If you’ve been watching WWE and AEW, and you’re active on social media, there’s a good chance you’ve come across Simon Miller. His enthusiasm is infectious as he reviews all things wrestling on his Ups and Downs shows each week. However, he is also a professional wrestler, having made his debut in 2018 and having impressed fans all across the UK with his powerhouse style and boundless charisma.
Unfortunately, like many professional wrestlers outside of AEW and WWE, he has seen his work decrease dramatically with the outbreak of Covid-19, as the world went into lockdown. Understandably, wrestling is far from a priority in these testing times, but it has certainly made for a difficult period among those performers who work on the independent circuit. Simon Miller spoke to SteelChair’s Tom Mimnagh about lockdown, his wrestling career, training, his cameo on AEW Dynamite, and much more.
With wrestling (outside WWE and AEW) essentially paused due to the Covid-19 outbreak, how have you been doing during lockdown?
“From a general angle, I’ve been very lucky in the sense I have the YouTube stuff as my “main” job, for lack of a better term, and I’m very appreciative of it. But I was embarking on this wrestling journey and trying to get in the ring and do my thing. I was telling someone the other day, I had bookings through to 2021, just a couple a weeks here and there, but still, they were in the diary. So to go from that to zero, especially as the last thing I need is no time in the ring, if anything, I need more time in the ring. But again, there are other people out there, full-time wrestlers, and I can only imagine how much they’re struggling. While I do miss it, from an enjoyment perspective especially, I think given the craziness of the world right now, you have to take a step back and count your lucky stars, so I’ve been doing that, but of course, I do hope it can come back soon.”
One of the reasons I thought you’d be an interesting person for our readers to hear from is that you’ve had quite a unique journey, coming from the world of video games, moving into the stuff on YouTube and What Culture, and then into working as a professional wrestler, so I wanted to go back to the start of that journey and ask how you got into watching wrestling?
“It’s one of those things, where my Dad worked in TV, so when Sky sort-of infiltrated these shores, we were very lucky that we had to have Sky, so my Dad had to keep an eye on things. So we had it quite early on, and for a kid that age to have access to so many channels, and this fountain worth of content was incredible. So I sat there, just flicking through the channels, and I know it sounds cheesy, and I know it might not have happened exactly like this, but in my mind it did, I just stumbled upon Bret Hart, in his pink and black tights putting someone in a sharpshooter. I was just absolutely mesmerised. Genuinely mesmerised. I can’t tell you what it was or exactly why, but I really enjoyed it, and from that point on, it was just a case of having to figure out, “how can I get into this?” and that’s what I did!
I just latched onto this thing and lapped up as much as I could. My parents thought it was a phase, and they were very wrong! It was the showmanship, the fact they looked like they fell out of the pages of a comic book, which I was very into. It was just like an action movie come to life, but with the interaction of the crowd, and I think it was the energy of the crowd that locked me in. I realised how much I liked that instant feedback, which as cheesy as it sounds, is another reason I like YouTube so much. I like that instant feedback. So I think it was just all those things coming together, and I’ve never really left it. I took a few years off when I went to university, but that was more because I didn’t really have the money to follow it. Other than that, it’s been a huge part of my life, and although it can be questionable at times, I do absolutely love it.”
I was going to ask if you had any childhood favourites, but I’m guessing Bret Hart is pretty high on that list?
“Absolutely. Bret Hart was my guy. He’s the dude who got me into it. You can’t beat that. I say that to everybody. You hear a lot of negative things about John Cena or Roman Reigns, but if you’re an eight-year-old, they’re your favourites. That’s just how it works. Bret Hart was mine, but as he phased out of WWF at the time, Stone Cold Steve Austin was on the rise and again, as a young kid, seeing someone that brazen, who doesn’t give a crap, I was the perfect age, the age where, as a child, you are starting to get more rebellious. To see this guy getting away with so much was great. I loved all the spooky nonsense too, so Undertaker and Kane, The Rock, all the classics of the Attitude Era. Goldberg, too, for the same sort of reasons, just watching this intense maniac run through people.
