In every man’s life, there comes a time when the wheat is separated from the chaff and a personal agenda is born.  A time when those he has brought up, fathered and mentored turn their backs on him.  A time when he himself sees how he has become the villain in minds of those who abide by the current, liberal undertow of society.

For years upon years, I spearheaded the professional wrestling business in Finland.  As its pioneer, I did everything within my power to take this fine fighting art in this remote nook of the world and make it into something truly remarkable.

I achieved that and much more in my tenure as the heart and soul of Finnish pro wrestling.  Since the inception of FCF Wrestling, Finland’s one and only pro wrestling promotion, in 2006, I worked my ass off to put the company on the European wrestling map.  And I did.

Through my arduous efforts, FCF Wrestling became a hallmark name on the European Wrestling scene in the Y2K era.  I was able to negotiate and work as flourishing deal with both the SMASH and WNC wrestling promotions of Japan at the turn of the 2010s.  We, as FCF Wrestling, were the only foreign promotion in the Land of the Rising Sun to have a working deal with a Japanese office outside of ROH and TNA out of the USA.  We were the only ones out of Europe to enjoy such a lavish standing.  And guess who was the workhorse behind all of that?

WTF

The horse that pulled the cart for everyone for over a decade (photo: Marko Simonen)

With one StarBuck at the helm of FCF, our organization spawned a litany of export talents that would go on to enjoy massive success across Europe, in Asia and in North America.  Talents such as Heimo Ukonselkä, Pasi Suominen, Kristian Kurki, Valentine, Kageman Guro, Stark Adder, Aurora, El Excentrico, Jessica Love, Mikko Maestro, Petrov, plus a certain wrestler named Juhana Karhula, all got their chance to shine abroad under Captain StarBuck’s gutsy and ambitious leadership.

Alas, this brings me to 2017 and the aforementioned individual, Juhana Karhula.  Nowadays, Karhula finds himself at the helm of the FCF ship, as its champion and its head coach.  He’s gotten the locker room to rally behind him and aspire to his vision.  In short, he’s become quite the influence.  An influence that has turned a whole horde of children against their own father, as it were.

Back in 2008, an infamous couple ran FCF Wrestling for a spell as the promoters of the organization on paper.  They hated me.  Absolutely despised me.  They were, for lack of a better term, a cancer in the bones of Finnish pro wrestling.  They were about to smoke me out of FCF altogether in the fall of 2008 and put an 18-year-old Juhana Karhula, who had been wrestling for three years up to that point only in Finland, as head coach and matchmaker.  This plan didn’t pan out at the time, as the locker room got smart to what was happening and this antagonistic couple ended up leaving the organization and passing it on to a new leadership back then, which was outlined in detail in my official autobiography, Battleground Valhalla, out now in print and as a Kindle download through Crowbar Press from the USA.

Kick

Karhula surely has as much attrition for my person as I do for him (photo: Marko Simonen)

Juhana Karhula, then wrestling under a mask as Ibo Ten, was all game for the coup back in 2008 when it was presented to him.  He literally salivated at the prospect of filling some mighty big shoes, replacing the author and founding father of Finnish pro wrestling in a key position.  When things didn’t pan out, the young man fell into a depression as his world fell apart.  For years, he became a shadow of himself, struggling to establish his identity in the annals of pro wrestling and trying to come to grips with the fact that he’d have to learn to live with the fact that old StarBuck wasn’t leaving the helm any time soon.

Time passed and new faces came into the FCF organization, just as the tides of society were changing also.  The societal norms, as it were, were changing.  No longer could you call a spade a spade, and no longer was black black or white white.  It became an age of overt and exaggerated, twisted and insistent political correctness.  It became liberalism up the ass and all manner of inane “tolerance” talk.  It became the day and age of the blind willing to be lead by the blind.  An age when everybody wanted to walk to the beat of the weakest common denominator, so as not to make anybody feel excluded and left out.  In short, it became what we now hold to be modern, social justice warrior infested, virtue-signaling society.

Drilling punches

I’ll break anyone who steps between me and my quest for vengeance (pic: Marko Simonen)

The world and old school, clear-cut approach of StarBuck was no longer relevant.  The new, younger crop of FCF wrestlers wanted a leader that resounded with their values system and liberal views.  They wanted the soft, lily-livered approach.  The one that treated everyone with kid gloves and gave out prizes to everybody, just for showing up, instead of for achievements.

And so the old faithful rock, Captain StarBuck, was rolled aside to let in the new “messiah” of FCF, Juhana Karhula.  What started as a seed sown in 2008 finally came to fruition in 2017, almost a decade later.

Now, it’s war.  It’s damn personal.  Not only have this little rat pack of current Finnish wrestlers chosen their leader, they have also spawned a lethal agenda.  They have let the tempest in.  With a vengeance.

