411 Interviews: Jon Harder of Beyond Wrestling, ACE, and WSU Part 1
Posted by TJ Hawke on 02.01.2012
In an exclusive interview with 411's TJ Hawke, Jon Harder speaks of his times working for Beyond Wrestling, being trained by Jay Lethal, and much more!
Jon Harder is a jack of all trades in the independent wrestling world. He produces a weekly podcast on independent wrestling called The Hardway, which has featured interviews with Jay Lethal, Bobby Fish, Leon St. Giovanni and more. Jon is the The Voice of American Championship Entertainment Wrestling and Women Superstars Uncensored . Harder does play-by-play for ACE's DVDs and iPPVs for WSU. In Beyond Wrestling, Harder is the manager of Leon St. Giovanni and JT Dunn. Previously at 411mania, I have interviewed Giovanni and Dunn . In a big Beyond storyline, they have started the Professional Revolution, a war against the "unprofessionals" who run and perform in Beyond. Harder, Giovanni and Dunn will surely be looking to make an impact of some kind at Off the Grid, especially now that the location of the event has been made public. Information for this Beyond Wrestling event is here .
TJ Hawke: What about Beyond Wrestling sparked your desire to manage Leon St. Giovanni and start the Professional Revolution?
Jon Harder: This is going to be a long, yet interesting answer. Back in April 2010, I was hanging out with two of my closest friends, Ed and Tom Scanlon, the BS Express. We all got into this business together and it was not uncommon to discuss different things we were doing in the wrestling business. The day before Wrestlemania, they went to Ohio for a wrestling show. When we got to talking, they said it was a company called Beyond Wrestling. The more descriptive they got, it sounded like a unique concept. They said it was wrestling freedom, a place to wrestle as long as you wanted and the ability to do whatever you wanted in the ring. I thought that sounded cool. Real cool. However, it got borderline weird when they said that, more or less, it was wrestling for wrestlers; no crowd, just wrestling in front of the entire roster. For some reason, it really didn't connect at the time.
Then, the Wrestletopia DVD came out and I watched the entire thing, I will not lie. What I saw were two different critiques of this show. My first critique: some of the best innovative wrestling I have ever seen. BS Express vs Thomas Rodriguez and Giovanni Marranca, Corvis Fear vs Matt Cross, Chase Burnett vs Facade and Chris Dickinson against Zack Novak really just stunned me with its uniqueness inside of the ring. Every match on that show was innovation. I was legitimately impressed with the wrestling. However, my other critique was on the majority of those same wrestlers that were wrestling: THEY RUINED THEIR MYSTIQUE IN THE RING!!! Cheering, chanting, hooting and hollering over all these different maneuvers, they were acting like fans! I legit saw some of the most unprofessional acts in my life. Legitimately, all off the wrestling in the ring, the great wrestling, was ruined by the wrestlers acting like, dare I say, MARKS. It was truly unprofessional.
Over time, I kept my eye on the Beyond company, as I strived and grew as a wrestling personality in the Northeast. The more I learned from the people that taught me how to be a professional, like Mike Morgan from ACE, like the Mic from WSU, like the Savoldi family, I learned everything Denver Colorado was doing was completely WRONG. Wrestlers should strive to make themselves different, but they should also be able to treat themselves as professionals, as businessmen. The majority of the Beyond roster did not do so. They do not treat this industry as a business. They treat it as FUN. Wrestling is only fun when you are making money off of this business and quite frankly, if you feel like breaking your necks and killing yourselves for FUN and let your inner fan come out at these shows, then I shake my head at you.
However, what truly set me off was this blog I saw on the Beyond wrestling webpage from a man named Dan Barry. This piece of slop is the epitome of what Beyond's roster believes in. From what the Beyond roster and Denver sees, they see that wrestling in Beyond is about having fun and letting your inhibitions go. What did I see? A man with NO HEART for this business. A man with no drive to overcome the political nature of the cut-throat wrestling politics to become the best, instead using the term HAVING FUN to saturate his ego. After seeing every single Beyond wrestler retweet and Facebook the hell out of this, I knew it was time to do something different. I knew I had to start a revolution. I had 23 days before Beyond's first ever live show, About Time, was going to take place. I needed to jump-start on something. I took my Dailymotion vlog page and posted two promo. As I expected, no response given to me from any of the majority of the Beyond roster. And no matter what, I was planning on just going to the Beyond show and lend my hand needed to any of the wrestlers that wanted to join my cause. However, one young upstart, Leon St. Giovanni, sent me an email, we met up, talked business as gentlemen, and I knew Leon wanted to be different from every other Beyond guy. I knew Leon wanted to be a PROFESSIONAL. Leon changed my vision for 7/23/11 completely, and after much negotiation, I knew what we had to do. We had to make an impact right there and then. About Time would get professional, and Beyond would get a glimpse of our Professional Revolution.
Check out this full match to see how the Professional Revolution began
TJ: My next question coming out of this is about the next Beyond Wrestling live show, "Off the Grid." Beyond Wrestling's promoter, Denver Colorado, has announced this show to be taking place on February 17th near Boston, but he has refused to release the exact location (Beyond has since released the location of the event ). Anyone wishing to go has to email BeyondWrestling@Gmail.com to get the location. According to him, he has done this so as to prevent The Pitboss, Davey Vega's Submission Squad and the Professional Revolution from gaining access to the event. What are your thoughts about this? Are you confident that another wrestler will let you know about the location?
JH: TJ, this honestly gets me riled up in a multitude of ways. As I've stated from the onset, Beyond has state-of-the-art wrestling that deserves to be seen nationwide. A group of young unproven talent need to be seen throughout the world, yet Denver decides to show his unprofessional side and is trying to give out a secret location for the show for ticket buyers only. Is he ridiculous? For a company only a small portion of the internet knows about, is he really doing something like this to draw in a good crowd? Understandably, this is a huge risk and a major error. Fans NEED to see this action and the address not being released to the public RUINS their opportunity to see this. Again, this the Beyond side of having fun and not caring about financial gain. I shake my head.
Now, as it comes to the address, I am not worried. Granted, I haven't gotten it yet, but I know by February 17, I will. I'm people that know people. I have connections that people don't know about. Trust me, someone in Beyond will break. Heck, if not for me, JT Dunn will. "The Juice" is a star in the New England area. Fans LOVE this guy. He could definitely find out if need be. It's NEAR Boston, right? And look at the Beyond roster. There are connections to ACE, NWA on Fire, EVEN WSU I can use. And granted, no one again will divulge to me, JT or Leon yet, but all it takes is the right offer. TJ, February 17, I will find the address. Professionals always find a way. And remember, BUSINESS is BUSINESS.
TJ: Now, as you have made clear, you have a lot of problems with the way Beyond Wrestling conducts themselves. However, from following you and Beyond, I notice that you both share one big quality: you are both willing to make a big investment into the promotion of yourselves. The most obvious way that you have done this is with The Hardway Podcast. What made you decide to start a podcast?
JH: It's funny that you say that, T.J., as Beyond and myself do have something in common in that regard. We both see each other as a business. For Beyond, obviously as an innovative, social media driven wrestling company. Not to be an egomaniac - which despite how this might come off, I am an extremely humble guy - but I'm making my brand as an innovative, social media driven wrestling reporter. My mentor in this business, Mike Morgan, frequently referenced a phrase during meetings up at the ACE Arena, that YOU are your own business and it's up to you on how you strengthen or weaken your business for not only the short-term, but long term as well. Obviously, the short term goal is to be the best commentator on the independent wrestling scene, which is an extremely tough task as it is with guys like Mike Quackenbush, Excalibur and Lenny Leonard controlling that domain, as well as take the Professional Revolution off the ground and get noticed throughout the entire wrestling scene. However, long term is starting The Hardway Podcast. That is something that I intend to get to the forefront of the podcast universe.
Basically, the genesis of the Hardway Podcast was a multitude of things. Obviously, the inspiration came from Colt Cabana's Art of Wrestling podcast and Dave Lagana's Formerly Creative series, which truly revolutionized the wrestling radio shows as we know it. However, something was MISSING. Even though Colt and Lagana's podcasts discussed a lot of issues, you feel as if something was being held back. Cabana makes it a more comfortable situation with the interviews, but it was more a lot of showing the real side of the wrestlers in the game. Lagana was somewhat similar with the approach, but it just felt like something was missing. Someone had to ask the tough questions within the industry that everyone is thinking about and wondering about. As a jack-of-all-trades in the industry as it is, I felt like I had to take that next step. Thus the Hardway was born.
In my mind though, you just couldn't have just an interview and that's it: you needed more. You need segments. You need some comedy. You need to establish some other characters and stories throughout a show, so that's what I did. I took it a step further and made it sort of a wrestling variety show. So much is dedicated to Uncle Floyd, who is a New Jersey comedy legend over the better part of 3 decades from the 1970s to the early 2000s, thus me calling the Hardway "the Uncle Floyd Show of Wrestling Podcasts".
The long term is to get a grass roots movement going with this podcast and get the maximum amount of listeners to listen to the stories of rookies and veterans alike within the world of wrestling. And if it wasn't for Jay Lethal, Mo Sexton, Bill Carr (Bobby Dutch from WWE's FCW), Bobby Fish and others, I wouldn't have even left the ground yet. It's still in its infancy. You haven't heard anything yet.
TJ: Yea, the Jay Lethal interview was quite impressive as he basically went into great detail about every stage of his career. Do you know Lethal because of your connection through ACE Wrestling? When did you first meet him?
JH: T.J., that is exactly it. Jay Lethal has played a major part in my friends and my career when it comes to pro wrestling. When the BS Express, Dan Murdoch and myself started becoming interested in becoming involved in the greatest sport of them all, we were searching schools, and then on a whim, one of our good friends alerted us about a school called the ACE Wrestling Academy in Union City, NJ. When we went up to the ACE Arena to talk to Mike Morgan about training, he said to us, "You know Jay Lethal's on his way, right?" We immediately got excited because someone we've seen already on television and through ROH shows and someone we looked up to was coincidentally the head trainer of ACE. We were immensely nervous, however, once he came up and started talking to him, immediately, we realized that Jay was, legitimately, down-to-earth and totally cool.
