Wavell Starr’s importance to professional wrestling was not only the matches he had and the titles he won, it was who he was, where he was and when he was there.
In the 1990s, Indigenous street gangs were at their peak across the Prairies, we were only a few years removed from the Oka Crisis and the murder of JJ Harper. The last residential school in this nation closed in 1996 and the final residential day school closed in 2001, so to say that tensions were high as an Indigenous person was an understatement.
The first time I saw Wavell Starr on my television screen was on Stampede Wrestling’s run on the former A-Channel in 2000 cutting a promo in the ring with Bad News Allen. I was excited to see a Native wrestler on my screen, not only a Native wrestler, but one who was partnered up with a former WWF Superstar. It was refreshing to see someone who looked my family on the TV for once.
Wavell didn’t have a feather in his hair or a loincloth like Tatanka. Wavell was jacked, with long dark hair, talking some serious smack through my television, he looked like those cousins and uncles that I was around every day. He looked cool. He had an edge.
I didn’t understand that gravitas of someone breaking stereotypes, not needing to rely on the image of an old-fashioned look at First Nations people during contemporary times. Wavell wasn’t shy about who he was, it was simply a new look for a new time. The long braid, traditional starblanket design on his trunks and his name alone was enough to generate the image of what we as a people could become, cool, confident and more importantly, vocal.
I met Wavell Starr for the first time in 2005. I was working a pay-per-view event for a short lived company called Action Wrestling Entertainment. The 3,000-seat Investors Group Athletic Centre was the site for “AWE Larger Than Life” and as I saw the wrestlers come into the building as I was setting up the ring, I became more awestruck by each passing performer. Rikishi. Billy Gunn. Jamie Noble. Hacksaw Jim Duggan. It was a relentlessly cold March evening in Winnipeg. All the American guys walked in cussing up a storm about how cold it was in Winnipeg.
Then, Wavell walked in the door alongside a legend in his own right, Chi Chi Cruz, and even though those future WWE Hall of Famers were walking past me it was Wavell who looked like a serious superstar and exuded confidence. He commanded the attention of everyone in the entire room. Even Kevy Chevy leaned over to me and whispered “Wavell’s here.”
I remember exactly what he was wearing too because I thought he had the coolest outfit in the world. A tight white t-shirt and these tan color velour pants. I thought they were so cool that I looked at every Champs and Foot Locker for the next year to find cool tan color velour pants! Looking back now, I probably would haven’t been able to pull off the cool factor that he did in those damn things.
I walked over to introduce myself to him and Cheech, a quick handshake later and I had officially met “The Stud of the Stable” Wavell Starr.
As years went by, I would see Wavell at shows around Winnipeg or in Saskatchewan. I remember even being backstage talking to Wavell during a show in Prince George, BC, with the Trailer Park Boys hitting the ring during a main event run-in. During that time, it wasn’t uncommon to hear of Wavell being backstage at WWE events or in my case and maybe a lot of yours as well, seeing Wavell on Sunday Night Heat and the superkick he took from Tajiri was one for the ages!
I think Vince McMahon and a generation of WWE fans missed out on the “First Nations Sensation.” His look, his work and more importantly, the charisma, would have played so well on WWE TV. Judging by the Sunday Night Heat appearance, I think the boys would have loved to have Wavell bump and sell for them too. But we’re not here to mention what-if’s and could-have-beens. Wavell always has been a world class talent.
For a young Indigenous kid like myself to see someone who I could identify with was not only refreshing, it was empowering. The same guy that I watched on A-Channel to the Wavell Starr that I eventually became stablemates with on the independent scene as one of the Fabulous Creebirds was the same man working to make his community a better place and being the best father he could be.
I’m happy to say that I got the chance to be a fan of and work with a total pro like Wavell.