When Cody McMillan steps through the ropes of a pro wrestling ring, he becomes Crude Oil Cody Mac, complete with fluorescent safety suspenders, a hard hat and a wrench.
Calgary audiences will sometimes chirp at him with chants of "renewable energy" or "NDP." The 33-year-old blocks all that out and goes to his happy place.
"It's a combination of being a rock star and being a prizefighter," McMillan told CBC News in an interview.
"I'd be lying if I said I haven't thought of doing one of those. Professional wrestling combines the two. It's a beautiful thing when it comes together."
McMillan has been a pro wrestler for three years, but due to COVID, he's really had only about half that time as a paid performer.
'I think of Josh Alexander'
So, despite getting training at the now-shuttered Storm Wrestling Academy, a new school has opened that McMillan thinks will be a great way to round out his skills.
"There's a way you can be trained basically, but then there are finishing schools. That's what Johnny Devine's school is to me, although you can also learn the basics there," McMillan explained.
"He has a level of knowledge few have when it comes to fine-tuning wrestlers who are already competent workers, taking them to that next step. Every time I step into the school, I think of Josh Alexander. He's [Devine's] most-prized student, and look at all the things he is accomplishing."
That new school — Canadian Strong Style Wrestling Academy — is run by Devine, who has wrestled around the world, including matches in the WWE.
Devine, known outside of the ring as J.P. Parsonage, will be providing talent for a new biweekly wrestling show on Wednesday nights at the Back Alley, under the banner CanAm Wrestling.
"Calgary has a varied and storied history with professional wrestling. Stampede Wrestling was a staple for many, many years," Parsonage told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday.
"We are going to be treating it like a studio television taping centre. The Back Alley comes with great sound, lights and smoke, and all that kind of atmosphere. It's been a long time since Calgary has had anything close to Stampede Wrestling at the Pavilion. That atmosphere can't be recreated, unfortunately, but this is about as close as Calgary is going to get anytime soon."
But don't call it fake.
"It's not fake, it's fixed," Parsonage said with a laugh.
"You can't fake gravity. Falling is falling is falling. The ring is not a trampoline."
Parsonage says he feels Calgary can support a second operation with regular shows. There's an Alberta-wide promotion, Real Canadian Wrestling (RCW), that has shows most Fridays at the downtown Legion.
"Professional wrestling, to me and a lot of people, is the last true theatre around. It's the last place you can get live entertainment that is interactive with your crowd. Calgary's history of professional wrestling, with the Hart family and the dungeon, is so deep that it's ingrained in the Calgary psyche."
'You don't get retakes or reshoots'
Meanwhile, wrestler McMillan says he will be performing at the Back Alley shows as often as he's invited. He says pro wrestling combines so many elements.
"There's a little bit of everything incorporated into it. It's one of the last things done live in front of an audience, in real time. You don't get retakes or reshoots. You have to be on your game, at the peak of your physical conditioning," he said.
"It's one of the only places where you can still be employed if you keep losing all the time. You will always have a job if you entertain the fans."
Yoga and wrestling, an unlikely pair
In addition to eating well, McMillan says maintaining excellent health, both physical and mental, is critical to avoiding some of the darker aspects of the sport, such as addiction to painkillers and suicide.
"I've been doing lots of yoga," McMillan said.
"A lot of people might not think yoga and wrestling go hand in hand, but they truly do. Being able to hold certain poses by being as relaxed as you can, that's an asset for professional wrestling."
McMillan's real life shows up in his ring persona. He has worked on oil pipelines in northern Alberta.
"There are a lot of similarities between working up north and the wrestling industry. You travel, you stay in a hotel or camp, you are away from home, you are working long hours. You have to watch out for people because it can be very dangerous. It's no joke."
'A lot of beautiful lessons to be learned'
McMillan says in addition to his formal training at Storm Academy and now Johnny Devine's "finishing school," wrestling itself has been a powerful education.
"I have learned so many life lessons from professional wrestling."
"There are a lot of beautiful lessons to be learned, you just have to be mentally stable enough in order to see that stuff, rather than letting it affect you."
CanAm Wrestling starts Wednesday at its new Back Alley home, as well as two other Calgary-area shows later this week.
With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.