We all have our guilty pleasures in wrestling. Some folks enjoyed the comedy shenanigans of Santino Marella, others are partial to a bit of Fandango and his merry jig, but one of my guilty pleasures in wrestling was the former NXT eco-warrior, CJ Parker. With the funky dreadlocked star gone from WWE’s developmental territory and now joining New Japan Pro Wrestling for their Destruction tour, I have to ask: does CJ Parker have what it takes to make it outside of Vince McMahon’s company?
Slow and Steady
The future CJ Parker was born Joseph Robinson in April 1989 in Joliet, Ill. At the age of 17, Robinson travelled to Michigan to learn the ropes at The House of Truth wrestling school run by veteran trainer and current ROH personality Truth Martini. Martini has had many success stories in training young wrestling talent; the likes of Alex Shelley, Michael Elgin and Jimmy Jacobs were all trained at The House of Truth, and it wasn’t long before Robinson made his professional debut (as Juice Robinson) for IWA Mid-South in a losing effort against Jason Dukes.
While never being a huge name on the independent scene, Robinson travelled throughout North America honing his craft in small promotions like All American Wrestling (Illinois) , Border City Wrestling (Ontario) and Pro-Wrestling Revolution (Arizona) wrestling with guys like Colt Cabana, Matt Sydal and Nick Gage. It wasn’t long before Robinson secured a developmental contract with WWE in 2011.
Robinson was immediately sent to Florida Championship Wrestling, WWE’s now-defunct developmental territory, and made his in-ring debut under the name CJ Parker. Parker would go on to have some success winning the FCW tag titles on two occasions —once with Donny Marlow (formerly Camacho and currently Micah in Impact Wrestling) and again with WWE development mainstay, Jason Jordan.
FCW would become NXT and Parker would be used mainly as an enhancement talent putting over guys like Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose. An injury sidelined Parker for six months.. He would return to NXT repackaged and under a new gimmick in the hope of making himself stand out.
Parker became a Mother Earth loving hippie character and was placed in a feud with a prima-donna heel, Tyler Breeze, over the coming months. Parker’s persona was intended to be a babyface, but the fans had no reason to get behind such a laid back character and quickly turned on him. The fans in Full Sail University didn’t care for Parker’s love of the planet, and turned him heel in the process.
The Hippie act was never going to be a main event gimmick, but Parker began to grow as a performer as he berated fans for their lack of environmental awareness.Though Parker grew as a performer, he soon became slotted into the role of enhancement talent to the stars. Parker would go on to lose to a wide range of main roster stars such as The Miz, Cesaro and even The Great Khali. Parker had the knack of selling people moves extremely well, similar to Heath Slater on the main roster. In the process, Parker made his opponents look like a million bucks.
Parker would be then used as the guy who got new talent over, being defeated by Mojo Rawley, Baron Corbin and Kevin Owens as each man made their NXT TV debut.
“To me, that’s a compliment,” Parker said “They have faith in you and they know you can go out there with anybody and make them look great. You can take the things that they’re really good at and amplify them. Everybody wants to be the guy who’s the star, the guy who everyone is looking at and the guy who the company is trying to get over.”
While he was excelling in his role as enhancement talent to the stars of NXT, Parker was not content to stare at the ceiling lights forever, he had bigger ambitions.
In April 2015, Parker made a risky and gutsy move, asking for his release from his WWE contract ending his four-year run with the company. When asked about his release by Rolling Stone, Parker revealed his motivation for wanting to leave.
“I think it just came down to personal growth as a performer” Parker said. “I want to wrestle in front of small crowds and go from the ground up. I’m 25, so if I was going to do that, if I was going to travel the world and live out of a suitcase, then now’s the time.”
His eco-warrior gimmick would have only got him so far in WWE. Had he stayed in NXT, Parker would have likely continued as the reliable enhancement talent. Had he ever made it to the main roster, the hippie persona would have most likely got him to the same heights as Adam Rose or Fandango.
Parker saw men like Finn Balor, Hideo Itami and Kevin Owens, who already had world wide experience and a ton of momentum, come in and leap frog him in the pecking order. Parker obviously saw what they had, looked at himself and discovered what he was missing from his resume. Parker did not have the worldwide reputation of these independent stars and decided he needed to make a name for himself, outside of WWE, in order to make it in WWE.
While the story of Parker, along with the hiring and promotion of established independent stars highlights the flaws development within NXT, Parker is on the road to creating his own reputation he felt he was lacking. Since his departure from NXT, he has worked on shows across the world, from working the Best of the Best 2014 for Combat Zone Wrestling in New Jersey, to even working in my own city of Dublin for Celtic Championship Wrestling in mid-July.
In early August, Parker announced his retirement and stated that his last match would be against TNA’s Ethan Carter III later that month at UvT’s (Us versus Them Wrestling) next show.
8/29!! CJ Parker's/CJP's last match! Sorry to say, but Moonchild is hanging da boots up! ? Thanks for everything, everyone!!! @UvTWrestling
— Juice Robinson (@_juicerobinson_) August 10, 2015
This was merely misdirection as he would only be retiring the CJ Parker and “CJP” monikers, reverting back to his original stage name of Juice Robinson.
Robinson then revealed he was set to tour with New Japan Pro Wrestling for their upcoming Destruction Tour.
— 新日本プロレスリング株式会社 (@njpw1972) August 24, 2015
It has already been five months since his WWE release and already Robinson has made good on his word of gaining experience. His association with New Japan Pro Wrestling is a great opportunity for Parker to build the reputation he so sorely seeks.
Whether Robinson can breath new life into his career remains to be seen but he has a big opportunity and I expect him to grab it with both hands.