Professional wrestling has long been a friend to John Hennigan, better know as the former WWE superstar John Morrison/Johnny Nitro.
As a boy, after Hennigan and his family packed up and relocated, wrestling would prove to be the icebreaker among neighbourhood kids as Hennigan searched out new friends.
“In fifth grade, I moved to Southern California, and I kinda felt like I had left a lot of my friends that I had made in elementary school in one spot,” Hennigan said in a telephone interview. “I moved to this new city … I didn’t really have any friends and it was a little bit harder to fit in. But all the kids on my street watched wrestling. (Wrestling) was the first thing I bonded with my new friends and neighbours over.”
Many a friendship was forged via the glitz, glam and excitement of pro wrestling, Hennigan said.
“I would look forward to watching wrestling every Saturday and Sunday,” Hennigan said, drifting back in time. “We would watch it, and then we could go out and wrestle each other, and try to put each other in Boston Crabs, and try to tap each other out, and stuff like that in each other’s driveways. It was really cool, man.”
And what childhood is complete without huddling around the proverbial boob tube with kith and kin to watch wrestling?
“We’d always watch WrestleMania, and usually SummerSlam, and (the Royal) Rumble,” Hennigan said. “And every once in a while Survivor Series.”
As you can imagine, there was no shortage of wrestling heroes in the eyes of a young John Hennigan.
“I was a huge fan of (Hulk) Hogan, and (the Ultimate) Warrior; the big guys … the Big Boss Man, but of course (Ricky The Dragon) Steamboat, Shawn Michaels … I loved Jake The Snake (Roberts),” he said, rhyming off one legend after another. “A lot of the big characters — and a lot of the guys who did the high-flying stuff, too — really caught my eye when I was growing up.”
Those high flyers, it would turn out, had a much bigger influence on boy Hennigan than even he could imagine. More on that later.
Wrestling would remain near and dear to Hennigan’s heart beyond his childhood years.
“Because of all the … watching wrestling … I signed up for wrestling in high school,” Hennigan said. “And wrestling became my thing in high school. I wrestled varsity in my freshman year, I became team captain in my junior year, I wrestled for a year in college, and then I hurt my knee. For some reason, I started training in martial arts, did a little break dancing, some gymnastics … it was kind of strange. I was kind of preparing to be a pro wrestler without actually knowing what I was doing.”
But even while subconsiously readying himself for his calling, wrestling wasn’t at the forefront of Hennigan’s thoughts about his future. At least not to that point.
“I was studying film,” he said. “I was planning on doing action films and that stuff, but two years had gone by.”
That’s when something caught Hennigan’s eye that would alter the course of his life forever. It hit him like a clothesline from hell.
“I saw Tough Enough and I thought ‘Holy shit!’ That’s exactly what I wanted to be when I was a kid. I didn’t consider it as a real possibility until I saw that reality show. Then I realized … that was kind of like the epiphany. (It was) like, ‘Here it is; here is everything that I’ve been training to do, here is everything that I loved when I was a kid — now it’s actually a possibility.’ Then I was like ‘That’s it … I’m going to go for it, no matter what.’ It ended up working out for me,” he understated.
Tough Enough was the pro wrestling reality series that ran for five seasons, the first three of which aired on MTV. The show saw participants compete for a contract with the WWE.
Hennigan’s first attempt, during Season 2, didn’t go as he hoped.
“I didn’t make it on that show,” he said, adding that he wasn’t deterred by not making it in his first attempt. “After that, I thought I’ll just do wrestling on my own. And I started wrestling at Supreme Pro Wrestling and I was a full-time student. I’d wrestle a couple of times a week. When I first started training, I was at one of their shows, and I was just a ref. And then, I think I had wrestled one little match, and I got hurt with like a sitout powerbomb off the top rope.”
Eventually, opportunity once again arose.
“Tough Enough 3 came up, and I auditioned again, and I made it on to the show,” he said.
Not only that, but Hennigan ultimately scored himself a contract with the biggest wrestling company in the world.
Once again, wrestling was in Hennigan’s corner, this time for keeps.
After securing a developmental deal with WWE, Morrison was sent to Ohio Valley Wrestling to cut his teeth.
