Posts Tagged ‘WWE’

Having been in the pro wrestling industry all across the globe for a good quarter-century, I thought to write a handbook or guide of sorts for young wrestlers and newer talents in – or just coming into – the wrestling business, based on what I’ve seen and experienced over my career.

I do this partially out of necessity, as I’ve seen the younger stock damn near kill the ”business” side of the industry for the other workers out there, and in part as a public service to give back to the industry where it stands today.

When I say this guide was born out of necessity, I say so mainly out of the fact that the ”professional” side of our industry is suffering tremendously, even though there are more shows taking place now than at any time in recent memory. Yet, the pay scale is one of the facets being demolished and many a newer talent is to blame for this, be they promoters or workers. I’ve also seen the near-death of actual etiquette in terms of how to carry one’s self in the business, which should be addressed for the welfare of the industry at large. With this in mind, now is the time to listen up, so let us commence with this free, but invaluable, 101 in How To Handle Yourself In Pro Wrestling!

Lesson #1: Act Like a Pro

How to Look in Pro Wrestling

Now kids, boys and girls alike, working for free just to get bookings and paying to play is not the way to go if you want a future in any trade. Earning your stripes and paying your dues while working for nil to free is one or two year period, at most. Back in the day when this business was still a real trade that supported a workers’ family, if any said talent undersold themselves intentionally just to get booked, or if they sabotaged a comrade in the territory by underselling themselves just to get booked, they risked getting the living shit beat out of them by the locker room.

It’s called PRO Wresting for a reason. The Pro word is there to let you understand that you should have the intent of making as much coin at it as you can over the course of your career. You must learn to make yourself valuable. Your work must be worth something. If not, why should anyone pay to see you?

Get real wresting gear, invest in yourself.  Get a good looking pair of tights, singlet or trunks made.  Buy a quality pair of real wrestling boots.  Look the part.  Do not wrestle in sneakers and shorts, to say nothing of a t-shirt.  If you look like a punter, you deserve to be treated like a punter.  If you don’t have enough sun around your climes to get a natural tan, then either hit the solarium or get a spraytan for any and all wrestling shows that you might be booked on.  I cannot stress this enough: look the part.  Look professional.

Now, I understand the way the world is going. I understand that all across the board, in live music, in the postal service, in the construction sector, etc. the jobs are increasingly going to those who will work harder and longer for less pay. This, however, is pure sabotage and is destined to end badly for everyone. You can always negotiate down, but it’s freaking hard to negotiate up. There’s always someone who will do the job for less, as you all know. Make yourself and your personal piece of business so valuable that promoters and fans are going to be willing to pay for your talents, but also, know what the pay scale is. Know your place on the pay scale, based on your experience, number of matches worked, past accolades, current profile and overall value on any said, given card. It’s not grand on the indies these days, by any stretch. Like former WCW wrestler PN News, aka Cannonball Grizzly, so aptly stated back in 2013 in a locker room in Germany: ”I might be a whore, because I sell my body for money. At least I’m not a slut who gives it away for free.”

There have been several gaijins (foreigners) over the last few years who can be held accountable for killing the once extremely profitable wrestling promised land of Japan. These newer faces went in, paying their own three-month visa, paying their own flights, sleeping on dojo floors and making next to nothing in pay just to play superstar and say they’ve wrestled in Japan. Talk about being a mark! It makes me sick to my gut. By the same token, the promoters who took them up on their offers are just as guilty. They collectively killed Japan for the rest of us, for the veterans included, who deserve to make a reasonable living at this game after sacrificing their bodies for so many years. Japan used to be a place, along with Mexico, where a good hand could make a decent chunk of change and maybe even put some of it away in savings. Sayonara now to that notion.

Moral of the story: you must act like a pro to be considered a pro. Period.

Lesson #2: Make Yourself Valuable

AJ Styles

AJ Styles is a classic case of a guy whose work ethic and skills made him valuable, so that he was able to reach the pinnacle of his profession.

