Inside the ring he’s the head of the Ward clan, the hell raising, all conquering King of all Men – Luther Ward. Outside it he’s the ring building, venue booking, compiling boss of OTT Wrestling Joe Cabray. Standing over 6 feet tall and weighing over 210 pounds, Cabray is an intimidating figure. Appearances can be deceiving as they say and this is the case here. Cabray is an soft spoken and articulate individual and comes across as a calm person who has a passion for professional wrestling. Sitting Front Row sits down and talks with Cabray about a number of topics including his debut match, his time in Orlando with WWE working under the NXT banner, the start of OTT and what the future holds, including the fact that the home of OTT will soon be gone when the Tivoli gets torn down.
I know you are extremely busy so I’d like to say thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Let’s start by asking how you originally became a fan of wrestling, when did your interest start and who were your idols back in the day?
A pleasure. I’m usually so busy booking; writing; sorting logistics etc. that I seldom have much time, but with it being January and only having one show this month, things have been a little easier. To answer you question, I suppose I became a fan in the late 80s. I was only maybe 6 years old when I saw these larger than life characters on the screen and I was hooked. I think I stayed a fan because although I liked Hogan, Warrior, Sting etc, I was a fan of the guys who could perform in the ring. Mr Perfect, British Bulldogs, Kerry Von Erich, Bret Hart etc. Later I found PWI, New Wave Wrestling (magazines) and found a world outside WWF and WCW. I became a fan of ECW and some of the Japanese promotions. I watched Eddie Guerrero, Benoit, Tajiri, Kobashi, Misawa and the like.
You mentioned in the past that you only trained to become a wrestler when you and your business partner at the time didn’t have enough numbers to make up the roster. Who trained you and how long did you train before your first match?
I was trained by Blake Norton who had spent time at the famous Hart Family Dungeon. I got the basics in bumping, putting a match together and later my trainer was Lee Butler. Lee was a UK worker who was based more in the British Style of wrestling. I was also lucky to have opportunities to do some seminars with some of the bigger name talents as they were passing through Europe. I always tell guys to go to as many seminars as possible, even if you take away just one or two things from that seminar, it’s worth while. I also feel wrestling schools can only do so much. You can learn to bump, hit the ropes, put together a basic match etc. but after that it’s up to you to pick brains, watch tape and try learn for yourself. It’s like going to school-if you only take your books out when your in class chances are you won’t pass the test.
Who did you wrestle in your first match and what do you remember about it?
Ha I remember being nervous as hell. At the time I was thinking I’d have one match and that would be it. The match was against Red Vinny on the north side of Dublin at Mount Temple. We were 2 of maybe the top 3 prospects-the other being Sheamus. After the match I decided to keep with it.
You were promoter of American Wrestling Rampage and had some big names tour for AWR at the time including Bret Hart and Sabu among others. Any favourite stories you can share from those days?
Those were some of the best days. It was like being on a holiday with friends as a lot of the OTT crew were on those shows. Duncan (KOTN) Paddy M (LFTF) Sean Maxer, Justy etc. We had fun by day and by night we would wrestle in 5000 seater venues with some of the best talents in the world. There are too many stories to recall really. I remember one time we had Marty Jennetty on tour and Paddy M and Sean Maxer did an entire reenactment of the Barber Shop incident for Marty. Well at the end, when it came time for Maxer to throw Paddy M through the Window, Paddy M did a full flip dive out of this small little hotel window and everyone just lost their minds, so funny. I think someone may have even uploaded it to YouTube. There was just so many things like that on those tours. We had everyone from RVD, Bret Hart, Test, Balls Mahoney, Steiner, Booker T, Sid, Sandman, Tatanka, Pac, El Generico, Mexican Mini wrestlers etc. It made for some really interesting bus rides ha.
How long were you wrestling on the independent scene before you got signed to NXT?
I never really had a WWE goal. I don’t know why but for me I was so busy with AWR etc that WWE just never really entered my mind. I suppose in 2009, the economy was in the shitter, it badly hurt AWR events. They were big shows with a big ticket price. People just didn’t have the money anymore, so for me I was at a crossroads. I could either end my journey in wrestling and enter the real world or I could take a stab at WWE. My girlfriend Rachel was an amazing athlete, she had done some modelling work etc she attended a WWE try out before me and was offered a contract. At that time I knew I really needed to up my game if I was to be offered a contract myself. So I did. For over a year I ate oats, fish and chicken every day. I gymed 5 days a week, enrolled in college as a backup plan and worked 25hrs to support myself. I think I’ve said it before in interviews but I’m big on not having regrets. When I went to my WWE tryout I had everything in place to the best of my ability. I was in the best shape of my life and my promos and in ring work were at the best they could be. If WWE didn’t sign me it would be because they didn’t need a bald 6ft1 Irish guy; and not because I was lagging in any area. I’m very proud of the fact I gave it my all.
Can you tell me a bit about your time in NXT? I recall you had a few injuries while you were there, including concussions, and ultimately your time there was shorter than you probably would have wanted. However I know you got to speak with some of the biggest names of all time while you were there which had to have been a great experience nonetheless?
It was an amazing experience. I got to go to Tampa and I was there for the opening of the performance centre in Orlando. I just think for me I was so focused on making it and being the best I could be etc that I wasn’t thinking how taxing it can be. I think I’ve said it before but moving across the world, leaving your family, your girlfriend (unfortunately she ended up needing two knee surgeries and never made it to Florida) your dog, your belongings, moving house, starting a new job etc. can be very hard. Then I got two bad concussions back to back and it’s a lot to deal with. You worked so hard to get there and then you get injured.
At the same time I was picking the brains of Norman Smiley, Terry Taylor etc. I was also learning about their life events etc. I just realised I was one of the oldest guys in the performance centre starting out. I had two back to back concussions, I was missing Ireland and I just wanted to come home. I kinda felt I needed to get on the main roster within a year but with the concussions I just felt I was in limbo and wanted to come home and I think they knew that.
Upon coming back to Ireland you immediately went back on to the independent scene and soon after Over The Top Wrestling (OTT) was born. How did OTT come about?
I’ve been a promoter for as long as I’ve been a wrestler. I co-promoted the show I debuted on. Coming back off NXT I got to travel a lot-Germany, UK, even Qatar. I’d seen Indy promotions killing it in Europe. I knew we had the talent in Ireland, there just wasn’t anyone showcasing it. There was no one with any kind of production so I decided I wanted to do a scaled down Indy version of AWR with the focus on good wrestling with some good production. Avoid the dreadful storylines that have plagued wrestling for so long. At the time a friend had the same view so we got together and put on a show to see how it would go, the rest is history.
How did OTT perform in its first year? Did your previous experience as a promoter help you to hit the ground running, being able to book talent etc. or was it a tough year?
It wasn’t too bad actually. I knew what I wanted to do. I had a vision of what it should be. Being a promoter for many years definitely helped. We had a small budget with the hopes that if 130 people paid, we would be ok. I think we had maybe 150 to 170 first show. We had Ryan Smile and Pete Dunne as the first and only fly-ins. Today it’s much harder ha.
I remember being at OTT Invasion Supershow back in August 2016 and there was a significant number of UK talent flown in for that show. How do you balance the monthly OTT card in regards to booking overseas talent and home grown talent? There must be difficult decisions to make in order to keep people happy?
That was our biggest show to date. We are all constantly learning. For me, and I tell the roster all the time, I’m 100% about work ethic. Over the years I’ve met a ton of incredibly gifted performers, but unfortunately there was no work ethic to be the best they could be. I’ll take a person with average talents but strong work ethic every time because people like that will eventually find a way to get to where they want to be. People with talents and zero work ethic truly break my heart. I look at myself, I was never the greatest wrestler in Ireland. But I was in the gym working out; I was strict with myself; I worked hard and I’m happy to have made a living from doing what I love. But at the same point I always give it 110%.
Each show lasts approximately 3 hours but obviously a lot more goes into planning each card than just that. What does a typical match day consist of for you as promoter of OTT? I presume it’s an early start and a late finish?
Ha-ha people will tell you “don’t go near joe on show days”. It can be very stressful. The shows have become so much bigger but I’m still doing most of it myself. There are a lot of people helping which I’ll hopefully get to mention later, but there’s always something on show day; lights ain’t working; mr x missed his flight; how do I get x from the airport to the venue; production issues; the ring breaking before the show ha. It just never ever stops. It’s stressful but when it’s over and everyone killed it and the people leave happy it’s all worth while.
As promoter, is there ever a time when you are watching the action happening in the ring and temporarily forget you are in the position you are in and just go along for the ride like a regular fan? If so, have you any examples?
Yeah for sure. Anything with Ospreay, the Fr Ted stuff, seeing ideas executed perfectly. Seeing the rise of the KOTN, Martina, Angel cruzers, Devlin, Scotty Davis etc. Some matches like Riddle Vs Bailey, Devlin Vs Starr, Martina Vs Jinny, Kotn Vs War Machine, The Elite in an OTT ring etc.
2017 has been an extraordinary year for OTT and WWE star Jordan Devlin. His profile has sky rocketed and his talent has developed as 2017 moved along. His rise to the top of OTT when he became NLW Champion was a slow burning, perfectly executed angle, which had just the right amount of build. What are your views on the Devlin angle? Were you happy with the pay off in December at “Being The Elite” in the National Stadium?
This may be surprising but I never do long term booking. It’s Indy wrestling. People get signed, people get offers to go over seas etc, so I just go with the flow. I don’t have any plans. There are people I protect and then maybe down the line I can do stuff with. I don’t have anything planned for ScrapperMania for example. After the big February shows it will start becoming clearer and we can start building storylines etc.
In terms of the elite show, I loved it, but just way way too long imo. We laid out the event time wise, but unfortunately people just went over time. Devlin winning the title was an amazing moment. To see an Irish lad on top, he deserves it. I truly think he’s top 5 in Europe right now.
We couldn’t have this conversation without mentioning somebody else’s name. That name is of course Luther Ward, your alter ego in OTT. I’d love to ask when we will see him in action in an OTT ring again but I’m sure that is top secret? As the man behind Limerick’s infamous son, what have been your favourite matches so far inside the OTT ring?
As OTT grew it just became too hard for me to run around on show day and then try to put on a match. As said I do OTT mostly on my own. I just wasn’t able to hit the gym like I used to. I wasn’t able to give the wrestling performance side of things 100%, so I felt it was better I stepped down. I know people always think “oh the promoter is the champion” but at the time I felt I was in the best position to have the belt. I was having good matches. I was in the best shape of my life, promos were on point etc. I went through tables, I dived into the 3rd row, I jumped off the speakers. I feel I worked my ass off as champion to get OTT off the ground. My matches with Paul Tracey and Pete Dunne I think got people invested. Paul Tracey and myself have good chemistry. Our gimmicks were made to work with each other. My stuff with Pete Dunne and winning the belt back at the Irish rising celebrations was magic. Never say never, but right now I think I’m needed a lot more backstage than I am in the ring and I probably wouldn’t return until I was happy I was at the standard I’d expect of myself. Plus it’s no the same anymore with Rocky Mac and Pa Ward not being around anymore.
Having promoted OTT for the past 3 years and watched it celebrate its third year anniversary in 2017, the same year it sold out the National Stadium in Dublin 3 times, you must have fond memories of the past 12 months?
Yeah it’s crazy. 2016 finished with Ospreay vs Ricochet, Finn Balor making an appearance, and selling out our debut show. In Belfast I remember thinking “it’s gonna be tough to top this” but we killed it. I honestly don’t know what 2018 will be like. It could be more challenging, but I’m very excited about Contenders, our first all women event, our first ever Cage match and of course ScrapperMania in May.
Over the last 3 years of OTT what matches that didn’t include Luther Ward, stand out for you and why? Top 3 maybe?
BSS vs Angel Cruzers
Just the effort and the story telling and to see our lads hang with the best was amazing. Everyone in that match was on point. Foxy, Team Prick etc. I always said it, you could do that match 100 times and never get it that perfect.
