Lucha Underground’s PJ Black has had a career that has spanned over two decades in the wrestling business. A former WWE tag team champion, he has taken his time spent with that company and leveraged it into making himself quite the commodity. While he is most widely seen on Lucha Underground, he continues to compete on the independents, facing some of the scene’s biggest and brightest stars. He has never been one to rest on his laurels and appears set to make the next season of Lucha Underground as successful as the last.
‘The Darewolf’ has breathed new life into his career by simply integrating who he is with what fans see in the ring. The hybrid daredevil/ werewolf character is a reflection of his personality and lifestyle.
During our discussion, Black shared how committed he has always been to his craft, ever since first having the desire to be a pro wrestler at the age of 8. He opens up with his thoughts about the ever-progressing UK wrestling scene, how a tag team name initially came about while he was first training under his dad, and how transitioning back to competing on the independent scene was a reminder of how the expectations of one audience are different from those of others.
Along with his passion for professional wrestling, Black has also become an entrepreneur and shares what he may consider doing after wrestling is no longer his career.
Fans can communicate with him on social media, where he can be reached on Twitter at @darewolf333, Instagram @PJ450, and his website, www.darewolf.me
How would you say your early training from your father was different from working with the Sloans, and from your time developing in the WWE system?
They were all completely different and unique. As you know, there are many styles of wrestling. We get the British, the Japanese strong style, and the American style of wrestling. When I was first taught, South African didn’t really have its own style, and my dad used to travel a lot so he would show me all the different styles. What I did was take a little bit of all the different styles and created my own hybrid style. I am not taking credit for creating that style, but that’s what all the kids on the indies are doing today.
It was a bit of fundamental and a few other things that I learned from the Sloans. Even today, there is something new every single day. Eddie Guerrero told me before he died that you can learn something new every single day, and to me, he was one of the best. So, that’s what was different; in South Africa, when I was with my dad, was completely different from what I learned from the FWA in the UK and Mark Sloan. In the US, I already had the fundamentals, but the things I learned in FCW was, I am not sure if I could say this, was backstage politics and the culture and how to present yourself to promoters. Stuff that I learned there was some of the most valuable stuff I had ever learned.
How would you describe the South African wrestling scene, as it appears both yourself and another former WWE alumnus in Ray Leppan worked together? How did you come together to create a tag team? Where did the name Pure Juice come from?
In the early 70s and 80s, not many people know this, but South Africa was an unofficial territory, as the different territories in the United States, when you had New York and Texas. South Africa was an unofficial territory, and guys would come and spend like 6,7,8 months, and they would be able to watch the likes of Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan, who would come and job to our champion and no one would know about it. There was no internet back then or Youtube or any other stuff, so no one ever knew about it. If you speak to anyone like the Undertaker, who did that territory way back, I actually saw his first matches which were in the South African territory back then. Guys like Fit Finlay and (William) Regal and guys like that had been around for a long time, so they were in their prime in South Africa. It died out in 1999 and is starting to make a comeback now, now that pro wrestling is so popular with things on TV and different product and companies. It is going to take it a while to build it up to what it used to be.
So, my dad had a wrestling promotion, and this was the wrestling school. So every day I would come home from school, I went to the wrestling ring in our backyard, and I heard a kid running around in the ring. I guess he had just jumped the fence and we were both just huge wrestling fans at the time. He couldn’t have been more than 15 or 16 at the time. I was like, ‘Cool I could practice some moves on this kid,’ and we sort of became friends from there, we became a tag team. (laughs) As for the name Pure Juice, that’s an awesome question, no one has asked that one before. So, PJ is pure juice, right? So, he used to wrestle as Presley Jackson, which was also PJ and we tried to come up with a name that abbreviated into PJ, and Pure Juice is what we came up with. (laughs)
While the UK wrestling scene has really blown up over the past few years, you cut your teeth while competing there in the earlier part of the millennium. Could you see then what it would ultimately evolve into, the highly regarded British Strong Style?
