Ring of Honor’s TK O’Ryan has burst onto the wrestling scene and many have taken notice. As part of the Ring of Honor six-man tag team champions, alongside Vinny Marsaglia and Matt Taven, O’Ryan has shown his growth in only a few years. He was an aspiring baseball player that transitioned to wrestling seamlessly. A proud resident of Lowell, Massachusetts, O’Ryan first developed his craft training under the likes of ‘H20’ Ryan Waters and Nick Steele. Through injury came awareness and growth, and O’Ryan has a much different approach than he had prior to an ankle injury that saw him lose time in the ring. His optimistic outlook is refreshing, and thus his injury led to new opportunities and time for growth. His future is bright, as he has engaged in many storylines in different places that have helped to further his character.
O’Ryan isn’t one to rest on his laurels. In this interview, he discusses how he has learned to adjust to his environment, his relationships with the members of the Kingdom both in and out of the ring, how facing a former member of the Kingdom helped garner him attention, and his perspective on facing the stars of Japan.
Fans can communicate with him on various social media, such as Twitter, where he can be reached @WildHorseTKO
How did your passion for wrestling come about? What was your inspiration for pursuing it as a career?
My initial passion for wrestling came when I was really young because my godmother’s mother, I called her Nana, was a huge Ric Flair fan. So, I didn’t know what I was watching, she would put me in front of the TV and she would explain what was going on. From a young age, I was exposed to that main event style of Ric Flair and the like, and I just fell in love with it right away. Then, I forgot about wrestling until I was about seven years old or so, and that was when I started watching it on TV regularly. I followed it for the greater part of my life. However, I was a pretty serious baseball player at one point, so once baseball took over wrestling took a back seat for me in terms of my fandom I suppose. I always followed along with it a bit. However, once baseball was over for me and I knew I had taken it as far as it could go. I was working and doing small jobs after college and just trying to make ends meet. I was doing what I was doing, then, basically, I just came across wrestling on TV again.
At the time it was, oddly enough, WWE was promoting the CM Punk Best in the World documentary. I watched it and his story was interesting for the fact that he was just going for it, and he was just a normal guy. He went for it and did a lot all around the world. So, I guess just a combination of things. I always liked pro wrestling from a young age. I also saw something from a guy that just went for it that is exactly what I did with my own wrestling career. The two of them together helped me get into the business.
With baseball, I was a division one player, as a four-year starter at Holy Cross. When I was coming out of high school I was recruited, not necessarily heavily, but recruited by a number of division one schools and there were some professional prospects as well out of school. Baseball was kind of plan A, B, and C, and I was fully planning on being a professional baseball player until I was about 22 years old. So it was going to be my professional life. So, things going the way the way they go, athletic goals don’t necessarily go the way you want them to that kind of left me at a weird crossroads of wanting to do something athletic because I’ve been an athlete my whole life and I knew I had a professional caliber athleticism left in me. With baseball, what it really did was give me a handhold into the world of professional wrestling. In that, I was already a conditioned athlete and I knew how to train. I knew the concept of failure and coming back from it and continuing to move forward.
Discuss how you found training under “H2O” Ryan Waters and Nick Steel at The Lock-Up Wrestling School of Professional Wrestling and how that has helped you today?
The training for wrestling and baseball is actually quite similar. The sport you may be doing is different and the drills may be different obviously, as they are completely different games. However, they are very similar in that baseball is a very mechanical sport and there are definitely mechanics of wrestling. Baseball is a big finesse sport, so if you notice a lot of professional baseball players don’t really end up being that prototypical 6’4 330 lbs linebacker type that is the traditional pro-wrestler style. With baseball, there is a finesse that wrestlers have to have. If you look at guys you will notice there is a certain way they move and there is a certain smoothness to them. That is a very baseball like trait to them. Guys that are at the highest level tend to be the smoothest athlete, and that is something that transitioned over well from baseball to wrestling.
