By JOHN M. MILNER — For SLAM! Wrestling

Talk to just about any wrestler to come out of Canada and sooner or later, they will give credit to a member of Calgary’s famed Hart wrestling family as being an influence on their career, in some form or another.

It is small wonder that Craig Harris, of Regina, Saskatchewan, points to a conversation he had with Bret Hart as being an influence on his career.

“I actually sat down for two hours with him when I was fifteen years old and talked,” remembers Harris, 32. “He’s the one who got me interested.”

Harris first met the Harts when he was eleven. His uncle worked for the Calgary printing company that did the printing for Bodypress for Stampede Wrestling. Working for his uncle during the summer, Harris got to meet the Harts as part of his uncle’s delivery runs.

Jack Venom

By the time his eighteenth birthday arrived, Harris knew what he wanted to do with his life, and also knew exactly where to get started: Calgary’s Hart Brothers Training Academy.

In addition to training with the Harts, Harris also spent six months training from the legendary Les Thornton. “He was totally amazing. He was unbelievable. To me, he was one of the greatest mat wrestlers I know of. He taught me quite a bit.”

Unfortunately, Harris’s early foray into the ranks of pro wrestling ended after only eight matches, including a debut win over Goldie Rogers and a match against Biff Wellington. Giving up wrestling, he says now, was “quite hard, actually.” However, at the time Harris, a new father, decided it was best to give up his dream of success in the ring in favour of a steady paycheque.

In September 1988, Mr. Hito, who Harris knew from his days in Stampede, returned to Regina to open up a wrestling training camp. Soon after, Harris spotted the ad in a local paper. At first, Harris was only there to work out, but Hito convinced him that it was time to comeback.

For the next four years, Harris wrestled in several independent organizations. “You know, the little tiny odd jobs, that pay only certain amount of dollars and travel expenses.”

At the end of that road, Harris decided it was time to leave the sport. “I was getting older, my daughter was getting older. Again, personal reasons,” Harris explains. “I had another kid, my wife wanted me to be at home. She was sick of me being on the road all the time.”

In 1995, Harris saw an ad looking for wrestlers for a small independent promotion called the Prairie Wrestling Alliance. It was there that he met John Cozman (who currently wrestles as Principal Richard Pound in Stampede Wrestling). The two men sat down and decided that with their combined experience, they would make a valuable asset to a promotion like the PWA.

However, success in the PWA was not to be. After about three months of Harris and Cozman training younger wrestlers, the promoter decided that he didn’t want to open the promotion, cheating both the trainers and the wrestlers out of a lot of money.

“At that point, I just stopped. I said ‘No more. I can’t do this.’ I have to make some money out of it,” Harris says.

Several months passed and Harris noticed a poster advertising Hardcore Wrestling at the Regina Exhibition Grounds. He took a chance and went down to the show, only to run into some old friends and a couple of former students. Glad to see him again, they offered him a chance to wrestle on that night’s card.

“I went home, grabbed my gear and jumped into a bunkhouse brawl,” Harris recalls.

As Hardcore Wrestling changed its name to Wild West Wrestling, Harris changed his in-ring name from his real name to Derrick Craven to Venom. (He recently adopted the name of Jack Venom as his in-ring persona.)

Harris continued to train wrestlers for the promotion. One of them that Harris is particularly proud of is a wrestler by the name of Wavell Starr.

“To me, if there’s anybody that I’ve seen in the last couple of years who could actually make it into the WWF, it would be him,” Harris predicts. “When he came to me, he was a greenhorn. I had to teach him from Day One how to bump. Right now, he’s surpassed what I’ve taught him. He’s a high-flyer. He’s built well, he’s muscled. He knows how to be a mat technician.”

While training is rewarding to Harris, he has no doubts where his priorities lie. “If I could concentrate on wrestling, period, then (my focus would be) probably wrestling. I enjoy it. I enjoy the pure art of wrestling.”

Like many independent promotions, Wild West Wrestling was not to be. “About two years ago, [the promoter] shut her down. He just couldn’t handle it,” Harris remembers. “And ever since then, we’ve been having our own little indy promotion, World High Impact.”

World High Impact Wrestling, which is a training centre/independent promotion based in Regina, Saskatchewan, is owned by a friend of Harris’, Charlie Hayes, who has wrestled in indy promotions all over Canada including the NWA and ECCW.

“We’re doing bar shows. Once a month, we do a show in Regina. We’re finding bookings. Sometime in February, we’ve got a booking in Saskatoon. They’re working out the final arrangements right now,” Harris reports. “It’s a great promotion, it’s a small-time indy promotion. It’s our indy promotion. I do the training. My friend, Charlie Hayes, who I originally trained, he’s helping train now. I’ve got Crusher Carl, he’s NWA Canadian Champion right now, helping out a little bit It’s pretty much the old wrestlers from Hardcore and High Impact. We built World High Impact and we’re running it the way we want to run it.”

Harris is confident about the future of the World High Impact Wrestling organization. “We’ve got 16 wrestlers right now that are geared up. We’ve got places like a bar in Moose Jaw that wants to book us for a whole year, once a week,” he reports. “We might have dates in Saskatchewan at this time, but we’re willing to travel to Alberta, Manitoba. Whatever it takes to get things back on the road. Right now I would like to get out of my present job at sheet metal and just (be) full-time with pro wrestling. I want to work on it full-time.”

The best part about pro wrestling, Harris says, is getting to know people. “I’ve met some really interesting people in my life. Two of the most interesting people I’ve ever met in my life are Bret Hart and Les Thornton. Anybody who knows Bret Hart knows he’s a down-to-earth guy; he knows where his head is. Les Thornton, he’s got to be one of the greatest wrestlers I’ve ever met. He may be an old-timer but he’s still got it. One of the best things about being a wrestler is getting to know people, traveling, going to different places. Looking out there and seeing a little kid who just loves wrestling, watching you and cheering for you. It’s a good thing. I enjoy that.”