If you watched Heels on Starz, you saw “Wildcard” J. Spade, even if you didn’t realize it. He was a key stand-in and stunt-double for Allen Maldonado, who played Rooster Robbins.
But if Spade has his way, you’ll know his name and face soon too, whether it’s from his wrestling, his acting and stuntwork, or, his love of cartoons and cereal.
A recent big break was appearing at the NWA Powerrr and NWA USA tapings in Atlanta in early December. On the February 19th edition of NWA USA on YouTube, he won a four-way bout to become the number one contender for whoever becomes the NWA World Junior Heavyweight champion at the upcoming NWA Crockett Cup pay-per-view.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, my biggest focus, and definitely what I want, is more wrestling,” Spade told SlamWrestling.net recently. “The movie stuff is great. I do enjoy that world, that aspect of putting on a really big production. And to me, it’s just, I love the spirit of performing, is what I’m starting to realize more. I love the the medium of wrestling as a performance.”
The wild ride began for the 34-year-old Michael Thompson growing up in New Orleans. He’d seen pro wrestling on TV, but dismissed it as fake. Come middle school, and the tween was with friends, watching the 2000 Royal Rumble, and it all changed; in particular, the Mick Foley versus Triple H Street Fight stood out. “Just from that match on, it’s like everything clicked. Like I knew what it was, it didn’t matter if it was fake, or if it was real. I knew what they were trying to portray. I understood the story. And I knew pretty much what the dangers that came with it. And since at age 12, up until now, I’ve just been obsessed with wrestling.”
The 6-foot Thompson is in great shape, and it’s always been that way. His father, Michael, loved bodybuilding, so his son gravitated towards that too. “I had a weight set in my room and that was one of the things I would do to deal with stress was workout,” he confessed. Despite his fitness, playing high school football had no appeal for him.
But wrestling? Obsessive.
“A lot of people say representation may not matter, but me seeing smaller guys on TV who resembled me gave me the courage to be like, ‘You know what? I think I can do this, because they’re pulling it off. I should be able to do the same exact thing,'” he said, listing off smaller wrestlers of the day, such as Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, and Rey Mysterio. Knowing that he was in shape, Thompson believed he could do it too – but where?
After graduating from the University of New Orleans, with a degree in business management, Thompson thought about furthering his education – in the ring. Booker T‘s school in Houston seemed to be a good fit, but then he searched locally and found the WildKat Sports school, run at the time by Luke Hawx and Orlando Jordan.
He has been attached to WildKat – and Hawx – ever since.
Heading into training, Thompson had watched the training program, Tough Enough, so knew a little about what to expect. “I made sure my cardio was extremely up – I’d always lifted weights, but I didn’t really deal with cardio that much. So I put more emphasis on my breathing and making sure my cardio was high, so when we got into training, I was the most prepared, I was able to handle a great majority of everything, did not throw up, unlike some of the other guys were in my class,” he recalled. Matt Lancie was the primary trainer.
Lancie will concede that Thompson stood out. “J. actually came in, ready to go, had no troubles doing any of the conditioning we had him do,” said Lancie. “He did his homework, and knew what was expected of him before he even showed up and stepped in the door.”
The only other classmate to stick with it was Danny Flamingo, and Thompson recalled how unprepared Flamingo was. For one, Flamingo thought school was starting a week later than it was, but he jumped in anyway. At one point, Thompson said that his colleague was “gasping for air, and you could just see tears flowing out of his eyes. And for me it’s my first time meeting this dude, and he’s kind of giving me a look. Not an angry look, but almost a look of disgust.” But he didn’t quit, and Flamingo and Thompson’s “Wildcard” J. Spade character have fought early and often, after their 14-month-long training session was up.
To Lancie, Thompson working with Flamingo was proof of his personal character. “J. was ready but Danny wasn’t, but he stuck through, and he pushed Danny to the next level. So they progressed together. He didn’t want to leave, quote unquote, no man left behind,” explained Lancie. “He actually helped Danny in the conditioning and getting him in the ring faster, because he needed that extra push.”
Thanks to the family business, there is a real supporting environment so that Thompson can go be J. Spade. Broad Warehouse Furniture is a family-run store in New Orleans that sells furniture both as a retailer and wholesale. “That’s my day job, I help my dad out with that as much as possible. We’ve been in business going on 20 years now. But when I have my off days, or if I have wrestling coming up, or a movie coming up, that’s when I take my time off from there and I pursue wrestling or film,” Thompson said.
Family can be more accommodating than a “real” employer. “That is one of the great things is the flexibility of it. My dad, at first he didn’t understand, when I first came to him about wrestling. It’s like, ‘Man, that is some crazy stuff. You sure you really want to do that? You’re really put your body to a lot of stuff.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s, crazy. I’m not getting paid a lot. But it’s fun and I just want to do it.’ He really didn’t understand because he wants job security, more than anything. But since I’ve been wrestling a lot, he’s like, ‘Man, you’re really good in the ring. There’s a lot of guys I see on TV, and I don’t think they could keep up with you or they’re not as entertaining as you.’ Then when I got into stunt film, he was like, ‘Man, I really support whatever you’re trying to do. I think you can be something big.’ He definitely does give me the flexibility to go and pursue things whenever I need to.”
