Former Impact Wrestling superstar Braxton Sutter has returned to the independent scene, re-emerging under this previous moniker of Pepper Parks. As a near twenty-year veteran of the ring, Parks has seen it all and pretty much done it all. Of course, the modest talent might not admit to that, or that he is as committed to his craft today as he was when he was trained by the legendary Les Thatcher. Parks has competed primarily in North America but following his departure from Impact he has ambitions to compete in a number of places, including Japan. While those who watch him see a talented in-ring performer, Parks is so much more than this. During our chat, he opens up about life after wrestling, his interests outside the ring, and what he does to ensure he is in shape all the time. His commitment is reflected in the advice he gives others he trains.
Presently he is as busy now as he ever has been, and he is open to new and different opportunities around him. He is surrounded by a great support system including his wife, current Impact Wrestling Knockouts champion Allie.
Fans can communicate with Pepper Parks on social media such as Twitter, where he can be reached at @BraxtonSutter
Training under the legendary Les Thatcher was part of your early introduction to becoming a pro. What did Les teach you that you carry with you today?
For sure it has been basics and fundamentals. There are so many bad wrestling schools out there, and there are a handful of good ones. I am really, really glad I went to Les’ and trained with Les. I know a lot of guys that got very far, who started off with bad training and then evolved, met the right people and got the right training. I am very happy that I trained with Les.
Basically, Les starts you from the ground up, and he is very big on basics and fundamentals. He teaches you how to call things in the ring and on the fly at first. Then, you advance yourself into preplanning stuff, and he really did things the right way. I still use all this stuff to this day, and I’m actually helping to even apply it to train a handful of guys in my home in Buffalo, NY. It’s all his training and principles and fundamentals that I use. I used them the other day, so it still affects me today.
I still connect with Les. He’s in Cincinnati and I am in Buffalo, so we’ll touch base here and there. It was cool that he reached out when I signed with Impact Wrestling. He reached out and said some nice stuff, and he would watch my stuff on TV and send me emails with critiques with stuff like that. That is a good trainer, and that stuff goes a long way. We try to keep in touch with one another as much as possible.
Where did the name and character Pepper Parks come from?
(laughs) The original name, Pepper Parks. When I was 19 years old and I had really long hair, my first gimmick was that I was a male cheerleader. (laughs) I moved to wrestling school with my best friend from Buffalo, and we debuted together. I don’t know if anyone ever watched MTV ‘True Life,’ they did a special on Les Thatcher’s wrestling school, the HWA (Heartland Wrestling Association), and they showed this on their Fox affiliate.
Before you trained with Les, before you were ready to debut, you would sit down with them and talk with them about your name and that kind of stuff. That is exactly what we did. We sat down, both my best friend and me. Sharkboy was helping book at the time too, so it was me, Neal, Sharkboy and Les, and the deal was to have me and Neal debut as a tag team. Neal was a big jacked up kid. He was a legit hockey and football all-star in high school. The idea was for him to be this super multi-sport athlete. I was just an athletic kid with long hair. I came up with the idea to tie my hair in pigtails, and I was a male cheerleader. We would have a coach, or manager/valet, too. So little did I know sitting in that office that I would be stuck with the name Pepper Parks for twenty years. (laughs)
Where did the ‘sex, weights, protein shakes’ concept come from? Whose idea was it and could it still work today?
Yeah, that was, if we fast forward about 12 or 15 years from the time as the A Squad. When my wife and I first got together, she is a wrestler as Allie in Impact, Cherry Bomb on the indies for a long time, when we first got together we had zero interest or aspiration in working or performing together. We actually wanted to stay away from it. Then, CZW and Sami Callahan came up and she and I came up with this fitness couple gimmick idea. When the idea originally got pitched my thought was that I wanted it to be original and modern. I didn’t want it to be like the Bodydonnas, and wearing spandex and being hulky and doing jumping jacks and stuff like that. So, it was actually my wife that came up with the concept ‘sex, weights, protein shakes.’ We just wanted to make it a little more modern and a little more edgy.
With the demands of travel, and training and wrestling itself, how do you manage to keep yourself in such top shape? How has that regimen helped you maintain such a long-standing career?
