MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — In the ring he’s a pretentious, egotistical and hell-raising athlete, who’s overly proud of his Canadian heritage, but outside the ropes, ‘Canadian Hellraiser’ Jason Helton is far from that; he’s your consummate nice guy. Yes, the 31-year-old native of Calgary, Alberta is proud to be Canadian, but unlike his in-ring character, he also has a divine love for down under… Australia that is.
For the past three years, Helton has made his home on the other side of the globe, which was quintessentially put on the map by movie star Paul Hogan, aka Crocodile Dundee. Why’d he make the move? Simple. Love was the triggering factor to making Helton Canada’s loss and Australia’s gain. As Helton told SLAM! Wrestling, his wife is from Tamworth, Queensland, Australia, and due to visa complications being less profound in Australia, it was easier for him to move Down Under than her moving to Canada.
A pro wrestler since 1989, Helton was trained in Stu Hart’s legendary ‘Dungeon’. Infamously known to be intense and roughhousing, Helton doesn’t deny the strains and pains that go with being a product of the ‘Dungeon’. “I would say it (training in the Dungeon) was as tough or [if not] tougher than what’s said about it. It was great training,” Helton said. He even goes as far as to compare training in the ‘Dungeon’ to boot camp. “I haven’t been in the army but I’m sure boot camp had nothing on the Dungeon. At least the army doesn’t have Stu stretching you after you have gone on a 10-mile jog.”
The six-foot-two, 230-pound Canadian also recounts some of the physical pains he suffered from the training. “I spent weeks with a bruised chest from the chops I got and wore the skin off my elbows from bumping all day.” Although tough, Helton thoroughly enjoyed the training. “I was in the best shape of my life,” he explained, quickly adding, “but I never want to run on a treadmill again.”
One of Helton’s inspirations to become a pro wrestler was Tom Billington, better known as The Dynamite Kid. “The Dynamite Kid was one of a kind when I first saw him,” Helton said. “He was fearless and man, could he fly.” Helton also remembers how Billington made him believe in wrestling, going on to say that “he wasn’t the biggest guy in the world, but he was the toughest. You looked at him and thought, man, I don’t want to meet him in a dark alley.” Helton was endeared to the slickness of Billington as a performer. “As a good guy everyone loved him. As a bad guy the same fans would have happily shot him dead. He could hold a crowd in the palm of his hand and make them feel however he wanted them to feel.”
Helton has worked over the years for such notables as the WWF, ECW, ICW, CRMW and last but not least, the ’80s Calgary-based Stampede Wrestling promotion. Helton’s stay in Stampede was only concise since Vince McMahon had bought out the fed not long after Helton started to make some noise, but nevertheless, he holds many vivid memories from the days with the ‘Canadian giants’.
“I remember the Rockyford rodeo shows which were always interesting. It was a two-day gig in July just … after the Calgary Stampede. Same place, same crowd each day. For three years running, I would be a good guy first day and get ‘over’ as a good guy and then with no explanation or reason I’d come out on the second day a raving lunatic bad guy.” Helton also remembers one year being issued “the absolute worst ring name in all of wrestling history” at a Rockyford show. “It Was Jesse Jo Yellow Weasel,” Helton recalls. “I was supposed to be a Native that day.” He melodramatically adds, “My opponent Jason Anderson nearly had a stroke trying not to laugh at me in the ring.”
As for one of the most “fun” and subtle ‘ribs’ he’s ever pulled off, yeah, that happened in Stampede as well. “We did a Stampede show in a tiny Alberta town and I was bored before the show,” Helton said. Having plenty of time on his hands and a great deal of energy, Helton looked for a victim. “Wrestlers with time to kill are not the best people to be around sometimes.”
The victim ended up being a rookie wrestler named Gothic Knight and his “squire”, a 15-year-old kid. Helton reminisces, “Gothic always demanded his own dressing room and he was always saying he would revolutionize pro wrestling. He was a huge man but since this was going to be his fourth pro match, it rubbed the boys the wrong way.” When Knight walked through the door, Helton “pretended to be asleep,” the initial stanza of the cunning ‘rib’ Helton and the boys out back were to play on Knight. Next up, Helton complained that he was drowsy and ill. To start off a great ‘rib’, “they got out the Tums they put in a foil wrapper and gave it to me,” Helton said. “I ate it and in about five minutes I was ‘wired’. I started running around and telling everyone that I was going to put on the GREATEST show anyone had ever seen. I ran around so much I broke out into a sweat.”
