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Interview with ROH heavyweight champ Tyler Black

Ring of Honor returns to Internet pay per view this Saturday Night, when its “Big Bang” event in Charlotte, NC airs live online at GoFightLive.TV.

Headlining the show is a triple threat match featuring newly crowned ROH heavyweight champion Tyler Black defending his title against former champ, Austin Aries, and ally-turned-adversary Roderick Strong. ROH’s program on HDNet has done a good job hyping this match, which was put together by ROH executive producer Jim Cornette.

Check out the video below hyping the show. It’s worth noting that the production values for the video package are considerably better than what you might be used to from ROH.

It’s Black’s biggest match since he won the title back in February and joined the likes of Daniel Bryan, Desmond Wolfe, Samoa Joe and C.M. Punk as holders of the prestigious championship. The victory was the culmination of what the 23-year-old Black calls a “whirlwind” career that began just five years ago.

In this interview, Black discusses his rise to the top of ROH, his thoughts on one day joining WWE, what he thinks about Bryan’s stint in WWE NXT so far, how ROH can improve its HDNet show, watching WrestleMania XXVI in person, and the ROH locker room’s recent decision to move away from dangerous chair shots to the head.

AC: Congratulations, first of all. How long has it been now since you won the title?

TB: Let’s see – about a month and a half? It was almost two months after the pay per view.

AC: Terrific. Let’s start with that. Has life changed? Was it a goal for you to win the Ring of Honor title – especially when you look back at some of the names that have held the same belt?

TB: Yeah, it was definitely a goal – not only since I got into the company, but before I got into the company. It was something I had dreamed about since I was a young kid – since I was 16 and I saw my first Ring of Honor show. And as you said, you look at some of the names that have held this belt – Lo Ki, Samoa Joe, C.M. Punk, Bryan Danielson – guys who I idolized growing up in the wrestling business. So, definitely winning that belt was surreal for me. As far as life changing, I’m not sure. I’m still the same old kid from Iowa. I haven’t bought a new house or anything like that. It just bring a string of good fortune for me, and I’m lucky to be in the situation that I’m in now.

AC: I had heard somewhere else that you had said it was a childhood dream, and that struck me as odd because Ring of Honor hasn’t been around all that long. So were you watching from day one? Were you a Ring of Honor fan early on and was that something you wanted to do back when you were 16?

TB: Yeah. When it first came out it was one of the coolest things I had seen. I had always been a fan of that style, as far as bringing the Japanese, lucha libre, everything – that hybrid sort of style to the United States. Ring of Honor was really the first place that gave that sort of style a platform. And at 16, I’m not really watching wrestling to see like Hulk Hogan anymore. I was looking to see real cool moves. So I was going to the WWE to see like the Hardy Boyz and Edge & Christian in their acrobatic ladder matches, which kind of evolved into that Ring of Honor sort of style, that hybrid style of pro wrestling. It was definitely something that I thought was awesome since the first time I saw it. And it was something that I wanted to do as I grew up watching that style.

AC: Are you surprised by the progress you’ve made so quickly in Ring of Honor? From showing up about two years ago in the Age of the Fall tag team with Jimmy Jacobs, to becoming one of the top singles stars within about a year, to within about two years winning the Ring of Honor world title. Are you surprised that you moved that quickly?

TB: Yeah, absolutely – and not just in Ring of Honor. My whole career has been a whirlwind five years for me. It’s been an incredible five years. I’ve been lucky enough to be put in a lot of situations where people in higher up situations than me having given me the ball to run with. And luckily I haven’t dropped that ball yet. I’m just fortunate ad lucky, but at the same time I’ve worked really hard to get where I’m at and I definitely feel I deserve the chance that I’ve been given.

AC: Do you feel added pressure in the fact that you get this opportunity now, after Ring of Honor has lost some pretty important talent in the last six months or so in Bryan Danielson and Nigel McGuinness? Clearly there was kind of a void there in the main event scene, and you helped fill it. Is it added pressure to follow guys like that who were top main event acts?

