Posts Tagged ‘pro wrestler’

Every once in awhile I do pieces for the pro wrestling community, especially the younger wrestlers coming up these days who have not been given true, old school educations on our business, to help them get a grip and understanding of what they need to know in order to have a chance at becoming a success in today’s pro wrestling marketplace.

It’s not an easy road.  Especially these days, the business is both flourishing and meandering at the same time: flourishing due to the number of shows being run every which where, but meandering due to the demise of the pay scale as well as the death of kayfabe, the lack of mentorship due to the small number of veteran talents still active in the game from whom to learn from, and the reluctance of promoters to pay out and invest in talents that will cost them more than the guys who work for next to free (or just plain free).

Thereby, I offer you all an educational interview with one of the modern guys who made it in our industry, Sam Adonis.  Sam is the biggest gringo to hit Mexico in about 20 years and has set the country on fire, drawing sellouts, causing all kinds of havoc and finding his niche in the ultra-competitive world of Lucha Libre.  Listen to what Sam has to say.  It might just help you along your path in this game that we call professional wrestling.

Lucha masks

Sam Adonis

Sam Adonis

Q: Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this educational piece for the younger talents coming up in the wrestling world. Firstly, my heartfelt congratulations for all your success in Mexico. You must be the hottest gringo to hit Mexico since my old friend Corazón de León (Chris Jericho) made it big there back in 1993?

A: I’ve been so lucky with my success in Mexico. I looked at it as an opportunity. I have worked hard worldwide to get this spot. Like the rest of us, I wanted to make my mark in this business and do what I can to be remembered, so I wanted to try my luck in Mexico. Mexico is full of many foreigners at any given time, but I was lucky to catch a stride. Due to my general positivity towards classic wrestling, I embraced the role of a foreign villain and Trump sympathizer and it clearly took off. Being American during this political climate can create heat, but that mixed with my experience and work ethic has resulted in a huge impact for my career. The experience I’ve had here has made me a better wrestler, it’s given me name value worldwide, and it’s presented me with much more opportunity.

Q: You worked a lot in England, cutting your teeth for promoters like Brian Dixon of All-Star Wrestling, before you landed the Mexico deal. Where and what would you say were the places that prepped you the most for the stage where you are at in your career right now?

A: I’ve been lucky to grow up around the wrestling business. With my brother wrestling and my dad promoting, I’ve had a unique outlook at a young age. That was able to get me a WWE contract at age 21 (with FCW, the precursor to NXT). However, nothing on Earth will ever compare to my experience working for Brian Dixon. Wrestling full time some 3-10 shows a week over a 5 year span was how I was able to become “Sam Adonis.” Working with superb talents like James Mason, Dean Allmark, Oliver Grey, Rampage Brown, Robbie Dynamite and countless others gave me the edge to become a well-rounded pro. I credit all those guys for making me as good as I am. Ultimately my experience in the UK made me ready for CMLL. I cannot say enough how grateful I am for the opportunity to wrestle for Brian Dixon, 200 times a year, to help me get to where I am today.

Q: The very ”in” thing right now in our industry is the spot-oriented style, fishing for pops upon pops, arguably popularized and put over the top by the now-famous NJPW Juniors match between Will Ospreay and Ricochet last year. Do you believe this style is going to define the business from here going forward? Or if not, what do you believe will be the next big trend in wrestling?

A: 100% NO! I don’t believe that indie wrestling as a style defines anything in our industry right now. I see it as a sub-culture of wrestling. Your general public doesn’t even recognize that as a style, they don’t even know what that means. Coming from Finland, you can probably understand when I say that indie wrestling is like the black metal of professional wrestling. It might not be necessarily acceptable to the public and the masses. Either way, it’s always going to be a part of our business, something for the hardcore wretling fans. Wrestling has always been about storytelling. Good versus evil, cartoon characters, showmen, characters. Stories are defined by the characters in them. I think it would take more than just a couple of guys to change that general ideology and perception of professional wrestling. Many guys don’t know how to appeal to a mass market, so they do this “Indy style” to earn a keep in the wrestling world. Many of these guys are great at what they do acrobatically. I can’t do that style! I would always encourage guys to do what they can to make their money and make their mark in our industry. But this is our business and we need to protect it and take care of it and sometimes you need to think about the wellbeing of the business before the wellbeing of yourself. At the end of the day, wrestling comes and goes in cycles and whose to say that five years from now, heavyweight wrestling might be in the forefront again? However, Roman Reigns, Braun Stroman, and even myself are good examples of how the people gravitate towards the characters over the “wrestlers”.

