Welcome back for Part 2 of my Interviews with the Independents series. You can read Part 1, my interview with “Mr. Fresh 2 Death” PB Smooth here. Before we start this next interview, I have been fortunate enough to make some tremendous friends in my life. Through my amazing friendships with Daine and Erin Pavloski (Daine you can follow @cast_cheese for the cheesiest of cheese facts and entertainment), as well as Nick and Kim Pavloski, I had the great fortune of getting in touch with a fellow Michigander and professional wrestler, Jake Something. Jake has been building a strong resume on the independent scene since his start in 2009, to the point where he’s been frequently seen on TV and/or PPV with companies like Impact Wrestling, EVOLVE, and AAW. The sky is the limit for someone with Jake’s drive and talent, and according to him, things may be picking up very soon!
Can you get us started by talking about your pre-wrestling career background? What got you into wrestling?
I’ve always wanted to be a wrestler. I watched it all the time growing up because I was such a huge fan. My mom and uncle had a bunch of pictures from live events they’d go to. My Aunt had a few pictures with Ric Flair, and the two of them had similar hair. My uncle convinced me that Flair and my aunt were actually brother and sister. It’s just something that I’ve always wanted to do. I didn’t play any sports in high school. I’ve always been pretty athletic, but just never really got into sports. So as soon as I graduated high school, I went to wrestling school, started traveling and training, and I’ve been doing my thing ever since.
So Ric Flair was your guy growing up?
I would actually have to say Hulk Hogan was the guy for me. He was always my favorite and the one that always got me hooked. I would lose my mind as a kid every time I watched him.
He was the one who got me hooked as a fan, so I can definitely relate to that. So you got started training right after high school. Can you talk about that a little bit more? What was training like and where did you train?
Yeah, so I graduated high school and that October following graduation I moved to Pennsylvania and started training at the Ring of Honor dojo. Delirious and Daizee Haze were trainers there, and Grizzly Redwood and Rhett Titus helped out. They also had guest trainers come in like Austin Aries, (Chris) Hero, and a few more people on the independents.
I trained there for 6 months. I want to say we trained there Monday through Wednesday if I remember right, for 6 hours a day. On weekends we would travel with Ring of Honor and I think that’s where the brunt of the training happened. We would do these long trips for like 13 hours, and when we’d get to the venue we would have to set everything up and help out with the show. Once the show was over, we would have to tear everything down and get ready for another 5 to 6 hour trip and do it all over again. Rinse and repeat. Then we would have to make the long trip back home. That was the real learning experience. It really prepped me for what I was getting myself into.
When did you have your first match after all the traveling and training? Was it part of the training? What do you remember about that first match?
During training, you aren’t supposed to have any matches. After training is complete, you might get a dark match, but while you’re in training everyone would have a specific job on shows. It might be different now because this was about nine years ago, but back then two people might be working the spotlights and two people might be ringside. They would be getting streamers out of the ring, or cleaning up broken tables, or running wrestlers’ attire to the back. There were times when we were security and had to break wrestlers up. We’d get our asses whipped a little bit here and there.
I’ll try to remember my first match. I’m a firm believer that you should not have your first match until after you’re cleared, so I didn’t until then. The course was six months and I finished training in April 2009. I’m from Michigan, so I had to come back home from PA. That following weekend I had my first match. That was really cool because for a lot of people it doesn’t get to happen that quickly. My tag team partner at that time had to do weeks of being a ref, but I didn’t have to do that. I had my first match that weekend in Detroit for a promotion that I think was called IDW. It was ran by Rude Boy who ran with ICP (Insane Clown Posse). It was a Cinco de Mayo event in Mexican Town so there was a big crowd and I remember it being a lot of fun, but I don’t remember a whole lot about the actual match.
Since then you’ve worked in a lot of different promotions. What are some of the places you have worked? How often do you work? How often are you on the road traveling?
At this point in my career, it’s an every weekend, all weekend thing. Sometimes I’ll only work two days and rarely only one. I would like it to be all three days every weekend. Every now and then I’ll have a show during the week, which is also cool.
I’m a mainstay at AAW in Chicago, which I like to think is one of the biggest indies in the States. I work in Glory-Pro, which is getting to be a big one as well. They are doing a lot of great things there. I frequent Toronto a lot, so I work in Superkick’d, Greektown Wrestling, and a couple places like that. Outside of that, I pick up shows where I can. There are lots of indie shows everywhere, so you kind of have to figure out which ones are worth going to. There’s a lot that are worth it, but there’s a handful that aren’t as well.
Who are some of the wrestlers, promoters, and people you have had the chance to work with and/or against during your career?
I tag with Curt Stallion in AAW. We are actually going to be tagging at a promotion in Kansas coming up, which will be our first time tagging outside of AAW. So that will be cool. Over the last couple of years I’ve been doing a lot more stuff with Impact. I will be doing way more with them really soon, so that’s really cool. One of the people that run Impact is Scott D’Amore. He also runs a school in Windsor called the Can-Am Dojo, so I’ve trained a lot there. I’ve learned a lot from Scott and he always has some really good trainers there as well. I’d like to say that’s actually where I learned most of my refined skills. I mean, you learn the basics early on in training and on the road, but if you can find a school where you can really hone your craft, that’s where you can make the big moves.
I’ve had lots of matches with guys that really stand out. I’ve worked with many of my friends like Hakim Zane (Rohit Raju) who works for Impact and has always been my favorite opponent. We started out together and we’ve worked together, trained together, and we’ve gotten to wrestle each other at Ring of Honor and Impact. There’s been some bigger names too. I was able to have a quick match with Bobby Lashley on Impact. Even though it was only a quick match, he taught me a lot. Afterward, he became a good friend and he’s helped me a lot with a lot of the behind the scenes stuff. That’s been real cool because he was a guy I watched as a fan growing up. Besides that I was able to work with OI4K, who go by oVe now (Sami Callihan and the Crist brothers) and some others.
I’ve worked with Colt Cabana a lot. I had about 4 matches in a row with him for AAW. He’s a great guy to get to learn from. Everyone knows he’s really good, but I don’t think people realize how good he is at all of the little things you would never think of that makes a match great. He’s like a natural teacher. He’s not a teacher at any school or anything, but every match you have with him you can take back so much. I don’t even know if he realizes he’s doing it, so that’s really cool.
Are there any moments that stick out to you at this point in your career that you would consider to be the most memorable?
Well I’ve got one that’s kind of under wraps right now. I can’t really talk about it, but it will be happening soon. Other than that, I’d say my two WWE tryouts. Those were both really awesome and eye-opening experiences. I got to go to the performance center and do all their training. It’s one of those things that motivates you even more, and you get a real taste of what it’s like there. It makes you want it so much more. I’d say those are some of my biggest moments so far.
You’ve had opportunities to work all over, including some chances to work on TV and Pay Per View. What is working in front of TV cameras and on PPV like opposed to working at a regular indie live show? Do you prefer one over the other?
I would say when you get into the really big companies for TV, that’s when it’s going to be a lot different. Outside of that, it’s pretty similar. There are certain cues you want to look for. When you are doing stuff with Impact, they don’t usually do things live, but they are taping shows for TV. You get cues from a ref during a match that it’s time to go to commercial. You don’t want to be doing any big moves during a commercial, so knowing when that cue comes is big. You want the TV audience to see those moves because that’s who you are catering to. Little things like that are the big differences.
You have to know where the cameras are, what they (Impact) want the people to see, the pacing of the match, and you have to stick to your times strictly. On an indie show that’s not being filmed for PPV or TV, the time restrictions aren’t as severe. If you go a minute or two over your time there, it isn’t a big deal. If you do that on TV, you are cutting into someone else’s time, or costing somebody money. That’s when you are going to get chewed out.
Knowing when the commercials are is something I never thought about starting out. Once you’re in that situation, you realize how much it makes sense. I’ve heard lots of stories of a guy like Randy Orton, who’s absolutely incredible, who’s one of those guys who is really good at things you wouldn’t ever think about or realize. Think of when you are watching RAW, and everything that is done in the ring is played towards the hard camera. What this does is also only involve the crowd on that side too, meaning the other half of the crowd doesn’t see the emotion or intensity of the match. The guys that are really good, like Orton, will use the commercials to play to that other half of the crowd not on the camera side to get them invested for when they come back live. Now they have the crowd fired up and invested, adding to the rest of the match.
I don’t know if I really have a preference between working on TV or not. I like doing it all. Even if I’m working IMPACT TV, the crowd might be 1000 or so people, so it’s still a relatively intimate venue and you can get people invested relatively easy. The biggest difference happens when you are working in front of the huge crowds of thousands. If you are working in front of 600 people, it’s easy to get them engaged. If you are on a show with 20000 people in the crowd, you can’t lock eyes with every single one of those people so it’s harder to pull them all in. So yeah, I’d say I don’t really have a preference. Maybe it’s because I’ve never really been in front of a crowd that big.
Where are some areas that you feel you can improve the most as a wrestler or performer?
