Raj Giri recently spoke to former Nexus member Michael Tarver for an exclusive interview, who was recently released his second album titled Sheep In Wolves Clothing. The Christian hip hop album is available on iTunes, Google Play Music, Spotify and CDbaby.com.
Below is the interview in its entirety.
* * *
Were you a wrestling fan before you started training in 2004?
“Yeah I was. I was a very big fan of wrestling. I grew up watching NWA and WCW. Me and my family would sit and watch Dusty Rhodes. Ironically I got to work with him, which was awesome. Ricky Steamboat and Ric Flair, I grew up hating Ric Flair, I just believed. I remember brown sugar, the Four Horsemen and Tully Blanchard and Baby Doll.”
So you were mostly a WCW fan growing up, not WWE?
“Actually yes I was. I didn’t really start watching WWE until the merger in 2001. I really watched that so I could see all my favorite WWF guys.”
What did you think when that went down? The ramifications of that are still being felt today.
“Yeah, definitely. It affected me in a way, because I don’t know if I would have had a career if the merger wouldn’t have happened, and where would I have been? What if if WCW would have won? Where would the business have been? I’m a WWE fan now, obviously. I feel liked the right company won, because the business is still going. Even though wrestling’s not in the best shape it’s ever been. I didn’t know how to feel about it. I was just happy to see my favorite WCW guys, even though I didn’t see all of them. Even though I wasn’t in the business at the time, I had the sense that they were misused, put in predicaments to look weaker than WWE guys. I was like ‘Why is Booker T getting beat up by the Rock on a daily basis? Why is DDP getting destroyed by the Undertaker when he went toe-to-toe with Goldberg and NWO?’ Now I look back and I see why. I don’t agree with them, but I see why.”
It seemed like ego taking over business.
“Imagine the Patriots bought out the Broncos, you think they’re going to start Peyton Manning over Tom Brady? It’s just a business thing. It’s the American way. There were some interesting storylines and dream matches that could have been a little better, but it produced an interesting time in the business.”
When did you decide pro wrestling was something you wanted to give a try?
“It’s funny, when I was a child I used to pretend I was a pro wrestler. I remember watching WWE later, before I got into the business, and I was working in a youth home. They were big Triple H fans, and I was a big WCW fan, so we were play wrestling the matches and stuff. Back in 2002, when I was really pushing for my music career at the time, I got an indy recording contract in Ohio. I’d go to freestyle contests and do battles and things like that. A friend of mine that did security was an indy wrestler. I was always bigger than everybody and everybody knew me in Akron Ohio because I played for a semi-pro football team there. So people knew who I was and I was athletic, so my friend said ‘Why don’t you try wrestling? You’re big, you’re athletic, you can talk, you can rap, you’d be perfect for wrestling.’ I gave it some thought. I had my ex-wife teach me tumbling and things like that, because I was such a big fan that I was going to consider it. I was going to in 2002, but things started to fall apart with that marriage. I just put that to the side to focus on other things. I was still chasing an Arena football contract at the time. In late 2003 I was watching TV, and there was a local wrestling show called UWC. It was really good, thinking it was crazy that there was wrestling in Akron where I lived. There was this like, 580 pound guy was their ‘world champion.’ Every indy company has their ‘world champ.’ I looked at him and was like ‘I could crush this guy!’ I was a boxer, I wrestled in high school, did a little MMA. I called the ‘you think you can be a wrestler? call this number’ thing, nobody returned my call. I found the address, I walked in and it was a bar, and I happened to see the guy in the commercial in the ring working out their matches. When I saw that, I immediately respected the business. I thought ‘Woah, that looks way more complicated than what I saw on the TV, I don’t know if I can do this.’ I had doubt. That was one of the last time I had doubt about wrestling. I meet the promoter, we get in the ring, he liked my size, he had me take a couple of bumps and I had no idea what I was doing. I was athletic, so he put me in the ring and I had my first match my first day in the business. I guess he saw potential in me, he wasn’t wrong, I went pretty far I guess. I had my first match and got squashed by a guy who was half my size and ended up becoming my first trainer. I had four when I first came in. I was such a Goldberg mark when I first came in, that I actually did my first match wearing an NWO Wolfpack shirt and wanted to do all of Goldberg’s spots. That’s how bad I was when I first started. But I loved the business. I can’t say I love it as much as I did then, because I’ve been exposed to it, but I did then. I remember sitting up all night long and I couldn’t sleep because all I could think about was that match and how it felt to be in the ring. I had two jobs and ended up quitting my second job so I could continue to wrestle. It ended up working out I guess.”
