Calgary-based Stampede Wrestling has a reputation for producing some of the finest pro wrestlers the world has ever seen. Bret Hart, Owen Hart, and Chris Benoit all at one point of their careers graced a Stampede ring and went on to become international superstars. Considering that, it should be no surprise that they’ve once again produced a top wrestling talent in Jason ‘The Sledgehammer’ Neidhart.
Being an avid wrestling fan in the late ’70s Neidhart — whose real name is Jason Anderson — started out in the business by becoming an amateur wrestler in high school during the ’80s. At that time however, wrestling wasn’t the focal point of his athletic career as he also played football, and in ’87 received a tryout for the Calgary Stampeders. He was eventually denied his place on the team because the coach thought he was too small. From there he continued his football career by playing junior football in California but an unexpected turn of events would lead him to his new life as a pro wrestler.
“There was a whole bunch of guys from Canada that went down but when the time came they were just a bunch of loose cannons, you know, always partying,” explained Neidhart. “Then when I got down there, [I had found out] the guys had been evicted. So we looked for place to live, couldn’t find one, so as it turned out, I had to go back to Canada. That was back in September of ’88 and I didn’t know what I was going to do, and it was then that I was approached to start wrestling. I was working out in the gym and Gama Singh and his brother Akim Singh they asked me if I wanted to [begin wrestling] ’cause Akim was just training and he needed someone to train with. So after thinking about it I said sure, why not.”
From there he went to work with Tony Condello’s promotion in Winnipeg and in February of 1989 fought and won his first match against Steve Gillespie, who would later go on to FMW to portray Hannibal the Lector. After Stampede closed down in December 1989, he decided to try his luck wrestling overseas.
“My first overseas trip was kind of ironic. What happened was Davey Boy [Smith] and Dynamite [Kid], in September of 1989 were booked for one of the Japanese promotions, I think it was for All Japan, so they couldn’t make a tour in Hawaii and Ross Hart asked if I go and I said sure. I was going there with a guy named Skull Mason, and this is the most bizarre thing, there was the earthquake in San Francisco and we were supposed to leave the day after, but that’s where we caught our connecting flight to Hawaii. So we ended up having to go from Calgary to Houston, overnight in Houston, Houston to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Hawaii. Then when we were in Los Angeles we picked up a few guys that were going to come with us, and it turned out one of them was Konnan. After that trip to Hawaii I recommended him to come up to Stampede wrestling, where he came up and worked and he even lived with me for a little while. Then he went to Mexico and became a big superstar”
Hawaii isn’t the limit of his overseas travels. He’s been everywhere from South Africa to the Philippines, Abu Dhabi, Kenya, Germany and many other places looking for wrestling superstardom. Not all of the trips have fond memories for Neidhart however.
“One time in Africa these wrestling fans took me to Soweto, and there had been an uprising when we got there, and they had to get me out because it had gotten really bad. They had to call in the army, and I remember driving back on the highway and there had to be about a mile-long line of armoured carriers and it just blew my mind that things could be so bad.”
Believe it or not, that’s not the worst thing that has happened during his overseas travels.
“Again in South Africa a wrestling fan took me out clubbing. Then what happened was he ended up throwing a [bomb made with alcohol] through someone’s window. The police stopped us and I ended up in a detention centre for the night trying to plead my case to the South African detectives. It was really bad because I hadn’t shown up in about 18 hours and everyone was just frantic looking for me.”
The 5-foot-10, 242-pound Sledgehammer hasn’t just been limited to wrestling in the independents either. He has had tryouts with both the WWF as well as a match at a recent Saturday Night taping for WCW. Both went cold, but he is “happy to have [had] the opportunity.” Neidhart did however say that the pressure to live up to some of the other former Stampede wrestlers has been on his mind.
“I’ve worked with a lot of great wrestlers like Chris Benoit, Lance Storm, Chris Jericho, just a whole bunch of guys that all went on to bigger and better things. In a way, it plays in my mind a bit but the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met, the things I’ve done, it’s just been great. The only thing that has eluded me is Japan and the big time. Before I end my wrestling career I hope I can fulfill at least one, or both of those goals.”
Now Neidhart is back in the comfortable confines of Calgary wrestling for Stampede wrestling, and becoming a bigger star by the minute. Every Saturday at 12 p.m. MT Stampede wrestling is available to people through The ‘A’ Channel, and if not carried by their local cable provider, fans can order the channel through their local satellite company. He says the recognition is great, but it’s not as nerve-racking as it once was. After all, he’s been wrestling on and off TV for the last 15 years.
Asked about what he would do if the ability to wrestle was taken away from him, he said that he does indeed have a business degree, and stated that the most important thing he could say to anyone wanting to become a wrestler is to get your education first.
It’s a good message from a man that has seen it all in the crazy world known as pro wrestling, and a man that definitely has a shot at becoming a star.