The biggest difference that I would say is, there is a psychological part of wrestling training, where you get beat up and you get thrown down, and it doesn’t get easier that toll on your body. You don’t necessarily get used to it, but you get accustomed to it. Whereas with baseball, it’s a little different in that it’s a little less intense on your body I guess. The biggest thing that I can say that I carry over from sport to sport is that wrestling can be extremely frustrating. When you are trying to learn new techniques and things. You see a lot of guys throw up their hands and just can only take their training so far. There is this element of failure that is really difficult for people to grasp in the pro wrestling world. In baseball, there is that ‘7 out of 10 times you are making an out’ old adage, so failure is part of the game, they go hand in hand. Being able to stare that in the face and keep moving is a huge deal. I would say it’s the biggest connection between the two really.
I would say that Nick Steele is definitely interested in the physical aspect of wrestling. He really teaches the hard-nosed nature of wrestling. The hand fighting, the specific grappling and holds, he loves that stuff. It’s that old school gritty and grindy approach. Ryan Waters, he does a really good job of preparing you for the wrestling world. He is phenomenal in the ring and the things he taught me on days one and two of my training I still use today almost every single match I have. However, beyond that, he is fantastic at preparing you for the bits of wrestling that you don’t necessarily learn on day one at a wrestling school. For example, how to be around a locker room or handle different promoters, and do different things that are part of the business that you didn’t necessarily think you needed to know when you first start. That was my biggest take away from Ryan. He prepared me for the wrestling world, or the ‘wrestling bubble’ as he liked to call it. I always say in order for you to be successful in pro wrestling you need to have your outside life in order. There is no way you will survive if something is wrong at home, or your ‘outside wrestling’ life is unstable in any way, and having someone there to make sure it is in order is absolutely essential.
Where did the ‘Wildhorse’ moniker initially come from, and how does it reflect what you do in the ring?
The whole idea of being the sassy wild horse, originally it came from the outfits I tend to wear if you ever catch me outside the ring. I’ll wear some leggings and tight pants and very tight shirts, very snappy, let’s put it that way. Between that and my long-highlighted hair, this whole idea of being this sassy individual with this manli-esque frame, hypermasculine, with this sort of sassy appearance that I always thought was cool. Wild horse that is baseball connection. In baseball, you want to be considered a horse that can run that is strong, you can jump on his back. The guy that can get the work done. The idea of being a wild horse, and you know me I am not really one to be tamed, I am not really one to just fall in the line and follow the rules. I am a rule breaker and I’m an envelope pusher and a line stepper. It’s just always the way I have been. Put them together and bam, sassy Wildhorse.
How did joining Ring of Honor initially come about, and what was going through your mind in your debut match with the Kingdom?
So, how my whole time with Ring of Honor came about, when I first started and Ryan Waters and Nick Steele. My original trainers also trained Taven, and those guys had some work with Spike Dudley as well. The point is, Ryan had trained all three of us at some point, and right away we were all under the same learning tree. When I first started, Vinny was going through a weird not-really-loving-wrestling phase, so he was maybe thinking about finding something else to do. Matt was on the verge of blowing out his knee. What ended up happening was, I started to get my wrestling career going. Vinny (Marsaglia) started to have a rebirth and found his love for wrestling again, and reinvented himself to what we see today. He was way different from what we see now. That was happening, and then Matt got hurt. Vinny and Matt had been friends for a decade. I and Vinny hit it off really well and we wrestled all over the place and became really good friends. Through Vinny and Ryan, I was able to become friends with Matt. So, it started to spin out from there.
Mike Bennett who was an original member of The Kingdom, as I am sure you know, was essential early on for me. He was kind of nurturing to me. He would bring me in and take me to different shows. He was someone I looked up to early on, as I should probably be like Mike, he seems to be successful in wrestling, I should be like that. Mike was bringing me to Ring of Honor shows, and I was doing my due diligence and getting to know everybody.
Once my in-ring skills and things like that were up to par, Matt was on his rehab tour trying to get back into wrestling. We were traveling together all the time, and doing Northeast wrestling shows, just being in the car for hours and hours and months and months. Eventually, when Matt was ready to come back he wanted to re-debut a version of The Kingdom. At that point, Vinny and I were the only two logical options. He pretty much ran it by Ring of Honor. At that point, Vinny and I had proven ourselves to the Ring of Honor office that we were worthy enough of the spots. Here we are now, fast forward, two-time Ring of Honor six-man tag team champions.
