There aren’t a lot of true veterans in independent wrestling anymore. That makes it a true milestone for ECCW Champion Vance Nevada to have recently wrestled in his thousandth match after more than a decade in the business.
To commemorate he has released “The Best of Vance Nevada, 1993 ? 2003.” Having traveled from coast to coast, Vance has a lot to reflect on.
“The decision to make the DVD was a combination of things. I was a big fan of keeping track of various wrestler stats when I was younger. I kept a notebook and would write down all my matches. I thought it would be interesting for people viewing the DVD to see the change in appearance, size and amount of hair,” Nevada told SLAM! Wrestling. “Anyone watching that isn’t familiar with my work can chart my progress from a rookie, being led through the nose, to where I am now. As an Independent wrestler you tend to collect tapes of what you’ve done, I had checked my closet and had about 20 tapes. You have a lot of matches that are unmemorable but others are really worth looking at again. I’ve had the chance to work with a lot of awesome colorful people over the years and felt it was time to put that together and give people a look at what 10 years on the Canadian indys looks like.”
The DVD also gives fans the chance to check out some of the best wrestlers this country has to offer. Young hungry athletes like Scott Savage, Scotty Mac and Adam Firestorm face off with Nevada, as well as a young Bobby Roode, who now competes in TNA. Nevada chose to use these matches as opposed to matches with former WWE stars.
“I have been very fortunate to work with some of the biggest names in the business like Honky Tonk Man, Jim Niedhart, and Matt Borne. The point behind the DVD was to put matches on there that could generate interest in Canadian independents. For a guy like Mentallo, who is a workhorse and a guy I have probably wrestled a hundred times, for him to get some recognition is important. Biggie Phatz in Saskatoon is a guy who had tremendous crowd appeal but nobody outside of that city will get a chance to see him. I was really proud of that match. Indy guys deserve recognition.”
That is part of what drives Vance Nevada, helping out younger talent in getting bookings and exposure. Often when booked elsewhere in the country Nevada brings other talent with him to work.
“That has really been a motivator for me. I have had a lot of problems with my neck in the past year, some days I wake up and I am just not getting out of bed. It’s cumulative injuries that a light guy endures in the wrestling business. I have no problem jumping in my car and going wherever someone wants to see me, but for me to take a long trip, like to Saskatoon, as much as I love Saskatoon and the guys, however there isn’t much more to gain professionally from going there. If I can open the door for someone on their way up to take advantage of that and use it as a building block for their own career I try to do that.”
It can be frustrating to a veteran to see the state of wrestling today, and the politics and garbage that affect pro wrestling. At times Nevada as well as vets like Chi Chi Cruz feel like the business they love isn’t there anymore.
“It’s double sided. Chi Chi and I actually talked about this recently; we grew up loving the wrestling business. Despite all the negatives and drawbacks and politics, we love the business for what it is and I don’t think that will ever change. When you love the business that much you are always looking to work with the best people and learn, and there are fewer and fewer guys out there to learn from which is discouraging.”
At times Nevada questions why he still puts up with it.
“I ask myself why I keep going and dealing with the BS every day. It’s a difficult one to answer. I have been in touch with the people in the WWE when Tom Pritchard was in that role, and he was clear on what I needed to do if my goal was to get there. In reality I don’t think that is going to happen–when I started 10 years ago that was the goal but now my objectives have changed. I have spent a lot of time using my name to help young guys get an opportunity. I currently have a crop of six students: Richtie Destiny, Mike Dempsey, Nate Daniels, Dave Richards, Tony Tisoy and Miss Chevius, some trained with me and others I had an influence on that I want to make sure they take advantage of all the opportunities they can.”
It’s the desire to help out this younger talent that lead to the birth of Just Wrestling, a promotion that runs out of Surrey, BC. Bridgeview Hall is a former stomping ground of ECCW, but they gladly let Nevada take over the location and start something new.
“I noticed there were a couple of different wrestling schools pumping out students knowing full well there was nowhere to work. We have four promotions in the Vancouver area with a territory that has 50 or 60 wrestlers. New guys weren’t getting any opportunities, guys fresh out of school in their first year are lucky to get four matches. When you are starting out you need to get into the ring as much as possible. The best advice I ever got was from Wayne Stanton (promoter of River City Wrestling in Winnipeg) who told me ‘When you are starting out in this business you want to be in front of a crowd as many times as you can and the first 100 times don’t count.’ I have learned to appreciate that over time. My first year I wrestled 26 matches and they were all very awful. I couldn’t fathom the idea that someone was going to improve and learn the business with only four matches a year. As well, ECCW was slowing down over the summer, which meant there would be no shows. When you have seen as many different approaches to wrestling you recognize when opportunities are being missed. We saw an opportunity and that is why we formed Just Wrestling.”
