Sometimes the toughest battles that professional athletes, and wrestlers in particular, have to face is not the competition that they contend with in their chosen arena. Instead, the most difficult part of the job can be related to the travel required to get from one match to the next, especially when that trip requires the traversing of an international border.
Whether it be complications related to a work visa, or indiscretions from the athlete’s past coming to the surface as their record is reviewed, border complications have stymied a fair number of wrestlers over the years. Minimally, these battles have left for frustrated promoters and disappointed fans when their scheduled attraction may have failed to appear. At worst, some of these situations have signalled the end of a promising career on the rise.
In some areas, the role of border patrol has taken on such a negative context that the wrestlers themselves have tapped in to that cultural sensitivity to develop their villainous personas. Such was the case when Mike Modest and Mike Diamond formed the “Border Patrol” tag team in California, where the neighbouring international boundary continues to be one of the most debated ports of entry in America.
But while the wrestling industry can playfully poke fun at the societal truth, when professional wrestlers have gone nose to nose with border security anywhere in the world, it is no laughing matter. The following list is by no means a comprehensive directory of all wrestlers to have experienced border woes, but are certainly among the most visible.
15. “Speedball” Mike Bailey
Fans were stunned with the recent announcement that Quebec’s Mike “Speedball’ Bailey had been refused entry to the United States, receiving a five-year ban from returning to the country. Bailey lays claim to a stellar career to this date, scoring rave reviews from audiences on both sides of the Canadian-American border. A one time Tag Team Champion with Kevin Owens in Ottawa’s C4 wrestling promotion, Bailey is also a winner of the U.S.-based Combat Zone Wrestling “Best of the Best” tournament.
2015 was somewhat of a breakout year for Bailey, who captured the attention of Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine, getting listed in their annual ranking of the top 500 wrestlers in the world. In addition, Bailey has turned in stellar performances for Pro Wrestling Guerilla in California, Combat Zone Wrestling in Pennsylvania as well as other American appearances. His ban from the U.S. just recently puts his international career on hold.
Psicosis was one of the most visible Mexican exports during the late 1990s and into the early 2000s, first creating a stir in Philadelphia’s Extreme Championship Wrestling before stays in World Championship Wrestling and later the WWE, where he formed a team with Super Crazy as the “Mexicools.” The two-time WCW Cruiserweight Champion has achieved international success and in 1996 was rated among the top 40 wrestlers in the entire world.
However, things took a negative turn for the lucha sensation in April 2008 when he attempted to enter the United States on a tourist visa to fulfill an obligation on an independent wrestling show. He was refused entry and given the opportunity to voluntarily withdraw his application to enter and evade deportation proceedings.
13. Doink (Matt Borne)
There are many accounts of Matt Borne as a troubled soul. His demons, in some phases of his career may have overshadowed his incredible talent. The original Doink the Clown was released from his WWE contract for some of those very reasons. Some of his troubles followed him around and while they did not impede him from pursuing his craft in the United States, when interest came calling from Canada in 2003, he ran into some difficulty.
While en route for a match in Vancouver, Canada, Borne was initially refused entry at the border crossing at Blaine, Washington and sent back to the United States. Undaunted, Borne called the promoter and explained his situation and his plan. To ensure that he fulfilled his booking, Borne enlisted to assistance of a Canadian rookie with an SUV to cross into the United States and load him into the back of the vehicle, buried under a scattered pile of Borne’s own luggage. Amazingly, Borne was undetected and made it to the matches for his main event appearance that night.
12. Seleziya Sparx
The American wrestling media was just starting to warm up to the emerging talent from Ontario named Seleziya Sparx when her career encountered an unexpected road bump. Hailing from Toronto, Ontario, the 5’5” brunette was starting to make in-roads with appearances for Ring of Honor and select other U.S. organizations when she was apprehended at the border in September 2014 and issued a five-year ban from the U.S. for failing to secure a work visa.
Since the ban, Sparx has continued to maintain an aggressive match schedule in Ontario and Quebec, but her international career is currently on hold.
Minnesota’s Jessica Kresa rose to her greatest notoriety as a member of the TNA Knockouts division. Debuting in 2001, she did make a few select appearances in Canada on independent cards, travelling alongside Ken Anderson (later Ken Kennedy), with whom she was romantically linked. Under the name ODB, she has held several championships including claiming the TNA Knockouts Championship on four occasions.