Despite the fact I wasn't a wrestler and I was more learning behind-the-scenes in ACE with Mike, Jay always included me in conversation and never let me feel left out. And seeing the handful of guys Jay trained, including the Express, Murdoch, Thomas Rodriguez, Giovanni Marranca, Too Hot Steve Scott, Junior Soba and even the WWE's AJ, who I knew as Miss April back then, you could see the passion for this business they had from Jay's training. So basically, my connection through Jay was totally ACE and for the most part, still through today, as Jay always loves coming home to ACE. ACE is special to a lot of people, especially myself.
TJ: You mentioned that ACE Wrestling is where you got your wrestling education (so to speak). What is your role in the company now?
JH: Myself being in ACE has been a long and tumultuous road to say the least. Tumultuous not in being in the company, but within myself, as working in ACE has given me a new wealth of confidence in my abilities, something I never had before I started in wrestling. When I first started in ACE back in 2007, I legit started from the ground up, doing ring camera for the internet TV show Action Zone and for supershows as well. Having the ability to do so definitely taught me the ability on how to get the proper camera view or wrestling manuever, or even the right way to film an in-ring interview. From there, I started working on columns and whatnot, but I wanted more. And in the process in wanting more, I acted immature in some of my actions and thus, Mike told me he didn't need me anymore in November of 2008. I look at that as the biggest blessing in the world.
To a lot of non-wrestlers in the business, it is THAT much harder to get respect from the guys in the ring. It truly is. We never did the in-ring work, we never went through the day-to-day struggles of trying to get our physique proper, to get your abilities to the next level, to work through injuries and continue on the road to either ultimate success or failure. Gaining respect from the wrestlers in the locker room is THAT much harder to do as a non-wrestler. Truly understanding that lesson, I went back to Mike Morgan six months later and bit the bullet. I apologized, took the lecture that came with making my mistake, and started the road to where I am today. Through that lesson, I understood the value of keeping your mouth shut and listening. There is so much that I have learned through that method. I honestly believe this was the life lesson that started the path of "professionalism" I am leading now.
Through ACE, I went from camera man, to backstage interviewer, to color commentary, to the role I currently am at today, which is the play-by-play man of every ACE DVD. In between, I write columns for the ACE website, help out on ACE Action Zone Radio each and every Wednesday night on http://aceprowrestling.com, and ultimately continue to learn the little nuances behind the scenes with ACE. I credit Mike Morgan so much with the ability to not only the wrestling lessons I have learned, but also life lessons as well. Mike truly deserves a WORLDS more credit and recognition than he has received and I hope through this column, you understand who Mike Morgan and ACE are, because it truly is "the best kept secret" in the Northeast when it comes to wrestling.
TJ: If you don't mind me asking, what happened in those 6 months that you were away from ACE? How did get to the mindset where you were ready to "bite the bullet," so to speak?
JH: In the six months I was away, I didn't think I was cut out for the wrestling business. When you first get into a situation like that, you tend to believe that it was the other person's fault, you were right, maybe I'm not right for this, etc. Then I realized over time, day-by-day, that it was my fault, that I had wanted to get ahead without even talking to the right people about wanting to do more and instead talking trash about it. Again, being a non-wrestler in this industry, it is that much tougher to gain respect, and those 6 months out, I realized that I had to learn some serious respect and to make it in wrestling, you HAVE to do more than just wait for your opportunities. You have to bust your rear-end to do it.
So about two months of being kicked out of ACE, I started doing some small work with other companies around the area in Jersey. I started learning more about behind the scenes and what to do and ultimately, what not to do. Sometimes in wrestling, you get caught with an opportunity or two, and after editing two shows onto DVD for one company and getting shafted on the pay for them, I was aggravated. I knew I had been "worked". Myself being a nice guy, I wasn't aggressive about it and I got caught. After feeling sorry for myself, I knew what I had to do. I knew I had to go back and learn the right way, the proper way on how to do business. Fact was, in a business full of carny tendencies and shady dealings, Mike Morgan was a real person, wanting and willing to help, and I had blown a golden opportunity. Moments of clarity come few and far between, and I knew what I had to do. I "bit the bullet" and made amends to Mike.
Trust me, Mike, in his own unique way, didn't yell or curse or do anything irrational at all when we talked. However, somehow, when it was all done, I felt awful and completely foolish for my errors. Now looking back, it was the best thing to ever happen to me. I learned a lesson and was given a second chance, and from that point forward, I never looked back and I always continued learning and will continue to learn. It's amazing how much you learn when you mature in this business and have a total open mind.
Harder's upcoming events:
February 17 Beyond Wrestling's Off the Grid
February 25 - ACE Overdrive in Union City, NJ ACEProWrestling.com
March 3 - WSU 5th Year Anniversary Show - Deer Park, NY - WSUWrestling.com
March 10 - ACE Destined 4 Greatness in Wallington, NJ
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Be sure to check out some of my past 411 Interviews