Sam Adonis in CMLL

Sam heats up the Mexican crowd.

Q: To have a legitimate chance at having a career in the pro wrestling business in today’s market, what do you believe are the top things on the checklist that a wrestler needs to have ticked off in order to make a living at this?

A: It’s extremely difficult right now to make a living at pro wrestling. It’s completely different than it was 10 years ago when I began, and it’s even miles more different from when you began 25 years ago. It’s a completely different ballgame. I think at the end of the day in order to make it as a professional, the number one thing I suggest is respect. Respect the wrestling business. You need to give back to wrestling. If you take care of the industry, the industry will take care of you. Too many wrestlers will do anything to be noticed online, even if it means they disrespect wrestling along the way. I’m 6’4 and can do a 450. I could have been doing it for years and by now I would probably be the top name on the Indies. However I am heel! I respect pro wrestling more than anything. I believe that if you appeal to the public at large and not just the wrestling public — they are two different things. If you talk about European wrestling, you can talk the names of yourself or Chris ”Bambikiller” Raaber (Austria) and you guys would appeal to an actual public much before you would appeal to solely a wrestling public. It’s arguable that Will Ospreay or Marty Scurll might be more popular amongst the wrestling fans, however yourself or Bambikiller might have sold more tickets worldwide. I think you need to do your best to find a medium, respect the business, give back to it, but at the same time keep your general public happy, because they buy way more tickets than indy wrestling fans or hardcore wrestling fans. That’s the difference between a WWE event drawing 10 000 people and purely a hardcore audience wrestling event drawing 1000 people. The proof is in the numbers.

Q: What are the keys to staying healthy on the job, especially when your schedule starts to pick up if you manage to latch on to some success and get on a roll?

A: I’ve been super lucky because I’ve been able to maintain my ring style and my busy lifestyle to go with it and I’ve been able to take care of myself inside the ring. A lot of times you’ve got to pick your battles, so to speak. Again this reverts back to what I said about appealing to the public, as a good performer does not need to kill themselves for the wrestling fans. A good performer can tell a story and be dramatic without killing themselves and that’s why I’ve been able to wrestle upwards of four times a week as well as do all the travel the job requires. The Mexican rings are a lot harder than the rest of the world but I’ve been able to adapt and overcome and be able to take care of myself. I think that’s very important. There are a lot of guys like Ospreay and Ricochet but before long gravity is going to catch up with them and then guys like that who should be hitting their prime around 30 might find themselves on a downswing instead. It’s sad to say because they’re talented guys, but I feel you have to be able to take care of your body to make this a career and a lifestyle.

Q: Your in-ring persona in Mexico is very character-driven, aided greatly in part and put over by your use of the ”Trump card”, as you’ve been able to latch on to a hot political topic and turn it into a personal career asset. What advice would you give to young talents in terms of character work and finding their own ”voice” with their in-ring characters in order to become viable with the paying audience (and with promoters in general)?

A: I would say the most important aspect of any professional wrestler is developing a character of who they really are. I think that’s the biggest thing that’s lost in wrestling. Too many wrestlers focus just on their moves to realize that a John Q. Public paying customer doesn’t necessarily care about seeing someone doing shooting star presses or German suplexes. They like to see something that’s relatable, something that they understand. My Trump flag is not something that I need to be able to work, however it’s relatable to the Mexican public, and it’s turned a negative situation into a positive situation in Mexican pro wretling. I’ve been accepted because they can relate to the stereotypical racist American. It’s not necessarily my political views or what I try to push, however I know it can add some depth to the wrestling event and that’s why I made the most of it. I think every professional wrestler needs to find something that is relatable to the public and create a character that is you with the volume turned up, cliche as it is. It needs to be worth the price of admission. I can say that I don’t look like your average guy next door. If someone is going to pay to see Sam Adonis against Atlantis (CMLL luchadore), you know you are going to see high-class professional wrestling featuring two superstars, not two guys from next door copying what they’ve seen on TV.

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Sam flies onto a hapless foe.

Q: Ring awareness is a key element to navigating through any given match. How would you frame ring awareness for a young talent in order to make them understand its context and usage/application in practice?