Get your look in order. Invest in a gym membership and an experienced, knowledgeable personal trainer if you don’t have the know-how to build your body up to be muscular and strong. You will need that strength in the ring, I assure you, and the look is your aesthetic sales pitch. It’s the mirage of the product before delivery to your audience, after which it’s up to you to you produce — looking like the Big Mac on the menu board, or like the sorry, flattened burger that very well might get handed to you. People do not want to see jabronies that look just like them. If the guy changing your oil at Jiffy Lube could just as easily be a member of Motley Crue, then you have a perception problem because the star aura is sorely missing. Pro wrestling is meant to be bigger than life. Always has, always will be. That said, this is the exact same epidemic that has flattened out and deflated the aura, mysticism and grandeur of rock music at large, in addition to spoiling beauty pageants where the girls actually have to be a cut above the status quo to qualify, to allowing professional politicians into public office who fail to represent the interests of the public at large in any way and just capitalize on personal gain at your expense.

My old coach, Lance Storm, once so appropriately stated that a wrestler need three things to even have a fighting chance at making it in the pro wrestling business: 1) the look, meaning body and image, 2) the actual ring skills and 3) charisma to make people either love or hate you, but no middle ”they’re okay, I guess” ground.

If you lack in any of the three attributes aforementioned, get busy filling in the blanks, because while you’re daydreaming, someone else is hustling and doing what has to be done. And as they say, the early bird gets the worm (read: bookings).

Lesson #3: Don’t be a Mark

bullshit

Pro wrestling is a bullshitters’ business. Don’t be fooled, everyone is ”working” the next guy, because no one wants to risk losing their spot or moving a peg down. Everyone is looking out for number one. Many would sell their mother down a river to get a foothold over you. Al Snow once aptly said, as we were touring Egypt back in 2009: ”There are no brothers in this business, only business associates”.

Don’t be too gullible for your own good. Take everything with a grain of salt. Believe it only when you have your plane tickets in hand or when you are actually at the said show. Everything up to that point is just talk, and talk is cheap. Truth be told, only after you’ve actually been paid your agreed on wage can you really believe it.

Also, don’t be a mark for yourself. Just because you know how to play the game doesn’t make you King Midas. Don’t think that you are God’s gift to wrestling just because you might look like a million dollars or you can do a reverse 450 Firebird Splash. Don’t think you are indispensable. Don’t think that just because you’ve bought 10 pairs of tights and four pairs of boots that you are somehow better for it than the guy that just has one pair of each.  Never take anything for granted. Stay humble. Be a good sport. Don’t be an egomaniac. Have a strong ego that drives you, but don’t let your ego control you.

Lesson #4: Pro Wrestling is still Territorial

El Ligero

El Ligero of England

You’ve probably heard a million times that the territories died back at the end of the ’80s. Still, the way the wrestling business and promoters operate today is highly territorial. For example, if you live in a place like Finland, at the ass end of the world like myself, and a promoter can get four guys crammed into a car out of Germany to go wrestle in Italy, who do you think they will choose? Hmm. A guy like me, here in the worst possible demographic area on the map, will have to have his shit together and all his sales arguments in line, be relevant and credible and bringing something of salable use to the table, if he hopes to score gigs in the face of this aforementioned, stark reality.

When I say wrestling is still territorial, I’ll break it down for you: a promoter is looking to make as much money as possible and in doing so they look to cut their costs. The promoter will try to take the cheapest route possible, acquire talent from nearby, just like the four-to-a-car model I mentioned, and they will sometimes even try to skimp on offering accommodations if they are able to do so, having you drive back home in the middle of the night. Yes, there are places where the talent gets treated like circus animals, even to this day. Therefore, if a promoter can keep their costs down by taking in talent from right next door, then for you to be considered from several countries away… well, you had better have something that the promoter and their show really needs. You visage on a poster better sell an adequate amount of tickets to cover your costs or you had better have the kinds of skills that make other people (read: local wrestlers of said promotion you wish to work for) look good. Or then you had better be politically important. Or then, you had better have a name in the wrestling business. Unless you are a younger talent with a name like Will Ospreay (read: a well-known internet darling) you can forget the last line I just wrote.

