In this corner, wearing the dog collar, is the rookie, a 25-year-old hailing from behind the cash register at the Wal-Mart.
In the opposite corner, wearing the pink feather boa, is the old pro, working on a comeback at the age of 35.
Welcome to the wacky world of small-time professional wrestling.
The rookie is Jared Calwill, a part-time sales associate at Wal-Mart in White Oaks Mall, who, on occasion, turns into the Mad Dog or the Pitbull.
Calwill, with his shaved head and muscular five-foot-10, 250-pound build, dons black trunks, an off-the-shelf dog collar and a two-metre, heavy choke-chain to make the transition.
At the other end of the wrestling spectrum is Gino the Love Machine, who also has gone through a couple of name changes in his career. Judging from previous monikers Aldo Caranci has used — such as Sicilian Sledgehammer, Italian Cannonball and Italian Stallion — this is a man proud of his heritage.
Both Caranci and Calwill are pursuing their passion on the card of the Hardcore Wrestling Federation’s Centennial Hall show Saturday. Gino the Love Machine will be taking on Sensei Hiroshima, and the Pitbull will be facing both Jack Damage and Tyson Duxes in a three-way bout.
It’s not the first local outing for the pair, who in April did some grappling at Medway Arena.
Neither venue offers the glitz, glamour and soap opera of the World Wrestling Federation or World Championship Wrestling.
Yet this is where Calwill and Caranci want to be, though for different reasons.
Calwill sees the HWF as a stepping stone to the WWF or WCW and is willing to stick it out “as long as it takes.” He puts in about 15 hours a week in the gym, working on his cardio and physique.
He’s been at it since early 1998 and trained in Cambridge at the Hart Brothers School of Wrestling. All totalled, he’s had only about 30 matches.
At Medway Arena, the Pitbull is teamed for the first time with Mike Lutz against Shooter Sean Brown and the masked Dangerboy. The tag-team match is full of power moves and rough housing, including the wrestlers hitting each other with plastic folding chairs and diving through wooden tables.
Backstage, after it’s over, Calwill says it was a good match.
“We threw them around a little bit, showed them that’s what happens when you get in the ring with the big boys,” he says, dropping ever so slightly into the necessary character.
Calwill usually wrestles under the name Mad Dog, but on this night, was temporarily deemed the Pitbull to avoid a confrontation with another London-based wrestler and competing promoter, Kevin Oakley, a.k.a. Mad Dog Mike Iron. Calwill has since stuck with the Pitbull as his character.
“I always liked Mad Dog Maurice Vachon,” Calwill says. “And I wanted a name that struck fear into the fans and wrestlers that heard it.”
Since the Medway show in April, more people recognize him at Wal-Mart and he talks wrestling with customers and co-workers.
When not dressed in fancy trunks and pink feather boa, Caranci is operations manager and consultant to the Cigar Accessories Group and Cuban Pete’s Cigar Co. on Richmond Row.
The 35-year-old got back into wrestling in April at the Medway Arena show, after a 13-year hiatus, so that his sons — Joshua, 9, Jordan, 8, and Jeremy, 6 — could say they had seen their dad wrestle. He also missed “the thrill” that wrestling gave him.
Caranci worked in the “battle royale” at Medway Arena show, a match where most of the brutes on the card get into the ring together and try to toss each other out. The last one standing gets a shot at the HWF’s championship belt.
But the Love Machine lacked staying power. He lasted just a couple of minutes in the match and at one point was dropped head first onto a garbage can lid in the middle of the ring.
“It was great to make a short comeback, but I will have to work myself back up,” Caranci explains.
Wrestling has changed, he says. There are new moves he has to learn and fewer places to work. It used to be that a wrestler could move from region to region, working different territories and being a fresh face in each area.
Growing up, Caranci used to go to the London Arena with his father to watch wrestlers such as Eric the Red and Dave (Bearman) McKigney. Eric Froelich was his favourite.
It sparked something in Caranci and he trained under Cowboy Frankie Lane, probably the most famous wrestler to come out of the London area. His pro debut was 16 years ago in Brantford in a tag-team match at a WWF-TV taping against the team of King Kong Bundy and the late Big John Studd. Needless to say, his team lost.
Caranci spent two years working for the WWF as “enhancement talent,” losing on a regular basis and making the stars look good.
Besides the WWF, he wrestled in Vancouver and throughout Southern Ontario before retiring the first time because he had just married and didn’t want to spend time away from home.
Now, he’s caught the wrestling bug again and, thanks to his years of business experience, has helped the HWF with everything from promotion and marketing to security and sponsors.
The fledgling, London-based HWF is also something of a dream for promoter Mark Anderson.
For the Medway show, which sold out four days in advance and saw more than 900 fans pack the place, the 23-year-old Londoner footed the bill himself. But after the successful first show, Anderson has managed to get sponsors such as Molson on board. The HWF has a core of about a dozen wrestlers from Southern Ontario and brings in bigger names to fill out the top of the card.
Calwill is still a little stunned that the HWF will be performing in a historic location such as Centennial Hall, which regularly held wrestling shows in the 1970s, even when wrestlers had to splash down in a shower set up in a broom closet downstairs because there weren’t adequate facilities near the main stage.
“It’s amazing that Hardcore Wrestling has come this far,” he says.