By Brian Fritz for the Orlando Sentinel:
Even when you are considered one of the best performers in your business, that doesn’t mean things will go smoothly. That is especially the case when it comes to the pro wrestling business.
Case is point: Davey Richards (Wesley Richards) who is thought of by many as one of the best wrestlers in the business right now along with his tag-team partner Eddie Edwards. The two made a name for themselves at Ring of Honor as the American Wolves, having an incredible string of great matches over most of the last six years.
Even when they weren’t paired together, they still excelled with both of them winning the singles world championship in ROH, a promotion that is known for its excellent matches that sets the bar very high in front of a very critical audience.
And that reputation has carried over for Richards in Japan as well, having wrestled plenty for both New Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Noah. But things change over time and Richards was ready for one.
Richards and Edwards spent a week here in Orlando at the WWE Performance Center which included a tryout match for the company on their NXT show. But soon after that, Richards had a nasty public split with Ring of Honor after continuing to disagree with management over the direction of the company.
When things didn’t work out with WWE, Richards and Edwards quickly found a home with TNA Wrestling. Now known simply as The Wolves, the team made their debut in January. The duo has already won the tag-team championships only to lose them a week later.
Now, they will be part of Team MVP along with MVP and Jeff Hardy against Team Dixie which includes Bobby Roode, Austin Aries and the BroMans in a Lethal Lockdown cage match at this Sunday’s Lockdown pay-per-view event in Miami.
Richards spoke with me about joining TNA Wrestling, his tryout with the WWE, his split from Ring of Honor, his reputation, being tied to Japan and eating squid jerky to stay in shape.
Davey, it’s looks to have been a pretty hectic few months for you. What has it been like for you over these past few months.
It’s been great. TNA has been incredible but it’s definitely been … Be careful what you wish for. We started out and went to Scotland, went to England, wrestled a loop around the United States and went over to Japan, come back and now we’re headed into Lockdown. Then we go to Orlando for TV (tapings) right after that so they’re keeping us plenty busy.
How much does travel affect you because you’ve been in wrestling for a while now and you’ve spanned the globe.
Yeah, the travelling for me has always been the hardest part. That’s why I contemplated hanging up the boots with wrestling not because my love for wrestling ever waned of from injuries. When I was working in Japan full-time it was just too much. TNA keeps you just busy enough so they don’t run you ragged. So, for me, it’s a perfect balance.
What went into the decision of joining TNA and why was that the right place for you and Eddie right now in your careers?
The schedule for WWE and moving down to Orlando to join their Performance Center is just not conducive to my lifestyle. I work out of a pure love as a paramedic. I like doing that and am not giving that up. I’m in medical school. I don’t want to give that up. Eddie is engaged and lives in Boston. Then TNA offered us the opportunity to come in and wrestle rather than having to go back to wrestling school so we were just thrilled. The talent there is awesome and we thought we would fit right in and it turns out we were right and it’s gone smoothly. We’re extremely happy there.
If I had spoke with you a year ago, where do you think you would have been working right now?
I probably would have said I wouldn’t even be wrestling to be honest with you. I knew my time was coming to an end on the indies. I did everything there was to do there. Going to Japan full-time burned me out. I knew for a long time that WWE’s schedule … WWE has great wrestlers and they do a great product but their schedule is just not going to work for me. I didn’t really hear anything from TNA and so I thought there was no interest there so I thought I would complete medical school and be a paramedic and be a doctor. But luckily everything worked out. (David) Lagana (part of creative team for TNA) send out feelers to us to go to TNA and we hit the ground running ever since.
Did it take some convincing for you to not only go to work for TNA but also to continue your wrestling career or did something like a spark in you?
I actually wanted to go to TNA the entire time but Eddie was really adamant about finishing our commitment with WWE next. Once we got word they weren’t going to continue our tryout any more, within 20 minutes we had a contract with TNA. That’s where I wanted to go all along. As far as me continuing my career, it’s been a back and forth thing with me for a long time. I’ve only know learned retrospectively that I need to find a proper balance. I’ve always said I love being Davey but I also like being Wes too. With TNA I can do that. To me, it’s a win-win.