A: I think ring awareness is the number one most misunderstood phrase in all of professional wrestling. Ring awareness is what all the greats had and what the generation past had, that our generation does not understand. The aspect of ”performance” has been misconstrued, as performing now has become a set idea of what they want to put forward in a match and not straying from that idea whatsoever. It’s more than ring awareness: it’s room awareness and audience awareness. It’s being conscious of what you’re doing at all times while doing it. A lot of young wrestlers are so caught up in the moment that someone in the audience could shoot someone with a gun and the guys wouldn’t notice. Being aware of what you do and being able to control your situation and keep all eyes on you at all times, that makes for ring awareness. I’m lucky in that’s what I’ve been good at. I’m not the most athletic, I’m not the most technically gifted, but because my ring awareness is on a level that most guys are not on right now I believe that is why I have had the success I’ve enjoyed. It’s the ability to control a room. This is why if I were to give advice to younger wrestlers, it would be more about getting your ring awareness down and making sure you’re an asset to the show and an asset to the audience in lieu of learning more moves.

Q: The storytelling aspect of pro wrestling has always been the key to making money and having a profitable business. If the story doesn’t resonate with the audience, no one will give a shit and the whole deal is dead in the water from the get-go. What are the main aspects to storytelling in a match from your perspective?

A: I could not agree with you more about the storytelling being the most important part of a match and sadly, most people do not understand that. The general philosophy is that it’s so easy to tell a story. I am a professional wrestler, I get paid to win, I get paid less if I lose, so I am trying to win. And I’m fighting somebody else that is also trying to win. A lot of times, it’s easier to keep people involved when the story is simple. Good versus evil always works. Of course, it’s easier when you have an audience that follows what you do, however, generally most people don’t care about professional wrestling. I would say that the easiest way to go about it would be to assume that no one in the audience has seen you or heard about you ever. It’s your job to tell a new story every night of the week, every match you have and explain and show those people who you are and what you are doing throughout the story of that match. It comes with your entrance and as you leave the arena. It’s your job to explain to those people watching, without words, who you are, why you’re there and why you’re doing it. That is the essense of storytelling in wrestling. I believe this is one of the most important aspects of pro wrestling, right up there with ring awareness.

Q: Jake ”The Snake” Roberts once aptly said that pro wrestling is like the masturbation of peoples’ emotions: it’s the rollercoaster ride before the climax that makes the whole shebang a satisfying experience. In order to master the art of manipulating peoples’ emotions, you must be able to control the crowd and have them eating out of the palm of your hand. Give me an effective 1-2-3 roll of punches that best draw the picture for the reader as to how to commandeer an audience from your success and experience.

A: This is something that is not easy. A lot of people think it’s easy and they think they understand, but they don’t. If wrestling was as easy as explaining how to do it right, we would have a lot more ”superstars” than we do right now. That’s the difference between the Jake Roberts’ and the Randy Savages and The Rocks and the great storytellers as compared to the other wrestlers that are worried about having a good match. My personal experience comes down to the fact that I’ve always had the ring awareness and the storytelling ability. I’ve been able to read the room and involve the audience in an entertaining manner. You want to draw them in with your personality — with who you are. This is something that can be done during your ring entrance. The music you walk out to is important, the faces you put on as you come out, those will captivate your audience. If you go out there as a normal person, it’s going to be a lot harder for you to captivate an audience. I would say that in order to invoke this emotion with people, you have to stay conscious of how to entertain and how to control an audience and control a room while not violating what professional wrestling is. Again, this is a lot harder to explain than it is for me to actually do and I would also say that this comes down to experience. Wrestling every day of the week for All-Star Wrestling in the UK honed my wrestling aptitude to become like an innate ability that I didn’t have to worry about anymore. When you wrestle so much, that becomes second nature. At the end of the day, I would say to guys to wrestle as much as they can, get as good as they can, get as comfortable as they can in the ring. A sad analogy, but it’s true for a lot of us, and I know you are the same: Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler is pretty real in certain aspects, such as your life becomes a reflection of who you are in the ring. Sometimes, I feel more at home in the ring than I do outside of it. The line between Sam Adonis and Sam Polinsky has been blurred, but that’s what it ultimately takes to make a great professional wrestler.

