Torch Flashbacks TORCH TALK FLASHBACK: A.J. Styles (2002) - talks brief WCW run, trying out for WWE in front of Ric Flair, origins in wrestling
Jan 26, 2010 - 4:15:26 PM
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TORCH TALK FLASHBACK
A.J. Styles - May 2002
Originally Published in Torch Newsletter #704
Jason Powell, currently of Prowrestling.net conducted an exclusive "Torch Talk" interview with current TNA World Hvt. champion A.J. Styles in May 2002 just before the debut of TNA Wrestling. Styles talked about his start in wrestling, working briefly in WCW, and actually getting noticed in WWE by Ric Flair very early in his career. Now, Styles and Flair are working together on TNA TV.
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Jason Powell: Let's start from the beginning. How did you first become interested in being a pro wrestler? Were you a fan growing up?
A.J. Styles: I was a little bit, but not so much like the rest of the guys in the business. As far as I knew, I was going to be a football player until I figured out that I wasn't going to grow and I wasn't really that fast. So, I kind of started watching wrestling on television, especially when it blew up while I was in college. I was actually a two-time state (wrestling) champion in high school and was able to go to college and wrestle. But that's when I really started watching pro wrestling. After asking myself why I was in college since I hated school - our head wrestling coach was a heavyweight, so he didn't know anything about wrestling - instead of staying there and wasting money, I came home. I knew some guys who were huge marks for wrestling. They loved it and wanted to be trained. These guys were big body-building types. I told them, "Hey, guys, when you get ready to go up there (to be trained), take me with you and I'll try out with you." I tried out and made it. These guys also made it, but they couldn't handle it and quit. I stayed and here I am.
Powell: Where did you go to college and where were you later trained to be a wrestler?
Styles: I went to Anderson College in South Carolina, and I trained at the NCW Arena (in Cornelia, Ga.).
Powell: As I understand it, you were a gymnast and a cheerleader in either high school or college...
Styles: College. I was kind of red-shirted (as a wrestler). Since the cheerleading wasn't a big sport and wasn't funded, I was able to do that just so I had something to do until I could start wrestling. So I did the cheerleading and it was pretty cool. I didn't really get into the gymnast part until after college. I never competed or anything like that. My wife took lessons and was able to teach me some stuff. I went to a gymnastics school and was pretty much a spotter, but then I was able to learn how to do flips and things like that better than I already could. It was pretty cool.
Powell: Was the gymnastics training helpful as far as preparing you for wrestling training?
Styles: Well, you're supposed to be able to bend and stretch in gymnastics. That helped me because (the trainers) saw that and said: "Well, hey, this kid can flip around. We have to put him on TV." When they did that, I was able to learn from everyone else through experience. That's where I learned most of my wrestling. I was not only able to wrestle on Friday nights at a place called "Good Old Days" in Atlanta along with the (WCW) Power Plant guys, but also wrestle in Cornelia as well. Unlike most people who start in the business, I got a lot of experience before other guys.
Powell: Who trained you?
Styles: Rick Michaels helped train me. I don't know if I can give him all the credit because everyone I wrestled... I was always asking questions and I still do. So I can't give him all the credit, but he did help me with the basics and stuff like that.
Powell: Was there anything that surprised you about pro wrestling once you started training? Was it harder than you had anticipated?
Styles: Well, I remember Hulk Hogan saying that the best athletes are in professional wrestling. I remember thinking to myself: "What a lie. How could wrestling be as hard as football, basketball, or even collegiate wrestling?" That's what surprised me the most. Everyone knows that in pro wrestling, you are helping the other guy and you are only as good as he is. It was just amazing to me how much guys have to work together, and how much energy is spent making a match look incredible.
Powell: How long did you train before you had your first match?
Styles: I want to say a month. The flips got me over.
Powell: So that wasn't necessarily standard for where you trained?
Styles: It was a brand new school. They were getting guys in. I was good sized. I wasn't a small, skinny kid. I actually had some muscle tone. As far as I know, they didn't have any real flippers, or high-flyers, or whatever you want to call it. So when they saw me do a shooting star press they were like, "Oh my God." That was it. They put me on the shows and I was able to learn.
