Saturday, August 27, 2011

Exclusive Interview: A.J. Kirsch Talks Tough Enough, Working WWE Matches, Andy Leavine, and More! (August, 2011)

Recently, I was able to talk to A.J. Kirsch, a competitor on this past season’s, WWE Tough Enough broadcast. A.J. was eliminated in the 8th episode of the show, which was eventually won by, Andy Leavine. However, A.J. is not a wrestler to be overlooked. 

One of the more seasoned contestants on Tough Enough with a match on, WWE Superstars now under his belt, A.J. is the first Tough Enough contestant from this past season to appear on WWE broadcasting. This past weekend, I was able to talk to A.J. in terms of Tough Enough, his career past and present, and much more! Enjoy

Rallo: Alright, A.J. I’d like to thank you for taking the time for this interview. My first question is in regards to your passion for the Pro Wrestling business. How long have you been a fan? Who were some inspirations in and outside of the ring that motivated and encouraged you to pursue this career in sports entertainment/pro wrestling? Where did the story all begin?

A.J.: Hey, no problem. Happy to be here. I first became a fan in March of 1996 when I was 12 years old. I had been a casual fan before then, but that’s when I started to watch it religiously. Right off the bat, Shawn Michaels was the guy that captivated my attention. He quickly became my favorite and the man that made me first wanna step into the ring. I also remember being quite unsettled by Mankind when I first saw him. He definitely wasn’t a favorite of mine at that time, but a few years later, Mick Foley became the other guy that really made me wanna go after this dream.

Rallo: Moving onwards to your initial training….Who is responsible for giving your break into the Pro Wrestling business? You weren’t one of the “greener” Tough Enough competitors in the pack, so it leads me to believe you weren’t totally new to it. Who trained you? Where did it start and how much experience did you have prior to Tough Enough?

A.J.: I first started training in October of 2003 at the Pro Championship Wrestling Workfarm which was, at that time, in Yuba City, CA (about an hour north of Sacramento). My trainer was Zack Reeb, who wrestled as “Mr. Prime Time.” I actually broke my ankle 6 weeks into training trying a move I wasn’t ready to try, a lesson I had to learn the hard way. As I was recovering, I learned to be a referee which got me comfortable working in front of a live crowd prior to my debut. Shortly after my first match in October of 2005, I started working other Nor Cal promotions like All Pro Wrestling out of Hayward, CA (near Oakland) and they ran shows all up and down the west coast at the time, so between PCW and APW, I was getting a lot of work in and learning a great deal.

Rallo: Now on the topic of, Tough Enough, can you tell us of how the process was in terms of selecting the cast? Who contacted you to be on the show and what were all the prior events to the launch of the competition? In general, what was everything that went down that led to you being casted on, Tough Enough?

A.J.: I had heard from a friend of mine in the business that the USA Network was bringing back Tough Enough, and I thought, “Hey, my chances are as good as anyone else’s. Give it a shot!” So I made an audition video and sent it in. I got a phone call a couple weeks later saying I was on “the WWE’s radar,” and after a series of some extensive phone interviews, they invited me down to LA for not just more interviews, but a slew of tests. Thing was, they told me to pack as if I was going to be in LA for six weeks. As I understand, 28 people were flown in to LA and 14 were sent home. The 14 that stayed became the cast of Tough Enough and I was absolutely elated to be one of them.

Rallo: Also, what were your first reactions to the training regiment as well as your fellow competition? How did it differ and how was it similar in terms of previous experiences? Did you have any thoughts about some people who were either too green or too seasoned to belong there? Anything you were surprised by in terms of skills challenges/life lessons? What were your feelings on those?

A.J.: Honestly, my first reaction to the training was, “This isn’t anything I haven’t done before. I got this.” The warm-ups, the in-ring drills, the conditioning - that was all stuff I’ve done before and stuff I’ve always done to keep in shape, so that part wasn’t a huge shock to me. But I’d look over and see someone like Michelle who can barely do a push-up and I’d think to myself, “Yeah, she’s not gonna last long.” Or Rima who lawn-darted herself just trying a forward roll. To her credit, though, Rima lasted a whole lot longer than I thought she did and gave it a damn good shot. Her body just wasn’t used to the physicality. As far as the skills challenges and life lessons go, I thought some of them were a little out there, yeah. The 50’s diner deal where we all were on roller skates was probably just for Bill DeMott’s amusement more than anything else, and getting destroyed by the number 1-ranked dwarf basketball team in the world was an experience in itself, but regardless of what they had us do, the trainers did a great job of actually pulling a lesson out of whatever we did that day and applying it to what we were all trying to be, which is the next WWE Superstar. 

Rallo: In terms of your elimination, amongst some controversy, you did end up being in the final four. Do you feel as though the evaluation by the Tough Enough trainers had a proper evaluation on you? It seemed as though they viewed you as more generic than most despite shining in some of the competitions yet disappointing in others. Do you agree with their assessment that you were basically lucky to get as far as you did? How have you improved yourself since your elimination on the show?

A.J.: Oh, absolutely. I completely agree with the trainers’ assessment of my position in the competition. As far as Tough Enough was concerned, I was one of the more generic characters on the show, up until the episode in which I was eliminated. There are a million things I wish I would have done differently, but the one at the top of the list was that I should have hung my balls out there for the first seven weeks as much as I did on the eighth week, specifically in the promo skills challenge. And I’m very well aware that had Martin not injured his ankle, I probably would have been eliminated earlier than I was. I knew I had cross-hairs on me going into the eighth week, which is why I knew I had to make an impression with that promo. And I did. But as Bill said, “one good day does not a competition make.” Had I performed the entire show on the same level that I did on the eighth week, there’s no doubt in my mind I would have won the whole thing. It just took too long for me to get comfortable putting myself out there in that kind of environment. 