How did you end up catching WWE’s eye?
“I had met a few people on my indy journey after four years and people were asking if I’d ever done extra work for WWE. I didn’t even know you could do that. That was around the time TNA was moving to Orlando, and I watched them a lot. I wanted to be Monty Brown. I thought what they were doing was more original. I wanted to move to Florida, which is where I live now anyway. One of the guys ended up being an extra a lot for WWE around then. He was supposed to be an extra in December 2007, and he called me and said WWE was looking for bigger guys to do a pull apart between JBL and Chris Jericho. He asked if I could get up to Rochester, NY. This was a Monday and I had just got back from Detroit to Philly to Cleveland in a snowstorm. It took us 16 hours to drive from Philly to Cleveland in a horrible snowstorm. I get to the show in Cleveland, and I was exhausted. He asked if I could be in Rochester, New York the next morning. I called a friend who was a big supporter and he said ‘You’re going. I’m calling off work, I’m driving up there, you’re not missing out on this.’ My supervisor at the time was a really big fan and he said ‘Go, I’ll cover your shift.’ I walk in and I wasn’t even scheduled to be there. I’ve done enough interviews and I’m sure WWE knows it now, but they didn’t then. I walked into the arena and got through, got in the ring. Followed a few friends who showed me where to go, what to do, what not to do. I got dressed and ended up connecting with a guy from the Cleveland, who was a friend of Dolph Ziggler’s. I think he went to high school or college with Dolph Ziggler. We ended up getting in the ring and had a tryout match. I had a few mistakes, nothing too bad, but I think what got it over was the wrestlers were heckling us. I’ve been on the other side, I’ve heckled guys that were trying out, or if they don’t like a guy, they’ll send someone in there to stretch him, basically. It was kind of that scenario, but I was on the opposite end of it for the first time. A couple of guys were heckling and I popped up and said ‘Shut up!’ as loud as I could. It echoed throughout the arena and the talent was like ‘Oh, nobody’s done that before.’ I was just being me, a heel. As soon as I was done with the match, one of the talent relations guys grabbed me and said Johnny (Ace) wanted to talk to me. I’d already seen him, but not talked to him, because somebody pointed him out to me. It was actually Corey Graves, who I knew from the indies, who said that was the guy you want to meet. There was a lot of talent there. Luke Harper was there. That was the night Colin Delaney got signed. Pepper Parks was there. I went up and talked to Johnny, he said he liked what he saw, and they ended up sending me to OVW. The rest is history.”
You were a part of the first season of NXT. What were you told about that show going in?
“Not a lot. At first it was a reality show, and basically everything that was going to happen was a knee-jerk thing. We didn’t know what to think. We thought maybe Tough Enough, and I was like ‘I don’t want to be doing a bunch of push ups.’ We had all been in developmental for quite some time, besides David Otunga. I had personally pushed to debut on Smackdown, and was kind of being looked at to debut on ECW, myself and Lance Hoyt. We didn’t really know what to think of NXT, but we were all excited.”
How would you describe your experience with NXT before that big Nexus debut?
“They had a concept of how they wanted the show to go, but they didn’t think it through. We were kind of flying by the seat of our pants in that they would have certain points of the episode. They would set it up to where they would get your natural reaction and based on that is where they were going. Instead of writing every detail, they would set it up to where they’d get your reaction. I think the second episode, we were in a line, and the host is there, and Carlito walks up with an apple in his hand, and I thought that he was going to spit the apple in my face. He walks up to Heath Slater, looked at me, and I had a concept in my mind of what I was going to do. I figured if he spit it in my face I was going to knock it out. Instead, he turned and spit it in Heath’s face, who didn’t see it coming. Heath stood there in shock like ‘what?’ He was really mad. I’m thinking ‘What just happened?’ It took me a few seconds, and I thought that they were going to start a program with me and Heath, because we had the first match on NXT. It was Carlito & I against Heath and Christian. It went from there to where Carlito loses and I’m like ‘Woah! My pro lost to another rookie?!’ There were no plans after that, they were just trying to get Heath over, and there were no real plans to get me over. They would tell us to come to them and give them creative ideas. So I said ‘Why don’t you give me a match with Heath Slater?’ I got it and I knew they wouldn’t let me go over, so I said I’d put Heath over, but I wanted them to let me knock Heath out. They liked that idea, but they wouldn’t let me knock Heath out. When I say “knock him out” I mean the Superman punch that Roman Reigns uses that was originally mine. Nothing against him, but some people don’t seem to know that, that it was mine originally. I ended up using the T-Bone suplex or something. I didn’t win the match, but that’s how I started getting myself over as a heel. They were only focusing on making babyfaces, and only a few people at the time. There were a few of us, myself, (Ryback) and Darren Young that they had nothing for us all season. I decided to take things in my own hands and become heel that way when they started the challenges, I was throwing them. Everything you saw me do, WWE wasn’t writing that, I did it on my own. I didn’t tell anybody what I was doing. I would find a creative way to throw the challenge, then I’d do a promo. Matt Striker was good to me then, and I went to him and said ‘I need to cut promos, I’m the promo guy of this group.’ They’d have us cut promos all the time in FCW, then when I get to WWE, they wouldn’t give me the mic. I told him ‘When you walk by, can I grab the mic, get my bullet point in?’ He said it was a good idea, to make sure to do it fast because we can get in a lot of trouble because TV time is expensive. We started doing it, and the first time was going to be the keg carry challenge. I knew I wasn’t going to win that, I wasn’t going to carry around a 200 pound keg. We thought it was going to be light, but it wasn’t a work at all. The way Ryback threw it on his shoulder, he’s a beast. I knew I had to make an impact somehow, so I figured I’d drop the keg. Everybody is going to try to win, but what if I make myself the biggest loser? I cut this big promo, made sure I was theatrical on the stage, picked up the keg, took two steps and dropped it. Picked it up again and dropped it. They blew the whistle and people are like ‘what?’ It was a shock, which is what I was going for. I threw a temper tantrum and got thousands of people chanting ‘loser.’ I was hoping they saw that in the back. I get back in line, and the guys didn’t know I was doing that. They thought I really dropped the keg, and at best thought I was good enough as a heel to throw a tantrum and get a reaction. It was planned. I walked up to people in the back and people were looking at me weird, and Arn Anderson said ‘good job kid, you really heeled out and got a reaction. Good job dropping the keg.’ I looked at him and said ‘I dropped the keg on purpose,’ and he said ‘What?! Why would you do that?’ I said ‘Everybody is going to try to win. Why not be the biggest loser? They’re going to talk about me more next week than the people who won.’ He didn’t believe me, I told Kidman and he said to my face ‘Yeah right. You’re not smart enough to do that.’ Some of the people believed me, some of the people didn’t. Sure enough, the next week, the first thing they show next week is Michael Tarver dropping the keg. I told you guys. I threw the next challenge, and every week they’d talk about ‘what is Michael Tarver going to do next?’ It worked.
How did the Pros take it? How were they backstage?
“Carlito was already on his way out, and in his mind he had already checked out. He was a professional, he didn’t care about winning or losing matches. I ended up finishing the whole second half of the season without a Pro because he got released. People don’t realize it because they didn’t see me. They pretty much took me off NXT besides the challenges. I had like a fourth of the amount of matches as everyone, and I only won one match. People don’t realize I beat Daniel Bryan twice. Carlito didn’t care, he understood it was for the story. You could tell the hierarchy was setting in with the pros. It’s like a Sheik’s market there. They look at you how they’re told to look at you. I was at the bottom of the totem pole when I started throwing those challenges. Later on I did the custom t-shirts, which you see a lot now on NXT. They started seeing that I get it. Edge and Carlito started coming to me and giving me advice. We were doing the promo classes backstage, and Vince McMahon would teach us different kinds of promos. That continued through the time I was with Nexus as well, and I’d continue to knock them out of the park. People started to see what I could do character wise, but never got to see what I could do in the ring, because I never got to wrestle. If you’re not the guy they want to get over and you do good and shine, they’ll cut your legs off and make sure you never make it.”
How were the Rookies behind the scenes? You’re in a competition, but you’re working together every week.
“It was very good. We were close. We were friends coming up through FCW, we were all kind of excited. We were like children at a day care for the first time. We made a lot of classic mistakes. It was tough because a lot of the main roster would rib us and mess with us behind the scenes, but it was fun. Things started to progress and people started changing. You get 8 rookies, pick them apart, create a heirarchy, and whoever you decide is the lowest on the totem pole, everyone turns on them. Kind of like Survivor. It’s part of the game.”
You guys just found out about the Nexus debut at the last minute, right?
“We found out about it the day that it happened. This is the week after our season ended, and the day before season two. They explained to us in detail what we were going to do, that we couldn’t tell anyone, gave us the armbands and all that, it was pretty crazy.”
How do you react to something like that? A week earlier you’re on a reality show, and the next week you’re in the main event segment on Raw doing something that had never been done before.
