Carlo Cannon: Wrestling his way to the championships

In Mexican wrestling, it’s the costumes that bring the characters to life. When pro wrestler Carlo Cannon can’t find the right ones in local stores, he fills up an online shopping cart instead.

Carlo Dumrigue had arrived in Canada feeling close to invincible. At 18, he had finally saved enough money to move from Melbourne to Calgary where he planned to train as a professional wrestler under his hero, Lance Storm. He had every reason to feel on top of the world. Until it all began going downhill.

Over the next few days, Carlo found out that the wrestling school where Lance taught had closed down. Other local trainers offered to train him on grass but told him point blank that he was wasting his time. At 60kg and 175cm he would never make it as a professional wrestler. Best he consider being a manager or referee instead.

“I was absolutely crushed,” Carlo, 31, says. “I had gone to Canada in full excitement with all my hopes and dreams, and then just like that everything I had worked for in my life was gone.”

Or so he thought. He would soon find out dreams have a way of coming to life, even in the face of all odds, if the dreamer doesn’t shut the door on them too soon.

Real life superheroes

Carlo was five when his wrestling dream began to take shape. His family had just migrated from the Philippines to Melbourne and he still hadn’t made any new friends at school. Then one day an uncle visiting from the Philippines rented a WWF video. Carlo remembers his eyes lighting up as Big Boss Man and Hulk Hogan filled the screen.

“I brought the video to school for show-and-tell the next day and for the first time, the other kids listened to me,” he recalls. “I started making friends. I began reading wrestling books to improve my reading and I became obsessed. I had found my real life superheroes.”

That obsession was unwavering. A teenage Carlo began grappling in a few matches and by 16, he decided to turn pro. There was just one small problem - Australia had no wrestling schools. So Carlo reached out to the American wrestling community. He was advised to wait until he turned 18 and then come to North America to chase his dream.

The journey to Calgary in Canada was the culmination of many years of hard work and despite having his dream shattered, Carlo wasn’t ready to go home. He had come this far and would stay on to “figure things out.”

“I persevered,” he says simply. “This was what I really wanted and no one was going to tell me otherwise.” That doggedness would piece his dream back together again.

A few months later, Lance Storm opened the Storm Wrestling Academy. Carlo mailed him a cheque and a short note explaining his situation. He became Lance’s first student and went on to graduate at the top of his class. From then on, it was a one-way street to the championships.

Over the next 13 years, he amassed a neat collection of victories including titles at the PCW Championship, PCW Commonwealth Championship, SWA National Championship and EPW Perth Tag Team Championship. Carlo, who now goes by the stage name Carlo “Cash Money” Cannon, is currently the Melbourne City Wrestling Champion. It was his first heavyweight championship and one of two career highlights.

“I remember making my entrance into the ring and these fans grabbing me over the guardrail and saying, “We’ve been with you from the very start. This is your time and you deserve it!” I was so pumped! I couldn’t believe these people had followed my career and cared enough to want me to win.”

“When I won the title, they were the first people I approached. These fans paid $30 to watch me wrestle rather than spend it watching a blockbuster movie. For them, I was special enough. That was such a big high.”

Dressing up a luchador

Pro wrestling has its fans across the globe but the biggest legions are in America, Japan and Mexico. Each of those three countries nurture a markedly different wrestling culture and style. In America, it’s all about storytelling and characters. In Japan, it’s a full contact combative sport that showcases moves from various martial arts disciplines.

Mexican wrestling or lucha libre is a fusion of sport and art that demands extreme athletic skill and prioritises daring aerial moves over muscle and brute force. It’s also big on masks, dramatic acrobatics and a flamboyant personality. This is Carlo’s world.

When he walks into the ring, a colourful mask obscures his face and bright Spandex tights stretch across his legs. Then he throws himself into a series of power moves and strikes that have the fans screaming encouragement or abuse.

As Carlo describes it, watching Mexican wrestling is almost like going to Cirque du Soleil. And like the theatrical production, much of lucha libre’s appeal rides heavily on the characters and costumes of the fighters or luchadors.

“Your costume is what ties everything together,” he explains. “The right costume literally transforms you and helps you commit to your character. Once you wear it, there’s no turning back.”

Finding the right costume isn’t easy, though. Few dressmakers understand what wrestlers need and Carlo has since resorted to shopping online for either ready-made or custom-made pieces. He ticks off a list of items that regularly make it into his shopping cart - Mexican wrestling masks, special kneepads, kickpads, tights, gloves, specific wrestling tape and custom merchandise.

“Everything for us is online,” he says. “Resources are limited in Australia. I can’t walk into a regular store to pick up bright blue cosplay contact lenses. I have to find online speciality stores for stuff like that. We can’t be the performers that we are without these tools. It’s like going to a costume party as a vampire but without the teeth. Then you’re just a pale dude wearing a weird cape.”

Character building

These days when Carlo isn’t thrilling his fans with body slams, drop kicks and figure-four leglocks, he’s training a motley crew of students in the art of wrestling. For him, the ring isn’t just a stage but a canvas for the work of art that he is “painting and translating for fans to understand.”

Being Head Trainer at Vicious Pursuit Pro Wrestling Academy in Spotswood, Melbourne is his second career highlight purely for the fact that he’s able to bring wrestling to life for kids who only dreamed about it.

The first thing Carlo does when a new student walks into the training centre is assesses his or her athletic ability. He needs to know whether their body can handle the “punishment they’re about to go through.” Once training begins, he observes their willingness to listen, learn and adapt. That’s really all it takes for the unlikeliest people to make it big in the wrestling business, he says. In other words, literally anyone can be a wrestler if they possess these traits.

“I have both male and female students. I get teenagers who want to be like The Rock; guys in their 40s who want to show their kids that you can still chase dreams at that age; athletes who want to try something new; and kids who were bullied in school and who are looking to reinvent themselves. There’s something for everyone in wrestling.”

“The hardest thing for me is figuring out who they are and how to teach them. I have to tailor their character to who they are in real life because a good character is an authentic one. It’s an extension of yourself turned up by 20.”

Uncovering his students’ raw selves often involves putting them in uncomfortable, awkward positions that play on their vulnerability and push their boundaries. As they explore different emotions, they develop a character around the emotions that resonate the strongest. The costume then brings the character to life and establishes the wrestlers’ connection with the fans. This is what fills seats in the arena.

“Many people live vicariously through us,” Carlo says. “When you can relate to the oppression, bullying and stress, you can also connect with the good guy’s triumph. It’s a very clear message. Ultimately, we’re there to evoke emotion and give you a show worth talking about. Life can be numbing; wrestling is that espresso shot of excitement.”

Bonding over the uncommon

Carlo has come a long way from the lonely five-year-old kid trying to find his way in the new world that was thrust upon him. He has since created his place in a world of his own choosing and now finds deep satisfaction in opening these same doors to his students by teaching them everything he knows. There are no trade secrets in Carlo’s ring.

“Iron sharpens iron,” he says. “I’m creating competition for myself and that makes me work harder. If I want my students to be the best then I have to be better.”

Carlo is also proud of the bond he has nurtured in Melbourne’s wrestling community. He describes his students as “the strangest group of people you’ll ever meet” but who have bonded over an uncommon love.

“There’s a special bond in wrestling because it’s such an obscure and controversial sport,” he laughs “Sometimes you feel like you’re alone in this but then you walk into a ring with a whole bunch of different personalities and you feel that connection.”

Wrestling may still be an obscure sport but Carlo’s reputation as a wrestler is anything but that. He still maintains a strong friendship with Lance and has had many of his childhood heroes grace the training ring at Vicious Pursuit. It is, he says, more than he could ask for.

“All I’ve ever wanted was for my heroes to see me as one of their own. Today I watch some of these ridiculously famous guys on TV and I know I can call or text them as Carlo Cannon The Wrestler instead of Carlo Cannon The Wrestling Fan. I’ve achieved more than I ever thought possible.”

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