Yes and no. When I was there I knew it could turn into something big, but I didn’t know it was going to turn into what it has done today; I don’t think anyone could have projected that. It’s cool to see how far it has evolved and where it has come from. I definitely knew it was going to be something big, but there were only two promotions back then, and one shut down right after I left. I didn’t think anyone else was going to pick that up after I left. So fast forward ten years, I think there is somewhere around maybe 30 big promotions in the UK, and that is pretty cool for us as it gives us plenty of work. You can literally work seven days a week if you wanted.
They have a lot of young up and coming stars, and they have a lot of established stars that were there when I was there from 2001 to 2005; they had maybe three or four big names at the time. Two of those guys retired, and those two guys are still young and they all got back into the wrestling business, if you will, which is really cool. They have so many good names and so much talent over there it’s hard to keep up with them all. Marty Scurll, Will Ospreay are big guys now, even though they haven’t been on WWE TV or TNA TV, but they are legit. You can ask any wrestler, they are legit and some may not even know who they are.
You were the first South African to be signed by WWE and it was reported that it was a three-year deal. What were the initial plans that were laid out for you, as you began your journey in FCW, and how may they have changed throughout that early time?
Oh yeah, just like anything in the wrestling business things change daily. My first goal was just to get signed. Once I got signed to Florida Championship Wrestling, which was the developmental territory at the time, all I wanted to do was learn the American way of wrestling. They taught us how to do promos and where the hard cams are, and all I wanted to do was learn that and develop my character. Then, obviously Dusty, I miss that guy so much, he helped us out so much with character stuff and promos and the little things in between wrestling matches and wrestling moves. It just evolved from there. I actually went farther than I thought I would in FCW. It was probably the best ride for me, probably the most fun I had in the wrestling business. I had moved to the US and I didn’t have bills to pay, I didn’t have a car, I didn’t have rent to pay. I literally wrestled every day because that was my dream, and we got a paycheck every week just to go to the gym, train and wrestle. For me, that was my dream already made. Then, 10 months later I got on WWE TV. I thought ‘This was great.’ I didn’t even think of anything else at the time except how great it was, what I had done in my life. I was just happy that I was having so much fun and getting paid a lot of money for it.
As part of two different factions and different tag teams during your time in WWE, what did each experience leave you with and what did you find you are able to carry with you about them to this day?
You learn something every day from someone, and when you are in a group you learn from the six or seven people collectively, or from partners in tag teams. That’s because it’s a different style of wrestling, it’s a different format, a different structure of match up and stuff like that. It was cool because the Nexus guys that I was in that group with, we legit had a close bond and all of us still speak almost every day. I learned from them. It wasn’t necessarily wrestling, but just things in life and stuff that I’ll bring to the grave with me. Maybe we’ll get a Nexus reunion someday. Who knows? (laughs).
Wade and I never crossed paths before our time in WWE. Unfortunately. Drew McIntyre, Sheamus, and Stu (Wade Barrett), all of us knew the same group of people, but I left England when they broke into the business. I have been doing this about 22 years, whereas all of them were at it about 10, 15 years maybe? So, we already knew the same people and worked with the same people. When we did meet in FCW, it was like we already knew each other.
The wolf-themed daredevil concept didn’t get the administration’s approval. However, is what we see today similar to what you had intended ‘the darewolf’ to be like, or has it evolved since you first conceived it.
A lot of stuff that I had in mind that I wanted to do, but I didn’t that was about three years ago. So, it has evolved into what it is today. Every week, every month I add some new stuff to the character. I think the character has just become this wrestling version of me. When I came up with it, ‘Twilight’ was already big at the time, and the kids on Twitter were calling me the ‘Cape Town Werewolf.’ I liked the werewolf, but I was also attracted to the Daredevil character, like a modern-day Evil Knievel, and just combine the two words, ‘werewolf’ and ‘Daredevil’ and that’s where Darewolf comes from.
At first, I had wanted it to be like a mythical creature like a werewolf. The word darewolf didn’t exist, so I made that up. Its legit a made-up word and a version of me. The wolf is one of the few animals that you won’t see in the circus, it’s not a trained animal like a lion or elephant or anything like that. The wolf does his own thing. So, I would say that the darewolf character is just someone who goes his own way. On social media, fans can see how I live my life. I like skydiving and base-jumping and stuff like that.
After competing for WWE, you had an opportunity to compete for smaller promotions such as EVOLVE. What did you find to be the biggest change for you artistically, going from where you were to where you went?
