Spanning more than 30 promotions in four countries and having 16 championships during his seven-year career, Juggernaut (Craig Renney) is one of the most established wrestlers on the Western Canadian wrestling scene.
After training in Edmonton and having a handful of matches, the 6-foot-5, 380-pound monster began his amazing journey through professional wrestling by driving from his hometown of Cranbrook, British Columbia to Tampa, Florida.
“I was a head doorman at a bar in Edmonton, and had been in the business for a year when Chance Beckett called me. He knew a guy in Illinois who wanted to pay for us to come down and wrestle. We were young and stupid, so we said sure.”
Juggernaut headed back to Cranbrook for a few weeks and worked at a mill to earn a bit of extra money before the trip. Then he and Beckett headed out on their own.
“We took off in a 1984 AMC Eagle Station Wagon, with everything we owned jammed in. We went across the border at six in the morning and the border guy asked us how long we were going for, typical questions. We had everything we owned and looked like we were running from the police, but he still let us across the border.”
From there they drove to Jacksonville, Illinois, driving two 20-hour shifts while living off of Effidren and the energy drink Surge to keep awake. In Jacksonville, they met the promoter that had contacted them. The first sign that things weren’t kosher occurred then.
“We showed up at the hotel for the wrestling show, and the booker said ‘The show is cancelled, I don’t have a ring. But I am going to Florida right away.’ We had always planned to go to Florida from Illinois, so we just sped up the process.”
So off they went to Florida, as their car began to fall apart. A wrong turn in St. Louis didn’t help.
“The car started to overheat and was smoking. We were in St. Louis and took a wrong turn and were right by the baseball stadium. Mark McGuire had just hit his 71st home run, so we were stuck in traffic, and if the car isn’t moving then no air is blowing on the engine to cool it down. We finally got out of there, flooring it all the way, pouring water on the engine and trying to survive and we made it to Tampa.”
A mere 68 hours after departing Cranbrook, they arrived at their destination, Tampa Palms Gold’s Gym, which was owned by B. Brian Blair and Steve Keirn.
“We pulled into the parking lot and the car dies right there. It was done. We went into the gym and we actually met Steve and Brian that night, which was a big deal because we were still so new to the business.”
Fortunately the apartment that Juggernaut was supposed to stay at was just up the road from the gym. After waiting seven hours for their roommate to show up and let them in, they were in for another surprise.
“We found out that we are in one of the most expensive apartment buildings in Tampa. Our three bedroom was around $3,200 a month, and of course we weren’t making any money. So the guy who got us down there paid our rent for the entire time we were down there.”
It was a struggle to survive for Juggernaut and Beckett. The promoter who brought them down swore that he could get them booked, and never did. So they took it upon themselves by going to shows on their own and talking to promoters. It paid off and they started getting bookings.
“We finally got on to IPW with Ron Neimi, which was probably one of the most popular companies in Florida, if not the southeastern U.S. He gave us a break. He was only paying us 30 bucks a show once a month, and we did other shows and would wrestle 20 bucks. Often we had to wrestle for free, or get paid in beer and chicken wings. But when I was living off of Ichiban soup, give me a bucket of wings and I’d be happy as a clam.”
Despite being broke, he did get the opportunity to do what many pro athletes do. Go to Disney World.
“A friend of mine used to work at Disney World, and although he had quit, he still had his gate-hopper pass for him and two friends to get in for free. For us to go to Disney World with no money, we had Ichiban soup in our pockets to eat there. I never thought that I would get to go there, let alone for free and jump to the head of the lines! I wish I had had money because I would have eaten one of the giant turkey drumsticks they sell.”
After living for a year on Ichiban soup and literally $50 a month, Juggernaut finds it amazing that some of his fellow wrestlers feel that they have paid their dues.
“You hear a lot of guys talk about how they have sacrificed but I don’t think too many guys can compare to that. They say ‘I moved from my hometown and started wrestling, and now I have to pay rent!’ like it is a big sacrifice. Then there are other guys who are thirty years old and still live with their parents and think they are big superstar pro wrestlers. They never sacrificed a day in their life to get anywhere.”
As his career continued, Juggernaut started to establish his style, going with the popular style of the time, hardcore.
“When I first started, that is what the popular style of wrestling was. Popularity wise, the number one company aside from WWF was ECW. That was the top style at the time. So I basically adapted that because that is what I envisioned I needed to do to get somewhere. It got me places because I was very good at it. That is kind of depressing because I don’t like it that much, but I was good at it.”
