The ECCW Pacific Cup has always had shocking moments and twists and turns, but this year’s tournament will be unique as it features a homecoming of Team Ambition’s Tony Kozina and Davey Richards.

The 2013 tournament will also include the 2012 winner and current NWA Canadian Heavyweight Champion Bishop, 2010 winner and former NWA Canadian Heavyweight titleholder Artemis Spencer, 2009 winner El Phantasmo, former NWA Canadian Heavyweight Champion Tony Baroni, Riot member and NWA/ECCW Tag-Team Champion Andy ‘The Dreadful’ Bird, and veteran catch/submission wrestler Kenny Lush.

When reached by SLAM! Wrestling about the Pacific Cup, Kozina said he couldn’t wait to return to British Columbia in part because since he stopped regularly working for ECCW in 2001 he hasn’t had a home promotion. “I don’t even know most of the guys wrestling there now, but ECCW is still my home,” Kozina told SLAM! Wrestling.

“When I last competed in ECCW in 2007, I expected the fans to have forgotten who I was, but I was met with a huge reaction,” Kozina continued. “The same thing happened last year in Portland and Salem, Oregon. I was very surprised, and humbled by it all. I’d like to come home to another overwhelming reaction, but I really have no idea what the fans will do, it’s been almost six years since I’ve been up there … Regardless though, I’m coming home to show everyone why I have been where I have been for 16 years now, and I’m coming home to win the one thing that’s escaped me for 13 years, the Pacific Cup trophy.”

What makes Kozina’s participation really unique is he was in the first ECCW Pacific Cup tournament in 2000, which was won by Asian Cougar. According to Kozina when then-ECCW promoter Dave Republic announced the tournament not many other promotions were doing them.

“With the internet coming of age and these tournaments gathering some steam, we did the Pacific Cup, with the idea that this was going to be the juniors’ night to showcase everything they had,” recalled Kozina.

“We had Asian Cougar in from IWA Japan, and they matched me with him in the finals. It was also the last show we did at the Eagles Hall in New Westminster, BC. That was a special building. It had that atmosphere; it was our ‘ECW Arena.’ The place was standing room only, and I ended up being in the final match in that building. Cougar and I just clicked in the ring. I sure wish we could have battled more. Some people bring out something inside of you when you wrestle. Cougar was one of them that brought my performance to crazy daredevil levels.”

At the time Kozina said he and the other wrestlers didn’t realize that the ECCW Pacific Cup would become such a meaningful show. When he reflected on the tournament, Kozina felt that what made it so special was that outside talent was usually brought in for it, thus making it into something bigger.

“TJ Perkins, Jack Evans, Asian Cougar … and I’m sure there’s more who have been involved through the years,” Kozina recalled. “They, along with the top guys in the Northwest, help to make it a special event … and I’m sure the outside talent bring out something inside the local ECCW guys, just like Cougar did with me! Everyone wins!”

Still, when he looks back on his ECCW days and Canada, it reminds Kozina of his dear friend Adam Firestorm who passed away in November 2009. “Most of my memories of that time included that wonderful human being,” said Kozina. “I think and talk about him often, as any of the guys I run with would point out; and while I’ve never been able to participate at his memorial shows yet, at the 2013 Pacific Cup, Adam will very much be with me in the ring.”

One participant who feels the tournament should be cancelled and they should just hand him the trophy is El Phantasmo. When this SLAM! Wrestler reporter dared to ask him who he was most looking forward to facing at this year’s tournament El Phantasmo replied “your mom.”

“I am the greatest athlete in Canadian wrestling history and the best wrestler ECCW has ever seen,” said El Phantasmo.

However, El Phantasmo acknowledged that he had a storied history with both Kozina and Richards and said he’d be lying if he said he didn’t look up to them. “That’s because I’m a fully grown man, and they are midgets,” El Phantasmo bragged. “In all honesty, Davey Richards is one of the absolute best pure wrestlers on this planet today, and Kozina has more accomplishments in this business than you have lonely Friday nights. ECCW fans are in for a treat when Team Ambition shows up in Vancouver.”

Tony Kozina

What allowed Kozina to participate in the ECCW Pacific Cup this year is that he happens to be going to Oregon for some shows with DOA Pro Wrestling. “They said, ‘If you’re in the Northwest we’ll get you home for the Cup,'” recalled Kozina. “I’ve always kept in contact with ECCW and wanted to participate in the Pacific Cup every year. It’s just that schedules don’t line up. I’m living out in St. Louis now, so getting back to Vancouver isn’t as easy as it was.”

As to what has been keeping him busy, Kozina elucidated how it was Team Ambition in St. Louis, which came about when he and Davey Richards worked on helping Kyle O’Reilly polish his skills and eventually managed to get O’Reilly into Ring of Honor — where the B.C. just claimed the tag team titles with Bobby Fish. From there publicity around Team Ambition grew to a fever pitch when Richards was headed into his ROH title showdown in 2011 against Eddie Edwards.

“They documented our daily lives,” explained Kozina. “The fact we lived together and trained together, travelled together … What we do now is have dedicated wrestlers out for a length of time to train with us. Full immersion training; some guys want to come for a week, just to see if it’s for real … to get a taste of it … an idea what it’s like. Other people, like Darren Dean, and Aaron Solo, two young wrestlers who you will start hearing more and more about, come out from California for a week, went back home, packed their cars and moved out here! We’ve had two young men come over from England last year and stay for three months, and we were honoured to have New Japan Pro Wrestling send us King Fale for a year. That says were definitely doing something right when NJPW send you their young boys to train.”

When asked about which wrestlers he was looking forward to competing against in ECCW, Kozina admitted that while he wasn’t that familiar with much of the current roster, he recently watched a video recap of one of ECCW’s shows and was stunned.

“Those guys in the video were competing at amazing levels. I’ve always enjoyed wrestling El Phantasmo and Scotty Mac; I’ve known those guys for years now,” he said. “One guy who has really impressed me, who’s been wrestling in ECCW for several years now, and who I’ve never locked up with is Artemis Spencer. Also, from what I’ve seen, Tony Baroni looks like he’d bring out the fight in me.”

Kenny Lush ties up Michelle Starr in December 2011.

In terms of the finals for the 2013 ECCW Pacific Cup, El Phantasmo felt that the fans should be drooling for a final match between him and Davey Richards. Yet, before any of that can happen, Richards will have to get through his first round opponent Kenny Lush who during the last year has been focused on catch wrestling and recently won the BC Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Open and the Westcoast Submission Series.

“I think with the submission background I really got the end in the tournament and plan on going all the way to the end,” said Lush. “I’m stoked about Davey Richards and Tony Kozina taking part in it this year. The last few years of this tournament it’s kinda of felt like it’s been the same guys competing in it. If you do a tournament like this you want the best of the best in the Northwest and that should always include Kozina and Richards. Both of them are from around here and they both got their starts in ECCW.”

Kozina remembers those early days in ECCW very well, particularly the beauty of the province of British Columbia, and how they were all a bunch of guys hell bent on creating something special. Reflecting on what made that group of wrestlers special, Kozina felt the key was that they were a team which was crucial in being able to create the promotion.

“Everyone was out for the whole show/promotion, and everyone had a part they played outside of the ring,” Kozina reminisced wistfully. “Every person gave 110% or they didn’t last long. We were doing 120 shows per year in 1999-2000. It was a beautiful time that I look back on fondly. We didn’t realize what we had. I don’t think you ever do until it’s gone. I think the greatest memories for me were the northern tours. I had great matches, and learned a great deal, but it was those northern tours where I realized that this travelling thing was for me!”

With regards to his wrestling Richards in the first round, Lush revealed that was how he got included in the 2013 tournament. “I haven’t wrestled for ECCW for a while, but I heard that everyone was scared to wrestle him so I guess that’s when the bookers that be put their two pea brains together and decided they’d called me,” Lush relayed. “Davey is a hard hitting, talented as @$#! dude, but I train four days a week with the top kick boxers and grapplers in the city so I’m not too worried.”

What El Phantasmo felt makes the Pacific Cup special is that any of the eight men entered have a solid chance at winning, however it doesn’t preclude him wanting to dash the hopes that others have of becoming the 2013 winner. “The crowd will be absolutely electric for Kenny Lush’s return, and sucking the air out of the building when I beat him would be incredible. Artemis Spencer and I have a Match of the Night every time we wrestle, and making defending champion Bishop hand me the Cup from his knees would be pretty satisfying. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter to me who I beat because everyone is coming to see their favourite wrestler become the first two-time Pacific Cup champion!”

El Phantasmo might want to widen his gaze to some of the other participants such as Andy “The Dreadful” Bird, though. “I’ve had El Phantasmo step in my nest before, and I’d like to go beak to nose and talons to toes with him one more time; but I always try to be ready for anything, and soar into any situation with an open bird brain, and at the Pacific Cup, it won’t be any different,” Bird said. “I’ll be ready.”

As many astute wrestling fans are aware Kozina goes back to the beginning of Richards’ wrestling career, and for Kozina it’s been an amazing learning experience watching him rise and mature. “He, and Team Ambition, bring respect to pro wrestling from our local mixed martial arts community, among so many other places. That’s important because too many people laugh at pro wrestling, make a joke of it, and make it out to seem like only the lowest class of people are fans of it. There’s nobody I have witnessed who puts in the work that Richards does. I’ve often said I wish we could have met in 1998 or 1999, and grown up together in the wrestling business. As for facing Richards at the Pacific Cup, I can only hope to meet him in the finals. We’ve wrestled many times before, all across the country, but a finals for the Pacific Cup? I’d like him to see firsthand why ECCW fans and management gave me the name ‘Tornado.'”

The 2013 ECCW Pacific Cup will be held on March 9, 2013, doors open at 7 p.m. and bell time is at 7:30PM, at the Russian Community Centre located at 2114 W 4th Avenue in Vancouver, BC. Front row tickets are $18 and General Admission tickets are $15.

Matthew Byer will be moving back to the BC mainland on March 20, 2013. Check out his new advice column The Male Perspective.