Welcome to the first edition of Let’s Talk Pro Wrestling – my new (and hopefully regular) interview series. It’s only appropriate that my first guest is the person that was the first to endorse my work on a huge stage – New Japan and Rev Pro commentator, Kevin Kelly.
Prior to day two of the British J Cup tournament, which you can watch at rpwondemand.com, Kevin was generous enough to lend the small amount of spare time he had right before the show to sit down and have a brief chat with me.
Please note: As I’d never conducted interviews prior to this, I had no plans of publishing the audio for this interview, but because the sound quality turned out better than expected, I’ve decided to include it along with a transcript. As I wasn’t planning on anybody hearing it, and this interview was arranged at the last moment with no prep time, I may be stumbling my words in places so please forgive any mistakes. Otherwise, I hope you enjoy this brief but brilliant talk.
HWF: Here with New Japan and Rev Pro commentator Kevin Kelly, welcome sir. How are you finding the whole experience being here at Wrestling Media Con and commentating on the British J Cup?
Kevin: It has been so much fun. I’ve been here for just over a week, and I’ve done events for Rev Pro both big and small, including our first television taping at York Hall, which I think when the fans see that coming up soon they’re going to be very excited, very pleased with the presentation. I thought everything came off great and it’s going to be very exciting.
And this weekend has been fabulous, so many fans have been turning up, last night’s event was terrific, today’s final is going to be off the charts, I think everybody’s going to get their money’s worth, and [Wrestling Media Con] is so cool because it brings so many different companies together under one roof and gives the fans an opportunity to see legends from Pat Patterson, the hall of fame ceremony last night, interviews, meet and greets, autograph opportunities, and then to be able to see great stars of today too. It’s just the best.
HWF: In the last couple of weeks it’s been announced that Rev Pro now has a free TV show. It’s on FreeSports here in the U.K., and you’re part of the commentary team, so you’re going to be over here a lot more often. You said you’ve been here for the last week for the tapings and British J Cup, so what part of British culture are you most surprised by or is there anything you love about it?
Kevin: It’s little things like figuring out the money. In my wallet, I have British pounds, Japanese yen and American dollars. You don’t want me to pay for Nandos with an 1000 yen bill of course. That’s been fun travelling around and learning more about the history, I spend a lot of time travelling around with Andy Boy Simmons, to hear the stories from over the years with so many mutual friends and different characters that he’s run across, getting a much deeper appreciation for not just living here, but also the wrestling scene here has been a wonderful learning experience.
HWF: Well if I ever need some money changing I know who to come to. So with you being more involved in RevPro now, you’re going to see a lot more British talent who aren’t involved with New Japan so is there anybody you’ve got your eye on who you think would be great to bring over?
Kevin: Kind of at the top of the list the first guys that really grabbed my eye were Aussie Open and El Phantasmo. I had seen them during the Strong Style Evolved UK events, got to meet and talk to them for the first time, but then seeing Chris Ridgeway. He is a very fascinating athlete.
HWF: [Ridgeway] has got that very physical style which I think would be great with people like KUSHIDA and any of the Suzuki-Gun guys. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Chris Ridgeway would be fantastic to see, and I think Japanese crowds would really appreciate what he brings to the table.
Kevin: I talked with KUSHIDA last night, and I had said this during commentary – I could see a team of KUSHIDA and Ridgeway. Even though they look completely different, their styles and mindsets as a competitor are very, very similar, and [Ridgeway]’s fascinating. There’s other guys I’ve peaked at, like Nathan Cruz, watching him wrestle for the first time. We have mutual friends in the industry, I heard that name, and when I got to see him, meet him and talk to him a little bit I was like, “That’s a top guy, that’s somebody to really keep an eye on over the next few months.”
HWF: Now with wrestling being as open as it is, it’s great seeing people like that getting more opportunities. Somebody that did get an opportunity recently was myself. I’m here today, I’m doing press, I’m interviewing yourself, and I think that’s partly down to you because you’ve been quite supportive of me, and you’ve openly told people to check out my work and you’ve even plugged it on NJPW World. Obviously I have to thank you for that, it’s really helped me out.
The thing about that was I didn’t at any point contact you, you’ve went out and sort this content out yourself, and I think that really says something about you and your passion for wrestling. Even after many years of being a part of this business, you’re still going out and looking for content made by people who aren’t part of big companies. You appreciate people who have the same passion that you do.