As for my first match as part of the Kingdom, it felt like what I was supposed to do. I don’t really believe in being nervous. I joke around with guys all the time before my matches. I will sit there and play air-guitar on my belt, or otherwise screw off and look like I don’t have any sort of focus at all. To me, if you look nervous it means you are unprepared, and I will never be unprepared. So, there is no need to be nervous. Talent and skill are great, but timing is everything in this world. To go out there and to main event in Lowell, which is in my home state of Massachusetts, with my two best friends in Vinny and Matt against The Young Bucks and Adam Cole, who at the time were the Ring of Honor tag team and world champions respectively, it just all felt right. It was like this perfect storm all coming together at the right time. It was exactly where I was supposed to be.
When the decision to create a six-man tag team championship in Ring of Honor initially came about, how was it decided that The Kingdom emerge as the champions? What did that initial experience feel like, becoming champions?
The interesting thing is, the fact that I was new to this company right away meant there was a huge target on my back. I didn’t know these guys except from the outside, and I didn’t even have a dark match against them. I was basically brought in, sight unseen, and thrust into the main event right away. As far as having the belt and being paraded around as champions, initially it was a lot of pressure, a lot of pressure to perform. I didn’t have a lot of six-man tag team experience before I got to Ring of Honor. So now I am involved in something that I was uncomfortable with that I had to learn on the fly. We couldn’t afford to make mistakes to learn from because we were champions. We had to get it right the first time. It was something, to be honest, I don’t think The Kingdom gets enough credit for. We were thrust into this position that was difficult to pull off, and we pulled it off in style, and honestly had I not broken my leg we probably wouldn’t have even lost the titles. So, we proved ourselves as champions and we continue to do so.
The craziest part about all of this was that everything we were doing was the equivalent of building a plane and flying it at the same time. This has to work. We have no choice, this must go correctly. Initially, the response from people was, ‘The Kingdom, they won these titles, no one has ever won them before, what do they really mean? ‘They aren’t really champions’ they are ‘yadda yadda yadda.’ However, in reality, we were setting the tone for a new division. We set that bar for excellence as the Ring of Honor six-man tag team champions, and we were on top from the first day. It was really quite the experience. It is something I won’t forget for my entire life.
The Kingdom today is unlike how the group was prior to your and Vinny’s inclusion. How has the complexities in styles, personality and ring ability made this a successful group?
I think what has made it work as well as it has is that we are real-life friends. We aren’t working friends, we aren’t business partners. We were friends before tagging together. We were friends before we even knew that we were going to be The Kingdom. So the chemistry is tough to match. We aren’t a supergroup that was formed from a bunch of independent wrestling stars that was thrown together. We are a bunch of real friends that had to figure out how to be Ring of Honor champions together. The chemistry we’ve created I feel is second to none. I also feel that a big advantage we have is that you can take any combination of the three of us, whether it is Vinny and Matt, Matt and I or Vinny and I and all of us can be an effective regular tag team, as well as being an effective six-man, as well as having effective solo matches. I think our versatility has really helped us create something unique.
As far as the personality bits that are in there, Taven is very much the showman. He is very much about the razzle-dazzle of pro wrestling, and Vinny is about the work and the attitude, and I really fall in love with the in-ring portion of the game. The three of us together, we build each other up with our strengths. We are good friends and we have had similar training, and are all on the same page with what we do. Then, when it comes down to The Kingdom being in Matt Taven’s image, it’s just exactly what he says it is. I and Matt are pretty similar, we’re both loud people we both like to be centers of attention and we both like to command an audience. Vinny and Matt are the same way in their interests in movies and entertainment and style and all that stuff. It’s just a cool thing. Vinny and I get along because we both have the same temperament. We both are pretty relaxed guys and both like to be easy-going. It’s just, all of us mix very well together.
One peculiar instance was when you faced Mike Bennett for the Northeast championship, considering the relationships you have had within The Kingdom. How did the planning of the match all come about, what were you thinking as the match was taking place, and were you happy with the result?
Initially, wrestling against Mike in Northeast Wrestling was one of the things that got me attention in the wrestling world, to begin with. It was probably my second or third match for Northeast Wrestling. Mikey and I went for twenty plus minutes, and just went out there and killed each other. After that match, was when I started to get some attention at the local level. It was like, ‘Oh this TK kid may be worth checking out.’ Over the year or two after that. Mikey and I’s matches, where we wrestled each other all over the place a whole bunch of times, it was interesting. It came down to the two of us going for the Northeast Wrestling Heavyweight championship, and at that point, Mikey was doing his own thing. Vinny and I had just debuted as part of The Kingdom, and it led to an interesting story of old Kingdom and new Kingdom.
As far as was I happy about how it turned out? Well, the son of a bi*** beat me for the title and I never got a rematch. (laughs) So, I guess we know how I feel about how it turned out. (laughs) I think that overall Mikey has gotten the better of me in the win-loss record against one another. So I’m looking forward to wrestling him again someday, maybe balance the results in my favor. I still connect with him of course. He just had a beautiful baby girl, Freddie Moon, and he and Maria are living happily and all that. I don’t talk to them as much as I used to because they moved out to the Chicago area. However, when they were in Providence I would talk to them all the time. Still to this day, whenever we can we text and chat.
Fans will recall one of the most difficult injuries to watch was the one you sustained, which delayed your progress. How has the process of your recovery helped make you a better performer in and out of the ring?
Well, I will disagree with you in that it delayed or halted my progress. I think the leg injury was the best thing that ever happened to me, I think it vaulted me forward. I don’t think it helped a whole lot with my in-ring development. However, as far as being a weekly character on television, it gave the audience a whole different side of me that I hadn’t been able to display in a six-man match. Whether it be a manager for Matt or Vinny in singles or as a tag team. Whether it was all kinds of promos in the back or using my crutches in the back. Doing stuff in the go-go-go of a six-man match, you might not be able to put those things on display as much.
Also, think about when a rapper gets arrested for selling drugs and puts out a new album. It’s kind of good for business in a way. It turns out fans absolutely dig it when a pro wrestler gets hurt while wrestling, go figure. It’s one of those things that it kind of adds to the legend. Development-wise, it helped a ton because I know what I don’t need to do and what I need to do in the ring. I know exactly what I don’t need to be doing as it can lead to terrible injuries. I think maybe it took a year away from my career on the front end, but it may have added another five more on the back end. So it was a huge learning experience, and rehab was miserable, it was probably the worst pain I had ever experienced in my entire life. Post-surgery, to this day I am still dealing with some of the effects of it, like swelling and things like that, but for the most part, I’ve been 100%. However, the rehab was grueling.
It was hard to watch people wrestle. It was hard to watch this Kingdom that we had built, and this championship run that we were on, go up in flames. There were some dark times in there no doubt, where Matt and Vinny were having this sympathy pain for me and we’re all just feeling sorry for each other. This is where being friends helped. It was tough, but it probably saved us as a group, we just kind of leaned on each other for a bit and circled the wagons and weathered the storm. Now that I am healthy, Vinny and Matt are in the best shape they’ve been in. Look at us now. All’s well that ends well.
It’s not that I am happy that it happened, but I don’t necessarily regret it either. It helped me build a network and I found out who the real fans of TK O’Ryan were. Those moments of tragedy really are a blessing in disguise. It’s just about, see all the BS in front of you. Let’s put it this way, Ric Flair isn’t half the wrestler he was if that plane doesn’t crash. It adds to the legend, it really does. Like I said, I wanted to be a pro baseball player, and the concept of having your dreams crushed, I have already been through it. At this point, you can throw anything you want at me and I’ll still be standing.
Competing in Japan is unlike what have experienced competing in North America. What have you found facing talent that has developed there as opposed to here, and how are you able to adapt?
I think the big difference is that an average Japanese wrestler has a more thorough ground game knowledge because that is the way they are trained in Japan. I am not exactly privy to it. I have never been trained in Japan before. However, just in my experience working with Japanese wrestlers, they have a much stronger grip on the amateur style of wrestling. Their grappling and take downs and things than that. That fighting spirit that they talk about is definitely real. It is the way they are trained and the way they approach wrestling I suppose.
