The tenth and final part in our 10-part series looking at 150 Canadian names in pro wrestling, in honour of Canada’s 150th birthday. Part 10 of the Canada 150, an alphabetical listing of Canadians’ impact on pro wrestling from the 1900’s to today.
Montreal’s Tarzan Tyler began wrestling in the 1950’s in Quebec, trained by Jacques Rougeau Sr. and Edouard Carpentier. In the 1960’s, he began working in the United States, becoming a top singles star who faced such World champions as Lou Thesz, Verne Gagne, Dory Funk Jr., and Bruno Sammartino. By the 1970’s, he had joined the WWWF and alongside Luke Graham, became the very first WWWF World Tag Team champions, defeating Dick The Bruiser and The Sheik in 1971. Sadly, his wrestling career was cut short when he died in a car crash in 1985.
While the Harts are known as Canada’s most technically elite family, when it comes to toughness, it’s the Vachons that take that accolade. In many ways, they are the “Andersons” of Canada. The Anderson family of Minnesota – albeit all kayfabe – featured some of the toughest dudes in wrestling – Lars Anderson, Ole Anderson, Gene Anderson, Arn Anderson, CW Anderson, Karl Anderson (none were actually related). For years, wrestlers would kayfabe be a relative of the Andersons as a benchmark of being tough. In Canada, it was like that with the Vachons. The brothers – “Mad Dog” Maurice and Paul “Butcher” Vachon – were legitimately brothers though. Maurice debuted in 1950, followed in 1957 by his younger brother Paul. Together, the Vachon brothers terrorized NWA territories around the US and across Canada, earning a legacy of brutality. In 1969, their kid sister, Vivian Vachon, made her debut and became one of the most respected female wrestlers of the 1970’s, winning the AWA Women’s Championship in 1971. Luna Vachon‘s mother married Paul Vachon when she was four and she was brought up in a family of wrestling lunacy. Determined to enter the family business, she was repeatedly talked out of it by her father and uncle. In 1985, her aunt Vivian trained her and she made her debut shortly after. Luna become a groundbreaker in women’s wrestling in the 1990’s – she was featured in the first ever televised inter-gender match vs. Stevie Richards in ECW in the mid-90’s. Hardcore than most men at the time, Luna Vachon paved a way of toughness for women rarely seen in the ring.
Victoria, British Columbia’s Taya Valkyrie debuted in 2010 after being trained by former WWE, WCW and ECW legend Lance Storm. She debuted with her local major promotion, working with ECCW in Vancouver. In 2012, she moved to Mexico. She was immediately taken under the wing of Perro Aguayo Jr. and became a part of his hugely popular faction, Los Perros del Mal, in CMLL. She remained there for a year before jumping to AAA, where she’s gone on to become a 2x Reina de Reinas Champion (the AAA Women’s championship) – her first reign of 945 days is the longest reign in the history of AAA. She won the accolade of Luchadora of the Year in Mexico in 2014 and 2015. Last year she debuted with Lucha Underground, as part of Worldwide Underground alongside former WWE Superstar John Morrison (aka Johnny Mundo), her real life fiancee.
Thunder Bay, Ontario’s king of hardcore and master of the macabre, Vampiro, made his debut in 1984 at the age of 16, working the Montreal circuit. Trained by Windsor, Ontario’s Abdullah the Butcher, he moved to Mexico in 1991 and began a legendary career with CMLL for seven years. During this time, he also competed in Japan with WAR. He jumped to WCW during the Monday Night Wars in 1998 and was used sparingly and sporadically for three years. When WWE purchased WCW in 2001, Vampiro left and went back to CMLL and worked with All-Japan as well. He jumped from CMLL to AAA in 2005 and in 2013 retired from in-ring competition. In 2014, he was paired with announcer Matt Striker as the colour commentator for Lucha Underground’s debut season, a position he holds to this day. Earlier this year, he was also officially named AAA’s Director of Talent.
