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Exclusive: Tomahawk Gene Swan Fights Back; The Truth Behind Wrestler's Death
by Marty Goldstein on 2002-07-10

Canadian indy wrestling star Gene Swan, has spoken out for the first time about what he says is a vicious campaign, rife with misinformation, linking him to a spring in-ring tragedy that resulted in a cardiac-related death.

"It has taken on a life of it's own in the locker rooms here in Winnipeg and I want to put things right, it is also blatant disrespect for the dead. I told one locker room, say it to my face (that I killed him). This being Winnipeg, they go on the internet and hide behind fake names. I want to cut this off now before it spreads."

A 12 year First Nations hero who has wrestled for all the promotions in the busy Winnipeg market, including the various Tony Condello versions and for Ernie Todd's NWA/CWF office, Swan now works on Bobby Jay's TRCW (Top Rope Championship Wrestling) cards as a team with Brian Jewel.

The incident in question, however, occured at a training session Swan was conducting as part of an ongoing agreement with yet another promotion, UTW (Ultimate Thunder Wrestling), a group derided by many on the Winnipeg scene as a glorified backyard group. Swan and others say that the smear campaign is an attempt to undermine the upstart group, which claims to have drawn over 200 paid at recent community events, and Swan's growing status as a trainer.

The misinformation begins with the basic facts. To start with, the deceased was NOT a elderly trainee, but a retired wrestler training his son.

According to UTW promoter Jon Giroux, 58 year old Juan Jose was a former luchadore from El Salvador who was a friend of the group, who happily stumbled upon the training camps with his son Miguel, (himself an aspiring wrestler), and who was not a trainee because "he could do it all better than us anyways."

The prevailing rumour that Swan and other sources heard was of Swan duping a sedentary old man for training fees, and that Swan had chopped Jose hard-"lit him up" (thus provoking the heart attack). Such a character attack or "burial" is part of wrestling's seamy carny roots and is often intended to establish provocation to provide justification for later violent retribution.

"To bury" someone, in carny/wrestling lingo, is an attempt to lower standing in the wrestling fraternity by defaming them thru false or malicious stories, generally by painting their conduct as harmful to another wrestler or to the welfare of the business in general. Harmful gossip that fuels crude "justice" is appealing to the mentality of many wrestlers. moreso when the target is already politically unpopular-such as UTW and Swan's co-operation with them.

"He liked to hang out and do some drills but he was never a trainee, he was an old wrestler who was a recent immigrant... We never trained him at all. By no means was he our student, he was our friend. Gene never touched him. The autopsy showed there were no marks on his body and he had a history of cardiac episodes. He was in phenomenal shape. His family said we made him very happy, being able to help the young guys."

Swan, himself the son of a deceased wrestler (Bruce passed away before Gene entered the sport) explains further.

"He was training his kid and was there before anyone else every Sunday, doing handstands and drills. All I did was keep him happy and smiling and despite the language barrier, we were going to start lucha classes with Jose teaching my guys. When he dropped we all kinda froze but Candy Rockett (a real-life city bus driver) gave him mouth to mouth and I gave him CPR. His grandson said he had 2 heart attacks in the ambulance. Jose was a hell of a guy and my friend. To say that I had anything to do with his death is defamatory."

Almost immediately after the tragedy the rumour mill started."JC Derkson ran into Ernie Todd and Ernie cracked about me chopping Jose."

Giroux, a civilian music promoter who is not a wrestler, says the false story may be the reason for an in-ring beating he got in a CWF angle gone stiff in Thompson, Manitoba at the hands of Todd and others. He says the disrespect comes from a hypocritical Winnipeg wrestling establishment.

"Our shows have featured experienced wrestlers like EZ Ryder and Robbie Royce just like theirs. The ring has never been set up in a backyard, some of these guys are like 25 years old. We aren't backyarders, we have 1-17 year old. Bobby Jay uses 3 or 4 at least. My crew has been training for 18 months. Swan books run-ins and short bouts to start wrestlers, and we train carefully."

Meanwhile Swan was embroiled in the controversy over at TRCW.

"Then others like Rob Stardom, Steve Cox and Johnny Malibu at TRCW repeated the story. I told that whole locker room to keep their uninformed opinions private or say it to my face... so they go and hide on the message boards.

The libel of it is that Jose was a victim and that I am personally irresponsible in protecting people in the ring."

Swan has developed his own unique training system. Well known from years of TV bouts and spot show bookings and with his profile as a wrestler and trainer growing across Canada thanks to his appearances on APTN (Aboriginal TV) and other projects, Swan feels he has to speak up to defend his late friend Juan Jose, who died doing what he loved, and his own reputation.

"First of all, that is not how I do things. It is not a good way to earn people's respect, lighting them up. A lot of guys think I am too easy on trainees. well I want them to succeed."(Referee Perry Milano told me, "Swan treats all the guys under him with respect".)

"I have more confidence in my training course than in any other in the city. Sure, Don Callis (former WWF Jackal/ECW Cyrus) can teach guys ad-libs and promos, but I teach wrestling. My classes are definately safe, the trainees are treated with respect, they learn wrestling and I don't charge $3000."

- 30 -

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