The one thing I always try to pride myself on and is always being in shape. There is probably a shot, I’m sure, out there on Google Image where I got a little lazy for a while. But I have always prided myself on staying in shape. My big thing has been, it took almost 15 years until I got my first actual contract, with Impact. So, my big thing is, and I tell students this to this day that in any form of entertainment, whether its music, acting, wrestling, if an opportunity is going to come your way it’s going to come out of nowhere so you have to make sure you are going to be ready. It is never this fairytale story of, I have been given this big opportunity and I have months to train and prepare for it and it is going to happen. If you get a chance it will be with likely a day’s notice, so you have to make sure you are ready all the time. That was always my mindset, to stay in shape. I am 37 now so it’s a little different than it was when I was younger. It’s just about consistency, is the big thing. When we finish here I am going to head over to the gym with a couple of guys and I try to train almost every day.
When I was younger it was basic old-school bodybuilder type work out, chest on Monday and back on Tuesday and Legs on Wednesday and now at 37 I have the busiest wrestling schedule I have ever had, and being older and having nagging injuries piling up. Stretching became a huge thing. I would say when I got into my 30s that has been most prominent. I feel yoga was really created for pro wrestlers, yoga can fix a lot of things. DDP knows what he is doing. Yoga became pretty crucial, and the stretching in general. I was never a big cardio guy, but I would always do about 15 minutes on the bike for my knees, to warm up my body before I even work out, and now I do ‘functional workouts’. That is what I will do today, pretty much. Its full body stuff. I would do the battle ropes and bodyweight exercises and then stuff that will get me moving, as opposed to stuff that is stationary preacher bicycles. I definitely had to evolve my workouts. I had trained in a dojo in Zero-One in Japan in 2010 that still to this day helps me out. To them it was all body weight exercises, and I still use a little bit of that in my regimen today as well.
Wrestling podcasts are pretty much everywhere. What are your plans for ‘Kickin Ass with Jesse and Andy’ and how do you think it will be different from others?
Our podcast, ‘Kicking Ass with Jesse and Andy,’ is me and my good friend Andy Williams. He plays guitar in a band full-time, they are called Every Time I Die, they are from Buffalo, NY and I am from Buffalo, NY. So, the idea was him and I get together, and Andy has been a huge wrestling fan his whole life and has just recently gotten into competing too, the idea was for me and him to get together and show that we have good chemistry when we chat, and just the aspect of him travelling with music and me travelling with wrestling. And he is traveling with wrestling too now. So, it ties all this stuff together.
The attitude towards there being so many wrestling podcasts is such that, when anyone tries anything, especially podcasting, the first thing that pops up in people’s heads is ‘Oh there are a million of them’ or ‘Everyone has them.’ But you have to look at it the complete opposite way where, if you want to have a podcast, have a podcast. Especially if you are trying to work in some form of entertainment like in wrestling or comedy, you’re an idiot if you don’t do it. It’s basically free to do, so do it and put yourself out there. Don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. I never worry about what other people are doing. I know what I want to do and that’s the whole thing. Andy and I don’t have real money sponsors, and if we pitched it, it’s just stuff we use ourselves, daily. We aren’t trying to do anything to make money or expand. It is all real stuff, and hopefully, it catches on with people and it grows and grows. Hopefully, it grows from us just having fun, which we have so it feels good.
You have competed in matches all across North America, with Ring of Honor, CZW and Impact Wrestling. What if any are your plans for competing in Japan, Mexico or the UK in your near future?
I am usually terrible with dates, but for Zero One, I know it was in 2010 because I had a Zero One shirt and it had said 2010 on it, for some reason I was there a little over a month. I know it was the month of October in 2010 because I got extremely sick when I got home, and ‘The Walking Dead’ was supposed to premier on Halloween and I couldn’t watch it because I was so sick.
The tour was a little over a month, and it was the month of October 2010. I feel like a lot of people go through this when they go to Japan. I absolutely loved it when I was over there. If you are trying to do something in professional wrestling, you have to at least go to Japan once as it is the mecca of professional wrestling. They just love it over there and they appreciate it. There are wrestling shows there almost every day. They train for it right. It’s awesome. The culture and people are so nice. When I was there I was definitely thinking in the back of my head ‘Maybe I should just stay here and live here because this is amazing.’ I have always been dying to go back. With the departure from Impact, I have a bucket list, and I would at least like to go and do a tour of New Japan. A lot of my friends have been there and worked for New Japan. It is such a good crew. I would just love to do a tour with at least New Japan. Japan as far as pro wrestling is just amazing.
