Saturday’s Prairie Wrestling Alliance card promises to be an emotional evening. In addition to a huge tag match bringing TNA’s Team 3D feud to Edmonton — Bully Ray teams with PWA’s Dylan Knight against Brother Devon and Lance Storm — it also marks a decade for the Edmonton promotion.
“I had a background working with WWE and a lifelong love of the business. I wrestled amateur and it was something I always wanted to be involved with. God played this cruel height joke on me and at 5’3″ there are going to be different avenues for me. I was working for WWE at a RAW show in 1997 and Bruce Hart asked me if I wanted to be involved with Stampede Wrestling,” PWA owner Kurt Sorochan recounted to SLAM! Wrestling. “At the same time WWE asked me to work with them on events in Western Canada. I weighed my options and thought I would learn more from the Harts and took him up on his offer. I worked with them for three and a half years and then things slowed down a bit and we weren’t doing as many shows. At the same time in 2000 I found out I had cancer so that is when you take a break and concentrate on getting healthy. It gave me lots of time to think and Ivan Thompson and I decided to do it. We teamed up with Hercules Ayala and started PWA.”
Thompson, current PWA champion Chris Steele, and the former Marky Mark who now wrestles as “M” are the only wrestlers on the card who competed on that first show. They have seen a lot of guys come and go. Mark recalled that first show against best friend Phoenix Taylor.
“They put me in a mask and called me The Shadow. This was due to the fact that a lot of people felt that I was ‘too small’ to be a wrestler but that was just one of the many obstacles I had to overcome in my 10 years in the business,” said M. “I wrestled my good friend Phoenix Taylor as we had trained together and were the first two guys booked out of that training camp. It was a combination of nervous and exciting in the back before we went out to the ring, a feeling I still get to this day before every single match.”
“The first actual show was to be in Hobbema but we had an issue with the ring ropes and had to cancel the show. We had planned a tour to iron out the bugs and get a shows done away from the city before we unveiled. When we finally did the first show in Edmonton we had well over 600 people there,” added Sorochan. “The excitement of actually putting on the show and seeing the posters and advertising, promoting your own show was fantastic. When the bell rang for the first match everybody was kind of awestruck. From there you have to look at it being the beginning benchmark and what we had to do to keep it going. What we did wrong and what we did right.”
Three years later PWA brought in their first outside talent in former WWF, ECW and TNA personality Don Callis. This would be the first step that would see more than two dozen stars compete in the PWA ring.
“Don Callis was fantastic to work with and the first name we brought in. He had such a great mind for the business. When we got the opportunity to work with him we had to jump at it and learned a lot. It showed us what we could do,” said Sorochan.
“It wasn’t easy to contact a lot of former WWE wrestlers. We had talked to Kurrgan but when we contacted him he was getting busy with movies and lived on the other side of the country so airfare would have been a lot. We hadn’t thought about bringing anyone else in but we had the opportunity to work with Natalya Neidhart and ended up working with Jim Neidhart twice. When it really opened up for us when the doors to TNA opened up to us. Right from when we first brought Samoa Joe in, along with Jim and Abdullah The Butcher in 2007 was when we realized it was feasible and there was enough fan support to bring in these kind of stars from three different eras of wrestling.”
For Mark, looking across the locker room and seeing some of his idols has meant a great deal.
“Having brought in such awesome talent and legends has meant a lot to the PWA. It has meant bigger shows in front of a lot more people and the more people exposed to the PWA the better. It also shows that the stars of the PWA can stand toe to toe with the best wrestlers around which is always nice,” he said. “When Frankie Kazarian was brought in there was a time that him and Phoenix and Michael Avery and myself were all hanging out in the back. We had a really long talk about all the short stories we had to read in high school. When it was done he said ‘Wow, that’s probably the best conversation I’ve ever had in a wrestling locker room. Usually it’s all about booze and boobs.’ It was pretty awesome.”
The chance to get feedback for both the wrestlers and the promotion itself has been the highlight for Sorochan.
“They all brought different things to the table and different experiences and feedback. My business partner Don Ferguson drove Abdullah back to Calgary for his flight and he spent the whole time talking about how impressed he was and what we did right and what we could do better. To impress someone of his stature was a huge compliment. Samoa Joe has always been a big supporter and been back more than any other big name wrestler. He went back to TNA and told people we were great and we brought Joe back to face AJ Styles. Fans in Alberta wouldn’t be able to see that outside of TV or pay per view. Chris Daniels and Abyss heard about us and came up. We have gotten great compliments from these guys, they have been nothing but the most professional talent you could deal with. They worked hard, did whatever they could to sell tickets to the next show and it kept steamrolling. Abyss told us, ‘You are the most professional independent promotion I have ever worked for.’ Chris Daniels was standing there and said, ‘That is a big compliment from him because he has worked for every promotion out there.’ Chris will do anything to get re-booked with us. The wealth of experience they brought in and the advice given to us and our wrestlers was invaluable.”
The downside becomes fans expectations in wanting “names” at every show, not taking into consideration the costs and challenges involved.
“It becomes a Catch-22 because then people keep asking, ‘When is the next big show?’ We have to keep it special, if we keep bringing them in too often we would have to bring in bigger and bigger stars. You have to look at it being affordable for people to attend. We have found a right mix after four years where we can bring in almost anyone. We are bringing in one of the most successful tag teams of all time in Team-3D. We brought in Booker T. We are able to elevate it while controlling the cost and making it affordable for the fans and the response is just great.”
