There’s little doubt that “Hotshot” Danny Duggan is one of the most highly-regarded names in the Canadian independent scene. Over the course of his 16-year career, Duggan has truly done it all across the country. Not only is Duggan one of the most respected in-ring performers in Canada, but for his work as the founder and head promoter of Canadian Wrestling’s Elite.

On a recent edition of the Conversations with Love podcast, Canadian wrestling veteran “Hotshot” Danny Duggan spoke with Spencer Love about his career in Canada, the founding of Canadian Wrestling’s Elite, the Brutus “the Barber” Beefcake incident last year, whether he’s a professional wrestler or a performance artist and more. For the full interview, click here.

His style as a professional wrestler:

“Well, if you haven’t seen Hotshot Danny Duggan or (aren’t) familiar with CWE, that means you have not been following Canadian wrestling for the better part of the last 20 years as we’ve been kind of re-revolutionizing the industry so to speak. First, me as a performer here in Manitoba and then with the touring company, with Canadian Wrestling’s Elite, now going across five Canadian provinces. And I don’t say that out of ego, I say that in truth. And in fact, I started wrestling 17 years ago this January, January 2003 is when I broke into the business as a performer. I trained under a man by the name of “Tomahawk” Jean Swan, who was a Manitoba wrestling legend here in the area, and then furthered my training with a man Alberta wrestling fans are very familiar with by the name of Hotshot Johnny Devine, who was kind enough to pass that moniker down to myself when he was trying to move on from it himself.”

“So, for the last 17 years I’ve been plugging away, I’ve used the moniker “the King of the Canadian Indies”, because I don’t think there’s anybody in Canada, including talent that works for the WWE, that put the miles on the car that I do travelling across this country and across the United States. So I’ve been very blessed to have opportunities to do that full time for a very long time now. I’ve competed with organizations like WWE, Ring of Honor, I’ve done three tours of Japan.”

“And then on top of that, January 23rd, 2009, we started a little thing called Canadian Wrestling’s Elite out of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and what started off as a monthly wrestling show, very much like most independents across the country, quickly blossomed, and now we’re doing over a hundred events a year across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario.”

On what inspired Canadian Wrestling’s Elite to become a travelling promotion:

“Well, that’s a multilayered answer and the very simple answer is I love professional wrestling and I would wrestle every single day of the week if I had an opportunity to, and that’s why sometimes we’ll do that 40 days in a row on these tours when people think we’re crazy. I just love, love the art of what we do and being able to share that love with fans across the country that do love it as much as we do. So that’s the main driving force. You know, obviously business is important as well, but the inspiration, I think really this comes from just being blessed to break into the business in Winnipeg, which at the time definitely didn’t feel like a blessing. It was kind of a black eye on the industry, you know, 15, 20 years ago. But in Winnipeg alone, there’s a fellow by the name of Tony Condello that’s based out of here that ran the Northern Death tours every year that a lot of famous wrestlers got their start, and participated on, there was a fellow by the name of Bernie Todd who ran the Canadian Wrestling Federation who ran tours across reserves across the country in Canada.”

“So right from like 15, 16 years old when I started wrestling, I was immediately put on the road and doing, you know, two, three, four-week tours across the country on a regular basis. So that’s kind of the industry that I was brought into and what I fell in love with. Being a 15, 16, 17-year-old kid, being able to go on the road like a rock star definitely stuck with me and it was a lifestyle that I really enjoyed. Um, and then furthermore, I love eighties professional wrestling, I love old school professional wrestling, if you want to call it that, and that territory system was a very big part of that culture. So, we’re trying to recreate that here because I’m a firm believer, you’re only gonna get good at this if you do it as much as you possibly can in front of as many different people as you can. So, trying to try to build our talent to a level they compete on an international level is very important, and being able to do that night in and night out with veteran talent in the locker room, whether it be a WWE Hall-of-Famer or current top stars on the independents really pays off being able to do it so frequently.”

Winnipeg’s reputation in the independent wrestling scene:

“There was a lot of shitty wrestlers here. There still is a few, to be honest with you. But when I broke into the business, there (were) two or three prominent promotions, I want to say in the late ’90s, early 2000s. But when I broke in, in 2003, at one point there (were) 12 or 13 companies actively operating in one city and very few of them had working arrangements and it was very much like we were talking about off air the way Alberta is right now, where if you wrestle for one, you don’t wrestle for the other. So when you’ve got 12 companies in one city who aren’t transporting talent in from other markets at this point, trying to utilize talent, it gets thinned out very quickly. In order to fill those cards, you know, a lot of these promoters – if you want to call them that – are filtering people through training a lot faster than they should or you know, if they were able to sell tickets, even though they weren’t qualified to be in the ring they were being put in the ring so they’d pay the bills.”

