PHILADELPHIA, PA – Only those who have chased the dream of making it to the big time of professional wrestling can truly understand how arduous a journey it can be.
Now just try and imagine making that dream come true, only to make the bold decision to walk away from it.
That reality is something Brian “Spanky” Kendrick knows about first hand.
In an exclusive interview with SLAM! Wrestling at the recent Pro Wrestling WORLD-1 show in Philadelphia, Spanky sat down to talk about his controversial decision.
“I don’t want to give people the impression that I hated it, or that they treated me bad or anything like that,” said Spanky in reference to his tenure with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) promotion.
“It was a lot of fun and an honor to be there. It’s just that what I wanted out of wrestling at this time, they weren’t offering. I could be in Kurt Angle’s spot, but it still wouldn’t be what I’m looking for.”
It was just this past January that Spanky, a native of Olympia, Washington, made headlines all over the wrestling news world when he parted ways with the sports entertainment giant.
As Spanky explained, his passion for professional wrestling that guided him to the WWE was in fact what motivated him to move on from the company.
“What I’m looking for is a chance to wrestle and to wrestle for a while and to tell stories in matches; ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty minutes, whatever it might be,” he said.
“That’s not really what they (WWE) specialize in. The matches are short and sweet. They’re more focused on entertaining people with shenanigans, bikini contests, people getting sprayed with stuff or screwing a corpse, which is fine. It’s funny stuff, it’s entertaining I guess. But I’m 24 years old and while I can still move around, it’s not what I’m looking for.”
Trained by WWE superstar Shawn Michaels, Spanky made his professional wrestling debut in 1999. Despite his small stature, he quickly established himself as a stand out, athletically gifted talent on the independent circuit.
But Spanky will be the first to tell you that developing one’s skill sets for the squared circle is a constant process. Bearing this in mind, he felt that the current WWE environment would not grant him the acceleration of his already established wrestling repertoire.
“When I talked to Johnny Ace (WWE Talent Agent) about me leaving was that he and I both agreed, that at this level, whatever my wrestling ability goes, two years from now I’ll be better than I am now, but not a whole lot better because you’re wrestling the same guys ever night in the same style.” Spanky said.
With that, Spanky contacted Zero-One American representative Steve Corino, and has already wrestled for the Japanese based promotion. He made it clear that his focus will be primarily with Zero-One and only a select few independent promotions in the United States.
“Pretty much for the most part I don’t plan on doing too many (independent appearances),” he said.
“I really just want to focus on wrestling in Japan. I think I’ll become a much better wrestler going away for a couple of years and then coming back.”
Prior to his time with the WWE, Spanky had been an active member of the Zero-One promotion. The road to wrestling in the land of the rising sun would lead to the adoption of a rather unique in-ring identity, first proposed by Zero-One superstar Shinya Hashimoto.
“When I got there, the guy picked me up (at the airport) and in broken English pretty much told me that Hashimoto thinks I look like Leonardo DeCaprio. I was like, okay, whatever,” Spanky recalled.
But what initially turned out as an unassuming comparison to a Hollywood heartthrob, soon turned into a certified wrestling gimmick, whether Spanky wanted it or not.
“The reporters are there, as they always are for whoever gets off the plane, and started asking me about what I think of Leonardo DeCaprio. I realized then that something is happening here.”
The following day, Spanky was advised that his entrance music had already been selected for him.
“Sure enough, it was ‘My Heart Will Go On’ and they changed my name to Leonardo Spanky.”
But rather than protest, Spanky chose to be a team player, embrace his in-ring character, and have as much fun as possible.
“That’s all you can do,” remarked Spanky.
“Doing it in the States, I’d get killed. If they had brought me into the ‘Fed doing that, I’d be the biggest heel in the company, and not a good kind of heel. People would just hate it.
“But over there, for whatever reason, Hashimoto knows what he’s doing because it worked, so I just ran with it.”
If there is anyone else aside from Spanky himself who was looking forward to his return to Japan, it is Steve Corino.
“It’s awesome,” said Corino, in reference to Spanky’s return to the Zero-One fold.
“When he first came back for his first show with Zero-One, the fans gave him such a huge, great ovation. When he came back (after the match) I said welcome home and he had this big smile on his face and said ‘Yeah, I’m home.’
“Of all the people that have left Zero-One and gone on to do other things, that was the guy we missed the most,” said Corino, adding that Spanky’s DiCaprio-like looks only did wonders for attracting members of the female demographic.
“He brought girls to shows,” Corino pointed out bluntly.
“The fans love him, the press loves him, and it’s great for him to come home to Zero-One.”
Aside from Zero-One, Spanky also had favorable recollections of his time in the upstart American based-promotion, Ring of Honor. It was there, again, that Spanky was not only given a platform to deliver stellar wrestling matches, but legitimate support as a worker, something that was not always available to him with other promotions.
“Pretty much on the indies nobody gave two shits about me, which is fine,” Spanky recollected. “More than anything, it (Ring of Honor) helped me to build confidence in the ring. That someone else would believe in me.”
Despite his time in the WWE, where roster members receive support and direction other wrestlers can only envy, Spanky was all too aware of the current slump professional wrestling is mired in. As he explained, to endure the woes of the industry is to love what wrestlers do in the ring.
“I wasn’t around six or seven years ago. When it was really booming, I’m sure there were a lot of people getting into it for the money,” Spanky observed. “Right now, if you’re wrestling, it’s not for the money. It’s because you grew up watching wrestling, it’s something you wanted to do, it’s something you love.”
Even as far back as his time training to become a wrestler in Texas, Spanky was made all too aware of the cyclical pitfalls the wrestling business seems to fall into.
“Shawn (Michaels) said that since the beginning when I was training with him and business was doing good then, that it goes in cycles and he knew it would go back down,” Spanky said, divulging that in spite of WWE being aware of the phenomena, there remains a confidence that it is only a matter of time before business picks up.
“It’s something they keep preaching, that it’s a cycle business and it will pick up again. It’s good to have that kind of hope in the back of your head I suppose, but if you’re just wrestling because, ‘well, I know there’s going to be another boom and I want to be around to cash in,’ then it’s ridiculous to really think like that. If that’s what you’re doing, is just holding on hoping some day it will pay off financially, you really are in the wrong business.”
BRIAN KENDRICK STORIES
- Feb. 2, 2022: Kendrick pulled from AEW Dynamite for ‘abhorrent & offensive’ comments
- Jan. 25, 2022: Report: WWE’s Kendrick asks to be released
- Apr. 1, 2021: Brian Kendrick confirms retirement
- Nov. 8, 2010: Fearless honesty dominates Kendrick & London shoot DVD
- Jan. 12, 2010: Kendrick speaks out against the ‘backstabbers, power hungry people, suck ups, weak people’