AJ Francis, WWE's Top Dolla, On MLW Intimidation Games, TNA, Hit Row, More - Exclusive

As he gets ready for a showdown with Mr. Thomas at MLW's Intimidation Games tonight, AJ Francis — formerly Top Dolla in WWE, the figurehead of the Hit Row faction — sat down with Wrestling Inc's Jon Jordan. Francis, who spent six years in the NFL after four years as a starter at Maryland, debuted on "WWE NXT" in 2021, aligning with Swerve Strickland — then known as Isaiah "Swerve" Scott — before the formation of Hit Row alongside B-Fab and Ashante "Thee" Adonis a week later. In total, he would spend parts of three years in NXT and on the WWE main roster before being released in September of 2023. 


Citing the opportunity to assert himself creatively and have his ideas accepted and implemented, Francis is beyond excited about his prospects in wrestling for 2024 and beyond. We discussed what's currently in his sights across MLW, TNA, NWA and who-knows-where-else-he-may-pop-up. He also touched on his run with and release(s) from WWE, what he's most proud of for his fellow Hit Row members, the recent allegations against Vince McMahon, the death of WWE performer Michael Jones, aka Virgil, and more.

Man on a mission

Jon Jordan: All right, my friend. Since moving on from WWE, we've seen you in a few places, most notably GCW and TNA, and now we have "MLW Intimidation Games" tonight, after you showed up at "The Burning Crush" and got into it with Alex Kane. What can you tell us there about who you might interact with, if that even matters for you, and how you approach an unknown?


AJ Francis: I think I'm facing Mr. Thomas tomorrow but me personally, it doesn't matter, man. When I show up, it doesn't matter. Whatever I am supposed to do that day will get done. If it means I got to slap around Mr. Thomas or it means I got to out-promo Alex Kane again, it's as easy as picking up a microphone and breathing air. Whatever it takes, I'm just excited for a very packed show in New York City. I'm excited for that.

Absolutely. In that vignette, you called yourself the hottest free agent in the world. Talk to me about why you think that distinction fits you and what that means for everybody else out there.

It fits me because everybody's talking about me. I have [fewer] matches than every other free agent that just got released. The likes of guys like Matt Cardona bring me up for no reason. People get their most engagement talking about me. That's wrestlers, that's wrestling reporters, that's just news people. People get their most interactions talking about me. I get my most interactions talking about me. There's a clear correlation there. Alex Kane is a good brother, but he's got a lot to learn from me, and I plan on teaching him. First thing I'm going to do is make sure that he goes to a new barber because that mohawk is atrocious. But, after I take care of that, I'm going to teach him how to make himself the most talked about prospect in wrestling.


He's got a little bit of time to spend under the learning tree is what you're saying?

Yeah, a very big learning tree, and that's another thing that I think shocks people, when I show up places and I'm as big as I am. For some reason, people downplay my NFL career even though they couldn't start on varsity at their high school, and I show up every bit of 6'5", 330 — and that's real life, not wrestling.

And people talked about when, now that you say that, people talked about, when you leaned down a bit, you lost all this size or whatever. You're still a monster, dude. People need to know that.

Yeah, I'm still a killer, man. I will still take your head off your shoulders if you come incorrect.

AJ's list

So another hot free agent from a few years back, when Cody Rhodes first left WWE and before AEW was even a thing, he made an infamous list of opponents across the indie wrestling world. I know you mentioned Cardona, who's always talking out there, but what other names are on your list in terms of who you might want to mix it up with in the ring?


Cardona, Effy, Myron Reed, Chris Bey, Lio Rush, Zilla Fatu, Jacob Fatu. Who else? Muscle Man Malcolm. Who else would I like to beat the hell out of?

It sounds like anybody.

