Interview: Pro Wrestling Legend, Ian ‘Vampiro’ Hodgkinson, talks new doco Nail in the Coffin: The Fall & Rise of Vampiro

“You’re 50, you’ve got arthritis, you can’t walk, you can’t even do a push-up, you can’t comb your hair, your body’s fucked. 80% of your body’s got chronic arthritis, you’ve had 25 concussions, you’ve broken your nose sixteen times, your eye socket four, your neck, your back, every fucking thing on you doesn’t work. Why are you doing this? Because I just need to see if I can do it one more time.”

Even though he originally hails from Ontario, Canada, Ian Hodgkinson is a living legend of the Mexican professional wrestling scene. As Vampiro, he’s spent decades putting his mind and body through some of the most gruelling experiences professional wrestling can bring. He’s also a father to a young daughter, which is a challenge in its own right to say the least. In the brilliant new documentary Nail in the Coffin: The Fall & Rise of Vampiro, directed by Michael Paszt, Vampiro reflects on a life and career like no other. Kyle Milner spoke with Vampiro for an off-the-rails interview that Kyle says is the most fun he’s ever had doing interviews.

Kyle: Hi Ian, how are you? Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me.

Ian: Where the hell are you at with that accent?

Kyle: All the way down in New Zealand!

Ian: Fuckin’ hell, that’s awesome. I love the All Blacks. There’s a lot of people on my Facebook who are from New Zealand, so if anybody sees this interview, I just want to say hi.

Kyle: Oh, that’s so cool! As a kid growing up in New Zealand, professional wrestling was something that was always so present in pop culture. As a kid, you were either into the All Blacks and rugby, or you were into wrestling – or both, I guess. I didn’t catch on to professional wrestling until I was older, but I always knew somebody who had the action figures and it was always on TV late at night.

Ian: Right, right.

Kyle: As somebody who’s an outsider to the greater culture of professional wrestling, it was great that the film spent some time explaining why it’s so meaningful to a lot of people. You’re so passionate about everything. How did you and Michael Paszt (director) actually cross paths to tell your story?

Ian: We’ve been friends for years. I’ve known Michael since the early 90s. He was living in Mexico City and he was a reporter, so we kind of knew each other as the two guys from Canada. It’s just a small industry, right? Not a lot of Canadian dudes into wrestling in Mexico.

So we met there, but 18-19 years later we bumped into each other at the airport, and I told him what I was up to. I was living in Thunder Bay, Ontario at the time, which is 1000 miles north of Toronto. I was flying back and forth from this small town to Mexico City to do television, and then on the alternative weekends, I was flying to Los Angeles and back to get home to make sure my daughter got to school the next day on Monday morning. So Michael thought that that was an important story to tell. I didn’t think so at the time, but he did and it just kind of evolved from that.

Kyle: That’s cool. I went into it certainly expecting to learn about you as a public figure, but it was great to go so deep into you as a person. It does go into some pretty heavy territory, and you really dug into your personal demons and struggles.

In particular, it’s a film I would like my own father to watch. I’ve been telling him, “you’ve got to see this!”, because I think a lot of it would resonate with him as a father who worked damn hard to make sure I was looked after, but missed out on a lot as a result. I know he regrets that he wasn’t always able to be there for everything as I grew up, and you touched on that idea a lot in the film – sacrificing yourself to some degree so that your kid can live the life you’d love to see them live.

Ian: I would suggest you watch it together. You know, I’m sure he knows that, but he’ll know in a different way how much you appreciate what he’s done for you. It would be a good thing to watch it together, and I’d be interested to hear how it goes.

Kyle: It’s not the sort of thing that’s always easy to talk about as a parent, so to have a film that might be able to open up that kind of conversation between father and son is wonderful. There’s a lot of power when a film can bridge a connection like that, so I really appreciate it.

Ian: That’s cool.

Kyle: Obviously, you’ve spent a lot of your life in front of the camera in various ways. But so much of this film is shot in your home and with you with your daughter Dasha, dealing with your personal life. Was that a really different experience for you as opposed to when you’re Vampiro?

Ian: Yeah, for sure. Because in front of my daughter, I’m her father. I’m Dad. I’m not Vampiro then – Vampiro is intimidating, he’s physical, he’s animated, he’s very loud. But being Dad at the time in my daughter’s life, she not only didn’t know who Vampiro was, she couldn’t care less. And it was difficult for me to find the way to show her she could trust me with that kind of communication, because I didn’t know how and I really had to learn on the go. It was very scary, for sure.

Kyle: One of the things that amazed me was how you guys are able to communicate so openly as people; particularly with you opening up to her, especially on camera. For the two of you to be able to just sit down and listen to each other is something I know isn’t always easy, especially as a parent. To lay yourself bare to your kids must be hard, to let them know that you’re struggling with things and aren’t this invincible being.

