Chris Gray living his pro wrestling dream as 'Cody Deaner'
Chris Gray has accumulated more than his fair share of bumps and bruises, but the professional wrestler wouldn’t have it any other way.
For the past 14 years, Gray, who goes by the name of Cody Deaner in the ring, has been juggling careers and family responsibilities to pursue his dream.
“I was a Hulk-A-Maniac when I was five and I knew when I saw Hulk Hogan that I wanted to be a wrestler,” said Gray.
Born and raised in the small community of Port Bruce, “a little trailer park town” as he described it, he had his sights set on a wrestling career even while a high school student at East Elgin Secondary School.
But it wouldn’t be easy for him. Although he was the high school quarterback and a point guard on the basketball team, Gray tipped the scales at 140 pounds. “Even my guidance counsellor said I was too small to be a wrestler,” he said.
Fate dealt Gray a winning hand as he made the best of a work-to-rule campaign by high school teachers in 1999-2000.
“I was in my last year of high school and I told my father that I wanted to go to wrestling school, but he said only after university,” said Gray, in an interview from his home in Parkhill.
“It was devastating not being able to play my sports so I made a deal with my dad that I could go to wrestling school after high school since there were no sports because of the work-to-rule.”
There were two options available: go to the prestigious Hart wrestling school in Calgary at a considerable expense, or make the six-hour (return) drive to Niagara Falls three times a week.
“I did that for a year,” he said. “I learned to wrestle in Niagara Falls and made my debut. Fourteen years later I am still going strong.”
He was still training while attending Western University, where he graduated with a degree in English and went on to Teachers College. Gray made changes to his diet and hit the weights in the gym in an effort to build bulk to his frame.
Meanwhile he was sending out audition tapes on a monthly basis to WWE. This went on for two years until finally someone at WWE caught notice of his skill and athleticism.
His first tryout, while still in university, came in 2004. It was during a dark match (a wrestling bout before the cameras rolled) and he nailed it in front of 20,000 screaming fans.
They liked him so much that WWE invited him back the very next day for a televised match on Smackdown, viewed by more than 3 million people, against Olympic gold medal wrestler Kurt Angle. “It was a whirlwind two days…it was pretty exciting,” he said.
Over the next two years he wrestled numerous matches for the conglomerate but was never given a full-time contract with WWE. “I was trying to secure one when I caught the attention of TNA Wrestling and they signed me to a contract right away,” he said.
Presently Gray is an adult education teacher in Strathroy, but he keeps busy on the independent wrestling circuit throughout southwestern Ontario and the United States. Since he has the summers off, his wrestling schedule fills up and in September he already has 15 shows booked.
“Basically I’m wrestling three to four nights a week. It is nothing for me to hop in the car and drive four hours, do a show, and drive back home that night. I’ve been doing that for 14 years,” he said.
“A lot of these shows are at fairs, and many with Classic Championship Wrestling. Independent wrestling is huge in southwestern Ontario. When people hear of professional wrestling they immediately think of WWE, which is on a huge, grand scale. People think of big muscled guys, half-naked women, swearing and that, but that is not what I do. Independent wrestling events are family-friendly, very tasteful and a lot of fun.”
All that hard work in the gym has paid off as Gray is by no means a small guy. As Cody Deaner, he has wild, long hair and a flowing beard, and his fans belong to Deaner Dynasty. “I’m much bigger than the average guy on the street,” he said.
His athleticism in the ring is what sets him apart from other competitors, and last weekend his talents landed him a championship belt while wrestling in Woodstock.
Although wrestling is a huge part of Gray’s life, in no way does that define him. He is married, the father of two young children, an actor (he recently filmed a pilot for a comedy show that he is hoping will get picked up by a network) and has recorded an album, but is too busy to tour with a band.
He also volunteers with a youth group through church and at a summer camp in the Parkhill area. “I always tell young kids that wrestling is the most physically demanding thing I have ever done,” said Gray.
“That first day of wrestling school was harder than two-a-day football practices. I literally could not get out of bed after that first day at wrestling school. My dad came down the stairs and wondered why I wasn’t getting out of bed, but it was because I literally couldn’t. I had to roll out of bed and pull myself up by the doorknob. But I made myself get up to go back to wrestling school two days later and get beat up all over again, and I’ve been getting a beating ever since.”
But there are some perks to wrestling. He said that it’s a shame most people never get to experience that adrenaline rush when thousands of people are calling your name, and if you are lucky enough, you might even find a wife.
“I met her at a wrestling show in London,” he said. “Funny story. We met online and although she wasn’t a wrestling fan, she and her sisters came to check me out. I was in a tag team match that night and my tag team partner was a bad guy. He went outside the ring, and my future wife was holding a sign that said Cody Deaner on it. He was going to go over and rip up the sign, but I stopped him and said, ‘Don’t rip up that sign, I might date that girl.’ She kept the sign and showed it at our wedding a few years later.”
Gray has no immediate plans to retire from the ring any time soon. In fact, he wants to be wrestling when his son and daughter are old enough to attend the shows. “I want to set an example for them of what you can achieve if you never give up on your dream, even if you are only 140 pounds and people tell you that you can’t do it,” he said.
When Gray received his schedule for September, he saw that a show was planned for the Parkhill Fall Fair. For the first time in more than 15 years, the community will host a wrestling bout, and Gray is happy that his Cody Deaner character will be wrestling on home turf.
“A lot of people in Parkhill know me in the community and that I’m a wrestler but have never seen me wrestle,” he said. “I’m really excited for this match.” He will be fighting for a championship belt in Parkhill, and is hoping that he will be holding the belt high over his head in victory on Sept. 18.
“I hope that lots of people come out because it is a family-friendly event,” he said. “It’s a only short drive from St. Thomas or London.”
For more on Cody Deaner visit www.codydeaner.com
Want to know more?
Cody Deaner will be wrestling at the Parkhill Fall Fair
- Parkhill Community Centre
- Thursday Sept 18th, 7pm
- Admission to wrestling event is FREE with Fair Pass
- Fair Pass: $5 adults or $10 all weekend pass / 12 and under $1 / Preschool FREE
- Refreshments and Snacks available for purchase
- Cash Bar
- Wrestler's merchandise and autograph table available after the event