Ring of Honor top prospect finalist John Skyler talks finals, & the future.

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‘The Southern Savior’ Ring of Honor top prospect finalist John Skyler may just be the hardest working wrestler on the independent scene. If you disagree with that statement, look no farther than the opportunities that have been presented to him, and his desire to improve both inside and out of the ring. Over the past year, Skyler earned notoriety while competing in Ring of Honor’s top prospect tournament. One of the most notable in ring qualities that Skyler possesses is his versatility, and his ability to move around with the greatest of ease. He enlightened me about a number of his past experiences, where he has been and where he ultimately hopes to be.

He possesses a variety of technical moves and the ability to perform high flying maneuvers and came within an eyelash of winning ROH’s top prospect tournament this past year. His future is bright. In this interview, Skyler discusses how his ability to adapt to his environment, regardless of where he is in the world, is crucial for success. As a world traveled competitor, he learns from those experiences and applies them to his craft. Already having cameo’d for WWE’s NXT, Skyler knows what is asked of him either in front of the camera or in front of an independent crowd.

Fans can communicate with him on various social media, such as Twitter and Instagram, where he can be reached @thejohnskyler

Skyler aspires for greatness.

Where did your early exposure to wrestling come about, and was there a moment where you knew you were going to make this a commitment?

I grew up a huge fan, as a kid back in the day, of WCW. I’m from Columbia, South Carolina, grew up in a little town called Blightswood right outside of Columbia, and WCW used to come here quite often for live events and things of that nature. I used to go a lot as a kid to a place called the Township auditorium here in Columbia. I was like any kid, I would find things that I liked and I would find things that I eventually grew out. For example, I liked G.I Joe, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and eventually pro wrestling, and pro wrestling was the thing that I never grew out of it.

So, I vividly remember the moment where I knew this was what I wanted to do. I was watching Shawn Michaels beat Bret Hart for the WWE championship at WM XII, and this was the moment I said, I want to be a WWE wrestler when I grew up. So, I decided to get trained in 2008 and never really looked back since. It’s funny, when I look back at 2008, I wasn’t really sure. I knew that my dreams, goals, and aspirations were to be a WWE superstar, but you don’t know how attainable those goals are. It’s almost funny how things just fall into your lap in pro wrestling. I think I’m well on my way to reaching those dreams, and I am excited about the future.

Travelling the independents has its share of highs and lows. Share with us if you could what you have found to be some of the biggest challenges and some of the biggest rewards of competing all over North America?

Some of the highest of highs are I get to travel the world and all over North America. I believe you’re based out of Canada; I’ve been all over Canada, the U.S, Europe and Asia, so that’s one of the highest of highs, getting to travel all over the world and getting to see all these different places and meet different people and become multi-cultured. For instance, I’ve been to different places like Singapore and China and all over the United Kingdom, and that’s not something I’d be able to say I did if I was working a 9-5 job at, say, McDonald’s, or something like that. That is definitely a high, and just getting to wrestle and be in front of the people and string them along and play with their emotions, that’s a high.

The lows are having to drive anywhere from 8 to 18 hours, and be beat up, and be away from your family and missing out on so many friends’ events like weddings. So, missing out on what quote-unquote normal people get to experience. I started wrestling when I was in college, and I did get to graduate from the University of South Carolina. However, I didn’t live life like a normal college kid, I didn’t get to do what typical college kids were doing because I was already out and traveling the roads and wrestling. So, you do miss out on some stuff and that is the hardest part. The traveling and beating up aren’t fun either, but you kinda know what you signed up for.

In all of your travels, wrestling all over the world, did you ever feel that you had to cater to certain crowds?

The ability to adapt is crucial for any wrestlers success, and Skyler shares his thoughts on this.