But the fans took to him. The image of a 380-pound man flying off the top and splashing an opponent through a table is one that burns into someone’s memory.
“I don’t like being on the top rope at all. I can do it but I’d rather not; it hurts way too much. The hardcore style was so popular when I started that it was running the wrestling business, and in turn it killed the wrestling business. I just did what I thought I had to do to get noticed. It worked, but now it is hard to change your style when you have a reputation for hardcore and you change to something else.”
It was effective, and helped Juggernaut get booked all over North America.
“It’s all about what you do for yourself. Most of the guys in Alberta don’t do anything. They wait around and hope that if they are good in the ring someone is going to call them. That is not the case; it doesn’t matter how good you are no one is going to call you. You have to go out there and meet people, inquire about opportunities. When you start out you pay your own way, you go where you go, make your $430 on a show, smile, nod your head and be happy about it. A lot of guys have ‘fake superstar syndrome’ and won’t do it. Lots of guys think they are worth a lot more then they are. The only way to get booked anywhere is to be able to do different styles but still maintain a character. There are so many guys who just want to fly and have no offence except a couple of flips. That won’t get you booked anywhere.”
Juggernaut has worked at changing his style, doing more wrestling moves instead of just tables and chairs. His body has already taken a beating and Juggernaut wants to prolong his career and his physical well being.
“I can do a good match without doing hardcore, but I got caught up in the crowd wanting that. Dr. Luther retired because he didn’t want to be in a wheelchair. I don’t want to be the guy who needs a cane to walk around at 60. I feel okay now; I had knee troubles for a few years. I don’t want to be like Mick Foley or Terry Funk. When Funk is done he won’t be walking much because he has no knees left. I don’t want to be one of those guys. I don’t want to be crippled, that sums it up.”
Now, Juggernaut will still do hardcore wrestling, he just has to be properly compensated. His explanation makes sense.
“I will do anything, but now that I am older and have learned a few things I will do anything for the right money now. A lot of guys will go out and kill themselves for no reason. You have to take into account that if you cripple yourself you may have to take a couple of months off, and so you need to have made enough off that one show to pay the bills for that time. I will do anything if the money is there.”
Having traveled extensively, Juggernaut has taken what he has learned and incorporated it into his own distinct style.
“I don’t want to get stereotyped. People categorize wrestlers as a “brawler” or a “flyer.” A guy like Rick Steiner, or Brock Lesnar, people call them “brawlers.” I shake my head because both of those guys are extremely technically sound, they are both NCAA champions. I try and break stereotypes. I walk into a show, and people look at me and say ‘You’re a big guy, I know how you are going to wrestle.’ They have no idea.”
One of the things that always gets a reaction from crowds are his kicks. Unlike a lot of wrestlers, when Juggernaut kicks a guy in the back or in the face, he doesn’t slap his leg. The impact you hear is foot on flesh.
“Not slapping the leg is a very Japanese thing to do. It was North American’s who started to slap their legs. I started doing kicks because the Japanese bosses said ‘You look very good when you kick, do more.’ So I did. That is typically reserved for smaller guys like Low-Ki and Tajiri. So when someone sees me line up a face kick like Tajiri, it has a bit more believability because they don’t think I can pull it, so it looks like I kick them right in the teeth, or they just don’t expect it from me. If I was to really kick someone, it’s not going to make a slapping noise, it’s going to make a thud. When I do kicks to the back my hands are up in the air and that gets a reaction.”
Juggernaut learned a lot in Japan, as well as touring in Korea. [See June 2001 story: Canadians succeeding in Korea’s WWA.]
“Two weeks after the Korean tour I got the call from IWA in Japan. I liked Japan better then Korea because it is that status thing. Wrestlers always say they want to go to Japan, so the first time you go, you are overwhelmed. The first time I ever wrestled at Korakuen Hall, which is one of the most famous arenas in the world, that was great. There is this wall there with a whole bunch of wrestlers signatures on it of people who have wrestled there. It was cool to see who had been there and know I was adding my name to the list.”
Wrestlers who have toured Japan always speak highly of the country, the promotions, and the fans.
