T.J. Wilson has lived what some would consider a dream life. Having basically been adopted by the Hart Family after befriending Ted Hart at the age of 10, T.J. Wilson is rapidly becoming one of the most well-respected wrestlers on the Western Canadian independent scene.

“I love my experiences with the Hart family. I have wrestled with Bret, Owen, Jim, Davey, Bruce, Ross, and Keith. I have traveled to L.A., Anaheim, and Vancouver thanks to Owen. I went to England and Spain with Davey, Diana, Harry and Georgia (Diana’s daughter, not sister). I wouldn’t change anything about my experiences.”

After spending hours in the backyard of Stu’s famous Calgary home honing his craft, T.J. himself is now heavily involved with training up-and-coming Stampede stars, as well as running a youth camp at B.J.’s Gym. He had his first match at the age of 15, and at 16 wrestled in the opening match of a Calgary WWF house show. He teamed with Andrew Picarnic against Ted Hart and Harry Smith in a match dedicated to Ted’s brother and T.J.’s close friend Matt Annis, who had died of Flesh Eating Disease the previous July. T.J. was pinned in the tag match but it was still an awe-inspiring experience.

“It was amazing. The crowd got into us by the end of the match, and it was an incredible feeling to be around the top guys in the business at that time. We wrestled on the same card as guys like Shawn Michaels, Owen, Davey, Austin, Triple-H, Undertaker, and Mankind. It is quite a thrill to be our age and to do what we did. I don’t think it has been repeated in the WWF. I have not experienced anything like it since. It is the most people I had wrestled in front of, 10,000-12,000. That it was for Matt made it that much more important. I tried my hardest that night.”

Matt was the first of the deaths that have rocked the family in the past few years. T.J. was by their side as they mourned the deaths of Matt, Owen Hart, Helen Hart, and Davey Boy Smith.

T.J. has many fond recollections of his lost “family.”

“Matt, Owen, and Helen were all cut from the same cloth. Anyone, and everyone, got along with them. They had huge hearts, and were good people. I was very fond of all three. Matt was my best friend at the time. I spent every weekend with him for the last two years of his life. Owen took me as his guest and flew me to WrestleMania XII, and to International Incident. He was always good to me. Helen let me stay at her house and was always more than generous with everything that she had. They were wonderful people, people that I admire.”

Having lived with Harry Smith and his family for the past few years, T.J. was very close to Davey Boy Smith, and was deeply shaken by his death.

“The hardest thing I have done to date was speak at Davey’s funeral. Davey was pretty good to me, letting me work out with him and taking care of me. Davey gave me a pair of boots, which I wear proudly. I wore them in Japan too. It affected me in the way that I saw these people that lost their dad, husband, and best friend. I live with them, it was a sad time. However, in a way, it brought a few people closer together. He touched a lot of people, and he meant a lot to them. It almost seemed like it wasn’t real.”

In April of 2002, T.J. caught the eye of New Japan Pro Wrestling Scout Tokyo Joe, who also was responsible for sending Owen Hart to Japan. A month later, T.J. began a rigorous training regime in preparation for an opportunity that so many independent stars crave.

T.J. was heading to Japan.

“It was very intense training, about 250 squats a day, 200 pushups, a lot of stamina training, then after all that we would go into the ring and learn lots of submission holds, counter holds, and a different style of technical wrestling. In the last 14 days before I went to Japan I trained with Joe 11 times-for a total of about 35 hours in 14 days of training. While in Japan, on the days of the shows, I do a total of 500 squats, 200 pushups and 200 curls.”

Following in the footsteps of “Dynamite Kid” Tom Billington, and “Pegasus Kid” Chris Benoit, T.J. was christened “Stampede Kid” by Joe. A lot of pressure was on the 22-year-old to fulfill their legacies last fall when T.J. took his first trip to Japan. This May, T.J. takes his third tour as a part of the Best of the Super Junior Tournament, one of the biggest events in NJPW every year.

“On the flight to Japan the first time I was really scared and extremely nervous. Now I can,t wait to go. New Japan treats you so well it is unbelievable. I have a great time over there — wrestling often and learning something new every single match. I have wrestled Jushin Thunder, Liger, Koji Kanemoto, El Samurai, Masayuki Naruse, Masahito Kakihara, Heat, Jado, Gedo, Minoru Fujita, and Tiger Mask IV and teamed with Super Crazy, American Dragon, Kakihara, Heat, Goku-Do (Pat Tanaka, of the ’90s WWF team The Orient Express) Tiger Mask 4, Kanemoto, and Akira. I worked out with American Dragon a few times (in the gym), as well as Scott Norton. Everyone is very respectful and nice. I am looking forward to going in May. It is an honour to be in the Best of the Super J. I almost can,t believe it.”

When asked how an English-speaking wrestler bridges the gap with his Japanese counterparts, T.J. simply stated, “You just go out there and do what comes naturally to you. You just have to wrestle, plain and simple. Those guys are in great shape out there, they move pretty quickly, so you have to be on your toes and be aware of what’s going on in the ring.”

Many fans have forsaken North American wrestling in favour of the work-rate based Japan style, which T.J. adapted to easily. A number of matches that stand out in his mind from the tours.

“My favourite is probably teaming with Akira vs Kanemoto and Liger. It was on the second last day of the tour. Those guys are great wrestlers and every time you are in there with them you can learn so much. Another match I liked was teaming with American Dragon vs Jado and Gedo. We went to a 15 minute draw. Kanemoto may be my favourite opponent. He is so quick and fast it is good to even try and keep up with him.”

Back home, T.J. can’t speak highly enough of Harry Smith, who seems destined to be following his fathers footsteps into the WWE.

“My favourite match home in Stampede was against Harry Smith. We went almost half an hour and we gave it our all. Harry is my favourite opponent when I am home, another guy you can learn so much from in a short amount of time. Apocalypse is really developing his style and I really enjoy wrestling him right now.”

Although T.J. has the talent to succeed in places like Ring of Honor or NWA-TNA, his goal right now is to stay with Stampede and help them continue their gradual rebuilding process.

“I have a great time in Stampede Wrestling-the talent out here is unbelievable. Everyone in the locker room can put on a good match.”

However don’t be surprised if he follows in the footsteps of Dungeon grads Lance Storm, Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho by using Japan as a springboard towards the WWE.

“There is only one place to go, and everyone wants to go there, causing indy wrestlers to have to step it up a bit and show what they can do. I hope to follow in my fellow Canadians, footsteps, I would love to wrestle in the big time.”

T.J. Wilson has the drive and skills to do so.

T.J. will be wrestling at Stu Hart’s 88th Birthday, May 2nd at the Ogden “Legion of Doom” Hall in Southeast Calgary, also featuring A.J. Styles, Black Dragon, an appearance by Harley Race, and Sabu vs Ted Hart. Tickets available at Ticketmaster.ca, or check out www.stampedewrestling.com for details.