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Q&A with Joey Janela, on freedom and wrestling Kota Ibushi

11 months ago

Q&A with Joey Janela, on freedom and wrestling Kota Ibushi

Joey Janela Lets Freedom Ring

By: Thom Fain, introduction by Mav Gillis

For just over a year the “Bad Boy” Joey Janela has been able to be as bad as he wants to be: he’s back, totally on the independent scene. The Garden State native has been riding a wave of pure freedom since finishing with All Elite Wrestling, and that wave has carried him into our world of Japanese Wrestling in DDT. Yes, you might think that Joey’s matches would be a buffet of lightbulb tubes and whatever could be found around the arena thrown into a match, but time after time Janela has shown a chameleon-like ability to adapt styles. This plays well into his freedom theme: he can be a wrestling nomad, with his name appearing on cards throughout the wrestling world, and on top of that he can even, by all accounts, belt out a pretty good rendition of ‘Proud To Be An American,’ brother.

You could make the case that Joey does have a place in a home promotion with Game Changer Wrestling. It’s apropos, as you will hear in this conversation with Thom Fain, how Game Changing it has been for the foreign talent as they move between GCW and Japanese wrestling. It’s a great partnership that has seen dream matches in that genre of wrestling take place on both continents.

Not exactly apropos, Joey Janela’s Spring Break card has become a mainstay of pro wrestling’s biggest weekend. Joey’s schedule has no breaks to it, the dance card’s been full. Highlights of his workload include an extended tour for the D-Ou Grand Prix and holding the DDT Extreme Title. Along the way he gave us our first look at a Golden Star emerging back into the sky, shining as bright as we remember. Joey was the perfect fit, style and wrestler to be on the other side of the ring for the return of Kota Ibushi. That matchup gave us fans exactly what we wanted to see: a test for Ibushi to see what he has for a return to the ring and Joey pushing him in every way we could have hoped for— mat work, chain wrestling, the high flying element, a touch of the death match, with a touch of DDT style, wrapped in a GCW wrapper.

We caught him fresh off his match with Atsushi Onita— so fresh you might even be able to still smell the sizzle of the second degree burns on his arm after the exploding barbed wire. Joey gets into his influences, what he enjoys of the Japanese wrestling scene and culture, as well being able to now to play a bit more on the edge without the worry of corporate overwatch on social media and in his art in and out of the ring. Joey might be known for Spring Break, but this year he could become Mr. Tokyo Summer as he has big plans for the archipelago’s hottest time. Joey’s daredevil style, which has evolved over his 16-year career in the ring, needs no translation for making an impact in Japan.

Photo courtesy of DDT Pro-Wrestling


Monthly Puroresu: Joey, I just wanted to ask how your arm’s doing. You just fought Onita in an exploding barbed wire death match. You’ve been doing crazy stuff throughout your entire career. How does that measure up and how are you feeling?

Joey Janela: I just had to take a couple weeks off because the burns were pretty bad. They were second degree burns, but they’re healing. The difficult thing was because it was all in joints, I couldn’t straighten out my arm for that weekend, but it was an honor because it was against Onita. I wouldn’t wanna get burned against anyone else [laughs].

Monthly Puroresu: Have you been a fan of his a long time? Were you one of those guys that was a tape trader back in the day?

Joey Janela: A little bit. I’m too young to be a tape trader. I kind of got on the tail end of that when it came to borrowing DVDs from my friends. I was in the tail end of the VHS era. I picked up two VHS tapes from a NWA jersey show. It was accompanied by Dennis Coralluzzo in the nineties.

There’d be vendors there and they had a lot of compilations that tape traders made up, and they would make copies and sell them at their vendor tables. And I picked up the Best of Barbed Wire 2 which interests me. I just took in the ECW and stuff. And Kawasaki Dream became the Death Match Tournament in Japan which had Terry Funk vs. Cactus Jack, crazy explosion, death match, whatever.

Monthly Puroresu: The stuff you’ve put yourself through as a wrestler is pretty comparable to Terry Funk and Cactus, and Mick Foley. Have you had a chance to talk to one of those guys, and if so, what have they told you about the risks you’re taking and kind of the direction of your career?

Joey Janela: Terry Funk is someone I haven’t talked to in a while. I did a few shows with him back in the day. But Cactus, we keep in contact quite frequently. And you know, he knows the risks, I know the risks, you know. A guy like Cactus, he’s not gonna tell you what to do with your life. I think he still enjoys that hardcore scene of professional wrestling that he pioneered.

Monthly Puroresu: It’s an art form, really.

Joey Janela: Yeah. I know he doesn’t like light tubes, he doesn’t like a lot of that stuff, but you know, he respects it. So he’s never really told me not to do this, not to do that. He just says, you’re crazy.

Monthly Puroresu: In terms of obviously being crazy, you’ve, you’ve bet on yourself throughout your entire career. Have you had any time to kind of reflect on what kind of legacy that GCW and Joey Janela will have had? Or are you still super present in the moment?

Joey Janela: Sometimes I do. Sometimes I look back and see how crazy it’s gotten and how the touring schedule is crazier than any wrestling promotion independently ever. GCW’s gonna have a huge impact on the future of wrestling, professional wrestling. It already has.

Every guy you see, you see all these wrestlers going to Japan finally, and their first tours from the States, they’re all basically GCW wrestlers, homegrown. El Gringo Loco went to GLEAT, Jack Cartwheel, GLEAT, Sawyer Wreck in TJPW, and me in DDT. Every month there’s more people going over there. And most of the GCW guys [are ready to go] back over there in July.

Monthly Puroresu: And we talked to MAO for this issue as well. It’s working the other direction. You’ve got like Maki Itoh, MAO and Chris Brookes and people coming into GCW.

Joey Janela: Yeah, yeah. I wish you could bring them in more.

Monthly Puroresu: He said he wants to come more. That’s what he told me. He is like, I want to come back, you know?

Joey Janela: Yeah. That’s up to Brett. But it’s like, there’s a huge impact right now on the world of professional wrestling. GCW is putting down new roots.

Monthly Puroresu: You’re wearing a lot of hats: you’re the bad boy. You’re still a talent. You’ve still got to perform and be an artist and an athlete. And then do you also cover the business side and the promoting?

Joey Janela: Not really. I don’t really have to promote or anything. I only have to promote my Spring Break show once a year. [laughs]. The most I do is promote myself. … I just wrestle.

Monthly Puroresu: Do you get to pick and choose who you like to wrestle, when it comes to the Japanese guys, or do they pick you?

Joey Janela: Sometimes. For the GCW shows, I’ll tell Brett who I’m interested in wrestling, and he’ll try to make it happen.

Monthly Puroresu: Yuki Ueno, Kota Ibushi obviously was big for you. I watched that match. During  Spring Break —when you were promoting the show— during Spring Break, 7 I think it was. What did that mean for you after he had such a long layoff to be able to get in there and mix it up with him?

Joey Janela: I needed that match. I told Brett, I said, listen— [because] he had other ideas for Kota Ibushi. I said, no, I need this match. And he understood. And you know, it was go time, and it delivered, and it meant a lot for him to come back. The Monday before he wrestled “Speedball” Mike Bailey on Bloodsport was more, seemed like a you know, it’s a Bloodsport type match. Short grappling exhibition. But real talk, there are consequences for the losers of those matches, but [it was different for] me and Kota, it’s more of his first match back in a very long time.

Monthly Puroresu: And we didn’t know if he would come back.

Joey Janela: Yeah. As far as the match, I’m talking about the pitfalls and this and that. It’s wrestling. It felt really good and I think we both felt really good about it.

Monthly Puroresu: It seems like you guys had a few minutes of a feeling-out phase and then once you got going, he was a fish back in water.

Joey Janela: Yeah, he was awesome. Well— the first kick to the jaw wasn’t fun to take. But I let it slide and then we got back into it. But that’s not a guy I’m getting in a fist fight with anyway, because he’s a trained murderer. Killer. I’m just gonna die.

Monthly Puroresu: Kenny Omega told me that Kota Ibushi is a legitimate crazy man in terms of his mindset and what he would try in the ring. Did you go over anything he wanted to try out or—?