“If every North American fan could be like Japanese fans then wrestling wouldn’t be dying here like it is. The fans over there appreciate the art and the small things that mean something, whereas if you aren’t killing yourself in North America the fans don’t care. The very first big cheer I got in Japan was from breaking clean against the ropes. The crowd exploded, and I was confused until it was explained to me. They appreciate hard work and sportsmanship. There are different forms of hard work and that is what American fans don’t get. A guy can work hard and put on a sound technical match and the crowd is a lot more quiet. In Japan you can reverse hammerlocks for 15 minutes, and as long as it looks good the crowd will be with you the whole time.”
In comparison, Juggernaut feels that the fans in North America are far too critical.
“I would like to see fans in North America pull their heads out of their asses and stop acting like they know everything. Take the POW Ex for example. When there was a match and the crowd was made up of people who were just there to take in the [Saskatoon] Exhibition and weren’t necessarily wrestling fans, they were ten times louder then when you had 80 actual fans watching. Those guys are the ones who will sit on their hands and wait for you to kill yourself.”
He was especially offended by the reaction of some fans to Sabu, who wrestled the week in a cast with a newly reattached bicep.
“Sabu had an open flesh wound in a cast, and those guys are chanting ‘We want tables.’ When they chant that they are showing so much disrespect for him and not caring about his well-being. How can you cheer for a guy and then cheer for him to re-tear his bicep? And if he went through a table it would, there is too much impact when you do that for it not to. To have no regard for his health, that to me is a slap in his face.”
Having done six tours with IWA in Japan, Juggernaut is happy to pass on wisdom from his experience to others who go to Japan. TJ Wilson has had a number of tours, and Juggernaut’s sometime partner Apocalypse seems to be being groomed to head there in the future.
“I talked to TJ for 45 minutes one day before he went to Japan, and at some point Apocalypse will be heading there and I’ll talk to him before he goes. There are things that I think guys should know before they go to Japan. There are certain customs and cultural tricks you can pull, things that Leatherface told me before I went over. If you like a guy, why not help them out? I am always happy to help out young guys who I like. A guy like Apocalypse busts his ass, has no ego, and is talented out the wahoo in the ring. He has things he needs to work on but so does everyone, and if I can help him out and contribute to making him a better wrestler, it is worth it.”
However Juggernaut is picky about whom he is willing to offer his help too. There is no place for egotism with him.
“There are other people who may be great talents but I refuse to help them because they are idiots. I won’t help someone who has an ego they don’t deserve. When I can talk to a guy like Sabu or Jerry Lynn, who have been around for years, and they talk to me like an equal, and then some guy with three years in the business talks to me with an ego, I am not going to help him. There are guys that deserve help and some who don’t.”
Juggernaut has quickly taken on a veteran roll.
“Honkytonk Man said to me once ‘I’ve been around and I have never seen this. You’ve taken on a veteran role in less then five years.’ I asked him why, and his explanation was the way I can help new guys. According to him my knowledge of the business is through the roof for being around such a short time. In a day where veterans are few and far between, at seven years I am a veteran. A lot of guys wrestle for a year and leave, or they do two years, leave for three, come back for two, leave for 2 and come back, and say they are a 13 year vet. No, they are a five-year vet. Since I started wrestling I haven’t stopped. I have taken off the past month; that is the only time I have taken off in seven years.”
How did he learn so much? By asking as many questions as possible. He has been on tour and wrestled veterans like Honkytonk Man, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, Sabu, The Bushwhackers, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Jim “The Anvil” Niedhart and many more. He spends his time between shows soaking up as much information from those who came before him as he can.
“There are too many guys who are busy telling people what to do and not taking the time to learn about the business. You have to keep learning in this business, that’s how you advance.”
Juggernaut plans to put a few more years into the business, and if he is not where he wants to be, then he plans to step back.
“I’ll wait till I get to ten years and if I am not in the position I want to be in, I will be done. I just want to be happy with wrestling and making money. Not having to pick up a shift at a bar, I want to be earning enough to live off of wrestling.”
Even if he does retire, Juggernaut can look back on a career that few can compare to, and smile at all he has done. In the meantime he continues to take independent bookings and hopes fans will continue to go to the shows.
“Support indy wrestling. Indy wrestling will be dead in five years at the current rate. Go out and support it and don’t pretend you know everything. Go to be entertained, not because you want to figure out what is going on.”
Jason Clevett is from Calgary, Alberta and of the wide range of words he would use to describe Juggernaut, “Hunk” has never been one of them.