Alan Wojcik interviews the British Lions

Courtesy of Alan J. Wojcik of http://alanwojcik.com

Alan J. Wojcik: Both of you gentleman are from England. Who were your favorites growing up and was wrestling the only profession you aspired to take up?

Chris Gray: Growing up in England where football is the biggest sport in the country naturally I was a fan & I also played for local teams, my school & even had tryouts with Leeds United F.C. (my hometeam) & Manchester United. It was around the age of 14 funnily enough when I started training to wrestle that football quickly became a distant memory. I was always a lifelong fan of both wrestling & football but wrestling is were my heart is.

Tommy Taylor: The guy who really caught my eye in this business when I was younger was Shawn Michaels. My first match I witnessed was the famous, and amazing Ironman Match at Wrestlemania 12. As soon as I saw how much effort Shawn and Bret put into making an entertaining match for over an hour I knew this was the greatest business in the World! Later on when I educated myself with British Wrestling I saw a superb wrestler in The Dynamite Kid. He kept me on the edge of my seat every time I watched him. I knew pretty much straight away after seeing these fantastic wrestlers I wanted to follow their footsteps in the squared circle.

 

Alan J. Wojcik: The two of you met at Sir Jeff Kayes Wrestling school. Talk about the formation of your friendship and what the school was like compared to other training camps you might have read about?

Chris Gray: Well the first thing you expect is a wrestling ring right? WRONG! The “school” was actually a hardcore style gym with two floors pretty run down & we wrestled on the second floor of the gym on nothing but mats. Learning to bump & wrestle on mats really takes it out of you but I’m happy it was that way because it toughens you up & your better prepared for a lifetime of falls & bumps! Our friendship was just a natural progression of the both of us sharing the same dream & desire to chase it, its been nearly 6 years we’ve known each other now & I consider him my brother were that close literally since we met everything in our personal & professional lives we have shared & experienced together

Tommy Taylor: We both started training in May 2002 at Jeff Kaye’s school. Back when it was Jeff and another British Legend, Drew McDonald teaching. And as far back as I can remember I don’t think we became that good of friends straight away. There was a lot of students to start with, some good, some very bad! It wasn’t until the shit filtered out and Sir Jeff saw talent in the both of us, that was when we started working together and started travelling on the road together and very quickly became good friends. We always stuck with it and just dedicated ourselves to learn more, and we still do. That’s what brings us together. Even with the recent shit times, we both know we’re not going to stop working like we do and doing good business for the business.. As for the school, I honestly believe it was the best out there for us. The source of my education is directly from Sir Jeff Kaye. He taught us the very best of catch as catch can and British style wrestling. If I would have gone to some brainless twat for guidance I don’t think I’d be doing this interview now.

Alan J. Wojcik: Both of you began touring Europe at a young age. Were there any veterans on the tours who helped you out or were you left alone?

Chris Gray: We were helped by a lot of guys in many ways, being so young neither of us had drivers licenses, in England you have to be 17 to take your test, so a lot of the wrestlers would help us with car rides, our work in the ring & many things of that nature I could make a list but it would be pretty long so I would just like to thank everyone & anyone who helped me along the way I am eternally grateful thank you.

Tommy Taylor: Well the first company I toured with had Jake Roberts headlining. That was an amazing experience. He is a real genius. Later on I got to team with Bryan Danielson, I remember talking to him for a good hour after the show in a crappy little Burger King, He didn’t like that I was eating French fries, I try stay away from them now.. Along the way I have travelled with European Legends such as Drew McDonald, Frankie Sloan, Ian Wilson and Ian McGregor, all of which gave me tons of knowledge for the business.

Alan J. Wojcik: Most fans might not realize matches in Europe are different than America. Could you give them some rules that maybe foreign to them and how long did it take you to adapt to American wrestling?

Chris Gray: In England these days the rules are the same as the American ones, its more of a case of psychology & also wrestling is more appreciated back home they appreciate a hold for hold contest less of a kicking & punching fight mentality. In the good old days though the rules were very different they had rounds & if an opponent was on the ground you could not pick him up they would have to the count of 10 to be back on both feet, there were also public warnings if you broke the rules you received a warning & 3 of those & you would be DQ’d!