Moose Vs Devlin
Strange one to some but that was the match where I realised Devlin may be one of the absolute best in Europe.
Bucks, Omega vs Up Town Funkers
I think it was a crowning moment for OTT. To have some of the best talents in the world on our canvas, plus the match was amazing imo.
Having booked some of the biggest names in the business to come to Ireland, including Mick Foley, The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and others, who have been your favourite “big name” talents to deal with so far?
They are all awesome. One of the nice things about Indy wrestling is the lack of drama. At the same point, I try my best to look after the outside talents as best I can. I think it’s important. Wrestling is unlike any other form of entertainment. These guys are putting their bodies on the line and then they do it all over again the next day. I think it’s very important to have nice hotels so they can rest and chill. I always greatly appreciated it when I would do shows overseas and was well looked after. It has built our reputation and now guys know when they come to OTT that they will have a nice hotel room and they won’t have a flight with 8 hour layovers etc. It’s important.
Putting budget and any other barriers aside, hypothetically who would be your top 3 legends to book for OTT? Any angles you’d like to book them in?
I don’t really know if our fans want to see legends. I’m sure some do but I think our focus is more on the younger talents going out there and having killer matches. If I’d to pick 3 legends that would fit OTT
Maybe Jericho, Kenta kobashi, Vince McMahon (Vince and Martina could be good ha)
Another exciting venture for OTT is the new Contenders Show which blends Irish up and coming talent against some of the OTT mainstays and international talent. So far these shows have been a great success with the fans. How have you enjoyed the cards thus far? Also are there any stars we should keep an eye on?
It’s really going to be a focus of 2018. I feel so much energy backstage. It’s really relaxed and the reward is seeing guys like May, Davis, Murray, Martin, Keitel, Allonsie, Tropicana go out there and kill it.
I think we have a bright future in Irish wrestling and enough to make the next Sheamus, Balor, Lynch etc. But it goes back to respect for the business and work ethic. I’ve no interest in trying to push a car up a hill. As said before “hardwork beats talent when talent fails to work hard”.
The next OTT show Homecoming on February 3rd takes place in The Arena on Suir Road. Originally this was a temporary departure from the Tivoli Theatre due to height restrictions with the steel cage. However last week An Bord Pleanala gave approval for plans to demolish the Tivoli in Dublin’s Liberties and replace it with an apartment-hotel. Where does this leave OTT? Are we looking at more shows in the Arena now as well as the National Stadium too?
I honestly don’t know. There were shows we did last year that were maybe just too big for the Tivoli and sold out weeks in advance. There are also issues of people not being able to get seats at the Tivoli. I thought a 3rd venue would be great to have. At the same point the venue has to work for our show, atmosphere, location, production etc, I never thought I’d see us leaving the Tivoli, but we will have to see what the future holds. Another major issue is just a lack of venues, not just in Dublin but Ireland in general, we want to have events in Cork etc. but there just isn’t the venues to house us, it’s a major issue and a bit of a concern.
Without giving too much away what can OTT fans expect in 2018? Are there more surprises ahead?
As mentioned we have worked hard to bring the best to OTT. We have already sold out Feb show with our first ever Cage match. Contenders just keeps getting better. We are back in the Tivoli in March, and then we have a double night in March/April with our first ever all women event and the ScrapperMania 4 at the stadium May 12th. It’s just a case of trying to expand and make things bigger and bigger. First half of the year looks great and exciting. There is also a lot of people who work hard for OTT.
Rachel who heads up our Merch;
Don and Ango who are maybe the best commentator team on the indies. Ango helps a lot with advice and logistics.
Claire and Al who dig out and help the the guys with injuries.
Jade who makes all our amazing artwork etc
Jamie who creates our merch etc
So there are a lot of people helping out which I am unbelievably grateful for. Also all the incredible talents who give it their all on our canvas. The Irish lads who are there helping with set up and preparing for these events. It’s been an amazing ride and long may it continue.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions and all the best for 2018!
Thanks for having me and thanks to all the fans who bought a ticket and helped the growth of Irish wrestling