I recently interviewed Johnny Knockout, who garnered some notoriety for wrestling Strowman this past August. During the interview, Knockout talked about wrestling Strowman, working for WWE in the past and if it has changed, scripted promos, approaching Vince McMahon and more. You can check out the full interview in its entirety below:
You've wrestled for WWE before right [before your match with Braun Strowman in August]? That was in 2009?
"It was 2009 actually, It was around this time maybe in November."
What was that experience like? From how you remember it.
"Man it was great. My first year, it was my first year in professional wrestling. Ya just had the opportunity to work with WWE, I mean I reached out for a tryout and I wanted to get trained with them. And they ended up responding and asking me if I wanted to work when they'd be in my area. First time I ever worked with WWE was in Madison Square Garden. Being from New York, looking up and seeing the overhead skybox and all that at MSG was just fantastic. The next day was at the Wachovia Center, well now it's the Wells Fargo Center, it was a great experience. And the match was televised."
So you've been wrestling really since then, right?
"Ya just as much as possible and as often as possible."
So how did the WWE gig come about this time around?
"I'm a pest(chuckles). I go down to Orlando, Winter Park at Full Sail for NXT once in awhile. And of course with Takeover coming back to Brooklyn, doesn't it make sense? I mean I see these guys pretty often, I says 'would it be possible -- I know you guys got your own thing going with Takeover but you never know you might need somebody. And if you might need somebody who better than J KO right?' That's not how I described it in talent relations, cause that's not going to get you the right response. Ya and then a friend of mine reminded me that WWE is in town for SummerSlam, RAW and SmackDown. I'm like 'yeah that would work too'. So I put my name in the hat and it worked out."
How much had it changed backstage since you were last there?
"I don't know if it changed much other than improved. It's very professional, very business oriented work place. Everybody is very super professional and respectful, and not blowing smoke. That's really the way it's like, at least my opinion. It's just a very good setting, everybody is happy to be there, everybody is excited. And your expected -- it's like a sink or swim -- a little bit of guidelines you just gotta know how to carry yourself. Me, I mean I know how to carry myself. It's professional, basically like I said, sink or swim. I'm a swimmer. I wouldn't say it changed so much other than it's just improved, the setting, the TVs, the cameras, the stage, the lights, the this the that. You got filming for this, filming for that. It's just nice man, it's good. That's how my mind works, I got a lot of stuff going on."
Who are some of the people you interacted with backstage?
"Take your pick man. I had some Booty O's with The New Day. I thought they were ribbin me at first, I was like 'Ah okay, what you got Cheerios or something?' And Kofi was a little bit like thrown off, he was like 'Oh okay no Booty O's? Okay.' I was say 'Listen, no no that's what I do.' I got dirty hands, I'm shaking everybody's hand, I don't want to put that in the box right? Put some in my hand, look down at my hand, and there's a damn marshmallow unicorn. He says 'nah it's the real thing.' I said 'really?' My friend's daughter just got a box in the mail the other day, but just the cardboard with the T-shirt. I was bragging to her that night. But anyway I got some and my hand starts shaking and I says 'Kofi, yo it's working.' Seeing the referees, Rod Zapata. I trained with him in FCW in Tampa, he was a big part of that and it was good to see him. Prior to my match I got some advice from AJ Styles, who by the way is the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion right? So he's a cool dude."
Did you get to see Vince McMahon or Triple H at all?
"I did, over eight years of trying to be in the right spot at the right time and say hey to this guy, and say thank you, you know for everything that he's done for wrestling in general. And the fact that I've been able to work with him for a few days. I was getting ready for my match with Braun, and I was just kind of hanging backstage, just going through some of my stuff in my head, and he's walking with Triple H and Stephanie. And the coolest thing because -- in wrestling you gotta wait for the eye contact, at least that was I was taught, we both kind of went in and initiated and said hello at the same time which was awesome. To me it made me feel like this guy is pretty cool, I mean he runs this entire empire, and he is also a gentleman. If there is one thing I can appreciate it's a gentleman, so ya it was awesome man. Ya I finally got to meet Vince."
How did you approach yourself? Did you just say 'hey, how is it going?'
"Like I said, I'm super excited about being in that environment and I feel like I fit right in. Obviously that's what I want right? We caught each other's eyes, the body language, he wanted to lean in and I wanted to lean in. I was like 'hey how are you sir?' I introduced myself with my name, Johnny Knockout. I'm like 'thank you so much for having me, it's great to be here.' 'Hi good to meet ya.' And that was it. He went on to his own little eagle's nest, but it was awesome man."
And you've actually been using Johnny Knockout, the name, for a while, right? This isn't something they came up with?
"No no no. This is way before the wrestling even started for me. This is part of my nickname in high school. I came out with it myself. I'll tell you the quick story. I was coming through, we were playing a video game me and my little brother, I needed a username or a player nickname. It's funny it wasn't even a wrestling game. At this time Jackass was so hot, so I say 'I always liked the way Johnny Knoxville sounded.' So I grab the Webster's dictionary. I grab it and I'm flipping through, I started at the K's cause Knoxville, I come across knockout. Sounded cool. I read it and it says 'a blow that renders an opponent incapacitated.' It says 'strikingly attractive beyond belief'. I'm like 'yeah this works.' So I'm like 'Johnny Knockout is born from tonight.' And it's funny cause at school everybody is calling me Johnny Knockout. Christmas cards, birthday cards from my family, I was getting to Johnny Knockout addressed to my house. I'm like man even the postman must know who I am by name now right? It's great. As far as I know Raj, I'm the only one in existence who came up with his own nickname."
