Travis Banks finally has a chance to reclaim the IPW Championship tomorrow night at Nightmare Before Xmas.
Banks, who first won the title at A Decade of Impact, was stripped of his belt when IPW relaunched in July, and had to watch on from the United States of America as “Te Tahi” Vinny Dunn became champion.
Now, Banks and Dunn meet for the belt in a Fans Bring the Weapons match tomorrow night.
The “Peak of Perfection” began 2013 in Tokyo, Japan, training at the Zero1 dojo. He then spent three months in St Louis, Missouri, living and training with former Ring of Honor Champion Davey Richards.
NZPWI Editor David Dunn spoke to Travis Banks earlier this week about his time in both America and Japan, winning the IPW Championship and the promotion’s closure soon after, Fans Bring the Weapons, and why Vinny Dunn is the Britney Spears of New Zealand wrestling in this exclusive interview.
David Dunn: It’s roughly one year ago that you took a big step in your career with the Zero1 Oceania Fighting Spirit Challenge. A great group of guys involved in that, and you were selected to get an all-expenses-paid scholarship for three months, heading over to Tokyo, Japan. Tell us a little bit about that experience, going through the tryout, and then finding yourself living and training in Tokyo for three months.
Travis Banks: The Zero1 experience was so incredible, from the tryout to the trip. But what I wanted to say is, on that day with the tryout and seeing so many New Zealand wrestlers come through and give it a go, it really put my faith in New Zealand wrestling. We had so many young guys that came in and did really well – it was such a hard tryout. I’ve never seen so much heart from all these guys, and I’m just glad that I came out on top because it was such a tough day. Winning the tryout was amazing, and then the three months was life changing. I got to face some of the greatest wrestlers in Japan. Shinjiro Otani, he’s a WCW superstar as well. I describe him best as the Hulk Hogan of Japan, and I got to wrestle with him. He’s known for having great matches with Chris Benoit, and Benoit is one of my favourite wrestlers, so it was just an amazing opportunity. I got to train with Masato Tanaka, Ikuto Hidaka, one of the greatest cruiserweights that I have ever seen, so it was just a great chance to learn and really improve my wrestling, and I hope the fans enjoy my wrestling since I’ve come back.
What about your time in Japan as a country itself? Was there a bit of culture shock there? You’ve grown up in the rural community of the Rangitikei and you find yourself in the heart of Tokyo for three months. How’d that go down?
It’s a little bit different to Bulls, probably by about a million people. I was really looking forward to the culture shock. I wanted to be challenged not just in wrestling but just in life as well. Living in Tokyo, trying to speak the language, eat the food, it was such a shock to the system that it made me appreciate being able to get out there and travel and do what I love.
What about the reverse, coming back from Japan to New Zealand, everything’s downgraded slightly again. Was there a bit of culture shock there on the return journey home?
As sad as it was to leave Japan – I always felt that I probably will go back there in the future – but coming back everything that I’d learned in Japan, I was really keen to pass on to everyone, or anyone who’d listen anyway, to better ourselves as a country within wrestling. I’ve just been really keen to help out and to pass on what I know, so it hasn’t been too bad. I do miss it from time to time, I always think back to my time in Tokyo, but I’ve got to keep moving forward and keep going different places to improve myself.
One of those steps forward, when you returned to New Zealand, you managed to claim the IPW Championship, in what was – at the time – the last show for IPW. It must have been a bitter-sweet moment for you in a way: you’ve reached that peak you’ve been striving for for such a long time, but at the same time it was scheduled to be the last show for the company, so talk to me a little bit about the emotion behind A Decade of Impact and that moment when you finally claimed the belt.
Before I started wrestling I never thought I could be a professional wrestler. I never dreamed that I would do the things I’ve done, and claim the title. When I first started, I said to myself: ‘You know what, I’m just going give it a couple of months. If I do well, I’ll continue on. If I don’t do well, that’s it.’ As it happened I was doing well, and kept getting notoriety as I went on, and it kind of just snowballed from there and it’s been a progression throughout my years. It’s been hard training, but to get to that level where I was main eventing an IPW show for the New Zealand heavyweight title was really something else. I don’t think I ever thought I would get to that level, but it had always been in the back of my mind to aspire to be there. Facing Kingi who’s, as you know, one of the greatest New Zealand wrestlers of our time, and Liam Fury. Me and Liam, we’ve been on each other’s heels for pretty much my whole career, so going in with those two guys, the last main event, at that time, of IPW is such a special moment, and then being able to claim the title in IPW’s last show was really emotional for me. And to have my parents in the crowd was another emotional thing.
At the time for a lot of the IPW guys, with the closure of the promotion before Steve Wrigley and the financial backer started things up again, that was looking like it might be the end for them. Whereas you, possibly one of the lucky ones, in that you wound up heading over to America to train with former Ring of Honor star Davey Richards. Tell me a little bit about how – we’ve sort of touched on it on NZPWI in the past – but tell me a little bit about how that arrangement came to be that you wound up heading over to St Louis to spend three months with Davey and Tony Kozina and Kyle O’Reilly and the Team Ambition boys.
