It’s not every day a superstar leaves WWE on his own volition, but that is what PJ Black did on the eve of the 2015 Royal Rumble.
A few months later the high-flyer, formerly known as Justin Gabriel, is enjoying life on the independent scene. He has control of his own schedule and feels free. Black has gone as far to say he found his passion for the business again.
“It has been incredible,” said Black, who is gearing up to face Mr. 450, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 9 for Ronin Pro Wrestling 6 at the Broward College South Campus Gymnasium in (South Florida) Pembroke Pines.
“I knew it was going to be fun, but I didn’t know it was going to be this much fun. In the same breath, I didn’t know it was going to be this competitive and this hard. There are so many independent wrestlers and companies out there. It’s overwhelming. Being in WWE, you don’t really keep up on this stuff. The last few months I have. It kind of made me excited. Just being out there, the talent is unreal.”
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The transition from full-time WWE superstar to full-time independent pro wrestler took some getting used to. Black knew in order to be successful he had to build his own brand to make him attractive to promoters around the world. The talented performer also had the challenge of entertaining diehard fans, which isn’t easy.
“I could tell whenever I went out to the ring people would be sitting on their hands saying, ‘Oh, here is another ex-WWE guy who is going to phone it in,” he said. “I made sure that every time I have a match I put 100 percent in it. It means so much to me to see those that were sitting on their hands, all of a sudden, stood up and clapped. To me, that meant more than any WrestleMania moment to me.”
During his travels on the road he is thriving against opponents he has never met or worked with before. It’s a welcome change of pace for the South African. At the top of his list of favorites thus far is a bout against Ricochet at Evolve 40 in San Jose during WrestleMania weekend. Black also found confidence in his decision to leave WWE by seeing the success of friends such as Drew Galloway.
“He tweeted a picture of himself with all these belts and then I watched him cut this promo on YouTube that was so awesome,” he said. “It was so passionate. Sometimes you can just feel that. I was like, ‘That was awesome.’ I didn’t think I would end up in this position. It was a spur of the moment thing. I can’t even tell you what happened. It was just a string of events that I just walked out of WWE. The next day I was like, ‘What did I do?’ It hadn’t sunk in. Then I thought, ‘You know what? This is good for me.’ And it has been so far.”
Black shed his Justin Gabriel persona in favor of a new character known as Darewolf. It’s something the 34-year-old wanted to explore in WWE. The second generation wrestler describes the Darewolf as a cross between Evel Knievel and werewolf.
“I rode motocross when I was a kid,” Black said. “I did surfing. A couple of years ago I took up skydiving. I just had all this footage. I thought, ‘Why don’t we do something with this?’ I sat down with a bunch of the WWE creative guys, and we came up with this character. We combined the words daredevil and werewolf because someone on Twitter called me the ‘Cape Town Werewolf.’ I have no idea where that came from. That was when ‘Twilight’ was big. We started forming these vignettes, and I had all this footage. We didn’t even have to spend any money on it, and they never wanted to go with it.”
This led to more frustration for Black.
“The last few months leading up I kept asking the guys like Brodus Clay and Drew about what it’s like on the other side,’ he said.
“They said, ‘It’s cool. It’s cool. You’ll have a lot of fun.’ I told them that wasn’t what I was asking. I’m trying to get a real answer. I didn’t’ know. When I quit, I didn’t know I had so many fans in WWE. Everyone would text and call me saying, ‘Man, you really do have balls. We’ve been thinking about it for a while, but none of us could pull the trigger.’ I tell them straight up that it’s fun and awesome, but it’s a big hustle. It’s a huge risk.
“I don’t have a family or anyone really in this country. I’m by myself. Traveling is my favorite part. Some of these guys have families and traveling is the hardest part for them. I speak to a lot of the guys all the time, and tell them what I’m going through. I tell them if they have a family that should come first in life. To me, my wrestling is art. The art comes first for me. I probably won’t make as much money as I did in WWE, but maybe I will in the long run.
“Who knows what the future holds? We all love wrestling for a reason. That just became a job. I love the company and watch the product because all my friends are there. I don’t have any bad feelings toward anyone in the company. I just couldn’t be there. Maybe a few years down the road they will call me up, and we can work together again. You never know.”
The bigger companies on television have reached out to Black, but he tells everyone the same thing.
“Let me just do my own thing for a year and then maybe come back to me,” he said. “I just want to be free. If I were to sign with one company, I would be doing the exact thing I was doing with WWE. Right now I like what I’m doing because I can do whatever I want, make my own schedule, which to me is cool.”
Black is looking forward to Ronin and heading back down to South Florida. The area will also hold a special place in his heart. After all, it was almost five years ago during Raw at the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami where he was part of the Nexus angle. An assemblage of emerging stars unexpectedly attacked everyone at ringside and became the talk of the wrestling world.
“A highlight of my career,” Black said. “It was probably one of the most fun things I have ever done. It was incredible. On the day we didn’t know what to expect. It was one of those things that were hush-hush. In this day and age, especially in wrestling, it’s become so hard to do something original and something new. There are all these borrowed storylines or other storylines that are just tweaked or adjusted or taken from something else. I felt at the time that this was unique and different. To be a part of that was really cool. All those guys in my group, I’m really close with all of them. There was this real brotherhood that was formed. That is something that can never be taken away.”
When the adrenaline junkie makes the drive from his home in Tampa he is bringing his parachute with him. This is because he is planning on doing a skydive jump and making a weekend out of it. The WWE alum loves South Beach and has attended the Ultra Music Festival for three years. Dance, house and electronic music were very popular in Europe, where he lived for a time. A lot of his friends in South Africa were also DJs, meaning he grew up attending concerts and music festivals. Along with the play, Black will be all business when he squares off against Mr. 450 at Ronin 6. The 450 Splash is a trademark move for both athletes, making it a unique encounter.
“I’ve never worked with him,” he said. “I’ve never met him. I pull up some of his stuff on YouTube. That is what I do with all the people I work with. About 99 percent of the time it’s someone new I’ve never even met. Wrestling is an art. Trying to put together a match that fans are interested in and can get behind with someone I never met or worked with is a great thing. In WWE, how many times do you see the same matches or storylines? It becomes stale or boring for fans and performers. I like working with someone new every time.
“I don’t have to work with someone six months in a row to put on a good match with my style. I’m really looking forward to this one. We use the same move, but I have a variation of a 450 now, which I’m looking to bust out. I’m not going to say much now. You will just have to check it out at the show and watch.”
- PJ Black faces Mr. 450 at Ronin Pro Wrestling 6 at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 9 at the Broward College South Campus Gymnasium in (South Florida) Pembroke Pines.
Chris Hero, Donovan, Alex Chamberlin, Edward Malken, Mikaze, Jesse Sorensen, TECH, Joey Bricco and more are also scheduled. The meet-and-greet will run from 5-7 p.m. with the stars performing on the show.
Visit http://www.roninprowrestling.com for full details.
- Visit www.PJBlack.com and follow PJ Black on Twitter @Justin_Gabriel
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