Adam Pearce: Work Hard, Treat People Fairly, Earn Respect…

I’ve been very fortunate over the years to speak very candidly to and about Adam Pearce.  His storied career rooted in the Midwest flourished in Southern California for more than a decade, with 5 reigns as NWA World Heavyweight Championship and matches all across the globe.  In this interview, I discuss with Pearce his thoughts on the situation with the NWA, as he was still champion during ownership change and how it affected his role as champion.  I also asked Pearce about his role with NXT, the accolades he has received, his film projects, the way he departed from independent wrestling and much more.

JC:  First off, I want to congratulate you on a successful start in your second career as film maker. The Seven Levels of Hate documentary, which sold across the globe, is officially out of production?

AP:  I appreciate the compliment, and yeah, what an awesome trip that entire experience was. I’m so grateful to have had such incredible success with the film, because I honestly didn’t expect it. But no, I am not producing another print of DVDs, if that’s what you mean.

Unfortunately, once the film ended up on torrent sites it killed sales. Eventually it slowed so much that it became obvious that another printing would be futile. As a producer, and one that experienced better-than-I-ever-hoped-for sales, it really sucked. You feel violated, because it truly hurts that “fans” are STEALING from you. But if I’m being honest, I am surprised it took so long for the film to end up being pirated. It flew under that radar for a long time.

For those that still want to purchase the film and SUPPORT the cause, I’m working on something with Amazon, but I don’t have a timeframe on that.

JC:  From Pro Wrestler to Film Maker you were working on another documentary, On My Honor… is that still in the works?

AP:  I wish, but unfortunately no, and there are a number of factors which I addressed on my Facebook page ( several months ago.  I had some minor technical issues with what was shot, but the real kicker was that I went back to Ring of Honor last summer as part of an angle that they are still running with, and that made a large chunk of the initial concept for the film and what I shot useless.

On top of that, I wasn’t happy with the fact that due to costs and copyrights, I wouldn’t have had much footage in the film. Ultimately it boils down to the fact that didn’t want to produce something that I personally wouldn’t have been happy with, even if I really thought I could sell it in large quantities.

JC:  Had there not been a disturbance in the direction of the National Wrestling Alliance in the course of the feud, what was the original plan after the conclusion of the Seven Levels of Hate?

AP:  I’m not sure how to answer that, because I was never going to be involved in things post-“7 Levels”, nor was I ever involved in long-term planning around the belt. People have long thought that I was the booker or part of the booking of the belt, and that was never the case. I had a ton of input into what I personally was doing, but in the end, I had no real decision-making power.

There are lots of things what were happening with me during the planning of the series, things that are finally taking shape for me professionally now. Although it isn’t mentioned at all in the film, there was a very real possibility early on that the series was going to be a clean sweep for Cabana.

So to answer the question, outside of Cabana being champion and having a year-long run (which is what was initially agreed upon) I have no idea what direction things would have gone on to after the series. As we have seen, there have been ups and downs, but what else should have been expected?

JC:  What was your plan post “7 Levels?”  Where did you anticipate being?

AP:  Well, if you look at my career specifically in the time right before the series started up until now, I think you’ll see a pretty varied body of work.  One of the things I’ve been particularly adept at over the years is keeping many “irons in fires”, so to speak.  So while I’ll save the intimate details for the book I’ll probably never write, suffice it to say that at that time there was a very real possibility that my time on the independent circuit was coming to an end.

As it unfolded, things I thought were going to happen didn’t, other opportunities arose, and all of it allowed Cabana and I to finish the series.  Everyone saw how that turned out, and I’m actually really glad it all worked out the way it did.

JC:  After the NWA World Heavyweight Championship was declared vacant post the Seven Levels of Hate, had anyone asked (outside of Cabana) who would you have put the World Heavyweight Championship Title on?

AP:  It would have gone to Cabana, for a year, as discussed. I think had that occurred we would have seen what we all predicted – a notable increase in visibility, notoriety, and marketable attention for the brand here in the United States. It didn’t happen, as we’ve seen, but that hasn’t stopped either the NWA or Cabana from doing everything possible to raise the profile of their respective brands.

Side note: I STILL think Cabana would be an ideal choice as champion. Someone should contact him. He’s that guy what was just profiled by ROLLING STONE (and credited as a former NWA champion, by the way).

