In the late ’90s and early ’00s, a new generation of Albertan professional wrestling stars emerged and continued to build on the province’s legacy as one of the hottest wrestling markets in the world. One name that was instrumental in the revitalization of the province’s independent wrestling scene was none other than TJ Wilson. Wilson, known through his time in WWE as Tyson Kidd, began his training in Calgary, Alberta, and quickly earned his way into an invitation to the Hart Dungeon.
Wilson joined me recently to discuss the influence of training under Tokyo Joe, working with the rest of the Hart family, and his experiences getting stretched by Hart family patriarch Stu Hart.
His training with Tokyo Joe:
TJ: “Oh, man. Okay, so, Ross Hart had always stayed in really close contact with Tokyo Joe. Tokyo Joe was wrestling in Montreal, and he was supposed to, he was going – he was doing one of the little excursions that they do in Japan, so he was in Japan, he was wrestling there, and then he (left) for 12-18 months to Montreal. He was wrestling in Montreal, and then, before he went back to Japan, he came to Calgary. He was only supposed to be in Calgary for, like, two weeks, but there was – the ring truck had slid off the road in a bad snowstorm, and then Joe was out there looking at the truck and whatever, and as the tow truck was – a tow truck had come, sorry – a tow truck had come, and as the tow truck’s getting ready to tow the ring truck and get it out of this ditch, another car comes sliding off the highway and it crushed Joe between the ring truck and the car. It totally destroyed both of his legs; one he was able to keep, but they had to amputate the other. So, two weeks turned into Joe living in Calgary for like 40 years.”
TJ: “This guys’ eye for wrestling was unbelievable, so Ross (Hart) always kept close contact with him. At one point he was a scout for a long time with New Japan, and Ross brought him to a Stampede show to kind of point him in my direction. Joe, whether he saw potential in me or not, I don’t know. I know that he can be very tough, he could be very tough and very brutally honest, but maybe even using that to push me. But, I remember he was like ‘ahh, you’re too small, you’re not nothing special, something,’ and I was like ‘what?! Man, no way!’ Now, if you know me, I’m too competitive, so now I’m like ‘okay, I’ll show this guy.’ And so, then, Ross started bringing him to the Dungeon, and then he started training me. I remember him blowing me up, doing all this Japanese training with these Hindu squats and these sumo squats and all this stuff. Then, we’d wrestle, and he was like – then, I think he started to finally, not finally, he started to see like ‘okay, there is something there,’ but he needed to kind of, like, get deeper. Man, he changed my life in every way, man. Not just in wrestling, but in life. He made me a much tougher person in terms of just knowing that you’re going to have to deal with some stuff.”
TJ: “It was funny, man. It was literally like, I think it’s Bugs Bunny, it’s like Bugs Bunny where Bugs Bunny – I’m sorry, Wile E. Coyote and the dog, they clock in, and the coyote’s trying to get the sheep and the dog’s beating him up, then they clock out and they’re friends again? Man, that was Joe. That was Joe. We would pick him up for training in the morning, and he’d be so nice from his house to the gym. Once we got to the gym, there was a different Joe, and it was awesome, man. I say this in a loving way. But that Joe, he could be pretty mean, and he was very honest, and he was very serious. And then, the second training was over, we’d go eat, it was this sweet, sweet guy. We’d drive, drop him off, and I just remember Dave Swift and I always being like ‘man.’ The 20 minutes of Joe we get before training and the hour and a half we’d get eating with him after and driving him home was awesome, but that three hours, four hours in the middle, that guy’s tough as hell man. It was literally clocking in and clocking out.
SL: “I love the comparison, man. ‘Morning, Sam.’
TJ: “Yes, exactly! ‘Morning, Sam,’ dude, 100%, I swear, that’s what it was like.”
Training with the Hart Family
TJ: “No, that was Ross and Bruce Hart. They really taught me a lot. Man, the truth is, we kind of had the keys to the kingdom. I had Ross and Bruce Hart training me, they both (are) great guys, never charged me a penny. I mean, I know now I’m really intertwined with the family, but at the time, I’m a 15, 16-year-old kid that’s kind of been around for 5 or 6 years. So, they saw me, they knew me as like a kid, but I’m not related to them, and they didn’t charge me a penny and they didn’t – they helped me so much. Davey would help us a lot, I remember Owen running Teddy and I through a match in the Dungeon.”
