By AMAZING N8 MATTSON – For SLAM! Wrestling
This past week I was saddened by the news that fellow wrestler Denny Kass (Dennis Kasprowicz) had passed away just days before his 60th birthday. Denny was trained by the legendary Al Costello and was christened as one of the New Fabulous Kangaroos. Greg Oliver wrote a tremendous obituary on the life and career of Denny that really shows the impact that Kass made throughout the Midwest independent wrestling circuit and beyond.
Supermouth Dave Drason, a former manager of The Sheik and an excellent wrestling photographer, sent me a message letting me know that a number of wrestlers would be attending the visitation on Wednesday and it would be great to have all the guys there to pay our last respects together. I told him I planned on it as I took a deep breath and thought about other wrestlers who also passed away that have positively affected my own life and career.
I thought about one of my trainers Canadian Destroyer (Doug Chevalier). I thought about Sweet Daddy Malcolm Monroe. I thought about JT Lightning, Woody Lee, Punisher Rock Stevens, Yukon Braxton, Sweet Stevie Lee and more. Guys I learned from by watching and being in the ring with. Memories of my early days came flooding back as I remembered being taught by the veterans who showed me the ropes as I was breaking into the wrestling business and making new friends.
I first met Denny when I began training at Scott D’Amore’s Can-Am Wrestling School 20 years ago. He had brought in two of his students, Breyer Wellington and Steven Rivera to work out with us. Later I would roll around with Kass and he was very complimentary. Denny was never in a bad mood and treated everyone with respect. He was always willing to listen and offer up words of encouragement and advice. He influenced us so much that when Breyer, Rivera and myself were running a school a year ago in Detroit we invited Denny to work out and train with our students. We wanted the new guys to experience the same things that we went through.
As I entered the funeral home I was greeted by Dave Drason, Dave St. Onge (who worked as one of The Nightmares and the Outlaws with his father-in-law Woody Lee), Rudy ‘Rudeboy’ Hill, and a whole cast of characters. I then saw my mentor Irish Mickey Doyle, who I could write an entire book about just on him!
When I was a fan in high school in 1994, I saw a commercial for an independent wrestling show on Saturday morning during an episode of WWF Superstars. It was a low budget video featuring Muhammad Saad and Chris Carter, the International Freedom Fighters, and they were cutting a promo about the upcoming Midwest Territorial Wrestling (MTW) event in Taylor, Michigan.
I didn’t even know independent wrestling existed at that point and made it my business to learn as much as I could about it, and attend every local show possible. Mickey Doyle easily became one of my favorites, as well as Al Snow who was the MTW champion at the time. Much of the talent on those shows I would get to know very well over the next few years: Denny Kass, JT Lightning, Scott D’Amore, Otis Apollo, Bobby Clancy (Canadian Lightning), Johnny Swinger, Mike Legacy, Steve Nixon, AT Huck (former ECW referee) and Handsome Johnny Bradford, wrestling’s only deaf manager!
By the time I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to become a professional wrestler from going to indies like MTW. I ordered a booklet by Percy Pringle III (Paul Bearer) about how to get into the business and I found out about Al Snow’s Bodyslammers gym in Lima, Ohio. I sent for an application but my career path was soon about to take a slightly different turn.
At this time I was working midnights at K-Mart and would come in early to watch the end of Raw and Nitro. My manager kept ribbing me when I told him what I wanted to do, but later let me in on a secret that he had been a promoter in the past. He set up a meeting with local wrestler Iron Mike Anthony, who would eventually give me Mickey Doyle’s telephone number.
The first time I spoke with Mickey over the phone, it was as if we were old pals! He told me to buy some knee pads and invited me to D’Amore’s Can-Am Wrestling School in Windsor, Ontario. It was there in 1996 that I would begin my journey from just a fan in the crowd to paying my dues and carving out my niche in the local scene. After six or seven months of grueling training (I missed a month due to a minor knee injury), I was ready for my pro debut on a Border City Wrestling TV taping. I would be taking on the Canadian Destroyer, who really welcomed me to the business after I tried to duck under his finisher, the Canadian Dream Sleeperhold!
From there, people like Mickey, Denny, Scott and all the guys I watched as a fan, I was now sharing a locker room with. I was living out my dream and had no idea what the future would hold. As time went on, a new crop of talent would emerge and I would have a hand in helping young guys like Chris Sabin and others, passing down what the veterans graciously taught to me. Over the last 20 years I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the all-time greats, thanks to the education and opportunities I obtained from my wrestling forefathers in the Detroit/Windsor area.
After we paid our final respects to Denny at the funeral home, I was invited out to dinner with five men I truly admire and respect in our business. My coaches Mickey Doyle and Scott D’Amore, AT Huck, Johnny Bradford and Gary Woronchak, who promoted those MTW shows that inspired me to try this stuff. They told stories of yesteryear, talked wrestling psychology and even current events. We all had a chance to catch up with one another, and at that moment I realized that this once teenage kid who looked up to all these veterans (and even more so now) was being accepted as “One of the Boys.”
To quote Scott D’Amore, “A sad occasion brought us together but we celebrated life, friendship, and brotherhood.” Now that, to me… That’s Amazing!