WINNIPEG – It’s 9:02 pm on a Sunday night in October, and Ernie Todd is busy packing away T-shirts and programs from the merchandise table, a few steps inside the doors of the Ramada Marlborough Hotel’s top floor Skyview Ballroom.
Minutes before, underneath the sparkling of chandeliers which hang from the tall ceiling, the room was filled with screaming fans and sweaty wrestlers, some of whom made the hotel representatives standing off to the side of the room squirm in their suits each time a body was slammed and the chandeliers shook.
During this past weekend of October 15-17, 56 years of history from across the world culminated in the largest independent professional wrestling card to ever hit Winnipeg, Manitoba – the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) 56th Anniversary Convention.
The event’s promoter, Todd, is a member of the National Wrestling Alliance’s (NWA) governing board and controls the local NWA affiliate, the Canadian Wrestling Federation (CWF). During the weekend’s annual general meeting with board members from all around the world, Todd was elected new President of the NWA.
“A lot of people are telling me it’s the best convention ever,” says Todd. “That means a lot to me, because I put a lot of hard work and effort into making this happen. I know the guys in the back appreciate it, and I think the fans did too. I hope we can do more stuff like this in the future … maybe come back here to the Ramada ballroom a couple times a year for a big show like this to showcase talent from all over the world.”
Each year at the NWA’s Anniversary Convention, wrestlers are brought in from all the different NWA territories around the globe. This year, people came from as far away as Australia, Scotland, England, Ireland, and all over the United States and Canada to perform in front of and hopefully impress the senior board members who decide which wrestlers get a chance to one day appear on the NWA’s main television show, NWA-TNA Impact.
“It’s really a lot more of a political event than a wrestling event. As a matter of fact, the very idea of even having a match is a very, very recent addition to the NWA Convention,” says NWA-TNA owner Jerry Jarrett. “I went to my first convention in 1967, and from ’67 through the mid-1990s, there really wasn’t any actual wrestling taking place. But now wrestlers have the opportunity to show all the different promoters what they’re capable of, and opportunity is what the NWA has a lot of.”
One such wrestler trying to make the most of his matches is L.A. Warren from NWA-Ireland.
“This is the pinnacle, the highlight of my career so far,” says Warren, sporting cuts on his hand from landing a punch on his opponent’s teeth minutes before. “What a crowd there is here in Winnipeg. They were awesome, just brilliant. I got a great reaction out of those people from the moment I stepped out there. It’s the nerves, the adrenaline, the energy, and the chants that they throw at you. This is what wrestling is about, right here. Forget the injuries, the cuts, the bruises. That crowd and this weekend is why you go out there and do this.”
Fans were treated to seeing different styles than they normally see on the local level. The Irish wrestlers stole the show on Friday night’s card, getting amongst the best receptions from the crowd, which was very taken with their stiff and over-aggressive style. The two feature attractions to the convention were imported from the second-largest wrestling promotion in North America, NWA-TNA, as X-Division champion Petey Williams (a member of the Team Canada faction) and former NWA Junior Heavyweight champion “Mr. 630” Jerrelle Clark gave fans more their money’s worth and a taste of what they can see on TNA’s programming.
Williams, who is from Windsor, Ontario, and was trained by Canadian wrestling guru Scott D’Amore, says the convention is especially memorable for him: “This is my first one so far, and I remember reading books on the old territory days. The NWA used to be absolutely huge, and it’s just good to see them carrying on the tradition internationally with guys from Ireland, Australia, and just everywhere. I’d say this is a big deal, and it’s good for all us Canadians too.”
The convention offered a bit of everything to fans. Aside from stellar matches which had the crowd on its feet several times, a strong man performance by Boston madman Gino Martino brought the convention back to the early carney days of pro wrestling, when he proved the toughness of his skull and his back by having cinder blocks repeatedly smashed on top of both with a 60-pound sledgehammer.
The weekend-long event was capped off by an X-Division Championship match between TNA’s Williams and former NWA-CWF heavyweight champion, Kenny Omega. Despite a few close calls and receiving a vicious hanging German suplex off the top rope, Williams ultimately retained the title after laying Omega out for the three-count with his awe-inspiring finisher, the Canadian Destroyer, which is a flipping 360-degree piledriver. Both men were thanked by a standing ovation from the crowd.
“It’s a treat for fans to come out and see what isn’t WWE or what isn’t on TV all the time,” says Omega. “This is a big celebration for wrestling and the hardcore wrestling fan, and not just for the storylines and the glamour they see on TV.”
Friday, October 15, 2004
Tejas defeated Dustin Masters to retain the NWA Southwest Heavyweight Championship.
“The Juvenile Delinquent” Keith Loughman defeated Shane Matthews
“Vigilante” Johnny Moss defeated Byron Black
Fergal Devitt and Paul Tracey defeated Carl “Shooter” O’Rourke and Paddy “Suicide Machine” Morrow
Conscience defeated L.A. Warren to retain the NWA Scottish Heavyweight Championship.
Jason Rumble defeated Brother Love.
Dru Onyx defeated Will Phoenix to be crowned new NWA British Commonwealth Champion.
Vid Vain defeated Kerry “Pitbull” Brown to win the NWA Canadian Heavyweight Chamionship.
“Stunning” Steve Jaworski won an 18-man battle royal to win the NWA-CWF Heavyweight Championship.
Spyder defeated Ricky Murdoch in a controversial finish, which saw new NWA President Ernie Todd get involved to finish the winning three-count, to win the NWA National Heavyweight Championship.
Sunday, October 17, 2004
Chasyn Rance defeated Scott “Hotshot” Stephens to become the inaugural NWA Spinebuster Jr Heavyweight Champion.
“Stunning” Steve Jaworski defeated Tank Roberts to retain the NWA CWF Heavyweight Championship.
Will Phoenix defeated Shane Matthews.
Carl “Shooter” O’Rourke, Paddy “Suicide Machine” Morrow, & Conscience defeated Fergal Devitt, Paul Tracey, & Byron Black.
NWA New England Brass Knuckles Champion Gino Martino defeated Drako.
Sugar Shane Dyson & Road Block defeated “Juvenile Delinquent” Keith Loughman & L.A. Warren.
Jason Rumble defeated Jerrelle Clark and “Violent” Vance Desmond to win the NWA Jr Heavyweight Championship.
Petey Williams defeated Kenny Omega to retain the NWA-TNA X-Division Championship.
Liam Phillips is a freelance videographer, who is currently filming a documentary series on professional wrestling in Winnipeg and Manitoba.