‘I just love pro wrestling’: The divine nature of Ontario’s independent scene


Click to play video: '‘I just love pro wrestling’: The divine nature of Canada’s independent scene'


‘I just love pro wrestling’: The divine nature of Canada’s independent scene


On a snowy Friday evening in March, there was a gathering of worshippers at a church in the Preston area of Cambridge, Ont.

While that might not seem out of the ordinary, this group consisted of wrestlers and a few dozen fans who had gathered in the basement of Knox Presbyterian Church to worship at the altar of the squared circle.

Some grapplers who entered the ring that night are working to fulfil a childhood dream while others are trying to make it to the big leagues or travel to places like Mexico or Japan. Others are just enjoying the community they have found.

Global News spoke with four wrestlers before they took the stage as well as (Big) Ben Ortmanns, the brains behind the wrestling academy and its YouTube series, Uproar, which is made up of footage from the evening’s matches.


(Above): Two wrestlers collide mid-air during a match. (Below): Wrestlers getting ready for a match and a painting of the Knox Presbyterian Church.


Katherine KY Cheng / Global News

Ortmanns founded Cross Body Pro Wrestling Academy about a decade ago in Kitchener, alongside his friend Chris Tidwell, who has since returned his focus to podcasting as host of Live Audio Wrestling.

After launching, the wrestling school moved around to a few more expected locations before settling into its current home in the church basement during the pandemic.

“It’s a strange fit to me – at least it was, at first, but now it actually seems super normal,” Ortmanns explained.

“(The church understands) what we do. They’re not going to try to put shackles on us by any stretch.”

Shortly after the school landed at the Knox Presbyterian Church, the Uproar series was launched. At the show in March, they were beginning their third season.

“I do all of the booking, I do all of the promoting, I do all of the matchmaking, I do all of the writing of the promos. I pretty much do for the most part,” said Ortmanns, who also steps in the ring for matches.

On the night in question, his regular ring announcer was booked for another show, so from his perch in the back where they film, Ortmanns also served as ring announcer.

The night began with a matchup between Ahmed Alam and Tyler Loveman. Alam wrestles under his given name, while Loveman enters the ring as Tyler Thomas.

Ahmed Alam


Wrestler Ahmed Alam poses for a portrait while preparing for a match.


Katherine KY Cheng / Global News

Alam, who was born in Pakistan and immigrated with his parents to Canada, was on a very different career path before he shifted his sights to the grappling world.

“My parents wanted me to be a doctor. I went to University of Toronto, in the life sciences program, which is GPA suicide, basically,” the 23-year-old said.

“It kind of put me in this mode of existential crisis. It’s like, ‘Oh, what do I do now?’”

Alam, who lives in Toronto, had been a big fan of wrestling growing up, so “once I was sort of in that position, I reached out to some wrestling schools.”

He began to scour the GTA to see what kind of training he could get and signed on with Battle Arts Academy.

“I think it was six months until I got my first match.… Then, it was almost like a year until I was given the green light to work the independents and try to get work myself.”

Getting the “green light” allowed him to book matches on his own, which he has been doing for about two years.

“Nothing else that I do in life makes me feel like this. Nothing else makes me feel as confident as I do in the ring,” Alam said.

Wrestling also introduced him to people from “all different walks of life,” though he’s particularly grateful for three friends he’s made through the sport.

“They’re all like me, they’re from Southeast Asia. They’re all pursuing wrestling careers as well. Getting to meet them and being on the road with them, getting to go to shows with them, seeing each other succeed. I don’t know, it’s like there’s a brotherhood in wrestling.”

While Alam’s parents were hoping their son would become a doctor, he said they have been supportive of his career path.

“If anything, they are really pushing me,” he said.

“My mom would come to shows now and she’ll be like, ‘You better do something cool. I’m bringing my friends.’”

Tyler Thomas


Tyler Loveman, who wrestles under the name ‘Tyler Thomas,’ right before a wrestling match.


Katherine KY Cheng / Global News

While Alam is just a couple of years into his career, his opponent, Loveman, has been grappling for a decade longer.