Ian: My Dad left when I was very young, like three years old, I never knew him. So I grew up with just my Mom and two sisters, and I saw what I went through. Even though I was divorced, my ex-wife was remarried, and there was some family there but it wasn’t the same. My daughter was always the black sheep, you know what I mean?

So I made it a point of no matter what I was going through physically, mentally, economically, spiritually or whatever, that my daughter would not feel abandoned and would know that there was a Dad who would be a rock in her life. And it’s been a struggle. But as a parent, you sacrifice everything; there’s nothing that I won’t do for my daughter.

If she’s starting a course, and I’ve been saving up for it for a month and I have to get the uniform and the permits and sign it all, and at the eleventh hour there’s a change of plans and “I want to do something else now”, I would never blow up or go crazy. I would always say “okay”, and get it done. That takes a lot of commitment, a lot of work. You don’t sleep, you don’t eat, because you don’t want to let your kid down.

So I did that, and I never said anything about it. And I still don’t say things about it, and I still do it. But now that my daughter is getting older, she’s seeing that I do it. I have no trouble doing it, and I won’t change, but the fact that there’s that communication where somebody acknowledges doing those things is quite large.

[somebody enters the room off-camera]

Ian: Oh, fuck. Sorry, dude, not you! Check this out.

[he’s handed a t-shirt from off-camera]

Ian: How old are you?

Kyle: I’m 26.

Ian: Okay, so you don’t know this. You’d better learn right now. You see my Zoom background? I’m in the universe, homie. You’ve got a good signal from New Zealand. What I’m about to show you is brighter than all those stars put together. You better get emotional on me! If you don’t get emotional I’m gonna come there and I’m gonna fuckin’ All Black you. [laughs]

[he holds up an Evel Knievel t-shirt]

Ian: Brother. Are you looking at that?

Kyle: Oh, yeah! Obviously way before my time, but I know the name. I know the bike. I know the cape.

[Ian stands up and shows a large tattoo across his belly, reading E V I L]

Ian: What’s that say?

Kyle: Oh! Somehow I haven’t seen that despite seeing you shirtless plenty in the documentary.

Ian: Not a lot of people have seen that. This is crazy. I’m sorry, I just got this.

Kyle: No, that’s cool!

Ian: This is so awesome. I’m getting this tattooed. Are you fucking kidding me? Sorry, go ahead.

Kyle: Oh, man. I love your excitement and passion for everything. I love learning about people’s interests, it’s nice to see someone who’s so passionate about their stuff.

Ian: Evel Knievel was the reason I got into pro wrestling. He was my hero. You know, I’m not a good pro wrestler. I wasn’t. I know how to get people excited with charisma, and all that. But Iggy Pop, and Evel Knievel, those were the guys I modelled my persona after. With him, it was like, “you have no business trying to jump over Las Vegas. You have no business trying to jump over a double decker bus in London. You have no business trying to jump over a swimming pool with a great white shark in it. Because you’re gonna crash and fucking kill yourself.” And it’s like, exactly. I know. That’s exactly why it’s gonna happen.

That was my hero in pro wrestling, and that’s why I’m so messed up. It’s like, “Vampiro, you shouldn’t be jumping off a balcony that’s 30 feet in the air into a fiery table with barbed wire and thumbtacks and glass, because you’re going to hit the floor”. Yeah, I know. That’s why I’m doing it. You understand?

You can’t really explain it. I understand driving the motorcycle full blast into a brick wall. There’s no logic to it. It’s just something I have to do.

Kyle: It’s a compulsion, right?

Ian: No, it’s why I was born! They hit that wall, and get back up and then do it again. I don’t know why, man, but I’m that guy, and so was Evel Knievel. This was a guy who was committed. The whole world – not 7 billion people, because this was in the 1970s. You motherfuckers behave yourselves and don’t wear condoms and don’t practice no sex before marriage. It’s wrong. Just kidding! [laughs]. But back then, there were billions of people in the world saying, “don’t do it!”. And he said, “yeah, I gotta do it”.

Kyle: Someone’s got to do the dumb shit, right?

Ian: Yes. Right.

[he admires the t-shirt again]

Kyle: I love that you’re somebody whose day can be made by a t-shirt. I can relate; I’ve got my interests, my idols, my music, my movies and all that stuff. And one little thing like that is just the best. I loved to watch in the film how your love for music and horror imagery and the sort really shaped your persona as Vampiro.

[he puffs on his vape]

Ian: Can you do this stuff in New Zealand? Is that where you are?

