a lifetime of memories. I do sometimes miss the world of wrestling, especially my early days with Stampede Wrestling.
I had a couple of appearances scheduled in Saskatoon and Regina and opted to drive instead of flying, remembering back to the days of zooming down the highway in one of my dad’s beat up passenger vans with no heat in the winter and no air conditioning in the summer. There’d be numerous huge feet jutting out the windows, unless of course the midgets were on board.
Driving through Drumheller brought back memories of how, for years, on the drive down we’d get the rookie wrestlers all hopped up telling them a tall tale that Stu was born there and the people of Drumheller had erected a huge statue in his honor. Many times the rookies would wait excitedly with camera in hand to snap a photo of this rare monument to a wrestling promoter, perhaps even envisioning there might be a statue of them in their own home town one day. Then we’d come around a corner and come upon that huge T-Rex - which bears an oddly striking resemblance to my dad, especially when he’s angry! Well, we’d all crack up laughing and it would all come full circle when the rookies waited for new recruits and would play the same prank on them!
As I drove on I realized that even though it’s been a while since I made the drive from Calgary to Saskatoon every Monday for six years, I still know every turn in the road.
Passing Hanna brought back memories of Dave Ruhl., an honest to goodness farmer turned wrestler who really was from Hanna. I couldn’t help but smile at the days that wrestling was simple and fun and farmers drove many a mile for the highlight of their week, to come and see one of their own put true to life villains in their place. Like Archie the Stomper, who, interestingly enough, hailed from Carbon, Alberta and Abdullah The Butcher, who was billed as being from the jungles of the Khartoum but resided in Windsor, Ontario.
Those were the days of real villains like Adi Amin, who is now only clinging to life in Libya somewhere. I was fourteen and it made perfect sense to me and wrestling fans at that time to see the Hanna pig farmer slapping his bandy arms around Abdullah’s huge back,, with Abby, who was usually a bloody mess, fighting to escape. I loved it! When I think about those days, it’s no wonder the fans would get so into it. Even announcer Ed Whalen would fly off the handle. Once he even cracked Abdullah in the head with the mic so hard that Abby needed a dozen stitches!
When I got to Saskatoon I found that the old arena had been torn down. I had my first match there twenty five years ago, tagged up with Paddy Ryan against my mentors, Mr. Hito and Mr. Sakurada. i was white as a ghost, skinny at two hundred pounds and a nervous wreck. I figured my teachers would take it easy on me but I figured wrong. They slapped, chopped, kicked and slammed me enough that I thought I’d done something so bad that I’d angered them something fierce. But after the match they commended me explaining that it was the only way they could work with me since I was a complete rookie. In those days it wasn’t about making someone look good, it was about making people think maybe it’s real.
Fourteen years later, on October 12, 1992, I walked into the newly built Sask Place unaware that I’d be walking out as WWF World Heavyweight Champion that day!
At my appearance in Saskatoon last Wednesday so many of my long time fans who have supported me since long before I achieved any success in wrestling came out to reminisce about how they were there that night when I defeated Ric Flair for the title and I could see that it still means as much to them as it does to me.
I’ve seen a lot of highways since those humble beginnings but I will never forget the good old days of Stampede Wrestling when the fans, as well as the wrestlers, were real - or at least we acted like it.
I wish I could load my kids into the car on a hot Friday night and drive down to the pavilion to watch someone who looks like Chad Kroeger, the lead singer of Nickelback, beating the daylights out of Saddam Hussein!