by Daniel Johnson
Interviewer’s Note: AJ Istria is the current top dog in Pacific Pro Wrestling (PPW) having won the PPW Heavyweight Championship in November at PPW SHOWDOWN. Istria is a native of Australia and has been with PPW since it’s debut show, PPW FIRST STRIKE. Istria first got into wrestling by watch the WWF during the Attitude Era and gained a further appreciation for the industry after discovering Japanese wrestling. Before PPW, Istria first began to get really serious about wrestling in 2009 and has since worked for a variety of promotions in Australia and abroad perhaps most notably ZERO 1 in Japan and ZERO 1 Australia. This interview was completed on December 14, 2013. In this interview Istria and I talk about the PPW Heavyweight division. This is the fourth and final part of the four part PPW Interview Series.
Daniel Johnson: So before I get into the PPW questions I had some more general questions to start. My first question is how would you sum up yourself as a performer in just a few words?
AJ Istria: I believe I’m an all around performer and can find a way to excel in any situation that is put in front of me.
Daniel Johnson: For readers who you may be new to where and when were you born and how long have you been wrestling?
AJ Istria: I was born in Brisbane and I’ve been around since 2007. I try to pretend I’ve only been around since 2009 though as that is when a lot of my real training began.
Daniel Johnson: Early on who were some wrestlers who first really captured your attention as a fan and have these wrestlers influenced you at all as a performer?
AJ Istria: I generally didn’t watch too much wrestling as a kid but when I hit around 15 or 16 the first wrestlers to make me a fan were Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and Brock Lesnar. Soon after courtesy of the Internet I was able to watch some of the Japanese guys I saw in video games in the 1994 Super J Cup. Jushin Liger, Great Sasuke, TAKA Michinoku and Shinjiro Ohtani were like super heroes to me. I’d like to think I only take a little from each of these wrestlers, my style and tastes have changed over the years though. My work is more influenced by pop culture figures from sporting stars to actors.
Daniel Johnson: When you knew you wanted to be a wrestler how did you go about finding a place to get trained and what did a typical day of training look like?
AJ Istria: I’m just going to skip to 2009 here. When I decided I wanted to be serious about being a wrestler I shot off a message to “Jag” Hartley Jackson down in Adelaide requesting training. Multiple Japan tours, trained in the Los Angeles Inoki Dojo [Inoki Dojo USA] in the US and anyone that was a product of him were brilliant in their own way. A typical training session consisted of an hour of weights, an hour of cardio and just over an hour of basics and drills.
Daniel Johnson: Getting into your work for PPW how did you first come to work for the company and what were your thoughts when you saw who else would be on the roster?
AJ Istria: I was contacted directly whilst I was out of town by Chris Dalgleish to see if I would be interested. He said exactly what I wanted to hear as far as his vision for the product went but with me not being nearby I didn’t know what to expect until I turned up for the first event. I think the roster is one of the more unique mixtures of people for our area in Australia.
Daniel Johnson: For readers who have yet to check out PPW how would you describe the PPW Heavyweight division and who are some standout competitors in the division?
AJ Istria: The PPW Heavyweight division features a more diverse level of competition. With improvements in physiques, athleticism and knowledge from a large variety of guys I think nearly everyone is bringing a different style to the fights. I haven’t been present for all of the events so I can’t answer that question honestly. All I can say is that I intend on being the clear standout for as long as I am with PPW.
Daniel Johnson: You have been with PPW since the very beginning and wrestled on PPW FIRST STRIKE, the company’s first ever show. What are your thoughts looking back at the event and in particular of your match with Ben Coles, which was part of the tournament to crown the first PPW Heavyweight Champion?
AJ Istria: It seemed all about establishing a foundation and seeing who stuck. Obviously I was disappointed that I lost in the first round but I proved throughout the match that I was the better man and I just had an unlucky result.
Daniel Johnson: Although you lost in your match with Coles I don’t believe you have lost a match in PPW since and won a number one contenders match against Mark Davis to get another shot at the title. What are your thoughts on having this much momentum and have you had similar momentum in other companies you have worked for?
AJ Istria: I’ve had multiple winning streaks over the years. Eventually peoples heads turn and there ends up a big target on you to take you out. It becomes quite stressful really. I think with my confidence at an all time high I won’t be making any mistakes I’ve made over the years and I will be able to set a record for title defenses that will be unmatched in the years to come.
Daniel Johnson: At PPW SHOWDOWN you defeated Ben Coles to become only the second ever PPW Heavyweight Champion. What are your thoughts on this match and of your title win?
AJ Istria: I was incredibly sick in the lead up to the match and probably should not have even wrestled. But it’s like I said about confidence before, I believe in my abilities and because of that I don’t see anything stopping me in the foreseeable future. My personality may not endear myself to opponents or some of the crowd but I’d like to think everyone understands the hype now and can appreciate my title victory.
Daniel Johnson: Have you had the chance to be the top champion in a promotion before? If so how did that experience prepare you to be PPW Heavyweight Champion, if at all? If not then what it is like to be the top dog in a company for the first time?
