Dayne Fleischer may be young, but he has big aspirations when it comes to professional wrestling.
The six-year-old Kanien’kehá:ka boy from Kahnawake, south of Montreal, already has a ring name in mind: the Great Dayne.
“I like wrestling because I want to fight when I get older,” he said enthusiastically.
While Fleischer can tell you stats and details about almost every World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) or All Elite Wrestling (AEW) star who appears on television, he was stunned to learn a local legend lives in his own community — and now the two have a unique friendship.
Billy Two Rivers spent 24 years headlining wrestling shows across the globe between the 1950s and 1970s.
The 87-year-old currently resides at the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre in Kahnawake. When visitation was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, family members of Two Rivers and Fleischer arranged for the two to send video messages to each other.
“I want to thank you very much for remembering me for my birthday,” said Two Rivers in one video.
In the videos, Two Rivers offers to send Fleischer signed photographs.
“Thank you, Billy. I got your picture,” Fleischer responded in another video.
The two finally had the opportunity to meet in person last summer. Fleischer’s mother Karoniénhawe Diabo said it was an emotional experience for her son.
“He was so excited to know that a real wrestler lived here and that he’s so close to home,” said Diabo.
“They even went to the same school. That really hit a high note for Dayne. They have a cute little friendship now.”
Two Rivers’ forays into pro-wrestling stemmed from a long history of wrestlers from Kahnawake. Carl Donald Bell, better known by his ring name Chief Don Eagle, was a boxer and professional wrestler during the 1950s and 1960s. Bell was trained by his father, Chief Joseph War Eagle, a former junior heavyweight champion.
Bell was injured during a match and returned to Kahnawake to recover. While he was home, he volunteered to drive lacrosse players to away games, including Two Rivers.
“At that time I was 15, weighed 180 pounds, and was six feet tall,” said Two Rivers.
“I guess he saw something in me and asked if I would like to go to his workout place at Bell’s Beach.”
When Bell was ready to return to the ring, he ended up bringing Two Rivers to Columbus, Ohio, to continue training. Two Rivers made his wrestling debut in Detroit as a junior heavyweight in 1953. It didn’t go quite as planned.
Both wrestlers wore long-feathered war bonnets, feathered bustles typically worn by men who powwow dance, and other elements of regalia. The feathers made it awkward to lift the ropes to roll into the ring.
“I was all nervous and shaking,” said Two Rivers.
“He walked with me to the edge of the ring and he said ‘All right, go on in.’ I went to lean forward over the top, my toe caught the top rope and I ended up in the middle of the ring in a bunch of feathers.”
The worst part, he said — he was being jeered at by Kanien’kehá:ka ironworkers in the crowd the entire time.
“It was an embarrassment,” said Two Rivers.
Two Rivers went on to wrestle in Charlotte, N.C., for National Wrestling Alliance and well-known promoter Jim Crocket. He spent six years in England, where he had the opportunity to travel across Europe and North Africa. In 1966, he had another opportunity to wrestle overseas in Japan.
Everywhere he went, Two Rivers said he turned heads with his Mohawk haircut, leather jacket, beaded vest and regalia. His signature look was far from being traditionally Kanien’kehá:ka, but it was something Two Rivers took pride in.
“I was in Germany and this guy says ‘What do you have on? You don’t have Mohawk stuff on.’ I said ‘No, I’m an ambassador and I wear a little bit of each nation — as many as I can,’” he said.
“‘I’m an ambassador. I don’t stay long. I don’t wrestle for championships, I travel…’ He was satisfied with my answer.”
Two Rivers retired in 1976, and then got into local politics, being elected as a chief at the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake.
“I wrestled for 24 years and then I wrestled for 20 years in council. That was rougher wrestling than anywhere else,” he laughed.
Although his wrestling days are over, Two Rivers’ legacy lives on with the next generation of fans like Fleischer.
“He’s almost like a hidden gem,” said Diabo about Two Rivers.
“You would never think someone would accomplish all of those things from Kahnawake, from a small community in Quebec. He’s travelled all over the world and he’s known by so many people.”
Autographed portraits of Two Rivers are now hung on Fleischer’s bedroom wall, along with the rest of his wrestling belts and toys.
“We’re friends,” said Fleischer proudly.
June is National Indigenous History Month. This story is a part of a three-part series celebrating Indigenous contributions to the world of atomic drops and full nelsons.