Petey Williams was perhaps the most understated member of Team Canada in TNA. Williams wasn’t as profoundly obnoxious as Scott D’Amore, as comically demented as Eric Young, or as imposing as Alastair Ralphs. Williams is shorter than the chiseled, camera-friendly Bobby Roode, and he doesn’t have the natural, arrogant smirk of Johnny Devine.
One week after Williams, 32, performed in his retirement match against X-Division doppelganger Chris Sabin, independent wrestler Alex Reynolds executed the Canadian Destroyer, the prodigious flipping piledriver, during a CZW tag team bout. After a roaring beat, over 500 fans in Voorhees, NJ chorused with “PE-TEY WILL-IAMS”, an homage to the hold’s master.
The Destroyer is synonymous with Williams in the same manner that bringing a python to the ring is the calling card of Jake “The Snake” Roberts. This past May, Buff Bagwell, of all people, performed the move at an AIW event in Cleveland. As video surfaced, and Bagwell became a trending name, Williams’ name also escaped viewers’ lips in conjunction with the sight.
“Everybody thinks I get upset (to have others do the move), but you know what they say, that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” Williams jokes. “I’ve done something in pro wrestling that a lot of people can’t say that they’ve done. I’ve created something that’ll live past when I’m dead and gone. When I’m 70 years old, I’ll be sitting on the couch with my grandkids, and there’ll be some wrestler doing the Canadian Destroyer, and I’ll say hey, that was me.”
On May 5, 2004, Williams stood out from a new-plastic-scented, identity-seeking Team Canada stable by performing the Destroyer before a PPV audience. In an eight-man tag, Williams spotted up Sabin in the hijacker-clasp, and sunset-flipped Sabin into a perfect, Memphis-outlawed piledriver that astonished the TNA Asylum upstate in Nashville.
“The first person I did it to on television was Chris Sabin, but the first person that had ever taken it was Evan Bourne, back when he was Matt Sydal,” recalls Williams. “I explained the move to him, having no idea how it was going to turn out. He just goes ‘Okay!’ So I set it up, we did it, the place went nuts, and the rest is history.”
“Ten years ago, wrestlers were afraid of it, but now they’ve seen me perform it so much, and they trust me. It’s not that I was trying to talk anyone into it, but I just had to assure them that I wasn’t going to break their neck. I think now, people are lining up, like, ‘I wanna take the Destroyer tonight!’ Sonjay Dutt didn’t even want to do it, and I finally managed to assure him. After we did it, he was like, ‘Petey, that was so easy!’ For that reaction that we got, he said he’d rather take the Destroyer than a bodyslam.”
Safety first for wrestlers whose acrobatic, smack-echo’ed styles induce as many winces and cringes as they do cheers. Williams’ recent decision to walk away from wrestling is, in part, due to the accumulation of such aches and pain over his twelve-year career.
“I hear about all of these guys getting concussions and neck injuries, and I watch their wrestling style, and I realize my wrestling style’s a little bit harder than that, because I’m taking German suplexes on the neck, and piledrivers and whatever. I’m like, ‘Man, I’m gonna be 33 years old; maybe I’d better get out now, and not have to be in a wheelchair when I’m older.”
My wife’s due with my next daughter in a couple of weeks or so, and I just didn’t book any shows in or around this time. Then I just said, ‘You know what? I just gotta start doing different things in life.’ You kinda have to look at your future, and ask what’s really more important: providing for my family, being there for them, or pro wrestling?”
Health concerns aside, Williams recognizes TNA as among the most secure places he’s worked, knowing that he could put his body in the hands of the experienced professionals there, and come out as fresh as possible in such a physical vocation. In the indies, however, that luxury isn’t always available.
“You lay faith in the promoter to pair you up with somebody trustworthy, because you may have never met this person before. In a match last October, I was doing my basic opening moves, and one of them was a second-rope hurrachanrana. My opponent’s like, ‘Oh, that’s easy; I can do that okay.’ And when I went for that, he for some reason ducked his head, and I totally landed on my own head. I pop up, and my shoulder felt really weird.”
“I had an MRI, and the doctor told me I had a torn supraspinatus (rotator cuff muscle in the upper back). He tells me the only way I can really fix this is through surgery; there’s no amount of rehab that’s really going to make this better, nothing you can take, no injections, etc. He tells me I can’t wrestle for the next couple of months. I look at him like, ‘Well, that’s not going to happen,’ because I’ve got shows booked.”
“Right now, it’s feeling better, but it’s been probably about ten months, and I still feel it every morning.”
Several months before the October 2013 injury, Williams had another scary moment, this time in a special appearance at TNA’s Destination X in Louisville. Williams was booked in a triple threat match with fellow X-Division pioneers Sonjay Dutt and Homicide.
“Homicide suggests to me he’ll do the Gringo Killer (vertebreaker), and from there, Sonjay will give him the moonsault double stomp. I’ve never taken it from Homicide before, as many times as I’ve worked him. He assured me, ‘I’m really safe with it now. Before, I used to kinda kill guys,’ and I told him I was fine with it, that I wasn’t even questioning it.”
“Then the way we did it wasn’t the way we practiced it – he was supposed to kick me, set me, turn me up, then down. Instead, he just grabs me from behind and says, ‘Oh, let’s just go with it this way.’ When he flung my legs up, he had my upper body trapped, and it kinda compressed by body, and I really couldn’t move. It felt like a lightning bolt went through my upper back and chest area. I rolled out of the ring, so I was at least able to move.”