I remain the same guy no matter what. What you need to do is just be able to adapt, and that’s the beautiful part of the independents. It’s on the job training and it is a challenge. Last weekend, I was in North Carolina and tagged with Mr. #1, George South, who is a staple of the mid-Atlantic area. He was all over Crockett TV back in the day and did stuff with the WWE as well. He trained guys like Cedric Alexander and Tessa Blanchard and so many others. We had a certain style of match that catered towards children last week, and we were tagging and riling up the kids, and it was kind of an old-school mid-Atlantic type match. Something you may have seen on Memphis TV back in the 1980s.

That being said, this past year I also wrestled for Ring of Honor at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, and now I know the match George and I did last Saturday wouldn’t go over well at the Hammerstein Ballroom, where fans are looking for more high spots and action and excitement. At the same time, you go to someplace like Singapore, those people over there don’t really know what wrestling is, so there were a lot of times where I was teaming with Pete Dunne, the WWE United Kingdom champion right now. We formed a tag team over there, we’re out there doing all this stuff and these people don’t even know what we are doing, and they don’t have an idea of what pro wrestling is and they are staring at us with these blank looks on their faces. All you have to do is peek your head out of the ropes as if you are about to go after them as a heel, and they’ll run out in every which direction and scatter. Pete and I aren’t the biggest guys in the world so you would have thought we were Bruiser Brody or something. People were running off in different directions.

That’s the beautiful part of what we do is that you get thrown out there, and you learn on the job, and you learn to adapt if a crowd isn’t buying what you’re selling. I think that’s what makes a worker a great worker, being able to cater to the crowd that they are in front of on that particular night. What you do in North Carolina isn’t going to necessarily work in New York City, and that isn’t going to work in Singapore or China. You have to learn how to adapt and change things on the fly.

If you can highlight one match where you felt that it all came together either in singles or tag team action, when would that be, who was involved and share what was going through your head at the time?

That’s a good question. Thankfully here in the Carolinas, we have a little promotion called PWX which is gaining a lot of popularity on the Highspots network. I’ve had a wide variety of opponents, I’ve wrestled some of the local guys like Ethan Case, Jake Manning, Cedric Alexander before he was signed, Caleb Konley, and so many others. I also got to wrestle guys on the outside like Johnny Gargano and Timothy Thatcher and Zack Sabre Jr., people like that.

There was this one particular match against Johnny Gargano that I had in Charlotte, North Carolina for PWX, which was probably about two years ago now. It was kind of a cold match, there was no rivalry, he was coming in for one-time appearance and I was working my way up the system at the time, just getting hot. The bell rang and we stood there in our respective corners and the crowd was going ballistic. We hadn’t done anything, we were just standing there and staring at each other from across the ring, and they were chanting “Johnny Wrestling, Skyler Sucks” and then it became a 50/50 thing where people were like chanting “Johnny Wrestling” “Let’s go Skyler.” We took a couple steps closer to each other, we went nose to nose with one another, and then the crowd started chanting ‘This is awesome.’ We had never touched each other! This was a cold match, and it was literally us just taking a moment to acknowledge the people and the people were acknowledging us. We were letting the people, in a certain way, dictate what we were going to do next, but they didn’t have full control, we were still trying to figure things out. So, we were like, okay.

There is this misconception where guys are told all the time that less is more, less is more, and I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I think it’s about getting more out of less. I think that was a night where we were getting more out of less. We hadn’t touched each other, and that wasn’t anything we planned. It was us reacting to the crowd. It made for a special moment, definitely for me. I can’t speak for Johnny, Johnny has probably had a ton of those moments in fact because the guy is great. It was really cool to experience that, and it was where the lightbulb went off and it was like ‘wrestling moves don’t really matter.’ I started thinking, we had these people wrapped up in emotion and we hadn’t even touched. That is where the lightbulb went off in my head anyway. Okay, maybe it’s not necessarily about the wrestling moves. I look back at that match with great fondness because I think it made me a better wrestler.

How have you found working in a tag team? Often there are challenges working as one-fourth of a match, and communication can be a challenge. Was there one match that stood out that everyone and everything worked out incredibly well?

