Call him Eric the Great

Eric Young in 2016. (Photo by George Tahinos/SLAM! Wrestling)

Eric Young in 2016. (Photo by George Tahinos/SLAM! Wrestling)

Today, he’s one of the most well-rounded and respected pro wrestlers in the business. And he came by it honestly, starting in a smoke-filled bar in small-town Ontario as a boy.

That’s where Jeremy Fritz, better known to wrestling world as Eric Young, fell in love with the pomp and pageantry of pro wrestling.

“I grew up in really, really, rural Ontario … southwestern Ontario,” Young said over the phone from his home in Nashville ahead of his first appearance since being given his release from TNA last month. Young will travel home on May 7 to Ontario to face his best friend and fellow free agent in Peterborough’s Bobby Roode at House of Hardcore 14 in Niagara Falls.

One thing you’ll learn quickly when you speak with EY, as his friends call him, is he tells it like it is. So when he tells you he’s from really, really rural Ontario, he’s not exaggerating. “Corn fields and bean fields,” he said. “The first, I guess, five years of my life were spent in the middle of nowhere. The closest person was probably about two or three miles away (and the area had a) a population of about 80 or 90 people.”

The odds of someone from a tiny hamlet of fewer than 100 people fulfilling his dream and finding a job in one of the most notoriously difficult businesses in which to break in are astronomical. The odds of someone from middle-of-nowhere Ontario making it and then going on to become of the best at his craft, are even slimmer still. To say Young has come a long way from his farm days is a major understatement.

“There still isn’t cable where I grew up, everyone has antennas in their yards — I had eight television channels and there wasn’t wrestling on any of them,” Young said of his childhood. “My dad liked pro wrestling and a bar that was close to where we lived — it was called the Thameseville Hotel, there were no windows, it was full of smoke and a bunch of drunk construction workers and roofers — would show the pay-per-views. They had this big satellite dish and I can remember sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of a big projection screen TV and watching. I don’t even know what pay-per-view it was. I was very young, five or six years old, and watching it and I remember being just mesmerized, people yelling at the TV, and thinking, ‘Man, this is insane’ and just loving the kind of larger-than-life characters and the physicality of it and just the spectacle of the whole thing.”

Looking back on those days, Young admitted he’s not even sure his dad was an actual wrestling fan in those days.

“He never followed it, (except for) pay-per-views,” Young said. “I think it was more of an excuse to go and drink with his buddies and he could take me. He was able to go to the hotel and not get in trouble and drink with his buddies and smoke cigarettes and yell at the TV. And I was happy because I got to watch wrestling. It was a win-win for both.”

It probably didn’t hurt that his pops was a casual fan many years later when Young’s love of watching pro wrestling became what he wanted to pursue as a career.

“My parents have always been supportive,” Young said. “I can remember in high school telling them that that was what I was going to do and neither of them batted their eyes. They just said, ‘We don’t care what you do as long as you work really hard, put everything you have into it and you’re happy.’ In the end, that’s what life is and if you’re not doing something that makes you happy, or something that you’re at least passionate about, you’re wasting your time. Do something else. Anybody who’s made it in wrestling, I promise you, they went for it, and they wouldn’t have made it without it.”

Armed with his love for the business and his parents’ blessing, Young set out to pursue his dream.

“The Internet had just kind of started being a thing,” Young recalled about his early search for a wrestling school. “Just after high school, I found a school in Cambridge, Ontario, that had some decent credibility and was fairly close to home. I had (been going) back and forth with the Hart Dungeon in Calgary but they were closed, they weren’t really training guys anymore. Scott D’Amore in Windsor, he was in the process of closing his school and ended up opening it up a couple of years after I was trained.

“I started in Cambridge, Ontario, at a school there, met a bunch of cool people, was trained by Carl LeDuc, nephew of world famous Canadian wrestler Joe LeDuc. His dad was Paul LeDuc of the Canadian Lumberjacks out of Quebec (from) back in the territory days. They were huge, huge wrestling stars.”