LAUREL VAN NESS
Another student of Lance Storm, she initially gained international recognition as indie star Chelsea Green. Debuting in 2014 with her hometown ECCW in Vancouver, she was part of the last season of WWE Tough Enough in 2015, finishing 4th. She’s gone on to perform for SHIMMER, SHINE, and Stardom, as well as joining Impact Wrestling (now Global Force Wrestling) as Laurel Van Ness last year. She continues to be one of the top indie female talent as well as one of Impact’s most intriguing characters, as the jilted bride now trapped in derangement with her own personal (Kongo) Kong.
“HELLOOOOOO LADIES…” Anyone who lived through the Attitude Era knows exactly who that phrase belongs to. One of the edgiest Superstars of the AE, “pornstar” Val Venis first began wrestling in Mexico in 1995, where he won the CMLL World Heavyweight Championship under the name Steele. Trained by Dewey Robertson (The Missing Link), Oakville, Ontario’s Val Venis debuted with the WWF in 1998 and immediately became a fan sensation. “The Big Valbowski” is a former 2x Intercontinental Champion, European Champion and World Tag Team Champion, who went on to an 11-year career with the WWE in various incarnations of his character – including becoming morally righteous in Right to Censor in 2000. Following his departure from the WWE in 2009, he briefly worked with TNA, NJPW and CMLL, but has since left the industry.
WWE’s Viktor – one half of former NXT Tag Team Champions The Ascension – began training at the Hart Dungeon in his native Alberta back in 1999. In 2001, he debuted with the revamped Stampede Wrestling as Bishop, where he won Stampede’s top title, the North American Heavyweight Championship. In 2011, he signed with the WWE and spent a few years in Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) followed by NXT, before joining the Ascension in 2013. Alongside Connor, they would become one of NXT’s most dominant tag teams, holding the NXT Tag Team titles a record 364 days. A year later, they were brought up to the main roster and continue to be a part of the main roster’s tag team division, although they’ve failed to capture a glimpse of the dominance they held in NXT. With so many teams breaking up in the WWE, perhaps it’s time for the Ascension to get a slight make-over and showcase more of what made them so special in NXT.
WALDO VON ERICH
Toronto’s Waldo Von Erich began wrestling in 1950 with Stampede Wrestling, but it wasn’t until he began to work the US territories in the 1960’s that he’d find his greatest success. While working with Big Time Wrestling in Texas (later to become WCCW), he became the kayfabe brother of Fritz Von Erich and the two became some of the biggest heels in wrestling with their pro-German Nazi gimmick in the fallout of the Second World War. Despite specializing in tag team bouts with his “brother” (with whom he held multiple tag team titles), he was also a respected singles wrestler – he was a frequent foil of Bruno Sammartino in the WWWF in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. He retired in 1979.
WHIPPER BILLY WATSON
If Jack Taylor is Canada’s Frank Gotch, then Whipper Billy Watson is Canada’s Lou Thesz. Watson began wrestling in the 1930’s as a youth before becoming one of Maple Leaf Wrestling‘s biggest stars, almost from the time he debuted with them in 1940. For 30 years, from 1940 to 1971, Watson was a huge main event draw at Maple Leaf Gardens. In 1947, he became the second Canadian to win the NWA World Heavyweight title and was a 9x British Empire Heavyweight Champion (the top title in Maple Leaf Wrestling). An absolute Superstar in Canadian wrestling as well as a legitimate contender in many US territories, Watson was a star until his career was shortened following a car crash in 1971 that forced his retirement due to injury.
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan’s Ed Whalen was named the News and Sports Director of CHCT-TV in Calgary in 1955. In 1958, Stu Hart talked him into becoming the announcer for his new televised Stampede Wrestling, and he became Canada’s most iconic announcer – he announced Stampede Wrestling from 1958 until it closed in 1983, as well as during it’s revivals. He was also the announcer for the NHL’s Calgary Flames from 1980 until his retirement in 1999. Ed Whalen died of a heart attack in 2001, at the age of 74.
