Exclusive Interview: Independent Wrestling Legend Colt Cabana
When you think of the colorful world of independent pro wrestling, many things come to mind: the small intimate venues, the underground loyal fan base, the unglamorous journey of traveling from town to town, and where wrestlers practice their craft in its purest form.
But one name is synonymous with independent wrestling — Colt Cabana.
He has been a pioneer of this niche market and his longevity and talents have taken the Chicago native around the world. Through his podcast and his previous Wrestling Road Diaries documentaries, he has given fans a glimpse into this kooky world.
Now fresh off of celebrating his beloved Cubs World Series win and with his third installment of the series now released, Cabana brings along two fellow hilarious wrestlers in Japan’s Kikutaro and Scotland’s Grado, to travel the country and reveal the life of comedy wrestling to adoring fans.
Wrestling Road Diaries 3
CraveOnline: The first two installments were a big success so tell us what do you have in store for us with Wrestling Road Diaries 3?
Colt Cabana: Daniel Bryan and I had the idea to film the first one back in 2009 and at that time, WWE wasn’t like ‘Oh, independent wrestling is awesome.’ It was still a taboo thing. Unless you were really inside the heart of independent wrestling, I mean, there’s only a handful of guys who have traveled the world as independent wrestlers. You just knew the name of it. It had never really been documented or showed to the wrestling community.
That was the goal for the first one and all three of them; to show what the lifestyle is like, there are no rental cars, there are no fancy hotels and there isn’t even a lot of money going around. But that’s the whole concept of the series but the third one is what comedy wrestling is like. In the independents, we are our own bosses and it’s kind of its own cult niche thing. We all cultivate our own style and this is a style I’ve been doing for years and so has Kikutaro and Grado. It’s a style that’s very unique and hasn’t been documented at all so that’s kind of the fun part of this third one.
CraveOnline: You touched on this in the film, where you bring up every guy wanting to be a “badass” character like Stone Cold or The Rock. Why do you think that is? Why be hesitant toward the comedy character?
Colt Cabana: I wanted to be Rob Van Dam. That’s who I said I wanted to be [laughs]. I’ll put it this way. Growing up, no one wanted to play on the Montreal Expos. Everybody wanted to be on the New York Yankees. So of course, everyone wanted to be Hulk Hogan or The Rock because it looked the most glamorous and that’s understandable.
For guys like us who are now in it, I think it was the idea of getting our feet in there and learning the job. Outside the job, you’re just a fan with a perspective but once you’re inside, you get a whole new look at things. To me, it was a real eye-opener that this was a style that not many were doing and I was good at it and I could do this for a long time. I could have my own niche within the smaller market so there’s always a spot for me on a card.
CraveOnline: What are the difficulties of comedy wrestling and have you ever worked with a guy who wasn’t keen on working with a comedy character?
Colt Cabana: Yeah. It happened when I wrestled in Dallas a couple of weeks ago. The guy was a real strong heel and he was fighting for the championship the next week. So I was smart enough to know that I couldn’t make this guy look too silly. I almost had to be more serious. I still wrestled my style but didn’t want to make him look too bad cause he was a big star in that promotion.
CraveOnline: What is the most unintentionally funny thing to occur in the ring during one of your matches?
Colt Cabana: Real early in my career, we did a show in front of eight people and I remember there was a wrestler chasing someone with a chair and there was a wrestler named Chuck Smooth and he started chasing another wrestler with a cardboard box and just in the situation of it, I was just crying. It was one of the only times I remember crying in the ring with laughter.
More Creative Freedom
CraveOnline: I know you’re familiar with this in your own career but Grado mentioned the fear of going to bigger promotions and “the machine” completely taking away what made the wrestler appealing in the first place. What are your thoughts on that?
Colt Cabana: I can speak from my own experience. When I was in the developmental system in the WWE, there were a lot of people saying ‘You can’t do that’ and a lot of it was they would stop me from doing a higher level. That’s the thing about the WWE or a bigger place. Everyone is afraid for their jobs and they don’t want a bad stamp on their own resume. That’s why the independents are great. There is a freedom for everything. The idea of being restricted is because everyone is afraid for their jobs and they’re nice high-paying corporate jobs and there’s not a lot in the world of wrestling so of course, they want to hold on to it.
CraveOnline: I never understood why you would want to sign a star with an established fan base and then completely change what made them appealing.
Colt Cabana: I’m with you too and I said the same thing about El Generico but now you look at a guy like Sami Zayn and they can go ‘That’s the reason we did it.’ There are pros and cons to everything.
CraveOnline: There is a scene in the film where Kikutaro and Grado are trying to imitate Japanese and Scottish accents. How did you not lose it traveling with that duo?
Colt Cabana: They were funny because Kikutaro’s second language is English and Grado’s first language is English and it was almost like Kikutaro spoke better English than Grado did.
I like to think that three naturally funny people around each other with the same kind of sense of humor and sensibility is great. Kikutaro and Grado had never met each other. Individuality, I was great friends with both of them so it was kind of like I was matchmaking here and they hit it off really well.
