Former TNA superstar Jesse Neal recently spoke with Raj Giri of WrestlingINC.com about his time with TNA, his departure and his future in the business. Here is part one of the interview, make sure to check back tomorrow for part two of the interview, where Neal talks about leaving TNA, if Hogan and Bischoff have helped the company, his thoughts on WWE and more.
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WrestlingINC.com: How did you get started in pro wrestling? Was it something you were into as a kid?
Neal: Yeah, I mean, I always had the dream like everybody else did since I was five years old but it just stayed a dream, one of those dreams that you never could become. I just thought of it that way and I joined the military. I actually went into the Navy for four years and I actually experienced something pretty bad. My ship, USS Cole, got bombed back in October of 2000. That actually changed me. It really pushed something inside me that I either needed to shut up or do something about my life. I just didn't want a normal life. I didn't want to just sit back and let everything pass me by, especially my dream. Something bad really helped me do something good.
When I got out of there it messed me up pretty bad in my head and stuff. We didn't really have the help that they do now in the military. They didn't know what post traumatic stress syndrome really was or anything like that. I was kind of just left on my own. I dealt with it on my own, and went job to job. I finally said screw it. I found out about Team3D Academy here in Florida. I said I might as well go. It's a sign; I better do it now. The rest is history.
WrestlingINC.com: Did you watch wrestling before that?
Neal: Oh yeah. When I was a kid I used to wrestle with my uncles and stuff like that and used to watch it back in the day. There was a period in my life when I just stopped watching it. I didn't watch it at all until I got in the Navy again. For some odd reason I started watching it again. It was a dream so I might as well watch it again and see what's going on. I picked it back up in the military and a little bit in high school, here and there but mainly in the military.
We used to throw little get together parties for the boys on the ship at my house. We used to have cookouts and stuff and watch the Pay-per-Views and things like that. It was a good time.
WrestlingINC.com: PTSD, obviously that's a really serious thing and a hard thing to overcome. Do you feel like you overcame that?
Neal: PTSD, you don't really overcome it or anything. You don't get rid of it. It just stays with you at all times. There's days where I still lie awake and my nightmares and stuff; I wake up screaming sometimes or yelling like I'm killing somebody or some weird stuff. I do some weird stuff in my nightmares.
With wrestling, it definitely helps. I found my, what do they call it, my stress relief type of thing. It used to be working out but then that wasn't working very well. When I'm on the road and I'm busy wrestling I don't really have episodes or anything like that, which is really good. I rarely do. It's when I'm sitting at home doing nothing; that's when it really kicks in.
WrestlingINC.com: Does it get better year by year?
Neal: It's kind of where, in my eyes, it doesn't get better. Maybe because it hasn't gotten better yet but it just goes away for a little while then it comes back. It doesn't really get better. Like everybody says, 'Oh, it will get better with time.' It really doesn't. You just find a way to relieve your stress and stuff like that.
WrestlingINC.com: What was training with Team 3D like?
Neal: It was worse than boot camp, man, s--t. I hated going to practice sometimes. I dreaded it sometimes. I'd be in my truck driving to practice and hate myself. 'What am I doing this for? Why am I doing this?' but I went everyday and busted my ass and did what I had to do. Just having Bubba and Devon there to train me and the rest of the students - it was a 'you couldn't believe it until you see it'. They were there every day and they're still there every day. Just having one of the best tag teams in the business help you out and train you; it was definitely a dream come true and I definitely set myself on the right path with the trainers there.
WrestlingINC.com: You were thrust into the limelight having made your TNA debut less than two years later. What was that like?
Neal: Yeah, it was very fast. I definitely got a lot of bad stuff to come with it, but also a lot of good stuff. A lot of people had seen where I come from and it wasn't easy and it's still not easy for me. I still train with them. I tell everybody, 'You say I got an easy road. Go back and look at my matches where I wasn't doing anything but getting my ass whooped.' Every match I was getting knocked out. I've had 8 concussions so far. That's a small amount but I had a rough smart. Granted I got picked up very fast and I'm very grateful for it and being able to show what I know.
