Spud wrestled extensively around the United Kingdom for 10 years before moving to the United States after winning British Boot Camp, and a TNA contract, in 2013.
2015 has been Spud’s biggest year yet, with two X-Division Championship reigns and a shot at the TNA World Heavyweight Championship for “The Underdog”.
NZPWI’s David Dunn spoke to Rockstar Spud about his time on British Boot Camp, EC3’s recent world title win, the current boom period for wrestling in the United Kingdom, developing a TNA-specific style, and more in this exclusive interview.
David Dunn: Tell me a little about the British Boot Camp process. How did that come about? Was that something you applied for? Was that something TNA reached out to you to be a part of?
Rockstar Spud: They reached out to me. It wasn’t something I even knew was happening. I think in the early days of it it wasn’t supposed to be British Boot Camp, it was supposed to be so many different things before it actually became what it was. They reached out to me, they reached out to Marty [Scurll], they reached out to The Blossoms, and the rest is history. I looked at the whole thing as an opportunity, and in the wrestling business you have a very small window of opportunity – especially someone like myself who’s 5-foot-4, I haven’t got the biggest frame, I’m not big at all, I’m not the standard of what big companies look for in a pro wrestler. But I had personality, I had drive and I had heart and I just thought, I’m going to throw everything that I have into this opportunity and if they say no to me I can live with that because they told me to my face and I know I threw everything I had into it. Very thankful for the opportunity and thank the heavens above, the right place, the right time, the right opportunity, and the right people saw me and they gave me the contract. One of the most surreal experiences and one of the happiest experiences of my life because it was something I’d been working towards for just over 10 years. Just to be able to say to my mum and dad, ‘I did it. All the times you saw me battered when I walked in and all the people who were saying it was pointless…’ I don’t have to throw it in anyone’s face, just for self-satisfaction, I did it and I’m very proud of that.
After British Boot Camp you wound up heading over to OVW. OVW’s been in the news lately because long-time owner Danny Davis has just announced he’s selling his stake in the company. Your thoughts on your time spent at OVW and working with Danny Davis?
The best 10 months’ education into the bus I’ve ever had. In my opinion, everybody should go there to learn. When I first got there I thought, ‘I know what I’m doing, I know what I’m doing’ but you really don’t. You find out what everything you’re actually doing means and what television means, what the idea of television is, how a television show is put together, live events, working properly and working with a purpose. It was just such an education and I was so happy with it. A lot of people get really salty at the fact, ‘What am I in developmental for? I should be straight on TV’. That wasn’t my mindset. I won British Boot Camp, if nothing comes of this at least I got educated in the business by some of the absolute best: Rip Rogers, Al Snow, Danny Davis. It was a fun time, and Al always told me, ‘These are going to be the most fun times you have in the business’ and it really was. If Danny sold up I know that’s a business decision of his but I know the person he’s handed over the reigns to is Dean Hill, and Dean’s a wonderful man and he’s been with OVW since day one. Dean’s an ex-police officer and he’s an enormous man – he looks like Kevin Nash would if he was in his 70s. Dean is a wonderful, wonderful man and I wish OVW the organisation, Danny Davis in whatever decision he’s made, and Dean Hill all the best for the future.
From OVW you made the move up to the main TNA roster, and for a lot of your tenure with TNA so far you seem to have been coupled with EC3 whether that’s been as friends or as foes. What’s it like for you to see EC3 pick up the World Heavyweight Championship after being such an important part of each other’s careers up until this point?
It was rewarding. If we’re talking out of character it was completely rewarding because I was part of that, I was part of three-quarters of that journey that Michael Hutter had, giving the finger to all those people that told him he wasn’t good enough. It was an awesome feeling. I took pride in being a part of that. I took pride in helping him move forward with his career and I know he took pride in helping my career as well. That’s what it’s about, it’s about helping each other. It’s not about going in there selfishly making yourself, it’s about helping each other so we’ve all got someone else to work with going forward, and then someone else has got someone else, it’s the snowball effect, you want to make it bigger and bigger and bigger. Very rewarding, someone who deserves it and someone who can carry the championship and be an actual face for the company and will be a leader for the company as well. My hat’s off to him because he worked his ass off and he knows there’s no one who wants it more than him than me, and I know that there’s no one who wants it more than me than him. That’s why when you see us on screen together that’s brought out in each other. I was part of that, and I felt part of that for the longest of times. All I can say is good for him because he deserves it.
