A veteran of British wrestling, Jody Fleisch has competed for nearly every major UK promotion of the last 25 years as well as PWG, Ring of Honor, CZW and IMPACT internationally! Now, two years on from his PROGRESS debut, he returns to the promotion at Chapter 113 to face Danny Black!
Ahead of his return, Jody sat down with Inside The Ropes‘ own Innes McVey to discuss PROGRESS, the intimidation of wrestling without a live crowd, competing in the 2018 PWG Battle Of Los Angeles, how British Wrestling has evolved over the last two decades, being open to working in NXT UK and much more!
Photo credit: Oli Sandler / Ringside Perspective
You’re returning to PROGRESS at Chapter 113 this weekend where you’ll face Danny Black. I believe this is your first match back since the pandemic started so what’s it been like being away from the ring for so long and how does it feel to finally be back again?
I’ve been away for long periods of time quite a lot throughout my career, so it’s not that different in that respect. Obviously, the whole pandemic thing has just been weird as hell so there’s all that. But I’ve been away and then came back and wrestled quite a lot, so it’s not something that I’m that unfamiliar with. I’ll tell you what might be pretty strange to me is wrestling in front of no live crowd.
I can imagine! Have you ever wrestled without a crowd before?
No. I’ve wrestled in front of some really small crowds of like three to five or whatever [laughs], but I don’t think I’ve actually wrestled with zero people in attendance.
Is that a scary prospect? I imagine when you’re in the ring, you feed your energy from the crowd. So is that an intimidating thought, knowing that there won’t be anybody out there?
Yeah! I mean, this is the way wrestling and everything’s changed in the past… well, for a long time, isn’t it? I mean, technology-wise and stuff. But obviously in the past year, 18 months or whatever, that’s one of the strange directions that the world is taking, so I guess now you do have things that sound really weird like wrestling in front of no crowd.
To me, the whole thing is very interactive, isn’t it? Wrestling in general. So that’s going to be quite a large element taken out of it, so it should be interesting. I’ve seen a few clips and stuff and it looks like normal wrestling, but it’s not you know?
When I spoke to Lykos Gym a week or two ago, Lykos II said he felt like he’d kind of forgotten how everything worked when he had his first session back. Was it a similar experience for you when you started training for this match and in the past when you took breaks from wrestling?
Yeah. I’ll tell you what I remember after not wrestling for… it must have been a few years. I remember turning up at a show in York Hall in Bethnal Green, where I’ve worked loads before in the past, to watch the show or to watch part of the show. I think it was an RPW show, a Rev Pro show. And because I hadn’t done it so long, I remember being in the crowd and looking up, I can’t remember who was on off the top of my head, but I remember looking at them and thinking, ‘How do you do that?’ Things like hitting the ropes, getting bumped, let alone high spots – everything.
I just thought to myself, ‘If I was to try to do that, I think I would have to relearn it from the start.’ As in, I would have to get in, start taking bumps, relearn how to lock up. I was like, ‘Damn, that just looks like something I’ve had no training at.’ Now at the time I thought this, I’d been wrestling about 15 years so yeah it did get a bit strange. But you go in and you do a show and, it’s a very overused term but, it’s like riding a bike. So it usually comes back pretty quick and touch wood, it’ll come back pretty quick this time.
Fingers crossed! When I was looking into you for this interview, I noticed that in both your PROGRESS appearances before you failed to pick up a win. How are you approaching this match with Danny differently compared to those matches to try and get a win this time?
I think with that in mind, I’m more focused on picking up the win. The crowd is really important, the vibe in the room is the main thing I focused on back then. But ultimately you want some victories, don’t you? I think I’ll be focusing a little more on that. I love the crowd, I love entertaining, it’s great. But I really need to pick up some wins.
Let’s say you do beat Danny at Chapter 113, what’s your goal in PROGRESS beyond this match? Are you focused on singles or the tag division, what’s your overall goal in PROGRESS?
I’ve always been a singles wrestler. I also go with the flow, I’ve realized that when you enter a promotion and work for a promotion, different things can happen and people go in different directions so we have to be kind of open. Like Bruce Lee said or used to say, ‘Be like water’ and all that. So whatever comes.
You’ve obviously had a storied career internationally as well as in the UK but I think a lot of newer fans were introduced to you when you were in the PWG Battle Of Los Angeles a couple of years ago. How did that come about?
Randomly. I think I got a random email from Joey Janela who’s in the States and they were basically looking around asking for my contact details, so I got an email from him asking if he could forward my details to somebody else. I didn’t really know what the Battle of Los Angeles was at the time, I’m really out of touch with wrestling in general. It was pretty straightforward from there, they just shot me an email. It was Super Dragon as well who I knew from way back in 2002 when I first starting going over to the US.
I’ve heard a lot of wrestlers talk in the past about how PWG has one of the best crowds in American wrestling. How did you find that crowd compared to others in the US you competed in front of?
It was really good, really good. It had an underground kind of atmosphere, really good vibe, really nice venue. I think it was over three days or four days, the whole thing. It’s clear that the majority of the fans were there for the whole time, so they were going to live, breathe, eat, sleep, wrestling within that space of time. So it was different, it was different.
Moving back to the UK for a second. we’ve seen a lot of big shifts in British wrestling in the last two decades or so. From your perspective, how has the scene as a whole changed from when you started compared to now?
It’s changed an awful lot. Wrestling worldwide has changed an awful lot during that time. I feel really lucky because I came along, I feel, at quite a pivotal time. I started in 1996 so from around then to the early 2000s, ECW was getting popular and then the Attitude Era happened and that was a big shift in pro wrestling worldwide.
As far as the UK is concerned… I mean when I started, for example, there was one training school that we knew of and we had to look around for about two years before finding that one training school. No internet or any of that stuff. So it was really difficult to get into wrestling in that respect whereas these days, it’s progressed so far since then that now there are training schools in most towns. So there’s a lot more easy access.
There’s also a lot more people working together in these schools, bouncing off each other to grow as workers and to learn in these schools and in these companies. So I guess because of that, it speeds up those changes more and more, doesn’t it? It’s kind of snowballs it. So then stuff just moves on so much faster. To me, that’s the biggest type of change there’s been in that time.
We’ve seen the emergence of more ‘flippy’ wrestling and your style in the ring where it’s more innovative and more high flying. Has that grown more into the UK scene over the last two decades or so?
Over the last two decades? Yeah! A lot of the shows that I’ve been at lately, they’ll have a lot more ‘flippy’ or high-flying wrestling. There’s been a lot more of that on pretty much every show that I’ve done, It’s become a bigger part of wrestling in general. I still like a little bit of everything. I love the flippy matches, I love technical matches, I like freak shows where there’s a big bada** character who looks like he’s just walked out of the grave or came down from the sky or whatever.
Personally, I like a bit of everything that pleases everybody rather than just one type of wrestling. But I do see how the flippy stuff and more athletic style has become a bigger part of pro wrestling than it used to be, which is good and not so good in different ways.
For sure! It’s interesting to me that you’re someone who’s had such tenure in British wrestling and yet, you’ve never appeared in NXT UK. Has there ever been any discussions with WWE in that regard about going there as a wrestler or even something backstage?
No, no. The nearest thing that I can think of is way back to 2002 when me and Jonny Storm first went over to the US – it was HWA/OVW and we spent like a fortnight there.
At the time, I would have been 22 years old and I was really skinny as far as WWE’s product at that time was concerned. I probably didn’t look the part and I can’t see how they would have had really any interest in me at that time. They already had the 1-2-3 Kid so I didn’t really expect much out of that. But no, I haven’t really had much communication, or any communication, with them throughout the years.
[Jody mock-plays a sad violin and laughs]
[Laughs] Is that you’d be open to, even in some sort of backstage capacity?
Yeah! The whole time I’ve worked I’ve been open to any kind of company, any kind of show. Perhaps it could happen, but I don’t really see that changing. If they ask me to, I’m sure I’d be happy and I’d give it a bash.
To cap us off, you’ve competed for most major promotions around the world, you’ve faced countless people. Are there any specific wrestlers or promotions that are still on your bucket list that you haven’t managed to tick off yet?
The old man, I’m 41! [laughs] To be really honest with you, I don’t sit at home thinking, ‘Oh, I’d love to work there, I’d love to work here.’ But I never got to work in Mexico, I’d have liked to work in Mexico. Arena Mexico would be a great venue to work, I’d love to work there one day!
Actually, speaking of WWE, I got taken on holiday with my dad, this was ages ago when I was a kid, we went to the ECW arena which was awesome to watch ECW and we also watched Monday Night RAW… In fact, it wasn’t a RAW taping but it was in Madison Square Garden. And I think in the back of my mind, ever since then, that’s always been on the bucket list.
So yeah, call it those two places: MSG, Arena Mexico, they would be great. CMLL or AAA. I’m like a tourist with wrestling though, it’d just be for having the experience, ticking the box. Yeah, those things would be cool.
Big thank you to both Jody for taking the time out to speak to us and to PROGRESS Wrestling for setting up the interview!
Jody is set to face Danny Black in his first PROGRESS appearance in over two years at Chapter 113: Warp Into Monster Disco Hell, streaming live via Peacock and the WWE Network at 5pm BST on June 19th. The show will also be available on-demand at Demand PROGRESS.