Over the past few years, Joey Janela has grown to become one of independent wrestling’s most influential stars and creative promoters. In addition to having acclaimed matches with current stars like Hangman Page, Lio Rush, and David Starr, and displaying a willingness to do insane things like get thrown off a roof by Zandig, Janela’s built a cult of personality around his quest to fulfill his VHS-filtered dreams, booking himself against wrestlers like Marty Jannetty and the Great Sasuke. He’s also been one of the key figures in Game Changer Wrestling’s recent growth, his Spring Break shows (with round three set to take place in two parts on April 5-6) have become some of the most notable attractions of WrestleMania weekend, and his name was the show where Nick Gage shot on David Arquette. Janela is currently benched by injury but has continued to make waves from the sidelines by becoming one of All Elite Wrestling‘s early signees.
With Spandex spoke to Janela outside of Burning World Studios in Los Angeles, between GCW’s To Live And Die In LA, for which Janela was a commentator, and GCW vs. Suburban Fight, during which he entertained the audience by posing on a spray-painted gold Sea-Doo and throwing a can of beer directly at the head of a fan wearing a riot helmet. That conversation is below and has been edited for length and clarity.
With Spandex: One thing we always ask people is “Who was your favorite wrestler as a kid?”
Joey Janela: Oh man, Stone Cold Steve Austin certainly. I was a wrestling fan before Steve Austin, of course, the Hulk Hogans and the Ultimate Warriors when I was a little boy, but Steve Austin just kind of changed shit. He changed shit not only for me; he changed shit for a lot of people, just the way he went about his business and how badass he was. I was like, “Man, I want to be Steve Austin.” And my dad, he had a shaved head and a goatee, so yeah, my dad’s like Stone Cold, and threw an Austin 3:16 bumper sticker on the back of his f*ckin’ van and, you know, Stone Cold changed it for me.
And it was f*ckin’ awesome, I got to do his podcast with him and go to his house. That was like – I had a f*ckin’ panic attack at his house. It’s like me looking in the face of Jesus himself. Imagine me being a hardcore Christian and f*cking sitting there and Jesus comes and he gets to sit in a chair in front of you at a small little table. That was like me meeting Steve Austin and doing his podcast.
Previously, you were doing a thing in the kind of “Joey Janela” brand shows where you were on this journey, you were fighting all these wrestlers who were more famous in the past. What was the inspiration for that? Was it just, like, living a childhood dream?
Yeah, it’s like living your VHS dreams. You know, me grabbing the VHSs from the vendors’ tables. I wasn’t much of a – I was too young to be a tape trader, really, I think – a lot of guys were tape traders; they would trade tapes with each other. I would just go to local indie shows and there would be a vendor there with the tapes that had been traded around and guys like Hakushi and, you know, Japanese legends, you know. F*ckin’ I wrestled Hakushi, f*ckin’ Great Sasuke… We’re bringing [Atsushi] Onita in for the next show even though his knees are f*cked. That’s like me living my childhood dream and it’s just a wild situation.
Game Changer Wrestling kind of lets me run my own shows and run wild and this is who I want to book, this is what I want to do, and they just let me do it, you know, and I don’t have to put any money into it. I put all my time into it and everything works out and now, you know, we gave each other the rub… Game Changer can go all over the world and sell out shows, so it’s a great deal.
I know Onita’s come out of retirement like a couple times… Did you have to convince him, really convince him to come?
I think he’s just at the end of his run and he wants to see the American fans and he realized how loved he is over here, and WrestleMania weekend, New York City – New York City, he’s a big New York mark, so him just coming out is a huge deal for him, and meeting all the fans, and that line at WrestleCon is going to be insane for Onita.
He, you know, he’s known for his shady business tactics, but he’s been cool with us. He had double knee surgery, double knee replacements, or he would never walk again, and he’s been showing the fans on Twitter, on social media, that that’s in fact what happened, and he’s still coming out and still being a trooper and, you know, who knows what he’s going to do on Spring Break, but he’s up and walking and who knows? It could be anything… We’re just keeping optimistic and we got Onita coming in. That’s it.
And Spring Break is two different shows this year. That’s pretty crazy. It’s blown up so much. Did you expect at all for it to get as big as it is now?
No, not really. We’re running a smaller venue this year. Last year we did about 2,800 with the WWN Experience and this year we want to go on our own and do our own thing and showcase indie wrestling. You know, WWN is WWE affiliated. Hard to showcase what we do with those guys. And this year we’re doing our own thing and it blew up big and it was an overnight success. And not only are we developing our own shows, we’re developing talent for the independents and it’s 2019, talent is getting swept up from WWE like it’s nothing like it’s a claw machine like in Toy Story. I compare it to the little aliens in the claw machine are getting f*cking snatched up and yeah, we’re just trying to develop new talent. We’re trying to, you know, just keep on going and sell out buildings all over the world.
I think every time WWE signs a bunch of indie people at once, people are like, “The indies are dead!” It seems like you do feel that there is a need to build new stars on the indies.
Yeah, definitely. I feel like there is a kind of a method behind the independents and WWE right now and all the other big promotions that people are going to say the indies are going to die because this is how the territories died. WWF snatched all the names from the territories and, you know, eventually the territories died out and became more of a giant, which needed to happen because that’s the direction wrestling needed to go in, but in fact, if the independents die and these shows start dying then the talent won’t be developed.
The talent won’t be scouted, and, you know, in the long run for WWE and AEW and all these promotions… things won’t be as easy as it seems. Talent won’t come by as fast and the indies will die and also, you’ll have to resort back to grabbing ex-NFL players or athletes. And that still goes on today, but I don’t want it to go back in that direction. Bodybuilders in wrestling, you know, sometimes it meshes; sometimes it doesn’t. Independent talent, you know, creative thinkers, and they know what’s going on, and, you know, I just want to keep on being around for the movement, and that’s the reason when I signed with All Elite Wrestling I said, “For me to sign that contract, you guys gotta to let me do what I want to do.” And that means not doing every promotion like I was before I was injured. It means doing GCW, doing PWG, doing AIW, Beyond Wrestling, places that develop talent, and working for my friends and having fun.
It’s not about money to me. I just came across a f*cking contract. I was delivering pizzas two years ago. I was working for Uber a year ago. You know, this is not about the money for me. I’m just happy to come across money and, for me, it’s more the thrill of developing talent and developing myself and, you know, twists and turns for the wrestling fans and keeping stuff just wild.
I don’t know if you can talk about it at all, but could people expect you to play any type of like creative, behind the scenes role at All Elite Wrestling, or are you just going to be showing up as a performer?
Who knows? I would love that. And it’s just right now, they’re just starting up. You know, it’s like, I don’t even know if they have a TV deal. Like, I definitely want to be there for them, Matt and Nick, Cody, and Tony Khan – I rarely talk to Kenny Omega. I’ve really never talked to him in my life… but these guys are great guys. These guys have the same mindset that I do for professional wrestling… They want to keep their creativity. They don’t want people to strip them of what makes them great, and that’s the same way I am. And I’ve heard from Cody and the Bucks before that Spring Break, you know, was a huge step in the direction of them running All In. And those guys are awesome and they’re great guys.
And I’ve been to Evolve, and I’ve told Gabe Sapolsky, “Yes, I want to sign with WWE, that’s my goal.” Then All In happened and that changed everything. You know, I went six minutes over my time at that show. If I did that for WWE, I’d be f*cking fired. With those guys, it was “You killed it. You did a good job. Don’t do it again.” They let me keep my creativity. There was no agent to agent my match. I told them what I was doing and that was it. That’s a place I want to be, and, you know, I can’t wait for the future.
Okay, so even after Spring Break II, your ultimate goal was still to sign with WWE for your career?
Yeah, I think for sure. It’s the ultimate goal. It’s WWE. But there was no All In before that, you know? And no one knew what was going on. That wasn’t there. That wasn’t an option. And, you know, I was like, “Shit, I want to wrestle on WrestleMania. Once I wrestle on WrestleMania I can die happy and that’s it. It can be a f*cking battle royal; it can be whatever.” Then I realized, “Shit, I can do a lot more than this.”
I can make a lot more money, and, you know, I can live my dreams, and when I’m forty-one years old, forty years old like AJ Styles, you know, look at my options and sign to WWE when I have kids and a wife and, you know, I want a legacy. I don’t want a f*cking – a couple years ago you could look at me like I want to die in a wrestling ring. I probably did have a death wish, but now it’s like, shit, you know, I can make a lot of money doing this, and shit, maybe even be a millionaire one day. Who knows? And if I’m a millionaire, I’m f*cked.
If you’re a millionaire, you’re f*cked?
Because I’m going to be f*cking – I’m going to be wild as f*ck. That’s it. I’m going to be reckless.
Okay, and then – I was going to say you’re the face of GCW, but probably you and Nick Gage are like the faces of GCW right now, from my perspective – which has kind of brought back like really hardcore, deathmatch wrestling into the American indie scene… Did you see that there was, like, a gap for this type of wrestling?
Deathmatch wrestling is shunned upon, and it never really reached a mainstream level. The most mainstream it’s reached is with me. To be honest, you know, me getting thrown off the roof by Zandig was a huge step in the mainstream direction. ESPN, Fox Sports, f*ckin’ Fox News, CNN, whatever – it was big. And I feel like this could blow up. This could be the next ECW.
But it’s actually the first of its kind. It’s not the next of anything, but there’s a thriving f*cking thirst for blood and wrestling. It’s not with WWE – no one’s doing this shit right now, and my goal is to pull this shit off on a grand scale at AEW or bring Game Changer Wrestling to the next level with all these f*cking crazy guys. It’s, you know, I hope we all can work together in the future. I hope I can bring AEW and GCW together… They have no limits there. They want to go as wild as possible as well, so hopefully, we can bring everything together and bring deathmatch wrestling to that next level.
Do you think that there will be a deathmatch element of AEW?
Yeah, I think so. I mean, you have two of the most famous guys who have participated in death matches, me and Jimmy Havoc, on the same roster, and my goal is to bring that to a big arena and not hold back and not let them tell me, you know, what a deathmatch – I know what a deathmatch is and if you want that type of situation on your wrestling show, I’m going to bring it. Jimmy Havoc’s going to bring it, and, you know, I’m looking forward to working with these guys. These guys are open to a lot of ideas and they’re f*cking great dudes and I can’t wait to work for AEW.
Why do you think that deathmatch wrestling is kind of shunned, not just by non-wrestling fans, but by some wrestling fans?
It’s dudes f*cking beating each other with glass light bulbs and throwing each other, cutting each other up, ripping up tendons in their f*cking arms and ripping holes in their back. Like, this is – not everyone’s a fan of horror movies, you know? That’s how it is…
At Game Changer Wrestling, with Brett Lauderdale and Danny Demanto, I try to provide these fans with the best deathmatch wrestling. I also try to provide them with premium, the best comedy wrestling, the best technical wrestling, the best high-flying wrestling. Like, this is a great f*cking variety show of professional wrestling. This is what they got tonight in Los Angeles.
So GCW’s going to Japan.
Is that – I’m not sure if this was part of the announcement – but can people expect that to be in cooperation with Big Japan, or –
Yeah, most likely. Jun Kasai came over, he had a blast here at GCW and we’re working with them, and I’m sure Big Japan will be involved too because they’re doing four or five deathmatch shows in the same week along with Game Changer Wrestling in Tokyo, so this is a huge deal for deathmatch wrestling. This is a huge step in the right direction.
I love deathmatch wrestling. It’s my favorite style of wrestling, and I’m not going to do it ever again unless it’s on a grand scale, but this is my passion, and this is what I like to watch and this is what we’re going to provide here and we’re going to take it up to a different level in Japan.
Why is deathmatch wrestling your favorite type of wrestling?
It’s just like nothing else, like a car crash. And deathmatch wrestling has the best psychology in professional wrestling. I talked to Dick Togo once, who’s a legendary Japanese wrestler, and I asked him what he thought about deathmatch wrestling and he said it’s the best psychology in all of professional wrestling because it actually contains real elements of f*cking death. The object of a deathmatch is not to die. That’s it.
Is it your favorite type to perform also?
No, not really. It’s scary. I don’t like it. I don’t like doing it. I like doing a few and then building to it. I don’t like doing it every show. I built to a great barbed wire match with David Starr, one of the best no rope barbed wire matches of all time, and the match with Zandig was built through social media and that was a big dream, and you know, I’ve only done five or six deathmatches. I’ve done over seven hundred real wrestling matches, so it’s just something I like to do once in a while and I’m retired from it right now unless the money’s right…
Do you think anybody who does deathmatch wrestling, like, it’s their favorite type of wrestling to do?
Yeah, of course. These guys are sick bastards. I don’t know if it’s what happened in their childhood or it’s a fetish or what. This is what they live for. You know, they’re sick f*cks. I don’t know what to say. I know these guys are good guys, they’re sick f*cks, and they like to bleed on each other and f*cking stab each other…
It’s the same as professional wrestling. It’s just a different style, and these guys are not just great deathmatch wrestlers, but great athletes. Deathmatch wrestling has evolved from guys bashing each other in the head with sticks for f*cking twenty minutes to guys actually having great technical wrestling matches while using deathmatch elements, using glass, barbed wire, psychology. It’s f*cking awesome. I’m glad to be a part of the evolution of it.
If somebody is a wrestling fan, but they don’t like deathmatch wrestling, is there one match you would say could turn somebody into a deathmatch wrestling fan?
Man, the last couple GCW shows. I would say watch the whole last GCW show in Atlantic City, New Jersey, They Said It Couldn’t Be Done, one of the most phenomenal deathmatch wrestling shows of all time, and I really mean that. That was a great f*cking show top to bottom, and you should check that out, and it turned a lot of heads for non-deathmatch wrestling fans that night, and I feel like tonight is the same thing.
Okay, and I’ll ask you one final question, which is, when you come back to wrestling do you have somebody you really have your eye on to wrestle for your first match back?
Kenny Omega. One hundred percent. You may not see it, but me and Kenny Omega a lot of people have told me that are friends with him, friends with me, say, “You guys are very similar people. Very similar people in the ring in the way you think, creativity and improve and the way you do things.”
Kenny Omega is number one right now and that’s one of the main reasons I signed to AEW is to have a match with Kenny Omega and I want to have that match to – there’s still a lot of naysayers who might say “Joey Janela can’t go,” but everyone knows, or my fans know, that I can go with anyone and have a two hour match with anybody, and that’s the way I am. And Kenny Omega is the one I want to wrestle, and I want to have my match with Kenny Omega. I want to have that match, that Okada-Kenny Omega match in the States with that man, and a match that just lives on in history and everyone’s raving about for years to come.