NOTE: Originally published in the Kingston Whig-Standard on July 2, 2011. All rights reserved.
Tommy Dreamer’s last trip through Kingston was forgettable, to say the least.
The legendary hardcore wrestler who has dominated his craft for the likes of Extreme Championship Wrestling, WWE Inc. and Total Non-Stop Action, last came through these parts following a WWE pay-per-view in Montreal.
Following the pay-per-view, WWE Inc. talent were required to travel to Toronto for a live Monday Night Raw.
“We had to drive to Toronto the next day for Raw,” Dreamer explained over the phone. “As we were doing that drive — I was with Dolph Ziggler — and there were a bunch of police cars way back down the road (behind us).
“I’m like, ‘oh, let me just move to the side of the road while these police officers are barrelling down the highway. I guess something’s wrong.’ Then two cops pulled in front of me, a cop to the side of me and two cops behind me. And I was like ‘I guess I was doing something wrong.’ ”
He doesn’t remember the exact spot along Hwy. 401 where he was pulled over, but it was an encounter he’ll not soon forget.
“It was right in between Kingston and Toronto,” he said. “I guess I was speeding. I did not know because of the whole miles-per-hour/kilometres-per-hour thing,” he said, adding it was a brand new rent-a-car the wrestlers were driving.” Those from these parts who spend any time travelling Hwy. 401 westbound are familiar with the speed traps that often are present when passing through the Napanee area.
“They got me for stunt driving and they impounded my rental car, they took my driver’s licence, I got my driver’s licence suspended,” he revealed. “I had to get a hotel, I had to get another rental … The last time I was in that area, it cost me about $3,000 to $4,000.
It didn’t end there, however. “The best was the police officers were very, very nice. I signed autographs, took pictures and they still gave me the ticket. I know the area very well. It cost me a whole lot of money.”
Kingston wrestling fans have a chance to make it up to Dreamer a little next month when he returns to the area for Ontario Championship Wrestling’s Superclash, featuring Dreamer and former WWE Inc. superstars Sean (X-Pac) Waltman and Kip (Billy Gunn) Sopp.
Dreamer will compete in a match with OCW heavyweight champion Harley Davison.
Hardcore is Dreamer’s specialty, going all the way back to his ECW days. ECW was a professional wrestling promotion that was founded in Philadelphia in 1992 and lasted through April 2001.
The company became known for its loyal fan base as well as its tendency to push the envelope with storylines. It was later purchased by WWE Inc.
For Dreamer, the demise of the original ECW was a tough pill to swallow.
“ECW was one of the best times of my career,” he said. “It’s what defined me, it’s what made me. When it went out of business, it was devastating. We had come so close. I really thought that, at the time, we would have made it. Looking back at it, you didn’t realize how much it would actually change the wrestling industry.”
The Yonkers, N.Y., native was trained by WWE Hall of Famer Johnny (Rodz) Rodriguez, who instilled a work ethic into Dreamer that fans still enjoy today.
“He had a job in WWE for close to 30 years,” Dreamer said of Rodriguez. “He was the tester. When the guys came into the WWF at the time, he would go back and tell Vince senior that you know, ‘ Hey this guy was good, or this guy wasn’t.’ ”
Rodriguez taught his protege to always be professional and always, no matter what, work hard. He set the tone for those he mentored.
“I remember when he would train me, he was always very into basics and technique. He was older when he trained me, but he would get in the ring. He wrestled in WWF with Damien Demento at the time. He trained him. He would get in the with him for an hour. And then Bill DeMott for 45 minutes, then Taz for a half hour and then me for 15 minutes, non-stop. He never got out of the ring and he would have matches that long with all of us.”
“I’ve had hour-long matches. He was a machine. I recently just saw him and he told me he was very, very proud of my success.”
Though Dreamer has found success at every wrestling promotion at which he has worked, it didn’t come easily. He worked extremely hard to earn it.
“I kind of look at myself as though maybe I wasn’t supposed to make it … I’m six foot two, 250 pounds, but back when I was first starting, that was considered small,”Dreamer said. “WWF and WCW were land of the giants and in ECW, I was first a pretty boy, but I was always tough and I feel hard work and passion will pay off. You hear a lot of success stories that way. I never gave up. That’s kind of been my motto forever. I just keep on plugging away and hopefully good things happen — and they did.”
For a guy who questioned whether he belonged, he’s certainly left some indellable marks in wrestling history.
He was the first person in wrestling history to kick out of Jimmy (Superfly) Snuka’s Superfly Splash.
“There are definitely a lot of defining moments in my career,” he admitted. “That was one. The Sandman caning me was another. Me piling driving Beulah (McGillicutty) and stepping from the ring into the crowd and people chanting ECW. I’ve been blessed with a great career but those are defining moments that helped make the manTommy Dreamer.”
He was surprised to learn he is also the only wrestler to hold the ECW heavyweight title before and after WWE Inc. owned the company.
Early in his career, Dreamer struggled to find his niche, breaking in as a babyface (good guy, in wrestling terms).
“In the early days of ECW, the fans liked my wrestling ability and I was labelled the pretty boy,” he said. “It was Taz who went to Paul E. (Paul Heyman, a.k.a. Paul E. Dangerously) and said ‘hey, this kid is very tough.’ And then I took some of the early Taz suplexes … he would just dump me on my head and I would get up. I guess I kind of was put into the hardcore (ranks) under (trial by) fire.
“Paul E. had envisioned me as pretty much Bruce Willis in Die Hard, where he was a regular guy who was always put in these extreme circumstances. You know, whether you had to blow up a building or run across glass barefoot just to get to the next part of the movie.”
If you’ve never seen a Tommy Dreamer match, they are not for the faint of heart. He’s tough. Real tough.
He’s been caned, cut, smashed, thrown, run down, pounded, dropped and beaten, over and over, just to name a few.
Surprisingly, he’s never been under the knife outside of the squared circle.
“I’ve never had a surgery, but I’ve broken my neck, I’ve broken my back, I’ve broken my nose four times,” he said. “I’ve had tonnes of concussions. I’ve paid the price. I have burns on my body, scars everywhere.”
“When I broke my neck I didn’t know I broke my neck and I wrestled for another four months,” he revealed. “Your body naturally heals itself.
For Dreamer though, it’s part of the only business he has ever known.
“I grew up a wrestling and I’m gonna die a wrestling fan.”
These days, Dreamer is working indepedent shows, like the one at the Invista Centre on July 23. And he couldn’t be happier.
“I really, really enjoy going to different towns and seeing people,” Dreamer said. “You get to talk with them. Most people just thank you or tell you stuff you don’t even remember. It’s really, really cool. You still get to see the world, travel and get paid to do it. That’s how I started.
“It’s also a way for me to scout who is the future of the business and to try to help them along. When I was in TNA, I did that for a few people and got them hired in the company. I did that in WWE too. It’s a good way to also give back to the business.”
If Kingston fans are worried at all about Dreamer holding anything back, fear not.
“I have a motto,” Dreamer explained. “I kind of wrestle every single match like it’s my last because one day I know it will be. I go, and always have, I go full blown. I don’t care if it is at WrestleMania with 73,000 people or if it is 73 people. I go all out. That’s been my style and that will always be my style.”
One thing is certain, however, and that’s that Dreamer will be catching a lift into Kingston on July 23.
“I will not be driving,” he said.