When I got first signed I just knew the basics. There was nothing really about me. There was a story and a look and I listened very well and I was very respectful. I had that old school mentality and that's what they saw so that's what they signed. Throughout TNA I've learned a lot. I've learned a lot of bad and I've learned a lot of good. Hopefully I can take that to the next step in my life.
WrestlingINC.com: You had 8 concussions?
Neal: Yeah, I've had 8 so far. Some of those matches I'd just get knocked out and I wouldn't even know what I'm doing. There was a couple matches that I just didn't know until I went back to the curtain what was going on. I don't remember it. I had to watch them back again. It was weird.
WrestlingINC.com: You were in the limelight and involved with TNA when Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff took over and then you kind of disappeared for a little bit. What do you remember about when they came in?
Neal: Backstage it was here and there. You didn't know exactly what to expect. I was told they were going to come in and one day I drove to work expecting them to come in. I was like, 'We can do some cool stuff,' but then when I got in there they were like, 'Oh, they're scratching your storyline, scratching everything. You have to start over.' Bubba and Devon told me, 'This is a good lesson for you,' and it was. It's like I'm getting a run, getting a run and I'm looking at it - not just necessarily a run but a learning lesson in front of the camera. Anything I can learn I'll take it. I can make money off of it later.
I was just running, running, running; making a little bit of money here and there and then, boom, it's done. It was definitely a shock and it was like, 'Oh, I thought we had a really good story going on.' They came in, they wanted to make the company better and they had to make changes to make the company better. In trial and error and all that good stuff, I was on the wrong end I guess you could say.
WrestlingINC.com: How did you start working with Shannon Moore?
Neal: That was actually… Of course, mohawks and tattoos, we go together. There was also a thing of… Shannon Moore had been in the business for so long and I had been in the business a day. It was up to Shannon and Shannon totally dug it. He's like, 'Yeah, definitely, let's do this.' He actually came up to me. I was sitting there like, 'OK, there's another guy with tattoos and a mohawk. I've seen what Shannon Moore has done in other companies. He's done a lot of stuff so I'm out, basically.'
He actually came to me. 'What do you think about tagging?' and stuff like that. I'm like, 'Dude, I'd be honored. I've watched all your stuff and I know what you do.' We had fun. He had come up to me and of course I'm going to say yes. I'd be stupid not to. I've learned so much and Shannon Moore has brought me to the next level. It was definitely an honor and we became great friends from it and we still are friends. Just because I'm gone doesn't mean my friends are gone too. I always keep friends no matter what.
WrestlingINC.com: You were out for 4 months when you got that injury fighting with Mexican America?
Neal: Yeah, I almost broke my neck. I was paralyzed for like 10 or 15 seconds. 10-15 seconds is nothing but it scares the s--t out of you when you can't move your body.
WrestlingINC.com: It's a scary thing.
Neal: Yeah and I just got in the business and we were getting a good run. It has its up and downs, running for the belt and then getting it taken away from us every time. That's the name of the game and hopefully everybody's entertained by it. When a serious injury like that happens - and I've only been doing it for five years now - it's like, 'Man, what am I going to do?' I was almost in tears talking to the office the day after. They wanted me to go home and relax, chill out. I'm like, 'No, what's going to happen?' I couldn't even move my neck.
My fiancé was with me because I would pass out every so often. My doctor told me I had to have somebody with me. I'd just black out for awhile. I was just scared. Bubba told me, 'Suck it up, kid. This is the wrestling business. You need to go home and rest and come back bigger and badder.' I was like, 'OK, yes sir,' and I did what he said.
WrestlingINC.com: Did people from the company contact you much during that time off?
Neal: No, not really. I don't want to talk bad about the company or nothing like that. It's like the wrestling business says, 'out of sight, out of mind' type of thing and 'the show must go on', whether you're injured or gone, the show will go on no matter what. That's what I kept in my mind. Everyone was nice to me and stuff like that. Dixie [Carter] was very concerned and everything. I really didn't get phone calls and stuff like that.