Do you think you upset some people when it comes to your decision on whether to continue wrestling or not? I know back in 2010 you had talked about this being my final year but then you decided to continue on with your career.
If you’re really adamant and really following someone and emotionally invested in someone or something and they’re back and forth and it can wear you out, just make up your mind, stop doing these cliffhangers. But on the other hand, it’s my personal life. I would never do anything, especially wrestling, taking fan’s money is my heart isn’t in to it. The good news is I can say my heart is 100% into it. I’m having more fun than ever.
You’re far from the first person who has talked about retiring from wrestling and deciding to continue on.
Yeah. You know, it’s funny I’ve never actually met him but I get compared to (CM) Punk a lot and we’re not in it so much for the money but it’s more for the fun of it. When our heart’s not in it, you can’t look at yourself in the mirror and continue to do it. Maybe we share a similar gene there.
You mentioned the short time you had with WWE and you had an opportunity to come to the Performance Center in Orlando. You were there for about a week and had a match on NXT. What was that experience like for you?
It was great. We were brought down and put in Billy Gunn’s class. He runs the advanced classes. It was fun and I can’t say enough good things about everyone there. The place is obviously unreal. I t was a good time but it was just different strokes for different folks. It was kind of creepy to me that everyone was walking on eggshells, everyone is really scared for their job. I don’t know. It wasn’t like everyone was having a whole lot of fun down there or maybe they’re just nervous because there’s a lot of eyes on you. Obviously what they are doing has been successful. They’re doing a great job with it. We were treated respectfully and we were taken care of.. I knew then and I know now that their schedule is not for me. I’m glad I got to experience it but I’m glad I found a home with TNA.
Are you surprised they didn’t offer you and Eddie anything more?
I don’t know. You never really know what they’re thinking. The original plan was to do three weeks of NXT and then go to Smackdown but then we got the email that basically what it said was you guys are great but we have a lot of Davey’s and Eddie’s right now. So we’d probably just put you in developmental to start out and we wouldn’t do that when you’ve already been around the world making a living so you’re free to pursue other interests. I thought at least they’re being honest because they could have been yeah, you’re in developmental and it’s going to be great. Then you’re down there for three years. I thought it was really respectful of them. Obviously it worked out for them and it worked out for us. We’re both happy. It didn’t really surprise me. I’m thankful for it.
You mentioned about how they said they have enough Davey’s and Eddie’s. Are you surprised that the size factor is still such a big thing in wrestling in this day and age?
Yeah, it’s an old world idea, it’s an old school mentality that’s just obsolete in my opinion. Case in point Daniel Bryan. Even (CM) Punk isn’t a big guy. I’m not saying there aren’t big guys who are over and making a lot of money but the case in point is I don’t think size is relevant. Obviously if you go out there looking like a 15 year-old kid it’s going to be kind of hard promoting that you’re beating someone up who’s 6’5”, 250 (pounds). But people know what an athlete looks like. There’s a lot of different guys who are great wrestlers and tough dudes and 100% athletes and size notwithstanding they’re entertaining and people are going to watch them. It’s just an outdated idea in my opinion.
What came first in your life – being a fitness freak or a wrestling fan?
I wasn’t really a fan growing up of professional wrestling. I didn’t watch WWF growing up. The whole Stone Cold – Attitude Era, the n.W.o., WCW, I never saw any of that. My first love was amateur wrestling and then through that I found my life of strength conditioning and my love of Jiu-Jitsu. And then through those things I found my love of professional wrestling and got back into it with a lot of Japanese wrestling and then going back to the archives, the Stone Cold era and watch the things you like, skip the things you don’t like. Definitely my first love was amateur wrestling, just being an athlete as opposed to being a diehard pro wrestling fan.
I’ve heard stories about how committed you are to your fitness and being an athlete including that you were once in Japan on a bus and trying to stay fit and eating squid jerky.
