TomLaRuffa im WrestlingFever.de Interview (English, 22.09.2017)

WF: Thank you very much for your commitment, Tom. I am very happy about it. How are you?

T: Im doing great, thank you!

WF: Nowadays you travel a lot internationally. To Fans here you are not only known for your appearances in the German rings but they saw you on several tv-shows. But first things first. How popular is wrestling in France, are there many respectable promotions and wrestlers, and how is wrestling in general in your home country?

T: What I like most about wrestling in France is that it is still for the most part a family product. There is always the internet fans on the shows, but they are rarely numerous. I believe it is so because there is no real promotion in France that runs shows monthly at the same place, with storylines, as well as internet airing of the shows.

When you do so, like WCPW in the UK, GWF or NEW in Germany (for the promotions I worked for) not only do you build a loyal fanbase, but they also watch your product on the internet, then expect a more „internet indy“ wrestling style (with high risk moves, lots of action, and so on). While with family crowds, the style tends to be toned down in favor of the stories told and the characters built.

WF: On the internet I looked up your trainer. I found Lance Storm who is a well known name. Was it ‚only‘ Lance Storm who built and trained you?

T: Yes, I credit Lance for 90% of my original training. I did train in 2007-2008 in California with Rocky Romero, Karl Anderson and TJ Perkins, in NWA Pro, run by David Marquez, after the NJPW LA dojo closed. But it wad all additionnal, more technical training. Lance taught me (very well) the basics you need to make it.

WF: How long was it between your first training and finally your debut match and how was it?

T: With my background in combat sport, my training camp with Lance went well and fast. I was a natural in the ring, and Lance picked me personnally to replace an injured worker on a local indy show in Alberta, for my debut. It happened on November 29th 2006, about 2 months and a half after I started training. It was against TBone, another of Lance’s alumni from the class before mine.

WF: You moved from France to Canada to train there, or how was that?

T: it was great, but expensive haha! I stayed 3 months there then went back to France at the end of camp.

WF: After your training, as a start, you (almost) only wrestled for Wrestling Stars. Was this a conscious decision to gather experience or just practical as it was in your own country?

T: Both actually. At the time, WS was giving me 2 to 3 shows every week ends, which was awesome, as I could not only have a week job besides that, but also stay home and work on my body and athletic abilities. It also allowed me to meet and work with some of Europe’s best talents, from the Chaer brothers, to Rampage Brown, Mikey Whiplash, Chad Collyer, Murat Bosporus among others…

WF: We know you from your time at NXT, TNA and of course your entrances here in Germany like EWP: in a previous talk I mentioned that – by appearance – you remind me of a young Randy ‚Macho Man‘ Savage. How many times did you hear that yet and is it intentional?

T: Well now that I shaved my head I dont hear that a lot anymore, except when I wear a bandana haha. But yes I used to get this all the time, and yes, it was intentionnal. Macho Man was one of my three favorites growing up, with Bret Hart and XPac, so it was my hommage to him. Few people know that I own some of Randy Savage’s ring worn tights.

Back in 2005, his agent was auctionning all of his wrestling outfits on ebay, for NOTHING. I remember seeing some of his TV worn tassels jackets for like $500!! I didnt buy any because I found it a bit expensive at the time, and now I regret it SO BAD because they are worth 5 times more! I only bought two tights and a tank top he wore in WCW in 1999. I even wrestled in one of them tights in 2007 haha…

WF: Why did you decide to cut your hair, I imagine that it can be difficult for a man…

T: it wasnt difficult at all. Cutting my hair was on my mind for the last few months of my time in NXT. Creative had nothing for me so I wanted to change my whole look to maybe spark something in their mind… Sadly, in WWE they have a saying: „it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission“. Nobody would allow such a drastic change in my look without HHH’s approval, and I was never able to talk to him at tapings… so when I got released, this was one the very first things I did.

I got released on a friday. Saturday morning, everything was gone besides the beard haha! The whole head shaven big beard look would fit great for my Spartan character I thought, and a few month later, Kratos for God of War 4 on PS4 showed up looking just like that ! Loved it!

WF: Who were/are your idols and role models – who or what made you say ‚I want to do to that too!‘?

T: The „I want to do that“ or more like „I can do that too“ was watching mid 90ies Shawn Michaels do his thing. Then when it came to actual favorite wrestlers, my top 3 was Macho Man, Bret Hart and Xpac, all bearded, dark haired guys I could identify myself to as a teenager growing up. Then around the early 2000s, thanks to internet, I got familiar with japanese wrestling, and Tiger Mask 1 / Satoru Sayama quickly became my baseline of what a pro wrestler should be able to do in the ring. I started training like the japanese dojo boys, doing thousands of squats and back bridges and hindu push ups, which got me in top shape for camp at Lance’s school in Calgary!

