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Storytelling and nostalgia: Calgary's pro wrestlers reflect on the sport's evolution

Pro wrestler Kat Von Heez, who is associated with Calgary-based CanAm Wrestling, picked up the sport in high school. (katvonheezofficial/Instagram - image credit)
Pro wrestler Kat Von Heez, who is associated with Calgary-based CanAm Wrestling, picked up the sport in high school. (katvonheezofficial/Instagram - image credit)

Kat Von Heez was drawn to wrestling as a child, eagerly watching matches on television with her babysitter.

"I watched it a lot when I was really young," Von Heez said in an interview on This Is Calgary, a CBC Calgary podcast.

She missed it for years because it wasn't on TV at home, but her love for wrestling remained strong.

"There was a hiatus.… I didn't really have access to it again until I was probably around 13."

She picked up right from where she left off, renting DVDs from a movie rental shop and watching pro wrestling legends like Randy Orton, Mick Foley and Chris Jericho battle it out in the ring.

While she was intrigued by the sport, Von Heez wasn't sure where to begin and wondered whether she could realistically take up wrestling.

"I kind of got into amateur wrestling when I was in high school, which kind of changed my trajectory," she said, noting she'd been a five-pin bowler as a kid.

"So I kind of transitioned into something a little bit more aggressive."

As far as Von Heez is concerned, the future for pro wrestlers looks promising. (Kat Von Heez/Facebook)

While Von Heez has built a name for herself through the years and is now associated with Calgary-based CanAm Wrestling, she admits it hasn't always been an easy journey.

"I got to the point … it felt like it was winding down and it was losing steam," she said. "If I can't get to that next level, if I can't move, I'm, I'm kind of done."

Thankfully, her fears were unfounded. The pro wrestler continued experimenting with the sport and remains a force to be reckoned with — she does 10 matches a month, on average.

As far as Von Heez is concerned, the future for pro wrestlers looks bright.

"It's really exciting and I'm really happy," she said.

"Hopefully, we will see a lot of Canadian wrestlers get opportunities to make this a full-time career and get noticed."

This sentiment was echoed by Otto Gentile, who is one of the owners of CanAm Wrestling and a former wrestler himself.

"The people that are loving wrestling now, they wanna see it live. And with our show being an all-ages family entertainment show, we get six-year-olds all the way to 99-year-olds coming to watch our shows, so that it's super," he said.

LISTEN | Kat Von Heez and Otto Gentile talk about pro wrestling in Calgary:

Reflecting on what led to the inception of CanAm Wrestling, Gentile said he was hoping to fill a void that was left behind by popular events like Stampede Wrestling.

"We started CanAm Wrestling in order to have wrestling back in the city," he said.

It started at The Back Alley nightclub off Macleod Trail. They would do "slamming and jamming," Gentile said, with wrestling bouts as the opening act for bands such as Cheap Trick and Loverboy.

"That was kind of cool because we were getting 500 to 700 people every show, which was a neat, neat experience."

Connecting with fans

CanAm currently hosts around four wrestling shows a month and has several wrestlers on its roster, including female stalwarts such as Von Heez and Rylie Rose.

Ultimately, Gentile hopes to win over fans with a powerful tool: storytelling.

"Calgary was the birthplace of professional wrestling in Canada," he said, citing Stampede Wrestling's Stu Hart and Bruce Hart as innovators who focused on telling stories.

"CanAm Wrestling bases ourselves on trying to tell a story, to engage the fans, to want to come back the next time to see what's gonna happen … that's what wrestling is and should be. There should always be a story that connects with the fans."