Int'l Wrestling - Montreal #10 Page #2
Recognizing Richard's potential, the Vachon brothers arranged for him to join the regular tour of Japan that many Grand Prix stars often took throughout each season. He wrestled under the nickname "The Tempest." It was a great honor for him since he was so young at the time. An invaluable opportunity to gain experience and notoriety, these tours were initially brokered through Verne Gagne's close ties to both Grand Prix and the old International Wrestling Enterprise (IWE) league which was a major force in Japan from 1967 to 1981. Later on, Grand Prix tours were liaised through Testsunosuke Daigo - better known to Quebec fans as Tokyo Joe - when he was forced to retire after losing his leg in a car accident out in Calgary in early 1974.
Another popular destination for Grand Prix alumni was Emil Dupre's New Brunswick circuit. The summer months were a peak period for the Grand Prix promotion and that meant a lot of work for the big stars who would be coming back to town after spending the winter wrestling out of the warmer southern United States. Unfortunately, it also meant a lot less work for youngsters like Richard Charland, so Dupre's exciting Maritime outlet was a great place to get some matches and hone skills. Richard made three summer tours through Moncton and the surrounding areas, but tragedy was to strike on one of them. In a tag team match against The Kiwis (who would go on to later fame as The Sheepherders, and then The Bushwhackers in the WWF), Charland wound up losing the use of an eye in a freak mishap. In a bitter irony, The Kiwis (along with Sailor White) had been passengers in the same car in which Tokyo Joe had his accident.
Showing great desire and intestinal fortitude, Richard refused to give up his pro wrestling aspirations despite this serious setback. That decision on his part seems even more inspiring in hindsight as the local Quebec wrestling scene, at that moment, suffered what was akin to an atomic meltdown as the epic Grand Prix/All-Star promotional war consumed both circuits in a ball of flame within months of each other. To put it bluntly, wrestling in Montreal was practically dead by the middle of the 70's.
Still undaunted, Charland soon bounced back yet again, this time with George Cannon's "Superstars Of Wrestling" troupe in 1977. Billed as "Richie" Charland, the now-5 year veteran inched a little bit closer to renown by participating in one of the best remembered sequences from the old Cannon show. Grizzled heel Tarzan Tyler (who, by the way, now sported his original brown hair after going blond for decades) came on and boasted that he could defeat the young opponent standing opposite him with one hand tied behind his back. That youngster was Charland, who promptly dropkicked the one-armed Tyler three times and scored the amazing upset victory right there on television! It was a huge gesture for the established Tyler to give the rub to Charland in that manner. The two had known one another from their days in Grand Prix and Tyler always had a good reputation in helping out the younger wrestlers. Their careers would cross paths many times after that.
Despite the show of confidence from Cannon and Tyler, however, Charland's career remained stubbornly stalled. Paydays during the late 70's in Montreal were the worst seen in many decades and Richard soon had to find work elsewhere. Luckily, Ed Farhat's (better known as The Sheik) "Big Time Wrestling" operation out of Detroit was still standing and had traditionally held strong ties to the various Montreal promoters. Charland appeared there under the nickname "Garth Vader" and even garnered a now-forgotten tryout in the old WWWF as "Mauler Malone," but neither gimmick managed to get over and Richard found himself back home again as the 1980's ushered in. As fate would have it, he would finally be in the right place at the right time.
When pro wrestling returned on a major league level to the city of Montreal in the spring of 1980, with the formation of "Les Etoiles De La Lutte" (the pre-cursor of International Wrestling), experienced local grapplers were suddenly at a premium again. They were not only needed to round out various cards, but also from this pool would emerge new stars who would carry the promotion in later years. Richard Charland looked to be a key player in this strategy. Later that year, Charland was paired with veteran Len "Kojak" Shelley and this duo quickly won the International tag team titles at the Paul Sauve Centre. It was Richard's first major championship and seemed a clear signal that the promotion had some big plans for him.
Strangely, however, it wasn't to be. After trading the titles a few times in a good feud with the rough team of Swede Hanson & The Hangman (Neil Guay), the duo of Shelley & Charland faded out of the picture. The promotion had caught fire more quickly than anyone had anticipated and now the babyface roster was swelling with established names like Dino Bravo, Rick Martel, the Rougeaus, Gino Brito and Tony Parisi. Suddenly, Charland found himself back at the bottom of the card and, by 1983, he was squeezed out of the promotion altogether. Considering all that Richard had gone through up to that point, it must have been a crushing setback.
Still, Charland managed to hook up with a little-remembered outlaw circuit called "Professionels De La Lutte De Quebec" ("Quebec Wrestling Professionals" in English) in the summer of '83. Based in the city of Trois-Rivieres and promoted by Denis Lauzon, the company did manage to secure a contract with small. local French language television network Cogeco to air a studio show on Saturday afternoons at 5:00 p.m. Featuring an eclectic mix of old vets (Duke Nobel, Gigi The Greek and, unbelievably, the legendary Hans Schmidt), young kids (Pete The Hammer, the O'Reilly brothers) and basically anyone else who couldn't find work in International Wrestling, the league managed to survive a few months before running out of cash. However, just before this happened, Charland hooked up again with his old friend Tarzan Tyler, who was getting ready to hang up the tights and become a manager with International. Richard would return to the main Montreal circuit along with Tyler, but this time his old friend had something up his sleeve that would alter Charland's career forever.
In late 1983, "Les Etoiles De La Lutte" co-host Guy Hauray decided to introduce a TV title in order to give some of the lower-tier guys a championship to shoot for. As the tournament progressed, Richard Charland found himself in the final, matched up against Leo Burke. The veteran Maritimer defeated Charland and was handed the new trophy. In a shocking turn of events, the eternally scientific Charland viciously attacked Burke and destroyed his trophy, thus entering the villains camp with a bang. Later on, he showed up with his new manager - Tarzan Tyler! Now, everything had come full circle. Eleven years after his pro debut, Richard Charland was finally out of the opening matches for good.
Polishing his heel act for the better part of 1984, Charland was now a recognizable and integral part of International Wrestling. While he may not have had quite the stature of a Bravo or a Martel, Richard's skills and style could easily have been compared to Tully Blanchard during that era. As a matter of fact, Charland truly found his niche as a tag team specialist, finally winning his first major championship alongside King Tonga as the two won a tournament final for the vacant International belts in May 1985 in Quebec City. The duo dropped the titles to the Rougeaus a month later when a huge babyface turn planned for King Tonga was executed. Charland, as his ex-partner was his first challenger and Richard (now billed as "The Magnificent" Richard Charland) was really settling in to his villainous persona. He was absolutely fabulous on a June 25th, 1985 card at the Montreal Forum when, during an elaborate entrance for his opponent The Tonga Kid saw the house lights turned off, Charland grabbed the ringside microphone and screamed out in mock terror, "Hey, turn on the lights! Turn on the lights!!!" in French. That really got the capacity crowd on his case.
Yet fate once again dealt Richard a cruel blow. Just as he had carved out a good and secure place for himself with International Wrestling, his mentor Tarzan Tyler, along with Pierre "Mad Dog" Lefebvre and referee Adrien DesBois, were killed in a horrific car crash on Christmas Eve 1985. The tragedy absolutely devastated the administration and its wrestlers, and it seemed that the promotion never truly recovered after that.
More trouble was brewing, this time on a professional level, as the WWF now turned it's sights directly onto the Montreal market and quickly began to drain the local promotion of its top stars. In the spring of 1986, Charland did receive his second WWF tryout in less than ten years but all the choice spots had been taken. He remained with International as a perennial tag team star, finding championships with such diverse performers as Sheik Ali (Stephen Pettipas), Kendo Nagasaki and "Pretty Boy" Chuck Simms. This was an important role for him as the tag team division became the driving force behind the promotion during its last days as they had lost almost all of their great singles wrestlers. Ironically, Charland was near the top of the card on a consistent basis for the first time in his career when International Wrestling closed it's doors in June of 1987.
After the WWF cemented control of the Montreal market, Richard managed to float around various independent circuits in the U.S. for a while. His old friend Bill Eadie, who had a fantastic run during International's glory days as The Masked Superstar, even partnered up with him down in Florida for a new incarnation of his successful WWF "Demolition" tag team (Bill was still "Ax," while Richard was introduced as "Blast"), but lightning failed to strike twice. With a spot in the WWF not on the horizon and the indy circuit now a vast wasteland, Richard Charland decided to give up the ghost with little fanfare in 1991, after nineteen years in the business. It was an unfortunately muted way for him to call it quits, but the same fate was in store for many popular veterans who weren't in the mainstream back in the early 90's.
Charland managed to make a couple of comeback appearances to help Jacques Rougeau's fledgling Lutte Internationale 2000 company get on its feet late in the decade, and it was nice to see such a solid performer lending a hand to help revitalize the local scene even though he knew that his chance at true superstardom would never come. It was a classy gesture from a performer whose skills, I feel, were never properly appreciated.
NEXT MONTH :
A snapshot look at ten wrestlers that you might not remember were a part of International Wrestling.
Back to Int'l Wrestling - Montreal Main