This past weekend, on Saturday night, September 2nd in Helsinki, FCF Wrestling held it’s Wrestling Show Live event at Pressa nightclub.  For the second time since the whole of FCF turned their backs on me, I made a personal statement to the reigning champion and face of FCF, Juhana Karhula.  The first time was back in May of this year, when I cost him his match with Germany’s monsterous Demolition Davies.  This time, I cost him his match against the Beast from Sweden, in only 15-seconds of ill-fated fame.  Afterwards, Karhula lost it and attacked me in the dressing room, which was caught on camera and can be seen on the FCF Wrestling page on Facebook.

Knee strike

A world of hurt is about to rain down on Juhana Karhula and no one can stop what is going to take place (photo: Marko Simonen)

I won’t rest until I’ve done in and done away with Juhana “King Kong” Karhula.  I will haunt him to the ends of the Earth, until I have my vengeance and my personal vendetta is fulfilled.  Watch me.

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Every once in awhile, I try to offer the newer guys and gals coming up in the pro wrestling industry something worthwhile, which would help them orchestrate and navigate their careers.

Myself having been in the pro wrestling trade now for a quarter century, I’ve met many successful contemporaries in my travels, who’ve carved out particular niche’s for themselves in the business.  These pros have learned to navigate in the shark-infested waters that make up professional wrestling, and they have valuable life experience, which can be readily used as learning material for the next generation.

In so saying, I offer up a unique angle for this one-on-one interview that I conducted with former WCW alumni Paul Neu, who wrestled for Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling in the early ’90s as PN News, and shortly thereafter migrated to Europe, where he became known as Cannonball Grizzly.

The man became one of the most successful journeyman big man wrestlers in the past three decades arguably worldwide, and he took some time out to shed some light on how you have to adapt your in-ring style as you get older and the injuries mount up, as well as advice for other big man-style wrestlers now coming up in the business and how to stay healthy to help prolong one’s career.

Listen up and take to heart what Paul has to say.

Cannonball Grizzly

Cannonball Grizzly stands 188cm and weighs 190kg

1. Thanks for taking the time out to do this one-on-one piece. I’d like to dig into the topic of how, as a veteran, and as the years pile up and the injuries accumulate, you have to adapt your in-ring style and working approach. However, first, how are you doing nowadays that you’ve moved back to your native USA after spending, what, the better part of 25 years wrestling in Europe?

Hello, Michael.  First of all, thank you for the opportunity to express myself on your platform. I’ve enjoyed entertaining fans around the world for over 31 years and its great to address not just fans, but future wrestlers as well.  

Wow, you hit me with an amazing question to start. As an athletic big man, it’s been a hard tradition over the years. I always want to produce, show people I’m athletic. I had to stop drop kicking after 25 years. I’ve done moonsaults, sentons, topes, top rope splashes, etc.  

The splash was hard on my knees so I changed to the senton as my finish. From top rope to a second rope senton when my back started hurting. Basically what you learn over time is how to work the crowd with showmanship instead of overwhelming them with the ooh and aah of brute force and majesty of big moves. I got better heat from working smart than working hard. When you do something big it should mean something.

Tradition is transition.  Moving back to the States has been good for me. I’m picking up legend conventions. I’m not really advertising myself at the moment. I’m getting to know family again and settling down. I needed a pause. My body needs healing if it’s even possible.

2. What made you choose coming to Europe back in the day, after your WCW contract ended, in lieu of going somewhere else or taking a different career path? How did the parting with WCW come about, and would you have liked to continue there?

I had a few opportunities to continue in America. Territories were dying. The WWF/WWE was actually trying to do something with me. Unfortunately, they wanted me to wait around. I couldn’t, my daughter was on the way and I need to make money so I chose to come back to Europe. I don’t regret it.  The business in Europe was pretty good at the time. My love for Austria and Germany at the time made my choice easy.

3. You found a good deal of success in Europe, but you also saw the business change drastically over the quarter-century that you spent here. I recall you once saying in a locker room in Germany back in 2013, that the job used to be 30 dates a month, now it’s 30 dates a year. Why do you believe that the business changed so drastically in Europe also, taking into account that this is not Vince’s predominant playground to begin with?

You can watch wrestling on TV everyday. The market is over-saturated and that isn’t a good thing. Wrestlers are stars but when you’re on TV every week, you’re a SUPERSTAR. It’s hard to compete with television.

4. You’ve been a super-heavyweight all of your career. What are the main things you would give as advice, coming from a big man worker, to the newer crop of big men and super-heavyweights coming up today?

There really aren’t any super-heavyweights anymore. The size of your average wrestler is getting smaller. So it’s hard for big guys now. I’d say to be a super-heavyweight today, athleticism is the key. If you’re big and you’ve never done anything athletic, only sat in front of a computer and a TV your whole life, stay on the other side of the barrier.

Cannonball Grizzly vs Alofa

Battle of the super-heavyweights: Cannonball Grizzly vs. Headshriner Alofa

5. What are the main things you would expound in terms of career longevity in pro wrestling? What are the key factors of longevity to be taken into account and practice, from your experience?

Stay in the gym, don’t do overly stupid stuff. Work smart.

6. What do you believe are the essentials to ”making it” in the pro wrestling business, to becoming a viable player, to making money and to having a decent shot at procuring the most amount of work possible?

Again the gym. Being good on the mic. You have to have a bit of an ego and still try to be humble. Take and ask for advice from guys who have been around. Show respect, and when you get your shot give everything you’ve got. Look after your gear. Don’t just put on kickpads over sneakers. Look and act like a wrestler, not a mark.

7. Everyone goes in hurt, as the saying goes in our trade. Where do you draw the line, however?

I never drew the line. I worked with a dislocated shoulder, torn hamstring, severed tendon, a lung infection and a sowing needle that broke off in my foot. There is always someone ready to take your place. Not everyone is that resilient, I know. Nowadays, I see kids not show up because the have a nosebleed. In the end, it’s your own call.

8. As we age, the body tends to stiffen and acute nervous response is compromised, since reaction time is slightly dulled with age. I have often used Keiji Muto as a good example of changing one’s stylistic approach to suit the changes that come with age, limiting the amount of action output and focusing more on body language and character presence. How did you navigate in-ring as you got older? How did you alter your style to suit your age-brought restrictions, as time went by?

That’s all part of working smart. I changed my style at least three time to adapt to my bones screaming at me. I new time was catching up when I had to stop throwing my dropkick. Before that I stopped doing my top rope splash, because I was hurting my knees. I switched to the senton and now my hip is messed up so I don’t even do that much anymore.

9. What are the approaches and ways you kept yourself physically viable and functional as the years rolled by?

The gym, stretching and ibuprofen. I wasn’t into the pain killer scene. Unfortunately time catches up with us all.

PN News

Paul Neu as PN News in WCW (1991), before Cannonball Grizzly

10. If you could turn back time and some things over again, so as to prolong your long-term health, hindsight being 20/20, what would those things be?

The nature of the beast. I would have probably done everything the same way. I’d might have cut the top rope splash out earlier or never done it.

11. What advice would you give to guys in the business today, based on your own experiences and what you’ve seen in our industry, in terms of protecting their long-term health and quality of physical life?

Don’t drink as much as I did. Listen to your bones. If you’re waking up in pain every morning you’ve waited to long.

12. What are the biggest changes you noted on a personal level, passing from your 20s to your 30s, and from your 30s to your 40s in your wrestling career?

In my early 20s, I was green. I hit my stride from about 26-44. That was my prime. In my 30s, I was physically unstoppable. By my mid-40s,  I started waking up everyday in pain.

13. Where do you stand today with the current popularized in-ring style, as promoted largely by WWE, TNA and NJPW, where the action is largely spot-oriented and arguably more indie-influenced than ever before? What do you foresee in terms of longevity for the guys utilizing and working this current, modern spotty style?

I prefer the old-school story-telling aspect of wrestling. We played off peoples’ emotion. We could suspend peoples’ disbelief.  Now, it’s all about the oohs and aahs.

14. Thanks for taking the time out to do this introspective piece.  In closing, there’s a saying in our industry, that you work a certain style to get over, and then you work a modified version of that style to stay over. This, however, didn’t seem to work too favorably for guys like Mick Foley or Daniel Bryan. Perhaps a case of too little too late? What’s your take on getting over … and then staying over?

Your body can only take so much. The best workers have around four things they have to do every time they go out there and work. If you have to abuse your body every time, you’re gonna be on borrowed time long before your time would normally be up.

 

 

The folks in Finland have the chance to see the Valhalla Nordic Wrestling Championship defended for the first time on Finnish soil, since I cemented my status as the undisputed champion back on July 8, when, as the interim champ, I defeated Sweden’s Timmy Force to eliminate the “interim” part of the equation.

In that tremendous July 8 encounter back in Stockholm, I took Timmy to 30-minutes of pain, blues and agony (although, I have to say the young man kept hanging in there, putting up one hell of a fight), before I put him away with my world-famous jumping spike piledriver.

StarBuck vs Timmy Force VALHALLA Nordic Championship 6

The finish from July 8 in Stockholm (photo: Fredrik Streiffert)

That match was contested under the auspices of STHLM Wrestling, and under their rules, my finisher is banned, due to it’s risky nature.  Nonetheless, the official in charge of the match failed to see me hit my move, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, on September 2 in Helsinki at FCF Wrestling‘s Wrestling Show Live! event, the main event features a rematch between young Timmy and myself.  If our all-time classic showdown in Stockholm on July 8 serves as any indicator, this rematch should be off-the-charts!

The place: Pressa nightclub
Eteläinen rautatiekatu 4, 00100 Helsinki

Doors 16:00
Showtime 17:00

Tickets in advance through Tiketti 16,50€/11,50€
Tickets at the door 20€/15€

Starbuck_Timmy-1024x1024

I just got home late last night after wrestling one of the most satisfying, and arguably greatest, matches of my life in Stockholm, Sweden this past Saturday night.  Man, oh man… what a match it was!

