In under five years, up-and-comer Royce Isaacs has already found success up and down the West Coast on the U.S. indie scene, as well as in Japan (for DDT) and Mexico (for The Crash). I was able to speak with Isaacs days before he and tag partner Jorel Nelson, the other half of the One Percent, captured the DEFY tag titles from the American Gunz in Seattle, WA.
Before our interview, Isaacs and I discussed his then-upcoming tag team match for DEFY; he and partner Jorel Nelson, The One Percent, were to take on the American Gunz, Mike Santiago and Ethan HD. We took some time talking about his current training regimen.
You know how people do high-altitude training? I’m just doing high-rain training to get ready for the Pacific Northwest.
(laughs) Right on. Do you do any special training for your in ring work?
I have a program for myself, workout-wise. I train wrestling twice a week as well. I don’t do anything necessarily special, I’m not reinventing the wheel. I do some pretty normal, classical weight training stuff.
Wrestling-wise, I just try to work on the things I feel I’m lacking in, some of the areas I think I could work on instead of doing what’s fun or whatever. Wrestling practice should not be fun. The fun is when you actually get to go out and do it.
Could you elaborate on that? What do you mean more particularly?
I mean, I was an amateur wrestler and I was a football player as well, and I never really enjoyed practice. Practice is for repetition. Practice is for making sure you get things right, so I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a blast. Otherwise, why would we even bother performing when you could just have fun in practice, you know?
To me, that’s what you do so that you can have the best performance. You should enjoy the performance in front of people. I don’t particularly enjoy taking bumps because that shit is painful, you know what I mean?
Yeah, if it was easy than everyone would do it. OK, so you’re from Denver, right?
I was born in Connecticut actually, but I moved to Denver when I was 8 so I lived there for 20 years, and then I moved out here [Los Angeles] a little over a year ago.
How has it been in LA?
I mean, it’s paradise out here as far as weather goes. There’s some really cool stuff around here. I’m very into true crime and history kind of stuff and there is so much of that around here. I’m the kind of guy who gets sucked into a portal … serial killers, cults and crap like that. LA is where a lot of that stuff happened, like, blocks from my house. The Museum of Death is right down the street from me. It’s a really good area for stuff like that.
And you know, there’s a lot of opportunity out here, a lot of people and different connections. LA has been really good to me. I love Denver and Denver’s always gonna be my heart but, you know, career-wise, this is definitely the best deal.
So since you’re out in LA, are you doing any acting?
No, no. Honestly, I’ve been intentionally staying away from that. I’ve done some acting in the past and it’s very fun, it’s just that I wanna stay focused. The last thing I wanna do is have myself too spread out, which I know a lot of people go “You should really branch out more and have different sources of income,” or “Diversify, don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” etc., but honestly, my adult life the past few years have all been about wrestling. I do plenty of stuff in my free time so that I can get my mind off of it, but I don’t want to necessarily spread my focus too far so that I can focus on what I really give a shit about. I wanna stay focused if that makes sense.
Yeah, totally. So when you say stay focused, I mean I know you’re talking about wrestling specifically, but in terms of 2019, what are some of the things you want to accomplish and express this year? With both the tag team and with your own career.
Well, I’d definitely say that 2018 was, for me was about the West Coast and to establish myself as a major player out here, but I think there’s no reason that in 2019 I couldn’t be a player on the national stage, whether that be with a company or not, you know? Whether that means a contract or not, that doesn’t actually matter. I would like to be traveling the East Coast, traveling to the Midwest, traveling to the South for wrestling matches often. And I’d definitely like to do more international shows as well.
Speaking of international shows, you were working with DDT for a bit, right?
Yeah, I was over in DDT, I did three tours with them. I did four months with them in 2016 and 2017 for three tours. I’ve done a little bit of stuff in Mexico, both border cities like Tijuana and Mexicali, working for The Crash a few times. I also did some stuff in Mexico City as well.
DDT is pretty unique, huh.
DDT is very unique. DDT is one of the coolest places in the world to work because you’re getting a little bit of everything there. Obviously a lot of the stuff that most people know, the comedic stuff, but at the same time, people like Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi came from there. And I think they have some of the top up-and-comers in Japan right now, and probably just in wrestling in general right now. They have some amazing talent. It’s almost like a variety show where you can get a little bit of everything. Just like with movies, there are serious movies and comedic movies, there are dramatic movies, and I think DDT does a really, really good job, probably better than any other company at covering all their bases. At the end of the day, wrestling, I fuckin’ love it and I take it very seriously, but wrestling is pretty silly, so it’s kind of nice to laugh at yourself sometimes. DDT definitely does that.
That’s right. I think a lot of people in the States mostly know them for their comedy stuff, but yeah, there are a lot of great workers.
Absolutely. Or they’ll see some great workers and not even realize they’re from DDT. You’ve gotta give credit where it’s due. I remember on one of my tours there in 2017 Konnosuke Takeshita and Tetsuya Endo had a 60-minute time limit draw at Korakuen Hall and I would put it up against any other 60-minute match in terms of quality.
Both of those guys are insane.
Those are two of the guys I was definitely referring to when I was talking about that next wave of wrestling talent that is coming out of there. They’re really amazing and really young, really talented.
Who did you like working with over there in DDT?