“So there was a lot of really shitty wrestlers here. Like comically badly. I love bad wrestling and I think that comes from breaking into this area as well, is you can go and watch just a live train wreck before your eyes called a wrestling match. People that would travel through would see that and then word would kind of travel to other parts of the country. On top of that, some of those promoters weren’t very liked either because of some of their antics, you know, not being truthful or honest with some of the performers. So it just kind of had a bad reputation of having bad businessmen running the business and then having a lot of wrestlers that weren’t really qualified to be wrestlers. So it took a long time of kind of cleaning that up and we tried very hard to, and I think for the most part we have, to kind of get us on a level where we’re respected as, as you know, one of the top wrestling capitals in the country.”

On talent sharing between promotions in Manitoba:

“There’s very little of that (exclusivity) now and that’s, it was always a young man’s dream, so to speak, to kind of do that. When we started CWE in 2009, there (were) eight promotions running and it was still very much like that, and that’s kinda why you know, that was one of the many reasons I started CWE is I just didn’t care for the attitude of “if you wrestle here, you don’t wrestle there”. Especially if it was, you know, in different cities or if one show was a bar show in front of adults and the other promotion ran just in front of kids. There was more ego than anything getting in the way of allowing the talent to better themselves. Not only make money but most importantly at this level get the experience and the reps in that you need to get out of this level and further yourself.”

“So I always thought you should be able to wrestle wherever you want, whenever you can, and even if there was promotions that, you know, didn’t get along, as long as there was a mutual respect for the talent and how they were used at other places, I always felt this shouldn’t be an issue with it. But at the time you had to wrestle for one or the other. So there was a group of us that just didn’t care for that way. So we tried to wrestle for as many different groups as we could that would allow us to, and there was a few that wouldn’t. Eventually we kind of just sat it out and said “hey, alright, we’re not gonna wrestle for anybody then until, until this changes and you know, and then eventually we started CWE and I never really restricted my talent from where they wanted to work.”

“And you know, there’s (been) a few instances where people were poorly representing the business in a bad light that we tried to get our guys to maybe stay away from so it didn’t reflect bad on us, but I was told, guys, wrestle where you want, when you want, make your money, build a fan base, get better because you’ll be more useful to me on our shows. Now, you fast forward to 2019 there’s three, four companies running, two running regularly, and there’s talent from all shows from each company on all the shows now and there seems to be a mutual respect between promoters and bookers that if this guy has a heel here, he’s going to be a heel there. This guy’s a champion here, you’re not going to bury them over here. And that was something that I always felt should’ve been done 15-20 years ago. And now finally, I don’t know if it’s because we’ve all gotten old and smartened up or we just got tired of dealing with the bullshit, but it’s very much like that now where guys are wrestling where they want, when they want and it’s really good and you can see it because the talents are now wrestling anywhere from four to 12 times a month, you can see them gradually get better because of it, especially the guys that are just breaking in.”

The talent sharing situation in Alberta:

“Well, what’s going on in Alberta right now is strictly ego and idiocy and I have no problem saying that and this is for promoters that have been around a long time and it’s ones that are just starting. It’s a bullshit attitude with bullshit excuses that sound logical on the surface, but if you actually break down the business of it and the result of it, none of it applies, and I can attest to it because I’ve now, you know, ran almost I think over 600 shows for 11 years and we’re consistently the top drawing company in every market we’re regular in. That’s without restricting talent on, where they can and can’t work. You know, a lot of it, as we spoke about, when there’s multiple companies, the talent gets thinned out considerably. So not only does that company that’s restricting talent suffer, but so does everybody else. And then, as a result, the business suffers, because every time someone pays to see a wrestling show, especially if it’s their first time, it may be our only chance to make a great impression. If they show up and see something that’s less than stellar or even offensive to the business, chances are we’re not getting them back. And they don’t go, “oh, that was that PWA show or RCW show,” they just go, “that was indie wrestling,” and it all kind of gets lumped in the same. So I think as a representative of the business, we want every show to be good, whether it’s our own show or the competitor’s show because if the competitor’s show is good, they’re going to probably think the rest of us are good too. And it also falls on the other end where if they see one show that’s shit, chances are they’re not going to go to another or they’re just gonna assume the others are shit too.”

“You have to be a very die-hard local independent wrestling fan to know the difference between these groups, and chances are those fans are coming regardless of the quality and who’s on which show anyways, so you’re really fighting over the same audience. And then secondly, here’s the big one and its complete bullshit. ‘Well, if I’m booking wrestler “A” on my show and he’s working on the other show next week, why would they come to see them on mine?’ Nobody, and I mean this respectfully and I can say this about myself, too, none of us individually are drawing the house on these independent shows. There’s a reason why we bring in a headline or we bring in a former WWE star, or top independent star because they have casual appeal to the casual audience that’s going to bring in new eyes that wouldn’t come otherwise.”

“But us as individuals aren’t filling three, four, five, 600 seats for the promoters. So you could wrestle for different promoter every week and it’s not going to affect the draw, but if the promoter his job goes up and promotes his show, promotes an attraction that people want to see and gets word of mouth out there to enough people to see it. You could have the worst show on the planet, but you go out there and make it seem special and get the word out there and people perceive it to be special, you’ll get people in the seats. So a lot of it’s a cop-out, lazy attitude of ‘well, I don’t want to put in the extra work. I don’t want to go up there and make the effort to let people know my show’s happening. These are my guys, and if other people are promoting them, that means I’m gonna have to try harder and I don’t want to do that.’ And that’s really what it breaks down to.”

The Brutus Beefcake situation, and why Jimmy Jacobs is a great human being:

“Well, the the Coles notes of it for anyone not familiar with it, we had Brutus Beefcake as a headliner of our last fall tour and he was a miserable prick, to say the least, to deal with from the second he landed until the second he left and made business very difficult for us, whether it be through our media, through the way you interacted with fans, the locker room sponsors, things of that nature. In the process, he held me up for an advance before he came or he wasn’t going to show up. So he was paid four days in advance, on every show. By the time we got to Winnipeg with four shows left, he’d been paid up for those last four shows he got on a plane and left without telling anybody. There’s a whole lot more depth in detail to the scumbaggery of Brutus Beefcake, but that’s the gist of it.”

“And he left four towns without a headliner that paid to see him, and for God knows why were excited to see him. That Jimmy Jacobs was, you know, he’s a good personal friend of mine and he’s somebody who’s been working with CWE for the better part of the last 10 years and called him up again. He filled in last-minute to do so. And then he attested to the conditions not being as terrible as Brutus made it out to be as did many people, you know, like the Ron Simmons and the Scott Norton’s of the world and so many other great talents that had been through here. You know, nobody had complained anywhere near to the degree of a Brutus Beefcake. But Jimmy’s one of those guys who’s a professional through and through and somebody that loves wrestling, and that’s why he fits in so well with me and fits in so well with our locker room because even, you know, he’s going on 20 years in the business.”

“He was a writer for WWE for a couple of years right next to Vince McMahon and he’s still getting in the car and doing these drives across Canada. Being crammed in hotel rooms and having shitty conditions, if you want to call them that, just like everybody else. Cause he gets the business, he understands the economics of it. And most importantly, he still loves it and it makes them happy to be going out and doing all these things. And that’s, that’s the great thing about Jimmy. And then on top of it, you know, I was rooming with him on the majority of the last tour. He’s still writing for Impact wrestling. So between his matches, he’s in the car and in the hotel room writing television for an international wrestling company between doing his independent show. So just an absolute class acts, he’s one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met wrestling related and just personally related. So he’s just an absolute gem to have in the locker room for anybody that ever uses them.”

Bringing in Talent and the first CWE Tour:

“Well, first and foremost, I’m looking for somebody that’s going to generate revenue for the company. So that’s, you know, the bottom line that keeps us rolling through. There’s been different phases like when we started in 2009, Ring of Honor was something you had to be a very diehard wrestling fans and know the internet was still around. It obviously was around and had a following on the underground, but Ring of Honor was nowhere near the level it was today. Starting out in Winnipeg, you know, Ring of Honor, for example, wasn’t on television here yet. You had to be a quote-unquote “smart mark” to know who a lot of these guys were and their value and things of that nature, but there were a lot more affordable for a new company to bring in rather than blowing the bank on a big WWE name to degenerate us the maximum exposure we would need.”