There was a while where, at the time his name was Stephen Walters, but he now has gone on to be part of The Revival under the name Dash Wilder, we were a pretty successful team on the independents before he got signed. We went by the name the Love-Hate Machine. We had a series of matches against the Bravado Brothers, and one particular night we had a match against them at a bar show in, I think it was Columbia, South Carolina. So the people that show up to this bar show may not necessarily be wrestling fans. They may just be people that came to hang out at the bar and they heard wrestling was going to be there, so they probably just decided to come here and check it out. Like China or Singapore, they may not know what it’s like to be a recipient of a hurricanrana or know what a 450 splash feels like, so they are going to be harder to hook at times. This beautiful match this night, we all got on the same page, and when we all got on the same page we started getting this flow going and it was this beautiful tag match, where at the end people were chanting ‘That is awesome.’ I’m like, man, that’s a pretty good reception for a bar crowd. We brought it back the next day at the same venue for like a 2 out of 3 falls tag match, and that would be the last time me and, I guess his name is Dash now, would have tagged together against the Bravados, where they beat us for the tag belts.

Before he was Dash Wilder of The Revival, Stephen ‘The Fever’ Walters along side Skyler.

It’s really fun to go out there. Yes it’s four guys and yes it’s four sets of eyes trying to figure out what the vision of the match is going to be, you might butt heads on certain things, but at the end of the day, those were four pros that were in that match. Ask any one of us, all four of us had a lot of experience from all around the world. We have all done things on television. That’s really what experience is. You can wrestle for 15 years and never really leave your backyard, and then you don’t really have any experience. You just know how to work matches in your own backyard or your hometown. The four of us are complete pros, where we have this experience worldwide doing all these overseas tours and working on television. We can put a solid tag match together. It made sense, and the people liked it and we all had fun doing it. That’s probably the most fun I’ve had doing tag matches in terms of getting everyone on the same page. Everyone may have a different vision, but it’s about all of us going out there and getting on the same page and creating magic.

How would you say your character or personality developed from its inception, when you first began competing, to today, and where do you see it going?

That’s a great question because when I first got started in wrestling I went by ‘the New Sensation’ John Skyler. I don’t know if I wanted to be Michael Hayes, it changed from week to week, but at first, it was like a Freebird, Michael Hayes type guy, and also like Chris Jericho from WCW when he was doing the topnotch 1980s rockers stuff. I had no idea what I wanted to be. What I knew was that, eventually, ‘The New Sensation’ isn’t going to be new anymore, so what am I going to do after that? I did a lot of comedy stuff when I first started, and I finally realized that if I wanted to be taken seriously and make a lot of money in wrestling, comedy is only going to get me so far.

So, I need to be taken seriously about what I do, and it was inspired by two different people. It was first inspired by Tyler Durden from Fight Club, this guy that had this idea of Project Mayhem where he is going to go to destroy everything just to create something greater, and he is in his mind doing good things even though he is a dastardly human being. He inspired it, and in real life David Koresh, from Waco, Texas did as well. I’m not sure how many people maybe remember that, but he was a cult leader. These were the initial influences of the character. From day one that’s what I envisioned it being, but as you evolve and grow you kind of need to realize as a performer there have to be certain aspects of this character that hit close to home, with whom you truly are. Austin really drinks beer and rides around in a pickup truck, that’s who he is.

I needed to do something to where I needed to find who is John, as a real person? I started going to these different independent shows and started thinking about leaving a place greater than as it was before I found it. Whether it’s for one show or one year, I want to make this place get better, so that’s where the ‘Savior’ name came from. As a babyface, you can come in and say ‘I’m going to change this place, and I’m going to do great things here and change it for the better.’ As a heel, you can automatically claim that this place sucked before I got here, and now I’m going to make it better because I’m this huge TV star and I’m a huge star all over the world. You can definitely take it in two different directions. So, it’s definitely evolved, especially the Ring of Honor stuff on TV. It helped me out, as I was able to cut promos, and you only have 30 seconds to cut a promo, so you go out there and hit everything. It’s funny that at times I don’t really know what the character is, I’m still trying to figure it out and I’m trying to throw things at the wall and see what sticks. I guess that’s the great thing again about being an independent wrestler. It’s on the job training, and you are trying to figure things out. I have a better understanding of what and who I am now in 2017 than even in 2016.

One of the most prominent wrestlers today is Kyle O’Reilly. Discuss if you could how that experience was and what you walked away with after facing him.

We crossed paths only briefly, it was in the NWA Future Legends cup, I believe and that was about 7 years ago. He was still on the rise with Ring of Honor, but my experiences with him were great. He was such a mild-mannered, very nice young guy just like me and a lot of guys in that locker room, but I think we had both had matches earlier on in the day. It was a one-day tournament, and I wrestled Reid Flair earlier on in the show and he wrestled maybe Tony Kozina, I believe. I know we didn’t have a lot of time to put a match together, and we didn’t really know each other. So, we had to go out there, and again, feel it out in what I think was Carlton, Georgia, near Atlanta. We had to look at the type of crowd we had, and again, this is the sign of two pros going out there and getting it done. Kyle was always great, and he was a very polite and very professional guy. I’m glad to have worked with him the few times that I did.

A true professional inside and out of the ring, Skyler remembers fondly working with O’Reilly.

As a nine-year pro, how has the business changed in your time in the ring? Greater opportunities? Greater earning opportunity?

Absolutely. There has been a huge change in the business, in the favor of the independents, from where I broke in 2008. One of the reasons I said that I might not make WWE was because I am a 5’8, 5’9 guy, and not even 200 lbs, and in 2008 they wanted guys that were 6’2 at the minimum and 230 or 240 lbs at the minimum. I remember that was all they were looking for, you can’t be smaller than this. This was the minimum because it was very much a big man’s territory, and in a lot of ways, it still is. That is when guys like (CM) Punk started to come in and get noticed, and guys like Daniel Bryan hadn’t even gotten a shot yet, and some guys had been there and have been phased out pretty quickly. For example, Low Ki, he didn’t last there very long at all. I am sure there are others that I am skimming over. The idea of being an independent wrestler and going to WWE was a longshot, and the term independent wrestler was somewhat of a derogatory term. That is how it was looked at by the higher-ups for a long time. ‘Oh, if this guy is such a great indy guy, then what is so special about him?’ That was the idea that was floating around.

Where now, wrestlers are starting to embrace it, as, like, the new regime there, they want to know where you have been and your accomplishments on the independents and where you have been, and they almost embrace that independent background, where they turned up their nose to it a couple of years ago. That’s changed in a good way, and there are a number of guys making great livings on the independents outside the WWE. There is a world outside the WWE that people may think maybe a little bit untapped. There are people going out, and celebrities showing up at PWG shows in Rosita, California, and it’s this hotspot where people want to go and see what is going on. I also liken what a number of the American fans will see on the independents to college football. They are playing for the love of the game, and aren’t making millions of dollars yet, they haven’t made it to the NFL yet. The NFL is like WWE, and people are doing it for the contracts or the money, and when they are playing college ball they are doing it for the love of the game. I think fans come out to independent shows and see that, we are making good money, but not necessarily WWE money. It isn’t life-changing money, but we love performing and we love the business.

I know that when I first started doing extra work for the WWE back in 2011, the first thing I ever did was get killed by Ryback on TV or something. I remember thinking back then, I should be here, I am good enough to be here, and I always had that in my mind. Then, when I look back at some of my independent shows from back then in 2011 compared to now, I am 10,000 times the worker I am now than I was then. I have seen myself grow by leaps and bounds honestly, and if I would have been offered something back in 2011 I don’t think I would have been ready to contribute like I am now. Not just WWE, but anywhere full-time, Ring of Honor, TNA, New Japan, anywhere. I don’t think I would be able to contribute like I would right now. I am not trying to beat a dead horse about the independents, but I think that is where guys like AJ (Styles) and Samoa Joe have an advantage over everybody else because they spent so much time on the independents, they spent so much time getting worldwide experience to where you can throw something their way in WWE and none of it is unfamiliar territory because they have literally been there and done that. In every predicament, they can do anything needed if called upon by WWE.

