CLOVERDALE, BC – In the annals of professional wrestling in British Columbia, few have blazed a trail equal to that of Mark Vellios, otherwise known as Gorgeous Michelle Starr, over the last 27 years. Saturday marked the end of Starr’s in-ring career, and while he will continue to run All Star Wrestling, there was no doubt of the significance of the moment on all those in attendance.
Starr spoke to SLAM! Wrestling just before the show at the famed Cloverdale Fairgrounds was about to begin.
“I’ve been looking back at pictures on my Facebook and thinking about times in England with John Tenta or wrestling Matt Borne, times in Japan with Kurrgan or Leatherface, Jason the Terrible, different places I went and different times with Disco Fury here, guys I’ve worked with here, wrestling shows, promoting shows, running shows, traveling the road,” said Starr. “I’ve had lots of thoughts about it and I’ve had nights where I got emotional about it. I got emotional earlier today thinking about it and as people have been posting pictures with me from the past especially today and I keep getting messages from guys that don’t work for my company anymore thanking me and stuff like that it’s hard.”
As Starr explained it, he wanted to go out at age 45 because he felt those in their mid-forties were slower and couldn’t keep up with the younger wrestlers. “I was always a slow wrestler as it was and the chance of injuries is so much greater. I think it looks bad when you see guys hanging on, reliving the glory and trying to stick around. I thought I would go away quietly a few months ago when I teamed with Short Sleeve Sampson and we had a big crowd here, but you know I figured that wouldn’t be the right way to go. So it was kind of a spur of the moment, I figured at Christmastime we would do the career for career match, but it won’t be that I’m going to screw somebody and come back. It was win, lose, or draw I’m going to go no matter what.”
Facing his retirement has caused Starr to reflect on various moments during his career including when he and John Parlett started ECCW in the late 1990s and which ultimately led to All Star Wrestling.
“I ran ECCW until about 2006. After about six months I couldn’t stay away and opened All Star Wrestling,” elucidated Starr. “I kind of changed my thought on the style; I wanted to get away from the hardcore and change the style from blood and guts. That’s one of the reasons I left ECCW. I think after the TV show when off the air I was kind of burned out. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I wanted to make a lifestyle change and concentrate more on my job and my family, which I kind of neglected over the years. I kind of always put wrestling at the top, family was there, but it’s like it’s second and it shouldn’t have been. I left [ECCW] and Disco Fury took over for me with Dave Republic and after that some better changes happened along the way and I got frustrated and I thought I’ll see if the All Star Wrestling name is available and it was. So I thought I’ll bring back old school wrestling with new school guys, but I still want to pay respect to the guys of the past. I wanted to honor guys who laced their boots in this building and in the PNE Gardens because I don’t want people to forget the legacy that those guys had. So I think that was the main thing and change it more towards family, even though I play a gay character, more towards family events.”
Vicious Verne Siebert remembered Starr’s early days very vividly when he first came to British Columbia from California with Larry Sampson. “They lived together and they traveled,” reminisced Siebert. “When Larry and Mark had matches they were really solid matches. I think there was a little bit of bad blood between them. Mark wrote down all his matches in his results. I guess when you’re first in the business you keep track of all your results and after a few years you stop doing it, but many times it would be six guys on the road we would do three single matches and come back with a six man tag or a battle royal and Mark paid his dues like a lot of us here in Vancouver and it was a tough go. Mark bled a lot over the years. There were some pretty bloody matches he had. The fans loved to hate him. He had that thing that they all wanted to see him get his beating. They all hated him. Later when he turned, the people started to cheer for him. It was quite interesting the transformation.”
Thinking it over, Starr stated that one of his career highlights was being able to go to Japan in the early years of the millennium and wrestle at Korakuen Hall.
“If you read the scoop sheets every big star has been there and to get the opportunity to go there not only once, but to be asked back was probably the biggest highlight,” said Starr. “After that it would be getting to go to South Korea and the same kind of situation of being treated like a king.”
Another memory Starr recalled included future British Columbia Premier Christy Clark attending ECCW shows when he and Dave Republic were running the company. “She attended a few shows at the Eagles Hall in New Westminster and also the Russian Centre in Vancouver,” remembered Starr. “She’s had at least two live wrestling shows. Christy Clark was a wrestling fan and came two or three times.” At the time, Clark was a Member of the Legislative Assembly then, and later hosted a radio show.
As for his legacy in the world of professional wrestling, when Starr reflected on it he concluded that it was all of the numerous wrestlers that he either fully or partially trained, including SHIMMER Champion Nicole Matthews, ROH star Kyle O’Reilly, Disco Fury, Bambi Hall and Scotty Mac. When he started in British Columbia, with Al Tomko out of the promoting business, there were almost no wrestlers left in the province.