The big name trainer was the legendary Waldo Von Erich. “(Von Erich) and Bruno Sammartino still hold the record for the longest pro wrestling match in Madison Square history at 93 minutes,” Young added, showing off his wrestling history.

Long before there were the Performance Centers and social media of the world, Young cut his teeth the old-fashioned way, by showing up early, helping set up the ring, tearing it down, cleaning up garbage and every odd job in between.

“This is going to make me sound like the old veteran guy, (but) when I started, there was no question (about young guys paying their dues),” Young said. “Those were steps that you did. There was no way around it. Social media didn’t exist. You didn’t have 4,000 followers and think that you were a worldwide wrestling star. It was different.

Eric Young in his superhero persona. (Mike Mastrandrea/SLAM! Wrestling file photo)

Eric Young in his superhero persona. (Mike Mastrandrea/SLAM! Wrestling file photo)

“Independent was much more territorial. Even just in Ontario, there were some guys who did shows out of Niagara Falls, there were some guys who did shows out of Toronto and there was Scott D’Amore, who was mostly the Windsor area. You started doing those, you made contacts and met guys. I met a guy from Indiana, then I met a guy from Pittsburgh and then you kind of branch out and it snowballs from there. You work your way up.”

And, Young said, you did what you were told.

“I can remember doing the music for Scott (D’Amore) on one of the first shows that I was ever at. And going around and collecting the guys’ CDs and even cassette tapes at that point. Honky Tonk Man had a cassette tape that I collected and he gave me very explicit instructions on when to play it and how to play it, rewind it and play it again because he was going to sing along. It was definitely a very cool experience and something that I don’t regret. I loved it. I loved just being there and being around the business and the sport of professional wrestling. It was amazing to me. It didn’t matter if I was getting paid or happen to show up early and stay late to put the ring up and take it down and put away chairs and clean up trash. Those were all things that I did and I wouldn’t change any of it.”

When he wasn’t paying his dues, Young was learning his craft. He was a quick learner.

“It happened pretty quickly for me,” Young said of his training. “I’ve said this in other interviews: I’m not good at anything. I’m rotten at life, I’m a slob, I would consider myself a pretty decent athlete and a decent actor and stuff, but pro wrestling was something that I took to right away. Literally the first week I was there, I knew that I was going to be good at it. They could show me something once and I could either already do it or I would try it once and be able to do it. And I was obsessed, absolutely obsessed. All I did was watch tapes and DVDs and then at 6 p.m., we were allowed to get in the ring and at 11, we had to be out because there were apartments next to the gym that I was training. So at 6 p.m., I would roll into the ring and at 11 o’clock they would come in and kick me out. And that was five days a week, sometimes six days a week.”

Young put his entire life on hold to master his craft.

“Some of the guys who were training would go home and visit family on the weekend and stuff and I would stay, sleep in the ring, or sleep in someone’s (spare) bed. We would set up cameras and do mock Iron Man matches. I just wanted to be able to do everything. I wanted to learn every bump, how to give every move, how to do every hold. I just studied and worked and basically, within three or four months, I was ready. I had my very match was in Benton Harbor, Michigan, on a show with Dan Severn. I remember it literally like it was yesterday.”

The next half dozen years for Young were spent cutting his teeth and making the necessary sacrifices in the name of passion.

“I was a weekend warrior for six or seven years,” he said. “I had a regular job, I did whatever I had to do to buy my spandex pants and buy my boots and drive six hours in one direction to make $50 and not sleep and sleep in my car and sleep in a hotel room with nine other guys. It’s madness. Some of the best years of my life were spent during independent wrestling and making no money eating 10 cans of 70 cent Imperial tuna on the East Coast because that’s all that I could afford. I love that. That kind of stuff has made me into who I am and made me appreciate what I have.”

Eric Young in 2006. Photo by Bob Kapur/SLAM! Wrestling

Eric Young in 2006. Photo by Bob Kapur/SLAM! Wrestling

Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before the talented young Canadian found full-time work with Total Nonstop Action, where he signed his first professional contract and where he spent the next dozen years emerging as one of the best in the business.

“It’s crazy to think 12 years, man,” Young said of his time with TNA, which came to an end when he and Roode asked for, and were granted, their unconditional releases from the company.