Yeah, any and everybody, man. I'm a big believer in, as long as I'm in the ring, we can make money. You know what I'm saying? It don't matter who's across from me. It don't matter who is the person that I'm working with. In TNA, I'm working with Joe Hendry. People are talking about Joe Hendry more than ever. In MLW, I'm working with Alex Kane. They're talking about Alex Kane more than ever. Apparently, the NWA show that I'm supposed to be on this weekend, too, is one of their most sold shows that they've had in a long time. I would love to be Mustafa Ali's Secretary of the Treasury. I think that would work very well, yeah, but anybody, for real.


Where Jacob Fatu may be headed

You mentioned Jacob Fatu real quick there. Word on the street a couple of weeks back was that his time at MLW might be running up and he may have some links to a very prominent storyline up [WWE] way. What do you know about that gentleman and what impact might he be able to make wherever he ends up?


Jacob's great, man. Obviously, they say he's supposed to join The Bloodline. I can see that. I also don't think that he needs to join a crew. I think that he can handle it himself, but he's a hot free agent. I hope he gets an opportunity to show what he's capable of, like he's been doing for years. I hope that I get a chance to face him before he goes up to that three letter company in the sky.

Speaking of, perfect segue, by the way, your release, round number two for you, unfortunately, how'd that feel right away, and then how did that change for you in the hours, days, and months afterwards up until now?

I let myself be pissed off for 24 hours and then it was time to gameplan. Actually, I get an opportunity now to show, and I've already been doing it, that I'm a star. I'm not background. I'm not just another person that happens to be on your roster. I can carry your roster if you give me a microphone and let me go. I am at the point now where I'm hotter than I ever was in WWE and I'm doing it all on my own. The thing about WWE is that they don't need people with outside connections because they can get them themselves. They can call anybody on earth and say, "We're WWE. We want to do X with your company. We want to do X with your venue. We want to do X with your person of interest." But, since my release, I've been on ESPN four times, ABC twice, NBC twice, TMZ, the list goes on and on, all from just phone calls, from connections I had before I ever took my first bump. The only [people in wrestling] that's been on The Pat McAfee Show more than me [are] Roman Reigns and Paul Heyman. And so it's like I had these connections that I made before I ever started wrestling. Now, when I use them, when I go on The Pat McAfee Show and I talk about TNA, the people in TNA are like, "Oh, thank you so much. I can't believe it," because other people are capable of doing that. And I didn't even go out of my way to get on The Pat McAfee Show. I was there doing other media at Super Bowl Media Row, which a lot of people can't get into without a company backing them for that, but I can get in there. You know what I'm saying? And then I go do media with FanDuel TV, with SiriusXM, with a bunch of different networks that I've worked with in the past. And I saw a bunch of my old teammates, a bunch of my old friends, and I just was walking by Pat's set and saying, "What's up?" to him and he was like, "Yo, you should be on the mic." And I'm like, "Oh, okay, cool." That's based off a personal friendship, a personal relationship. People think we first met at NXT [but] that's just not the case. There's a lot that I can bring to a lot of companies, and these other companies see that, and that's why they're all paying me money.


Hit Row's legacy

A couple more things on WWE. Other than, I'm assuming Tehuti and B-Fab you still stay in touch with, and this list might be too long for you to even tell me, but who do you still talk to regularly there?


A bunch of people. The Usos, Jimmy and Jey, talk to them. Naomi, luckily, our paths got to cross in TNA a little bit before she went back. Guys like Odyssey Jones, guys like Angelo Dawkins, Montez Ford, I still talk to a bunch of these guys. I have a lot of friends that are still in the locker room. And it's cool because hanging out outside of wrestling, making friends outside of wrestling is sometimes more fun than the stuff that you got to go through while you're at work. It's a good time.

Speaking of some of those friends, Hit Row had a couple different incarnations and everybody's off doing their own thing now, it looks like. What are you most proud of about the others?