WF: Is your life as a wrestler as you pictured it? You´ve been doing it for 10 years now …

T: not at all haha! First of I never really imagined being the first Frenchman to sign with WWE since Andre. I had a vague dream of WWE, but starting out, like any real passionate and driven individual, I just wanted to go as far as I could. The WWE goal came along the way… Also once signing with WWE, I never thought my career would get cut so short because of injuries… I never really got hurt on the indies, and my body had to wait to get in the big time to give up on me haha! And last of all, I never thought that all I learned in NXT/WWE would be usefull to me in Impact Wrestling! The great thing about a wrestler career and/or simply Life in general is that you never know where it will take you. It’s a journey and as long as you dont give up, you will always end up in places and meeting people, good or bad. Everything happens for a reason!

WF: How would you describe the pros and cons of your job? What should one consider carefully before becoming a pro wrestler?

T: Wow, tough question. There will always be a huge gap between people and opinions, depending on whether you look at pro wrestling as a career choice, or as a week end hobby. I have been around the two kinds of people so it really depends on what we are talking about here. If you start wrestling and want to make a living out of it, i.e. get signed by a big promotion, the cons are that you’re gonna have to put everything on the line, and BUST YOUR BUTT to become good, be noticed and worth being invested in.

You’re gonna have to invest time and money in yourself and your career for a company like WWE, GFW, ROH or NJPW to pay you regularly to perform on their TV show. There really wont be time for anything else, unless of course you’re 7 feet tall…when you’re that tall or big, doors tends to open more easily in this business haha! The pros on the other hand are that if it is your passion, your boyhood dream, you’re going to embark on a journey where you’re gonna make awesome friends, and live great times!

Just make sure to stay healthy and not get hurt lol! Injuries are no fun… Now for the „week-ends“ warriors…I dont think there are any cons to it, as they dont plan on making it big, so they can pretty much quit whenever they want. But these „fake“ pro wrestlers sure are a con for the real pros when they take jobs away from them by working for free. Sure the promoters that hire them are to be blamed too, but if there wasnt these „amateur pro wrestlers“, there wouldnt be any other choice than to book real pros… The pros for these amateurs is that they can live their WWE fantasy with their friends, film themselves and brag on facebook and youtube about being a pro wrestler…

WF: As mentioned before you later became part of WWE’s development program. How do you recall your time at NXT. I could imagine it to be hard, waiting to get into the WWE main roster. Who accompanied you during your time there?

T: my time in FCW/NXT was a great experience. Everything wasnt always good, but noneless it definitely helped me grow very much both as a worker and as a human being in general. First of, I got hurt as soon as I got there. Tore my ACL and both meniscus in training. So straight away I started with a HUGE handicap, and was labelled „fragile“ by the officials… I had to work twice harder than anybody else to win them over without being able to get between the ropes and do my thing… I have to admit deep inside I liked the challenge and took it head on, but still, it was a very hard time.

I only had promos to show them I deserved to be there, so that’s how I became so good. Before they opened up the Performance Center (PC) in July 2013, I was a loner. I didnt really have a partner in crime in FCW/Tampa. Then in Orlando, when the PC opened up, came both Marcus Louis (Mikael Vierge) and Becky Lynch, who became my two closest friends during my time in the US. It always helps to have people you can trust in such an environment.

WF: Did you like being at NXT, do you still watch it?

T: I definitely loved being on TV. That’s what we all work for when there. Promo days also were a lot of fun because always challenging, trying to come up with new creative content, as well as building characters from the ground up. In ring trainings could be hard sometimes though, because the schedule wasnt always easy. Sadly I dont have the WWE network because Im not working for them anymore, so I dont watch NXT. But I keep up to date with what goes on there because I still have many friends working in WWE.

WF: Wrestling fans rate the NXT ‚Takeover‘ events higher than the ‚classic‘ WWE events. Why is it so different especially the atmosphere … how did you experience it, can you describe it?

T: Well I’ve only been on one Take Over, Fatal Four Way on Sept. 11th 2014, so I can only talk from this experience… There is definitely a surreal energy coming from a TakeOver because I think the roster is so young and hungry they want to show Vince McMahon and the world they have what it takes. Maybe even that they are better than „the big boys“ on the main roster Raw or Smackdown. The thing is we are taught that Raw and SD are the place to be and this is where you wanna go (and yes this is where you make the most money!), but Im sure you can ask any NXT star and they’ll tell you the NXT brand is the best in WWE…

WF: You are also known as the ‚French Stallion‘; how did it come to that name – is there a story behind it?

T: Not really… I originally came up with it while in training camp with Lance in 2006, during promo days. It sounded great so I kept it. It sure is taken from Rocky the Italian Stallion, but it sounds arrogant too which is the idea of my french heel character when oversea.

WF: During your time at WWE you also were a manager, were there specific reasons (injury?) or did they have other plans with you?

T: Both haha! Like I said I tore up my knee as soon as I got there in FCW so I had to show them while in rehab that I was worth being on WWE TV. I work AS HARD AS POSSIBLE on my promos then, to make up for it. I became so good at it thanks to Dusty Rhodes but also and especially Byron Saxton, who would sit down and review all my promos with me, that they eventually said they needed me on TV, and I became the poster boy for all the injured talents, that even if sidelined, you can still bring something to the company.

