James Ellsworth had a two-year WWE run in which he received some level of notoriety with his pairing with Carmella. But that stint from 2016-18 wasn’t Ellsworth’s first with WWE, as he previously worked with the company as a Rosebud and an enhancement talent.
Ellsworth revealed the tricks as to how to get involved with WWE as a local indies wrestler when he joined the Chris Van Vliet Show.
“When they come to your town, you just email. A lot of times, especially when they’re doing squash matches, they’re looking for smaller guys because next to the superstar, the smaller guy makes their superstar look way like a superstar than the bigger guy does,” said Ellsworth.
“I started sending my stuff maybe in 2012. It took a couple of times. I would get called and nothing would happen. I see other guys do matches with whoever. The first time I did anything on screen was when I was a Rosebud with Adam Rose. I was a cheeseburger. That was the first time I was seen in the crowd.
“I remember, I put on my Facebook that I got my first paycheck from WWE. I think it was 2012, and I was like, ‘Man, I wish this was my paycheck every other week.’ I wrote that in 2012 with a picture of the check.”
Ellsworth’s first WWE match came when he was squashed by Braun Strowman in about 1 minute back in 2016. He discussed how he was chosen for that spot and how his pre-match promo landed him a WWE contract.
“We get there, nobody knows what’s going on. They said, ‘Braun Strowman is debuting tonight and one of you is going to wrestle him on RAW.’ I am looking around and it’s six guys and two girls there,” recalled Ellsworth. “Arn Anderson comes up to us all, and he’s like, ‘Hey, whoever throws the best punch gets the spot.’ He pointed at me first and I threw one. Arn Anderson looks at me and goes, ‘I don’t need to see the rest of you guys. You got the spot.’
“We get to the ring and he goes, ‘Let me see you throw one at Braun here.’ I throw a punch and [Arn] goes, ‘Good, you still threw the same punch. That wasn’t a fluke back there.’ He said we were doing this every week.
“This was the idea – every week, they were going to have extra talent say their last words before Braun kills them. Those are your last words before you go to the execution chamber. That was the idea. Every week, we would get local talent and say their last words before Braun executed them. So they told me, I was like, ‘Well, this cool, but at the same time, he’s executing me, so I’ll never be seen on here again. I better make this good because it will be my one match in WWE.’ Everything started slowly progressing that day from there.”
Ellsworth cut his taped promo and was standing backstage waiting for his match with Strowman while Sasha Banks was wrestling Charlotte for the Raw Women’s Championship. Banks would defeat Charlotte to win her first title on the main roster, and Ellsworth recalls the backstage reaction.
“Before the match, I was standing in Gorilla and Sasha Banks won her first ever RAW Women’s Title. I’m standing in Gorilla and they said, ‘Hey, before your match, you’ll go through the side steps of Gorilla, walk around through the crowd through the timekeeper’s position and into the ring.’ I’m a huge fan of Sasha Banks’ work. I think she’s amazing and among the top three wrestlers there.
“I’m nervous because I’ve never been on RAW in front of 10,000 people. Then, I’m watching her match, and Sasha wins. Then she comes to the Gorilla position with the title, and Stephanie McMahon’s hugging her, Triple H is hugging her. I’m enjoying this moment and they’re like, ‘You got to get out there!’ I completely forgot to go down to the steps and around to the crowd and into the ring.”
Ellsworth did eventually make his way to the ring where he wrestled his first match against Braun Strowman. He talked about what happened before, during, and after that match.
“I walked around the ramp. The referee goes, ‘You know you’re supposed to go through the crowd.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m sorry.’ I’m sitting there and its commercial break. JoJo is in the ring. She’s like, ‘How are you’ all nonchalant. So they have Bryon Saxton, who I love, get in the ring. Lights come on and we do a promo for television.
“The handy man with two hands line was a line I came up myself. I asked Jimmy Jacobs ? who was the writer for that promo that day ? I asked if I could say that line because I’m hitting him twice. He goes, ‘Yeah, that’s a good line. Say whatever.’ Jimmy Jacobs was awesome, by the way. So, I do the match. I say the promo and I thought I did a good job out there. When you’re on TV, the cameras raid up on you. There was a point in the match where he had me bent over and clubs me in the chest. To this day, that was the hardest I’ve ever been hit in my life. He has to. It’s TV and it’s his debut. He had to make it look good and he did.
“We get through the match and the referee’s checking on me after the match. Again, I got to go the side of the ramp. So, I get backstage and Arn’s like, ‘Hey, kid, you did a great job. Vince wants to see you.’ So I’m scared, and I’m taking the slowest walk to Gorilla I could take. I get there and I see Vince coming down the steps in Gorilla. I almost apologized to him for walking down the ramp before I could say a word. I said, ‘Hey, sir,’ and he goes, ‘Hey, great job pal!’ He goes, ‘I’ll be in touch with you,’ and shakes my hand. Triple H goes, ‘He’s serious. He’ll be in touch with you.’ So, then I go to catering.
