ORLANDO, FL — There is nothing like sitting beneath the bright lights of Studio 21 at Universal Studios Florida, watching a live professional wrestling pay per view.
There is an electricity surging from the crowd, with blaring music and the six-sided ring, where mythological like athletes will do battle, live before untold numbers watching on television at home. Such a spectacle has become the proverbial holy grail of countless professional wrestlers world wide, to rise from anonymity and declare their grandeur to the faithful.
It is without a doubt a far cry from the humble setting of the Polish Hall in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Although wrestling events are not longer held at that cramped structure, where there never seems to be enough toilet paper in the stalls, it will be forever known as the place where Eric Young truly made himself into the modern star that he is today.
“I miss those shows,” admitted Young to SLAM! Wrestling, just hours before he would step into the steel cage at Total Nonstop Action’s Lockdown PPV held in April. “I always had a lot of fun there, but obviously, I wanted to make it to this level. Now that I’m here, I couldn’t be happier.”
He was born Jeremy Fritz, a native of Florence, Ontario. A fan of professional wrestling since the age of six, he set out to pursue his dream of becoming a modern day gladiator in tights eight years ago. It was in nearby Cambridge that Young received his initial indoctrination from Carl Leduc, son of famed Quebec grappler, Paul Leduc.
“I got trained mostly by him. I did some with Scott D’amore, I did a month and a half with Chris Kanyon when he was in Toronto filming the Jesse Ventura movie — it was a handful of people.”
It was a unique manner in which Young received his crucial first lessons for becoming an active professional wrestling. In hindsight though, it would seem to be the right formula for him. For like many in his trade, he would soon set out to pay his dues on the Ontario independent circuit, tagged with the moniker of “Showtime” Eric Young.
“Ontario is a hotbed for talent,” he said. “Ontario is a very competitive place, there’s a lot of good wrestlers. On any give night, you could work any 20 guys and gain good experience because everybody wanted to work hard. It was like a competition almost, everyone wanted to have the best match of the night. I loved it, it was fantastic.”
That kind of environment proved fertile ground in the development of Young into an indy star in his native province at the dawn of the new millennium. While having no shortage of entertaining matches with the varied talent available at that time, there is one name who standouts, blending with Young in ring like no other, delivering mind boggling battles of mythical proportions.
His name is Dangerboy Derek Wylde.
“Dangerboy is one of my good friends. We’ve had some really great matches over the years, a lot of good memories with him there’s no doubt. We held each other’s lives in our hands on several occasions. He’s still alive and so am I, so it all it worked out for the best.”
But as Wylde reflected with SLAM! Wrestling, their first ever engagement in the ring was quite forgettable.
“The first time we ever met each other, everyone had big expectations for a really good match up,” reflected Wylde (real name Dennis Stewart). Their first match would in fact take place at the Barrie Molson Centre, before some 2,000 plus fans according to Wylde.
“We had the worst match in wrestling history, it sucked,” said Wylde bluntly. “No one knew what went wrong, it just didn’t happen that day. Couple of months down the road, somebody gave us another shot and it was the exact opposite. We had the most fantastic match that had everyone in Ontario talking. That match singlehandedly made my career, because that match got me booked everywhere. It was a blessing and a curse, because in one hand it got me booked everywhere, but in the other hand, they would only let me work Eric.”
The two wrestling standouts would go on to deliver a series of unforgettable confrontations, most notably with the Neo Spirit Pro (NSP) promotion based in Niagara Falls. There, they would raise the bar for in-ring, daredevil antics, earning adulation from fans fortunate to see one of their live matches.
“We kept pushing each other. I was always coming up with crazy ideas about what I wanted to do in our next match,” Wylde recalled. “He would always give me a frown and say ‘Okay, we’ll do that.’ We really did some crazy stuff, stuff that as a wrestler right now I wouldn’t even imagine doing. We did the craziest shit that you could ever think of. I let Eric give me a pile driver off the top of a ladder to the outside of the ring through a table, which was legitimately 12 to15 feet in the air. I was totally safe and I knew I would be, never came close to getting hurt. When Eric was around, he just made you feel different, like you were invincible.”