Valhalla Nordic Wrestling Championship belt

It’s funny to think, that here at age 44, I am still pulling rabbits out of the proverbial hat, proving that age is just a number and wine really does get better with age.  After all, I’ve lived, breathed, bled and sweat this business we call professional wrestling for damn near a quarter-century already.  A tiger cannot change its stripes and experience just makes you wiser and more cunningly dangerous as the years accumulate.

July 8, 2017 will go down in the annals of professional wrestling history as one of the most significant events in Nordic grappling lore.  It was the night that I stepped into the ring as the interim – and first – Valhalla Nordic Wrestling Champion, to face the challenge of a young man nearly half my age, the current STHLM Wrestling Champion, “Kid Fury” Timmy Force.

StarBuck vs Timmy Force VALHALLA Nordic Championship 2

I remember holding a training camp back in 2014 in Langå, Denmark, attended by over 20 wrestling students from four different countries, and young Timmy Force was one of those students at that time.  He had limited experience, being a raw rookie in our industry, and he wanted to get better and up his personal ante.  I was amazed back then at the natural ability of this kid.  He took to everything like a fish to water, and it would have been easy to believe that he had been wrestling already for at least a year, simply gauging by the skill level that he exhibited even early on then.

StarBuck vs Timmy Force VALHALLA Nordic Championship 3

At the end of the training camp in Langå that summer, the DPW (Danish Pro Wrestling) office that hosted the camp, decided to hold a student show on the final day, to give the boys a chance to prove their wares in front of a VIP/invitation-only audience.  Timmy faced another fellow Swede, who has since come to be known as J.O. Hansen on the Swedish wrestling circuit.  They had one hell of a capable and credible wrestling match on that student show, proving to me, as their coach, that both guys were on the track to pro wrestling stardom, if only they could keep their heads level and their bodies healthy.

StarBuck vs Timmy Force VALHALLA Nordic Championship 1

Timmy Force has risen like a phoenix in the Swedish wrestling scene.  He has garnered high-profile victories over the likes of even New Japan Pro Wrestling star Juice Robinson in the past couple of years, and has gone the distance with much more experienced foes like Matt Sydal (Evan Bourne in WWE).  In short, my prediction back in 2014, that Timmy would become a star in this business, became a prophesy come true.

StarBuck vs Timmy Force VALHALLA Nordic Championship 4

Alas, come July 8, 2017, it is only fitting that Timmy Force would have to face the greatest challenge of his young career.  It was the day that he would have to step into the ring with his former coach, “The Rebel” StarBuck, in front of a red-hot, rabid Stockholm homefront crowd, that wanted so desperately to see Timmy take the ultimate prize, the Valhalla Nordic Wrestling Championship.

StarBuck vs Timmy Force VALHALLA Nordic Championship 5

And so it was, that for a good half-hour, Timmy Force fought, kicked, scratched and clawed at the elusive golden ring, in his spirited attempt to wrestle it away from it’s momentary proprietor, me.

Timmy did everything he could, fought valiantly, showed fire, hit his moves with crisp precision… everything in his power… to claim the ultimate prize waiting at the end of it all.

But it was not to be.

StarBuck vs Timmy Force VALHALLA Nordic Championship 6

When all was said and done, Timmy Force was bloody, battered and beaten, in front of a hometown crowd that was on the verge of a frenzy.

StarBuck’s infamous finisher, the jumping spike piledriver, once again took this old boy to the bank.  It was the move that cemented me in wrestling lore for all time as the first UNDISPUTED Valhalla Nordic Wrestling Champion!

Now, let the challengers line up.  Let them come, one by one.  Let them try to wrest this golden grail or Nordic supremacy away from the old lion!  Let them all come, and let them all fall… and bow… to the KING.

StarBuck vs Timmy Force VALHALLA Nordic Championship 7

(Photos: Fredrik Streiffert)

Big news!  As the newly appointed interim Valhalla Nordic Wrestling Champion, my first title defense has now been set for July 8 in Stockholm, Sweden!

I will be defending the new belt against the challenge of fast-rising young Swedish star, Timmy “Kid Fury” Force.

TIMMY-FORCE

I recall back a few years ago in Denmark, when I was coaching the DPW Fake or Break summer camp in 2014, young Timmy was a part of the student body on hand.  I noted his skill and natural aptitude even back then, believing that one day, he would be a star.

Alas, come 2017, Timmy Force has risen to the upper tier of Swedish pro wrestling, even recently holing a couple of different Swedish championship titles as recently as this year.  The host promotion of the inaugural Nordic Championship title showdown, STHLM Wrestling, gave Swedish fans the chance to vote for which Swedish wrestler they would like to see challenge for my newly assigned Valhalla Nordic title, and Timmy came out on top in the public fan voting.

Now, on July 8, at Arenavägen 75 in Stockholm, Timmy Force faces the toughest opponent of his young life.  He faces Yours Truly, the champion himself, the most successful professional wrestler in history in all of Nordic history, beyond any shadow of a doubt.

