Eric Young is a veteran professional wrestler with two decades of experience. After traveling the world and working for a variety of different companies, Young signed with the WWE in late 2016. As he travels the road on this new adventure, Young shares his experiences in wrestling and life as they happen.
In this edition of Life on the Road with Eric Young, EY describes the importance of the brotherhood of wrestling and how it's made a tremendous impact on his life and career.
Wrestling is this weird, unseen brotherhood of like-minded individuals doing the same thing professionally. While the behind-the-scenes moments of wrestling are much more exposed nowadays than they have ever been (and I am writing this article on ESPN right now), there's still the inner circle of that ultra, behind-the-scenes brotherhood (and sisterhood, to be fair -- we're all in it together) that goes well beyond the things you typically read about.
It's still very protected. Not just anyone is allowed in, but if you work hard and do things the right way, you can find your way around the unseen pecking order of things. When I was first starting out, finding your way and embracing the way things work within the brotherhood was very much the way that you got booked on shows.
I was wrestling on a show in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. This would have been 1998, I think. On that show, Samu of the Headshrinkers was there too. He met me, and we kind of hit it off.
Obviously, we're from two different worlds, two complete different age groups, two complete different ethnicities, religious backgrounds, and a whole lot of other things -- Samu of the Headshrinkers and Eric Young from Florence, Ontario, Canada couldn't be from two different worlds -- but we became friendly at the show and talked a lot, because of this shared experience and respect.
He ran a show in Pittsburgh, at that time, on weekends, I think twice a month. He invited me and the guy that I wrestled on that other show down to work for him. So he gave me his phone number, and I called him a couple days later, and he said that month he had a show and would like for us to come down. So after my first introduction, meeting a guy that I watched on TV, being around him for six hours and becoming friendly with him, he made an offer. It was a 13-hour drive, he gave me and my buddy $50, and we went down and did the show.
That's how I started getting bookings and getting my name out there. It was through this brotherhood and networking that I kind of figured out how to get my foot in the door, and that was really the only way to make it happen back then.
Going forward from there, I was growing my brand and my name independently. I was wrestling all over North America, and had started sending tapes and DVDs and such to the WWE, and started to get tryouts. One of my very first times, I can remember being backstage and having Edge and Christian and Chris Jericho going out of their way to check on me throughout the day. I think that went beyond the brotherhood of wrestling, and probably had a lot to do with them all being Canadians.
They're all parts of this big operation, flying all over the world doing house shows, and being on "Raw," and they've got their matches for that night to worry about. Meanwhile, I'm there, and just being backstage at a WWE event for the first time is a big deal to me. I'm nervous, and I want to make the right impression. It's this mixed-up thing where I was trying to be out of the way of all this crazy stuff going on, but in the way and noticed by the right people at the same time. So it's this weird, mixed-emotions thing, and they were able to help guide me through it because to them, it's just another day in a long line of crazy days.
I can remember one of my first ones, and it was in Chicago. I think I had been to a couple of shows, but hadn't worked yet. I think this was one of the first times I worked on "Sunday Night Heat," I think, but I can't remember exactly. I ended up doing 20 or 30 "Sunday Night Heat" and "Velocity" shows. But I remember Edge and Christian, Lance Storm and Jericho going out of their way to make sure that everything was cool, that I was OK and knew where to be.
Part of it was, I think, beyond all those guys having a reputation of being good guys, was that they knew that I was from Canada and how much harder it was to get a spot because of that. Because in order for you to work regularly for WWE, the company had to sponsor you a visa, so you had to go above and beyond what the Americans getting tryouts were doing. Those guys knew my struggles, probably because they went through similar moments of their own, and when they passed that respect and concern along to me, it was another huge moment in my career where the brotherhood really took care of me.
I can remember going out for a breakfast, and Lance mentioned it on Twitter probably about a month ago, saying he can remember it was the first time that he'd met me. I was with Christian, and we were meeting for breakfast, and he and Lance would typically get breakfast with one another (they traveled together a lot). Lance challenged me to eat an enormous amount of food, and if I was successful, they'd pay for it.
- Lance Storm (@LanceStorm) January 29, 2017
So naturally, being a poor, independent wrestler, I wasn't going to pass up a free meal no matter what it took. So I ordered these three massive pancakes from the Moonlight Diner in Chicago, and it's funny to me that he can remember that. That was our first meeting, and it's 15 or 16 years later, but he can still remember that. I remember it vividly too, because it was a very kind thing for a guy that was making money and on the road, who didn't really owe me anything, to do. It probably helps that it was a funny story, but the fact that he still remembers it is another great example of the strength and the bond that is at the heart of the brotherhood of wrestling.
They didn't owe me anything. They weren't going to get anything out of being nice to me, or helping me or going out of their way talking to me and making me feel comfortable. And this is the kind of thing that goes on still to this day. I tried to do that to guys that were backstage at TNA, and I try to do it now at Full Sail in Orlando or wherever we end up on the road with NXT.
I try to talk to these hopefuls and young folks and make them feel welcome, because I was offered the same kind of thing. I think it can all be traced back to the shared experiences that a majority of wrestlers come from; they might have training at any number of different schools, but once they start getting on shows and they start networking so they can get booked more often, there's this unspoken bond. We all drove crazy distances to make no money, in wrestling rings that are falling apart, so once we get to one of these big opportunities, we know exactly what it means.
For me, it's how I was raised, to treat people how I want to be treated. Just after I won the world title for TNA, they were interviewing guys and asking, "What do you think about Eric Young winning the world title?" They were interviewing Montel Vontavious Porter (aka MVP), and he said he can remember the first time meeting me. I was working for TNA at the time and he was in on the tryout, and he said he could remember me going out of my way to talk to him and ask him where he was from, and then at the end of the night I said, "Hey, a bunch of us are going for drinks or whatever, and this is where we're all going if you want to go."
And he said he always remembered that. We had never met, and I didn't work with him that night. This is a guy that's a few years older than me, and we started wrestling around the same time; he had a pretty successful career in the WWE and was the United States champion. He'll always have respect for me because I showed respect for him when I didn't need to.
"They didn't owe me anything. They weren't going to get anything out of being nice to me, or helping me or going out of their way talking to me and making me feel comfortable. And this is the kind of thing that goes on still to this day."
That's super-important to me, that my peers not only look at me as somebody that is talented and does the right things in the ring, but also does things right outside of the ring. I think it's a big reason why I am where I am now. In my first meeting with William Regal and Triple H, I said just that: "Something that's very important to me is my reputation."
And they did their due diligence, of course, and they asked people who had worked with me before or people who know people who have worked with me, and both of them said in the very first meeting that I was one of the most highly thought-of and highly recommended wrestlers they had ever asked about.
Now, I'm a pretty emotional guy, and it took everything in me to choke back tears after hearing that. These guys who have this lifetime of hiring people and putting people in the right position are telling me that the way I've gone about my career has been so widely recognized.
A lot of people don't survive in wrestling long. I feel like you get pushed aside or ostracized if you're not a good guy or a good girl, and working your way up the right way. This business can eat you alive, and you'll be put on the outside pretty quick if you're not able to get along and be around people. You spend hours and hours and hours with these people on the road, in hotels and cars and airports, and on buses and planes. If you're not a decent person or you're not willing to help people by being a good teammate, you'll get eaten up in a hurry.
Brothers and sisters protect each other, and there's always going to be groups and cliques and whatever, but the brotherhood of wrestling is this unwritten code of doing the right thing.
The last thing of the full circle of the brotherhood, I want to go back to when I talked about training Tye Dillinger. After training together and living together, his career didn't really sync up with mine for a while. He signed with OVW and did that whole thing, got released, and then signed back with NXT a few years later. Then he gets this opportunity in the "Royal Rumble," and I was there to see it.
I got to be backstage and see him in this big moment in his career and his life. He's kind of like my child, as far as wrestling goes, and we're still very close. He was at my wedding, and I'm sure when he gets married I'll be at his wedding.
I think Colt Cabana said it on his podcast one time, that Tye Dillinger is your favorite wrestler's favorite wrestler. And that's true. He's thought of by many as being an ultra-talented guy, but he's most respected for always having done things the right way -- and his career and his life embody everything good about the brotherhood of wrestling.
It was such an amazing thing to see, and that's why the brotherhood of wrestling is special to me. It's a very tight-knit community. Not everyone is welcome, but when you're in, it's super-rewarding. I'm sure some version of it exists in every walk of life, but it's truly the lifeblood of wrestling.
It doesn't matter if you don't travel with them or don't see eye to eye on some things -- the brotherhood of wrestling is always there, and you'll always be connected in that way. Whether you've spent five minutes in the wrestling business or 50 years, if you treat people right, pay your dues and maintain respect for what's come before you, you'll always be a part of the brotherhood.