Mexico is the one I have never done. I did a short tour right before Allie and I were signed to Impact, a short tour for Global Force Wrestling at the time. So, we did about a week over in the UK and it was the same thing. It was awesome. Again, it goes on my bucket list as I really want to go over there and work for Progress because they have such awesome stuff going on there right now. The whole UK scene is just great, obviously, because NXT has created an entire UK tournament for it. I would love to go and do a longer stretch and a bigger tour of the UK. The thing is there are so many good promotions there. Jimmy Havoc is a good friend of ours. Pete Dunne and Trent Seven, all these guys that I met, they are all really good dudes. It’s an environment that I would like to be around even more. This is a good kick in the a** for me too because I should go over there. This is what everyone says, if you can get over there, there is tons of work. There are major promotions like Progress and IPW or ICW, and tons of smaller shows almost every day. It’s just such a booming atmosphere over there it’s awesome.
Wrestling, like marriage, like life, has its share of ups and downs. What are some of the biggest challenges in being married and heavily involved in the business?
It’s weird when people always ask me about this because one, I was never a proponent of marriage in general, and two, I never really recommended before to date someone who was in wrestling. Those two things have worked out well for me though (laughs) As far as Allie and I being married, it just makes sense because both of us are so passionate about it and are so busy with it. No one would be able to put up with our travel schedule or what we go through. With her and I, we understand each other and what we are going through.
If there ever are trials and tribulations when it comes to traveling and injuries, we get it. We understand each other. Then, an even bigger blessing is when we get to travel together. We got to go to India together this past year with Impact. If it wasn’t for Impact and it wasn’t for pro wrestling I wouldn’t have gone to India, for one, and two, especially, with my wife. I have nothing bad to say about it at all. It’s just the best thing for us. A lot of times we have a chance to travel together, and if we don’t and are apart from one another we just appreciate our time together.
With seventeen years under your belt are there plans of what to do post-career? Do you and Allie have thoughts of training talent post-wrestling?
My first match was in ’99. I did take a couple of years off between the ages of 21-23, 24, but I always say about twenty years. I never really looked at training others or business ventures before because I was always busy with plan A, wrestling. Now being 37, I would be kind of an idiot if I didn’t start thinking about that stuff. As far as training guys and opening my own school, I was never interested in that before. I had done seminars over the years and I never really enjoyed it all that much. But we have such a good crew in Buffalo right now. I train them every Wednesday, once a week, and I really enjoy it.
It does make me think about opening a wrestling school and trying to help guys out. Then, doing the podcast was obviously that was a bit of a backup plan idea and a different venture that was associated with wrestling. The podcast and training guys are a couple of things. Allie has been a big inspiration, she got out of her comfort zone and she started taking acting classes within the last six months in Buffalo. Now she has an agent in Toronto because she has dual citizenship, and now she’s getting one in the U.S and getting auditions. I am thinking about taking a stunt course or some acting classes of my own. These are some of the little ventures of my own. It’s interesting because my mind never went in these directions before, and now I am starting to think about these other things.
The working relationship and chemistry with you and Psycho Mike have been undeniable. How have you both been able to maintain such great chemistry even when you have been away and competing with Impact?
I have to give credit for that to Sebastian Suave, owner, booker, promoter of Smash Wrestling. He is the one that paired me and Mike together. I think a lot of our chemistry is that I have known Mike for a long time. Mike is the perfect example of someone who is extremely talented, and I tell him all the time. I think of someone like Bobby Fish, who was so talented and he just stuck with it, and it’s only a matter of time before something happens. I know it is hard for someone to see it that way and give it a decent go and keep at it. Things are going to happen for him eventually, they have to, he is so good and so talented. It’s exciting for me to get teamed up with him because I knew he could do more than what he was doing. And it helps me too. Comedy wrestling has never been my forte, so getting teamed with someone who has this eccentric personality has helped me out too. I think that was how Mike and I feed off of each other so well.
While wrestling fills your days, what would you say best takes your mind off the stresses of travel and wrestling? Movies? Music? Video games? Is there a particular genre that you enjoy, or you use to relax you?
