You're from Staplehurst, near Maidstone, Kent, but now reside in Louisville, Kentucky. I understand that you first travelled to the United States in 1996 to attend Kent State University in Ohio. Is this true?
I took a sandwich year at a different university. I had one year at Leicester, doing chemistry. My second year was at Kent State, and then my third year was back at Leicester.
Did you obtain a degree in chemistry?
Yeah. I got a 2:1. I never went to the graduation ceremony, though, because Godzilla was on at the cinema that day. For some reason, I thought the movie was going to be a life-changing experience, so I went to see that instead of attending my graduation.
Godzilla (1998) was a letdown, as I recall.
It wasn't great. I left the cinema sorely disappointed.
Still, you must have been pleased with your 2:1 degree in chemistry.
Yeah, considering I didn't really study that much for it. I never really devoted myself to my studies because I never really wanted to go to university, and I didn't want to work in chemistry: I always wanted to be a wrestler. But I was good at it, you know. Sometimes you're good at things you don't necessarily enjoy.
You began training for a wrestling career under the guidance of Les Thatcher in the Heartland Wrestling Association in September 1998.
That's where I got my start: in Cincinnati, Ohio, under Les. I had a year of training over there. I had to fly myself over there three months at a time and pay for everything because I couldn't work over there. I ended up running up debts of $12,000 in the year I was there.
Just to clarify: you couldn't work in the States because you were on a three month visitor's visa? And, at the end each three-month period, you had to fly back home to England for a couple of weeks, and then make another transatlantic crossing, armed with a renewed visitor's visa?
Yep. I didn't have a work visa because I wasn't working. I wasn't strictly speaking a student either, because (the HWA) wasn't a credited school. All I was doing was pouring money down the f-king drain...Fortunately, I had left university with five or six grand more than when I started it.
How did you manage that?
Long story short: I took out the full student loan each year and didn't spend it. And a friend of mine gave me a good tip about two banks that were going to merge, so I bought stock in each of the banks. When they merged, my stocks doubled and then tripled in value. Once I'd finished university, I sold all the stock and made a tidy sum. Then, I blew all the money in 12 months at a wrestling school.
What was the training in HWA like?
It was all right...I didn't have anything to judge it against because it was the only experience I had in wrestling at the time. It was a lot of bumps, a lot of drills; it was a lot of hard work, to be honest with you. Les had been around since the 1960's and had been a real good tag team wrestler in some of the Southern territories. So, he always instilled a sense of professionalism and love for wrestling (in his trainees). It was a basis, really. He taught us about psychology and bumps, et cetera. After that, it was up to us to get out there on the road.
In saying that, you made your debut for the HWA.
Yeah. In September 1999. it was actually a year to the day after I began training. And it was taped for a shoe called ABC 20/20.
ABC 20/20. That's the same program which ran a legendary wrestling expose special in February 1985. Who can forget the sight if David Schultz violently slapping reporter John Stossel about the head (Stossel later sued the WWF, Schultz's then-employer, and won), and Eddie Mansfield juicing and demonstrating how matches worked?
That's it. By the time they did the feature on the HWA, pro wrestling was so out of the closet, so to speak, that it was more of a fair look at wrestling than an expose. We didn't have to worry about kayfabe and that sort of thing. (20/20) came down, and my first professional match was a part of their show.
Who did you wrestle in your first bout?
G.Q. Masters III. He was one of the guys who helped set up and run the HWA. He was a manager who was such a good hand in the ring that he would wrestle guys in their first match. For a first match, it was all right. I won.
Were you under a developmental contract at that point?
No. I was never under a developmental deal. When I was there, between trips home to renew my visa, I was just hanging out, hoping I would somehow get a job...
Looking back now, it was crazy. I dint have the look, I didn't have any experience, I didn't have anything going for me, really. In the ring, I spent most of my time getting squashed in six-man matches. Worse, I wasn't learning anything about the business - other than I hated the politics of it all - and I was spending all my money to be there, and not getting any better.
The situation must have deteriorated in late 2001: after the WWF bought out WCW, a fleet of former WCW under-carders descended upon HWA.
Yeah. There was loads of them. And I don't think those guys, like Elix Skipper, Mike Sanders and Jamie Noble, were too happy to be stuck in Cincinnati after working for WCW and being on TV. A lot of the HWA trainees were pushed aside by former WCW guys: some of the trainees weren't even allowed to come to training sessions any longer.
At some point you obviously obtained a visa to live and work in the United States. How did that happen?
Originally, I applied for a visa so I could write a book. When I was there in 1999, I started writing a book about my wrestling training and all the wild, crazy things that went down during that period. I intended to sell that book to a publisher, which I eventually did - although it hasn't been published yet. When I came up with the book idea, I discovered that I could get a ten-year visa that would allow me to work and stay in America for up to six months at a time.