Powell: When, where, and who was your first match against?
Styles: My first match was against a guy named Michael Brooks. He was also a trainee. It was at the NCW Arena. I wrestled as Mr. Olympia and had a mask with rings on it. I was just a happy camper to actually get a match. My first match as A.J. Styles was a tag match against the Boogaloo Crew, who are J.C. Dazz and Scottie Wrenn. I had a partner named Damian Steele. That was a real match and I was able to learn from those guys.
Powell: Looking back at that first match against Brooks, I'm sure you were excited at the time, but...
Styles: Oh, it was unreal. It was like that feeling you get before going on a football field in high school, or before you go onto a wrestling mat. It was just an incredible feeling like I was getting ready for war. Not like I was really trying to kill somebody, but that feeling was just awesome. That feeling I get is the reason I'm still wrestling today.
Powell: In retrospect, do you think you were ready to wrestle that first match with such limited training?
Styles: No, of course not (laughs). The good thing about it was that the other guy was just as nervous as I was. But surely not. As far as I know, I should have been in some kid's backyard doing stupid stuff off the roof of something (laughs).
Powell: About six months into your wrestling career, you turned down a WCW contract offer. I think it's safe to say that most wrestlers in that position would have jumped at such an offer. Why did you pass on the deal?
Styles: This was when they were hiring all cruiserweights. To me, it seemed like they were buying up talent. It was very low pay for what they wanted me to do. It was only $400 a week. That meant I would have to drive to Atlanta every day. I had a real job at the time making more than that. I had security. Because of that, I didn't feel like I could take that risk yet because I had so many bills from college, car payments, and things like that. I didn't feel like it would be a smart risk to take by signing with someone and having no security in the money that I would have been making at that time in my life.
Powell: Who offered you the deal and how did they react when you passed?
Styles: Chris Kanyon. I talked to him about it. He was the one who said, "Hey, we're going to try to get you a deal." I got a contract in the mail. I called Chris and said, "Look, man, financially I can't do it. I don't see myself taking this contract and signing it, only to be picked up by the police at the Power Plant because I can't pay for my bills." He said: "You know what, I understand. It's not a big deal. We just thought we'd offer it to you. Good luck." I didn't burn that bridge. I wanted to let them know that I really appreciated it and was very honored to have it offered, especially at only six months in the business. I was thrilled, but I just wasn't able to take it.
Powell: You eventually signed a WCW contract shortly before the company was sold to the WWF. How did that come about?
Styles: Air Paris and I were having a feud at the NCW Arena. That was when Bill (Behrens) had a (developmental deal) with WCW and all of the Power Plant guys were wrestling for him. So the other guys (in management) were coming down and looking at them. While they were there, they noticed me and Paris having these killer matches. We were beating each other to death and having just awesome matches. We got an opportunity to go to Baltimore. We barely, by the skin of our teeth, got a dark match (on a WCW event) while we were there. We tried to tear down the house and we did. That next week, we had contracts. It was pretty incredible. I never thought it would be that quick, especially during that time when everyone knew that WCW was going through some rough times. I never thought they would give me a contract.
Powell: How far into your career were you at that point?
Styles: Two years. So it was over a full year before they offered me another contract. It was a relief because I didn't think I was going to get another one. It was great.
Powell: How long was it after you signed your contract that WCW was sold to the WWF?
Styles: I want to say it was March when we signed and we were released and not even collecting a paycheck by May.
Powell: So the WWF did not purchase your contract as part of the sale?
Styles: Right, exactly.
Powell: Was the second WCW deal dramatically better than that first $400 per week offer?
Styles: Oh, yes, big time. It was great because I was able to save that money. I knew something was up (with WCW), so I saved the money I made from them. So before I got another job I had money. I didn't have to stress out and worry about it. I was able to keep that money and save it. It helped me out. I had just gotten to the point that I had used it up. I wasn't married then, but I am now. There were just a lot of things that were good with that second WCW contract.