He would train with some of the greats along the way — Al Snow, Bill DeMott, Rip Rogers and Danny Davis, who Hennigan praised.
“(Davis) was a big influence because he was like the Vince McMahon of OVW,” he said of the WWE chairman. “If you did something wrong, he would let you know,” he said with a laugh. “In a good way too, though. He ran a TV taping like a TV taping should be run. (With) time cues … if (wrestlers) went over their times, they’re going to get yelled at by Danny — and that’s what should happen, because that’s exactly what happens when you get up on the road. And he would talk about camera angles.”
Hennigan also remembers the influence of longtime WWE employee Jim Cornette.
“Jim Cornette was down there, and he was booking TV at the time. So he was a big part of talking about promos, camera angles … how to run an angle.”
But the person Hennigan saved the most praise for was none other than Canadian wrestling icon Lance Storm, a longtime wrestler and now trainer. Storm and Hennigan are both scheduled to perform at Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore 2 in Philadelphia later this month. More on that to come, too.
“Really, Lance was the person I learned the most from,” Hennigan said. “Partly because he was the person that trained me the longest; and I feel like our philosophies in training really jived. There’s the type of training that you do on Tough Enough, when you don’t know that much about wrestling, and it’s kinda like you paying your dues, and you’re learning fundamentals. And then when you get past that, in my opinion, anybody (who’s) serious about wrestling should treat their career like a pro athlete. Their conditioning is in their own hands.
“I never thought that you should show up for your wrestling training, for your three or four hours, and then say ‘Hey that’s it, I’m done for the day.’ You should take your personal conditioning into your own hands, you should be going to the gym on your own. You should still be watching tape on your own.
“I never really liked when trainers would try to have us do 1,000 squats. On my own, I was in the gym five, six days a week, anyways. I was already doing that. So when we had to do that in practice, it felt like it would just mess up my split.
“Lance’s philosophy was similar, because he always trained himself like an athlete. He spent his time in practice on how to sell, how much to sell, simple psychology like being a face and a heel … things like that, that I felt were the most valuable way to spend time in that sort of environment training, and learning to wrestle.”
It’s hard to argue with Hennigan’s approach. Few are as exciting, athletic and unpredicatable inside the squared circle.
During his nearly decade-long run with WWE, Hennigan won the ECW World Championship, World Tag Team Championship (with The Miz), was a three-time WWE Intercontinental champion, a four-time WWE Tag Team champion (with Joey Mercury (3) and The Miz), won two Slammy Awards and was a top-level talent who many times contended for the world championship.
Undoubtedly, Hennigan left a lasting impression on WWE fans, but arguably his most memorable moment came during the 2011 Royal Rumble. During the match, Hennigan was knocked off the ring apron. Rather than falling to the floor and being eliminated, the high flyer leapt onto the barricade opposite the ring (an incredible feat in of itself) before walking along the barricade and eventually leaping from the barricade safely onto the ring steps and back into the match.
While he failed to win that Rumble, Hennigan set the new standard for avoiding elimination and wowed millions with the athleticism.
While admitting he did practice the jump ahead of the Rumble, it was an all-or-nothing feat, Hennigan said.
“I practiced it, and I knew I could do it,” he said. “But there was no contingency plan for that. If I missed that jump, I would have been eliminated.”
Of course practicing in an empty arena and performing in a full one, with people standing right up against said barricade, are two very different things, Hennigan said.
The jump “was something that I had in mind,” he said. “It wasn’t a definite that I was going to make it. When the crowd was there, it wasn’t an ideal situation, because someone could have been leaning over the rail, or have spilled Coke, or nacho cheese or something … so, when I was practising, it was difficult already, but add that live factor in … basically, there was no plan, other than that I would have been eliminated.”
Needless to say, Hennigan’s Royal Rumble moment was a huge hit among not only the fans, but the brass in the back.
“Everyone loved it,” he said. “Everyone thought that it was one of the coolest things they had ever seen — all the agents, a lot of the boys in the back. It was something that really stood out to them.”
Even as Hennigan relived that electrifying moment, this reporter was grinning from ear to ear listening to the story, even telling Hennigan so.
“That’s exactly how I felt when I made (the jump),” he said with a laugh.