Q: Perhaps the singlemost important thing that a match must have is HEAT. Without it, there is no pop for the comeback and there is no satisfaction with the end result of any given match. You have become a master at drawing heat in order to have an audience engaged in your match. Describe to the people how to best generate heat…

A: Heat is something that can be a lot more complicated than people think it is. Most wrestlers think you can scream and shout at a fan and that’s heat. Generally, heat is just creating overwhelming circumstances for the babyface to overcome. Also, this is your chance to explain to the audience how in-depth your heel character is. For example, you can show what kind of backhanded tricks it takes to win your match. This is when you can go behind the ref’s back, when you can desperately pull yourself out of the way, or just basically explain to the audience that you are just not as good as the babyface. In my opinion, it’s always 100% important to respect the referee, because when you take away the referee’s authority, you take away your potential of getting heat and making the audience angry by breaking the rules. You can also add more depth to your heel character by staying on your opponent at all times.

Q: What advice would you give first and foremost to young talents looking to make it in our business today? It seems that all too many are willing to pay to play, fronting their own visa costs, airline costs and whatnot just to get a spot on the card. Methinks this is doomed to kill the business if it persists and promoters continue to ”go cheap.”

A: Sadly but truly, you are 100% correct about people paying to play. I absolutely hate it but I feel like it’s already taken that turn where it’s very difficult to go backwards. I think that now, so many wrestlers will not get opportunities without paying to play and it definitely takes opportunities away from guys like ourselves who have earned their chance to work in these various places. I would say for a young wrestler to wrestle as much as you can. For the up-and-comers, it’s too far gone to wait for your opportunities in these international markets. I would say for the first two to three years to look at it as an investment and work as much as you can and don’t worry about the money that you’re making. Because if you are serious in the end, you will end up making your money back. You will become a star due to the experience that you will gain in every match. But as far as staying professional and waiting, I feel that in modern times wrestling’s climate has changed so much that the guys would not be able to stay busy if they were to live by the old rules. Luckily, guys like you and me have been able to continue to make our money and get these international shows, but young wrestlers do not have that luxury.

A: Your brother, Cory Graves, works as a commentator for WWE. As the industry leader to this day, it’s still rather telling that the indy scene has had such a dramatic role on the evolution of the WWE style. They are arguably more indy today than I would have ever imagined, and this can only be a testament to the power of the Internet. Where do you foresee WWE heading in the next five years, both stylistically long-term, as well as in the way and slant that the product/game is presented?

A: We touched on this earlier when talking about the indy style. It might be the flavor of the week and people might be interested in it, however the heart of professional wrestling has always been good versus evil, good guy versus bad guy. I personally don’t believe this will go anywhere. Wrestling always evolves and there’s going to be fresh talent. Right now, the indy bubble and the indy style has peaked. It’s what people have liked, and now it’s at its hottest point, however as you’ve noticed, as have I, that a lot of people miss the classic style of pro wrestling. They enjoy ’80s style, they enjoy good guy versus bad guy, and now that the next generation coming along has taken it back to it’s roots, I feel that it will always come back to the basics. Wrestling will always be around, it’s not going anywhere. I feel that WWE will always use the whatever options they have as to the best talent available. I think it’s up to us as to what will become famous in the future. For instance, if wrestling gets hot in the next five years and Roman Reigns is still the top guy, all of a sudden that Roman Reigns style will take precedence on the indies and that will be our basis once again.

Q: What do you think it would take for any given organization to have a legitimate chance at competing with Vince anymore on a global scale? Is there even a snowball’s chance in hell of that happening?

A: I for one don’t think that it’s possible for anyone to ever compete with WWE… well, I can’t say never, ‘cos it’s always possible… however, if anyone has that in their mind, they will never succeed. The only way you could have a worldwide or nationally recognized wrestling company would be if that company were to be self-sufficient, not try to compete with WWE, deliver a product to the fans and basically catch fire. For instance, if a local independent had the right crew and was able to get the local TV, which was able to branch into national TV and grow from the ground up and sustain their growth, they could potentially sell to Disney or Paramount or some national touring company that could take it to the next level. That is the only way I feel it could be done. When wrestling promoters think that they’re going to end up becoming number two (to WWE), they generally end up making mistakes and when you try to work on budget that is that large, your profit deficit is generally something that’s too large to overcome. That looks like the trouble that TNA (Impact Wrestling) is in. It can basically never make back the money it’s already lost.

Q: If any kid out there has dreams of working in Mexico and making a name out there, what would be your best advice to them?

