From Maxwell Jacob Friedman’s silent bodyguard to one of All Elite Wrestling’s hottest babyfaces who is getting huge crowd reactions for his powerbomb symphony finisher. That’s the path Wardlow’s been on over his three years with AEW, and he is ready to see his slow-burning storyline with MJF culminate at the “Double or Nothing” pay-per-view from Las Vegas on Sunday (8 pm, Bleacher Report) PPV).
There, the 34-year-old Wardlow will have to beat his on-screen heel boss – who has made him walk to the ring with no music and in handcuffs for weeks and take 10 lashes – to be free of his storyline employment and continue his career out from under MJF’s thumb. Before the big match, Wardlow took time for some Q&A with Post pro wrestling columnist Joseph Staszewski.
(Edited for clarity and length.)
Q: Why do you think the audience has taken to you the way it has and at what point did you feel like, “Hey, we’ve got something special here?“
A: I always felt like I was gonna be something special in this business. You grow up and you see guys like The Rock and John Cena and Batista and I just always had this in my core gut feeling that I was capable of that and that I could be that. I feel like it’s a mix of that confidence, nobody’s gonna believe in yourself unless you believe in yourself.
You hear the “it factor” a lot in this business and it really just comes down to the fact that I have it and you can’t explain what it is. It’s just a thing, you can’t teach it. It’s something you have and I truly believe I have it and I think the crowd and everyone else is starting to see it.
Q: At least for me, your presentation right now feels like a mix of Kevin Nash post being Shawn Michaels’ bodyguard and a little of Goldberg with your walkout. What’s it been like to see the layers being added to your presentation?
A: I can’t remember the last time we’ve seen someone presented in this way and it’s very special. It’s very cool to be compared to the likes of Kevin Nash because he was such a big inspiration of mine. I didn’t come in trying to mimic anything he’s done. It just kind of happened naturally.
Q: What was it about Kevin Nash that drew you to him?
A: He was just so cool, wasn’t he? He’s 7-feet tall, 325 pounds with the long hair and he just walked out like nothing in the world could phase him and he was just so cool and then the Jackknife powerbomb. I was such a little runt until very late in life. I remember stepping over the back of my couch pretending like I was going over the top rope like him.
Q: When you were brought into AEW, what was the plan?
A: I think originally we were gonna go the route we’re kind of going now. And then Max kind of scooped me up at the beginning of things (as his bodyguard). I kind of made a deal with the devil with Max instead of going the other route, which I questioned for a while. It’s been three years. Over the course of those three years, I very much questioned if I made the wrong choice, but I can sit here today and honestly tell you I made the correct choice.
Q: What’s it been like just working with Max and seeing him operate and see how he can work a crowd? Is there anything you’ve picked up from him?
A: When you look at Max from a business aspect, he is an absolute genius. He is one of the hardest working, most demanding individuals I’ve ever seen. That aspect of him is truly amazing and truly impressive. Now with that said, as a person he’s scum of the earth. I’ve seen him disrespect people to unimaginable levels. If you think the things he says on TV in front of millions of people is bad, you should hear the things he says on a private jet or in a limo when it’s just a few of the boys. He’s not a good person.
Q: What did it mean to you after being the silent body guard to get a chance to talk and show people there is this other side of you?
A: I feel like somebody, when you see me on paper and you just look at me I think a lot of fans saw Wardlow and went, “Here’s some big dude who probably can’t form an intelligent sentence, probably isn’t very Good in the ring, probably isn’t very safe, probably doesn’t even like wrestling. He’s probably just had a failed football career so he’s giving this one shot. ” So I love nothing more than proving those people wrong and showing people there are so many layers to Wardlow and I am so far from one dimensional. I truly feel I have every tool you could possibly need to be successful and I think I have a few tools people didn’t even know existed.
Q: Did you play sports growing up?