July 8 will be history in the making, folks.  Make plans to be there (tickets available HERE), as the best wrestlers from all around Scandinavia and the Nordics will be on hand, representing their home promotions and countries.

Nordic Wrestling Championship

Recently, I’ve thought about doing select interviews from an industry perspective with certain standout contemporaries in the pro wrestling business.  I figured these would work as useful education and insight to aspiring young wrestlers and those looking to break into pro wrestling alike.

So it is, that I come to my first installment of what I call Talking Shop,with Tom La Ruffa, who wrestled extensively in both WWE’s NXT as well as TNA Impact Wrestling.  Tom is one of those people, who has “been there,” and thus, is able to shed some light on what it takes to “get there” for those amongst you who have that elusive dream of making it to the big time in pro wrestling.

So, let’s get busy Talking Shop: with Tom La Ruffa!

Tom LaRuffa 01
1. Thanks for giving your time to do this piece, Tom.  You’ve done a lot in pro wrestling since I last saw you on some of the same shows in France back in early 2009.  Even back then, you were wrestling some damn good, solid matches against Robin Lekime, against whom you worked a program for quite awhile.  What are your memories of that said program?
Thanks, Michael. Always a pleasure to talk with a veteran like you. Indeed it’s been quite a while and a lot has happened to me since these big shows in France with the Wrestling Stars promotion. Actually I remember we started pretty much at the same time with them. At that time, WS in France was one of Europe’s best promotions. Three to five shows every week, sold out most of the time. It was never anything big on the internet, because of its old-school, keep-it-kayfabe-and-underground mentality, but I LOVED it.
It is indeed in Wrestling Stars that I learned that being a good wrestler isn’t enough to truly connect with a mainstream audience. You will connect with the wrestling FAN, but to truly reach an entire crowd and different part of a demographic, you need a STRONG character that the crowd can relate to or understand easily.
That program with Sir Robin truly allowed me to connect deeply with my Greco-Roman character, which I was only playing with at the time.
Robin, alongside his valet, Janine, was such a STRONG heel in his aristocrat character that my Spartan character immediately stood out as a strong babyface, and for the dozens of matches we had together, we killed it every night, because not only did we have good wrestling chemistry, but the story of our matches were perfect for our characters.

2. You were trained by the same guy that trained me also, Lance Storm, in Calgary, Canada.  What year were you trained in?  Were there any other notables in your class that went on to become someone in the wrestling world?  What made you choose Lance’s Storm Wrestling Academy and how did you experience Lance as a coach?

I trained with Lance during the last quarter of 2006.

I enrolled in his school after years of amateur wrestling, kick boxing and gym. My goal was to go there in the best shape possible, because an endorsement for his school by Tommy Dreamer on the Storm Wrestling Academy website said something like Dreamer (head of WWE talent relations at the time) would not ask for a tape or a picture to give a try-out to a guy that Lance would put his name on. I’ve always thought that if you want to be the best, you’ve got to learn from the best. And that’s what I did. I never regretted it.

Nobody from my class really made it to the big time, but Tyler Breeze was in the session right after mine, I believe.

Tom LaRuffa 02

In over 12 years of running his school, I believe Lance is the trainer that had the most students that made it to the big leagues, worldwide.

Why? Because he’s been there. He’s been head of developmental in OVW (Ohio Valley Wretling, a prior WWE farm league). He knows what it takes to make it. He’s the one teaching you, and most of all, he’s not full of BS, unlike A LOT of people in this industry. He gives you all the tools, then it’s your hard work that’s gonna make the difference. I loved it, and after my 12 weeks camp in Calgary with him, I knew I already knew more than any of the French talents I went on to face back in France.

3. What year did you get signed to NXT and what route did you go getting your try-out and hook-up with WWE?

I got offered a WWE deal early 2012, after a 2 days try out in Liverpool in November 2011.

I want to believe my signing was a slow process, but you can never know for sure.

I first got backstage as an extra for WWE in 2008 in California. But I was MILES away from being anywhere near ready at that stage. But it made me realize what I HAD to work more to get truly noticed. I actually had a one-on-one talk with John Laurinaitis (former head of WWE talent relations) at these shows in 2008, and I told him that I wouldn’t want to be in WWE to be a low or mid-card guy. I wanted to be THE top guy, so I needed more time to get ready…

So, I went back to the drawing boards in Europe. Worked on my body. Started working with WS, which allowed me to get enough ring time and connections throughout Europe to build my brand/name.

But it truly was the World Of Hurt TV reality show from 2010-11, that we filmed with Lance, that got WWE to notice me again. 

 

The show made such a big impact on the dirt sheets back in those days, especially with Brian Alvarez, that the WWE European scouts contacted me and offered me to try out that year.

The rest, as we say, is history…

4. How many years did you spend with NXT and what are the most important things that you learned in your wrestling education under the WWE banner?

I worked for NXT/WWE for three years and a half.