“So for the first year, you know, our first show was headlined by Daniel Bryan in an incredible main event with Mentallo. That year also saw Nigel McGuinness, the Briscoe brothers, Tyler Black or Seth Rollins. Austin Aries, Claudio Castagnoli or Cesaro. So many top guys came in that first year that was absolutely incredible that the people didn’t know quite who they were, but by the time we left there, like that was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen live. That first year was just such, such a good year for in-ring wrestling for the company that it really solidified us where people didn’t need a big name to come and see us cause they knew they’re going to get a great in-ring product. But then as the company started to grow and we started to go on the road that wasn’t going to quite apply in small-town Manitoba or small-town Saskatchewan.”

“So as a company trying to generate revenue and media attention, you know, we need to start leaning on some of the WWE names. So that’s when we started having the Road Dogg Jesse James and Billy Gunn and various other legends come on tour with us because there was a lot easier to go into the small towns and say, ‘Hey, we’re bringing this big star here and get them to invest in the product,’ and it was a lot easier to get on the radio stations, the TV stations in the newspaper and get that free advertising about a big celebrity coming to town. So that was kind of the direction we took, and now that we’re, where we’re at now, it’s kind of a little bit of a blend of both because we’ve got a good fan base across the country, where we’ve got solidified markets in each province that we know we’re going to do a certain amount of people regardless of who we have.”

“So you try to bring a little bit of something for everybody. You know, on the last tour we had Psicosis on the last tour, so he’s gonna translate to the 90s wrestling fan and fans of the Monday Night Wars. We have the likes of Jake Roberts and Ron Simmons and Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff, those guys that catch the media’s attention and the die-hard wrestling fan. They may, not all today’s wrestling, but grew up on these guys and want to come down and meet them and get a picture. But then at the same time, you know, we’ll get on the last tour alone, we had, you know, Vinny Marseglia and TK O’Ryan from The Kingdom, Jimmy Jacobs from Impact Wrestling, Killer Kross, Michael Elgin. We try to bring a little bit of something for everybody. If you’re a lifelong wrestling fan, you’re getting to see that legend you grew up watching.”

On personal favourite stars to work with:

“Personal favourites to work with? Wow. We’ve been so blessed, man, like for as big as that Brutus debacle was, he’s like the one who’s the exception rather than the rule, (because) everyone’s been so great. Like Ron Simmons is one of the most incredible human beings I’ve ever met. He was just an absolute gem to have on tour and just helping with our crew and, and bettering them. Nikita Koloff was another guy that was just fantastic. I can’t say enough good things about Mr Wonderful. Paul Orndorff was one of the first legends we brought on a multiple week tour, and just the knowledge he passed on to our locker room was great.”

“I can’t think of anybody that I’d say a bad word about that we haven’t talked about already, because you know, I think that’s kind of a part of the appeal and why we’ve been successful up here is the amount of times that these legends or guys from the 90s that have come up here, they always say, man, like I’ve lost count of the amount of them that have said on the road that we’re kind of the last territory of professional wrestling. And we’re still going town to town wrestling every night, cramming in a car, sharing hotel rooms and doing the old territory system and they appreciate that it’s still professional wrestling up here. So once they get up here and they see that and they see it’s not a mockery of what the business has become a lot of places. And it’s guys that looked like wrestlers that want to learn how to tell a story and learn psychology and show that to the audience. Once they see that here, they’re like a kid in a candy store. They’re so excited to see that that still exists somewhere. And then you just see them open up so much knowledge to try to pass on guys cause they know it’s actually going to be utilized not in one ear and out the other.”

On breaking into professional wrestling:

“I broke into the business, as silly as it sounds, at the age of 12 years old. I was watching a WCW Saturday night rerun on a local cable station here in Winnipeg. And during the commercial break, they had an advertisement for a wrestling school for a local wrestling company by the name of River City Wrestling. Up until that point, I didn’t know independent wrestling existed, so this was excitement, to say the least. So I took down the phone number for the wrestling school and I waited until my parents went to sleep a little after midnight that night and pulled out the phone and called this place up and told them I wanted to be a professional wrestler. The promoter caught on pretty quickly that I was probably underage and too young to be calling. Once he found out I was 12 years old, he said, ‘well, you’re a little too young to start wrestling, you know, but I appreciate your ambition here. So, if you’d like to come down to do, he’ll come down to our shows. Um, you can, you’ll help bring the bell or sell programs and carry the jackets to the back and things of that nature.’ So that’s how I kinda got involved doing that.”