“The ref came over to check on me, and he made the “X” gesture. I literally couldn’t even sit myself up; I couldn’t use my core muscles to pull myself up, it was too much pain in my neck. I asked him to just lift my body up, to get me into a sitting position, and then I managed to get up, so I was able to walk to the back. The doctor told me he thought it was just a bruised spinal cord, and I thought, ‘A bruised spinal cord? That’s it?’ I iced it, took some anti-inflammatories, and it didn’t get any worse, which I’m happy about, but I couldn’t do certain things in the gym for a while.”
Constant pain has been a motivating factor for a number of wrestlers to leave the industry. With a family at home, and the opportunity to get out with what are now just nagging pains, Williams is, so far, handling the adjustment to ‘civilian life’ well enough. It appears, though, the man once known as “Maple Leaf Muscle” won’t be a civilian for long.
“I’m going to become a US citizen, probably within a month. I’m probably going to work in law enforcement now. That’s what I went to school for while training to be a pro wrestler, so that’s been my other area of passion. It’s a career where I don’t have to travel, don’t have to leave my family, and I can earn a pension. My wife’s a police officer, and that’s how we kind of came together.”
Jesse Ventura once opined, “You get into wrestling to get out of wrestling”, and “The Body” accordingly found his calling in politics and movies. Williams’ escape route allows him to keep it far more local, where family, both biological and acquired, will be his constant.
“It’s about being a Dad, and also stopping by some local shows to say hi to the guys. I still wanna keep up with wrestling, and I’m actually enjoying it a little more, following it casually as a fan. It reminds me of back when I was younger, and I love being a fan of the sport.”
“I went to the Ring of Honor show in Dearborn (July 19), near where I live, and I got to say goodbye to a few guys I hadn’t gotten to say goodbye to, like Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, Jay Lethal, Tyson Dux, and it was Kevin Steen’s last match, and it was good getting see all of that. I really, really enjoyed it for the first time since becoming a pro wrestler, sitting in the back of the crowd, watching the show. I didn’t have to stress out about most the stuff you’d usually stress out about when you wrestle.”
“It would have been nice to be on that show, but I didn’t bring any of my wrestling gear, so even if they’d asked me, I would have said no,” Williams laughs. “But I do miss it, of course.”
Somewhere down the line, Williams isn’t against the idea of donning the tights and doling out another Destroyer. In his words, the time would have to be right, because in wrestling, never ever means never.
“You know, I never really said I’m ‘retiring’, because who ever really retires? How many times has Terry Funk ‘retired’? I think he may still be wrestling!” Williams jokes. “I just like to call it my ‘last match’, because I may never, ever wrestle again, but I could have another match in a year, five years, ten years. Who knows, right? I think every wrestler I’ve seen retire come back, so I don’t want to say that.”
Williams at least offers a bizarre scenario, declaring with a chuckle, “I would break my retirement if I could wrestle Buff Bagwell with Scott Steiner as the referee.”
Dueling Canadian Destroyers? It’s more enticing than even a WWE contract to Williams now, who said regarding the company, “Even if WWE called me and said “We’d like you to move to Florida for NXT,” I wouldn’t because I have a family, I have a daughter with one on the way. I’m married, I have a mortgage. I’m set to where I am in life right now; I’m totally content with it.”
As it stands, Williams’ last match (not ‘retirement match’) was with Sabin in Clinton Township, Michigan for XICW on July 5. Williams put over the man whom he’s shared his personal and professional lives for over ten years in an emotional walk-off.
“I’ve had two people I’ve wanted to have my last match with. One of them was this guy named Gutter (Caleb Stills), a local independent wrestler in Michigan, who was actually my first match over 12 years ago. I’d talked with him about it for years, having my last match with him as well.”
“He was actually on the show that day, and I asked the promoter if he’d put me against Gutter, or Chris Sabin. He said he wanted me against Sabin, which is fitting, because Sabin’s my best friend in the professional wrestling world. We’d always travel together, trained together, and we’re both from (Scott) D’Amore’s school. It was the right way to go.”
Sabin is just one X-Division icon that Williams will miss taking to the mat with. His list of favorite opponents reads as a Who’s Who of the division’s finest.
“I really liked when I had my run with Frankie Kazarian, with a really good Slammiversary match. We had a bunch of house show matches as well, including one where I was ‘married’ to him for about a week straight. I just had good chemistry with him. All of the X-Division guys pretty much. I don’t think there was any that I didn’t like working with. I liked Sonjay, Lethal, AJ Styles, Daniels, Kazarian. I never really got to work with Samoa Joe, never had a singles match with him, which is kinda weird. But yeah, I could work those guys every single day for the rest of my life.”
The world will have to deal without the authentic Canadian Destroyer, but imitations are welcome. The cover-versions conjure up the image of Petey Williams in all his glory, and that’s the fitting legacy for Williams: an understated man paid tribute with an enthralling act.
“Any time I’ve been at shows, I hear, “Petey, you’ve got the best finishing move ever,” and person after person says it to me. People might think it gets old, but it really doesn’t. I appreciate everybody saying that, and I thank everyone for all of the support.”