The TNA memories are too many to count for Young, but signing that first contract and winning the world title remain among his most cherish memories from some of the best years of his life.

“Winning the world title, that’s probably the biggest thing for me,” Young said. “Anyone who says they got into wrestling and didn’t want that to happen for them, they’re lying to you or they’re in it for the wrong reasons. I never got in to wrestling to be on television or to be famous or to make money. Those are all things that come with the territory. Those are things that come with being a successful professional wrestler. Those were never reasons that I got into wrestling. I got into wrestling because I loved it.”

His first deal is one he’ll never, ever forget.

“The biggest day in my career was the day I signed my first contact,” Young said. “That was the day that I could go to somebody and say, ‘I’m a professional wrestler.’ If you’re not making a living at it, you’re not.”

Though a veteran of the business, Young feels he’s only just hitting his stride.

“I’ve wrestled on TV for 10 years and have been doing it for a living for 12 years — and I’m not even close to being done,” he said. “I’m considered experienced and an old-ish wrestler, but I’m not old.”

There was a significant detour into comedic characters that result in a lot less wear and tear on the body. “I took an eight-year vacation doing the Super Eric stuff, the funny stuff and the paranoid stuff,” he said. “I’m 36 now, but physically I’m in my prime. I don’t ache, I don’t hurt.”

Young signed that intial deal alongside, you guessed it, Roode.

“Signing that first contract, that was the biggest for me,” he said. “And I did it beside my best friend Bobby Roode, in the dark at the fairgrounds in Nashville, and 12 years later, we got our releases within five minutes of each other and stepped into the free agent market at the same time. That’s special to me.”

Young speaks proudly of his body of work in TNA, where he was a main player for most of his stint.

“I’m a fate person. I believe in fate, I believe in destiny and everything happens for a reason. I loved my time at TNA and I wouldn’t trade it. None of it. I’ve seen the card from every angle. I’ve been the first match, the second. I’ve been in the popcorn match, I’ve wrestled girls, been a superhero, been the world champion, tag champion, X Division champion, TV champion, King of the Mountain Global … whatever. I’ve done it all and I love that I’ve done it all and I’ve done it all at a very, very high level and nobody can say that I didn’t.”

While both Young and Roode have been linked to World Wrestling Entertainment, with Roode even appearing in the crowd at NXT Takeover in Dallas, the Canadian duo will next appear together in Niagara Falls at House of Hardcore 14, which is part of the Mindi O Fitness Extravaganza on May 7. They’ll be doing so for one of their best friends Tommy Dreamer, whom Young calls a mentor as well.

Young recalled meeting Dreamer in both WWE at tryouts and at TNA, where Dreamer also worked, but his first memories of Dreamer date back to his days when he was simply a fan.

Eric Young during Impact Wrestling's world tour in Montreal in 2011. (SLAM! Wrestling file photo)

Eric Young during Impact Wrestling’s world tour in Montreal in 2011. (SLAM! Wrestling file photo)

“I remember watching ECW as a fan,” Young said. “I bought tickets to Heatwave ’98 and I started watching it in ’96-97. I had a satellite dish and we would get it on Sun Sports … and I remember thinking, ‘My god, this guy is amazing. He has these people eating out of his hands and he’s over and he’s popular with the people.’ Part of it is because people could see that he is a good guy and has a good heart, but the biggest thing is he’s a pro. He knows exactly what to do and when to do it and I’ve always thought that about it.”

There is an adage that recommends not meeting your heroes for fear of them not living up to your giant expectations. Such was not the case with Dreamer, Young said.

“I met him and I proved myself right. He’s one of the smart guys in pro wrestling. If I ever have a question, if I’m putting something together or I don’t agree with something or I want to change something, he was always the guy I’d go to first and I’d run it by him. His opinion is worth its weight in gold because he knows what to do. He’s a pro and he’s one of my best friends in wrestling.”

Young not only got to meet his hero, but he’s also fought with and against him.

