In terms of WWE debuts, James Ellsworth’s has to be among the best in history. He was simply supposed to get squashed in a match vs. Braun Strowman, but Ellsworth parlayed that appearance into nearly a two-year stint with WWE.
After making his WWE debut vs. Strowman, Ellsworth’s next storyline was being involved in the Miz vs. Dolph Ziggler storyline. He was asked how much time passed in between his debut and his next appearance when he joined The Chris Van Vliet Show.
“It took six weeks. Six weeks after that first RAW appearance, they brought me into Philadelphia. They did the angle where AJ was looking for a partner and nobody wanted to team with him. So, Daniel Bryan, who was the general manager at the time, made me his partner. I was walking outside for my entrance and The Miz beat me up, and Miz wound up being his partner,” recalled Ellsworth.
“So, that night, they go, ‘Hey, we’re going to bring you back next month. You’re going to be involved with The Miz and Ziggler rivalry.’ They were feuding over the Intercontinental Title at the time. So, they called me back a month later and they did the same idea they were going to do with Miz and Ziggler, just with AJ and Ambrose. Instead of wrestling the Intercontinental Champion, I was wrestling the WWE Champion.
“It all just happened so fast and slow at the same time. Those six weeks were the slowest six weeks of my life. Checking my email nonstop, still doing indie shows, still working my regular job in case it didn’t work out. Very fortunate and just a blessing in the sky for me. It did work out.”
While WWE told Ellsworth that they were going to sign him, they didn’t have concrete plans for him after wrestling AJ Styles for the World Championship. But he knew that he was going to wrestle for that prestigious title even before he signed a deal, as he told Chris.
“They had already told me that, ‘Hey, we don’t know if we’re going to give you one or two years. We’re just trying to figure that out. You are getting signed.’ So, they told me that pretty early on. They just couldn’t figure if it was going to be one or two years,” Ellsworth said before revealing why he would have preferred going to NXT over the main roster.
“I wanted to go to NXT. I’m sad that I didn’t. Yes, I had a great run at WWE, but if you go through the Performance Center and you go on to NXT, they have time and money invested in you! So, you got a job! As long as you stay cool, you got a job forever! I remember them telling me, ‘No NXT, you’re on the main roster.’
“When they have nothing for me, I go, ‘Hey, can I go to NXT? I will move to Florida. I will go to the Performance Center every day.’ I think there was envy from some people when I first got there, but I envy the people that did [go through NXT]. Not only did they get the best learning experience in wrestling, they got job security. Because if somebody has time and money invested in you like me–I was kind of the guy that got over out of nowhere that they sold some t-shirts off of. Then my job was to get Carmella over. I understood that.
“I would’ve loved to go down there. I would’ve busted my ass, but it wasn’t in the cards for me. They were just trying to figure out if they would give me a year or two contract, and they ended up giving me two years.”
Ellsworth’s most notable storyline in WWE is arguably when he served as Carmella’s lackey during her run as SmackDown Women’s Champion. Ellsworth was thrust into that storyline by pushing Becky Lynch off a ladder, which enabled Carmella to win the first ever Women’s Money in the Bank ladder match.
However, Carmella would be stripped of the briefcase shortly thereafter which set up a second Money in the Bank ladder match just weeks later. Ellsworth was asked whose idea that was, and if it was always planned to have two Money in the Bank ladder matches.
“It was a Vince idea. We always had that second Money in the Bank planned when we got into that building that day, and they told Carmella and I and the rest of the girls what was going on. ‘Hey, James is going to help her win. This is the way we’re doing it. Then, two weeks later on SmackDown, we’ll have the rematch and redo it.’ It all worked to a tee,” said Ellsworth.
“I remember when I was climbing the ladder, that night in St. Louis [at Money in the Bank]. If you go back and watch it, the crowd is going nuts! I think the crowd wanted me to grab the briefcase and run with it. It would have been hilarious. I think as soon as I dropped it to Carmella, they started booing, which was what we wanted. We wanted heel Carmella. She’s not easy to boo. She does a great job with her promos. Fantastic as a heel, but she comes off as very cool. The guys like her, and the girls think she dresses nice. She’s not easy to boo and you want to like her!
“I remember walking out on SmackDown that Tuesday and they just booed us out of the building, and especially me. The heat was supposed to be on her, but it was my fault, so they booed me. I hate questioning booking, but I thought we were on fire right there.”
Ellsworth referred to booking because right after that moment, he would be suspended in storyline for 30 days due to his constant interfering. So when Ellsworth was at his hottest, they took him off TV for a month, and he reflected on that.
“They did an angle where I got suspended for a month. They had Daniel Bryan suspend me for a month, which did make sense because what are you going to do with this guy who keeps interrupting everything? It made sense, but this was our heat though. We were hot as heels,” stated Ellsworth.
“You felt a reaction every night on the house shows, on TV. We had something special here, I thought. That was probably my biggest moment in WWE. That’s where I’ll be remembered the most – for that moment I think. It was very special to me and it went down so well that particular night. It was well executed, well-booked, well-written, and props to everybody involved. It was amazing.”
After wrestling nearly a dozen WWE matches against both males and females, Ellsworth was released late in 2017. He was asked if he was surprised he got released, and hypothesized as to why WWE cut bait.
“Yeah, because I felt like I got over as a babyface and I got over as a heel when I needed to. The crowd was always making noise when I was out there. A week before I got released, I wrestled Becky on SmackDown, and all those chants were directed towards me,” said Ellsworth. “When they released me, I was upset. I was crying. You lose your dream job, and I’m questioning why. Then I go, ‘Maybe, it’s because Carmella has the briefcase and they don’t really need me, because of the briefcase.’ I thought maybe they’ll bring me back when she needs me.
“I went to the indies and had fun. Right away, I said I’ll be back. They brought me back seven months later. That’s all it was. Seven months later, they brought me back and I came at Money in the Bank, where I helped Carmella beat Asuka. Then, they used me for a couple more months there.”
Ellsworth had a short return stint in which he wrestled Asuka twice, with his last WWE match coming in July 2018. However, he did have another WWE appearance a few months later, and he recalled that moment.
“My last appearance there, I did a WWE.com exclusive for SmackDown 1000. Originally, I was supposed to wrestle Daniel Bryan that night on that show, and AJ was supposed to be the referee. They were going to do to Daniel Bryan what Daniel did to AJ, where he made Dean Ambrose the referee and I wrestled AJ,” revealed Ellsworth.
“If I won the match–because a couple of weeks prior, Paige fired me on SmackDown. That was my time, so if I were to win the match, I would get my job back. And AJ’s the referee. You get to the building and plans change. I just wanted to wrestle Daniel Bryan again because I respect him so much.”
The James Ellsworth character lasted far, far longer than what most people expected, and he achieved a level of fame that indie wrestlers can only dream of. He reflected on his WWE run and what he’d like to do next in wrestling.
“I thought the character had legs. That character was so different than everyone else. Going forward, I want to be the next Bobby Heenan, or Jimmy Hart, or Jim Cornette. More so of Bobby Heenan, where if the heat got so hot, you could put Bobby in a match because he was a wrestler,” stated Ellsworth.
“That’s what my goal is going forward – to be that mouthpiece. I think that’s where the James Ellsworth character would work the best going forward anywhere. I think there’s a lot left to do with Ellsworth in that position.”
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.