WrestlingINC.com: I heard they didn't really take care of you as far as your medical bills and things like that.
Neal: Yeah, the initial MRI was taken care of the very next day after my injury. One of their assistants came with me down to the hospital and we got it taken care of. I've got like 3 or 4 medical bills since then that are in my name and they're going on my credit, that type of thing - - out of sight, out of mind thing again. It's just one of those things where you just got to suck it up and move on and learn from it.
WrestlingINC.com: You made that remark on Twitter about being able to receive food stamps.
Neal: I'm never going to be able to live that one down. I mean, hell, I'm out of TNA now. I can say whatever I want. I never did receive food stamps. That was me and my fiancé joking around about it. I should not have joked about it. It was a time where I was very stressed out in my life and we were going through hard times - not me and Christina [Kardooni a.k.a. Toxxin] - but me, as a person and paycheck, money-wise, money that was owed to me and I hadn't received it yet. I wanted to laugh about it instead of getting down because I was too stressed out; I was in too much pain going through my injury and stuff like that. I was like, 'Alright, I'm just going to joke about it.' Unfortunately it was on Twitter and we shouldn't have joked about it but I've never received a Food Stamp. It was just stressful. I was about to lose my apartment and stuff but I pulled some strings and made s--t happen. It was a very rough time during my injury and a little before that.
I'll give an example. In one of the house shows some of the boys got together and gave me a little bit of money because I didn't have any money to eat on. I had a couple checks late or whatever. That's just business. The boys are there for the boys. We were always there for the boys and that I can never take away from my TNA experience. The roster there at TNA is insane and it goes above what you see on TV as well. They're there. The boys are for the boys and that's the way it needs to be.
WrestlingINC.com: It sounds like financially it was a really rough time.
Neal: Yeah, of course. I'm a grown ass man. I can tell you I did qualify for food stamps but did I take them? No. I didn't take them because I had different opportunities to make money and stuff - indy shows and stuff like that. I wasn't wrestling but I was still doing appearances even though I was injured. I would get out of bed and go do an appearance and try to make a couple dollars here and there and stuff like that. Also, I did something for TNA while I was injured, like backstage and stuff like that. They took care of me there too.
It wasn't too bad. It was definitely stressful and I didn't have anything planned out but, again, that's the wrestling business.
WrestlingINC.com: Your fiance [Christina Kardooni a.k.a Toxxin], made her debut at TNA during that time.
Neal: Yeah, when I got back she was there shortly thereafter. That was definitely good. We'd been planning on it for the longest time. We were trying to get her in there sooner and that's how we actually met. A year and a little bit ago she was with TNA, with a tryout, going back and forth with Triple A and stuff and that's how we met. She left and we would talk and she would fly back and forth and see me and that type of thing. We tried to get her with TNA for the longest time. She's hot. She's entertaining enough and then it finally happened. She was there at the right time, right place. She actually never got a contract yet either. That's kind of weird.
WrestlingINC.com: What is her status?
Neal: Everybody's blaming me for Ink Inc and Christina and this and that. Before I even said anything about a release or anything they were going to split Ink Inc up anyways. They come in and decide this or that and their decisions are based on trying to make more rating and money, obviously, because they're not there just to dick around. They're there to make money; anybody would be. Personally I don't know why they wanted to split us up. They really didn't give us a good run with the belts and things like that. That also goes down to the business. That's what happens; you just got to roll with the punches and move on and try to become better than you were yesterday.
Christina, she's never really gotten a contract. They never really signed her. They just kept using her and she was getting paid like she was on a contract but I'm like, 'You got to talk to them.' She's still on the roster so her future is still up in the air. Hell, I'm even on the roster and I'm released. That's just one of those things you laugh about. You take something that is stupid and laugh about it.
Make sure to check back tomorrow for part two of the interview, where Neal talks about leaving TNA, if Hogan and Bischoff have helped the company, his thoughts on WWE and if he would go there.