There is no shortage of opportunities in professional wrestling to show fans what you can do in the ring. But having the opportunity that leads to the spotlight on television and actually making a living is ever elusive for the vast majority.
For the newest member of Total Nonstop Action’s (TNA) Team Canada, the dawn of the new year will bring with it the challenge of making the most of what so many of fellow wrestling peers only wish they had.
Born in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, A-1 (real name Alastair Ralphs) relocated with his family at age five to Dunnville, Ontario, west of Niagara Falls. The move would usher in a new chapter in his life, especially when he discovered professional wrestling.
“I remember when I was about six and I had some friends that lived just few houses down and I went over there to hang out,” recalled A-1 in an interview with SLAM! Wrestling. “They had put wrestling on the TV; it was a Saturday afternoon when they use to have it on at 1 p.m. I remember seeing Junkyard Dog in the ring doing his dance. I think after that day, I was glued to the TV every Saturday. I didn’t have visions of becoming a professional wrestler, I thought about it, but it never really entered my mind as a possible career choice.”
Professional wrestling would turn into a lifetime affection for him, following it throughout his years in school, even making a prized trip to the SkyDome in Toronto for Wrestlemania VI in 1990.
“It was pretty surreal,” described A-1 in attending the annual mega-event of wrestling, his first live WWF/E event, where Hulk Hogan would face off against The Ultimate Warrior. “My dad took me there; it was just he and I. I remember I had my foam Hulk Hogan hand — I was a big Hogan fan so I was cheering for him. It was unbelievable, 65,000 people there.”
As it turned out, being a wrestling fan would lead A-1 to become physically active. “Wrestling is what got me into lifting weights, seeing guys like Hulk Hogan and Don Muraco,” told A-1. “I remember putting in my tape of Wrestlemania I and seeing some of the guys like Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka. That’s what got me started; I wanted to look like that.”
Building a gym in his garage, A-1 would pursue an active regime of building his physical stature. It would prove to be an asset when he also became active in playing high school football.
“I really thought that was something I would do as an athletic career,” said A-1. “Our high school didn’t have a football team, so I would drive to Hamilton from Dunnville after school every night and try to play for the junior team there. It was really difficult.”
His interest for the gridiron would eventually lead A-1 to enroll at the University of Windsor, after graduating from Dunnville Secondary School in 1996.
“I wanted to play football, that’s kind of why I chose to attend university in Windsor,” A-1 said.
However, the complexities of saving money for school would ultimately sink his post-secondary football aspirations.
“I talked to the coach and he was like ‘You have to stay here during the summer time.’ I always went home in the summer time to work and save money for school. I couldn’t take out OSAP (Ontario Student Assistant Program) and I didn’t really want to take out a loan and get in to debt. That was kind of upsetting, but I kept on working out because I still loved bodybuilding.”
As it would turn out, his four years in university would prove to be challenging and when his regular summer job was no longer available, A-1 would part ways from his scholastic pursuits and take on a job as a manager of a strip club in Windsor. Yet, it was at his new place of employment where A-1 would have a chance meeting that would lead him to become a pro wrestler, the very vocation he thought for so many years he would never pursue as a career.
“It was Bobby Clancy and Otis Apollo, they were wrestling for Border City Wrestling (BCW),” recalled A-1. “Someone told them to go see me at the bar. We started talking and they told me there was a wrestling school and gave me Scott D’Amore’s phone number. In my mind, I just wanted to do something athletic. I thought I had a good physique, I loved working out and I love playing sports. I just didn’t want to work, go home, sleep, get up and go to work.”
In the summer of 2000, A-1 arrived on scene at D’Amore’s Can-Am Wrestling school.
“Al showed up and displayed great potential,” recalled D’Amore upon meeting A-1 for the first time. “He just needed to get some things out of his system before he could get down to focusing on wrestling. After he competed and won the first bodybuilding show he ever did, Al had a new outlook on life and was focused on wrestling.”
“He’s a nice guy and has a good heart,” said A-1 in describing D’Amore. “But he’s very direct, there’s no bullshitting with him. What you see is what you get; if you’re doing something, he’s going to tell you. He’s not going to fluff it up. If you’re doing something wrong, he’s definitely going to tell you.”
Having focus would prove imperative for A-1 as he endured the early days of taking bumps in the ring, the wake up call that all aspiring professional wrestlers must endure. “The first two weeks I was so sore, it was pretty rough,” A-1 told. “I remember my back being super sore. I never thought the ropes would be so stiff and I thought the ring would be more like a trampoline. I remember taking my first bump and I’m like ‘Wow, people do this every single night.’ But after a while, your body builds up a tolerance level for it.”
One year later in the summer of 2001, the youngster who watched in awe as muscled gladiators in tights battled each other in the ring on TV, would step between the ropes and make his pro wrestling debut. “It was at Diamonds, this little bar at an outside show; the ring was setup in a parking lot. I was wrestling Bobby Clancy and I didn’t have any boots or trunks. Bobby gave me some of his old stuff to wear. We had about a four-minute match when he gave me a small package to beat me. I was pretty nervous. I used to throw-up before I would go to school and give a speech in front of the class. Now I’ve got to go out and wrestle in front of people.”
From there, he set out on the arduous trek of paying his dues on the independent wrestling circuit. With BCW acting as his home base, A-1 would learn his craft with various smalltime promotions in Michigan and Ontario. But it was BCW where A-1 would get his chance to wrestle and learn from big name wrestlers like D’Lo Brown, King Kong Bundy, Raven and Sabu.
