CALGARY — It can be said that true legitimate emotion is missing these days from pro wrestling. But then there are nights however when that emotion comes to the surface and makes a person remember what it is that captures their imagination about the sport. Such was the case on January 26, 2007 when Nattie Neidhart and T.J. Wilson made their Stampede goodbyes.
You could sense the electricity in the air as the crowd filtered in to take in the bi-weekly event at the Ogden Legion of Doom in southeast Calgary. Many of these faces were regulars at the events, but you could see on their faces that this night was different. This was the last time to see Neidhart and Wilson in Calgary. The pair is moving to Atlanta in February, having signed WWE developmental deals, and will be training in Deep South Wrestling.
Backstage before the show, Wilson and Neidhart were preparing for their final bouts. Neidhart was warming up to face ECCW Supergirls star Veronika Vice while Wilson was set to challenge North American champion Apocalypse in the latest chapter of their long-running feud.
“Tonight is really bittersweet. It’s our last show in Stampede, not because we are retiring but because we are going to the next level. At the same time, I had my first match under Stampede Wrestling in 1995, and while I’ve wrestled other places, Stampede has always been my home. I’m known as the Stampede Kid, I am Stampede Wrestling and it is a part of me. I am moving forward in my career and moving a step closer to my dream but at the same time I am leaving behind a lot of friends,” Wilson told SLAM! Wrestling in an exclusive interview.
Neidhart shared her own thoughts as well. “I feel pretty good about it. We have a great turnout tonight. Stampede Wrestling has been notorious for producing talent. Right now we have more talented guys than we’ve had in the last seven years. We have so many young up and comers who are delivering, and there is more to come. You have guys like Ravenous Randy and Apocalypse who are ready to take it to the next level. I feel emotional about leaving but I feel it’s time to spread my wings.”
Neidhart and Wilson were not the only ones preparing for an emotional night. Stampede star Ravenous Randy, who was co-trainer of the current Stampede Wrestling training camp with Wilson, was also dealing with seeing two of his best friends leaving.
“Them signing with WWE is great; I always knew it was going to happen. Everyone knows that T.J. and Nattie have what it takes to be superstars anywhere in the industry. But it is hard to see another friend go, in the past year we’ve seen Harry [Smith] go to WWE and Duke Durrango retire. I can’t say enough good things about them. They will be missed, they are my best friends and I appreciate everything they have done for me. I wouldn’t be who I am without them and it will be hard without a mentor like T.J. and a friend like Nattie around.” The training will continue despite Wilson’s departure, Randy said. “It is going to be different not to have T.J.’s more serious side to the wrestling camp and just the straight up goofiness. I’ll have to bring Harry Smith down to straighten me out from time to time.”
One of those who trained in the camp and is now part of the roster is Chucky “The Boy Wonder.” The 16-year-old defeated Randy on January 12th to become the youngest British Commonwealth Mid-heavyweight champion in Stampede’s 50+ year history. One of Stampede’s most popular stars, Chucky uses Wilson as inspiration not only as a mentor but in the knowledge that Wilson also started wrestling in his early teens.
“T.J. means a lot to me. He has helped me so much in the last couple of years, training me and [he] showed me everything I know. He has taught me how to work out, lose weight and look half like a wrestler finally. If it wasn’t for him and Randy and Nattie I wouldn’t be able to come here to wrestle, I wouldn’t have the British Commonwealth belt,” he said. “It is really cool to see him succeed because it gives me hope that someday maybe I can make it there, that everybody here can. It is sad because I don’t want to see him leave but he is going on to greener pastures so I am happy for him. When I think about all of the things he has done, if I keep training hard one day hopefully I can follow in his footsteps. That’s the dream.”
Taking a break from warming up, Wilson’s opponent Apocalypse took a few moments to ponder the significance of the night. Since November of 2001, he and Wilson have wrestled hundreds of times, including in Britain and for a CFL crowd.