I was really blessed to work with Danshoku Dino quite a bit. Creatively speaking, I think it’s easy to forget that wrestling is an art, and Dino is really an artist. He takes his craft seriously and he’s very inventive. He’s a thinker and I really like that, and it’s something I really want to incorporate into my game.
But I mean the whole DDT crew is pretty great. I got to do the main event match against Kazusada Higuchi in Shinjuku FACE and that was something that I’ll remember forever, getting to wrestle a true heavyweight in Japan at Shinjuku FACE was a big honor for me. Big shout out to him.
That’s awesome. Shinjuku FACE is a really cool club, too. It’s like a bar, right?
Kinda, yeah, especially lighting-wise. It was the first venue I ever worked in Japan so it definitely has a special, nice feel to me. Nice lighting, nice setup … I really enjoyed my time over there. I loved wrestling at Korakuen [Hall] but Shinjuku FACE is very underrated in terms of how cool it is.
And going back to The Crash, how was that? And how was that different from working other West Coast companies, like in California or up here in Portland or Seattle? What’s that like?
I mean, I really like in Mexico how much they respect wrestling. They treat you as a wrestler and how you’re looked at is very nice. The fans are super, super into and sincere about what you do there. Obviously, the Crash is one of the top promotions down there and I have nothing but good things to say about them. You get to wrestle in front of really big crowds that were, gosh, they really work themselves up into a mania. I honestly love doing the Lucha Libre style and I’ve been trying to incorporate a little bit of that it into my own style here and there, where it fits. I have nothing but positive things to say about the wrestling I’ve done in Mexico.
I think that’s really cool, and when you hear someone talk about Lucha Libre you usually think something specific, and I think your style is more amateur-rooted, so was it difficult translating your style down there? Or even in DDT? Was it difficult? Or was it seamless?
I’d say that in some ways you have to keep your own self-[identity] in your head. You know, if I went to DDT and I just tried to wrestle like I was a Japanese wrestler, I mean they have a bunch of those guys who’ve already been doing it for years and can probably do it a lot better than me. And it’s a tame thing with Lucha Libre; if I came in and started trying to Mexican-style arm drags there are probably a million other guys who can do a prettier one because they’ve been doing it for 20 years on the shows. It’s just one of those situations where you take certain things that you’re like “Oh wow, I can incorporate that,” or “I can adapt that to my style,” but you still wanna be an attraction and you want to be different, you wanna stand out. Whoever your audience is, of course, you perform to what they want to see, but at the same time if you just go out there and try to mime what other people are doing but do it worse you’re not gonna have success.
It’s obvious when wrestlers do that, too. You see that a lot these days.
You see it way too much these days. Not to go off on a tangent or anything but I do see a problem with originality and creativity and being authentic today. It’s also about being authentic to yourself, you know? You can tell when someone is coming out and they’re doing the best impression of whoever. “Oh, you grew up as a fan of so-and-so. You’re just doing his act all over again.” I mean of course I was influenced by other people but there are still ways to make things your own, right?
It’s about self-expression, I think.
Right, exactly. So if you’re expressing someone else you’re just not really doing it, you know? Obviously, there are cover bands out there, but at the same time, cover bands tend to be booked as much and paid as much, but at the end of the day you shouldn’t have cover bands booked with original artists.
Let’s go back to when you started out.
It’ll be five years in April. I started training in April of 2014, so it’ll be my five-year anniversary of when I started training in a few months.
And what brought up to to DEFY Wrestling recently?
I’ve meant to get up there for a while actually. Wrestling up there is doing really, really well and DEFY is a big part of that up in the Pacific Northwest right now. It’s similar to Colorado in that like five or six years ago there wasn’t much of a scene and there wasn’t much good wrestling in the area in terms of independent stuff, it was just really, really hard to find. I’ve basically had it in the back of my mind since college that I wanted to be a pro wrestler but there just wasn’t anything around me. Luckily a friend of mine took to me this thing called Lucha Libre & Laughs in the Denver area, which I really recommend you check out. It’s one of the best comedy shows in Denver for three or four years straight, and they do stand-up comedy in between wrestling matches. It’s at the Oriental Theater and they pack the house. It’s a great date night, it’s not just a wrestling show, it’s so much more than that. It’s a good environment. If you’ve never seen wrestling, if you don’t like wrestling—well, first of all, I don’t know why you’d be reading this, but you are—but it’s a show that anybody can enjoy as long as you’re 21. It’s for mature audiences.
Anyways, I ended up going to one of the shows with a friend whose girlfriend did a poster for the show, and as soon as the show was over I was like “Cool, ok, they must use local talent around here, so there must be some place to train.” I think it was two days later when I started training.
Damn. When did you have your first match?
Oh god, way too soon after that. I think it was maybe June of that year? So I was two months into training. I thought I was going to be training for a lot longer before it happened but it’s just kinda how it worked out. I’m the kind of person who’d rather just dive into something. I went to school in Iowa, 12 house away from home; I moved out here [L.A.] a year ago. I don’t have a problem diving into anything. It’s either just go for it, sink or swim, as long as you have movement and you are going. You can’t be hesitant, you’ve just gotta just dive into things—at least for my personality. You’ve gotta go full-on, headstrong into things. At least for me, that’s what’s worked. And I’m glad I did it.