June 9, 2013
High-flyer Hennigan as busy as ever
By JAN MURPHY - Chinlock.com
Professional wrestling has long been a friend to John Hennigan, better know as the former WWE superstar John Morrison/Johnny Nitro.
As a boy, after Hennigan and his family packed up and relocated, wrestling would prove to be the icebreaker among neighbourhood kids as Hennigan searched out new friends.
"In fifth grade, I moved to Southern California, and I kinda felt like I had left a lot of my friends that I had made in elementary school in one spot," Hennigan said in a telephone interview. "I moved to this new city ... I didn't really have any friends and it was a little bit harder to fit in. But all the kids on my street watched wrestling. (Wrestling) was the first thing I bonded with my new friends and neighbours over."
Many a friendship was forged via the glitz, glam and excitement of pro wrestling, Hennigan said.
"I would look forward to watching wrestling every Saturday and Sunday," Hennigan said, drifting back in time. "We would watch it, and then we could go out and wrestle each other, and try to put each other in Boston crabs, and try to tap each other out, and stuff like that in each other's driveways. It was really cool, man."
And what childhood is complete without huddling around the provebial boob tube with kith and kin to watch wrestling?
"We'd always watch WrestleMania, and usually SummerSlam, and (the Royal) Rumble," Hennigan said. "And every once in a while Survivor Series."
As you can imagine, there was no shortage of wrestling heroes in the eyes of a young John Hennigan.
"I was a huge fan of (Hulk) Hogan, and (the Ultimate) Warrior; the big guys ... the Big Boss Man, but of course (Ricky The Dragon) Steamboat, Shawn Michaels ... I loved Jake The Snake (Roberts)," he said, rhyming off one legend after another. "A lot of the big characters -- and a lot of the guys who did the high-flying stuff, too -- really caught my eye when I was growing up."
Those high flyers, it would turn out, had a much bigger influence on boy Hennigan than even he could imagine. More on that later.
Wrestling would remain near and dear to Hennigan's heart beyond his childhood years.
"Because of all the ... watching wrestling ... I signed up for wrestling in high school," Hennigan said. "And wrestling became my thing in high school. I wrestled varsity in my freshman year, I became team captain in my junior year, I wrestled for a year in college, and then I hurt my knee. For some reason, I started training in martial arts, did a little break dancing, some gymnastics ... it was kind of strange. I was kind of preparing to be a pro wrestler without actually knowing what I was doing."
But even while subconsiously readying himself for his calling, wrestling wasn't at the forefront of Hennigan's thoughts about his future. At least not to that point.
"I was studying film," he said. "I was planning on doing action films and that stuff, but two years had gone by."
That's when something caught Hennigan's eye that would alter the course of his life forever. It hit him like a closeline from hell.
"I saw Tough Enough and I thought 'Holy shit!' That's exactly what I wanted to be when I was a kid. I didn't consider it as a real possibility until I saw that reality show. Then I realized ... that was kind of like the epiphany. (It was) like, 'Here it is; here is everything that I've been training to do, here is everything that I loved when I was a kid -- now it's actually a possibility.' Then I was like 'That's it ... I'm going to go for it, no matter what.' It ended up working out for me," he understated.
Tough Enough was the pro wrestling reality series that ran for five seasons, the first three of which aired on MTV. The show saw participants compete for a contract with the WWE.
Hennigan's first attempt, during Season 2, didn't go as he hoped.
"I didn't make it on that show," he said, adding that he wasn't deterred by not making it in his first attempt. "After that, I thought I'll just do wrestling on my own. And I started wrestling at Supreme Pro Wrestling and I was a full-time student. I'd wrestle a couple of times a week. When I first started training, I was at one of their shows, and I was just a ref. And then, I think I had wrestled one little match, and I got hurt with like a sitout powerbomb off the top rope."
Eventually, opportunity once again arose.
"Tough Enough 3 came up, and I auditioned again, and I made it on to the show," he said.
Not only that, but Hennigan ultimately scored himself a contract with the biggest wrestling company in the world.
Once again, wrestling was in Hennigan's corner, this time for keeps.
After securing a developmental deal with WWE, Morrison was sent to Ohio Valley Wrestling to cut his teeth.
"(Davis) was a big influence, because he was like the Vince McMahon of OVW," he said of the WWE Chairman. "If you did something wrong, he would let you know," he said with a laugh. "In a good way too, though. He ran a TV taping like a TV taping should be run. (With) time cues ... if (wrestlers) went over their times, they're going to get yelled at by Danny -- and that's what should happen, because that's exactly what happens when you get up on the road. And he would talk about camera angles."
Hennigan also remembers the influence of longtime WWE employee Jim Cornette.
"Jim Cornette was down there, and he was booking TV at the time. So he was a big part of talking about promos, camera angles ... how to run an angle."
But the person Hennigan saved the most praise for was none other than Canadian wrestling icon Lance Storm, a longtime wrestler and now trainer. Storm and Hennigan are both scheduled to perform at Tommy Dreamer's House of Hardcore 2 in Philadelphia later this month. More on that to come, too.
"Really, Lance was the person I learned the most from," Hennigan said. "Partly because he was the person that trained me the longest; and I feel like our philosophies in training really jived. There's the type of training that you do on Tough Enough, when you don't know that much about wrestling, and it's kinda like you paying your dues, and you're learning fundamentals. And then when you get past that, in my opinion, anybody (who's) serious about wrestling should treat their career like a pro athlete. Their conditioning is in their own hands.
"I never thought that you should show up for your wrestling training, for your three or four hours, and then say, 'Hey that's it, I'm done for the day.' You should take your personal conditioning into your own hands, you should be going to the gym on your own. You should still be watching tape on your own.
"I never really liked when trainers would try to have us do 1,000 squats. On my own, I was in the gym five, six days a week, anyways. I was already doing that. So when we had to do that in practice, it felt like it would just mess up my split.
"Lance's philosophy was similar, because he always trained himself like an athlete. He spent his time in practice on how to sell, how much to sell, simple psychology like being a face and a heel ... things like that, that I felt were the most valuable way to spend time in that sort of environment training, and learning to wrestle."
It's hard to argue with Hennigan's approach. Few are as exciting, athletic and unpredictable inside the squared circle.
Undoubtedly, Hennigan left a lasting impression on WWE fans, but arguably his most memorable moment came during the 2011 Royal Rumble. During the match, Hennigan was knocked off the ring apron. Rather than falling to the floor and being eliminated, the high flyer leapt onto the barricade opposite the ring (an incredible feat in of itself) before walking along the barricade and eventually leaping from the barricade safely onto the ring steps and back into the match.
While he failed to win that Rumble, Hennigan set the new standard for avoiding elimination and wowed millions with the athleticism.
While admitting he did practice the jump ahead of the Rumble, it was an all-or-nothing feat, Hennigan said.
"I practiced it, and I knew I could do it," he said. "But there was no contingency plan for that. If I missed that jump, I would have been eliminated."
Of course practicing in an empty arena and performing in a full one, with people standing right up against said barricade, are two very different things, Hennigan said.
The jump "was something that I had in mind," he said. "It wasn't a definite that I was going to make it. When the crowd was there, it wasn't an ideal situation, because someone could have been leaning over the rail, or have spilled Coke, or nacho cheese or something ... so, when I was practicing, it was difficult already, but add that live factor in ... basically, there was no plan, other than that I would have been eliminated."
Needless to say, Hennigan's Royal Rumble moment was a huge hit among not only the fans, but the brass in the back.
"Everyone loved it," he said. "Everyone thought that it was one of the coolest things they had ever seen -- all the agents, a lot of the boys in the back. It was something that really stood out to them."
"That's exactly how I felt when I made (the jump)," he said with a laugh.
Hennigan's time with WWE would come to an end later that year, after his contract expired.
Since then, he's been arguably busier than even during his time with WWE.
Besides his looming appearance at House of Hardcore 2, Hennigan has been taking independent bookings, developed a fitness program, starred in movies and even recently shot a music video.
Working on Dreamer's House of Hardcore, Hennigan said, holds a lot of meaning for him.
"You know, there was a time when, if we back up just for a second, where Tommy was training at OVW for a little bit," Henigan said, turning serious. "He wasn't a full-time trainer, but he came by several times, and he was a mentor to me when I was young in the business.
"When I debuted on Raw with Matt Cappotelli, after Tough Enough, the first thing that happened was we got caned in the head by Tommy," he said.
"I saw Tommy at developmental, and when I made it up to the road, Tommy was a guy I could always turn to and ask for advice, because I think it's generally known that he's got one of the best minds for wrestling in the business today. Tommy's great. I've never heard anyone say anything bad about him. I love the guy."
Dreamer had hoped to have Hennigan on the bill for the inaugural House of Hardcore last October.
"I was really bummed," Hennigan said. "I had some commitments that I had made that I couldn't get out of, for House of Hardcore 1. I was almost in a similar situation for this one, but just ... wiggled out of everything so I can do this."
Being on Dreamer's show is significant to Hennigan.
"Being on this show is a really big deal to me," he said. "It's really, really cool to see what Tommy's doing. I mean, anytime someone is doing something that they're passionate about, because they want to, that's awesome. And that's what entertainment should be. You know what, and to be honest, most indy promotions, that's what it is. There's a guy, or a group of guys who are passionate about wrestling, they want to put on a show because they want to entertain themselves, and the fans, and that's why they're doing it. Tommy, I know ... wrestling is a huge part of his life. And just because of the personal relationship and the huge respect that I have for him, this show is really important to me."
Hennigan will square off at HOH2 with Too Cold Scorpio. For his part, he couldn't be happier.
"He was one of the guys I was watching when I was a kid," Hennigan said. "I have heard that he can still go, and I'm really excited about it."
With wrestling in his corner, there's no telling where John Hennigan will show up next. Some day, he believes, that will be back inside a WWE ring.
"I love wrestling, I loved wrestling when I was growing up, and I still love it to this day," Hennigan said. "And obviously we're talking right now because I'm going to be wrestling on Tommy's show, so I'm still doing it. So WWE is something that I'm planning on getting back to."
Jan Murphy is the news editor at the Kingston Whig-Standard and has written about wrestling for 15 years. He recently launched Chinlock.com to archive his wrestling stories, and this is his first original interview for it. You can follow Jan on Twitter at @Jan_Murphy.