A recent episode of “The Art of Wrestling” with Colt Cabana features former TNA wrestler, and member of Team Canada—Johnny Devine!
They begin the conversation by discussing Johnny’s latest efforts in Western Canada. Johnny is currently working to bring territorial wrestling back to North America, beginning in Calgary and British Columbia. He says, “I’m trying to do something here for the people of Western Canada, that hasn’t been seen since Stu Hart did it. People keep trying and failing, but there’s none of that. I believe we’re on the cusp of having something to put together where we’ll have the first true territory since Vince bought them all.” Colt sounds pessimistic about the idea, and when Johnny says, “Not a lot of people have been successful,” Colt very casually says, “Nobody has been successful.” He asks Johnny what makes him different than the hundreds of promotors around North America who’ve already failed. Johnny says, “In this area, there’s nobody—other than Lance Storm—that’s still active, and has the experience I do. Nobody has the television background I do.” He also says that the Western Canadian territory isn’t exactly a “highly-sought after location,” adding that most successful wrestlers set up shop where the weather is less hostile. He says that the local markets—Calgary, Winnipeg, Edmonton, etc—are close enough to make touring possible, but spread far enough so that each market gets something different. He says that it’s most certainly a smalltime operation, and will be available through local public access stations. But his goal is to become a sustainable territory, where independent wrestlers can spend 3-4 weeks at a time.
Johnny Devine was one of the last students to pass through the historic Hart Dungeon. His instructors were Bruce and Ross Hart, who didn’t treat the school with the same respect as their father, Stu. Johnny enjoyed his time with the Hart Family and Stampede Wrestling; he says they worked regularly and performed on local television affiliates, but by 2001 the market dried up. Johnny made his pro wrestling debut on October 27, 1997 against “Gorgeous” Vinny Vegas—not to be confused with “Vinnie Vegas” AKA Kevin Nash. Colt asks what stars were on top of the promotion during those days, and Johnny admits that the company was at a loss for any talent with name recognition. He says it was all a bunch of young guys—including an Alberta native performing as “Apocalypse” and “Rick Victor.” Victor went on to become Viktor—who’s currently signed to WWE as a member of the Ascension. He also came up with other noteworthy Superstars such as Tyson Kidd and David Hart Smith. He says none of the old timers from the glory days of Stampede were around. He says, “There were no true draws. The only true draw of the stint that I did was when they brought in Sabu in 1999.” He says that—aside from the 1995 Stu Hart Tribute Show—this was the first time any recognizable talent worked in Stampede since the late ‘80s.
Johnny was a wrestling fan growing up, adding that he didn’t have much of a choice growing up in Calgary. His mother began taking him to the local Stampede Wrestling events when he was just four years old, and followed the business throughout his teenage years. His favorite wrestler was Owen Hart, with the British Bulldogs coming in as a close second. Colt makes mention that the Hart Family—along with the Bulldogs—were Gods in Canada, similar to the Von Erich’s legacy in Texas. He and his mother moved to Manitoba British Columbia, where he earned his high school education, and relocated to the United States soon-there-after. Johnny promoted his first show at just 19 years old; he and his friends borrowed a ring from a local promotor in Winnipeg. Neither Johnny, nor any of his friends, were trained wrestlers. The promotor sent a local journeyman along with the ring, who taught the group of twelve teenagers how to bump. They drew nearly 400 people, and donated the money to local charities. Johnny served in the Canadian infantry from 1994 to 1997. During this time, he was stationed back in Calgary, and that’s when he met Bret “The Hitman” Hart.
Colt asks how Johnny Devine broke out on his own, when other students remain stranded in Stampede. Johnny says that he was one of just a few guys that were willing to make the sacrifices necessary to succeed. He says the Stampede wrestlers are now—and were then—“Geographically Castrated.” He says that they’re “cut off from the rest of the world,” and Colt says the same thing for California. Colt says, “I can drive for eight hours and I’m still in California. Meanwhile, I can drive eight hours from here and hit Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio.” Johnny says that he took regular trips to Thunder Bay—a 20 hour drive—for $50 payoffs. He says that he and his riding crew—which included Viktor from the Ascension—were the “worst type of green,” because they didn’t have any veterans to show them the ropes. He says they would’ve given anything for a sound piece of advice. He adds that they finally received words of wisdom from Stampede legend, and world class Judoka, Bad News Allen AKA Bad News Brown. Johnny broke free from the Western Canadian circuit by networking, and was willing to work anywhere that he was booked. He traveled to Qikiqtaaluk—the northernmost inhabited city in North America—and spent days driving from town to town. He says that while touring the Nunavut region of the country, he actually swam in the Arctic Ocean. He says that one of the goals on his bucket list is to swim in every ocean and sea on the planet.