ODB was advertised to appear on a Canadian tour of Saskatchewan and Manitoba in January 2015 when she was refused entry to Canada at the border crossing from North Dakota. Canadian border officials declared that due to some previous DUI convictions, she would not be permitted into the country. No legal action was pursued and she was allowed to voluntarily withdraw her request to enter the country.
10. Vance Nevada
Best known for his career in Canada, Vance Nevada started his career in Winnipeg in 1993 with aspirations of a career in the WWE. His first trouble with Homeland Security occurred in 1999 when he was singled out at the border while travelling with a fellow wrestler for an engagement in Wisconsin. A vindictive rival promoter had tipped off the border that he was coming and provided a detailed career history prior to his arrival. The apprehension resulted in a five-year ban from the United States.
Later, Nevada was recruited by the Oregon-based Portland Wrestling circuit and was in negotiations with the principals to secure a work visa as the organization had plans to promote him heavily on their monthly TV tapings from the Kliever Armory. However, before the visa came through, Nevada was again sidetracked with a second five-year ban. Vance, who wrestled as “Mr. Beefy Goodness” during his 20 year career was lighthearted in his comments to newsletter Ring Around the Northwest when commenting on the setback. “I should have known better, the U.S. border has long been closed to imports of Canadian beef.”
9. Bobby Bolton
Chi Chi Cruz had been wrestling for ten years across Canada when the opportunity arose for him to take his shot at advancing his career in America. His early career had included tag team partnership with a young up and comer named Adam Impact (later Edge) as well as touring with the likes of Christian, Rhyno and others who were making their mark in the WWE and WCW in the mid 1990s. In 1996, Cruz relocated from Winnipeg to Louisville, Kentucky where a few months of plying his trade on independent cards with Ian Rotten and Beau James landed him in Memphis with Jerry Lawler’s USWA. Re-packaged as “Joltin” Bobby Bolton, owing to his flowing locks which were reminiscent of the crooner of the same surname, Cruz was in Memphis at the same time as rising stars Kane, Brian Christopher and others on the radar of the WWE, it looked like his career was on track.
However, when Cruz returned home to Canada to attend to some personal affairs, upon his return to the border he was refused permission to enter the U.S. The border patrol indicated that his travel history, showing that he had already spent the previous six months across the border, and the lack of demonstrated financial independence were indicators of his intent to work without the appropriate visa, and signalled the end of his U.S. career. He did continue to enjoy a headline career from coast to coast in Canada as well as chalking up successes internationally in Germany and Japan.
8. Mando Guerrero
In the 1980s, few brother tag teams generated as much excitement as the trio of the Guerrero brothers – Mando, Hector and Chavo. Their reputation landed them a spot with Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association circuit in 1988, around the time of Super Clash III, a multi-promotion effort to combat the takeover of the sport by Vince McMahon’s WWE.
Mando found himself at the center of negative headlines after a December 1988 match at the Winnipeg Arena, as when he was re-entering the United States he was found to be in possession of a small quantity of marijuana which resulted in him being detained and charged by Canadian authorities. He was later released to U.S. customs officials and allowed to depart for the U.S.
7. Cuban Assassin
Easily the most unusual entry on our list relates to the circumstances faced by Cuban-born Angel Acevedo when he made his first trip to Calgary to meet with promoter Stu Hart. Fresh off a tour of Japan, the Acevedo’s travel arrangements were made by the administration with the Japanese promotion where he appeared and the task of arranging for his travel was left to a female staffer who was not overly familiar with the wrestlers or some of the unique circumstances which living and working with multiple aliases can create.
When Acevedo arrived in Calgary at the airport, he was immediately apprehended by Canadian customs officials and taken to an interview room. He would miss his first scheduled meeting with Stu Hart as a result of the confusion. When his flights had been booked, the reservations were made under his ring name, Cuban Assassin, instead of his given name. Upon arrival into Canada, the border patrol thought the ticket was identifying his occupation, not his identity. The story is one that Acevedo would later recount with laughter. He went on to a long and successful career around the world, but made his home in Canada for the remainder of his professional life and even into his retirement.
6. Daniel Bryan
While Daniel Bryan’s legacy may best be remembered for the “Yes” movement in the WWE, he certainly wasn’t receiving the same fond agreement when he arrived in the UK for an appearance a few years ago. What was to be his first tour of England got off to a rocky start as his work visa had not been processed by the time of his arrival. He was promptly turned around and sent home on the next available flight.
The matter was resolved in short order and he traversed the Atlantic again to join the tour and all was agreeable upon his second arrival at to English customs. More details about the ordeal will be shared in Bryan’s new book.