“We had no idea how big it was going to be, but when we started doing it, it became the biggest thing any of us had ever done. It was pretty crazy.”
What was it like going to the back after that? What was the veteran reaction like about it?
“Ha, well they weren’t exactly as enthused about it as we were. We were taking tv time away from everybody. It was interesting.”
Was there any backlash because of that?
“Oh yeah. Once the top guys started realizing how hot this angle was, they started to attach themselves to it. Originally we were with John Cena, he was the handler of the angle. One by one, more people wanted to attach themselves to it. The hierarchy got worse and worse. We’d be delegated certain responsibilities, and I found myself in the background watching everyone beat other people up. ‘You smash this light bulb, you turn this door knob,’ I’d find myself standing there like ‘What am I doing?’ We were excited, but it was interesting.
Daniel Bryan was fired right off the bat. Was there any concern about how his release would affect the angle?
“Yeah, we didn’t know if it was real. We just kind of went with it. When the Summerslam thing happened, we had an idea it was him they were bringing. They did it pretty well. They could have done it better, but he went right back to the indies, and good for him. That made him more famous and love, and he got some indy money. WWE can do whatever they want. When they say there are rules they abide by, I don’t buy it. I saw a long time ago that they’ll fire someone and bring them right back six years later. Alberto Del Rio, a friend of mine, was fired in 2014 over a situation, and they brought him back and made him US Champion immediately. WWE can do whatever. They brought the Bellas back. We all know why, no disrespect to them. All good for them, I’m happy for their success, but WWE does what they want. They could bring Michael Tarver back and make him the biggest, baddest heel in the history of WWE or they could pretend he doesn’t exist.”
Everyone seems to agree that the angle kind of fizzled out after Summerslam. You all didn’t find out about the finish until that day, is that correct?
“Yeah, and I understand that. We didn’t have the experience to understand what was going to happen. We thought we were going to win, because maybe we thought we were so hot. We were excited about it, but then when we found out we weren’t, we were all kind of confused. We couldn’t say anything, but it didn’t make any sense for us to lose. Edge and Jericho had basically talked to John Cena and said that Nexus should win and keep the momentum going, but John insisted on beating us, then he realized it was a mistake. Him taking a DDT on a concrete floor, then popping up and beating 5 of us. I have respect for John Cena, but yes, Nexus definitely should have won. I think they should have carried it out to Mania and pulled out some stops, bring back DX or something. It was one of the most memorable things of the past decade. I’m not putting us up there with the Horsemen or NWO or anything, but the way we debuted was unique. It’s never been done before. It was very special.”
After you were released you said some things about Cena on social media that you’ve kind of taken back. What was it like working with him?
“We got along. but we didn’t get along. I didn’t take back what I said. It was true. The way I said it came off the wrong way and wrestling fans are not the most honest people in the world. They basically took it and ran with it and made it whatever they wanted to be, so it became ‘Michael Tarver accuses John Cena of trying to hurt him.’ I was going through a bad personal situation, went to social media, mentioned John Cena, but the whole thing was about my ex. I wasn’t accusing him of doing it on purpose, he was being reckless and took liberties, but he didn’t pick up a chair to fracture my arm. It happened because he wasn’t careful. Outside of that, it was business, we weren’t great friends. I could tell he saw something in me, saw some talent. Every time he came to FCW he’d pull me aside, and point that out to me. When the top dog sees something in you, it’s either good for you or bad for you. He can either choose to work with you, or chop your legs from under you to keep you from taking his spot. Not to say I could or would ever take John Cena’s spot. I definitely had something way more to offer than the wrestling fans got to see, because people in WWE knew it and confirmed it on a weekly basis. I’m happy with knowing that this man and Dusty Rhodes, bless his soul, knew. Who better to know?”
Have you heard from Cena since you left the company?
“No, not at all.”
So you weren’t as upset with the injury as much as his reaction after the match?
“I was upset about the injury because I knew what he was doing when it happened. Leading up to it, there was a lot of poking behind the scenes. The veteran messing with the rookie. I get it, I’m new and he’s the king of the main roster. That’s a part of the game. I had a sense of what that was, but that injury ended up costing me a lot. That injury started a downhill of a bunch of injuries, me being taken off the main roster, sent back to FCW, and spiraled into my release. A lot of people don’t know that there was a lot of negative experience with me and WWE. I spoke up for myself when it came to John Cena. I defended myself and it cost me my job.”
So you spoke up before your release?