Kyle: Yeah, we do! My partner, who’s a couple of rooms away from me right now, has one. It’s kind of difficult to get those pods though.

Ian: Well, we’ll talk about that off the air. But you got to relax, homie, and enjoy life, man. You’re in New Zealand! How cool is that?

Kyle: I’m super thankful right now.

Ian: I stopped wrestling right around the time you were born. We’re doing an interview here in new Zealand, and I can hear you perfect. And I have an Evel Knievel t-shirt, and you don’t! [laughs]

Kyle: Life’s good!

Ian: If you ask me for one, I’ll get you one. Not happening! I’m kidding, man.

Kyle: That one’s all yours! Well, what’s your general life plan right now that you’re out of the ring? I know it’s kind of hard to have a solid life plan right now, considering the way the world is.

Ian: Alright, before I school you, why would you say “because of the way the world is right now, it’s difficult to have a life plan”? Why do you think that way?

Kyle: Really, there’s a generally negative worldview that keeps rising out of me. I know it’s not an actual limitation holding me back. I know it’s actually possible to see things being good and exciting. It’s just a battle.

Ian: Okay. Alright. I just wanted to know, because almost everybody else has an answer like that, and it’s not wrong. It’s very difficult to see through the clouds. I have been incredibly blessed during this pandemic, during the hysteria in the media during mass cultural shifts, people imploding.

It has afforded me the opportunity to really receive the message that I’m studying for, to be enlightened, to be awoken, to understand the message of the universe, to understand the intentions behind my meditations, to be an impactful source of light and positivity for those around me – even strangers. And to continue to just surrender to the lessons of the universe in order to share with you what has been given to me: this gift to people who need the message the most. That’s my life plan, brother.

Kyle: Ever since I watched the film, I’ve been thinking about it constantly. And I feel like you really learned some incredible lessons throughout your life.

Ian: What did you learn from the movie?

Kyle: I learned to try and start letting go of ego, and to appreciate the ones around me more. My family and loved ones. They’re what matters at the end of the day.

Ian: I can read you right now like a book. You’ve gotta try something for me. Look, my email is [redacted]. Any of your readers or my fans want to email me? Go ahead.

Kyle: Sure.

Ian: I want you to email me, because you’ve got to do me a favour, because you’re giving me so many messages right now. And I can see this, and forgive me for doing this, because this is an interview. But this is how ritual magic works, in my view. In my point of view, the universe will not tell me to do anything, say anything or go anywhere unless it’s because I have to. And it sent me to you today.

You said some things to me today…you need to watch this movie to your Dad, because you’ve got things to say to him. And he needs to hear it from you. I can see it in your face. You’re not looking me in the eye, I can see that. You know exactly what I’m saying – I’m hitting the nail on the head, brother.

Kyle: Mm-hm.

Vampiro & NITC Director Michael Paszt


Ian: I hope that your father is going to understand how grateful you feel, but you don’t know how to tell him yet. I want you to do that for me. Because this interview is good – it’s great! And thank you for doing it. But you need something else out of this movie. And I’m here to tell you that I can see it and feel it. I need you to do this and then come back and tell me what happened, because you’re gonna change. You’re about to have a breakthrough. I wish you could see what I see!

You’re gonna grow; you’re going to go from a small little hill to a mountain in an instant when it happens. And you’re going to email me to the point I’m going to say, “dude, I get it. I understand, stop!”. And you’re going to be overwhelmed with what’s about to happen to you. But you have to get your ego out of the way and watch this with your Dad. Don’t tell him he needs to watch it – you need to say, “Dad, I need you to watch this with me, because I’ve got something to tell you”.

Kyle: I would love to do that. Absolutely.

Ian: Then do it!

Kyle: I appreciate that. I’ll do it as soon as I can. I’ll have to figure out how to pull it up on the TV for him.

Ian: How did you see it?

Kyle: Oh, I got sent a link via email.

PR: Kyle, if you have a Blu-Ray player, we can always mail you one as well.

Kyle: That would be amazing.

Ian: Listen, email me right now. I’m sending you a link today. I wanna hear from you by the weekend. I don’t want no bullshit excuses, like he’s busy, you’re busy. Pick up the phone and call him, make the appointment.

Kyle: I absolutely will. Thank you so much for talking to me, man.

Ian: You’ve got to give me your word right now before you cut this interview, give me your word right now that you’re going to do this. Say these words. I give you my word.

Kyle: I give you my word.

Ian: That you’re gonna call your Dad.

Kyle: I’m gonna call my Dad.

Ian: And make this appointment.

Kyle: And make this appointment.

Ian: Before the weekend.

Kyle: Before the weekend.

Ian: Alright. You’re the man.

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