UWA goes from backyard brawl to full time job
By Lindsay Gibb
There are people who think that wrestling is an ignoble sport. Wrestling is not a sport, it is a spectacle… True wrestling…is performed in second-rate halls, where the public spontaneously attunes itself to the spectacular nature of the contest, like the audience at a suburban cinema. –Roland Barthes
restling belongs to the underground. At least, that’s the opinion of French literary and social critic Roland Barthes. And anyone who has gone to see an independent–or backyard– wrestling match might agree. There is something dirtier and rawer about live indie wrestling. Unlike the better known forms on TV coming from the monopolizing WWE (formerly the WWF of Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin fame), underground wrestling isn’t as glossy and predictable as all that.
Wrestling also belongs to the suburbs. Though big city folk might love it just as much as the bedroom-town dweller, the suburbs are better equipped to accommodate the kind of space an event such as wrestling requires. In Caledon, Ont. (a rural town in Peel region), two brothers found the answer to their small town boredom in backyard wrestling. It started with a trampoline and a lot of creativity.
Jon and Joe McCausland used to watch WWF with their dad back in the mid ’80s and then go out to the yard with their friend Jimbo and imitate the moves they saw on TV. Joe admits that it was probably not a smart idea to imitate the well practiced moves of professional wrestlers, but they did it anyway, despite the injuries. The turning point for Jon, the elder of the McCausland brothers, happened in high school when a friend gave him a tape of the wrestling promotion ECW. He had never seen wrestling like it before. Known for their hardcore tactics, ECW used barbed wire, drew blood, and encouraged audience participation in the form of donated weapons such as cookie sheets and street signs. After watching the tape at least four times in a row, Jon stole some barbed wire from a fence near his house and wrapped it around a baseball bat. The next day he was using it as a weapon in his backyard.
“The hardcore wrestling just changed my life because it was so unusual and most people hadn’t seen it yet. We’d sell tapes at school and our friends would come on Saturday nights to watch us wrestle, it was just crazy,” says Jon. The definition of crazy in this case is throwing each other into glass, lighting each other on fire, and drawing a crowd of an average of 50 people to watch them torture themselves. They remember their injuries with pride: Jon smiles in remembrance of the scars he got from lighting his arm on fire.
As an alternative to the sanitized corporate wrestling of WWF and WCW, ECW was a large independent promotion that made it to television and mass appeal through the ’90s. By 2001, ECW had folded, WCW was bought out, and other independent leagues were struggling. Still, despite the fact that they were entering what Jon calls “The dark days of wrestling,” he and his brother licensed their own league. It was the start of UWA hardcore wrestling.
Since Evil is the natural climate of wrestling, a fair fight has chiefly the value of being an exception. It surprises the aficionado, who greets it when he sees it as an anachronism and a rather sentimental throwback to the sporting tradition…but [he] would probably die of boredom and indifference if wrestlers did not quickly return to the orgy of evil which alone makes good wrestling. –Roland Barthes
UWA, an acronym that the McCauslands would rather leave to the audience to decipher on their own, began when Jon built a wrestling ring and set it up in his large backyard, against his mom’s wishes. Though it would have been much easier to rent their equipment whenever they felt like putting on a show, Jon didn’t want to rely on anyone else. A true do-it-yourselfer, he instead got a job working 11 hour days at his uncle’s garbage removal company during the summer to make enough money to afford wrestling training. After investigating his options, he found that most of the wrestling leagues that offered training emulated the ’80s style of wrestling, which to him was too slow and boring, and not something he was interested in. So instead he and Joe went to a few local shows and found some wrestlers who were willing to help them out. Since, at the time, the independent wrestlers had to pay to get access to a ring to practice in, the McCauslands offered the use of their ring for free, in return for a few lessons. One wrestler in particular, Ian Louw (wrestling name: Tyler Sylus) offered to help. When the outdoor shows started, Jon and Joe brought a new meaning to backyard wrestling. Instead of the typical brawling in the grass, they had a real set-up, full with lighting rig, sound system and a backstage area. The catwalk that lead from backstage to the ring allowed for each wrestler to make his appearance set to his own theme music. Tyler Sylus became one of their regular wrestlers, and Jon and Joe took on their own wrestling identities (Osiris and Heishero Hazuki, respectively). Joe also took on the role of the owner, Joe E. Slick, who makes appearances in the ring to talk to the crowd. On these nights in the backyard at least 100 people were showing up at their house out in the farmlands of Caledon to see men catapult themselves out of the ring with ladders, dive off of scaffolding and through wooden tables and bleed all over each other. “Our friends said it reminded them of Field of Dreams,” says Joe. “They would go to this place in the country and there’d be these spotlights out at night and they’d just see a wrestling ring out in the middle of nowhere.”
Eventually the UWA outgrew the backyard and in 2003 the brothers felt it was time to move on to bigger venues. So they started to rent out halls. This meant more money and more promoting. It also meant that their lives had to become completely devoted to the UWA if they wanted to be able to pull off all of their ideas. Now they regularly print and hand out 10,000 flyers per show on their own. They film, edit and press their own DVDs to sell at the shows. They bring in wrestlers from the States, Australia, and at the first show in 2006 they will have for the first time Japanese wrestler Ultimo Dragon. All of this takes money, and though they won’t talk dollars and cents, they admit that, even though it’s getting better all the time, they usually don’t break even. Still, they refuse to join any other wrestling promotion or get sponsors for their shows. The fear is that, were they to join forces with anyone else, they would lose control of their baby.
“I’ve been independent my whole life. From the books and magazines that I read, to music, to wrestling to movies,” says Jon. “I’ve been fortunate that even though I grew up as a hick in Caledon, I have still been exposed to amazing independent culture and I know how amazing that lifestyle is, that’s why I chose to live that lifestyle.”