In the back of a mechanic’s shop in the Millwoods sits a 20 by 20, blood-stained wrestling ring. Blood that was spilled for the entertainment of the fans. Independent wrestlers’ lives and their dedication to their craft are often more interesting than the drama that takes place on TV. There is no high budget in indie wrestling. There is a ring, a ref and people throwing their bodies around for the love of pro wrestling. Not in packed stadiums but in community halls of 50 people. Indie promotions have young talent who want to be in the WWE, older veterans and dudes who want to say they wrestle. Monster Pro Wrestling owner Sean Dunster and veteran Philip Lafon have seen it all in their tenure as pro-wrestlers.
“You could actually make a living. I never had a job for 30 years. That’s all I did was professional wrestling. Now it’s more of a hobby,” stated Lafon when asked how the scene used to be.
“Even within the WWE, the popularity has decreased from its heyday.”
Lafon recalls the fanfare surrounding wrestling during his time in the then WWF. “When I [would] see a crowd of 25,000 people … nothing in the world could bother me. It was just the best high of them all,” he said.
“If there’s anything I miss in the business [it’s that] you can’t get that adrenaline … when you have thousands of people cheering you on, it’s very hard to replace.”
Wrestling has evolved a lot since Dunster and Lafon’s glory days. “Wrestling was another style of rock star living,” said Lafon. A major issue within the industry in those days was alcohol and drug abuse, notably, painkillers.
“In the ’80s and early ’90s, if you did pass a drug test, you would probably get fired. The doctors would prescribe painkillers like they were vitamins. And now they have cleaned up. Thank God,” continued Lafon.
Dunster, who wrestled as Massive Damage, also commented on this issue: “The business in those days killed all of my friends. So for me to sober up and make it and to see the WWE come up with a wellness policy. That’s huge for wrestling.”
Young deaths within the business were mostly caused by substance abuse. Both Dunster and Lafon detailed various stories of men within their industry dying young.
Lafon had his own battle as well.
“Even though I made millions of dollars, I finished broke with an addiction… Emotionally, physically, spiritually – I was broken. It took me about 10 years to get back to normal,” said Lafron.
Through the trials and tribulations that come with the pro-wrestling lifestyle, Dunster and Lafon were able to continue to work and be successful in and outside of the business. When asked if he had any regrets, Lafon remarked, “I am so grateful for the opportunity. Even if I finished with an addiction and flat broke like 90 per cent of us do, I came out alive.”
Lafon has now been sober for nine and a half years and has his diploma in life skills coaching as well as in social work. Dunster had his demons as well. He is in charge of Edmonton’s Monster Pro Wrestling training and management.
Both men want to share their experiences to help the next crop of wrestlers. The outside perspective of pro wrestling is that it is fake but the experiences and trauma that the fighters undergo is very real.
– Jory Proft