Unbeknownst to most, this past Saturday at SoCal Pro’s show in Oceanside, Devin Sparks may have wrestled his last match. I had a chance to talk with him earlier this week about why this might be the end and to look back at his career. From his start with Mike Rapada, to DDT in Japan and wrestling Kota Ibushi, to the American Kaiju on CWFH, and everything in between. Here is my conversation with Devin Sparks.
Steve: Okay, so I’m here with Devin Sparks and I guess we’ll start at the main reason we set this interview up. I know we talked, I think it was probably in October or November at a SoCal Pro show, and you said that you were considering retiring, and that you only had a couple matches left. And then, last weekend at SoCal Pro you kind of said that your match with Ju Dizz was probably your last match. To get into that first, why now? What’s your reasoning for wanting to hang it up?
Devin Sparks: Well, I was going to try to do it until April, when I would have turned 31. I had a bunch of stuff lined up. I had a full schedule, for the most part, till the end of the year and through January. But, I wanted to spend more time at home with my baby and be there as she’s growing up and I wouldn’t be able to. I had been going up to Arizona a lot to work shows out there. And the [Championship Wrestling from] Hollywood tapings are kind of an all day affair too.
So, anytime I wrestle, it’s like I’m not just missing the four hours of the show. Especially if it’s a show that is far away from where I live. It could be the whole day and then the next day I’m sleeping in. So, it’s a day and a half. It’s just not fair to her and my wife. I wanted to do it until at least my 31st birthday, but I had back to back concussions and that’s lingered for a little bit longer than I was comfortable with. So, I cleared my whole schedule out and said, “Okay, I’ll do these SoCal Pro shows and I’ll do my last match at the January show in Oceanside so I can wrestle in front of some of my friends and family and call it a day from there.
Steve: Now, you never publicly announced anything prior to the match, and nothing was said at the show about it being possibly your last match. Was there a reason that you made that decision kind of not to make it public and just kind of low-key have your last match?
Devin Sparks: Yeah, I’m not like … I don’t have some big following in California. I’m not some big name that’s retiring so it doesn’t make sense to make some big deal out of it. The only people that it really probably matters to are mainly my family because they’ll get to see me a little bit more. So, had I had a little bit more success where I was wrestling four days a week all over the country and going back to Japan multiple times, than I’d probably made a little bit of a bigger deal out of it and do like a loser leaves town or career vs. career match, something like that.
Steve: With that out of the way, let’s go back here. Were you always a wrestling fan growing up?
Devin Sparks: Yeah, yeah I was. I started … I mean, I remember watching when I was two years old and just being really fascinated. I don’t want to call wrestling my babysitter, but I mean, no matter what I was doing, no matter how busy I was, or how crazy I was as a kid, how much sports I had going on, if you put me down in front of a TV screen while wrestling was on I was hooked. I remember the match that did it for me was Brett Hart verus Owen Hart in a cage at Summer Slam.
Steve: And then when and where did you start training at?
Devin Sparks: I did like a handful of things in San Bernardino, and then I met Mike Rapada up there, and then came down to San Diego to go to school. So, came down here and started training immediately. I trained with him. SoCal Crazy would also stay late to train with me. Probably about an hour or two every time. He’d train with me there and then we trained in a lucha ring, the LLI ring, probably a year or two after that. And there’d be some lucha guys who’d come in and train there too. That’s how I got my start just as far as training goes.
Steve: How did you first find a school? Or what was the moment where you say, “Hey, I want to do this”?
Devin Sparks: Senior year in high school you had to do a project that was either go to the college that you wanted to go to, you had to do a tour and get information on tuition and all of that, or you could job shadow a job that you wanted to do. So I was like, “I’m going to see if there’s any wrestling schools.” And I started looking around and eventually made introductions with Rapada and started training there. That’s how I figured everything out and found a wrestling school.
Steve: Then early on you were wrestling mainly in the San Diego area I think, like SAW and New Wave.
Devin Sparks: Yeah, and I trained with New Wave for a while as well. But, it was mainly SAW and New Wave. I did two or three, maybe just two SoCal Pro shows when they first started as well.
