Is that actually happening? I’m back on Slam Wrestling and I’m helping run an indy wrestling promotion. Is it 1999? I feel like I just stepped into the second act of Avengers: End Game, or Back to the Future.

I was taken aback when Greg Oliver recently extended the opportunity to submit a guest column to Slam, talking about my journey into, out of, and back to the wrestling business.

Let me rewind, and introduce for those that don’t have a clue who I am.

I’m Donnie DaSilva, and back in 1997 I started as a regular columnist for Slam Wrestling under the name “Big Daddy” Donnie Abreu.

Back then, I was barely 20 years old, and was hosting one of the first online radio shows ever. Hosting that show led to lots of amazing opportunities (like my column at Slam) and the chance to appear on TSN’s Off The Record.  I appeared on an episode with Bret Hart (shortly after the Montreal Screwjob) and the late Waldo Von Erich.  The OTR producers egged me on before the show to not “be a fan” and push Bret’s buttons (which Bret didn’t much care for). Meeting Waldo changed my life though in ways I couldn’t have possibly imagined. He invited myself and my cohost Chris Tidwell to Cambridge, Ontario, to check out the Hart Brothers School of Wrestling that he helped run. Chris started training to be a wrestler under Waldo almost immediately and it didn’t take me long to realize that being in the ring wasn’t for me.

What did happen was I got to learn the ins and outs of running a pro wrestling show from great minds like Waldo, Smith Hart, Billy Red Lyons and many more. I absolutely fell in love.

I learned everything from setting up a ring, to producing promos, to ring announcing, to play by play, to booking a match, sequencing a show, running a story / program and more.

Over the next 14 years I had the opportunity to work for dozens of indy promotions, doing all of the aforementioned jobs. Without a doubt though, the role I loved the most was creative.  Starting with a blank sheet and using the booker’s pencil to put a show together is always exciting.

The last time I worked for an indy promotion as a part of management was way back in 2011. We did a 10-day loop of the Maritimes with a roster that was so stacked it was insane: Hulk Hogan, Scott Steiner, Kevin Nash, Tatanka, Bushwacker Luke, The Nasty Boys, X-Pac, The New Age Outlaws, Steve Corino, Brutus Beefcake, Ted DiBiase, and many more.

We went from town to town, putting on incredible shows for sold-out hockey arenas and had a blast doing it. When I was a kid, my dad would take me to Maple Leaf Gardens to see Hulk Hogan up close and personal. Now, here I am working on shows with him – letting him know what I’d like him to do that night. It was surreal.

At the end of the tour, I had a heart to heart with several of the top guys on the card asking if my goal was to go TNA or WWE as a writer. They were shocked when I said that wasn’t my goal. I was happy with the progression of my corporate career, and keeping wrestling as my thing on the side.

Hulk Hogan, Donnie DaSilva, referee Jimmy Korderas and Ryan Gill in May 2011.

I had a bit of an internal crisis. I asked myself – if my goal isn’t to go to the next level, why am I still doing this? My dad counseled me and said, Are you ever going to top that tour? Can it get much better than that? If not, maybe this is a good time to get out. I had a popular wrestling podcast I was hosting back then (with Chris Tidwell and Dan-e-o) and decided that when it comes to running live events, I would fade into the background and put my creative efforts into the online radio show.

I continued to consult from a distance, or make spot appearances at local wrestling schools to offer some supportive words to the next generation, but for the most part – my “itch” had been scratched. I was done with the independent wrestling world. To be honest, I was also burnt out on a lot of the wrestling drama and politics.

Since that time, a lot has changed for me both personally, professionally and with my health. I went through an inordinate amount of change from 2014-21. The passing of my father really sent me into a tailspin, as did massive changes to my homelife. I essentially went into hibernation, and ignored social media (and the wrestling world) for several years while I worked on myself and tried to get to a better place mentally, physically and emotionally.

Fast forward to fall of 2021. I had recently reconnected with one of my closest friends in the wrestling world – Asylum (formerly of the Flatliners and was now working under the name Stone Rockwell).

Asylum is one of the trainers at the incredible Battle Arts Academy, and he had invited me to come out to a few classes. He wanted me to meet his students, and help run some sessions on cutting a great promo, character development and more. I was hesitant because I’d been out of that world for so long. I was hosting a new podcast (again with Chris Tidwell and Dan-e-o) which had nothing to do with wrestling and  I felt like I no longer belonged in that space. Asylum insisted it’d be fun, so I thought what the hell.

