Local wrestling trailblazer Mark Vellios (aka Gorgeous Michelle Starr) said his final goodbye to the ring after one last trick on rival ‘Azeem the Dream’ at Cloverdale’s Alice McKay building last Saturday night. Photos and story by Gord Goble
CLOVERDALE — There were a lot of matches Saturday night during Superbrawl at Cloverdale’s Alice McKay Building. Surrey native and crowd favorite Bambi took on the nasty Sunni Daze, who motored up from Washington State for a particularly loud smackfest that surely featured more hair than a ’60s rock concert.
Moondog Manson, who seems almost as wide as he is tall and tips the scales at 350 pounds, used his girth and a weapon, best described as a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire, to dispatch Nasty Nate Daniels.
But by the time the evening had reached its halfway point, the crowd was anxious to see the main event. And they were about to get it.
At around 8:40 p.m., it began. The curtains parted and out strode the most despicably Canadian-bashing, pro-American fiend in the known world, Azeem The Dream.
Accompanied by a rogue’s gallery of wrestling no-goodniks and proudly wrapped from head to toe in the Stars and Stripes, Azeem (who is the nicest guy in private) played the uber-heel role to the hilt. Seemingly buoyed by the obvious audience hatred, he took to the ring and immediately launched a non-stop verbal assault at his still-unseen opponent.
It is something Azeem has done so convincingly countless times before, and will likely continue to do for some time to come. But for his adversary that night, the man tasked with defending his country’s honour and conquering this boastful Yank-lover, there would be no second chances.
Saturday night was the last stand of a man who, in many ways, defines local wrestling. He is a promoter, a trainer and, of course, a wrestler extraordinaire. He’s been doing it for a quarter of a century, and it is not exaggerating to say that wrestling in these here parts would not be the same without him.
He is Gorgeous Michelle Starr, and his bout with Azeem Saturday night was his grand finale.
It was an unadulterated hoot. All the elements were there: drama, slick moves, humour and enough surprises to keep everyone on their toes. To make matters even more interesting, a who’s-who of regional wrestling greats (including the legendary Verne Siebert) surrounded the ring. When either wrestler was tossed out, they’d maniacally beat the dickens out of him – often with a few chuckles – and then toss him back inside.
In the end, a barely conscious Starr lay under an only slightly more conscious Azeem. Special guest referee Rocky Della Serra issued the three-count and the heel of all heels retained his title.
The crowd, as one, gasped. Then the booing and the catcalls began. Could it really end like this? Could this be the way an icon goes out?
No, it couldn’t.
As Azeem and his cohorts triumphantly walked from the ring, a still-dazed Starr grabbed the mic.
“Please,” he said, “I ask you to come back to the ring and shake my hand.”
It was for one final handshake, man to man, to acknowledge not one but two careers and a long, often bitter and undeniably historic rivalry.
Azeem, after much thought, acquiesced, and the two shook hands and embraced in the centre of the ring. It was a sincerely touching moment.
But it didn’t last long.
As Azeem turned to acknowledge the crowd, Starr mercilessly attacked him from behind, knocking him for a loop and ultimately slamming him to the canvas.
To the uninitiated, this “heel” move from a man who’s recently been a “face” wrestler just seemed wrong. What a perfectly rotten thing to do when closing out one’s career.
But Starr (aka Surrey’s Mark Vellios), a man who’s run the show for so many years, knew differently.
“I knew the crowd would want to see that. I gave them what they wanted.”
And indeed, they went wild. And as streamers flew through the air and as Starr gathered with family members and compatriots to watch a video tribute, the cheering continued.
Seems giving the crowd what it wants is something he does very well.
And lucky for wrestling fans, he’ll continue doing just that.
“I won’t be wrestling, but I’ll still be organizing shows, booking venues and finding sponsors,” he said later. “All-Star Wrestling isn’t going anywhere.”
The 46-year-old Vellios does, however, admit the personal transition won’t be easy.
“It happens to all of us… when we have to say goodbye. I woke up the next morning wondering when my next match was. But there are no more. I thought about the times I’ve had and the places I’ve been and got quite emotional. And I thought, ‘Wow, it’s really over.’”
It’s different for Vellios because he’ll still be involved in wrestling.
“I’ve seen guys quit and completely disassociate themselves from wrestling. They don’t go to events, you never see them. I didn’t leave because I was injured or anything.
“I got to go out on my own terms.”