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Sabra wrestler-turned-promoter dreams of bigger worldwide stage

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Israeli pro wrestling promoter Gerry Roif is a staple attraction on his events | Photo: Janice Mersiovsky

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I love wrestling. When I was growing up in Israel in the 1980s, we used to watch “Ketch” (Catch, as in Catch-style wrestling) as it was called, on the weekend on illegal satellite broadcasting, on a Lebanese channel. The Von Erich wrestling family from Texas was bigger than life and everyone in Israel knew their names. 

When we moved to Canada in the late eighties, my older brother made me aware of the World Wrestling Federation, also known as WWF (now WWE), and the next year we went to the Skydome in Toronto. There I was with over sixty thousand fans cheering on Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior, as they battled for the title in the main event of WrestleMania VI.  

Hogan was robbed that day, but that’s a different topic.  My love for wrestling has never diminished. I still watch the all pay-per-views, go to the live events (with my nephew) and constantly update myself as to what is happening in the wrestling world. I even managed to direct a documentary film about one of the biggest heels (bad guys) in wrestling history, by the name of The Iron Sheik.

Similar to me, Gery Roif is also a major wrestling fan. Gery runs the biggest wrestling company in Israel. The IPWA is filled with its own villains and heroes storylines, and above all, a homegrown Sabra wrestler who can give some major promotions a run for its money.

I recently spoke to Gery about the Israeli wrestling scene and his hopes for independent wrestling in Israel.

How did you get into wrestling? 

First of all, I grew up in the Soviet Union. In the Soviet Union, wrestling was like banned – wouldn’t say banned, but it wasn’t something you were allowed to watch. When we were kids, we used to go get tapes of World Wrestling Federation, [Hulk] Hogan vs Andre [The Giant], and stuff like that. When the Soviet Union fell we immigrated to Israel.  In Israel, you could watch wrestling on the Sky Channel or some of the Arab networks like Lebanese or Jordanian television. When I grew up, all I wanted to do was wrestling related stuff. In Israel, there weren’t any promotions or anything like that. So, in 2001, I opened my own promotion – Israeli Pro Wrestling Association, also known as IPWA.

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You’re the “Vince MacMahon” of Israel, but you’re also a wrestler. So, tell me about the persona of the wrestler that you embody.

My character is Rabbi Suissa. In 2005, we had a national TV show on the comedy network. The concept of the show was a satirical wrestling show, and it pitted a settler against a soldier and a soldier against a religious guy. It took various sectors of Israeli societies and put them against each other. The gimmick comes from that show. Basically, I just want to make everyone repent and become a religious Jew.

So you’re a heel?

Yes. If I can’t convince you by my words, I’ll convince you with my fists.

What was Rabbi Suissa’s signature move?

My signature move was ‘the Yeshiva.’ [Also means sitting down] A Yeshiva from the top rope. It’s like a Bonsai drop, similar to the Bonsai (Yokozuna) Drop.

[Editor’s note: Yokozuna was an enormous WWE champion in the 1990’s whose signature finishing move was jumping down on his opponent’s chest from the top rope].

Legend of 1980's Texas wrestling, Kevin Von Erich takes the wind out of Rabbi Swissa | Photo: Janice Mersiovsky

How do you become more mainstream and attract international wrestlers to come to Israel?

In 2012, we had the biggest show – Wrestling Super Show – and I brought Tatanka[A famous wrestlers in the 1990s WWF]. We had Tatanka against me as Rabbi Suissa for the title. That show aired on national television.  You couldn’t make money here so you’d have a day job and do this as a hobby. For a promoter like me I put all my money from my pocket to make a show – it’s very difficult.

How big is the wrestling independent scene in Israel?

The scene in Israel is very small, but it does have potential.

How many Israeli wrestlers are there, professionally?

There are a couple that are very talented… I’ve been telling people to go to Germany or Florida. You have to work every day. You have to have matches every day. That’s how you improve. Even if you are the best wrestler in the whole world and you only have the opportunity to perform in front of a crowd every three months – there is no chance to make it or improve.

IPWA champion Matt Sydal leaps in for a pin attempt on Billy Gunn | Photo: Janice Mersiovsky

What does this mean for wrestling in Israel? Is wrestling, then, hopeless? Is there a chance for your company to at least survive and thrive?

I don’t think wrestling in Israel is hopeless. I just want to concentrate on the show aspect, the promotion. Not the training. That’s why I send the trainers and trainees to Germany and the States. So, they can train, come back, and perform.

Who is the current IPWA Champion?

Matt Sydal who used to fight in the WWE under the name Evan Bourne.

Last December you put on a very impressive show in Israel. You brought major stars such as Sydal and one of the original members of the WWE’s D-Generation X, Billy Gunn, who is currently in AEW on TNT Cable. Is that what you’re hoping to continue and do in the future?

One of my dreams is taking IPWA wrestling to other countries. I have a dream of showing in the States, England, Scotland, and of course in Canada… I am hopeful. I am optimistic about the future of wrestling in Israel. The last couple of shows we did were really nice as far as putting on a professional show. If you compare last year to 15 years ago, we’ve come a long way.

Igal Hecht is a documentary filmmaker and journalist who works all over the world. 

For more info visit www.chutzpaproductions.com

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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