Knight was soon to retreat to his own locker room, shutting the door. But Helton wasn’t done yet: “I kept walking in and asking stupid questions like ‘did you see my match? Was it good?’ And he said I didn’t have it yet, the show doesn’t start for an hour. Then I would yell and scream and call him a liar saying I just put on a great show and he was just jealous.” Knight soon after kicked Helton out of his room and locked the door; but it was to no avail. “I gave him about 10 minutes then I politely knocked on the door and told him we were having a prayer meeting before the show,” Helton revealed. Knight’s little “squire” shortly after emerged from the room and formed a circle with the wrestlers. Once some stability was formed in the circle, Helton asked everyone if they had their toothbrush, knowing that the “Squire” was in no man’s land. Helton then yelled at him, “how dare you come to a meeting without a toothbrush” and kicked him out of the locker room. A raged Knight came charging through the door, questioning Helton’s professionalism and calling him a “jerk”. So how did he respond? “I responded by eating more Tums in front of him,” Helton enthusiastically said.
“He freaked out and went running to the booker telling him I was in no shape to work and I was a dangerous loser who had no right to be in this business.” As that happened, Helton and the guys tried to work out what they could do to the giant Canadian next. When Knight re-entered the locker room, Helton freaked out, yelling, “he let my dog out of the room,” and running down the hallway screamed “Steroids, steroids, I need steroids.” A direct personal shot at Knight which Helton got away with via some quick thinking.
After returning from his match, Helton returned to the locker room, where a disgruntled Knight confronted him. Helton recollects, “He pulled me into the bathroom and yelled at me telling me I was a disgrace. I listened carefully and just kept repeating the words ‘I understand Dave.’ Since his name was Ed he didn’t like that too much.” Helton soon hit the showers and got ready to go, whilst Knight was finishing his match.” But he wasn’t done yet.
“After the show as he (Knight) was showering, I walked into his locker room and looked in at him. Once again I freaked out at him yelling at him ‘why are you naked in the parking lot?’ Think of the children. My God, the children. He promptly threw me out of his dressing room. The guys were truly enjoying this.” Helton would exit the ‘king’, finishing off the ‘rib’ with an unforgettable act. “As he opened the door to go home, there I was standing half-naked. With a sheepish voice I said ‘Excuse me sir, I seem to have lost my pants, have you seen them?’ he freaked out and shoved me against the wall and stormed out of the arena.” Due to his notorious ‘ribbing’ act, Helton was suspended for two months but as he sees it, “it was worth it.”
Whilst in Stampede, Helton was embroiled in a series of matches against the legendary Canadian, Gerry Morrow, who he regards as his favourite worker “by far”. Helton still today remains forever thankful towards Morrow: “Whatever I have accomplished in my career, I owe to Jerry. He took an interest in my career and helped to mould me into the wrestler I am today. After every match he would tell me how to improve my work. I called him my Road Dad when we worked together.”
Some of the key doctrines Helton learnt from Morrow were “timing psychology” and a real niche for “work ethic”. Helton recalls the intense dedication Morrow had for the business. “All the year I saw him work he never took it easy or was lazy in the ring.”
Now that Helton is the veteran, he looks to pass on some of his experience to the inexperienced Australia wrestlers. “I try and help the newer wrestlers in Australia, the way that Jerry helped me.” Helton additionally regards Dr. Luther, Ken Johnson, Steve Rivers, Brett Como and Australian wrestling sensation Lobo as a few of the other “class guys” he’s had the pleasure of working the ropes with.
Helton reflects back on one of his most memorable matches, an early ’90s bout against Mark Callaway (The Undertaker) on a huge WWF card in Winnipeg, seen by some near 20,000 people. “The atmosphere was great. To this day it’s the biggest crowd I have worked in front of in my career.” The experience taught Helton a few valuable lessons. “In that match I learned not to be overawed by the crowd or your opponent and if you just stay confident and relaxed in the ring, good things will happen.”