Competing for prominent promotions and carving a niche for yourself lends itself for a very different experience. What have you found the biggest difference between competing for the likes of, say, NXT and the independent circuit?

Skyler with current WWE Smackdown Live superstar Chad Gable during Skyler’s time in NXT.

There are definitely differences between working television and your local independent show. On TV you may have six minutes, but six minutes on TV is a lot of time. You have to hit your marks, camera angles, and get with your producer, and make the break spot on time, and get back from the break. You have to make sure you are getting the points across that you want to get across in the match. Also, you want to look aggressive, and each strike has to count. ‘Maximize your minutes,’ that is one big thing they say if you have four minutes you need to make it the best four minutes you possibly can. However, on the independents, you may be given 8-10 (minutes), or 12, and there really isn’t going to be any repercussions on the talent for going over. If you are working television and you go over, your ass is going to get chewed out, you are going to be told that other segments are going to have to be cut and stuff like that.

Also, the level of experience and professionalism on TV is just amazing. There are guys like Dean Malenko, William Regal, Steve Corino, Arn Anderson, Scott and Brian Armstrong, Robbie Brookside, Matt Bloom, Scotty 2 Hotty, Adam Pearce, who have seen and done everything. These are all producers there, and all these guys have 20-30 years of experience. You go to the independents and you may have some guy doing his third ever show, and he is going to tell you that he wants a certain style of match and get this point across for the next show, and you are like…’Okay, who are you? (laughs).’ Again, it is fun having that blank canvas on the independents. Just last week I had a match on a small show here in Carolina, it was two babyface tag teams going at it, and for South Carolina that is not a good idea ever, to have two babyface tag teams working each other ever. We made something out of nothing and we created a pretty cool little story, and the crowd was pretty receptive to it.

However, the idea of having a blank canvas and going out there and produce anything you want on the independents is really appealing, you can show who your true self is. When you have 8-10 minutes and a blank canvas, it’s okay to say go out there and do your thing. That is sometimes hard to do that when you are hindered by 4-5 minutes and a segment on television. Sometimes you are not going to be the focal point on television, and you are there to try to get another guy over, and while you may be trying to get yourself over in the process it’s not in the cards. At times it is going to be about the other guy, and sometimes that can be a little bit frustrating when you have only a few minutes and you are supposed to go out there and produce magic. You don’t necessarily feel like you have the proper tools or elements to get yourself out there.

Ring of Honor’s top prospect tournament has been a breeding ground for a number of today’s stars. To even be a part of the tournament is often seen as a great opportunity to increase exposure. What did your time going through the tournament mean to you?

image via rohwrestling.com

First of all, when I found out that I was going to be in the tournament I was obviously thrilled and excited because I had been a fan of Ring of Honor ever since I got into professional wrestling. So it was a big notch in my belt to be a part of it, and I thought I was going to get a lot of eyes on me and stuff like that. Also, I went in being realistic. Having over 1000 matches in my career and competing for almost nine years, you learn to expect nothing, so you are pleasantly surprised when you go into a situation, as opposed to getting your hopes up, ‘This is going to be a great opportunity and I am going to win this thing,’ and be let down or something like that. So, I went into the tournament expecting they are going to have me put somebody over in the first round or something. I didn’t expect anything out of it, in a way. I get there for night one in Pittsburgh and I find out I was going over, I’m thinking..really? I am? I went over Sean Carr in the first round, which was perfect for me because he was the guy in the tournament that I matched up best with. I thought Sean Carr’s style was what I would match up best with, and he was who I wanted to work within the first round. That was a best-case scenario for me, and to having a great match and going over was a blessing.