JC:  I’m not sure that you get the credit you deserve for navigating your NWA World Heavyweight Championship commitments during a time when the NWA was in a bit of a Civil War. With members of the NWA in litigation with other members of the NWA, you were out there defending the title and attempting to be the face of an Alliance at war within itself. Could you recount some of your frustrations of being in that position?

AP:  Here’s where I think people get confused on what exactly my stance was in the NWA. I had nothing to do with, nor any interest in, the lawsuits and in-fighting. I was singularly focused on doing my job, and doing it the best way I could. That job was as a performer and as the face of the brand to the fanbase. Period. Whatever was happening away from the public eye really had no bearing on the fact that I had obligations as champion and commitments to fulfill to a number of people ON BOTH SIDES of the issue. It was a rough spot to be in at times.

So in terms of frustrations, there were A TON. Keep in mind that the brand visibility for a huge part of the period that I was champion fell almost completely on MY shoulders. And I say that without intending to slight anyone that was active in supporting the brand, but the simple fact is that a vast majority of wrestling fans in our country had no idea that the NWA still existed outside of diehards and those involved until I came to their towns wearing the ‘ten pounds of gold’ or they happened upon a report of me doing so.

99% percent of my title matches were scheduled by me. And again, no slight toward anyone, but the organization as a whole did little to promote itself and even less to book the title out. That was ALL me, and I did it in spite of what was happening behind the scenes, even when I knew I was on my way out.

Do I get the credit I deserve? WHO CARES. All I honestly care about – and ever really cared about – was that Sweet Charlotte still has a place in our business. That she didn’t disappear. And she hasn’t.

I believe that’s the singular reason why I was put into the NWA Hall of Fame, and that is all the “credit” I’ll ever need.

JC:  Did anyone in the NWA or the promoters who were previously associated with the NWA give you an ultimatum about working for certain promoters?

AP:  We talked about that in depth in “7 Levels”. As everyone reading this already knows, I was told flat out that I was not to appear for David Marquez as NWA champion once he was “expelled” from the organization. I didn’t like it then, still think it was foolish, and yet I did exactly what I was told.

And therein is a lesson, I think, if you look for it.

JC:  If you were given a mulligan right now, would there have been anything you would have changed in your tenure as NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champion?

AP:  As I said before, I ultimately didn’t have ANY power to change things that were planned by the organization. Believe me, there were times that I tried!

My voice was loud, but really only in terms of what I had my hands on. If I could have personally changed anything, I would have found a way to have lit a bigger fire under the asses of both sets of owners in my time to get on board with what I was doing on my own.

I honestly think it would have been a win-win.

JC:  Are you disappointed in the NWA for never given you an opportunity to face Rob Conway for the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship? Do you see that as a sign of disrespect?

AP:  Oh, I’m disappointed for sure, but the only way I would have felt disrespected is if it weren’t discussed. It absolutely WAS discussed.

I initiated contact and proposed the idea of coming in to put Rob over in Texas once I knew my time as a performer was coming to an end. I think Rob deserved it and I think the brand as it existed at that point needed it.

I spoke to both Bruce Tharpe and James Beard about it, and they both were on board. We unfortunately just couldn’t get the timing right with the promoter willing to go to the expense of doing it right. I fully regret that it didn’t happen.

Who knows, never say never.

JC:  The NWA World Heavyweight Championship recently changed hands in New Japan Pro Wrestling and the photo that shows a defeated Rob Conway and Bruce Tharpe with a busted nose was posted by Tharpe to his facebook account. You suggested in a comment that the NWA needs reinforcements. Are you volunteering your services?

AP:  Oh, I was just offering my support. I think one of the absolute homeruns hit by the brand recently is in forging the relationship with New Japan. People can argue that the title is portrayed as a third-tier title by NJPW, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that the brand matters enough to be spotlighted. It matters more than it would if it weren’t showcased in the way that it is. Anyone arguing against that is really just looking for things to bitch about.

JC:  December 21st 2014, billed as NINE: The Conclusion. The match up between you and Colt Cabana that toured across these United States and went all the way to Australia had enough legs to carry a DVD Documentary and two additional matches, with the finale being in the promotion where the 7 Levels of Hate was introduced. Could you have dictated a better way to leave Championship Wrestling from Hollywood?

