By BOB WAYNE – For SLAM! Wrestling
It all started for a nine-year-old boy in 1964 in Calgary, Alberta, when I sat in the front row with my dad at the old Victoria Pavilion for another Friday night of the Stampede Wrestling promotion. As I sat there, I was terrified when I looked up at the ring as the monsters Killer Kowalski and Don Leo Jonathan go at it. Also on the card were Stan Stasiak against John Tolos. This was the start of my fascination with professional wrestling. After that, every Saturday afternoon I was glued to the TV and the voice of Ed Whalen made the show come alive. Somehow I knew that one day that is what I wanted to do.
The legendary Stu Hart and his promotion in Calgary was home to almost every top star that has ever been in the business and I got to watch them all — The Hart Brothers, Leo Burke, “No Class” Bobby Bass, “Dr. D” David Shults, Les Thornton, Archie “The Stomper” Gouldie, the British Bulldogs (The Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy Smith). Every once in a while we would be able to see the champions come in and defend their titles; watching Harley Race, Dory Funk Jr., and Nick Bockwinkel work their magic just made me want it more. Then again, watching Abdullah the Butcher sometimes made me think twice if this was something I really wanted. He was the scariest person I had ever seen and when he went in to the stands, the crowd just scattered.
Though I was born on April 4, 1955 in McMinnville, Oregon, and still have dual citizenship, I grew up in Calgary, where my family moved when I was four years old. I was always an athlete and competed from an early age in baseball, soccer and swimming. When I got a bit older I moved into football, volleyball, basketball, gymnastics, track and, of course, wrestling. I enjoyed all of this, but found that I always enjoyed the individual sports better. I would spend every night in the swimming pool with my buddies and we would practice all of the stuff that we saw on the last wrestling show; at least we thought we looked good.
I continued to go down to the Stampede shows on Friday nights and really enjoyed the group of guys that I was able to see. I considered these guys heroes. As an athlete, I always enjoyed the guys that could not only get rough but could also actually wrestle. I guess I was spoiled to watch true wrestlers like Bret Hart, Leo Burke, Dynamite Kid, Geoff Portz, and Les Thornton. These are the guys that I really enjoyed and I don’t think I ever saw them have a bad match. As a matter of fact, one of the best matches I ever witnessed was a one-hour amateur style match between Les Thornton and Johnny Smith. I also witnessed the start of the Dynamite Kid, which just blew me away. The Stampede show was ahead of its time in the way the promos were done and the use of musical entrances for the boys.
I never gave up on my dream, but never could really figure out how to make this dream come to life. First off, coming out of high school I was a gigantic guy — 5-foot-6 and a massive 140 pounds. I am sure the promoters were banging down the doors trying to find guys like me. I had always worked out but could never seem to put on any size and so I figured that my chances were basically slim and none.
A few years later, I had gotten a bit bigger, maybe 6-foot and 180 pounds, and still was going down to the matches and always sat in the front row to get the best view. One night after the matches, I went out to a club and at the end of the night, my whole world changed. As I was leaving, I ran in to Norman Frederick Charles III, who was part of a tag team called the Royal Kangaroos, with the late Lord Jonathon Boyd. We both had had a few drinks and with my liquid courage, I got the nerve to try and start a conversation with him. I told him that I had just watched him and that I wanted to know how to get in to the business. Now back then kayfabe was still huge and so to say the least, he was not impressed with having to talk with a drunk fan again. Probably to get rid of me, he gave me his phone number and told me to call him. I was ecstatic and called him first thing the next day.
Norman was shocked with the phone call because he thought that he had given me a fake number, which he told me he always did just to get rid of pests like me. The number he gave me was actually the number of the place where he was staying. This is where I met another legend — one of the most hated managers of all time, the late John Foley. After I talked with Norm, he told me to come over and talk, I think he was just being nice and maybe saw how much I wanted to learn. I dropped over and was greeted at the door by John Foley, which was amazing to me, especially after finding out what a great guy he was — nothing like what I witnessed on Friday nights at the Pavilion.
