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BANKIE'S HOT TAKE #59 - Pelle Primeau: All Heart


Ring Of Honor, during the “golden era” from 2002 through 2008, had some of the greatest talent in independent wrestling history. The fingerprints from ROH during this time period have graced the current pro wrestling scene in so many ways. So many current pro wrestling superstars, at one time or the other, wrestled in a ROH ring, from Samoa Joe, CM Punk, and Bryan Danielson to Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, and Seth Rollins. 


Besides the top guys, I also always enjoyed a lot of the “midcard” talent from this time period. As a massive ROHbot back in the day, I knew and remembered every single performer that ever wrestled in the promotion, even the ROH Originals.


No, I don’t mean guys like Christopher Daniels, Scoot Andrews, Low Ki, or even the legendary Towel Boy.


I’m talking about the original homegrown talent - the students of the ROH Wrestling Academy.


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The ROH Wrestling Academy opened in 2003, a year after the promotion began running events, in Bristol, PA. Minutes away from both the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpikes, the Academy housed a complete training facility, including “full size ring, weight lifting equipment, a video library, and countless other resources.”


Over the years of the Academy, ROH hosted four head trainers: CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, Austin Aries, and Delirious. Four different performers with four completely different philosophies. With all that experience on top, as well as several name talents coming in to guest train, came a plethora of prospective young wrestlers learning about the ins-and-outs of the business.


In my opinion, the ROH Wrestling Academy developed some great talent that went on to have solid careers in both ROH and the independent wrestling scene.


Many say that Rhett Titus was the greatest student to come out of the school, but to me, there was a load of fantastic talent that was equal in skill and performance. Guys like Bobby and Derrick Dempsey, Kyle Durden, Ernie Osiris, Matt Turner, the oft-forgotten Smash Bradley, Anthony Franco, Shane Hagadorn, Davey Andrews, and “the Littlest Lumberjack” Grizzly Redwood.


But there was one guy, to me, that stood out more than the rest. I don’t know if it was his name, his infectious personality, or the never-say-die attitude, but I could say he was easily my favorite of the ROH students.


That man was PELLE PRIMEAU.


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Primeau was an intriguing person in the annals of ROH history.


Coming out of the Academy as a part of its second class under Punk. Pelle integrated himself the same way the first class had: the pre-show, held prior to ROH cards.


According to Cagematch, his first ever match was held at the pre-show to “Homecoming” on July 23, 2005 at the National Guard Armory in Philadelphia, PA, losing to the bigger Smash Bradley. For the next few months, Primeau would perform in dark matches against other fellow students of the school.


However, Pelle had a golden opportunity on October 1, 2005 during the critically acclaimed “Joe vs Kobashi” event at the New Yorker Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.


Primeau, along with many of the other ROH students, was trying to stand up to the bullying nature of former ROH Tag Team champion Ricky Reyes. During their match, the Nome, Alaska native did what he could, but the Havana Pitbull decimated him in under a minute with a vicious Dragon Sleeper Clutch.


Although Pelle got absolutely wrecked, he showed something to me as a fan. Similar to Mikey Whipwreck and Little Spike Dudley in ECW, Primeau was able to showcase sympathy in his defeat. It was absolutely endearing to the, at times, ruthless and blood-thirsty ROH fans.


Pelle would start getting more opportunities on ROH main cards in 2006, wrestling Jimmy Rave in New York City, Adam Pearce in Long Island, and the Ring Crew Express in Connecticut. In a short time, Primeau was gaining experience against top independent talent, which is necessary in the process of finding yourself as a professional wrestler.


His breakout moment came over one year after making his main card debut. At “Motor City Madness” on October 7, 2006 in Detroit, MI, Primeau, in a stunning upset, pinned Rave, who was a lost soul after Prince Nana was fired, in a Six Man Mayhem, also outlasting both members of Irish Airborne, “M-Dogg” Matt Cross, and Shane Hagadorn (more on this man later).