To list all the things I learned about the business there would be nearly impossible. Training everyday there made me so much better in the ring, working on the small things with some of the best coaches in the world, like Terry Taylor, Norman Smiley, Joey Mercury, Billy Gunn and Robbie Brookside to name a few…

I think the biggest lesson I learned was that “wrestling is an opinion” like Steve Keirn would always say back in FCW (Florida Championship Wrestling). And the only opinion that truly matters about you and for your career is the boss’. No one else. To put it simply, in Europe, I was a Spartan slaying giants in the ring, with the crowd loving me for it. In the USA, in the WWE, the officials just saw me as a loud-mouthed, arrogant Frenchman. I didn’t mind it, because I played the part well, and I love being a heel. But in the end, you can only go so far as a semi-comedy act.

5. Why did you leave NXT and how do you feel today about that departure?

So now I believe you see why my tenure with NXT ended. I didn’t ask for my release. I would never have done this as: 1) I had worked WAY TOO HARD to give up on a WWE contract, and 2) I respected this opportunity given to me (the first for a Frenchman since Andre the Giant) way too much to spit in the face of all my fellow Europeans that would die for a job there, by quitting.

But as the months and years rolled by, my body not getting any younger or healthier (I had two major knee injuries while in NXT). I started feeling miserable about not being used, while at the same time, they were bringing in so many indy guys, not even under contracts, and giving them TV exposure while I knew I was for the most part, as good, if not better than them, especially on the microphone.

It really started getting to us (me and my tag partner, Marcus Louis aka Baron Dax) and we expressed our feelings several times to officials.

The thing is, I knew the office loved me as a manager when I was nursing my first knee injury. And two, we knew our French tag team, The Legionnaires, was also a big hit with the crowd, and could have been huge on the main roster. Just put us on TV with a French flag, and you have heat…

So in the end, instead of keeping us under contract to do nothing, WWE released us with no hard feelings. Just the “we don’t know how to use you” deal.

It was totally fine by us, as we went on to sign with TNA and had a nice one-year run there working TV’s every week!

Tom LaRuffa vs Jeff Hardy TNA

Tom battles Jeff Hardy in TNA

6. What are the biggest changes or tweaks that you had to make to adjust the WWE way of doing thing, in terms of your in-ring work and character presentation?

To me, I’ve always protected my work and my brand. Remember in WS when we would keep kayfabe to the max? To me it’s the only way to go. If a fan boos me during a match, don’t expect me to go shake his hand after the show, because deep inside, at one part of that match, I hated that mf’er for booing me, so I wanna keep it that way. Plus, the guy paid to see me, so I’m not gonna be his buddy after the show. You gotta keep  your “star power.”

So, this protection also goes with how you work in the ring and how you present yourself outside of the ring. If you want to be a star, you have to look like one.

WWE allowed me to push that mentality to the extreme!

I was on 24/7. I bought, while living in Florida, about a dozen different suits, all in different colors. I had to look the part, especially at TV tapings, because that’s where all the big players were present (Triple H, William Regal, Dusty Rhodes, Michael Hayes, Michael Cole…). I wasn’t gonna make head turn with my size but I sure would make them turn with the way I looked.

And I did. All the coaches kept praising me for it. Everybody else was showing up in plain black or dark suits, I would be there in bright red, yellow or baby blue suits, just to look special. And it worked. I made it to TV before a lot of these guys.

As for in-ring work, I mainly had to adapt working TV’s, which means working for the camera 90% of the time. The other 10% are for the crowd who you keep your back turned to most of the time but don’t want to kill at the same time…

7. How important do you hold one’s gimmick to be in today’s pro wrestling marketplace?  What would you say is the overall, most important attribute that a pro wrestler must have in order to be successful in today’s wrestling world?

Lol, I think I already started answering that question…

But I will quote Paul Heyman on that one. I once had the huge opportunity to talk to him. That’s something every aspiring wrestler should do: go ask questions from the people that have been THERE, people that we all watched on TV…

I went up to Paul and asked him one single question, because we were at RAW, and I didn’t want to bother him. So I had to think of a good one, one where I could learn from the answer… so I asked him “With all the stars you’ve managed over the years, people like Steve Austin, Rick Rude, Lesnar… what was the common thing in them that made them connect so much with the crowds?”

He thought for several seconds, and told me it was the best question he had ever been asked.

True or not, I don’t know if he was telling the truth, but this is something everybody in this business should be aware of: we don’t perform for us or for internet people, we perform for the crowd paying to see us in the arena or on TV. So you HAVE to make them react. Whether it’s with your body, your looks, your personality, your wrestling skills… you have to bring something to the table that’s gonna make people go “WOW! That guy has something, I gotta keep watching!”… in other words, you have a to create a CONNECTION with the crowd.

Paul Heyman summed it up the best with his answer to my question: “All of these guys I managed throughout the years, when they walked through the curtain, they KNEW they were a star”.

Paul-Heyman-and-Brock-Lesnar

8. What advice would you have for any aspiring, young talents looking to get a try-out with WWE?  What should they look out for?  What should they definitely not do?  What specifically should they do?

