Cruisin’ for a bruisin’? Don’t bother waiting for WrestleMania. There’s plenty of gut-churning, turnbuckle action right here in the Prairies.
Winnipeg Pro Wrestling (WPW), one of the city’s hot spots for raw, smackdown-type action, is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year. The roster of wrestlers features both local and international talent.
“Our mission is to bring top-level competition and athletes to Winnipeg to compete in a professional wrestling ring for championships and pride and glory,” Devin Bray, booker, co-owner and co-founder of WPW, says.
“We also aim to have a really diverse lineup, so that includes women and People of Colour and LGBTQ wrestlers. We’re just looking to have a more equitable and diverse lineup.”
WPW had its inauspicious origins after a group of Bray’s friends visited Los Angeles for some big-league wrestling but were ultimately inspired by the city’s less-ambitious exploits.
“They went to an event called Bar Wrestling and were really impressed with that particular show. It was something that maybe we could replicate here. Since then, our scope has grown a lot,” Bray says.
After debuting at the Sherbrook Inn in 2018, the league sought more room to rumble.
“When we wanted to try something bigger, we found the West End Cultural Centre, and it just sort of went from there. Now we’re kind of branching out into different venues,” Bray says.
He refers to the upcoming and sold-out Fight at the Museum on April 18 at the Manitoba Museum, an event that WPW is touting as their biggest show yet.
“With the museum, we just wanted to branch out somewhere that had a little more of a capacity but keep that unique sort of aesthetic we’ve really worked hard to have,” he says.
AJ Larocque, a wrestler, DJ and entertainer, is among the event’s participants. Wrestling under the stage name AJ Sanchez, he was the first-ever WPW champion, utilizing the “low blow” as his signature move in the ring.
“I’ve been with WPW since the inception, and I’ve been involved in the local scene for about 21 years now,” Larocque says.
“It’s been fantastic. The guys, they’ve got a real family-type atmosphere. As a performer, my favourite part is just being able to be in the centre of the ring or on the stage and commanding everybody’s attention.”
Bray believes the WPW continues the city’s longtime tradition of professional wrestling greatness and hopes to pay homage to those who’ve blazed a trail.
“With wrestling, there’s sort of inherent tradition and respect for those who pave the way. There’s always been independent wrestling in Winnipeg at community centres and bars. That’s where Chris Jericho got his start,” Bray says.
“They had a thing called the American Wrestling Association, and that was top names like Ric Flair and Andre the Giant, these massive shows at the Winnipeg Arena. It’s always fluctuated up and down, and I think wrestling in general is hitting another hot period right now.”
And while they’re more than happy to carry the torch, the greatest reward comes from sharing their love for the sport.
“A lot of people who aren’t even wrestling fans come to these shows. To make lifelong fans at these shows has been really special for (those of) us who were always lifelong fans. It’s showing them what we love about it,” Bray says.
Published in Volume 77, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 16, 2023)