You’re back in the UK at the moment and I know you’ve got a seminar coming up with Progress tonight … how have you found being back in the UK, being around the UK scene again? Perhaps coming from a training perspective.
I’m extremely happy that the guys that are on the scene now, they’re carrying the scene forward. I firmly believe within the next 10 years there’s going to be a British promotion that has television because the standard of the guys is that good. In regards to doing the amount of seminars that I’m doing it’s just to pass on the knowledge that I’ve learned, to educate the guys over here of what this business actually is. I think a lot of people don’t understand that the entire business isn’t built around having good matches, it’s about engaging your audience, because the only people who know what a great match is are usually wrestling fans, but it’s the people that are outside of wrestling that we really want to engage. It’s something I’m going to pass on. There’s been some amazing feedback from the seminars that I’ve been doing, which I’m proud of because I really love teaching and I love this business so much and I want to give back to it because people have given to me. It’s been really rewarding so far, I’ve got some more seminars coming up. I’ve got a full week of seminars while I’m in London and I’ve got some up north so I’m really looking forward to them too.
The UK scene seems to be on the upswing, really blowing up at the moment – I know there’s a lot of New Zealand talent over here in our scene who are looking at England as the next big thing, the place they’d like to be. Why do you think that is? Can you attribute that to anything specifically?
I think it’s just the drive of the guys. Obviously we’re a very small country but everybody had more of an education of the industry from working with TNA [or] WWE [that] have taken a lot of the guys, and when they return they can give advice. I think a lot of people have learned from other people’s mistakes over the 10 years previous too and are running it like a business, which is how you should be running it – which is extremely rewarding to the promoters and extremely rewarding to the talent as well. The fact that it’s being ran more like a business I think is the main factor. Once people concentrate on little things like lighting, production, cameras, once they get that whole concept down it wouldn’t hurt if one of the television studios were ever hired out somewhere in the country to get the live audience in and a show was put on there just like TNA would in Orlando. I think that would really help a UK promotion have that education of filming for television instead of just filming for DVD sales.
It’s not just the promotions and the wrestlers picking up in the UK. It seems like there’s a good audience over in the UK – when you watch Impact, for example, and the fans just seem rabid for the product. With your experience of different crowds all over the world how do you rank the UK fans?
Number one. Number one every time. I’ve been to New York city, I’ve been to Tokyo, Japan, and nothing beats England. They’re wrestling fans to the core, they love to be entertained. That’s the difference between us because Britain has always loved pantomime and we’ve always loved interacting with what we’re watching. That’s a big part of British culture, whether it be on social media nowadays with X-Factor and having their opinion – we’re a very opinionated bunch, we’ve always got something to moan about, whether it’s the weather or whether it’s getting up on a Monday. We always want to have an opinion on something. We’re very passionate about anything whether it be football, pro-wresling, rugby, Coronation Street, whatever, and that comes out at the show. You always watch WrestleMania and you see everybody go over there and you’ll know the entire audience is majority British. You get some of the football chants and you just know. As a Brit it just makes you smile, and it’s so awesome because this country is one of the best countries in the world. We’re friends with America and all and we all have that banter with them but there’s no better fans than here in the UK.
You’re living in the US at the moment so what differences have you found—not wrestling-wise but in your personal life—living over there versus living in the UK? What differences are you finding?