At the time, I owned a taxi and was doing that as a full-time gig. Norm and I chatted and we seemed to get along and he said he would see what he could do. I started using my cab to start driving Norm to the matches, even some of the out of town shows. Looking back, I think he had a pretty good gig being able to ride in a nice cab by himself for free instead of being stuffed in the wonderful van that was used for the Stampede boys. After a very short time, Norm, I think, got to like me because we had all that time driving together and he realized that I was sincerely interested in making it in to the business. He even came over to Thanksgiving dinner with my parents and family and he let them know that he thought I could make it and that he would help me. At first, my family were not sure of him, as he was pretty rough looking with the deep gruff voice, jet black hair and his numerous scars on his head, but they got to see the great guy that Norm is and gave their blessing.
Norm eventually left the promotion and went back home to Milton, Florida. By that time, I had gotten pretty close with John Foley and he kind of took care of me after Norm had left. An opportunity came up for me when John left Stampede Wrestling and went to work for Al Tomko in Vancouver as a part of All Star Wrestling, a great British Columbia-based promotion. After John went to BC, he gave me a call and let me know that he could get me a job as a referee. Finally my foot was in the door!
I went to Vancouver and travelled as a referee for about a year or so. The referee’s job was a great learning situation. I got to learn from two of the best referees in the business, Bob Steele and Verne Siebert. These guys helped me so much in learning how matches were put together, how to position myself in the ring and how to take some bumps. A lot of guys helped me when I was on the road and let me get in the ring and learn how to work the ropes a bit and how to do a few moves. Snake Williams and Mike Stone were especially helpful with having my back and helping me along. I was living with a friend of John’s named Rick Marsh, who did various roles with the promotion, from promotion to being the on-screen commissioner. Rick was a great guy and I really appreciated him taking me in. The late Al Tomko was the promoter and a real character, who I have to thank for giving me my first chance.
Things had slowed down for me a bit and I went back to my home in Calgary. When I got there, I got a call from John Foley and he was involved in a start-up territory in BC and wanted to see if I wanted to come referee for them. The territory was a total disaster, we worked shows for three weeks and to this day, none of us were ever paid — no fault of John’s. This is where I met one of my best friends to this day, the legendary “No Class” Bobby Bass. We just clicked and still talk every couple weeks or so. Anyone that knows Bobby knows what an amazing guy he is and one of the funniest guys I have ever known. He was also an incredible worker who got great heat everywhere he went. He kind of took me under his wing. Another great guy that would play a big role in my career was TG Stone. More about him later.
When this territory went sideways, we all parted ways and I headed back to Calgary to figure out my next move was. It wasn’t long before I got a call from Bobby Bass, and he brought me in to a territory in South Dakota that was being booked by Bob Sweetan. I guess Bobby decided to throw me to the wolves and the day I arrived, he brought me in on an interview with him and told everyone that I was a bad ass. To prove his point, he proceeded to lift my shirt and give me a chop that would make Chris Benoit envious. Again, I had no idea what was happening, I thought I was going to be a ref.
That night I got to the show and was told that I was working the first match, not as a referee, but as a wrestler. I had never had a match before and had to go barefoot with gym shorts because I didn’t even have gear yet. I went out shaking and I can’t remember the name of my opponent, but I remember him taking care of me. After the match he was shocked that I did as well as I did — he had no idea until after the match that this was my first.
The territory never went anywhere, and Bobby took me to Toronto to stay with him and see what was next. My next step was huge. Bobby arranged for me to do a TV match for WWF in Toronto. My opponent was none other than Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff, who was at the prime of his career. He was amazing to work with and after the match I was shocked when Paul came over and thanked me. Even more shocking was when Tito Santana and Greg Valentine both told me I had done a great job. I was overwhelmed and got a pretty good payday for my five-minute match. My mom saw the match and wasn’t as impressed with this big guy slamming her baby boy on the concrete and then locking in the legendary Orndorff piledriver. She thought he killed me, but I called her and let her know I was fine. I don’t think she ever liked watching me get banged around but she lived with it. Both of my parents backed me all the way and I love them for that. I think I might have had a chance to go on the road as enhancement talent, but after talking with Bobby and Norman, they said it wouldn’t be a great move to be seen nationally on TV as a jobber at the start of my career.
If I was obsessed with the business before, the match with Orndorff sealed the deal. I decided that I had had enough of refereeing and wanted to proceed with my wrestling career. I had kept in touch with Norman and the timing was right and he told me if I wanted to train seriously, he would bring me down to Florida and train me. I was in heaven. I had basically never travelled anywhere on my own and now I was heading to Florida. I sold everything I had and started my trek.
To show how naïve I was, my first trip from Calgary to Florida was enjoyed in the beautiful accommodations of the Greyhound bus lines. I took a suitcase, and believe it or not, a box with a blender and some pots so that I could make my protein shakes and cook. On the first day of my trip, the handle on my suitcase broke, so for the rest of my trip (five days), I had to juggle a broken suitcase and a box full of pots. This was the first of six nation-wide trips on a Greyhound bus. I also hadn’t factored in the fact that I was on my way to Atlanta, Georgia, in July and I had decided to wear a sweatsuit to be comfortable. I was in for a rude awakening when I got off the bus after five days with no shower and a thick sweat suit in to the balmy 100-degree Atlanta heat. I thought I was going to die. To make things worse, Norman had gotten tied up and wasn’t there to meet me. So now I am 3,000 miles from home in a city I didn’t know and in those days there were no cell phones, so I couldn’t call him. Thankfully the hotel we were staying at had been used by the boys for years and wasn’t too far from the bus depot.
I remember getting there and seeing everyone in the pool, so after a five-day bus ride, I had to join them and proceed to get the worst sunburn I have ever had and the boys took full advantage with practising their chops on the new guy. Norm was working a territory there and for the first time, I went to show as part of the crew. The talent there was amazing: Terry Taylor, Steve O, the Fantastics, the Fabulous Ones, Superstar Bill Dundee, Larry Zbyszko, and Bret Wayne. One of the guys that I hung with and learned a ton from was a very young Jimmy Cornette. In all my years in the business, I still think that Jim has one of the best minds ever in this business. At this time, he was doing the heel manager position and was drawing major heat everywhere we went. He was also one of the nicest guys and never failed to answer any questions I had.
I learned a lot on the road with Norman and Bill Dundee, who had been friends for years and had some great matches. Because Norm and Bill were tight, I spent a lot of time hanging with them and learning how to respect the oldtimers, or pay the price, which I saw a couple of times with loudmouth rookies that thought they knew it all and made sure you knew it. I got a rude awakening when I saw Bret Wayne and Bill Dundee take these kids in the ring and teach them some respect. Neither Bill nor Bret were very big and these guys were huge, but they ended up throwing up in the ring and after a short time, they left the territory.
When that territory closed, Norm took me to his home in Milton, Florida, for some serious training. Norm had a ring in his backyard on his property and was about five houses from the Gulf of Mexico and so the ring was always a bit wet and sometimes downright soaked because of the weather in Florida. Norm was never fancy and I was trained old school in that ring. He had me doing bumps and running ropes until I was black and blue. It didn’t matter what the weather was, we trained. One of his favorite things was to get myself, Norman, and his son Adrian in a circle and have a barbell that we would do curls with to failure and then hand the bar to the next guy and keep going to you couldn’t anymore. Norm and his family took me in as one of their family and I will never forget that.
Things got kind of slow again, so I headed back to Calgary. Another opportunity came my way when I got a chance to go to Winnipeg and work on the Northern Death Tour for promoter Tony Condello. Tony had been running shows in Northern Manitoba for years and did some promoting with Verne Gagne with the AWA. He also gave a start to a young 16-year-old named Rowdy Roddy Piper. The tour has had a host of huge stars through the years and was a true test to see if you could really handle the road. Just ask Edge, Christian, Rhino and others about this wonderful tour. It started out okay, as Tony flew me to Winnipeg with Air Canada, but that is where the luxury stopped. We all crowded at a flight hanger in the middle of a cold Winnipeg winter to see the plane we would be using to go up north. It was a vintage DC-3 that had no seats, so we all sat on the cold floor with the ring. Half way there, one of the engines stopped and I thought we were all going to die, but the pilot said not to worry. We landed on a frozen lake in the middle of the night and saw a bunch of lights. The lights turned out to be a bunch of people from the nearby Indian reservation we were working. They were our ride to our accommodations — on snowmobiles! When we got to our luxury suite, we found out we would be sleeping on the floor in the school for the whole weekend of shows. Our meals were sandwiches and snacks from the school’s vending machines. We did some interviews at the local radio stations and I was not very hopeful of anyone showing up. I had only seen about 10 people in the tiny town we were in. By that night, the gym was packed with people, 150 over the fire limit at $20 bucks a head. They were great fans and they were there for all four shows. At the second day’s afternoon show, I did my fist blade job and was bleeding like a pig. After the show, the police and ambulance showed up because someone at the show had told them about the blood. It was all Kayfabe and we got the police to think I was okay and they left scratching their heads.