“The local guys who were here weren’t very good, so you kind of had to cultivate a whole new group of wrestlers,” Starr stated. “So now the guys you see in ECCW, the guys you see in All Star Wrestling, and other places like Ring of Honor, they’ve all grown from here. They had to grow a whole new generation of wrestlers. I think that’s definitely a legacy point and also after [Tomko’s] All Star Wrestling died in the early 1990s, wrestling kind of died in the early 1990s. There was a time period from 1991 to 1995, wrestling was kind of not there. Wrestling would have died if I hadn’t taken the ball and run with it during that time period, myself and my brother-in-law and my friend Tim Wilson, we bought up West Coast Championship wrestling, if we hadn’t done that there would have been nothing else.”
With regards as to why he was retiring Starr relayed that he had a lot of back problems which he’s been fighting the last years and that they really started bothering him a few years ago after a run he had in Oregon.
“They put the strap on me as the heavyweight champion, working against top indie guys who were flying in to wrestle me that were 20 years my junior,” detailed Starr. “Since then my back is still bugging me, it’s bugging me today. That’s probably the main issue, the right side of my back and also memory problems. I banged my head in this building pretty hard in the early 1990s when I was working Billy Two Eagles. I hit the concrete and my head exploded like a watermelon. I flipped over him from a hold and I broke my toes. I was lying on the floor and they took me out in an ambulance and from that point on my memory is really poor. I did an interview with the CBC last week and it aired yesterday and I said I was in the delivery room for my son’s birth and I remember nothing about it. Recently, my daughter was telling me a story where I had to go into the school to deal with something there and I have no recollection at all. I slur my words and things like that. I think from just the numerous chair shots I’ve taken to the head and also the concrete fall on my head I think that’s the biggest issue and I don’t want it to get any worse than it already is. It’s not good. I think my family is happy about my retirement, I think for sure.”
When asked, Starr’s wife Susan Vellios found it difficult to put into words the impending retirement. “How do I feel about him retiring? Oh God, you guys should have pre-warned me I would have written something up,” Ms. Vellios exclaimed. “He’s going to be involved still, so when he talks about retiring I don’t even think of it retiring. He’s just not going to get in there and wrestle. It’s good, I guess. He’s made it this far. This is the business he happened to choose, so time he doesn’t get beaten up anymore. He’s always going to be involved. It’s a nice feeling being able to see him perform. This is so tough because really I can take it or leave it. I stick around for his love for it because I have no love for it. If he didn’t run another show I wouldn’t miss it, but I know he’ll be involved forever. I think he’ll cope fine not being in the ring as long as he’s involved. I don’t think he’ll ever walk away. He’s tried it numerous times. It’ll never happen. As for not being in the ring I think he’s ready for it absolutely. He’s been ready for that for a few years. I think he’ll still get in, he’ll still train and do that.”
For Disco Fury, Michelle Starr’s retirement is a bittersweet moment. “He gave me a chance and there’s nothing bad I can say about him except he let me keep going,” said an emotional Fury. “When I was first here he made sure to emphasize family first, do not put anything above your family, ever. I have three kids and I spend time with them. People ask if he’s really going to retire, well I probably know him the most right now. Johnny Canuck knew him quite well, he was his best friend. So asked repeatedly, ‘Is he going to give it up?’ Well, unfortunately he has to give it up. He has a lot that he could still give if he wanted to sacrifice more of his life, but he’s missed so much, all three of his kids growing up and it really bugs him about that and I know that. I work with him on the docks and his pride and joy is his son Nicholas and going to his baseball games. I think his son will go pretty far. I don’t think any of his kids will follow him into wrestling and I wouldn’t want that. My son might follow me, but I’m glad his won’t. His kids are brainiacs, they’re very smart, very intelligent and damn they did a good job with them. He gave a lot to us, straight up he was my dad on the road.”
In terms of Starr’s retirement match, he, his wife Susan, and Disco Fury just hoped he would be able to walk out of the ring without any further injury while Seibert hoped he would put a beating on his opponent Azeem the Dream. Starr’s eldest daughter Tiffany hoped he enjoyed his last match, but his son Nicholas seemed to doubt that he was going to fully retire and felt everything would still be the same. Funnily enough, only Starr’s youngest daughter Stephanie said she hoped her dad would win his last match, explaining that she had always been the biggest fan of her dad. [Starr did win, though it initially appeared that Azeem the Dream had won.]
“I think it’s a bit bittersweet because if it wasn’t for wrestling I’m not sure my brother, my sister and I would exist because my parents met through wrestling,” Stephanie Vellios explained. “I’ve been spending a lot of time making slides for my dad and crying as I watch it so it’s pretty emotionally. I think about him putting the star on [his face] for the last time. So for me it’s pretty sad.”
For Stephanie Vellios there are many memories of her father’s time in professional wrestling and how it impacted her life. One memory she recalled was when she was in Grade 5 her teacher, Mr. K, was a big fan of her dad and hung his posters up in the classroom. Every once in a while they would do auctions using ‘K bucks’ and she would auction off wrestling tickets to her teacher and end up with thousands of ‘K bucks.’ Later her teacher would come to the school and help her with her homework. Starr’s son Nicholas remembered feeling that going to matches had gotten a bit boring and repetitive because he had been coming to them since he was born and would try to skip going to them once a month. Eldest daughter Tiffany Vellios recalled trying to hide the fact that her dad was a wrestler until she realized it could score her brownie points with the cute boys at her school.
As for the future Starr is still planning to promote and manage shows for All Star Wrestling and has even launched shows in Vancouver every three months.
“I’m probably going to focus more on the business part, less of a wrestler and more of a businessman and make wrestling more of a plausible thing and maybe get wrestling back on television,” Starr said. “Internet shows are definitely a possibility. Social media is the driving force of indie wrestling right now. It’s definitely social media where guys do promos to tell where their matches are and your fan page and Twitter.”
However, it won’t only be Starr involved in promoting wrestling, as his eldest daughter Tiffany explained that she would be too. “We were wrestling last night in Sechelt and we’re going to be bringing wrestling to the Sunshine Coast. We’re buying the show. We’re going to bring it in and I’m going to promote the first show which is exciting.”
As for who he would like to thank Starr expressed gratitude for all the wrestling fans. “When I first wrestled here in this building in Cloverdale, BC, in 1988, I was a young kid that came out to here from Los Angeles, California, and I used to wrestle here every Saturday night,” concluded Starr. “I’m still a L.A. Kings fan, though, more to piss off Vancouver Canucks fans than anything. I couldn’t think of anywhere better to finish things off than here 27 years later. A lot of the fans from 1988 are still here today. All Star Wrestling has the most loyal audience I’ve seen over the years.”
Michelle Starr’s Retirement Speech
I would just like to thank all of you for coming tonight; all of you for supporting, some of you for my whole career or most of it. Some of these guys here tonight were here when I first came to Canada: Mike Roselli, Siebert, Raven Lake and Rock, Rocky Della Serra.
The first day I came to Canada, the first wrestler I met was in the Dell Hotel parking lot was The Rock, Rocky Della Serra. You know me and The Rock have been friends, we’ve been enemies, we’ve been down the road all over places together. I’m proud to say he’s still my friend today. Thanks Rocky.
Another guy I met my first night here was Vicious Vince Siebert. Me and Vicious Verne travelled all over the place together. You know what we [strained] Vicious Verne’s first marriage and I had to shave one day and he kept his wedding ring in his shaving cream can. That was the start of the [difficulties], after that he lost his ring. There are so many places to start. Thank you very much.
There’s one person that’s here today…oh first of all I want to thank my wife Susan for giving me three beautiful kids. She’s stuck with me since 1989 from the start; my daughter Tiffany, my daughter Stephanie, and my son Nicholas; thank you Susan. I love you. I love you kids.
There’s one down here who means a lot to me [pointing to his heart], he means a lot to my future, and I miss him dearly and I miss him in a lot of ways: Johnny Canuck. Johnny’s kids are here today, Billy and Taylor are here. [Billy was in the ring with Starr.] Thank you for coming. Thank you for supporting me…and for donating the pictures and the videos. Thanks Bill, thanks buddy.
This guy [Johnny Canuck] was an important person part of my life. You know many people were brought together and you know because of your dad I become a longshoreman. I wish he was still here with us. I would call him up and I would you say you remember my kids. He never let me down. I’m sure he brought you here. Thanks Bill.
I would like to think as much of my family is here as baseball links us together: Rick Morris, Sherman, Gary Allen, everybody else, Raven Lake, her family, [wrestler] Bambi Hall [and referee Stacie Hall] …
You know what this man here [pointing to Disco Fury] and this family you’ve been loyal from the start even as a fifteen year old kid, seventeen year old kid. If I needed help, if I needed security, he would help me drive the truck. He’s always been loyal to me. That means a lot to me Disco Fury. Thank you very much, love you man. … Thank you Stacy; thanks everybody else. Everybody enjoy the rest of the show! Have a good night. Thanks very much.
- Apr. 18, 2012: Starr, Webster, Kertsen, Lauer honored at CAC Baloney Blowout
- June 23, 2003: Della Serra, Starr resume feud
- Jan. 31, 2002: Michelle Starr shines overseas
- May 30, 1999: Michelle Starr: California’s loss was B.C.’s gain