“I loved pro wrestling growing up,” Loveman said, who also serves as an assistant coach for CBPW. “My mom called it my empty space. So, if I was having a bad day or I was overstimulated, or I just needed to relax, I would watch pro wrestling.”

Wrestling legend Edge, who hails from nearby Orangeville, Ont., was his favourite wrestler growing up, but Loveman didn’t initially realize that wrestling was a career option for a Canadian. Instead, he ended up at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.

“Society tells you, ‘You need to go to school, get a job, a 9-to-5 job, and hate your job,’” the Kitchener native explained. “I was on that track at university, and just really came into kind of a hard time mentally.”

That was when the lightbulb went off and Loveman recalled the joy he felt as a child watching wrestling.

“At the back, back row of a first-year physics university class that I was failing, I made the decision, ‘Screw it! I’m going to apply to a pro wrestling school in Toronto and see if I can make this happen.’”

Loveman’s parents were not as supportive as Alam’s and his father made him agree to pass all of his classes in his first year before he could change paths.

The 29-year-old credited a very kind professor for helping him get there.

“Physics I technically failed and then I walked into the prof’s office and I said, ‘I promise you I’ll never take a physics class again if you just pass me because I have an agreement with my parents,’” Loveman explained.

“He said, ‘Never take a physics class again, and I’ll give you a 50.’ I said, ‘You’re the best.’”

Loveman had done a week of training over the course of that semester at Laurier, but when the new semester began in January, he was at a wrestling school in Toronto full-time.

Still a teen when he began, Loveman pursued his dream with every ounce of vigour he had until 2015, when it all came to a screeching halt: he jumped off the top rope, crashed through a table and landed directly on his tailbone.

“Hit the table enough to break it, but not hard enough to stop my momentum. So my momentum drove me right to concrete.”

He didn’t realize how badly he was injured and continued to book matches.

“A couple weeks later, I unwrapped a barbell to do squats at the gym and I collapsed.”

Still, he kept quiet about the issue, as he had a pretty big match coming up.

“I did the show and it was a 10-hour drive away, and then on the way home, lost some feeling in my legs,” he said, noting that he was working as a lifeguard to help pay for his wrestling dream.

“The Monday after, so end of June 2015, I was on a guard chair, and realized that I couldn’t get down.”

That finally prompted him to see a doctor, who told him that he had suffered severe lumbar spinal trauma. He began to realize that how he thought his “life would pan out to be was no more” and, after fulfilling his scheduled shows, he took 2016 off to rehab the injury.

“Luckily, December of 2016, they said you don’t need surgery, but there will be lasting things. You’ll never see me do a leg drop in the ring,” he explained.

Loveman scored the victory over Alam after their epic battle in March.

Laurel CassieD


Cassandra Serrani, who wrestles under the name Laurel CassieD, puts on her makeup at the basement of Knox Presbyterian Church in Cambridge, Ont., before a wrestling match.


Katherine KY Cheng / Global News

As the second half of the night’s show started, Ortmanns announced that CBPW tag team champions Travis Moore and Grizzly Mack, collectively known as “the Commotion,” would be coming to the ring.

The pair declared that they would be taking on all challengers before a team called The Kawaii Kids (Laurel CassieD and Nilo Reyes) answered that call.

Cassandra Serrani, who wrestles under the name Laurel CassieD, was the only woman to wrestle on the card.

“In the back before I come out, I’m very nervous,” the Hamilton native explained. “And then when I come through the curtain, it kind of all goes away. And I feel like coming through the curtain is when I become Laurel CassieD, the Rainbow Brite wrestler.”

Similarly to her male counterparts, Serrani grew up as a fan of the sport.

“I’ve watched it since I was a little kid, and just like all little kids, I would say, ‘Oh, Mommy, Daddy, I want to be a wrestler,’” she said.

That love for the game led the now-33-year-old to search for a school to learn the trade in 2011.

“I was like, ‘Oh, why not try it? Sign up and see what happens,’” she said.

Serrani took some time off a few years ago, and when she returned, the 33-year-old developed her gimmick.

“I really remember when it all came together and started. I was talking with my partner, and I was like, ‘I just want to wrestle, I want to have fun,’” she said. “’I want to be like Rainbow Brite.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, we got something here.’”

