Tony Kozina is a wrestling veteran, he was wrestled for many of the big promotions in the US and is the trainer of both (one half of the American Wolves) Davey Richards and (one half of reDRagon) Kyle O’Reilly.
For those of us who don’t know who you are, could you please introduce yourself?
Greetings and salutations everyone! This is Tony Kozina, I’ve been wrestling professionally now for over 18 years and have pretty much covered all of North America. I’ve worked for nearly every promotion from the biggest to smallest.
What prompted you into becoming a professional wrestler?
For me personally, professional wrestling was always what I wanted to do. It was either that or play drums in KISS! Everything else was just a job, so at some point, after working a regular job and going to school part time here and there, I just had to take the chance, to chase after this crazy dream.
Your training was with (ex WWF/WCW star) Billy Jack Haynes, (the first Doink) Matt Osbourne and (ex WCCW Heavyweight Title holder) Michelle Star. What was it like training with those guys and how did they differ with styles and techniques?
Training was very, very difficult. Billy and Matt were territory wrestlers, ‘real’ professional wrestlers. Matt beat me pretty good to see if I could survive. He didn’t do it out of ill intent, because at some point, he just looked at me with his smirk when we were talking and he simply said “it’s in your blood isn’t it?” I nodded and said “yeah”. He said you’re going to be just fine and then he gave me a little left shot to the mouth, haha. He’d smack his chest to get the sound effect but punch me too…lol!
The learning I did with Starr was more on the road, learning all aspects of putting a show together. He would work with us on slowing things down in the ring and making them count. I remember learning the most, what it took to run the show and the tours we did in northern British Columbia. That chance to learn doesn’t come along very often at all, for anyone. It was because I continued to ask questions and offer help and just kind of stick my nose in there, trying to play a bigger role in helping everything run smoothly. I just wanted to be on the road 365 days a year, I still do.
In your early days, you mainly wrestled for the NWA affiliate Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling (ECCW), how was it for a starting point in your career?
ECCW was absolutely the perfect place for me to go because like I just said, they let me get in there and learn all aspects of the wrestling business, from getting ticket outlets, to talking to potential sponsors. Learning how to hustle and sell tickets and get the word out there in the communities that wrestling was coming to town.
Whilst there, you won the newly created (at the time), NWA Pacific Northwest Junior Heavyweight Championship. How did it feel to be given the nod to hold an NWA title?
Well, as a young wrestler working his ass off, to have won a title, that was affirmation that I’m doing a good job. I learned early on, that you need to keep your ego in check because you really didn’t win or lose anything, your being awarded the top spot, so it’s something that should be held with pride.
In 2003, you had your first proper chance to work matches in WWE, how did those opportunities come about and what was it like working for WWE?
My work with WWE actually started in July of 2001, unfortunately, it was the last weekend that they were using un-contracted talent, so I didn’t see a WWE ring again until 2003. Then, through a connection I had, anytime they were on the West Coast, I was booked. From Los Angeles, to Salt Lake City, Portland, Boise, Spokane and up to Kelowna British Columbia.
I had some amazing experiences with a company that treated me and my family like absolute gold when I was a nobody. You’ll never hear me say one bad thing about WWE and the way they treat people but that comes from my own personal experience. I can’t speak on behalf of anyone else. Through these eyes, as an independent wrestler, the size of Rey Mysterio Jr, who would poke his nose in every 3 or 4 months, people remembered me, I got wonderful advice and constructive criticisms and praise from nearly everybody, from the top on down. Absolutely fantastic morale booster!
PWG, FIP, ROH, AAW and CHIKARA have been stops for you over the years, did you enjoy your time in those promotions?
I’ve enjoyed my time with every single promotion I’ve been to, no matter how tiny or large. Even the crappiest show, usually leaves the great memory, even if it’s absolutely ridiculous, haha! I’m a nut for the road, so I’m always eager to go to a new tiny little city that I’ve never been to before.
You had a match at the New Japan Dojo in LA, how did that come about and do you think you benefited from the experience?
My time with NJPW USA was simply because I busted my ass, built a solid reputation and was mixing it up with the guys who were rising stars at that time. Training when I could down at the Inoki dojo alongside Rocky Romero, Danielson, Joe, Ricky Reyes, Vampiro, there were all sorts of guys coming in and out. Now granted, I only was able to make it down a few times, BUT, when they announced they were going to start something, I was invited to participate. As both as a wrestler and as an agent, behind the scenes. I loved that because, like I said earlier, about my time in Canada with ECCW, I’ve been obsessed to learn every aspect of the wrestling business. And yes, I benefitted greatly from that experience, right from the start, when David Marquez took me with him to pick up Sal at the airport. He said, “I want you to meet Sal (from FIP/Evolve), he’s gonna start running in Florida, so it’ll be good for you to know him. He’s just starting in the wrestling business.” A year later, I had my first matches with FIP in Florida.
During your career, you’ve faced opponents such as (NWA/WCW legend) Ricky Morton, Spanky (The Brian Kendrick), TJ Perkins (TNA star Manik), Roderick Strong, Matt Sydal (ex WWE star Evan Bourne), (TNA star) Austin Aries and one half of The Addiction, Christopher Daniels amongst many others. Out of all the matches you’ve had, is there any that stick in your mind?
Oh boy, so many great matches where to begin? I’m so lucky that I can say one of my most memorable matches was just a few months ago for TNA in Orlando, Florida. My match with Sabu in Eugene Oregon was an incredible experience. My WWE matches we’re always amazing. I always work best under pressure.
For the sake of history and because of the guys I worked with, my Ring Of Honor tag match with TJ Perkins against Rocky and Davey, at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, is easily one of the top three. It’s an historical wrestling building and three of my favourite performers. I think the world of those guys. Talk about a treat, gosh. I don’t want to exclude anybody that was a favourite but I could ramble on for hours.
My matches against Christopher Daniels when we were both coming up were great! I got to wrestle him all over the country.
From a personal standpoint, my matches with Ricky Morton are very special because I was influenced by the Crockett promotion that he was a part of. For me, going into that match, I wanted to show him that I learned the right way. When I got to the back room after the match, Davey was standing there with the biggest smile. Then Ricky looked at me and says, “There he is, come here, now that’s workin’!” and he gave me a big hug.
So through the years, getting compliments from the likes of Arn Anderson, Tommy Young, Jimmy Valiant and Ricky Morton, all who worked for Crockett’s NWA.That’s meant the most to me.
As a trainer, your most notable trainees are Davey Richards and Kyle O’Reilly, they both display the same heavily Strong Style/MMA influenced style. Are you proud of what your trainees have achieved so far in their respective careers?
Of course, I’m extremely proud. I was also fortunate enough to work with Bad Luck Fale, from New Japan’s Bullet Club. They sent him to us in St. Louis and I was put in charge of overseeing his care. He busted his ass alongside us and I also took him to my martial arts studio, where we would train in kickboxing nearly every day and sometimes twice a day. Weights, KB and then I’d line up shows for him and me to do. What a great experience and a beautiful human being.
Back to Davey and Kyle, they just surge on. We ALL continue on. It’s just wonderful to see all these guys achieve greatness.
You’ve held many NWA titles, including the World Junior Heavyweight Championship, Virginia Junior Heavyweight Championship, Canadian Junior Heavyweight Championship and also the AWA Washington Light Heavyweight Championship, the Pinnacle Tag Team Championship and made it to the semi finals of the 2013 Smoky Mountain Cup. Out of all the titles you’ve won, is there one in particular you’re most proud of?
Well, working my way to the NWA World Jr. Title will always be memorable. Of course, then you realize that once you’re there, it’s really nothing, unfortunately. The NWA itself didn’t even care about it. What a shame, in a business of perception, they couldn’t care enough to make it mean something. Maybe now that’s different, I don’t know? I always took great pride in holding those ECCW titles.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
2015 is a year of great things for Tony Kozina; I’ve been training my ass off since the start of the year and I know it’s cliché to say it but I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. Take a look at me, watch me wrestle, it’s just that simple.
I had my first match with TNA in February and it was a huge success. I’m waiting to talk with them again about more opportunities. I’d like to talk to Jeff Jarrett about his promotion.
There’s no way I’m resting on my laurels. This wrestling industry is a “what have you done for me lately business” and I understand that more than ever. That’s why I’ve been getting out all over the country as best I can this year to re-establish my name. People forget guys after a year or two, unless you’re in their face constantly. It’s amazing to go back to these places and make new fans, who only heard about you when they saw your name on the poster and they’re completely excited to meet you and watch you work for the first time. How can you not be inspired and uplifted by that?
I’m so lucky after all these years, to be in complete good health. No nagging injuries, no major injuries to speak of and more than ever, obsessed with living a healthy lifestyle, so that I can do this as long as my body will hold out. I like to think I’m setting the standard for the younger generation when they get to my age. I tell Kyle and Davey this now, because they can’t understand how I can still go and bump the way that I do, I tell them, by the time you’re my age, you’ll be that much better than I am right now, if you just maintain a healthy lifestyle and can avoid major injuries. Wrestling is very, very tough though. On both the body and the mind.
Is there anything else you’d like to say, add or plug?
I would just like to thank everybody who’s giving me praise or given me threats. It’s ALL made me smile and I thank you all. If you want to follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you can find me under @TTKozina.
Thanks to Tony for taking part in this interview.