Montreal's most diverse wrestling show is happening this weekend
When "The Professor" Shayne Hawk started wrestling in Montreal two decades ago, the culture was toxic.
When he started coaching and running the International Wrestling Syndicate (IWS), he wanted that to change.
"There was a lot of bullying in wrestling when I came up, and I knew that I didn't want to pass that on, so in order to break that generational trauma, what we did here is become much more accepting and I think the results speak for themselves," said Hawk.
Hawk will be part of the Scarred 4 Life IWS event at the Olympia Saturday night. It is being promoted as the most diverse wrestling event Montreal has seen. Trans wrestler Dark Shiek was on the card originally but was detained at the border and was replaced for her heavyweight title fight.
Gay Quebec wrestler Alex Maze said the IWS fans were quick to embrace him for who he is.
"The first show I came in as staff, I was wearing a shirt that says 'gay is not okay, it's fabulous,' just to see how people would react. No reaction at all," he said.
Though he said some fans in smaller venues with other circuits have shouted homophobic taunts at him, those in Montreal watching IWS shows have always had his back in the ring.
"With IWS, we don't have that issue," he said. "IWS, I step into the ring, [and] they know what to get ready for."
Kristara said being inclusive is a no-brainer for wrestling in 2023.
"We're all different. If I'm watching a show and don't see someone that looks like me, I can't relate as well, or I might not feel as into it," she said.
"The Brightest Light in the Room" Dani Leo will square off against IWS Women's Champion Melanie Havok. Leo said she when she fights "the Classy Kind of Trashy" from Laval, Que., she wants to be an example for girls who may want to get into the ring.
"The fact that I get to be that now for other little girls in the crowd, that means everything to me because I didn't have that growing up. I want to be the person that I wish I had," she said.
Those in the IWS crew remember seeing wrestlers in the past mocking their ethnic identity or sexual orientation.
"There are certain stereotypes, especially when you're a person of colour - you might be the villain, you might be something really outrageous that you don't identify with," said Kristara.
"When I was growing up, LGBT [people] were a mockery," said Maze. "There was Billy and Chuck, there was Rico, it was always a straight man doing 'gay-type' archetype, it was stereotypes. It was breaking people, tearing us down."
These wrestlers want to build each other up as people while suplexing them on the mat.
Havok said as a female wrestling champion, she wants to make sure others have the chance to succeed as she has.
"If we don't deliver, it's said it's because we're a woman, we don't belong in the industry, but we are trying right now to change things and we are showing people what we can do," she said.
Though the show-runner Hawk knows there is still work to do in the industry, he will not stop pushing toxicity out and embracing diversity.
"The results speak for themselves," he said. "When you're able to give people are more open and welcoming environment to perform and to be themselves, you tend to get a better performance from them."