Lesson #5: Pro Wrestling is Ruled by Cliques

The Cliq

If you don’t know the impact of this group, then get busy on Google.

If you don’t belong to a clique, part of somebody’s group of inside faves, your chances of getting booked are slim and rare. I didn’t say slim to none, I said slim to rare. It’s the truth, even if it is a sorry state of affairs. There are shitloads of great guitarists out there who are just as good as Steve Vai or Alexi Laiho who never get anywhere or reach greater acclaim. They simply don’t belong to the right social circle and they aren’t the darlings of a certain clique, so they are shut out of the larger window of opportunity. It’s often not what you know, as valuable as that is, it’s who you know. Age-old wisdom that is, as Yoda would say.

I don’t say this as an exhortation of any sort, that you should start kissing ass and buttering up the nearest influencer, as most of these people can smell you coming a mile away. I would advise you to simply be diligent, hustle, be humble, listen, constantly improve your game and ask for the advice of those ahead of you in the game, carry the veteran’s bags and even get them coffee, and keep putting in the best effort you possibly can each and every time you go out there and step into a ring. It’s called the law of sowing and reaping. It’s the path that I took and I can tell you that it sure as shit ain’t the fast track. It took me a lot longer to get my due and get noticed, because I never kissed asses and never played locker room politics. I invested in making myself the best wrestler I could be. I got the whole package together and honed it down to a proverbial ”T”. I built up my resumé and got my personal piece of business down so solid that it became valuable. Remember: value comes to value, always. My work and ultimately my reputation stood as my calling card. Then, certain circles began letting me in, simply based on the quality of my work and my working ethic, plus the fact that I wasn’t a trouble-maker and I was dependable. I know, the path less taken doesn’t sound very sexy and it doesn’t offer instant gratification.

Still, you can try the asskissing route if you want to try short-cutting your way to the top. No guarantees that it’ll work, however. And I won’t even get into the bookers and promoters who might try implying that you trade sexual favors for bookings. Be forwarned, they are out there. Have the dignity to say NO, even if it comes at the cost of getting booked.

Lesson #6: Every Match is a CV Match

Never ”take the night off”. Never ”just wing it”. Invest yourself in making each and every match as good as you possibly can. Think of what elements you and your opponent bring to the table and tell the best story that you can with those elements in mind.

Remember: you never know who will see your bout. I say this again, because it is pivotally important: think of what elements you will need to apply to best tell the intended story of your altercation. Don’t think that you need to showcase every single move you know, nor ”get all your shit in”. No, you need to tell the story of the match. And not every match needs to be a five-star affair. Maybe that’s not the purpose of your match in the big picture of the overall show. Maybe your position on the card requires something else from you.

Still, you need to come out of it looking like a star, but so does your opponent. Remember, you are only as good as the person that you are in the ring with. If they look like shit, you look like shit. And if you need that last one explained, you need to go back to wrestling school under a better coach.

Lesson #7: Be Adaptable and Always Keep Learning

Adam Flex Maxted

Adam “Flex” Maxted

I’m reminded by a young man I met while on a wrestling tour of Pakistan last year. His name is Adam Maxted from the UK. Adam is very young in the business, but he already has a million dollar body. He’s invested his time in the gym. He’s hungry to learn, constantly taking part in seminars of old warhorses like Marty Jones, always looking to up his game. And voilá… in less than one year since I met him, the kid is already IPW All England champion in the UK and has an upcoming match booked against Rey Mysterio for one of the largest companies there this coming March. Believe me when I tell you: you do not get chosen to be booked against a guy the likes of Rey unless you have all of the various pieces of the puzzle together. Adam deserves all the credit in the world for being a model example of hustling his ass off, being humble, keeping his ears open and being able to learn from constructive criticism. He is on the fast track to becoming a big name in our industry, and he will have earned it by the sweat of his brow, once that inevitable day comes. And once that day does arrive, Adam will have people like Marty Jones to thank, because he has been taught the essentials of what it reads on the marquee: WRESTLING.

The same applies to you. No matter who you are booked against, know your groundwork. Know how to actually wrestle. If your match falls apart, the highspots aren’t going to save you. Garbage wrestling isn’t going to save you, either. The name of the game is still wrestling at the end of the day. Can you pull it off?

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Here at the end of 2017 as the New Year is about to turn a new page for all of us, I reflect back on what the past 12 months have meant for me personally and professionally.

I have to say from the bottom of my heart that this past year has been one of the best overall years for me on record, especially in terms of my professional wrestling career and movie actor ambitions.  I once stated that if I could do with my life what I dare dream, it would be to become a world-traveled professional wrestler, a touring rock artist and a movie actor.  Here, at the age of 44, I have achieved all of those things and more.  That is certainly something to be proud of, and I can only look to make the good things in life prosper and grow in the fact of each new challenge as life rolls on.

2017 saw me claim my 21st country in pro wrestling, that being Pakistan, this past May.  Pakistan is about as exotic as a location as it gets, and the treatment we got from the local PWE promoters was top-notch.  Five-star hotels, bodyguards and even a presidential suite were all in the offering, as we were treated like royalty by fans and organizers alike.  I was the only wrestler on the international roster out of the Nordics.

StarBuck with Syed Asim Ali Asmi PWE

With the big boss of PWE in Pakistan!

StarBuck vs. Bambikiller in Pakistan

Getting the upper hand on Chris “Bambikiller” Raaber in Lahore, Pakistan

My long-awaited autobiography, Battleground Valhalla, also came out in May through Crowbar Press in the USA, a highly-esteemed publisher of wrestling autobiographies, whose earlier releases include Donnie Fargo, Ole Anderson and Stand Hansen to name a few.  My book has sold great to this date, as I’ve even mailed out a ton of signed copies to folks far and wide who’ve asked for personalized copies.  My story also got released through Kindle on Amazon as a digital e-book, which was icing on the cake!

2017 was the year that I was named the inaugural Valhalla Nordic Wrestling Champion by ’80s pop sensation Samantha Fox and STHLM Wrestling out of Sweden.  After being lauded the honor of interim champion in (again) May, I went on to defeat a very capable up-and-coming young star in Timmy Force on July 8 in Stockholm to become the undisputed, first Valhalla Nordic champ.  This match was highly-praised by one of the heads of WWE, who was on hand, front-and-center ringside to witness this 30-minute classic that will go down as quite possibly the greatest match to date on Swedish soil.

StarBuck vs Timmy Force VALHALLA Nordic Championship 6

Timmy Force falls to my world-famous finisher, the jumping spike piledriver in Stockholm (photo: Fredrik Streiffert)

2017 was the year that I ventured into the studio with my reformed Stoner Kings band, recording new material after a decade of absence.  We even filmed the first-ever music video we ever did with the band for a single called Cro-Magnon, which was a very proud moment for me as the founder of Stoner Kings.

2017 was the year that I took three unprecedented vacations, something I had never done in that number per annum, in Morocco, Romania’s mountains, Spain and Thailand.  Thanks to my wife, Diana, for arranging these trips, as she’s quite the tour organizer and could easily be a commercial tour guide if she chose to do so.

2017 was also the year that I captured my fifth Finnish wrestling championship.  On December 2 in Helsinki at Finland’s biggest annual pro wrestling spectacular, Talvisota XII, I unseated Juhana “King Kong” Karhula in a 25+ minute mat classic, becoming a double-champion this year.