Most of all, go to the gym. Get in shape. I’m not saying “be like Batista” (even though that wouldn’t hurt someone’s career!!), but look special. Look like a star. Look like you can beat someone up (and actually, be able to beat someone up is always useful, so do combat sports, too).

Keep in mind, WWE is run by Vince McMahon, HHH and Stephanie McMahon, all three being gym freaks. If you want to impress them, impress them at their own game.

Everything else, including wrestling and psychology, comes second, because if they hire you to send you to developmental, they will start from scratch and teach you THEIR basics.

So keeping this in mind.  Of course, it can not hurt to go to the wrestling school of a true pro, someone who made it in the business, especially internationally. They will teach you the right stuff, like Lance did with both of us.

Also I wanna point again to the combat sport thing. It will teach you the right instincts and positioning of a fight. William Regal would always quote Fit Finlay: “Most people don’t know how to sell because they never took a beating in their life.” This is the sad truth. Young guys now watch WWE or indy stuff and they reproduce the selling they see on their screen, instead of living, feeling, and selling from their heart. 

And to truly live and feel a WRESTLING match, it won’t hurt at all to be used to fighting competition like amateur wrestling, boxing or MMA.

WWE nowadays is BIG on realism. Phony, over the top, comedy wrestling is a big no-no there now.

Also, with the WWE Network now, WWE started hiring and pushing independent talents. If you can’t get signed right away, keep pushing and try to make it outside of WWE. If you’re really good, they will always end up contacting you…

Tom LaRuffa 03

9. For a time, you also worked for TNA Impact Wrestling after your NXT departure.  What are the biggest differences in the in-ring styles between the two offices?  What are the differences in their approach to treating contracted talent?

Dude, I loved my time in TNA. It almost felt like all the training myself and Mikael (Marcus Louis/Baron Dax) went through at the Performance Center was made for us to deliver on Impact TV. This was an awesome time. To sum up best my time in TNA, I will quote Simon Diamond, our agent for our try-out match there, who got us signed right away afterwards. This advice was such an eye opener to what wrestling truly feels like to me.

In NXT, remember you’re given a script, a character, and you’re not allowed to stray from it.

So we show up in TNA, we get a TV MATCH for a try-out, and so I ask Pat (Simon) before our match whether he wanted us as a French badass duo, or moreso a French stereotype comedy/anti-USA heel act. We had a promo and a match, total segment on TV 18 minutes. This was a HUGE opportunity.

His answer was the best thing I’ve ever been told in my career: “Consider these 18-minutes like your job interview. Show us why we should sign you.”

The rest is here:

We got offered a deal 10-minutes after walking back through the curtain.

10. What all do you think it would take for TNA to become viable competition for WWE?

Wow, that’s a tough question. I don’t think I’m quite experienced enough in the business to give the right answer to that one.

I think it would simply come down to finding the right investors. With money, you can do anything. 

WCW got in the way of WWF at the time by having enough money to secure/steal HUGE stars like Hogan, Hall and Nash, and put their product on national TV at prime time. 

Without Ted Turner’s money, none of it would have been possible…

With enough money, TNA could definitely breed their own stars, while at the same time, bring in HUGE, current names like maybe CM Punk or people outside of wrestling, to get more media attention.

11. You have now returned to Europe, and you are back living in France.  How do you see the European wrestling market these days?  What is your view of the general, overall health of the professional wrestling game on a continental scale here in 2017?

It really depends on how and where you look at the industry here.

I consider wrestling a JOB. A PROFESSION. Which means you should be able to make a living out of it, or at least be treated like a true pro, especially after the career I’ve had so far, working with the two biggest companies in the world, each time making it to TV’s, quite regularly.

I don’t think there are that many workers in Europe who’ve done what I’ve done, and I say this in all modesty. It’s just a fact.

So keeping this in mind, I feel like I should be paid according to the knowledge, talent and brand that I bring to the table.

In France, nobody can hire me, because the business has become such shit that fan promotions now steal shows from true pros/veteran promotions.

I think that is a big problem. To truly bring something to the business, you have to understand it, and most of all have a goal to MAKE MONEY with it.

Nowadays, everybody buys wrestling rings, because they want to fulfill their WWE fantasies in their own backyard/town. Some people say it’s awesome, because you have 10 wrestling shows every weekend.

I say IT SUCKS, because it takes away the uniqueness you need to be able, or even just be allowed, to step through the ropes.

Wrestling is A LOT about presentation. The gift needs to be good, but the wrapping does A LOT of the work of selling you on it. These indy fan promotions usually don’t have enough money to present a truly unique product. They just set up a ring in a room or worse, a field or a street, and they have their wrestlers come out of a fucking BARN. How the hell do you wanna be considered a star walking out of a muddy barn, or a dusty shitty looking locker room?

Anyway… I’m a bit pessimistic here, but the problem is you can love wrestling all you want, once you’ve known and worked for some of the best companies in the world, it only goes downhill from there.

I still love wrestling, performing and entertaining people with my abilities. But Im also 33 years old, had two knee surgeries, so I need to be smart and pick my battles/bookings accordingly.

