Wrestling has been Cody Chhun’s first and only passion in life, since the young age of two or three he was enamored with the world of professional wrestling.

He grew up watching wrestling with his uncles and grandpa, always trying to stay up late on school nights to tune in to WWE. “I’d get like hella VHS tapes from my grandpa and I would just play like random episodes of Smackdown and Raw,” Chhun told SlamWrestling.net. “They would never be in order, but like they were kind of in order, still, I was just watching wrestling and hoping I see some good matches.”

The first two superstars that caught the eye of Chhun were The Rock and Rob Van Dam. The Rock was due to him having Backlash 2000 on VHS and that was the show where The Rock defeated Triple H in the main event for the WWF Championship. As for Rob Van Dam, it was because “he did the Frog Splash and that was dope. And he had a high-flying move set, as a kid I’m like, Yeah, this guy’s dope, that’s the one.”

Chhun grew up in the Seattle-Tacoma area of Washington state, and during his senior year of high school, he decided that he wanted to be more than just a fan of wrestling. “I was kind of lazy about going to college. Plus I didn’t know what I wanted to do in college, like what I wanted to study. And I think at that time I was like, if I went to college, I’d probably make a lot of bad choices.”

“So I told my counsellor, I was like, Hey, if I’m being real with you, there’s a lot of paperwork to fill out just to apply to colleges and I don’t think I’m gonna have this much money and I’m kind of scared of taking out these loans cause I’m not trying to owe money. I think I’m gonna take a chance on this wrestling stuff right now.”

The 25-year-old Chhun did not want to waste any time, so in October 2015 at the young age of 18, he started his training. He graduated high school in June 2015 and spent the entire summer working two jobs, one at a breakfast place and another at retail for Sports Authority, to save money for his dream. After a summer of hard work, he was able to enroll at the Buddy Wayne Academy.

Chhun flying through the air. Credit: @ukulelepunk

Buddy Wayne was there and rest in peace. He’s not with us no more, but, he was there and he was there every practice. It didn’t matter what the weather was and it got cold, and our school was literally just a ring in a garage. So Buddy was there and he always helped train and helped like point everything out and he ran all the drills and told us what to do and what not to do. We trained Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday, three days a week.”

Wednesday was the beginner’s class, Thursday was the advanced class and Saturdays were for everyone at the school. “We would wrestle on Wednesday and then on Thursday I would pretty much learn how to wrestle by watching them wrestle. I only got to do like one or two drills, every Thursday. But still, I was there and I wanted to learn and like when it was my turn to do a drill, I got in there and I was just ready, like Let’s go. What is it? Okay, let me try it. Cause I just wanted to be hungry for it.”

After just four short months, Chhun had his first match for SPW in Washington, he participated in a ten-man tag match. The bout involved members from the Buddy Wayne Academy and Buddy Wayne himself. Chhun actually wrestled under a mask and he was so nervous that he ended up wearing the mask for 20 minutes before he even had to go out.

Chhun’s initial goals when entering the business were similar to many other wrestlers, getting to the WWE and being on WrestleMania. However, as time went by, Chhun said his goals changed and developed, with one main goal becoming to travel the world. “I just wanted to see the world and travel and be all these places, like just explore. And then I can be like, yeah, I’ve been to Germany, I’ve been to Japan and if my friends wanna go there, I’ll be their own little tour guide.”

Cody Chhun in the Defy ring. Credit: @ukulelepunk

His goal also changed from working for WWE to wrestling as a profession. “I just wanna be a full-time wrestler where I can just really focus on holding my craft and like hitting the gym, studying tape, and then thinking of new ideas of how I want to perceive myself. I just wanna be a full-time wrestler and be able to put that on my taxes, like full-time independent wrestler.”

Chhun has been described as a natural babyface, and he says he sees himself as the typical underdog. He loves to represent all the smaller people, Chhun stands 5’12”, as he calls 6’0″, and 208 pounds, and everyone who is usually counted out in a fight.

“I’ve always wanted to fight for the people that feel like they’re smaller and I want to show people, Hey man, we got belief and if you just believe in yourself, you can do it.”

A few of Chhun’s biggest inspirations include Randy Orton, Batista and also Jushin Thunder Liger.

“I think he [Jushin Thunder Liger] was like one of the first masked wrestlers I’ve seen. And he was flying and doing the cartwheel kick and the palm strike. He was from Japan and any time I heard, from Japan, I was like, oh, this guy’s badass. Because to me as a kid, Japan was like top-level stuff. I’m like, oh, this guy wrestled in Japan, he knows what he’s doing.”

Those men were a big part of Chhun’s childhood, but as he got older he developed a new appreciation for technical wrestlers like Ricky Steamboat and Zack Sabre Jr. He said that the technical style of wrestling can be boring to a child, but once you realize how smooth wrestlers like Steamboat and Sabre make it, it can be amazing.

The wrestling business is not easy to be a part of, and apart from wrestling Chhun (real name Sotheara Cody Chhun) is a security guard. “It’s a grind, we sacrifice a lot. We work the 40 hours, we still gotta hit the gym, eat right, watch some matches and then still make the travel days or like still hustle for like bookings. Sending out emails and making sure we got YouTube content or matches to watch, it’s a lot of stuff to balance.”

Chhun can be very busy on the indy scene and he wants to appreciate his time on the indies, he says “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”

“I want to enjoy this time because maybe one day if I do get that [full-time contract]. I’d be like, damn those days were good, those were the good old days.”

While on the independents Chhun has some dream matches including Titus Alexander, “The Bounty Hunter” Bryan Keith, and as a team he wants to face Aussie Open. Chhun is in a team with Guillermo Rosas, they are called C4 and are one-time Prestige Tag Team Champions.

Rosas shared his passion for his team with Chhun, “I loved C4 the moment we started. It’s been really fun getting to know someone I love dearly like a brother and also my best friend.”

C4 are Guillermo Rosas and Cody Chhun. Credit: @itsomgjess

C4 has been a team for about four years, the team was originally Chhun and Clark Connors prior to Connors signing with NJPW. Chhun and Rosas mainly team in Prestige, but then they are both singles stars in Defy.

“Last year, Guillermo and I really blew up as a tag team. So a lot of people know us and they recognize us now, which is great. We were travelling and exploring around last year like people know Guillermo and I as a tag. So usually when we go outta state, we do a lot of tag team stuff and I love it. It’s fun. It keeps the ideas flowing and it’s kind of challenging. I gotta keep watching, keep studying like different tag matches, different singles matches, and there’s a lot of good wrestlers. I wanna be one of those wrestlers that’s known as a good singles and a good tag off the top of my head would be like Chris Sabin and Alex Shelley.”

Defy and Prestige are the two main places Chhun gets to wrestle, and he actually started with Defy as part of the set-up crew. “I did ring crew for Defy for so long until I finally got started getting put in matches, like tag matches, six-man tag matches, multi-man matches. It’s still like doing ring crew and I was just like, I’ll take anything. I’ll take whatever match. I just wanna get involved in Defy and be a part of it cause the energy there is crazy.”

Cody Chhun among the fans at Defy. Credit: West Smith

He really began to take off with Defy following its divide to survive match, where he was one of the ten men involved. Another man in the match, Sonico, kept tapping on Chhun’s shoulder and telling him to look at the balcony in the arena.

“I looked up and these people were, were chanting my name, like Chhun. I was like, What the f—? I’m like, who? And then, throughout the whole match, they would just keep chanting my name and like they’d go crazy every time I was in the ring, I was like, What the hell? From there, it kind of just took off and then I became kind of like a little hometown hero for Defy wrestling, people would just go crazy to see me. And then from there it just kept carrying on and I just got kind of kept riding the momentum and I just kept developing my wrestling for Defy.”

As for Prestige, he first joined that promotion when members of his school were invited to compete in one of their shows. Chhun is enjoying working these indy promotions, but he says going to Japan to wrestle is on his wrestling bucket list.

“Whether it’s with New Japan or Zero1 or NOAH or any promotion over there in Japan, I really wanna experience like a one month or two tour and just have like those six-man tag matches, those tag matches. Cause I wanna be able to say like, I went to Japan and I want to challenge myself, I want to immerse myself in their culture.”

One of Chhun’s biggest challenges thus far has been enrolling in the Nightmare Factory school for three months. He said it was his first taste of being a full-time wrestler, he saved money and quit his job in order to devote the three months to learning.

The Nightmare Factory is a wrestling school in Atlanta co-owned by QT Marshall and Cody Rhodes, they also both coach at the school alongside Glacier, the former WCW superstar, and the school has Carolyn Cuellari as a nutritionist. Entering The Nightmare Factory is a 12-week program and its mission is, “designed to develop the most well-rounded athletes, providing each athlete the opportunity to learn as they begin his or her quest to a career in professional wrestling and sports entertainment.”

“Every day in the morning it was weightlifting, strength training, and then in the ring at night, nonstop,” said Chhun. “We lifted like 11 to 2, I think. And then we had an hour break and then we had in ring for the rest of the night.”

“It was brutal, it got to the point where I was like, Oh my God, my body hurts, but like, this is what I came to do and this is what I want to do and I’m not gonna cheat myself out. I never cheated myself at any rep. I never like counted something early or never gave less than a hundred percent cause I want to be here and I want to show them I can do this and I wanna prove to myself that I got the mental strength for it.”

Chhun has become known as someone that doesn’t back down and Rosas said, “Cody is always up for the challenge. I’ve never seen him back down from anything even when he has been in pain. He pushes through every time, [it’s] inspirational. Even with nagging pain/small injuries, he’s always found a way to make it work. He is relentless.”

After all the hard work Chhun has put in, he reached his highest moment as a wrestler when he competed on NJPW Strong, New Japan’s U.S. show.

Cody Chhun on New Japan Strong. Credit: Josh Shot

“Five years ago, I was at that New Japan camp where they first announced it that week-long camp, and I was the sh–s, I couldn’t keep up with the squats. I couldn’t keep up with the pushups. the neck bridge. I couldn’t keep up with none of that sh–. But instead of being like a turtle and going back in my shell, I was like, man, I gotta work harder. I gotta show ’em. I want to get to New Japan. So, and then when I finally got that New Japan Strong confirmation, I was like, Holy sh–, this is a step in the right direction.”

Even with the opportunities on Strong, Chhun’s favorite match of his career is still his match with Nick Wayne — son of his trainer Buddy — at the Defy anniversary show. He has known the younger Wayne since Nick was nine and he said getting to go 30 minutes with him ahead of Wayne leaving the independent scene was great. (Wayne has an AEW contract awaiting his high school graduation.)

“I had a lot of doubts about that match. Like, Oh man, am I gonna perform? Am I gonna wrestle to the best that I can? Is my cardio good? Am I ready for this match? So I had a lot of doubts going into it, but I think after it, I was on Cloud 9. I was like, I think we lived up to the hype.”

Wrestling can be a difficult career path but Chhun has “never, ever once lost hope in wrestling or thought about quitting wrestling because I know this game is long. And I know they say a lot of people don’t even hit their prime until they’re like 30 or something. So I never lost, wrestling is special.”

Chhun lives for everything wrestling is about and he wants to be a part of the business for as long as he can.

“The emotion you get from wrestling or from competing and from digging deep in your mental state and pushing forward. Wrestling is everything. And it’s so much bigger than just going in the ring and putting on a match. I never thought about anything else. I’ve never been passionate about anything else other than wrestling.”

On April 8, Chhun will be going one-on-one with Michael Oku at Defy The Realest in Seattle, Washington, you can still buy tickets to the event on Defy’s website.

TOP PHOTO: Cody Chhun at Defy Wrestling. Credit: West Smith