After the shock of a lifetime, Primeau jumped into the crowd and the fans, packed inside the Michigan State Fairgrounds and Expo Center, proceeded to “crowd-surf” him around the ringside area in celebration.


The “crowd-surf” became a staple of Pelle in future victories. In fact, the original clip was frequently used in ROH stock footage, showing the awesome experience the ROH fans would have at live events.


Primeau continued his winning ways in a Four Corner Survival, pinning Tank Toland in a match that included BJ Whitmer and Colt Cabana at “The Bitter End” in Philly on November 4. With another victory here, it showed that Pelle was an unpredictable element in multi-man matches.


Pelle was gaining respect from everyone he faced and credibility inside the locker room as a future star in the business. However, one man was immensely jealous of that and wanted to remove Primeau from ROH entirely.


ENTER SHANE HAGADORN.


Part of the first class from the ROH Wrestling Academy, Hagadorn showed his true personality in the Summer of 2005. In the middle of the “Summer of Punk”, Hagadorn was the only person that would help CM Punk sell his soul to WWE. The current ROH World champion signed his actual WWE contract on the title belt, with Hagadorn proudly helping his trainer, holding the belt as he did it.


Hagadorn quickly became hated among the ROH fan base, by far the most despised of the students. 


During “Destiny” on June 3, 2006, he defeated Derrick Dempsey to become the holder of the ROH Top of the Class Trophy. The Top of the Class Trophy represented the best student from the ROH Wrestling Academy. Hagadorn’s victory put a huge target on his back. He knew he needed backup.


On September 16, 2006, during “Glory By Honor VI: Night Two” at the Manhattan Center in New York, he cost Delirious a match against “Scrap Iron” Adam Pearce. After the victory, Pearce grabbed the microphone and announced that he had hired Hagadorn as his “personal manservant”. The deal was sealed with a big hug, disgusting the fans in attendance.


Pearce and Hagadorn became entrenched together as a tandem, making their presence felt in a multitude of situations. They also began making life difficult for all of the ROH students, especially Pelle.




Hagadorn and Primeau became linked, in one fashion or another, over the next two years. For a match filmed on ROHVideos.com on January 27, 2007, Pearce, complete with Horace Grant style goggles, upended Pelle with his patented piledriver. Hagadorn decided to rub it in afterwards, disrespecting Primeau with the Top of the Class Trophy and leaving spit on his face.


Trying to recover from the disrespect, Primeau refused to back down from anyone. He opened the “Fifth Year Festival” on February 16, 2007 in New York City, and issued an open challenge to anyone in the ROH locker room for a fight. However, Pro Wrestling NOAH’s Takeshi Morishima ran down to the ring, lariated Pelle, and delivered a vicious Backdrop Driver for a three-count. Primeau’s heart might not have prevailed on this night, but his spirit gained a tremendous jolt when the Festival continued on to Dayton, OH.


On the 23rd, in what arguably was the greatest Six Man Mayhem in ROH history, Primeau put on the best performance of his young career, stealing the show against five of the very best wrestlers in the world. Primeau took a beating against Claudio Castagnoli, Roderick Strong, SHINGO, Matt Cross, and Mark Briscoe, but he kept kicking out and fighting. Out of nowhere, Pelle started unloading offense on everyone, including an awesome Thesz Press/Double Stomp combination and an incredible hurricanrana to Claudio on the floor. Although Castagnoli ultimately won the match, the fans saluted Pelle with respect and a standing ovation.


Pelle was fully accepted by the ROH fans, and the momentum would carry him onwards.


Almost two months later, after more back-and-forth between both men, Primeau and Hagadorn hit the main card of “Fighting Spirit” on April 13, 2007 at the Inman Sports Club in Edison, NJ for Hagadorn’s Top of the Class Trophy.




Before Pelle even made it to the ring, the vile Hagadorn attacked him from behind. The Top of the Class Trophy Holder continued on the assault throughout the match, but Primeau wouldn’t quit. After Hagadorn locked on his inverted headlock takeover, the heart of Pelle persevered, refusing to quit, eventually getting to the ropes. As the referee checked on him, Hagadorn pulled out his patented brass knuckles.


