Long before Johnny Gaudreau and Bo Levi Mitchell were scoring goals and throwing touchdowns Calgary was famous for a different kind of hard hitting, uncompromising sport — Stampede Wrestling.

Powered by the voice of the legendary broadcaster Ed Whalen and owned by the illustrious Hart family, Stampede Wrestling made Calgary the unlikely centre of the wrestling universe during its run from 1948 to 1989. Now, an alumnus of the famous Hart Brothers wrestling school is leading a resurgence of local wrestling and keeping Calgary on the map.

Lance Storm, who’s birth name is Lance Evers, runs Storm Wrestling Academy, located in a small industrial complex just off of Barlow Trail in Calgary’s southeast. Storm Wrestling Academy, or SWA, has quickly become one of the most prolific wrestling schools in the world. From the U.S. and all the way from Australia, aspiring professional wrestlers are making the journey to Calgary to be trained by the best in the world.

Storm, 47, was a mainstay on professional programming from 1997 to 2004 and has long been hailed as one of the greatest technical wrestlers of all time.

Born in Sarnia, Ont., Storm moved to Calgary in 1990 at the age of 21 after his dwindling love for university lead him to make the choice that changed his life.

“School just wasn’t going the way I wanted it to,” said Storm. “At that point I started thinking, well if I don’t do this, what the hell am I going to do? I went to the university advisors, and they said ‘Well, if you leave now, your grades are still good enough that you could come back if you want to, but if you keep doing what you’re doing we are eventually going to kick you out anyways.’ So I said ‘Alright, see ya!’ Then I decided to get into wrestling.”

Storm began his training at the Hart Brothers Wrestling Camp, where he excelled and was asked to be a trainer for the next two years.

This was Storm’s first taste of training, and he loved it. But top wrestling promotions soon came calling, and Storm found his way into the WWE.

After a successful career wrestling on television, mostly portraying an uber-patriotic Canadian villain that was loathed by the faithful, American fans, Storm made the decision to hang up the boots and retire from the WWE in 2004 after eight years.

Lance Storm during his run as an uber patriotic, Canadian villain, which led him to hold three title belts at once. Photo courtesy Stormwrestling.com

“I was unhappy where I was at in WWE. My body was starting to hurt, I had some back issues that were struggling to get diagnosed. Creatively, they weren’t thrilling me, and my wife was starting to get tired of the road schedule. All things were coming to a head and I was looking for some different options.”

After some stagnant contract negotiations, Storm made the decision that would ultimately lead to the resurgence of wrestling in Calgary.

“It got down to money and schedule, and the guy who ran the developmental system at the time said to me “Hey, you can probably just run your own school and you could probably do really well for yourself.”

“I decided to tell (the WWE) to take my last offer off the table, because I was done, I came home to Calgary and opened up my own school. Twelve years later, here I am.”

In those 12 years, Storm Wrestling Academy has become one the most sought after wrestling schools in the world. With class sizes ranging from 12 to 20 students, Storm’s training regimen is a 12-week process that costs aspiring wrestlers around $3,750 for arguably the most thorough wrestling program on the globe.

From Wales to France, athletes around the world are coming to Calgary to learn the wrestling craft under one of the best, and the popularity of the school is growing. Storm’s classes are currently booked full with a waiting list well into 2018.

Tony Gill, a longtime wrestling fan knew that the best possible way to get into the wrestling business the right way was to train the right way, which led him to move from Brisbane, Australia to Calgary to train with Storm.

After only two years in the industry, Gill, an independent wrestler who performs under the ring name Tony Cage, has excelled at every aspect of the sport and is now one of the most sought after prospects in Canada.

“Lance has had a huge impact on my career so far,” said Gill. “The way I wrestle, a lot of people can tell that I’ve been trained by Storm without even me saying anything, which is a good thing. His style is really safe, but it is also really technical and fast paced as well. Being trained by Lance really makes you stand out right away.”

Gill was quick to praise Storm for his incredible straightforward, feedback.

“In my opinion, he is by far the best trainer in the world,” said Gill.

Storm’s wrestling prowess is not the only thing that helps him excel as a coach. Possessing an acute sense of how to connect to an audience and tell a captivating story, Storm truly understands what makes wrestling so compelling for the millions who watch it worldwide.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand that pro wrestling is storytelling,” said Storm. “It’s about getting the emotion right, it’s about engaging the crowd. There is a great line from a David Allen Coe song The Ride, where he says ‘Boy, can you make folks feel the way you feel inside?’ Making folks feel something is the key. Professional wrestling, when it is done right, makes you feel something inside.”

Former students aren’t the only individuals who insist that Storm is the greatest. Don Callis, a former professional wrestler who is best known by his ring name, Cyrus, records a professional wrestling themed podcast with Storm, called “Killing the Town”.

“What’s missing in professional wrestling is the smattering of styles from your experience wrestling all over the world,” said Callis. “There are very few guys in the business who have that experience working internationally, and that is why I think Lance is the best trainer on the planet. “

“If I had a kid who wanted to get into the business, I would not train him myself. I would send them to Calgary and tell them to get trained properly by Lance.”

With his incredible track record of producing the next crop of wrestling greats, such as current WWE superstars Tyler Breeze, Dolph Ziggler, Oney Lorcan and many others, Storm has truly provided a much needed renaissance in the Calgary wrestling community.

With Storm Wrestling Academy getting some of the highest praise from countless wrestling legends, there is truly no better way to sum up Storm’s impact on professional wrestling industry than from a quote from the greatest professional wrestler of all time, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, from the endorsements on Storm Wrestling Academy’s website.

“There’s not a lot of guys who are good workers and good trainers, but Lance is both,” said Austin. “I can only think of two or three schools that I would say are really good to train at, and Lance’s would be one of them.”

cmacgillivray@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Tayari Skey and can be contacted at tskey@cjournal.ca