A: When I was real young, elementary school, I did basketball, baseball, football and I really loved baseball a lot. But basketball, I was really passionate about basketball. You get into junior high and everybody starts growing and you’re not. So then basketball wasn’t so much in my favor. Football certainly wasn’t. So I started working out a little bit, but I didn’t really start to grow until finally my junior year of high school. Then by my senior year, I’m the biggest dude in the school.
I have the football coach damn near ready to pay me to play. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I look back on it now, it’s actually kind of cool how much he was trying to recruit me. Same with the wrestling coach. The wrestling coach and the football coach, they let me practice with them. They let me train with them and lift weights with them. I knew I was never going to join the team, but I was like, “Hey, I can get a good workout.”
The reason I couldn’t join the team is because I had to start working my junior year. So it figures, I finally start to grow and I could have dominated in basketball and for sure I would have been a menace on the football field. But I had to start working junior year, so I wasn’t able to play any sports.
Q: Was that because of your home situation, growing up with a single mom and two sisters?
A: Yeah, you got to work, start making money. There weren’t any handouts for me.
Q: What was your first job?
A: I worked at a car dealership and it started with just washing cars. I’d wash cars, I’d mop the showroom floor, clean the bathrooms, clean the toilets, take all the garbage out throughout the building
Q: We talked about Kevin Nash, you have also talked about how big a fan you are of Jeff Hardy growing up and doing his moves in the backyard. What appealed to you about Jeff?
A: I think the attraction with Jeff especially with the time in my life, you’re talking sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth grade, so that’s a unique time in someone’s life where you’re kind of starting to discover yourself. You’re going through changes in life. I’ve always been kind of myself. I’ve never really cared about people’s opinions of me and I think that was the real attraction to Jeff. He clearly didn’t care about anybody’s opinion of him, so unique.
He did what he wanted, he cut his hair how he wanted, put whatever color in it, put his facial hair unique, wore all these unique outfits and then just went out there and did the coolest things you’ll ever see in the world . So it was hard to not like Jeff Hardy. People would make fun of me, older guys, “Oh, you like Jeff Hardy?” They’d make fun of me for it because he has long rainbow-colored hair and he wears stockings on his arms. It’s like, “Yeah, that’s what makes him awesome.”
Q: Have you gotten a chance to talk to him since he joined AEW?
A: Man, it’s a weekly thing now, where I just find myself backstage in awe of what my life is. You know I asked Jeff for permission to use the Swanton Bomb. I was getting ready for those three matches where I knew was going to have to wrestle some bigger guys. So I was wrestling Lance Archer, (William) Morrissey and these bigger dudes. I said, “Hey Jeff, I’m wrestling some bigger guys, I might have to pull some things out that I’ve never done before or done in a while. If I find myself in a situation where I need to hit a Swanton Bomb is that OK with you? ” He said, “Absolutely, hit that thing.” And I found myself in the situation against Lance Archer where I found myself on the top rope and I went for it.
The next week, I feel a tap on my shoulder and I turn around and it’s Jeff and he says, “Hey man, that’s a very graceful Swanton.” I literally just stood there after he walked away for about 10 minutes with this goofy smile on my face, beet red. I was like, “Welp, that was the coolest moment ever.”
Q: What was it like training with Kurt Angle before his last WWE run?
A: Him and I just clicked really well. Really, really well to the point where he said it’s rare where you step in the ring with somebody and you just feel that it’s there, it feels right. He said, “There’s something about you that’s special.” We could just feel it in the ring. We just clicked. Kurt was such a great guy.
Q: Do you feel like after this story with MJF is over it puts you on that eventual world champion track because of the reactions you’re getting?
A: Experiencing what I’ve experienced with the crowd lately, obviously there is a part of me that thinks let’s get Max out of the way and let’s get that heavyweight title, but I do have some unfinished business as far as the TNT title is concerned. I was a literal second away from winning the TNT championship and Max took that away from me. It’s one of those things where if I think about something daily I have to do something about it. So once Max is through, I think I need to bring some peace to that.