American wrestling tends to be a bit flashier and a little bit more personality driven I suppose. It makes for incredible dynamic matches. In wrestling, the coolest thing is that styles make match ups. When working with Japanese guys is always a treat because you are going to be doing something different from you are used to.
I had a very, very brief experience working with Tanahashi in the ring, we worked together in Scotland. That just opened my eyes to a different level of greatness. It’s almost hard to describe exactly what I am saying, but he was at a different level. The way he interacts with the crowd and the way people respond to him, he just feeds off of energy, it is just unbelievable. He was something. And not for nothing, but the gentlemen that we wrestled at Best in the World in EVIL, Sanada and Bushi, they are other guys that are incredibly impressive. The stuff that they all do, but I would say overall the guy that impresses me the most is Tanahashi. He is such a star and such a presence and has such a way about him, an aura. The way he moves and the way he handles people, it’s just incredible. When my friends outside wrestling ask me what’s it like wrestling Japanese guys, the best way to describe him is that he is a Japanese John Cena. He is their big star.
The Ring of Honor locker room is deep in talent and history. How has learning from veterans like Jay Lethal helped you become ‘the best around’?
It is the reason why I have become the best around. I always called myself that, but the minute I started in Ring of Honor really led me to believe it. It is why I am able to really, really promote myself as ‘the best around.’ I would say wrestling the Motorcity Machineguns, wrestling them a ton early on, you have no choice but to learn wrestling the likes of Sabin and Shelley. We wrestled them a ton early on in our Ring of Honor careers. Those guys get you up to speed in a hurry, you have no choice but to learn from one of the best teams of the last twenty or thirty years. You have no choice but to keep up. The Briscoes, the Young Bucks, the Ring of Honor tag team division is something else. So from a tag team perspective, a six-man or just a traditional tag, the competition alone and knowing that if I go out there and I can’t hang with this guy, then I don’t belong here. It’s pretty much the way it works in Ring of Honor.
You hear a lot about how there is this Ring of Honor style. The truth is that the Ring of Honor style is that it is the best there is. Whatever that means, whatever particular wrestler, it’s just different. However, the common denominator is that every single person in Ring of Honor, whether it be Jay Lethal in a singles match or the Motor City Machineguns in a tag team match everyone in Ring of Honor is the best in the world at what they do. It’s been crucial to my development. The list goes on and on and on, those guys just jump out at the top of the list. Also, not for anything, Matt Taven as well is a very accomplished singles wrestler and a world-traveled veteran who knows exactly what he is doing in and out of the ring. He has been humongous in our growth. That’s just the thing man, in Ring of Honor every single person is the best in the world at what they do.
As we approach the midway point of 2018, what plans are in store for TK O’Ryan today and beyond?
For today and beyond I am going to continue to do what I do. That is to continue to be the best around. I will continue to climb up that Ring of Honor ladder and continue to impress people with just how quickly I can get things done. I think something that maybe doesn’t get mentioned about me is that I haven’t been wrestling for very long, it will be four years in November. I have been working for Ring of Honor for two out of the three years that I have been actively wrestling. I have been in the main event of Ring of Honor since I have been with the company, and there has been no slow climb to the top, that is just where I debuted. I want to continue to prove that I am the main event star that I have been since I started in Ring of Honor, while I continue to grow. When I get even further from where I am now, there is nothing stopping me.
Was there anything you wanted to make fans aware of as it pertains to TK O’Ryan, The Kingdom or Ring of Honor? Where can fans connect with you?
Be aware of The Kingdom. Truly appreciate the talent that we do have. Don’t just buy into the narrative that there is just one group in wrestling that is worth a damn. The Kingdom is the only group in the entire world that you can have the three of us in a six-man, any combination of us in a tag team, and any one of the three of us in a single match as the main event that night. We are the only team that has that kind of variety. We are the only team that cuts promos that match that sort of variety, and there is a lot more to pro wrestling than one group that controls everything.