To Ontario’s independent wrestling fans, he was Otto Bahn, the short-statured but loud and swaggering manager; to friends and family, he was the funny and loving Peter Corneil. All feel the loss, following his passing in the early hours of January 21st at the age of 43. Myself included.
I first met Peter when I was in high school. A flyer on a lamppost attracted my attention, and a few weeks later, my buddy Steve Thomas and I were off to see Powerslam Wrestling Extreme. That night, in addition to Notorious TID beating the brains out of Bill Skullion, we saw him — our first experience with Otto Bahn.
As Otto was leading the Hollywood Hunks to the ring, he was a GENERAL. Diminutive in size, but controlling the room as easily as Jim Cornette or Bobby Heenan, I was enthralled. This guy was incredible. He had phenomenal one-liners that would have made Don Rickles blush and Lenny Bruce nod in approval. Steve who? swears he was trying to pick up some kid’s mom but I don’t recall him going that far. I just know that, on that night, I no longer cared about the bloodletting Notorious TID was promising. Otto, like so many of his ring brothers before him, made me a believer in the heels. It still makes me laugh to recall the bunch of guys who all decided to take off their shoes, and get on their knees in front of him. Otto smiled and said, “What do you want me to do? Wiggle my zipper?”
You see, I’m a heel guy. I’m one of those people that if you asked me who drew WrestleMania, I’d tell you it was Roddy Piper. Who drew at The Great American Bash? The Four Horsemen. The heels are the reason we go. We go because we hate them (or we’re supposed to) and we love when our heroes crush a villain.
His passing shook me, so I asked around about had Peter got into this crazy wrestling business. On his own, it turns out.
According to Toby Black, who wrestled at Renegade Wrestling Alliance, Peter came into the offices and asked for a job in 1998. “He basically walked in and said, ‘I don’t want to be a wrestler, but I can definitely manage someone,'” recalled Black.
And manage he did. He started with Greg Rease in 1997, but shortly after would join up with “Sexy Baby” Jamie Jackson and “Custom Made Man” Markus Ryan, forming the Hollywood Hunks. “We loved him and we wanted him immediately,” said Ryan.
Otto, all 4-foot-11 of him, stuck with The Hunks until they broke up in 1999 when both took part in Ontario’s first indy ladder match in Hamilton at the East End Kiwanis Club for Powerslam Wrestling Extreme. But they would hardly be the last wrestlers he would spend time at ringside with. “Once you had Otto, he stuck with you. He could stick with ANYBODY,” said Ryan.
Chris Tidwell, The Notorious T.I.D. was another guy that spent a lot of time with Otto. “We had close to 200-plus matches over a period of 7-10 years,” said Tidwel. That includes time at Ring N’ Ears events in Toronto, Ring Wars, Neo Spirit Pro Wrestling, and countless other promotions across North America. Most recently, Otto Bahn had been working with Crossbody Promotions in Kitchener.
Greg Juszczak, who wrestled as Ricky Stardust around Ontario, might have had one of the best stories.” So, I’m teaming with either Reggie Marley or JQ Public. We’ve got Jamie Jackson and Otto in a tag. We’re in the ring and next thing we know, Otto is coming out with a table. But it’s like a kids craft table, which someone had clearly cut the legs down on as well. It was hilarious. He was truly a guy with no filter and he was great to have in a locker room. He always had something funny to say.”
But Peter was known for more than wrestling. He hosted a radio program on 93.3 CFMU called Prairies II Projects and was a stand up comic. He spent some time on stage with Ross Petty productions in Snow White and the Magnificent Seven and he spent a significant amount of time with The Tartan Terrors, mixing rock and roll energy with traditional folklore, fiddles and pipes. Peter traveled all over with them, playing the role of Lil’ Bo Pete. He had a small role in the Jesse Ventura Story that aired on NBC after “The Mind” had been elected Governor of Minnesota. Peter was also a certified hypnotist — no joke — certified through the National Guild of Hypnotists. The fact is, at the end of the day, Peter was special. As Tidwell told to me, “There’s only so many people on this planet that looked like him. He was in demand, based on that alone. He had a great look.”
