Johnny Swinger Talks Still Wrestling At 44, AEW & Training Rick Steiner’s Son

Johnny Swinger sat down with the Interactive Wrestling Radio for an interview before prepping for his UCW show that went down last Saturday and the WCW & ECW Alumni shared some thoughts on his squared circled past, present and future.

In the conversation, Swinger talks what it’s like still wrestling at 44, his optimism for All Elite Wrestling and training the son of Rick Steiner, Bronson, who Swinger believes to be the next big thing in wrestling. Quotes from the conversation are below:

On if he wished WCW had given him more of an opportunity: 

“Well, I was under contract. That was exciting enough for me. I was not even 22 years old when I signed my first Turner Broadcasting contract for guaranteed weekly pay. I was on TV every week. I was blown away and lucky to have that. I was on the same shows as “Macho Man”, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair… All these guys I grew up watching. For me, every time I went out on TV, if it was a minute or 9 minutes, that was an opportunity.”

On WCW Saturday Night having a bigger reach than people realize: 

“The show you’re talking about, WCW Saturday Night. That was considered the B or C show. But, I remember the TBS ratings were 2.5, 2.7, 2.8! Now, compare that to RAW’s rating today… There is not that much of a difference there in viewership. We really had a lot of eyes on us. That period there, that was the biggest exposure I ever had. I remember when I would go out in public, that is when I got recognized the most – More than when I was with ECW, more than when I was with TNA, and even more than when I was with WWE. Our lower rated shows were between a 2.5 and a 3. That is a great rating today!”

On being on the most watched wrestling event ever: 

“I just heard recently that… I did this Nitro in 1998 in the Georgia Dome – The where Goldberg beat Hogan for the belt. At that time, that was the most watched wrestling show on cable ever. It may have been beaten since then. But, that is quite a record for someone to boast. I think I may have heard Bischoff say that on one of his podcasts. 1997, 1998, and 1999 was really big time. I do a lot of independent shows today with Buff Bagwell and people are still talking about the nWo and Sting coming down from the ceiling… So many people were watching! I don’t know if it will ever be that big again. At that time, I had friends up north, Edge and Christian. They were doing that Brood thing. Both sides were doing fantastic during that time period.”

On talent that had high dollar contracts in WCW and never were used: 

“We were at syndicated TV one day at Universal Studios, this was probably 1998 or 1999. I was standing there with Lenny Lane. When we did those TV’s, almost the entire company was there for those 3 or 4 days. I saw this guy… He looked like he was about 6’5, 320 pounds. He had a beard like Santa Claus. I said to Lenny, “God, who is that guy? He’s a monster!” Lenny said, “Swinger, that’s Nailz!” I said, “What do you mean, Nailz? Like, Kevin Kelly from WWF, Nailz? ” He said, “Yep.” I said, “Wow, when did he sign?” Lenny said, “He’s been under contract here for about 3 years.” That was the first and only time we saw Kevin! We saw guys we didn’t even know were in the company. Then Lenny said, “You don’t want to even know what he’s making either.” (laughs) He was a Minnesota guy. Curt Hennig was a super guy and took care of all of his friends. They were all there. Wayne Bloom, Mike Enos, John Nord, Barry Darsow… They were all there!”

On WCW having such a huge roster and yet not utilizing the talent: 

“There was so much TV that, to me, the guys became lesser stars. They were too available. Then, our live events tanked. It was like, who wants to go to pay to go see a live event when you’ve got Hogan and Goldberg on Monday night for free? We can throw a party and not have to pay anything. Think about it. July of ’98 was the most watched show ever. Then, 3 years later, it is gone? That was the free fall. We couldn’t do anything bigger than that. SO, everything was downhill from there.”

On going to ECW:

“We used to watch it (in WCW) at like midnight on the Sunshine Network and we used to laugh like, “Oh my God, these guys are crazy. We’ll never work there… Ha, ha, ha!” (laughs) At that time, I had been with WCW for a few years and, as you said, they weren’t really giving me big opportunities. I had saw what my friends (Edge and Christian) were doing up there (WWE) and I wanted to go up there. So, Raven, who I was good friends with, said “You should go to ECW.” I said, “Nah, I wouldn’t fit in there.” He said, “No, you would!” I didn’t get what he was saying. But, I did ask for my release from WCW with the intention of going right to WWF (WWE). It got to a stretch of about 5 or 6 months and they (WWE) still hadn’t hired me. So, I called Raven and he set it up (with ECW). I went in to Philadelphia or Poughkeepsi, one of their main towns. So, Paul E said, “Yeah, we’ll give you a shot.” He puts me in a match with, I think, Little Guido. As soon as I walk through the curtain, the people went nuts because I was a recognizable WCW wrestler which they hate! They hated WCW and WWF wrestlers – We were the evil villains! So, I had a great match, I came to the back and I had a job. Boom. I was there like 3 or 4 months and then they put me with Simon Diamond and we were the big tag team there for the summer of 2000. And, I knw as I was climbing there, I would always have somewhere to go after that.”