TB: Yeah, definitely. Just having the belt after guys like that is something difficult to follow. Filling the void, as you said, that they have left and stepping into that was a very difficult task – not just for myself, but for the rest of the guys in the locker room, who needed to step up and really fill that space. It was hard, and it’s been hard and it’s not going to be easy anytime soon. I’m looking forward to it, though – the challenge.

AC: Let me ask you about the match you had with Austin Aries at that first Internet pay per view in Manhattan. Clearly, it was a big match for you, but the crowd wasn’t completely behind you. I don’t know if that took by surprise. There were a lot of detractors in the crowd that night. What did you attribute that to? Is it just the New York fans being rowdy? Did it make you kind of introspective – “Am I doing something wrong?” and make you change up your act at all? What was your reaction to that?

TB: Well, you know that wasn’t the first time I had a title shot in New York. I think the fans who had been extremely supportive of me in that city, I think they get tired too. They get tired of seeing the same sort of thing. And me coming up short at the end of that was something that – I don’t think they were interested in seeing that for the third, fourth or fifth time, or whatever it was. You combine that with their sort of attitude, and the fact that there was really, really poor weather that night, as well. The show was long. The match was long. And we live in a society where people want instant gratification. They didn’t get what they were expecting, and so they acted accordingly. It really did catch me by surprise. It wasn’t something I was expecting. But they are entitled to their reaction. And they came back in February and things were a different story.

AC: As far as that pay per view – I know it was a big deal for Ring of Honor, but there were a lot of technical problems that night, that I think for a lot of people sort of tainted the whole show. Was that frustrating for you – to be on such an important stage and then hearing that nobody could hear the announcers and that there were all kinds of problems.

TB: Yeah, that is disappointing. It was hard for us to come to terms with that. We, as a whole – the locker room and the company – wanted that pay per view to come off without a hitch and we wanted to show everybody that we could do live broadcasting, whether it be a pay per view or a TV or whatever. So it was frustrating, but I think the second go around is going to be a lot better. We’ve got some specific people coming in to help out – Kevin Kelly and Jim Cornette, people who have done it before. We did it on very limited experience. So I think the team we’ve put together now should be able to handle any technical difficulties or other difficulties that arise during the course of this next pay per view coming up.

AC: Let me ask you just about how Ring of Honor is doing right now. Obviously, there’s the return of the Monday Night Wars with TNA going head to head with WWE. And Ring of Honor is also on Monday nights. Are you hoping that there's a kind of trickle down effect where the increased interest in the sport will help Ring of Honor, similar to how ECW benefited when WWE and WCW were fighting each other.

TB: Well, don't give TNA too much credit, really. I wouldn't call it a "war." They're more like a little thorn in the side of WWE's lion. But hopefully at some point the popularity of the sport spiked again. We've run into trouble. The last decade has been a gradual decline. But at some point we have to do something. We have to make a change, whether it's stylistically, or whether we just get the trickle down effect, where the big guy, WWE, makes a bunch of money and that helps out for everyone. Something's got to change from the way we've been producing pro wrestling. Hopefully, somebody will notice Ring of Honor and really give us a chance and get behind us. We can be that change. We can be that different sort of style that's going to push wrestling into the next generation.

AC: Do you see any problems with Ring of Honor's production? I know that HDNet seems to be pretty happy, but some fans have said it's just sort of lacking something - lacking that "oomph" that's really going to create a buzz for the show.

TB: Yeah, you know, it's the first time HDNet has ever filmed a show this way, and it's out first foray into television. So it's a work in progress. If there was any one thing I could change about the show, personally, it would be that we don't really cater to a youthful audience. All of our wrestlers - for the most part, I would say - are under 30 years old, the majority of them. We have young, hip personalities. I'm 23 years old. I Just graduated high school like five years ago. So I'm not an old man, and it's not an old man's game. I wish we could convey that youth better - that fresh sort of vibe that style can bring to an audience. It's difficult, and I don't know how to get that across as well. So if there was one thing I could change, it would be that - to convey to the audience a more youthful, fresher product.

