When Tomer Sidi Shalom was a kid growing up in Holon, Israel, he was fascinated by the larger-than-life figures he watched on TV, who drop kicked and body slammed their opponents, as thousands of fans went nuts.
The WWE wrestlers who were featured on Israeli television were his heroes, as were the Mexican grapplers who appeared on the World Wrestling Council (CMLL) circuit and who dressed in masks and colourful costumes that made them look like super heroes. From an early age, Shalom loved the spectacle and dreamed of making a career of professional wrestling.
But his mother had other ideas. Less than enthusiastic about her son’s career preference, why not be a lawyer or a doctor, or something a little more traditional, she advised him.
Nevertheless, Shalom had a vision and not long after he completed his military service seven years ago, he packed his bags and moved to Canada, which had a good reputation for developing technical wrestlers.
‘Shalom’s signature move sees him raising his opponent on his shoulders, striding forward and doing a somersault with the foe beneath him’
After stops in Calgary and Winnipeg, he found himself in Toronto. It took him awhile to find the right wrestling school, but he was eventually directed to Squared Circle Wrestling, where he trained under Rob Fuego. Since then, there have been ups and downs, and at times it may have felt like he was ramming his head into a turnbuckle, but today, Tomer is living the dream, and he believes he is on the cusp of something big.
In August, Shalom appeared on a WWE card at the Air Canada Centre, in front of 18,000 screaming fans. Though he was given the wrestling moniker Jean-Pierre Goulet, the fans who knew him from the local indie circuit began chanting, “Tomer, Tomer,” during his match with up-and-comer Jason Jordan. The chant caught on, but those unfamiliar with the Israeli grappler changed it to, “Let’s go jobber,” the wrestling term for the fall guy who loses to the high-profile star.
The enthusiasm of the crowd attracted the attention of WWE promoters, who wanted to know more about the Israeli wrestler who had such a following. They ended up offering him a tryout south of the border.
Shalom, six-foot-one, 245 pounds, believes that, for the WWE, an Israeli wrestler is something new, something it can use to expand its audience.
Unfortunately, Shalom is still working on getting a visa that will allow him to work in the United States, so that venture is temporarily on hold.
But the cachet of being featured in a WWE match has given his career a boost, he said.
“That gave me a big buzz and my merchandise sales got bigger. The pay is bigger,” as is the demand for his services, he said.
For Shalom, who wrestles under the name Tomer Shalom and whose nickname is “Superstar of David,” it’s been a long time coming. He’s been plugging away in the local wrestling scene for nearly seven years. His first match, in a Royal Canadian Legion hall in Oshawa, Ont., was attended by a grand total of four fans.
Nevertheless, “I thought it was so cool,” he said.
In his first few fights, he worked for nothing more than a handshake and the promise of something better in the future, then for gas money and eventually for decent cash.
‘I do things that get under your skin, from screaming at you, to annoying you. My style is a bit darker’
While he’s devoted his life to wrestling, training and fighting practically every day of the week, it’s not yet enough to support himself financially. He also runs a cleaning-supply business with his brother, Adam, on the side.
He’s developed a credible shtick to make himself a more interesting character. He plays up the Israeli aspect, wearing a large Star of David on the back of his singlet and spicing his language with Hebrew.
“It’s loud and barbaric – a typical Israeli,” he said. “It’s me with the volume turned up to 100.”
Basing his in-ring persona on his Israeli heritage is important to him. “I always wanted to represent that Israelis can do it,” he said. “I didn’t want to take away from who I am and what I am. That’s very important to me.”
There have been some negative repercussions. During a match in Montreal, the crowd began chanting something he had trouble hearing. Turning to the ref, he asked what they were saying. It was “Palestine, Palestine,” the ref told him.
Some people advised him to lose the Israeli shtick, but “as I got more established, they took me for who I am,” he said.
“Eighty-five per cent of the time, I’m the bad guy,” Shalom said. “It doesn’t have to do with being Jewish. Speaking Hebrew to the crowd already pisses them off.
“I do things that get under your skin, from screaming at you, to annoying you. My style is a bit darker. If the ref is not there, I wouldn’t think twice about pulling hair, an eye poke, using the ropes,” he said.
Shalom’s signature move, a “Steamroller,” sees him raising his opponent on his shoulders, striding forward and then doing a somersault with the foe beneath him.
Tough and nasty in the ring, outside it, he’s a personable guy, who’s friendly and engaging.
Lately, even his parents have jumped on his bandwagon – the one that’s poised to break into the world of WWE.
“They don’t like it 100 per cent,” he said, “but now I get ‘likes’ on Facebook for my shows.”