The furniture store has also been a place for Thompson’s creativity to fly.
Recently, Thompson launched a YouTube show called Cartoons and Cereal with his pals Buku Dao and Sammy Kiss. “As weird as it is, I film that at my furniture store. So it’s after we close, I move all the furniture to one side of the room, and I set up some green screens, and bam, we film there,” he explained.
Cartoons and Cereal is exactly what the title promises – they eat cereal and watch retro cartoons. “It’s kid related, but there’s a lot of adults who love nostalgia, so the show provides a nostalgia trip on waking up on Saturday mornings, watching Saturday morning cartoons, eating cereal,” he said.
Buku Dao is also his frequent tag team partner in the ring, as Slime SZN, so the duo have chemistry. “We like performing in the ring, this is another aspect for us to show our characters that we may not be able to show in the ring,” said Thompson. “One of the things I like to do with my YouTube channel is just show another aspect of J. Spade that can’t be shown in the ring.”
Lancie agrees that is exactly what his student is doing, and the YouTube channel allows “him to be more himself, to show the the fans and whoever’s watching the real Michael instead of J. Spade.” As well, Lancie noted that it can be tough for someone in New Orleans to catch national attention, especially when wrestlers in the northeast or southern California dominant headlines, so the extra spotlight can only help.
All the experience Thompson gets working on projects himself help a little with whatever opportunities might come his way in the TV and movie world.
“As I tamper and experiment with different things, I’m learning that everything can provide a good experience that may pay off in the future,” Thompson said.
Fortunately, there’s a second season of Heels coming up, so Thompson has that work lined up.
As with much of his screen work, Thompson has Luke Hawx to thank. During his training, Hawx was around but not necessarily hands-on with the in-ring work. He also didn’t tout the reasons he was away so often, which was his own film and TV work.
Bayou Caviar was a film being filmed in New Orleans, and Hawx was working on it. He pitched Thompson to the right people, as a double for the movie’s star and director, Cuba Gooding Jr. “When I get on set, what they really wanted me to do, Cuba was like, ‘Look, I can do that myself, it’s nothing complicated,'” Thompson chuckled. Instead, Thompson ended up doing odds and ends in the 2018 film. The “small minimum stuff” has grown over the years.
On Heels, Luke Hawx was both an actor and Wrestling Coordinator on the eight-episode series, filmed in Atlanta, Georgia. He needed people that he knew and trusted, and Thompson fit the bill (as did Hawx’ son, Perry). It helped even more that Thompson was very similar in looks and size to actor Allen Maldonado, who plays Rooster Robbins.
For roughly five months, Thompson was on set, either training and doing rehearsals, or sitting back watching it be filmed.
He has nothing but praise for Maldonado and his commitment to the role.
“There’s a lot of things that I had to practice to learn for the TV show,” said Thompson. “I gotta give him a lot of credit, he did about 90% of the stunt work for his character. … he’s one of those guys, he’s like, ‘Look, if I have a role, sometimes I may get upset with the role. You guys are constantly training, trying to keep your body in shape. I have to do that.’ So he was working out each and every single morning, he put on some muscle mass. I had to lose a little bit of muscle mass to get down to him. But he put on about 10, 15 pounds of muscle, just so he can look more of the part. And when it came to the moves, he was able to do them. He did the dropkicks, the moonsaults, some of the crossbodies off the top rope, he was able to do a lot of that. It was almost to the point, ‘I’m here if needed, but he’s fully capable of pulling this off.’ I’ve got to give him a lot of credit.”
When Thompson wasn’t showing Allen how to be Rooster, they’d talk about every day things, such as good places to eat, and Thompson tapped Maldonado for some advice on screenplay writing.
Armed with his Screen Actors Guild card, and a few more project under his belt, Thompson isn’t exactly sure where it’s all heading – but he’s having a good time.
“It’s funny, in life, you never really know where it’s gonna take you. And I will be completely honest, in college, my whole thing was, let me get to wrestling, let me just get in there. When I finally got in the ring, that rush, that adrenaline that I get from the fans, the feedback of it, that is one of the best feelings in the world,” concluded Thompson. “I noticed that, even if it’s not wrestling, if we’re just filming a sketch, or I’m doing something, if I’m doing a stunt on set, in between cuts, I interact with the crowd, or I interact with the staff, it feels like a performance to me, so it’s kind of relating to the adrenaline that I get from wrestling. So that’s why I realized hey, I just love performing. I love getting that feedback from the crowd and putting on a show or putting on an act.”
- J. Spade socials: Twitter * YouTube * Store * Linktree
- Broad Warehouse Furniture website
- Slam Wrestling’s Heels story and review archive