“I am honored that I got to be his last match. We have feuded for so long and know each other so well, I don’t think it will ever really be over no matter what happens. To at least be his last match, we get to have a tear at each other one more time and really go all out. I don’t plan on holding back. It is an honour. I am glad I have gotten to work with all of these guys that have gone on to other things and I hope the trend continues. The stars that we expected to go on to WWE and TNA already have and I hope we have others that do the same thing to carry on the legacy of the Dungeon while it still can be carried on,” Apocalypse said.
He shared some memories of their feud. “When we traveled in England together we had a lot of really good matches. After TJ had gone home I was still there with all the other guys a lot said ‘we have never seen TJ do a lot of that stuff before.’ He’d been beating up all the Brits out there, but when our feud carried overseas to the UK we were blowing people away. That stood out in my mind to be able to get that recognition. We have had some great matches like a submission match a few years ago. We had a match at intermission at a Calgary Stampeders game, I will never forget wrestling in a snowstorm in front of 15,000 people. We have wrestled each other so many times I could go on about it forever.”
Apocalypse also shared some thoughts on Nattie’s departure.
“It will be nice to see a woman who can wrestle go to WWE and I am glad that they picked up someone who can, I hope they use her for that purpose. I find that women wrestling there, I don’t understand it, because I am a wrestler. They have some hard workers still on the roster but the idea for the divas has changed so much that it is good to see someone like Nattie going in there and she could really bring back some of the things Trish [Stratus] did and go further.”
There are many that predict Apocalypse will be following Stampede alumni in the future, a fact demonstrated by a loud “Apoc’s next” chant at the end of the night. Whatever the future holds, Apocalypse was confident we haven’t seen the last match between them: “No matter where goes TJ this feud will never end and I will be his nightmare for the rest of his career.”
“Apocalypse and I have done a lot of training together. Our first match was November of 2001 and it’s been a feud since then. If there is any guy on this roster to give me a last match hands down it is him,” Wilson said. “I think we do work well together, he is very hard hitting and I can hit him back hard. We push each other to see what our limits are. When we first started training with Tokyo Joe we pushed each other and found we could go a lot further then we expected, and we continue to do that now. It may be our last match but we continue to push each other and I don’t think it will be the last match between us.”
Neidhart was excited about facing Vice and having a solid match. While she was focused on the match, part of her was understandably thinking of others. For years Nattie and Belle Lovitz were the only female talent in Stampede Wrestling. The two battled throughout Alberta, as well as at Stu Hart’s 88th Birthday event in May of 2003. Lovitz would be the obvious choice of a final opponent but it was not meant to be.
“Belle and I started out in the same place and I really respect and admire her. I have a sentimental relationship with her and have had a lot of matches all over Alberta. I would have loved to have had Belle for my final match for the same reasons T.J. is facing Apocalypse — Belle pushes me, challenges me and I feel like with her I want to work harder and be better. Both of us are very competitive with each other. Unfortunately she is sidelined with a few injuries and her body needs a bit of a break right now. There are other girls on the Western Canadian scene that are making a name for themselves and I’ve worked with them on previous shows. Veronika Vice is someone who I feel will be a tough opponent. She reminds me of myself when I first got into wrestling — she is hard working and sweet but has an edge in the ring. For someone who is so new to the business I am really impressed by her skill. We are going to have a great showdown.”
There would be no Stampede Wrestling farewell if it were not for promoter Bill Bell. In June of 2005 Ross and Bruce Hart effectively closed the promotion. Bell, who had been involved with the company for years and ran several shows outside of Calgary, took over the reigns and has been backing the company since September 2005. He sat back and took a great deal of pride in watching two of his top performers move on.
“Nattie and T.J. are two of the easiest people to work with who will do whatever we ask. They are two of our top stars who draw fans and mean everything to us. From a business standpoint I am sorry to see them leave but at the same time that is why everybody wrestles here, to move up,” Bell said. “They are living their dream so I am excited for them. We are like a junior hockey team, we don’t get to keep the players forever so we use them while we can and try and get them to improve, and get excited for them when the move up.”
Neidhart and Wilson had nothing but praise for Bell.