Had you been a WWE fan growing up?
"Absolutely. Started when I was four-years-old. I was just watching TV, I don't know what I was doing I was probably just being a brat. My brother wanted me to see what was on TV, it was like Superstars on Sunday. And so he drop kicked me in the head. Told me to sit down to watch it, first guy we seen was Jake The Snake. This was at the time when it had the ticker on the bottom and it told you the height, the weight, the finishing maneuver and all that. And I thought his finishing maneuver was The Dot. I was like 'what the heck is a Dot?' I was a stupid four-year-old kid. But ever since then I can remember watching wrestling, the SummerSlams, the pay-per-views, The Undertaker. This was from Tuesday in Texas and all that. I really thought the guy was dead. I heard stories that his hands when they shook his hands that they were ice cold and all that. So I was captivated from a young age, I was like four."
Being there, you grew up watching it and now you're there. With Braun Strowman did you get any input as to how the match went?
"Yeah, I said 'listen Braun, here's the deal. I'm gonna beat you up...' -- nah (chuckles). Yeah, there's input there. How can I put this in the best way? The right eyes were watching my tryout match earlier in the night, and they liked some of the things they saw. They asked me if I wanted to work, of course yes absolutely. And because of the performance and the actions that I put out while having that trial match, I was approached and asked If I'd like to include some stuff into the match. So the beginning was offered to me, it was all me. So I had an opportunity to go on the attack, and yeah I'm taking it. Obviously I know what my job is for the night and that was the most important thing for me, Is go do your job to the best of your ability -- and I think maybe they knew who they were dealing with, you know just because I had a good output they offered me something in return. That's life right? It doesn't always work out like that but that night it was a good mix."
What was the reaction to the 'Big Sweaty Men Line'? Did they pitch that to you or was that something you came up with?
"I do in fact like big sweaty men. I mean look at me right now, I'm under the got lights I feel good about this. I said what was on my mind."
When you were saying it, did you know you had something there?
"I'd like to sit here, or stand here, and tell you that I'm a certified genius. But nah, I'm a bit of a wise guy. I'm a bit of a guy that says out of the box things on his own, a free thinker. You wanna win right? You want strategy and you also -- I don't know I live in the moment like I am right now. None of these questions were pre-planned out of my answers. Even sometimes I get stuck in my own head, I don't wish it on anybody. No I said what I felt in the moment, I thought It was kind of funny. I didn't know it was gonna come across like that, meaning I didn't know it was gonna have such a positive reaction. I'm so happy that it was, it's just me being me."
Because you hear right now how the promos are always so scripted now in wrestling, so you're saying that they kind of gave you the freedom to do your own interview at the beginning with Byron?
"Ya I guess so, as far as promos being scripted and things that nature I know myself and I've done TV before. All I can say is that it's all me. I can't fake who I am, I am who I am. It's gotten me a 97% rejection rating with certain individuals, but that doesn't mean it was the right individuals. As far as everybody else being scripted, I can't speak for everybody, myself I go out and I am who I am. I wanna have fun, be happy, say what I have to say, and move forward."
So what's next? Are you looking to try and get another tryout, or is there something in the works, or just keep working the indies and just keep trucking?
"You say the word next, I'd like to take one letter out of it. I know you know what I'm talking about, I definitely want to work with NXT. That's the plan, that's the goal and ultimately I want that to translate with the WWE. I really have like I have something with this. I'm already thinking of ideas, vignettes, just the natural creative. But for me personally I'm an actor, I'm a model, I mean I'd like to be. I'm not saying 'oh look at me', but hey I think I fit the part of those roles. I love to entertain. I love to make people laugh, I like to make people feel like they can forget about everything else that's going on that might not be all together good. But I want it to be positive for them, so that's really what I drive on. I like to be fun, entertaining, engaging, interacting, and any outlet where I can do that," said Knockout. "Any ventured outlet that I can entertain, and have it reward me in return, then ya I'm all for that. But ultimately professional wrestling and sports entertainment are at the top of what I want to do full time."
How long were you in FCW before it morphed into NXT?
"It was the year of 2010."
So that was a couple of years before it officially became NXT. How would you describe your time there?
"It was awesome. I had a chance to interact with Steve Hern and Norman Smiley, who is a fantastic wrestler and strategist. I mean this guy can manipulate, see what I'm doing with the back of my hand here? He would literally get you on your back and move you over with the back of his hand. If he was a dog, cause dogs don't have usable thumbs, he would be able to work it. So I was like 'man I need to get back here full time and learn from you.' It was awesome like I said, we had Spider, Rod Zapata, the ref who refs Monday Night RAW. He's a great guy, he helped train. It was good people, and they expected you to carry yourself as a good person. I left something there one week, I came back the next week and it was in the exact same spot that I left it. That's the kind of people that I want to be around. And the first thing they said to us when I sat down for training, the first thing was introductions or we didn't get in the ring -- was 'Vince McMahon is looking for good people.' Right off the bat I'm like 'I guess I'm in.' But there is a lot more that goes into it. But that was the first thing that struck a chord with me. I was like this was great, this feels like good company. And I just thought that worked out wall. It was a good experience, I learned a lot, and I was able to apply that."