Impact Wrestling’s Low-Ki on the state of wrestling around the world
In the final part of our exclusive interview with the indie icon, we talk to Low-Ki about wrestling culture across the world and how it’s changed over the years
After discussing his time in Impact in the first two parts of the interview, we talked about Low-Ki’s experiences outside of TNA & GFW. Make sure you check out part one of the interview here and part two here.
RealSport: How does Global Force compare with other promotions you’ve been a part of?
Low-Ki: Right now, Global Force is different in the fact that its environment is way more welcoming than other companies. Other companies have cultures that currently exist that do not create that environment, it’s a much more insecure environment because outsiders coming in are always a threat to people in positions of power. It always happens, never changes and if you have outsiders coming in, as far as individuals, they begin to look around and think, “Okay, this person is going to come in, now they’re taking another piece of the pie.” Then that creates, or amplifies, the insecurity which may or may not exist but that’s an unhealthy environment. It’s easier to inform, it’s easier to help guide them and then everyone wins as opposed to keeping them at bay and then you have a rift that exists. So with Global Force, it’s a much more welcoming environment but again, it’s an indication because it’s a leadership. In years past, you see how toxic it became and how unproductive it was on camera, that has nothing to do with the wrestlers. That has everything to do with the leadership. Right now, Global Force is quite similar to TNA in its early stages because it was a welcoming environment, which is now in a development stage, trying to advance and then prove so that’s where it is now.
RS: How does wrestling in Japan compare to wrestling in the UK and the US?
Low-Ki: To be quite honest, there is no comparison. In Japan, you have to understand that the culture is a hierarchy of respect and the reason why I say it’s a hierarchy is that there are levels and they are based off of respect. You have to earn your respect and I was fortunate enough to do that by going through every major company there, including a women’s company. I wrestled for GUYA for one event in Yokohama Arena in 2002 so that culture is vastly different. Their business practice is much more respectful to their performers because you can see it in their schedule and with respect to companies like New Japan, their scheduling is much more favorable to the performers than a WWE schedule is, because a WWE schedule runs their performers over a thousand miles in five days, not to mention you’re in five different cities in five days which could clearly be five different timezones in five days. Then you only get a day and a half off and then you have to go back on the road. That is quite unfavorable for a traveling performer when you’re physically not up to speed, physically not at one hundred percent and then you’re not allowed to recover.
It’s managed differently over there in respect to the athletes as far as the production, the competition there, they have a culture which has its foundation, much more into the Karl Gotch development style and its old athletics. You have to, as a group, develop this team atmosphere so that’s what I saw when I was there in regards to each company. Zero-One was my first company, team atmosphere. At the time I was working with Zero-One, I would finish a Zero-One tour and then jump on an All Japan tour and work with them. Muta was at the head, team atmosphere. In 2004, I went to Pro Wrestling NOAH, at the same time, team atmosphere. Then, in 2008, I went to New Japan, there, team atmosphere. It’s a different atmosphere in regards to our type of business, our type of industry whereas over here in the United States, it’s more competitive, it’s more dog-eat-dog. In the UK, in 2014, I came and wrestled with Zack Sabre [Jr] and after my match, I spoke honestly and said that you’re going to see a rise in British wrestling. Here we are. The reason I said that is because I had the insight, I had the sensitivity to see things ahead because of my experience and my teaching. I can see there’s a much more conscious approach in British wrestling whereas in the United States, it’s mimicry, it’s imitation until you start developing your skillsets. There’s a much more cerebral approach here in the UK and it’s paying off, you can see it. Many of the men and women are not putting themselves in as much danger as they would in years past because they’re much more considerate about what they’re doing, you’re seeing it now, which is good. You got Progress, you got Fight Club, you got Rev Pro, you’re having performers like Pete Dunne come up, you have [Will] Ospreay coming up. There’s so much positive coming out of it and it’s because of thinking about it, they’re not just doing it for the sake of doing it. That’s what separates people from being good and being great.
RS: How did the Indian audience differ from the audience in the US?
Low-Ki: The Impact audience in Mumbai in India, it had a very strong feel of Orlando because the setting was quite similar. The vibe that the audience gave was unique because it’s a different culture so what works in some areas may not work in others but it’s also dependent on the level of understanding your audience has. Were all the fans there able to follow what was going on? I don’t think so, because of the language barrier and sometimes, because of the culture barrier. It was definitely a unique environment, a very positive environment and I came back with a couple of souvenirs and getting my eye shredded open. I would like to go back because, like, not even from a wrestling side, just being there and experiencing that environment in Mumbai and Mumbai alone is twenty million people. I’m from New York and that’s eight million people there so, I mean, you’re really tripling where I come from. The night that we had arrived there, 1am in the morning, there was traffic, miles down the highway. All you saw was a series of lights, and I’m looking at it and just marveling about it because I’m like, this is a major city and this is more major than New York, and it was just awe-inspiring to see the different cultures, to see the difference of people, the way that they were interacting with one another, and just to have that world exposure. I definitely want to go back.
RS: During your career, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the independent scene?
Low-Ki: The biggest changes I’ve seen in the independent scene is the growth of impatience and the reason being is because many cultures, especially westernized cultures, patience has changed. Social media, the internet, people have been conditioned to have gratification quite early, quite fast, so when it’s not met, now you’re triggering a stress reaction and not everyone understands how to manage that. I was told, in my previous stint in Orlando, they’re not focused on wrestling, they’re focused on quarterly hour ratings and to me, that’s utter BS because quality is what is going to draw people in. Quality is what is going to keep people there. If you’re more worried about numbers, get out because that has no place here. I understand you’re working for television but what are you presenting? Are you presenting a quality product? Or are you trying to fast-track everything to give people the immediate gratification that’s only going to last a certain time until they want newer gratification?
The business approach has changed and it has enabled poor behavior, and the thing is there’s an easy correction for that: Don’t cater to it. I was told by one of my mentors in the late ‘90’s: Stay away from the Internet, and this was at the height of when message boards were quite popular and people felt the need to say things about one another, and he said stay away from all of that because there’s no positive outcome for it. People are simply expressing opinions and you don’t really need to be dealing with that and now it’s more prominent because of social media, and the sad part is now with social media, there is no fact checking. People are quick to say something and people are quick to react to something not knowing that there may not be any value in it whatsoever. It’s amplifying a foreign behavior but I think that there is a quite good possibility of turning things around, it’s redeveloping the patience of the performers and all those involved in the environment.
RS: What’s next for you?
Low-Ki: I’ve been grooming myself out of wrestling intentionally, because I’m twenty years in and I’m feeling every bit of it and I’m not one of these larger guys. I have twenty years of mileage on my body at a level that is not optimal for most people so I’ve been weaning my way away from wrestling by working on speaking and the speaking that I have been doing has been communication and instruction. For the past several years, I had worked with the Verbal Judo Institute which is responsible for providing the mandatory curriculum of de-escalation communication for all law enforcement and military in the United States. I was recruited by this company by their president. He has since passed so I’m no longer affiliated with that company. However, I provide a professional performance communication program which is meant for business and for civilians on improving and understanding how to manage their stress in order to become more optimal performers. That is something that is not taught in business and is not taught in the civilian world so I’m working on getting that further out there because my voice will stay with me as long as I protect it until I die.
My body, however, it already has enough mileage on it that reasonably, I’m not going to be in good shape unless I start backing away soon when I’m older so right now, my goal is to continue with wrestling, advance the knowledge base of the wrestlers in the environment because me holding onto the information is not going to serve anyone any good when I’m gone. So while I’m here and I’m available to share this information, I need to be able to convey it to newer generations so that they can apply it and get inspired and build on their own. I’ve said it to other people before: what’s more powerful: one of me or an army of me? Seems fair, and especially understanding the pitfalls of this environment of pro-wrestling, I’ve already seen so much that I know what to avoid, and despite what rumors or what opinions that people may have, like Jim Cornette, love me. Has anything that you’ve seen from my end been bad? You may not agree with certain things but have I done anything negative? So, that’s the only motivation I have, keep it positive, keep it constructive, keep it progressive and keep it going forward. That’s all I got.
RS: Who’s your biggest inspiration in wrestling?
Low-Ki: The biggest inspiration I had in wrestling was The Great Muta and that came from my introduction to him in 1989 in the NWA.
RS: Who is the toughest opponent you’ve ever faced?
Low-Ki: There’s a handful of those. Oh, one of the toughest that I’ve faced would probably be Samoa Joe. I don’t normally match up against heavyweights but when we go, we go, and, you know, at my size, there’s only so much the human body can take and when you’re outmatched in weight the way that I am with Joe, you know, you do feel it for quite some time. One person I’ve never wrestled with but I have trained with, and it took a while for me to recover, was Dave Bautista. I sparred with him in preparation for his fight years ago and I was having difficulty connecting with my shots because he’s so lanky, he has long arms and legs so he was able to keep me at a distance. I couldn’t figure out how to close the distance on him to close enough to tag him, so my partner Josh Rafferty, which was his head coach for his fight camp, he told me how to do it. I did it, I was happy. Dave didn’t like it so much, so after I connected with the shot, kind of happy for that split second, I saw his eyes change. I said “oh, it’s coming.” He came and gave me a low roundhouse kick to my leg and I swear to God, that thing hurt so bad but I couldn’t react to it because this is a fight. This is what we’re preparing for. He hit me so hard with such good techniques with such force, it hurt me for about a week and a half to two weeks later. I still had to continue training, I still had to continue wrestling, I mean, it just sucked but that’s one of the other people who I paid for.
RS: Which gimmick matches would you least like to wrestle?
Low-Ki: I tried not to do too many gimmick matches only because you really want to focus on the skillset of the individual. The gimmick matches are a few and far between as they should be. Ultimate X, I’m actually not too fond of. I never have been because it’s an unnatural environment. Cage matches, never really been too crazy about them, but, uh, I would say probably avoiding the Ultimate X, I’ve already been through enough of them, even in the early stages of it when it wasn’t as well prepared as it is now.
RS: Six-sided or four-sided ring?
Low-Ki: I’m a traditionalist so I like the four-sided ring. The six sides adds two extra sides, reinforces the ring, makes it much more of a difficult environment to work in because the apron is much harder because of the extra reinforcement and so are the ropes, so it’s not like you’re getting the rebound as you would off of a four-sided ring.
RS: If there was one person not currently under contract, who would you sign to GFW?
Low-Ki: Rey Mysterio.
RS: If you could face anyone, active or retired, who would it be?
Low-Ki: Well, active or retired, unfortunately, he’s no longer with us, it would be Chris Benoit. That was one of my ultimate goals, getting in there with him, testing myself against him because I had already, in the early 2000s when I was wrestling for the WWF, I had actually wrestled Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn, who I looked up to and at two independent events, I wrestled Eddie Guerrero. At that time, he showed me a lot of respect because he said he was comfortable wrestling with me and felt that he could wrestle at the level of Benoit and Malenko. To me, that was showing me that I was on the right path because I’m earning their respect. I’m not coming in and posturing, I’m not doing things that I have no business doing. I was earning my respect in an industry that I’m involved in.
RS: If you could set up your dream match, who would be your opponent and what would the stipulation be?
Low-Ki: *Laughs* So many of them. But I think Rey Mysterio – matter of fact, I’ll set it up this way. Rey Mysterio, in Madison Square Garden or I want Okada in the Dome. Kazuchika Okada, IWGP Heavyweight Champion, we were on the same team in New Japan. We were on CHAOS. He was in Impact but he was treated poorly there. His advancement, I was understanding his advancement because I spoke closely with Gedo. So I understood the plan and I understood the methoding, the methodology being used for him, he has proven to be consistent, he has proven to be reliable so he has the world ahead of him as long as he stays healthy. With Rey Mysterio, when I wrestled Rey Mysterio, 2016, I was actually thinking of retiring at that time. It had taken me twenty years to get my hands on him. Not in the sense that I wanted to hurt him but in the sense that he was my motivation because it was a personal challenge. This was 2007, I wanna say 2008 [sic]. I had already started my wrestling training. I had alcoholism in my family. I had a family member watching wrestling with me and it was Rey Mysterio against Dean Malenko, I don’t know if it was Nitro or Thunder, whatever the show was. And I remember them pointing at me saying “you’ll never reach that level.” I didn’t get mad. I just looked. Okay. Took me twenty years to finally get my match-up against Rey. I finally got it and it took a lot of control, because I was going to go in on him more violent than anything I’ve ever done but it wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t his doing. So I had to show a great deal of control for myself, as a professional, but even then, I wanted the challenge. I wanted to test him out because I’m younger than he is but he’s the legend. I’m not, he is. So, I got to wrestle with him, he showed me a great deal of respect and I have the utmost respect for him. At that time, after finally achieving it, I had thought that this was the end. And after the match, he showed respect and exited the ring and I just sat there, and just looked around. It felt like it was a closing of a chapter and I didn’t know if it was the end altogether. So, this was last year, just trying to figure out, you know, what comes next. And I’m still here. He’s still here. It was a whole different time now, so, you know, Rey Mysterio, in MSG, and Okada in The Dome. Those are my matches.
RS: Who is your favourite wrestler to work with in-ring, and to promo against?
Low-Ki: I don’t have favorites. The reason I’ve never had favorites in the ring is because every performer brings different qualities. A lot of people would ask me that in regards to like, Bryan Danielson, because we complimented each other so well early on and it was because we would challenge each other in the ring. Many of the matches we did were not prepared matches, these are competitive matches as you are seeing them, so that type of competitiveness, from another individual that does not share your background, that does not share your experience, but the minute you guys are in there, they’re forcing you to elevate your game. That’s the type of stuff that I look forward to. He would do that. Guys like Samoa Joe, guys like AJ (Styles), they do that, they’re all competitors and they all have their own unique charisma about them that makes them special. I’ve gone through them all. As far as to promo against, I think I’m having more fun now that I’ve ever had. I’m a little more vocal, I still don’t like too much of the hype game because I’m too much of a traditionalist. You wanna fight? Alright, I’ll meet you in there. It’s quite simple. But I understand the necessity of promoing and trying to hype the matches but I’m having more fun now and I think as I advance higher up on the card because that’s the only goal I have, just keep advancing higher and higher. Somebody had asked me recently “what’s your direction now?” Up. *Laughs* It never changes. So, as far as promoing against, I’m just having more fun now because I have way more experience, I’ve accomplished pretty much everything I’ve wanted to do so it’s a lot more relaxed, expression in it, so I think I’m just enjoying myself more now than I have been in the past.