Duke’s Adventures Part 2 – Mana And NHPW

Written by: ‘Duke’ Kieran Burns, retired 20 year Pro Wrestling Ring Announcer

I had wanted to spread my wings for a while.

After a decade of announcing for AWF (Australian Wrestling Federation) based in Sydney, we would travel around NSW for shows and to different states to work on and be a part of Supanova ComiCon events, 6 times that gave us chances to work with interstate wrestlers.

Although I was aware of other companies around Australia, these Supanova shows allowed me to see the varied talent from around the country and to see them showcase what they could do. If anything, it only made me want to travel more and experience wrestling outside of New South Wales. I had never had any interest for working for another Sydney based company as I was loyal to where I worked and genuinely liked the roster I worked with at the time and the wrestlers from outside our company and state that would come to work our shows.

One of those guys was Mana ‘The Polynesian Warrior’. A big, intimidating Perth based Maori wrestler, who had just returned to Australia from the USA after training and working with WXW, a Pennsylvania based company owned and operated by WWE Hall of Famer and legend Afa The Wild Samoan. I came to find that Mana , whose real name was Nikora, was a kind and softly spoken guy with a heart of gold. He was doing the rounds back in Australia after literally putting his body on the line working the Indy scene in the USA and had built quite a reputation for himself. I had nothing but respect for him as this was well before opportunities opened up in the USA for many of us here in Australia and New Zealand.

After chatting with him, I knew I wanted to travel to Perth and work with him some day. He would go on to start New Horizon Pro Wrestling based out of Perth , an upstart company utilising fresh young talent as well as seasoned performers from the USA, much like us at the time at AWF. Some of our wrestlers would begin travelling to go and work his shows and came back with great stories and a general positivity from working there. Fast forward to 2010 and I hear from one of our AWF wrestlers , Tama, that Mana would be retiring from Pro Wrestling due to a back injury and would be having his last shows as a wrestler. I felt a need to want to be a part of these shows and help pay respects to someone I saw as a trailblazer who opened up opportunities for up and coming wrestlers wanting to open up their horizons overseas. Here was a guy who had literally broken his body for the fans , how could I not want to be there to pay my respects.

So I asked Tama to pass on to Mana, that if he would like me to be a part of his final shows, I’m happy to make my way across there. To hear back that he’d be more than happy for me to be a part of it was fantastic news !!! I couldn’t wait to not only see him off in a good way but to finally say I was a ring announcer who had worked outside his own company. I knew of other wrestlers not just from AWF but from around Australia and the USA would be there so this was starting to feel like something special. For those that may not realise, Ring Announcers in Pro Wrestling generally don’t work outside of their own company. They normally stay within the box of their territory and never venture outside. I was determined to break the mold by gaining as much experience as possible. I did , and still do, take the “professional” side of Pro Wrestling seriously.

What we do is entertainment and should be fun for all involved but there is a term I respect that is “Doing Good Business”. Follow that path, and others will take notice of your professionalism and your chances of working elsewhere will increase. I believe that this is what helped opened doors for me to achieve my dream of working with other companies while still maintaining good relations with my home fed. I didn’t have to burn a bridge for an opportunity to grow and I could pay my respects to someone I admired by offering my services in a genuine and heartfelt way .

I remember flying into Perth for these shows on what was a sweltering 43°C day. I’d never been to Perth before so my knowledge of getting around was zero. Thankfully Mana had organised for a wrestler to meet me at the airport named Kid Kapri. We’d never met before so I had no idea who to look for other than a guy wearing a New Horizons t-shirt. Looking through the crowd at the airport I spot him. Here was this guy with a huge smile that embraced me with a hug and made me feel like we’d be friends for years. He’d be my ride and fill me in with all I needed to know about the weekend of shows and get me to the hotel.

Little did I know, Kid Kapri aka Sean, would become one of my closest friends who would open up his home and family for me many times in the future (Love ya Kapri, miss you and Mana my brothers). We get to the hotel and meet with all the other interstate wrestlers. Some I knew and some I didn’t but we were all in such a good mood knowing the weekend ahead was going to be so much fun and mean so much. All of us also were keen to meet and work with the visiting American wrestlers.

They would include well known Indy wrestlers who had worked and trained with Mana, and a couple of well known wrestlers who had worked for the WWE . These included women’s wrestlers TNAs Nikki Roxx , future WWE and AEW star Mercedes Martinez, Indy star XDogg Jake Bishop, former WWE member of DX, Hall of Famer and current AEW star Billy Gunn and also former WCW, WWE, ECW, NJPW wrestler Headshrinker Samu Anoa’i. Mana had trained with and under Samu at Samu’s father Afa The Wild Samoan at the famed and legendary school The Wild Samoan Training Centre.

For any young wrestler involved in these shows, this would be a chance to sit under the learning tree and witness the combined experience of all of these visitors. To have the honour of announcing them to the ring would be mean a lot to me and still does. I’m forever grateful for any opportunities given to me , even all these years later. I’ve never taken them lightly and they all combined to make me the announcer I would become over time. After what was a great 2 days of shows, we would come to the culmination of what we were there for. The main event would feature Mana facing Tama and Samu in a triple threat match for the NHPW Art of Fighting Championship.

Duke in the ring at NHPW

I couldn’t wait to to see this match of past present and future in the ring and the fact I was getting to be present in the ring for someone’s last ever match and announce him to the ring , would give me chills and still does. To go into the ins and outs of that match would pale in comparison to what this match would mean. Tama was getting to wrestle someone who had given him opportunities and someone else who was a legend . What he would gain would be immeasurable. Samu was getting to wrestle a new and talented up and comer and also wrestle his friend, student and co-worker on his final match. A bond that would never be broken. Mana ‘The Polynesian Warrior’ , would wrestle a hand picked young wrestler he saw himself in and the future of the business and also a friend, teacher and mentor who he respected and loved.

The gravity of much this match meant to all involved meant more than winners or losing. To be a pivotal part of these shows and this match is a part of much loved memories for me that I hold dear . After the match , I got to witness not only a sign of respect but everything that is good about what we do in Pro Wrestling. Not only did every visiting American wrestler that was a friend of Manas come out to the ring to verbally pay there respects but every wrestler on the card came to surround the ring to beat the mat in unison for someone they respected. The crowd were on their feet with a unified cheer for what they are witnessing and I get Goosebumps to this day thinking about it.

I knew I had made the right choice to come as it would be a weekend I’d never forget and be the beginning of a new chapter of experiences to come which would include being asked back on a regular occasion to ring announce for NHPW and also come to include my own adventure overseas to forge my own path and break new ground.

But as all good continuing stories go, that’s for another time….

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