Powell: It wasn't a guaranteed deal, so they were able to outright release you?
Styles: There was a 90-day clause. We fell under that, unfortunately, and the rest is history. I'm not dogging WCW. That time I spent in WCW let everyone see A.J. Styles for the first time. I was able to wrestle with guys I never would have been able to wrestle with. I wasn't one of those guys who had been away from real work for a long period of time, so it wasn't that big of a deal to go back to work.
Powell: Did you have to quit your full-time job to take the WCW deal?
Styles: I did because of the travelling, and I was just worn out. I delivered water for a living prior to signing with WCW. I even wrestled for a little bit and then showed the guy who was taking my place on the routes. It wasn't too long after that that I was asking, "Hey, can I have my job back?" They were like, "Well, no." It wasn't a big deal. I was like, "I figured this was going to happen, this is okay, and I can deal with it." I just felt bad for the guys who were making the jack and then were like, "Oh, man, what are we going to do?"
Powell: Did you have to take a different full-time job at that point?
Styles: I went back to a different full-time job. I went to work for an ambulance service.
Powell: Do you still work a job outside of wrestling today?
Styles: Oh, yeah, I'm a landscaper now. I work for a friend who I go to church with. We have a good time with it, and he lets me off whenever I need to be let off to wrestle. I am blessed to have this guy as my boss. They let me do the same thing when I was an ambulance driver. I've been blessed with the bosses that I've been able to work for because they've let me off to wrestle.
Powell: How many WWF tryout matches or dark matches have you had?
Styles: Maybe two.
Powell: I was told that WWF management was so impressed with one of your matches that they had you work on promos in the backstage area. Legend has it that Ric Flair took an interest in you and watched as you worked on your promos. Is that a true story?
Styles: Well, the match was with Hurricane Helms, you know, Shane. Yeah, we had a great match. Yes, they did ask me to do promos. But Ric Flair was just watching television. He wasn't really interested in what I was doing. I think he was just watching television. It was funny, though, because I was in there cutting these promos. I was nervous already because since they were asking me to do promos it had me thinking, "Oh my God, something is up." Then Ric Flair walked in to watch TV and maybe get away from everybody else. I was like: "Dang, there is Ric Flair over there. They're asking me to do these promos in front of the keys (chroma-key screen)..." It was just unbelievable. I think someone even said that Flair was in there and that he was taking an interest, but I doubt that he even cared.
Powell: Earlier this year, you took part in the first WWF invitational tryout camp in Cincinnati. Take me through the week-long process. I've heard that the trainers focussed on the fundamentals and didn't allow you or the other wrestlers to show off any highspots. Is that true?
Styles: They didn't say not to show those things off. But obviously since we were there, they knew that we could flip around. So I didn't even bother. I had a match at an HWA show and showcased a little of that. But in the training school they wanted us to go over the basics to see how much we could remember. They wanted us to cut promos and get better at them. Honestly, it was a learning experience for me. It really wasn't that hard, but the learning experience, simple things like grabbing holds and everything else, was so valuable because I was never taught like that. It was a week of bumping, cutting interviews, getting to know the guys I was working with, and becoming a better basic wrestler. It was so cool to have Arn Anderson, Raven, Tommy Dreamer, and guys like that there to say: "Hey, man, when you put on a hold, don't just put it on. Put it on like you're going to break their freakin' arm." Little stuff like that makes you think and say, "Man, he's right." It was a great experience.
Powell: The WWF eventually offered you a $500 per-week developmental contract, but you passed on the deal. What factored into that decision?