For the rest of the shows, we travelled in a bus over frozen lakes in the middle of nowhere, listening to the ice cracking under the bus. At night, we slept on the ring boards like bunk beds on top of the bus seats. So you want to be a wrestler. All in all, it was a lot of fun and a chance for me to learn more. I want to thank Tony for the opportunity and Puppy Dog Peloquin, Ben Bassarab and Hutch Thomas for showing me the ropes and putting up with my being pretty green night after night.
From there, I got another call from Bobby Bass about working a territory in BC again, so my bags were packed and I was on my way. The territory started okay, but again we had a promoter that didn’t want to pay us, so I ended up living in a rough hotel in Surrey. Everybody kind of went their own ways again, but there was silver lining in the situation. This is where I met TG Stone.
TG was a great guy and a solid worker. We got along very well and he did me a huge favor. I had always wanted to work for Stampede Wrestling. TG knew that Stampede was doing some shows in Vancouver and he wrote me a letter to give to one of his friends with Stampede letting him know that I was trustworthy and seeing if he could help me get a foot in the door. TG’s friend happened to be Kerry Brown, one of the top guys in the territory. TG called Kerry and let him know about me and Kerry helped get me booked in Vancouver. My first match was as a referee because they had no room. However, they were doing a show in Vancouver that week and they said if I could find an opponent, they would put us on the card. I was living with a worker out of California named Larry Sampson and we worked that show and caught hell for going outside the ring and getting some chair shots in. We wanted to impress, but the guys were not happy that all that went on the first match on the card. I did get picked up by the Harts and headed back to Calgary to live the dream of working for the promotion that started my journey as a young kid.
I arrived and was in the semi-main event on TV at the Pavilion and was working with Kerry Brown. Kerry taught me a lot and it was always a night off when I worked with him. He was that good, and left us way too soon. I also got to learn a lot from his partner Duke Myers, a true veteran who took very good care of me in the ring. I was not a top hand, but did have the opportunity to work with the likes of Kerry and Duke, Gama Singh, and The Honky Tonk Man Wayne Ferris, just before he went to the WWF. I also got the privilege of tagging with the great Chris Benoit and being ribbed by Owen Hart, which I considered an honor. Two great guys gone to soon.
About five months in to my stay, I tore up my knee and was out. I decided to go back to the Southern States and see if I could heal and get some work as the Southern U.S. was a hotbed for pro wrestling.
Norman again took me in and got me a tryout with Robert Fuller, who was heading up the Continental Championship Wrestling promotion out of Birmingham, Alabama. Norm was also booked on my first show and something interesting happened. To show how much Kayfabe was in play, Robert asked Norm to come up and break a guy’s leg who had been opening up the business to fans and that was a definite no no at the time. Somehow the guy found out about the plan and never showed up again.
When I saw the booking sheet, I was matched with Norm. I thought that I had screwed up and Norm was going to beat me up, and I couldn’t talk to him beforehand because of the separate dressing room. Anyway, I got out to the ring, and there was Norm in his Australian hat, boomerang and about 230 pounds by then. They introduced me out of Leeds, England, a shock to me, and Norman winked at me when they introduced him out of Tokyo, Japan and 340 pounds. I could not keep a straight face and because I was nervous, I locked up with Norm and immediately threw an arm drag and then accidently kicked Norm in the mouth and knocked his tooth out. Now I thought I was dead, but Norm just grabbed me really tight and told me to just relax. After that it went great, but I felt so bad about what I had done, but again Norm told me accidents happen, but don’t do it again or there would be hell to pay.
I guess Robert liked my work because I started getting bookings with the promotion and my first match on TV was actually against Robert Fuller, the booker. Now I had been trying something that Norm suggested and it kind of got screwed up with that match. I had been known to be able to do a pretty good impression of Tom Billington (The Dynamite Kid) and Norman thought it might work down there and had even talked with a good friend of his, the Exotic Adrian Street about maybe doing something together because he was from England. That all went by the wayside when I was introduced as Bob Wayne, a semi-pro hockey player out of Canada, oh well.