I'm proud B-Fab is finally getting to show what she can do in the ring. She was in that ["Last Chance"] Battle Royal [on "Raw]." I'm proud that Tehuti is getting an opportunity to actually be on TV and show what he's capable of. And, for Swerve, [he's] been doing his own thing for a couple years now. Hopefully, he gets the opportunity to win the world title, but you never know in this business. Hopefully, he does. But, yeah, the cool thing is that, for me, is that Hit Row was my brainchild from my first run on the indies before I got to WWE where it was called The Row. And it was cool because it completely changed Swerve's character and it gave us opportunities to be on TV. Obviously, we went to SmackDown and that all changed. But I'm grateful that an idea that I had, that I created, was good enough that it really wasn't changed at all and it was just whatever I got to do with it. Now, then it comes to lack of opportunity towards the end of the run, but I'm not responsible for that part.


Well, when you say that it really wasn't changed at all, that's rare in that company, usually over time, so that means all the way through. That should be something [to be proud of].

Yeah, it is, but it's hard to be proud when you didn't get a real chance to do what you ... you know what I'm saying? I was on NXT for four months, I was on SmackDown for almost two years, and I had more promos on NXT than SmackDown. The Hit Row logo has a microphone in the middle of it and we never got it. It's like the situation is like you never really got a chance to show what you could do. Me not getting a microphone for more than 15 seconds in two years is a travesty of justice. And I say it all the time, I'm the best promo in this business, and if anybody thinks that I'm not, feel free to tell me I'm wrong. Stand six feet away from me with a microphone in your hand and try to keep up.

A different time in WWE

I've heard you say before that necessarily going back there isn't something that's going to be on your radar. However, things have changed there a little bit at least. Well, I shouldn't say a little bit, probably a lot. Do you think anything would be different in this environment?


Yeah, I still talk to Hunter. My thing is would I go back to WWE if Hunter called me and they had an idea for me that they wanted to do? Yeah, for sure. But I'm at a point now where people actually listen to my ideas. People actually give a f*** what I have to say about my character and how I want it to be played. And I don't have to beg for creative and the writing staff to listen to my ideas only to be told that I can't do something and then them give it to somebody else a couple of weeks later. Everything that I do now, I have my hands on. And that's how it was in NXT. That's why Hit Row was so successful in NXT. That's why Hit Row was the fastest call-up in the history of NXT. That's why, even though we were supposed to be heels, the people were chanting Hit Row during the show and during commercials. It's because, when we debuted and I cut the promo and I tell the cameraman, "Yo, make sure you shoot us from underneath so it looks like a rap battle," you see what I'm saying? Had our hands in everything. I had my hands in everything of putting the product out there. That's why it was so successful. And the reason it wasn't on SmackDown is because we just became cookie-cutter and we just were doing what we were told to do. You know what I'm saying? And we weren't actually given an opportunity to show what we can do. It's like, B-Fab didn't become a better performer in the last four months. She's just getting more opportunity. Tehuti didn't become a better character in the last four months, he's just getting opportunity. I'm hotter than I ever was on SmackDown because now I have opportunity to go places and do things that I want to do. It's like, yeah, opportunity is the key


You're talking about having your hands in there when all kinds of other people's hands are in there too. You can't let your hands do what your mind was creating. I can understand that as a creative myself, for sure.

A perfect example, I thought it was funny on Tehuti, the vignette he's doing with Cedric, which I love the vignettes, but in the first one that they did, the writers have him saying lines against the teams and Cedric's like ... and once again, this isn't against Cedric, this isn't against Tehuti, because I know it came from the writing team. I know it came from their creatives. And he goes, "Yo, you're doing that dis track thing again." And I thought that was funny because, in the two years I was on SmackDown, I did at least 80 music videos in those two years and none of them ever were on TV.

That's proof right there that they're acknowledging the fact that a major portion of my character was literally intentionally hidden from the audience, because the first opportunity they got to try to hit on it, they did. You see what I'm saying? It's like, I am at the point now where, and I don't believe the person, whoever wrote that, did it with intent to try to dis me. But, when I see that and I hear them talk about dis tracks and I'm like, "Wait, we never did a track on TV. Why are you even bringing that up?" You know what I'm saying? But that's just me.