Those contests would immortalize both athletes, with Wylde giving full credit to Young for helping him to elevate his career. “Showtime Eric young made me a fantastic wrestler and I’m giving him 100% of the credit because without him, I wouldn’t be anywhere, not even close to where I am today.”
Despite the heights of achievement made in his native country, the stark reality that Young faced, along with the vast majority of wrestlers in Canada, was the inability to make a full-time living from his chosen vocation. While he did have some dark matches with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), it would never evolve into a development deal or wrestling contract.
At this crucial crossroad, Young made the only decision he could and moved south in March of 2004.
“It’s sad that it’s hard to get over here (United States) to work. Being a Canadian makes things very difficult with the visas and crossing the border. I know I had my share problems as a lot do. From the very first time I started wrestling I obviously wanted to make it some place where I could do it for a living.”
But with perseverance, Young would eventually set up shop in Nashville, Tennessee and it was not by coincidence that he moved to that particular locale. For Music City USA was also the home of a new upstart promotion called Total Nonstop Action (TNA).
There, Young would get his chance to show what he could do in the ring.
His efforts would pay off when he was eventually recruited into TNA’s Team Canada faction, holding court along side fellow Canadians Bobby Roode, Johnny Devine and Petey Williams. Helping him to achieve this post was none other than Coach Scott D’amore, promoter of Border City Wrestling in Windsor, Ontario where Young had worked in the past.
He would soon find himself in a world wind of activity as the despised Team Canada competed against three other teams in the World X Cup tournament, live on PPV television in the spring of 2004.
“It was super exciting, it was a dream come true. You dream about doing it and then you’re here. I don’t get nervous, I do get pumped up. I feel like this is what I’m supposed to do. There are a lot of guys who are as good as me or who deserve a shot here, but there’s only limited spaces and I’m glad that I have one of them.”
Young would go on to help ignite the tag team wrestling division for the promotion, eventually gaining the TNA tag team championship titles in December of 2004 alongside Roode.
“I’m having a blast doing tag matches. Up until I got here, in Ontario, maybe I’d done 20, maybe 30 tag matches ever. It was like learning to wrestle all over again. Now I’m wrestling as a heel (bad guy) and because I’m Canadian they hate my guts. It was a good role for me to step into.”
His team would eventually lose the titles to their tag team rivals America’s Most Wanted in January of 2005. But that hasn’t stopped Young from continuing to prove his worth to the promotion, with his wrestling abilities only continuing to grow, matched with his over the top facial antics, something he has made a point of studying from many former greats of the business.
“I steal from the guys that are legends: Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, Terry Funk. These are guys I grew up watching and idolizing. Anytime anybody can say ‘Oh you reminded me of him when you did this’ that’s flattering to me. I think that part of wrestling, there’s not enough of it. I think my strong point is being able to get people involved in the emotion of what I’m doing through theatrics like facials or that five seconds I take to sneer at the crowd.”
No matter how far he goes from here, be assured, Eric Young has left his impression on the wrestling business. Nowhere else can that be seen than with the next generation of Ontario wrestling greats like “Completely” Cody Steele, who once tutored at the Wrestleplex school that Young used to run in Cambridge.
“I would go to the Wrestleplex to make sure I didn’t develop any ring rust and try new things, but I also went and absorbed everything that Eric Young had to say in terms of wrestling basics, psychology, performance,” said Steele (real name Chris Gray). “Almost any indy wrestler from Ontario and surrounding territories will tell you that Eric Young was the man in Ontario when he was still doing indies here. He inspired me and a lot of other guys on the indy circuit to pick it up and strive to be better wrestlers. Eric Young really is the total package in wrestling. He has the look, skill and the attitude to make lots of money in this business and I knew when I was working the indy circuit with him that it was only a matter of time before he got picked up by a major company. He deserves every amount of success he achieves in this business.”
Despite all that he has achieved, sometimes the reality of it all can be a little overwhelming for Eric Young.
“It’s almost surreal. Not a lot of people can say from the time they were six years old that this is what they wanted to do and they’re actually doing it,” Young said. “Sometimes I don’t even realize it. I’ll be sitting at home and I’ll think ‘I wrestle for a living.'”
Young will go for tag team gold once again, as he and his partner Petey Williams take on The Naturals at TNA’s Slamminversary PPV on June 19th. Check your local cable and satellite providers for details.