REAL NAME: Stephen Petitpas
BORN: November 14, 1957 in Souest, Germany
6’3″, 275-280 pounds
AKA/NICKNAMES: Sheik Ali, Stephen Pettipas, Steven Pearsay (“they pronounced it Per-say in Germany”), Canadian Lumberjack
Maritime legend Big Stephen Petitpas is a number of years out of his wrestling career now, but that certainly doesn’t mean that he’s not recognized “big time” by his fans.
In fact, he’s still out in the public eye all the time, playing hockey on a regular basis (“I’m a winger, really, if you can believe that. With the gear on, I’m six-foot-six, 330-pounds on the ice.”), driving a truck and he’s the flagman for CASCAR’s New Brunswick International Speedway.
“I’ve been fairly successful at everything I’ve tried. I don’t know why. If it’s God’s gift, I thank him for it. I was always ‘we’ll think it about it later, let’s go do it’,” Petitpas told SLAM! Wrestling.
All in all, it was a 21-year career for Petitpas, the majority of which was spent near his home in New Brunswick. After all, he wanted to be home every winter to play senior hockey.
Born in Germany where his father was stationed with the Canadian military, Petitpas grew up in Shediac, N.B. in an Acadian household, speaking French at home. His neighbour was instrumental in his wrestling career.
“At the age of 15 years old, I was 6’3″, 220. That’s when I started,” he said. “Emile Dupre lived across the street from me. I always watched him train in the backyard and everything. When I got to 13, 14 years old, I was out there putting rings up, getting the feet wet.”
Petitpas helped out refereeing too for a while until Dupre came to him one evening in need of another wrestling. “A couple of guys quit on him, and he says, ‘You’re ready. You’re starting tonight.’ ‘Okay, let’s go!'”
His career took off from there, and he was always a good guy in the Maritimes. “I know a lot of people looked up to me, being the babyface. Hopefully I get positive thoughts back.”
The Maritimes were an excellent place to work for Petitpas — it was home and it had a lot of appeal for others to come in. “As far as the Maritimes provinces go, everybody in the world that talks about wrestling says, ‘Geez, we want to go to the Maritimes’ because it was always short trips. Every town was always there, type thing. We wrestled seven days a week here, and the farthest trip was 300 miles. It was a very easy territory to work. The fan support was always there every night. Everybody in the world says, ‘Geez, if I ever get the chance, I’d like to go the Maritmes.’ That’s why we always had very good wrestling here, because the boys always wanted to come this way.”
On five different occasions, Petitpas challenged then-NWA World champ Ric Flair for the coveted belt. “Those are always on the mantle,” he said. “Flair is one of the best in the world.”
He wrestled in Germany on a number of occasions as well, where he was billed promoting his German roots. Petitpas counts the time in Germany among his career highlights, and even considered moving there. “Life is a lot more relaxed over there and the people treat you so well.”
Petitpas also did three tours of Japan and some other overseas tours. Until wrestling in late October in Halifax on a Real Action Wrestling legends show, he hadn’t put on his wrestling boots since a trip to India in 1995.
“I got five operations in my right knee. My knee was giving me a lot of problems,” he explained of the end of his career. “When I skate and play hockey, it doesn’t give me any problems at all. I’ve got braces for it. There’s no stress on it when you’re skating, you’re not banging on it.”
Many wrestling fans actually know Petitpas best, however, as the evil Sheik Ali from the old Lutte International promotion in Montreal. Managed by Eddie ‘The Brain’ Creatchman and his son ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd, the Sheik Ali character rose in the ranks pretty quickly.
Sheik Ali was Gino Brito’s idea, according to Petitpas. He was happy to do what the boss wanted. “Hey, let’s try it, if it works. The first time I walked out with that, it boomed and we went from there.”
Having ‘The Brain’ on his side meant he didn’t have to do much talking. “Eddie is one of the best there is for interviews.” He was a tag team champion with Richard Charland.
Programs against Dino Bravo, Rick Martel, then Abdullah the Butcher followed. “The biggest week I ever made was going around with Abby,” he said.
In Montreal, Petitpas was noticed by the then-growing WWF, and explained that he had an opportunity to start with them that was scuttled. “I had it all set up when I was in Montreal,” he said. “I was the top heel in Montreal. I had a tour going. They had me in with the Federation. Then Rick Martel came in and took over the territory. He says ‘No, we can’t lose our top heel right now because we don’t have time to build up another one.’ So he kind of told them no for me without me even knowing.”
Petitpas had been booked against Tito Santana in Montreal, then Toronto. “I was at the Forum, dressed and all ready to go, and then they came in the room and said, ‘No, it’s been changed.’ So they put Pierre Lefebvre in my spot. They said that Ricky Martel said that I shouldn’t be in the middle of the card when you’re the top guy in Montreal. It kind of lowers their promotion. I worked for him and I saw his point. If you’re only middle of the card there and come back here and your top guy kind of shoots your card down a bit. So I had to agree. I had no choice. Bravo paid me anyways for those two days.”
George Scott was the WWF booker at the time. “He said, ‘He kind of screwed our plans right now.’ It wasn’t what he wanted to hear. But it wasn’t my decision, they did. The Montreal office did that,” Petitpas said.
