CALGARY — The weekend of January 15th, 2005 marked the start of a new journey in the careers of TJ Wilson and Harry Smith. Both men were set to make a big splash on two separate continents — Wilson has embarked on a three-month tour of the UK while Smith is fulfilling his dream of embarking on his first tour of Japan.
Wilson will be working for Brian Dixon’s All-Star Wrestling. England has become a very popular place for North American stars to tour, as it gives them the chance to work a different style and wrestle five days a week, something uncommon in North America. Stars such as American Dragon, D-Lo Brown, Colt Cabana, Johnny Devine, Joe. E. Legend and many others have spent time in Europe honing their skills.
“England offers me the chance to help make my name more internationally known and to wrestle a minimum of five times a week while learning a new style and eating lots of fish and chips,” Wilson told SLAM! Wrestling. He’s not concerned that the type of food offered in England combined with spending hours traveling to shows will affect his health due to his training regime. “I will continue to do the training that Tokyo Joe has taught me. Lots of squats, sit-ups and push-ups. If I get the chance to go to the gym I will include that as well.”
At times it has seemed that Wilson would never get to the UK. While All-Star has expressed interest in having him a number of times in the past two years, New Japan commitments always conflicted. With a break in his schedule, Wilson jumped at the opportunity. While there is a lot of talent in the UK and Wilson is eager to face a variety of opponents, he is looking forward to hopefully testing his skills against two technical masters.
“‘The Torture Device’ Doug Williams, who has competed in Ring of Honor in the States, based on what I have seen he is the best technical wrestler in the UK. He is a former Pure Wrestling Champion in ROH and I would love to have a good pure wrestling style match with him,” Wilson said. “Chad Collyer will also be in the UK at the same time. He is trained by Dean Malenko, which gives him a very good pedigree in technical wrestling. That is my specialty as well so I would love to lock horns with him.”
Going to England has special meaning to Wilson, who was heavily influenced and trained by “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith. As well, Owen Hart, who many feel Wilson resembles in both style and personality, spent a great deal of time in England early in his career. It is another parallel in their careers, as Wilson’s United States debut took place in Philadelphia, the same city where Hart debuted years ago.
“If I can accomplish 1/10 of what Owen did then I will be very happy. I am not trying to imitate him or study what he did on purpose, but I think it is great to say I wrestled in the same places as he did.”
Wilson is hoping to walk out of the next three months with more experience and knowledge on the wrestling business. “I am going to do my best, and hopefully establish a great reputation and then see what is next on my journey in professional wrestling.”
It isn’t Wilson’s first international exposure. Having wrestled on four tours with New Japan Pro Wrestling, he has been an ear for Smith as he prepares to head out on what he hopes will be the first of many tours.
“TJ has told me to be myself when I am out there, don’t act like a big shot. Just position myself and give it my all when I wrestle,” said Smith.
“He is going to do well there. He is naturally humble and respectful, so by working hard and proving he is a great wrestler he will succeed,” added Wilson.
Smith is hopeful that Wilson will join him in Japan for a future tour. “I would love that, I know that idea of The Stampede Bulldogs competing in Japan has been thrown around but not yet implemented. Going over to Japan with TJ would be an awesome experience. To go over together as the new bulldogs would be even better than going solo.”
Smith’s five-week Japanese experience will begin with spending time in the New Japan Dojo, where young wrestlers eat, sleep and breathe wrestling. “They have free food there, which makes me very happy. I hope to get a feel for what the Japanese wrestlers are like by training with the young boys there.”
After his time in the Dojo it will be time to embark on a series of matches as part of Masa Chono’s heel “Black New Japan” group. It’s unfamiliar territory for Smith, now dubbed “Black Assassin,” who has worked all but two matches in his ten-year career as a face. “My entire career thus far has been as a “hometown hero” babyface. I’ve worked twice as a heel (once in MLW, once in a tournament in Cold Lake, Alberta). It’s a weird transition, but having worked with heels so much you pick up on their style. The Japanese have a different perspective on heels and babyfaces. There is no real heel or face, to be more heelish seems to be not so much yelling at the crowd as being aggressive.”
In an ironic twist, Smith’s first match on January 23rd will be at the famous Korakuen Hall against Hiro Saito, who worked in Stampede Wrestling twenty years ago as Mr. Saito. On January 26th he will be in a match with some of the biggest stars in NJPW, teaming with Masahiro Chono, Manabu Nakanishi, Mitsuya Nagai & Minoru Tanaka against Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Yuji Nagata, Osamu Nishimura, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Shinsuke Nakamura. Smith is understandably excited and nervous about these matches. “I am in some pretty high profile matches, and to be on my first tour in those matches is amazing. There are butterflies for sure.”
This is the culmination of years of hard work for the 19 year old. His dream has long been to follow in the footsteps of family and friends Chris Benoit, Owen Hart and his father Davey Boy Smith in making an impact in Japan before moving on to the WWE. “It was my choice to go there. I have the opportunity to take a WWE developmental deal right now, but I have made the decision to pursue this first. It is a real honor and a privilege to be following in their footsteps. I hope I can keep going back so I can show the Japanese fans that I am out there to learn, gain more experience and become a better wrestler.”
It is also a bittersweet trip, as in an ideal world Smith’s dad would be here to give him advice and welcome him home. “My father and Dynamite first made their reputation from going to Japan. With any luck I can do the same, and make a big impact over there. Hopefully my father is looking down and smiling and is happy that I earned this tour. I wouldn’t ever want to do anything to disappoint him. I wish he were here right now so he could see some of my matches, or be here to welcome me when I get back home from my first trip.”