There’s a noticeable buzz in the crowd as we wait anxiously for the doors to open. Everybody wants a good seat. The “regulars” wear t-shirts emblazoned with their favourite wrestler’s logo – “Cougar Meat”, “Humpin’ and Bumpin’ – Bradley Graham (Big Sexy Beast)”, “I (heart) Stormbringer”. Finally, it’s 6:30 p.m. and the crowd pushes forward as the doors open. Tickets are ripped, programs are purchased, and everyone scrambles to get the best view of the ring.
“Super Dave” Dave Ranson is the ring announcer, and the crowd chants as he grabs his microphone and rolls under the ropes. The show is about to begin…
Live wrestling has been around in some capacity since the 80s in Lethbridge, explains Kevin Farrell, aka “Sydney Steele”, president of Pure Power Wrestling. There had been another company running in Lethbridge for a few years that closed shop. Its owner, Ed Gatzky, eventually reached out to Kevin and Richard Rainey to see if they could create something new and fresh.
“There was wrestling here once a week, every week for years,” says Kevin. “And so, you know, Lethbridge is traditionally a wrestling town. So, we figured we'd bring it back.”
Pure Power Wrestling began it’s first run of regular shows in April 2011. Since then, it’s developed a following of avid fans and brought greater awareness and appreciation for live professional wrestling to southern Alberta. Their first show, held in the Lethbridge Legion, drew around 75 people. Now the monthly shows easily bring in over 200 at the German Canadian Club. “Obviously, we've had some ups and downs over the years. But now we're really starting to pick up,” says Kevin. “It’s been a lot of hard work, just to get people interested and putting on a product that people want to come back and see. That’s obvious because we see a lot of regular fans.”
Part of the draw to return comes from the wrestlers’ engagement with the audience, where the fans are just as much a part of the show. To start each match, wrestlers emerge from behind a curtain to their theme song, riling up the crowd as they gather high fives or smack talk, usually dependant on their “good or evil” persona. Taking cues from Stampede Wrestling or WWE, each wrestler develops their own character in the ring.
“The cool thing about wrestling is you can just kind of go out and do whatever you want to do. It gives people the opportunity to really be a different side of themselves that they don't get to be when you know, you're in ‘polite society’ with rules,” Kevin says with a laugh. As an all-ages show, everyone is welcome, and the action often transcends the ring. For those who can’t see it in person, Pure Power Wrestling also airs on Shaw TV.
The journey to become a wrestler begins with just coming to a tryout, says Kevin. It’s recommended to have some sort of athletic background, but people from all walks of life are welcome. “Really it starts with as long as you've got the desire to do it, and the physical ability to do it,” he says. “There's a lot of bumps and bruises involved in learning the basics of how to wrestle.” It takes time and a lot of training before someone can get into the ring. And some would rather train to be a referee than a wrestler. Pure Power wrestlers train a minimum of two days per week in the ring, on top their regular fitness regime.
“It's not an easy road and if you pursue it beyond the ‘once a month’ shows in Lethbridge, it becomes even more taxing,” says Kevin. “And it's constantly being banged up and bruised up and, you know, hopefully not injured, but always living hurt in some way.”
In addition to monthly shows in Lethbridge, the crew regularly takes the show on the road. They’ve built a steady fanbase in Taber, Vulcan and Fort Macleod, and travelled to Medicine Hat, Bow Island, Milk River and the Crowsnest Pass. This summer they hope to expand shows into southeastern B.C. This type of exposure not only gives the wrestlers more opportunities to perform and improve, but also helps to elevate the profile of live wrestling and bring the show to new fans. “Being in Lethbridge once a month is great, and the fans are super loyal, super dedicated, and they're awesome fans,” says Kevin. “But what I find is, especially as a learning experience for our newer wrestlers, learning how to do it in front of crowds that don't already know who you are is a lot harder; it's more of a learning experience and makes you a better wrestler.”
Along with the dedicated local crew, Pure Power Wrestling helps promote wrestlers from across Canada. They regularly bring in people from Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton, and sometimes from as far away as Winnipeg. As of the end of March, Kevin, Kyle Sebastian, Jim Kristensen, and Richard Rainey fully took over Pure Power Wrestling and incorporated the company.
“It's a professional atmosphere and it's professional guys working together, but they're all having a lot of fun while they're doing it, which you often don't see in wrestling,” says Kevin. “I find everybody we've got here on our local crew is all working towards that same goal of just having the best possible show.”
It’s an interesting community – one where everyone, no matter their background, comes together for one common purpose – to escape the responsibilities of life for an evening and just have fun.
“At the end of the day, it's kind of the most basic type of storytelling there is,” says Kevin. “It's the reason that ‘Avengers: Endgame’ makes $2 billion dollars in two weeks. You've got your very clearly defined good guy and bad guy, and they're gonna fight, and they're gonna find out who the best man is. And I think people just really relate to that.”