AC: What does it make you feel seeing so many of the people who have worn that same belt move on in their careers? C.M. is a big part of WWE right now. Bryan Danielson is in WWE. Nigel McGuinness is in TNA. Samoa Joe is a former TNA world champion? Is that sort of an added pressure for you - to follow in those footsteps and one day graduate from Ring of Honor and accomplish something bigger?

TB: Well, we'll see. I love the position I’m in right now and I love being in Ring of Honor. My goal as a professional wrestler is to touch as many people as I can. I want to inspire people the way I was inspired at that age, when I was 16 and younger. I want to inspire kids in that way – to follow their dreams and not let silly things like life get in their way. So if that stage is Ring of Honor, that would be amazing. If I could touch that many people, that’s awesome. But if it’s elsewhere then I just hope for the best. To carry that belt around, I’m very proud of that and hopefully I can have the same success that guys like Punk and Joe and now Bryan and Nigel are having.

AC: What have you thought about what you’ve seen from Bryan and Nigel lately. Here you’re talking two guys – and maybe Bryan is a better example – guys who were at the top of your company, and with Bryan coming in to WWE at sort of the bottom, and being called a rookie on NXT. Do you have any objections to that? Do you think that’s fair, considering how big WWE is?

TB: That’s just how they do their thing. They’re very – I don’t know the word – they’re a very self-centered corporation when it comes to that. They like to think they’re the only thing out there. But the fact is they’re not. And some people might look at the situation and think that Bryan or Nigel - Bryan, as you said, being the better example – is discouraged. But I think he looks at it as more like a challenge. You have to understand that when he was at the top of Ring of Honor, he had reached the pinnacle of that mountain. He couldn’t go any further. So it was like he came to the top of the mountain and he looked over and he saw this other mountain – this bigger mountain that he was able to climb. So I think it’s exciting for him - I know it would be for me - to start at the bottom and work your way up, because the journey is more than half the fun half the time. I really have enjoyed my climb and ascension to the top of Ring of Honor.

AC: Let me ask you another WWE question that relates to Ring of Honor. Recently WWE banned chair shots to the head. As part of their wellness policy now, I guess they could suspend guys for hitting each other on the head with steel chairs. And you’ve seen them move away from that – now mostly doing the chair shots across the back, like they used to do years ago. And that’s one place I’ve heard Ring of Honor criticized – that when you go in that direction of the hardcore stuff it could be pretty violent and dangerous. I’ve seen some of the chair shots and some of the bumps that guys take. Would you like to see a similar philosophy in Ring of Honor, and maybe all of wrestling, where guys are a little more careful with stuff like that?

TB: Yeah, and you know what, we actually, as a locker room, discussed this. And if you’ll notice, on the next set of TV tapings, there’s not much in the way of head shots. I can’t say there’s none, because sometimes Necro (Butcher) is pretty unpredictable. But we pretty much decided as a consensus that we don’t want to do that either, and that’s a great thing. I’m glad that WWE has decided to back to their roots with that sort of thing, because it’s really not safe and it’s causing guys’ careers to be short, and that’s not good for anybody. That’s not good for business, and that’s not good for families and friends in general. Hopefully, that becomes more of a trend and safety in the business becomes more of a trend, because I know over the last decade some of that caution has been thrown to the wind a little bit, as far as head drops and chair shots and guys taking care of each other. So hopefully we can get back to that and we can have longer, healthier careers.

AC: Is it sort of daunting for you being so young in the business and thinking how much there might be left to go? You look at WrestleMania XXVI this past weekend, which headlined with two guys who were nearly 50 years old. You’d have another 20-plus years to go before you’d have that much experience. Are you in it for the long haul and do you see yourself like Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker doing this in your mid-to-late 40s?