(laughs) You heard that from MVP! Yeah I kind of take my training probably to unhealthy levels sometimes. Right now I just got done training and I only slept three hours last night and I’m going to do Jiu-Jitsu at noon before I fly out at four. I really needed to find a way to get a snack without eating a bunch of rice and carbs over in Japan. There was no beef jerky just squid jerky. You’re surprised that you can choke down with a bottle of Coke Zero.
How bad does that stuff smell?
It’s bad. MVP, that’s always our story. Man, I wanted to punch you so bad.
In getting back to TNA, are you surprised you were back in Japan so quickly with them now having the partnership with WRESTLE-1. You were there for less than a month and you were already back in Japan again.
I told my about-to-be wife I’m going to die in Japan. I am forever tied to that country. And like nothing bad is ever going to happen to me, I’m going to life my whole life, a very fruitful life. I’m going to die of natural causes. It’s just somehow I’m going to die in Japan. Some weird twist of fate where I’m going to be on an hour flight from St. Louis to Chicago and somehow that plane is going to get diverted to Tokyo and I’m going to croak. When I quit New Japan, I was like I’m done. I’m not coming back to this country. I have no desire to go back to this country ever again and then lo and behold we’re going to Japan. But the funny thing is I had a ton of fun there the last time so you can’t really feel bad. But I’m forever tied to that country so I’ve just accepted it. I’m going to die in Japan.
People were excited about your debut along with Eddie and thought it was going to be a surprise match but instead you guys made an appearance on Impact and since then you’ve been in the ring. There was a house (non-televised) show where you won the tag titles and within a week you lost them in Japan.
I like it because, the way it was explained to us and I 100% agree with was we don’t want you guys to just go out there and wrestle right away. Because you’re going to go out there and you’re going to wrestle and you’ll have a great match and no one’s going to be surprised. Of course we’re going to have a great match. We know we can do that. We’ve been doing it for the last six years. We want to get your characters over and have a different approach as to why you’re wrestling and winning the tag belts on a house show, who does that anymore? It’s different. It’s the company taking chances and breaking the norm which is good I think. It’s exciting. Now we lose them over in Japan and it’s cool because we never got pinned but we lost so we have a reason to continue fighting.
TNA is really thinking outside the box and it’s refreshing. My gauge is that I’m intrigued by it because I’m not a traditional wrestling fan so I think it’s really cool we’re taking chances and doing something differently and it’s really an exciting time for all of us and I’m happy to be a part of it.
How much pressure do you feel on a nightly basis because of the great in-ring work you’ve done either by yourself or teaming with Eddie that you need to go out and steal the show?
Immense pressure. I don’t want to be in anything less than the best match on the show. That’s why I go any night in any promotion in any country. All I want to do is go out there and steal the show.
How much pressure was there in Ring of Honor because that is a company you worked with for a long time and it’s built around what you can do in the ring?
For a long time, there was a lot of pressure. Towards the last year there I didn’t care to be there and didn’t agree with how management ran it so I didn’t… I wouldn’t say the motivation was not there but you really had to do it more for yourself. Like right now, I want to please me, I want to please the fans and the company I work for. Towards my last year with Ring of Honor I just thought I want to do this for me and the fans. I don’t really care. I could honestly care less of what the company thinks at this point. So, some of the motivation definitely died there and I think you can tell in my matches over the last year. We parted ways and they’re doing their thing and I’m doing mine so it worked out for everyone.
How bad was the breakup with that company?
We’re not talking. We’re not on good terms. I have no respect for them whatsoever. I strongly dislike management there like with the exception of Jeff Jones who is a great guy. But the booker (Hunter Johnson) is completely inadequate at his job and he got his job more for being spineless than being talented. And the owner (Joe Koff) is even worse, he could care less about wrestling. He just wants to do television. To me, it’s just not something I agree with but I’m not there anymore and they do their own thing. And for the talent and the fans I wish them nothing but the best of luck.
Were you surprised on the way the breakup happened?
