January 24, 2012
@GaryMehaffy on Twitter
An interview with Finlay
Interview conducted Tuesday, 24th January, 2012
Your family has a long history of involvement with wrestling in Northern Ireland? Can you fill everyone in on the background of that?
To be honest with you it really started WAY back, when they were building the Titanic. My great-grandfather worked in the shipyard on the Titanic and what they would do – and I don’t know whether anybody else knows this or not – during their lunch break or tea break, they would go into the bowels of the ship and they would fight, like bare-knuckle fight. It stated there. My great-grandfather would go down in there and they would fight for a bottle of ale or something like that – and they would have it for lunch or after they knocked off. My grandfather was a merchant seaman, he would travel the world, and he would do the same thing. He would get off the ship and he would go looking for places that he could go and fight for extra money. My father is the one that taught me. There’s a lot of false information that I was taught by a guy called Ted Betley who’s from the Isle Of Man. He taught Dynamite Kid and Davey ‘Boy’ Smith and all those guys but the only one that ever taught me was my father. My dad wrestled all his life and both my grandfathers were in it and my uncle, one of my dad’s brothers, he refereed for my dad’s promotion. My Uncle Albert played for Glentoran (football/soccer team), he was a goalkeeper. Albert Finlay – he was a great goalkeeper for the Glens.
He might have been about the same time as my dad’s uncles – at the time one of his uncles were playing for Donegall Celtic and one was playing for the blues, for Linfield.
Probably, yea. My dad, he taught me from a very young age. I was probably 5 years old when I started, even before that I was bridging and doing all sorts of things, but when I was 14 someone didn’t show up for my dad – he was running shows all throughout Ireland. Even through ‘the troubles’ and getting to the province with no-one wanting to venture into a ‘war torn’ country, he was running shows on both sides of the divide. Everybody welcomed wrestlers in and wanted to watch us, but at 14 years old I was thrown in the deep end because someone didn’t show up, and it snowballed from there.
Do you think, given all that, that it was inevitable that you would be involved somehow in the business? Or did you want to be, to that extent?
Oh yea! That’s all I ever wanted to do. As a young boy I’d go and watch my dad wrestle in Carrickfergus Town Hall and in Lisburn – just all over the country. It’s all I ever wanted to do was be with my dad. He was, and still is, my hero. He taught me everything I know and, obviously, I’ve perfected what I do and picked up a lot and gained experience, but the roots of it come from my father who still, as you probably know, teaches amateur wrestling down in Carrickfergus and has about three clubs going there. He more oversees it now than actually gets on the mat. He says he’s retired – he’s 75 but I don’t believe a word of it! He can’t keep off the mat.
My first association with wrestling would have been with “World Of Sport” and the old British style. At the same time as that you were viewed as one of the top junior heavyweights in the world. Did you find it hard adapting between, say, the British style and the Japanese style or the European style?
No, what I did was……..my dad smartened me up really quick. I obviously started in Northern Ireland and British/English promoters would come over and have a look at me, so I never really changed my style. I might have adapted a little bit but I never tried to wrestle like anyone else, (or wrestle) like the Japanese (wrestlers). If they wanted you to come to their promotion or their country or their territory the best thing to do is wrestler like they see you wrestle. That’s why they hired you because they like what you do. I just had that aggressive wrestling style and I’ve kept it all these years through England, through World Of Sport, through the CWA in Europe and through Japan. I’m still going to Japan to this day. My first time to Japan was ’82 and I’ve just recently started going back there. I’m the Smash Heavyweight Champion – the promotion run by Tajiri – it just goes on and on. The machine keeps moving.
In the early years on World Of Sport was there any - resentment might be the wrong way to put it – but resentment from the boys at the time given that Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and the like were getting all of the attention while the likes of yourself and Rollerball Rocco were the superior wrestlers?
No, I don’t think so. What was happening was that Dale Martin who we all worked for at this time was running so many shows that Big Daddy and Haystacks would headline one town while the likes of myself, Rollerball Rocco, Marty Jones would be in another town. We really didn’t come across each other. I wrestled Big Daddy and Haystacks numerous times, but, myself, I would main event one town and Daddy would main event another town. It wasn’t really just a one town show. We were all over the country. Dale Martin and Max Crabtree they were on the ball, they were well organised.
You had been wrestling in the UK, Europe, Japan and all around the world, then in ’95 you joined WCW. What led to that?
I was in Vienna, Austria and I was sitting – I had a day off – and I got a phone call from Kevin Sullivan, who was the booked at the time in WCW and asked me to some over. I said I didn’t wanna come, I didn’t wanna go to the states. I wasn’t really interested – I was earning enough money in Europe and I liked the lifestyle and I was enjoying myself so I didn’t really wanna go. They kept calling me once a month – it was maybe June or July when they (originally) called me – but by January they talked me into it and I said ‘Ok, I’ll come for 4 months’. I went in January and I stayed there 4 months and had promised the CWA/Otto Wanz and said ‘I promise you I’ll come back’ and I did. A year after that I went back again (to WCW) – they offered me more money and a batter deal. I decided to give it a go. My wife, she said ‘Let’s try it!’ I didn’t wanna leave Europe, I didn’t wanna leave Britain. I was having a good time there. It was a trial period, and then through a period of ups and downs Vince McMahon bought WCW.
At that time you had matches with the like of William Regal, and involvement with Dave Taylor. Unless it’s another of these misnomers, I believe at one stage you all opened a training facility in Atlanta?
No, I never opened a training facility at all. WCW had one and they’d ask me to go down there every now and then. They’d get these big guys coming in and they’d ask me to test them out. But, no, I never opened a school.
I’d read that somewhere, but I’ve spoken to Dave (Taylor) once or twice and he hadn’t said anything, so I assumed it wasn’t right. Jumping forward just a little bit, to the now ill-fated and oft remembered Junkyard Battle Royal that seemed to almost end your career at the time. I remember watching it a few days later on Sky here in the UK and thinking that there seemed to be an awful lot going on for relatively very little reason. What are your memories of that?
You’re talking about the one with multiple participants right?
That’s not where I got injured, but that was just an awful situation. It was a genuine junkyard – there were tyres piled up everywhere, it was dangerous, they had a helicopter flying over with the lights to light the area up. A lot of guys got hurt, a lot of guys got cut on pieces of glass and sharp metal. In that one I came out unharmed, but it was ridiculous – it was dangerous.
Do you think it was just done to counter Vince’s ‘Attitude Era’, and obviously you had ECW doing stuff like that, do you think it was just done to try and be edgier?
I don’t think ECW was ever a threat to anybody. ECW only lasted 7 years and because it was so hyped up it got a bit of attention. A lot of those guys put their bodies on the line. That’s not what this business is about. A lot of people go through these stupid matches – there’s a place for it, don’t get me wrong – but it’s dangerous. Why you would put your life on the line for anything, you know?
Were you training/being an agent during this time too?
At the end of WCW I was an agent as well. Periodically they would ask me to come down and check some of the guys in their school, but I taught guys in the ring and helped bigger guys in the ring. I just kind of brought things out in people. Not everyone is made for this business. You gotta check them out. Some never made it, some did. Some would last a long time, some wouldn’t. Eventually they’d find out that they didn’t really like this and it’s harder than you think.
You joined WWE when Vince bought out WCW in 2001, but I was just wondering – having spoken to a few guys who were involved in WCW towards the end – from your point of it was it as disorganised and fly by night as many have said?
You know what? I didn’t really get involved in that, but what I will say, in my humble opinion, was that it was like the lunatics running the asylum! I think Eric Bischoff tried his utmost but got caught up in…….I don’t know how it happened but guys had contracts (that meant) they couldn’t discipline anybody, they didn’t show up and they’d do nothing about it. Guys just wanted to work television and didn’t want to go ‘into the field’ and do live events and it just fell apart like that, because none of the big stars went to any of the other shows apart from television. They started losing revenue.
When you joined Vince you received a lot of plaudits for how you helped the women’s/diva’s division develop by the hours that you were putting in with some of the girls to train them there. Is there anything you are most proud of?
It was a real privilege to work with those girls. I gained a lot of friends, we had a great time together and we built something that wasn’t there before. We built a good women’s division. It’s easy to sit down and put them under a microscope and knock them, but unless you’ve actually been in there and tried it……………Everybody’s got an opinion of course, but if you’ve never been in there and tried it then you need to just keep your mouth shut. The girls did everything I asked them, they tried their utmost. If they were hurt I made them suck it up and keep going. Sometimes I had to hold their hand because they were getting stitched up. The girls really, really tried their best and I’ve had a lot of good talent come out of that. There’s Trish Stratus, Victoria, Jazz, Michelle McCool, Layla…….I don’t wanna mention any names, really, because I’m gonna leave some out, but every single one of the girls I worked with deserve a pat on the back. They gave 100% every time they went out there.
The assumption was that with one or two of the injuries you had that you were – I don’t want to say finished, that’s not the way I want to put it – but you had stopped wrestling and were more training, but then all of a sudden the vignettes appeared for you coming back to return to the ring. What led to your in ring return?
That’s easy to answer – I just got itchy feet again! I thought ‘I can still do this! I’m good at it.’ I was sick of watching others in the ring not being up to the standard I thought they should be at so I though ‘Well, I’ll just get back in here and carry on.’ Vince and I came to an agreement that we’d give it a go and that’s they way it went.
Linked to that, and I do appreciate that you may not be able, or want, to answer this but there was a lot of talk – or rumours might be a better way to put it - that your association with Hornswoggle when he appeared in WWE came around because Johnny Ace/John Laurinaitis didn’t like how popular you were becoming and how over you were getting. Is there anything in that?
No, not at all. Johnny Ace/John Laurinaitis is a good friend of mine. He was over the moon that I got back in the ring. He was one of my biggest supporters to get in there. Him and Arn Anderson were all the way behind me, wanting me to do it and I guess talked to Vince about it. John Laurinaitis – all the talk about him being against is unfounded, it isn’t true. He and I are good friends. Even to this day we’re good friends. He was the one that had to cal me up and fire me, which probably isn’t a nice thing to do to one of your friends, but he had to do it. There were no hard feelings at all.
That leads me perfectly into my next question. In March last year you were released by WWE. Was there talk that whenever it all blew over a few months later that you would go back to them?
I was fired and that was it, you know? That’s the way the cookie crumbles and you just move on. I had a great time in the WWE, it was an awesome experience. I was there just over 10 years and I made a lot of friends. Those people became part of my family because I spent more time with all those girls and guys than I ever did with my family at home. I have three kids and a wife and I was on the road five days a week. I was spending more time with those people (in WWE) than I was at home. It’s done and it’s over. The great thing about it is that I get to spend time with my kids. I coach amateur wrestling at my son’s High School. He’s in his last year of school and I get to spend (time) and put into his last year of wrestling. The younger ones, they wrestle and they do other sports, so I get time to do all of that stuff. All I do over the weekends is go to Japan or go to England and Germany to wrestle. It’s been a blessing of a sort.
Obviously you have – I hate to call it the WWE grind – but with the 5 days on the road as you were saying, and now that you’re at home a lot more, and wrestling on the Indy scene and doing the coaching, are you happy doing that or do you have any desire to go back full time?
Certainly I would love to go back to WWE. It’s a great place to work, it really is. It’s a big family. A lot of travelling, a lot of work, but you know what? If you’re working, you’re working, but the blessing of it all is that I get to spend time to put into my kids. My eldest son’s 18 and he’ll be leaving school soon. He wants to come into this business, so when wrestling season is finished here he’s gonna do some coaching with myself and come back into this business and hopefully send him to Japan and Europe, and send him to Carrickfergus with my dad for a while and get him on the way into the business.
Was there any contact from TNA and the guys down there?
Yea, I spoke to them the day after I was fired. They called me and I’ve spoken to them a few times since. Things have changed down there in their hierarchy and office and stuff. I talked to them but we never came to an agreement and that’s it. I’m happy doing what I’m doing. Could it be better? Absolutely! It could always be better, but you do what you have to do and do the best with what you’ve got.
I’ve seen some interviews that you’ve done and you make no apologies for your faith. Can you tell us about what all happened to makes you reassess things and how that side of your life came about?
Being brought up in Northern Ireland I was made to go to Sunday School – and I didn’t like going there! I always knew God was there but I’d run away from him because my Aunt Rosemary – she’s a saint! She was involved in the church, she’s a Christian and just an awesome person – in 1977 was pregnant and lost the baby, and I couldn’t understand why God let that happen to someone that served him so much. I had nothing to do with God, and anytime anybody brought God up I would tell them ‘Let me tell you what God did……’ I was angry with him and then 20 yeas later my then fiancée –my wife now, Mel – she got breast cancer. That was when I went running back to God and was praying to him. He answered my prayers and healed her from breast cancer – she never had any chemotherapy or anything, it just went. From just one day to the next it was gone type of thing. That’s the short story of it but shortly after that I realised that it wasn’t me doing all of this and I needed God to lead my life and I totally depend him for all of my decisions and hopefully he protects my children. Bad things happen, but I’ve got Jesus to look at and he’s the one I depend on.
Do you have any words or advice for any young guys who are considering getting into the business?
Well, you know, here’s the problem with the business nowadays. There are a lot of people out there trying to teach and most of those people who are trying to teach have never been taught properly themselves. A lot of people are passing on a lot of bad habits. You have to be careful. I would stay away from backflips and somersaults. Here’s my analogy – if you wanna write a book, you have to learn the alphabet first! That’s where you start, with the alphabet, with A, B, C, how to make a word, how to make a sentence. You have to be able to spell the words first before you can put a sentence together. That applies to wrestling too. You have to know how to do an armlock and a headlock before you can do a backflip. What I do is when I travel to wrestle I do seminars in the afternoon, and try to hopefully pass a little bit of knowledge on. Sometimes it feels like you’re swimming upstream.
Do you have any words for your fans? When I had said that I was talking to you tonight there was a lot of excitement, a lot of clamour, as there’s a lot of love for you still out there.
I appreciate everybody that still has a little bit of faith in me. I fly the flag for our country, I fly the flag for my family and I’ve been an ambassador for Northern Ireland for 37 years now. I’ve travelled the world telling everybody where I’m from, hopefully doing the country proud – not that I’ve really gotten any accolades! The thing is I am probably one of the top wrestlers technically, or aggressively, or whatever way you want to put it, that’s come from a small nation and I’m proud of who I am and where I come from and I am proud of anybody who comes out of that country that does anything. The fans, wherever they come from – whether it’s the States or Japan, Northern Ireland or wherever it may be – I appreciate every one of them. I’m not a young chicken anymore but I can still keep up and sometimes blow all these young kids away. There’s something in it! I’m not made of putty – I’m made of something special coming out of Northern Ireland!
Maybe you’ll get your honorary degree from Queen’s (University) yet!