From heels to good guys: A look at the Okanagan pro wrestling scene - InfoNews

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From heels to good guys: A look at the Okanagan pro wrestling scene

Danni Deeds takes Chucky Lee Ray through the ropes at a Thrash Wrestling show.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Thrash Wrestling
April 03, 2019 - 2:00 PM

Most people practice yoga to clear their minds or stay limber; Dave Gibbs does it to get people to boo him.

"I do yoga in the middle of the ring," he said.

Gibbs is a professional wrestler who performs across the Okanagan under the moniker "Your Spiritual Guru" Davey Deals. He riles crowds up by preaching a condescending philosophy of enlightenment, often engaging the audience through comedy. He enjoys playing the bad guy.

"My favourite part is taking people away from their reality," he said.

Dave Gibbs stretches out in front of a wrestling crowd.
Dave Gibbs stretches out in front of a wrestling crowd.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Your "Spiritual Guru" Davey Deals

Gibbs is one of dozens of wrestlers and promoters hustling to elevate the Okanagan wrestling scene. They've steadily expanded their live shows across the area by relying on tireless promotion, fan support, and the hard work of a local roster of talent.

Nick Szalanski, like many pro wrestling fans, laid the smackdown on his friends in backyard wrestling rings. In 2007, he took his fandom to the masses, running professional shows under the Thrash Wrestling banner. He aims to run one-to-two shows a month throughout the Okanagan. He's watched the scene grow in the last decade as word of mouth has spread. According to him, many of their shows are packed to capacity.

"[The scene] seems to be pretty healthy right now," he said.

Marty Solotki, a fellow promoter of Big West Wrestling, which started in 2011, agrees Okanagan wrestling is in good shape. They were able to put on a show last month at the Royal Canadian Legion in Osoyoos, a location they hadn't performed in since 2013. He credits his wrestlers for pounding the pavement to promote the show and the fans for spreading the word.

"We were helped in Osoyoos by fans on the ground," he said.

Wrestling is such a hot ticket item that Szalanski is planning to expand past the Okanagan this May. For the first time in 10 years, Thrash Wrestling will put on a show in Kamloops. Szalanski admits he wasn't financially prepared for a Kamloops show 10 years ago, but thanks to fan support and a dedicated roster, he's ready to give it a shot.

Despite all the positive developments for Okanagan wrestling, Szalanski and Solotki admit there does seem to be a ceiling for their promotions. Szalanski says his company can sell out community halls day and night, but Thrash Wrestling isn't ready to occupy big arenas. 

"It's difficult to find the right sized venue," he said.

Solotki said there's a big price leap from 100-300 person community halls to larger venues. He said a great night can pull in $2,000 for the company, but if a venue costs $1,000 or more, it doesn't make financial sense to run a show there. Thrash and Big West can subsist on consistently full smaller venues, but larger spots in the Okanagan would help them grow.

Mike Chisholm is the co-founder of Invasion Championship Wrestling, which primarily runs charity wrestling shows. He said they've raised over $200,000 in the past five years for numerous charities, often attracting hundreds of people to their shows, which are held twice a year. Chisholm thinks the Okanagan wrestling scene has grown tremendously in the past decade.

"I don't think we've ever had an indie wrestling scene this strong," he said.

Invasion Championship Wrestling often relies on guest stars for its shows; big name talents like Mick Foley who used to work with World Wrestling Entertainment. The touring group Canadian Wrestling Elite, which often comes through the Okanagan, employs a similar strategy. While Thrash and Big West have used big names in the past, they prefer to rely on their own talent to put butts in seats.

"Sometimes wrestling itself is the draw," Solotki said. "A lot of the big names provide diminishing returns. It leads to a lot of headaches."

"You've got to rely more on local talent," Szalanski said.

Ryan Greenacre is one of those local talents who've pushed the wrestling scene forward. In the ring he plays a flamboyant heel character he describes as "very TMZ." Outside the squared circle he works with his fellow wrestlers to get attention for upcoming shows. Despite the feuds that play out between the ropes, Greenacres says the wrestling community is a tight-knit group.

"It's a team effort," he said. "Everyone is friendly and accepting."

Local wrestlers are the life-blood of the Okanagan scene and Solotki plans to keep his company's feet on the ground. With the general upswing of the wrestling business, it can be tempting to take a show on a road tour of Canada. Solotki says that's out of the question.

"Touring across Canada is not viable," he said. "It's exhausting and there are no financial guarantees."

Solotki says the wrestling business is cyclical, meaning it goes through waves of popularity. He'd prefer to have a strong base in the Okanagan when the inevitable downturn starts than to have a large territory spread too thin.

Big West is taking April off, the first month they haven't held any shows in five years. Lake City Bowling, a constant venue for Big West, just closed its doors this month, serving as a reminder that no venue is permanent.

Promoters and wrestlers will continue to focus of strengthening the local scene and improving their craft. For wrestlers like Greenacre and Gibbs, that means finding new ways to make crowds boo them.

"Getting that reaction is like an addiction," Greenacre said.

Thrash Wrestling will have shows at Vernon's Schubert Centre on Apr. 26 and Penticton's Luso Multicultural Hall on Apr. 27. Big West Wrestling will be part of the 60th Annual Rutland May Days at the Rutland Centennial Hall on May 17. Check out a full list of upcoming wrestling shows here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Sean Mott or call (250) 864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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