Actually, I did a bunch of LLII shows too. So, that was … I probably had more matches there than I had at New Wave, SAW, and SoCal Pro combined.
Steve: If I am remembering this correctly, people started really talking about you when you started wrestling at EPIC War. Was that your big break?
Devin Sparks: Yeah, I did EPIC War and the West Coast Wrestling Company together … I mean, they almost ran at the same time. West Coast would run Saturday and I think Gary [Gary Yap, EPIC War’s promoter] would run on a Thursday or Sunday. EPIC War had some shows in the West Coast Wrestling Company training area, which actually looked really nice.
So, yeah, that’s probably when it started picking up. I won the West Coast Heavyweight Championship there and then I did a lot of stuff with Gary, some online shows he was doing.
Steve: Yeah, I remember those shows getting a lot of attention because of his online presence, when that really wasn’t happening so much in wrestling.
Devin Sparks: Yeah, it was getting some people talking about it. That was kind of cool.
Steve: You also started Championship Wrestling from Hollywood, or NWA, Hollywood I guess at the time, a little after that?
Devin Sparks: I mean, as far as my main promotion, I guess. I’m trying to think because I did … You don’t want me to list all the places that I worked, right? You just want the main places.
Steve: No, people go to cagematch or something if they want to see a bigger list.
Devin Sparks: I started doing some stuff in Arizona. And before I went to Hollywood, I took some time off to go to Louisville and did OVW for a summer. It wasn’t till after I came back from that that I did Hollywood.
Steve: When you were at OVW, was it with WWE still at that time?
Devin Sparks: No, it was TNA at the time.
Steve: Did you ever get to get on a TNA show?
Devin Sparks: Nope. It was a really weird set up. That was probably part of the reason I didn’t stay too long is even though they were under the TNA banner, the way it was explained to me is that they really didn’t do much other than the guys who were signed, like their goal was just to get them reps in the ring. So, if you weren’t signed, anyone on the OVW roster wasn’t affiliated in any way with TNA. So, I could be explaining that wrong, or it might have been explained to me wrong, but that was kind of disheartening for me. So, I was like, “Oh, okay. That’s …” That was the whole reason I went out there was because there was a connection.
I’d wanted to train with Rip [Rogers] forever, so that was cool. I got to train with him over the summer. So, that was awesome. But, yeah. For the most part, from everything they told me TNA didn’t really oversee them in anyway. I remember there was, twice, one of their baseball shows that TNA was doing, like baseball stadium shows, and there was a minor league team maybe an hour and a half away, and I showed up for training early, or stayed late that day. I forget. I was just asking questions like, “Hey, what time do you guys want us to go home? Do you want us to go help set up the ring for the show that’s coming to town? Do you guys need extra … What’s going on?” And they were looking at me like I was an idiot. They were like, “You can’t help out. The TNA show?” They were like, “Why the hell would we have anything to do with the TNA show?”
“I don’t know, it’s the fucking logo hanging off the building?” I had no idea. And then, before I left TNA ran a show there in Louisville and it was kind of the same thing where they were coming in. I asked them again, “Hey guys. You need …” I figured this time they have to need at least bodies to set up the ring, or whatever the case is. I’ll help and get a look at what it looks like and how a professional wrestling company is run day to day. Look behind the scenes.
I think they only sent like two of the roster guys to the show. Like two of the guys were actually under TNA contracts and then were being used on that show. And the other ones weren’t even requested I think. They were all right. It was just, I don’t know, so weird that they weren’t … I don’t know if there was friction or maybe if they just didn’t know what they were doing yet. I don’t remember how early on they were with TNA, but… The whole vibe to me was really strange.
Steve: It always seemed like such a weird, poorly run company going on over 15 years now.
Devin Sparks: Yeah.
Steve: Everyone’s always expecting them to go out of business, and they just keep hanging on somehow. It’s actually looking better recently though.
Devin Sparks: Yeah, I mean, I’m happy for the guys who are on the roster, but at the same time I just wish it was a little easier. The way they were running it just seems like they’re going against the grain and everything, and it just looks so difficult from the outside. They keep changing management, keep changing the name. It’s rough.
