While professional wrestling in Canada was battered onto the mat by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in 2020, there is plenty of fight left in those who stake their wallet on producing live events. Specifically, two promotions in the West: the national touring company CWE (Canadian Wrestling’s Elite), and British Columbia mainstay ECCW (Elite Canadian Championship Wrestling).
CWE started out with great optimism in 2020 and even to the bitter end, there were hopes of crowning the year with a card to wrap up before the stroke of midnight at Rookie’s Sports Bar in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Instead, the stroke of health bureaucrats’ pens extended the rules that prohibit crowds gathering for CWE events, not a natural state for Canada’s busiest — and only — touring promotion.
The year began with appearances by fan favorite legends Pat Tanaka and Eugene. The momentum seemed to be getting behind the company very early in the year.
“It quickly went downhill, to my dismay,” said Danny Duggan (Danny Warren), the head of CWE as well as a key part of the roster. “We were building on the success of our touring model and fans were clamoring to see Savio Vega who was not only slated to headline cards but was offering training sessions and evaluation camps to open the door for Canadian wrestlers to get into Puerto Rico. We had more stars lined up — Shane Douglas, Vampiro, and multiple ROH names as well as international stars for the 36-event spring tour, the largest in company history from Vancouver through Montreal – before the rug got pulled out. It didn’t take long for the problems caused by the pandemic to escalate.”
The Winnipeg-based promoter continued, “The State Of Emergency was called in Manitoba on March 20th, which came with a litany of new rules and restrictions. In March, April, May we were limited to only producing live stream shows — a never before seen concept in Canadian wrestling — but the fans got right behind the effort.”
With the uncertainty of the times, a skeleton crew was pulled together for the first livestream broadcast from the CWE training centre in late March, and moving into April and May the participation on the shows that were broadcast exclusively over Facebook grew steadily. Steps such as added sanitation, elimination of meet and greets and on-site merch sales, limiting match parameters, and of course physical distancing measures, were all adhered to in Winnipeg, Morden, Gladstone, Flin Flon, Calgary, Grand Prairie, Red Deer, Medicine Hat, and St. Albert (Edmonton).
Unfortunately plans to return to Ontario, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia (where many ECCW and regional talents try to test CWE’s headliners) — as well as debut in Montreal — fell by the wayside. So did the planned three-hour live television debut of a new weekly CWE TV series.
Without the benefit of importing international talent throughout the summer, the CWE regulars such as Mentallo, AJ Sanchez, Kevin O’Doyle, Johnny Malibu, Kevy Chevy, Jude Dawkins, The Cannon Corporation, and Duggan himself all had to bring their A game every night — even more so than usual, on a total of 27 CWE events in 2020.
Duggan allowed that “many of the health authorities really understood we are a live event industry and people depend on the income and in-ring training time. We ran shows and there was no issue with the health authorities. We proved our industry — the professional promotions in the wrestling business — deserves proper and fair treatment under the protocols.”
In December, a special livestream event got people watching and talking, especially after Duggan turned on longtime ally Mentallo and attacked him in a brutal fashion. The matchup was the finals of a single night eight-man tournament to crown a new CWE Champion, and made history as the first time the title was awarded on an exclusive digital stream without live spectators.
Other CWE champions heading into 2021 include AJ Sanchez and Kevin O’Doyle who won the CWE Tag Team Championship at Rookie’s bar this past summer, “The Headline” Shaun Martens who has just surpassed one year as the HIW Grand Champion, “Canadian Strong Style” Rob Stardom who became CWE Hardcore Champion in the return to live shows in June, and “The Mastermind” Kevin Cannon, who was victorious on December’s live stream in a match to crown a new Canadian Unified Junior Heavyweight Champion.
Every single one of these CWE mainstays are eager to continue the great tradition that is Canadian Wrestling and are looking forward to entertaining fans young and old in 2021, hopefully across the land on an extended tour!
Meanwhile on the west coast, although the flagship promotion only ran four cards in the first two months of this year before pandemic restrictions were imposed, there was significant interest in the return of ECCW homegrown star El Phantasmo. After traveling to England in 2017, and emerging as a rising talent in 2018, he got major opportunities in Japan and established his name by winning back to back Super J Cups in New Japan Pro Wrestling. El Phantasmo came back to British Columbia in January 2020 at the two night Ballroom Brawl 13, to compete in star-studded 8 man tag on the first night, and defeated Beef Boy on Night 2.
After the #SpeakingOut movement, Jeff Duncan was ousted as part-owner, and the promotion has undergone an ownership restructuring that will leave 20-year veteran Scotty Mac (returning to the ring from a torn ACL in July 2019) in control. ECCW hopes to be able to showcase El Phantasmo in 2021 as well as restore their championship standings. Top contenders include Eddie Osbourne, Adonis, and Jordie Taylor.
ECCW intends to expand its cooperation with the touring CWE promotion when it makes their western swing on the national month-long tours, giving fans a chance to see BC mainstays pitted against champions like Danny Duggan, AJ Sanchez and the special attractions on the bill.
While Canadian performers booked into the ‘Major Leagues’ like Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens were able to maintain their high profile and earnings in 2020 by being contracted to the biggest TV wrestling producers in the business, the grassroots domestic industry didn’t receive a dime of support from the federal or provincial governments and is facing significant business challenges. It is imperative that the momentum of indie wrestling established in the last decade by hard working promoters and crews be revived and continued, for stars of that magnitude to continue to develop and break through onto the international stage.