She went back and watched old Rainbow Brite cartoons for inspiration while also getting ideas from Starfire from Teen Titans Go.

Last year, she held the Cross Body Pro Wrestling tag team belts alongside Reyes, but on this snowy night in March, they fail to regain the titles.

Alex Gagne


Alex Gagne during a wrestling match.


Katherine KY Cheng / Global News

The final match of the night saw current CBPW champion Mikey Jenkins battle newcomer Alex Gagne in a non-title match.

After years of training, Gagne finally made his debut in January in a feature bout on a card.

Rookies would almost never be in the feature match, but when Gagne told Ortmanns he was filling the place with family and friends, the CPBW boss was forced to put the rookie in the last match to avoid the place emptying out early.

“There’s no greater feeling than having a whole section of people just rooting for you,” Gagne said.

“Just being there for that first time, the music hits and all your friends are screaming for you. It was great.”

There were no butterflies for the 30-year-old as he helped set up the ring before going over the details of the match with his opponent. But it hit him as he was about to go through the curtain.

“As soon as I heard (my) music hit, I was like, ‘OK, we got to go. This is it. Time to go,’” he said. “I’m not going to stand here so I had to just walk through the curtain and do it.”

It’s been a long time coming for Gagne, who began training with the company in 2019 but faced interruptions from the pandemic and life.

The Guelph native also had to wait until he got Ortmann’s seal of approval to step in the ring for his first match.

“Our training program here has ensured that I was ready to go when it was time for me to go,” Gagne said. “Our coaches here do a great job of making sure that nobody steps in the ring until they’re 100 per cent ready to be the best version of themselves in that ring.”

Now that he’s had a few matches, Gagne, who has performed in bands and worked in radio as a reporter, says there is nothing like it.

“I’ve played music professionally in front of people, I’ve worked in media and there’s no performance like being a professional wrestler…. It’s a car crash mixed with acting mixed with so much creativity on the fly that it’s the perfect creative outlet.”

Gagne ended up losing the match after some outside interference that the referee would miss in classic wrestling fashion.

The young wrestler is still finding his footing, learning lessons that Ortmanns did 20 years ago when he first stepped into the ring.

(Big) Ben Ortmanns


(Big) Ben Ortmanns acts as an announcer for the night and speaks into microphone during a wrestling match.


Katherine KY Cheng / Global News

Ortmanns was just 16 when the Cambridge native began at a school in Hamilton called Camp Martel.

“They actually gave me a quote-unquote scholarship to train. So, that was huge for me just because I was broke.”

Not long after that, Ortmanns was in the ring himself, performing his first match in Peterborough.

“I remember it was April the 19th of 2002, and then the next day I was on the road to go do a week-long tour of the Maritimes, and it was absolutely incredible.”

Over the next two decades, Ortmanns would travel the country, wrestling wherever he could – including bouts against Kenny Omega, who went on to fame with the WWE and Ring of Honor and currently wrestles for AEW.

“I ended up wrestling Kenny Omega about 12 or 15 times in singles matches within the span of a month,” the 39-year-old offered. “And he never actually beat me, which is a really just funny kind of a stat to have in my back pocket.”

While he has never reached the summit in the sport, he has done background work for the WWE while also helping with the TV show Dark Side of the Ring.

Despite all his experience in and around the wrestling world, it never occurred to him to start a wrestling school.

But about 10 years ago, he was taking a break from wrestling and took a job at an MMA gym in London, Ont., when his friend Chris Tidwell asked him to wrestle at a card his friend was hosting.

Ortmanns was soon offered the opportunity to start up a wrestling school in a gym in Kitchener. He asked Tidwell to come on board and the two teamed up to start CBPW.

“We started renting a ring from a guy that we knew, we ended up getting some students, thankfully,” he said, adding that they moved around a bit before settling in Cambridge.

Ortmanns has a vision for the future of the school and show but there’s a lot more work to be done.

“I just love pro wrestling with every fibre of my being. I want to help as many people as I possibly can,” he said.

 


(Above): Wrestlers during a Friday night wrestling match. (Below): The Knox Presbyterian Church in Cambridge, Ont., on a dark, winter night.


Katherine KY Cheng / Global News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *