Jeff Cobb is one of professional wrestling’s undisputed Real Tough Guys. The Hawaii native represented Guam in the 2004 Summer Olympics as an amateur wrestler and went pro later that decade. He currently plays Matanza Cueto on Lucha Underground and recently showed up in Ring of Honor. He’s one of the most popular performers on the independent circuit right now and recently won its most prestigious tournament, PWG‘s Battle of Los Angles. Cobb also challenged New Japan Pro Wrestling‘s Hirooki Goto for the NEVER Openweight Championship at the Cow Palace back in July and will wrestle for NJPW again at their Fighting Spirit Unleashed show in Long Beach on September 30.
On September 1, With Spandex talked to Cobb about his career, wrestling style, and more, while at Starrcast in Chicago. That conversation is below and has been edited for length and clarity.
With Spandex: We have a big Lucha Underground following on our website. I’m wondering how your experience has been working on that show for the past couple years?
Jeff Cobb: It’s great. I enjoy it every time we film. Great group from top to bottom, from the writing staff to the helpers to the office to the talent, the fans… It’s been great. I’ve always had a great time.
The rest of your work is usually indie shows, so less continuity. Lucha Underground – very heavy on the continuity and the lore. Is working on a show with writers very different than just going in and wrestling?
Well, yeah. Well, not really, because some of the indie shows that I’m on regularly have storylines and stuff, so it kind of just follows that storyline. It’s pretty much the same as having writers. I guess the only difference would be for the TV series you kind of have to follow certain guidelines…that’s the only real difference.
Do you have a favorite indie that you’ve worked at, like, in your mind right now?
I have a lot. I have a lot of favorites. APW in California that was on Beyond the Mat. I like to work for AAW, definitely PWG, Smash Wrestling in Toronto, I have a lot. I really do… I have a lot of non-favorites, but other than that… I do have a lot of favorites.
There’s a lot of rumors that you’ve signed with ROH.
Internet websites. Don’t get me started on that. Those guys were like, “Oh hey, Jeff Cobb signed with ROH?” Really, I did? I wish I would have known. That would’ve been great. But yeah, some people say I signed… When I called them out on it they said, “No, Dave Meltzer said you did.” I was like, “No, Dave Meltzer didn’t say I did. He said I’m working with them.” There’s a difference between working and signing with them.
You’ve been in ROH recently, New Japan recently… I saw your match with Goto in San Francisco. How was it working with him?
It was great. Goto is one of those wrestlers that if you don’t follow New Japan you might not know him, but he’s really good. Let me rephrase that. Everyone in New Japan’s really good because they’re the top promotion in Japan. Arguably the top promotion in the world, depending on who you ask. You have to bring your A Game. You have to be good if you’re going to wrestle in New Japan. They don’t just take any random Joe, so – or random Jeff.
Goto’s kind of the guy they hold up as a traditional strong style guy, and your nickname or catchphrase is “Hawaiian Strong Style.”
I more stole that phrase from Shinsuke Nakamura. King of Strong Style? I’m Hawaiian Strong Style.
How has that type of wrestling influenced your career?
I love the Japanese wrestling… Their style is wonderful. They sell, they tell stories, so I love it. I don’t have to do 75 flips or 35 false finishes, so, yeah, it’s great.
Do you have any dream people that you want to work with [in Japan?]
I would be lying if I didn’t say I would like to work with top stars. I’ve got a chance to interact with Okada when we were doing this last tour in June, right before this Cow Palace match with Goto, because Goto is in Chaos, and so we did multi-man matches with Okada being in there, so I got a chance to work with him a little bit, which is great… I would love to work with him in a singles. That would be awesome.
Definitely – again, I would be stupid not to mention guys like Omega, Ibushi, who – he said he wants to have a match with me, so I’m game for that. But yeah, guys like that. They’re on the top for a reason. Again, I’d be dumb not to want to test myself against the best in the world. Shoot, Kenny Omega’s number one in the PWF 500 this year. Why wouldn’t I want to wrestle him? You don’t want to be the best if you don’t want to wrestle Kenny Omega. So yeah, I would love to wrestle Kenny.
Last year’s World Tag League, people kind of thought you and Matt Riddle were going to tag and then that didn’t work out, and now, probably, I’m guessing we won’t see you tag with Riddle at least for a while. Did you want to do more with the Chosen Bros?
I definitely wanted to do more with the Chosen Bros. Matt Riddle definitely wanted to do more with the Chosen Bros. The only thing is, promoters were afraid to book us together. Because realistically, I’m a former 2004 Olympic wrestler, Olympic athlete, Matt Riddle is a very accomplished amateur wrestler, an undefeated UFC fighter, and together we’re unstoppable, so promoters are afraid to put us together, because who could stop us, realistically, right? But PWG saw it, and we dominated the tag division for over a year, and we definitely would have, I think, if myself and Matt Riddle were paired up in the 2017 World Tag League we probably would have won it, and we probably would have won the IWGP Heavyweight tag belts at Wrestle Kingdom. But you never know. You can always play fantasy booking.
Those definitely would have been cool matches to see.
It would have been great. But again, I support him in his decision. A lot of people complained about him signing with WWE. Why? This man wants to make money. He’s a star. Let him be a star to the millions around the world that watch WWE. Be happy for him. Support him. I do.
Are you looking to sign with a bigger company, like WWE or Impact or ROH or New Japan?
Yeah, something definitely – Follow my Twitter, @RealJeffCobb, and I’ll be saying something soon, real soon… hence my recent twitter post of “#CrypticTweet.”
Ooh, cryptic tweet.
Because everybody wants to do that, right? I didn’t put out one of those tweets that’s like, “Hey, I plan to make an impact somewhere doing some entertainment, perhaps with some honor that’s new.” I didn’t put that kind of cryptic tweet, but yeah, you’ll see me pop up somewhere, sign somewhere.
You haven’t done a lot of extended wrestling matches in Lucha Underground this season. It’s been a lot of the sacrifice stuff. Can people expect more wrestling from you this season?
Well, to be fair, I’m an unstoppable monster, and the people who have been sacrificed to me have felt the wrath of the gods. Literally and figuratively. So it’s not my fault that the gods have chosen my vessel to be the juggernaut that is, and until someone is worthy enough to stop me I don’t see it lasting long. No spoilers!
What inspired you to transition from shoot wrestling to pro wrestling?
Well, I’ve always been a fan since I was a kid, back in my wee days… Amateur wrestling was something that I did in high school and college and the Olympics, but I’ve always wanted to do pro wrestling.
Do you see a big difference working with people who have like a shoot fighting background versus those who don’t?
Yeah, some of my best matches are with guys like Matt Riddle, who has a legit background. I find that it’s fun. It’s easy, and if you watch all my matches with New Japan wrestlers, because 99.9% of them all have a legit background, they’re always good. They always come off good. Yeah, it’s fun wrestling guys that have shoot backgrounds because we can just beat each other up if need be.
Do you think it helps wrestlers to have that type of a background?
Oh yeah. If you go back to the 60s and 70s and most of the 80s, like, all the guys that were wrestlers had some sort of legit background, a shoot background. If they didn’t, they were tough SOBs who came from the NFL and could pick you up and throw you throw a window if need be, and I’m not knocking the current generation, but, I mean… that’s what our ancestors were, like legit badasses. Now, not so much. But it’s just a different era, I guess. And again, I’m not knocking the new generation, that’s just the way it is.
But if you were to give like a seminar to like wrestlers-in-training… would you advise people to learn some shoot fighting also?
Definitely. There’s a lot of times I do shows with guys that I don’t know or unknown guys… and the first thing is they go, “Hey, let’s, uh, chain wrestle at the beginning,” and then you take ’em down and they’re flopping like a fish, they don’t know what to do. They panic. So I’d prefer if people have legit backgrounds, even if they’re not, like, super accomplished. If they’re just, if they know what they’re doing, it definitely helps.
With you coming from the sports background, did you have any issue with, like, building a character and the performance aspect of it?
That was tough… When you’re doing like the quote-unquote shoot, amateur wrestling you’re taught not to show weakness because, like, if my arm hurts, and I’m in a match, the guy’s going to go after my arm, or if my calves are cramping up or whatever, they’re going to go after my weakness and exploit it. Same thing with UFC. If you punch someone in the eye and their eye swells you’re going to attack that side because they can’t see. So that’s the same thing, but on the tail end of that, in pro wrestling, if you’re, like, hurt, instead of toughing up and not showing the weakness you’re going to exploit it and be that much more over the top about my arm or my leg or whatnot, so that was definitely the hard part of the transition to pro wrestling… to the quote-unquote selling side of it was very foreign to me.
Was there anybody you looked at as a performer when you were training that was an inspiration in that aspect?
Ricky Steamboat is a wonderful seller, and when I was growing up they said he was from Hawaii, so I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m from Hawaii.” But then I find out he’s not from Hawaii. Wrestling. But yeah, everyone that’s on TV is good, so, they’re on TV for a reason… or for the most part, they’re good. I won’t say any names.
You don’t want to give us the headline “Jeff Cobb Shoots On So-And-So?”
No… I don’t need to be that guy that someone’s going to screenshot it and put it on the internet for mass hysteria.
But you were in, last year – you were not the controversial one, but there was the Michael Elgin thing. What was your perspective on that drama?
My perspective on it was I could give a shit if you like me or not. I don’t envision everybody liking me, which is fine, totally fine, because I don’t like everybody in the wrestling industry, you know, you’re not going to get along with every-single-body. If he didn’t like me, that’s cool. I really wish he would have just told me instead of putting it up front, but again, it’s totally fine. I don’t care. I didn’t lose any sleep over what he said. The internet fans, on the other hand, did, the pro wrestling community, the wrestlers and performers did. I don’t care. Whatever. Everybody’s entitled to their opinion. I tend to stay away from drama. Life is too short to deal with that. I’m not in high school anymore. High school’s a long time ago for me.
Do you have, like, any number one person you want to wrestle anywhere?
Currently or historically, that you can’t wrestle anymore.
Currently, Samoa Joe, because I like his style. He’s very hard-hitting, and he’s a Poly, so, I have a tendency to go with Poly guys. And then, overall, definitely Kurt Angle in his prime
You’re very reminiscent of Kurt Angle. I mean, obviously, you have similar gear and the Olympics.
He won a gold medal. I didn’t. I got tin.
Well, there’s the angle for the feud.
Good point… he’d mop the floor with me. I’m a realist. He’s very good.