– TJP spoke with WrassleRap for an interview last month before his WWE release and discussed wrestling from an early age, not being a “chosen one” and more. Highlights are below:
On being into wrestling from a very early age: “I was so absorbed by it as a little kid, I thought everyone grows up to be a wrestler. I knew that there was other occupations in the world, but I was so absorbed by wrestling that in my head, ‘We’re all gonna grow up to be wrestlers.’ Every kid in my class. Everybody I knew. Even my own family. Everybody. But that’s just how, in a way, introverted I was with it. My earliest memories of growing up when I was like two, being in the living room in Kansas City before we moved to Los Angeles, and watching Saturday Night’s Main Event. Me and my dad just sitting there and him breaking off some of his chili dog to feed me — which is probably a terrible idea for a baby. So that’s like my earliest memories of him is watching wrestling. I grew up totally absorbed by it.”
On getting into wrestling professionally at thirteen: “When I got to high school I thought, ‘I’ll take up amateur wrestling.’ Because in my head, that’s what professional wrestlers do, you have to wrestle! And then you do this. But keep in mind, I started in the ’90s. So we didn’t have social media and stuff like that at that time. You didn’t just go like to a message board, there wasn’t a lot of that sort of thing. You could go to like chat rooms, like AOL chat rooms and stuff that were themed around wrestling. You might be able to find a message board here or there. But there wasn’t a lot of knowledge. So I grew up watching guys like Ric Flair, and the Guerreros and people, and they wrestled when they were young. So I thought, you know, ‘I’ll wrestle and somehow that will lead me to pro wrestling.’ I don’t know why I thought that, but somehow that will lead me there. When I got to high school first day, they don’t me that they didn’t have an amateur program. This was like 1998, and I was just, ‘Well, I guess I can write to these schools I see in Pro Wrestling Illustrated. It’s like Dean Malenko’s school, All Pro Wrestling in San Francisco, Al Snow had a place in like Ohio maybe…at the time I didn’t think anything through, I just thought, ‘Let’s see what they say and I’ll figure it out…in my head, I wrote to these places thinking, ‘Maybe there’s a way I can get there.
“So all of those places were dead ends. It was actually someone in school I met another kid who was a year or two older than me and he had been in a wrestling school locally. So I asked him about it, and it was Bill and Jesse’s School of Hard Knocks in San Bernadino. So I went and started learning, I was thirteen. And it wasn’t maybe a couple of months later I started tagging along with some of the older guys to matches. There was a lot of young guys there who were trying to get their first matches. A lot of what they would do is go to local lucha libre cards, because they could always use an extra match or extra bodies at those. So I would tag along with them, and then if they got stuck in a big tag match I would usually be the final guy or the last guy. And my first couple of matches were like that, I was just an extra guy.”
On not being a chosen top star in the industry: “Ive never been a darling of any kind. Ive never been a chosen one. I dont know if I would enjoy it if I ever was, to be honest. Its not the way Ive been wired. I’ve always been sort of a utility guy, and maybe thats a compliment to versatility and flexibility. But along with that comes people writing narratives for you. I dont like having narratives about me anymore, you know? You get tired of it. Thankfully, WWE wanted to tell my story. Theyre the first place that really ever wanted me to be me. Prior to this, I had places that, like,, You gotta pretend to be Mexican because you look like that and we dont know what a Filipino is. And Do you speak Spanish? Because if you dont speak Spanish, you wont have a job here and, Were gonna put a mask on you. Youre gonna pretend to be Japanese and its like, ‘Man, Im not anything of these things. I have nothing against it. Ive been to all these places. Im probably more Japanese than the guys you want pretending to be but, Im not that, you know. Im me.’
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit the WrassleRap podcast with an h/t to 411mania.com.