A: For anyone who wants to wrestle in Mexico my advice would be not to wrestle like a Mexican! A lot of wrestlers go down to Mexico to learn the Lucha style and they end up doing too many highspots or getting a mask. My drawing ability and star power comes from wrestling is all because I wrestle an American style in Mexico. It’s definitely helped my cause that I’ve not deviated from what I’m good at. Plus, be open-minded in learning to work with their talent.

Sam Adonis vs. Ultimo Dragon

Sam unmasks the legendary Ultimo Dragon.

Q: Everyone on the indies is scrounging for bookings and looking to get spots and opportunities. What would your best advice be to anyone in the hunt for bookings, to get matches under their belt, wrestle in different countries, etc?

A: This one is very easy. Just think outside of the box and make yourself marketable and be different. Everyone is such a wrestling fan that they think of what they want to do versus thinking of what the wrestling fans would like to see them do. Too many people wrestle for themselves or for the internet. Everybody wants to be like Fergal Devitt (WWE’s Finn Balor) or Will Ospreay but they forget that the wrestling fans already have these guys and they (Balor and Ospreay) are probably better than them. I’m a big fan of classic wrestling and classic wrestling has become ”new” again because it hasn’t been seen in so long, but I’m so different than everybody else out there that I can get work on these bigger independent house shows like House of Hardcore and New York Wrestling Connection just because I’m so much more different than everybody else trying to get on these events. That would be the number one thing I’d tell anybody looking to get more work.

Q: Thanks for your time and all the best from here on out in your wrestling endeavors. In closing, if there was one piece of advice that you would give to any given young wrestler, and one crucial piece of advice only, like a winning lottery ticket or the Midas touch, what would it be?

A: My single biggest piece of advice would be just to respect pro wrestling. Make sure you give everything you can to pro wrestling and look after it more than you look after yourself, because if you take care of wrestling it will take care of you. I do a 450 splash and for a 6’4” wrestler, that’s pretty big. I could have done that in every match over the past five years and I could be some indy darling, however I respect pro wrestling more than myself and I always want to do what’s right and although the journey might seem a little longer, I feel that it’ll pay off in the end. So please everybody, take care of the business, follow me on Instagram at SamElias89 and follow me on Twitter at @RealSamAdonis. Thanks so much, StarBuck, hope to see you soon and hope we can tear the house down together somewhere once again!

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Alas, last night in downtown Helsinki, I watched a young man that’s become a thorn in my side defy the odds.  Last night at FCF Wrestling‘s Late Night Wrestling Show Live, Mikko Maestro put up the fight of his life and came out on top of the challenger’s list for the FCF championship title.

I’ve tested this kid before, put him in the pressure cooker to see if he’d break, but he just keeps showing that he wants it and he comes back for more.  At Talvisota XI over a year ago, Mikko got ambitious and wanted a match against me — his great idol from back in the day when he decided to become a pro wrestler — and although he put up a spirited fight, things didn’t pan out so well for him when all was said and done:

Well, here we are, over a year later, after Maestro’s rise through the ranks over 2016, following a few years of inconsistent floundering.  I’ve always vouched for those who have and show heart in our business, as I believe it is the single most deciding factor in the potential long-term success of any given talent.  And that said, Mikko Maestro has shown himself to have heart.  A lot of heart.

Yet, despite all of his heart, I don’t see this kid being ready to take on the oldest dog in the yard and man that mentored and taught him, namely Yours Truly.  However, regardless of that fact, Maestro gets his long-awaited title shot opportunity at my FCF Wrestling Championship finally this spring, on May 26 at Helsinki’s Gloria Cultural Arena.

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Last night, I brought in my old buddy from Norway, the big and burly Bjørn Sem, to put Maestro though the meat grinder.  I still don’t know how Maestro managed to survive the beating that Sem gave him, catching the big man in a sudden Uranage (Rock Bottom) for the upset pin, after which I decided to go out and superkick Maestro’s head off.  It was a message, plain and simple, that you don’t cross the boss.

StarBuck and Mikko Maestro pic 1

At the end of the night, there was a top contender’s Fatal Fourway match that Maestro qualified for, upon surviving Sem, featuring Stark Adder, Salomon Strid and Vili Raato.  As if by collusion, Maestro even managed to pick up the win in that encounter, hitting another Uranage on Strid to steal the victory.

