It’s called the City of Roses, but many might assert that Windsor, Ontario, Canada is referring to the thorns rather than the colourful petals. A blue collar working class city of 200k+ people, in the automotive centre of North America, Windsor huddles side-by-side with America’s own toughened rebel soul, Detroit, Michigan. Often referred to in the North as the “armpit of Ontario’ (or worse by Stephen Colbert), Windsor’s reliance on the automotive industry has lead to high unemployment and an exodus of young people. But in misery, art often finds it’s strongest voice. With nothing left to run on but dreams, the determined can find their niche and grow exponentially – in art, in music, and even in professional wrestling. For Windsor also lays home to one of North America’s pro wrestling treasures, the Can-Am Wrestling School.
Windsor is no stranger to professional wrestling. It’s close proximity to Detroit made it a natural other outlet for Detroit wrestling legend, the original Sheik (the uncle of Sabu and trainer of Rob Van Dam), who ran Big Time Wrestling, which was the Detroit affiliated promotion with the then all-powerful National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), from the 1960’s to the 1980’s. Windsor wrestling shows have seen legends from as far back as the glory days of Dick The Bruiser, and in the 1970’s, early television wrestling character “Crybaby” George Cannon came back to Windsor to run his own syndicated wrestling show, Superstars of Wrestling, that televised many of The Sheik’s Big Time stable and other passing stars to Michigan, Ontario and beyond.
The WWE Hall of Fame currently has ten Canadians in their ranks (eleven if you include Tully Blanchard, who was born in Alberta during one of his dad Joe Blanchard‘s extended stays on the Canadian scene while with AWA). Windsor is represented by two of them, including the first Canadian inductee, legendary heel Walter “Killer” Kowalski, in 1996, and by one of the innovators of what became hardcore wrestling, Abdullah the Butcher (who unfortunately is losing graces with the historians due to his recent Hep-C controversy), in 2011. Two may not seem impressive, but it equals the amount of inductees from Toronto (Edge, Trish Stratus), Montreal (Pat Patterson, Mad Dog Vachon) and Saskatoon (Stu Hart, Roddy Piper). In fact, Windsor is also equal to it’s sister city, Detroit (The Sheik, Kevin Nash).
So it’s no surprise that one of the world’s most respected pro wrestling schools is run right in the heart of Windsor, Ontario, carrying with it a work ethic that represents the tough as nails “Rocky doesn’t die” mentality of Ontario’s Rose City. And the soul of that is due to Head Coach Scott D’Amore. Since 1993, D’Amore has also run, in some capacity, one of Ontario’s premier indie promotions, Border City Wrestling (along with Chuck Fader and late co-founder “The Canadian Destroyer” Doug Chevalier). That’s not to mention his own professional wrestling career that’s seen him work for everyone from the WWF to WCW to a successful run in TNA. Wrestling is in his blood. It’s in his very DNA. And the fruits of Can-Am’s labour of love are beginning to show some amazing recognition and results. Products from Can-Am wrestling have been a part of major events or storylines in WWE, NXT, TNA, ROH and NJPW in the past few months.
On an unseasonably warm October night, I sat down with Scott D’Amore to discuss the most recent success for Can-Am – in September, online sporting site The Sportster rated Can-Am the #15 professional wrestling school of all time. This is a list that includes the famous Hart Dungeon, Vergne Gagne‘s school in Minnesota and the Wild Samoan Wrestling Centre. Can-Am actually ranked higher than such legendary training grounds as Shawn Michaels Texas Wrestling Academy (which produced Daniel Bryan and Bryan Kendrick) and Ohio Valley Wrestling (who in one graduating class gave wrestling John Cena, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar and Shelton Benjamin).
“Getting picked in the Top 20 wrestling schools in the world, of all time, was pretty humbling. I mean, I think we’ve earned it. But it’s nice to see, it’s nice to be recognized. All of us in this business are looking for some form of accreditation or some sort of accolades, it’s nice to see. It’s a testament to the students who have come through here.” SCOTT D’AMORE (10/18/2016)
While the training staff has changed over the years – the list includes original head trainer “Irish” Mickey Doyle (who trained D’Amore himself), Al Snow, Joe E. Legend, D’Lo Brown, Tyson Dux, Chris Sabin, Alex Shelley, and currently “Hot Stuff” Johnny Devine (who actually convinced D’Amore to reopen the school and moved across the country back to Windsor to be the his new training partner). But one thing has remained constant: Scott D’Amore. His commitment to the Can-Am school of thought and the respect and dedication to the industry that he was shown always shines through.
“One of the things has been that we focus on the fundamentals and Basics, which I think sometimes is lacking. The other thing is that a lot of our guys come back to help out. I was just talking to Alex Shelley the other day and he and Chris Sabin want to come in here. One, because they want to roll around, but two, they’re excited to see the school back up and kicking full steam and they want to see the new students as well.” D’AMORE (10/18/16)
But despite the recent accolades, D’Amore himself never truly realized the spread of Can-Am’s influence until he recently reopened the school and they were getting ready for their upcoming Excellence event (which is BCW’s Wrestlemania).
“Honestly, until we looked at it recently and kind of started tallying it up for the relaunch, I didn’t realize how many World champions we’ve had come through here.” D’AMORE (10/18/16)
World champions indeed. The list of trainees who have become big players on the pro wrestling world, from WWE to the indie circuit to Japan, in recent events shows the strength of the system that D’Amore continues to implement. Initially, the impact was minimal. Scott D’Amore and a few early BCW stars, like Bobby Clancy and Otis Apollo, did enhancement work for both WWF and WCW, but hardly made an impact.