That’s a tough, self-reflection kind of question there. I do go back and watch a lot of film of my matches and I can pick apart a lot of things I do that way. I would say I’m getting better at playing the crowd in, without having to do so much. So let’s say after you’re three years in, you’ve been watching wrestling forever, you’ve been watching all these guys do these big moves and you want to go out there and do them all as well. That’s cool and the crowd will love that. You are doing all of these big flashy moves, but you don’t know why you’re doing them. So you’re just doing them with no purpose. You then do an assortment of things that gets lost on a crowd, so you don’t get as much value out of it. I like to think, and I’m still getting better at this, but nowadays I’m able to get more mileage out of each move. So instead of doing 20 things in a row, I can do five things and get just as much out of them. And in between those five things, I can engage the crowd or sometimes you can even just give the crowd a look that can be enough to fire them up. I didn’t used to be as good at that, but I think I’m getting better. I still want to get even better where all it takes is a look to take my match up a notch.
Other than that, maybe I can work on my facial expressions. I’ll be watching my matches back and think to myself, ‘I wish I would have given a better visual here, or a better facial there,’ things like that. I’m not perfect, and I don’t think I ever will be. But I’m definitely a lot better than I was even a year ago and continue to get better. I want to think that the things I need to get better at are the small things that I can continue to learn as I work.
So it kind of sounds like you are working towards a, ‘less is more,’ kind of approach, right?
I think almost every wrestler eventually gets that way. That doesn’t mean you can’t do things. I mean, you watched Takeover. There’s a lot of big, cool intricate things that are awesome, but the crowd was feeding off of every single bit of it. It was all done for a reason and it all made sense.
That made me think of another thing I’d like to get better at. Over the past year or so, I’ve been starting to wrestle more like a big guy. It might sound weird, but I’ve always been on the bigger side, although I didn’t always wrestle like it. For example, a year or two ago, I’d be in a match and I’d be taking all these moves and bumping my ass off early on. Now, maybe I won’t be bumping as early or I’ll make my opponent work for it more. So when I do take a bump, it’ll mean more and have more payoff in the end. That’s one of those things I’m continuously trying to get better at in being a big man wrestler.
What are your goals as a pro wrestler? Where do you see yourself in a few years with everything that’s going in the business?
My ultimate goal has always been to be able to pay the bills with wrestling. I don’t want to have any other job. This is what I want to do. I want to travel the world with it. I want to go to England. I want to go to Japan. A personal goal I have is that I want to become a champion in any company that I’m in. I want to be the guy in every company. I’m doing more with Impact here coming up, so I want the titles. To me, it means a lot of respect. To me, titles still mean a lot and you can still make them mean a lot.
What is some advice you might have for younger fans like you were back in the day, that might want to break in to the business?
You have to work out and be as fit as possible. You don’t have to be a body builder. You can have a body of any shape and size, it doesn’t matter. Just try to be the best athlete you can be. You can be on the heavier side, but you can still be an athlete. You also want to find a reputable school with reputable trainers. There’s nothing worse, and I see this all the time, than someone that goes to a lesser known school with a trainer no one knows. Then they do the training and go to shows to try to get on the card. When they say who they were trained by, no one knows who they are and they don’t get used. It makes it harder to break in if you don’t go to a reputable school. Even if the trainer is great, you still want to try and go to a reputable school.
You are going to be in a lot of situations where you might get asked to jump in a car and go to a show. I want to say you should almost always take those opportunities. You never know what doors that can open up. I have a short story about a situation like that. I had a chance to jump in a car to go to an Impact taping a year or two ago. There were no guarantees and it was an 18 hour drive where I could just be a part of it. I took that chance. There were a couple of Impact agents who had worked with me and liked me so they made sure I had a match at the taping, which ended up being the Bobby Lashley match. That opened so many doors and got me booked for the next taping. It also made me a friend in Lashley who put me over big to those in charge. I’ve been doing stuff with them ever since all because I decided to jump in a car. So always do that.
What do you have upcoming that you have going on that you can share?
I think everyone should go out of their way to check out AAW. Not just because I’m on it, but because it has the best independent wrestlers, both known and unknown. Guys go to WWE from there. Just the other night, they had Trevor Lee and ACH’s last matches before going to WWE. Always watch AAW, it’s great. March 22nd and 23rd Impact will be filming in Windsor, Ontario. Journey Pro is coming up for me here in a week or so. Glory Pro and AAW will be having shows in February. I’ll be at all of my favorite places. Everyone should go out of your way to go watch all of those shows. There’s lots of great talent on all those shows besides me.