You will struggle to find a pro wrestling fan, talent or employee that was party to last Thursday’s TNA World Heavyweight Championship match, who did not come away with a broad smile stretched across their face.
While the vast majority of viewers were settling in for another routine title defence by the now ex-Champion Magnus, albeit with a healthy portion of outside interference along the way, those in the know were quietly awaiting the biggest moment in the career of one of TNA’s most dedicated, and most popular wrestlers.
When Eric Young held the World Title belt aloft for the first time last week, he completed an incredible journey. His story of a hard-fought battle to become the face of the company he has given over a decade of his life too is inspiring stuff. It’s a rise that any good underdog story would be proud of.
He has won every major honour TNA offers: the Television Championship, the X Division Title and the Tag Team Titles. He also became the only man to ever win the Knockout’s Tag Team Title, alongside his on-screen wife ODB. But now, EY has finally achieved his ultimate goal – to become a World Heavyweight Champion – something that he has been waiting for, for a very long time.
“It’s kind of surreal, it’s all still settling in,” said Young. “I’ve been thinking about that moment since I was six years old. I’m 34 now, so it’s a long time in the making.
“It’s a dream come true, and that may sound cliché and cheesy and all that stuff, but it’s an amazing feeling. I’ve been a pro wrestling fan all my life, this is all I’ve ever wanted to do, and I’m at the pinnacle of it right now.”
On last week’s edition of IMPACT, Young began the night by winning a ten man gauntlet, which was intended to find a new number one contender for TNA’s upcoming pay-per-view event, Sacrifice, which takes place on the 27th April.
But having won his title shot, EY called out MVP, the company’s current director of wrestling operations, and requested that his match be moved to later that night. MVP agreed, and an hour later Young was face-to-face with Magnus.
The 27-year-old Brit was told that, unlike in his previous title defences, if he was counted out or disqualified, his title would be forfeited. His ‘insurance policy’ Abyss was banned from ringside, and MVP decreed that, following a string of controversial championship matches, if anyone interfered in the match, they would be fired. Young won the match by pin-fall, ending the ‘reign of Magnus’ at 128 days.
“The messages have been piling in on Twitter and people have been texting me and calling me non-stop ever since. It’s been really overwhelming,” revealed Young. “It’s an amazing feeling to know you’re appreciated, cared for, loved and respected.
“There’s something very validating about it. It makes it all worth it – all the hard work, all the bumps and bruises, the bad days and the long days. It was cool to share that moment with the Impact Zone, and the response worldwide has been a beautiful thing.”
Despite the extraordinarily positive reaction his victory has received, Young explained why his ten year wait for the TNA World Title, has not left him feeling at all hard done by: “I’ll always remember a conversation I had with MVP, years ago,” he recalls.
“Just after my title match he told me that he remembered coming here and meeting me, back when I had my spiky blonde hair! He was an extra, he was a guy trying to get a job, and some people didn’t give him the time of day, but he remembers me talking to him and shaking his hand.
“I remember talking to him too. I said to him that I was just happy to have a job, and that hasn’t changed. I’m so happy to be in the wrestling business, to just be a part of it is all I really wanted to do. But I think everyone that gets into wrestling wants to be the one everyone else looks up to, the World Champion, and if someone tells you otherwise then they’re either in it for the wrong reasons, or they’re lying.
Young is likely to make his first World Title defence at Sacrifice later this month, and could potentially face a rematch with Magnus. Regardless of whether EY’s reign lasts for a week, a month or a year, he has a very rational and respectable outlook on being champion.
“It’s a massive responsibility and a massive honour to be the World Heavyweight Champion of a wrestling company that is one of the biggest in the world. I don’t take that responsibility lightly. Winning that title is the biggest moment of my professional wrestling career, and I’m hoping to make a whole bunch more of those in a row coming up.
“For me, you set a goal and then you move onto the next one. My first big goal was to sign a contract in pro wrestling, and I did that in 2004. I’ve been on TV every week since then. That was my first goal, then I wanted to win a title, I did that, then it was to win another title, I did that, defend the title, I did that.
“Then it was to win the World Heavyweight Title, and now I’ve done that. Now I want a run as World Champion, I’m going to hold onto this for as long as I can. I’m hoping I can have it for a long, crazy fun ride.”
TNA are not the only major wrestling company to have crowned a new World Champion this month, with WWE’s Daniel Bryan defeating Randy Orton and Batista at Wrestlemania XXX. But Bryan’s win was overshadowed by both the Undertaker, whose iconic 21-match unbeaten streak at the event came to an end when he was defeated by Brock Lesnar, and by the final on-screen appearance of the Ultimate Warrior, a wrestling legend who died tragically just one day later, at the age of 54.
“The Ultimate Warrior is a guy that I idolise, because he is the epitome of a larger than life character,” revealed Young. “He was a guy that didn’t seem like a human being. He didn’t look like a human being and he didn’t act like a human being. He was a larger than life character, and for a lot of people that was what drew you in. It’s so sad to lose someone like that, such an icon in this business.
“As for the Undertaker, he is one of the best professional wrestlers of all time. He’s a guy that I respect immensely, and his Wrestlemania winning streak is something that I don’t believe should have been broken.”
There’s always been plenty of competition between different wrestling companies, perhaps most famously with the Monday Night Wars between WWF and WCW back in the 1990’s. However, EY believes there’s no genuine rivalry between WWE and TNA, and re-iterates that there is room for both companies to co-exist.
“While they [WWE] offer the same style of product, they’ve been around for over 100 years – they have generational viewing: grandfathers watch it so fathers watch it, and now their kids watch it too.
