INNISFAIL – When the bell rang it was all action.
Mostly in the ring but sometimes outside on the floor.
It didn’t matter to the cheering crowd on Aug 6 at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #104 in Innisfail.
Kids oohed and aahed. Their parents laughed. Sometimes they heckled but it was always in good fun.
This was both sport and entertainment.
Professional wrestling was back in town. Organizers claimed the last time there was wrestling in Innisfail was in 1984 when Stampede Wrestling provided the show.
But 38 years later on a gorgeous Saturday evening inside the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #104 auditorium it was Calgary’s CanAm Wrestling doing the honours for more than two hours of fun and good times.
CanAm brought a full crew of top-notch professionals, which included one woman – Kat Von Heez. She won her opening match by disqualification over frustrated grappler Bobby Sharp.
Most of the wrestlers came with unforgettable monikers like Daniel Mayhem, Rhino Reynolds, The Cheetahbear, Vance Nevada, Steve Wilde and The Canadian Bad Ass.
“I make every ring I am in my hunting ground. Tonight, I guarantee I will make Innisfail Cheetahbear country,” growled The Cheetahbear to the Albertan prior to the action that began at 7 p.m.
CanAm and Royal Canadian Legion Branch #104 organizers were clearly delighted to see a full house of wrestling fans. At times the evening took on a gladiator theatre sort of vibe, with music and lights part of the introductions for competitors. As always, there was engagement with the audience.
The appreciative crowd took in five matches, each of them either 12 or 15 minutes long.
All of them showcased plenty of thrills, body slams, and conditioning. There was little doubt with anyone that all competitors were in great shape and trained well to handle the rigours of the ring, notably the essential execution of a wide assortment of professional wrestling moves, as well as a bit of theatre to ensure entertainment continuity.
Sometimes the action spilled outside the ring, which suited the audience just fine as it made the show close and personal, especially for the kids, who clearly found a whole set of new heroes.
The event attracted the sale of 160 tickets for the event, with a portion of the proceeds going back to the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #104 for the benefit of local veterans.
“It's great for the legion. It's great for the veterans. This crowd is just right into it. I'm just so happy,” said Don Harrison, the legion’s entertainment chair who confirmed CanAm is coming back on Sept. 17 for another night of high-level professional wrestling.
Otto Gentile, the chief executive officer of CanAm Wrestling and Ed Andersen, the organization's chief financial officer, both echoed Harrison’s high praise for the evening.
“It was unbelievable. I'm shocked that we had a good turnout for the first time in Innisfail for a long time,” said Andersen, adding he hopes the Sept. 17 return will be even more successful. “With 160 people today, I would like to double it.”
If affordability is an issue for any Innisfailian to see CanAm’s brand of professional wrestling, Gentile and Andersen have that covered.
“If you have hard times don't worry about it. Call us. Let us know. We'll hook you up with Bikers are Buddies,” said Gentile of the Bikers are Buddies Canada organization, an anti-bullying prevention group that is now partnering with CanAm. “They will pay for one ticket, and they can bring in three people with them.
“We want everybody in Innisfail to come and enjoy themselves,” added Gentile, a longtime wrestler at the age of 56 who is known in the ring as Vinnie Fever.
He’s also the founder of the Alberta Wrestling Academy, which provides training and life skills for young up and coming grapplers to succeed in the modern era of professional wrestling.
“Have some fun, have some laughs. Yell and scream at people,” added Gentile of his invitation to Innisfailians for Sept. 17. “Get all the emotions out and go home feeling good about yourselves because you watched one kick ass show.”