AJ Istria: I’ve never won a major belt but I’ve often been a big match player on many occasions before. The Australian Wrestling Alliance (AWA) in Brisbane city have frequently given me top competition from around Australia and overseas just to see some of the best matches possible. For ZERO 1 in Japan on smaller shows I wrestled in many feature matches against top talent. I also once spent an entire week wrestling against one of Australia’s best pure wrestlers, Damian Slater, for ZERO 1 Australia and that prepares you for just about anything. The only thing that has changed is that I now have an official title proving that I’m the one you have to beat.
Daniel Johnson: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe since winning the PPW Heavyweight Championship you have not yet had a chance to defend it. Who would you like your first title defense to be against?
AJ Istria: As cliche as it is, anybody. I don’t intend on losing it anytime soon so I’m going to be running through a long list of names eventually.
Daniel Johnson: This is kind of a broader question, but how do you think PPW can grow in the near future and what responsibility do you feel you have in helping with this growth as the promotion’s top champion?
AJ Istria: I try to stay out of the business end of things. What I will provide is a top level match every single time I’m in the ring. I truly hope my title reign inspires people to come back for each show. It’s a big responsibility but everyone should feel that no matter their placement on the card. Anybody that doesn’t think they are performing for the fans should start saying their goodbyes.
Daniel Johnson: What would you most like to accomplish as PPW Champion?
AJ Istria: Prepare myself to take on the world.
Daniel Johnson: On a different note PPW recently announced that in 2014 the company will hold the inaugural PPW P-1 Tournament. Do you plan to wrestle in the tournament and if so do you have any idea who you will face?
AJ Istria: I can’t confirm or deny anything at this point in time. Stay tuned.
Daniel Johnson: Talking about your career more generally is there anywhere you have yet to wrestle that you would like to? If so then where?
AJ Istria: I’d like to revisit Melbourne at some stage and wrestle in Perth as well. Returning to Japan is high on my priorities list. It’s all about timing though. Right now my focus is on Pacific Pro, ZERO 1 Australia and AWA and I’m quite happy with that workload. If any other opportunity pops up I’d jump on it if the pieces were in the right place.
Daniel Johnson: Speaking of your work in Japan I was curious are there any Japanese wrestlers you have yet to work with that you would like to? If so then who?
AJ Istria: The list is nearly 40 names long. It’s a different world over there man and they are a different breed. I wrestled a bunch of top guys but they were all in tag matches. The big dream matches I have that are probably shared by thousands of prospects across the globe are against Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kazuchika Okada and Kazushi Sakuraba. Obviously them all being in New Japan makes that possibility about as easy as being at Wrestlemania but it’s a dream.
Daniel Johnson: Cool, this is a question I always try to sneak in, but people love to hear ribs and road stories. Do you have any that you could share?
AJ Istria: Those incriminating stories aren’t meant to see the light of day unfortunately. Maybe sometime at a PPW show I’d share some when it isn’t cemented in writing.
Daniel Johnson: Winding down I also like to throw out five non-wrestling questions just to make the interview a little more fun. First, outside of wrestling, what television shows do you enjoy watching these days?
AJ Istria: I don’t really watch too much TV. I’ll throw out a shout out to Louie from Louis CK though. Everyone should check that out.
Daniel Johnson: What was your favorite movie that came out this year?
AJ Istria: American Hustle.
Daniel Johnson: What is your favorite food that you tried for the first time this year?
AJ Istria: Absolutely no idea.
Daniel Johnson: No problem, what is your favorite song to come out this year?
AJ Istria: Rebecca Black, “Saturday” I was waiting years for that sequel!
Daniel Johnson: Haha, what is the last book you read and would you recommend it?
AJ Istria: Lance Armstrong, It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life. I have mixed emotions considering all of the official revelations that came out.
Daniel Johnson: I wanted to end with a few more short wrestling questions. First, who is your dream opponent?
AJ Istria: John Cena.
Daniel Johnson: What is your favorite type of gimmick match and why?
AJ Istria: I hate most gimmicks. I love the Royal Rumble though. Very exciting if you have an emotional connection with the match.
Daniel Johnson: What is the strangest part of being a pro wrestler?
AJ Istria: A large amount of idiots that seem to think they can call themselves pro wrestlers. Though that is the same as any field if you are close enough to it I guess. Just because I stand in a garage doesn’t mean I’m a car. Likewise for people that stand in the ring or do limited training.
Daniel Johnson: Who is one wrestler that is 25 or younger that you think readers should know about?
AJ Istria: Wreckin’ Ball from ZERO 1 Australia – He’s done multiple Japan tours. He is one of the scariest heavyweights in Australia yet nobody seems game enough to bring him in. Grow some balls Australia!
Daniel Johnson: Cool, and my final question is just, is there anything you would like to add?
AJ Istria: One day I’m going to bring out merchandise. One day. Support it!
Check out AJ Istria in action! In this match from PPW FIRST STRIKE, Istria takes on the man who would become the first ever PPW Heavyweight Champion, Ben Coles: