Joe E. Legend recently got to stay in one place for almost two weeks, a rare treat for one of pro wrestling’s greatest world travelers. That it was actually at his old Toronto home, hanging out with his family and friends, made it all the sweeter.
Still, the dad of twin four-year-old boys admitted to missing home, which is a long way from Toronto — Hannover, Germany.
At 20-plus years in the wrestling business, Legend (real name Joe Hitchen) has a unique perspective on the sport, the promoters, the fans, and the wrestlers in the various countries that he’s competed — almost 40 at this point.
There is a reach global reach to pro wrestling wrestling, he explained.
“It’s one of the few things that’s in every country. I’ve been to some ridiculous places, like Bulgaria, Hungary and Poland, and there’s a wrestling audience,” Legend began. “Whereas soccer is strong in Europe, and not so strong here; it’s building here. You won’t find a baseball game anywhere in Germany. But wrestling’s everywhere, but at the same time, it’s still a niche market — it has such a broad spectrum, yet it’s still niche. It’s kind of unique in that regard.”
The average working week is weekends for Legend.
“Most promoters are smart enough to know that you’re not going to do a lot of weekday business, so it’s usually Friday, Saturday, Sunday,” he said while in Toronto. Every so often, he gets booked on tours that amount to a lot more dates. Legend has been to Japan 14 times now, and with a talent exchange program in the works, he hopes to keep that up. Not that long ago he did 68 days in a row in England, with a lot of double shots, for promoter Brian Dixon.
There is certainly a hustle aspect to his job, getting himself booked, convincing promoters that his unique talents and experience is worth the dough.
“I don’t walk around with my resume stapled to my forehead, but usually I have to use a little bit of my history as a selling point for them to bother buying airfares and not using a local guy,” Legend said. The most common thing is reminding the promoter to call him “former WWE star” Joe E. Legend, and not his WWE name of “Just Joe.”
Wait, you don’t remember his WWE stint? The one where he was a troublemaker, stirring up mischief backstage, passing on gossip, circa 2000? That’s the way he wants it.
“Every time you think back at it, you go, ‘For crying out loud, that was brutal,'” he said, showing that he has given it some thought over the years. “If I couldn’t get past it, if it had totally killed my career, which it could have, but I’m very proud of the fact that I was able to dig myself out and keep going and make a career out of it. If I’d clung to the gimmick [WWE] gave me and just done the autograph sessions and stuck with it, definitely I’d be working in a factory right now.
“It just had no legs at all — but I told [Vince McMahon] that when I was in the company. I said, ‘This thing’s got a six-month shelf-life at best, and then I’ll be unemployed.’ Surprise, surprise, there I was. I was able to dig myself out and do well overall. You’ve got to come to terms with it a little bit and just say, ‘You know what? Someone in the office obviously didn’t know what he was doing, and I can point fingers, but they didn’t know what they were doing with me. If you want to get down to the nuts and bolts of it, the only character Vince ever built and made from the ground floor was Undertaker.”
What does impress people are the names he has helped train and worked with through the years. Therefore, in the locker room, he is often asked for advice.
“I think part of it is just my resume. They look at it, ‘Oh, shoot, WWE.’ Or maybe it was just a calendar, ‘Holy sh–, you’ve been around 20 years!? Wow, okay, what are you doing?'” he laughed. “Just that I helped with training Edge and Christian, Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin, so I find that I get over with the locker room by associations with the people I’ve helped out already. They may not have seen me wrestle, but, ‘Oh sh–, you teamed with Edge? Help me!'”
At this point, he enjoys the payday for leading a seminar just as much as working in the ring — and has the connections to make them happen.
Recently, he had to be flown into Barcelona for a show in France, since that was closer than flying into Paris. Legend knew a promoter in Barcelona and did a wrestling clinic at a school — instead of sitting there spending money, he was making money. While in Toronto, booked for the Heavy T.O. music festival in mid-August, he arranged a couple of dates and a training seminar in Detroit for Wolverine Pro Wrestling.
Legend said that it is only natural to adapt his style for wherever he might be wrestling.
“Going all the places that I do, I’ve got to adjust and change. I mean, the only wrestling I ever really watch any more, I find out where I’m going then I look them up on YouTube to see what the style is, so I can make sure I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel showing up,” he said.
There can be surprises “on occasion” when he gets to the venue.
In certain areas of England, they’re really traditional, he said. “So you go in there, the majority of them like WWE, entertainment stuff, so you show up with that, and they get all crabby and want old-school British. You do one or two cute little reversals or chain wrestling and they go berserk. ‘Yeah, why didn’t I think of this earlier?’
“But overall, just with the influence WWE has worldwide, it’s just hard to combat that. If I’m running a wrestling promotion, or starting a wrestling promotion, I’m going to business model the best promotion in the world, the most successful, because that would just seem to be the logical thing to do. Facts are facts, fan or not, Vince is the most successful guy. Logically, you’d have to business model WWE’s product.”
He has gotten to see all kinds of talent around the world, good and bad.
“There are some guys out there that I just think are spectacular,” said Legend. “A guy name Murat Bosporus, he’s a Turkish guy, lives in Munich. He works all over the place. One of my best friends. Brilliant. One of the best talents out there, so hopefully he gets going. I would mention Tom La Rufa, a guy from France, but he just signed with WWE the other day.”
When prompted, he expanded on La Rufa: “He’s excellent. I had a hell of a match with him in France,” said Legend. “He’s perfect for the current crop. He’s 5-9, 5-10, so he’s not a giant by any stretch. But he’s got a phenomenal physique. He’s got the six-pack abs that are vascular. He’s pretty much the opposite of me. And a beard. When he comes to Turkey, he does this Trojan soldier thing, and he’ll bring a Greek flag or something. But then when I wrestled him in France, he was just a French guy. So he’s got a little bit of adaptability, he’s not a slave to one gimmick … They can go in a lot of directions with him, they just have to figure out a strong one and go. He’s a good wrestler, he’s got a great engine and he’s got a great attitude. All he needs is a decent gimmick so you don’t treat him like crap, and a little bit of a push, and I think people will gravitate to him.”
Being a great talent doesn’t mean you don’t choke when the opportunity presents itself.
“There’s guys that are just phenomenal talents, especially in England. Because there’s, like, 70 promotions in England, people are working all the time, they can get experience, all these promotions are bringing in names so they can work with guys who know what they’re doing and develop their styles. But then the guys get into the WWE tryouts and they panic,” said Legend. “They’re so used to wrestling in front of 30, 40 people, but it’s the same. It’s a slightly bigger ring, but it’s actually the same environment — it’s a ring, it’s a small audience, because it’s only trainers and stuff watching. But they panic when they see the pyro, when they see the lights and everything else, they’re in a big arena. This is the whole life that they’ve been dreaming of. All of a sudden they’re not the big star on the little show, now they’re the little guy looking for a job and they panic. They make all the wrong moves trying to impress the office instead of just doing what they normally do.”
These days Legend is trying to impress casting agents as much as wrestling promoters. He had been “floating around my stuff for movie work” and was contacted by an agent who wanted to represent him. With a number of film and TV appearances in his past, wrestling and otherwise, he is hoping that the acting jobs will increase.
Legend has high hopes for Vampire Soul: Hidden in Plain Sight, a film that is close to being shot. He is king of the vampires, and convinced the producers to bring in Roddy Piper as the weathered veteran vampire hunter.
“Roddy, I guess, is going to be hunting me at some point,” said Legend. “From what I’m told for the sequel, he and I are supposed to have this huge fight scene. I told Rod, ‘Rod, bring your work boots, because I want to top the fight scene in They Live,’ which, to me, is the best street fight scene in movie history. I love that film.”
Naturally, it all ties in with pro wrestling — Legend is booked to appear in Transylvania in February, and told the movie people about it, hoping to show at least a trailer for the film when he’s there. “I told them about it and they went absolutely mental.”
Back in Hannover, his wife, Svenia, works for the university, and his in-laws help with the twins.
The kids speak mainly German. “When I’m home, that’s when they get their English. When they’re in the car with Papa, they get their English, but it’s all the wrong English when they’re in the car with me.”
He has not smartened the kids up to the inner-workings of pro wrestling, or, in fact, to his career in general.
“My kids don’t know what I do,” he said. At their age, the boys are starting to get aggressive and territorial with their toys, Legend said, and while it requires telling them not to hit, it would be hypocritical if they saw their father hit people on TV. So Legend just tells them, “Papa is going to work.”
“I’ll leave the details until I feel they can better grasp it.”