“Yeah in a way that when you’re in the ring, what he did was a part of the business. He wasn’t particularly abusive or anything, he’s just doing what he does. But you have a choice whether you take it or you stand up for yourself and see what happens. I chose to stand up for myself because if I take it and look weak. I could take it and still lose my job, or stand up for it and possibly get respect for it and lose my job. With wrestling being a racially political business, if you don’t get that respect, no matter what you do, it’ll never be good enough. It’s very sexually political, too. I was doing things that if anybody else would have done them, they would have been world champion, but because it was me, it wasn’t good enough. It was blatant. Obviously by the fact that Roman Reigns has made my finisher famous. When I was doing it, they didn’t like it, now that Roman Reigns is doing it, it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. And I like Roman Reigns, and I’m glad he’s doing it, because it’s something I brought into WWE, and it’s now famous. I’m happy to see that and happy for his success.”
When you talk about it being racially political, is it obvious or subtle?
“To the average wrestling fans, they don’t get it, because they’re conditioned to not get it. When I went on Twitter and said what I said, people took it and decided they wanted it to take it as I was bitter and hated John Cena because I sucked as a wrestler. To this day, there are a lot of fans that would say ‘Michael Tarver can’t wrestle and his promos suck.’ Wait a minute, were you watching back then? On top of that, they’re very small minded. My wrestling skills came into question because I mentioned John Cena. I said things that had already been said by other guys before me. A lot of stories have come out about John Cena and his backstage shenanigans, and I have nothing against John Cena. It’s just that people see you the way WWE conditions you to see them. The whole Gregory Iron thing, he’s a kid I know from Cleveland, he has cerebral palsy. He still wrestles, and I knew him from Cleveland. He got hurt in a battle royal I was in. I gave him a suplex, and he got a bunch of other suplexes from people and he got a concussion. I checked on him that day. After that he and a bunch of people went on a rampage and ended up getting me blackballed from Northeast Ohio. I had to drive to Philly to wrestle before I got signed. I didn’t know it was him and I called and talked to him a few times. They basically made me the scapegoat. I look back at the amount of injuries I’ve had in the ring, I almost died in the ring, and you’re acting like that over a concussion? When I was in WWE I had like 7 concussions. The injuries guys in WWE work with, and he acts like that over one concussion? He made it seem like I bullied him. When the Cena thing happened, he tried to jump on that and get himself a few more bookings, and it didn’t really work. The point is that I did a podcast with Colt Cabana, and said that people wanted to believe I was such a terrible person, even if they didn’t know the truth and I provided facts, they wanted to believe I bullied him. I posted a video of him and Johnny Gargano where he’s laying prone and Gargano’s just blasting him with chair shots, and he’s not pulling them. I see what you were doing, you’re using the sympathy, the handicap angle, that’s smart. The problem is you’re using it a work in that situation, and a shoot with me. There’s no integrity in that. If he would have turn and said ‘Johnny Gargano tried to kill me,’ well, they’re chair shots, they’re supposed to hurt. I gave him a suplex that was very light. I touched him one time and people started saying ‘Michael Tarver’s a terrible guy.’ People were cutting promos on me on YouTube and people didn’t want to book me, and it got to the point where people didn’t want to touch me. People just decided they wanted to believe I’m a bad guy, and they never met me. The racial/political things is one of the things you have to deal with in the business, and people believe what they’re conditioned to believe. “
Do you think that aspect is getting better?
“It’ll never get better. I understand this now more than I did before in my career, the wrestling business is not a minority-based business. It’s not catered to minorities, whether it’s blacks, hispanics, Asians, as far as the amount in the business. Even being black, it’s not catered for a black audience or set up for black wrestlers to succeed. You can make it how far you want to based on relationships and how hard you work, but there still is certain things that come along. There have been black world champions, but there have only been four black world champions, and wrestling has been around how long? Decades. Wrestling is not like UFC where the best man wins. In wrestling, someone is the champ because someone made them the champ. Who is making that decision? It doesn’t matter how good you are. I was cutting these awesome promos and shutting down promo class, and people like Michael PS Hayes were complimenting on my promos. I realized it doesn’t matter how good you are at something, if the powers that be don’t see themselves in you, then they simply don’t see it. If I’m handing him a Haliburton case full of gold bars, and he doesn’t see it, I’m handing him a suitcase full of turds. That’s the way wrestling works, it’s such a small-minded industry. It’s also a brilliant industry, it’s entertaining, suspends peoples belief, and creates situations you can’t get in acting or music.”