Steve: And I know you were talking about going up to Arizona and it’s weird. I think that’s the first time that we’d ever actually spoken in person, it was actually in Arizona. I was out there to watch the Padres in spring training and happened to go to a Party Hard Wrestling show. And I was kind of surprised at how over that you were in Arizona. I had no idea that you were a regular out there, but I mean you definitely were one of the biggest reactions on that show. There were a couple of local guys like Nick Tendo and a few others that probably got a bigger reaction, but you were up there. They really presented you as a big deal on the show as well.
Devin Sparks: Yeah, I mean, for whatever reason I really do well with the Arizona crowd. I mean, I’m not a super flashy worker. I do a lot of crowd work too, so I think maybe that. I have no idea. You’ve seen me work, you saw my match this weekend with Ju Dizz. I really didn’t do anything. I have fun in there and that’s about it. I try to talk and interact with the crowd as much as possible. So, I’m sure that had something to do with it.
Steve: Do you sense the crowd being different when you go to Arizona versus Southern California?
Devin Sparks: Yeah, absolutely. I think so. I mean, they treat the wrestlers different in the ring I think. It’s easier to treat them differently. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I wouldn’t do the same stuff I do in front of the Arizona crowd as I would in front of the Southern California California crowd. They’re just way easier to work, and way easier to please. I think half of that is … I mean, in Southern California you have what, four to five shows running any given weekend?
Steve: Really any weekend day.
Devin Sparks: Yeah, there are so many shows here … I mean, you’ve got Bar Wrestling on Thursdays now too.
Devin Sparks: So, I think they get less of it so it’s probably more of a treat when there’s a show. And then you bring a guy out from California who’s got a Japanese gimmick. It just… I don’t know, for whatever reason it works.
Steve: Speaking of the American Kaiju gimmick, how did that come about?
Devin Sparks: That’s a funny story. So, when Rick Ellis and I went out to Japan and wrestled for DDT, we were trying to figure out what we were going to do when we were coming back, and we were the Arrogant Bastards at the time, and I thought, “Man, wouldn’t that be great if we could just flip this thing on its head and…” We’re Japanese superstars. No one can touch us. Basically, you wouldn’t understand because Japan is light years ahead of the US as far as wrestling talent is concerned. That’s why you don’t know about it. And we kind of discussed this for a little bit. We didn’t have a name down. We didn’t have anything else down other than wouldn’t that be cool to do that gimmick? We’d wear a pair of Ribera Steak House jackets to the ring.
So, when we came back we had a pretty decent schedule ahead of us and Ric messed up his knee. He’d always had some knee problems and he messed it up pretty bad. So, that was it. I don’t believe he’s wrestled a single match since we’ve been back from Japan. So, I was like, “Okay, well I need to do something different now. I’ve been tagging for the last year and a half. Now it’s time to go back to singles. Why don’t I take that gimmick and run with it?” And I’ll just do it myself.
That’s what I did. I came up with the name Kaiju because Kaiju is a mysterious monster. It’s like a Godzilla type thing. I’m sure you’ve seen Pacific Rim. So, I was like, “I’ll make it that I’m supposed to be larger than life with Kaiju, a big monster that’s larger than life.” I compare myself to that. Obviously I’m not a big man. I’m not a big guy, so that’d be kind of a funny title to give myself and walk out being like, “I’m king shit.” But, that’s where I got that name and the gimmick. That’s why at Hollywood I come out with the young boys. Originally they were going out there like with the cold spray so if I took a bad bump or wherever, I’d go to the corner again, and they’d spray down my back with cold spray.
Steve: Yeah, it seems like Hollywood kind of became your home promotion after you came back from Japan. How’s your experience been there doing the gimmick on TV? What kind of feedback have you gotten?
