Carrying The Torch

Last updated 11:34 26/11/2012
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RUMBLE: A promotional photo of Adam Dykes, aka Adam "Torch" Firestorm.

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Tonight, 30 North American professional wrestlers will hold a memorial tournament in honour of one of their "fallen brothers".

His parents, Mervyn Dykes and Tina White, who live in Palmerston North, reflect on his rise from Manawatu boy to Canadian wrestling star.

There are few sights more moving than rows of big, tough-looking professional wrestlers, awkward in their suits, crammed into church pews and weeping for one of their own.

We wept too, because he was our youngest son, Adam, who lived, breathed and ultimately died for his wrestling passion, a few days short of his 33rd birthday.

He died on Guy Fawkes night, 2009, as rockets raced into the sky and burst in showers of light.

Adam Firestorm they called him, and his meteoric life has left us with rich memories, tears and the sound of distant cheers.

There will be more cheers and tears in British Columbia tonight when two usually warring wrestling franchises declare a truce and come together to honour Adam.

The highlight will be when 30 men enter the ring in a "Royal Rumble" - a massive brawl from which only one will emerge to take home the $4000 gold and silver Firestorm Memorial Belt, commissioned and bought with funds raised by fans and the wrestlers themselves.

They will take no fees for their work tonight. Instead, they will put the gate money into an education fund they have established for Adam's son, Thomas.

When the first event was held in 2010, the winner was Strife, one of Adam's former tag-team partners. He celebrated by inviting then 5-year-old Thomas into the ring with him.

What happened next was described by a Slam Sports reporter: "And then ‘The Moment' was there, the one that opened the proverbial floodgates. Strife knelt before Thomas and handed the young boy the Memorial Belt. There was a moment - albeit brief - when the child looked down at his father's masked face [on the belt] and in those seconds, understood what he was holding. Then, like his father, he smiled broadly, determined somehow to turn a potentially depressing moment into something very special.

"We weren't sure how Thomas would react to the belt," Disco Fury, also a long-time friend of Adam's said after the show was over. "We didn't know if he would grasp it. But he embraced the whole thing and when he held that belt and you could see the look in his eyes. It was like his Dad shot right into him."

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Disco was openly crying as Thomas held the belt, and he wasn't the only one.

Adam's love of wrestling began when he was 9 and watched a show on television during a sleepover with friends. So much of what followed is almost too corny to believe as he went from fan to fan favourite.

A teenager besotted with pro wrestling is working as a ring boy during his school holidays when a wrestler on the card doesn't show up. In desperation, the promoter puts the ring boy in a mask and costume and pushes him out into the lights and a star is born.

If you tried to sell that concept to Hollywood, they'd laugh at you. But it was true.

Although Adam was only half the size of some of his behemoth opponents, he overpowered them with speed, acrobatic ability, strength and courage. The fans loved it and mobbed him at every event. Eventually, he collected a stack of championship belts and fought regularly on both sides of the US-Canada border.

As a regular on a television wrestling show in Portland, Oregon, he was described by former WWF great, Rowdy Roddy Piper, as part of the future of pro wrestling, "picking up and running with the torch of those who made wrestling great before him". How appropriate then, that for much of his 10-year career Adam should be known simply as "Torch".

One of the hardest things for Tina and myself to accept was that this gentle, loving son would earn his living by beating people up.

For his first bout the promoter explained Adam's lack of size by passing him off as a visiting Mexican, El Antorcha (The Torch). Later he became known simply as Torch and then Adam Firestorm.

For several years both Torch and Firestorm were listed in an American wrestling magazine's Top Pro-Wrestler rankings. Who says you can't be in two places at once?

But his success wasn't achieved without an enormous amount of hard work. He was trained by a host of talented wrestlers, including former WWF world women's champion, Velvet MacIntyre.

Adam's friend and sparring mate, James Olson, tells it this way: "In the 1980s she had gained fame by wrestling a quick, athletic style - barefooted no less - whereas women's wrestling prior to then was generally plodding and very careful. It lacked the spark that Velvet brought to her matches. Velvet gained the world title, as well as fan adoration."

One of the organisers of the "memorial bash" was Adam's former boss and mentor Mark Vellios who wrestles under the name Gorgeous Michelle Starr.

