Anthony Henry Discusses His WWE Run, Considering Retirement, The Backstage Vibe At AEW, CM Punk & More! - Exclusive

Anthony Henry has been a workhorse on the pro wrestling scene for over a decade. So, it should come as no surprise that he is currently signed by AEW and is one-half of the tag team The Workhorsemen, alongside JD Drake.

Henry has worked for many of the top pro wrestling companies in the world during his time in the industry. Infamously, Henry began to catch attention in Gabe Sapolsky's EVOLVE in 2016 which would, after four years, earn him the chance to perform for the world's leader in sports entertainment, WWE. Once signed by WWE in 2021 he officially changed his ring name to Asher Hale and began making appearances in "WWE NXT" and on "205 Live." While his WWE run was unfortunetly brief, it was not long until All Elite Wrestling came calling and it is the place he still calls home.

In this exclusive interview with WWE Senior News Editor Nick Hausman, Henry discuses his roots with the XWA and how his journey has progressed until this point. XWA Wrestlution 22 is now available for replay on FITE.

History With The XWA

My guest at this time is one half of the Work Horsemen, alongside JD Drake, it's Anthony Henry!

Hey, thank you for having me. Let's discuss.

Yeah, let's get to it here, man. So you've got a lot of history here with XWA, right? Singles gold, tag gold. Talk a little bit about your history with the company and why you enjoy working with the XWA, I guess is what I'm after.

Anthony Henry: Yeah. So, man, I don't even know what year it was that I first came in. But, man, it had to be like 2017 or 18. And I was still in the midst of trying to get around and do my thing on the indie, on the independent scene, and get places, get more places, especially up north and stuff. And I remember my friend Ethan Case, who is another professional wrestler in South Carolina, that's where he's located.

Okay.

We did a whole trip and we put together a series of four shows. Freelance was one I remember. And I think XWA was the last one of the trip. And this was a combination of us doing a bus ride, and flying a couple different places. So XWA took the chance on us. They put me in there with JT Dunn, which at the time I think he already had been their champion a couple different times at this point, as one of their most well known athletes, and put me over.

And so, it turned out a very exciting debut. And then from there, they wanted me back and it was really actually the first promotion that took a chance on me in terms of flying me out. Because we actually flew ourselves out for this trip. We had a whole budget that we put together for this. And then after that, Mike from XWA was like, "Hey, I want to use you." And I flew out every time after that.

And so that was the first promotion that I was like, man, I finally get to fly out somewhere. So it was super cool to me. And yeah, it's been a long road from there. I ended up eventually becoming their XWA champion.

XWA, Evolve, and Limitless

Wow.

And then after that, from there, actually won their XWA tag team championships with JD Drake. So, yeah, and ever since then, Drake's been, not as long as me, but Drake's been there for probably at least since 2019. So, he's been there a few years as well. And we had our little ups and downs there as well. We wrestled each other there a few times. Got back together. Did our thing as a team again. So they've seen a lot from us. Fans have.

Yeah, for sure, man. I know a lot of fans may remember you as well from Evolve where you had a great run as well. Was the XWA kinda like what helped you set up the Evolve run too, and everything else, or no?

I think I was already doing Evolve, maybe?

I see. Okay.

Yeah. I was already doing Evolve, but just having a place like XWA certainly helped. Especially just getting my name out there. Cause I'm from Georgia. A lot of people, a lot of Georgians, get caught up in staying in the same location and never getting out there. And I think one of the biggest things about success as an independent professional wrestler is to get out there and have as many fans having eyes on you as possible, right? XWA helped me do that, because I was able to go up north and do some things. And then from there, actually Limitless. I got on with Limitless Wrestling because of XWA too. Cause the first time I did Limitless Wrestling was because they were running the same weekend as one of the XWA shows, and they put me on as the XWA champion, and I basically defended the belt there.

EVOLVE-ing

I only brought up Evolve just cause I thought it was really interesting time for that company. Cause it was basically kind of like a feeder for WWE at the time. I didn't know if you got that vibe or not when you were there.

Oh, no. Definitely was. When I was working for Evolve, it didn't start out that way, but it wasn't long after we came into the fray that it became that. That was when they started the connection with NXT and WWE. And then, especially the last, I don't know, the last year, especially, it would evolve. Every show was pretty much, this NXT talent's coming in NXT, this guy's coming in, this person's coming in.

So I experienced that, of course. I even wrestled Roger Strong on one of those shows, when he was part of NXT, in New York. And at the end, we kind of became the top main event people there, Drake and I. And we both knew the reason why was it was our hard work, but the goal at that point was to try to do something with NXT or WWE.

