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James Ellsworth on his WWE run and post-WWE life

James Ellsworth

By Gary Mehaffy for

In the summer of 2016, WWE began to re-introduce enhancement talent and one of these wrestlers struck a chord when he had a match with Braun Strowman.  He didn’t look like your average WWE wrestler which was part of his appeal. He didn’t recite interviews like your regular WWE wrestler, which made him stand out a little. That unorthodox man was James Ellsworth.

Over the next 14 or 15 months, Ellsworth appeared in a variety of guises including wrestling AJ Styles and seconding/managing Carmella at WrestleMania. He was loved and hated at times by the fans, but he always played his part on the show until he was released in November 2017.

In this Q&A, we find out what Ellsworth is up to, is reflections on his year in WWE, and his plans for the future.

You were released mid-November from WWE. How have things been for you since then?

I’ve just been spending time with my kids. I’ve been wrestling since I was 17 years old and I’ve never had this much time off. 90 days is a long time when you’re a wrestler being home, so I’m just making the best of it by enjoying time with my two daughters.

A lot of casual fans think that  enhancement talent aren’t always actual wrestlers, but just people who wrestle a little bit. But as you said, you have been wrestling for years on a consistent basis.

Yea. I started wrestling school when I was 17 and I just turned 33, so I’ve been doing it for just over 15 years and there hasn’t been a week that’s went by where I haven’t done something like go out to a show or train. So, that last two-and-a-half months have been long and I can’t wait to get back out there and perform again.

What first attracted you to wrestling and getting trained? I assume you were a fan growing up.

I’ve always been a fan. I started watching it at a young age. Since I can remember, I’ve always watched wrestling. It’s all I ever thought about or wanted to do. It was always in my mind: “I like this, I like watching this, I want to do it!”

I assume back in those days that wrestling wasn’t your full time gig. What were you doing to supplement it?

I worked with people with special needs and helped find them jobs for 8 years. I still own my own wrestling promotion – Adrenaline Championship Wrestling – so I made money doing that plus wrestling indies. So like I said, I like to work! I was always busy before WWE and during WWE, so these 90 days have been hard for me (laughing).

How difficult can the life of an indie wrestler be?

At first, it was “You have to work hard, you have to pay your dues, and you have to try to make a name for yourself." Very few people make a name for themselves right away. It took me forever. I don’t look like a normal wrestler, never mind a normal wrestler, I don’t look like a normal guy (laughing). It was hard for me. I always worked hard, always developed my craft, always listened to the right peopple, but yeah, i’s difficult. You have to hustle to get work and hustle to get noticed.

Whenever you appeared on Raw at first in the summer of 2016, there had been some clamour for WWE to bring back enhancement talent, so that they didn’t burn through every available match. How did you end up in that role with WWE?

I had been “extra talent” several times before then, although I had never had a match (in WWE) before then. You email them and send pictures and say “I’m from this area and if you need extra guys, I’m available” and they call you or they don’t. But back to WWE using enhancement talent so they don’t burn through matches, I think that’s a really good thing when they do that. They’ve stopped doing that lately and they’re burning through matches. It was cool when they brought that back, but now you’re just seeing matches all the time: John Cena vs. Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman vs. Brock Lesnar we’ve already seen. It’s something (enhancement matches) that I think they should do more often.

You got a cult following after your in-ring promo before the Braun Strowman match. Did they give you any warning/direction ahead of time or were you allowed to be yourself to try and build it up?

When the match with Strowman came about, it was about 2 hours before the match that they said “Hey, we’re going to give you a quick promo.”  They wrote some notes, and the only thing that I asked was if I could say, “Any man with two hands has a fighting chance." That was the only line in the promo that was mine and the cool thing is that it caught on.

How did the conversation and situation turn from enhancement matches to a full time role?

After the initial match with Strowman, I wasn’t seen on television again for six weeks. When I came back, I was supposed to team with AJ Styles to face Dean Ambrose and John Cena -- that’s when The Miz came out and beat me up -- and even then, no contract was offered. When they brought me back a month later to wrestle Styles for the first time with Dean Ambrose as the referee, still no contract was offered The contract was offered when I went to Scotland for SmackDown for the six-man match I had that night with me, Kane and Ambrose vs. Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt, and Luke Harper. That was the night it was offered to me and that was probably early November 2016 (laughing).

It must have been a little bit surreal, given how long that you had pushed to try and get noticed in the business and all of a sudden, very quickly, you were involved in these types of storylines.

Yeah, it was very surreal. You watch these guys on TV every week and all of a sudden you’re on TV with them, interacting with them. It was so surreal at first, but I kept the mindset of “I have a job to do and I better do it well or this is going to go away real quick."

Would you have liked to have wrestled more to show what exactly you could do?

I love to wrestle. I understood what they wanted me to do as far as character work and I got it. I was on SmackDown, there was no cruiserweight division on SmackDown and all these guys are bigger than me. So if I was just wrestling every week and getting beat up every week, it would have got old fast. I was wrestling every now and then. It was a special occasion when I wrestled, and that was really cool. I love to wrestled and perform, so any time they asked me I was happy to do it, but I understand why they didn’t want me to do it all the time.

You then moved into an on-screen partnership with Carmella which had you as beloved and hated by the fans at various times. How much fun was it to be involved with all of the women and the matches that they were doing?

It was so much fun. I added something different to the women’s division. You had this little guy wreaking havoc on the women’s division. I got along with all of those girls and they got along with me, and we had a lot of fun.  We were all very sad when it ended, because we had a lot of fun doing it.

You had your WrestleMania moment during the women’s six-pack challenge, as well as during the Money In The Bank show where you pushed Becky off the ladder before Carmella won the title. From where you were a year before, it must have seemed inconceivable that at that point, that’s what you would be doing.

The wrestling business is like no other business. Literally, one minute you would be at a Boys and Girls Club wrestling in front of 100 kids and the next minute you could be in front of 75,000 people at WrestleMania. It’s just a weird business and the farther you go up, the more you understand that. For me, it doesn’t matter. I just like to do it, wherever it’s at. WrestleMania was my biggest goal and now that I’ve accomplished it, it’s different. A year before, I’m doing a match somewhere in West Virginia in front of 100 people to a year later, I’m grabbing the MITB contract. It is surreal and it takes you back.

Did Vince ask you to become a transgender wrestler and have you challenge for the Women’s title at this year’s WrestleMania?

Vince had never brought it up to me, so I don’t really have an answer for that. I’ll just leave it at that (laughing).

Now that you’re out of WWE full time, how much of an influence do you think that you can be for good in the lives of people who have seen you on TV but who can relate to you if they see you in the real world?

I get approached all the time. In WWE, I was a character that people always paid attention to because I was so different. If you have a picture of a football team, and they’re all big guys, and you have one guy in that picture who’s very small, you’re going to look at the small guy and go “Wow, how did he make the team?” A lot of people say “Man, you inspired me!” It’s cool and I’ll always be grateful for that. Even if I inspired one person to chase their dreams, that’s a cool thing for me.

After you were released, you had your own Cody Rhodes-style bucket list of wrestlers that you wanted to wrestle, and a lot of women were on it. How close are you to getting any of those matches?

I do have matches lined up with seven or eight of the girls on the list already. Those will all be coming out very soon, I’m sure.

How did you get into running your own promotion?

In 2009, ACW had a different owner at the time, but he had me write a lot of the storylines. I started being the booker per se, and I think it was around 2012, he decided he didn’t want to do it anymore, so he sold me his titles, the belts, the banners – all of the stuff that he owned. I thought “Yeah, I’ll give this a try and run it.” So, I started running it and started making money, and I thought “Hey, I’m not bad at this!” (laughs) I just kept it going, and I’ve been doing that for six years.

You are returning to ACW on February 16th on a show that also has Austin Aries, Jerry Lawler, and Gillberg on it. In the UK and Ireland, the independent scene is really exploding. What do you see as the future for indies of all levels?

I was an independent wrestler for 14 years before I made it to WWE, and I see now that the independent scene is growing bigger than whenever I started. They are a way higher level. I’m going to be coming to the UK, and hopefully over to Ireland, and it’s cool to see that everything is growing. I hope I can be a part of that growth, and if I can come to any promotion in my country or any other country, and help out and hopefully draw some extra tickets and perform and get people interested in coming to see a promotion, wherever I go.

I can’t imagine that you left WWE under any sort of cloud or with any sort of heat. Is the door open for you to return and do you think that might happen at some point down the line?

I think so. A lot of people leave and come back, more often than not. I feel like I did leave on good terms. I didn’t do anything unlawful, I was never late, I was a good employee. I was told that once I got the call, “You did good here.” Anything they put me in seemed to work. I’m not bitter about the release, but I don’t understand why I got released! (laughing) I don’t know if maybe they didn’t have anything else for me right now, maybe the Carmella thing they wanted to get away from. But in the future, I’ll be back.