I would almost think you would have more minorities watching wrestling than whites. When you see NFL players and other athletes referencing wrestling, it’s almost always African-American players. It’s weird they don’t try to reach out to that audience more. You mentioned Vince McMahon and Dusty Rhodes seeing a lot in you, did you interact with Vince much?
“Yes, a whole lot. I enjoyed being around him. I didn’t get a lot of time with him, but I made the most of the time I did get with him. I got him, I got that he didn’t like brown nosing. He likes people who have balls, and step to him nose-to-nose and tell him what they are. Vince McMahon doesn’t have time for bull. He doesn’t have time or energy for crap like that. Granted, a lot of guys do brown nose him, but that’s not what he goes for. Still, if you don’t come in the right package, you’ll never be good enough, but you can still find ways to transcend that. I realized early on I had to find ways to transcend my skin color, because I’d always be looked at by my skin color. The best way to do that was to be my promos, which ended up being my anchor that sunk me because I was too good at my promos. Mr. McMahon, he’s brilliant. I loved those promo classes because I would enjoy just sitting and listening to him talk. I wanted to impress him because if I did, there was no way there would be anyone in WWE who couldn’t be impressed with me if I impressed Vince himself. He was pushing to get more out of Daniel Bryan early on because he couldn’t talk. Now he’s great on the mic. To his credit, Vince McMahon was trying to squeeze blood out of a turnip focusing these entire promo classes on Daniel Bryan. I found myself sitting there thinking I was the best talker in the room, and I’d like to show what I can do, so I started interrupting promo class. He wouldn’t call on me. Maybe he knows what I can do, but I won’t assume that he does, so I would interrupt the promo class. I’d stand up next to him in front of the entire roster, agents, producers, cameras, and people were gasping like ‘what is he doing?’ I’d ask Vince to give me an obscure word and I’d cut a promo leading to a championship match on Monday Night Raw, whatever the opponent and tie the word into a wrestling promo, and I’d do it weeks at a time. One time he shut down promo class. It was in Philly. I did the promo, I remember sitting down next to JTG and said ‘watch this.’ Pulled my chair next to Vince and said ‘give me a word.’ He said ‘Michael Tarver wants to talk again.’ The word he gave me was ‘antenna.’ So I cut this promo telling the story about how we had this big match on WWE, celebrating with my then fiancee, we were somewhere in a car about to get robbed. The whole time we were talking I was trying to get the radio on but the antenna wouldn’t pop up. We were parked somewhere and someone knocked on the window and pulled us out at gunpoint. We were standing where the antenna was, and as they were trying to rob me, the antenna pops up, so I rip it off the car and slap them in the face with it, and it gave us just enough time to run away. I tied it all into a wrestling promo, and everyone gave me a standing ovation. Vince McMahon looked at me with that look and says ‘Wow, that was classic,’ and ends promo class. I would make up a story as I go. Freddie Prinze Jr was there and would do acting workshops with us. I would sneak in there, because I wasn’t supposed to be in there, and we would do cold reads. They didn’t know I had done acting classes on my own for a year while I was in FCW. I would kill these cold reads and Freddie would say ‘You’re talented, you should be acting,’ and I was like ‘that’s what I want to do.’ Triple H was doing a promo class, and I was thinking of it as I was sitting at the table, but thought of the rest of it off the top of my head because I was really good at doing that. I interrupted Triple H and told him to give me a word, but he said no and told me to do what I wanted. I think he was expecting me to do it, and everyone else was expecting me to do it. So I started doing this poem, and it kind of went to the cadence of the promo, but I freestyled the rest of it. Standing ovation again. Freddie Prinze Jr was watching. We’d do the workshop back to back. For the next three weeks he’d have me stand up and recite that poem or promo or whatever to the workshop, and that wasn’t at all what we were doing. We were reading like a paragraph from a script or a movie, but you can’t memorize it. Act it out as you’re reading and react naturally without having any prep for it. He was so moved by it, he had me stand up and do it for weeks, I was basically performing for the class. It got to the point where people started to recognize that Michael Tarver is really talented, and he started looking at me different. A few writers said to me ‘WWE isn’t the place, you should be acting.’ I didn’t know what to do, I was trying to find myself. I told Freddie I made that as I was sitting there, and he said ‘no way.’ He didn’t believe me. That’s how I worked, I make things up as I go. That’s what led to me popping up in the background with the cell phone, after Nexus. They started finally seeing my promos, but wanted to make me a manager, but I was like ‘are you serious?! A manager? Come on!’ I hated it. Me and Dusty are working on it, and he knew I hated it, but it was my opportunity to get back on TV. Vince pushed for it, he wanted me back on TV. I remember they brought back Armando Estrada, and me and him were doing promo classes together, and they were going to have me a sports agent, not a manager. Dusty had this idea where I would be seen with a cell phone in a backstage segment, and build up to ‘what’s Michael Tarver doing?’ They had me in suits so I looked different from when I was in Nexus. The idea was that when I recruited someone, I’d hand them the cell phone and walk away. I was practicing that in FCW. The first time I did that with anyone was Alberto Del Rio. That was when he was doing the fancy car gimmick. They showed us shaking hands, then I looked at him and basically, I was recruiting. Then it was done. They took me off TV, nobody told me why. Basically Abraham Washington was doing the gimmick. That was the gimmick they were having me do, is what Abraham Washington did with the Prime Time Players.”