Others like Buddy Lane find it hard to believe that someone with the skills and looks of Petitpas couldn’t make it bigger. “[Petitpas] was the biggest waste of talent ever,” Lane told SLAM! Wrestling. “He was offered contracts in Minneapolis, he could have went to the Federation, he could have went here, he could have went there. But money didn’t mean anything to Petitpas. He wrestled in Montreal as Sheik Ali, he went to Germany, he went to Japan, he went where he wanted to go. When the could’ve gone to the Federation, he could’ve gone to Verne Gagne, he didn’t want to go. He wanted to stay home.”
It’s similar to others from the Maritimes, Lane said. “Money doesn’t mean a lot to Petitpas, The Beast, to Maritime people. That’s their nature.”
In 1988-89, Petitpas promoted around the Maritimes with Stompin’ Paul Peller, Dupre having gotten out of the business.
“There were a lot of kids that came to me that wanted to train in this area, so I started Atlantic Wrestling School. I had 11 students the first year. I’m sure you’re heard of Kurrgan. Well, he was one of my first students. I had five guys here that were good,” Petitpas said. “Where Emile didn’t want to promote, I said I had some local guys here to get things going. Paul and I kind of got together and we put on some shows in the summer.”
It just didn’t work out. “We just couldn’t afford to get going. The WWF had all the TV rights everywhere. We couldn’t get no publicity nowhere. What can you do? We survived. Everybody got paid.”
Since his attempt at promoting, Petitpas hasn’t talked to his old neighbour Dupre. He figures it’s the only promoter in the world that he doesn’t get along with. “There’s one thing I can say is that everywhere I went around the world, there’s not a promoter that I could call right now that would refuse me because I’ve always left on very good terms, and always did hard work. I guess that would be a big plus next to my name.”
My memories of Big Stephen are not Wrestling, but hockey. He played for the Miramichi Packers one winter and helped them win the Hardy Cup as the best senior team in Canada. I don’t know if it’s an urban legend or not, but one night, he apparently body slammed one of the Campbellton Tigers in to the Penalty box at the Civic center.
For those of us from the Maritimes, Big Stephen Petitpas is a household name. Very few people who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s do not know his name when they hear it. He is as close to a Maritime Icon as one can be. I personally have some very fond memories of the big man. I remember the night at the J. Louis Levesque arena in Moncton, NB, when he took on Ric Flair for the NWA title. He, and Flair, put on a great match. At one point Petitpas had Flair trapped in his version of the figure four leg lock and to say that the people in attendance excited would be an understatement. For those few moments that he had Flair trapped in this hold it almost seemed possible. A local Maritimer was about to make history, and we were all about to witness it. However, Flair somehow managed to make it to the ropes. Then when Petitpas released the hold and went to pick Flair up, those same ropes became a resting point for Flair’s legs as he used them to help him score a pin fall. Even in defeat though, no one in the arena was upset with Big Stephen’s performance. He was the number one guy in our hearts that night.
I also remember the first time the WWF put on a house show in Moncton. After years of waiting for them to arrive we finally had stars like Jake Roberts and Randy Savage wrestling before us. However, without a doubt, the true star of the evening went to the surprise opponent for King Haku…Big Stephen Petitpas. When they announced his name and he stepped out from the backstage curtain the place went crazy. Here, in the middle of these big name stars, famous all over the world, was one of our own, our local hero, doing what he did best, and proving that he truly could mix it up with the best of the best. Even though Haku got the best of him that night, Petitpas made an impact that I’m sure the boys in the back could feel.
I was so glad to see Big Stephen’s profile added to the Canadian Wrestling Hall of Fame. For Maritimers, you can take your Bret Hart, your Rougeau brothers, all your Canadian wrestling heroes, and you can do away with them all. Give us Big Stephen Petitpas…the Big man, who made a Big impact on our little corner of the world.
Mark Andrew Higgins, Moncton, NB
Many thanks to SLAM! Wrestling for another great profile of one of the best wrestlers to come out of the Maritimes. I have seen Stephen in many great matches over the years, the best one being his challenge to Ric Flair for the NWA World title in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia in 1984. Flair won (by cheating, of course), but when that match was over, he went back to Charlotte knowing he had all he could handle from Petitpas. As far as memories go, one which stands out quite vividly goes back to the summer of 1992 when Stephen was running his own promotion, CCW (Canadian Championship Wrestling), which featured stars like Ron Starr, Leo Burke, The Cuban Assassin, “Blazin'” Bobby Blaze, and Kurrgan. Leo Burke slowly started turning heel, and one night in Berwick, Nova Scotia, Burke totally lost it when he was slugged accidentally by a young babyface named Todd MacPhee (later known as Todd “The Bodd” Douglas). Burke went berserk and teed off on MacPhee, and when Stephen came to the ring to stop it and try to reason with Leo, Burke would have none of it and bopped Petitpas over the head with a chair, leaving him a bloody mess, thereby cementing Burke’s new bad-guy status. The feud didn’t amount to much, as Leo quickly went back to being a babyface, actually winning the area’s tag-team title with Petitpas later on in the season. Many thanks to you, Stephen, for providing us Maritime wrestling fans with so many great performances over the years, and all the best to you in the future.
John Greeley Halifax, Nova Scotia