Welcome one and all to a very special interview here on the Scottish Wrestling Network. Today’s chat is with a Scottish wrestling veteran, having been on the go for 14 years now, a career that is coming to an end before 2020 begins. He is a multi-time champion, he’s headlined the prestigious Aberdeen Beach Ballroom venue, he’s wrestled the likes of Hardcore Holly and 2019 WWE Hall of Fame inductee X-Pac, he’s competed in Steel Cage Matches and Ladder Matches, he is the current W3L Heavyweight Champion and one half of the current WrestleZone Tag Team Champions. Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you, “Tenacious” Johnny Lions!
Hi Johnny, thank you for allowing me to interview you for SWN. We’ll start things off with the most basic question a wrestler can be asked – what was it that initially drew you into professional wrestling?
Thanks for having me and taking the time. I first watched wrestling as a 5 year old kid in the early eighties. Those were the days of World of Sport. I was hooked instantly. Then a few years later, the first WrestleMania was broadcast and the presentation of that and the larger than life personalities really blew my mind at the time. All through school I used to chat about it to anyone who would listen and knew it was something I wanted to try. There were no schools that I could find in those days so I kept myself busy with martial arts, athletics and weight training. Unfortunately at 16, I was hit by a car which completely wrecked my knee and I believed any chance of ever becoming a wrestler.
Who were your favourites to watch growing up, and who are your favourites to watch these days?
Once I started getting access to the WWF on Sky TV, at the time it was the typical ones that everyone loved. Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior and Mr perfect were my favourites to watch. Once I started to learn the full nature of how wrestling worked I started appreciating wrestlers like Rick Rude, Ric Flair, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. Mick Foley was truly my favourite for the longest time. Meeting him at WrestleZone was unbelievable to me. Wrestlers have a backstage etiquette to not act like fans backstage to famous wrestlers and I have managed to observe that with many, many stars, with two exceptions, one being Bret and the other Mick. I couldn’t stop myself telling them what a big fan of them I was and getting my picture with them. I don’t watch much wrestling at the moment but try and keep an eye on friends who are there like Noam, Killian, and Nikki.
What made you decide to start training yourself? Where and when did you start?
So after my knee was wrecked at 16, it really got worse in my early twenties. It got to the point that I couldn’t walk a hundred metres without it popping and me being on the ground in agony. At 24 I had a major operation on it which led to months on crutches and a year of rehab. I was able to walk and run normally after this but any competitive sport was out the window. Then after some travelling, I returned to Scotland. It was 2004 and I was 28 years old and working in a video game shop. A customer who knew I was a massive wrestling fan told me about a new wrestling school that had just opened up in Kirkcaldy. I was surprised as I never thought that would happen. This was the birth of the W3L Action Academy, which had just opened its doors to the first batch of trainees. These included Kevin Williams, Taylor Bryden, and Sara Marie-Taylor to name a few. That week I took 12 friends and we joined. The first class was as brutal as I thought it would be but I loved it. The knee seemed to hold up so I went back. The first week as I said there were 12 of my friends. Week 2 there was myself and 1 friend. After 4 weeks it was just me. Pro wrestling truly is not for everyone. I made new friends anyway with the other trainees. I progressed quickly and was naturally talented at it. I’m a person who has never really feared physical pain so I would throw myself into any move or manoeuvre, take any bump required despite the pain it caused. We had no ring in those days and trained on gym mats covering a concrete floor. 9 months of hard training and I made my debut for a company in Arbroath which no longer exists. I honestly can’t remember what it was called. All I remember was getting flattened in a squash by a wrestler named Mr Invincible. I had my lip split in 3 places and a badly bruised spine at the end but I didn’t care. I knew I would do this for as long as I could and gave 100 percent to every match going forward no matter the cost on my body.
Some of your earlier matches included opponents such as a young Jack Jester, Kid Fite, and Mojo Pervito (more commonly known these days as Prince Ameen). What were some of your favourite matches and/or moments from the early stage of your career?
Well my first night tagging with Tommy Turner was my second ever match and my first officially for W3L. We were entered into a tag team Gauntlet Match to crown W3L Tag Team Champions. The first tag team we went against was Team Excitement. To be honest, I barely remember who they were, just that we dispatched them really quickly. Two teams remained, the team of Jack Jester and Lionheart and Los Pervitos. Two very different matches. I remember being thrown to the outside by Jester. He delivered a Foley type elbow to my back which killed me. Then to add insult to this, a 6 year old kid came up and kicked me full in the face. I remember looking at the parent and thinking come on mate control your child!! In the ring, Lionheart was so good, even back then. We got the win in a very athletic contest. We weren’t done of course and out came Los Pervitos. I confess, I was gassed already but had to suck it up for the match. Their style was very comedic but I always enjoyed working them. They got the win that night but we matched up with them many more times over the next year. You mentioned Kid Fite, AKA Ross Watson. In these days he was as hard-hitting as anyone I had met but a gent of a guy. Any discussion with him backstage was always a fun time, however in the ring, you had to bring your A-game or you were getting your head kicked in. That brings me to the greatest moment of my early W3L career. Kid Fite was part of the team Fight Club which included at that time Judge Jimmy James. We had matched with them many times as heels and were soundly beat each time. W3L decided to do a tag team title match in my home town Kirkcaldy with the main attraction being my team, The Tenacious Guns vs Fight Club. This time we were to be the babyfaces which were a first for me at that time. I remember early in the match Fight club hit a double team manoeuvre on me that was slightly mistimed. The result was a badly burst nose to me. I couldn’t see and my face and chest was covered in blood. I kept going then I remember Ross hitting me with a spinal tap so hard that for about 5 seconds I blacked out with the pain. I continued the match and to the surprise of everyone, we got the win. The crowd absolutely blew the roof off. We took the newly won tag team titles into the crowd and promptly got a beer bath with them. Amazing moments like that you can’t describe, you give your body to the match and having the fans appreciate you in that way is incredible.
A few people may not be aware of this, but you did actually wrestle for Insane Championship Wrestling on a few of their first shows, usually teaming with Tommy Turner. How did you find this experience working for ICW before it became the phenomenon it is today, and would you like to have a return to the company before retirement if the opportunity arises?
I found ICW very different to what I was used to. I was young in my career and appreciated the opportunity. We carried on our feud with Fight Club there in probably the most violent of our series. I remember we had to follow a Glasgow Street Fight and there was still broken glass and tacks everywhere. We all came backstage and had to pick glass and tacks from our backs. I loved the experience though. Today, ICW is a different animal; I have a lot of friends there and want them to do well. With plying my trade in the north east for so long, I don’t think I’m on ICW’s radar and that’s ok. I love doing what I’m doing with companies I’m doing it with. My body to be honest is in bits so I’m not sure if I would want to go there now at the end of my career unless it was against someone I’m familiar with. I would love to go into a No DQ Match with my good friend Andy Wild in ICW. I think we could give them an amazing display. I always regretted never getting the Street Fight with Chris Renfrew that had been booked at WrestleZone. I’m a big fan of those extreme types of matches and really believe it brings the best out of me.
You’ve been a major player in WrestleZone ever since the company was founded, helping mould it into the company it is today. Was there anything in particular that made you decide you wanted to be involved in a behind the scenes role, or did it just naturally come to you?
To be clear, a backstage role has never came naturally to me. Booking, promoting, matchmaking and all the financial pearls that come with it nearly drove me from wrestling. I love WrestleZone and always will. Those in the know, know my true contribution to that company at the beginning. It took so much from me though. I lost a job, a wife, a house, and almost my sanity during the early days of WZ, it consumed that much from me. Later, I rediscovered my true love for performing when that became my only role. Today I’m always big on giving advice to the younger guys. I love watching and given feedback on their matches. That’s the only backstage role I can see for myself going forward.
From your time spent in WrestleZone, you’ve had some truly incredible moments – from main eventing the first Beach Ballroom show to your epic rivalry with Damien. If you could, what you say was your number one favourite moment/match from your WZ career?
You mentioned a few there. I was so lucky to headline that first Beach Ballroom show and to work with greats such as X-Pac and Hardcore Holly. My favourite moment though is an easy one. Now I’m sure Adam, you will know the exact Anarchy number, I can’t remember but it was the one I opened against Damien. I was new as a babyface and I feel that was really the first time I was accepted as the good guy from the masses. The crowd just kept chanting my name which just drove me to have an amazing match with my good friend. The highlight of that match for me was catching Damien mid-cannonball and turning it into a vertical suplex on the apron. Myself and Damien always had great chemistry and he is a worthy champion. That night I felt everything just clicked.
More recently, you’ve been teaming with Scotty Swift, a man who wasn’t too keen on things at first but now appears to be all for it. Being as honest as you can, how much have you enjoyed working alongside him, seeing as you are both primarily singles performers? From a fan’s perspective, it’s been absolutely hilarious to watch at times!
Okay, trade secrets here. Me and Scotty have been friends even before I started training with W3L. We used to discuss wrestling on the phone for hours and our love for it. Scotty very nearly joined me at the W3L Academy but at the time, the travel from Aberdeen was just not realistic for him. We did later train together and were both on the first ever WZ show in my home town of Kirkcaldy. Scotty has always impressed me with his passion for this business. He has boundless energy and charisma. We can both be very different people but together we just bounce ideas off each other. The man is a true friend and it’s been a real honour holding the tag titles with him. Do I prefer singles? Yeah I do, and so does he, but there is something intangible about teaming with your best friend and succeeding.
WrestleZone is sort of a secret up north, not that many people from elsewhere in the country really know what they’re about, but that has the possibility to change drastically as the shows continue to get better and better. How would you describe the atmosphere at a WrestleZone show if you were trying to convince a newbie to come along?
I feel that WZ really cater to the family market. I feel they offer a real alternative to other promotions with unique personalities and some of the best and most passionate fans I have worked in front of.
When you’re not at WrestleZone, fans can most likely expect to see you working for the World Wide Wrestling League, where you are currently the Heavyweight Champion. They’ve been another of your home promotions throughout your entire career so to repeat a question from earlier, what would you say has been your favourite moment from being a part of W3L?
I mentioned earlier about winning the tag titles was a favourite here and this may be the obvious choice but after nearly 14 years, finally getting their main strap was huge for me. To be allowed the opportunity to headline any promotion as its champion is a massive honour, and the fans there have really embraced me as champion. Mike Musso dominated W3L for so long so him being the person I ultimately beat for the strap was just incredible. It has been nearly a year of holding that belt and I feel honoured to do so. Some tough competition there in the legit stiffest ring in Scotland. I love it though.
You’ve got a big match coming up for W3L on September 6th as part of their annual Wrestlution show where you’ll defend your title against both Mike Musso and Seven Deadly Sins winner Craig Stephens. What’s your mindset been like going into this match, knowing that it could be the last time you step foot in a W3L ring as an active competitor?
Both guys hit hard, both guys are hungry for the title. I think Craig has the most to prove as he was so close to beating me for the title in Edinburgh. He came up short that night and I know that burns him to the core. He is training hard, just as I am. As I said earlier, my body at this point in my career is in bits. I have constant backache, both knees need operations now, both my elbows are constantly swollen. The odds are against me in this match but I’m not called tenacious for nothing. If this is my last match for W3L, how do I feel? Well, I announced my retirement earlier this year. I didn’t expect to be a double champ at this point if I’m honest. I’m so close to the end now that I am at peace with it. Will there be tears? Probably.
You also recently made a return to Scottish Wrestling Entertainment, where you wrestled Ken Kaiden for the Future Division Championship. Was this another bucket list type thing, to make your return here before you retired? I believe you had previously held the Heavyweight, Future Division, and Tag Team Championships down there, so they obviously played a big part in your career at one stage.
Yeah for sure, I spent many years there. They now have a lot of talent that I would love to work with. I want to give this business back everything I have left. I’m not sure at this point if they will want me back. Winning that third title would have been sweet though. I guess I will just settle for the only person in history to have had the main title and tag title in W3L, SWE, and WZ. I must confess though, it would have been a dream come true to perform at the Caird Hall. My mother and grandparents are from Dundee and it would be a massive honour to do that just once. I will be part of the W3L vs SWE showcase but beyond that I’m not sure.
When you’re not in the ring, I believe you assist in the training at the W3L Action Academy down in Kirkaldy to help shape the future of professional wrestling in Scotland. Who do you believe has the potential to make it far, whether from the W3L training school or elsewhere?
The top talent there right now is my guy Umar Mohammed. However one guy who started at W3L and has moved on is just on another level right now. That’s Jason Reed. Trust me, this guy is going to blow up this year and next, and already is. More trade secrets here. WWE had The Kliq and other backstage groups. Myself, Jason Reed, and Andy Wild are known as The Fife Delight. We train together and push each other to the limits, in and out of the gym. True friends.
If you don’t mind me asking, what are your plans for after retirement?
I will take a break from wrestling for sure for a few months however I have too much invested in training. I will continue to train the next generation of wresters and show that it’s not only Glasgow that produces talent. I will keep myself in shape but my in-ring career will be over. I like the idea of acting or writing as a next stage but we will see. I will need some operations first to get back some kind of fitness again.
Where can fans find you on social media?
Just look up Johnny Lions on facebook or search me up on YouTube, lots of content there.
Last question, and I have to bring this up. When you were on Stephen Louch’s Tuck of the Draw podcast back in December, something you talked about was your interactions with rude customers in a cinema. Have you any particular incidents in mind you wouldn’t mind sharing here?
You had to ask!? Okay, so recently some idiot decided to check their phone in a cinema I was in. I got out of my seat, walked the 4 aisles to where they were and politely asked them to stop. After the movie, the person tried to confront me and telling me checking your phone shouldn’t be an issue. I asked this said person, how does the moon light up? He looked confused at me. I then said, let me tell you. The moon lights up because the sun shines on it making this massive glow you see at night. So, when you put your phone on it lights your face up like a bloody moon-sized Teletubby!!! If I wanted to see that, I would go home and watch the bloody Teletubbies so no! Keep your phone off!!! And breathe… The moral of this story is if you see me walking into your screening of a movie, bloody behave!
Our thanks to Johnny for taking the time to chat.
At the time of writing, Johnny currently has three matches left in his schedule (as far as I’m aware);
- Teaming with Scotty Swift to defend the WrestleZone Tag Team Championships against The Outfit (Dino Del Monte and Ted O’Keefe) at Battle of the Nations on August 17th (tickets)
- Taking part in the SWE/W3L Showcase Invasion on August 24th (tickets)
- Defending the W3L Heavyweight Championship against Mike Musso and Craig Stephens in a Triple Threat Match at Wrestlution XIII on September 6th (tickets)