Then getting to wrestle in Hammerstein ballroom in the second round against Curt Stallion was a lot of fun because I was a big wrestling fan/nerd growing up and the lineage of the Hammerstein Ballroom, and ECW, and everything that entailed. Getting another win on television was another notch in the belt, and I joke with my friends saying I am undefeated in the Hammerstein Ballroom, being 1 and 0 (laughs). For the finals, I faced Josh Woods in Baltimore, and I have a lot of confidence now because I know I am killing it in the ring and in the promos. I feel like he was obviously the choice going forward, who they saw the biggest future in of all the prospects, but I think I turned a lot of heads. I will make no bones about it, I have said this to a lot of people, I was the best one in the tournament. That isn’t me bragging or being an egomaniac if you go back and watch the matches that were on TV I don’t think there was a better performer in that tournament than me.

So, it is a little bit heartbreaking to know I haven’t been back since. That is part of the business, and maybe it isn’t a no, but it’s not right now. Maybe I am not what they are looking for. They often say wrestling is like being cast in a movie, and maybe I haven’t been cast in the right role yet, maybe that will come soon, we never know. I will always say that things just happen. There isn’t a rhyme or reason, and when I am asked why I haven’t been back to Ring of Honor, trust me, folks, it’s not my choice (laughs). I would be there in a heartbeat, and business there is up! They have a lot of eyes on them. It was a great experience overall, though. Again, it gave me a lot of confidence, making me aware of what I know I can do when given a platform on television. I can be an asset to ROH, TNA, and it has always been my dream to be a WWE superstar and be an asset to them, whether it’s NXT or on their main roster. I have a lot of confidence now, and either way, it was a blessing.

As 2017 draws to a close, what are your aspirations for the coming year and in the future overall?

Honestly, it’s hard to put a timetable on anything in pro wrestling because anything can happen. It is the craziest thrill ride of all time, and you never know what is going to happen. Just the other day, I put out promo packages with videos of matches and my resume, and I sent it to everybody that has a television deal, and I sent it out to a lot of independent companies with a lot of buzz like the EVOLVE’s and WrestleCircuses, AAW in Chicago. I sent out my stuff to just about anybody and everybody like in Germany as well. My biggest goal is to get eyes on me and build my brand, the ‘Southern Savior’ John Skyler, and make myself valuable and make myself an asset.

Skyler hopes to make 2018 even better than 2017.

By the end of 2018, I want to be where I am not having to reach out to people, but people are reaching out to me, whether that be a top independent company or a top foreign company like RevPro or Whatculture or wXw or New Japan. The only way to do that is to make myself valuable, and that’s my goal by the end of 2018, for me to have to turn people away (because I am so busy), rather than to have to reach out to companies. It is difficult to make predications like, ‘I am going to be in WWE’ because you never know what is going to happen. Sometimes that is a difficult and unrealistic expectation to have. You just have to go with the flow and wrestle every match like it is your last.

Do you have anything to share, promote or make fans aware of as it pertains to wrestling? How can fans connect with you if they so wanted to?

You can connect with me on Twitter, I am @thejohnskyler, and I have the ‘Southern Savior John Skyler’ Facebook page, and a ProWrestlingTees store if people want to buy some merch. I am on Instagram at @thejohnskyler. I am all over social media, and I am not too hard to find in terms of social media. I recently won the world heavyweight championship for Resistance Pro, and I will be there defending the title. Coming up in the next year a lot of people can check me out in PWX, Premier Wrestling Xperience, which is my home promotion, and a lot of exciting things are happening there. In January, there will be a two-night event on the 13th and 14th where they will have their X-16 tournament, which is an annual thing. I will be a part of that along with several other top independent stars. If fans want to look into tickets they could go to pwxwrestling.com or reach out to them on Twitter at @pwxwrestling and on Facebook.