On November 9th, 1997, wrestling fans around the world witnessed one of the most controversial moments of the 1990s, involving Shawn Michaels and the WWE screwing over Bret Hart in the main event, securing the WWE Championship with the company, while Bret moved on to the company’s prime competition, the WCW. As Bret tore up the building in an intensifying rage, the crowd watched on, horrified, not realizing at the time the gravity of the situation. This took place in Montreal, Quebec.
March 18th, 2002, during a match between Al Snow and Maven for the Hardcore Championship, there were two run-ins. One was Spike Dudley, who was trying to perform a hit-and-run and take off with the title. The other was a behemoth of a man in blank trunks and black boots. He had muscles in places that regular people don’t even have places. He took to the ring, lifted one guy onto his shoulders, and tossed him like a rag doll. He clotheslined another with the force one hundred times as powerful as JBL’s Clothesline from Hell. Then, he powerbombed Spike. Three times. Brock Lesnar had officially made his debut. In Montreal, Quebec.
Zayn and Owens: Re-Connecting the WWE and Montreal
At No Way Out, on February 23rd, 2003, Eric Bischoff pleaded not to have to wrestle his opponent. As he attempted to worm his way out, the glass shattered, and Stone Cold Steve Austin walked out to thunderous cheers. It was the first time he appeared in the WWE since his walk-out. Austin beat the hell out of Bischoff, delivering several stunners, mudhole stompings, and even a glass of orange juice. The crowd cheered, chanted “WHAT?”, and by the end of the match, everyone was spent despite knowing that the main event between The Rock and Hulk Hogan was still to come. It was a grand night. In Montreal, Quebec.
When La Résistance won the Tag Team Championships, defeating the team of Edge and Chris Benoit, on the May 31st edition of Raw in 2004, the crowd erupted into a chorus of cheers. In any other city, it wouldn’t be a big deal. A heel team defeating a face team instigates a combination of booing and eye rolling, nothing more. In Montreal, La Résistance were heroes. A duo of men representing Quebec, decked out in the fleur-de-lys, defeating two Canadians to become the Champions. In Montreal, it was an amazing and memorable moment.
Montreal has been, for a long time, one of the biggest hot spots in the wrestling world. After the disaster in 1997 involving Bret and Shawn, the WWE hesitated to go back to Montreal, where they would be in hostile territory. Although Bret was from Calgary, the circumstances involving his departure created a special bond between he and the city of Montreal. In 2001, the WWE did their first televised wrestling show in nearly four years. Including that show, the company put on 11 shows from 2001 to 2006, close to two shows a year, one of which was a PPV event back in 2003. Wrestling had become one of the biggest draws to hit the Molson Centre, fans in the city proudly wore merchandise, and you wouldn’t be hard-pressed to find someone to talk to about the show that occurred the night before.
Suddenly, it all stopped. After the show in 2006, the WWE would not return for a televised showing for three years. When they did, it was a sub-par Breaking Point PPV in 2009, which was highlighted by a main event of CM Punk taking on The Undertaker. The ending left the crowd groaning, as the company chose to do another faux-screwjob ending, like they did in 2003. Another three years went by before WWE returned for an episode of Raw, which included the return of Bret Hart to Montreal for the first time since his departure, and, to the delight of many, was heavy on the side of CM Punk appearances – two matches, and both the opening and closing segments. The last of the shows took place this year, back in July, which featured the likes of Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, Chris Jericho, and the Wyatts, much to the crowd’s delight.
The company has indeed returned between the years of 2006 to 2014 for several pit-stop house shows as part of their Canadian tour, but the question remains; why is the WWE so hesitant to put on a televised event in front of the Montreal crowd? Is it their smark-like behavior where they cheer for the people they like, and boo those they oppose, regardless of whether they are faces or heels? Is it the dwindling appreciation for the company, with merchandise disappearing from the racks in local stores?
One thing is for certain; the interest level could finally be back on the rise in Montreal, with the surge of Sami Zayn in NXT. Labelled as the underdog that could never win the big one, Zayn has been a stand-out to both fans and scouts, with impressive outings each week. His climb to the main event picture in the developmental program has been greatly appreciated by the WWE Universe. Even before this climb, Zayn’s battles against Cesaro were nothing short of spectacular. The additions of worldwide talent have been on the rise, with NXT Champion Adrian Neville, Hideo Itami and Finn Balor tearing up the scene, but there is one more man set to make his debut…another guy from Montreal – Kevin Steen.
Going by the name of Kevin Owens, the change made to abide by the WWE’s policy of name rights ownership, his debut will be seen on December 11th, just two weeks from now, as per a video that aired on NXT. “I will fight anyone, and everyone. Bet against me if you want. It’s my turn now. I AM the future.” Four sentences, and the fans watching were instantly sucked in. Since then, another video has surfaced, this time highlighting the reasons why he wrestles, mainly focusing on his desire to provide for his family, the only way to do so being doing what he does best – fighting. For those that know who he is and what he brings to the table, this is Kevin Steen through and through. The simple name change is easy to digest. His son’s name is Owen, and Owen Hart is his favorite wrestler.
Could the additions of both Zayn an Owens be what is needed to push the market in Montreal, both on the level of the WWE returning to the city AND the independent wrestlers pushing harder to get to that level?
Jorge Morillas, an independent wrestler in Montreal, that goes by the alias of Fuego, has been involved in the wrestling scene for nine years. He’s seen some of the best talent get their chance at the WWE, through a try-out. The likes of Dru Onyx, Jeremy Prophet, Alex Silva and Darkko, have all received WWE try-outs, but none have heard back from the talents department. Silva won TNA’s first Gut Check Challenge, but his time with the company was short-lived. Morillas helps run a wrestling school in Montreal, but feels the rise of both Zayn and Owens won’t factor into the school getting more applications at the moment.
“For the time being, I don’t think there will be any change in school sign-ups until Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens make it to the main roster and establish themselves,” Morillas states. “New students sign up because they’ve been watching guys like The Rock, Orton, Cena (for the younger rookies), Punk, etc… Wrestlers who have made a name for themselves in WWE. What it does affect is the general mood within the active Quebec indy scene, where guys can now aspire to be the next Zayn or Steen… finally Quebecers get recognized again.”
However, Jorge sees Zayn and Owens as a way to encourage the students enrolled in the school he helps teach to elevate their game to the next level if they want to have the chance to earn a tryout with the WWE. “There’s a pride seeing two Quebecers ‘make it’.”, he explains. “There was often the sentiment that WWE shunned Quebec, which is as much a talent pool as any other indy scene in Canada and the US. Some Quebec wrestlers may now push harder to make those sacrifices necessary to attain another level, seeing that it’s possible.”
When asked about how the WWE shuns Quebec-based talent: “By just not giving guys from here a shot. But in the last few years it’s been different. Dru Onyx, Darkko, Alex Silva and Jeremy Prophet all got a tryout down in Florida (but none got called back, even though some impressed the scouts)”
Continue to Part 2 of this article here
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