TB: You know, maybe. I know I couldn’t do what I’m doing now for that long. But those guys have a little bit lighter schedule, as far as like what they’re doing in the ring. And they’re getting compensated a bit more than I am for their troubles. So I think if I were in their situations, I could probably do it a little bit longer up in to my 40s, and maybe 50s, depending on how my body felt. And that’s something that I would like to do. I said earlier in another interview, we don’t get retirement plans. We don’t have like 401Ks. We don’t get any of that stuff. So we’ve just got to make as much money as we can to try and support our families and give people around us a good life as well. We’re not the only ones involved in this. So yeah, I would love to do what they do and still headlining big shows when I’m that age and making a good living at it. That would be awesome.

AC: Bryan Danielson said in a recent NXT show that his career goal is to headline a WrestleMania. Do you think that’s a good career goal to have? Do you have a similar goal?

TB: As I said, my career goal is really to inspire as many people as I can. I know it sounds a bit hokey, but it’s just that the business touched me in that way and it changed my life. Not everybody has to be a pro wrestler. That’s not going to be their dream. But if I could get some kid to start up a band or do whatever, instead of following a beaten path that everybody tends to go along and hopefully encourage people to follow their dreams and make things happen in their lives, then that would be great. And, you know, headlining a WrestleMania is definitely a good way to start. You know, there were 72,000 people in Phoenix last Sunday, and that’s a hell of a lot of people to touch at one time.

AC: Did you watch the show?

TB: Yeah, actually it was my first live WrestleMania.

AC: Oh, you went in person?

TB: Yeah, I did.

AC: That’s right. You guys were in town, right?

TB: Yeah, we were in town.

AC: So what was it like for you?

TB: It was crazy, man. I’ve never seen that many people in what spot at the same time. I’ve been to some big concerts, but nothing that big. I went to an Ozzfest, where there were a lot of people walking around. But it’s nothing like that, where they’re all just concentrating, watching one single thing. It’s just crazy to have that many people watching pro wrestling, on their feet for every little thing.

AC: Where were you seated?

TB: I was sitting with a buddy of mine. We were probably like 40 or 50 rows back from the ring. It was really cool. We had a nice, nice view.

AC: Did a lot of Ring of Honor guys go?

TB: Not a lot. Maybe a couple of handfuls. Less than a dozen, I’d say.

AC: Were you there strictly as a fan, or did you get to spend any time meeting guys, back in the locker room, anything like that?

TB: No, I just wanted to watch it as a fan. I just wanted to take it in. I was never able to go to one when I was younger, and that was a good opportunity and I figured I’d take it up. It was cool.

AC: What do you think of this new tradition of Ring of Honor running shows in the city of WrestleMania every year? Have you seen that to be beneficial?

TB: Yeah, definitely. I know it’s good for us. We’re sort of piggy backing off of them. There’s no beating around the bush. But it’s good for us, because every year we’re in new markets. We’re in places that we never run, like Orlando, Houston, and now Phoenix. Next year we’ll be in Atlanta. These are places that we never go, just because they’re outside of our realm. It’s difficult for us to promote shows there. But every year those are some of our biggest crowds and our best shows. Every year we get upwards of a thousand people, I think, almost on both nights. So it’s nice, and the crowds are excited and some of the fans have never seen Ring of Honor. Some of them have never even heard of Ring of Honor. So it’s a good thing I think for everybody. They get a chance to have a good time and take in a lot of wrestling. And for us, it’s good for us business wise and it’s interesting, because you have people who come from Europe or Asia and they come all the way here just to watch wrestling. So it’s a good experience.

AC: All right, Tyler, well thank you so much for this. Is there anything else you wanted to say about the pay per view? It’s this Saturday, right?

TB: Yeah, it’s this Saturday, April 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

AC: That’s also a new market for you guys, right?

TB: Yeah, we’ve never been down to Charlotte. We’ve got a lot of lucha libre stars coming in.

AC: And the big match is you, Rod and Austin, right?

TB: Yeah, me Roderick Strong and Austin Aries in a triple threat match for the Ring of Honor world title. It should be a good time.

New York Sports