5. Moondog King
In the case of Sailor White, it represents one of the most heart-breaking tales of border issues killing a career. Sailor White had debuted a decade earlier and had great success across Canada as well as on international campaigns in South Africa, Japan, Malaysia and other exotic ports of call. He was wrestling in Montreal when he received the call up to the WWWF where he was partnered with Randy Culley and assigned to manager Lou Albano as the Moondogs. White was dubbed Moondog King, Culley renamed Moondog Rex.
The team captured the tag team championships and were at the top of the marquee as the villainous brutes that fans wanted to see get their comeuppance. However, just weeks after reaching the pinnacle of tag team success for Vince McMahon Sr., White suffered an injury and without American health coverage needed to return to Canada for treatment. He secured the care that he needed, but when he tried to re-enter the U.S. and return to work he was apprehended by the border patrol and refused access to the country. White descended quickly from the top of the sport and while he maintained a steady presence in Montreal over the following years, his career never regained momentum.
4. Bushwhacker Luke
Bushwhacker Luke’s career is one that has spanned the global. Starting as a youngster in the 1960s in his native New Zealand, he debuted in Canada in 1972 and after stays in a number of Canadian territories, along with partner Butch Miller, went on to become one of the most celebrated tag teams of the 1970s and 80s. First as the Kiwis, then the Sheepherders and eventually landing in the WWE as the Bushwhackers, few pairings can boast the career longevity as a duo as Butch and Luke.
Luke’s border woes came in January 2010 when travelling to England to appear at a wrestling fan convention. What was to be a three day trip ended up as an immigration nightmare that resulted in his passport being red flagged. The convention promoter had failed to secure the applicable permits to allow Luke to enter the country legally. The result, even after years crossing international borders around the globe was a ten year ban from returning to the U.K.
3. Tony Condello
The travel ban that changed wrestling history occurred in 1972 at the Pembina border crossing which separates Manitoba from North Dakota. Tony Condello, who had been wrestling and refereeing for twelve years up to that time, had aspirations to succeed the American Wrestling Association’s agent for Winnipeg, Al Tomko. Condello had spoken to Verne Gagne’s right hand man, Wally Karbo about his plans and a meeting was set for Condello to meet with Karbo and Gagne at the television tapings scheduled for Minneapolis.
However, word got out about Condello’s plan and Tomko, in a counter-measure called ahead to the U.S. border to caution them to refuse entry to Condello, warning that he was affiliated with mafia interests in Montreal. Condello was turned back, but determined to make his meeting attempted a second land crossing and had considered trying to catch a flight, only to be met with closed doors at each turn.
Tomko’s counter-measures had worked. Condello would be unable to get anywhere near Gagne after the setback. Instead, Condello opened his own school and trained his first class which included a youngster named Roderick Toombs, who would go on to a Hall of Fame career as Roddy Piper. Condello opened his own promotion in 1973 and continues to promote today even after 43 years, staying in business long after both rivals and providing a launch pad for the careers of dozens of notables including Edge, Chris Jericho, Lance Storm, Rhyno and more.
2. Michael Elgin
Michael Elgin’s ascent in the wrestling business was one that mirrors the image that many young wrestlers hope for their own careers. He started out on the independent scene and through dogged determination attracted the attention of a top U.S. circuit and rose to capture the company’s top championship. Elgin got his first opportunity with Ring of Honor in 2007 and five years later defeated Kevin Owens (then Steen) to win the company’s heavyweight title.
Though his work with Ring of Honor was above board and he was legally entitled to wrestle in the United States and had, in fact, immigrated to live in the U.S. with his American-born wife, what should have been a routine business trip in September 2014 took an unexpected turn. Elgin was refused entry to the United States because it was determined that his work visa had expired. The situation exploded on social media with an outpouring of fan support and within a matter of weeks, the situation was remedied and Elgin was reunited with his wife.
1. Chris Hero
While WWE NXT’s Kassius Ohno’s career was not derailed by his run in with an international border protection agency, Chris Hero tops the list as his setback with the Australian border has secured international television visibility. Hero was headed to Australia to wrestle in December 2008 without the applicable visa when he was apprehended by customs officials. They identified that Hero, who was trying to enter the country on a tourist visa was inadmissible.
The incident captured international attention as at the time of the incident, the customs office was participating in a television taping for the series Border Security: Australia’s Front Line. The internationally syndicated program has since played multiple times in North America, serving as the most visible warning to professional wrestlers of the risks of international travel without securing the appropriate permissions.