I loved the honor, but deep inside I REALLY wanted to wrestle. I mainly managed Scott Dawson and Rusev on TV. And the problem was that I became too good at it, especially considering I had at the time the right size for the job (5’10-190 lbs), and I could also bump my ass off… That was GOLD for them. And back in good old Full Sail, just showing up on stage with my crazy looking jackets I would get booed… this was very fun, and I LOVED being on the microphone.

WF: Many people see you as a ‚total package‘ (not just by appearance), why did you have to leave NXT (WWE). Can you tell the fans something about it?

T: Oh well! Thank you for the compliment, but I am not the Total Package haha! If I was 6’5 yes, maybe Id be making millions in WWE right now! My release from WWE/NXT came as a half surprise to me but also at the time as a relief. It came to a point there where I would throw so many ideas at them that none would really catch. The words they gave me were „there is so much we can do with you, we dont know how to use you“, which is another way of politely saying I wasnt one of their priorities, so they’d rather cut the costs here. And I was fine with it honestly. I actually had a smile on my face when Canyon Ceman announced me the news.

It is one thing to sit tight and keep cashing in the pay checks, but when you are a true performer, you NEED to be in front of the crowds! And sitting in the back just wont do it. I knew deep inside I could rebound, and I got signed by Impact one month later!

WF: Would a comeback be an option or is it a goal?

T: A goal not really. I was in NXT for 3 and a half years, they know what I can do. My release was because they couldnt find a spot for me on the show. As long as a) they dont need me specifically for a spot or b) I dont bring something new to the table, I dont see me being signed again. But if the offer comes, I would definitely give it some serious thoughts because I am and always will be a performer. Whether on the mike or in the ring, I only truly feel like my true self on a stage. Going back to Impact would be very nice too. I loved my time there.

WF: Following WWE (NXT) was IMPACT Wrestling where we could see you in action rather often. How did it come to ‚the Tribunal‘ and your name ‚Basile Baraka‘? Who founded it, who named it and did you have any influence?

T: I had zero influence in the names. I actually would have liked to keep Tom La Ruffa as a name in Impact. I didnt send them any names. I know Mikael (Baron Dax) did and Baraka was in his list. Looks like they kept that one for me!

WF: You wrestled against Al Snow several times, so you did in your last IMPACT match. What are your memories on Al, as a person and as a wrestler – maybe there is an interesting story in it you´d like to share?

T: One of the great things about Impact was that you would have a lot of time to kill in the afternoons. So I would often sit with Al, Simon Diamond or Matt Hardy, and pick their brains about the business. Al Snow has a GREAT view on wrestling, so different than what we were taught at the WWE PC for years. I loved talking to him.

Our double strap match was an awesome memory, deep inside doing it, I knew it was good, and it was a good way of saying good bye to the audience at Universal Studios. But his biggest lesson he taught me was „always give the fans what they wanna see , last. If you give them everything straight away, there is nowhere to go after that“.

WF: But IMPACT Wrestling is also in the past now. Recently it´s ‚GFW‘ everyone is talking about, shows are complimented by the fans. How did you like it? And why did you leave TNA?

T: I havent been able to watch GFW yet, but I am super glad Eli Drake is the champion. This guy has been MONEY, pure GOLD ever since I met him in 2013 at the Performance Center! WWE lost a lot when they released him. Im glad GFW gives him the ball. Great body, great look, great charisma and personnality, and over all very good worker. My departure from Impact was a mutual agreement. It came down to money issues related to my very limiting working visa in the USA. Basically with their schedule I wasnt able to make a comfortable living in the US, and they couldnt pay for my flights from France anymore.

WF: Positive for US of course, so we can see you more often. As I said before you wrestled at EWP in Germany also at GWF and now NEW. How do you like the German wrestling and the shows in general?

T: Yes! I like Germany very much. I love the fact that german fans react both to characters but also good wrestling. It’s very rare to find that type of crowd, so Im very thankful for it!

WF: Were you able to see parts of our country?

T: Sadly not…But you guys have Dunkin Donuts in Berlin! I loved DD back in the USA!!

WF: What are your plans for your future in wrestling? Will you stay ‚independent‘ for a while or would you like to sign somewhere again? Many wrestlers are ‚living the boom‘ and earn good money as free agents.

T: To quote Stephen Kind in Duma Key (I believe) „Do the day and let the day do you“. In other words, live and wait and see. I still train VERY hard. I gained a lot of weight, Im almost 100 kgs now (80kgs only in NXT), and I started amateur wrestling again to stay in fighting shape. I dont like having specific plans because you never know if you’re gonna reach them in time. Instead I just focus on getting better and better at what I do. I did however start a small acting career in France and I like it very much. Let’s see where it takes me…

WF: Thank you very much for your time and all the best!

T: no problem, thanks for your time! Great questions.

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