Ahead of Ring of Honor’s upcoming Glory by Honor PPV, Inside The Ropes’ Liam Alexander-Stewart had the chance to speak with current ROH Pure Champion Jonathan Gresham about the event.
During the interview, Gresham discussed his time in ROH thus far, his final dream match against Daniel Bryan, representation in wrestling and who he believes is the best in the world.
I want to start by asking about your upcoming match against Rhett Titus at Ring of Honor’s Glory by Honor show, what is the difference taking on someone like Rhett compared to your other challengers thus far and what can you do to ensure that the Pure Championship comes home with you?
“Well, to answer the the first question, the difference between wrestling someone like Dak Draper or Fred Yehi or Mike Bennett is that I don’t train with these guys regularly. Rhett and I were puttogether on the road for Ring of Honor we always train together we train together in the gym. So he knows my weaknesses, and my strengths and I know his as well. So that’s the big difference here. The other differences with other matches and those other guys that were first time matches, Rhett and I have met before and NCW show and I was trying to take away the NCAA Heavyweight Championship and unfortunately on that day, he beat me. And so I understand what he has to do to beat me. So my whole thing is trying to stay clear of that dropkick for one. But I also you know, throughout my travels, and my recent matches I’ve been picking up different skills and things like that. So I really believe going into this match. Rhett’s gonna have to look out for a lot of things that are new for him coming from me. As far as the pure championship, my goal has always been to make Ring of Honor pure. Now, outside of Jay lethal and Tracy Williams, Rhett Titus is the only other person that I feel that can carry the pure wrestling flag into the future into 2022 as Pure Wrestling Champion. So my biggest thing is, of course, I would want to be the man to lead the charge. But if Rhett Titus beats me, I have full faith in Him to be able to lead the charge in his own. So as long as the pure championship stays in the foundation, all is well.”
You discussed briefly the concept of making Ring of Honor pure and of course for anyone who is unfamiliar you were very much the driving force behind bringing back the Pure Championship and division to ROH, what caused you to take focus on this and what drove you to ensure the division returning to Ring of Honor?
“My obsession with Ring of Honor started maybe around 2004. I saw a show for the first time. And thatkind of gave me my direction. I just became obsessed with it. I was telling the story the other day to Sean Ross and I just became obsessed and literally in that time, you know, I was still gunning for wrestling, but I was into a lot of things I shouldn’t have been into. So Ring of Honor literally just changed my life. I had tunnel vision after that. I always wanted to be a wrestler, but it didn’t feel real until I saw Ring of Honor. So just the people the style the way it was presented, it just hooked me. And the pure wrestling style was always interesting to me but it really like resonated with me more when I finally signed to Ring of Honor 2017. I got to Ring of Honor, my goal was always to get there. And then when I was there, it was like, Okay, what do I do now? I was teaming with Alex Shelley and stuff, and Chris Sabin and Search and Destroy with Jay White. And I was like, this is really cool. It’s a good start. And then I look up and I was like, how can I differentiate myself? And often times, I have to provide it myself and not just think about myself, but think about my peers and think my company. And in my mind, at that time, with the New Japan relationship, and The Young Bucks still being there, stylistically, the company was the same as every other company. So I thought to myself, what help me get to Ring of Honor was differentiate myself, making sure it was clear that Oh, that guy is different. I don’t like it, or I do like it. But whenever you notice that it’s different. And so in my mind, wrestling companies should be the same way. If you want comedy, you’re going to go to Company A, if you like, whatever, you go to Company B, if you like, pure professional wrestling, or a sports base, like presentation, then you’re going to come to Ring of Honor. So I just started to adopt the pure style, instead of saying technical, I start saying pure because it’s closely associated with Ring of Honor. Nobody else can use the word pure, really, when it comes to a division or the style because it belongs to Ring of Honor. So my goal was just to be the pure wrestler over time. I said, Well, I need a character, and my character, who I am in real life really believes in this. So why does this become my character? And so I started to make my character, someone that was an elitist basically. I just kept pushing professional wrestling as like, the best style of professional wrestling period, is closer to the original way of wrestling anyway. So that was pretty much how it came to be. And it just helped me kind of go into a certain direction that got me here today.”
Who in Ring of Honor has surprised you most with their ability within the Pure Rules environment and is there anyone you believe would thrive if they made the shift to the division?
“Um, to be honest, there’s a lot of untapped guys. Guys that have potential but just haven’t been given opportunities. And the weird thing about professional wrestling is something I learned is you just kind of have to stay ready and, you know, eventually everyone gets their opportunity. Some guys don’t really understand when the opportunity comes around. They’re just dealing, oh, I want to do this, I want to do that. And it’s like, you kind of have to step outside of yourself, pay attention. It’s like, sometimes the company gives you an opportunity, but they don’t verbalise it to you. And it’s like, this is your opportunity to show the office that you can do whatever the hell that you want to be known for. So a lot of these guys are like, really hungry and stuff, but they’re so hungry, that they’re not paying attention to the opportunities that are being presented. And I think that happens a lot. I had to really calm down and learn how to take advantage of those opportunities. So I think the entire roster has potential to be you know, pure wrestling champion or anything like that. It’s all about a mindset, really. But if you’re talking about one individual I had to pick someone that I’ve always been fond of is Brian Milonas. And most recently, I think he had a pure match against one of the dojo students, Joe Keys, and he actually won. So I think that would be a test for me wrestling someone of his height and weight. You know, and I really think it’d be interesting match. So I would say Brian.”
You recently discussed how rewarding it is for you to be described as the best in the world by so many, not because of the praise to your in-ring ability but more so to what it means that a POC can be described in this way and what that means to future generations. Expanding on this idea, I would like to know what your thoughts are on representation within wrestling overall how it is doing, where it could do better and what it means to you?
“That’s a loaded question, man. Because, of course, I have my own opinions about things, but I also don’t know what is in the works, what people are saying, and other companies, I don’t really know what’s being said about that topic in my own company. I just kind of look at the landscape, and I see what independent wrestlers are doing. And I think it’s all about individuals taking it upon themselves to say, I don’t want to be seen this way. You can do it for the masses, you can do it for yourself. But it’s all about changing the narrative of what people view, a group of people as you don’t have to play into the stereotype. It’s easy, because people kind of already want to do that. But my thing is, I’ve always wanted to break the stereotype. I didn’t want to have to come out and do some weird gimmick just to get people to pay attention. I didn’t want to be a gimmick, I wanted to be a wrestler. I don’t really know why, when you look at, let’s say, the magazine that comes out with the top technical wrestlers in the world, I think every year, right? A buddy of mine pointed out to me that in the existence of the award, there has never been a person of colour nominated it’s always been Japanese, or a Caucasian person. So I have been nominated number one recently, I think I’ve been placed in number three or five. But like, I believe, I’m probably the first person to ever been put in that position. And it’s just ridiculous to me, because like Norman Smiley exists, and what happened there? So it’s just why aren’t people of colour being seen as top technicians, or world calibre champions of a different style besides just like power guys, or pure high flyers? There’s this genre of wrestling that people of colour an do. And we’re out there, but we’re just not being given the opportunity to, you know, show that we can be put in top positions like World Champions, why that’s happening? I’m not really sure. Maybe it’s gonna happen sooner, we just have to kind of wait, but why is it taking so long ? So this is the question that we always ask, I just don’t know. But what we can do is just keep grinding and going forward, and trying more. That’s really it.”
When you are sharing the locker room with younger guys, do you proactively offer advice on this sort of area or even just in general regarding their in-ring work or are you more of a wait until you are asked sort of guy?
“I only go out of my way to do things like that when people ask. because my thing is, just because I’ve been wre’stling for a long time doesn’t necessarily mean I know what I’m talking about. I believe I can learn something from anyone. Oftentimes, I catch guys off guard. When they asked me Hey, man, what did you think and I thought it was great. And then we go through a couple things. And then I say, Hey, man, what do you think of mine? You see anything from mine? And they don’t feel like they can tell me anything. It’s like, you know what you liked and you know what you didn’t like, your opinion matters because you’re a human being, and you have an opinion. So I might not agree, but it would still be good to hear. Because then once I hear it’s like, maybe I can change that a little bit. Then if I ask somebody else and they can’t say the same thing, it’s like, okay, so multiple things, people think the same thing. But to answer your question, I just, I go in, it’s like a job, man. I just tried to be cool with everybody. I don’t try to put myself above anybody. I’m still the kind of guy that walks into a locker room. I try to find my own corner just to stay out of people’s way. I don’t want to bother people. I just want to come in, do my job and go home. If people need help, I’m willing to help. If not, that’s fine, too. I’m a team player. So regardless of where I am independence or Ring of Honor, I’m always willing to help out in any capacity. Um, so I definitely wait until people asked I never offer advice because I don’t know. It seems really. I don’t know I’d still like to do that. It’s super weird.”
When I spoke recently with Matt Taven he stated his dream Ring of Honor match is to see Jonathan Gresham take on the returning ‘American Dragon’ Daniel Bryan, this is a match that in recent years has become synonymous with yourself. What are your views on the match, the possibility of it and where it ranks for you in dream matches that you may have?
“I’ve been blessed enough to have wrestled, literally everyone within reason that I’ve ever wanted to wrestle. The only person that I haven’t been able to wrestle is of course, Brian Danielson. I had released that idea of it ever happening in my mind a few years ago, because I was like, Oh, he’s moved on. He’s not independents, It’ll never happen. That just like, took it out of my mind. I was like, Okay, I’m fine. I literally wrestle everybody I’ve ever wanted to wrestle by realistically, I could, of course, people have passed away that one to wrestle but people that are alive, I’ve wrestled everybody that I wanted to wrestle. And when he came out and my wife tweeted it to me, and I saw the the audio of him saying that he would like to wrestle me, I don’t know it just all came rushing back in there, things are talking about it. And it seems to be a topic of discussion now. I really love the timing of it. Because of course I would love to wrestle Brian Danielson selfishly. But now I feel like more than ever. If that match is important to fans. I want that match to happen only on a ROH show. I think Brian Danielson back to Ring of Honor would be huge for the company. And I would do my best on that stage to make sure on my part that the match lives up to what people are expecting. So if it ever happens, I would only accept it if it’s happening for ROH for sure. Because I want my company to break out and I think right now coming back is a breakout moment. So I wouldn’t want to do that match for anybody else besides my company.”
You are a man touted by many as the best in the world, so allow me to ask the best in the world who he believes is in fact . . . the best in the world.
“I have this really, I think it’s really funny. When people throw around best in the world. I really feel like, and I could be wrong, but I feel like it originated in ROH. So I feel like the only way to really prove yourself as the best in the world is to come to Ring of Honor and prove yourself. A lot of people have adopted it and taking it to other companies. And I believe that’s BS, because it belongs to Ring of Honor. The ROH World Championship as well. So the holder of the Ring of Honor World Championship, by default, to me is the best professional wrestler in the world. But also there’s some people that transcend the championship. And the people that I feel like transcending that championship, and I’m still familiar with these three men, and I can definitely say they are the elite. And they are the best wrestlers to step in the ring. I also believe the best in the world is someone that can bring people that are not on their level to their level. I also believe the best in the world are people that can have good to great matches consistently. And the people that I feel that are the best in the world. Number one is Jay Lethal. He understands the business better than anybody I’ve ever met. I’ve talked about like, backstage situations where it’s like, Hey, you should really be careful with this or that he just understands the business from every angle. He’s taught me so much in my time, like teaming with him just being around him at ring of honour. His promo skills are the best. You know, in ring is he has no rival. He is the best wrestler in Ring of Honor and one of the best wrestlers in the world. Then I move on. Most recently, I wrestled Davey Richards, and Davey Richards literally carried me through the match. And that’s something that not being braggadocious here, but that doesn’t happen often, as somebody like carries me through a match. And Davey Richards literally held my hand through the match. And it was such a humbling experience. And then the last person that I remember stepping in the ring with and everything that I called a few years ago, he corrected so much, and he taught me so much within one match. And I’ve done at least two or three seminars of his each time I thoroughly enjoyed and always left feeling like I was a better wrestler, and that is Chris Hero.”