It was unquestionably the biggest heel turn of 2016 in OTT. Fans in the Tivoli were genuinely shocked on December 17th. It was the night The Gymnasties title reign ended at the hands of The Kings Of The North…and Justin Shape. The same Shape who for the past couple of years had been the third member of the gym loving, squat experts of OTT. In this day and age swerves can be hard to pull off but this was executed perfectly. In the Q&A below Sitting Front Row listened as Shape discussed the turn along with his hopes and expectations for the future as a solo star. We also delve into his training under Paul Tracey and Fergal Devitt in Bray’s Fight Factory wrestling school along with his time as a Gymnasty. As well as talking about his hard hitting match with Eddie Kingston last month, we also speak about his upcoming match with Grado when OTT visits Belfast on April 9th at Mandela Hall.
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. It’s a new era for Justin Shape. For the past couple of years, up until December 17th 2016, you were one third of The Gymnasties tag team, wrestling alongside B Cool and Sammy D. Are you excited to be going solo once again as a singles competitor? No problem, thanks for being a fan. I’m very excited about this new direction. The past two years have been so much fun but I’m relishing the challenge of a run without the safety of the Gymnasty gimmick. I really wanted to go right back to the drawing board creatively and see how it’s received by the OTT audience.
It must be said, as a member of The Gymnasties you guys had really gotten over in the past 12 months and come to establish yourselves as an integral part of OTT. How much did you enjoy this time? You can’t imagine the fun we had. I got to hang out with two of my best friends and act the fool. Creatively we were given enough freedom to come up with crazy stuff and I think it was the combination of humour and creativity that gave us something the crowd could get behind.
Have you any favourite matches/moments during this period? So many things I could pick here but it’s so hard. Each month we were topping the last when it came to favourite moments. The one that sticks out is the Nasties winning the Tag Belts. The noise when the three count hit was deafening. The entire feud was something for us all to be proud of. I really feel like everybody in the building that night was emotionally invested in what we were doing. There is no better rush.
How do you think the heel turn went at “The Dream Before Christmas” when you turned on your partners? I was in attendance and have to say from my perspective it was executed perfectly and came off as a great surprise? Where you happy afterwards? It was a bitter sweet night. I was saying goodbye to the nasties, that whole thing was my baby and it was a little sad. On the other hand the turn went amazingly. I wasn’t supposed to have my match with Charlie Sterling but due to unforeseen circumstances I was thrown in there. The match worked to get the fans behind me and the nasties for the tag title match. When I eventually turned the reaction was of muted disbelief and I loved it. It was a special moment for me.
Your first solo appearance of 2017 was of course in the hard hitting match you had on February 4th against Eddie Kingston at “Martina’s Gaff Party 2:Back In The Doctor Dre”. During the match there were a number of really hard hitting knife edge chops back and forth between you and your opponent. You could see the mark on your upper chest where Kingston had connected with you several times. Firstly I must ask how sore were you the next day? And second of all how much did you enjoy the match itself? I counted the chops as I watched the VOD on Vimeo. He hit me over 60 and I felt every one. My chest was actually fine the next day much to my chagrin because I couldn’t get a photograph. I heal pretty fast, like wolverine only cooler. I enjoyed the match, I’m really wanting to get ring fit so I can keep up with all these athletic kids so it was a great test. He beat me up and threw me around and I held my own so I’m really happy.
Next up for you is a match in Belfast against Grado on April 9th in Mandela Hall. On paper Grado should be the perfect opponent for you. Having previously faced each other in a 6 man tag team match at WrestleCon 2016, what can we expect from this singles match up? I was surprised and delighted to see the interest in the match when it was announced. I’m sure expectations are high for it to be a knee slapping pantomime so I hope we deliver. No pressure, right!
You always enjoy great banter with fans on Twitter, going as far as to impose “1 month Fan Club Bans” etc. You have had great fun with fans recently on Twitter which of course should always be taken for what it is, banter. Do you ever get any over zealous fans or are the fans in general in on the rib? Strangely enough I never get much genuinely negative feedback. I love interacting with everybody on social media. It’s a great way to keep interest up for shows and of course it’s great to keep tabs on my fans.
To switch gears slightly I’d like to go back to the start and ask you how you became a fan of pro wrestling originally? Wrestling has just always been in my life. I don’t remember not watching it. There’s no point in time that I can remember seeing it for the first time, I just remember being mesmerised every time.
Did any wrestlers strike a cord with you when you were a fan watching it on TV or any particular matches that stand out as favourites that you watched back then? So many wrestlers but from way back then probably Tatanka. As soon as I saw Chris Jericho he became my favourite and that is yet to change. His matches in WCW for the cruiserweight title were all great and gave me the incentive to follow his career since.
How did you begin your journey to train to become a wrestler, where did you train? All my friends in school were wrestling crazy. It was the height of the attitude era and we of course experimented with backyard wrestling. As soon as we discovered a training school in bray we all made the journey. It was two busses and a train every Sunday and six hours of getting beat up. I loved it. Only myself and Danny Butler lasted from our initial group. I’m so grateful to have trained under Paul Tracey and Fergal Devitt in the Fight Factory. We had the best start you could ever ask for.
Nowadays you occasionally give train seminars to the next generation of up and comers. This must be a role you enjoy now you have gotten to where you are in your own career? I love training the guys at the Fight Factory. They are so receptive and willing to learn. I’m trying new stuff out with my training too. I’m studying what is popular in wrestling right now and dissecting it. It’s great fun too, I’m learning so much while coaching the new techniques. I can see a lot of potential in the trainees and am confident that you’ll see some great wrestlers graduate from the Fight Factory.
You did of course have a well travelled career before OTT wrestling around Ireland, the UK, Europe and America. During this period you teamed with Danny Butler as Team Mega and of course against each other on occasion in singles matches. What are your memories involving Butler during your earlier years? We beat the crap out of tag teams, then we beat the crap out of each other. That seems to be how it went. Travelling with Dan is always an experience. Some of the things that happened on our wrestle trips couldn’t be written. A lot of drinking was involved in our early days.
You debuted back in 2003 I believe? In the years that passed you were involved in matches against such names as Zack Sabre Jr, Paddy Morrow, Sean Brennan, Paul Tracey, Scotty 2 Hotty, The Sandman, (OTT Owner) Joe Cabray and Dunkan Disorderly. You must have fond memories from these days? Yeah those days were so much fun. Travelling the world and meeting new people is fantastic and performing with your best mates or guys you looked up to all your life is surreal. Those days were golden and I never thought I’d have that kind of fun with wrestling ever again, until OTT came along.
In the present day OTT you have faced off against Colt Cabana, X Pac and Grado already in singles and tag team matches. Are there any other “imported” talents you would like to work with in the future? I’m just glad to be playing my part on the shows right now. I’ll be happy as long as I’m getting booked at all but if I get thrown the odd ‘Draw’ even better.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions and best of luck with everything going forward in your wrestling career! No problem at all, it was my pleasure. Thanks for having me and again, thanks for being a fan.
Sitting Front Row