They had a great crew down there and I got to learn a lot working with these seasoned guys. I was lucky enough to work against, Dutch Mantell, the Armstrongs (Bob, Steve, Scott and Brad), Tommy Rich, Austin Idol, and Norman’s old partner, Lord Jonathon Boyd. I also had the privilege to sit down and pick the brains of the great Gordon Solie, who gave me a lot of great information and advice. I also remember hanging out with a very young Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty a bit on my way out of the territory. They were just coming in and you just knew that they were going to be superstars.
After I left the territory, I bounced around a bunch doing spot shows and TV around the American southeast. I had met some guys from Continental that went all over doing shows. I travelled to Atlanta and worked against Ole and Arn Anderson while they were part of the Four Horseman with Tully Blanchard and Ric Flair. They were definitely stiff in the ring, but so believable. Arn has always been one of my favorite workers in the ring and was definitely underrated. Ole basically beat the crap out of me and I wasn’t really fond of him, but he was just old school I guess.
I got a chance through Bad News Allen, who I had met in the Stampede Promotion in Calgary, to work in Tampa for Kevin Sullivan. Had a couple matches with Allen and also with Scott Hall. Great promotion, but they were pretty full of talent so I kept moving. Did a couple shows with Bill Watts’ territory in Oklahoma, where I got to work against Buzz Sawyer and Rick Steiner. Again, I took a pretty good beating as they were both known to take liberties with the mid-carders. The matches weren’t a lot of fun, but the territory was incredible. Great talent, solid fans and the chance for me to hang with some of the legends like Ted DiBiase, Steve Williams, Terry Gordy, and the great Jake “The Snake” Roberts. I ran in to Jake in April at the Cauliflower Alley Club and it was great to see him doing so well, a true legend.
We also travelled nonstop from Alabama to Chicago to work for Verne Gagne in the AWA. Again a territory full of the guys I idolized, like Nick Bockwinkel. This is where I got to work with a guy that terrified me as a younger guy in Stampede, Archie “The Stomper” Gouldie. Had a nice chat before the match and the match went well, but believe me when I say that Archie was like grabbing hold of a tree, and when he stomped my face in the corner, it was numb for a couple hours after. Great guy though.
I had taken up residence in Dothan, Alabama, and ended up getting booked by Bob Sweetan and Rip Tyler for WOW Wrestling out of Pensacola, Florida. I didn’t stay too long here as injuries had started to take their toll. This was a great little territory with lots of young talent. I also got to work against Bob Sweetan a lot and it was another legend that I had watched as a kid. The business is such a small world at times. I was part of a tag team for a while with Hardcore Bob Holly as the Super Bees and I knew from the start he would go on to great things and he definitely did. They also had a couple of other very young workers that would go on to phenomenal success, Jeff Jarrett and Scott Steiner. I also got to meet a super class act by the name of Percy Pringle III, who became Paul Bearer, manager of The Undertaker.
I had torn my knee up again and was starting to think that after eight years, I might want to do something else. I had seen a lot of the oldtimers all busted up and living in pain and wasn’t sure I wanted to end up that way. I bounced around for a while doing a few shows but ended up going back home to Calgary. My last match was against another legend in the industry, Les Thornton, the man of 1000 holds out of England. It was funny that after all my years in the business, that I would have my last match in my hometown, facing one of my all-time favorites. Les has forgotten more about the business than most people know about it. He was a true gentleman and I enjoyed the match a lot.
That was the end of my career. I never thought that as a nine-year-old fan watching Killer Kowalski would have a crazy ride in this crazy business. I loved everything about it and wouldn’t change a thing about it. I am still very close with Norm and Bobby, and actually went to the CAC this year with Bobby and had a blast. I also got to catch up with a lot of old friends and got to meet some of my idols for the first time. This business is more than a business, it is a family. A weird dysfunctional family, but family nonetheless.
I now live in Calgary with my two English Bulldogs and have worked in the automotive software industry for the last 14 years. I have a son and a daughter and three grandkids.
I was honored to get a call from Bobby Bass to let me know that SLAM! Wrestling was going to put me in the Canadian Hall of Fame. With all of the ups and downs of the business, this is is the icing on the cake.
Thanks to all of the promoters, workers, friends and fans that have helped me along the way and I hope I did you proud.
Bob Morrison wrestled for many years as Bob Wayne.