NOTE: Originally published in The Kingston Whig-Standard on June 25, 2011. All rights reserved.
Kingston and area wrestling fans will get a chance to turn back the clock to the 1990s, the heady days of WWE Inc., next month thanks to local wrestling promotion Ontario Championship Wrestling.
OCW, as it is known, is taking its act from the Power Play Centre to the much larger Invista Centre for a July 23 show that will feature three former WWE superstars.
Two of the founding members of the wildy popular D-Generation X, Sean (X-Pac) Waltman and Kip (Billy Gunn) Sopp will headline, along with hardcore legend Tommy Dreamer.
Though none have graced a WWE Inc. ring in years, all are very much still involved with the business, all are modern legends and all are Kingston-bound in a month.
OCW owner Roy Demerchant, for one, is thrilled to have the former WWE talent coming to Kingston.
“They’re WWE wrestlers, they’re TNA (Total Non-Stop Action) wrestlers, they stand out. They’re great performers and Kingston deserves to see great performers wrestle in bigger events and bigger arenas,” Demerchant said.
The 47-year-old Sopp, who formed one half of one of the greatest tag teams of all time, the New Age Outlaws, with longtime partner and friend Brian (Road Dogg) James, is still very much involved in the business he still loves.
“I work part time, when I’m at home, at a sports specific training centre, Champions,” he said over the phone this week from Florida. “It’s not like a Golds or anything like that. It’s all personalized training. It’s all sports specific. We train a lot of the high school kids, football, baseball, a lot of girls softball and things like that. I love it.”
In fact, it isn’t long into the conversation before it becomes very apparent that Sopp thrives on teaching.
“A lot of kids nowadays playing sports are injury prone because they don’t have a lot of stability,” Sopp said. They don’t have a lot of core stability, they don’t have a lot of leg stability. It’s a lot of working on injury prevention, a lot of conditioning, foot speed, getting faster. Things I never had when I was a kid. My boys come here and they love it. Every kid that we have here improves almost 100%.”
When he’s not working with future athletes, he’s still bumping and entertaining inside a squared circle somewhere.
“I work every weekend,” he said. “There are a lot of people running indy shows — appearances here and there. I still love it, so as long as I still love it, I want to keep doing it. (And) as long as my body will let me do it.”
Sopp gets as much enjoyment out of teaching aspiring wrestlers as he does teaching young athletes.
“I’m really into the training and helping more,” he said, adding that he does miss being involved with WWE Inc. “A lot of indy shows I go to, of course the only thing I ever hear is ‘will you watch my match,’ ‘will you watch my match?’ I love doing that. I love when people acknowledge or think that I know enough that I can watch them and actually help them, whether it’s a little bit or a lot. I really love teaching.”
Anyone who would question Sopp’s knowledge really may not appreciate the legacy the man carved out. At the time of his release from WWE Inc. in Novemeber 2004, he was the third-longest tenured superstar in the company, behind only the legendary Undertaker and Shawn Michaels.
Sopp was asked if he’s ever looked back and realized how significant his place in WWE history is. He paused.
“No I really don’t,” he said after a few seconds.
“I’m extremely glad that I was part of that and that I had a partner and people around me that we could reach that level. I guess the only thing I really think of, is that when people look back, or think about me, that I just did the best that I could. It really wasn’t all about me. It was about making other people good, or helping other people, or that at least my work was good and not crappy.”
While Sopp hasn’t given consideration to his place in WWE lore, he does believe there is a place for him — and James and Waltman — among the WWE legends in the WWE Hall of Fame.
“I think we do. I still think we have a place up there to work, not work wrestling-wise, but work to help the younger guys coming up,” he added, referring to the WWE. “Do I think we deserve the hall of fame? Yeah, of course we do.”
It’s hard to argue that, particularly in Sopp’s case.
After all, he is a 10-time WWE tag team champion, a two-time WWE hardcore champion, a former Intercontinental champion and the 1999 King of the Ring. He was successful as a tag-team wrestler as well as a singles competitor.
He fully believes that he can bring back an element of fun to WWE Inc., something he feels is lacking today. And with the recent return of 1990s stars like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin to WWE programming, Sopp’s return could be inevitable.
