Edmonton wrestler lives his dream

By Tyler Loutan

EDMONTON  — It’s 9 p.m. on a Saturday night and it’s time for the main event of the evening. The PWA championship is on the line at the Prairie Wrestling Alliance 11th anniversary show at the Century Casino showroom in Edmonton. The house lights are finally lowered and the hot lights above illuminate the ring below. The buzz is in the air as the 300 or more in attendance clamp down in their seats in anticipation. This is not the sold-out SunLife Stadium in Miami, Fla., for the WWE’s WrestleMania XXVIII, but for Mark Kinghorn, better known as M, it might as well be.

“A WrestleMania moment is the best moment of the best card of your life,” said Kinghorn. “Bigger things may come along for me in the future, but for me to be in the main event in this situation, this is my WrestleMania moment.”


M enters the ring at the PWA 11th Anniversary Event March 17, 2012, at the Century Casino Showroom in Edmonton, Alta. Photographs by Tyler Loutan

Kinghorn, born in Barrhead, Alta., and raised in southwest Edmonton, is a store manager five days a week. But on Saturday, March 17, he is M: the 12-year veteran as a professional wrestler and contender for the PWA championship. Kinghorn is 30 years old and one of the smaller wrestlers, weighing 170 pounds. It’s not likely that he will ever be in the WWE to perform at a WrestleMania, but every time he wrestles for the PWA, it’s his moment to shine.

“I’m there behind the curtains, waiting for my music to hit,” said Kinghorn. “I’ve got my black trench coat on, my Casey Jones mask and my blonde dreadlock wig on. All I can feel is 100-per-cent confidence. My entire life is put aside; it’s not about me in this moment. It’s all about entertaining the fans. This is what I live for. This is what I love. This is what M does.”

Lady Gaga’s Born This Way pounds through the speakers as the fans rise from their seats and begin to cheer, knowing it’s time for M. He steps through the black curtains of the entrance stage to the loud cheers of the crowd and walks boldly towards the ring. He steps through the ropes and climbs the corner turnbuckles, peering out into the audience as they give back a loud cheer that overpowers the speakers still playing his entrance music. M removes his wig to reveal his buzz-cut hair. He removes his coat to reveal his black pants with M logo on the back pockets. He removes his mask to reveal his face with black painted eyes and black painted lips in the style of the Joker from The Dark Knight. This is M revealed, as he stands in the ring firmly awaiting his opponent, the PWA champion and former WWE wrestler Harry Smith.

Smith comes from the most famous wrestling family in Canada: the Hart family. Smith’s grandfather, Stu Hart, founded Stampede Wrestling in 1948. It became the largest wrestling promotion in western Canada, spawning such star wrestlers as Smith’s uncles Bret (Hit Man) Hart, Owen Hart, Jim (The Anvil) Neidhart and Smith’s father Davey Boy Smith (The British Bulldog).

These wrestlers were trained in Stu Hart’s basement, famously known as the Dungeon, a sacred training ground in the wrestling world. Smith’s uncles, along with a few others who survived the Dungeon and thrived in Stampede Wrestling, went on to the WWE where they were met with more success. Bret Hart went on to be one of the most internationally famous and successful wrestlers in history of the WWE. Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart, and Davey Boy Smith were not far behind, winning numerous titles and main-eventing several major events for the WWE. Smith is one of the last members representing the Hart family in wrestling. The legacy of the Hart family follows Smith wherever he wrestles.

Smith is a PWA alumnus, along with his cousin Natalie (Natalya) Neidhart and TJ Wilson, aka Tyson Kidd, the last graduate of The Dungeon. They were all called up to the WWE where they were known as the Hart Dynasty. Wearing the pink and black attire made famous by Bret Hart and entering the ring with a tweaked version of Bret Hart’s entrance song, Smith and Wilson became the WWE Tag Team champions, with Natalya winning the WWE Divas championship in 2010.

Smith got his WrestleMania moment at WrestleMania XXVI when the Hart Dynasty helped Bret Hart defeat the owner of the WWE, Vince McMahon, to end a storied 12-year rivalry. Smith asked for his release from the WWE in the summer of 2011 based on creative differences, but didn’t leave the wrestling life. He currently takes bookings for the PWA and all over the world to earn a living as a professional wrestler.

Smith’s recognizable theme music begins to play. It’s the same song he’d enter to when he worked for the WWE. The tall and built 26-year-old walks to the ring to a cheer from the crowd even louder than what they gave M. Wearing his family’s famous pink and black trunks, Smith enters the ring proudly wearing the gold PWA championship belt. Smith looks a half foot taller than M and weighs at least 50 pounds more. The challenge looks insurmountable for M: a guaranteed 30 minutes of wrestling with a man who dwarfs him in every way.

“As one of the smaller guys in wrestling, I realized over time that it wouldn’t be realistic for me to get to the WWE,” said Kinghorn. “If I wanted to, I could do it, but I’d have to make wrestling my main job and I’d end up losing the fun in wrestling. I never want to lose the fun in wrestling. Travelling up and down the roads to shows all over the place and killing my body every night wasn’t the life for me. At the end of the day, I have no complaints with the life I live now.”

Kinghorn makes his living as the manager of the Source in West Edmonton Mall near Bourbon Street. He is a 2001 graduate of NAIT with a diploma in marketing, and uses those skills for his main job. It was at NAIT where Kinghorn learned the skills he needed for his main hobby.

“I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket, and my parents wanted something for me to fall back on, which is why I went to NAIT in the first place. But every chance I’d get, I’d go and train in the ring and learn to wrestle. I’d go to school and have an exam, and then run over to the hangars and train.”

Wrestling collided with his career path at NAIT when a friend sent an email about a local wrestling school. Kinghorn joined the wrestling school for Canadian Championship Wrestling at the airport hangars near the NAIT Kingsway campus.

“Mark was good technically, he had a real knack for wrestling,” said PWA promoter and co-owner Kurt Sorochan, who has seen Kinghorn’s entire career first-hand. “Mark was so good at learning and was just fearless.”


M gazes at the PWA championship before his main event match

Kinghorn went on to wrestle for Canadian Championship Wrestling, the revived Stampede Wrestling promotion and the PWA where he has been for all 11 years of the PWA’s existence.

The referee gives M a look at the belt, the championship that has eluded him his whole career in the PWA. M hands it back to the referee who hoists it in the air for the fans to see what’s at stake. The announcer informs the audience the stipulations of the iron-man match: whoever pins his opponent or forces him to submit the most in 30 minutes will win the championship. The bell finally rings and the match begins.

“We’ve never given M the belt because the timing never quite made sense,” said Sorochan. “M has never been a legit heavyweight, but he’s a great wrestler who has done extremely well in PWA, winning every title but the PWA heavyweight championship. It’ll be a special moment if he were to ever win the belt.”

The PWA is currently the longest running wrestling promotion in Alberta. The Hart family passed the torch to the PWA to continue the tradition. PWA features mostly local talent who are usually trained in Edmonton or Calgary. The wrestlers are there to learn the ins-and-outs of the wrestling business and use that knowledge to move on to bigger things. The Hart Dynasty’s members all wrestled for the PWA before going to the WWE, as did Tiger Raj Singh, who now wrestles as Jinder Mahal for the WWE.

“I feel a sense of pride when guys from PWA make it,” said Kinghorn. “I’ve wrestled with these guys and I’ve known them for years, so it’s like watching a sibling succeed when they make it big.”


M tries to escape the grip of Harry Smith

Both M and Smith are skillful wrestlers with a wide array of moves: suplexes, slams, throws, submissions, dropkicks, leg drops, pinning combinations, dives, reversals and tie-ups. M uses his agility and speed to his advantage while Smith uses his size and strength. Each time M throws a kick, the smack of his leg connecting with Smith’s beefy frame echoes throughout the room. Each time Smith slams M, the entire ring shakes violently with a shocking bang of his body to the mat, all of it amplified by the arena speakers.

 “I’ve done a lot of crazy matches before. Ladder matches, weapons matches, cage matches, etc.,” said Kinghorn. “Wrestling can be called a lot of things, but fake isn’t one of them. No, we aren’t fighting or killing each other every night and I hope parents are explaining to their kids that this is just a show, but to say that what we do isn’t athletic is ignorant. Wrestling is entertainment but it takes years off your life. It’s telling a story to the fans and working hard to get them lost in the story. But that’s the best feeling, when fans just get lost in the moment.”

Wrestling is a show. The outcomes are predetermined, the wrestlers work together, like a dance, to do the moves that they’ve learned how to deliver and receive in a safe yet believable way. But the creativity, strength, pain and risks of wrestling are all very real.

Kinghorn’s friend, Phoenix Taylor, a former tag team partner and wrestling school classmate of Kinghorn, suffered a career-ending injury in the ring during a match at the NAIT gym. Taylor attempted a diving stunt off of a basketball backboard to the opponent who was lying on a table below. Taylor broke his ankle as he landed because the table didn’t break. He has not wrestled since the accident.

“When it happened, [Taylor] didn’t know if he’d walk again,” said Kinghorn. “He’s lucky to be able to get around now.”

Wrestling can have more risks than broken bones. Harry Smith’s dad, Davey Boy Smith, died of a heart attack that was likely related to drug use.

The wrestling lifestyle can be fatal.

Kinghorn’s hero, Owen Hart, died in the ring at a WWE pay-per-view after falling almost 80 feet from the rafters of the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Miss.

“The risks are always there, but you could get hit by a bus tomorrow, so who knows?” said Kinghorn. “All you can do is be as safe as you can be in the ring.”


Harry Smith applies the Sharpshooter on M for the first score in the iron-man match

Smith locks in the sharpshooter, the move made famous by his uncle, Bret Hart, causing the fans to jump to their feet and shout in joy of seeing a Hart apply the move. As Smith wraps M’s legs tighter and leans back to apply pressure to the spine, M submits to the hold as fast as he can instead of using up time by struggling. M goes down 1-0, but continues on knowing he still has more time to draw the score even. Both men fight to the outside, back and forth, pummeling each other with punches and kicks. The referee counts to 10 as both men are counted out. The match is reset in the middle of the ring.

 Kinghorn started his career 12 years ago in the CCW. His first match took place on Dec. 9, 2001, in the gym of the MacEwan Mill Woods campus. He wore a CCW shirt, kneepads and a blue Mexican wrestling mask with a silver vine design. He was given the name Guy Levesque. As Kinghorn remembers it, it was the worst match ever.

“I was still training and wasn’t scheduled on the show, I was only there to watch,” said Kinghorn. “My trainer, Tex Gaines, came up to me and told me that I needed wrestle on the first match because someone couldn’t show up. On top of that, I’d have to call the match because the guy I was working with had even less training than I did. It was the worst piece of crap ever, people remembered how bad that was for months.”

Kinghorn continued to learn the hard way, much like many wrestlers who start on the bottom of the card, being the first match of the night and learning how to wrestle in front of an audience.

“I remember the first match I saw Mark in at the Shaw Conference Centre and it looked like it was half speed,” said Sorochan. “It’s funny how it looked then compared to now. When you see M wrestle now, he’s so fast and does all the high flying moves.”

Kinghorn moved up and down the card, learning his craft and developing his character. After ditching the mask and just being himself in the ring, Kinghorn used the musical influence of Eminem to create his first established character, Marky Mark. Marky Mark would enter the ring wearing jeans, freestyle rapping on the microphone and playing Good Vibrations by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. The white rapper gimmick went over well with the fans, as Kinghorn entertained the audience with his faux-Detroit accent and catch phrase “Now, can you feel THAT?”