Are you still using that now?
No. while I was in America, I met a lovely girl, fell in love and got married.
I see. In August 2001, you wrestled on the Brian Pillman memorial show against Doug 'Machine' Basham. Held before a crowd of 2,350, this was the biggest event of your career at the time.
We didn't have much of a match, to be honest with you. But William Regal was there, and I asked him to watch my match that night. Afterwards, he explained to me very politely that if I wanted to be a British wrestler, I had to wrestle like a British wrestler. At that point, I hadn't trained or wrestled in England: I wrestled a total American styIe.
Regal explained to me that it took him years to learn how things worked when he was starting out in England. He told me that I wasn't going to improve in Cincinnati because I was only wrestling once a week in a six-man match and getting squashed. So, I followed his advice. Over the next year, I went back to England for two or three months at a time and worked for Brian Dixon's All-Star Wrestling, and continued to develop the relationship with this girl who I married.
What advice would you give to an up-and-coming British grappler who wishes to wrestle in the United States?
You're limited. There's only one company who will (obtain the necessary paperwork) for you to come over to the States and pay for you to wrestle for them, and that's WWE. The best way is to start off in the U.K, develop a styIe, develop your game and, when WWE comes to the U.K, attend one of their tryout sessions. If they like you, they'll sign you. That's how (Paul) Birchill and Nikita made it into the WWE developmental system.
In a way, that's better than coming over to America and doing the hard graft that I've done. Certainly in WWE, they look down on the guys who work the indies over here.
Ring Of Honor has a good and bad reputation with WWE. Some of the (WWE wrestlers) watch the ROH DVDs and try to steal the moves from the shows. But a lot of the WWE guys higher up and in the office see ROH as a stupid, crappy indie, where wrestlers kill themselves for no reason and no money.
It's the age-old story: WWE believes there is only one way of doing wrestling properly - and that's the WWE way.
Yeah. It's real, real arrogant. But they've got the money.
Speaking of ROH: You made your debut for the company on August 9, 2003 on a card in Dayton, Ohio.
That sounds about right. I wrestled Chet Jabolonski. B.J. Whitmer and Matt Stryker had been wrestling for ROH for about six months at that time, I think. They had been driving themselves to Philadelphia. So, I gave them a videotape (of my matches), asked them to pass it onto (ROH booker) Gabe Sapolsky, and he gave me a shot.
What was your opinion of ROH? Did you think it was a cut above the other independent organisations?
Absolutely. I knew they were getting coverage from the magazines, and people were talking about them in the indie world. I realised (ROH) was more than just a regular indie.
But it's funny that you talked about WWE having a blinkered attitude: there was a time when I was almost thinking that way. I remember being in the HWA (in 2002) when it was part of the WWE developmental system, and a lot of the guys there were (criticizing) ROH. They said it was all high spots, with no psychology and anyone could do it, blah, blah. And I watched a ROH DVD and, to be honest with you, it didn't do anything for me. I guess, having always been a WWF mark, I responded to characters and personalities. If a show is 80 percent athleticism and 20 percent showmanship, like ROH is, and that's not your cup of tea, than its not going to shine for you.
It wasn't until ROH started picking up a year or so later that I realised there was something to it. Guys like Low Ki, (American) Dragon and (Samoa) Joe: you couldn't deny that the matches they were having were a lot more entertaining than everything else that was out there. It took a while to get your head out of the box to realise that.
Fast-forwarding to modern-day ROH. You had one of the best and toughest matches of 2006 with Bryan Danielson at the Liverpool Olympia on August 12. What are your memories of that encounter?
I remember the crowd being great. People who are smart to the business talk about four and five star matches and how certain guys have great matches. But I think some people fail to realise how important a good crowd is in a great match. And that crowd that night was fantastic; they gave us a chance to go out there and have a match. If we'd have that match in a town in America, it probably wouldn't have gotten over at all.
I got my head busted open on a ring post, which is what the match is famous or infamous for, and (suffered) a big haematoma. It was so bad that two days later, one of my eyes was completely swollen shut and I could only just see out of the other. It looked like I'd been in a car wreck.
The full-on head-butts you traded with Danielson in that match must have smarted as well.
Yeah. They didn't help things. I'm not one of these guys who thinks they should go out there and kill yourself to have the best match on every show. I think everybody has a particular spot on a show. But every now and again, there are matches when you have to pull out all the stops. That was defiantly a match where I needed to do everything I possibly could. That's what came of it.
You took another battering in your return to the Liverpool Olympia on March 3, 2007. This time, your opponent was Samoa Joe.
Yeah. That was pretty brutal as well. I've had a few brutal encounters with Joe. But the thing about Joe is, he'll hit you hard and it will hurt, but he won't injure you. He's not dangerous: he's not one of these guys who throws caution to the wind and will break your leg.
The worst thing about that match with Joe - and I'm not sure if anybody realises it - happened in the very first spot in the match (laughs). He had a wristlock on me and I had to roll through it to reverse it...it was stupid, really: every time I do a seminar, I always tell people to make sure you know where you are in the ring. Anyway, I wasn't keeping track of where I was, and when I rolled through to reverse the wristlock, my leg caught the bottom rope and I pulled my groin terribly. In the very first spot! I could barely even stand afterwards; I was in so much pain.
That was the beginning of a long match with Joe. There was a lot of pressure on us to have a decent match. And, later on, I had to throw a superkick and do a headstand. Just getting through a match with a pulled groin was one of the most painful things I've had to do in wrestling.
Is your groin muscle still bothering you now, four weeks later?
A little bit. But as often happens in the wrestling business, I've suffered a few more injuries since than, and you pay attention to the most recent injury. At the moment, it's a separated shoulder - so, I've kind of forgotten about the groin. I pulled a muscle in my torso as well whilst I was taking a neckbreaker last weekend. So, they're at the top of the list now.
There was a time when you brought an iron to the ring with you. What's the story behind that?
Years ago, while I was dating a girl from the Boston area, I was over at her house, watching Raw. Her mother was there doing the ironing at the time. Her mother didn't know anything about wrestling. During the programme, a wrestler - I can't remember who - ran to the ring with his gimmick in his hand. She asked me why this guy was allowed to bring a foreign object to the ring. So, I explained it to her. Then, she asked: "Has anyone ever carried an iron to the ring with them?" And I said: "No, they haven't." At that point a light bulb went on (laughs).
So, when I started wrestling, I went out and bought myself an iron. The rest is history.
Did you paint a Union Jack on the iron?
Originally, I just had a crappy old white iron. Then, one of the fans of the HWA - God bless her - bought an iron and painted it and donated it to me.
Have you now retired the iron gimmick?
What happened was that I kept using the iron in my matches and hitting people in the head with it and it started falling to pieces. The last time I used it was in a match was with a guy called Andreas Diamond in IWA in Italy. The finish of the match was that I was supposed to hit him in the head with the iron and supposedly knock him out, but he was going to kick out. Then, the heel manager was going to run in and grab the iron and accidentally hit me with it, and Andreas was going to beat me.
The thing was, when I rammed Diamond's head into the iron, it exploded. So, after I covered Diamond and he kicked out, the heel manager ran in, saw the iron on the mat, in 17 different pieces, and had to pick them up and try to hold the bits together to make it look like an iron so we could do the next spot (laughs). So, that was it for the iron after that. Besides, I wanted to get more serious, anyway, because comedy only gets you so far. Maybe if I go to WWE, I could get a new iron.
Have you had any conversations with TNA?
A few, actually. After that Universal Uproar show in Coventry in November 2005, TNA flew me in for (Genesis). I was originally supposed to be wrestling Samoa Joe on the pay-per-view. TNA said they were bringing in guys from all over the world to wrestle Joe to give him international credibility. So, having wrestled Joe before, I was well up for that: I thought we'd have a good match on pay-per-view which would raise my stock. But plans changed, and they ended up giving me a spot on the pre-show in a match with Shark Boy instead. I was happy with that because Sharky was a guy who really helped me out and smartened me up to the pitfalls of the wrestling business when I started in the HWA.
Also, me, Doug (Williams), Jonny (Storm) and Jodie (Fleisch) were supposed to be coming to TNA last year for the World X Cup. I was hearing that I'd been booked for it, but no one from TNA had actually contacted me. I got in touch with TNA and they were um-ing and ar-ing about the dates (on which) they were going to use us. By the time they came to us with dates, me and Doug had been booked on a NOAH tour. NOAH is obviously our (priority); that's where we make most of our money. It's what really enables us to be pro-wrestlers. If we're booked there, we're going. There's no way we can cancel it.
Ever since then, there's not been any interest from TNA. I don't know whether there's any heat stemming from the fact they couldn't use me when they wanted to...But, in all fairness, they've got so many guys down there now - too many for the television time they've got each week. If they were to sign me, I would more than likely be one of those guys who trotted out for a 30-second spot. And working for TNA kinda limits what you can do elsewhere in the business.
What do you think of TNA's ring styIe?
They want to see you do everything under the sun to get over. There's no way you're gonna go to TNA and just be a good, strong hand and they're gonna give you a job. It's just not the way the business works nowadays.