Vince Mcmahon Allegations

They're aware. All right. Last one on them. Then, obviously, some rough news out of WWE not too long ago regarding allegations on Vince and others. Did any of that surprise you, given your familiarity with the company?


Did it surprise me? It surprised me how blatant everything was, but obviously, the allegations are very surprising. But, at the end of the day, Vince is at a point in his life where it's better for him to have a chance to get his ... he's at a point in his life where he's in his 70s, you know what I'm saying? It is time for him to enjoy his life, the rest of his life, and coming back into wrestling caused all of this, these problems. And at the end of the day, if everything that I read is true, that's wild, right? Very wild. And I know that other people have said the same thing, like Seth Rollins, but, to me, was I surprised? Absolutely. See, people think that I had this crazy relationship with Vince, and I've only ever talked to the man three times ever, literally, three times ever. Two times was because I was filming Most Wanted Treasures and he was there while I was filming it, and one time because I stood up for B-Fab when he fired her, which clearly I was right. I don't really have a relationship with him. People want me to say that I hate his guts or say all these different things, but I don't have a relationship with him. Yeah, he paid me, but I don't really have a relationship with him. And this point, it's like WWE is at a point right now where they're so hot and they're so on fire. Stories like that just detract away from what they're actually doing, and I think it's a detriment to the success of the company that they're doing now, which is why I'm sure is the reason why he decided to step down. But, at the end of the day, you got guys like Laurinaitis who's going out of his way to be like, "Yo, just so y'all know, this s*** wasn't me." That's not a good look either. You know what I'm saying? There's going to be a lot more that unfolds from that story. And I hope that whatever happens, I hope that, if it is proven to be true, that there is justice for the victims, because the victims are the people that we're not talking enough about. The victims are the people that were put in a situation that they didn't deserve, and I'm sure there'll be more that comes out.


Virgil's death

100%, man. I totally agree with you. Got a few minutes left. I hope you're good to go. We got word this morning, we lost a wrestling legend in Virgil. Did you ever get the chance to meet him, and/or whether or not you did, do you have any lasting memories of the man?


Yeah, so Virgil was, when I was a kid, he was obviously with the Million Dollar Man and then he was with the NWO, so I got to see pretty much the peak of his wrestling career. But I did meet Virgil one time. He was trying to sell me his 8-by-10s on the street, which I thought was hilarious. The guy's a perpetual worker, and he's one of those characters. People pretend he never got over or did anything in WWE, but if you go back to watch when he turns on DiBiase at the Royal Rumble, the crowd, it goes crazy. And he had great facials then too. I just saw the clip the other day. It's sad that he passed away today, but I just saw the clip literally three days ago. And he is a legend, and especially for Black wrestlers, he was one of the few characters we had in the late '80s, early '90s era of WWE. It's sad to hear about his passing, especially he was young too. He was 60, 61. Yeah, it's sad, but he did leave a lasting legacy, and that's all anybody can ever ask for.


Absolutely. Dude, I read something today about somebody asked him for a picture not all that long ago and he said 20 bucks, and the guy said something like, "Yeah, but I'm a worker," and he's like, "All right, cool, 20 bucks," which is great.

Yeah, "Sounds good, kid. Give me the god d*** 20 bucks. I didn't ask you where you went to school, bro. I said 20 f****** dollars."

Well, listen, man, anything else you want to plug or put over before I let you go?

Yeah, just follow me on all social media at @ajfrancis410. Check on my single, "We Outside," streaming everywhere on all platforms, as well as the album that I have with Montez, "God Is Good," streaming everywhere on all platforms. It's a good time, man. I'm very much looking forward to MLW tomorrow and NWA this weekend, so I appreciate you having me.

Hey, man, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure talking to you, and we wish you the best of luck.

Thank you, brother.

Later on.