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Starbuck Michael Majalahti:“Pro-wrestling is my wife and it´s my mistress” - part 1
As the Olympic Games are taking place at the moment, also STALKER dedicates a chapter to the aspect of sports... Fascinated by Wrestling since childhood, I´d never expected to get the chance for an interview with a professional wrestler. Michael Majalahti alias Starbuck embodies the combination of sport and (Rock) music scene, as he became known not only as Pro-Wrestler but also as singer of Stoner Kings and Crossfyre. Michael has taken a lot of time to answer our questions, therefore we publish this interview in 2 parts. The first focuses on Wrestling and how Michael came from Canada to Finland...
Hi Michael, how are you doing? You´ll soon be on another trip to Japan, where you fight a tag team match together with Hajime Ohara against TAJIRI and Naomichi Marufuji. How to you prepare for such a fight?
The first fight in Tokyo is gonna be a Tag Team Match and then the day after, I´ll be fighting my own partner from the night before, in Osaka. So, the only way to prepare is to study your opponent. Nowadays you´ve got YouTube, which is a very good way to get information, and then there is also the Wrestling torrents, so whatever I´ve downloaded during the years regarding my opponents is what I use. And then what I usually do is that I upload it to my PSP, I take that on board of the plane and during the flight and also in my hotel room and watch and study my opponent on PSP.
Ok, that´s very interesting. So you know afterwards about his usual movements and tricks your opponent is doing?
Yeah, you have to really become acquainted with the style you are up against, because you have to integrate your own style against their style. If they are more contained, I let it be flashier. You´ve got to know what you are up against - what are they doing. And it gives me at least somewhat of a clearer picture what I´m gonna be facing.
Ok, and how do you prepare your body before such a fight?
Well, I basically just to the gym about 3-4 day a week. I do weight lifting, then on top of that Cardio, bike riding and sometimes I do jogging or interval training for endurance. And sometimes I actually run in the forest, which is very different from regular jogging, because you have to take different kind of steps to navigate yourself through the forest. Then on top of that, once in a while I go to our training facility here in Finland, Kellokoski, right next to Järvenpää. And there I grab up other wrestlers and just go train with them. And that way I get some fundamental ground work down. But I´ve been doing this since 1994, in January 1994 there was my first match in Calgary, Canada, and you know I´ve been doing this for quite a while now, so I am pretty self-confident that I can handle pretty much any kind of competition that comes my way.
You will go to Japan again in the end of the month - what will you be doing then there?
Yeah, this summer I go to Japan three times, last time on 27th of August until second of September. It´s going to be very hectic.
Wouldn´t it be useful to stay in Japan for that time?
Yeah, if that was the case, I have to live on something. I have to have a place there and so on. So maybe it´s at this point still more economically reasonable to just fly there. The jetlag kills me every time that I go over. And it takes me over a week to get over the jetlag, because it´s a seven hour time difference and that wipes me out. I have had insomnia for over half of my life and sometimes it is really, really hard for me to get enough rest, and especially on the airplanes I have big troubles sleeping.
I can imagine that this is quite hard
Especially in the economy class, the seats are so narrow these days, the back rests hardly go back, and I just can´t get comfortable, my arms fall asleep and my fingers fall asleep. But you know it´s what I love to do, it´s my passion as a professional Wrestler. When people ask me what are you, define yourself. I just say I´m an artist. I´m a rock musican, I´m a songwriter, I am a graphical artist, and I´m a wrestler . And all of that is art in a way.
You´ve lived half of your life in Canada, you were born in Timmins and moved to Finland in 1996 just at the beginning of your Wrestling career. Why did you move to Finland then?
