The following is an interview I conducted with the ring crew at the recent Ring of Honor Death Before Dishonor VIII shows in Toronto. The four are from Montreal, and also train/work as pro wrestlers with the Quebec-based Northern Championship Wrestling (NCW). The crew consists of Jorge Morillas, 31, Benoit Chalifoux, 30, Alexandre Canuel,17, and Roxanne Paris. In the interview, the four discuss their lives as ring crew and wrestlers, how they got started in the business, their injuries, Toronto versus Quebec crowds, and more.
How did you get involved as ring crew for ROH?
B: “We started by coming to the shows around one o’clock and we helped put up the stage. As the story goes, we helped them anytime we could because it’s a fantastic product and a very good promotion.”
J: “One of our coaches, Mark the Grizzly, who’s a well-known name in Quebec, started watching Ring of Honor. He started bringing some of his rookies to the shows – we’d drive out nine, 10 hours to the States to go see a show. And some of us decided to take the initiative and started talking to the guys here and come by ourselves, meet and greet. And we’re getting involved more and more every time.”
How often do you work as ring crew for ROH?
J: “When they come to Montreal we will help out. And right now Ben and I are on vacation right now so we took the opportunity to come to Toronto.”
So you set up for the show tonight?
And you’re all training in Montreal for a career in pro wrestling?
B: “I’m involved in NCW in Montreal. I was a Russian soldier. I also helped train some wrestlers – Alex and Jorge are two of them. And I learned so much. This business is very funny. Unfortunately, we have injuries, but that’s part of the job. But it’s fantastic to be in the ring, to entertain people, to make them loud, make them cry, make them hate me or love me. That’s the part of the job that’s amazing, very amazing.”
A: “I’ve been wrestling for one year now at the same place, NCW. And I love wrestling. That’s what I want to do and I try to do my best.”
R: “I’m in training now at NCW too. It’s been ten months that I’m training, so it’s been good.”
We know one of you is a Russian soldier, but what names do the rest of you go under in NCW?
J: “At NCW I go under the name of Victor Fuego, which is a masked Luchador, and I tag teamed with Alex – Alejandro Viento. We’re called ‘The Elements’.
R: “I’m just in training.”
Have you ever worked an independent show in Toronto?
J: “Once, for SPRY. It got taken over by UWA Hardcore in Bolton. For the second show they called us up and Alex and I wrestled one on one. That was fun, but it was the only show we’ve done in Toronto. Otherwise we just work around Quebec.”
Between your experiences wrestling and working as ring crew in Toronto, what stands out as unique about the fans here?
J: “Quebec is still under the old school mentality of good guy v.s. bad guy. Anywhere else in North America you have more of the independent flavour, where the crowds will react to nice spots like arm drag sequences. You have some wrestlers who can sell it well in Quebec but mostly the Quebec fans want the bad guy to get his ass kicked by the good guy….A wrestling friend of mine said it’s kind of like cheating, wrestling in front of an Ontario crowd, because they’re easier to work.”
A: “I like the Toronto crowd. They make more sound. In Quebec, sometimes, they just sit and look at the show.”
J: “They’ll always clap on nice spots, whether it’s the good guy or bad guy who does it. But Quebec fans are just weird. Sometimes you have a nice match in front of them and [get] no reaction whatsoever.”
Switching gears a bit, some of you have day jobs. What kind of work do you do when you’re not involved in wrestling?
J: “IT consultant.”
B: “I’m with a flooring company. I work every week for 12 hours a day.”
A: “I’m still in school. I’m only 17.”
R: “I’m still in school too.”
You all look so tired. How tough is this job with the ring crew?
J: “We were all up at five o’clock this morning, had breakfast, drove out at quarter to 7 from Montreal – six hour drive – and as soon as we got here we waited for the truck and we started setting up. It’s a lot of work, but in the end you look at the product and you give yourself a little pat on the back because you know you were a part of it.”
What’s the most difficult or gruelling part of the job?
J: “Taking everything down afterwards and loading up the truck, because by then you’re just beat.”
On the performing side of the business, what aspirations do you have as far as where you hope to see yourselves in the future?
B: “For me, I left my spot to those younger than me. I’m in wrestling thanks to my father, who gave me the love for wrestling. For people like Alex, if he has the inspiration to go [further], then I wish it for him. But me, I have fun with my friends, but at my age, 30, it’s very hard to go higher to WWE or TNA. It’s very hard.”
J: “When I first started it was to do this for fun. But the more I get involved, the more contacts I made, the more people I meet, and little by little there are some more doors opening, so whatever happens, happens. It’s very hard to make it big, like any professional sport, and only the minority make it to the big time. If it happens it happens and if it doesn’t it doesn’t. I’m just having fun meeting people.
A: “Sure I’d like to wrestle in WWE, TNA, even Ring of Honor, but now I’ll do my best for that and keep going.”
R: “If I have the chance to one day make WWE or ROH, I would like it. I will do everything I can to make it, because I really love this sport. It’s my passion.”
What aspects of this profession, whether as a wrestler or ring crew, do you wish fans and people on the outside had a better understanding of?
B: “People don’t understand that when a wrestler is in the ring, it could be his last match. Even he doesn’t know. Injuries, like I said earlier, are part of this business. People don’t understand that. They say that wrestling is fake. No, it’s not fake. I suffered four concussions, a separated shoulder and a problem with one of my knees. So no, wrestling is not fake. It’s a very dangerous sport. They say, ‘Don’t try this at home.’ Well, I agree with them.”
(Benoit suffered his injury while champion, when he took a piledriver and separated his shoulder. It was a tag match and his partner came in and broke the three-count. But he couldn’t feel his arm and he couldn’t finish the match.)
You all must have suffered some sort of injury.
J: “Oh yeah. I’ve had concussions. I twisted my knee. I’ve dislocated vertebrae in my spine. I’ve broken my nose a few times. The best way I can put it is that it’s not as painful as we make it seem, but it’s a lot more painful than people think it is because you can’t fake gravity. You fall on your back, you fall on your face, you’re feeling the whole impact.”
A: “I’m kind of lucky. I have nothing yet, no injuries. I’m sure it’s going to happen some day, but I hope not too hard.”
R: “No, I’ve never been hurt and I hope I don’t get hurt because it’s very difficult after that.”
Finally, what’s harder on you body on a daily basis, wrestling a match or setting up the ring?
B: “The day for a wrestler starts around 12 o’clock, or three o’clock in my case, we had to build up, then we had our match – and sometimes it was a very hard-fought match – and after everything has to be [taken down]. We go to bed around 3 o’clock because afterward we go to eat because we’re friends. The first thing is that we’re friends. And after the show, when everything is done, the gang goes to the restaurant, talks about the match, talks about the feud, talk about our lives, because it’s friendship. If one of us has a problem we talk to our friends because people like them become family. I remember when [the others] started to train with NCW, I helped to train them and we became close friends. We’re spending our vacation together! [Laughs]”
J: “It’s tough to say what’s harder on the body – setting up or the match – because setting up and taking everything down is gruelling throughout the day. It’s a lot of hard work – a lot of people don’t appreciate what goes into setting up everything you see here: the ring, the lights, the sound system, the chairs, the merchandise tables. The match is more gruelling on the body on the spot. An eight to 10 minute match, you take the bumps, you take the chair shots, whatever, you go to the back, the adrenaline wears down, you relax. It’s give and take on both ends. They’re both hard on the body but at the end of the night it’s a pride thing, whether for the match or for the show itself.”
Read my feature on the ROH ring crew, and other Toronto features, at http://www.newsfix.ca/2009/07/28/4578/.