The first huge breakout star from Can-Am was arguably Rhyno. Known in BCW as Rhino Richards, he went on to a short but Gore filled career in ECW, where he collected the final ECW World Champion, before going on to a WWE career and a stint in TNA, where he also won the NWA World title.
In 2003, Can-Am student Gail Kim made her debut in the WWE and won the Women’s Championship in her first televised event. But it was her legendary feud with Awesome Kong during the late 2000’s and the rise of TNA’s KnockOut Division that made her an early combatant in the now Women’s Revolution in wrestling.
Then in early 2004, Scott D’Amore arrived in TNA with a faction known as Team Canada. To the majority of the wrestling world, this was a new crop of unknown indie guys. But to the fans in Windsor, Ontario, they were BCW’s own Johnny Devine and Petey Williams (they were originally paired with the biggest star of the group, Teddy Hart, and another Hart trainee, Jack Evans). Eventually, Hart and Evans left and were replaced by three more BCW students, Bobby Roode, Eric Young and A1.
Now Bobby Roode is two-time TNA World Heavyweight Champion, as well as an 8-time World Tag Team Champion. He’s currently signed to WWE’s third brand, NXT, where his entrance music alone has made him a sensation. Roode’s former Team Canada tag team champion partner, Eric Young, is another former TNA World Champion who’s recently joined NXT as well, leading his own new faction, SaNitY. Rhyno is now co-tag team champion with Heath Slater on WWE Smackdown Live. Gail Kim was just selected as the first women entered into the TNA Hall of Fame following her record tying sixth KnockOuts title. Motor City Machine Guns, long considered one of the world’s greatest indie tag teams for the past decade, also features a former TNA World Champion in Chris Sabin. Together they were part of one of the most talked about ladder matches of all time, Ladder Wars 6 at Ring of Honor’s last PPV, All-Star Extravaganza, against the Young Bucks and The Addiction (Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian). And Shelley has also won tag team gold in Japan as part of the TimeSplitters, alongside yet another Can-Am graduate, Yujiro Kushida (himself a 3-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion). Long time Can-Am trainer and BCW star Tyson Dux was the internet darling upon his announcement of being selected this summer for the WWE Cruiserweight Classic and had a strong showing against Zack Sabre Jr., regarded as one of the world’s best wrestlers today not in the WWE. Three more graduates of Can-Am are currently in major storylines in TNA as well. Former Ring of Honor star Moose was an early project of Scott D’Amore’s (Moose is so appreciative of D’Amore’s influence, he still to this day appears for as many BCW events as he can schedule) and his recent debut in TNA has propelled him to the top of the card, where he’s gunning for Aron Rex‘s Grand Championship. And the Decay‘s demented little doll Rosemary trained at Can-Am as Courtney Rush before being a part of wrestling’s biggest storyline of the year, the entire Broken Matt Hardy saga. And before Sienna was a Knockouts Champion this year she was a student at Can-Am named Allysin Kay.
The sheer reach of Can-Am’s web of influence in the industry right now is stunning in that it’s affected a minimum of five major wrestling brands in the past few months: WWE, NXT, TNA, ROH, and NJPW. Which is a testament to the adaptable fine tuning of Can-Am Wrestling school, Scott D’Amore, and his long list of trainers, in creating wrestlers with the ability to tell stories. And it’s got to be an inspiration to the new students as well, seeing results from their chosen school.
One such student is indie women’s wrestler Kat Von Heez. Originally from Winnipeg, Van Heez is a five year veteran of many Western Canada promotions (she made the PWI 50 of the Top 50 women’s wrestlers in the world in 2014) and recently relocated to Windsor from Edmonton – alongside her fiance, “Lion Warrior” Bobby Sharp (only the 3rd Canadian ever to win the Cauliflower Alley Club Future Legend Award) – specifically to train with Scott at Can-Am Wrestling. So how does training at Can-Am differ from other parts of Canada?
“It’s tough, in the sense that they’re watching for every little thing, which for people like Bobby and me, we need, because a lot of people just go ‘Oh, you’re fine’, right? Rather than look at the little things you could be fixing to make yourself that much better.” KAT VON HEEZ (10/18/2016)
And at the other spectrum is new student Sheldon Jean. He moved to Windsor a year ago from Ottawa to pursue his dreams of becoming a pro wrestler. But in order to convince his mother to allow him to move so far away (he’d found out about Can-Am online), he enrolled in the University of Windsor. Now he claims, it’s “wrestling full time, school part time” (Ed. He’s just kidding, Mrs. Jean!)
Whether it’s a raw recruit like Sheldon Jean, an indie wrestler in the dawns of their career looking for fine tuning like Kat Von Heez, or whether it’s veterans returning to pay back in the ring like the Motor City Machine Guns and Johnny Devine, one thing’s for certain. Can-Am Wrestling School has earned it’s spot on Sportster’s list. It seems that in Windsor, Ontario, as far as wrestling goes, everything’s coming up Roses. And to paraphrase Dean Martin. That’s D’Amore.
Watch the complete 20-minute interview with Scott D’Amore below, where he talks Can-Am Wrestling, BCW, Gail Kim & The KnockOuts Division, Moose, the Art of Storytelling, and more!
If you’re in the Detroit – Windsor area, you can catch Border City Wrestling’s biggest event of the year, EXCELLENCE, on November 5th, featuring Aron Rex (formerly Damien Sandow), Santino Marella, TNA Hall of Famer Gail Kim, CWC competitor Tyson Dux, and many more of the Can-Am students.