So now Mikko Maestro is the number one contender officially, waiting for his shot at my FCF Wrestling Championship title.  Well, on May 26, he gets his chance.  Just remember this Mikko: be careful what you wish for ‘cos you might just get it.  And what that “it” is remains to be seen on May 26.

(Maestro vs. Sem match photos by Marko Simonen)

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!

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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

Good grief, it has taken a looooonnnnggggg time to get my autobiography finished and finally out, but alas, it is now HERE!

Battleground Valhalla book front cover

This is a project that I started in June of 2010, while on tour with my southern rock band Crossfyre in Europe, as something to pass the time and just finally get underway.  In truth, I had been contemplating writing a book for a long time by that period already.  I figured thousands of miles spent on the road inside a tour van would be a good place to start, if for nothing else, then to kill the boredom and time.  It was a smart move.

The more I reminisced and wrote, the more I quickly began to realize that this would be a lengthy project.  Indeed, I had lived a life of which many only dream.  Heck, I’d lived more up to that point than a dozen other people that I could name off the top of my head!  I had a full wellspring of memories and happenings to draw literary water from.

So I wrote … and wrote … and wrote.  Up until the summer of 2015, when once again, I found myself in the same tour van with the same band, back in central Europe, with a laptop at my disposal and the tail-end of my autobiography left to pen.

Battleground Valhalla book back cover

So much had happened in five years between starting the book and finishing the book: I had become a breakout superstar in Japan, I had gotten married, I had added several countries to my list of countries that I had grappled in, I had recorded new albums with my bands, I had created album covers and characters for the most successful children’s heavy metal band in history, etc!

My story was sure to inspire and wow audiences far and wide, I was sure of that.  I went to every length to make a truly memorable saga out of my life story.  Being the perfectionish I am, it truly was worth taking my time and fleshing everything out over five years.  I went back and re-wrote certain segments, adding to memories as they came to mind, and generally, just re-worded parts here and there to make them more interesting.

Michael Majalahti biography mock cover by Jarmo Katila

This was originally supposed to be the cover photo for my book, taken by master lensman, Jarmo Katila.  Over time, I came to choose the current pic of the published book cover, taken by Marko Simonen.

I am super proud of the opus that I now have in my hands, entitled Battleground Valhalla!  It’s my testament to the world.  My showcase of the path of the lone wolf, who ventured out into the world and made something truly remarkable of his life, becoming the most acclaimed and successful pro wrestler in history out of the Nordics and Northern Europe in general.

Many of my top opponents and other key players throughout the years in my wrestling adventures and escapades have written inserts for my book, giving you, the reader, a truly unique perspective into who Michael “StarBuck” Majalahti truly is: “The Japanese Buzzsaw” Tajiri, Steve Corino, Amin Asikainen, Akira Nogami, Michael Kovac and a plethora of other notables have their testimonials in my tome.

Do yourself a service and pick up my fantastic, new book through my publisher, Crowbar Press: http://crowbarpress.com/cbp-books/28-sb.html

You won’t regret it!

 

There comes a time in every man’s life, when he looks at what he has accomplished and accumulated to this point and what lies beyond, yet to pursue.  I found that when I hit the pivotal age of forty back in 2013, I took stock of my life at large and contemplated the brevity and breadth of it all.

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When you step back and take a look at your life from the outside, you can assess things at face value for what they are and what they have meant. (Photo: Hannu Eskelinen)

Forty is like a half-way marker.  It’s a brutal, unforgiving assessment of what is, for real.  It’s half-way to eighty, and eighty is an age that spells pretty much the end of one’s life here on Planet Earth.

I look back at the greatest, single influence on my pro wrestling career early on, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, the 16-time world heavyweight champion in our grand game of professional wrestling.  I recall the year 1990, when Flair was wrestling against Lex Luger at a WCW (World Championship Wrestling) pay-per-view event called WrestleWar ’90, that it also happened to be on his birthday.  The announcers tried to sell it as if it was Flair’s 40th birthday, when in reality, it was his 41st.  Nonetheless, I remember this detail speaking to me in volume even back then.

Ric Flair

When I started my pro wrestling career, I always asked myself “What would the ‘Naitch do?”