I would say movies is number one. For Allie and me, as weird as it sounds we watched a horror movie last night. We go to a lot of horror movies. There is this cool thing in Buffalo, once a month, called Thursday Night Terrors and it’s at a smaller theatre in Buffalo. They will just play old classic cult horror movies. For instance, they played ‘Reanimator,’ and they’ll play the original ‘Halloween’ around Halloween time. There was a Comic-Con here, so they played ‘Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight,’ they had the voice of the Crypt Keeper come in, he hosted it. We’ll go and do nerdy stuff like that. Today, for instance, I’ll go see ‘Solo’ the new Star Wars film. That is my perfect way to unplug, to actually go to the movie theatre. I’ll just put my phone on airplane mode, and that’s the perfect way to disconnect when you don’t have to worry about your phone. If I can just sit there and zone out for a couple of hours and watch a good movie, then that’s perfect.
I am looking forward to the ‘Halloween’ remake this Fall. I think with Danny McBride being involved, and Jamie Lee Curtis, and I think John Carpenter is doing the soundtrack, it all sounds incredible. Even if there was a bad Halloween movie coming out I’d see that too (laughs). I am glad it is going to be done right, as it’s so perfect and so classic and was among the best of all time. I liked the Rob Zombie version too. They could come out with ‘Friday the 13th XXIV’ and I’d go see that. As long as it has the ‘Friday the 13th’ moniker on it I am going to see it. Thankfully, ‘Halloween’ is going to be good to boot.
It’s weird about the reboot of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ that they did, where a lot of different people didn’t like it but I did. I remember thinking it wasn’t bad, but it was very forgettable. I don’t remember it all that well. I remember them making him like a child molester in that one and I was thinking ‘Whoah, that’s pretty heavy.’ I remember leaving the theatre thinking it wasn’t bad, but now looking back I don’t really remember any of it. I did like the remake of ‘Friday the 13th’ they did. A lot of people didn’t like it, but I liked it a lot.
Smash Wrestling is as much of a family as it is a team. In looking at your Twitter feed that is evident. Talk about the Buffalo Kevins, with one appearing on Smackdown Live and the other growing in popularity with Smash.
To me it’s insane seeing them do so well, it gives me the same excitement as if I went out there and did really well. I remember Kevin Bennett had a match against my podcast co-host Andy Williams at the Phoenix in Toronto, and the crowd was just rocking, as soon as they were started until they were done. I remember they were both really nervous going into it. I was so stoked to see it, and they worked so hard at it. To see Kevin Bennett and how he plays the crowd and he keeps improving every single show, Kevin Blackwood, when thinking about it, has only been wrestling a couple of years. It’s nuts how good he is and how fast he is developing, it’s insane.
The big one now is, Puf is on the rise. Here, in ESW in Buffalo, he has had two or three matches on the show. It doesn’t matter where we bring the kid, people just love him. Then, we have Danny Garcia, who is on that teetering rise with Smash Wrestling, he has had a couple of really good matches and in a bigger setting like the Phoenix he’s going to blow up too. Anthony Gains is another one, who hasn’t gotten a shot, but once he breaks out too, it’s insane of good he is, and how good of a crew we have. With Puf, people just gravitate towards the kid, he’s like his own enigma, it’s great!
On June 3rd, Smash Wrestling will host a special two-part tournament staged over two shows on the same day. Wrestling once is demanding enough but twice on the same show suggest a pretty grueling day. What are your thoughts on who to look out for in the tournament and be a major factor?
For one thing, June 3rd is my birthday too. I am in an offset match, it’s Well-Oiled Machines, me and (Psycho) Mike, against the Super Smash Brothers. As far as the actual tournament, yeah, wrestling twice in a day, especially tournament style, is very taxing and could hurt the younger guys we talked about, Kevin Bennett and Kevin Blackwood, who wouldn’t have much experience with that. But they have shone at everything else they have done, and it wouldn’t blow my mind, they are naturals and are really good. Them doing well wouldn’t surprise me either. For guys like (Matt) Riddle, who is prone to this kind of thing and a super athlete, I don’t think it will be a problem. Then you have some female competitors mixed in there as well. It’s a good mix of talent and the tournament itself is super exciting.