Was that around the same time you made the comments about Cena?
“No, that was before. The infamous tweet happened after I got released.”
So they just dropped the storyline cold turkey and gave it to someone else?
“Yes, which I didn’t have a problem with because I didn’t want to do it. I knew that Abraham Washington needed to be on TV because he was special. He’s another one they put so much muzzles and handcuffs on. He’s amazing, one of the best promos I’ve ever heard, and I’m talking Steve Austin, Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair. Abraham Washington is on that level. Byron Saxton’s another one. You wouldn’t know that, because (WWE) wouldn’t want you to know that. I was happy to see Abraham back on TV. Dusty and I went back and forth on it and he was like ‘take the opportunity, kid, you’ll get what you want.’ So I tried it, then they took it away from me. It was what it was, I was happy to get back on TV.”
What was your experience with Triple H like, and what are your thoughts on him possibly taking over one day?
“I liked Triple H. I didn’t get a lot of interaction with him, but I will say this, I got to wrestle him, which was cool. Pre-show we have rehearsals and people are getting warmed up, and people get pointers from agents and veterans. It’s highly suggested that you do that. I would always make it a point to be the first person in the ring. I’d get there two hours before anybody. I’d go to catering, get a small plate of food, eat, change and get to the ring immediately. It’d usually be myself, Goldust and Yoshi Tatsu. We’d be in the ring working out for an hour or two before anyone else. There were times when I was helping the referees and the ring crew sweep out the ring so I could get in the ring and stretch. While I would watch them set up the ring, I’d work out. I made it a point to be the first person in the ring. They started to take notice of that. They did nothing with it, but I knew I had to do something. Myself and Tyler Reks, who was there as well, said that we would start doing our own dark match every Tuesday, so we’re going to have an impromptu match every Tuesday until they give one of us a chance. It went on for weeks and weeks until producers would watch and expect a match. Then they gave him a dark match, then he started tagging with Curt Hawkins. They gave me nothing, but the point was for at least one of us to get something out of it. The Undertaker was another one who really liked me, he got in the ring with me. Triple H got in the ring with me. They would see me working out with Mason Ryan, see me busting my butt in the ring. He started locking up with me, showing me different things like ‘woah, Hunter’s in the ring with Tarver?’ Everyone’s a sheep there, well not everyone. They saw how hard I was working. Taker would walk up to the ring and give me tips, advice, pointers. He liked me. You would think with those people that liked me, I would still have a job there. Triple H, I never had a lot of interaction with him. I liked him, no hard feelings for him. Maybe I didn’t have enough interaction with him to have hard feelings for him.”
Are you open to going back to WWE some day?
“Yeah, I am. It is what it is, I guess. I don’t know how I feel about ‘wanting’ to go back, but I’m open to going back. If it will help my other business ventures, and it would. If I was to appear on Raw next Monday, people would find my albums and buy them, or they would go to my social media wondering why I’m back.”
You mentioned people in WWE being sheep, and the name of your latest album is Sheep In Wolves’ Clothing. Is that a tip of the hat to Black Sheep or something else?
“It’s something else. The concept of Sheep In Wolves’ Clothing is a play off of the expression ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing.’ It speaks directly to my life experiences and the current climate of the country. So if a guy like Gregory Iron pops up and says ‘Michael Tarver hurt me,’ and everything he’s saying is a lie. Other than him getting hurt, everything is a lie. Everyone wants to believe I’m a bad guy. I could be completely innocent, I actually treated him very well and I have proof of that on DVD. People look at me, and see what I look like and assume this is what a bad guy looks like. The guy who looks innocent really has evil intentions, which makes him a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I’m actually a sheep in wolves’ clothing, so to speak, where I have a good heart, but I look like a wolf. That’s the concept of the album. I speak on a lot of social, religious and political issues and ironies. A lot of the song titles are ironies.”
This is a Christian hip-hop album, right?
So what are some of the topics people can expect? I know you mentioned politics. It’s been crazy, we have Donald Trump leading on the Republican side of things.
“A lot of reality shows, reality stars. I touched briefly on the police brutality issues, race issues. I talk about myself. I’m transparent about myself, I’ve made mistakes in my life, I’ve committed sin, which is why I know that it’s not right to judge someone for the sins they commit. The best thing you can do is just help them. If they don’t want that help, then just back off and be an example for him. For some people, the only Bible they’re going to pick up and read is me. I have to be that example. I can’t shove a bible in their face if they don’t want to read it, so I have to be a living example of the bible. You live the life the way you choose, but I’m not perfect, none of us are, so I’m not judging you for what you do wrong, because this is what I do wrong, and I’m admitting some of the things I do wrong on the album. One of the tracks is titled ‘False Prophets.’ It came from a situation that I was in personally where the girl called me a false prophet because of how I present myself, but I made a mistake. I wrote a song about it, because I don’t want to be looked at that way. The content and idea behind the song is if they call you a false prophet are they really looking in the mirror at themselves? We’re all false prophets. We all fall short of grace. Whether you believe in God or not, we can try to be better, but how can you be better if you call yourself a false prophet if that’s what you are? I touched on the pastor in Atlanta who was molesting little boys, reality show vixens doing sex tapes to get famous and how people look at them differently. Such a wide range of that topic I touched in that same song. In today’s hip hop climate, even speaking of that and some of the music and how horrible it is and the influence on teenagers. I was working with at risk youth for a living and I would hear them recite these songs and say ‘wow, do you even know what you’re saying?’ It was one of those things that for my children, I want to make music that’s at least as good as what they hear on the radio, so if they have to recite lyrics, they can recite good lyrics and can introduce them to good music that has a positive influence.”
Is there anything wrestling related in your music?
“Yeah! Always. One of the songs got covered online called “I Can’t Stop.” I have “King James,” I don’t have a video for it yet, but I will. I talk about FCW and my feelings being held back as far as ‘what’s it going to take to show you what I can do, what I’m capable of?’ The song itself is kind of an ironic title, King James, I’m referring to the title, but also LeBron James, and the fact that we’re both from Akron, Ohio. Little creative things like that. On the song ‘I Can’t Stop’ I talk about the situation with Gregory Iron and I mention John Cena. A lot of fans have heard it, and it’s got a lot of coverage, and fans have said ‘Oh he’s bashing John Cena again.’ Actually in the song, I said that people thought that I was beefing with John Cena and I wasn’t. I was going through a lot personally, that’s where it came from. I explain it in the verse, but wrestling fans just think ‘He’s bashing John Cena again. Michael Tarver is bitter and his wrestling sucks.’ I’m rapping, I’m not wrestling. Wrestling fans, I love them.”
How can fans get the album?
“It’s available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and CDBaby.com. Search the name ‘B2.0/2.0Sound’ and the name is called ‘Sheep in Wolves’ Clothing.’ My first album is available too, called ‘Gold Help Us.’ I released it last year kind of quietly. You can find them both on all digital markets. My social media is TyroneEvansB20, and my Facebook fanpage is facebook.com/MichaelTarver.”
Anything else you have going on?
“Yeah, I’m competing in powerlifting now. I’ll be competing in my second meet in April. My first year of competition where I’ll be using equipment like a squat suit. I joined Tampa Barbell here in Tampa last year and competed in November. I absolutely love powerlifting. I still wrestle. I’ll be performing “King James,” and “I Can’t Stop” at the next FIP PPV in Tampa, and I’ll be wrestling on the event as well. I’ll also be performing a couple of songs from Sheep In Wolves’ Clothing Part II, which is coming in March.”
Is TNA something you’ve kept your eye on?
“Eh, yeah. I don’t watch TNA. I went to visit TNA when I got released, and it just wasn’t meant for me. I got no problem with TNA, I hope they succeed. I have friends that wrestle for TNA. EC3 is a guy I wrestled in Cleveland before we got to FCW, and he was their world champ. It just wasn’t meant for me. If the opportunity arises, maybe, if not, I won’t shed a tear over it.”
You can listen to the full interview above, or in the player below. You can also download audio of the interview directly at this link. If you want to subscribe to our audio channel, you can do so through iTunes as well as our RSS feed, which you can use this to subscribe through any podcast app. If you enjoy the interview, please rate us on iTunes!