Styles: Again, financial situations. If I had to move to Cincinnati, my wife is still in college... That would mean I would have to move to Cincinnati and get myself a room, or room with someone maybe, on $500 per week and then send some home to my wife. I just can't see living off that. I pretty much make that where I work. I just don't think I could have lived off that. Plus, to be in Cincinnati and to be away from my wife for that long, how would I go see her? I couldn't just jump on a plane, or drive down there because it would take like nine hours. It just wasn't feasible. Maybe if they could have given me a little bit more, I might have been able to take it since I might have been able to live off it. Again, it was an honor to receive that contract. I was happy, but unfortunately I couldn't accept it. It's because of my financial situation. It's nobody's fault but my own. I have to make a living and pay my bills. If I were a kid right out of high school or even right out of college and unmarried, of course I would have taken it. Or maybe if I was a kid who wasn't married and lived with my parents, I would have taken it.
Powell: Who offered you the deal, and did you express your concern over the low financial figure?
Styles: Johnny Ace was the person who talked with me about it. He said he understood that it wasn't a lot of money. I pretty much told him the same thing I told Chris Kanyon earlier in my career. Johnny said, "I understand and hopefully there will be opportunities in the future." Johnny was the person who hired me in WCW. I think he tried to help me out. As far as I know, they might not have wanted to offer me anything. Maybe Johnny Ace stuck his nose out there for me. But Johnny is a good guy, so he understood what I was going through and was very kind.
Powell: Did they ever come back with a second offer?
Styles: No, no second offer. I'm sure there are plenty of guys out there like me. I'm a dime a dozen. They haven't come back and I don't think they will, not for a while unless I make a name for myself.
Powell: There has been a lot of speculation that part of the reason you passed on the WWF's offer was because you will be involved in the new Jarrett family promotion. Is the speculation accurate, and have you been contacted by the Jarretts?
Styles: Well, I did have some options, so that did make the decision a little bit easier. And yes, I signed a short-form contract with the Jarretts to let them know that I'm with them. I'm waiting on a final contract, the whole mama-jama with a big ol' booklet full of stuff to sign. I'm very excited about working for them. Everything Jerry Jarrett touches has pretty much turned to gold, so why wouldn't I want to wrestle for this man who knows a lot about the wrestling business?
Powell: Does the short-form contract basically cover the first pay-per-view, and let InDemand go ahead and promote you as part of the company?
Styles: Pretty much. That's pretty much exactly what it is.
Powell: As far as the long-form contract, is it a one-year deal or something longer?
Styles: Heck, I have no idea what it is. I'm hoping it's longer. I'm hoping they are thinking this is going to be a long-term deal for them, but I don't expect it to be (a multi-year deal). But nevertheless, I really don't have any other things to do, so why not? Why not sign with the Jarretts? I like them. They're great guys. And we (as wrestlers) are going to be able to do things that nobody else is going to let us do. I don't know anybody else who you can sign a contract with and then go wrestle for other independent companies and make money there along with the money I'll be making from the Jarretts.
Powell: Does your contract allow you to work for any independent groups as long as it doesn't conflict with the Jarrett dates, or do you have to remain exclusive to the NWA factions?
Styles: No, it's any independent group as far as I know. Like I said, I haven't seen the contract yet, but as far as I know we can work for pretty much any group that we want to work for.
Powell: What is your impression of the Jarrett business plan? Can a company survive on pay-per-view alone?
Styles: You know, I was at the Ring of Honor show and was able to talk with a bunch of fans on a bus who travel... I'm not sure where they travel from, but they all travel to the Ring of Honor shows on one of those big Greyhound buses. I was able to get on there and they were asking me questions and stuff like that. (When the Jarretts came up) I said: "Do you know what, the Jarretts are going to have a new promotion and it's going to be something you are going to want to see. And the reason why is that most of the guys wrestling on the Ring of Honor show are probably the same guys who will be wrestling with the Jarretts." They loved that. I said, "Why not pay ten dollars, or however much it is, per week and watch an awesome show rather than pay forty dollars once a month to watch the WWF?" Maybe I should word that better so that I don't get myself into trouble. It isn't that the WWF isn't a great show, but if you want to see those guys, why not pay that money every week?
Powell: I don't expect you to reveal the exact financial details of your contract, but is it a better deal than the $500 per week that the WWF was offering for you to be a full-time developmental wrestler?
Styles: Yes, yes it is.