On why ECW closed: 

“We were doing big houses. They were the biggest they ever were. We did 6,000 in Toronto. 6,000 in LA. We were running Chicago, Dallas… It was a national company in that last year. We don’t know. To this day nobody knows how that deal was brokered with Vince. I don’t know. But, it was a great opportunity. Not a lot of restraints. You could be more free with your promos and your matches. If you went over time, man, in WCW, you got chewed out if you went over 30 seconds because it was a live TV show. In ECW, it was post produced and Paul E looked at it like, “Man, if it is good, we’re going to find a way to air it!” It was a real fun place to work.”

On working through a burst appendix in TNA: 

“That’s right. That was our mindset. If you could breathe, you could work. We were figured in. The company had money. You don’t take a week off. You just find a way to get in there and do it and get it done.”

On his thoughts on Impact Wrestling now: 

“I was at a couple shows in October and I was real impressed. It reminds me a lot of ECW. You know what I mean? It is not over-produced. I don’t want to say Vince is over-produced but it has got a lot of… People want to see wrestling. I think the Impact guys are getting it just like these AEW guys. Lets feature the talent! Lets let the talent shine and not blow so much money on smoke and mirrors and fireworks. People don’t care about any of that stuff! They just want to see the talent! I think Impact is still viable. I still keep in contact with Scott (D’Amore) and Don Callis, I did my first match under him. You couldn’t ask for two better guys. And, I think they take a lot of advice from the talent which was a big thing for (Paul E) Heyman and Dreamer in ECW. The wrestlers know how to portray their character. So, let them do it!”

On his stint in WWE: 

“I just got lost in the shuffle there. They had other guys that they wanted to do things with. It was just such a big outfit that I just got lost. But, I don’t regret going there because being a WWE wrestler is the best label you can have on your resume. (laughs) As of right now, there is no bigger value than saying you were a WWE wrestler. It is like saying you were in the NFL as opposed to the CFL. Until AEW gets bigger and even ECW and TNA, while they were national, they still weren’t the WWF or even WCW.”

On AEW feeling like WCW: 

“They are very similar especially with TNT. That was the deal, rght? Nitro every week. That is a HUGE deal (AEW’s TV). I just heard that announcement right before we started talking. I think it is huge. Everybody knows who is backing it. It is not a fly by night operation. (laughs) They’ve got the talent, they’ve got the backing, and now they’ve got the network! That ahs got some serious legs to it more than anything that has come up in the last 20 years.”

On if he would want to work for AEW or Impact: 

“For sure. I work full time. I just turned 44 and I am more in demand than I was at 34! I don’t think I’ve gotten better. I just think the business has gotten bigger. Now there’s a new company with a serious TV deal. Plus, Impact is on every week. It is like, wow! This is the beginning of a new peak. I feel good. I’m not hurt. I’m not hiding any injuries. I’m open to any and all offers!”

On UCW Summer Slamboree on FITE TV pay per view this Saturday: 

“It is UCW, Universal Championship Wrestling. I would have to say it is one of the longest running independents there is. It has been running since 2004, I believe. I did the actual first show outside Greenville, South Carolina. Ronnie Gossett, he’s a great promoter. He works hard and gets in there and talks to the people, grass roots, and builds up interest in every town that we go. It is a really good production. He’s got lights, smoke, entrance way… Everything! Meet and greets before the show. He really does a great job!”

On the feel of UCW: 

“It is reminiscent of the WCW days. Besides having the actual people – We’ve got Buff Bagwell, Scott Steiner. We’ve had Nick Patrick referee. Ernest “The Cat” Miller… A lot of the shows feel like WCW reunions. I still think there are a lot of fans out there that remember that era and want to see it again. That is what we’re giving to them.”

On the changes in wrestling during his 25 year career: 

“I love talking shop. I really do. Like you said, it has changed. But, there are still a lot of things that are still the same. I think we kind of built on things before our era. Maybe things are faster now. The guys do more unbelievable moves. I remember wrestling Rey Mysterio in 1995 and I was like, “How are you able to do this stuff?” He just happened to be the first guy. Now, you could probably name 100 guys who can do better stuff than that. It is just more. We just do more. We still have an audience. You can’t argue with it.”

On training Rick Steiner’s son: 

“I’m getting ready to train Rick Steiner’s son, Bronson. He’s been wanting to do it for a few years now. He’s finishing up college. He’s going to be the next big thing. He really is. He’s about 6’1… He was a state champion. He’s playing football for KSU right now. He’s going to be a stud, man!”

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