Helton would be ecstatic yet a little frightened when the WWF called him in to wrestle the late Yokozuna in his inaugural WWF encounter. Helton exerts his initial thoughts on the Samoan giant: “It was a bit scary at the beginning. We had a practice session that afternoon and there was Mr. Fuji and Yoko. The first thing they had me do was lie down and then Yoko started climbing to the top rope…He stepped on the bottom rope and his weight pushed it down to the apron so he couldn’t climb. He kept trying and he couldn’t do it.” During Yokozuna’s struggle, in which he’d never quite make it to the top rope, Helton was limited to sitting flat on his back in the ring and just praying to God that Yokozuna would not make it [to the top]. Once they came to the realization that Yokozuna making it to the top was ‘the great beyond’, plans totally changed, as Helton remembers.
“Mr Fuji taught him the Bonsai Drop and then called me in for the test. He threw me in the corner, ran at me and did the backward splash into the corner. I fell down and he climbed up the ropes. I said a little prayer as he came down towards me. He landed and I was happily in one piece.” Helton and Yokozuna would run over the plan over and over again. After approximately 30 bonsai drops, Helton inevitably felt a little sore. Nevertheless, Helton had done his job, and done it well. Everyone was quite pleased with the way it went,” Helton said. Following the intensity of the day and the ‘feel’ of working with a major wrestling icon in the making, Helton informed Mr. Fuji that he’d had a “fun” time and thought the big man would be “great”. From the very moment he met him, Helton knew Yokozuna was to be the dawn of a new era. “Someone that big who could move as well as he did was pretty much a shoo-in if they pushed him right, which of course they did,” Helton said.
Proceeding his afternoon practice session with Yokozuna, a 22-year-old Helton would meet the one and only Vince McMahon. “He shook my hand and thanked me for my help with Yokozuna,” Helton exclaimed. Helton found McMahon to be “a nice guy,” and then jokingly added, “from the 30 seconds I talked to him.” Helton was quite excited and overwhelmed that Vince McMahon spoke to him at the time, but also sees that an opportunity could’ve been foregone due to his confidence (or lack of) back then. “If I had the confidence then that I do now, I would have asked him for a full-time job.”
Helton’s 1996 stint in ECW was cut far too short due to a horrific neck injury he endured against the suplex-master, Taz. Helton surprisingly remembers his duel with Taz quite well. “We were having a shoot fight and I was going in as a Muay Thai fighter. At the end of the match, he gave me a head and arm suplex and he didn’t turn me at all so I didn’t have the opportunity to land safely. I landed right on top of my head.” In a world of hurt, Helton tried vigorously to keep working assiduously, since he saw ECW “as the place to be” at the time. But that was to no avail. As Helton stated, “I broke my sternum and cracked some vertebrae in my neck.” And yet, today Helton holds no grudges against the WWF star. “As a person, I have no problem with Taz.” But it wasn’t that easy for Helton just to forget the damage Taz inflicted upon him. “I was angry for a long time with him. I feel I was in the right spot to make a big career at the time I was injured and I won’t ever get to be a huge WWF star in my life. Taz didn’t seem to worry too much about me in the ring; he just worried about getting over in the match.” But now that it’s all in the past, Helton’s learned to accept it all and move on.
On the reflective side of things, he’s been able to foresee the problems Taz has had with the WWF though, since they’ve “vetoed a lot of his suplexes.” Helton believes that without the suplexes, Taz “is limited to brawling, and some of the guys such as The Undertaker and Kane are too big for him to realistically brawl with.” It appears, well at least to Helton anyways, that the only way Taz can get ‘over’ in the WWF is with the full use of his array of suplexes.
Although Helton never was able to excel to the levels he so richly deserved in ECW, he remains appreciative of Paul E. Heyman for giving him the opportunity and only ever had one problem with Paul E.; and that was “for never returning a phone call,” Helton comically revealed to SLAM!