Yeah. And could you feel the excitement building then? I mean, after all the stuff you'd been through and kind of knowing, "Hey, there's big opportunity here that's not too far off on the horizon possibly."

Yeah, for sure. Because we knew if Gabe... Obviously the broker/promoter of Evolve... If Gabe was super high on us and he was kind of reporting this back to WWE, then it obviously meant something to them. And we'd have situations where William Regal would come in and take specific looks at us, and things like that. And, so, it was always a super cool process. People have whatever they say about Gabe and Evolve and et cetera, but my experience, Drake's experience, I can tell you firsthand from talking to him as well, is that it was always positive.

I learned so much at Evolve Wrestling. I learned not only from competing against other people who were so much so better than me at the time, and not only through that process, but just from Gabe himself. And just from the pressure that was put on us to perform at such a high level. Once you do that for a while, a good while, you get used to that.

Yeah.

It's really hard to break you mentally, any show. So, it definitely paved the way for me to be able to go in later on of course, do WWE and other things. Because by the time I got there, I was used to it. I was used to the pressure and being on TV and stuff.

Yeah, man.

The Call Up

And so how was it for you acclimating to the WWE system? Did you feel comfortable? Did you feel like you kind of groove there or no?

You know, it was a weird place for me. And I've talked about this on podcasts, things like that, but I'll just brief refresher.

Sure.

Yeah. So, I initially did a... I was getting looked at from NXT, and then something happened with the doctor there. They basically implied that I had some undiagnosed concussions. Undiagnosed. And basically it was just a matter of, I didn't realize that at the time people just happened to withhold information from the doctor so that they wouldn't get questioned further. I don't know if that's the thing that you know, but...

I've heard of wrestlers not being forthcoming with their injuries, because you want to stay in the ring. You want to keep getting paid. You don't want to lose your push, that kind of thing.

Yeah. Well there's that part of it too. But I guess when you're initially trying to get on with the place, you just don't tell them everything.

Okay. Got it. So when you're applying and going through your physicals and stuff like that.

Right, right. Right. Yeah. So anyway, I was very, just forthcoming, very honest. And that kind of got me in trouble because there like, "What? So you've been hit? You've seen white? You've had concussions?" I was like, "Yeah. Every pro wrestler has. And if they told you differently, they're lying to you." And anyway, what happened was they basically said, "All right, we're not interested anymore, based off the doctor's recommendation." So I got the call from Gabe, because obviously, they were connected, like this. Gabe was like, "This is what's happening." And then after that he was also like, "Oh, by the way, unfortunately, because of the situation in our relationship with WWE, I don't think we can use you either." So, yeah. So I wasn't able to work at Evolve, which had became my other home, and I wasn't going to be used by WWE now. So, I went through a depression and basically quit. I was going to quit.

Henry considered retiring

Wait, wait, wait. So this happened... You were on the roster for six months. And so after working 205 Live in NXT and all this stuff, you get this call from Gabe Sapolsky and that's kind of it?

No, no, no, no, no.

OK.

So this happened before.

Okay, got it.

This is backtracking. Because you were asking me how I got into the groove at NXT, and how that was for me.

Got it, got it.

So this kind of goes with that. So, I went through this depression and was going to quit. All this stuff. And then at the high end of my little farewell tour, if you want to call it that, I'm going to go wrestle some guys I want to wrestle. And this was also kind of in the middle of the pandemic, slash coming out of it. I get a call, "Hey, do you still want to retire?" And it's Gabe. And I'm like, "I don't know." And at this point, I almost didn't care. But my wife was like, "You should do it, because you'll regret it if you don't." So, I ended up signing with WWE. So when I walked in to NXT, I cared, but I didn't care, if that makes sense. I don't know.

I was very happy to be there and have the opportunity, of course. This is something I had worked for, at this point, maybe 18 years of my life, that I'd given to professional wrestling. Improved and done all these things. Worked so hard to get there. So yes, I did care. But at the same time, I wasn't willing to bow down and care so much... Because I found happiness without wrestling and I realized I could be happy without wrestling. So it wasn't everything to me anymore. It was like, this is very cool, but if I don't have this and they don't want me, I'm going to be okay without it.

And so that was my mentality going into it. So I didn't bow down. I didn't try to... I didn't feel like I had to walk on eggshells the entire time, like some people do when they get there. So, actually it was pretty easy as far as that goes. Because once I got in, went straight into the training, I was very cool with all the coaches. Maybe that's because of kind of the attitude I had, I don't know. But it was actually a pretty positive experience for me, outside of the end result of course.

I was shocked. I was really surprised. I thought they were going to really use you, man. I don't know if you were surprised by the release or not.

It was hard to be surprised at that point, because we kind of had the vibe that everybody was just under watch and that we didn't know what was going to happen there. Because it'd been seeming like there was a release every few months or whatever. And at the same time I was like, surely I've been here six months, there's no way. They use me. They've been using me on TV since a month in, every single week. There's no way there's going to... but sure enough got that phone call. And I was like, really?

Anthony Henry Is All Elite

So how'd you get in contact with AEW man? That's where everybody gets to see you on a big stage now these days.

Yeah. So, actually, as soon as the release happened, I say about two weeks afterwards, I got a message from a representative from AEW, and they were like, "Hey, so when is your non-compete up?" And with NXT contracts, you only had 30 days. So I was like, "It's this date." And they're like, "Cool. Do you want to come do AEW? We're doing these new tapings." The dark tapings or whatever. "Do you want to come do the first ones?" And I almost didn't know actually, because I was in the midst of moving because I'd already made the decision to get out of expensive Orlando, since I no longer had this guaranteed money coming in.

Sure.

But everybody who was helping me move, they're like, "No, no. Go do that. We'll figure it out for you." And so, I went and I wrestled out at Kingston. And just since then, in and out, in and out, doing some tapings. Doing stuff here and there. Then finally became a part of the full actual roster here recently. So it's been a good ride there as well.

How's it been... Like, yeah. I mean, what's the vibe like there right now? How are you feeling at AEW at the moment?

Yeah.

There's a lot of stuff being said, you know?

You know, that's funny because I haven't experienced any of that. I will say the vibe for me has always been very positive. Actually, when I first walked in there, and comparing it to WWE, I was just like, "Whoa, this is like night and day."

Sure.

It's a big company, all the same, but just the vibe in the back was different. We talk about walking on egg shells, and I never felt like I had to, but I did feel like the pressure and people watching you, and judging you and looking for you to mess up almost. And at AEW, just never seemed that way. It just seemed like everybody's very supportive and just wants everybody to do well. And I thought everybody got along. So, the recent events happening, I haven't been at any of the events that have happened, or at the shows where they happen, so obviously I can't speak firsthand, but I never even knew anything was going on at all. They hid it very well, if that's the case. So, it's always been very positive for me as far as I knew

Sharing A Locker Room With CM Punk

Did you ever get to sit down and get any advice from Punk? You guys seem like you'd get along.

I have talked to Punk a couple times. Actually, he actually came... He was very nice to me. Actually, when I came in, he introduced himself to me. Which, very nice. That's a rare thing that usually doesn't happen. But he just walked up to me like, "Hi, I'm Phil." I haven't had any kind of real in depth conversations with him, but he always seemed like a cool guy to me.

Yeah man.

So I don't know.

How about Tony Kahn? You ever get advice, feedback from Tony?

Yeah. Yeah. Tony's an interesting character. Man. I don't know that he sleeps a whole lot. He's a busy, busy man. He's always on the go. But he will take the time out to speak with you. That was the other thing too, at WWE, I never met Vince. I did meet Hunter, of course. And I briefly talked to him a few times and he would tell me good match, stuff like that. But no in-depth conversations. I talked to Tony Kahn all the time. Now they're not super in-depth conversations. I don't go out to lunch or dinner with them or anything like that, of course. But he will take the time to thank us for being there and tell us it was a good match, or whatever. Give his feedback to us. Things like that. It is very hard to catch him when he is not busy though. So, I mean that's comes with the nature of it.

So what's on your bucket list, man? You've got, seemingly, a lot of opportunity in front of you right now. What do you want to do?

Anthony Henry: I think the bucket list, I don't have an incredibly long time to do this anymore. In my head, at least. I'm pushing 40. So, at this point, I've been able to work for the two biggest promotions in North America. I'm very happy with what I've been able to do in my career. So at this point, I'm just trying to have fun. So, when I'm doing this stuff on the Indies, I just want to have fun and have good matches. And as far as AEW goes, of course I want to work my way up the ladder. It's a process, for everybody, as it should be. And so, yeah, with this tag team with Drake, I just want to keep showing them that we're not just a good hand, that we could do anything you want us to do. And that includes having main event matches. Whether it's Dynamite, whether it's Rampage, whether it's Pay Per View, the team of Drake and I, the Work Horseman, we can do anything that any of those other teams do. And we'll show it to them eventually, and we'll get up there. That's the goal.

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