The indy style has evolved to what we see now. I won’t call it a spot fest, but it’s a much faster paced wrestling with bigger moves, and a style that is similar, which is appealing to fans now would be 205 Live, the 205 Live brand is kind of comparable. It was pretty cool to do that, I had to train my brain to do that style. The first few matches I was thinking and following the WWE formula of putting matches together. I can remember my first match in Evolve, and the fans were all there and there were like ten dudes in the front row with Bullet Club shirts there. When I came out they seemed to just sit on their hands and had no reaction in the first two minutes of the match. That is the worst thing that can happen to you as a performer. If people boo you, that’s great, if people cheer you, that’s even better, but if there is no reaction, then that’s the worst thing that can happen. So, within the first two minutes of that match, I was thinking ‘Man, I have to start changing up everything.’ That’s where it clicked for me. I remember when I was doing my comeback, I was doing like three dives in a row and a cross body and three moonsaults, which was a little bit of overkill, but all of those guys stood up and gave me a standing ovation.
So, I was like, ‘Okay I am going to have to completely change my style. I know I can do all these things.’ It’s just a different way of storytelling and different psychology basically. If you watch New Japan Pro Wrestling, the matches are totally different in comparison to a WWE match. It’s still pro wrestling and still storytelling, it’s just a slightly different psychology. I find that in wherever you go; if you go to Europe, Japan or England you have to adapt to what the fans want. My opposition can read the changes, which is what makes it so cool. The guys on the independents get it. I think I was in the ring with Caleb Konley at the time, and he immediately knew. Guys like that knew. Coming fresh off TV like that, they listened to me in the back and I would say ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ and instead of him saying ‘This is the way we do things on the indies,’ out of respect he was ‘Okay, we’ll just follow your plan.’ When I was in the ring I figured out that we will have to change gears. He already knew what it was going to take. I am not sure if that would have happened if I was in there with anybody else. But he immediately knew that we were going to do things differently. I feel like most guys on the indies that I wrestle have a very good concept of how to put matches together. They are also able to switch psychology on the fly, which is great and really good for wrestling. This is why wrestling has evolved to where we are at right now. It’s partly because they are training at such a young age, but I also think its that they would research and prepare by watching film. I, for instance, would watch all the VHS tapes of what my dad couldn’t teach me, and watch them over and over again. I would come to the ring and practice it. Nowadays, guys have access to Youtube and seek out a move or character that you like and just study it on there and go practice it. There is more information available because of the internet and Youtube.
Being part of Lucha Underground has lent itself to a number of different opportunities. What have you most enjoyed about working with LU, that has made it a refreshing change for the darewolf?
I have just enjoyed working there in general. It is just great there. The staff is great, all the backstage people and the whole crew. It’s a movie crew, so most of them don’t know anything about wrestling. So when we do something like the matches when I first got there, the whole crew were like in awe that we did all of our own stunts in one take. They come from a movie background, and in the movies, you do maybe two or three hundred takes and from different angles. But in wrestling, when you do a match you literally do it in one take. It was cool to see their reaction, and they are now turned into wrestling fans and they now watch WWE. They watch all the other products out there and that’s great. Just the overall experience of working with new people, working with guys like Johnny Mundo (Impact) and Rey Mysterio and Ricochet, and top to bottom on the card I don’t think there is one guy that I haven’t enjoyed working with. I believe great things are still to come for them (Lucha Underground) because it isn’t shot like a wrestling program but like a television show. A lot of wrestling fans will list the negatives of it.
TNA is another wrestling promotion, and TNA, all they try to do is copy WWE, and that’s cool. Lucha Underground isn’t trying to copy anything. We went to movie conventions and we attract a lot of fans. For instance, people that would watch Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, people that have never seen wrestling, they enjoy the show. They are turned into wrestling fans when I speak to them, for instance, at conventions. I caught up on some Monday Night Raw or Smackdown Live, which is great.