"I knew Adam since he was a teenager. I saw him grow up in and out of the ring. Had a lot of good and memorable times with him on the road going town to town. He never had a harsh word to say and also gave 110 per cent in the ring and behind the scenes.

"This show to me, keeps Adam there and brings back many positive things about him in my memories. He was loved by many and especially by me and my family."

When Adam died so many fans and wrestlers turned up that his funeral was augmented by two memorial services in Canada and one in Palmerston North.

New Zealand wrestling personality, Rob Eden, came from Wellington to ring a timekeeper's bell in the traditional salute to a fallen champion.

"We looked up to him," he said. "He was someone from here who had made it over there."

Describing his teenage years with Adam, James Olson said they schemed how to get into wrestling events around Vancouver for nothing.

The first ploy was to interview promoter and main eventer, Michelle Starr, for a school newspaper.

"We made good inroads with Starr to the point that he accepted our offer to come early to help set up the wrestling ring four hours before the show," said Olson.

"Boy, we thought we were really something else for getting out of a $6 price tag in exchange for just four hours of work. Shrewd negotiators indeed."

Rapidly, their ring set-up duties expanded to include operating the ring music, as well as dinging the ring bell to start and conclude matches. They published their own fan magazine, North West Wrestler.

"This was followed by producing the event programme and designing posters," said Olson. "We had our fingers in most aspects of the shows and Canuck, Starr and Flowers (pro wrestlers) went from being larger than life to become our mentors in the pro wrestling business."

In the meantime, Adam discovered he had a flair for ring announcing. He also established a "Wrestling Hotline" which fans from all over North America could call for the latest wrestling news. So many calls were received that he had to sign up with a commercial operator.

"It was logging 20,000 or more calls a month," said a company representative.

A short time later, Adam produced Mat Mayhem, the first of dozens of wrestling videos (possibly more than 100). He became co-host of a popular wrestling radio show which ended only with his death.

Olson admits to being startled by his friend's transformation from "non-athletic schoolboy" to flame-suited fan favourite, El Antorcha.

"Adam was simply not an athlete," he said. "Adam as a pro wrestler made no sense to me."

However, he soon discovered that Adam was working out at least two hours a day in the gym and training hard. Later, he would even undergo a pummelling in Stu Hart's notorious Dungeon in Calgary, home to the Hart Foundation, the British Bulldogs and others.

When Olson returned home after two years away, one of the first things he wanted to do was see El Antorcha in action.

"He faced the vicious, the vile, the hopeless-in-the-ring Billy Jean Mankind. This guy was awful. But this was the first time I saw one of Adam's greatest wrestling traits: He could lead anyone to a great match.

"The lights went out for the hapless Billy Jean Mankind after the best match of his fledgling career when El Antorcha mounted the top rope, facing the crowd, and performed a back flip, called a moonsault, and came crushing down on his opponent for the three-count.

"Such a move is not foreign to pro wrestling today, but it was a manoeuvre few dared to try in 1996. People erupted and Adam had another crowd in the palm of his hands.

"Adam never went back to the point of guiding hapless Billy Jean Mankind around the ring," said Olson, "but spent the rest of his career facing talent brought in from other territories, including Korea and Japan."

His battles with now-WWE star, Bryan Danielson and now-TNA star, Christopher Danielson were legendary.

"He was a highlight on Portland Wrestling's television show, rubbing shoulders with the 1980s WWF legends we sat and watched in his living room as teenagers."

But at the height of this came tragedy. Adam broke a bone in his left forearm which refused to heal. During a long inactive period, the car he was travelling in as front seat passenger hit an elk on the highway at night. When the paramedics arrived, they thought Adam was dead. Within a few minutes, however, he was back on his feet. But it was one head blow too many.

Wrestling buddy and business partner Marty Goldstein said Adam had admitted having as many as 10 concussions and to going into the ring when his head ached and he was already seeing stars.

Little over a month after the elk incident, Adam joined the ever growing list of wrestlers, boxers, and professional footballers in North America who have taken their own lives after succumbing to head blows and depression.

We miss him every day, but I can still remember a day when there came a knock at our door and two wrestlers were standing there - one a giant well over 300lbs [136kg] and the other a midget who fought under the name Lord Bruce.

"Is Adam home?" they asked, for all the world like two little boys saying, "Can Adam come out and play?"

- © Fairfax NZ News

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