The final wrestling work for Otto Bahn was in Kitchener, Ontario, with Crossbody Promotions. A wrestling school as well as a promotion unto itself, it’s run by Tidwell and Ben Ortmanns who broke in with names like Jerry Martel and Quinson Valentino. Ortmanns, whose roots also lay in the same Unit 13 building that brought us names like Scotty O’Shea, Josh Alexander, and Sean Cassidy, is now helping to mold the future of Ontario’s independent wrestling scene.
“I met Peter at the first show I ever attended in London for HWF, which was a show headlined by Jerry Lawler, Steve Corino, as well as others. I was 14 years old, and took a Via Rail from Mississauga to London to help set up the ring, and start paying my dues,” recalled Ortmanns. “When the show was over, I was trying to figure out how to get back to the Via Rail station, in the dead of winter. Otto and Custom (Markus Ryan) overheard me asking someone. Otto asked me where I was going, and basically told Custom they were driving me home, which was way out of their way, into Burlington, in awful winter weather. They didn’t know me, but Otto decided I was worth his time, and they basically adopted me that night.”
When Tidwell and Ortmanns decided to start Crossbody Pro Wrestling, there was only one thing missing. “I knew that Otto didn’t want anything to do with the business anymore, but when I was thinking of someone to be the person for the General Manager role, the only person I wanted was Otto. So I asked Notorious TID what he thought,” said Ortmanns. Tidwell’s reply? “Just give Otto a call.”
With zero hesitation, Otto Bahn was back.
“I think the mixture of me doing it, knowing he would get to work with all his closest friends, and help to groom their students was something that made him very happy. I could tell he was overjoyed just to be wanted, which was crazy, because he was the ONLY one I wanted,” said Ortmanns.
It took no time for Otto Bahn to be in true form once again.
“The first show, I knew I wanted him to kick the show off with a classic Otto Bahn promo to introduce this company, and when he asked what I wanted from him, I told him, ‘Give me classic Otto, and give ’em hell!'” said Ortmanns. “Otto taught me my very first lesson in booking a wrestling show that night. I need to give talent direction, and not be afraid to do so. He went off on how much he loved Donald Trump, and I think even called Rosie O’Donnell fat at one point, but he gave me what I wanted. I got Classic Otto Bahn.”
But what would come next would stun even the most cynical or hardened of wrestling promoters. “When the show was over, Otto pulled me aside to discuss his pay, and he waited until the show was over to do so, because I pay my talent at the beginning of every show. He started getting mad at me, saying, ‘Kid, I gotta talk to you about this envelope. I get what you’re doing, and I appreciate it. Trust me. But look, you’re family, and I want to see this dream of yours succeed. Don’t ever pay me this much again. You pay me “x amount” going forward, and that’s it, you understand? Take that money, invest in talent.’ And that is the kind of guy Peter was to me,” said Ortmanns. “I called him Uncle Otto, even though he was like a brother to me. The world lost one of its good ones, and I’m not sure I’m going to get over this one.”
When I started working within the Sanctum Sanctorum that is independent professional wrestling, Otto was one of the first names I brought up at the promotion I worked for. I don’t know why I did… Maybe it was because he was the only guy I could remember after being out of the loop for a while, other than guys who were out clearly out of the game. The booker told me, “No one cares about Otto Bahn anymore.”
I’m really happy to report that was the furthest thing from the truth. Peter was able to give another generation of wrestlers his experiences, he was able to share his humour and he was able to help mold a group that will, God willing, hopefully one day pass on stories, lessons and filthy jokes to another generation. Just a person that had skills and was willing to pass them on to the ones that deserved his time and efforts.
In the end, isn’t that the life best lived?
Peter Corneil died on January 21, 2019, in Hamilton, Ontario, at the age of 43, from a blood clot. He is survived by his parents, Al and Emily, his wife, Amber, and their children Bronwen, Finn, Cullen. A celebration of his life took place on January 27th where mourners were encouraged to wear Hawaiian shirts, wrestling singlet and kilt attire. It also noted, “Pete was coarse, funny, brilliant, loyal and didn’t suffer fools gladly, as anyone who was privileged enough to know him could attest to. He was taken before he’d had enough fun. ” Donations in memory of Peter appreciated to Frog Hollow Sanctuary and Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada.
Jeff Goodridge is a freelance writer and wrestling personality. He was able to work with Otto Bahn ONE time and while Otto was NOT his biggest fan, Jeff hopes that he has been able to show his love and appreciation for the body of work one last time.