Kaitlin Diemond shining in Japan
JAN MURPHY - Chinlock.com
|Kaitlin Diemond in Japan in February.
She's one of the brightest young Canadian female stars on the independent wrestling scene, so it comes as little surprise to learn that Kaitlin Diemond's love affair with sports entertainment can be traced all the way back to her very formative years.
In fact, the Brantford, Ontario, native says she owes a lot her passion for pro wrestling to her brother.
"Definitely my brother," said Diemond, whose real name is Kaitlin Baki, said during a video call from Japan, where she's on a long tour with independent wrestling company Stardom, when asked about her first wrestling influence. "He's five years older than me (and) he watched wrestling during the Attitude Era, during (Stone Cold) Steve Austin's rise and he just thought it was the coolest thing."
Lest anyone underestimate the power of the older sibling, Diemond is proof.
"He's my only sibling and I thought he was the coolest person in the world so I copied everything that he did, which included wrestling," she said. "Eventually, when wrestling stopped being cool (to him), he abandoned ship, but I was already too hooked on it at that point."
But simply watching wrestling on TV wasn't enough for Diemond. She wanted to become a wrestler. Already an athletic kid, it didn't seem that far fetched.
"I started doing martial arts when I was four years old," she said. "My family was like, 'Whoa, that kid's got too much energy going on.'" She did martial arts for 10 years. "I always had that desire to do physical combat stuff and martial arts."
Born in Toronto, Diemond and her family also lived in Barrie and Hamilton in her formative years before settling in Brantford, home of hockey god Wayne Gretzky.
Armed with that athletic skill and discipline, Diemond set out to pursue her dreams as a teenager. As luck would have it, it wouldn't take her long before she climbed into the proverbial squared circle for the first time.
"I was 14 years old and some friends of mine were holding a (backyard wrestling) show (in Brantford)," Diemond said. "You would consider it a backyard wrestling show because they weren't properly trained, but they weren't your typical backyarders. They weren't killing themselves and doing stupid things. There were actually really smart backyard wrestlers, if that makes any sense."
That show, which took place in 2004, changed Diemond's life forever.
"(It was) a little benefit show for a church and all of the money that they raised went to the church," Diemond said of her first show. "I had just met these people through friends of friends, they were all older than me."
As luck would have it, the charity show made the local news.
"It got in the Brantford newspaper, so they were on the front page and an actual person in the business named Mike O'Shea saw the paper and he came to the event," Diemond said.
O'Shea liked what he saw that day and offered to help get the young aspiring wrestlers in the right direction.
"That summer, he trained us, and Kwan Chang (a Hamilton indie wrestler) would come out and train us occasionally as well. That was my first experience training. I was the only girl in the class but that didn't bother me. They trained me the same way they would train a guy, so I appreciated that."
Wrestling training throughout history, and even still to this day, is notoriously difficult. Gruelling even. The weak are usually weeded out early by the monotony and physical nature of the training. It, in many ways, is designed to make you quit. Diemond had no quit in her.
"It was never a question of am I going to not come back," she said. "We didn't get the sh-- kicked out of us or anything, but there were times when it definitely wasn't fun. A lot of the times, it was really, really hard, and I remember in particular one day Kwan just saying, 'Alright, we're doing chops today,' and it was just so many. I was a 14-year-old girl and he was just chopping the sh-- out of me."
In wrestling, a chop is when your opponent hits you repeatedly, full force, with an open hand in your chest, just below your neck, often leaving welts and even bringing blood to just below the surface of the skin.
Want to know how her trainers knew Diemond was game for anything? The chops.
"I don't consider that getting the sh-- beat out of me because when you're chopped, it's in a safe place. It was hard, but I was really happy at the end of the day. I had this giant hand print on my chest and I was like 'This is so cool.' "
Quitting never crossed Diemond's mind.
"That was never an option," she said.
Women have been making huge inroads in a generally male-dominated sport for decades now. Few, if any, made bigger inroads than one of Diemond's idols and fellow Canadians, Toronto's Trish Stratus, a World Wrestling Entertainment hall of famer and the very best of her generation.
Stratus was a big influence on the young Diemond.
"Huge actually," Diemond said.
"She's the best, the best ever," she said, adding that she got to meet her idol in 2003.
"It was just before I had started training and I told her, 'I'm going to be a wrestler,' and she was like, 'Cool,'" Diemond said, adding that she got her picture taken with Stratus that day.
True to her word, Diemond would run into her hero again years later, after she'd broken into the business herself.