That company is in business not because of stellar booking and stellar management. They’re in business still because they’re spineless. The talent there is phenomenal. They’re top notch and great. But the management from the booker to the owner it’s definitely shut up and do what you’re told and drink the Kool-aid. I made a joke when I was there I called it Jim Jones wrestling. Just shut up and drink the Kool-aid and do your job. In private, people are going this sucks this sucks this sucks and I’m the one who came out and said this is terrible. I worked for that company and gave them everything I had for seven years. I think I earned my right to an opinion. Once that got out, it was like you’re going against the stream? You’re not here to have an opinion, just shut up and do your job and get your paycheck. I’m sure you can find someone else to do that for a lot less money than what you’re paying me so I’m just going to go about my way. Best decision I ever made and I have no desire to go back, ever.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before and I believe you’ve even said it but how do you believe people perceive you in the wrestling business because I believe you’ve said that a lot of people think you’re a jerk.
I know a lot of people that think that about me which is so weird because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met someone and they said I thought you were going to be an *******. Truth be told, I’m just really quiet. It kind of comes off as standoffish like maybe I’m arrogant which is not the case. You can interview a laundry list of guys like Adam Cole, Kid Omega, Michael Elgin, just ask them about me. I think like a main-eventer’s number one priority is to help get other guys over, give other guys opportunities. I’ve always to help people whether it’s giving all of my (merchandise) to the Red Cross Foundation or to kids with cancer. Helping guys with shows, helping guys get on Ring of Honor. I know I’m not an ********. Me being so quiet or introverted people think oh he’s too good for us. That’s totally not the case.
How do you ride that line in a business where you need to be confident, you have to believe in yourself and stand up for yourself and making sure people believe that’s confidence and you don’t come off as arrogant?
It’s a really fine line. For me, I’m not worried about what people think because I know what I’m capable of doing. I know I can get it done in the ring and anything I do I can back up. I’m a firm believer in karma and if you’re really an ******* and you’re really a piece of crap and you’re just really a downright bad person, bad things are going to come your way. If you’re a good person and you put good in the world and you try to help people, good things are going to come your way and good things just keep coming my way.
You’ve been teaming with Eddie now for about six years. Why has this team been able to be so good and stay together for so long?
I think a lot of it is mutual respect. I have a lot of respect for Eddie and I think he has a lot of respect for me. I just want to do things to help get Eddie over and he just wants to do things to help me get over. And no matter what the team comes first. I’ve said before I’m a tag-team wrestler first and a singles wrestler second. And The Wolves come first and the team comes first. I know we both have that mentality and we’re both committed to making this work. We come from similar backgrounds and we have similar tastes and we have similar ways in the wrestling business. All the pieces fit.
Do you see a resurgence in tag-team wrestling?
Absolutely. This coming year it’s going to be huge for tag-team wrestling. We’re lucky to say we’re going to be right in the mix of it. It’s going to be some really exciting stuff.
I know there are a lot of people that have put TNA under the microscope and they’ve been under fire for things they’ve done and now they’re talking about kind of hitting the reset button and going in a different direction. What are your thoughts about where the company is headed?
It takes a lot of courage to admit that some things need to change. That’s one of the things about TNA that I love so much and they really genuinely listen to our fans. They heard the fans say we want change, we want something different. We’re giving it to them. And we’re continuing to find new ways to shake things up and that’s one of the main reasons me and Eddie were brought in which is awesome. And seeing guys like ECIII (Ethan Carter III) getting pushed, they’re just killing it every night. Even the older wrestlers that have been there for a while, they couldn’t be more supportive. They’re so happy for us to come in and make our name there It’s a positive environment.
Does it make it easier going there knowing that Eddie came with you and you’ve got friends like MVP that decided to work there too?
Oh, absolutely! We were like so uncomfortable and it was so weird at the NXT tapings. It was weird and I felt nervous. When we walked out for our first match in England (for TNA), I was like I feel like I’ve been wrestling here five years. I feel at home. It was meant to be. I’m glad it happened.
If you have any questions, you can email me at email@example.com or follow me on Twitter @BrianFritz. To listen to my podcasts including the complete interview with Davey Richards, go to BetweenTheRopes.com. You can also find Richards on Twitter @RichardsWesley and on Facebook at Facebook.com/daveyrichardsTNA