Ten days ago—much to the chagrin of premium pay wrestling news sites across the web—Justin LaBar from WrestleZone.com broke the story that WWE had banned Seth Rollins’ finishing move, the Curb Stomp. He recently sat down with Sheet Sandwich for an in-depth conversation.
SS: Justin, I think the thing on most people’s mind is, how did you happen to get the story? Was this something you were already looking into, or was it seeded to you as a reputable news source?
JL: I had gotten some rumblings, almost like a trivia game, by one of my sources days earlier before publishing the story on that Monday. They were kinda asking me if I noticed anything different with Seth Rollins. I then was contacted by another source on Monday who came right out and told me everything. Then, I went back and looked at his titantron, his music, no reports of him using the curb stomp over on the European tour and for television. I then started getting more information as to why and contacting other people and it just pieced itself together.
SS: In your piece for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, you wrote, “This is political, stemming from legal advice… There is heightened concern regarding head injures.” and go on to say regarding the shelving of the move, “This decision is for anti-WWE critics and potential resources in litigation.”
Would you classify this, then, as a proactive decision just in case anti-WWE people use dangerous-looking moves against them, or is it your understanding that this was done due to threats of people already having cited moves like the curb stomp?
JL: I classify this as WWE being proactive based on litigation they are dealing with and the nature of the move. It’s a bold looking move with a guy putting his foot on the back of his opponents head and driving it to the mat. That guy also is the current world champion and is being seen the most on average than any other performer on WWE programming right now. The name of the move also has its own definition and history in society. As far as I know, nobody had been targeting the curb stomp as something to use against WWE specifically.
SS: I’m imagining WWE can’t be very thrilled with the idea of their opponents/detractors digging up footage of Rollins putting Ambrose’s head through cinder blocks, regardless of how totally fake it looked.
JL: Yeah, I guess. It’s entertainment as WE all know. WE being people who watch and are educated to some degree of the unique art that WWE is. Really anything could be used against WWE, but again, that spot you reference is a bold looking spot.
SS: The story took a lot of people by surprise, and a lot of more well-established “wrestling news sites” were kind of sent scrambling. But this isn’t actually your first crack at breaking an exclusive bit of WWE News, is it?
JL: No, I’ve had others. I’ve done less as time has gone on. Not meaning I’m getting less information, but I choose to be more selective in what I use as news. Probably the biggest news I broke was in the first week of December 2013, I released info about the WWE Network FINALLY launching and it being all digital. No news had been out there about the Network other than the constant delays in launching. People certainly didn’t expect it to not be a channel on their TV guide. This was all a month before WWE made the official announcement at the consumer electronics convention in January of 2014.
SS: How do you react when readers on various forums/social platforms instantly leap to the “who is _____?” (in this case, you, but it could easily be anyone breaking news not named Meltzer, Keller, etc)?
JL: I try not to take it personally. If they don’t know who I am then I just hope they type me into Twitter or wherever and see I’m very intrenched in my career and the wrestling business. The only time it bothers me is if they are disrespectful in not knowing me and assume I know nothing. I understand Meltzer, Keller and those guys have been around for a long time so it’s natural their names get associated to the world of wrestling news. It’s because of that and other reasons I like being labeled as more of an analyst. It allows me to live off of giving my opinion while having information or experiences that make my opinions valuable.
SS: One of the things I started SheetSandwich for was because I’ve just seen this trend toward more quality information from other, talented writers / working journalists who deliver great content not behind a pay wall, but there is still this prevailing opinion I think that, if it doesn’t come from the Observer, it’s not legit… do you find that to be the case?
JL: When I started I did. The model is slowly changing. Social media, blogs and everything continues to increase and I think people are realizing you don’t have to pay extra for something you can get for free elsewhere.
SS: What do you think drives that?
JL: I think when you put a price on something it makes people then believe it’s worth something. When a guy says I have some cool information about a wrestler, you have to pay to find out, now it’s perceived to be more valuable or accurate. People then feel they are getting special information because they went the extra mile to pay.
SS: What has been the response to the curb stomp story?
JL: A lot of fans were angry at the WWE because they appreciate Seth Rollins.
SS: After Dave Meltzer finally confirmed for himself that the story was, more or less, true he still kind of hedged a little by saying it wasn’t “banned.” Is that just a semantics thing, do you think?
JL: I think it’s a case of whoever he was talking to in WWE saying “banned” is incorrect because they don’t want this story to get any bigger than it already is. Remember, they are trying to erase it somewhat from existence right now in protection. I also think eventually we will see the move again sparingly used. Kinda like the tombstone piledriver or Randy Orton’s punt to the head. Not often seen, but every now and again for dramatic effect. For this reason, it’s easier to no say banned. Whatever wording you want to use, the bottom line is everything I said is true. Rollins isn’t using it anymore because that’s what he was told to do and it’s been removed from video and not talked about.
SS: How would you classify your relationship with WWE? I think a lot of “regular’ pro wrestling journalists have kind of gotten themselves a bit blackballed over the years. But it seems as though you’re on more or less friendly terms. True?
JL: True. I keep a good relationship with them. This causes some fans to roll their eyes anytime I defend WWE. It’s not a matter of defending them, as much as I work in the wrestling business as a producer and performer, so I see things from different viewpoints and experiences than most any other wrestling writer/opinion out there. I can justify or see what WWE logic is, even if I don’t agree with it. I’ve kept a good relationship with them because of this because I don’t go on a crazy rant ripping someone or something every week. End of the day, all of my talking and writing about the product is putting them over so, they’ve been good about giving me access, interviews and ringside tickets. Part of this is also because I have done less news. If I know something, rather than causing waves with a “breaking news” story, I will insert it in opinions. I will let what I know help steer my conclusion in my opinion. If you read between the lines of what I say sometimes, you’ll see that.
SS: You got involved relatively closely with wrestling through your grandfather from what I understand… Tell me about that. What did your grandfather do, and what was it like meeting these larger than life folks at such a young age?
JL: My grandfather was a right-hand man to some promoters and important people involved in wrestling in Maryland and the Maryland State Athletic Commission. This is back in the 90s when spot shows were real big and guys from WWE, WCW and ECW could be used. I’m talking before everybody got nailed down to guaranteed exclusive contracts. He would help drive guys from airport to hotel or venue. We’d have food ready for them. Help them get tickets for family or friends who were in town to visit. Really anything that was needed to make the talent happy which makes the whole relationship with the promotion/show that day or week go better. It was an amazing experience seeing behind the curtain at a younger age and seeing these guys out of character as normal people. Well, as normal as some of them could be in that traveling circus.
SS: In your bio on WrestleZone, you mention gaining valuable experience in what it takes to put together a wrestling show… could you elaborate?
JL:When I was in college, I got to get some behind the scenes time with WWE and their production crew courtesy of some good networking. This really opened my eyes to seeing what it took to make WWE shows happen. This and then going on to work on the independent wrestling scene myself with a few good promotions that had television, one was on DirecTV, and I saw how much had to be accounted for to present the product on television the way you wanted in addition to the live audience
SS: You host not one, but TWO shows about wrestling — Chair Shot Reality and a radio show on TribLIVE in Pittsburgh called Wrestling Reality 1 on 1. Give us the rundown on the shows…
JL: Chair Shot Reality is what started it all I guess for my following and career. It’s a weekly video podcast on WrestleZone.com. It’s got a blend of sports talk like you would see on ESPN with some entertainment formatted talk shows. We film once a week and film it in segments. So we release each segment as a separate video throughout the weekend. It’s been more than 270 episodes with some big name wrestlers who have joined us in studio.
Wrestling Reality on TribLIVE Radio is a weekly radio show that’s heavy on me talking with the callers. It’s a chance for me to be caught up in one the average fan thinks or wants. It’s a much more open format than CSR. It’s kinda like a rehearsal for me before CSR to polish my opinions. It’s also great because I can do interviews via phone and I’ve gotten to have some great guests. Everyone from Stone Cold Steve Austin to WWE Diva Paige. The audio of the show is also made available for download via iTunes which I know is real conducive to a lot of fans’ lives these days who want stuff to listen to on their mobile devices.
SS: What can new listeners expect if they tune in to Chair Shot Reality?
JL: Viewers of CSR can expect a video program talking about wrestling with production value and format like nothing else out there. It’s not some guy(s) sitting in their bedroom talking to a webcam. It’s also not incredibly long. Most videos are between 5-8 minutes. We released 3-5 each weekend. We know attention spans, especially with video, are shorter. We like to leave them wanting more.
SS: And Wrestling Reality?
JL: Fun conversation you would have at a bar with another fan. Some storytelling from my personal experiences. For example, getting knocked out by Brodus Clay in the ring or taking a twist of fate from Matt Hardy. Tell stories. Apply them to what’s going on in wrestling. Answer callers, whether they be positive or negative on me. And of course, some fun interviews.
SS: How long have you been writing about pro wrestling?
JL: I’ve been getting paid to write about wrestling for a little more than 5 years. Been writing longer than that but I like to stick with when it began to matter for my finances and life.
SS: What would you say is your proudest moment as a wrestling writer or show host?
JL: I’ve gotten a lot of great experiences I’m thankful for. It’s hard to compete with Connor “The Crusher.” The famous little boy who went into WWE’s Hall Of Fame was something I got to be involved in from the start. His mother got a hold of me hours after an interview I did with Daniel Bryan on the radio. I learned more about him, his situation and love for Bryan. I made some calls to WWE Superstars, Divas and WWE PR people. Myself and others kept doing that and next thing we know I’m standing in a room almost in tears watching Connor meet Bryan and Kane. Hard to top that. Especially seeing how important it became for the future and the final two years of Connor’s life.
SS: What would your peers consider your biggest accomplishment as a wrestling host or journalist?
JL: No idea. I get a lot of compliments about inspiring people to follow their dream to blog about wrestling or do whatever they’ve always dreamed of. I also get nice words about the brand I’ve built up from the ground up. I appreciate all of it, but can’t answer what they really consider my best stuff.
SS: What’s next for Justin LaBar? Anything you’re working on currently you’d like to let us know about?
JL: Continuing as normal every day. Trib columns on Monday and Friday. Radio on Tuesday. CineSport videos in partnership with the Trib few times a week. Chair Shot Reality videos all weekend. Helping run and write an indy promotion out of Pittsburgh as well as performing as a bad guy manager. There’s something from me constantly. I just keep trying to grow it. I’ve had some good news come my way about getting closer to my dream job and ultimately up in the world. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen over night, but I know I’m doing the right things. We’ll see what happens.
SS: Where are the best places for people find you?
JL: My Twitter has all things on me, @JustinLaBar
CSRWrestling.com has a lot about Chair Shot Reality and the whole operation.
TribLIVE.com has all of my columns, radio audio and short videos with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
SS: Justin, thank you.