It’s been a rollercoaster year for JONAH.
JONAH competed as Bronson Reed on the NXT brand where he captured the NXT North American Championship in May 2021. Incredibly with many believing the Australian star to be on the verge of a main roster call-up after appearing on dark matches at SmackDown, he was released on August 6th as part of ongoing budget cuts – but he’s been more “unleashed” than released, taking the wrestling world by storm.
Inside The Ropes’ very own Kenny McIntosh sat down with JONAH to chat about his time in WWE, what he’s been doing since, and aspirations of following in the footsteps of Vader.
What a year it has been for you so far, ups and downs, but this week you are going to make your in-ring debut for New Japan. I bet at the beginning of this year that you would not be at New Japan Pro Wrestling by the end of the year. It must be an interesting turn of events.
Yeah, 2021 didn’t exactly go how I thought it would to plan, especially with what I thought I had with plans with WWE and creative and stuff like that. It’s almost, I wouldn’t say a happy accident, but I’m really looking forward to 2022 with the stuff I have been doing this past month has made me very happy and fulfilled with my wrestling journey.
So how did New Japan come about then? You get the release and you’ve got the time where you can’t technically do anything, but what made New Japan the choice?
When I was released, I had a big, deep and meaningful speak with my wife. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. She was the one that said to me “You’ve always loved Japanese wrestling and you’ve always wanted to go back to Japan, I think that’s what you should do.”
Obviously there are a lot of different companies out there and a lot of companies vying for different talent. At the moment, more and more people have been released. It’s not that you can pick and choose, but some places take some people and some people go some places. For me it was pretty easy, New japan was
the number 1 place that I wanted to go. I had worked in Japan before for Pro-Wrestling NOAH but not for New Japan, so it was something that I wanted to do.
It was something that I wanted to tick off my bucket list when I was done with my WWE career, and that obviously came to a shorter halt than I thought it would. As soon as I was released, the first person to contact me about working somewhere was Rocky Romero from New Japan, so it just seemed fitting that that’s where I go.
I want to say this next thing very carefully, because I want to be sensitive to anybody that has lost their job this year. I guess for you what is interesting is that you are not someone who was not being used or somebody who was at the tail end. You were on the rise, was that something where you went this can be a benefit for me when I go other places looking for work?
Yeah 100%, I’ve said that in interviews before as well. It’s not to downplay anyone’s experience, but when I was released it was a big shock in comparison to some of the people that were released alongside me.
I didn’t sit on the shelf and I wasn’t sitting there not doing anything. I was being heavily utilised and I was what you would probably would say was a Hunter and Shawn guy. But it has worked in my benefit, I said to people that I didn’t even get to peak in my WWE career. So now I am going to go elsewhere and peak elsewhere, places like New Japan Pro Wrestling and IMPACT Wrestling are going to get the benefit of that.
I guess it would be the most obvious thing if I were to ask you if you were excited about going to Japan when you get the chance?
Yeah very excited. For the time being I am doing the New Japan Strong shows here in the USA. But when immigration commits, obviously times are difficult and sensitive at the moment, I can’t wait to actually step foot into Japan and wrestle over there again.
I know you’ve said that you are with New Japan and you’ve got the non-exclusive deal with IMPACT. When you were released, one of the first things that people think was AEW, and they have the relationship with New Japan. Is that something that you would want to do on a non-exclusive basis?
Yeah, I mean I did speak with AEW briefly, we couldn’t come to any sort of deal or anything like that. New Japan is my priority and then IMPACT Wrestling, because they reached out to me as well and have taken care of me. But I won’t say that it is off of the books. It’s something that is not in my focus right now, but somewhere down the line you could see Jonah in AEW for sure.
We’ve seen you as well announced for The Battle Of Los Angeles 2022, it feels like you are making moves. I don’t want to put words in your mouth but with everybody released and all this free agent talent, there is a lot of urgency to do a lot of stuff and to put yourself on the map. Is that fair to say?
Yeah I feel like there is going to be more and more competition and people trying to get spots. There’s only so many spots you can have on a wrestling show, and WWE was very much like that.
I think for the longest time maybe they did hold too much talent, and there was people sitting around and not doing anything. But now, not only with the influx of talent from WWE, but Ring of Honor now closing shop for a while or whatever they are doing, and you have the up and coming indie guys.
It just makes for a very competitive landscape, and I wanted to make sure that I stood out. Making sure I was with New Japan, and making an impact, as a pun, in IMPACT Wrestling. And now being the first ever entrant in The Battle For Los Angeles. I wanted people to see that ok, Jonah is one of the staple guys in professional wrestling that is going to be everywhere.
Obviously you had to make a name change. Jonah is the name. What was the thought process behind “JONAH”?
Before WWE I was Jonah Rock. Leaving WWE, I didn’t really want to change from Jonah to Bronson, it was just that they didn’t want Jonah Rock at all.
So I’m like okay, and I pitched so many names with Jonah in it, but they turned it down so we came up with Bronson Reed. When I got released I’m like, ‘Well I am going back to Jonah.’
I wanted to have something fresh to it, so I dropped the Rock part, so it’s just JONAH, all capitals. I want people to see it that way, in all capitals, so it’s one big name.
Just out of pure curiosity, what is your favourite JONAH based name that you pitched?
I just did so many last names, even to the degree of Jonah Reed. I had Jonah Rogue, they obviously didn’t want Rock so I had so many different last names. I did pitch just Jonah on it’s own as well, because sometimes with WWE you end up losing that second name anyway, but they wanted something that was completely theirs, if you will.
Let’s go back to August and the release for you. You’ve said that it was a shock and you didn’t see it coming. How do you get the news, digest it and then make the game plan? It’s got to be a roller coaster of emotions.
I feel like I took it pretty well. I’ve spoken to a lot of other people that have been released, and a lot of friends that have been released. A lot of them took it pretty hard, as you would. They got upset and cried, all of those emotions.
The way I was brought up in wrestling by my coach, who was a hard-assed man, is that professional wrestling owes you nothing, it was one of those things that he said over and over and over. Going throughout my whole career, there has been ups and downs.
There has been times where I have had heartbreak from wrestling before, trying to get into WWE when I thought that I was never going to get there, they’ve told me no a couple of times before. So when I had this happen, I wasn’t upset, I was shocked, because of how well I was doing. If there was any emotion that I had, it was probably anger, like you guys messed up and I’m going to make you see why you messed up.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but a month before the release you were doing matches on Main Event. It seems like the plans were there for Bronson Reed to go to the main roster. How far did that get?
That was a big shock as well. My expectation was that I was going to either Raw or SmackDown potentially. I was told that by people in NXT as well, that was the reason I dropped the North American Championship. They told me that I was in a creative holding pattern until the main roster does whatever they want to do with you. So I did the dark match on SmackDown, and I did the Main Event taped match as well for Vince.
I had a meeting with Vince too for like 15 minutes, he was very happy with everything. So in my mind it’s just a matter of time before I go up to Raw or SmackDown. Two weeks after my last match in NXT, which was with Adam Cole of all people, I had a call from John Laurinaitis while I was watching SmackDown. I said to my wife “Oh this must be about going up to SmackDown.”
I answer and I’m happy, you know “How’s it going Johnny…” all that stuff. Then he goes “I’m really sorry but we are releasing you.” So I was completely shocked.
Obviously you can’t speak for the whole industry, but we have seen so many releases happen in 2021. Everyone’s dream used to be to go to WWE. Do you think that now with the level of uncertainty that it’s not going to feel like a cold hard, “This is where I want to go”?
Yeah 100%. I feel like especially as I coach back home in Australia, and there’s a lot of up and comers that I helped at the start of their career, and they are still up and coming. But speaking to them, their mindset has completely changed over these past couple of years with how WWE has been.
Now with them saying that they want to recruit college athletes and not people from the indie wrestling scene, you’ve got to think that those indie wrestlers and guys pursuing this all their lives are probably going to look at other avenues.
I want to ask you about something I saw on Twitter. Someone tweeted you about missing you in NXT, and you said ‘The place I love isn’t there anymore.’ Can you expand on that?
It’s just not the place it is anymore, that’s from speaking to friends that are still there. They have completely gutted it and made it NXT 2.0, the black and gold is gone. Obviously you still have some of those same performers, and obviously it is unfortunate that Hunter has been sick and he hasn’t been able to be there, but it was all Hunter’s vision.
It was Triple H’s vision for a wrestling show. I felt that while working for NXT, a lot of the guys that were on the television product, guys like myself, Adam Cole, Ciampa, Gargano, guys that took it seriously, saw NXT as a third brand. I always saw it as you had Raw and SmackDown as the big entertainment wrestling shows, but NXT was almost the pro-wrestling show for WWE, where you can come and watch wrestling.
It was still a little bit different and counter culture to the other two shows. Now I see it as just a fabricated version of Raw or SmackDown, but in a smaller timeslot.
One of my favourite matches was you against Johnny Gargano. I’m sure that’s someone you would love to get in the ring again with if circumstances were to happen…
Yeah, definitely. I’ve said it before in interviews that he was one of the best guys that I have worked with in NXT. He has a similar mindset to what I have in that you always want to have the best match possible no matter who you are out there with. I was always like that, and he was always like that, so it was a joy to be able to work with him.
I don’t know exactly what’s happening with him at the moment, but if circumstances allow it, I would love to get in the ring with him again.
Nemesis is on the horizon this weekend. But fantasy booking, what is one of the big matches that you want to have in New Japan?
There’s definitely a few, and I always like to set myself little goals. I know number one is Ishii, he has that Openweight Title, and I feel like I could be a very good
representative if that Openweight Championship. People have wanted that match for a long time, even before I was in WWE, people were like when are we going to see Jonah Rock and Ishii, and it never happened, so that’s number one.
Obviously any company you are in, you want to be the top champion. So whoever has the title after Wrestle Kingdom, Shingo, Osprey or Okada, those are the guys I want to get in the ring with. I want to be the modern Vader, Scott Norton or the big foreigner that came over to Japan and beat everyone up.
Thanks to JONAH for chatting with Inside The Ropes. You can follow JONAH on Twitter here.