As Leah Von Dutch counters the Stratusfaction and takes Trish Stratus out with the Flying Dutchman, the crowd goes wild. But just before the referee makes the count, Alysha Verhoevdn wakes up from her dream.
“I really started to get into wrestling once Trish Stratus debuted,” said Von Dutch. “I’ve always been a fan. She’s another Canadian, she’s from Toronto and she’s blonde, just like me.”
While she will likely never face the retired Stratus in real life, Von Dutch is following a similar path, proving that dreams do have a way of coming true.
As a longtime wrestling fan from Strathroy, Ontario, Von Dutch came to an eventual realization that there is nothing that she would rather be doing. At that point, it was only a matter of making it happen.
“When I started taking an interest in wrestling, I actually didn’t realize that there were so many indie promotions in Ontario,” Von Dutch said. “I was going to university in Windsor, and Scott D’Amore had a school in the area, but I couldn’t afford it at the time, because I was still a student.”
Despite the financial setback, Von Dutch was still determined to be involved in the business in some capacity.
She was happy enough to volunteer her services as a ring announcer for Classic Championship Wrestling, in addition to several other non-wrestling duties. Around this time, Von Dutch briefly trained under Derek Wylde, but was unable to continue due to conflicting schedules.
“I used to just hang out at the arenas and help out in any way that I could,” she said. “I would sell tickets, pizza and popcorn, and I would do the time-keeping sometimes. But the promoter, Jay McDonald, could tell that I really wanted to be a wrestler.”
Von Dutch eventually got paired with former TNA star Cody Deaner, as his valet. It was an unfamiliar role for her, but it became a great learning experience.
“As a valet, your job is to enhance the wrestler. You have to keep the focus on your wrestler,” Von Dutch said. “Sometimes, I’d get involved in the match, because you basically just do whatever you need to do, to make sure that your guy wins.”
Deaner certainly holds Von Dutch in the highest regard and looks back on his time with her quite fondly.
“Alysha’s attitude is phenomenal. If people were hired based on attitude, she’d already have a job. But it’s not really based on that and it’s not necessarily based on skill either. But if you have the athleticism and the determination to succeed, like Alysha does, eventually you’ll get hired,” Deaner said. “During the time when she was my valet, she was able to learn multiple aspects of the business, such as how to interact with the crowd and how to portray a character. This is before she even learned how to endure any of the physicality of the wrestling business. I had to teach her how to act like a jerk as well, because I’m so good at being a jerk myself. But she really needed to learn how to be comfortable in front of a crowd. When I first met her, she came across as quite shy, and a little intimidated. But she was really just being respectful. Sometimes, you really have to shut your mouth and open your ears, and just learn.”
In a business like professional wrestling, it is equally important to be a great entertainer as it is to be a great wrestler. Some may argue that it’s more important. In terms of being an entertainer, Von Dutch was able to pick up on certain things that Deaner would do, just by simply watching him.
“When I was a valet for Cody Deaner, I just loved the way he interacted with the fans, and made sure that everyone who bought a ticket got their money’s worth,” Von Dutch said.
Deaner always enjoyed having Von Dutch in his corner, and he was always willing to offer advice if she needed it.
“I liked her right away. I kind of just took things that I had been taught, and passed it on to her,” Deaner said. “She’d usually come to me after the shows and ask about how she did, and I’d always turn it back to her and ask her how she thought she did. And the most important thing I’d ask her is if she learned anything. Then we’d go through what she learned. You can learn a lot more from a bad match than you can from a good match. I’ve always told her not to take herself too seriously, and not to be afraid to put herself out there. You can’t be afraid of looking weak, which a lot of people don’t understand. If you go out there and have fun, and enjoy what you do, you’ll get noticed.”
The biggest moment in the 25-year-old Von Dutch’s career happened in September of 2011, when she won an essay contest at Squared Circle Training in Toronto, and was hand-selected by former WWE Superstar Edge to receive free wrestling training. Adam Copeland, a.k.a. Edge, confirmed that he read all the essays, saw all the pictures and met and interacted with the contestants.
“In getting to meet them I could see some of them had the desire — about three of them,” said Edge. “But Leah, to me, seemed to have the best, most realistic, shot at making it. She seemed like she had a great attitude, and willingness to try and get in there to learn. She’d already been told no, been told no multiple times, but kept coming back. I respected that. She was already doing what she could to get experience valeting, or even just taking gear back. That told me she wanted it.”
Von Dutch shared a little about the experience. “For the essay, I had to write about why I love pro wrestling,” Von Dutch said. “On the day of the contest, I felt really confident that I’d win, just because I was already involved in the business, and when I was selected for a final interview, I noticed that the WWE camera was in there, but I don’t remember it being there for anybody else’s interview.”
Von Dutch opened a lot of eyes that day, with her passionate introduction of herself. She certainly had everyone’s attention that day, including The Score’s Arda Ocal, who happened to be there as well.
“I was very impressed when I first met Alysha at Squared Circle. She was very positive, and was going around and shaking everyone’s hand. I really like seeing stuff like that, because it shows that she’s genuinely happy to be there,” Ocal said. “I think it’s a big positive that Edge actually selected her and has endorsed her. But I’m happy to see that she also doesn’t have that attitude to think that she’s already made it, because of that. She’s worked very hard and is very respectful, which shows that she understands what people need to do to get noticed in this business.”
Ocal occasionally volunteers his services at Squared Circle as well, by helping the trainees with their promos.
“Alysha is always asking for advice on how to improve, which is also a good thing. If you ever stop learning in this business, then you might as well not be in it,” Ocal said. “In promo class, the first thing I told them was that they needed to understand that the promos today are wildly different from previous generations. In today’s promos, you don’t get a lot of screaming and yelling. Instead, you’re speaking to the camera and it’s a lot more conversational. There are plenty of good speakers out there, but you also need to be aware of where and how to stand, and when you speak, you need to make sure that the person in the last row can understand what you’re saying. In the WWE, they just give you a script and you read it, but at the indie level, a lot of those guys have to get over by themselves. And because there are no scripts in the indies, I wanted to make sure that these guys are prepared for that, and when they have to film interviews for DVDs.”
When the field was narrowed down to just four contestants in the essay contest, Edge himself made the final choice, and when Von Dutch’s name came out of his mouth, her facial expression told the entire story; she was smiling from ear to ear.
“I’d definitely say that Edge has helped me a lot. I always send him videos of my matches and ask for critiques. I really appreciate that he always goes out of his way to help me,” Von Dutch said.
As someone who’s had his own opportunity to work for a major promotion, Deaner couldn’t be happier for his former protégé.
“When she won the essay contest, I told her to exploit the hell out of that opportunity,” Deaner said. “Edge is a huge star. He’s done everything you can possibly do in wrestling. So for him to actually put his stamp of approval on Alysha speaks volumes. The world needs to know that, and she needs to use that.”
Of course, an opportunity is just an opportunity, unless it’s followed up on. And Von Dutch certainly made the most of hers. She immediately began training at Squared Circle.
“There really was no typical day of training at Squared Circle. It depends on who was running the class,” Von Dutch said. “We’d start with bumps and then eventually learn moves. One day, we’d just be learning pins. Then another day, it was suplexes, and another day it would be finishers. It was very intense, physical training. We’d usually start with 10 laps around the gym.”
What Von Dutch has accomplished in the short amount of time that she’s been in the business has been quite impressive. She only won the essay contest at Squared Circle a little over a year ago, and earlier this year, she made her CHIKARA debut against current WWE developmental trainer Sara Del Rey.
“Sara (Del Rey) is amazing. She really took me under her wing, and I think the CHIKARA matches I had with her really started getting me noticed,” Von Dutch said. “Something just clicked for me, and Sara was super helpful. If I wasn’t comfortable doing something, she wouldn’t try to pressure me into it. She was really safe.”
Since then, Von Dutch has had a rematch with Del Rey, but even that match was just the tip of the iceberg, compared to her next big step.
“The WWE was coming to Montreal and Ottawa, so I emailed Edge my second match with Sara and told him that I was looking for extra work,” Von Dutch said. “I also called up the head office to get a tryout. You never know what they are looking for.”
Von Dutch eventually did get that tryout, and has at least gotten herself noticed by WWE officials, which is always a good thing.
“To be invited to their (WWE) house show is one thing, but to be called up to developmental is completely different,” Ocal said. “At least after having the tryout, Alysha is now on their radar. I think it’s a big thing that they (WWE) now have Sara Del Rey as a developmental trainer. It definitely signals that there may be more emphasis placed on hiring female wrestlers. Alysha may be on the path a little longer than someone who’s in her late teens, just like a 6’5″ chiseled linebacker will be given a look sooner than a seasoned veteran, who’s a little smaller. Alysha is very cheerful and easy to be around. And people will always want to work with people that they enjoy being around. She’s (Alysha) always in a happy mood, and it spreads. She needs to get herself over in the indies, so that she can win over the hardcore fans. Once she gets to the point where people are talking about her, promoters will start to take notice.”
Edge is decidedly on her side, as is a WWE Diva who recently departed the company.
“Now that she’s had some training, she’s trying to do it the old fashioned way, as much as that’s possible now. Get booked wherever you can,” praised Edge. “She’s already been to Japan and gets booked against the Sara Del Reys of the world so she can learn and obviously because promoters must see something too. Thankfully, Beth [Phoenix] has taken her under her wing advice-wise, since as a male, there’s things that I would never even think of to tell her or give her a heads up on. So that’s helped the maturation process too, I think. Still a ways to go experience wise, but she’s trying and that’s what I assumed she’d do. Like I told her the night of the contest, I hope she proves me right. We’ve opened the door a crack, now she has to kick it open herself.”
While she continues to work as a research assistant during the day, Von Dutch has her sights set on a WWE contract.
“I want to eventually make it to the WWE and maybe become the next Trish or Lita; except I’ll be the first Leah Von Dutch,” she said. “They started wrestling for only a couple of minutes, but were eventually having these great, long matches.”
It’s clear at this point that the sky’s the limit for Leah Von Dutch. She has already accomplished so much in the last 14 months, and if that is any indication, she may be a WWE Diva sooner rather than later.