In the last G1 you said it was your favourite commentary experience (Moose walks by and interrupts), is your passion for wrestling still as big as it ever was, or maybe even bigger?
Kevin: It’s bigger now, the love that I have for this sport and the competitors. My whole dream for this is to have every wrestler make as much money as they possibly can. If I can do my part in helping their stardom grow, so that they become millionaires, I’ve done my job.
Getting to read your stuff and see the point of view from which you come, it’s like, “Here’s a smart wrestling fan who just has the love and appreciation.” He’s just like us, folks. That’s just it – there are so many people that are like you and me, and I just want to bring us all together. The wrestlers that have the passion, the love, I wanna see them go as far as they can. For fans, for media, for guys like you, I want to see us all on board together doing the same thing. Tear down all the walls and borders, and let’s just appreciate wrestling for what it is, and that can be whatever we want it to be. You can have a Colt Cabana match, you can have a strong style match, you can have any flavour of ice cream you want it to be, and it all works.
HWF: A wrestler we should talk about is Rocky Romero. During the G1, you commentated all nineteen shows with him. He has done commentary in the past but it’s not his main art form. At the beginning, he was a bit ‘rocky’ (excuse the pun), but you guided him along, and by the end he had own voice and the whole “Everything is EVIL!” call. How was that experience of seeing Rocky grow show-by-show?
Kevin: Well, he and I have been great friends for many years, and then to be able to sit there with one of my mates and do all these shows together and travel together, travel on the Chaos bus, get to know him even better and see him develop that confidence in himself, because he knows what he can do in the ring, he’s so well skilled, but to sit down and broadcast an event like the G1 is a lot of pressure, and I just tried to make it easy for him. Let’s just have fun, let’s just go out there, don’t worry about anything, and I was completely thrilled because I felt like our natural chemistry as friends was able to come through, and at the same time, we were able to call these amazing wrestling matches, and tell these stories from a different point of view – him being a wrestler and me being the play-by-play guy. Being able to bring that analysis, passion, that love for what we’re seeing I thought just worked perfectly.
I was so happy at the end, but I was very sad at the end too, I cried, as I knew I would. I actually made it off the air, and then when I came back through into the NJPW World room, they gave us a round of applause, that’s where I cried because that was the best experience of my career.
HWF: You’ve been very generous with your time, final question – What do you think is the main reason people who haven’t already need to check out both Rev Pro’s new TV show and New Japan on NJPW World?
Kevin: Well of course with NJPW World we’re giving more and more content all the time. Not just the live events but we’re also going to take a deeper dive into the archives. Not necessarily literally calling all matches because I think to take the Japanese commentary off of those matches does them a disservice in history, but if we can give them some context to new fans by explaining, “Hey, did you realise Hulk Hogan used to be a top star in New Japan Pro Wrestling?” Many fans might go, “Huh? I didn’t know that.” To go back in time and explain the match, let’s say with Inoki, then we show that match, then we talk about the aftermath of saying, “Wow, you had no idea of the shockwaves this sent throughout Japan as they saw Inoki stretchered out, and they thought it was the end.” A megastar was born. Of course he would go on to captivate the world with Hulkamania, but really the roots of it were born in New Japan. I think that’s the most exciting thing we’re doing there, I’m thrilled with where we’re going. Just doing more and more and more stuff.
Here with Rev Pro and these TV shows, it’s gonna open up so many new eyes because it is on FreeSports, and everybody has this channel. There’ll be people who will be flipping across going, “Oh, what is this? World of Sport? No this is something different.” And more television options for wrestling fans are just gonna bring more fans to us. Young fans, old fans, people that haven’t watched in years, people that are in age somewhere between you and me. We’re all gonna be able to see this on a weekly basis for free, and I think it’s just going to help the British scene grow, and from there, the whole wrestling world will grow because we’re bringing in stars from so many different parts of the world, whether it’s New Japan or the US, wherever. That’s just the best thing in the world.
And getting to sit here and talk with you and meet you personally is a thrill because I am a huge fan of your work, and I just wanna see you continue to thrive and do as much as you can.
HWF: Well, I couldn’t end that on a much better note. I couldn’t recommend New Japan World or Rev Pro more. You can find Kevin Kelly on Twitter @RealKevinKelly. Thank you for your time.
I highly recommend signing up to NJPWWorld.com, and check out my guide on using it and getting the most out of the streaming service