Rallo: Following up on the previous question, after your elimination, what was next? What are you currently up to (aside from your WWE appearance)? Could you tell us what you have been up to as of late and if Pro Wrestling is still your number one focus? Are there any other pursuits you are interested in doing such as acting, etc? Where have you been since Tough Enough ended primarily and how do you feel you have progressed since then?

A.J.: Since Tough Enough, I’ve been focused on getting in the best shape of my life. And I am. But I’m still far from where I wanna be. I was honored to be the first Tough Enough contestant to have a match on WWE programming when I was slaughtered by Brodus Clay on the August 11 edition of WWE SuperStars. That was a dream come true, to perform in a WWE ring in front of a live crowd. And it’s taking steps like that that make me realize this dream that was once a fantasy is now closer than ever to becoming a reality. I’m still wrestling for PCW and APW. I’m also now training with the APW Boot Camp to get even better. There’s always something new to learn, always something I can do to get better, and that’s why I’m training with the APW Boot Camp. I have other interests, sure: writing, singing, traveling, just to name a few. But this is the time for me to focus on becoming a WWE Superstar.

Rallo: Now one of the topics I would like to discuss is the winner of Tough Enough, Andy Leavine who has been suspended for 30 days for a, Wellness Policy violation. Also, Jeremiah, who finished third in, Tough Enough, has been reported to have nuclear heat with the backstage locker room in, FCW. Could you tell me what you think of these two? Especially, Andy, who I thought had the “straight edge” mentality. What were your feelings on these two and what are your thoughts on them going forward?

A.J.: I was a little shocked to hear that Andy violated the WWE’s wellness policy. It puts a dark cloud over his character, not just as a performer, but as a human being. On Tough Enough, he was all about being straight-edge and said that he’s all about working hard and busting his ass and all that. I’m sure he has been busting his ass since winning Tough Enough, and even prior to the show when he was already training in FCW. But since he won, he’s had a lot of eyes on him, because he pretty much won himself a guaranteed spot on the main WWE roster. But then to see he violated the wellness policy, I think a lot of those eyes that were on him collectively rolled, because he contradicted everything he said he stood for when he was on the show. And to have this hanging over him even prior to his in-ring debut…it just looks really irresponsible and, in my opinion, hypocritical on his part. His WWE career is off to a rough start.

As far as Jeremiah goes, I thought he had an extremely bright future in this business before he ran FCW and Bill DeMott into the ground with his comments. I give all the credit in the world to Jeremiah: he’s a great guy, he’s a freak athlete, and for never having been in a ring before, he kicked ass on Tough Enough. But I think it comes down to him really not wanting to learn or abide by the rules that govern the system behind the business of sports-entertainment. And if you’re not willing to play by those rules, then you’re not gonna play the game at all. I give him props for being proud in who he is, but if he’s not willing to adapt to the system of a business that could potentially make you a lot of money and a huge star, then you don’t need to be in that business. 

Rallo: Focusing back on yourself, you were recently spotted on WWE Superstars, in a squash match versus, Brodus Clay. Could you tell us of your thoughts of your first in ring WWE match? Have to ask what it was like to work with, Brodus Clay….Also, where there any exchanges of words you had with any of the talent backstage before and after your match? How was the overall experience?

AJ.: It was kinda funny, because when I look back on that experience, I don’t actually remember much about the match itself. It was a lot like my first time skydiving: I remember the anticipation leading up to the jump, but I remember nothing at all about actually skydiving. Prior to my match, I remember warming up backstage, stretching out, getting psyched up and waiting at Gorilla position to walk out there, but I actually remember very little about the match itself. The next moment I remember being in my head was when I was laying in the ring after Brodus had flattened me. I was looking up at the lights and there was referee Mike Chioda kneeling over me, checking on me. That’s when I remember thinking, “I’ve worked so hard to be right here, right now. This is one of the greatest moments of my life. Take it in, A.J.” Working with Brodus was great. He really took care of me in there. I got some very positive feedback from the agents, not just that night at Raw in San Jose, but the following day at the SmackDown taping in Sacramento, too. That was very encouraging. 

Rallo: Speaking of your first experience, do you feel that is your last for the foreseeable future in the WWE? Do you see yourself working for there or any other premier company? Is TNA possibly an option, despite their questionable booking? What do you see and prefer in your future? Any dream matches you’d like to have? With who?

A.J.: I’ve always seen myself working for the WWE. I would consider TNA as an option, sure, but WWE is where I’ve always wanted to be. And since Tough Enough and my WWE Superstars appearance, I feel like I’m closer than ever to making my dream of becoming a WWE Superstar come true. As far as dream matches go, there are guys I’d like to work with, but if I could choose anyone, it’d be the man who made me wanna become a WWE Superstar in the first place, Shawn Michaels. Probably not gonna happen, but that’s why they call it a dream match.

Rallo: Before, I let you go, are there any last words you’d like to say to your fans? Any matches or appearances coming up that you’d like to share? Final thoughts overall? 

A.J.: Thank you to everyone who has ever supported me and believed in me. This past year has been the greatest year of my life and the outpouring of support from my family, friends, and fans has been nothing short of amazing. I’ll be wrestling in Chico, CA on Saturday, October 8 for Pro Championship Wrestling, and I’ll be wrestling in Hayward, CA the following week on Saturday, October 15 for All Pro Wrestling.
And if anyone wants to keep track of what I’m up to, you can follow me on Twitter @AJKirsch and you can “Like” me on Facebook at Thanks again to everyone for their support, and I truly believe that WWE Superstars was not the last time you will see me on WWE TV.

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