“TNA has been around for ten years, and you can’t expect in ten years to make up all that ground. To me, it’s not a competition, they’re doing their thing and we’re doing our thing, they offer something different to what we offer and vice-versa.
“You just have to hope that wrestling fans watch both. I don’t view it as a competition and I don’t think many people here do. We’re competing with ourselves, we can only do what we do and try and be the best that we can be.”
EY was also quick to brush aside the latest in a series of recent rumours about TNA’s struggles – in which many online sources have claimed the company has been suffering from declining attendances and that they are yet to renew their television deal with Spike TV.
“I’ve been here since 2004 and every month is seems like there’s some kind of a new thing about TNA is struggling, it’s on hard times, it can’t last,” Young explained. “But we’re still here, Spike TV is happy, we’re seen in over 120 countries around the world, house shows every weekend have been going well, merchandise sales are doing well. People are always going to doubt you when you’re the underdog.”
Last month’s Lockdown pay-per-view received an extremely positive response from viewers and with new faces, new talent and now a new World Champion flooding the TNA roster, EY is confident that the company will continue to establish itself.
“I think this is the best pound for pound locker-room in the world today and we don’t let that stuff affect us,” he added. “I don’t buy into it; I don’t listen to it because I can’t control it. I only control what people see from me, and I always put in 100% effort. Everybody here is the same. People have been saying that about us since 2004, but we’re a tight group and we’re still here – we don’t let that stuff get to us.”
Young has enjoyed a whirlwind wrestling career over the last 15 years, having first taken up the sport when he finished at high school. After receiving training from WWF legend Waldo Von Erich he began working locally in his home town of Ontario, Canada.
He joined TNA in 2004 as part of Team Canada, which began a long run of different personas and wrestling styles that Young has employed to great success over the years. His ability to take on a multitude of different characters has helped him build a reputation of one of the most entertaining wrestlers in the world.
“It’s hard to pick a favourite period,” said Young after pausing for thought. “One of my favourite things about my time here – that I’ve got too show loads of different sides of my character.
It started with Team Canada, where I didn’t say a single word for two years. I just stood there and wrestled, that was my job, not one single world for the first two years I was here. Then I was afraid of being fired, I was paranoid, and I was the ultimate underdog character.
“I was a superhero, a huge comic book guy, which was kind of surreal – having a mask and a cape – that was a cool character. Next, I shaved my head and got serious, like really serious in the company for the first time. That’s a very memorable time for me.
“I don’t have a favourite, everything had its good points and bad points and it was cool to do all of it. I think it was cool to show all those different sides, and show that I’m not just one dimensional. It’s something that I’ve always prided myself on; the fact that I’m versatile and that I’ve showed I can play any role that is given to me.
“As for being one of the most entertaining wrestlers in the world, I don’t take that lightly either. It’s important to me because that is what wrestling is about – entertaining people, through physicality, comedy or both.”
More recently, EY has taken on the role of the mad scientist, working closely with the Joseph Park / Abyss character and eventually revealing TNA’s worst kept secret – that two people were in fact one – unmasking the Monster in Glasgow during TNA’s UK Tour earlier this year.
“I think he [Abyss] has got to be one of the best big men ever, if not the best,” said Young.“He’s a super talented guy, he understands wrestling inside and out and I had a blast with him.
“Our thing started as kind of a gag, we were on this goofy road trip in this mini-van, driving across the country doing all this fun stuff. That’s how it started and then it ended in Glasgow, dropping by best friend onto a pile of thumb tacks. It went full circle and it was a storyline that I loved, one of my favourites of all time in fact. People really responded to it, more that I think we thought they were going too.”
Abyss received a front row seat as EY clinched his maiden World Heavyweight Title win. The Monster was the last man out of the ring in the ten man gauntlet before mysteriously failing to intervene during the title match, leaving Magnus to be beaten.
Despite all of his success, EY will have his doubters – as he will tell you, he always has: “There were four or five years of really struggling, driving all over the place, doing try-out matches, being told no – you’re not big enough, or you’re not this or you’re not that. I could barely afford to eat, I would have to count change to put gas in my car to get to a show, just to make 20 dollars and get a left over hot dog.”
But what sets him apart is the incredibly uplifting attitude with which he has met each and every one of those challenges, and how he has continued to prove those doubters wrong: “That’s how I became who I am today. That’s how I became the man I am and, more importantly, that’s how I became the professional wrestler I am. I wouldn’t change any of it, none of it at all.
“If I was going to give an up and coming wrestler one piece of advice, it would be that the work never stops. You have to outwork everybody, or at least try to outwork everybody, because there’s always going to be somebody else.
That, and don’t change who you are, stay the course. I’ve prided myself on the fact that I’ve done that. I’m not much of a political guy; I’m not much of a boaster or a talker. I do my work, and I let that do the talking. That will never change. It’s been that way since day one, all the rest is just noise and I’m not one for letting that bother me.”
As well as being the new TNA World Heavyweight Champion, Young has been involved in quite a few projects outside of wrestling, including hosting his own television show – Extreme Catches, on Animal Planet.
“I’ve got a cool life – I’ve got to do all my dream jobs,” Young admitted gleefully. “The television show has been opening up all kinds of doors for me. I’d like to write a fictional book sometime, if I have time.
“I love Kung-Fu movies and I own about 250 of them. Another side project is that I want to make a documentary about me trying to get into the Kung-Fu movie industry. With wrestling and the television show: one door opens and another ten doors open with it. It’s one opportunity after another and I just have to go and get them.
“I really appreciate getting to where I am today, nothing was handed to me, and that’s the right way to do it I believe, that’s how you learn and gain experience. I’ve been at it all for 15 years, and yet it feels like yesterday that I started. It’s been a wild ride and it’s not over yet that’s for sure.”
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