“When John Cena first debuted the white rapper ‘Doctor of Thuganomics’ character in WWE after a year of me being Marky Mark, all the guys used to joke ‘Hey Mark, they stole your gimmick!’” said Kinghorn.

Kinghorn’s wrestling skills were noticed as well. In 2005 and 2006, Kinghorn was named the city’s wrestler of the year by the Edmonton Combative Sports Commission.

“That was a huge accomplishment for me,” said Kinghorn. “To be a smaller guy in wrestling and win the award in back-to-back years, it meant a lot to get that award.”

Marky Mark lasted seven years before Kinghorn thought the character became stale. Kinghorn decided that it was time for a change. During a PWA show at the NAIT gym, a new wrestling group known as the Disciples of Darkness, a gothic group, abducted Marky Mark and threw him in the back of a van before driving off. At the next show, a month later, the Disciples of Darkness revealed their newest member to be Kinghorn as a Goth named M. M was dressed in all black with his face painted white and black like a skull. The character was well-received by the fans as Kinghorn transitioned from hero to villain.


M trying a cross-body splash from the top rope to Harry Smith

M was supposed to eventually turn back into Marky Mark, but the M character had done well and too much time had passed for Marky Mark to be relevant. Kinghorn continued as M, breaking away from the Disciples of Darkness, and taking on a look similar to the Joker from The Dark Knight. M would come to the ring with Lady Gaga’s Poker Face, with the chorus removed and Kinghorn’s voice dubbed over saying, “my Joker face.” M is currently more humanized, closer in personality to the real-life Kinghorn, but M is still one of most recognizable characters in the PWA.

“M was completely Mark’s idea,” said Sorochan. “It’s a great character and it just shows how creative Mark is. In this business you need to be original, identifiable and have heart, which are all things Mark epitomizes.”

Time is running out as M tries again and again to pin Smith just once to even the score and perhaps push overtime. M is holding his own against Smith, keeping pace with him and completing more moves than Smith. The crowd is starting to get behind M, hoping he can win one fall. Each attempt by M to pin Smith is more elaborate than the next, rolling up, tangling and catching Smith by surprise. M tries one last pinning combination, but the clock expires as the referee calls for the bell to ring, ending the match. The crowd cheers loudly as both men collapse to the mat. Smith’s theme music plays and the referee hands the PWA championship belt over to him. The referee raises Smith’s arm in victory as the crowd gives a standing ovation in respect of the two wrestlers for the show they’ve put on. Smith has defeated M 1-0, but M took Smith to his very limit of endurance and strength.

 “Wrestling is the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Kinghorn. “Wrestling taught me how to adapt, how to improvise, how to be fearless. It gave me confidence in all aspects of my life like family, friends, relationships, my job, etc. I can do anything in the ring and I take that confidence with me in life.”


Time runs out as M loses 1-0 to Harry Smith

Kinghorn has come a long way from the boy who used to watch wrestling every week, idolizing Owen Hart and dreaming of the day he could be trained in the Dungeon like his heroes.

Kinghorn doesn’t watch wrestling every week like he used to, or buy the monthly magazines and collect the action figures, like he did when he was a kid. But Kinghorn never forgets the passion he had for wrestling that consumed his childhood.

“Some people are fans of Star Wars or Star Trek because something about those stories just connects with people,” said Kinghorn. “For me, wrestling seemed to just fill a hole in my life that nothing else could fill.”

Whether Kinghorn is climbing the company ladder towards a district manager promotion, or climbing a physical ladder towards the PWA championship, he has earned respect though his hard work and determination.


M and Harry Smith showing respect to each other at the end of match.


M's WrestleMania moment with Harry Smith

“Mark can do anything he puts his mind to,” said Sorochan. “He’s so well grounded, so respected and he’s a great friend.”

M makes it to his feet and looks over to Smith with a grin. Realizing the effort and hard work both men put into the match, they hug each other with respect and admiration of each other. As the crowd claps, whistles and cheers for the two wrestlers, Smith raises M’s hand in the air signaling the moral victory, establishing M’s WrestleMania moment.