“I love sharing the ring with him. It’s an absolute honour. I’ve worked him overseas, I’ve worked him at House of Hardcore, in singles and tag. I fought Tommy Dreamer in a falls count anywhere match in ECW Arena. That’s pretty intense. He’s a special guy.”

Young is excited to make his House of Hardcore return, and to make his first HOH appearance in Canada, having missed last summer’s Toronto debut.

“Really good independent shows like that are hard to come by. It’s hard to call that independent. I know he had a deal with Fight Network and he’s got a pretty large distribution for DVDs and stuff, so it’s pretty high level. It’s the best of the best. It’s guys who have contracts that allow them to do other shows, like me and Bobby and (Austin) Aries, Frankie Kazarian and (Christopher) Daniels and Rhyno and The Machine Guns and the Young Bucks. If you’ve got a name for yourself in pro wrestling right now and not signed to an exclusive deal, you’re working on those shows. And you love working on those shows because you know it’s going to be great. You know guys are going to work hard and you know that Tommy’s going to do things right, treat you right and the atmosphere, it gives you goosebumps. Being in that kind of an atmosphere and being part of something like that, that’s why I got into wrestling. It’s very, very rewarding professionally and personally.”

And while there remains the possibility that Young and Roode will both land somewhere and work together once again, it’s not a guarantee. The match in Niagara Falls could be the last time the two share a ring for some time.

Young praised his near lifelong friend.

“He’s my best friend,” he said of Roode. “He’s the guy I’ve rode with the most. I’ve never stayed with anyone else on the road. That’s it. He’s the guy. He’s my road wife. He’s a great guy. Personally, we’re two different people. He’s got a family and kids and still lives in Canada and is very involved in the community. I don’t have kids. I’m married and have a family, but it’s dogs. We’re different that way, but we both look at wrestling the exact same way.”

Young believes Roode deserves everything he’s got coming to him.

“He’s the best wrestler in the world right now,” Young said. “Our careers have paralleled each other in a lot of ways. He obviously ascended to the top before I did, much deserved. You’re not going to convince me there’s a better professional wrestler in the world today. Not anywhere. Not in any country, not in any promotion. He’s the best.”

Bobby Roode and Eric Young.

Bobby Roode and Eric Young.

Young said the opportunity to face his friend at home, with Toronto’s Jimmy Korderas as referee, in what could be their final match, is very special.

“It’s an honour for me to share a ring with that guy,” he said. “It’s going to be awesome. May 7th is going to be something special. First time on Canadian soil, both of us coming back for the first time. Both of us free agents, not knowing where we’re going to end up. It’s exciting and terrifying. I’m looking forward to that one. It’s going to be a special night.”

After that match, anything is possible, Young said.

“I’m keeping things open. Right now, it’s a possibility for me for sure,” he said of the chance of him ending up in WWE. “Japan is a thing that I’m looking at and interested. There are a couple of promotions here that I’ve never had the chance to work for that I would like to work for, here, Stateside, that have some television deals and stuff. I’m kind of keeping it open right now.”

Young isn’t sure what his future looks like, but he has no qualms with looking back at his legacy to date.

“It’s kind of cool being the chubby kid from Ontario who kind of got himself in shape — I’m not the tallest or the biggest or anything — but I kind of hold my fate in my hands. I get to choose and not a lot of guys get that opportunity in pro wrestling. Don’t mince my words. I’ve earned it. There’s no way around that, and I don’t think that I haven’t earned it. That’s not cockiness, that’s confidence. I’ve done it all in pro wrestling and I’ve proven I can do it all and that’s what I intend on doing in the future. If it’s for WWE, if it’s in NXT, if it’s Lucha Underground, if it’s New Japan, if it’s Triple A, if it’s Ring of Honor, whoever that is, they’re going to get 100% effort like I have done my whole career in whatever role they want. You want me to make your people laugh? I’ll do it. You want me to make them hate me? I’ll do that too. You want me to beat the shit of someone? I’ll do that. You want them to beat the shit out me? Nobody does that better than me. It’s an exciting time for me. It’s terrifying. This is the first time since I was 16 years old that I’ve been unemployed but I’ve got options and the future looks really good for me.”

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