I have lived in Canada for 20 years, I lived in the States, in Massachusetts for three years. My father is a Christian Minister, a preacher, and he was basically a minister for small immigrant groups of Finnish people in Canada and the USA and we moved almost every three years as a family during my childhood. And then there was this financial recession in Canada at that time in the mid-´90s. The work situation was pretty bad at that time in 1994-1996, especially in Eastern Canada, and I was living in Ontario by that time. So what I did was I came out to Finland, I believe it was June 1996, basically just to get away for about half a year. I just thought I wait here until the recession blew over. And I did just odd jobs like construction or something or whatever, just to pass the time and make some money here. My uncle was in the heating business, so I got some work from that. But as I was here for 4 months I started my own business as a graphic artist. It was October of 1996 when I became a commercial artist and I got some start-up money from the government for that and I had that business for seven years. Until 2003.
You just started your wrestling career back in Canada before you moved…
Actually I got in to the business in 1992, at that time I was 18 years old and I was a ring announcer. My very first vocation, my first position was as a ring announcer and as a TV announcer.
At the age of 18?
I had an incredible knowledge of professional wrestling and I had been a hardcore fan for so many years, I really dived into all of the history and I do like wrestling all the way back to the ´70s and ´80s and partly the ´60s & ´50s. So my knowledge was very extensive. I´ve always had a good voice, so I was able to parlay using my voice and my knowledge as an announcer.
Do you think it affected you career as a Wrestler that you moved from Canada to Finland then? I guess Wrestling was much more popular there.
Well, I tell you what! There was no Wrestling here in Scandinavia AT ALL! The closest place was Britain or Germany. That was before the internet, the internet really boomed in the 2000 era, and at that time when I moved here in ´96 there was nothing. So I´d wrestled for approximately 2,5 years in Canada and the United States and then I moved here and there was nothing here. When I came here that really hit me hard, because it was my dream to be a wrestler. And as I said, originally I thought I would be here for about half a year and then I just go back to Canada. But then I started my own business and joined my first serious band here in Finland - Hallowed, a Power Metal band. I was not really the right man for that style. You need a really tenor voice for that and I was like Billy Idol, a baritone trying to sing power metal. So it doesn´t work. That was 1999 when I got into the music scene in Finland and then in 2000 I started my own band Stoner Kings, which I had for 8 years. And now it´s been tormenting, I´ve just had it on my back shelf, just sitting and doing nothing for 4 years now, but I´ll resurrect the band some day.
But that was when I started, that and I had my own business and I went to UK to wrestle, which was the worst time in business for me, because the promoter I worked for just withheld my pay, he just didn´t want me there and let me feel that I am not welcome there. And I think the reason was because he was a big gay guy. And he actually went to jail for producing underaged gay porn. I didn´t know at that time that I was gonna work for a con-man like that, but when that actually came out later, I put the pieces of the puzzle together and I understood that maybe he was looking at me as a potential piece of meat. I wasn´t underaged of course, I was already in my 20´s then, but still I think the way that his lifestyle is that he just saw me as a piece of meat and he was hoping for something to happen, which would never happen because I don´t swim in that direction. And I think that is the reason that he started to withhold my pay and really made me feel like unwelcome. And it was a miserable crew there, nobody was like a friend to you, they just all blocked you out. It was just fucking horrible. Miserable.
So how did you then develop your career in Finland? And what have you done yourself to make Wrestling known in Finland?
Well, the thing is that in 2002, a TV Station called SubTV here in Finland started the show SmackDown WWE, that was before the Digi-TV Area. SubTV was a big smash hit here in Finland at that time, Conan O´Brian and SmackDown were the top two SubTV shows back in 2002 – 2003. Statistically they had the highest viewer numbers of all the shows on that channel. And because SubTV was a substation of MTV3 (= another Finnish TV channel, the ed.), WWE came already at the end of 2002 to Finland for the first time, to Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, and they drew over 10.000 people there. I went there and I saw the potential, that saw there was an actually fan base in Finland that cared about professional wrestling at that time. And then I thought to myself, “how the hell can I make something happen?”. I just didn´t have the money, there weren´t many who understood the professional wrestling industry, there wasn´t hardly anybody who understood what it was here in Finland at the time.
I wrote a report about this WWE show for an online wrestling media and a guy from Norway happened to read it, Erik Isaksen. Eri was the founding pioneer of professional wrestling in Norway. He had started his wrestling promotion in 2002 already. So he read my report online, and I had mentioned that I was a former professional wrestler and my critique of the show was actually given from an inside perspective, as a wrestler, pointing out things you don´t know if you haven´t been in business yourself. So Erik realized that the way that I´d worded my report he could tell that I was an inside guy. And he e-mailed me and and told me that he is running the Norwegian Wrestling Federation, NWF, and invited me to come over to wrestle against him, in spring 2003, and I thought of course I´d go over there and check it out. And I´ll get back to the wrestling business. So I went over and I wrestled with Erik, we had a fairly long match and there was a lot of ring rust, as I hadn´t wrestled for many years. But nonetheless, I was still pleased and the crowd was really hot, and really liked the match.
And as I got back to Finland I think it was Erik who said that there is a guy from Finland called Patrik Pesola, who had asked if Erik could come to Finland to train future potential Pro Wrestlers. Erik had a day job at that time and he couldn´t leave Norway. But he told me about Patrik Pesola, that he is looking for somebody to train guys. So I met Patrik, and we together formulated a plan for the beginning of Finnish professional wrestling.
Patrik was the money man and I was the brains. I had the knowledge and Patrik had the ambition. He came from a higher class family, so I guess he had some capital behind him and he was very over-ambitious in the beginning. He went bankrupt in under half a year and he put everything on credit, so whatever he booked was by credit card and he just couldn´t pay for things after a while. He ran two shows, one in August 2003 called “Culture Shock” in Helsinki and then also the following one in September 2003 at the Old Helsinki Icehall called “Baltic Brawl”, and for both of these shows he brought in talent from the United States, Norway, UK, and that is basically how Wrestling got started here. But he lost so much money that it ended up in Kauppalehti (= financial newspaper in Finland, the ed.) with Valhalla Pro Wrestling, which ended up on the black list of companies in Finland on the public register, because the company was so badly in debt.
After that a young woman named Maria Gren decided to pick up where Patrik left off. Maria started promoting at the beginning of 2004. Her father was in the T-shirt business, which would take the place of the mother company, and her promotion was called Pro Wrestling Finlandia, PWF. In February 2004 they had their first show, I wasn´t involved at that time. But they where using the talent and crew which I once trained.
How many of the people you once trained are still in the scene?
Oh jeez, nowadays two from the original group in 2003. People just come and go, there are more people that just dropped out ove rthe years than are active right now. The guys come for training, we have a course every year, at the end of the wrestling course we might retain one quarter of people who originally showed up for the course.
What is the reason for that?
I think it´s the same as with everything. I think people have a misconception what Pro Wrestling means. They think that this is theater and what they don´t realize is that this shit hurts. Of course there are theatrical elements, the interaction between the wrestlers and the audience. And that is just basic human psychology. I mean the ancient gladiators in Rome used the same technique. If you have seen the Russel Crowe movie The Gladiator, when he ends up in the Gladiator arena, his coach tells him “Win Rome and even Cesar can´t touch you!” You´re gonna be immortal because they can´t kill you. And that is where you have to realize, since the beginning of time people have loved somebody who can entertain and capture their imagination. In Basketball - look at Magic Johnson, or in different sports you´ve got huge celebrities.
But do you think that people have that kind of opinion about wrestling because the US Wrestling which is shown on TV basically is just show?