If you think about the Lucha Libre culture, their lifestyle is what it is all about. It’s fast-paced characters and background stuff, and I think we use so much of it, it’s turned into this amazing TV show. And it’s a lot more sci-fi based too. One character is based on a dragon (Drago) and one character is a time-traveler to the modern-day (Aerostar), whereas two years ago it seemed more like a reality era in WWE when they tried to make everything as real as possible. I feel Lucha Underground tries to make everything as mystical or sci-fi as possible.
Throughout your career, you have faced a number of talented men and a couple of women. Was there one match that flew under the radar that fans wouldn’t likely know, an underrated match in your estimation?
Quite a few. I could probably list about 10. A lot of them were on WWE Live events, which aren’t televised. Maybe the 7,8 or 10,000 fans in the crowd got to experience that. One match that personally was my favorite was against Hunico on Superstars. If you look deep into the internet and search for it, you could probably find it, but that’s one. We are all our own worst critic. Whenever I watch something I know I should have done that or could have done that better. But that is one match I am like, wow every step was perfect. Another match that I really, really enjoyed was when I was part of the Corre and I went against Edge. As we know, Edge retired as World Heavyweight champion. I am not sure what the period of time was, but he retired undefeated, but before that, he didn’t lose any matches during a period of time. However, he did lose one match, and that was against Justin Gabriel. It was a non-title match, and they eventually cut 11 minutes out of the match on TV because that was when Smackdown was still prerecorded. That match stands out to me. I am actually going to see if I can get a copy of it from the office and upload it to a DVD or something one day. By cutting out 11 minutes you cut out the whole story and the whole psychology around it.
Competing for the NWA was your first television appearance in some time. How has competing, even briefly, for a promotion with such a rich history has been, and are there plans to compete with them in the future?
Nick (Aldis) did a five-minute open challenge at the top of one of the shows, and a bunch of guys came out and he squashed them all within a few minutes. Then, I come out because I was in the area, so I took up the challenge and not everyone was lasting five minutes, and no one was beating him. So, I get a full title match at an upcoming show, it will probably be at an ROH TV taping or something. NWA doesn’t have their own brand or TV show, they have their own Youtube show, the Ten pounds of Gold, and I like what they are doing with it there. With all these promotions and territories, trying to make an old school territory.
As for additional working dates with NWA, I definitely have the championship match scheduled, and we have a couple of dates to hold open, nothing is set in stone, but it will happen. I know it’s going to happen and told them I would be open to working more dates for them. I like what they are doing with the branding, and now that they have the classic old school NWA belt that is cool. As a kid, you remember the belt that Ric Flair had that Dusty Rhodes had that for me was the coolest era in wrestling and for me to be a part of that is pretty amazing.
Could I be competing at #AllIn? Well, you never know. If I have my way I may be defending the title against Cody at #AllIn, the NWA championship, but I just have to get through this one obstacle called Nick Aldis. I think I can do it.
With a degree in sports science, what plans might you have after your career comes to an end?
I thought about this a lot lately. I actually have my Masters and thought about getting my Ph.D. so people could literally call me doctor. But I have been out of it so long that I don’t know how or if any of the information still makes sense now. I am not sure if I have to go back and restudy. I knew I was going to be a wrestler when I was 8 years old, but I went to college because my Mom made me. She never thought I was going to make money in wrestling. That was a good thing to do, and I am glad I did it. It was a good thing to fall back on if things didn’t work out.
I could always go back to it if I got injured and had to retire from wrestling. But I actually got an opportunity to start a few businesses with my girlfriend, I started a few online shops that I hope will be very sustainable in the next few months and hopefully will be fun projects that will provide some money later on. I turned one shop into a wrestling shop, it started off as a wrestling merchandise shop and turned into a pop culture shop. I invested into a lot of new startup, so why not? If my body says that I have had enough of wrestling, maybe I can move forward with this. But I think I have a few more years in wrestling left.
Was there anything you would like to promote, make fans aware of or encourage as it relates to PJ Black for 2018 and beyond?
All information is on my website. If you go to www.darewolf.me you can find some cool merchandise on there, you can find links to my social media. Youtube, there is a bunch of cool things there. Lots of my favorite independent matches on are there and are uploaded to the channel. Some of my favorite skydiving and base-jumping videos are on there, a lot of stuff on there shot with GoPro, all that stuff is on there too. But everything, all the links are on darewolf.me.
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