Well, that brought the itch back. I went from working with guys like Hulk Hogan and Scott Steiner to directly assisting the next generation. People like Jaxon Roy, Abu, Mikey Truth, Sexy Stan Smith, Scarlett Delgado, KPK and more. Those incredible students (and many others I didn’t name here) have gone out of their way to thank me for my help, but what they don’t realize is they are directly responsible for rekindling my passion and love for wrestling.

While my schedule doesn’t really allow me to pop in at Battle Arts as often as I’d like, I still show my face quite a bit, and do everything I can to support those young men and women as they pursue their dreams. The fact that many of them still send me a DM after each visit to say “thanks so much” or call me up to ask questions about structuring an upcoming promo makes me feel that what I have to offer still has value.

This love rediscovered led to not-so-casual conversations between Asylum and I where we’d discuss what we would do if we had “the book” again, and if we had the freedom to run a new company the way we wanted to. That quickly escalated to “Should we just … do it?” and “How are we going to be different?”

We had some really specific ideas about the image we wanted to portray. We wanted to put a major emphasis on larger than life characters – both in physical stature and personality. We wanted a splash of old school visuals but done in a believable way. We decided that putting an emphasis on in-ring story telling was paramount. It was also important to us that we would create a fun, party atmosphere and connect with the community that we are running in. So how do we do all of that, and ensure that we avoid many of the pitfalls that seem to plague independent promotions everywhere?

For starters, it was important to me to take many of the lessons I’ve learned from a decade and a half in the corporate world and bring them to the OTT management meetings. We absolutely will not run like an unorganized carny side show. We have a project manager, an ongoing task list, task deadlines, a cost-benefit analysis, ROI studies and we conduct 360 reviews to determine lessons learned and evolve the way we work. We’re also developing our own internal culture of candid feedback, total authenticity  and without ego. Bookings won’t be granted based on the buddy system, but based on what is truly best for the show.

The brainstorming kicked into overdrive, and I felt that old familiar buzz. I shared with Asylum that many years ago I had dreamt up the idea of a brand name and concept in case I ever did re-enter the indy wrestling world. That concept is the one we settled on. OTT – Only The Toughest. The brand aligned perfectly with what we had discussed: Big, tough people that are totally believable and look the part.

Having a special connection with the community was something we needed to solve for. We’ve spoken to many of the businesses on Danforth Avenue in Toronto’s east end and started to build great relationships which will lead to cool after parties, sponsored events and co-branded one offs. We had to go deeper though. We decided that as the company that celebrates “tough” professional wrestlers, we also wanted to be able to showcase tough citizens who have overcome odds as a result of their own mental and physical resilience.


And so here we are. Less than week away from running an indy wrestling show for the first time in more than a decade, and my adrenaline is pumping like crazy. Sure, it’s been a lot of late nights, anxious moments, and a lot of “aha moments” where I realize “that’s not how things used to work.” For example, the economics of the business have changed dramatically since I last ran shows. We used to be able to book three or four top stars for the current price of one. Inflation is no joke! The indy wrestling drama has even re-emerged with a couple of local promotions “banning” their talent from working for us (I didn’t know anyone was on an exclusive deal in Ontario!).

Despite the pain points, I’m so excited about our first show on May 7th. From top to bottom, this might be the best show I’ve ever worked on. The main event we’ve put together is massive. Harry “Bulldog” Smith (son of the late “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith) will battle Erick Redbeard (formerly of WWE and the Wyatt Family) with the winner being named the first OTT Heavyweight Champion.

Ten-year-old Steven Spice will be in the ring before that match, to present our beautiful championship belt. Steven is a charismatic and incredibly tough young man who has survived two brain surgeries and absolutely loves pro wrestling. We’re so happy we get to tell his story of perseverance and strength as part of the promotion of this event. We’re also looking for people to submit names of other individuals that deserve to have their toughness recognized and honored at an upcoming show (we have committed to run eight shows this calendar year).

The OTT Heavyweight Championship title belt is patterned after the old North American title.

That championship belt presentation and the sheer impressive nature of the two men in that main event serve to sum up what OTT is all about.

The rest of our roster is a nice mix of local favorites and out of towners who have either never been to Toronto, or not very often. We have grizzled vets like El Tornado with almost 30 years in the ring, and the young phenom Jonny DeLuca who will turn 20 years old at the event. We have gigantic athletes like 6’6” Xavier Walker from Flint Michigan, and the 6’2”, 400 pound Beastman from deepest darkest West Virginia.

If you don’t have plans for May 7th, I ask you to come out and enjoy an event that has literally been 11 years in the making.

OTT presents its debut show on Saturday, May 7, 2022, at Eastminster United Church, 310 Danforth Ave., Toronto, Ontario, with 7 p.m. bell time.

TOP PHOTO: Donnie DaSilva drops the mic. Photo by Courtney Cunningham