Suddenly, Bobby Dempsey, who suffered the same indignity by Hagadorn at “Dethroned” in November during their match, alerted the referee of the shenanigans transpiring behind his back. Losing his equalizer, Hagadorn walked into a running stunner and a victory roll for the three count.


Pelle Primeau was the NEW ROH Top of the Class Trophy Holder!


What commenced after the match was a moment of pure jubilation. Pelle, with trophy in hand, was “crowd-surfed” throughout the entire crowd. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I sat front row for this event and completely geeked out on being part of this awesome moment.)


Once Pelle made it to the entranceway, Primeau gave Hagadorn a receipt, flattening him on the entrance ramp, and posing with the Trophy in his face.


Primeau continued to perform on ROH main shows, mainly in multi-man matches. He did have several singles performances against a refocused Jimmy Rave and Eddie Edwards. Also, he would continue to defend his Trophy on pre-shows against the students of the ROH Wrestling Academy. Primeau’s hard work was starting to pay off.


Due to his success and continued improvements in the ring, ROH placed Pelle in the two night “Race To The Top Tournament” during the July 27-28 doubleshot weekend. At Night One in Deer Park, Long Island, NY, Primeau faced ROH veteran BJ Whitmer to open the tournament. Whitmer was in the midst of a massive losing streak, starting after his feud-ending loss to Jimmy Jacobs in a steel cage match at Supercard of Honor II in March.


In an incredible upset, Primeau caught BJ in a pinning predicament and got the three count. Before he could even celebrate the win, Whitmer attacked him and left him lying in a heap of pain. BJ Whitmer had snapped!


For Night Two in Edison, Primeau, still smarting from the attack the night before, had Davey Richards as his second round opponent. Richards, defeating Jigsaw in his first round match, was primed and full of NO REMORSE. Even though Primeau was the clear underdog, it gave the fans a slight thought: could Pelle survive and walk out with two trophies at the end of the night?


Sadly, no. Richards unleashed unbridled fury from the ring of the bell. Although Pelle almost caught Davey with a small package for another upset, Richards quickly rebounded and delivered a vicious Tombstone and locked on a Kimura Lock for a submission win.


In spite of losing, Primeau kept gaining respect for his “never say die” attitude. In fact, after losing his Top of the Class Trophy to Mitch Franklin on August 24 at “Caged Rage”, many fans felt Primeau was getting ready for bigger and better things. The next night, that thought would be put on hold.


Involved a six-man tag alongside Nigel McGuinness and Delicious against the newly-formed Hangmen 3 of Adam Pearce, Brent Albright, and the aforementioned Whitmer, with Hagadorn as the entire group’s manservant, at “Manhattan Mayhem II”, Primeau, again, took a hell of a beating. Once he fought back and delivered his springboard Thesz press/double stomp combo on Pearce, Whitmer, who was still craving revenge on Pelle after “Race to the Top”, jolted his head and neck with an Adrenaline Spike for a three count.


After the bell had sounded, BJ continued the beating on Primeau, busting him open with repeated punches to the head. After a Whitmer powerbomb and a half-nelson suplex from Albright, McGuinness chased the Hangmen off with a steel chair.


The damage was already done.


Pelle was sent to the hospital with multiple injuries and was subsequently out for months. The punishment he had been taking started to take its toll.


Thankfully, the time off allowed his body to heal, and Pelle prepared himself for the perfect time to strike for revenge.


During the Tables Are Legal six-man tag team match between the Hangmen 3 and Kevin Steen, El Generico, and Delirious at “Final Battle 2007”, Pelle returned at an opportune time, placing the evil Hagadorn through a table with a hurricanrana! Although he was taken out shortly thereafter with an Albright Ocean Cyclone suplex, a new confident, fearless side of Primeau was shown to the world.