AP:  No. Which is why we did it that way!

Seriously though, I’m not sure I could have done it any other way and then came away feeling really good about it. I’m grateful to Dave Marquez and Colt Cabana for being such big parts of my ride, and ultimately being willing to take one final one with me. It will always mean a great deal to me that the last paragraph of my independent wrestling chapter was co-written by those two very appropriate partners-in-crime.

JC:  In previous incarnations of Championship Wrestling from Hollywood (be it NWA Hollywood or the NWA Pro Wrestling Showcase) you were often used as the main antagonist, either as World Champion (or Heritage Champion) or in pursuit of the title.  On the surface it appeared that your character was more focused on personal vendettas (James Morgan and Mikey O’Shea) than championships, was this by design?

AP:  Of course it was by design.  I always felt like my character – especially in the role of the antagonist – connected much better with the audience when he was particularly focused on the personal and emotional attack of one person.  I always liked the feel of rivalry, and I do believe that my best work over time is that which was wrapped up in vendetta.  Having the time to develop a story and rapport with the guys you mentioned, in addition to the likes of Brent Albright, Colt Cabana, Blue Demon, etc; let me focus on ways to emotionally impact the viewer, and that was always my goal.

People can identify with hatred or extreme dislike, as everyone has someone in their life that brings out those emotions, and I was lucky enough on that television program to have the time to devote toward exploring that, and especially the babyface characters to dance with in order to bring it home.

JC:  How much control did you have in the direction of the character you portrayed in Championship Wrestling from Hollywood?

AP:  People may get a chuckle out of this because it’ll read arrogantly, but I’ve never done anything in the business that I didn’t want to do.  That includes the things I didn’t like.  I think when you work hard and treat people fairly for a long enough period of time, you EARN respect.  And that respect allows you to be involved on a deeper level because people trust you and your opinions and ideas.  On top of that, I had a chance to learn from some incredible wrestling minds.

That said, with the exception of when I was writing the show, it was never a case of “I’m doing this.”  I ALWAYS – even as the booker – encouraged a “back-and-forth” exchange to find a creative common ground.  The guys like to have input, because they usually know themselves better than anyone else (me included), and a player will play better when he feels like he has a hand in calling the plays.

Usually, an idea would get presented and I’d either like it or not.  If I liked it, we’d do it, and if I didn’t, we’d tweak it until I did.  And along the way I’d do my best to make the idea better as we went along and hoped that we all were able to learn something constructive from the process that we could apply later.  That kind of interaction has seemed to work well for me over the years.

JC:  2013 you were honored by Wrestling Cares Association for your distinguished career in professional wrestling, 2014 you received the Men’s Wrestling Award by the Cauliflower Alley Club and in 2015 you were inducted into the National Wrestling Alliance Hall of Fame.  How do you feel about receiving these types of honors?  Is there one of them that has more meaning for you than the others?

AP:  It’s nice to be recognized for “time served” (laughs).  Seriously though, it tells me that along the way I’ve done some things the right way, and that feels good.  It would be hard for me to put one honor over the top of another, because they all come from a really good place, but it is pretty surreal on a number of levels being included in the Hall of Fame of the NWA.

JC:  Your first televised WWE match was 18 years ago this month.  What can you tell us about working WWE Dark Matches and how that helped grow your brand on the indies?

AP:  Wow, really?  It’s been THAT long?  Now I feel old.  I don’t know that it helped at all with growing a brand on the independents, but it did open my eyes very early on into the world I’m now fortunate enough to be teaching in and for my money was an invaluable part of my journey.

JC:  The cat has been out of the bag for quite some time about your involvement in WWE’s Performance Center.  Some people have assumed that this means you’re a part of NXT.  Can you define your current role with the WWE?

AP:  Not sure exactly what you mean by “part of NXT”, but I am fortunate and honored to be working alongside the incredible men and women at the WWE Performance Center as they continue their journeys in the industry.

As far as defining my role with WWE and the Performance Center, I don’t think there is one word that does it.  The truth is that my role has continued to evolve over the course of the last 15 months and I’m grateful for it.  To be a source of knowledge and experience for the future stars of WWE programming is an incredible responsibility, and one I don’t take lightly.

