If there’s ever a recurring lesson in my journey within professional wrestling it is that nothing comes easy. It’s probably career suicide to admit there’s nothing special about yourself but that’s how it’s always been. I’m not six foot six, I don’t do anything close to a 450 splash, I’m not the pretty boy and I no longer portray a gimmick. I’ve been called a stalwart and a “kid with a good head on his shoulders” but you soon learn that means nothing more than a pat on the back. It’s pretty much the compliment equivalent of a friend zone.
My opportunity in Japan came after deciding to sign up for a Zero-1 USA tryout. This came after a time frame where I drove across the border on a weekly basis. I would attend tryouts, seminars, compete and go grass roots by attending shows and paying dues. Doing as much as I can in hopes of opening one door. So my time came when I flew to Florida for my Zero-1 USA tryout, right? Nope. I came a very close second and had to tryout a second time down the road. No complaints, no bitterness. You’re owed nothing and you have a choice to make, complain or do something about it. Luckily I’m stubborn and the second tryout paid off.
So it was all good times from there on, right? Nope. Before I was to head out to Japan I was to train and compete with AAA in Mexico. During the latter part of my stay I ended up tearing my MCL which set back my time in Japan. Then due to the off-set schedule my pushed back trip to Japan was, well, pushed back yet again. This lead to me taking off two months of bookings so I can sit at home healthy. It also lead to my three-month stay getting cut to two months as a result of other commitments. It was a hard pill to swallow but as the saying goes, “right time, right place” and I was anything but at this point.
Mid-March came around and I eventually made my way to Tokyo, Japan for what was the beginning of two of the most memorable months of my life. It’s tough to figure out where to start but all-in-all the people and the sport of wrestling are a reflection of the Japanese culture. It’s a wonderful country with a rich sense of tradition. From the beginning I was humbled by the kindness of the Zero-1 family and I soon realized that this was just how the people of Japan are. I was taken out for dinner on one of my first nights and was constantly greeted with respect. It was a humbling feeling that makes you want to reciprocate such kindness.
I also picked up on social norms such as taking your shoes off when entering a house, a dojo and some other establishments. I learned about the social etiquette of bowing, using particular greetings and adding “san” to the end of certain people’s name as a sign of respect. There’s a lot more structure within the Japanese culture as well. When walking a flight of stairs or taking the subway there is always a designated walking area for both directions and it’s always obeyed. As well, there’s next to no pollution despite there being hardly any garbage bins in site. I could go on about the countless social norms but you get the point.
All this stuff is also reflected within the sport of professional wrestling as I previously mentioned. Training was very structured. It’s not a part time gig or a hobby. This is your life commitment. Trainees and the young boys all lived in a wrestling house. Mondays to Saturdays we would wake up early and take a 20-minute walk to our dojo where we would train for morning until afternoon. We always started with intense conditioning drills that put anything I have previously done to shame. I have trained at many schools in North America and done many camps. I will always credit the Squared Circle Training facility for prepping me by putting me through some of the toughest conditioning drills. However, it was all child’s play in comparison to the Zero-1 dojo.
Our time in the ring was no easy task either and it quickly took its toll on the body. When all was said and done, I would hit the weights and follow that with some yoga and stretching as my body dearly needed it. I’m pretty sure between my daily training regimen and doing shows, I was at 50 or 60+ hours a week. This left very little “free time” which was often used to eat like a pig or to passed out for a short nap. In a weird way I loved it! I saw a ton of progress in my conditioning and my physique, it also gave me a lot of ring time to work on my craft. It’s a tough lifestyle but one I embraced.
Unfortunately, when I felt like I was hitting my strides at the half way mark of my stay that old MCL injury was re-aggravated. For a guy who has hardly ever been sidelined this banged up knee is quite the monkey on my back. Every day of training was an unbearable pain and I tried to keep it a secret at first but the more I trained and competed, the worse it got. It stayed with me the remainder of my stay but I managed. The hard road was nothing new. Adapt and overcome.
When the time came to compete at Zero-1 shows — I was known as Sebastian Concrete — it was a treat that I never got tired of. The Japanese audiences are respectful to our sport and very knowledgeable as well. There is no better feeling than when a Japanese audience is receptive to a particular move or moment in your match. These moments were even better when you looked across the ring and fights like Kohei Sato, KAMIKAZE, Ryoji Sai, Ikuto Hidaka, and Shinjiro Otani are starring right back at you. As a North American wrestler I always heard of “fighting spirit” and seen it but I never truly got it until I stepped into a ring with some of these men. It’s something I have developed a true appreciation for and believe I can incorporate into my skill set back home.
Highlights of my time wrestling in Japan included debuting at the annual Yasukuni Shrine Festival in front of thousands of people, competing at the infamous Korakuen Hall, stepping into the ring with Hidaka-San and being a part of the NWF gaijin faction. I most certainly cannot leave out our time with Akebono-san. The sumo legend is in a class of himself coming down to the dojo to help us out and even welcoming us into his own home. He owed us nothing yet he would take us out for dinner and gave us Akebono tees and Ribera Zuba pants as gifts. That man treated us like family and I can promise you that we were all inspired to do the same down the road for the next generation.
I was also fortunate to get a proper amount of sightseeing done. Odaiba and Asakua provided day-long trips while the famous Tsukiji Tuna Market and Tokyo Tower were popular pit stops for tourists. I even shopped at the Pokemen Centre. Yep, you read that right! All-in-all, I’ve traveled to many places across the globe and for the first time I felt at home in a foreign land. Despite the language and culture barriers I was very comfortable with the people and the lifestyle I was surrounded with.
I love Zero-1. I love Japan. I will never forget either. In regards to my return to the Land of the Rising Sun I truly believe that it’s a matter of when, not if. My sole regret is that I did not make my way there with that “it factor” that would make me special. I was well-received and told that I am welcomed back. However, high-fives and being told I’m good are not enough at this point in my career. I’m hungry for more, I’m ready for the next step. At this point in my career I’m beginning to wonder, do I dig in deep and find that “it factor”? Or is it only fitting that I take the long and hard road as I have always done? Either way, I am blessed with the opportunity to be doing what I love. Whichever road I take, it will be with no regrets.
See Sebastian Suave in action on Sunday, June 16 at 5 p.m. at The E-Zone (120 North Queen St, Toronto, ON); Matt Cross vs. Sonjay Dutt is the main event. www.smash-wrestling.com.