“People are not really interested in that show too much,” he said, referring to WWE’s flagship program, Monday Night Raw. “I don’t want to say that for a fact, but there are really no stand-out guys. I mean, how long has John Cena been carrying that company? Forever.
“They’re trying to get some of these guys back that the older generation, or the ’90s generation, wants to see. There is really nobody on that show anymore that they want to see who is really a standout. Face it, The Rock, Stone Cold, DX, not only was it the wrestling, but it was the skits, or the attitude and all of that. They were just fun to watch. Not only the wrestling part, but the funny stuff. You never knew what we were going to do. They tuned in every Monday night just to see what kind of silly s–t we were going to pull off.”
While Sopp would welcome a return to the WWE — “I do miss it, I really do actually” — he also acknowledges that he burned some bridges when he was released.
“At the time, when I got released, of course I was p—-d. Everybody knows it because of all the video stuff I released,” he said, referring to interviews he granted at the time during which he expressed his anger at the WWE for releasing him. “I was just mad at the world when really I should have just been mad at myself actually. When things happen, it’s not just them, it’s my fault too. They did what they needed to do.
“It would have been nice just to let me kind of go for a little while and then bring me back as an agent or something. I would have loved to do that. I really don’t have any bad things to say anymore. It was a business decision for them.”
Still, after more than a decade with the company, a release had to be hard to swallow.
“I think the only reason I stayed around as long as I did is because I wasn’t one dimensional,” Sopp said. “It’s not like I had just one purpose there. I could do a whole array of everything. It didn’t matter who they brought in or what they were doing with somebody, I could always help them move them to where they needed to go. I wasn’t ever one-dimensional.”
Much as in his pro career, Sopp tries to put the same effort and attitude into working independent shows, like next month’s here in Kingston.
“I love it. Doing indy shows, there are not thousands of people, there are hundreds. Nowadays, face it, I’m older so I kind of get away with doing my comedy act instead of the wrestling act. But I can go if I need to, hopefully sometimes I just don’t need to,” he joked. “A majority of the time, people still know who I am, they enjoy what I do, especially when me and Brian (James) are together. Now we bring an element to shows that are so off the mark of what they are used to.
“At indy shows, these guys are working maybe twice a month, or maybe once, so they let it all rip. I mean they do everything under the sun, which to me is ridiculous, but hey, that’s what they want to do. It’s not my show, they pay me to do what I need to do.”
So what can Kingston fans expect from Sopp?
“They get to see me,” he said with a laugh. “They’re going to get entertained. They’re going to enjoy what they see. We’re going to have some fun, just like wrestling used to be. It used to be fun. It wouldn’t matter if three people showed up, they’re still getting the whole shooting match from me. Whether it’s three or 3,000, they still paid and they still work it just as hard as there was a bunch of people. There are too many guys who go ‘well there’s nobody here, I’m giving em a D match.’ Like bulls–t. Go out there and work like you would if you were at WrestleMania or something. I still love what I do, so I love getting out there and entertaining and wrestling and having fun. That’s what they should expect from me.”
The card for the Kingston show hasn’t been released, but Sopp is looking forward to working with his old friend Waltman.
“I haven’t worked with him in a long time and it will be a blast.”
Demerchant, for one, is looking forward to a battle featuring two of the tougher men in the business.
“I’m looking forward to Tommy Dreamer versus Kwan Chang. That looks like it’s going to be a good match. (A lot of people) have seen Kwan Chang wrestling in Kingston obviously, and on TVCogeco,” which broadcasts OCW action. “He’s a big, tough guy. It will be interesting to see what a guy like Tommy Dreamer, who is also a kendo-stick-beating sonofagun, will do with a guy like Kwan. Having been on the wrong side of Kwan Chang’s kendo stick myself, I think it’s going to be a good match.”
Not only does Demerchant promise talent, but he promises accessibility too.
“There will be a meet-and-greet, hopefully with the three of them, plus a few of the OCW all-stars, Harley (Davison), CJ Felony, the Cruiserweight champion at the time.” VIP tickets will get you into the meet-and-greet.
“Overtime Sports Bar is one of our sponsors. Look for us to do something with them too.”