Colt asks Johnny when he caught his first break in the business, and Johnny says it was when the Hart Family brought in Scott D’Amore. He and Scott “hit it off right away,” and continued working together for various promotions throughout Canada. He spent a year on the shelf due to atrophy in his arm, and was told by doctors that he should never lift again. He made a comeback and returned to Stampede, and went on a subsequent three city tour with D’Amore. While on tour, Johnny wrestled Petey Williams, Jerry Lynn, Chris Sabin, and Tyler Black AKA Seth Rollins. Johnny’s relationship with Scott D’Amore, as well as the aforementioned talent, lead to a gig with the newly created Total Nonstop Action. He was brought in as part of D’Amore’s “Team Canada,” alongside the likes of Williams, Bobby Roode, and Eric Young. He says the original plan was to create a “Canadian Four Horsemen.”
Colt asks Johnny about the scar on his stomach. Johnny was living in Nashville, and was out for a night on the town. He was traveling between bars with Andy Douglas, when a car full of guys started harassing the women they were with. They all pulled into a parking lot, and a brutal fight ensued. It was a four on two situation and Johnny says, “Me and Andy did well for ourselves, but we didn’t have a knife.” Colt asks if Johnny is a “scrapper,” and he replies, “We beat the horseshit out of those kids. I thought I killed one of them. I used to fight a lot.” Johnny says that—where he grew up in Northern Manitoba—there “weren’t a lot of white kids.” He shows Colt his knuckles, which are covered in scars and teeth marks. Getting back to the story at hand, Johnny continues, “They were toothpick young punks, eighteen or nineteen whatever. I was SURE I killed one of them, because as I was punching one kid on the ground—who was in fact STABBING me—I didn’t even know it. The adrenaline kicked in. His buddy came over and put me in a headlock, so I suplexed him on his head in the parking lot. He started coughing up [blood], and I kicked him until he stopped breathing. I was sure I killed that kid.” Colt asks if Johnny was okay with the fact that he might have killed someone, and Johnny said, “Well you have to understand, at this point it’s four-on-two. My training is not to hurt people, it’s to put them out of the fight.” Colt asks, “You mean your military training or wrestling?” Johnny responds, “Military. A fight’s a fight—wrestling’s wrestling. If somebody F’s with you in real life, you’re defending your life—period. If someone pulls a gun on you, make them eat that gun. If I’d have known that kid was stabbing me, I would have gone to jail.” When they got into their car to leave, Andy realized he was stabbed in the leg. They headed off to the local hospital, and on the way, Johnny realized he had been stabbed as well. Doctors had to remove Johnny’s gallbladder and a foot of his lower intestines. They also sewed-up his bladder and stomach, which were each lacerated in several spots. He received somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 stitches and 70 staples; Johnny’s heart stopped for two minutes, and doctors were unsure whether he’d survive.
Johnny spent three months on the shelf, during which time Team Canada cycled through a number of short term replacements. He says that he was incredibly insulted when—just one week after the incident—WWE ran an angle where John Cena was stabbed in a nightclub. Johnny approached the high ranking brass in TNA, looking to cut a promo on John Cena, but they declined. He was finally given the chance to speak out on the situation by Bert Prentice, the promotor of USA Championship Wrestling. Johnny came out dressed like John Cena, and cut a promo in front of no more than forty people. Regardless of how many fans were in attendance, the promo got back to Cena, and has caused subsequent heat with the WWE that exists to this day. He was back in action after just three months, and wrestled AJ Styles in his return match. Colt asks if Johnny—being older and wiser now—would have waited longer before making his return. Johnny says, “It was literally retarded—and excuse that word—but I was just making poor life decisions abound when I was younger.” The conversation comes to a close. Johnny Devine is on Twitter @DungeonDevine, on Instagram @SuperHeroSweatLab, and on Facebook at Super Hero Sweat Lab.
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