For Steele it is a great bonus as well.
“It means I can wrestle with the best of them and keep up Its be good have those wrestlers come to our locker room, it gives us a good reputation,” said the current PWA champ.
PWA has also created their own stars, several of whom have moved on to opportunities with WWE and TNA. Johnny Devine, Tyson Kidd, DH Smith and Natalya Neidhart are all PWA alumni.
“It is surreal, one of our goals has been to get our talent further in their careers, to be a stepping stone. We knew that Harry, TJ and Nattie were going to — they are just that good,” said Sorochan. “I got to be with them at Wrestlemania in Houston and seeing them compete at Smackdown in Edmonton is surreal. I have watched them since they were in their late teens. Some of their best matches were in PWA. Nattie tagging with her dad for the first time was in PWA. That is pretty special. You see them move on and not just get signed but get onto TV and tour, you feel so proud of them. We are a small reason why they are there, we set the stage and they stole the show. To see them attain what they have is fabulous, I am so proud. The success hasn’t changed them at all. They don’t come back with a superstar aura, they take the time to talk to everyone as much as they can.”
The trend is likely to continue, in the past year five talents with PWA backgrounds have signed WWE developmental deals.
“We have seen Tiger Singh, Matthias Wilde, Apoc, Tenille and another one of our girls Ilena has been signed. We just had a few come back from (tryout camps in) Florida and I am pretty sure we are going to lose one or two more this year. We could be at almost a dozen people in four years that have left this territory to go to WWE. I don’t think there are too many promotions in North America that can say that,” boasted Sorochan. “I think the wrestling world has taken notice. We have wrestlers asking about our promotion every week from starting out wrestlers to stars. Word of mouth travels and that is the best thing for us. I think we are looked at in a different way then a lot of other promotions. Every time I get a phone call that someone is signed I swell up with pride like it is my own children and I hope to send many, many more.
Having wrestled most of them, Mark takes a lot of pride in having done so.
“It’s an awesome feeling, I cannot lie. Knowing that I can go out there with anyone have an incredible match is fantastic. And knowing that I can hold my own in the ring with the best wrestlers in the world is exactly what I set out to do when I decided to become a wrestler. If I have to pick a favorite match I gotta say it was myself and Phoenix Taylor taking on TJ Wilson and Harry Smith for the PWA tag titles. Just a great match and a dream come true and I think of it often.”
There will likely be a grin bigger than the one Mark often painted on his face Saturday night as he steps into the ring for the 10th anniversary show.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am to have been such a big part of the PWA since day one. Ten solid years I’ve been out there killing myself for Kurt, as I like to put it, and it’s a wonderful feeling. To know that I overcame so much since my first day in training camp to make it to the biggest show in the history of the PWA and be in one of the most important matches on the card,” said M. “My dream of becoming a wrestler came true many years ago, but I had no idea how awesome and big that dream would become. Not to sound too cocky, but being one of the few guys that can honestly say there would be no PWA without me is a great feeling. So many guys owe so much to the PWA and so much talent has come through this company it’s nice knowing that all my efforts to make the PWA what it is were worth it. Years after I die some people might talk about me as a friend or me as a co-worker but most people will remember me for being a part of the PWA and I am very proud of that.”
While the wrestlers and fans are an important part of PWA reaching 10 years, the heart of the company is Sorochan, Mark says.
“If it wasn’t for Kurt there would be no PWA, period. There are so many guys out there who think because they have money or access to a ring that they can run a wrestling promotion. Well, they can maybe run a show and lose their shirt, but to successfully run a company for 10 years takes a lot more. Everything Don brings to the table is great and appreciated but Kurt is the heart and soul of the PWA and everyone involved in the company owes so much to him.”
“If it hasn’t been for Kurt and Don sacrificing all these years there wouldn’t be any show, and I wouldn’t be wrestling because there is no other real promotion around,” added Steele.
It has been a road filled with twists and turns. Sorochan reflected back on everything that the promotion has achieved.
“There were a lot of naysayers through the years and we did get our back up once in awhile and get defensive. Now it is water off a duck. For the last four or five years we just worry about ourselves. There is competition out there but we are at such an echelon now that we feel no one is at our level in Western Canada. There are some great promotions like ECCW which is right there with us. Anyone else that comes along and thinks it is easy to start up and attain what we have, they don’t understand it has taken ten years of hard work to get where we are and get the different athletes we have and get the support of the Hart Family. Members of the family are at every show and they support us as being the company to lead independent wrestling and carry on the tradition they started with Stampede Wrestling. That is a huge compliment,” said Sorochan.
“For all the people that badmouthed, us we looked at that as a motivator and it will continue to do so. We don’t have to say, ‘Look at us now’; we know what we’ve achieved and we want to revel in it and look back at it and enjoy. You don’t know when this is going to end, I tell the wrestlers to enjoy every show. These times don’t come again. I really do feel if PWA at some point packs it in, you will remember these times. It was the right place, time, and key elements. Everyone working together is why we got to where we are today looking at a very bright future and another 10 years of success.”
PWA: Home of the stars
The PWA has seen several of its wrestlers go on to WWE and TNA. They have also seen many legends step into their ring. Here is a list of notable alumni and guests.
TJ Wilson (Tyson Kidd)
Harry Smith (DH Smith)
Apoc – (Rick Victor – FCW)
Mattias Wilde – (Mike Dalton – FCW)
“Tiger” Raj Singh – (Jinder Mahal – FCW)
PWA Guest Stars
Abdullah The Butcher