It came about by New Japan star, Bullet Club member, King Fale. He had been doing this young boy programme where they go for a year when they come out of their system, they go for a year overseas. And he went over to America because Davey Richards was a part of New Japan and they had the connection there. So when he went over to America he hooked up with Davey and he stayed with Davey for, I think about nine months. So then he came back and he asked me if I would like to go. Davey Richards is probably one of my top five wrestlers I idolise, so it was just a natural progression for me to go train with somebody who I mould my style after, and I didn’t want to pass the opportunity up. I think from when King Fale asked me, I think it was three weeks later or maybe a month later I was on a plane to St Louis. I jumped at the chance, and I had five connecting flights and one layover in New York, a 20-hour layover, in which time I read the whole Dynamite Kid book.
It put you in a good mindset for the rest of the trip.
Yeah, seeing as Dynamite Kid was Davey’s favourite wrestler too. It was good to get a little bit of research in before I met him.
Talk to me about meeting Davey for that first time. Because as much as you’re in the business as a wrestler, and you can relate to him as a wrestler, when you model yourself after someone like that, there must be a sort of intimidating factor…
I actually met a few guys when I was in Japan and I think Japan probably prepared me for moments like these, because at the end of the day it’s a business and you’re all just co-workers. When you meet guys in the back you just have to shake their hand, head down, be respectful, but in the back of my mind I’m definitely like, ‘Oh my god, these guys I watched on TV since I was young’. I do remember the first day I met Davey, we met him at the gym and we got straight into a workout so there was no breathing space. It was quite an intense workout so the pressure was on to try and prove to him that I was worth his time, to be there and help me out. So the pressure was there and I didn’t screw up or anything, and I think he was pretty impressed. I’m hoping, anyway.
Talk to me a little about these workouts, because I remember seeing the sort of thing, you’d be up at 5am doing kick-boxing training, looks like you’re in the gym all day. I’m looking at you now and you’re in phenomenal physical shape, so you must have been doing something right over there, What was the physical side of the training like with Davey and Team Ambition?
Davey’s a real big advocate of doing trainings that related to wrestling. A lot of guys are into body-building, that’s fine, but what he liked was an athletic style of training. We still did all the body-building stuff, but he was really into becoming the best athlete that he could be. Every day we’d go to the gym, once at least, do a normal weights workout and maybe at the end do a CrossFit workout. We’d do weights every day, CrossFit maybe three times a week, and then also on top of that we had kick-boxing and we had jiu-jitsu. Jiu-jitsu we went to four times a week and then kick-boxing was whenever we could. On top of that also we went to the wrestling ring maybe three times if we could. We were doing three trainings a day for most of the time I was there; it was pretty intense. But I’m so much better for it and I brought them back to New Zealand and I’m continuing doing the same trainings.
Do you find you’ve incorporated kick-boxing or jiu-jitsu into your style more? Has your style changed since you’ve come back from America, I guess is the question.
As I said, I’ve moulded my style off guys like Benoit and Dynamite Kid and Davey Richards, and their style is submission – especially Davey – the strong kicks, submission wrestling. I kind of incorporated that already, but I think going to America and being in that environment, getting the good, proper training in kick-boxing and jiu-jitsu, it can only help myself. I can feel that I’m so much better for it.
Talk to me about being in America and getting to do things like go on a wrestling road trip around some of the States. Because we’ve sort of grown up in an era where there’s things like the Art of Wrestling podcast, and you hear about this lifestyle, it’s sort of ingrained in you, and then you get to go and you get to do that. You show up in a promotion like IWA: Mid South where the likes of Daniel Bryan or CM Punk began their careers and then you’re there doing that sort of thing, is it sort of a surreal moment to be doing some of these things over in the States?
The road trips were interesting. We’d go for a show six hours away and then straight when the show’s finished, six hours back. But at any point in time I never got sick of it. I just thought, I’m in the business, I’m doing what I’ve only ever heard about, and I really enjoyed it, I enjoy the camaraderie in the car when we’re travelling. Some of the best times you have is when you’re travelling with the guys. Surreal, yes, but the thing was I was there to make a name for myself and get the spotlight on New Zealand wrestling. It was surreal, but I was there to do a job and it was kind of just the same as any other wrestling event I’ve been to.
One that must stand out though, you wrestled a Ring of Honor dark match in Chattanooga…
With Ring of Honor, I’ve been asked by so many people, ‘Were you nervous? It’s such a big deal, were you nervous?’ But my honest answer is I wasn’t. I was like, ‘This is what I’m here for, I’m here to be in a company like this, so I need to go out there and show them everything that I have.’ I was really psyched up for it and I was really amped for it and I wasn’t nervous at all. I wanted that match so badly, that was the reason I went to America, and as soon as I was given that opportunity I embraced it with open arms. It was a really cool night and everybody was happy with me. That’s all I can ask for, really.
Do you stay in touch with Davey Richards and Kyle O’Reilly and the guys that you hung out with in the States for those three months now that you’re back home?
Whenever you spend three months of your life so closely training with these guys it’s hard not to feel a tight bond with them. You see them every day, you train with them every day, and they know your strengths and your weaknesses. These are the guys that help push you to become better so I do still talk to Davey, I still talk to Kyle, they’re some of my best mates that I’ve made in my travels, they’re such genuine people and they’re willing to help you get better. I don’t think I can thank them enough for the help they have given me and the knowledge they’ve passed on.
Do you have any good anecdotes about your time in the States?
My first show I wrestled, in Carmi, Illinois… Carmi is a really small town, probably much like my hometown of Bulls, and the fans there they are rabid. They’re crazy fans. I was playing a bad guy, playing the foreigner, and I came out and I got into a guy’s face and started yelling at him, and he tried to fight me. Security had to hold him back. I would say that I was doing my job, making him hate me. He was not happy with me, and he even tried to have a go at me out back in the car-park afterwards. I told him very politely where to go, where to stick it, and carried on about my day.
While you were in America you probably weren’t thinking about it as much because you had other things on your plate, but of course IPW had folded and IPW started up again, and in the process of that you were stripped of the IPW Championship. How did that feel having reached that height, won the belt, and then when you return to New Zealand you’re no longer the champion?
I’m happy that IPW’s back open, I didn’t want it to fold to begin with. It was a place that I’ve grown my abilities and become the performer you see before you. I really was happy that it opened back up. I wasn’t too sure that Steve Wrigley had the right vision for it, I don’t know if he’s a wrestling-minded person, but I was still happy all the same that he was willing to invest some money and give us a helping hand. As far as the New Zealand title, I understand the reason why they stripped me, because I wasn’t here, but it does piss me off a little bit that I wasn’t even given the opportunity to come back and go for my title. It does piss me off because I did work really hard for that title. To come back and it just to be handed to someone else…
We spoke to the current champion, “Te Tahi” Vinny Dunn, late last week, and he had some interesting things to say about you. He accused you of leaving IPW high and dry to go and chase a dream in the States, really leaving the company in the lurch. Your thoughts on Vinny’s comments – any response to what he’s been saying about you?
The thing was, when I left the country it was on the thought that IPW was closed, it was done and dusted, and I didn’t think they were going to be coming back. In that regard I felt like I was taking the next step and there was nothing I was leaving behind. If you remember, as I do, Vinny also left the country to pursue a dream in America, but he did it when the company was still running. I don’t really know what he’s talking about when it comes to leaving the company high and dry, but that’s Vinny for you. He’s going to make an excuse, he needs to justify himself somehow.
The time for talking between you’s going to be over December 7th when you finally get in the ring one-on-one for the first time in a Fans Bring the Weapons bout at Nightmare Before Xmas…
When it comes to the Fans Bring the Weapons match I don’t think you can fully be prepared for a match like this. There’s so many elements and things that can come from it, but the thing that I think I have over Vinny more than anything else is that I’ve been to Japan, I’ve been to America, I’ve been to the places where men have made their careers from. I have gained experience from the toughest men around the planet. I have put my body through gruelling trainings and have come out the other side tougher and deadlier than before…
Vinny Dunn’s calling himself “Mr Fans Bring the Weapons,” this Saturday’s match will be his fifth, the most in company history. You yourself have been involved in a Fans Bring the Weapons match though, a fatal four-way, you weren’t successful but you do have the experience there … does that take some of the edge off, do you know what you’re getting yourself into on Saturday at Nightmare?
I don’t think you can ever fully be prepared for a match like this. Fans Bring the Weapons is so unpredictable, it’s really something else, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a match quite like it. Just that element of mystery, you never know what to expect, what a fan’s going to give you… it’s such a mysterious match in that regard, and the aura around the match is so massive… it takes on a life of its own. As for myself, if you know me, I’m prepared for pretty much any challenge. I prepare myself all the time whether it be in the gym, in the ring, at training, I prepare myself for stuff like this and for opportunities like this. I’m not nervous, I’m more anxious to get in the ring because I know that the difference between me and Vinny Dunn is that Vinny lacks killer instinct. You put a weapon in his hands he’s still just a puppy-dog, so to speak. You put a weapon in my hand and I am what I always have been, and that’s dangerous. I will get the job done.
Pretty much all I can say is that my goals and my vision of being champ is so much stronger than Vinny Dunn’s. I think I want it more. I think he just wants to perceive himself as a champion… he doesn’t want to do the hard work of a champion, he just wants to have the perception that he is a champion, and I think that’s where he fails. I feel Vinny Dunn’s like the Britney Spears of professional wrestling. Sure, he was amazing in the past and at one point the pinnacle of NZ wrestling and everyone kind of liked him, but get to his career now and it’s just an absolute car wreck and finding it a struggle to stay relevant. He’s clutching at that title now because he knows the end is near.