Girls want to talk to me more because I look British. [laughs] No, it’s a lot of things really. Cold beer. Ice-cold beer, that’s another one. I came over here and I go, ‘Have you got any ice-cold beer?’ ‘No, we’re not allowed to do that.’ Why? It’s ridiculous. For some reason England’s not allowed to put beer in ice. I don’t understand it. There’s other things, like bacon. Their bacon’s awful. I have this argument with Ken Anderson all the time, he goes, ‘What you guys have is ham, it’s not bacon’. No, it’s bacon, mate, and it’s the best bacon of all-time. Sometimes it’s Danish, but it’s our bacon, it’s the best. I loved it. Absolutely loved it. Those are the main differences, just a few foods here and there but I’ve got used to having pancakes with my breakfast in the morning. Everybody looks at me funny when I want baked beans but beggars can’t be choosers. But you know what? I’m living in the United States of America living the dream, mate. I have nothing to complain about.
Outside of TNA television programming you seem to be very active with things like I’m With Spud Wednesdays, and last year there was the Spin Cycle with you, EC3 and The BroMans involved. Who’s in charge of coming up with the ideas for the online programming? Is that a thing you’ve got a lot of creative control over?
The majority is Josh Matthews and Jeremy Borash. With the Spin Cycle it was more Jeremy Borash and the collective efforts of myself and EC3 and Robbie and Jesse and Zema – and nothing to do with Sanada because he’s garbage! Every little bit of it was just us getting together and [asking], ‘What can we do to make this entertaining?’ We don’t want to be sitting around with our thumb up our asses, let’s do something productive even if it’s just entertaining with this absolute ridiculous concept of… I don’t even know what it was, it just had its own little world. That was the same as myself with I’m With Spud Wednesday. Josh originally wanted me to do a show that would advertise the Impact programme which eventually became the Josh Matthews Impact Wrestling preview, but he wanted me to do that and I was like, ‘We could do a lot more with this’. We were still getting used to each other as colleagues at the time and I’m sure him coming in straight from WWE, ‘What the hell’s this guy…’ I went, ‘Let me do this, let me do that’ and eventually Josh was just like, ‘What are we doing next week?’ It just became its own little world. It was great fun to do and from doing that me and Josh bonded and became great friends because all we do is insult each other and it’s just a bond where you know what your humour is and we had a fun time doing it, just making people laugh. We got Robbie involved in it which completely destroyed all viewership that we had because that’s what Robbie does. He’ll get in something and he’ll just take all its money and ruin it and move onto the next one because he’s scum and we all hate Robbie. That’s pretty much how it goes, really. I think it happened with Spin Cycle only Sanada was more of a scum-bag than Robbie was so that’s why Sanada just came in and made us all friends and then the show ended. It could have ended on a better note, to be fair, but that was Spin Cycle. Those shows were some of the most fun things I’ve done, real fun stuff. It just takes you away from the wrestling and lets you be a character and be an entertainer and be what you want to be. Very fun times.
I can only imagine, they’re very fun to watch as a viewer…
We’re literally holding laughter. There’s so many times where Jeremy Borash is hiding behind someone because he’s dying laughing. I’m cracking up, Robbie’s laughing, EC3’s laughing, Jesse’s laughing, Zema’s laughing, the camera crew are laughing, Sanada has no clue what’s going on, but we’re all… just garbage.
On top of TNA programming and all the stuff on the internet you’re also very active when it comes to doing the rounds with the media as well. You don’t have to hold back on my account, but is that a part of your job you enjoy or is that more a necessary evil having to get out there and promote things?
I love all aspects of this business and I am an advocate for the company I work for. I am very happy with the company I work for and will promote the company I work for, and I’ll promote everything about it. I love doing media. I love talking about pro-wrestling, it’s the best business in the world. I love being active with the fans. I like meeting the fans and letting them know we used to be just like you, y’know what I mean? Letting them have that connection with you. I just like entertaining people and putting a smile on someone’s face, whether that makes them happy or it makes them happy I got beaten up because I was a jerk to them. Just to put smiles on people’s faces is what this business should be about. You can talk about money, you can talk about politics and, ‘I’m not given the right chance’ or anything like that, but what this business is about is putting smiles on people’s faces. I want to be one of those people that when I’m booked on the card they know, when they turn on the television, when they go on YouTube, when they go on social media, they know I’m doing it to make them have fun and entertain them. That’s my take on it. We’re doing this interview right now and I just love talking about pro-wrestling and the company I work for and the people I’m surrounded by because you can’t wake up surrounded by the people I’m surrounded by, in the country I’m in, working with the company I do without having a positive attitude. I can’t explain it any better than that.