"I met her a few months before she retired at a signing and I brought back the old picture of us and I said, 'You don't remember, but I told you in this picture that I was going to be a wrestler and now I am.' She was like, 'Wow, that's crazy.' "
Diemond would attend Stratus's final match in Toronto and once again encountered her idol at Stratus's yoga studio later that year.
"I went to it like a mark and I sat there and talked to her for at least an hour," she recalled vividly. "There was this giant line of people waiting to talk to her and she sat there and talked to me about wrestling for an hour. I was really, really grateful for that. I think she's not only an amazing wrestler, but an amazing human being."
Along with Stratus, Diemond paid homage to other females who blazed a trail for her and other young women to follow into pro wrestling.
"Lita was, when I was younger, my No.1 (to watch) just because she was so different and fearless. And Chyna -- wrestling guys -- oh man. I know people probably looked back on their time working with her and say, 'Oh, what a pain in the ass to have to go out there and put a girl over,' but that did so much for young girls and their confidence. I loved watching her feud with (Chris) Jericho. Jericho is my favourite so I didn't know who to cheer for just because I loved Chyna so much. I really have to say Molly Holly was a great influence, Victoria, Jazz."
An early photo of Kaitlin Diemond.
Diemond would eventually complete her training and break into the very fickle independent wrestling scene, notorious for its low pay, long journeys and lack of job security. Making it as a pro wrestler coming up through the indies is tough. Making it as a Canadian pro wrestlers coming up through the indies is tougher. Making it as a female Canadian pro wrestler coming up through the indies � well, you see where this is going.
Despite all of that, Diemond has carved out a very modest career for herself, working indies around Ontario and beyond. That hasn't come without its doubts and adversity, however.
"For a long time, because there were so few girls, I always had a really, really big chip on my shoulder and I was always in my own head so much: 'I've got to have a match that's as good as a guy's match, I've got to prove to all of these guys that I'm worthy of being in the same locker room as them,' Diemond recalled. "I think it hurt me (early in my career).
"Now I just go out there and I have fun and it reflects in my work."
Diemond was even able to do the unthinkable in indie wrestling and quit her day job as a debt collector and become a full-time wrestler.
"I would do a lot of the Canadian tours and they were in the middle of nowhere, they don't really get a lot of publicity, but you make good money doing them, so I was all about those," she said of how she was able to turn her passion into full-time work.
"I would just go to the gym every day and work hard and try to make myself look half presentable. I had to save a lot of money to be in a place in order to quit my job and try to pursue wrestling full time. For like five years straight, all I did was work. I wasted a lot of time, but it's paid off now."
Of course, when you up and quit your day job to pursue your fantasy career, there are ups and downs. Many, many ups and downs, Diemond said.
Kaitlin Diemond on a poster in Mexico.
"Oh man, the lows I could go on forever," she said with a chuckle.
"The lows ..." she paused. "I don't even know if I want to go there. There have been so many times over the years where I'm just like, 'What am I doing with my life? What am I doing? I'm not making any money, I'm not advancing and I'm wasting my time.'"
For example, Diemond said, wrestling is not conducive to a healthy love life.
"I've had a lot of personal relationships fall apart because of me pursuing wrestling," she said. "Some of that was my doing and some of that was the other person not being able to put up with it. Times like that make you reflect a lot." She added that it's also difficult to miss family events and outings.
Inevitably, the inner fire and the highs triumph over the negative. More than a dozen years later, Diemond is considered one of the bright young stars of wrestling.
"Other than this (Japan tour), I did four days of extra work with WWE and I thought for sure those would be the best four days of my life forever," Diemond said when asked about some of the highs. "I definitely appreciate my Japan experience and I think of it as a bigger opportunity than that because I was just an extra unfortunately. That was my biggest moment before getting to come here."
The Japan tour is, to date, the biggest thing to happen to Diemond in her still young career.
"Basically I've called myself a starving indie wrestler for the last two years," she said, referring to the time since quitting her day job.
It was during that time that fate intervened and Diemond caught the break she has been seeking.
"I worked for a company in Montreal called Femme Fatales, an all women's promotion. There I met Cheerleader Melissa. She's actually always been a huge hero of mine," Diemond said, referring to the second-generation women's wrestler from California, whose real name is Melissa Anderson.
"The first few times we were at Femmes Fatales together, I was just like, 'Hi,' in a squeaky voice," Diemond quipped. "I didn't say anything else because I didn't want to annoy her and say something stupid like, 'I love you.'
Then while selling merch together at a show, Diemond broke the ice.
"She happened to be beside me and she had a Stardom poster that she was selling," Diemond said, referring to the Japanese company for which Diemond is now working. "One of the girls on the poster was wearing a mask and I'm like, 'Oh, is that Starfire?' She's like, 'How do you know Starfire?' I was like, 'Oh, I worked with her when she was in Mexico.'"
Dinner out in Japan with Chelsea Green (and her broken collarbone), Viper and Diemond.
That opened the floodgates. The two would hit it off, and Anderson would reveal that she was the overseas talent co-ordinator for Stardom, to which Diemond asked about the possibility of a booking.
Anderson told her the next tour was full, but that Diemond should keep checking with her for future tours.
"I bothered her for about a year," Diemond said. "I was on one of the Northern Death tours, we were on our way home, I had been awake for over 20 hours in a vehicle and it was like one in the morning and I got a text.
Anderson offered Diemond a spot on the next Japanese tour. Diemond lunged at the opportunity she'd been craving for seemingly forever.
"I didn't even need to know any details, I was just like, 'Yes.'"
Having been crushed by a previous opportunity to work overseas falling through, Diemond didn't let herself get excited about the Japan tour until her flight was booked and her plans firm.
"I didn't tell anybody and then the moment my ticket was booked, I was just on Cloud 9 and I freaked out and I told everybody."
Since the new year, Diemond has been working the tour in Japan, having the time of her life.
There are notable differences besides the time change, Diemond said. Japan has a huge wrestling fanbase and the training is very different from that in North America.
"Sundays are show days," she said. "Typically, it's one show a week and then we do training Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and trust me, that's enough. The training here is insane. Your body just never recovers. Monday, having just wrestled on Sunday, we're sore as f---. And then Wednesday, having had training on Tuesday, we're sore as f---. And then the double training on Saturday, we're sore as f--- and then we've got to wrestle the next day."
And that doesn't even account for the travel.
"We have a show in Osaka tomorrow. Osaka is about six hours outside of Tokyo, so we've got to all meet at the train station at 7 a.m., drive for six hours, get to the venue, set the ring up, wrestle. I've got two matches in Osaka, so wrestle, sell merch, tear down, and then drive six hours back. Osaka trips are always really, really energy draining."
The other thing that stands out in Japan is the talent, Diemond said.
"They're either the best wrestlers ever or they are just green and not at a level you would expect them to be," Diemond said, adding that a lot of veteran talent are out injured, leaving inexperienced talent to fill in the gaps. "They are putting girls in matches that you would think they probably wouldn't, just because they need bodies. I don't think anybody is bad, I just think they're green and they have such a huge spotlight shone on them it's almost not fair. (The company's) three main girls are probably the best wrestlers I've ever seen in my entire life. Shirai�is the heavyweight champion right now, and she is also our trainer. There's nothing that girl can't do. She's incredible."
Diemond's Japanese tour wraps in early April. Following that, it's back to the Canadian indie scene.
"I fly home April 4th, I've got a few bookings lined up, I've got a few dates with conflicts," she said. "I'm going to be hustling hard within the next few weeks, pimping myself out on Facebook, trying to get some dates filled. Then I just have to wait and see when the next Northern Death tour is back home."
While the immediate future is a bit uncertain, Diemond knows one thing, she can't wait for the next opportunity to work in Japan, her new second home.
"I'm definitely pushing to come back to Japan," she said. "I want to come back, I love it here and this is a great place for me to be."
As far as her ultimate dream of one day standing inside a WWE ring goes, Diemond takes a diplomatic approach.
"I don't think about it. I can't think about it," she said. "I don't think that it's probable. I don't want to say it's impossible, but when I did my tryout match there before SmackDown, everybody really liked it and everybody gave me really, really positive feedback. But I don't know. I'm so not diva-ish. I just don't know if I'm the right fit for what they want, even though they have their Diva's Revolution now. I look at them and I look at me and I don't see how they would hire me. It's not a lack of confidence in myself ... I don't know, there's just such a difference between how girly they are and how I am."
With many chapters of her career still be to written, Diemond isn't ruling anything out. She knows one thing, she's in the business she dreamed of being in, and that's most important.
"At the end of the day, I can't be any happier than I am right now so I know that it was all worth it. I think it's just stubbornness that makes me stick through it. I've had this plan since I was a kid and if I just stop and say real life got in the way, I know I'm going to look at myself in mirror in 10 years and totally regret it.'"
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The Canadian Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame
Jan Murphy is the news editor at the Kingston Whig-Standard and has written about wrestling for 15 years. He launched Chinlock.com to archive his wrestling stories. You can follow Jan on Twitter at @Jan_Murphy.