There are a number of things that make it difficult for Independent promoters and wrestlers to earn money. Presently the wrestling business is in a slump, trickling from the WWE on down.
“There really isn’t a lot of cross-territory travel anymore. There used to be a lot more communication from promoters wanting to switch things up in their promotions, but now there isn’t a lot of that going on. I’ve noticed that with the WWE making fewer stops on the west coast, it has a lot to do with over-saturation on television so people don’t have to pay high prices to sit in the arena. In the independents we are slowly starting to see those attendance numbers creep back up. It is important on the indy level to listen to your fans and what they want to see, getting them attached to the characters than they will come back.”
Another difficulty is the lack of good talent on the independent wrestling scene. Fans want to see larger-than-life characters, not 150-pound kids in tank tops that they feel they could beat up.
“It definitely hurts the business. There was a point in the ’90s where the business wasn’t drawing but there was a lot of interest in learning to wrestle. Wrestling schools were opening everywhere, and people not qualified to train ran a lot of them. The business now has people who are essentially backyarders walking around saying they are professionally trained. In 1993 when I broke in it was stressed to me that if you don’t have wrestling boots you simply don’t wrestle. I couldn’t imagine not having a pair of wrestling boots while going to the ring. The lack of attention to quality of talent on shows has hurt the business, as has the accessibility of guys who don’t have a clue but work for a lot cheaper than an Eddie Watts, Chi Chi Cruz or myself.”
One promotion that did rely on out of province talent was Saskatoon’s Pro Outlaw Wrestling. They frequently brought in talent like Juggernaut, Apocalypse and Vance, who would drive from Vancouver with young wrestlers to the shows. He has fond memories of the city, where the chant of “Who wears short shorts? Vance wears short shorts” was born.
“My involvement with Pro Outlaw Wrestling amounted to only about 12 appearances but has affected who I am professionally. The chant came out of nowhere. I never would have imagined that a pair of traditional trunks would generate so much heat. The creative energy in POW rubs off on everybody that works there. That ended up being the birthplace of ‘Mr. Beefy Goodness.'”
POW was also where Nevada did a rare run as a good guy, at which point the chant turned into a sign of respect.
“When they first approached me about turning face I was skeptical. As much as it seemed that the people were pleased to see me, I felt like I was the guy they loved to hate. I didn’t think it was going to work, and it amused me that the chant changed meaning. I couldn’t be more thrilled with how that turned out.”
The turn lead to a lengthy feud with Wavell Starr. Nevada and “The First Nation Sensation” had a series of great matches culminating in a signapore cane match. Nevada is happy for his former foes OVW success.
“Wavell is an incredible talent. The first time that I saw him was on tape. When you see a lot of guys pass through the independents, someone who has a spark that you know can make it you can pick that up right away, and Wavell Starr was always one of those guys. When he was on the shelf for a year with a shoulder injury, it was frustrating for him and a lot of guys don’t come back from that. To see him doing so well is awesome, the success couldn’t come to a better guy.”
Nevada paused to consider the milestone of 1000 matches.
“The milestone itself was awesome, the actual 1000th match was in Portland, Oregon against ‘The Anchor’ Bill Sawyer. My 1000th match might have been better suited for a different day. I love Bill, he’s a great guy but it just wasn’t the match I wanted to have on that day.”
It almost didn’t happen. In 1999 Nevada retired from the business after being diagnosed with scoliosis.
“I did a tag match in February 1999 and during the course of the match I was taking simple bumps and there was a shooting pain in my hip. I couldn’t understand what the problem was, and a specialist told me that I had a twisted spine, so my hips were uneven. When I took a bump one hip was hitting before the other, causing inflammation. I was very lean at the time, and after six years of wrestling, a 180-pound guy takes a lot of abuse. The doctors recommended I never wrestle again. I took 12 weeks off and got it twisted back in the proper position. Once you are in this business if it is in your blood you can’t get out, sitting on the sidelines just killed me. After a few months I contacted Tony Condello and reffed a tour for him. Near the end of the tour they had a cancellation and threw me into a match. I wasn’t 100% but I realized there was no way I could let the injury keep me from wrestling,” he said. “Now I am a lot more conscious of the damage that wrestling does. Between massage therapy, chiropractors and physio I pay a lot more attention to the maintenance of my body between matches.
