He grew up a small town boy with a big town dream.
WWE NXT superstar CJ Parker is the Moonchild, if you will, a nickname borrowed from a WWE Hall of Famer.
“One day back in the FCW days in Tampa, the American Dream Dusty Rhodes came in and said, ‘That’s it. From now on, I’m called the Moonchild,’ and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. So I started calling him Moonchild all the time. That was back when I was still trying to figure out a character to run with, and when I figured this out, I said, ‘Dusty, can I be the Moonchild II, like the Moonchild Number 2?’
He goes, ‘No. You’re the Moonchild. You want to call yourself the Moonchild? It’s you.’ So I totally stole that from Dusty Rhodes.”
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The dread-locked Parker is taking Moonchild to whole nother dimension, carrying signs to the ring while making a stand to protect the environment, the planet and other worldly causes. That’s his character, so to speak.
“There is part of me that is passionate about this [in real life],” Parker said. “As the character goes, you may come to find out that he doesn’t even believe in the things he says. Maybe he’s just using those causes to try to gain more popularity. Maybe it’s like Krusty the Clown of ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Ah, I never believed it anyways.’
“So maybe the character is like that, or maybe the character does believe. I don’t know. You’ll just have to watch to find out.”
Parker creates his own signs that he carries to the ring; they are inspired by bumper stickers, Facebook and his own thoughts.
His favorite is “There Is No Planet B.”
He explained: “It’s like there is no Plan B. There is no Planet B as in ‘We only have one world; so don’t mess it up.’”
So who is CJ Parker, the NXT superstar?
“CJ Parker, the NXT superstar, is a young man with a chip on is shoulder,” he said. “It’s him against the world. Nobody will listen to him. All he wants to do is make the world a better place, but he’s got nobody on his side.”
CJ Parker may be involved in “WWE NXT TakeOver: R Evolution” live at 8 p.m. EST on WWE Network. The show is at the state-of-the-art Full Sail Live at Full Sail University in Winter Park, near Orlando.
These shows are to help prepare talent and crew for when he or she gets the call to the main show.
“NXT on WWE Network. It is huge,” Parker said. “In the FCW days, we had our little TV show on at 3 o’clock in the morning after Bass Pro Fishing [on Bright House Network across Central Florida]. It didn’t matter as much if you messed up. There was really no pressure.
“Now, there’s this huge network, and we’re a huge part of it. We have live specials, like NXT TakeOver: R Evolution. To be a part of that, it’s like a pay-per-view for us. Everybody, everybody looks forward to it. We put pressure on ourselves, and we deliver. I can’t wait.”
The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder is ready to continue spreading his message, his persona.
Parker added: “I’ve been on NXT TV, holding my signs, spreading the word...The bigger the platform the more people [who see it.]”
It’s been a transformation process for CJ Parker.
“The summer of 2013 I was a smiling, happy, dancing, outgoing, good guy, who just wanted everybody to love me. The only problem was nobody did,” he said. “When people continually hate you for no reason, it’s going to eventually tick you off. Signs ‘CJ Sucks.’ No, you suck. You guys all suck. It’s not me. It’s all you. That’s where the chip on the shoulder started. From there, I developed a cause, and I’m determined to carry it out.”
CJ Parker, 25, believes everyday is Earth Day and berates the NXT Universe for not going green.
Apropos that this activist is from a place called Gardner in Illinois.
“Gardner is about 30 miles south of Joliet, and it is about 60 miles south of Chicago,” Parker said. “Nobody knows where Gardner, Illinois is. Pretty much nobody knows where Joliet is, but everybody knows where Chicago is.”
The Blue Brothers (Joliet Jake and Elwood) and their fans know Joliet.
“I know. I was just talking to [NXT superstar] Sami Zayn about that today,” Parker said, “but a lot of people don’t know Joliet. ‘How do you spell that? Jul.’”
“Saturday Night Live” stars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd starred as Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues, the Blues Brothers, making comedy movie gold along with some good soul music.
“My dad was really into [The Blue Brothers], and I think my brother, Jimmy, went through a phase where he thought it was really cool, but I never got into it. I was into wrestling.”
Growing up a pro wrestling fan, Parker attended Gardner-South Wilmington High School, home of the Panthers.
“My town, Gardner, had 1,300 people, so small, and South Wilmington is like a third of that, and there was another town that was a third of Gardner, too. So my high school had 300 people in it, and I was the coolest one by far.”
In his first two years of high school, a calm, cool and collective Parker competed in baseball, basketball and football.
“Eventually, I just stuck with football,” he said. “I was terrible at basketball. I could rebound a little and foul. In baseball, I couldn’t hit anything unless is was straight down the pipe, and I would have to know it was coming that way to hit it. So I just focused on football and lifting.”
Parker wasn’t just a football player.
“I was in all the school plays, theater and stuff,” he added, “because I knew that would help me with wrestling in the future.”
A larger-than-life wild card, Parker is described by www.wwe.com as high-impact, high-risk and high-energy.
“Brimming with potential and confidence, the up-and-comer hopes to make a name for himself as he climbs toward the very peak of the NXT mountaintop, and eventually, to WWE. Parker preaches his environmental beliefs on all of the NXT Universe, and there is no clowning around when this Midwestern upstart steps into the ring.”
Before the move into NXT in Orlando, the WWE brand stood as FCW, based in Tampa. After spending a few years on the indies (mainly in the Midwest), Parker made his FCW debut in 2011.
“I started training when I was 19 in Detroit with a guy named Truth Martini, who is with Ring of Honor now,” Parker said. “He really prepared me well. He taught me the basics and really helped me get my feet wet. I was on the independent [scene] about two years.”
Parker dreamed of competing, succeeding in WWE. From the indies, the next step was WWE developmental, but it would take desire, hard work and money.
“I had a little can I brought to all my independent shows to try to collect money,” he said, “because it was $1,000 for a WWE tryout [at FCW], and I didn’t have it. I was in college and delivering pizza. So I would bring this can to all the shows, and I ended up collecting a little over $500, and then my dad [Robert] gave me the rest.”
His parents wanted him to finish college, but Parker opted to pursue his dream, his passion.
“I went to Joliet Junior College, but the only thing I ever wanted to be was a wrestler,” Parker said. “I was 8-years-old, and me and my brother were in the backyard, filming promos and dressing up like Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, and ketchup for fake blood. You name it. We did it.”
“That’s one thing that I can really pin on my success is that I was in a very good support system,” Parker said. “I got really good grades in high school, and the plan was I wanted to go to a junior college and become a wrestler. My guidance counselor talked me out of it. ‘You’ve got to go to Illinois State. You’re smart.’ I eventually went to ISU. I was there about a month, and I was sitting in an economics class, and the teacher is talking about thinking about your future and planning ahead, and I just went right to wrestling. I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’
“I left my books, went to my dorm, called my buddy, packed everything up, left. I wasted $16,000, dropped right out. I said, ‘Dad, I’ve got to be a wrestler. I’m going to go to junior college, and he goes, ‘I know you do.’ That was his answer to me quitting college and wasting all his money. ‘I know you do.’
You can hear it in his voice. Parker is very appreciative of what his family has done for him.
“My brother thinks it’s cool what I’m doing,” Parker said. “When he outgrew it, I still used to force him and his friends to wrestle me, because I didn’t have anybody who lived close who liked wrestling. It would always end up me hurting my brother or being too rough, and he would just be like [in a whiny voice] ‘I’m never wrestling you again,’ but the next day he was my bump dummy.
“Now here I am.”
To get ‘here,’ Parker traveled to Tampa for a tryout at FCW.
“Dr. Tom Prichard was the head of it, and I did well enough that I got signed,” Parker said, “and now here I am 3 1/2 years later. I really think the entire WWE developmental system totally, totally changed since then. It went from a small warehouse in Tampa with three rings to this huge, huge incredible [WWE] Performance Center [in Orlando] with seven rings, promo room, a staff of coaches, double the roster, double the live events, double the opportunities. It’s really, really, really growing, and it’s a cool time to be a part of it.”
Prichard said: “I thought CJ was talented and had -- has -- a lot of potential. He had a lot of energy and passion. I do remember his tryout, and he did very well. I hope he gets an opportunity to shine on the main roster.”
A former FCW tag team champ, Parker learned some valuable lessons prior.
“There was one moment when I was still in high school and I was trying to sniff around the indies a little, but I wasn’t trained the right way, and I had a hard time getting going,” he said. “I had a match, and these two guys took advantage of me and beat the crap out of me. I was 17 or 18, and I went out the back behind this VFW [Hall], sitting down thinking, ‘If I’m going to do this, I’ve got to do it right. I got to get trained the right way and do it the way it’s supposed to be done.’ That’s when I went to the wrestling school [in Detroit].
“Ever since that first match, after being trained, it’s been a steady progression for me, and I never doubted it, because I could always see the results. I got signed [by WWE], when I was 21. I had a blast on the independent scenes for two years. I’m going to junior college during the week and then driving all over the Midwest wrestling on weekends -- sometimes getting lucky and going to Canada or California to wrestle for a weekend.”
During the progression, Parker developed a cool look. He designs his gear, which includes really cool knee pads.
“Sue Kotulski helps make my gear,” Parker said. “She is incredible. I can say some weird, abstract thing, and she always brings it to life.
“I used to have the [designer] sleeves that covered my knee pads, but they would always fall off, every time I wrestled. So I asked Sue, ‘Why can’t we sew the fabric directly onto the knee pad?’ She said, ‘I never tried that. I never done that for anybody.’ So now that’s how it’s done for me. You still see wrestlers walking around with their sleeves slipping off when they wrestle but not mine.”
Sue Kotulski of Kotulski Ring Gear
Ring gear is another important element of a sports entertainer.
“We should look like toys,” Parker said. “A little kid should see us and be like, ‘Oh dude, I want a CJ Parker. He’s got rainbow hair and cool tie-dye gear and an awesome vest and dreadlocks. He’s cool.’ Being plain isn’t my thing. I never wanted to be a plain looking guy.”
What Moonchild is?
WWE NXT TakeOver: R Evolution is 8 p.m. EST Thursday, Dec. 11 live on WWE Network. The show is at the state-of-the-art Full Sail Live at Full Sail University in Winter Park, near Orlando.
Matches include Adrian Neville defending his NXT Championship against Sami Zayn; Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks for the NXT Women’s Championship; The Ascension vs. Finn Balor and Hideo Itami; the Vaudevillains vs. the Lucha Dragons for the NXT Tag Team titles, the debut of Kevin Owens and more.
NXT superstar Corey Graves, who has been sidelined with a concussion, will make an announcement during the WWE NXT TakeOver: R Evolution pre-show at 7:30 p.m. EST, hosted by Renee Young with Alex Riley and Jason Albert (A-Train, Tensai).
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