Luckily there are a few promotions out there in Europe that have a GREAT product. To me right now, Germany is awesome and treats me super well. I love the German fans and promotions that bring me in. 

12. What is it that you wish to still achieve in the wrestling world?  Have you achieved your main goals, or is the big one still waiting to be realized?

Like everyone else, I’d love to make a tour or two of Japan. But unlike a lot of “workers” nowadays, I don’t want to pay for my plane ticket to go there, as this is the kind of stuff that kills the biz for us.

To be honest, my original goal wasn’t WWE or the US. It was Japan. I always thought that considering my size (5’10 and about 205 lbs) I would need to travel the world to get noticed by WWE. So I worked so hard to get there, that I eventually started getting pretty good, and this allowed me to go try out for WWE with enough confidence.

So this is why no matter what you set your mind on achieving, always go for it, because you never know where you’ll end up.

As of now, my career is riding along nicely. I’d love to wrestle in countries I’ve never been to. Wrestling is good in that aspect, that it allows you to travel the world and get paid for it.

Also, someone really needs to do something about how bad the biz has gotten in France. I’m thinking about opening a school there down the line.

Tom LaRuffa vs Enzo Amore NXT Takeover

13.  What advice would you give to anyone looking to break into the wrestling business, regardless of where they live?

First of, learn how to speak English.

Secondly, be aware it is a job, not a passion. Be ready to spend money to make some: spend money on a good wrestling school, your body, your gear, travel to get more experience. So be ready to make a lot of sacrifices, too. All of my relationships ended because of wrestling during my twenties.

I also have a saying: if you want to be the best, you have to learn from the best.

Read books, biographies, interviews of people who have been where you wanna go. Learn from them…

14. Thanks for your time.  It’s been cool to reconnect with you after all these years.  Perhaps down the road, we’ll butt heads in the ring somewhere.  In closing, the floor is yours.  Any last words or comments you wish to state?

Thanks for asking the right questions! This is why I do very few interviews online, especially with fans, because the conversation quickly goes to “who was your best friend in WWE?” Things like that won’t bring anything to the table…

Maybe in closing, I will say why I have been so long-winded with my answers: out of respect for you, StarBuck. Even though our paths haven’t crossed in many years, and I have done A LOT since 2009, I still consider you to be my elder in this business and have respect for you. So for your website starbuck.fi, I wanted to really give an in-depth testimony about my path over there in the States, so that potentially, aspiring young wrestlers could be inspired by this, if they have the courage to read it all…

Thanks again for giving me the stage, and yes, hopefully we will wrestle one-on-one soon!

Tom LaRuffa 04

This past weekend, some major developments were made over in Sweden, where the brass of STHLM Wrestling, along with European pop rock legend, Samantha Fox, came together to name Yours Truly as the interim Valhalla Nordic Wrestling Champion!

samantha-fox-starbuck

Samantha Fox vouches for StarBuck also!

I have to mention here, that when I was in my early-20’s, I had a large poster of Samantha Fox adorning my wall, much like many other strapping young lads at the time.  She was the quintessential blonde babe and sex symbol of the 1980s before Pamela Anderson rolled into the picture and Baywatch caught on.  Below is a pic of the poster I just mentioned, as I stumbled on this online.  It’s one of her most popular poses and pics.

Samantha_Fox

And here is one of her most popular – if not THE most popular – song that Samantha Fox ever released…

I am the first titleholder of this new Nordic championship, and the decision to crown me was based simply on my longevity and standing as the most successful and acclaimed professional wrestler in history out of Northern Europe.

On July 8 in Stockholm, wrestlers from Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden will ascend upon the capital to do warfare and when the dust settles, the undisputed Valhalla Nordic Wrestling Champion will rise.  Trust me, I heartily plan on that man being me.  “The Rebel” StarBuck.

A bevy of Nordic wrestling promotions are all sending their top guns to the event on July 8: Norway’s NWF, Halmstad Wrestling out of Sweden, GBG Wrestling out of Sweden, SWS Wrestling out of Sweden, Bodyslam Pro Wrestling out of Denmark, DPW out of Denmark, FCF Wrestling out of Finland, in addition to STHLM Wrestling, the host organization, will have their best wrestlers present to compete at this mega-event.

Nordic Wrestling Championship

Me personally, I find it somewhat peculiar, that my autobiography about my life in pro wrestling, Battleground Valhalla, came out just a week ago, and now, one week later, the Nordic Wrestling Championship is bestowed upon me.

The Nordic Wrestling Championship is sponsored by Valhalla herb liquor, which is produced by Finnish alcohol manufacturer, Koskenkorva.  Kudos to the Finns for dipping their proverbial oar in the great cauldron that is professional wrestling – the Sport of Kings and the King of Sports!

Now, bow to the new King – the “God of Northern European Wrestling”, like Yoshihiro Tajiri coined me in Japan … “The Rebel” StarBuck, your new interim Valhalla Nordic Wrestling Champion!