John Morrison defeated Randy Orton last week on Monday Night Raw, punching his ticket into next month’s Money in the Bank ladder match. After serving as the cornerman/hype artist/tag partner for the former “Mr. Money in the Bank” The Miz only a few months ago, Morrison has a chance to finally vault himself into a new tier of stardom.
Morrison has made a career out of capitalizing upon opportunities. He was a co-winner on Season 3 of Tough Enough in 2002, catapulting him onto WWE’s worldwide platform. Whether he was Eric Bischoff’s apprentice as Johnny Nitro, highlighting reality television star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi at WrestleMania XXVII or bumping and selling a decade later at WrestleMania against Bad Bunny, Morrison always brought a mentality and work ethic that has no off switch. That mindset dates back to his experience on Tough Enough, which he co-won with Matt Cappotelli.
“After winning Tough Enough, that’s when I started at OVW,” Morrison says. “I drove my car from California to Louisville, and I remember walking in that first day with Matt Cappotelli and saying, ‘Hi, we’re Matt and John from Tough Enough. Is this the training facility?’ I still laugh at the thought of that.”
Cappotelli’s rare combination of talent and personality would have allowed him a long career in wrestling had he not been forced to retire prematurely due to a brain tumor that would ultimately take his life in 2018 at age 38.
“When we traveled together, I always thought he was the star,” Morrison says. “That charisma, the way he moved. He was a ball of positive energy. Through terrible luck, he ended up with brain cancer and passed away a couple years ago. I ask myself why, and I drive myself crazy over it. I don’t know why. I do know life is fragile, which has made me have a different mindset. Every time I do something in WWE, that isn’t far from my mind. So when you see me, I’m always all-in.”
Morrison is California-raised John Hennigan. Though his work and look in the ring appear timeless, he is actually six months older than Orton, who has been on WWE programming for so long that he comes off as a grizzled veteran. But at 41, Morrison is performing at his peak. His mechanics are far more advanced, especially in terms of how and why moves are applied and executed. He relishes knowing that the untrained eye will never notice those subtleties and nuances, which is the beauty of pro wrestling. It should look either like a train wreck or smooth as butter, but either way, it should always appear dangerous, and Morrison brings a chaotic flow to his work.
Even though he has been wrestling for the past 19 years, an air of unpredictability still hovers over his matches. And he recognizes the opportunity currently in play. In an industry that is mocked as fake, Morrison understands that pro wrestling is more real than reality. The Money in the Bank briefcase and title shot that comes with it are more than a prop and story line to him. They serve as a springboard to a career-defining opportunity: his first run with the WWE championship.
“This is why I came back to WWE,” Morrison says. “It wasn’t just to be with The Miz on TV, which has been great. The Miz is one of the hardest working people I know, and he’s my best friend. But when I started training for pro wrestling, being on Tough Enough in 2002, I said back then that I was doing this because I wanted to main-event WrestleMania. A couple people snickered, but I remember saying, ‘If you don’t want to main-event WrestleMania, you should quit now.’ That’s the whole point. If you do something, you should want to be the best.
“I believe there are a lot of things I am the best at, and I haven’t got the chance to show that yet. It does feel like, for me, these next couple months could be that moment to show exactly what I can do in the ring.”
While The Miz recovers from an injury, the roles have reversed and he now stands in Morrison’s corner, propelling him to the main event. Last summer, Miz told Sports Illustrated that one of his priorities is helping Morrison become WWE champion.
“John will be WWE champion, and it’s my goal to help him get there,” Mike “The Miz” Mizanin said in July. “He would be an outstanding WWE champion.”
As a heel, especially with The Miz, Morrison is a compelling choice to win the ladder match at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view and carry the excitement of a title match whenever he appears on camera. While he has never had that type of opportunity in WWE as the face of the entire brand, Morrison is a multi-time world champ. He helped carry Mexican promotion AAA, holding multiple titles, including the mega championship. As Johnny Mundo, he was a pivotal piece of the success of Lucha Underground, where he also represented the brand as champion. He was also Impact champ as Johnny Impact.The missing piece of his puzzle—which he is dangerouslyclose to solving—is within grasp in WWE. And a significant advantage for him is that there is no one else in the world that works a style quite like his.
“Everything comes back to movement,” Morrison says. “My movement background is different from everyone on the roster. I was an amateur collegiate wrestler at UC Davis. I also did gymnastics at UC Davis. I’ve studied kung fu, boxing, capoeira, stunt fighting, parkour—I am a master at all those disciplines. Applying those movement patterns is what I do in the ring. If you ask my wife, I’m up until midnight watching tape or working on movements.
“I love combining movement patterns into offense. It’s very rare you can find something that’s never been applied to wrestling, but that’s what I’m looking to add to my arsenal. I practice every day, and I’m passionate at it. That’s why I bring so much energy to this. This is my passion, and it has been for a long time.”
Nearly a decade ago, Morrison believed he needed more creative control of his work to establish himself. That was when he left WWE, bringing a world-class touch to different promotions all over the globe. During that stretch, he also married his wife (the incredibly talented NXT star Franky Monet) and then came home to WWE when the time was right in 2019.
Through an evolved approach of storytelling and unparalleled athleticism, Morrison is working to earn a leading role in WWE. It is impossible to know whether an opportunity like this will present itself again, which is why the seasoned wrestling veteran continues to train four to six hours a day. Morrison takes pride in adding color and vibrance to any part of the crowd but would relish a chance to show he can be the top heel in the territory. A world title run signifies the chance for Morrison to show he can add even more value to WWE.
As he builds momentum toward Money in the Bank, Morrison will remember the lessons imparted from those no longer here, while taking advantage of every moment presented to him.
“I learned a lot when I left,” Morrison says. “I was gone from WWE for eight years. I gave it my all away from WWE, too. I know what it means to be in the crowd, to spend your hard-earned money and be vulnerable and enjoy the show. I’ll never forget that, and I’ll never hold back. I know the opportunity here is very special, and I’m going to put my all into making the most of it.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.