When you’ve had the type of career that Winnipeg’s Chi Chi Cruz has had, it’s hard to really put into words the life he has lived and the experiences he has had. His worldwide travels have given him such a jumble of memories that when you first ask him to talk about some of them, he can’t actually give one off the top of his head.

“I’ve done everything under the sun, it’s hard to even know where to start when asked something like that. It’s mind boggling the things that happen on the road,” Cruz told SLAM! Wrestling.

Chi Chi Cruz. Courtesy the Official Chi Chi Cruz website

He may have traveled the world, including far away lands like Japan, Africa and Europe, but those experiences may pale in comparison to the infamous “Northern Death Tours” run by Tony Condello. Cruz has been on 14 of those tours in the past 19 years, and the duo are both scheduled to be at a book signing for Greg Oliver’s The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Canadians Sunday, August 22 from 2-4 pm at Chapters on Empress in Winnipeg.

“I’ve seen ghosts, UFOs, you name it it’s happened,” he said, adding, “Tony is great, a fun guy and a smart promoter. He has been doing it for something like 31 years and knows everything there is to know.”

Cruz joked that “as long as somebody remembers me I’ll be happy,” but he has influenced many Canadian talent. “Hotshot” Johnny Devine called Chi Chi “My hero” for some of his more amusing moments on the road, while Cruz can also take some credit for sending Wavell Starr, who has competed in OVW as Standing Thunder, on his career path.

“Cheech made me love wrestling again to the point of wanting to get into the business after losing interest for a few years. My Dad told me about a wrestling show in Regina that evening at the old auditorium and I thought why not,” Starr told SLAM! Wrestling when asked about Cruz. “For the most part, the show was terrible and the ‘workers’ were self-taught with ridiculous physiques that did not belong in the ring. Then Cheech came out in a fancy ring robe and cut a heel promo that got the crowd worked into a frenzy. I was hooked on wrestling again and the whole outrageous atmosphere of a dark smoke-filled arena packed with crazy fans took over. Cheech was larger than life and I specifically remember hearing the announcer call ’10 minutes gone’ and realizing he had only locked up once, yet the crowd had been into the whole thing. It was how I remembered wrestling to be when I was watching house shows as a kid.”

Starr continued. “After I trained awhile and did a few shows for bottom of the barrel indy groups in places like Grande Cache, Alberta, and community centers in Winnipeg, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with Cheech in numerous matches for Tony Condello on his northern tour. Being in the ring with a veteran like Cheech is exactly what a green piece of crap like me needed — I learned so much from him that I actually consider myself initially trained by Cheech. Any idiot can teach you how to bump, Cheech showed me how to work.”

Cruz is flattered to be an influence on Starr. “Wavell is great, he has all the talent in the world and I hope he gets his break. This business is very frustrating, too much bullshit, politics and backstabbing.”

‘Cheech’ has made friends of both sexes. “The WWE talks about Owen Hart, how wonderful he was and he was a family man and really perfect. The one guy I would talk about is Chi Chi Cruz. He’s a Mr. Wonderful,” said retired Winnipeg woman wrestler Miss Kitty Karson. “I respect him 102%. Out of all the guys that I ever toured with, he was the most decent guy to tour with. And I’ve traveled a lot, believe me.”

It can be difficult at times for a veteran like Cruz to look at the business he loves and dedicated his life to. As talented and charismatic as he is, he hasn’t had some of the opportunities that others have had, and it can be frustrating. At times, Cruz contemplated throwing in the towel.

“The thought has crossed my mind but I’m to stubborn to quit,” he laughed. “I don’t know if that will be my downfall in the end. It does get frustrating when I see young wrestlers or promoters who think they know it all, and I can see they don’t have a clue in their head about what they are talking about. I am usually pretty quiet, so I sit back and soak it in. It’s depressing sometimes the way this business has gone down the toilet.”

Some promoters and disgruntled wrestlers feel that Vince McMahon is entirely to blame for the slump that wrestling has fallen into. Cruz disagrees.

“I don’t think Vince McMahon hurt anything by saying wrestling was entertainment, that boosted the sport as did the harder edge to the product. The problem is too many young guys having too much say in what they can do. The tendency for three million highspots with no psychology or sense, and guys having no idea how to construct a match and make it believable has hurt wrestling. The people in the crowd don’t have to understand psychology — the fact that it is psychology means that it is a subconscious thing. If it doesn’t make sense subconsciously they aren’t going to react to it. Guys go in with all their spots worked out, and if you forget one link in the chain the whole match is screwed because of it. Taking repeated bumps, after three bumps shouldn’t I be dead? It’s not realistic and I think it’s pathetic.”

It would be great if more young guys could learn from veterans like Cruz.

“My work as a heel is most definitely based on what I learned from Cheech. As a matter of fact the first time I worked as a heel, I was basically imitating Cheech — the mannerisms, the attitude, how he projects himself, the way he controls the crowd and the way he controls the match, the way he sells. People used to say I even looked like Cheech,” said Starr. “Over the years I have added to this my own style and spin to develop my heel persona to what it is now, but the basics derive from what I learned from Cheech. We both like that Southern Style ‘rasslin’ that he was taught by Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler in Memphis, and I was taught by Jim Cornette at OVW. Many of our co-workers around Canada don’t understand or can’t grasp the simple concepts that style is based upon, so it creates another commonality between Cheech and I, as well as providing many laughs.”

Cruz is a regular for the No Holds Barred promotion, and two stories stand out from those trips.

“One time on an NHB show in Winnipeg, I was working a gimmick match with a few others and Juggernaut. Juggs went to snap mare me over and I remembered seeing him do this many times before where he immediately follows with a fat guy stiff kick to the back, and a fat guy stiff kick to the chest. I was a little banged up and sold the snap mare to the floor on the outside, leaving Juggernaut alone in the ring with Crash Crimson,” Starr reflected. “I couldn’t help but chuckle as I looked up into the ring and saw Juggernaut looking a tad bit hot, and Crash Crimson looking the sacrificial lamb for the big stiff kicks (someone was going to take the kicks!). The look on Crash’s face as he took these thunderous kicks to the body was priceless! As we drove off in the van toward Thunder Bay that night, the boys were asking me why I was such a big pussy and didn’t want to sit up from the snap mare to take the stiff kicks. I replied in my best Rip Rogers impersonation (that’s not all that great) ‘nobody sells a goddamn snap mare anymore! Y’all are burying that move! If you grab me by the neck and drag me over, that s**t hurts so I’m gonna sell it!’ Cheech laughed his ass off.”

As for why Cruz is Devine’s hero, it stems from a visit to Thunder Bay when Cruz changed a girl’s life.

“Myself, Devine, Joe E. Legend and a few other guys were in a strip club in Thunder Bay after a NHB show for Don Callis,” Cruz recounted. “It was the end of the night and this stripper was on stage with bruises on her legs and rear. We thought someone was beating her or something! During the show she started slapping her ass, and she invited a couple of guys along the rail to slap her, and they tapped her like Mickey Mouse hitting Minnie. I’d had a couple of wobbly pops so I stood up and said ‘Honey I’ll change your life.’ She invited me over and was an all fours, lined up at chest level. It was the last song, the music died as I wound up and laid the chop of a lifetime on her ass. She went flying across the dance floor, got up with tears in her eyes, ass red and bleeding and turned and gasped ‘Thank you.’ Fifteen minutes later she came out and said ‘what am I going to tell my boyfriend?'”

Legend backed up the story.

“It’s 100% true I was in tears laughing.”

— with files from Greg Oliver