Wild Man Austin is talking outside the dressing room during an Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling show in tiny Berwick, Nova Scotia. He’s got a big future ahead, and is being groomed to head to WCW in the near future.
Austin is a heel on the traditional summer circuit, yet during the interview, a young fan comes up and hands him a photo — it’s of Austin and the young boy, and it’s for him to keep. In a true reversal of roles, the fan has given the star a memory.
“The crowds have been great,” explained Austin, who is based out of Calgary, and wrestles there under his real name of Gary Williams. “They’ve been real supportive and they come out and give their 100% as fans.”
Atlantic Grand Prix is an anomaly, a throw-back to the way wrestling used to be. It’s not about interview time, fireworks and short matches. It’s about competition between equals, signing autographs for the fans, and shows every day of the week in small, Maritime towns that don’t necessarily see a lot of other excitement come their way. It’s where legends like Leo Burke, The Beast, No Class Bobby Bass and the Cuban Assassin can still suit up and show the youngsters, like Austin, Rene Rougeau and The Mighty Hercules, how it is done.
And it’s probably the best training ground anywhere for future wrestlers, even if it only runs full-time from June to August. Veterans of the tour read like a veritable who’s who: Randy Savage, Edge, Christian, Rick Martel, Cyrus/Jackyl, Bad News Brown, Lanny Poffo, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, J.J. Dillon.
Toronto’s Joe E. Legend was the champion of the circuit when SLAM! Wrestling was in Berwick. He loves the seven nights of the week action. “It helps get you a lot sharper than the twice a week or whatever you do on weekends,” he said.
Legend, who has been to a WWF ‘dojo’ training camp, definitely believes that this Maritime tour is a stepping stone to the big leagues. When he told the WWF that he was doing this tour, he said that they were excited, and knew all about promoter Emile Dupre’s skills as a trainer and a leader of young talent. Plus, former superstar Paul Orndorff was recently in Halifax on a scouting mission for WCW.
Rene Rougeau, of Shediac, New Brunswick, is on his second summer tour. “The Grand Prix tour is everything to me,” explained the youngster. “It’s the best place to learn how to wrestle. If you’re a beginner, this is the place to be.”
Rougeau, a genuine heart-throb with the young girls in the crowd, has had his ups and downs this tour. An up was meeting The Cuban Assassin, who he used to watch on TV as a kid. A down is definitely his recent concussion, where he got knocked out after hitting his head on the concrete floor and had to go to the hospital.
This is ‘Nature Boy’ Cliff MacDonald’s first tour with Grand Prix. In fact, it’s his first real experience in wrestling, outside of training with Scott D’Amore in Windsor a year ago. The Truro, Nova Scotia native is on a part-time schedule, wrestling when he can get time off from his regular job in a plastics factory.
“It’s a blast. I have a good time,” said MacDonald, thinking over his future. “I imagine I’ll continue with it. I don’t know what my plans will be after this tour is over.”
It’s been a lot of fun for Butcher Vachon to be on the tour too. It’s not the ‘real’ Paul ‘The Butcher’ Vachon, brother of Maurice ‘Mad Dog’, but rather Roger Theriault from New Brunswick, who’s been wrestling off-and-on since 1985.
“For me, it’s like a vacation — the [Annapolis] Valley, the Maritimes are very nice. Go to Cape Breton, and see all the mountains, the rivers, the ocean,” said Vachon, who is taking time off from his job in construction to do the tour.
He’s done numerous tours before, and said that Grand Prix is where he “really learned to wrestle” before naming off the legends his spent time with over the various summers.
Two of the legends are Leo Burke and the Beast, real life brothers Leonce and Yvon Cormier respectively.
The Beast got the call from old friend Emile Dupre, the promoter of the tour, back in January. He reluctantly agreed to the tour, despite semi-retiring in 1980 (“easing up” the schedule, as he calls it). Yet, he’s enjoying himself yet again.
“It’s going good so far. I get to see all my old friends,” said The Beast.
And for one week, he got to see his brother Leo Burke on the tour, as he was “just passing through”, visiting family, and watching some of his proteges like Wild Man Austin and Mighty Hercules wrestle.
“This just gives me a chance to come back, see my family — a farewell tour, so to speak,” said Burke, who trains wrestlers in Calgary for WCW. “I really didn’t want to wrestle, but I got talked into it … it’s good to see all the wrestling fans, my friends over the years. So I’m catching up.”