Powell: Is there a clause in the contract that entitles you to a percentage of the pay-per-view profits?
Styles: I'm pretty sure, yes.
Powell: Let's talk about the World Wrestling All-Stars. Other than a recent WWF syndicated match, your most prominent national exposure were the two WWA PPV events this year. As I understand it, you accepted a small payoff for the first show in exchange for the exposure. In retrospect, was it worth it? And have your WWA payoffs increased since the first show?
Styles: Heck, to be able to appear on that show out of nowhere and do a cruiserweight match with a lot of guys who are very popular with the independents, I think it was worth what I was paid. No, it wasn't much, but still... If you're working a regular job (the payoff) was a little more to you because where else can you go to make a couple hundred bucks for 15 minutes, in Vegas no less? It was well worth it because I got on the pay-per-view the next time in Australia and had a great match with Nova and Jerry Lynn. I even got to be the cruiserweight champion, so I think it was well worth it. And yeah, the payoffs have increased since that first show.
Powell: WWA has a reputation for being unorganized, especially the first show you appeared on because of the situation with Randy Savage. Do you look back on the six-way cruiserweight match fondly, or were there some things you wish could have been changed about that match?
Styles: You know what, honestly, since I was in the first match, I didn't even notice that there was that much of a lack of organization. All they had to do was say, "Get out there, go." There were some things I wished I could have changed. We were kind of standing out in the ring when the lights came on at the start of the pay-per-view. I was like, "Well, that's kind of weird." But that's okay. I don't know, there isn't much I can really say about that because, heck, if I'm not involved in that part of the business, I really don't see it.
Powell: How long was it prior to your match that you received your instructions? Were you told to go out there and do what you wanted, or were there more specific instructions?
Styles: They basically told us the order in which we were being eliminated. We all sat together at a dinner table and discussed it, and that was it.
Powell: Had you worked with everyone involved prior to the match?
Styles: No, I hadn't. I had never worked Nova, Low-Ki, Shark Boy... Of course I had seen all of these guys before, but I never had an opportunity to work them. Tony Mamaluke and Christopher Daniels were the other two. I've had great matches with Christopher Daniels, and Tony Mamaluke works with us down at the NCW Arena on the Wildside shows.
Powell: Your second WWA PPV match was a three-way with Jerry Lynn and Nova. Had you worked with Lynn prior to that tour?
Styles: No, I'd never worked with Jerry Lynn before. Me and Nova had done a couple of things at that first pay-per-view, but that was it prior to the tour. Jerry Lynn could work a pole and make it look like a million bucks. It was a pleasure and I couldn't believe I was working Jerry Lynn. This guy was an ECW Heavyweight Champion. The respect I have for this man... He has no idea. It was awesome to work Jerry Lynn.
Powell: When you sat down to plan out the matches, did one of you take the lead?
Styles: I wrestled Nova first on the pay-per-view. He and I came up with our little things together. It was the same thing with Jerry Lynn. It wasn't like he said, "Okay, we're going to do this, this, and this." He was like, "Hey, whatever you want to do, we'll do." That's pretty much how it went, it was like working with anybody else.
Powell: As far as your overall career goes, is there one match that stands out as your best or personal favorite?
Styles: I would say that one of my standout matches was probably with Christopher Daniels at the NWA's 53rd Anniversary show. I say that because it was my first time wrestling him. I think it was what really blossomed my career. I was able to work the best independent worker there is. It was like: "This is it. How good are you?" We had one of the best matches I've ever had while working against him for the first time. Our styles are similar. We clicked. After that, I had no problem getting booked anywhere else.
Powell: Do you have a favorite opponent?
Styles: Man, there are so many of those guys. There are several in Wildside. There is Jason Cross, Adam Jacobs, and David Young. Those are guy who are very underrated and not a lot of people up North get to see them, but hopefully will if I have anything to do with it. There is Low-Ki. Christopher Daniels, of course, everyone will say Christopher Daniels. I had a good match with Donovan Morgan at the Super Eight (tournament). There are a lot of guys up North who are really, really good. They're just awesome.
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