Tommy Taylor: We have 3 minute rounds, with a minute rest in between, we get public warnings for “foul play”, 3 public warnings and automatic disqualification. Your opponent must be to his feet before contact is made (otherwise one public warning)… It’s an old school tradition to have matches this way but they are still popular with the right crowd. It didn’t take me too long to adapt, I still use my wrestling style but only change for the type of audience.

Alan J. Wojcik: Both of you signed WWE developmental deals in 2007. Take the readers through the tryout process and what a developmental deal means in simple terms?

Chris Gray: We had both been attending WWE events from the age of 15 basically you wrestle in the ring pre-show with the boys & agents watching! At the age of 15 in front of your idols & potential employers its an extremely nerve racking situation. But every time we went back they saw improvements & then they would give us dark matches & the next time we would job on TV & so on. Then in April the dream came true we both got contracts for the WWE. A development deal is pretty much like baseball you have the minor leagues & the major leagues, development is the minor leagues & its were you prove your good enough for TV.

Tommy Taylor: The first tryout we went to was back in 2003. I was 16! I remember feeling totally overwhelmed and extremely nervous. This was in Manchester, England. Chris and I had a 10 minute chain wrestling match in front of Dave Finlay and some of the boys. At the time we felt it went really well. Looking back (I own the footage) it was pretty terrible. We got some great feedback. Ironically HHH watched us work and told us that if we keep learning and get bigger the company would hire us in maybe 4 years. That was a huge incentive! And they did haha! We went to several tryouts thereafter and they saw progress in both of us every time. Enough so that they used us for dark matches and then TV spots. I got to work with Carlito on Heat at the age of 18. In April of last year (2007) John Laurinaitis offered us both contracts. He gave us the “development deal” and we had no clue what to expect, just that WWE would be watching our progress and when the time is right send us to TV.

Alan J. Wojcik: Florida Championship Wrestling came to be from the ashes of Deep South Wrestling. What were your initial impressions of America and Florida?

Chris Gray: Right away I felt at home I knew this was the place to be, it really did feel like the land of opportunity. Florida is a beautiful state I love the weather the beaches although I do miss English food ALOT!!!

Tommy Taylor: My first impression of America was amazing, we flew in over New York and could see Manhattan in the distance. I got a warm feeling in my body and couldn’t help but smile. I always knew I would live here, it was in my plan, I remember being very young telling my family I’m going to move to USA to become a wrestler, and now it was reality. Even better was the fact I was going to live in Florida. It’s a super state, I love everything about it, there’s always something to do, always a cool spot to drink at, a terrific place to eat. I’m more than happy here.

Alan J. Wojcik: Your FCW training schedule had you working out every weekday. Take the readers through a typical day at the FCW facility as opposed to the Tuesday night shows at Bourbon Street of New Port Richey.

Chris Gray: The day started at 9:45 with everyone in the rings, we would start with stretching we would follow that with a bump routine the whole process would normally be around thirty minutes. Then day to day it varied with either worked on singles/tag matches, fitness drills to blow you up, individual & group promos etc it wasn’t easy but I loved going to work everyday & that being my job!

Tommy Taylor: We started with stretches led by the now famous Ezekiel of Smackdown! We followed that with bumps, rolls and sequences to just get your wind tuned up. Every day was different, one day we’d have drills going for hours, the next we would perfect our promos. It was just a fun routine, I loved lacing my boots every single day and stepping into a ring. We even trained hard before the show days. Some Tuesdays before the Bourbon Street event we would train until 4pm have to drive home to get a shower then straight away drive to the venue for 6pm. And try fit meals in between.

Alan J. Wojcik: During a few trips to FCW I came to see the talent being mentored by legends Gerry Brisco and Dean Malenko. Was there a particular daytime visitor that sticks out in your mind that left a lasting impression?

Chris Gray: I enjoyed each & every visit it was an honor to have them help us out. From everyone who showed up to help all of the students were able to take something with them to help them either with wrestling or to help them a better person. Personally I enjoyed, Dean Malenko, Ricky Steamboat & of course Dave Taylor!

