By Perry Lefko
Yianni Kioussis has lived with Asperger syndrome his whole life, but the 22-year-old from Malton has not let that deter him from pursuing his dream to perform as a pro wrestler and taking his condition and turning it into an in-ring character. Asperger Syndrome is a form out autism characterized by problems with social skills or interactions.
Kioussis will make his debut as Asperger Dynamo in front of a crowd on Jan. 20 at Battle Arts Academy in Mississauga. He joined the Battle Arts wrestling program in March 2017 without any previous experience in the squared circle.
“I was bullied for so many years because of the way I act,” he recently told me. “I don’t have a filter between my brain and my mouth. I just say things at random. I don’t have the best motor skills. I don’t have good hand-eye co-ordination. Everybody told me that would be my downfall and that I wouldn’t make it in this business.
“I believe it was during elementary school a buddy of mine introduced me to the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), and once I saw that I knew I wanted to be in that industry beyond a shadow of a doubt. I learned that it’s very difficult, very intense, to learn how to wrestle, but I don’t plan on changing, and that’s why I chose the name Asperger Dynamo. It’s really an extension of myself, of who I am and what I went through.
“I sort of went back and forth in my mind and thought what can I do? I know I want to play a demon, but first I have to play something else. When I went back through my life and I analyzed everything I went through I realized this is what I want to do.
“I want to incorporate my condition to wrestling and be an inspiration and just show people, you know what, you don’t have to be super strong. You don’t have to be a Bobby Lashley or a John Cena. As long as you go in there and you pour your heart out and do the best you absolutely can, nobody is going to criticize you because you’re doing what you need to do and that’s put on an amazing a show for the fans. Just because you have Asperger’s or autism or whatever you have doesn’t mean you can’t be in this business.”
He hoped to be put in the ring immediately, but found out like anybody else who is a neophyte wrestler that it takes time to learn the moves and psychology.
“I had to learn how to take a bump. I had to learn the rules. It took a long time,” he said. “I have a photographic memory, but there’s some aspects of it where it’s not so good. In terms of judo, which is another class I took before this, and pro wrestling there’s moves I can’t remember off by heart. Every time I have to re-learn it. It’s kind of a struggle, but I do the best I can every time I’m in here.”
Battle Arts owner, Anthony Carelli, who performed in the WWE as Santino Marella, said he had some autism students in another athletic program at his facility, which gave him a level of understanding of how to approach Yianni.
“Autism and Asperger’s are interesting things and you have to approach it a different way,” Anthony said. “They have excellent memories and capacities for knowledge. It just has to be delivered to them in a different way, something that stands out and generates an emotion so they remember that feeling and make it into a game. As far as I knew in the past, Asperger’s is more a social thing.”
Anthony assumed, prior to knowing Yianni, he had been denied some opportunities because of his condition.
“There are high-pressure moments when someone else’s well being is dependent on your ability to handle it,” he said. “We were very careful by allowing him to demonstrate consistently that he’s able to be safe. Safety is paramount. He did that. We didn’t make it easy for him. We’re not just going to feel bad for the guy and give him the green light. He had to earn it.
“We told him no at the beginning. He had to get his basic co-ordination and footwork and get it up to a level where he could work with someone in a safe capacity. And he did. He was disappointed in the beginning, but he never gave up. He kept coming and getting better and better and now we feel he’s reached the point where we feel he’s able to do this safely, which is most important.
“I’m hoping he’s an inspiration for many other people with Asperger’s that maybe lack confidence. Maybe they can gain confidence in seeing Yianni succeed. He’s an underdog. When people understand Yianni, they’re going to going to get behind him and have sympathy for him. He can be a super babyface (good guy).
“He’s definitely become a fixture in the class and he’s definitely part of the family,” Anthony added. “He says some pretty funny things at the right time. He’s got a good sense of humour. He has a fantastic memory. It’s incredible. Professional wrestlers are very social. There’s a locker room. You get to interact with fans. You get to interact with other wrestlers. It’s a critical component the ability to be social with others.
“So far he’s doing okay and we’ll keep him here and protect him. Often you want to see your superstars leave the nest one day. We’ll definitely be happy to keep him in our nest. He’s a fixture now.”
Anthony added Yianni is proof that anybody, regardless of a mental or physical disability or condition, can become a pro wrestler if they have the desire.
“Who’s to say somebody deserves to be in the industry more than somebody else?” Anthony said. “If you love it and respect it and you work hard, you deserve it just like anybody else. This takes years, literally years. Doing the moves is nothing. There’s so much more psychology, timing and experience required before you can perform on your own. In that sense he’s like everybody else that comes here and realizes this is a lot harder than it seems.
“The guys on TV make it look easy, but they are trained professionals. They’ve been doing it for a long time. There’s definitely a huge learning curve, but he’s on his way.”
Perry Lefko photo