StarBuck FCF Champion 2017

StarBuck – FCF champion for the fifth time, December 2017 (photo: Marko Simonen)

2017 also saw me featured in two ground-breaking movie releases: It Came From The Desert and Rendel.  Both films have been sold worldwide now and have been dubbed in multiple, foreign languages like Japanese, German and Spanish.  My roles in both movies were incredibly intriguing and important characters, both of which for I was able to channel my vast pro wrestling experience into.

StarBuck in Rendel

My Russian mercenary character in Rendel has arguably the best fight scene in the whole movie

All in all, I can only be thankful for the awesome year that was 2017.  Even as a personal trainer and voice-over speaker, I accumulated several new clients and commissions.  As a graphic artist, several customers utilized my talents as a traditional illustrator.  With my voice, I was able to parlay my talents as a guest ring announcer at various boxing events, in front of new audiences.

Värityskirja kansi Vesileppis

The cover of a children’s coloring book for Vesileppis Sport & Spa hotel in Finland, featuring Yours Truly as the human lead.

I have said that for some unexplained, divine reason, particularly good things happen to me in seven year installments.  This year was one such waypoint.  My previous seven year boon was in 2010, when I debuted as a professional wrestler in Japan – my career goal – where I became a star on the national stage overnight.  Seven years prior to that in 2003, I started the entire professional wrestling phenomenon in Finland, bringing the fighting art form to this neck of the Nordics and teaching it to the very first class of Finnish students in history.  Seven years before that, in 1996, I moved to Finland from my homeland of Canada to begin rewriting personal life history and create a legacy which even I had no inkling of, nor the its magnitude, as the years would roll on.  That said, here at the very end of 2017, I can say with all humility and honesty, that I am the most accomplished and successful professional wrestler in history to this day out of Northern Europe.

I eagerly await to see what 2018 brings.  While the world at large seems to be headed into a maelstrom of uncertainty, I can honestly say that the Good Lord above has blessed my life and continues to do so.  All respect the Big Man upstairs.  For me, the proof is in the pudding!

Does that headline ring a bell? Maybe a reminiscent throwback to the first half of the 2000s and a certain black athlete named Booker T in WWE?

What Booker Huffman – wrestling name Booker T – was referring to in his promos, where he would spout off on the stick about this very slogan, was his five reigns as pro wrestling world champion.

Well, after last night at Finland’s biggest annual pro wrestling mega-gala, Talvisota XII, I can claim the same thing. Five time! Five time! Five time! Yes, last night, I became FCF wrestling champion for the fifth time in my long and storied wrestling career, defeating a very game titleholder in a man I despise, yet respect after this war, Juhana “King Kong” Karhula.

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In a Finnish grappling epic for the ages, lasting 25:35, this monumental main event last night was laced in tension, drama and malicious intent. Karhula had stated prior to our showdown that he couldn’t foresee the both of us continuing with FCF Wrestling after this title-vs-title war, where I put my Valhalla Nordic wrestling championship up against his FCF wrestling championship.

Well, once the dust had settled and my hand was raised triumphantly in victory, yet again showcasing that no one can survive my jumping spike piledriver, Karhula had to back up his words. He bowed out, left his boots in the ring and called it a day.

_MAR1201_preview

Well, good riddance, say I. We’ve had our differences over the past years, escalating in the grand finale that we fought last night before a sold-out house, packed with rabid, impassioned wrestling aficionados. That said, our differences are the type that can’t be resolved, and in this light, I bid Karhula adieu, sans any bells or whistles. Sayonara!

I’ll give the man credit, though, as I believe you must always give credit where credit is due: Karhula fought like his life depended on it. And his professional life, at the very least, most certainly did depend on the outcome of this match.

_MAR1158_preview

I’ve been in countless wars over my near-24 year pro career, and this was one of those matches that’ll stand out in my memories when I tell my grandchildren one day about the monolithic Nordic battles of lore that their grandfather once fought as the greatest, most celebrated professional wrestler in history out of northern Europe. A man who would even make his Viking ancestors proud.