Tommy Taylor: For sure, Dave Taylor he had a sort of seminar for the students on “leg working”. For a good 2 hours everyone surrounded the ring and watched Mr Taylor go through moves and holds with ease. It was funny watching some of the guys get in the ring after and try to emulate him. He made the school laugh the whole time too. Another was Dean Malenko, he is a true hero of mine and I was blessed to have 5 minutes of his time. I had a tag match and just wanted him to remember my selling. I was on the receiving end of Sinn Bowdee for the most part which made the match flow like clockwork. I wanted to get every aspect of facials, vocals and body movement for Mr Malenko to watch. After the match I asked if there was anything I could have done to improve my selling and he said “No, maybe tassels on your boots”… Not sure what that meant?

Alan J. Wojcik: At one point Steve Taylor became Tommy Taylor, then “the Rascal” and Chris became “Thee Superstar.” Was this done by Steve Keirn and Tom Pritchard or did you do it to break from the crowd? Chris did you enjoy being a heel?

Chris Gray: “Thee Superstar” was my idea although now Brian Kendrick seems to be trying it out lol! The office told me to cut my hair and try out some new ring gear and I was all for that I had a pretty generic look. So I thought with the changes I will try to reinvent myself with a new gimmick to go with the new look. I ran the idea by Dr. Tom who liked it & I was good to go. It perhaps wasn’t the best environment to try & get over with a new gimmick as the booking for the show was experimental they were trying to get to know everybody as performers so they were mix & matching & seeing what would work so I feel I didn’t get the time needed to get it over, they had 60 other guys to work with too so the timing wasn’t the best in retrospect I also feel that the gimmick wasn’t really me even though it was my idea I didn’t fit it. As for being a heel I enjoyed it but again I look back & think that being one of the smaller guys in FCW I would have been a better babyface I worked as a babyface in England a lot & fighting from underneath comes naturally to me, but being a heel I enjoy being in control of the match that’s fun too.

Tommy Taylor: The Rascal never came out right, I had great ideas, I still do. It first came out during a promo session. I had no pre scripted thing to say when the camera was rolling so just had fun. I said the phrase “naughty naughty” and it got over with the boys. Especially Mike Mondo who said it to me every morning! I spoke to Wes Adams, Smackdown ref who has an unlimited amount of knowledge for the business. And he loved the idea of making it into a full blown gimmick. The next step was Dr Tom, he didn’t quite get it, he gave me a chance to show it to him against Sheamus in Fort Myers and we had a great match. The people got behind the rascal and wanted him to defeat the monstrous Irish Man. Dr Tom loved it, he got behind it 100%, or so I thought. The next time I was booked I was a heel and then a baby face again. It was confusing as to what the “higher ups” had in mind for you.

Alan J. Wojcik: During your FCW tenure you formed the British Lions and FCW gave you British legend Dave Taylor as a manager/advisor.

Chris Gray: I would like to have run with that as The British Lions but I guess they had other ideas, I felt that we could have made something out of the 3 of us & maybe even a run on TV. We had both met Dave previously & both of us respect & admire him because he is a British Legend. Were all from Yorkshire & we share the same sense of humour we can relate to each other being from the same place. Hopefully sometime in the near future we can be reunited on as a British team & who knows maybe we can make it to TV as the British Lions together.

Tommy Taylor: The three of us are very similar, same sense of humour and from the same part of England, it just fit like a glove. We’re two hungry kids who want to beat people up and Who better to guide us than Dave Taylor. We respect his whole legacy. We even trained with his daughter at Sir Jeff Kaye’s back in England. They gave us a shot at New Port Richey and again it went well, mainly the crowd reaction to us. This was mere weeks before we all got released so I don’t know what to make of it. But It’s all still good for us, we have regular contact with Mr Taylor and know that there is a huge opportunity for us elsewhere. The British Lions is the direction we both (Chris and I) want to succeed in. We truly believe WWE missed out on an exciting and young tag team that their TV could benefit from. What’s their loss is someone else’s gain though!