Helton finds the day-to-day life in Australia very similar to that in Canada. “The people are about the same; same laid back attitude. Same senses of humour.” Helton furthermore comments on the political situations, “same lousy politicians.” One of the major differences has been that Australian wrestling is on a much smaller scale and so consequently “the money isn’t as good as it is in Canada.” Nonetheless, Helton sees the future of wrestling in Australia as being prosperous. “It is building a bit of a good reputation I think. There are some awesome workers in Australia. It’s been a pleasure working here with these guys. I’m sure some of the guys here would fit in well with the WWF if they got the chance.” He feels though that it’s essential on the down under scene that promoters work together in unity: “what they need is one bigger fed with all the workers working together instead of the 30 promotions they have now.”
Helton sees his greatest attribute as being his willingness to make his opponent look as good as he can. “I don’t really have any aversion to jobbing to anyone,” Helton stated. “I do this to entertain people and I think I do a good job. I also think I am able to make everything I do look solid and real without hurting anyone.” In now his 13th year as a pro wrestler, Helton proudly holds the fact that the only injuries of note he’s caused are a bruised bicep to an opponent and a mere bloody nose. He’s never cost anyone a day’s work in the business and looks to sustain that impressive track record in the near future.
So you’re thinking, this man is flawless right? Wrong! Helton is quick to reveal that he’s “the world’s worst singer.” He humbly says, “No one can butcher a song like yours truly.” He’s even got a song and lyric that best describes him! It goes as follows:
I had my hands in the river;
My feet back up on the banks;
Looked up to the Lord above and said ‘Hey Man thanks’;
Sometimes I feel so good I gotta scream;
She said Gordie Baby I know exactly what you mean
(New Orleans is sinking by The Tragically Hip)
Outside of wrestling, Helton’s life is quite fulfilled with many commitments. Lawn Bowls is his new hobby. “I’ve taken that up for when I’m older and can’t wrestle anymore. Something I can do until I’m 100,” Helton jokes. Helton is also taking some computer courses and moreover, tries to spend as much time with his wife and daughter as he can. He sees spending time with his family as absolutely imperative.
What’s next on the agenda for the ‘Canadian Hellraiser’? “I have a few tours coming up in August and September,” Helton said. At present, Helton is also looking to line up work for later this year and early next year. A triumphant return to his home of Canada isn’t out of the question either for Helton. In fact it’s on Helton’s probable schedule: “I’m hoping to make it back to Canada in late 2002 and get a couple dates there.” Once he manages to return to Canada, Helton believes he’ll then begin to assess his life and the career path to take. He shoots with a slight bit of uncertainty, “maybe I will look into starting my own promotion.”
As we’re parting ways, Helton fires out one last remark: “I would like to say thank you to all the fans and wrestlers in Canada that supported me through my years there. I will never forget the great times I had in Canada entertaining you guys.” And I’m sure all you folks in Canada who ever got to see this man strut his stuff would feel exactly the same way. Just keep on the lookout; you never know where Helton will be raising HELL next! Whether it is in Australia or his native of Canada, he’ll forever remain a credit to the industry we so passionately love.
|Australian Wrestling Uncovered|
|One word describes Australian Wrestling. Tough. No one could possibly do it for the money. It’s all about desire and the risk workers are willing to take for what’s seen as quite mediocre pay cheques; sometimes reportedly as low as $30 (Australian currency). Around 30 promotions currently operate in Australia, many of which are unwilling to work in unison with others, effectively hindering the chances of the wrestling scene reaching its potential peak. Some of the key promotions to follow are: PWSA, IWA, AWF, NEW and Melbourne-based All-Star Wrestling. Most local shows within Australia run a promotion approximately every month or so, give or take a day or two, so wrestlers often have very limited opportunities to really work up a sweat.
The past few years have seen a few tours come and go in Australia. The AWF have worked hard to bring credible athletes such as Chris Candido, Tammy Lynn Sytch, Sabu, Psychosis and some of Canada’s ‘cream’ stars down under. Last year saw the “Superstars Of Wrestling” tour Australia-wide, headlining such commodities as Dennis Rodman, Curt Hennig and Brutus Beefcake. An SOW 2 tour is currently in the works. WCW finally toured down under in October last year as well. A smash-hit right across the nation, with tickets selling like hotcakes.
There you have it. The real question is, ‘are you tough enough to step into Australian rings?’