August 5, 2010
Complex forging of ROH's Adam Pearce
By RICHARD KAMCHEN – SLAM! Wrestling
Iconoclast. Old school wrestler. NWA standard-bearer. Ring of Honor booker.
On the surface, that might make “Scrap Iron” Adam Pearce sound like something of a walking paradox. But as you peel away the layers, you understand it's more a matter of Pearce not fitting any one category.
“I was voted ‘Class Non-Conformist’ my senior year because I kind of did things as I wanted, and authority was the one thing I seemed to always have issues with. I guess some things never change,” Pearce told SLAM! Wrestling.
Even his entry into the pro mat game was unorthodox.
Pearce, who lettered in high school football and baseball, suffered from Acute Muscular Compartment Syndrome in both of his lower legs between his junior and senior seasons. He underwent surgery to fix it, and the inactivity and deep depression that followed caused him to lose 70 pounds and effectively ended his playing days.
“I was forced to pretty much learn how to walk all over again, and that took me out of any physical activity and really hit me hard emotionally,” Pearce explained.
During his convalescence, he rediscovered his love of pro wrestling and ended up meeting a couple fellows from a monthly Cable Access TV show that covered the business. Through them, he was introduced to trainers Sonny Rogers and Randy Ricci.
He worked the indy shows, particularly Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Mid American Wrestling, and through the promotion’s then owner Carmine DiSpirito, got a chance to tour Europe in 1998. Once back stateside, Pearce sought further training, this time at Steel Domain Training Center.
“I had pretty much outgrown my original training center, and having known Ace Steel and Danny Dominion for some time (I actually met them on my very first day of training in 1995), it was an easy transition. I was ready to move on as I felt I needed to be around hungrier and younger guys that wanted the same things I did at that age. The Steel Domain was the perfect fit and I think I was technically the first ‘student’ of the school.”
Calling Pearce “young and hungry and innovative,” Steel went on to put over his abilities in the ring.
“I've had so many good matches with him, and the great thing is we hardly called it in the back,” Steel said. “He's a total pro at what he does and just knows how to make it happen in the ring... He's good people and that’s hard to find in wrestling.”
“I’d met Punk a year earlier when he came by my former training camp looking to be trained, and I went to a rival high school of Cabana’s and knew his name from our football days. Watching them both grow and learn and being a part of their first wrestling road trips are memories I’ll always cherish! It’s an absolute credit to Ace, Dominion, and Kevin Quinn for how they both turned out,” Pearce said.
“When Punk and I saw that that's what you needed to do to get exposure, we took a page out of his book and that's why we literally put thousands and thousands of miles on our cars those first couple of years,” Cabana said.
ECW, WWF, WCW
Around this time, the so-called “Big Three” wrestling companies were competing hard and there were a number of opportunities for young wrestlers like Pearce. Through Steel and Dominion, he got a shot at a few ECW tryouts. Rumours at the time suggested he was supposed to debut with ECW at a Milwaukee TV taping.
“But as God is my witness, I never got a phone call telling me that. Over the years I’ve been asked, ‘So, why did you no-show ECW?’ I was 20 years old and would have killed to work there,” he said.
Pearce was able to land a gig with WWF, and worked dark matches as enhancement talent. But it would be Jim Cornette who took Pearce aside to counsel against spending too much time looking up at the lights at the end of matches.
“It was the idea that they would only look at me as a ‘job guy’ if I kept doing what I was doing, and if they were interested in me further then they would get a hold of me,” Pearce said.
“The next day, Paul Orndorff called and wanted me to come to the Power Plant to try out off of the stuff I sent J.J. Dillon. Between Terry Taylor going there and what Paul Orndorff told me, I ended up pursuing the WCW interest,” said Pearce.
His one week experience was a good one: contrary to the horror stories that have made the rounds about trainers there stretching and running their charges ragged, Pearce described the Power Plant as “tightly run by professionals who wanted to find stars.”
Orndorff and Dillon thought enough of Pearce's audition that they offered him a contract. But Pearce ended up turning them down as marriage to his high school sweetheart loomed and moving to Atlanta wasn’t an option.
“It stands today as the one thing in my wrestling career that I might do over if I could. But things happen for a reason, and as I look back, I can’t complain about how life has turned out for me.”
Pearce would actually quit the business following a stint with the short-lived WXO promotion and another interaction with WCW.
“I was pretty zonked out wrestling-wise; just burnt out,” said Pearce, who at the time was feeling road weary. His second go-round with WCW clinched it. “I remember it being so much more disorganized and chaotic than my first experience.”
The people scheduled to meet and watch him in the ring didn’t bother showing up until the last day he was supposed to be there, and to make matters worse, legendary names under contract openly talked about the company being on its last legs. Pearce decided to walk away from the business entirely, and ended up taking eight months off.
COMEBACK & ROH
“I had the pleasure of first meeting Adam during my time in the Talent Relations Department of the WWE and I always thought Adam had big-league ability,” Kelly said. “Around 2000, Rick Bassman was affiliated with the WWE as a host for several of our developmental talents like John Cena and Victoria. Wanting to make sure he could get the most exposure possible in hopes of getting signed, I put Pearce in contact with Bassman and, as expected, Adam did quite well. Adam brought his Chicago toughness and great promo skills, making him really stand out in laid-back Southern California.”
With Pearce’s career taking off again, he took dates in Mexico and Japan before getting his big break with Ring of Honor.
“I have to give the credit for getting my foot in the door with ROH to CM Punk and Colt Cabana, with a nod to Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, and Ace Steel as well," said Pearce. "They all put in the word that got me a chance to wrestle for FIP [Full Impact Pro in Florida], and from there I was offered a chance in ROH.”
“The thing about Adam that many ROH fans don't get to find out is that he is one of the better promo men, as well as a fine old-school worker,” said Cornette, who’s been around wrestling for over 30 years and currently acts as ROH’s executive producer. “Since the booker of ROH does not get to wrestle on the cards, most of the ROH fans aren't aware of how good he is in the performing end of the business, but that's why he's the current standard-bearer for the NWA.”
Initially, Pearce said he found the transition from in-ring performer to behind-the-scenes creative more difficult than he had expected, and added it took time for both he and the boys to get accustomed to the change. But he believes he made the right call.
“Our locker room right now is the best I’ve ever been a part of, and I can honestly say that I love the guys and will always be appreciative of their effort and their help in making me a better storyteller.”
“Most notably his blood pressure rising 50 points or so as he tackles the combination high-wire act/cat herding job of wrestling booker, and does it with passion and great energy,” Cornette said.
“It’s a hard job, I don't envy him one bit, but I think he's gone beyond expectations,” said Cabana. “It was his call to bring on Dave Lagana who has been another huge bright spot for our company.”
Lagana, who worked six years with WWE as a writer, first met Pearce through David Marquez’s Los Angeles NWA Pro Wrestling when they collaborated on the show NWA Championship Wrestling from Hollywood.
“The day he lost the NWA World title was also the day he took over booking Ring of Honor when Gabe [Sapolsky] was dismissed. It’s a hard job to walk into, being in charge of a company. So Adam said, ‘Listen, you’ve done a lot of TV, can you come help me with putting these TVs together?’” Lagana said.
Lagana joined ROH as a producer, freeing up Pearce to focus on the wrestling side of things. And so far, his work has been exemplary.
“People have been over conditioned as far as everything being ‘Crash TV’ after 10 years of Vince Russo-style television: 'I need angles, angles, angles.' But in reality, everything moves slow. And Adam is a very old-school wrestler and old-school booker,” said Lagana.
“You don’t need to do the pay-per-view blow-away spots in every match because what are you going to do to top it when it’s actually a money match?" Lagana asked. "And I think that’s a strong part of his style is slowing it down, making it mean more, and making one big spot mean more than 52 little small ones in a match.”
Although no longer making many ROH appearances thanks to his role as booker, Pearce continues to defend his NWA World Heavyweight title, which he has won three times. He said he’s been to more cities and countries because of the NWA belt than he’d ever dreamed of, appearing before crowds of 300 to 3,000-plus.
“I’m as active in 2010 as I have been since 2007 and making better money," said Pearce. "And in a lot of ways I think I’ve grown as a performer and a person overall. I owe the NWA a bunch of gratitude for that.”
On August 7, Pearce is scheduled to face Bryan Danielson at the NWA Legends Fan Fest in Charlotte, North Carolina. Lagana is hyped about the match, pointing out the many layers of storyline behind the match, partly due to Danielson having been the face of ROH for years while Pearce is now the company's booker.
“This to me is the most intriguing independent match out there right now,” Lagana said. “Bryan Danielson is the guy that spit in the face of the WWE Champion and then was fired, against the NWA Champion who happens to be the promoter/booker of the company that Bryan last left before going to WWE.”
Winnipeg correspondent Richard Kamchen can be e-mailed at email@example.com.