Alan J. Wojcik: What went through your minds when WWE shut down Ohio Wrestling and FCW became home to about 70 men and women all trying to get brought up to the main rosters?

Chris Gray: I wasn’t phased at all although neither of us are the biggest wrestlers, I am extremely confident in my abilities as a wrestler and I looked forward to working with more wrestlers.

Tommy Taylor: The only thing that went through my mind is to work twice as hard. I knew their was a chopping block from the start and now it had gotten bigger. The only thing is sometimes hard work isn’t all you need… When they all got down to FCW I made some good friend and got to work with some amazing workers.

Alan J. Wojcik: Both of you had matches against everyone on the FCW roster at the live events on at the training facility. Besides working each other did you have someone that made you say, “I want to do a long-term program with that guy?”

Chris Gray: There was a lot of guys: TJ Wilson, Ted Dibiase Jr, Harry Smith, Afa Jr, Nic Nemeth these and a few others are the guys I enjoyed watching and wrestling with because it was a learning experience & bettered myself by working with them.

Tommy Taylor: Too many to mention. Off the top of my head I would say Colt Cabana, we worked once and it just felt easy, I know through other circumstances (no-rascal) we could have had some classic matches. Greg Jackson was great to work with, he brought the best out of you. I had my final FCW match with him for 45 minutes, blood was shed and my jaw nearly popped out, it was awesome! Mr Yamamoto is a guy to learn with, I enjoy working with no calling and being in the ring with him made us both just WORK in there. I got to work with all these guys and could have worked memorable angles with them, Johnny Curtis, Nic Nemeth, Mike Mondo, Ted Dibiase Jr, Heath Miller, Kofi Kingston, but the one guy I never had the opportunity to work with was TJ Wilson. In 10 months I never had a full match with him. I regret that. But from everyone I worked I took away something to learn from no doubt.

Alan J. Wojcik: April was good and bad for you guys from attending WrestleMania weekend to the end of the month when WWE let you go from your deals. Talk about the weekend if you like and then the day Keirn/Pritchard let you go and what was the reason given to you?

Chris Gray: It was an honour to be at Wrestlemania, the Hall of Fame was amazing too. It was the office that made the phone call not Dr Tom or Steve Keirn, it was awful we were both in the car together driving to the gym & Steve answered the phone & this look of shock came over his face & I just though oh shit! The reason they gave was a lack of progress which I disagree with completely. I have my own suspicions on what the real reason was but I’m not willing to get into that for obvious reasons lol!

Tommy Taylor: Yeah Wrestlemania is still unbelievable for me, I don’t believe that I was there to help the show and enjoy the spectacle, it was a great experience. Hall of Fame too, I got to see most of my heroes and pay respect to them in a gracious way. I’m grateful for the company to give us that weekend.
The releasing came from the office, we both got a call on the way to the gym and my stomach dropped. I was lost for the next few days. I mean I was in a foreign country away from my family and wasn’t sure what was happening. I soon picked myself up though and started making new goals for my life.

Alan J. Wojcik: Now that you gotten over the FCW letdown your myspace calendar’s have you working for several Florida based promotions in the coming days. Are you ready to take the next step forward in creating careers outside WWE?

Chris Gray: Absolutely being released only made my desire that much stronger, I’m hungrier than ever I can’t wait to wrestle again. For the future I would like to work all over the world: Japan, Mexico & more of Europe. Here in the U.S. were looking to work anywhere & everywhere were looking into getting opportunities for companies like Ring Of Honour I’m a big fan of that product & the wrestling it produces & also TNA.The British Lions are back & ready to ROAR! http://www.myspace.com/chrisfrancisgray is my page if you are interested in chatting me up.

Tommy Taylor: WWE “development” was an amazing opportunity for me, I thank everyone involved with the company and want to show them that I’m still going to be a hard working professional wrestler regardless. The World is mine to see now, I want to get a bag full of experience from everywhere I can, Japan, Mexico, Back to Europe, Across USA anywhere and everywhere. It’s all there for me. I’m currently scheduled to work for FXE, UCW, FIP, GEAR, FPWA and PWF in the coming weeks. If anyone wants to come show support contact me on myspace.com/jiggatp

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