Interviews

Interview With . . . LJ Cleary

Interview with . . . LJ Cleary

Inside the Ropes’ Liam Alexander-Stewart recently sat down with, Irish wrestling sensation LJ Cleary to discuss a range of topics, including why he is confident his dream match with Pac will still happen, if he would consider a future in NXT UK and how he has adapted and overcome the challenges of being a pro-wrestler during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Obviously, the last 18-months or so have been extremely difficult for independent wrestlers such as yourself, how have you found adapting during the COVID-19 period in Ireland and how have you tried to keep yourself in ring shape for when things begin to open back up?

“Yeah, you know, like, I can’t lie and say like, it’s been extremely tough as like the pandemics been on everyone like, fact that it’s crazy.

Like, what 15 months since it started now, part of it feels like when you know when the extreme lockdowns are happening I was like this is never gonna end but at the same time. Like, it feels like someone snap their fingers and like, it’s 15 months just went by and aye look it’s been tough like you know I am but you know, you take the positives with it.

I definitely have taken a few positives coming out of it regarding like, training and stuff like it’s like the gyms are finally opening back up in Ireland which is great because I hated working out at home. I would push myself to you know, go in and out like maybe like a month they’d be on and I’ve been doing like workouts a week at home. I didn’t have much equipment I had like a couple dumbbells and like a resistance band, then like, I just completely dropped out there for like a month like “I don’t wanna do it, I don’t wanna do it” then I would get back into it eventually.

The hardest thing is to stay you know, in shape for wrestling, you know, like for conditioning because I can safely say I feel like I could do a 10k run every single day and it wouldn’t prepare me for for wrestling, like cardio, it’s just, it’s just completely different.

I know because we did get to go by train for about a couple of months last summer. Like it looked like everything was great and then before it got really bad again, I remember after only about maybe three months of the lockdown.

I remember thinking like, Oh, yeah, look, I’ll go back training and I’ll be fine. I was like, I’ve done this four times a week now for like, seven years and I remember the first training back I was like, Oh my god, this is hard. Like, it hit me so hard and I was like, oh, now it’s been even longer than that!

I think, you know, coming back, it’s gonna be, it’s gonna be even harder but at the same time, it’s just like, I just can’t wait, I just can’t wait to actually get back into because I think at least we are getting close to a point of going back to the way life was.”

You mentioned returning to training there, you recently announced that you would be adopting a new role within The School of Irish Wrestling as a coach. What led you to make this choice and what are you looking to bring to the students moving forward?

“Well that kind of came from, so in Dublin, there is a, there’s two schools. There’s The School of Irish Wreslting and there is Fight Factory Pro Wrestling which used to be NWA Ireland. That was set up by Finn Balor and such and I started in Fight Factory Eight-Years ago now, when I was like, as a kid, I was 13.

I Started when I was 13, I probably shouldn’t have bought, you know, like, probably shouldn’t have got in, but I did.

In the last maybe three or so years, I’ve just kind of gradually started to take on a bit more of a role there. Like, I think it’s strange, because I am so young you know, like, I could be coaching like someone who’s like, 30, and obviously a 30, Is gonna have much more life experience than I do, but wrestling experience I’m like, coming up to 10 years now.

So what’s great about the schools here is that like, obviously, I said, they’re like this, there’s two schools and you know, there’s none of this, like, stupid, like, you know, rivalries.

Like, you’re always going to be like, you know, you’re always going to go maybe, you know, kind of lie more, which are your homeschool, like, I’m always gonna, like, you know, more so on the Fight Factory, because that’s where I started and that’s where I was trained.

However, you know, I would go train in The School of Irish Wrestling a lot like, I’d go there just as much as I would go to Fight Factory. So, you know, as we close down, I was just like okay, you know, coming back realistically, might not be as busy for a while, as I was, you know, like actually wrestling and so I got on to The School of Irish Wrestling and obviously, I already had a relationship with them.

Like, in Fight Factory, like, we’re very much so like, quite technical, like really well trained, in like the British style of wrestling but then we cover everything. You know, I think that was an aspect that like that other school didn’t really have so I feel like there’s a lot that like I can bring to them that they just maybe would have not ever even been kind of shown.

I’m actually I’m coaching as well in a school in Cork, Phoenix Wrestling and so I think I’m the only person that is doing all three schools around the country.”

You mentioned the name Finn Balor, obviously, Ireland has a plethora of incredibly successful wrestlers around the world including the likes of Finn Balor, Sheamus and Becky Lynch. Have you had the opportunity yet to speak with some of these guys about their journey and have any of them reached out to you with advice, praise or feedback at all?

“Yeah, like, I’ve been quite lucky to have met Finn a few times. Like I said, he obviously, you know, doesn’t run that train school anymore, he passed it down to my head trainer, my head trainer his name is Phil Boyd an Irish wrestler who has been wrestling for I think it’s maybe 16 to 18 years or something now.

So you know and I guess this comes to show the type of person that Finn is, like when he would have those few days home like he would he would come down like and and you know, like, see how things are and talk to us. And obviously I remember the last time he came down was around late in 2016. It was actually while he was injured. I remember when he got injured, when he became Universal Champion?

They were filming his 24 of which is on the network and they filmed part of it in the school. I remember he came down I was kind of lucky that I was one of the people I knew he was coming and I remember it was it was a really special day for me because like I remember myself and I guess anyone that’s you know, watching or listening to this that knows Irish Wrestling you know who Michael May is well Michael May he is like he’s like, the person i have been training with most of my life and one of my closest friends in wrestling.

Finn kind of took us to the side, you know, towards the end like we had a good chat between the three of us, which is really nice. We’ve had a little bit of communication since like through messages and stuff like that, you know, which has been amazing. Like for me, you know, like to get some of that calibre you know, giving you the time of day and stuff.

I’m pretty sure the first day I started [training], okay, in 2015 that Becky Lynch was there. But then she was gone like she went to America then like the night and I didn’t I didn’t know her at the time. Yeah. And then she has been back down since as well. I think she filmed part of her 24 in the school as well because obviously, she came from the NWA School/ Fight Factory being trained by Finn.”

We have mentioned a few times that you are still incredibly young, how much of a relief is that when you consider the last two years of your career that you have missed out on due to COVID and the pandemic?

“I’m lucky I got I understand as well, which is why, you know, at times when, during the last year, you know, as everyone will get, you have your doubts about coming out, like, geez, what happened to two years of my life, like, yeah, we’re never gonna get them back.

But then I was like, I’m, I only just turned 22 here, like, I’ll be like, I’m, I’ll be fine, I’ll be fine. Like, just relax. Like, there was for me, the pandemic, in a way, like, as awful as it was,and it is awful still, like, there was a few things for me that they were a little bit of a blessing in disguise regarding it.
I just finished college, I finished my four years in college and with the pace, I was going out wrestling and I was doing very well, like I was, you know, like, three, four shows a week, flying, minimum, two flights a week, that was gone so well.

I had the balance really well of college and wrestling, which is was definitely a good way to get it. But I had it like really well, and that I think the pace i was moving at, and I can’t say for sure, butI feel like I was gonna get offered an opportunity to go somewhere to do something that then would have required me to consider “Well, what do I do with college?”

I definitely would have taken that oppurtunity, which would have been a bad idea realistically, because like, for me, I have a really good support system at home, my parents are so supportive of wrestling, and they were like, we will help you if you just do college.

So I had this year like to finish it, and I did it now, you know, so I don’t know, that would have happened if if COVID didn’t happen, which is not that I wouldn’t have finished, I would have never dropped out or anything. But again, like it could have been, I don’t know, if I got the opportunity to go to America or something for three months, I probably would have taken it, you know, I would have taken it but then the college would have fell and that could have caused problems at home.”

In regards to the future of your career, we have seen you perform successfully in both singles, tag team and trios action over the past four or five years. Do you have a plan in mind for moving forward, are you wanting to continue with More than Hype and the tag team wrestling or do you see your future more in singles action?

“Yeah, honestly, like it would be It would be a bit of both, I want to keep the balance that I had, because I think even when we were the trio like I would kind of be recognise more as the singles, the singles act of the group.

Myself and Darren, like, as a team that you know that we want to really keep the brand alive, I think we did a really good job of like of, you know, making MTH, More Than Hype a brand. So we do want to do it, but at the same time, you know, like, there’s a lot of single stuff that I was kind of had lined up to do that I still want to go and do and it’s hard to say because you know, you don’t know what opportunities are going to be avaliable but that’s why I want to keep it as balanced as possible. I don’t want it to be like, right, I’m fully going single or i am fully going tag.”

We have talked about your future and we have discussed the incredible Irish talent in wrestling at the moment, to kind of tie the two together just how impressed have you been with Aofie Valkyrie’s work in NXT UK and is that somewhere you would consider going if the opportunity was available?

“Yeah, like, obviously again, for anyone that’s listening, that doesn’t know Aofie Valkyrie is my girlfriend we’ve been together like seven years and we’re just coming up on like, our seven year anniversary as well.

Oh yeah, but you know, it’s absolutely incredible. I couldn’t be more proud. I’m just like, you know, proud in the sense of obviously, she’s my girlfriend but like coming from our club as well, you know everyone’s so happy to see it and look like, she is killing it in the WWE.

I would imagine that there are not a lot of people that didnt get into wrestling because of the WWE you know, like that, it’s just like that is that’s how we all got into it.

So for me Yeah, and like looking at it, NXT UK as an option It’s definitely there and you know, I don’t want to say like, right I want to go there or like or I don’t want to go there. Because again, I just kinda want to take these things as they come and ultimately, obviously Yes, I you know, I want to work for WWE, I also Want to work for AEW I’d like the chance to go wrestle in Japan or like Ring of Honor.

Right now you know looking at the option of NXT UK could be could be maybe a bit more plausible so I would definitely take it into consideration because I actually think they’re doing right now like obviously wrestling has been it’s been a lot harder to watch last year with no people and stuff you know like it’s just not the same.

I think NXT UK the last couple months have done quite a good job of getting into rhythm so I’m a big fan of the like the British round stuff that they started becuase that style of wrestling I’m very comfortablewith it but I’ve never really kind of actually like massively portrayed it on shows and stuff because of like the trios matches that like maybe like sometimes my character just it wouldn’t kind of fit in that way.”

You mentioned wanting to work around the globe in a range of companies, are there any matches that scream out to you as your dream matches for the foreseeable future?

“Yeah, obviously you know there’s a good few and you know let’s to try be plausible about it as well like obviously I’d love to have a match with John Cena one day but you know it’s not impossible but looking kind of like in the short term the I was meant to wrestle Pac last year and i find out the match wasn’t happening on I think it was meant to be on March 14th, and I found out two days before March 12, which was actually my 24th birthday.

So that will be the big one you know, like that was by far the be the biggest match of my career. Yeah, like it’s sucked that It got cancelled, but I’m also quite confident that willit happen. I don’t know when I don’t know why, but like, I genuinely do think it will.

My favourite wrestler of all time is Chris Jericho. So you know, I got the chance to go to AEW and do something with him, that would be absolutely amazing. Same with like, he just returned, like, I am a huge Christian fan like I’ve always especially like, the more I kind of understand wrestling as a wrestler like I really started to gravitate towards Christian and how cool he was.

I guess to keep it a more local. For me in a singles match. I’d love to wrestle Charlie Sterling. I think he’s absolutely one of i think he’s probably in my opinion, like the best in the UK, as a wrestler, and I love to do myself and Darren against The Grizzled Young Veterans You know, whether that’s in the WWE or, you know, on an indie or whatever.

I’d eventually like, again, if myself and Darren could I know it was there was the incarnation of was meant to be MTH Moustache Mountain about three times. That didn’t happen. So I’d like if could happen as well. “

To wrap things up LJ, I always like to end on two questions I know you will have never been asked before and will never be asked again. So firstly, I saw recently you went to see the new Fast and Furious film so I want to know… More than Hype vs. Vin Diesel and John Cena, what are your chances of survival?

“Are we fighting Vin Diesel and John Cena or are we fighting the like Torretto Brothers in the in the Fast and Furious universe? Hmm see if It had been Vin Diesel and Cena obviously i was not going to say it was easy but i I think we could have made work of Vin Diesel to be honest.

But as the Torretto Brothers, like like Vin Diesel in the F&F Universe is very overpowered, there was this bit in the movie and it was so so funny again like I genuinely love those dumb action movies.

So we’re like seeing him [Vin Diesel] pick them up and he ran them through a wall and Vin Diesel just didn’t even register his head had just gone through a wall. It was so funny. “

Big thank you to LJ Cleary for taking the time out to speak with us, you can support him via his social media!

If you use any quotes from this interview please provide a h/t and link back to Liam Alexander-Stewart of Inside the Ropes.