“I sit down and everybody’s telling me how good of a job I did. I’m just being cool about it, saying, thank you. I’m eating and Braun comes up and gives me a bear hug, saying, ‘Man, you did great. Thank you so much!’ I said, ‘No, thank you!’ I’m keeping my cool and wondering what is happening. Vince kept his word. He kept in touch with me and wound-up tuning everything he did.”
That ended up being a huge Raw, as not only did Ellsworth make his debut and Sasha Banks win the Raw Women’s Championship, but Nia Jax also made her main roster debut earlier in the night. Jax also squashed her opponent, and Ellsworth revealed which current AEW star ended up being Jax’s victim.
“So, the girl they wind up picking that day was Britt Baker,” revealed Ellsworth. “I think something happened where they locked up – and this wasn’t Nia’s fault – something happened where she took a face bump and she hurt her face. It was not Nia’s fault. I know Nia has this stupid reputation of hurting people, but she didn’t hurt her. I always remember because I was Britt that day. Now, Britt’s doing a good job in television.
“So, it was me and Britt Baker who got picked that day out of everybody. So, I think those producers there know what they’re doing.”
After an impressive showing in his first promo and match, Ellsworth recalled what happened next and how the WWE locker room reacted.
“So, the next day, I went to SmackDown in Buffalo, New York because when you’re extra talent, you do all the TVs. That day was crazy too because I get out of the car, I’m walking in the arena, and fans are like, ‘Hey, James Ellsworth!’ That was the first time I got recognized as James Ellsworth. When I walk in, one of the camera guys comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, man, you’re going to be a star!’ I thought they were all just ribbing me because I was getting killed last night, so, whatever,” stated Ellsworth.
“That day, a lot of the SmackDown guys were like, ‘Hey, we watched you last night.’ I remember Ziggler distinctively came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you did a great job, kid. Very good!’ On the car ride to Buffalo, one of the referees there, Darrick Moore, a good friend of mine, he called me while I was on my ride to Buffalo. He’s like, ‘Hey, Chris Jericho wants to talk to you.’
“Chris Jericho got on the phone and he said, ‘You really did a great job. I’m really impressed with how good you did.’ Then, Enzo Amore got on the phone. He was like, ‘Dude, I’m in Gorilla.’ He said, ‘The way Vince was reacting to you, I think he’s going to sign you, so I’m going to be the first to congratulate you because you’re going to get signed.’ I’m just thinking this is a rib. I thought it was my referee buddy having these guys rib me.”
Getting compliments from the boys in the back is one thing, but actually getting a WWE deal or future opportunities is another. Ellsworth revealed the communication he had with WWE after his Raw wrestling debut.
“The SmackDown thing happens and the next day. I go to work with the people in special needs. I’m sitting there at work and I get an email from WWE, and they’re like, ‘Hey, can we do an interview with you for WWE.com?’ So, I do the interview for WWE.com and the next day, I get an email that says, ‘Hey, can you be on RAW on Monday?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, sure, if you need me for the next Monday.’ That was Thursday of that week,” said Ellsworth.
“The next day, Friday, ‘Hey, never mind. You just got killed by Strowman. We got to give it a few weeks before we bring you back.’ When I see those words, ‘before we bring you back’… I’ve been watching wrestling my whole life, remember? Something’s going on here. I’m starting to think this might be my chance and they would email me every week with ideas.
“That particular RAW, the week after, they were going to have Chris Jericho bring me out dressed as Enzo because I think he and Kevin Owens were feuding with Enzo and Cassidy at the time. And they were going to beat me up, so, that didn’t happen.”
About two months after his Strowman match, Ellsworth finally reappeared in WWE as a mystery tag partner for AJ Styles against John Cena and Dean Ambrose. But that wasn’t the original plan, and Ellsworth revealed who he originally was going to be matched with.
“They were doing this thing where Heath Slater didn’t get drafted by RAW or SmackDown. So, the major idea that never happened was, originally, I was going to wrestle Heath Slater at SummerSlam and the winner gets a SmackDown contract. I was going to win! That was the original idea to bring me in. Then, Heath started getting over as a babyface doing that,” said Ellsworth.
“So, they’re like, ‘Ah, you’re both babyfaces. We can’t do that.’ I got bummed out because I only had the Braun Strowman match.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit The Chris Van Vliet Show with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Mehdy Labriny contributed to this article.