“A lot of times they would ask what I wanted to do in the match,” recalled A-1. “I would tell them and they would give me pointers or change something where they thought it should be in the match. So in my mind, I was getting a better structure on how a match should be setup psychology wise. Working with all them really helped.”
In time, A-1 would get his chance to put his training and knowledge to the test in the big leagues. In December of 2004, he would have not one, but two televised matches with WWE with both the Raw and Smackdown programs.
“It wasn’t a negative experience, but it wasn’t the best of experiences I’d say,” told A-1, referring to the perceived gloominess of the Smackdown locker room. “It was just the atmosphere, it didn’t seem like anybody was happy. On the Raw side, everybody seemed a little more relaxed and were joking around with each other. That experience was good and I was excited. Then I went to Smackdown and it was a cold atmosphere. Everybody it seemed had their heads down, I’m not sure exactly why.”
But the frigid locker room would turn out to be the least of his worries as later that night he, along with then fellow Ontario indy wrestler Rory McAllister of the Highlanders (now under a development deal with WWE), would take on former WWE members Mark Jindrak and Luther Reigns in a tag-team match.
“Luther Reigns is getting all psyched up in the back saying ‘It’s going to be rough out there boys. It’s going to be a shoot.’ Here’s two guys beating up two guys that are nobodies. What does that prove?” asked A-1. “I remember Mark Jindrak slapped me so hard in the corner it almost knocked me out. But what could I do? I got picked up and bodyslammed on my side, dropping really stiff elbows on me — I was just like ‘What the hell is going on?’ Rory McAllister had a huge goose egg and a chipped tooth after the match. I was lucky enough to walk away without any injuries. I don’t know if they (Jindark and Reigns) were told to be really rough. Nobody really said anything about it after.”
For A-1, the experience crossed the line of professional courtesy in an industry where trust is paramount to any successful presentation of a pro wrestling match.
“I’m putting my body on the line,” said A-1. “I am more than happy to sell and bump my ass off to make you look good. That would be my job. I don’t think my job is to just stand there and get the shit kicked out me without defending myself. I wouldn’t do that to somebody — if I hit somebody hard I would definitely walk up to them and apologize afterwards and it would be a complete accident. It wouldn’t be something I would intentionally do.”
A-1 would walk away from that trial with more than just a sore body. For a brief while, thoughts circulated with him on whether his venture into the business was something he wanted to continue. “I was just sitting at home, asking myself whether I should keep going or not.”
If he was expecting any words of sympathy with his mentor D’Amore, he would get none.
“I didn’t share words of encouragement with him because I didn’t think he deserved to be encouraged,” said D’Amore. “I told him he needed to get off his ass and train harder. Al has great natural gifts and has worked hard to develop those gifts. I told him to look at the experience he had as a wake-up call. Everybody thinks that they deserve to get a shot, or that they earned it. Honest truth is, nobody earned it and nobody deserves a shot. If you work hard and perform you will hopefully get a shot, but the business owes nobody anything. Best you can do is work hard and hope you get a shot.”
With that and the resolve to continue onward, A-1 would train harder. It would no doubt prove to be invaluable when he received the opportunity to work for TNA in early 2005 from none other than D’Amore himself.
“He (D’Amore) told me how Johnny Devine got hurt and they needed someone else to come in and be the fourth member of Team Canada,” said A-1.
As it turned out, his debut would not be a non-televised match, or even a televised appearance. It would in fact be at TNA’s Destination X live pay per view in March 2005. Along with his first appearance, A-1 would see first hand the locker room aura.
“It was night and day,” recalled A-1 in observing the sharp contrast from his brief exposure of the Smackdown environment. “The TNA locker room is a bunch of guys who are happy to be wrestling, who are really relaxed and everybody is friends. It’s a mixture of guys who came up like I did and guys who left WWE and want to keep on wrestling. It’s a great atmosphere; it’s a great locker room. It definitely put me back in a positive mind frame in terms of wrestling.”
“If I’m having trouble putting something together I could walk up to somebody and ask them, there would be ten hands in the air offering to help me out. Over the course of last year people have always been helping me out with something, giving me pointers, encouraging me and try to make me a better wrestler. I really appreciate it.”
Having that kind of positive atmosphere will no doubt prove invaluable as A-1 continues to progress in the ring. Now under contract with TNA, he holds the prestige of being a member of Team Canada and with it, the solemn duty of infuriating Americans whenever possible.
“They despise us, which is great. I feed off of that,” said A-1 proudly.
But most importantly, A-1 is getting that constant and crucial ring experience that will only further enhance his overall abilities.
“Getting more comfortable in the ring and improving his wrestling skills,” is what D’Amore identified as to the goals A-1 should concentrate on. “He has a great look and a natural charisma that will show more and more as he gets comfortable in front of a crowd and on camera. He has made great strides in the second part of 2005 and he needs to step up and keep improving as 2006 progresses.”
With the team spirit that A-1 describe in such abundance, it will no doubt prove crucial to not only the future prosperity of not only TNA, but A-1 as well.
“We all want to help each other to make the product as best as we can make it,” said A-1. “The better it does, the better we all do. I think the fans are really happy with having a second option in terms of wrestling companies to watch. I see a lot of good things coming in 2006.”
Team Canada will be in action this Sunday, facing off against Team 3D at TNA’s Against All Odds PPV.