CraveOnline: Does the wrestling lifestyle of being on the road ever get tiring?
Colt Cabana: I realize it’s a hard life. Just this weekend, I flew into Arlington and then drove to Dallas and the next day we flew to San Antonio and that night we drove back to Dallas, which was four and a half hours. We got in at 3:30 a.m. and I had to be up for an appearance and then wrestle in Dallas and then back on the road and then back home to ship all of these things.
This is what I always wanted to do. This was the life I always wanted and I worked very hard to be able to do this. At the end of the day, my other job could be a shitty nine to five that I hate and never wanted to do. So whenever it gets hard or I think how brutal the schedule is, I just remember that I could be sitting at a desk hating my life.
“It’s where I thrive”
CraveOnline: You’ve wrestled in WWE and you have wrestled in small venues. What is it that you like so much about the smaller independent crowds?
Colt Cabana: It’s where I thrive. Even on the bigger independent shows, where there are over 1,000 people, it’s not as fun because you’re fighting for everyone where as if I’m wrestling for 300 people or less, intimately, that’s where I’m my best. If you go to big wrestling show, the wrestlers are never going to talk to you. You’re never going to be a part of a match. You’re just a spectator. But when you come to an independent show, you’re a part of the whole show. You saw in the film, I’m jumping on people, I’m picking up kids, I’m dishing out pizza and I’m hitting on girls. For me, it’s so fun. It’s interactive theater.
CraveOnline: In one scene, you deal with two hecklers that were trying to hijack the show. I’m curious, with you being an entertainer, what are your thoughts on crowds trying to be obnoxious and distract from the actual product?
Colt Cabana: Yeah, you paid your money and you’re allowed to do whatever you want to do but in a perfect world, you’d sit back and react to the entertainment. But sometimes it’s not perfect and in wrestling, we’re educating everyone to be rowdy. Obviously, it’s preferred you let the stars be the wrestlers and not individual fans. But in the film with the little girl in the Grado match, that made the match and saved it. If she wasn’t a part of it, that whole match goes downhill so it’s double-edged sword.
CraveOnline: There can be some weird interactions at those shows. What’s a fan story that you can tell us?
Colt Cabana: The other night at Ring of Honor, there was a guy with a hand puppet and he was just carrying around a puppet like a ventriloquist. Those are the types of things you see in the world of independent wrestling [laughs]. There are so many different characters.
The Popularity of Independent Wrestling and NXT
CraveOnline: We’re seeing independent wrestling continue to garner a lot of fan interest and we’re even seeing WWE using NXT as sort of a big “independent wrestling” promotion. With you as a veteran of the independent scene, how do you feel about that?
Colt Cabana: I’ve championed independent wrestling for so long now and it was the catalyst for the podcast that I do and there’s so many times I’ll be at shows and people will be like ‘I got into independent wrestling because of you and going to local shows’ and that means a lot because I think it’s so awesome.
It’s funny how late WWE is to the party where they just realized how awesome it is and now they have basically started their own independent promotion with NXT, which is kind of weird but totally expected. It’s the Hot Topic of Punk Rock, if you will [laughs]. But I think anything underground that you discover will always be cool in any culture so independent wrestling is something you can discover that’s very niche and very quiet.
The Art of Wrestling
CraveOnline: Your “The Art of Wrestling” podcast is one of the most notable in the industry, and since then many wrestlers have added their own. Do you think the market is being oversaturated now?
Colt Cabana: I can’t blame anybody for trying to put themselves out there. Yeah, I think there’s a lot of podcasts out there compared to when I started, which was zero wrestler-to-wrestler podcasts. It’s like saying “Do you think there are a lot of people on Twitter now?” Everyone else is allowed to do what they want and the world of podcasting is so easy to get into and like with anything, the cream will rise to the top.
Return to Ring of Honor
CraveOnline: You returned to Ring of Honor earlier this year. How do you feel about coming back after all this time?
Colt Cabana: Most of all it was cleansing for me. I had a chip on my shoulder and a gripe with the company for a couple of years for the way we parted ways. They kept asking me to come back and I kept begrudgingly telling them ‘No, thanks’ and it got to the point where it had been five years and in my head, there was no need to hold on to it. I liked the idea of starting fresh and since then, I’ve made a nice relationship with Joe Koff [COO] and Gary Juster [VP of Operations] and I really like the guys over there that are leading the charge.
“I just want to continue the crossover of comedy and wrestling”
CraveOnline: What do you have left that you want to accomplish in your wrestling career?
Colt Cabana: I think I’m doing a good job at it right now [laughs]. I had a development deal a couple of years for a television show and it didn’t pan out so I’d like to take my weird world of comedy and wrestling and find a place on television or a streaming platform and work with some comedians to produce something fun. I just want to continue the crossover of comedy and wrestling.
Joshua Caudill is a writer for CraveOnline, a hockey fanatic, a pro wrestling connoisseur and an expert on all things Patrick Swayze. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshuaCaudill85 or “like” CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.
Photos by Ring of Honor and Colt Cabana
Wrestling Road Diaries is now available on DVD