Quebec wrestler Lufisto announced on her website ( www.lufisto.com ) this week that she is taking a wrestling sabbatical to heal three herniated disks in her back. A sabbatical that she fears may lead to a forced retirement. Amongst other things, it meant that Lufisto was forced to relinquish her CZW Ironman title.
-To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high. Motto of the Montreal Canadiens - as written on their dressing room wall. From the poem In Flanders Field by John McRae.
I have a nomination for the Pantheon. You must understand that in Montreal, we take our sports seriously and we take our sports heroes even more seriously. So, I do not nominate someone for the post of Montreal sports hero without some trepidation.
Before I make my nomination, it would probably be a good idea to review the qualities necessary to be considered a candidate for Montreal Sports Hero. The common misconception is that in Montreal we are only interested in winners. Silver is for losers. Not true.
The truth is that Montreal fans are even more demanding than that. Sure winning is important. It is much more interesting than losing. But victory in and of itself is not enough, we also require that our heroes hate to lose.
Take as an example, the biggest sports hero that Montreal has ever had: Maurice Richard. His talent frequently seemed too big for his fragile body to contain. He was rejected by the Canadian Army during World War Two because of old, badly healed injuries. Severe enough to keep him from serving his country, but he refused to allow them to stop him from serving his city and his team. It is his will that we remember and honour; those coal-black shark eyes that smoldered with hate. It was his will that allowed him to score a Stanley Cup winning goal in overtime with a concussion, and that left him weeping in the dressing room because he couldn’t remember the play. It was his will that made him play hockey the same day that he strained his shoulder moving a cousin, and that led to him scoring five goals and three assists in that game.
You could see that same hatred of losing in the eyes of Scotty Bowman and all of his players during the Canadiens modern run of four Stanley Cups in a row, You could see it in the face of Patrick Roy, all the time, but never more poignantly than when he defied his coach, Mario Tremblay, as the Detroit Red Wings were shredding him in nets. Two men who hated losing refusing to give way one to the other, and their conflict ended up damn near destroying the team.
Take as a more current example, the Colts vs. Patriots AFC conference championship this Saturday. On one hand, you have quarterback Peyton Manning a nice guy, a two-time NFL MVP, a guy who likes to win. On the other hand, you have a team led by coach Bill Bilichick and Tom Brady. Bilichick dresses like a homeless man. This year, he snubbed for his former assistant, Eric Mangini, now head coach of the New York Jets, only to hug him after the Patriots beat the Jets in the playoffs. We may never know the reason, but I can guess. Mangini left Bilichick to take a job in the same conference for a team, whose ownership and management, Bilichick loathes. The snub was the action of a man who hates to lose; the hug the actions of a man who no longer had to fear losing. If you look at the eyes of Tom Brady and Bill Bilichick, you will see Maurice Richard’s eyes: the black dead eyes of a shark, smoldering with hate. I make no predictions, but if I had to choose give me the team led by men who know how to hate, and hate to lose.
You can see that same hatred of losing in the stars of other teams that we honour here in Montreal by repeating their stories. Bobby Baun wining the Stanley Cup for Toronto on a broken leg; Bobby Orr playing with knees made of broken glass; Mario Lemieux beating cancer and playing with a spinal cord made of balsa wood. You can see it in the saga of the two team captains, here in Montreal and there in Toronto
This year, I have watched with some dismay as the assorted pundits and parasites jumping off the Toronto Maple Leafs band wagon have conspired to try and push Toronto Maple Leafs Captain Mats Sundin under the team bus, complaining that if the Maple Leafs keep Sundin until the end of his career, that in the process that they will doom Toronto’s already pathetic chances of winning the Stanley Cup. Makes you think that Toronto sports fans have about as much loyalty as a pack of sharks with blood in the water.
By comparison, if you even whispered about getting rid of the Montreal Canadiens captain, Saku Koivu, you might have a modern reenactment of the Maurice Richard riots. And yet, Saku Koivu doesn’t speak French and has never lead the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup. Not to mention that when Koivu became Captain, he took over a cursed position which had over a decade chewed up and spat out great players such as: Chris Chelios, Guy Carbonneau, Kirk Muller, Mike Keane, Pierre Turgeon and Vincent Damphousse.
This is true. But we have seen Koivu tested and we know the size of his heart. Like Mario Lemieux we have watched him beat cancer. We have seen him battle through injuries. We have seen him play hurt: including this year where he leads his team despite an eye injury that affects his peripheral vision and that will require off-season surgery to remove a cataract. Some players wear the C, but on some… greater… players, the C wears them.
You hear all the time the New Age types talk about how to beat cancer, you have to visualize, you have to think positive. Fucking Hippies. Horse-shit. To beat cancer, you have to visualize sure, but you have to visualize negative. You have to hate the cancer, enough to want it to die. If you can hate the cancer badly enough; if you can hate it to death; you may be able to beat it. If you can beat cancer, you have a place in our Pantheon.
Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't how hard you hit; it's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done. -Rocky from Rocky Balboa
These are our heroes. The men who get hit, but keep moving forward. These are the members of our Pantheon.
As I said, I have a nominee for that Pantheon.
She is not a hockey player, some would argue that as a professional wrestler she barely qualifies as an athlete. They would be wrong. Her name is Lufisto and she knows how hard life can hit. She has proven though that she knows how to keep moving forward. She knows how winning is done.
In the Spring of 2002, Lufisto was booked to take part in the main event of an Ontario show to be called Ring N’ Ears. The Ontario Athletic Commission forbid the match on the grounds that Lufisto would be competing against men and not women. For Lufisto, who routinely wrestled against men, because there was no real female competition, this decision effectively barred Lufisto from wrestling in Ontario.
Lufisto fought back, complaining to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. It took four years, but eventually the Human Rights Commission convinced the Ontario Athletic Commission that the rule they were enforcing was antiquated and would be thrown out in any court case. The Ontario Athletics Commission further concluded that the rest of their regulations were unlikely to survive a court challenge and quietly announced that they would no longer be telling wrestling promoters what kinds of matches that they could or could not put on. Like a good fullback, Lufisto gave the block that freed up Ontario Wrestling promoters from the bureaucracy that was stifling them. The ensuing resurgence of the Ontario Independent Wrestling scene owes a great deal to her victory.
In the Summer of 2003, Lufisto was invited to Japan to wrestle for and train with Akino and Mariko Yoshida. In Japan, wrestling, especially women’s wrestling, is treated much more seriously than it is in the United States. Women’s wrestling called Joshi is considered its own separate sport, not a mere tits and ass side show the way that it is in the United States and Canada. Just being invited to Japan is a major compliment to your ability, on par to a musician being invited to play in Carnegie Hall.
Unfortunately, within weeks of arriving in Japan, Lufisto injured her knee and had to come home. Again, life had battered her down just when her career seemed to be gaining momentum.
But Lufisto kept picking herself up and pushing forward, and eventually the breaks came. Last year, 2006, was Lufisto’s year. She won her battle with the Ontario Athletics Commission. She had one of the best matches of her career, beating Dru Onyx at IWS Breakout 2007. She found success in the IWS, forming a popular tag-team with Sexxxy Eddy called The Missionaries of Violence. She won the first death match tournament ever held in Ontario, and in a gutsy performance worthy of Maurice Richard, won her final match against Necro Butcher despite punching the shaggy man-beast so hard in the head that she broke her hand on his skull. Then she won the CZW Ironman title, the first and only woman to ever win a title in CZW. In December she took part in the main event of CZW’s signature show: the Cage of Death.
Of course, the cynics amongst you might argue that in a sport where the results are rigged, how can a hatred for losing have any meaning at all.
This would be to ignore the fact that wrestling is as harsh a meritocracy as any sport and harsher than some. In wrestling only two concerns dominate: Can you protect yourself in the ring, and will the fans pay to watch you wrestle. If the answer to both those questions is yes, than you will always find work. If enough people are prepared to pay to see you wrestle, than you will find yourself in the main event. And, if enough people are prepared to see you WIN, than you will win belts and you will win tournaments.
In wrestling, then, I would argue that a hatred of losing translates as a passion to give the fans their money’s worth and a refusal, like any athlete, to allow the nicks and scrapes; the aches and pains; the bumps and bruises to stop you from giving the best performance possible. To go for gold with every match, because anything else is unacceptable.
Last week, on her website, Lufisto announced that she was taking a forced wrestling sabbatical, because of three herniated disks, what she described to Yves Leroux of www.slam.ca as a medical leave of absence. Once again, just as Lufisto’s career was building momentum, life dragged her down.
Will Lufisto come back from this injury? It is obviously too early to tell and it is a serious injury that would ring down the close of many an athlete’s career, not just one in an industry where back injuries are a constant risk.
Will she come back? I offer no predictions. Just the certainty, that if anyone can come back from this injury, it is Lufisto.
As someone who has gotten to see Lufisto in CZW, she really has to be commended for what she has been able to do. She went toe to toe with Nick Gage, a guy who really lets it all hang out and wrestles a tough style like Lufisto.
She took some hellacious bumps in the Cage of Death this past December, and it's sad to hear that she is having to take time off because of injuries.
I wish her nothing but the best and a speedy recovery.
What a shame that no one with national TV will put someone like Lufisto on their programs. Promoters get way too enamored with their vision of what wrestling is "supposed" to be--and way more so specifically with their vision of what women in wrestling are "supposed" to be. So they miss out on really talented people and really interesting ideas that don't happen to fit those preconceptions.
I've never really had the opportunity to see Lufisto wrestle, even on TV. Gotta at least go look for some YouTube stuff with her. I've read enough about her in the past that I was already impressed with her even before this.