A little bit earlier this year there was a conference call with Billy Corgan when he’d come on board with the creative team. Throughout the call he kept mentioning one of the things he wanted to work on was developing a style for TNA, a TNA-specific style. What’s your take on TNA’s unique style that sets it apart?
What sets it apart right now compared to everywhere else in the industry is that we actually have good guys and bad guys. There’s no shades of grey. We have people that you can get behind and want to see win and overcome the odds and people that you dislike that you want to go to the arenas and boo and you don’t want to see defeat our heroes. That’s the difference. Everywhere else it seems like everyone’s just going in there and having a good match and everyone chants, ‘This is awesome’ and no one gets booed and no one gets cheered. It’s just, ‘We like both of them’. I firmly believe the only way you draw money is through love and hate. If you love everybody, you’re not really going to pay to watch someone lose, are you? Or, if you like everyone, you actually don’t want the bad guy to lose. People need to remember what the essence of the business was, and that was good versus evil and telling great stories. The prime example of that was EC3/Rockstar Spud at Wembley. Everyone raved about that match, which is a huge compliment, and I think the reason everybody raved about it was because they hadn’t seen anything like it in a long time, because no one had done a bad guy and a good guy match for a long time, to the essence core. It wasn’t like, ‘We’re going to have it so this is the guy you’re supposed to cheer and this is the guy you’re supposed to hate’. They wanted me to beat him and they felt terrible when I lost. They didn’t want him to win. Everybody can say that was because of the English crowd or other elements of it. If that match was anywhere in the world it would have got the same reaction with that build-up, the great writing that the writers did—Dave Lagana and Matt Conway, Jon Gaburick—the way the match structured. The most rewarding thing about it to me was everybody was talking about TNA again. That’s all I cared about. When everyone goes, ‘That was a great match, that was a great match’ they were talking about, ‘You have to tune into Impact to watch this match’ and that’s what I cared about more than anything.
We had a conference call with Kurt Angle and EC3 last month and I was talking to them about this. It used to be back in the day you’d have four weeks of TV leading up to a pay-per-view and now that’s not the case. As you were saying, you have to tune in to the television product every week because that’s where the big happenings are occurring. What are your thoughts on the way in 2015 television has taken on much more importance than the old model where pay-per-view was king?
Pay-per-view is gradually being phased out. For example, you can buy Netflix so you don’t have to tune in to a TV station. You can buy movies early so you don’t have to wait for DVDs. The world’s very on-demand, and I think that’s what people want. They want their pro-wrestling when they want it and whatever it is they want to watch. I think that’s the way of the world, really. It’s an on-demand world and we’re moving up with the times.
I’ll let you go now, I know you’ve got a busy day ahead of you. In the immediate future—I know you’ve had a shot at the world title, you’ve had the X-Division title twice, you’re doing quite well for yourself—where do you hope to see yourself perhaps December, the end of 2015 going into 2016?
When we get to 2016 it’ll be the UK tour. I know that we’re going back to my home town of Birmingham so I have no problem shouting this out from the rooftop now and I’ll throw it out there everywhere: If EC3 is still the World Heavyweight Champion, I challenge EC3 to a match for the world title in my home town of Birmingham. There is nothing that would be greater than to have a match like that over the road from where I used to work in a bank which was no more than 500 yards away, looking at the NIA dreaming when I was a kid that I wanted to wrestle in that building. To wrestle for the World Heavyweight Championship in my home town, mate, stuff dreams are made of. Everyone has heard me say it a million times, ‘Oh, it’s a dream come true, it’s a dream come true’, that’s the stuff dreams are made of. Would that be the best ending to the story of EC3 and Rockstar Spud? Who knows, but if we get to Birmingham for the world heavyweight title, me versus him, that could be off the charts. You saw what we did in London this year, imagine what we’d do in my home town.