Joey Janela: No. I knew he was just coming back into the game, so I kind of had to—

Monthly Puroresu: It wasn’t necessarily kid gloves. That first spot on the outside was pretty hardcore.

Joey Janela: Yeah. It was kind of a, not really a stupid idea but— people remember it.

Monthly Puroresu: Yes, absolutely. I mean that’s half the battle.

Joey Janela: What a crazy classic: Joey Janela vs. Kota Ibushi, so it was nice to do a little bit of craziness with him and I hope to do it again. He is legit crazy. Kenny’s right. He’s a hundred percent one of the craziest people I ever met in my life, to be honest.

Monthly Puroresu: You’ve won a few titles in DDT and you fought in the D-OH Grand Prix last year. Are you looking to continue moving forward with DDT?

Joey Janela: I think so, yeah. They’ve been very good to me since I left AEW, since my contract expired there. First day my contract expired, I think it was a year ago today, and the first person I hit up was Sanshiro Takagi from DDT. I know he wanted to bring me in for a while. I said, my contract’s up, so let’s figure something out. He said, absolutely. And it worked out. So he was very good to me in that aspect, yeah.

Monthly Puroresu: I mean I think you fit well with the genesis of what DDT’s about, wouldn’t you say?

Joey Janela: Oh yeah, I would like to do more with DDT. Of course.

Monthly Puroresu: And when you’re in Japan, what are the other things you like to do? Izakaya hopping? I saw you went to dinner with Rae Lil Black. That had to have been fun. You live up to the bad boy persona while you’re over there?

Joey Janela: I think so. A lot of drinking. A lot of partying.

Monthly Puroresu: Yeah. But you still stay in pretty good shape for a guy that that likes to party.

Joey Janela: Yeah, I haven’t really gotten to the fuckin’ gym too much lately cause I’ve been injured left and right. So I’m not in as good of shape as I was last year, but I’m surprised at the shape I’m in right now for where I’m at, what I’ve been doing the last six months [laughs].

Monthly Puroresu: Is there anything else about Japanese culture that you really appreciate or that draws you into going back over there to DDT? Or is it just the wrestling and the vibe?

Joey Janela: I love everything. I love the food. I love the culture. I love everything. It’s so much different from the US. People have this certain type of respect for their country, which we don’t have over here. I definitely enjoy it. I feel like the fans are more respectful and the wrestlers, so I hope to be coming back for years and years to come. This year I’ll be going back.

Monthly Puroresu:
I would love to see you at Korakuen Hall or Shin-Kiba 1st-RING or something like that.

Joey Janela: Absolutely. Yeah, we got a big GCW tour coming up and maybe some DDT stuff in July.

Monthly Puroresu: I wanted to touch base on your departure from AEW. You said, when you talk about AEW, and I a hundred percent agree with you, you said Tony has two hours to pull off TV. He’s got a lot of people, a lot of pieces to that puzzle and a lot of guys that he has to try to satisfy and he’s booking 30-minute matches every week.

You do a 30-minute match and you take a 20-minute talk segment, what else is left? Other people have to go to dark and they’re wrestling twice a month in Universal Studios in front of a lukewarm crowd, and they’ve got a Florida jabroni for three minutes. That’s why wrestlers are regressing in ability, because they don’t care. They’re getting paid and they don’t want to go hustle. I see that as being like, pretty much the perfect quote to sum up the direction AEW has gone very quickly from those first couple years when they were delivering on this promise of having an international flavor and putting pro wrestling first.

From a wrestler’s perspective, how hard was that to watch just this locker room grow and grow and grow and kind of people having to do this stuff on dark? Are you happier now on the other side of the equation, being able to wrestle more often on the independents?

Joey Janela: Of course. I like my creative freedom and I like— I know what I have to do with an indie match. I don’t have to have someone tell me that, what they’re trying to get across. I know ’cause I know what I know my ideas and I know that 85% of the time they’re good ideas and they will, they’ll work out.

But who knows? I think the playing field’s just gonna change there now. Cause I think they announced that they’re getting rid of both Dark shows, but they’re also adding a Saturday night show and they have the Ring of Honor. So the playing field is different than when I was there. I guess Ring of Honor will serve as a substitute for dark and they have an extra two hours of TV now on Saturday nights, so it’s a lot different.

