Thunder Bay

Vampiro hopes to inspire in return to the squared circle

Ian Hodgkinson's professional wrestling career has taken him all around the world. And this fall, it'll finally bring him back home.

Professional wrestler will be back in Thunder Bay with Canadian Wrestling's Elite in the fall

Professional wrestler Ian Hodgkinson, also known as Vampiro, will return to Thunder Bay with Canadian Wrestling's Elite in the fall. (Ian Hodgkinson/Facebook)

Ian Hodgkinson's professional wrestling career has taken him all around the world.

And this fall, it'll finally bring him back home.

Hodgkinson, known in the ring as Vampiro, will be in Thunder Bay in November, part of a scheduled Canadian Wrestling's Elite card.

But he won't be simply making an appearance at the autograph table.

"I'm definitely wrestling again," Hodgkinson said in a recent interview with CBC News. "I shouldn't, and I was told not to by all my doctors, all my family members, but then I thought ... why am I going to hide?"

"I've got a mental health situation, and I've got a physical problem," he said. "My body's broken ... 86 per cent of my body's got chronic arthritis from pro wrestling. But I thought to myself, what else am I going to do? This is who I am. I was given this gift, and I move people, so I'm going to do this."

"I'm going to do not just this tour, a lot of tours," Hodgkinson said. "Because I want to be out there, I want to meet the people, I want to say thank you, I want to hear everybody's problems, I want to show people you can do anything you want to do."

Hodgkinson has struggled with health issues in recent years. In 2019, he announced on his Facebook page that he'd been diagnosed with with Alzheimer's disease; at the time, he said he was concerned about developing Parkinson's disease, as well.

He's also said he suffers from brain trauma, brought on by a series of concussions.

Living life as 'awesomely as possible'

"Since my diagnosis, I had the choice to become another victim [or] just go for it and live my life as awesomely as possible, and try to be a role model for people who are going through a similar situation."

Hodgkinson is currently living in Nevada, where he's been undergoing intense, daily therapy for the last two years.

"The treatment there is a little bit different," Hodgkinson said. "Things are little bit more advanced as far as understanding my type of injury, where and why it comes from where it does."

Hodgkinson said it's been working.

"That's the reason I've decided to continue in pro wrestling, so I can go to these smaller towns, go to smaller promotions, give back to the industry that's given me everything, enjoy it for the first time, actually," he said.

Hodgkinson as Vampiro during a match. (wwe.com)

"And then, of course, hopefully be some type of role model or influence on the next generation, and they can pick my brain for their next steps in their journey."

Hodgkinson's professional wrestling career has been a long one, stretching back to his teen years.

"It was a real difficult time in my life," he says of his childhood. "There were some pretty humongous changes going on. My father had passed away, my family life at home was difficult because we were a low-income family."

Hodgkinson said he wasn't fitting in at high school, and needed an escape.

"I didn't drink or do drugs or anything like that," he said. "My only outlet was violence, getting into fights ... or playing every competitive or aggressive sport that I could."

Struggling to fit in

One of those sports was hockey: Hodgkinson was drafted as a goaltender by the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs in 1984.

But, again, he found himself struggling to fit in.

"I just didn't want to be there," Hodgkinson said. "I started dying my hair, I started getting tattoos, and ... they just thought I was an alien."

So Hodgkinson left hockey behind, and soon after, he was introduced to pro wrestling on television.

"I thought this is the most awesome opportunity to combine my love of music, and sports," Hodgkinson said.

He began wrestling in Montreal while still a teenager, and ended up in Mexico a few years later, where Vampiro became an overnight sensation.

"It definitely wasn't because of my wrestling ability," he said. "I think, more than anything, it was my relatability to the rebellion."

"It was the underdog, the anti-bully, the guy who just didn't care about winning or losing, or being famous," Hodgkinson said. "It didn't matter what I did, the place just went insane, but it wasn't because of me, as a person: it was because of what that image meant to everybody."

Move to WCW

His success earned him the attention of World Championship Wrestling (WCW), and he signed with them the late 1990s, during the Monday Night Wars when WCW was battling World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) — then still known as the World Wrestling Federation — for television ratings.

But WCW was not a good fit for Vampiro.

"I disliked everything about it, except my experience with the fans, and there were a couple matches that really meant a lot to me," Hodgkinson said.

"But my whole experience behind the scenes, and being in the dressing room, and all that kind of stuff, it was not for me," he said. "I didn't get along with anybody."

Hodgkinson was injured when WWE bought WCW, and was told his contract wouldn't be getting picked up. So, he continued working in Mexico and Japan.

These days, in addition to returning to the ring, Hodgkinson — who headed up a short-lived Thunder Bay chapter of the Guardian Angels a few years ago — is also celebrating the recent release of the documentary Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro.

Plans for Thunder Bay

"It's about a guy who's a single dad, who has to raise a teen daughter, while he's discovering he has mental health issues, such as the beginning stages of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's," Hodgkinson said. "He comes to Thunder Bay during the week, and is dad ... but then on the weekends he goes and he's Vampiro."

"She discovers a lot about me, and my career, for the first time."

Now, Hodgkinson is committed to building Vampiro into a brand, with comic, film and television projects in the works.

And the end-goal here is bringing something back to his home town, he said.

"I'm hoping with the success that I'm calculating, I bring something back to Thunder Bay," Hodgkinson said. "A centre, or anything, for youth, to follow their dreams."

"A lot of kinds here in Thunder Bay don't have anything, there's nowhere to go," he said. "I want to have place here in Thunder Bay, hopefully, that helps kids grow up, helps kids make those moves to get them ready for the next level."

"Some things, you can't learn in school."