But there was also the more colourful characters when I first started watching, Macho Man Randy Savage was always a favourite, you know he had that funny voice, which I didn’t understand when I was a child, and the elbow drop was amazing. He wore bright colours, and he just stood out. It’s mad in a way that you have this intuition about certain performers. I always liked the Hardy Boyz, and while Jeff was always “the guy,” for some reason, I always preferred Matt. It doesn’t mean I didn’t like Jeff; it was just something inside of me. That’s another reason why I always got a kick out of wrestling, and I’d be asked, “Simon, why do you like wrestling?” and I’d answer, “I don’t know,” and that’s why it’s great, I don’t know. It’s the intangibles here, and that’s why I love it.”
Some of our readers might not be aware, but prior to your work with What Culture and your career as a wrestler, you had some other wrestling-related-media appearances on the Ministry of Slam podcast back in the day, which I was a big fan of…
“Thank you man, that’s very kind of you to say.”
It was certainly one of the things, about a decade ago, that I was very into, and listening to it was part of my Monday morning routine. Did that experience working on the show prepare you or influence you into getting into doing the YouTube stuff later on?
“I think what it did, was let me know that I definitely wanted to get into wrestling at some point. I was working in video games, which was also awesome, let’s not pretend otherwise, and when there was an opportunity to talk about wrestling, it planted the seed that at some point in the future, maybe I would like to make this more a part of my day-to-day. I don’t know that it was a conscious decision at the time, but when I started talking about wrestling from a fan point of view and again having an audience, which we already established I love, I think that probably did help.
Also, the guys there were just so awesome. I used to look forward to that every single Sunday, and Lee (Tyers), the person who put that together did such an incredible job, and he was so dedicated, and he used to get guests that we should never have been able to get. I remember we once had DDP on for about an hour! It was definitely something that made me realise that while I love games a lot, they aren’t my biggest passion, which is wrestling. So perhaps it did get me thinking that if I could tick that box down the line, that would be great, and I was a very lucky boy in the sense that I somehow managed to pull it off.”
Even your YouTube series The Miller Report, felt like it had a wrestling-influence on it, especially thrown into some segments here and there…
“Oh, that was all wrestling! We sat down and we wanted to come up with an idea. Obviously, all the VideoGamer stuff was for a video games website, and we wanted to try and do stuff for YouTube as best we could, but it seemed like everybody was doing the same stuff. So we thought, “What can we do that’s different?” and we decided we could not take ourselves too seriously, and again, my contribution to that was that we could have weekly storylines, and we can all play characters. There can be good guys, and there can be bad guys, and of course, every now and then, it can just break down into professional wrestling! Because deep down, it feels like everyone has watched professional wrestling. Some people like it more than others, but it’s instantly recognisable. There were a lot of different footprints on The Miller Report, but the wrestling element was me smashing them over the head with it. Which goes to show I always loved it, and always tried to work it into things, and I always took a sense of pride when THQ or 2K would phone me up and say, “We want to talk to you about the wrestling games, we know you’re a big fan,” I liked that, it was always a nice thing.”
Moving back towards your in-ring career, when did you decide to take the leap and start training to wrestle and how difficult was that process?
“I’d wanted to do it for a long time, but the secret to my last attempt at it being somewhat successful was that I’d tried twice before and failed miserably. So it was kind of like a last chance saloon, and it was just one of those things when everything lined up, and I took it as life’s way of giving me a nod saying, “Simon, go and do it now.” Where I was living, a wrestling school opened up ten minutes from my house, and while I would have absolutely been happy to travel further, I hadn’t really thought about it in a couple of years, and seeing that made me think, “What excuse do I have now?” That was coupled with the fact I had just started working at What Culture about six months earlier, and we were looking for new things that we could do. So I messaged them, telling them that a wrestling school was opening near me, and suggesting I could document my training, and they were very into that idea. I went down to the session and got my ass kicked really badly, but the school were alright with me covering it. From there, I knew if I didn’t see it through this time, I never would. My goal at first was just to have one match. I probably would have tried again, but you get to a point where you realise that you have to make your mind up as to whether you’re going to go for it or not. But it is the hardest thing in the world. Both the most satisfying and rewarding, and the hardest thing in the world.
I remember during that first training session we were doing these drills, as they do, and I understand why they do it, they should do it, because you do need to root out the people who really want it and the people who really don’t want it. That’s not exclusive to wrestling, that’s a part of lots of things. I remember about halfway through that routine, I was so worn out and knackered, but you can’t stop. My brain was saying, “Just leave Simon, just run out the door. They’ll think you’re weird, but you’ll be gone, and you’ll never have to do this again.” I didn’t do that, as I’m lucky that I’m hot-headed enough to keep going, but I had to call in “sick” to work the next day because I felt like I’d been hit by a bus! I thought, “How the hell does anybody do this every day,” but it’s like playing the guitar, you build up a resistance after a while, but it is hard, but it is also the best, and I think that’s why people get addicted to it, because not only do you have to push yourself, but once you do, it’ll reward you in other ways. Make no bones about it, I am not for a second pretending I walked in there and I was Kurt Angle. I got my ass kicked for a long time, and I got through determination and sheer force of will.”
You made it through though, and you made your debut in a rumble, how was the experience of wresting your first match?
“It was indeed a rumble, the Defiant Rumble – don’t call it a Royal Rumble [laughs]. I think some people debut in some form of a rumble match, and you can understand why, because you’re protected by loads of other people, but I’ve never been so nervous in my entire life. They actually documented it for Defiant, and you can find it somewhere on the internet, and I’m glad they did because getting to relive the moment is great. I was terrified, and the coolest thing was, as soon as my “music” hit, as they say, I did get a very nice reception from the crowd, which I will always be grateful for, and anyone who is reading this who was there, thank you so much. It really was like a drug, as soon as that happened, I just transformed and forgot all my nerves, and I was having the time of my life. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, which I got told off for [laughs]. They said, “Simon, you’re meant to be a wrestler, no-one is that happy,” but I really was! It was just so many cool things.
I was told beforehand to take my 30 seconds of shine, where you beat a few people up and throw some clotheslines and the “go-to Doug,” in reference to Doug Williams. I was terrified enough, and I said “What does that mean?” and I was told, “Just go to Doug” [Laughs] Doug Williams is like this stalwart of the British independent scene, and the surge in British wrestling we had a few years ago, without him, it wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t have helped keep it alive, and I think it’s really important that people know that. I quickly found out why Doug Williams has the incredible reputation he does, as he took me under his wing in the match, made things so simple. I kind of felt like he was shouting, but you watch it back, and you can’t tell or hear a damn word he says because, again, he’s that good. He’s the man, an absolute master. That was a huge eye-opener for me, and I already knew at that point I would continue on, but I also realised that I had so far to go too, [laughs] obviously. But it’s different when you actually see it first-hand.
Honestly, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was on April 28th, 2018, and every year that goes round, on that date, I always take a minute to watch the video, and I love it just as much as I did then. I understand that it’s a really, [laughs] arrogant and stupid thing to do, but it still stands out as something I was so happy I carried on through with because if I hadn’t, I would have massively regretted it, even though I wouldn’t know I was regretting it because I wouldn’t have done it. It was the best. At the time, I was so grateful it was a rumble because I could hide a little, but now I hate rumbles! Rumbles are so hard, of course, they are. When it’s one-on-one, you have to worry about one other person, but in a rumble, there’s 20 other people. Now when I watch the Royal Rumble, I think, “You guys are amazing,” and it’s a work of art how well structured it is.”
A lot of our readers will recognise you from your work on YouTube, especially Ups and Downs, where you review AEW and WWE TV. Does performing in the ring give you a different perspective or any different insight to the wrestling you review each week?
“The one thing it definitely does is make it harder for trolls to yell at me [laughs], because they say, “You’ve never done it,” and I can say, “Well actually…,” and you know they might say, “You’re terrible,” but that’s not the point…[laughs]. I always tried to be highly respectful anyway because I’m not the type of person to be disrespectful. I don’t like to rip people down. I don’t see the point of it. I’m not saying you can’t be critical, but there’s a difference between saying, “I didn’t enjoy that match” and “that match was the crappiest thing I’ve ever seen.” That doesn’t help anybody. If it was the crappest match ever, the people in the match already know that [laughs]. They’re not stupid. They’ll know when things have gone wrong. Once I started doing it myself, my respect absolutely went up higher.
I always compare it to a headlock takeover. No-one has ever watched a WWE match and said, “That’s a really nice headlock takeover” because it’s such a simple move, and the people at the top make it seem so easy, but it’s incredibly difficult to pull off. You need to have incredible fundamentals. You just do. There are some people who might have a question mark about how they get so far, but it’s because they’re really good at the fundamentals. It’s not just that, it’s watching people plan matches in the back, and then seeing how they execute them in front of the camera or in front of a crowd, how different people approach it, how difficult it is to find the balance between remembering the things you might have planned, but also living in the moment, because if you’re not living in the moment, how can you have any ring psychology? You won’t be listening to fans, you’ll be thinking about the dropkick you have to take in five minutes time, and that’s never going to work. That whole thing takes a long-ass time to figure out. I don’t think I’m there yet. People have told me this, and I understand it, but actually executing it is something else entirely.
I don’t think you have to be in the ring to have an opinion on wrestling, that would be ludicrous. I think everyone is allowed an opinion; it just means you come at it from a different perspective. Yes, if you watch Ups and Downs now, I never criticise anyone for “botching” or screwing anything up. If a match is truly bad, then, of course, you have to call it for what it is, but I’d expect someone to do that with me too. There’s a like for like thing there. Wrestling is hard, and doing wrestling will open your eyes to that very quickly.”
You recently made a surprise cameo appearance on AEW Dynamite…
“You and me both were surprised by that!”
I was going to ask if you knew in advance?
“No, not at all…”
Oh, wow! What was that whole experience like for you?
“So I thought about making a Shawn Spears video when they were searching for his tag team partner, but I wasn’t going to do it because I thought it might be a bit cheesy. I don’t know what that means and why I thought that, but somebody at What Culture convinced me to do it. I threw it together really quickly, just as a bit of a joke, thinking it would be a good tweet and it would be quite funny. But it really caught people’s imagination. [Laughs] And it really was the best thing ever. Then to see it pop up on Dynamite. I was sat there on my couch, making my notes as I always do, and the thing with that is nine-times-out-of-ten when a wrestling company will cut to a video, I will make some notes, so my head will go down. Because it’s a video, often you can listen. If there’s a promo video for Randy Orton vs. Edge, for example, I kind of know what it’s going to be. I probably don’t need to be watching so intently, and it’s a good time for me to write some stuff down. So I’m writing stuff down, and all of sudden, I hear my own voice, which was a shock. They showed about five or six seconds of my clip. I’ve never had it before, but I’ve heard people talking about “my social media blew up,” but that’s what happened. I can’t even imagine what’s it like if you do something really huge! I’ve never received so much feedback on anything in my life, and it’s still got a life of its own. People still tweet me now about it. When Tully Blanchard did that promo on Twitter recently saying the search was over, I got all these tweets saying “No man, no!”[Laughs] And I don’t know if anything was ever going to come of it, and of course, that happened a week or so before lockdown started, so I have no idea what direction it might have gone in, but even still, the experience I got from that was awesome. I had a smile on my face for days. I had absolutely no clue whatsoever beforehand.”
It must be nice to know that, in some form or fashion, you’re on AEW’s radar?
“There were a lot of people on that video, so I don’t want to make out like it was a showcase just for me, but yes, to know they had sat down and decided to put me on the show was great. I’m a fan at the end of the day, and I get it all the time, “You’re such a mark,” and of course, I’m a mark. I don’t love that term, but if we’re going to use it, not only do I wrestle, and talk about wrestling, but I’ve been watching it for over twenty-five years, so yes, I’m a mark, and I’m alright with that because it’s brought me plenty of joy. But to actually get on a show that is watched by so many people, it was awesome.”
I always find it odd that the term “mark” is a negative term…
“I get that it used to be, but now, words change. I have no problem with it. No problem whatsoever.”
You’ve wrestled up and down the country, is there anyone on the US scene that you’ve not worked with yet that you hope to in the near future?
“Dude, so many people! That was one of the cool things, I had all these dates in with people I couldn’t wait to work with and thought, “That’ll be awesome,” and they all just got taken away by Covid-19. I was going to work with Sami Callihan, and I know he’s not a British guy, but he’s a huge deal, former Impact Wrestling champion, he’s been in WWE, made a name for himself everywhere, for both right and wrong reasons, and I mean that in terms of storyline stuff that managed to grab people. There’s so many people that I’d love to work with. People like Rampage Brown, who has been doing this for years. What you would learn from him would be amazing. Joe Hendry is all over the place, and he’s now found his footing in Ring of Honor, but he’s been doing it for ages. Cara Noir, who has just absolutely smashed it in Progress. There’s just so many guys, I always worry about naming them because I’m going to forget someone, but that’s the cool thing about the British scene at the moment. You look at someone like Chris Brookes, who has gone over to Japan. You always see these guys walking around backstage at some shows, and you think, “If I got to work with you, you would bring me up to your level,” and that’s what wrestling is all about, getting to that next level, and to do that you have to work with the guys who are better than you and hope you can live up to their standards.
I don’t know when independent wrestling is going to start again. I think about this a lot. I think it’s unlikely this year if I’m honest. Promotions live and die by the people who come and sit down in the arena, and who knows when that’ll happen. The Premier League is about to start, and they can’t have anyone in, so I doubt they’ll say, “Hey 200-person wrestling show, you just go nuts.” Maybe they will because it’s only 200 people. I hope I’m wrong, and I’m a very positive person, but I’m slightly worried about it because it’s been such a crazy time, but I hope it comes back soon.”
Are there any UK promotions you hope to work for in the future that you might not have worked for yet?
“Of course, if you got in with Progress or Rev Pro, they’re the big ones; of course, that’s where you want to end up. Not only does it mean you are getting on more people’s radars, but it means you’re getting better too. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never approached either of them because I know if I ever got that opportunity, I want to make sure I am the best I can be. The cool thing about British wrestling is there are hundreds of amazing companies, just below that level that are getting very decent crowds, has amazing talent, and you can learn so much. Ultimately, my thing is if I can get there, and I’m free, I will work for you! Experience is everything in wrestling. There’s a ton of companies, and I hope I will get my chance, hopefully.”
Finally, given your background in video games, in your opinion, what is the best ever wrestling video game?
“I have a controversial answer for this. Everybody gets mad when I say it, because I think “technically” the best one is No Mercy, but WrestleMania 2000 to me is a better game. What I mean by that is, if you are trying to play a four-player ladder match in No Mercy, you may as well just throw the frame-rate into the bin and burn it. It doesn’t have a frame rate, and it drives me nuts! How can you enjoy it while you’re glitching around the place? People will say, “Well, WrestleMania 2000 didn’t have a ladder match.” Exactly. So it can’t piss you off [laughs]. So I actually think WrestleMania 2000 is a better game. I think this ties into nostalgia too, simply because I love those WCW vs. NWO games, but I was a bigger WWF fan, so when I found out they had bought the rights and it was switching over, I couldn’t have been more excited, which meant WrestleMania 2000 came out first, so I preferred that one to No Mercy. I think they are one and one-point-five on the list, they’re just brilliant games for fans and non-fans because they were so simple. Every move was so impactful. It had lots of cool things built in, like if you locked in a submission early there would almost be a coin flip in the background to decide if someone was going to tap out or not. They were just great. Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain is up there too.
There are some other great ones. I’m hoping this break that 2k has taken this year means that next year they can come back stronger. I do think 2k has a good wrestling game in them, I just think they were dealing with a lot when they took it on from THQ. WrestleMania 2000 is absolutely my go-to, although, I will say nothing gives me, butterflies is the wrong word, but makes my stomach do a flip, than seeing the cover of WCW vs. NWO Revenge. I remember going into a local shop near me and staring at that every day, counting down until it was released. Two weeks to go, three weeks to go. So when I see that, it’s just the best.”
You can catch Simon Miller’s Ups and Downs at the What Culture Wrestling YouTube channel after AEW Dynamite, WWE Raw and Smackdown, as well as after big PPV events.
To keep up to date with all of Simon’s work, follow him on Twitter.