But when I was there, definitely people were doing a couple five-minute matches a month and then not doing much else. So I think it’s a lot different from when I was there, things changed. It’s more corporate now for sure.

Monthly Puroresu: Let’s go back to Joey Janela. I love watching you on Twitter. I love the performance or you just being so unfiltered and so successful and continuing your career in this era of, if you say the wrong fucking thing, then you get a mob of people trying to take you down. How have you been able to successfully navigate that?

Joey Janela: Well you gotta just gonna tread that line. You can’t cross that line. Sometimes you might accidentally cross the line, but you know, you have to be aware of what the situation is. But I’ve always had that kind of presence on social media … I used do fake bits where I gave my Facebook away to somebody else or did something. I wanted to keep the bit going. And some people may not like that, but too bad.

Monthly Puroresu: People are just waiting for something to be outraged and it’s like you’re just spoon-feeding them sometimes, it’s funny to watch.

Joey Janela: I do it on purpose. Most of the stuff I say on Twitter, I’m pulling to get a reaction and it works. I know how to push those buttons and I know how to do it for my own game now.

Monthly Puroresu: Right. But you know, you’ve never had a boss or somebody tell you “let’s not piss off the fans of this date, we’re trying to sell tickets,” or anything like that?

Joey Janela: Well, I’m not contracted now in AEW. I’m sure people were pissed off that I was still doing jokes on social media. I know there were.

Monthly Puroresu: You don’t worry about it.

Joey Janela: Yeah. They know what they signed up for when they signed Joey Janela. That’s how I [promoted] the Spring Break shows, it was all from Twitter bits.

Monthly Puroresu: I love the Florida man thing, like some of this stuff that goes viral. You’ve done so many crazy things, but the situation singing in front of Hulk Hogan, how did that come about? Did he know what he was getting into when you showed up?

Joey Janela: No. Never. I don’t think he knew who I was until after.

Monthly Puroresu: Oh my God.

Joey Janela: I just heard about the Hogan’s Hangout from a friend around last year after I did the first Florida man prank. I came up with this two Octobers ago.

Monthly Puroresu: Wow. You were waiting for your moment that long.

Joey Janela: So a year and a half I had this planned as a prank. This kind of came around spontaneously too. Like I heard a few people were going to Hogan’s Karaoke at his Hogan’s Hangout bar and grill restaurant in Clearwater. And I knew, all right, now we have five people coming. That means we have five cameras, we have five different angles in case this goes crazy.

I was like, all right. So I hit up Brett, I said, let’s get my flight out of Tampa. Cause we were in Orlando from GCW, so this is like the day before this show. I said, all right, I’ll fly. So Jimmy Lloyd’s parents have a house over by Tampa. So they drove me, drove us from Orlando to Tampa to their house, and then we had to go to Marshall’s, get the Florida man outfit, and it played out perfectly.

Monthly Puroresu: Oh, and he just thought you were just another Florida jabroni when he showed up. He had no idea you were a wrestler?

Joey Janela: I don’t think so. Until after.

Monthly Puroresu: Did you have a chance to talk to him after or was it was like, “No, get this guy outta here”?

Joey Janela: No, no. I left after and went outside. I got changed into normal clothes and then just walked back in like I didn’t know what happened.

Monthly Puroresu: That’s amazing. What other kind of things can the fans look forward to? I love all wrestling and especially the culture of wrestling in Japan. In July I’m hopefully there for the whole month, you know? The best food, best drinking in the world.

Monthly Puroresu: And it’s cheap!

Joey Janela: And it’s cheap, very cheap. I love it there, but also at the same time, I love wrestling all over the place, but Japan is one of my favorites. And I hopefully I can have a relationship with that country for years and years to come. And you know, DDT, I have goals there.

Monthly Puroresu: Terry Funk, Cactus Jack, Joey Janela… I mean, it seems like a natural that you’d go back to Japan since you sort of follow in these guys’ footsteps with your approach in and out of the ring.

Joey Janela: I don’t know about doing any more explosion matches. That was terrifying.

Monthly Puroresu: But we know you’re gonna do something crazy. You always do.