“Bill’s meant the survival of Stampede. The kidney and liver transplant Stampede needed to survive. If it weren’t for him nobody would be here right now. I would still be wrestling and Nattie and I would be in the same position but the guys wouldn’t be out here having the opportunity to wrestle. Bill really stepped up to the plate when Bruce Hart took his ball and went home and decided that he wanted to keep Stampede alive. There are times when Bill has lost money but he keeps going because he loves it and he sees the smiles on the boys’ faces. Everyone is very appreciative of him, if it wasn’t for him June of 2005 would have been the last Stampede show,” said Wilson.
“He is a blessing to the promotion. He’s kept us going. Bill has a lot of love for the boys and he sees how happy it makes us. In some ways it is fulfilling to him to be touching other people’s lives,” added Neidhart. “What I like about Bill is he doesn’t try and get involved, he isn’t a wrestler, he doesn’t understand certain dynamics. He lets us have our creativity but gives us boundaries. He is a great role model and a great guy.”
Soon enough it was bell time. Neidhart hit the ring while pink streamers, a Japanese tradition, flew through the air. She and Vice wrestled the fourth match of the night, a hard-hitting contest that saw Nattie have her hand raised in victory after a wheelbarrow powerbomb. The locker room stood at ringside and fans stood and applauded as Nattie made an emotional speech about how much Stampede Wrestling meant to her and urged fans to keep attending shows and keep the promotion alive.
As the night progressed familiar faces began to appear in the crowd — Hart family members Diana and Ross watched on with pride on their face. Nattie’s cousins and T.J.’s long-time friends and training partners Ted Hart and WWE signee Harry Smith came to watch. The atmosphere became even more electrified as Wilson made his way to the ring, which was promptly bathed in streamers. The entire locker room stood at the back of the room and watched as for 25 minutes Wilson and Apocalypse showed why they can be top performers in any company. A miscalculation on Wilson’s part lead to him being pinned, but Apocalypse, in a rare showing of humility, handed Wilson the belt and wished him luck in Deep South Wrestling. Like Neidhart previously, Wilson encouraged fans to continue to support Stampede Wrestling and thanked everyone for over ten years of wrestling.
The ring came down, the fans slowly departed after taking one last chance to say goodbye. For the last time Stampede Wrestling’s locker room and friends gathered at a local restaurant to celebrate another successful evening. For Wilson and Neidhart, it was closure.
“I feel very happy and relieved. I knew this night was going to be emotional and hard, but it went off better than I expected. Everyone was so good and Stampede Wrestling as a whole really shined tonight,” said Neidhart. “Veronika really gave me a solid ladies match. I think she is definitely a force to be reckoned with, she is very, very good. TJ, myself, Harry and Ted are all testaments to the fact that this promotion still produces talent, and there is more where that came from.”
“It couldn’t have gone better tonight. If it was written in a script you couldn’t have gotten tonight in one take. I thought Apocalypse brought it tonight and we had a great match, everything flowed and the fans came out and showed their support,” said Wilson. “Finally, since Stampede Wrestling was reborn we have a true fan base. The atmosphere was amazing, and the streamers were a nice touch. The [Calgary] Flames jersey given to me by the fans was nice. The fans stayed for everything, until the very end. It is pretty indescribable, I couldn’t have asked for a better night.”
Neidhart summed things up best by paying tribute to those who have helped clear their path to new things.
“I feel like my Grandfather, Davey, Owen, [cousin] Matt [Annis], people that are part of our family that couldn’t be here in person were here in spirit. People who lived through Stampede Wrestling were here. I know that my Grandfather would be so proud of this show and that something he started fifty years ago is still living today. We have to be grateful for what Stu gave to us tonight. To me the legacy lives on.”
Stampede Wrestling January 26, 2007 Results
- Evan “Carrot” Adams beat Mahatma Dandhi
- Brandon Van Danielson beat Alex Plexis
- Juggernaut squashed El Blanco Negro Dragon
- Nattie Neidhart pinned Veronika [email protected]:32 Ruby was the ref
- The A-Team (Michael Avery & Dusty Adonis) defeated The New Karachi Vice (The Great Gama Jr.& Raj “Tiger” Singh) in a number one contenders match.
- British Commonwealth Midheavyweight Champion Chucky The Boy Wonder pinned Randy Myers
- North American Heavyweight Champion Apocalypse beat T.J. Wilson