By Erin Valois
RJ Skinner is constantly on the road.
The arts and contemporary studies student drives 40 kilometers from his Richmond Hill home to Bradford for a weekly wrestling practice.
He hits the gym early in the morning four times a week to work on his physique and then heads to the tanning booth.
He eats, sleeps, and breathes wrestling.
He does it all to spend an average of seven to 20 golden minutes onstage, wearing blue and yellow spandex and hurling opponents into the crowd.
In the ring, he forgets the sacrifices he’s made to become his alter ago, “RJ City.”
With every workout and tanning session, the professional wrestler lunges closer to his dream of stardom.
“This is what I want to do. You’ve got to get yourself known,” he said.
“The next step is to make a tape and send it to the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment).”
The 20-year-old has been a wrestler for two years and a fan all his life.
But in Canada there are higher age requirements for wrestling than in the United States, so Skinner, a dual U.S. citizen, headed to Maryland every summer as a teenager to train at a wrestling camp.
Now he trains with Ruffy Silverstein, a famous Canadian wrestler, at a gym in Bradford.
Skinner describes his weekly wrestling session as “getting your ass kicked all the time.”
He lifts weights, does 500 squats a day, and learns new techniques every week.
He said professional wrestling is more stand-up comedy than sport but maintains the wrestlers do not choreograph their moves.
The winner is decided when one competitor is pinned by the other.
“It’s an act, you just have to see how (your opponent) will react to you,” he said. “It’s all about your stage presence.”
With a few titles already under his belt, Skinner is a familiar face on the Ontario wrestling circuit.
Silverstein says it can be difficult to make it in the industry, but Skinner has the personality to be a contender.
“RJ is great to have in the class, he’s always so energetic,” Silverstein said. “I’ve worked with him for a long time now and he is dedicated.”
Skinner said one of his best moments was a few months ago when he took on KoKo B. Ware – a famous wrestler from the 1990s.
“He won because we beat him up and got disqualified, so technically we did win,” Skinner said.
“I played with his action figure when I was a kid and now I’m in the ring with him? It’s just so crazy.”
But not everyone in his life is excited about his dream.
Skinner’s mother, Emily, is proud her son can pursue his passion.
But she is uncomfortable with the physical violence in wrestling.
“He’s been running around the house yelling ‘body slam’ since he was two and a half years old,” she said.
“I know this means a lot to him but I can’t help but worry. The chance of injury is so high and I’ve seen him wrestle. I’ve seen him come home with stitches and marks on his body. I worry about him.”
And Skinner knows his dream career comes with risks.
From serious injuries to missing that big break – there is no guaranteed shot at stardom.
He said he hopes his Ryerson degree, where he chose to focus on culture and entertainment as part of the ACS program, will help him get a job in the industry if he doesn’t make it to the big league.
Skinner’s mother knows the chance of failure is high, but she still supports his decision to wrestle.
“I know so many people who are my age that have regrets. He’ll be able to look back and say that he did it,” she said.
“That’s something some people never get to do. No matter what happens, I know RJ has no regrets.”
Skinner will be wrestling at the Assembly Hall (at the southeast corner of Lakeshore Boulevard West and Kipling Avenue) as part of an Elite Wrestling Association show. Tickets are $7 and the event starts at 7 p.m.