Campbell River’s Mike Becherer, like many kids growing up in the 1980s – the boys, at least – got hooked on professional wrestling at a relatively early age.
“It was great,” Becherer says, sitting on the edge of a ring at the Navy League Hall on 13th Avenue. “It was the Hulk Hogan era, and we’d build little rings in our back yards with poles in the ground and put ropes around them, and make up characters, and our parents were all, ‘what the hell are they doing?’” he says with a laugh.
One of those kids from the backyard eventually went off to Ontario to attend a wrestling school in Ontario, “and I was all, ‘Wait, you can actually do something with this?’ So when I graduated, I phoned him up, and he said it was worth it, so off I went, too,” Becherer says.
After two years of training, he opened a school out there himself, too.
“It was going okay,” but he wanted to get home.
So he came back to the Island a few years ago, joined up with Vancouver Island Pro Wrestling, and went on tour with them while he figured how to make something work in Campbell River.
That dream became a reality in March when he opened the Campbell River Pro Wrestling Academy.
He’s been setting up a ring in the Navy League Hall every Friday morning, tearing it down Wednesday nights for the Cadets to use the hall on Thursdays, and then doing it all over again Friday mornings for the past four weeks – and he couldn’t be happier about it.
“I dreamed about this as a kid,” he says. “Wrestling is my life, and now, I get to be where I want to be to live it.”
There’s no set schedule for how the school runs, because he works it on more of a “membership” basis, where students pay $150 to register and a $100 per month membership fee – and then come as often as they want.
“The Navy League has been fantastic to let us in here so much at a really good rate. They’re making it so I can do it, really,” he says.
Nolan Clark comes down from Sayward, “as many days a week as I can,” he says, flipping is long hair out of his face, beaming after an afternoon practice session with Becherer.
“I love wrestling,” he says. “I grew up watching it and wanting to do it, and, being from Sayward, there was really just no opportunity to do this, and I never thought there would be. And then all of a sudden Mike showed up, and I started helping out with shows and eventually started training with him, and now he’s got this school. It’s fantastic.”
Becherer says there was an understandable drop in wrestling’s popularity when “the cat got let out of the bag about the matches being predetermined. People started looking at it as ‘fake,’” he says.
Then Mixed Martial Arts began gaining in popularity, because people saw it as a “real” alternative to wrestling, Becherer says.
“So we have to do our best to bring back the magic,” Becherer says.
And the small independent wrestling organizations like his are are doing that pretty effectively, he says.
“Some small groups are getting 150 people out to watch in small towns, which is pretty awesome. Some of the bigger ones are pulling 1,500 people for some events.”
And he attributes that to the audience interaction – the “suspension of disbelief” factor and theatricality of what they do. It’s not just a fake fight, Becherer says, it’s theatre, and when it works, it’s extremely engaging for those who are watching.
While it’s not just a fake fight, Becherer says, it’s not just theatre, either. There is also a ton of athleticism involved.
“We have to work hard on the technique of our craft,” he says. “You can learn how to do it really well so it’s safe for everyone – and to minimize the pains you have at night,” he laughs again. “But when you come off that top rope,” he pauses to think of how to say it, “well, let’s say no matter how perfectly or properly you do it, it’s not going to tickle.”
If a match is too choreographed, he says, it takes the audience out of the moment, so there’s an aspect of improvisation, as well.
“We’re not making a match for ourselves, we’re making a match for the people who came to see it. We can’t do a ‘rehearsal’ so to speak, because if we come out and they’re not interested in what we’re doing … well, the whole point of doing this is to let people come out after a long week of work, sit back and enjoy what we’re doing, and be a part of it, as well.”
Anyone who wants to see what they do should watch for the ring to pop up at various locations around town in the coming months.
“We’re going to have a show at Salmon Fest, which will be great,” Becherer says, “and we’re also thinking we might try to set one up for Canada Day.”
And there’s an event happening at the Navy League Hall on April 30.
A front row seat will cost you $20 to watch this month’s event, with general admission tickets going for $15.
Youth tickets are $10 in advance, but pay general admission price at the door.
Tickets can be purchased at Fitness Etc on Dogwood Street. Kids five and under are free.
“It’s going to be a great show,” Becherer says. “We’ve got some mainlanders coming over, along with some guys from down Island coming up, and it’s just going to be a great time.”
For more information on the school or to be informed about upcoming events, check them out on Facebook by searching “PWA Canada Wrestling” or visit pwacanada.com
Student Nolan Clark plays “the bad guy” as Mike Becherer struggles to free himself from the ropes during a training session at the Navy League Hall.