Kayfabe, Lies and Alibis: Back to the Territories – Stampede Wrestling

Presented by Kayfabe Commentaries

Lance Storm and Jim Cornette cover the rise and fall of Stampede Wrestling.

Cornette goes over how Stu Hart lived in a tent in the bitter Calgary winters when he was a poor child. Over the next 70 years, Stu would rise to become a successful promoter and his territory would provide North America with the first glimpse of many international talents.

Lance met Stu Hart when Stu was already in his 70’s. Storm was watching a WWF PPV at a closed circuit event when Stu and other members of the family came in. Stu slept for much of the PPV, including Bret Hart’s portion of the “Royal Rumble”.

Stu’s father was trying to maintain a claim for a plot of land in Canada, which is how and why Stu ended up spending at least one winter in minus forty degree weather while squatting in a tent.

Stu became a pro wrestler eventually. Famous promoter Paul Boesch ended up introducing Hart to the woman who would become his wife in New York City. Since Helen was American, it gave all their kids dual citizenship, which deeply helped Bret and Owen Hart get WWF gigs without having to go through legal wranglings.

Klondike Wrestling was formed with Stu as the promoter. It was successful, so Stu expanded across much of Canada. The land was still uninhabited for large areas of space, so the trips were long and often brutal.

The promotion went from being named Klondike Wrestling to Big Time Wrestling to Wild Cat Wrestling before settling on Stampede Wrestling in the late 60’s.

Gene Kiniski, Superstar Graham, Fritz Von Erich, and Wilbur Snyder were all broken in or trained by Stu and went on to become all-time legends in the sport.

The wrestlers had be work stiff because they were working in front of miners and cowboys and other such roughnecks.

Stampede had TV taped in arenas, which was rare at the time. It also featured few squash matches and limited promos.

A heel bashed Calgary during one promo and the station kicked wrestling off the air because of it. Stu lost a key promotional device for three years. This also cost him a bunch of money during this period.

Top heel The Mongolian Stomper got mad over Billy Robinson roughing him up in a match and quit Stampede. Robinson got to work a program with NWA World Champ Dory Funk Jr. after that.

Robinson ended up one of the first of many international stars who broke into the U.S. scene by way of Stampede.

Mark Lewin and others came in and worked a bloody series of matches that drew big but ended up killing the business when they left because it was hard to follow up something like that.

Ed Whalen served as a local sportscaster who ended up as the voice of Stampede. He wasn’t a fan of the sport and wielded the power to have them canceled, so they had to try and appease him. The heels hated working with him because he would stand up and argue with them while they were trying to cut their blood and guts promos.

Dynamite Kid came in to Canada after Bruce Hart saw him while working the U.K. Kid was tiny and Stu was wary about pushing him but talent won out.

Davey Boy Smith, Bad News Allen (Brown) came in and became stars over the next few years. Bad News kept the locker room in check with his presence. He liked things calm and professional.

Everybody was afraid of Bad News since he had a legit judo background. Andre the Giant once said something Allen took as racist and he challenged Andre to fight while brandishing a gun.

The Mongolian Stomper ran an angle where his “son” was set to debut. A pair of heels ended up attacking the kid and piledriving him on the cement. The neck injury was suppose to end the kid’s career. Stomper cut a intense promo to set up matches over the incident but Ed Whalen quit due to the violence and they were banned from Calgary for six months.

Calgary had commissions who were treating wrestling like it was a true sport into the 90’s and banned them from doing blood and other things of that nature.

Vince McMahon bought Stampede in 1984 for 1 million dollars because you had to have Canadian ties to operate a business. Vince took the TV time slots, a few select talents and then rebuked on the deal a year later when Bruce Hart started to run an indy promotion. which Vince considered a violation of their agreement.

Bruce wanted a WWF spot but he was small and Vince was only willing to make him a jobber, so no deal was ever reached.

Owen Hart, Brian Pillman and Chris Benoit became the stars of the new Stampede wrestling promotion.

Lance talks about how some of the road trips were a 8-hour one way trip for a smallish payoff.

On at least one occasion, the snow was so thick that one wrestler would have to walk in front of the travel van to scrape snow off the middle of the road so they had a path to follow.

The guys would stage fights to terrify the newbies on road trips. This would include breaking bottles and blading to put over the fight as real.

Corny shares that the Memphis guys liked to rib newcomers by having a fake doctor come in and tell the kid he had high blood pressure. The doc would then tell them to go lay in the shower with the cold water running and jack off to fix it.

Storm learned early on that the guys would drug you so they could shave your head, strip you naked outside or whatever other devious rib was desired. Sometimes they would take your wallet, stick you on a bus for a long trip and you’d wake up stranded.

Many New Japan stars of the future came through Stampede for training such as Justin Liger and Shinya Hashimoto.

Ed Whalen stepped in once again during this time and removed blood and excessive violence from the TV. This helped hurt Stampede’s ability to draw fans.

Lance was trained at the Hart Family Wrestling Camp where Keith Hart would only come to collect the money.  After the class was done Keith picked one of the graduates and make them the trainer for the next group of kids.

Chris Jericho was in the class that Storm entered in. Lance almost quit because the rest of the class was a bunch of out of shape geeks but then Jericho showed up and gave Storm somebody legit to train with.

Smith Hart was the “black sheep” of the Hart clan. He lived with his parents until they died, then when the family sold the Hart mansion Smith kept breaking back in it to live there.

Storm barely knew Smith and yet he got a long letter expressing his appreciation for Storm’s friendship and Smith gave him a ratty old shirt as a gift.

Another time Smith took his robe off at a house show and was naked underneath it.

Smith was in charge of driving the ring truck on one occasion and showed up at the house show with an empty truck. He had sold the ring on the drive over.

Bruce Hart went on a local radio show with Lance Storm in 2001 after WCW folded and Storm was waiting to start with the WWF. The plan was to talk about four indy shows that Bruce was running with Storm as a special guest but Bruce spent the whole time talking about how he had just signed a working deal with the WWF and Steve Austin and The Rock would be coming to his dinky little shows soon.

Cornette and the Midnight Express ran into Jimmy Hart and the Hart Foundation at a bar in Los Angeles in 1986. Bret Hart had no idea who they were. Owen later told him the Express were the best team in the U.S. but Bret assured him that was the Hart Foundation.

Storm wishes more wrestlers would take the business as serious as Bret Hart did.

Stu used to own tons of land around the Hart mansion, but as the business dried up he had to sell land to developers. This also led to the kids having to wear hand me downs and be mocked in school.

Bruce booked a bunch of goofy gimmicks like Dickson Cox and other puns to amuse himself since the business was dead anyway.

The ladder match was created in Stampede.

Only 6 Stampede Wrestlers attended Stu Hart’s funeral (not counting his family).

Final thoughts: By selecting Lance Storm as the guide through this territorial look back, we were somewhat forced to focus on the later years of the promotion which is a tad disappointing. I would have liked to have heard more about the first 30 years of the promotion, rather than the remnants that remained after they sold out to the WWF. Other than that, the content was fine but nothing too gripping. Minutes passed in between the guys covering something noteworthy several times. I wouldn’t highly recommend this.


Written by Andrew Lutzke

The grumpy old man of culturecrossfire.com, lover of wrasslin' and true crimes.

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