Toronto’s Taylor Wilde debuted in 2003, bouncing around local Ontario indies, as well as the US and Mexican scene. After a brief stint in WWE’s developmental in 2006, she debuted with TNA in 2008. She would become a popular wrestler in TNA’s legendary mid-2000’s Knockout division – she’s a former Knockouts Champion and 2x Knockouts Tag Team Champion – with memorably feuds against the Beautiful People. She left TNA in 2011, retiring from the sport.
Windsor, Ontario’s Petey Williams was trained in his hometown by Scott D’Amore at the Can-Am Wrestling School. Debuting in 2002, initially working in various Ontario indies – including his hometown BCW – he jumped to TNA in 2004 as part of D’Amore’s Team Canada stable: a faction that showcased BCW alumni Bobby Roode, Eric Young, A1 and Johnny Devine. In 2007, he became “Maple Leaf Muscle” Petey Williams, initially feuding then emulating “Big Poppa Pump” Scott Steiner. He left TNA in 2009, and bounced around the indies, including Ring of Honor, until his retirement in 2013. A vastly underrated performer, he’s perhaps best known as the man who created the Canadian Destroyer move.
Cambridge, Ontario’s Eric Young was trained by Waldo Von Erich in 1998 and began to work the Ontario indies shortly after. He went to work with BCW shortly after and received further training under Scott D’Amore, joining D’Amore in TNA in 2004 as part of the Team Canada faction. Over a 12-year career on Impact Wrestling, Young proved to be a versatile performer, from comedic fall guy to serious technician, collecting a lot of TNA gold – he’s a former World Champion, X-Division Champion, 3x TV Champion and 4x Tag Team Champion. Alongside longtime friend Bobby Roode, Young left Impact last year and jumped to NXT, where he now leads the anarchistic gang, SAnitY.
To many Canadians, she’s still Renee Paquette from Toronto, the former host of Aftermath, the wrestling show on The Score sports network from 2009 until 2012, when she joined the WWE as Renee Young. Since then, she’s shown the world what us Canadians always knew – this wasn’t someone pretending to like wrestling for a job. She loved wrestling and turned that passion into a job. She’s the best interviewer/presenter the WWE has had, arguably, ever. Her knowledge, passion and enthusiasm is infectious and consuming. As the host of Talking Smack, the after-show for Smackdown Live, she continues to draw out some of the best content on the WWE Network. Earlier this year, she married fellow WWE Superstar Dean Ambrose.
Born in Washington state, Yukon Eric moved to Canada in his early 20’s to pursue professional wrestling and never left, becoming one of Canada’s biggest stars for three decades. A powerful Canadian hero (complete with lumberjack gimmick), he would have a legendary feud with fellow Canadian Killer Kowalski, that in 1952 saw him lose an ear to Kowalski following a botched knee drop. They had a rematch in 1953, which became the very first televised wrestling match on Canadian television. From the 1940’s to 1960’s, he was one of the most popular wrestlers, not only in Canada, but in various NWA territories in the US as well. Sadly, he committed suicide in 1965 following his divorce.
Montreal’s Sami Zayn has been the “Underdog of the Underground” since he debuted back in 2002, originally working the Montreal indies alongside his childhood friend Kevin Owens. He began as the luchador El Generico, garnering international fame in some of the world’s top promotions, from Ring of Honor to CHIKARA, from PWG to Dragon Gate and beyond – by the time he joined the WWE in 2013, he was already a 2x PWG World Champion, wXw Unified World Wrestling Champion, ROH Television Champion, DDT Extreme Division Champion, 2011 CHIKARA Rey de Voladores Champion, 5x PWG World Tag Team Champion, ROH World Tag Team Champion, as well as the tournament champion for the 2011 PWG Battle of Los Angeles and 2012 wXw 16 Carat Gold. He immediately won over the NXT universe’s hearts, despite removing his mask and becoming Sami Zayn, winning NXT Superstar of the Year in 2014 and becoming NXT Champion. He’s only been on the main roster just over a year (he debuted after last year’s Royal Rumble), but despite not winning any hardware yet, he’s already one of the WWE’s most popular performers.
CHECK OUT THE REST OF THE SERIES:
The Canada 150, Part 10: Tarzan Tyler to Sami Zayn