Jeff Cannonball Bleeds for His Craft in the Ring and the Pit
You don’t get into punk to be cool. You definitely don’t get into wrestling to be cool. That said, professional wrestling is more accepted in mainstream culture, and has historically had a far greater reach than punk. There were always those dirt chicken backyard wrestler kids in your high school. Hell, there was a kid in my high school who thought he WAS Jeff Hardy, right down to the arm warmers and makeup.
Regardless, punk fans and wrestling marks have a lot in common. There's something about both that speaks to the disenchanted misfit in all of us who refuses to grow up. Many get into both at a young age, but the older you get, the weirder it is to be talking about Japanese punk flexis or the Mankind/Undertaker Boiler Room Brawl match at Summerslam '96. When you’re well into your teens, 20s, 30s and beyond, and are still not only talking about, but obsessed with both of these things, you have an immediate connection to others who are as well.
Jeff Cannonball is rapidly becoming one of the hottest indie wrestlers in the wrestling underground. Formerly of Altered Boys and Black Kites, Cannonball is a Jersey punk/hxc lifer who has spent just as much time in dingy New Brunswick basements as moldy gyms across the country. We recently spoke through email about the parallels between punk and wrestling, whose fans are more fickle, and his career-defining match against Matt Tremont in the most recent CZW Tournament of Death. Big shout-out to Jeff for doing this, and I hope this puts him over (to keep the wrestling jargon flowing).
I'm assuming you got into wrestling before punk? When did you first get into wrestling?
I did get into wrestling before punk, but, to be honest, I don't know exactly when I got into wrestling. I used to say age 4, but my parents have told me it was before that. My dad was a fan of WWF and WWWF before that. As a kid, I always enjoyed watching. My earliest wrestling memory is being so excited when my dad brought home a VHS copy of WrestleMania III. All I remember is being excited I [got] to see Hogan vs Andre. But I must have been watching before that, because not only did I know what match main-evented, but I was stoked.
What promotion did you first start watching?
WWF. As a kid, I don't even think I knew other wrestling even existed until much later on. I had heard mention of NWA — which I never saw because my dad thought it was boring — but I don't remember actually watching WCW until Monday Nitro. As I got older, I went back and watched everything possible, from WCW to NWA to FMW and everything else.
At what point did you go to your first indie shows?
My dad took my brother and me to a show in New Jersey when we were super young. As with most shows in NJ to this day, there were a few ex-WWF names on it. This particular show, I got my picture taken with Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake. Even better, Rick Martel was there. I only knew Rick as "The Model" at the time, and I was terrified of him because I thought he was going to be a jerk and spray me with [his cologne] Arrogance or something. My dad had a blast trying to get me to shake his hand.
Had you wanted to be a wrestler since you first got into wrestling?
One hundred percent. I am positive there [are] elementary school assignments in my mom's dresser that say that. It was the first thing I ever wanted to do, and, unfortunately for some, I never grew out of it.
At what point did punk and wrestling intersect for you?
I don't think they really did until I got into the wrestling business myself. There are so many similarities between the two. In both, you've got the mainstream style (WWE, radio, etc.), and you've got the underground (the basement punk shows, independent wrestling). And much like with punk, I gravitated more towards the smaller, independent side of things. I think it's because I like the intimacy of both, both as a performer and as a patron. I've never been one for the celebrity worship that comes with the bigger side of things. But, in both, I can respect some of the mainstream. I still occasionally watch WWE, and I'd be lying if I didn't say I just saw Blink-182 play in an arena this past weekend.
I took about a 12-year break from being a fan of wrestling. I watched in the Attitude Era and was obsessed, but stopped watching around 2001 after that awful Invasion angle. That's when I was just starting to get into music, and then I got into punk, and it was just all punk for a while. Did you take a similar break, or have you been a fan your entire life regardless of your other interests?
I kind of follow you on this one. I kind of fell out during the Invasion angle stuff, but I still paid attention. I was still watching PPVs on occasion, and I'd read about wrestling. Still, I just wasn't as die-hard as I was from, like, 1990 to the Invasion deal. I was still watching enough to be extremely bummed after Eddie Guerrero died, and for some reason after [Chris] Benoit died, I started following real heavy again. All the while, still being obsessed with punk. Bandmates and tourmates from this time could attest to this; they weren't always so happy.
When did you finally decide that you wanted to be a wrestler?
It was 2008. I had always wanted to be a wrestler when I was a kid, but as I got older, that seemed less realistic. Then, I found the indies, and it would come and go in my mind. When I was in college and got back into following wrestling heavily, I figured, "Fuck it, let’s go for it." I posted something on MySpace about how I think it’s time I give it a try, and a buddy of mine, Devin Walby, hit me up. Turned out he was friends with some independent guys from the area. He put me in touch and I never looked back.
Was breaking into the indie scene like showing up at your first shows again and having to prove yourself, or was it that immediate camaraderie that you felt when you discovered punk and started making punk friends?
Much more like having to prove myself and starting over. The wrestling world is much more about respect: help set up, don't speak unless spoken to, shake hands with everyone, etc. So, it wasn't just like the beginning of punk where I was just a dopey kid going to shows alone for the most part and eventually just making friends. Wrestling kind of makes sure you really want to be in. You really have to earn everything. And I love it.
How did you get into death match wrestling? Would you say that you practiced taking bumps getting fucked up going to shows?
Somewhere around eighth grade/freshman year of high school, I found the old Cactus Jack videos from Japan. From there, I found FMW. I got way into all the crazy stuff they were doing: barbed wire, glass, thumbtacks, cinder blocks, scorpions, piranhas, etc. As I got a bit older, I found CZW, and then after that, IWA-MS, and I learned that there was death match wrestling happening not only in the USA, but some of it was right in Philly. I don't think anything from shows got me ready to fall into a net of barbed wire or have dozens of thumbtacks driven into me. [Laughs]
When Altered Boys did a California weekend with Zero Progress (also big wrestling fans), you guys did a series of promos at each other back and forth. How did those come about?
All the credit to "The Champ" Matt [Saincome] from Zero Progress. He got in touch with me about doing a feud as we were touring, which mixed into a series of three shows we played with them. I was confused by it at first; I thought maybe he was [into] backyard wrestling, and I didn't want much to do with it. But through talking to him more, I learned he was just a wacky dude who wanted to make people think we hated each other. We did these promos which were so much fun and absurd, and I believe all of them are on YouTube if you search "Altered Boys vs. Zero Progress." It was a ton of fun, and some of those promos may be better than a lot of my more serious ones.
What were the first promotions you started out in?
NWS, a now-defunct, super carny, family-friendly promotion that ran mostly in NJ, but also would go into PA. They weren't always the best of quality, but there was some good talent there, most of which have stopped wrestling. But I will forever be grateful to guys like Corey Havoc, Nicky Oceans and Corvis Fear, who really got me into everything. Corey Havoc being the mutual friend I first talked to when I made that MySpace status.
You recently started wrestling for CZW and appeared in this year's Tournament of Death. That's a pretty big deal. How did that end up coming about, your match against Matt Tremont? Some of those spots were insane and made me pretty uncomfortable, and I've seen my fair share of death matches. I've heard a lot of people talking about it, and even saw a fellow wrestle-punk, Damian [Abraham] from Fucked Up, rocking one of your shirts. Has that match changed the course of your career yet?
That day was the best day of my career so far. I got to know Matt Tremont slowly through a few companies. He took a liking to me, and I finally got to do my first death match with him in OnPointWrestling, a company he helps run. He seemed to enjoy it, and guys like him and Devon Moore, who saw me at OPW, started pushing for me in CZW. I started going to their student shows and working those in front of some of the more important people within the company, include the boss, DJ Hyde. I helped out with the main shows, and it was a lot like starting over. I showed I wanted to be there. I also got a modest hype behind me from wrestling other companies, and DJ finally gave me a shot at Tournament of Death. Damian was there, and it was awesome hanging with him and discussing punk while on a great day for my wrestling life. Some of those moments were very uncomfortable for me, too. [Laughs] Two days later, I got a call to be in IWA-MS's King of the Deathmatch tournament. I've gotten more bookings in general, and people seem much more interested in me. Definitely has helped out, but now I need to work hard to continue this trajectory.
You've been bands and also been a wrestler as long as I've known you. How long have the two intersected?
I've been playing in bands since I was 15 years old. I've been touring since 18. I didn't start wrestling until 23. I'm 29 now, and have really only focused on wrestling since Altered Boys ended.
I would make the argument that you're not normal if you like punk or professional wrestling. Did you get the same feeling when you first got into punk that you got when you saw your first few matches? Was it another "Oh shit, this is who I am" moment?
Definitely. More so with punk, but the argument can be made for both. Granted, in recent years, I think a lot more "normal" people and people who I don't believe punk was made for have seemed to get into punk, more so hardcore. When I got into it, it was perfect for me, though. I had my friends and all that, but I was a weird kid who didn't fit in with any one type. I had already thought drugs and alcohol weren't for me by the time I found straight-edge, and I fit right in. Wrestling draws from all sorts of people, but I think to really enjoy it, and to look more into it and find independent wrestling, it takes a certain person. Though, I have often been confused that more punks and hardcore kids don't enjoy independent wrestling. It’s the same thing! The underground doing what the mainstream does, oftentimes better than anyone. Plus, you get characters like Kevin Owens / Steen that you really get behind as he goes on to make his own niche in the mainstream. It's inspiring.
How similar is touring in a punk band to doing loops on the indie circuit? Who are the more fickle fans — wrestling fans or punks?
Fairly similar. I've slept on floors on tours with punk bands; I've slept on floors and in cars on the wrestling circuit. I've been too broke to eat on tour, and I've been too broke to eat while on road trips. Unfortunately, it’s hard to make a whole week or two weeks straight of touring on wrestling. There are people who can do it, but it's rare, and I've never gotten to do it. I'd like for that to change eventually. Both fans are super fickle. Punks change their opinions on things every other day and can be the most closed-minded people in the world. Wrestling fans will decide if they like you within 30 seconds, and after that sometimes it can be impossible to change their minds. Wrestling fans are often more supportive as a whole, though.
You just recently wrestled at your second Gathering of the Juggalos. How was that? How has it changed since your first one? From what I've heard — mostly on Chris Jericho's podcast — they have a pretty reputable roster of wrestlers every year, so it’s no modest booking. Did they contact you, or was it through a promotion you were already wrestling for?
It was my second Gathering, and it was incredible. I love doing those shows, and it really is an honor to be included. I have only done two, so I can't say it changed all that much, though next year it is moving to Colorado, so who knows? I hope I'm still booked for it.
Funny story that ties into this, actually: Kevin Gill is the man who books the wrestling at the Gathering. He was the one who contacted me and got me involved both years. KG used to live in NY and run a hardcore label, book shows, and even was a vocalist with NYHC mainstays No Redeeming Social Value for a while. His label was Striving for Togetherness, and he now runs Dignified Bastard, which has reissued District 9 and V.O.D. records. KG is the true embodiment of unity, positivity and open-mindedness. His podcast, The Kevin Gill Show, is one of my favorites. He interviews everyone from John Joseph and Agnostic Front to ICP and rappers like them to Mick Foley and all sorts of wrestlers. The man is one of the hardest-working men I know, and his Facebook provides daily positivity. Can't recommend following him and all his ventures enough. Hell, we even talked Kill Your Idols at the Gathering.
Between CZW and the Gathering, are ROH, TNA or WWE in your sights, or somewhere that you'd like to end up?
Honestly, CZW was always my goal getting into wrestling. WWE would be awesome, but I'm a 5'10" and fat 29-year-old. I know my odds. TNA and ROH would also be great, but if they never happen, I'm fully satisfied with what I've accomplished. I'm hoping Japan or anywhere international comes calling eventually.
You've worn punk/hxc on your sleeve as long as I've been aware of the fact that you were a wrestler. You've had merch that’s paid homage to Judge, Minor Threat and Tear It Up, and have used Poison Idea as entrance music. Is that an intentional move, to let everyone know just who you are and where you come from?
One hundred percent. It’s always been part of my "character." In wrestling, the only real punk characters you see are over the top cartoonish caricatures of punk performed by guys who aren't involved (with the exception of "The Masshole," Mike McCarthy from Boston: real-ass dude). I wanted to be a more realistic homage to punk, a little more loud and brash than myself, but still very much me. Not an over the top character, but not boring old me. And nothing makes me happier than when someone comes up to me who recognized my Poison Idea entrance music or wants to talk about the references on my shirts.
Speaking of Poison Idea, what other sick bands have you used as entrance music? What would your dream entrance music be? Since we're talking about punk and wrestling, I doubt you'd need to worry about licensing too much.
Poison Idea's "Plastic Bomb" has been my main music since 2013. My first theme was "River Runs Red" by Life of Agony. Between that, I used "[It's] Tricky" by Run-D.M.C. I did a show and forgot my music, so I went through their library and picked that and ran with it for a short while. I also do a tag team called the Rogues with Brandon Kirk, and we come out to "Am I Demon" by Danzig. And at my first Gathering, at Kevin Gill's pushing, I entered to "Malfunction" by Cro-Mags. He even ran to his car to get the CD. Since it's all been non-televised and independent, I haven't had to worry about licensing. However, CZW has begun taping for TV that they're shopping around, so it's more of a concern. Luckily, not long ago, I reached out to Night Birds, and they're creating my very own custom entrance music. Couldn't be more excited.
Last question: Favorite match of all time? What would be a dream match, and what band would you have play you out to the ring Triple H / Motörhead style?
Favorite match to watch: Off the top of my head, Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle from WrestleMania XX, or Misawa vs Kobayashi from NOAH, 2003. That I was in: vs. Matt Tremont at Tournament of Death for so many reasons. As far as dream match, going with things that are somewhat possible: vs. Jun Kasai in some sort of wacky death match. As far as impossible, vs Eddie Guerrero. Either way, with Poison Idea playing "Plastic Bomb" while in their prime.