Dan Bjorkdahl was in his early 20s when he first stepped into a professional wrestling ring.
Wrestling at the White Rock Christian academy in White Rock, B.C., Bjorkdahl was going under the name JXP — Just Xtra Pimping — and was wrestling a man dressed in all black called the Black Phantom.
He had only been training with a company called WrestlePlex out of Vancouver for a few months and was about the step through the curtain for the first time.
As you would expect, Bjorkdahl was nervous for his first match. Pro wrestling is an art form and a match has the feel of a dance.
Each participant has his steps and marks to hit before reaching the end.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous for anything in my life,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘What do I do? What do I do?’”
The Phantom was a seasoned veteran and was there to lead Bjorkdahl through the wilderness, so to speak.
The match lasted eight minutes and Bjorkdahl won with a sunset flip out of the corner and off the middle rope.
He wrestled on the west coast of the country for a couple of years after that, hitting some of the northern United States as he did so.
Then in 2005, Bjorkdahl brought his wrestling boots and tights to this side of the country.
Bjorkdahl did his first tour of the province with Mainstream Wrestling in 2005.
He would wrestle in the province, and outside of it, until 2017. That’s when he moved to Corner Brook for school.
During his time between the ropes, he’s seen the provincial scene grow by leaps and body slams. He was involved with Legend City Wrestling, travelled to Chile to work matches, among other places, and helped get Newfoundland wrestling its own television show.
In a small province like Newfoundland, pro wrestling personas and real-life jobs tend to bleed into each other.
Bjorkdahl — then known as JX Flex — had just lost a loser-leaves-town match against Kowboy Mike Hughes for a local promotion when resumés started coming in to The Keg in St. John’s where he worked.
Fans were looking to fill the position that had opened up because he was being forced to leave town because of the match stipulation.
Bjorkdahl chuckles at the memory and offers another instance where the lines blur between character and actual person in between sips at a Corner Brook coffee shop.
My first time seeing Bjorkdahl perform was in the gymnasium of my old high school in Bay Roberts. My brother, a buddy and I attended the show, sat in the front row and were a part of the crowd of 30.
Bjorkdahl, then playing his bad guy persona of JX Flex, was in a main event ladder match.
Bay Roberts municipal enforcement officer Perry Bowering was the special guest enforcer for the match.
Bowering was meant to keep the wrestlers in line and make sure nothing nefarious happened before one the wrestlers ascended the ladder and grabbed the title.
However, Bowering played a pivotal role in the finish by delivering a crippling blow to Bjorkdahl’s opponent and allowing the bad guy to win.
“Perry was a great guy,” said Bjorkdahl, smiling at the memory.
There are trio of universal truths when it comes to professional wrestling: the outcomes of each match are pre-determined; pro wrestlers are athletes; and the profession is hell on your body.
It's been said each time a wrestler gets slammed to the mat it is the equivalent of putting your body through a 30-mp/h car crash.
Bjorkdahl knows that to be reality. He’s been tackled by 300-pound men, dropped on his back with a body slam and thrown out of the ring.
Chances are that is just one match.
One can imagine the toll pro wrestling can have on a body if that is extrapolated across one tour — which can last a week or more — or across an entire year where a wrestler could be working upwards to 40-60 matches a year.
“I was in my early 30s and my body felt like it was 50,” said Bjorkdahl. “You don’t necessarily realize how sore your body is going to be.”
Looking back on his nearly 15-year career in the squared circle, Bjorkdahl remembers it with fondness.
Bjorkdahl has shared locker rooms with the likes of The Honkey Tonk Man, Kevin Nash, Bret Hart, Rhyno, Colt Cabana, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, "The Million Doller Man" Ted DiBiase and others in his almost two-decade career inside the squared circle.
The life of an independent wrestler isn’t a glamorous one. It's long road trips crammed in a U-Haul moving from town to town, but the thrill of performing for the crowd carries them through.
He’s seen every inch of this province through wrestling and got to do it with some of his heroes along for the ride.
“It's important, especially when you are new, to wrestle as many matches, ask as many questions (as you can),” said Bjorkdahl. “Pay your own way to go wrestle abroad and gain that knowledge.”
He hasn’t wrestled since moving to the west coast of the province but hasn’t ruled out putting his tights on again in the future.
In pro wrestling, you never say never.
Nicholas Mercer is the online editor with The Western Star. He lives in Corner Brook and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.