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David Starr: ‘WWE is not the goal’

“The Product” David Starr is taking his own approach to success in pro wrestling.

His international odyssey has provided the opportunity to work on different canvases throughout the world, and Starr just traveled to Israel for a high-profile match against Ring of Honor staple Jay Lethal.

The 28-year-old Philadelphian has ventured far and wide to establish himself as one of wrestling’s proudest independent stars. Currently residing near London, Starr is in the process of putting in the miles to become a worldwide entity in wrestling.

And he is doing on his terms.

“I hope that what I do shows wrestlers and fans that you can have your own opinion,” said Starr. “Stand on your own. Now there are institutionalized and systemic problems in every part of America, but don’t be afraid to take principle over profit. Don’t be afraid to take a different path.

“Everyone is signing everywhere. That’s great, I’m happy for them. But you don’t have to be another sheep in the herd.”

Starr (Max Barsky away from the ring) rejects the idea that every single pro wrestler is desperately seeking a contract from WWE, AEW, or New Japan.

“That’s why I’ve stopped calling myself a free agent,” said Starr. “I’m independent, I’m an independent wrestler. That’s what I want wrestlers to do—reframe the discussion and start accepting deals on our terms. We don’t have to bow down to a corporate entity.”

Starr is talented enough in the ring and on the microphone to work full-time for a major company, but that is not what he aspires to do.

“WWE is not the goal,” said Starr. “I have a different goal. I’m trying to be me. I want to get better every single day, every single match. Add something every single match and stand out in a different way. I can’t out-flip Will Ospreay or technical wrestle like Zack Sabre Jr. or out-danger AR Fox, so I’m finding my own way of standing out. That is my goal—make myself as good as possible.

“Saying I want to wrestle at WrestleMania is cool, but that’s not up to me. That’s up to a booker to give me a match or a cool entrance. For a while, PWG was my goal. But it drove me crazy when I saw people getting booked that I perceived I was better than. That’s the wrong mindset. I can’t control if Super Dragon decides to book me.”

No stranger to controversy, Starr delivered an online promo that went viral in March directed at Sinclair Broadcasting, which is the parent company of Ring of Honor. Although Starr is not employed by ROH, he was set to challenge then-ROH champ Jay Lethal in a title match in April at Israeli Pro Wrestling Association’s Passover Bash in April. The match took place, but it was a non-title affair; Lethal lost the match just weeks prior at the G1 Supercard show at Madison Square Garden to Matt Taven.

“Ring of Honor lied,” said Starr. “I wasn’t entitled to a Ring of Honor title match, so that wasn’t my issue. They went out of their way to say their championship would be represented on the IPWA show, so for whatever reason, they lied.

“I’m not arrogant or narcissist enough to believe they changed their booking decision because of my promo. It made sense to put the title on Matt Taven—but don’t promise the title will be on the line at the show. They went out of their way to say on the website that the title, no matter what, would be represented. That’s completely dishonorable.”

Starr is a perfectionist and likely his own toughest critic, rarely allowing himself to enjoy his own work—with the Lethal match standing out as an outlier.

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“The match Jay and I was something special, and I don’t say that lightly,” said Starr. “The crowd was electric. There were Arabic fans, there were Israeli fans, and they were unbelievable. There is a market for market for independent wrestling for Gery Roif’s Israeli Pro Wrestling Association.

“And Jay Lethal is a class act, one of the best wrestlers on the planet. He puts his heart into that company, and I don’t fault the wrestlers for being apolitical. They want to wrestle and be seen on the biggest stage possible, and I get that. But Sinclair Broadcasting has openly used anti-Semitism as a weapon. It’s absolutely abhorrent. When it comes to management, I won’t give you the same excuses.”

Starr’s willingness to stand up for his beliefs will make enemies, but he is willing to take any criticism hurled his way.

“Creating public discourse in regard to my feeling,” said Starr. “That’s important to me.”

Even his staunchest critics will admit that Starr backs up his influential promos with a compelling in-ring style. His work will be on display quite often this month, with upcoming Progress dates from May 4–6 in London, as well as a May 10 date with Rev Pro, before returning stateside for AAW in Chicago on May 11 and a starring role on Beyond Wrestling’s “Uncharted Territory” show on May 15.

“My goal is to stand out in my promos and then in my matches,” said Starr. “When you listen to Bohemian Rhapsody, you can feel the ride that Queen is taking you on. You can tell the build-up and feel it, and that’s what I’m looking for in a match—getting people emotionally invested in my performance.”

Finn Balor shines with Make-A-Wish

Finn Balor is one of the best wrestlers in the world, bringing his hard-hitting, realistic style to WWE. He has delivered ‘Match of the Year’ submissions in each of the past two years, starting with a singles match against AJ Styles at TLC in October of 2017 as well as the Intercontinental title triple-threat match from WrestleMania 34 (not to mention a fantastic encounter with Brock Lesnar in January at the Royal Rumble).

But Balor, who is the current Intercontinental Champion, has also benefitted from working for WWE—especially in the community relations department.

Balor shared that one of his most enjoyable parts of working for WWE is the relationship with the children at Make-A-Wish.

“As WWE superstars, we get to inspire and influence a lot of people around the world,” said Balor, who is 37-year-old Fergal Devitt. “But personally, meeting the Wish kids one-on-one and hearing their stories, that’s really what inspires us.”

The idea that a child chooses to use their wish to meet Balor, he explained, is a distinct privilege.

“It’s humbling, I get goosebumps,” said Balor. “We kind of forget how much of an impact we have on people’s lives. Sometimes we take what we’re doing for granted—you know, we’re on the road 250 days a year. Meeting the kids makes all of those long days worth it, and it’s a really beautiful experience.

“It fills me with pure love—that makes it difficult for me to tap into my Demon. But that’s something I’ll do for them.”

WWE’s schedule is nonstop, but the opportunity to meet with the children from Make-A-Wish is a welcomed break for the monotony of the road.

“To spend some time with the kids helps put everything in perspective with what we’re doing at WWE,” said Balor. “A lot of times you can get caught in the race and it’s work, work, work, but this is a stark contrast of what reality is for a lot of people. It takes you back down to everything, makes you realize what you’re doing, and makes it all worth it.”

Triple H’s words reverberate following the Superstar Shakeup

During the NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn post-show press conference at WrestleMania weekend, Paul “Triple H” Levesque shared a very telling memory.

“I remember hearing this story, which ‘Stone Cold’ [Steve Austin] tells all the time,” said Levesque, who was holding court for reporters in a basement press room at the Barclays Center. “He was standing next to Vince at Madison Square Garden watching a match, and Steve said, ‘Man, that guy’s good.’ And Vince said, ‘Yeah, I hope he makes it.’”

There is a component to McMahon making stars, Levesque explained, but the complex process of superstardom runs much deeper.

“What you do with the platform you’re given is what makes you or doesn’t,” said Levesque, explaining that the talent in NXT and on the main roster have their own opportunity to make themselves famous. “That’s the truth. Trust me, when it’s there, we’ll follow it. They have the platform. We’ll see who stands up and takes it.”

Levesque’s words ring true every week on Raw and SmackDown, as WWE talent is given the opportunity to impress millions upon millions of viewers.

But, even in an alleged new era of 2019, how much of a role does the booking play?

Lars Sullivan is viewed as a monster solely because of the way he is booked. There is no doubt that he is making the most of that opportunity. But what about EC3? His failure to succeed on the main roster is a direct result of lackluster booking. He is talented enough—with a unique look and strong mic skills—that there is no reason EC3 could not be in a meaningful storyline with Finn Balor for the Intercontinental title.

Dean Ambrose has left an opening, as has the (temporary?) departure of Sasha Banks and the continued absence of Daniel Bryan. But that still does not mean there is room on the roster for Luke Harper, who just requested his release after a disturbing pattern of start-and-stop booking.

Drew McIntyre is a perfect example of a talent who forced WWE to book him in high-profile storylines, but McIntyre was also misused during his prior run with the company. Andrade and Ali are two other talents who are simply too good to ignore, and both have received pushes since the beginning of the year.

In the all-too-often manufactured world of pro wrestling, questions still surround WWE’s booking philosophy.

A fascinating aspect of the emergence of All Elite Wrestling, which will certainly provide competition inside the ring, is whether it forces WWE to change the way it books its talent.

The (Online) Week in Wrestling

• Brock Lesnar spoke this past weekend at the Assiniboia Sports Celebrity Dinner and Auction, touching on some both WWE and UFC.

• Speaking of Lesnar, his reported retirement from UFC should lead to a return to WWE programming, beginning with the next Saudi Arabia show in June.

• In advance of their match at Double or Nothing, Cody Rhodes dropped a  fantastic promo on Dustin Rhodes—and left no stone unturned by hurling an insult at Triple H.

• For those who have yet to watch, the Bruiser Brody episode—covering the story behind his murder—was incredibly well done. Mick Foley was phenomenal in his role of narrator, Dutch Mantel and (especially) Tony Atlas came off extremely well, but the same cannot be said for Abdullah The Butcher.

• EC3 subtly reminded the wrestling world that all he needs is… a push.

• Behind the scenes of Fighting With My Family with Paige:

• Dave Meltzer’s recent Wrestling Observer newsletter noted that Luke Harper will not be released any time soon by WWE, as the company has added six months due to his contract after freezing it while he was out with an injury.

Jessie Godderz returns to OVW, wins Television title

A familiar face returned last week, as “Mr. PEC-tacular” Jessie Godderz made his return to OVW and won the Television title.

“I went to my old stomping grounds at Davis Arena in Louisville, Kentucky, and we really caught everyone by surprise,” said Godderz, who defeated Adam Revolver in a gauntlet match to win his first-ever singles title. “You’ll never know where or when I’ll show up.”

Godderz is best known for his time in TNA from 2011-2017, but he has also enjoyed success outside of the business, particularly during his wrestling hiatus after leaving TNA.

“My break started back in 2017,” said Godderz. “Impact was kind enough to offer me a very attractive multi-year deal to renew and I was very close to re-signing but, at the time, I had been wrestling nonstop for five years and there were so many television opportunities that I had been delaying. I decided the time was right to simply take a break and pursue my other passions.”

Some of the opportunities he has earned are appearances on Big Brother, as well as for The Young and The Restless, Tainted Dreams, and Snowfall. He also recorded a song, “The Girl Is with Me,” with 98 Degrees star Jeff Timmons. But Godderz admitted that his break from the ring was always going to be temporary.

“Wrestling is my first love,” said Godderz, who also made a cameo on Lucha Underground in 2018. “It’s my passion, my profession, and my dream.”

Trained by the Bully Ray and Devon Dudley, and mentored along the way by Al Snow, the 33-year-old Godderz is confident that he is just now beginning to hit his peak in pro wrestling.

“My guest appearances on Lucha Underground last summer made me yearn to come back to wrestling and I started planning to return on a more regular basis ever since,” said Godderz. “Now my 2019 wrestling aspiration is to become world heavyweight champion.

“I hope to become the OVW World Heavyweight Champion, the Lucha Underground World Heavyweight Champion, and the Impact Wrestling World Heavyweight Champion. Those have been my three wrestling families throughout my career and it’s my goal to become world champ at all three prestigious promotions.”

Godderz credited Al Snow, who just purchased OVW in April, for implementing a solid foundation for talent honing their craft.

“Al Snow is just extraordinary,” said Godderz. “Al is such a talented teacher because he possesses an extensive amount of experience as one of the most successful wrestling legends in history. He has a vast wealth of knowledge to bestow to his students and most importantly, he genuinely cares about each and every one of them. He also has an incredible amount of patience, is extremely supportive, and is always there to provide advice and feedback whenever you need it. He was a huge help to me personally starting out and I’m eternally grateful.”

As for his next move, Godderz now looks to capitalize upon his return to the ring.

“I plan on continuing to work very closely with OVW Wrestling and win the OVW World Heavyweight Championship,” said Godderz. “In addition, I hope to continue to make surprise appearances on various shows on my CBS and Pop TV families. And I am working on separate projects with my brother Jeff Timmons from 98 Degrees, so be on the lookout for another joint collaboration announcement soon. Suffice it to say, there are many, many surprises to come in 2019 and I can’t thank everyone enough for joining me on this amazing journey. Here’s to a PEC-Tacular rest of 2019.”

Tito Santana reflects back on his ‘350 Days’ experience

Tito Santana was grateful to be part of the “350 Days” film, which was a documentary examining the life of wrestling stars including Bret “The Hitman” Hart and “Superstar” Billy Graham.

“I thought it was a very good thing for those of us people consider legends,” said Santana. “The fans, even the young fans, still show a lot of appreciation, and it’s nice to still be remembered and appreciated.”

Santana is Merced Solis, who played tight end at West Texas State and dreamed of—and achieved—a career in pro football.

“I played with the Kansas City Chiefs for a little while, then I got cut,” said Santana. “I played the rest of ’75 and ’76 in Canada, and then I made the best move I ever made by going into professional wrestling. I would have never made the kind of money in football that I made in professional wrestling, and my career would have never lasted as long.”

Santana’s college teammate first planted the seed of a career in pro wrestling, and that was quarterback—and future member of the Four Horseman—Tully Blanchard.

“Tully introduced me to Terry Funk, who used to come to our games,” said Santana. “I got to know the Funk family, and they thought I could have a career in pro wrestling. They were pretty persistent, and eventually I was in the right place for it.”

Santana will forever be known for opening the very first WrestleMania, defeating The Executioner. But, at the time, the match stood out as more of a source of frustration than an accomplishment.

“I was in the first match at WrestleMania,” Santana said. “Back then, I did not appreciate that. To me, it was a put down by Vince to be in that opening match when I had a hot feud going with Greg Valentine. But it turned out to be the best thing that happened to me.”

The WWE Hall of Famer has taught middle school Spanish for the past 22 years in New Jersey.

“It’s so easy for the kids google Tito Santana,” said Santana. “So a lot of them know who I am.”

Santana created a multitude of fond memories for WWE fans, winning the Intercontinental title and the tag titles on two separate occasions. Although his time is now in the past, he is proud of how he helped pave the way for today’s stars, which is captured quite well in “350 Days.”

“We were the pioneers of what pro wrestling has become, and a lot of the fans don’t realize we were on the road for 350 days a year,” said Santana. “This didn’t explode overnight. We were hard workers, and we believed in the mission that Vince McMahon presented to us, even on those nights were working huge arenas with only 1,000 people there. But it definitely caught on.”

Tweet of the Week

I’m ready for more of the new Bray Wyatt.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.