At the time it was difficult, but reflecting back Nevada feels the negative turned into a positive as he was unhappy with the business at that time.
“I was working for Ernie Todd and the Canadian Wrestling Federation in Winnipeg. It was a very professionally stifling environment, and that combined with the injury made me say ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ The injury was the catalyst for making that decision, but the end result of not having anything to do with Ernie Todd again was positive. Even though I had wrestled six years up to that point, everything good I have done professionally has happened after I retired. It’s been positive and progressed in a much bigger direction ever since.”
Presently Nevada works on the West Coast, primarily for ECCW and Just Wrestling. In September 2003, he defeated Scotty Mac in a cage match to win the ECCW title, however when he started with the company he paid his dues as “The Opener.”
“When I’ve come into a territory, promoters will look at my record and say ‘this guy has been around for awhile, we should keep him happy and push him to the top.’ That was the case when I came to ECCW, they asked me right off the bat where I felt I fit in on the roster and were taken aback when I said I wanted to work the opener because nobody does. If you come into a territory and are immediately put in the main event, you have 25 guys thinking ‘Who the hell is this guy and why does he deserve to main event when I have worked so hard to build the company.’ I specifically told the promoter that I wanted to work the opener because I knew I would get over. I had no problem if they wanted me to lay down every night, and over the first six months I was here I think I lost to every single guy on the roster at least once, even Toga Boy who has long since quit and was terrible. In the meantime I earned a lot of respect from the guys in the locker room, so when the promoter decided to put me in a main event role the locker room didn’t have a problem with it. I have no problem proving where I belong on the show.”
Nevada continues the trend on Independent wrestling of lengthy title reigns, having held the strap for over a year. Fellow ECCW star Major Hardway was NWA Canadian Jr. Champion for well over a year, while promotions like Ring of Honor and Stampede Wrestling’s major titleholders have held the belts for a lengthy run as well. Nevada considers it an honor to have the belt.
“To come to the West Coast and be involved with the ECCW territory, which like Calgary has a rich wrestling history, this year is the 100th year of documented wrestling in B.C. so to be the guy on top of the roster means a great deal to me. In a lot of places wrestling is an ego driven product, and unfortunately the promoters are driving the product so they use the belt more as incentive than as a tool. Belts in wrestling aren’t supposed to be rewards, they should be a tool to help you tell a story. When you see seven champions over the course of a year in Winnipeg that doesn’t go far to establish a product and who marquee players are. Also the fact that the schedule is reduced to maybe once or twice a month affects title runs, a champion may only have 30 matches in a year. It’s an introduction to your fans as to who the people are on top of your company and they respond to that.”
Having accomplished so much in his career, Nevada questions what the future holds. He is still only 28 years old but is realistic in what path his career is headed.
“I would like to wrestle for a few more years, but when I hit 30 it might be time to pack it in. When I hit thirty I might say “well when I hit 35…” I’d like to work towards getting some publishing done. Before I got busy with wrestling I spent a lot of time chronicling Canadian wrestling history as there is very little known about it. Mainstream books and magazines limit Canadian history to Billy Watson, Gene Kiniski and Stampede Wrestling. Those three things are the biggest ever in Canadian wrestling but if that is all you have looked at then you’ve done the country an injustice because there has been so much wrestling here. We’ve contributed to many people to an internationally recognized status, which has always interested me.”
There are very few who truly know the history of professional wrestling in Canada. Nevada is one of those who is determined to make the current generation aware of our country’s contributions to wrestling, it’s been a hobby for years and will likely consume him more in future years.
“When I was breaking in, I was aware Tony Condello had promoted in Manitoba since 1972, so in my mind wrestling in that province started then. As I started meeting old timers at shows it generated curiosity. I spent the summer of 1994 in the archives in Winnipeg, digging up the history of wrestling there. I started digging a bit and it got bigger and bigger, four years later I was still in the archives. As I would get close to finishing and waiting on some materials, I started a history of Saskatchewan because I didn’t think there was much history there. I was wrong. It’s insane now, I have a database of independent wrestling results from 1902 until the present. I’ve stemmed off into assembling individual career records for wrestlers who are really worthy of having their achievements recognized. I have been working with institutions like the Cauliflower Alley Club to make sure these wrestlers are recognized in their hall of fame. I want to generate more awareness of what Canada has done to build the wrestling industry as a whole.”