War Beard Hanson is a tough, hard-hitting fighter. He and his partner in War Machine, Raymond Rowe, have been climbing the ranks of Ring of Honor over the past 12 months and now they face their biggest challenge.

May 15 and 16 see the stars of New Japan and Ring of Honor collide in Toronto, at the Ted Reeve Arena, for two talent-deep, virtually sold-out shows. The quality of performers and matches would make most WrestleMania matches blush, and it might just be the best wrestling pay-per-view this weekend.


Hanson is excited to be in the main event of Friday’s i-PPV as his team, comprised of War Machine, the Briscoes and Roderick Strong take on the most popular faction in the wrestling world, The Bullet Club, which is made up of A.J. Styles, the Young Bucks, Doc Gallows, and “Machine Gun” Karl Anderson.

For the 31-year-old Hanson, the main event opportunity is a culmination of his 13 years of sacrifice. “It is amazing,” said Hanson. “Here we are, War Machine and the Ring of Honor all-stars against The Bullet Club, is the biggest moment of our career as a tag team. It is absolutely surreal. We are so ready for it. We are so ready to kick ass!”

The story of Hanson (Todd Smith) starts in New England at the Killer Kowalski School of Professional Wrestling. A fabled wrestler from the 1950s to the 1970s, Kowalski, opened up his wrestling gym in the late 1970s and has trained a bevy of wrestling greats such as Big John Studd, Triple H, Perry Saturn, Frankie Kazarian, and Chyna. Learning under the guidance of a wrestling legend was invaluable to Hanson. Even to this day the lessons from the Killer resonate with Hanson.

“I got to spend a good amount of time with him before he passed away and it was really an honour,” said Hanson. “When Walter didn’t like something he would let you know. If he saw something that he thought looked terrible or he thought didn’t look real, he would be screaming from his chair, ‘Fake! Fake! Fake!’ That was the biggest thing, honestly, that I took from him to not let any moment in the ring look fake. It all has to be real and I took that from Killer Kowalski.”

Under Kowalski’s watchful eye, Hanson learned the ropes and was in awe of his trainer. “It was awesome,” said Hanson. “Obviously, he had been around for so many years and done so many things, the stories he told and the knowledge he has is absolutely incredible.”

For many years Hanson toiled on the independent wrestling circuit and made a few appearances as enhancement talent for the WWE. In 2011 Hanson’s career came to a grinding halt. “I had a devastating shoulder injury,” said Hanson. “I had surgery and I hit rock bottom in my life. I blew up to 330 pounds. I couldn’t lift weights.”

After some soul searching, Hanson decided to remake his wrestling image and his life in his own way. Like so many wrestlers before him had found out, the best characters or gimmicks are the ones that closest resemble the true person.

“For the majority of my career I was Handsome Johnny and my only goal was the WWE,” said Hanson. “I had the mentality that the WWE wanted things to be 6’2″, 240, abs of steel, look like a million bucks or be a major athlete or they wouldn’t look at you. It’s not my body type; I am not going to be a guy who is 6’2″, 220 with a bunch of abs. That’s not me and I was trying to be that person for so long. No matter what shape I got into or how many hoops I jumped through for them it just wasn’t happening with my trying to be somebody else.”

It’s a battle of beards with Hanson working over Mark Briscoe in a ROH bout in Toronto in September 2014. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea

Hanson began a 45-day juice diet and lost 90 pounds. He took up DDP Yoga to rehab his shoulder and then started cross fit. By deciding to be himself and to express his inner desires through his character he rejuvenated his career.

In 2014, he entered the Ring of Honor Top Prospect tournament. “They started announcing the names for the Ring of Honor Top Prospects tournament and I had my fingers crossed,” said Hanson. “They announced the sixth person and then the seventh person and I hadn’t gotten a phone call or an email or anything. I guess I’m not in this thing. Then it was three days after they announced [Kongo] Kong, who was the seventh guy in the tournament, that they reached out to me and I got my invite to the tournament. It was really surreal to be in it because I didn’t think I would be in it after the seventh person was announced. To make it to the finals was even more amazing and then to come out on top was just ridiculous for me.”

In the tournament final Hanson faced and defeated Raymond Rowe. The chemistry in the ring between Rowe and Hanson caught the eye of the Ring of Honor officials and soon enough the former combatants became tag team partners. Their success over the last few months (derailed for a time by Rowe’s motorcycle accident) has elevated them to this lofty position of being in the main event for the Toronto iPPV and Hanson is excited.

“If you love pro wrestling, you love the true sport of wrestling and New Japan has some of the best,” said Hanson. “Japan is a strong style. It is hard-hitting and it is fast-paced action. It is good solid stuff and you are going to have Ring of Honor who has a Japanese style and it’s going to be wild and it’s going to be fireworks.”

Hanson has been amazed by the fan reaction for their bearded heroes against the Bullet Club. “The fans are stoked about this. The two shows in Toronto are making a buzz on Twitter,” said Hanson. “War Machine colliding with the Bullet Club is just amazing because New Japan and Ring of Honor crossover allow the American audience to take a peek at what New Japan has to offer and the Japanese fans to see what Ring of Honor has to offer.”