Ricky J McKenzie debuted for Grand Pro Wrestling at their 2009 event ‘Carpe Diem’ and has become one of the company’s brightest stars, being pegged by many (both within the industry and by fans) as having incredible potential. From Blackpool, he would travel to GPW’s training facilities in Openshaw, Manchester to learn the ropes from Dylan Roberts, Johnnie Bannigan and The Juggernaut and has had a varied and storied run with the promotion, including a reign as GPW Tag Team Champion and being the Miss Northwest Invitational winner. He would also start branching out to other companies, both in the UK and further afield, including Kamikaze Pro Wrestling, PAID Promotions (now known as Alpha Omega Wrestling) and tours of China. He was even credited by Zack Gibson in an interview with The Liverpool Echo as being the one who organised for Gibson to be able to work over in China this year (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/former-liverpool-accountant-king-ring-7627546).
He has become a favourite of fans around the country and in February 2015 he paid a touching tribute to a fan who tragically passed away, dedicating a match against Bubblegum to her memory (http://www.thevisitor.co.uk/news/local/loud-cheers-of-tribute-to-tragic-wrestling-fan-1-7220942). The following month, he recieved a Young Wrestler of the Year Award at the Northern Wrestlers Reunion from British wrestling legend Marty Jones. Having just recently returned from his latest tour in China, RJM kindly granted me this interview about his journey so far.
What are your earliest memories of being a fan of pro wrestling, and what made you want to become a wrestler?
My earliest memory is watching a film my Grandad had taped for me (Land Before Time, if you were wondering) and when it’d finished, the tape flicked over to the end of Raw just as Kane was making his entrance. I was just in absolute awe at this massive red man walking down to the ring with fire going off all around him. I was hooked before anybody had even done a move. I try to never forget or lose sight of that.
When all my friends grew out of wrestling, I never did, I just became more and more obsessed. I don’t really remember I specific moment where I said, “that’s what I want to do.” I just knew that I did. When I became old enough to start attending a training school, it just seemed like the natural thing to do.
How did you find a training school?
I literally just typed, “Wrestling Training Blackpool” into Google, and the first thing that came up was a guy named Shak Khan who trained at a gym not far from where I lived. I called him and he quoted me £5,000 to be trained by him, he told me that it may seem like a lot of money, but once promoters caught wind that I was his protege, I’d be wrestling all over the world and making that money back in no time. This seemed perfectly reasonable and I called my Grandad straight away and told him I needed £5,000. He replied that 1) I did not need £5,000. And 2) He would not be giving me £5,000.
So I continued my Google searching and came across the GPW gym in Manchester. They didn’t charge £5,000, didn’t fill me with any false hope and that was where I began my training.
What is the hardest part about training to become a professional wrestler?
As far as the actual wrestling training goes, I picked things up pretty quickly, there’s a lot of bumps, bruises and scrapes that your body just isn’t used to at first. The hardest part for me was looking in the mirror and asking myself, “Would anybody pay their ticket money to see you?” I knew the answer was no and immediately started to work on my body, appearance and the way I carried myself. I’m still by no means a finished product and I’m still learning in all aspects.
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to get into wrestling?
My advice would be to ask advice from people who have been there, done it and have done this for a living.
How can an aspiring student tell what will be a good school and what would be a waste of their time and money?
The first thing I’d do is take a look at who will be training you. What are their credentials? Take a look at the talent that the school has produced, are they of a high standard? If the answer to both is yes then it’s probably a good school. If not, then steer clear.
How did you come up with your ring name or was the name given to you by a trainer/promoter?
Me and Johnnie Brannigan spent a good few car journeys trying to come up with my name, I think I very nearly ended up being called Ricky Rose or Ricky Martini, both of which are a bit camp. Johnnie was into the idea of using the three initials as it’s easy to chant and remember, it was him who gave me RJM.
How did it feel to walk out in front of a crowd for the first time, and how long before your confidence grew to a point of feeling comfortable in front of an audience?
It was incredible. I’d spent so much time, money and energy over the previous 12 months and the second I stepped through the curtain I knew it was worth it. I thought I was comfortable straight away, but looking back, I clearly wasn’t. I didn’t know where to put my hands, my posture was weird, my eyes were darting all over the place. I don’t really know how long it took, it’s a constant process, I just gradually started to feel more natural out there.
Which British wrestlers do you feel have made the biggest impact on the sport worldwide?
There’s too many to list and all for different reasons, you’ve obviously got Marty Jones, Mark Rocco, Dave Finlay, Johnny Saint who were all innovators and pioneers of a lot of styles we see today worldwide. William Regal, Dave Taylor, Robbie Brookside, all have impacted wrestling in a positive way.
What has British wrestling contributed to the wider wrestling world?
A lot! If you watch the matches between Marty Jones and Mark Rocco in the late 70s, you’re definitely watching the origins of some of the popular styles we see today. It’s pretty well known that guys from America, Canada and Japan would watch a lot of tapes from England and apply bits of what they saw. To this day, the summer camp run in England is considered the best learning experience available and wrestlers from all over the world continue to come over here for that experience.
Who from the current crop of British workers that you’ve seen or worked with do you feel have potential to become big stars in wrestling?
It’d be really difficult to say, but some of the guys that I really love to watch and learn from are CJ Banks, Zack Gibson, Nathan Cruz, Bubblegum, Pete Dunne… I’m definitely missing loads out but those come to mind off the top of my head. I think Craig Kollins is going to be ridiculously good too. It’d be nice if those guys could one day get international recognition.
Do you think that British wrestling can be a strong national territory in it’s own right again?
I think it’s already a strong territory in its own right. It can’t be compared to the World of Sport days anymore, that was an different era that can never ever be replicated. But, UK promotions are packing out venues every week up and down the country, UK talent are getting flown out on international tours, International talent are coming over here for work, there’s the beginnings of some TV exposure again. It’s definitely a good time to be a part of British Wrestling.
How hard is it to balance wrestling and real life commitments?
It can definitely be hard, I don’t wrestle full time but even for me it’s meant quitting jobs when the China tours came along. One year I was in China for Christmas, I had surgery on my left knee due to a wrestling injury that put my life on hold for a while, I got myself into debt so I could afford to go to training every week and buy my wrestling gear. Family meals and things like that become a bit difficult when you’re trying to stick to a diet. I think that’s pretty natural though, when you get hooked on anything, it just naturally has an effect over all areas of your life.
Which have been your favourite companies to work for so far and are there any that you particularly look forward to working for?
GPW and PAID Promotions (Now Alpha Omega Wrestling, Formerly XWA) are my two main promotions and the two places I’ve wrestled most. GPW is special to me as it’s where I started, that audience has seen me grow from a boy into a man. The PAID fans are some of the best, most emotionally invested fans in the country. But honestly, I relish any time I’m given the opportunity to go out in front of an audience. It’d definitely be cool to branch out a little more around the UK and Europe.
What are your ultimate goals in the business and where do you see yourself in the future?
I want to keep improving, keep learning, be as versatile and adaptable as possible. Be different. My goal is to make it in WWE, that’s where I want to be.
How did it feel to recieve the Young Wrestler of the Year award from Marty Jones at the recent Leeds Wrestlers Reunion (March 2015)?
That was a really cool moment for me. I can’t put into words the amount of respect I have for everybody at those reunions. The amount of experience and knowledge gathered together in one room is absolutely overwhelming. Marty Jones has really taken me under his wing and has become a mentor and a friend to me, he’s one of the very best to ever lace up a pair of boots so to receive the award from him was awesome.