TJ: “Yeah, man. Literally, Bret – there was a period of time where we were training at Bret’s house almost daily. I mean, I’ve had help from everybody, man, but Ross and Bruce were my first real hands-on trainers in terms of – so, we kind of just put our own little match together, and we had help from everybody. I remember Davey watching it over and was like ‘okay.’ It was just a little three-minute match we did at these Rockyford rodeo shows in Rockyford, Alberta.”
SL: “You love to see, you even put up that clip I think – shit, time’s all blending together at this point, but of yourself and Davey in the Dungeon when you guys were kids. Just stuff like that’s so cool to see, man.”
TJ: “Yeah, see, so that clip is – like, Bruce and Ross are running that practice. That was, I think the date is like October 2000? So, I don’t meet Joe for another year-and-a-half. Or, I’d met him. I’d seen him at Stu’s, but I don’t start training with Joe until about 2002.”
His experiences getting stretched by Stu Hart:
TJ: “Oh, man. Unbelievable. Unimaginable. Oh my god, man. It happened – nah, it didn’t happen too, too often, but when it did, it was like ‘okay, this is gonna suck,’ and it usually involved a film crew, and so you’re like ‘oh my god, I’m getting killed on tape, too, like, this sucks.’ But, it was also an honour, and even I knew that as a kid. I’m trying to think how old I was the first time I got stretched. I might have been 15 or 16 the first time, and there was a TSN special for the Stu Hart birthday show in ’95.”
SL: “That was his 85th show or whatever, correct?”
TJ: “The one – I’m trying to remember what it was. Davey versus Bret is the main event. It’s in December ’95. That’s when I get stretched. So, I’m a 15-year-old kid. I get stretched on some – they were recording something either right before that or right after, and I just happened to be down there, like, cause we were up at the house, and then I got called on to the mat. I just remember being like ‘okay,’ and just trying not to, like, sell anything and it hurt so much, man. Stu was a master when it came to submission wrestling like that, and he had this almost routine where it’d be like everything just connected to the next. Just when you thought ‘oh, man, I don’t think my shoulder can take anymore,’ and then like, it would stop, and then I would be (in) some hold that puts pressure on your neck. You just were relieved that your shoulder was feeling better. Oh, man. It was awesome, though. I wish I had that knowledge now, how to do – like, I mean, he was, in ’95 man? He was 80 years old! So, it was his 80th birthday show. He was 80 years old, man, and he’s doing that! It was crazy. Unbelievable. And, never past the point! He always knew the point! It was crazy.”
SL: “A very respectful submission artist, for lack of a better way to put it.”
TJ: “At least to 15-year-old me! I remember coming down for practice later on, now I kind of feel like I’m becoming more of a man, and I remember coming down to practice and, same thing, man, you come down to the Dungeon and you see, like, you see they have all this lighting and stuff in the Dungeon, you’re like ‘hold on, this practice is a little different than – what’s going on here?’ And then it’s like ‘yeah, guys, so today, Stu’s – these people are filming this thing on Stu, so Stu’s going to come down and stretch everyone,’ like, ‘oh, man, with an audience now?!’”
TJ: “I remember that practice was like four hours long. Duke (Durrango) loves this story because there was a guy, and he’s a friend of mine, Duke said he never looked at him the same ever again. He literally – his eyes got bugged out, and he ran away.
SL: “Duke told me that one!”
TJ: “He would not let Stu touch him.”
SL: “It’s incredible because he’s the only guys from everybody that I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to that was down in the Dungeon, whether it’s yourself, or Duke, or I spoke to Randy Myers a couple of weeks ago, and they’ve all had a fairly similar experience of ‘it sucks, but it’s a right of passage, and a bit of an honour,’ y’know?
TJ: “Oh, I mean, absolutely an honour, and it is a right of passage, and like, I mean, if you think about it, in the course of a 24-hour day, if Stu Hart put you in some holds for about 20 minutes in a 24-hour day, it’s not the end of the world. It feels like it! In those 20 minutes, it feels like it, but once it lets go, the relief feels so good.”
Please credit Spencer Love/Love Wrestling with any transcriptions used.