Blood, Sweat and Beers: C*4 Wrestling Pile Driving the Indies
Photos by Andre Gagne
“Rip his head off!” shouts the wild-eyed man from the second row.
He looks like he just walked out of Mordor and all he wants now is food and a fight. Tonight he’ll find both in the Vanier Columbus Club, slamming down his second poutine as the two behemoths collide in the ring in front of him with the sound a rhino might make if it plummeted into the Grand Canyon onto a hippopotamus.
The more maligned of the two combatants glares a hole through Mr. Mordor who retorts with the kind of profanity spewed through cheese curds and beef gravy you only reserve for when a mastodon in tights is looking at you like he wants to knock you into another time zone. He advances onto the floor as the crowd starts to turn into what could be compared to a sack of irate wolverines. Suddenly, seemingly without reason, they scatter leaving empty chairs and full cups of beer. They’ve been here before. They know what’s coming and what’s coming is a near 300lb scud missile of a man hurtling himself through the ring ropes and into his opponent sending them both careening into the seats. Its carnage, a six car pileup on the 401 of upended chairs, puddles of Molson, smashed hot dogs, splatters of mustard and twisted bodies.
The crowd grows louder, all are on their feet, this crazed cacophony shouting for more chaos, more action and, most importantly, more
“C! 4! C! 4!”
and this was only the first match.
Capital City Championship Combat (or C*4 for short because, let’s be honest, Capital City Championship Combat would be tough to chant even before your first beer) is Ottawa’s premiere independent professional wrestling organization. Judging from the line-up that snaked its way out of the building and into the parking lot, they’ve developed quite the following. There wasn't a single place to be found outside to park. For that matter that wasn't a single free chair inside for one of the wrestlers to clock another with.
C*4 Creator and Booker Mark AP started watching wrestling as a kid. He couldn’t get enough. When he didn't get his fill on television, he turned to the magazine racks reading up on promotions he hadn’t even seen yet with names like Smokey Mountain and ECW. Though his passion for wrestling ebbed a bit to focus on filmmaking, soon after graduating from Algonquin what he once enjoyed watching and reading about now presented itself as a career path.
"I started to get involved with the now-defunct local promotion, UWA (Universal Wrestling Alliance). The group ran infrequently but they also ran a school out of their venue. I'd always go and hangout during the classes, and watch, and learn, and offer ideas and stuff. It was an interesting way to get involved, and I really had lots of ideas that, rightly or wrongly, weren't ever going to get used,” Mark tells Ottawa Life.
“I can't blame them. Who was I to show up and make suggestions?”
After involving himself in a few other independent wrestling promotions, he decided to start his own a decade ago. This was C*4. He applied what he’d learned cutting his teeth in other organizations and, with a want to tell compelling stories, he created a sound business acumen at the outset.
“I made a point to book a year's worth of dates when I set my first show, not because I was so cocky that the show would be a hit. One thing I quickly learned from my experiences working with other promotions was that if I wanted fans to get invested, I needed to have follow-up dates set.”
Having a venue for an entire year (260 McArthur Avenue in Vanier, where they still are today), allowed Mark to craft the new business with assurance that his wrestlers would have at least a year of shows to perform on. In those early days, he relied on relationships he’d fostered with performers from past jobs to fill out the card.
The mountain to climb in front of him, he quickly learned, would be treacherous.
“The show itself was a nightmare of stress,” he recalls. “The ring broke during the show, a good friend who wrestled on the show suffered an injury, and I had other local promoters show up to vocally complain about the product I was presenting in front of other audience members.”
Three shows in and even the weather was against them. One of the worst winter storms in Ottawa’s history hit dumping enough snow on the city to practically bury the arena. Only 50 people turned up but they were thirsty and along with their $3000 worth of bar sales they were treated to the best show Mark and the wrestlers that had made it could toss together.
If it were an I Quit Match, you’d have to kill a C*4 show before it gave up.
Years later, the place is packed with those not able to get a seat more than happy to stand. Looking over the crowd, you can tell who the loyal ones are, the ones who’ve been there since day one. One of them sports a tattered C*4 t-shirt and holds up a sign that reads “FATILITY!” He pumps his fist in the air as the wrestler in the ring climbs to the top rope. It is at this moment that I realize wrestling may not have been thought upon when they draw up the blueprints to the Vanier Columbus Club. Here, a high flyers nightmare isn’t his opponent but the low hanging lights!
“Chandelier!” the crowd shouts in unison as though preprogramed to do so. Heads whip around in the beer line to not miss either a stunning moonsault or a smashed 60 watt bulb.
This is obviously not the big time. Those chandeliers are the spotlights. The wrestlers don’t walk down a long ramp to exploding pyro but come out from behind a black curtain. There are no jumbo screens here displaying the action, only some wood encased televisions right out of a 1970s Bingo Hall. That's because it is a 1970s Bingo Hall! Without the production budget of the majors, C*4 wrestlers and bookers rely on what they do have to work with: hard hitting, high flying action and innovative storylines told more through actual wrestling then the long, drawn out promos you see every Monday night.
“This is the difference between seeing a band that you love playing a show in a small club verses seeing them in an arena,” Mark says of smaller federations like his. “The intimacy is the biggest thing.”
Tyson Moody, a former C*4 wrestler who’s made several appearances in the WWE, credits the importance of indie organizations as places where those serious about the business can shape their craft and personas.
“On an indie level, epically in this day and age, there is no shortage of talent,” he says. “The big companies see everything. Work everywhere you can make a name for yourself not only in your neck of the woods but abroad. Strive to conquer to world in this business and get noticed.”
It also helps, Moody says, if you have an interesting persona or costume. C*4 has plenty unique characters that fit that perfectly from the nightmarish Evil Uno to the bizarre masked Space Monkey. Mark says those wrestling on his shows can ensure that they will be able to get creative with their characters both in and outside of the ring.
“For me, I've always looked at C*4 as my creative outlet. It offers me the chance to present a very unique form theater. And as such, it allows me to see an audience react to something that may have started as an idea in my mind.”
Some of these performers, like Moody and Kevin Steen, have gone on to bigger careers. Mark has seen “Speedball” Mike Bailey go from a relative unknown to now being one of the most sought after indie wrestlers out there. He says giving people like this a place to perform is one of the greatest rewards.
There might not be a glossy finish to his product or thousands of fans filling an arena, but C*4 more than makes up for it in action and wrestlers that leave it all in the ring be there 3 or 300 people watching them. Some leave even more than that, I think, watching blood pour onto the canvass from a scalp that recently was introduced to a barbwire bat. During the intermission that guy will be hawking merch at one of the nearby tables, crimson still staining his face.
The cross on the wall in the background provides contrasting imagery to the brutality carried out in the ring in some of these matches. You gotta’ wonder, after the blood has been moped up, the ring stripped down and the tables put back, do those dabbing away at those BINGO cards waiting on that one last number know that a gory mess of man laid at their feet covered in chairs, blood and beer the night before?
Well, nobody's thinking of that now. As fans snatch up tickets for the next event, they’re not thinking of B-12 or N-9. When that ring’s back up and the first match is underway, for fans like the lone guy blowing a horn in the corner to the volunteers selling DVDs, to the wrestlers busting their asses in the ring and, of course, to Mark AP watching it all unfold, the only thing matters is
C*4 presents "Mean Streets" – Saturday, March 18th, 2017
Tickets are on sale now.