My old friend Chris Jericho currently wrestles for WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) as their US Champion, a belt that he will be defending against fellow Canadian grappler Kevin Owens next weekend on April 2nd at Wrestlemania 33.  Jericho is about three years my senior, now age 46.  He’s still doing well, hanging in there at the top of his game, arguably on one of his last runs with the company.  I applaud him.  He’s done very well, staying in shape and being able to connect with a changing audience and parlay his character across various generations of wrestling fans.  Yet, the end is drawing nigh, even for my old pal Y2J, simply based on age.

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When I started my pro wrestling career in Calgary, Canada in 1994, they used to call me Jericho Jr.  Really, I didn’t mind.  Chris has done incredibly well in the business, and I’m happy for him.

Now, back to my original point: the things left to pursue in one’s chosen career or life path.  Tallinn, Estonia was such a waypoint for me personally this past weekend, the reason being that the event I took part in was a professional boxing card.

For the longest time, since the onset of my personal pro wrestling career, I’ve been fighting to defend the credibility of my fighting art, called professional wrestling.  There have always been detractors and shit-talkers and there always will be.  Still, I have always felt compelled to defend the honor of my business, which many see as a faux sport.  Like one of my early role models, Bret “Hitman” Hart, said in his autobiography some years back, “It seems as though I’ve been defending professional wrestling my entire life.”

Bret Hart vs Ric Flair

Bret Hart and Ric Flair slugging it out back in 1992 in the World Wrestling Federation.

For me, I’ve always prided myself on being legitimate when I step into the ring.  I take my sport seriously.  Regardless of how many people – some contemporaries included – have prostituted and bastardized our trade, for me, I’ve always strived to take the higher road of credibility.  I’ve gone the extra mile and fought tooth and nail to retain integrity in the believability of professional wrestling.  For me, it’s a matter of professional pride.

Being able to parlay my skills and take part in the Warrior Fight Series 1 event this past Saturday night in Tallinn, Estonia on March 25 was a true milestone for me.  It was history in the making.

Photo by Karli Saul 15

Photographer Karli Saul captures my ring entrance in Estonia in dazzling colors.

I was able to step into the ring in front of a virgin audience, engage them and win them over, making believers in the process, as I fought against a true athletic stud in Vladimir Kulakov of Russia.  This was an international match of epic proportions: the time-tested, world-traveled ring veteran against the younger Russian pro wrestling champion and a literal wolverine amongst his peers.  It was action and reaction, just as professional wrestling should be, in front of an audience that was there with an open mind, ready to make their initial assessment of the grappling game that is professional wrestling.  It was an ambitious endeavor to win over a new fan base and build where no one else had built or wandered before.

Photo by Martin Ahven (2)

Photographer Martin Ahven gets a good shot of the intensity of my match with Kulakov.

It is in this – venturing out into new, uncharted territories – that I take personal gratification in at this stage of my pro wrestling career.  I pioneered the business in Finland back in 2003 along with promoter Patrik Pesola, which launched an entire scene in the country.  My hallmark is set in stone as the most successful professional wrestler ever out of the Nordics and the northern sector of Europe.  My track record globally attests to that claim, and my championship reigns worldwide, along with my lengthy list of name opposition all around the world support that argument.  Now, I need a new mountain to climb.  A new challenge to contest.

Tallinn was the beginning of another chapter in my personal pro wrestling career.  I want to thank the promoter of EST Boxing, Mr. Grinkin, for having the faith to present pro wrestling on his card.  I want to also thank the Estonian media at large for covering the match to the degree that it has received media attention, which you can see e.g. from the link below:

http://sport.delfi.ee/news/voitlussport/poks/delfi-video-esmakordselt-eestis-ameerika-wrestlingu-sou-naerutas-tondiraba-publikut?id=77670846

Every one of us has the chance to build our own legacy in whatever our chosen endeavor is.  The true question is, how much heart do you really have to pursue your ambitions and goals, turning your dreams into a reality?

Life is short.  Make yours spectacular.

I am proud to say that this starting week, from Monday to Friday (February 3 – 7), I will be the guest DJ of the week on Finland’s number one rock radio station, Radio Rock.

Air times for my guest DJ spots are 14:30 and 17:30 in the afternoons throughout the weekdays.  Be sure to tune in for my choice picks of my favorite hard rock and metal artists of all time, plus interview verbatim with Yours Truly!

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In case you enjoy my verbatim and dig what I do, you can also support “The Rebel’s” rebellion by joining/liking my official Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/therebelstarbuck