Devin Sparks: Oh, man. It’s awesome. I really like working for Hollywood. I’m bummed I’m going to miss the PP3 tournament this year. My last match there I qualified for the PP3 tournament, and then I got these concussions and I was like, “Man, I’ve got to clear my schedule and take a bunch of time off before I attempt to go back in the ring.” So, I let them know at the end to find a replacement for me. That was a big bummer for me because before I finished I wanted to do the PP3 tournament. And their new TV deal is pretty nice. I have some relatives in other states that would have been able to watch it and follow along, so that was a huge bummer for me. To this day I’m really bummed about that. But, I really like working for them. It’s actually the way the show is run. It’s kind of similar to what I saw in OVW, but I don’t know. I like it.
For me, I’m deaf in one ear. I’m deaf in my left ear. So, it’s really hard for me to wrestle in front of a crowd on only a few sides of the ring. Because they run it like the old studio style, keep you up there where they have the camera on one side and the whole crowd on the other. So, depending on where I am in the ring, it’s really difficult for me to hear the crowd flipping out. That was the one thing that I liked but also didn’t like. I didn’t like it because it made me uncomfortable, but I liked it because it forced me to do something different. It forced me to try harder than that. I tried harder, but I had to switch things up in the ring.
Steve: Kind of going back a little bit to DDT, how did you get contacted by them? How did that work as far as you going over there with Ric?
Devin Sparks: We were just talking. Ric has always wanted to wrestle in Japan. I wanted to as well. But, for him it was like, “I have to wrestle in Japan before I’m done.” And for me I was like, “Oh, I’d love to wrestle in Japan, but I’m not going to die if I don’t.” We literally because we didn’t know the process, we reached out to DDT, and we reached out to Zero 1 and Kaientai Dojo. We reached out to those three and we hadn’t heard anything back. It’d been like a month and a half, and I was … Oddly enough, I was in Peoria [Arizona] for Padres spring training. My buddy was out there, and we’d just come back from a night of drinking, heavy drinking. And I got a couple emails back on the same day from both DDT and Zero 1. And I was like, “No way. There’s no way these came back on the same day both saying, ‘Hey, come on out here. We could use you.'” And I hit up Ric and just kind of went from there. DDT was the bigger promotion, but I think there was more dates guaranteed for Zero 1. When we were listing out pros and cons, we knew if we went with DDT we’d have a chance to wrestle at Korakuen Hall, which is the place to be. And we knew we’d have a chance, potentially, to wrestle Kota Ibushi, and there was all this stuff. It’s no contest. We’ve got to go with them. Which was great because our first show in Japan was at Korakuen Hall. Two shows later we got to wrestle Kota Ibushi, so that’s pretty good stuff.
Steve: Yeah, I mean that’s definitely something … I think that’s a lot of people’s goals. I mean, that’s always something you can say. “Hey, at least I got to do this” where a good percentage of wrestlers never get that opportunity.
Devin Sparks: Yeah, it’s great. Because when I came back and did the Japanese gimmick, I’ve been wrestling Japanese guys all over the place.
Steve: I was going to mention that, that every Japanese guy that comes into Championship Wrestling from Hollywood, you were the guy that they had wrestle them.
Devin Sparks: Oh, yeah. It’s perfect. It’s like, “All right. I’ll work them.” No problem. I loved it, man. That was probably one of the best things that came out of coming back from Japan and the gimmick is I have footage of me wrestling all those guys. That part’s been a blast.
Steve: Now that you’re retiring, are there any regrets that you have where you’ll, “Oh, man. I wish I could have done this in wrestling.”
Devin Sparks: Yeah, I mean I never had a chance to do a cage match. I would have liked to have finished the PP3 tournament. I want to go back to Japan. I’ve always wanted to wrestle in Europe too. I think everyone’s goal, in one way or another is to wrestle for WWE. So, there are things that I’d like to do, but it’s not going to kill me if I don’t ever do it.
Steve: You got to be on WWE TV at least…
Devin Sparks: Yeah, see that was cool.
Steve: So you got that at the very least.
Devin Sparks: Exactly. I mean, it was fun. It was a good experience. I loved every minute of it, and I’ll still probably keep my name in the system, so if they come to town I’m still going to update my WWE page and if there’s an opportunity coming I’m still going to do it.
Steve: Looking back, who’s some of your favorite moments? Some of your favorite opponents?
Devin Sparks: Wrestling Kota Ibushi was awesome. I don’t know how familiar you are with DDT, but they have these outdoor matches that are kind of crazy. We wrestled throughout the arena to the outside, and he did a moonsault to us from the top of a moving truck. And then, while we were stuck in a submission, he was shooting fireworks at us. So that was awesome. That’s also where the jacket gimmick came from. I wore it to the ring there, and I didn’t take it off. It’d gone over with the crowd once they finally stripped me of the jacket. So I was kind of “I’m going to do that. Let’s keep that and do that in the States.”
Also, when I was West Coast Wrestling Company Heavyweight champion I got to wrestle Eddie Edwards when he had the Ring of Honor world title. So that was really neat. I mean, those are two of my favorites off the top of my head. Let’s see. I really enjoyed my last match against Ju Dizz at SoCal Pro. That was a fun one. So, I’ve had a lot of good matches, but the two that stick out to me most are Kota Ibushi and Eddie Edwards.
Steve: Do you think there’s a chance that you’ll wrestle again?
Devin Sparks: Absolutely. Like, I would say I’m retiring, but at the same time I would like my daughter to see me wrestle once, just one time, and she’s too young now. That would be a goal of mine, but it would have to make sense. Of course, if a great opportunity came up to wrestle for a promotion or whatever, than I’d have to look at that too. But, for now, I fully anticipate I probably won’t wrestle another match this year.
Steve: Before I let you go, is there anything you want to say or anything you want to cover that we haven’t covered?
Devin Sparks: Maybe just some advice for some of the young guys. Don’t ever hesitate to ask anyone for help. I feel like I’ve been really blessed in a way. Anyone I’ve ever asked for help in wrestling was usually very kind in helping me. People that I just didn’t know or didn’t have connections with, like I asked Joey Ryan for help a long time ago when he was in TNA. I asked him about some information for OVW and I think probably some character stuff even and he gave me some advice for no reason. Before that, when I was wrestling for West Coast I sent off a match to TJ Perkins that I really liked and I asked him, “Hey, what do you think?” I think he didn’t get back to me for like a week or so. And then when he finally did, I mean it was a full fledged write up of our match, our 15 minute match, citing like, “Hey, three minutes, this is really good. Or this didn’t look great. You should work on this.” It was really … I was really impressed that he took the time to do that.
Later on, Ric and I, we wanted to train with TJ and we hit him up. This was before I went to OVW. We hit him up to just train us privately, and he would come down to San Diego and he trained me and Ric for a summer. I mean, again, other than that one interaction with him, we really hadn’t talked to him too much.
When we went off to DDT, we messaged Kenny Omega just, “Hey, we’re heading out here. We’re curious what advice do you have.” And he ended up chatting with us, this was just over email, or messenger, or something, but he ended up chatting with us a couple times. Real nice to us, no reason to chat with us at all, but got some great advice from him. The Young Bucks have always been really, really helpful for me and Ric too.
I mean, just people that maybe we’re like, “Why would they help us? Why would we ask them?” Anytime we’ve ever asked, or anytime I’ve ever asked, I’ve always gotten a positive response. Don’t be bashful. Just because someone might be star struck, or not even star struck but just think, “Oh, I’m not at their level.” I’ve been amazed at how many people are willing to help anyone who’s asking. And, professionally outside of wrestling, I’ve never seen that in any business or work environment, especially in wrestling where people are worried about keeping their spots. I’ve always found that fascinating that they were so helpful and so willing to give any advice or information, or pass down any knowledge they had. So that’s the only thing that I would say.
Steve: All right, well I think that about wraps it up. I’ve enjoyed watching you wrestle. I’m a big fan of the gimmick, the American Kaiju gimmick and hopefully we’ll see you in the ring again.
Devin Sparks: Thanks buddy. I’d love to, I really would. I just… I’ve got to get my body healthy, and my head, and take care of my family, and figure things out. As long as everything lines up than I would definitely be open to coming back someday.