Pelle’s look started to evolve as well heading into 2008, wearing darker shorts and adding blue highlights to his hair. It helped add a new dimension to his character in the ring.


Once the Hangmen 3 were bought out by Larry Sweeney’s agency at “Take No Prisoners” in March, Sweet and Sour Inc continued the rivalry with Pelle through the Spring and Summer months. He found himself in tag team matches alongside Erick Stevens and Claudio Castagnoli against them, as well as a singles feud with Chris Hero. 


Before officially becoming “That Young Knockout Kid”, Hero had dropped the entertainment aspect of his character and started throwing more strikes than ever, including a vicious Rolling Elbow. Hero’s main objective became bullying the smaller Primeau.


After Hero beat Pelle on May 9 in Manassas, VA at “Southern Navigation”, both men were involved in a vintage Tag Team Scramble at “A New Level” the next night, as ROH debuted inside the historic Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City.


Pelle got the biggest win in his career, teaming with Delirious to defeat the Vulture Squad and Hero & Albright. From the ROH Wrestling Academy to the Hammerstein, Primeau had reached a pinnacle for future ROH students to aspire for.


Approximately a month later, at ROH’s pay-per-view taping “Respect Is Earned II”, Pelle found himself in a premiere match, joining forces with Delirious and Albright, recently excommunicated from Sweet and Sour, to face Sweeney’s army of Pearce, Hero, and Eddie Edwards. Primeau shined, and, as Albright said to him in a pre-match promo, showed that he was “all heart”.


Pelle’s team won after Albright kneed Edwards into oblivion for the TKO. With this victory on pay-per-view, it looked like the sky was the limit for Primeau. However, it was the beginning of the end.


Primeau performed valiantly in a “Lights Out” match against Hero at “Vendetta II” on June 28 in Chicago Ridge, IL. Hero dominated throughout, but Pelle would not stay down. After shenanigans from both Sweeney and female wrestling phenom Sara Del Rey, Pelle could not answer the ten count, and Hero again picked up the victory.


One month later on August 1 at “Fueling the Fire” in Manassas, Pelle defeated Rex Sterling quickly with his running stunner. On record, this was the last ever main card match Primeau would have in Ring of Honor. He would never be seen again on camera for the promotion.


For fifteen years, I never knew or heard about what led to his departure from the company. I always wondered where he went. While researching this Hot Take, I found a rare interview and got my answer.


Pelle did a podcast interview on March 5, 2014 for “The Juicy Details” with pro wrestling fan “Juicy” Pat Lucey. In the discussion, Lucey point blank asked why Pelle left ROH and subsequently retired. His response was straight-forward, stating he stepped back from wrestling due to “concussion problems”. He went into further detail, discussing a concussion during the “Lights Out” match with Hero and other performances, mentioning he had double-vision while continuing to wrestle.


Just knowing this saddens me from a fan’s perspective. More now than ever, brain injuries in athletics are treated precariously and are handled in a different manner than they were two decades ago. Watching Pelle’s matches now from his ROH tenure, you can see the amount of punishment he took in his matches and how his concussions would pile up.


Also in hindsight, you can truly see that Pelle Primeau was an absolute bad-ass. No doubt about it.


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Primeau might have stopped wrestling for ROH, but he continued his career once he healed for a few years, performing for companies like Pro Wrestling Respect, Force One Wrestling, and Bodyslam Wrestling Organization, until drastically reducing his schedule by the mid-2010s. He recently did commentary for FIGHTT Pro in New Jersey for several shows.


I can honestly say there might not be anyone as tough of a pro wrestler as Pelle Primeau in Ring of Honor during “the Golden Era” of the promotion. For our entertainment, Pelle used his body as a paint brush and showcased his art inside of the squared circle. He provided his fans with sympathy and consistently demonstrated his grit and heart, leaving it all out there every night.


Pelle Primeau was the first true success story from the ROH Wrestling Academy, and he will never be forgotten. Thank you, Pelle.



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