Well, you´ve got to realize that wrestling is a global phenomenon. I´ve wrestled in one of the two promised lands of professional wrestling, in Japan. Mexico is the other promised land and Lucha Libre is HUGE, it is like a religion, it is that popular. The most famous Wrestler ever in Mexico was called El Santo, which means The Saint, when he died he was put in his casket with his mask on. The only person who ever saw that man without his mask was his wife. He performed in movies, soap operas on TV with the mask, when he kissed girls on TV it was with the mask. And that is how popular Wrestling is in Mexico. In Japan it goes back to the ´50s and the founding Father of Japanese Pro Wrestling whose name was Rikidozan. I think the hardest hitting Professional Wrestling comes from Japan. When you go there you have to be prepared for a fight. When they kick you they will kick you, when they hit you they will hit you. In United States it depends on the wrestler. They had this one particular match this year in WWE, (for which StarBuck works as commentator on TV channel Eurosport Finland, the ed.) John Cena against Brock Lesnar, and that was a very hard match. When these guys hit each other … they hit each other. Then there are matches you just see sometimes on TV, they are like comedy, to entertain the kids and nobody can take them seriously.
The reason why American Wrestling has gone more theatrical: on prime time TV they are in the same time slot as reality programs, shows like Survivor, Fear Factor and stuff like that. All of those shows are all scripted, and the reason why they are scripted is that in America the TV revolves around ratings, and every 15 minutes is a quarter hour ratings block. And when you have sponsors for your TV show, they wanna be seen in every quarter hour block. So you have to be able to hook your audience in entire duration and it has to be scripted that way, because everything else conversely is scripted. At the end of the day it is a business. Everybody is only there to make money. And everything which is not like amateurs sports is manipulated to a large degree. Even the Olympics, people think that they are pure sports, who the fuck are they to think that the Olympics are pure or a holy thing? How many guys have gotten caught in the Olympics for using steroids and so on? Everybody is looking for an edge, even these guys who are sponsored by huge companies, they put a lot of money in them. So everything that revolves around money, everything that requires money to make it happen, no matter if its NHL, or Pro Baseball or Soccer which is huge all around the world - I would almost bet anything, that every one of those sports are fixed to a certain degree.
What about yourself, if you would be the person on top of this business with all the money, if you had a winning quarter horse, wouldn´t you take care of that horse and make sure that that thing fucking ran for you as long as it could? Absolutely you would, because that´s how you´d make your money.
So you would say that the way wrestling is in Finland or Japan & Mexico is more pure?
Yes, absolutely. I mean the way that I taught, I have taught guys in Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Japan now since 2003 and my way of teaching is very hard-handed. A lot of guys don´t like it, because the way that I teach people it does hurt. When I teach you I teach the same way that I was taught, which is that every blow connects. And if you miss, you miss by mistake, you didn´t gauge the shot directly, you didn´t have enough control to get enough contact. The idea is not to break somebody´s face, the idea is to make enough contact to make it feel like a fight, but still to be safe that you can walk upright after the match and you´re not going into the hospital.
Haven´t you dreamed about getting onto the WWE Team?
Well, I tell you what! The thing is that I have friends in the WWE who have made it big, Chris Jericho is one of my good friends, Edge is an old friend. I know Christian too. For them it was their dream to make it there and be big in the WWE, which is the biggest promotion in the world but for me, I´ll be honest with you, my dream was Japan, it was different. And I was lucky enough that in 2010, I finally made it there and they booked me directly in the main events. So I didn´t have to climb the ladder of success in Japan. I had paid my dues already for years upon years in different countries, wrestling around the world, so that when I finally made it to Japan, I was like a seasoned talent, I was a veteran. So they were able actually to put enough faith into me to try and see if I can hang on top immediately. And I did by the grace of God. I was voted last year in 2011 as one of the 5 Top Foreign Wrestlers all over the country out of every company, that´s like 30 companies nationwide across Japan, in the press. And the people voted me into the top 5 Foreign Westlers. I was also voted as the MVP of 2011 for my wrestling organization in Japan in the press, and in addition the fans voted my match against former WWE US Champion Finlay as the Match of the Year in our organization in 2011. That´s big.
Do you think if you had stayed in Canada and had not moved to Finland, you would be as famous as you are today?
I don´t know. Maybe if I would have found a way into the WWE and WCW, which was still active back then. But I don´t know if I would have made it to Japan, I don´t know if I would have had the career that I had already. To be honest with you, I know it sounds absurd - but Finland is the ass-end of the world, it really is. This is the tail end at the Arctic Circle, and it truly is the tail of the world, this is where Santa Clause supposedly lives. I say that God put me in his big slingshot and shot me from Canada to Finland, and that happened because He had a plan for me. And at that time in 1996 I didn´t understand what that plan was.
When I moved here, the first few years I fucking hated Finland because the atmosphere and the people are so melancholic. When I tried to talk to somebody, it was like one way conversation. And I was living in the middle of Finland in this small little town called Vilppula, but still it took three years going to the same fucking gym until somebody actually engaged in a conversation with me, even though people saw me every day there, but nobody would talk to you. So I just realized that Finland is a fucking miserable place.
But finally I was able to make some headway here, and when I look back in my life now in 2012, I see the sovereign hand of God in my life. Because I´ve been European Champion now 3 times, I´ve been Italian Champion twice, I´ve been a Finnish Champion 4 times, I´ve been a Japanese Champion once, and I´ve been a German tag team champ once. And I don´t think that I would have fought the quality of talent that I have fought so far had I stayed in North America. I have fought some of the biggest names in the business in Europe and also all around the world now in the last few years. I made more money than I would have made in the States, put it that way. I can honestly tell you without embellishment or self-aggrandizing, that I am of the top 10 Professional Westlers on the continent of Europe today. I´ve been blessed when I look back on my career, God had a plan and that I realize now. I look back and I see my success, the fact that now my picture and my name actually has weight in the wrestling business, that people will pay to see StarBuck, that if you put my name or photo on a poster, it can be used to draw people to the show. That´s where you know that you have made it.
You are 39 now, 10-15 years ago, the average age of wrestlers was about 35, nowadays even guys at the age of 70 are attending the shows, at least in US. Do you set yourself an age limit or will you just go on as long as possible?
No,no, no! As long as I´m healthy. As long it is still fun, put it that way. Like I said, for me Pro Wrestling is my passion and it´s the only sport I have ever loved. I have tried to play hockey, that´s not my thing. That is funny as a lot of people think, “ah, you are from Canada, you must love hockey?” No I don´t! And now when you are living in Finland, you must love hockey. No, I don´t. I don´t give a shit about hockey. Of course I play like volleyball once in a while or soccer with some friends, but my heart doesn´t burn for that. I´ve said that for a long time Pro Wrestling has been my wife and it´s my mistress. It´s the same, I don´t have another one, you know.
But you don´t think you will do that till you are 70, like Ric Flair for example?
Yeah, he is over 60 now. For some guys I think this is all they know, they´ve never learned any other skills or trades. They have been so successful, because in the ´70s and ´80s a lot of guys could make a huge living by doing this. They could make tons of money. Guys like Hulk Hogan, when he was WWF Champion in the 1980s, he had a contract that gave him 25% of the gate every night that he wrestled. So in other words, if 20.000 people came to Madison Square Garden in New York City paying a 15 dollars a head, Hulk Hogan took one quarter that was his pay every night. And Ric Flair, who was a champion over and over again, at his peak he set 360 dates a year and that´s A LOT, every night he was traveling and wrestling, so you can imagine what kind of condition he had to be in. But you can imagine how much money a guy like Ric Flair made being a world champion 16 times and travelling the world. He could wipe his ass with 100 Dollar bills. Nowadays that money is not there unless you are a guy like Brock Lesnar whose name is so famous.
That might be also the reason why more and more Wrestlers are turning into movie stars?
Well, WWE they have a movie division. Anybody can buy stocks at WWE, and every three months they need to report to their stockholders, so to keep them happy, they have to expand their business. Going into movies and TV, makes crossover stars, that´s why Wrestlers are not called Wrestlers anymore, they are called Entertainers. And it pisses me of. I fucking hate it! Because I don´t hold myself to be an entertainer, I´m a professional wrestler, I´m an athlete. At the same time - yes I am a sports entertainer, but I am not solely an entertainer. It gives the wrong impression, I am not an actor.