Part two of an interview with Randy ‘The Rage’ Berry
By Patrick Vaillancourt, News Editor
In last week’s edition of the Other Press, Randy Berry discussed his personal experiences, from wrestling fandom to his rise as one of Canada’s top pro wrestlers. His path to professional wrestling followed a trajectory all too familiar to aspiring wrestlers of his era: backyard wrestling.
What may not be evident to most wrestling fans is how the backyard variety has become the problem child of professional wrestling—especially within the industry’s independent circuit. While it’s fair to say that World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has reached out to a fan base that wasn’t traditionally theirs—using engaging plots and the strategic use of divas, both in the ring and out—there’s also no denying that the rise in organized backyard wrestling leagues occurred on their watch. The relative prominence of backyard wrestling today, and in the last 20 years, is evident when one conducts a simple Google search.
Many, like Berry, lament that this has had a negative ripple effect on the entire professional wrestling industry since backyarders lack the formal training to perform safely.
“Most people saw the high-risk aerials that were happening on television and thought, ‘I could do that,’” says Berry. “The backyard is not typically a place where someone can pick up wrestling’s fundamentals; that’s what wrestling schools are there for.”
The fundamentals—including the safe and proper ways to execute a move and, more importantly, ways to protect oneself when taking a bump—are necessities that backyard wrestlers can remain ignorant of without proper instruction.
There are a number of unfortunate examples where even the pros have made mistakes, causing serious injury to themselves or others. For example, Canadian-born Bret Hart suffered a severe concussion after taking a kick to the head in a 1999 World Championship Wrestling (WCW) match. The injury would ultimately end his legendary career. His opponent, Bill Goldberg, was a former NFL player with no formal wrestling training.
Berry says that training from a reputable school is essential to ensure that athletes remain as safe as possible in the ring.
“Wrestling is a tough business, and it’s really important to be able to trust the abilities of the guy you’re working with,” says Berry. “You’re putting your neck out there and it’s good to know that whoever you’re [matched up] with, that they (sic) know what they’re doing.”
At one time, professional wrestlers were an exclusive group since the business was difficult to break into. However, once backyard wrestling became organized and general knowledge of the business—particularly of wrestling’s independent circuit—came to the fore, organized backyard promotions began evolving into full-fledged pro wrestling bouts.
“Too many of these [backyard wrestlers] are just skipping the training part,” says Berry. “Some people think that wrestling’s easy, and so they go out and buy a ring, rent a hall, get a video camera and voila! A pro wrestler. Too many of them are going from the backyard to the fucking ring, and well-trained, established guys are getting hurt by thinking that these wannabes are legitimate pro wrestling promoters.”
Berry, who trained with the great Jacques Rougeau out of his facility in Montreal, says that the backyard piece of one’s development as a wrestler is now being denied by most due to the bad rap it has received in recent years.
“It’s just got a nasty reputation nowadays. I don’t think I can blame the guys for distancing themselves from their backyard stuff,” says Berry, who acknowledges that he is one of the few to publicly recognize that he performed and promoted a backyard wrestling organization.
The Cornwall Outdoors Wrestling Alliance (COWA), the backyard promotion Berry co-founded and ran until its end in 2000, has propelled six of its alumni to the professional wrestling ranks. In addition to this, some of COWA’s previous support personnel are now referees and valets in independent pro promotions in Ontario and Quebec.
“A lot of backyard wrestling promotions produce garbage wrestling,” he says in reference to some of the footage he’s seen from other backyard wrestlers looking for their break into the pro ranks. “The COWA wasn’t that. I separate our guys from other backyard promotions, and I can do that because the COWA has the track record of producing quality professional wrestlers.”
The third and final instalment of our interview with Randy (The Rage) Berry will appear in an upcoming October issue of the Other Press, with a focus on running a solid independent wrestling promotion.