This article originally appeared in the latest edition of Indie Empire Magazine.
It’s been quite the year for the man known as El Phantasmo.
2019 has been a breakout of sorts for the Maple Ridge, BC native; it’s a year in which he’s made his debut for New Japan Pro Wrestling, joined the Bullet Club immediately upon his debut, won the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships, and captured the promotion’s famed Super J Cup. Since committing to pursuing wrestling full-time in 2017, the man known worldwide as ELP has become one of the must-watch wrestlers on the independent scene.
“ELP has always had a swagger about him,” says Canadian wrestling standout and 2018 Mae Young Classic competitor Nicole Matthews. “He honestly doesn’t fit that ‘humble and quiet’ stereotype a lot of Canadians tend to. He’s always had the attitude to be a big deal, and now, he obviously has the success to match it.”
However, while this year has been his worldwide coming-out party, ELP has been regarded as one of the top wrestlers on the Canadian independent scene since first stepping inside the squared circle for British Columbia’s ECCW.
It wasn’t always the plan for ELP to get into professional wrestling; however, some fortunate circumstances pushed Phantasmo in the right direction. A film school project required Phantasmo to produce a video, and when the opportunity presented itself to create a professional wrestling video, he jumped on it. It sparked Phantasmo to step inside the squared circle, and in October 2005, ELP made his debut for ECCW.
“ECCW was the only local promotion near my house that ran regularly,” says ELP of his decision to join the promotion. It was also an economical choice, as Phantasmo’s film training allowed him to receive half-off of the cost of training for helping create match screens, vignettes and promos for the promotion.
As part of a group that included Kyle O’Reilly, Nicole Matthews and Gurvinder Sihra, Phantasmo quickly became a staple of the B.C wrestling scene. Matches against Artemis Spencer, Sid Sylum and “Ravenous” Randy Meyers earned him a reputation as one of the most uniqe pro wrestlers in not only British Columbia, but across the country. Eventually, ELP came to be known as “Mr Ballroom Brawl” for not only his consistency in appearing at ECCW’s signature event but delivering match-of-the-night contenders year-over-year.
However, like many of Canada’s finest, it was difficult for ELP to gain any recognition outside of his home country. Travel distance between events and a lack of Canadian wrestling media don’t breed the greatest environment for success at times, and both proved to be a barrier to Phantasmo’s worldwide breakout.
“It’s hard for the world to watch western Canadian wrestling,” he says of the Canadian independent scene. “The talent is there, there’s just not a platform. If you wanna look at the talent that’s come through Western Canada, guys like myself, Kyle O’Reilly, Tyler Breeze, The Bollywood Boyz, (and) Nicole Matthews, there’s some top-level talent. Once, I drove 9 hrs to do a show in Calgary for five bucks, where, with food and gas, it cost 500 times that.”
“We’ve all just had to leave and go to a busier area.”
Unfortunately, when the opportunity presented itself to do so, Phantasmo found himself on the wrong end of an American border agent that delayed his ability to travel Stateside. It was a blow that caused him to question the viability of a full-time career in professional wrestling.
“I feel like my career so far has never been able to fully take off,” he commented in a recent interview with Vancouver’s Daily Hive. “Back in 2012 I was set to go to St. Louis to train with Kyle O’Reilly, Tony Kozina, and Davey Richards but I met the wrong border guard on the wrong day and I was denied entry. They said I couldn’t prove I would ever return to Canada, so they wouldn’t let me across.”
“It definitely delayed (a full-time career in wrestling). I always thought one door closes, another window opens. My editing career took off and wrestling took a backseat.”
While the border situation was a definite hindrance to a worldwide breakout, it only caused ELP’s star to rise further in Canada. Despite his decision to make wrestling more of a part-time career, his in-ring talent and boundless charisma continued to earn him main-event matches and championship opportunities. In 2013, less than a year after being denied entry to the United States, El Phantasmo captured his first ECCW Championship. From there, he embarked on a 196-day reign that would establish him as one of, if not the, the top stars in Canadian wrestling.
By 2016, however, a full-time wrestling career remained an unscratched itch for El Phantasmo. Despite his successes in both film production and the British Columbian wrestling scene, the desire to make pro wrestling was simply too strong for ELP to withstand any longer. Following his standout match with former training partner Kyle O’Reilly at Ballroom Brawl VII, ELP decided he would pursue wrestling full-time and chose not to renew his contract with his then-employer. It was a difficult decision, he admits, but one that’s paid off in spades thus far.
“I was making more money than most guys in NXT or ROH, so it was hard to imagine giving that up. Making it in wrestling has the odds stacked against you, but everything is about timing, and here we are.”
2017 saw Phantasmo finally begin to expand outside of the borders of Canada, debuting with Britan’s RevPro on June 4th of that year. Despite losing in his debut, it wasn’t long before ELP’s popularity in England rivalled that of his in Canada, and he recently earned the promotions’ Undisputed British Cruiserweight Championship. Earlier this year, he made his debut in New Japan Pro Wrestling, and already his impact is being felt in one of the largest wrestling promotions in the world. Mere months into his time with NJPW, he’s already claimed the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships, and recently won the famed Super J Cup previously won by names like Jushin “Thunder” Liger and now-NXT star Kushida.
Even still, with his star rising on the international scene, ELP is still making appearances for his long-time promotion of ECCW, with the man himself appearing at the promotion’s Let’s Get Weird event on September 28th. Despite his somewhat-forced prolonged Canadian career, his years with ECCW are still some that he looks back on fondly.
“Selling out the first Ballroom Brawl, in the main event with Ravenous Randy will always be a life highlight,” closes Phantasmo. “(so was) putting on killer shows at the RCC month after month to (the point) where Live Nation approached us to do shows at the most legendary venue in BC, The Commodore Ballroom.”
“I hope that ELP being the success he has become draws some eyes to the BC wrestling scene,” states Matthews about her long-time friend. “It’s not an accident there is so much success coming out of here lately. We have a fantastic mix of talented veterans and hardworking younger talent. It’s a treat to be a part of this scene, and hopefully, more fans will seek out where El Phantasmo came from.”
“If you told me in 2005 where all of us would end up, I would have honestly believed it, because it was *that* talented of a group,” states Matthews emphatically. “El Phantasmo has been a friend of mine for almost 14 years now; he attended my wedding and everything. Of course, it’s such a cool experience to see him “make it”. He really took a chance a couple of years ago when he moved to England, and as difficult as that was at times, it clearly paid off.”
While it may have taken longer than expected – both for fans of his work and for ELP himself – it’s clear that El Phantasmo is a name that won’t soon be forgotten by wrestling fans, whether worldwide or British Columbia.