Vern May, a.k.a. Vance Nevada, torques a competitor’s neck during a wrestling match. May, who has spent the last 20 years wrestling, is the new economic development officer for the Souris and Glenwood Community Development Corp. (EMANUEL MELO PHOTO)
Vern May, who was forced to quit wrestling after a neck injury and will now work in his hometown of Souris, is pictured with his son Oscar. (SUBMITTED)
He’s been in the ring with some of the baddest men of his generation, including the likes of The Honky Tonk Man and Brutus Beefcake, but last month Vance Nevada traded in his wrestling tights for a suit and tie.
Nevada, whose real name is Vern May, is the new economic development officer for the Souris and Glenwood Community Development Corp.
"I’m really excited and it’s not really as big of a transition as people might think," said May, who grew up in Souris.
With a wrestling career that spanned two decades, May said many of the lessons he’s learned inside and outside the ring will translate into his new role.
Some of the lessons are as simple as treating people with respect, paying your dues and working hard.
"The wrestling community is very small, not unlike what you would see in rural Manitoba," he said. "I think a lot of those same principles apply to my new role as the economic development officer. You have to be respected by your peers and if you’re dishonourable then word gets around and it’s a memory that will last forever."
Wrestling with a series of smaller promotions, May quickly learned he needed to take control of his own destiny if he was going to be successful.
Wearing multiple hats — agent, marketer, communicator and athlete — he maintained one of the most aggressive schedules on the independent tour, wrestling in more than 1,500 matches since 1993.
More recently, he’s worked to establish the Canadian National Wrestling Alliance, serving as the company’s president and promoter.
One of organization’s main goals is to build relationships between different promotions to create some consensus and harmony to grow the sport in North America.
While he’s contemplated a career change a number of times over the last five years, it was a visit to his doctor that eventually pushed him into wrestling retirement.
Last year, after a match with CNWA champion Adam Pearce, May felt "fuzzy and lost dexterity in his left hand."
An MRI revealed two areas of narrowing in his spinal column, some calcification and a lack of spinal fluid to support his neck.
The doctor plainly laid out the risk to his health: continue wrestling and he would most likely end up paralyzed.
"It was an easy decision from there," said May, who accepted the EDO job and moved back to his hometown with his wife and young son.
The same town, where as a teenager he volunteered to help set up the wrestling ring for a Hartney promoter, catapulting himself into the industry he’s been in love with since he was a child.
After helping set the ring up, May and a friend jumped in the ring while alone in the gym. When the promoter returned unannounced and caught them, May thought he was in trouble.
Instead, the promoter showed him a few techniques.
From there, wrestling was all May wanted to do and after a six-week crash course in a shed outside of a trainer’s house in Somerset, he was thrown to the wolves in his first match in Winnipeg.
Twenty years later, he’s zig-zagged across North America and wrestled some of the sport’s biggest stars such as Jim Neidhart, Bushwhacker Luke, Tito Santana, Tatanka and Cyrus the Virus.
Outside of the WWE, few wrestlers make enough money to focus solely on the sport.
May augmented his earnings as a security administrator at post-secondary institutions in Canada, helping craft public policy and outreach programs at the schools.
If the stereotypical wrester is portrayed as a meathead who uses braun over brains, May is anything but.
He prides himself on being intelligent, well-spoken, creative and thoughtful.
Although he’s won several titles, including All Star Wresting’s Trans-Canada belt five times, the highlight of his career came when he was inducted into the Cauliflower Alley Club.
May said he was nervous giving his speech when he looked up and saw Terry Funk, The Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase, and Nick Bockwinkel — three of his idols growing up —sitting in the front row.
After he finished speaking to 600 of the greatest wrestlers of all-time, Funk embraced him and whispered in his ear: "I’m proud of you son."
"I was so overwhelmed, knowing how abstract my dream to become a professional wrestler was, to getting to a point where I was openly embraced and acknowledged by the biggest names in our industry," he said. "It was a small gesture — one moment in a 20-year career that I will never forget."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 5, 2013