When I asked him about a few weeks ago, Josef Samael was not really optimistic about MLW coming back on TV this year. In fact, MLW’s flagship show, FUSION, will be back on TV this Wednesday after 7-months due to the pandemic. That doesn’t mean Samael was not busy as his faction Contra Unit had invaded MLW since May 9 and was in control of the company until the MLW guys struck back two weeks ago.
Contra Unit is a chaotic army of vicious warriors that want to de-stabalise and then takeover MLW. Josef Samael, Simon Gotch, Ikuro Kwon, and MLW World Heavyweight Champion Jacob Fatu have been the most disruptive faction of MLW, a constant threat for any wrestler. They throw the fire, they break bodies, and they take titles hostage. Nothing can stop Contra from its goal, causing carnage in MLW.
SteelChair Wrestling Magazine had the opportunity to talk to Josef Samael a few weeks ago. He told us about Contra Unit goals as MLW is back on TV soon, his career as a wrestler, as a manager, as a promoter, how he tries to help young talents, his work behind the scenes, and what the future may hold for him.
MLW has been on pause due to pandemic for something like 6 or 7 months. How are you enjoying your time during this special moment?
“I’m just trying to stay busy, I’m staying healthy, I’m enjoying my time off for building my body, but I’d like to get back to work. I’d like this to all speed up and get us back to work. That’d be nice too.”
MLW has been one of the very few promotions to decide to stop everything during that complicated time. Were you okay with this decision to, in a way, protect the wrestlers and protect the audience?
“Yes, I was very okay with it. It’s a showing of the character of Court Bauer to not put any of his talent or any of the fans in danger. Fortunately, we have the luxury of having a large library so we can run backlog of shows. I know a lot of other companies don’t have a library, some do, but I know that a lot of them don’t, so that is a luxury that we have, and I’m just proud of our company for putting the talent and the fans’ health above making money at this time. It’s something it’d be really difficult to explain, going out and putting our bodies and our health on the line, especially when we’re always beating up, and we’re susceptible to colds and stuff because we’re traveling constantly, and we’re always nursing injuries, so our immune systems are lower than others, I would imagine, because I know sometimes I’ll go out on the road and I’ll get sick, not often, but I will get sick. So just to have us home healthy, getting our immune systems good, eating right, healing our bodies, I think it’s a really nice luxury that we have right now.”
Contra Unit has become a huge faction in MLW because you have the gold, you are powerful. From your standpoint, what makes it work and look that powerful?
“I think it’s believability. Everything we do is very believable. Also, we have a lot of experience. I’ve been in the wrestling business for 22 years, Simon Gotch has been in the wrestling business for like 15 years, maybe 20 years, Jacob Fatu for almost 10 years. Ikuro Kwon is a younger guy, but we’ve been around for a long time, so we know the job, we know how to perform properly. There’s nothing else like it on television, and if anything else is like it, it’s a copy of it, it’s a facsimile, it’s not the real thing. So we’re doing something very unique and very believable, and I think the fans are finding it very entertaining.”
When we see the four of us, this faction sounds real, and it’s been a while since we saw a faction of baddies so accurate and so true.
“That’s right, you could believe it because we have a very realistic approach.”
What inspired you to create the Josef Samael character, with the cigar and the devilish attitude?
“I like to watch a lot of movies and darker characters, but it’s just me, it’s the way I dress, the way I look, the way I am just turned up. I don’t act like a maniac at home, but I appreciate movies like Bronson or A Clockwork Orange, with very dynamic characters with a lot of depth to them.”
Tell me about your relationship with Jacob Fatu because some people tend to think that it’s something that was built in MLW, which is untrue because you’ve been working together since before MLW?
“Jacob came to me when he was a bit younger in the business, and I took on a managerial role with Jacob because I had already travelled all over the world, I had already been a world champion, so I’m very proficient in psychology. Basically, Jacob was a raw piece of clay, a raw talent, so I saw him, I moulded him, and I gave him everything that I could give him to help him along the way because everything that I got along the way, somebody helped me, everything I have in wrestling is because a veteran talked to me, told me something, showed me something or gave me an opportunity, so I always thought it was very important to give back to the business.
“I and Jacob got together about five years ago, and he started working in my promotion in California, PCW Ultra, and then we became a tag team, and the people went nuts for it. We knew that we had something special, so we started to work all over the country, then MLW saw us, signed us, and brought us into the company. I and Jacob came in as a team, as a package. The reason why we chose MLW was that MLW put on the best professional wrestling in the business, so we wanted to be in a company that took wrestling seriously, we didn’t want to be in a company where wrestling was a joke or the booking was bad or they didn’t understand character work or they had poor psychology. We wanted to be with a company that we felt had a lot of respect for its name. We take this business of professional wrestling very seriously. I know silly gimmicks are in vogue today, and it’s in fashion for everyone. We’re not about that. We like professional wrestling like the Wild Samoans, Bruiser Brody, Terry Funk, Kevin Sullivan, Stan Hansen. We like really serious professional wrestling done in a very believable manner, and that’s the way MLW does it, so that’s why we’re here.”
I read the next step for Contra is the tag team belts, are you working on your strategy to destroy the Von Erichs? When there will be new tapings, are they the next target? You even reached a point of hijacking the show and MLW social media, which was brilliant.
“Absolutely. We have unfinished business with the Von Erichs. The goal of Contra Unit is to control all of the golds of the company, so The Von Erichs are on that list, Alexander Hammerstone is on that list, Myron Reed is on that list. If you watch us, we dismantle everything and everyone. We’ve dismantled Injustice, they’ve suffered many losses to us, and we haven’t even been in the ring with them. We’ve destroyed them from within. They tried to get some ground with the new guy, and we destroyed that too. We dismantled the Hart Foundation, we dismantled the Lucha Brothers, we’ve pretty much taken the company by storm, and we’ve done it in a very strategic way, and we’re going to continue to do that.”
How would you describe the current MLW roster the same, as a group of professionals?
“There’s a certain professional wrestler that doesn’t really work well with others, and they’re labelled a lot of times as a problem or a difficulty these are just guys that are very passionate. They take wrestling very seriously. I like to be around professionals. I like to be in the professional wrestling business with professionals that take it seriously. This is my livelihood. This is my life. This is not a hobby for me – this is not something where I’m going to do it for a couple of years and leave. I take this business very seriously because it feeds my family, and I’ve been involved in this business for so long. I’ve put a very big portion of my life into this business, so when people don’t take it seriously, I don’t want to be around those people because they’re just wasting my time.
“I think that if professional wrestlers and certain guys take this business very seriously, and they are guys that give their life to it, guys like Low-Ki, myself, or Austin Aries, we’re just very passionate. The thing about professional wrestling is you are basically an independent, you’re basically your own business, so you can sign contracts with people, but you still have to protect your own business, you have to protect your own interests. When things aren’t right for you, or things don’t make sense for your brand and what you’re doing, you should very well be able to say, “Hey, let’s discuss this.” If you just want to discuss positions that you’re in, that should not be frowned upon, you should be able to discuss and have a relationship with your employer, and you should be able to talk about what you do.
“There’s no other business like professional wrestling. It’s a very unique business, so you have to have a very different mindset to be in professional wrestling. A lot of people just come in the door, and you see them leave real fast, a couple of years or something like that, and it’s because they don’t have the mindset to survive in this business. This business is a very unique set of circumstances. You have to have a really wide skill set to survive in this business for a long time.”
Tell me about your relationship with Court Bauer, the CEO of MLW.
“Very good, there’s a very high level of respect. We think alike, so it’s very simple for us to have ideas and hash out things together. We work very well together. He’s one of my favourite people I’ve ever worked with in the business, simply because he’s old-school. He was taught by Gary Hart and a lot of the old school guys. We just speak the same language. The way he produces things and the way he writes things is very similar to the way I do it. He’s a heel booker. He books heat, and I know that he draws money, and he knows that he draws money. A lot of people in wrestling today that get into positions of booking or producing don’t have an old-school mentality, and there’s no reason to change the formulas that were built by the architects of the business. These formulas were made for a reason. A lot of the times people change these formulas, they end up having to learn these lessons over again that people have already learned. Court has a very good pulse on what’s right and what’s wrong creatively, every time you throw a patch you don’t get a touchdown every single time. It’s a creative business, so sometimes things work better than you ever expected it and, other times, things don’t work as well as you thought they would work. For the most part, I think Court’s average of ideas he puts into play, I think he has a very high average of ideas that work and work well and their money-making angles, which is all you can ask for in a boss.”
During a pandemic time, the company has never stopped announcing new signees and new partnerships.
“We only spoke Court’s creative prowess, but his business acumen is just as great as his creative prowess. He’s always announcing deals for us, he’s always working for us, he never stops working for us, and sometimes people don’t appreciate that. I know how hard it is, so I appreciate it. It’s really nice to have a boss that really goes to bat for you and really is putting his time, energy, and effort into this company because it’s for all of us involved.”
You’ve been in the business for a very long time, but now do you consider yourself more as a wrestler, a manager or someone who is going to be more behind the scenes and producing matches?
“I’m currently wrestling, but I’m at the end of my wrestling career, so managing and being behind the scenes is where I’m mostly happy now because I’ve done everything that I set out to do. I did much more than I ever thought I would do, and I’m having a blast. I’m having a very good time being a manager, watching the business from that vantage point, helping out the young guys, agenting matches, and coming up with finishes and stuff like that. That’s really what intrigues me at this stage of my career, so more of that is going to happen, and I’m welcoming it because I never want to leave the wrestling business, that’s the one thing. I’ve always learned everything I could in every aspect of the wrestling business because I always wanted to work in the wrestling business for my entire life.
“My mind is sharp. I’m good with finishes, I’m good with agenting, I’m good with putting together matches, I’m good with presenting talent, I’m good with character development, I’m good with guys that are kind and don’t have a clue yet, because I can see something in them, mould them, and I can give them the path where they can really shine and find themselves. I have many guys that I work with now, and I’m happy to work with more in the future and just do really whatever I can do to help MLW because it’s the place that I want to end my career at, and I don’t want it to end anytime soon. I want to work with MLW for many years to come. I’m very happy there because I’m afforded a lot of incredible opportunities in MLW, I’m respected, I’m noticed, and I’m heard in MLW. All you can really ask for is to be in a position that you can actually use your talents, and you’re appreciated. I feel like my voice is heard, and my opinion is asked.”
The MLW roster is made of young talents and veterans at the same time, so the youngest can benefit from the knowledge of the veterans.
“It’s great because I’ve already learned all the lessons, not all of them, but I’ve learned a lot of them, so I don’t have to go through all the hard stuff that I’ve already gone through, so I can kind of navigate for guys that haven’t been there yet, so that’s really nice that I can be the eyes and ears for guys, and I can shave some steps off of their journey, and that’s really what it’s all about because when I was coming up. I had veterans help me like Kevin Sullivan, Jake The Snake Roberts, Earthquake John Tenta, Bushwhacker Luke Williams, Carlos Colon, Terry Funk, and on and on, guys that helped me get from point A to point B. Without those guys telling me things, looking at my stuff, telling me what’s good and what’s bad, when to do something and why to do something and how to do something, I would have never known, or I would have found out, but it would have taken me much longer to find out on my own. These guys really pushed me into the right direction, but it’s up to me to listen, and it’s up to me to apply the knowledge. I had the wherewithal to understand what was right for me, what knowledge I could take, and what knowledge I could actually put into my arsenal and into my brain.
“I was always a big fan of psychology, in wrestling telling stories has always been my thing. When I see guys that do a lot of moves. I like to try to get those guys to make those moves mean something and show them when to do them and how to do them in some way. It’s really difficult to kind of dismantle somebody when somebody’s doing something, and the crowd is reacting. It’s very hard to tell them, “Hey, you’re doing it wrong,” or “hey, try it like this.” First, you have to get respect, and then once you get respect, then they listen. I have the respect in MLW, and I’m in a great position there, so I’m having a really good time teaching the younger guys, just showing them what I know and helping them the best way I can.”
When you look at the business as it is right now, with your veteran’s eyes, what do you like and don’t like?
“The wrestling business is evolving rapidly. I think that’s a good thing, and I think it’s a bad thing. The fact that it’s evolving is healthy, the fact it’s moving forward just shows the business is healthy, but you never want to lose the fundamentals, you never want to lose the history of your business, you never want to throw everything that was constructed by the architects of our business, you never want to throw that aside. If the younger guys don’t look to the past and take their athleticism and splice that with psychology, I think that we’re going to have another downswing, but I think if the guys can have their athleticism and tell stories in a very clever way, I think that’s the way the business works, that’s the true evolution of the business. The guys were never that athletic before, they’ve never done these incredible feats of athleticism, but they were telling stories. If there’s a way to bridge that gap, to have the younger guys coming up, be storytellers as well as athletic phenoms, we’re going to have a very healthy business in the next decade.”
What about a women’s division in MLW? Is this something you want to see in the future?
“It’s definitely something that I would like to see in the future. I look at talent over everything, so if we could get a talented women’s division that’ll take spots away from guys, I’m all for it. Anything that’s going to help our company along, I’m all for it, but giving women spots just to give women spots, I’m not for that. I have women in my company, and I use the top girls. I think that everybody needs to earn a spot, but I would absolutely love to see a strong women’s division. The thing about our company is we have Savio Vega, and when TNA’s Knockout division was the strongest women’s division in the world, it was Savio Vega and Dutch Mantel. We do have the infrastructure to produce a phenomenal women’s division. I’d be very interested in helping that out and presenting women as professional wrestlers.
“I’ve got a few women in PCW Ultra. Ruby Raze is known in Southern California as the equal opportunity ass-kicker. Ruby Raze is somebody I would love to get behind, and I’d love to get her into MLW. Nicole Savoy is absolutely fantastic. I’d love to get her involved, and she’s also a legitimate MMA fighter as she trains with Josh Barnett a lot. A girl like Sumi Sakai is a brilliant performer. Sumi is one of my favourite people in wrestling. She’s such a great woman and an incredible professional. She’s worked with me a bunch of times. I had her with Awesome Kong, with Tessa Blanchard. I had her in a lot of different shows, and every single time she’s worked so hard and performs so incredibly well. Sumi is somebody that I’m very high on for sure.”
MLW FUSION returns this Wednesday, November 18 at 7 pm ET (midnight GMT) on fubo Sports, DAZN and MLW YouTube Channel. The highly-anticipated Wednesday premiere includes two title fights, Jacob Fatu defending the World Heavyweight Championship against Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Brian Pillman Jr. challenging Myron Reed for the World Middleweight Championship.
All pics and videos courtesy of MLW