His opinion on beginning wrestling training young:

“I’m all for it. Maybe not 14. I thought that – and it’s hypocritical for me to say starting that young like I had my first match of 15 – I think 16 is OK cause your body’s a little more developed and can do it. When I started wrestling I was a teenager probably just hitting puberty at the time I’m taking my first bumps. So my body’s still developing and that’s probably not good for it long-term. Like I can attest to that now, 17 years later, my spine probably isn’t in the best of condition, neither are a lot of things on my body, so doing it while your body’s so fresh and it’s still developing and trying to fit itself may not be the greatest idea. But at the same time, you know, starting at the age I did gave me a head start. By the time I was 18, 19, 20 years old, I’d been doing it for five, six years, while a lot of guys were just starting. So it really gave me a career head start and advantage to kind of be a leader and get more opportunity at a young age that would have (taken) me five more years if I would have waited until I was 18”.

Whether wrestling for a major company is still his goal:

“It’s a complex question, man, because I’ve worked my entire career with WWE as the goal because that’s, you know, what I grew up on. That’s what I love. That’s what inspired me to get into the business, and I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been booked consistently with them doing extra work now since 2010. I’ve been using segments on TV for taking bumps to security and things of that nature, have been able to do the dark match. I’ve been flown to Florida to do their performance centre trial, things of that nature. So I’ve been so close so many times where I think ‘this is gonna be it’ that it doesn’t weigh on me the same way that it used to. I used to be really, like, it was that or nothing to me, and after doing that tryout and feeling that I left everything on the line in the ring, with my promo, with the workouts themselves, I felt there wasn’t anything more I could have done on myself personally that would’ve changed the outcome.”

“So after having that and it not working out, especially after getting pretty much the praise you’d want to hear from, from the agents and officials afterwards, that made me feel reassured that this was going to be the one that had happened on, for not to happen, it was kind of weird. It kind of gave me like a feeling of peace going, ‘okay, well there’s not, you know, that didn’t do it.’ I don’t know what else could have. And a lot of times, wrestling’s about timing, so knowing that there’s nothing I could have done differently in terms of my performance or the effort that I put in, it doesn’t weigh on me the same way that I have to be here. And I think that’s because I am very lucky to stay consistently booked each and every week somewhere on the continent that if it doesn’t work out, I’m still doing what I love and ultimately that’s performing in front of a crowd regardless of if it’s in an arena or if it’s in a community centre somewhere. So as long as I get to keep on doing that, I think I’m going to be happy in a good state of mind. But with that being said, I still always do put out feelers to the major companies and stay in contact with them and still try to get those opportunities when they do arise because the more wrestling the merrier and if I can do it in front of more people the better.”

Performance Artist vs. Professional Wrestler:

“Professional wrestler, 100%. And I get it and I know there’s very respected, talented people that are on the performance artist side of things, and respectfully I say it’s a bunch of bullshit, and I think that’s because they’re underselling and undervaluing what they do and what the business is by lumping it into that category. Yes, it is a performance and yes, wrestling is an art, but professional wrestling is something that has always been considered and always will be its own unique genre of entertainment that nothing else on this planet can duplicate and never will. As a professional wrestler, not a performance artists, a professional wrestler, we are not only top-tier athletes, we need to be able to act. We need to be able to speak. We need to be able to be in athletic condition.”

“We’re our own stuntman. We have to be able to improv in front of an audience. We need to be able to remember. We have to do all that under one umbrella, usually in one take in front of an audience and there’s no actor on the planet or performer on the planet that wears as many hats as we do and performs those duties at the same time in front of a live audience. I think by putting that performance artists cap on it, you’re really limiting and underselling the ability and talents of a professional wrestler. We’re very unique, one-of-a-kind performer and athletes and I would prefer to be recognized for that because anybody that tries doing this will tell you very quickly how difficult it is to do and be successful at it.”

Some quotes have been edited for clarity. If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit the WCSN with an h/t to Spencer Love for the transcription.

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Spencer Love

Once stood in front of Cedric Alexander in line at a hotel. Slightly big deal.

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