So shout it out with me: Five time! Five time! Five time!

I hate to be the one who told you so, and not that I want to toot my own horn, but TOOT, TOOT!

Bow to the new KING, because the ascension has now taken place!

SB FCF champ 2017 01

ALL PHOTOS BY MARKO SIMONEN (www.markosimonen.com)

Well, ladies and gents, it seems that 2017 is turning out to be one of my better years in the wrestling game.

Firstly, my long-awaited autobiography Battleground Vahalla came out through Crowbar Press, and it has since been released on Kindle also!  This book has been selling great, and I am stoked about its success!

Shawn Khan Battleground Valhalla StarBuck

Shawn Khan, the Director of the Middle East and USA for Pro Wrestling Entertainment Pakistan, whom I wrestled for in May of this year, mugs with my autobiography!

Whereas this summer, I became the first-ever Valhalla Nordic Wrestling Champion, a title covering four Nordic countries (Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark), I also find myself as the number one contender for the Finnish FCF Wrestling championship title, with a title shot pending and upcoming on December 2 against current FCF titleholder Juhana “King Kong” Karhula at the biggest annual event in Finnish pro wrestling, Talvisota XII.

FCF Haastajalista_17.10

As of late this autumn, I’ve traveled on several occasions to Germany to wrestle, doing very well for myself there against the top European competition, against the likes of Pascal Spalter of Germany and James Mason of England.  Just this past weekend, I toppled Native American superstar and former WWE name Tatanka in Delmenhorst, Germany.

StarBuck vs. James Mason POW Germany

I had one hell of a technical match in Hannover, Germany on October 14 against POW Intercontinental champion James Mason.

On November 11, I will travel to Wittorf, Germany to wrestle a mammoth of a man in Voodoo from the UK at DWA Harley Night XVII, and on November 25, I travel to Moscow, Russia to fight at Wrestliada 2017, which is the biggest Russian pro wrestling event of the year on an annual basis.

DWA Harley Night 2017

In addition, I have some marquee gigs with my band Stoner Kings coming up on November 17 in Helsinki in support of Swedish heavy rock powerhouse Sparzanza at Nosturi’s Alakerta venue and on November 18 in Tallinn, Estonia at Rockstars, where Stoner Kings will be joined by Redneck Rampage from Estonia and Hold from Finland.

Stoner Kings 2017

Stoner Kings are back on the attack, with monsterously potent new music soon coming out! (photo: Marko Simonen)

Right now, I am in the studio with both my Stoner Kings and Crossfyre bands, as we have new music coming out at the end of this year also!

In closing, get this: the It Came From The Desert movie (based on the famous 1989 Amiga video game) that I play a key role in has now been sold worldwide, as far as Japan!  Add to that the fact that Finland’s first-ever superhero action movie Rendel has been scooping up tons of international acclaim and licenses, and I’d feel comfortable saying the snowball of momentum is super-hot right now!

It Came From The Desert JAPAN

Stay tuned, more infos coming soon!

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

Big news: I will be wrestling in Pakistan this month on May 17 in Karachi, May 19 in Lahore and May 21 in Islamabad.  These events will be televised and a tournament will be held during the tour to crown the very first Pakistan pro wrestling champion in history.

25 wrestlers have been hand-picked from all over the world to participate in this monumental moment in pro wrestling lore.  Ex-WWE star Chris Masters from the USA, former WWE Intercontinental champion Wade Barrett, Chris Raaber from Austria, Bernard Vandamme from Belgium, Fabio Ferrari from Italy, Tiny Iron from England, Baadshah Pehalwan Khan from Pakistan and many others will be taking place in this grand event.  I will be representing my home country of Canada on this tour of Pakistan.

BP Khan

Pakistan will mark my 21st country in pro wrestling since 1994 worldwide across four continents.  This should be very, very interesting…

StarBuck Pakistan

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.

guitar man 4

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.

05

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.