So whether I’m listed as a “coach”, “trainer”, “producer”, “agent”, “talent”, or ALL of those terms doesn’t matter to me, if that makes sense.  What matters to me is that I am able to continue to contribute in whatever fashion the company feels is best suited to my strengths.

JC:  15 months of collaborating with the Performance Center and coaching the future men and women of the WWE, did you ever think that on day one, you’d still be a part of this more than a year later?

AP:  [laughs] I don’t know of anyone that enters into a business relationship hoping it DOESN’T last, do you?  Of course I saw myself continuing in the relationship; otherwise I’d have never started it to begin with.

JC:  How did you get “discovered” by the WWE for your current role at the Performance Center?  Was there a specific person or group of people who helped you get this job with the WWE?

AP:  Oh, I think I’m incredibly fortunate more than anything, and I don’t think there was ever any “discovery”.  I’ve been lucky enough to have made connections and forged relationships with so many incredible people in our industry over the last 20 years, people in positions of respect and authority, and through those encounters on top of my body of work I’ve been able to get some opportunities.

NXT_5AIt really comes down to having a reputation with a track record behind it and then having the right people in the position to vouch for it all on top of the timing to make it work.  In my mind, it honestly all goes back to that “work hard, treat people fairly, earn respect” thing I’m always blabbing about.  As cliché as it sounds, it perfectly sums up my entire professional journey.

But as it goes with anything, once the time is right and the doors are opened it is all about delivering on expectation and I’m proud of my progress as a coach and here we are 15 months later.  And on Monday I’ll be back in Orlando doing it some more.  I really think it is the absolute PERFECT job for me in the industry.

I am excited and look forward to the evolution of the relationship between WWE and I and I’m wholly grateful for it.  Beyond words, really.

JC:  How much of your role in Ring of Honor will translate to your responsibilities in NXT?

AP:  I assume you’re referring to my management roles in Ring of Honor, and there are some direct parallels in terms of responsibility, and others still that won’t apply at all.  The majority of my responsibilities in terms of the brand NXT are thus far deeply rooted in talent interaction and instruction, which is where I feel like I really flourish.  That said, I have the ability to do other things outside of the “in-ring” or “behind-the-camera” stuff, and that makes my role an interesting one.

JC:  Can you explain what NXT will mean to the future of the WWE?

AP:  I think a lot of that depends on what NXT evolves into.  We’re seeing some of that evolution happen right now with the advent and attention given toward the “Takeover” series, and now NXT live events outside of Florida.  It seems to me like NXT is rapidly growing in the direction of becoming a thriving brand on its own under the WWE umbrella, and that – in no way – can be a bad thing for anyone involved. Myself included.

JC:  NXT surprised a lot of wrestling fans by reintroducing former ECW World Champion Rhyno as well as The Brian Kendrick.  In your opinion, does this benefit the new talent at NXT?

AP:  I think it is a tremendous move, and one that will definitely benefit the roster.  I’ve always felt like the best performers are those that are well-rounded and able to fit comfortably in any number of situations.  The more experience you have, the easier it is to plan or program for you.  On top of that, these are talents that can teach you while they’re working with you.  I would be shocked if we don’t see more of this kind of “mentoring”.  You never know who might show up…and I think that’s equally good for the fans.

JC:  After nearly three months of being out of the squared circle, what most do you miss about being an active wrestler?  Do you think you will ever have that itch to step back into the ring?

AP:  It’s been three months, but it seems like I’ve hardly been OUT of the ring!  But I know what you mean.

I miss the locker room banter; the stuff the fans don’t ever really get a chance to see.  I miss the conversations on the plane or in the car between towns.  It’s hard to replicate any of that, even on video game shoots or in a training capacity because the interactions and situations are totally different.

I also really miss the emotional chess match that I used to play with the paying audience, trying to get them to feel what we wanted them to feel when we wanted them to feel it.  There’s nothing like that.  That’s the art.  I’ll always long for that.

But the bumps and bruises and worse, the constant travel, and the hustle of the independent circuit are old mistresses I’ve kissed for the final time.  And I’m sure I’ll always have the “itch” to perform, and I’m not saying I won’t ever indulge the scratching of that itch, but if I am going to go that route it’ll be in front of a much different audience than it was for me in the past.

And that possibility isn’t as far-fetched as one might think.

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