Since then, he’s been arguably busier than even during his time with WWE.
Besides his looming appearance at House of Hardcore 2, Hennigan has been taking independent bookings, developed a fitness program, starred in movies and even recently shot a music video.
Working on Dreamer’s House of Hardcore, Hennigan said, holds a lot of meaning for him.
“You know, there was a time when, if we back up just for a second, where Tommy was training at OVW for a little bit,” Henigan said, turning serious. “He wasn’t a full-time trainer, but he came by several times, and he was a mentor to me when I was young in the business.
“When I debuted on Raw with Matt Cappotelli, after Tough Enough, the first thing that happened was we got caned in the head by Tommy,” he said.
“I saw Tommy at developmental, and when I made it up to the road, Tommy was a guy I could always turn to and ask for advice, because I think it’s generally known that he’s got one of the best minds for wrestling in the business today. Tommy’s great. I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about him. I love the guy.”
Dreamer had hoped to have Hennigan on the bill for the inaugural House of Hardcore last October.
“I was really bummed,” Hennigan said. “I had some commitments that I had made that I couldn’t get out of, for House of Hardcore 1. I was almost in a similar situation for this one, but just … wiggled out of everything so I can do this.”
Being on Dreamer’s show is significant to Hennigan.
“Being on this show is a really big deal to me,” he said. “It’s really, really cool to see what Tommy’s doing. I mean, anytime someone is doing something that they’re passionate about, because they want to, that’s awesome. And that’s what entertainment should be. You know what, and to be honest, most indy promotions, that’s what it is. There’s a guy, or a group of guys who are passionate about wrestling, they want to put on a show because they want to entertain themselves, and the fans, and that’s why they’re doing it. Tommy, I know … wrestling is a huge part of his life. And just because of the personal relationship and the huge respect that I have for him, this show is really important to me.”
Hennigan will square off at HOH2 with Too Cold Scorpio. For his part, he couldn’t be happier.
“He was one of the guys I was watching when I was a kid,” Hennigan said. “I have heard that he can still go, and I’m really excited about it.”
With wrestling in his corner, there’s no telling where John Hennigan will show up next. Some day, he believes, that will be back inside a WWE ring.
“I love wrestling, I loved wrestling when I was growing up, and I still love it to this day,” Hennigan said. “And obviously we’re talking right now because I’m going to be wrestling on Tommy’s show, so I’m still doing it. So WWE is something that I’m planning on getting back to.”
What: Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore 2.
Where: National Guard Armory, 2700 Southampton Rd., Philadelphia, Pa., 19154 (free parking).
When: Saturday, June 22.
Belltime: 7:30 p.m.
Featuring: Ric Flair, Tommy Dreamer, Terry Funk, Lance Storm, John Hennigan, Too Cold Scorpio, The Young Bucks, Brian Kendrick and Paul London, Tony Nese, Petey Williams, Alex Reynolds, The Steiner Brothers, Carlito Colon, MVP, Maria Kanellis, Mike Bennett, Rosita, Crowbar and others.
John Hennigan on:
Out of Your Mind Fitness
• “Out of Your Mind Fitness is something that I started working on even before I left World Wrestling Entertainment. I did an interview in 2010 about it that was in Muscle and Fitness. It’s basically how I train. It’s programmed out and made accessible to anybody at any fitness level. So you could call it a virtual personal trainer…there’s a phone app that you can download that is exactly that. A personal trainer in the palm of your hands. But what it is, in essence, is a functional training method that can build extreme strength and extremely purposeful physique in anyone. So there’s 5 levels. One, two, three, four, then muscle blitz, then level 5. If you can do a pushup, and a squat, you can start at level 1, and work your way up. When you get the full package, which you can get at our website www.ooymfitness.com, it comes with six DVDs, a book, and a training log. The book does have a nutrition section, with some simple tips on what to eat, and how much to eat. It dips a little bit into your RMR, your basic metabolic rate, the types of foods you need for fuel. It’s just the tip of the iceberg, though, because nutrition you can write a 500-page book on just nutrition. So we try to keep it pretty simple in that book, some of it you can follow. You don’t have to be an expert dietician to have good nutrition; to learn the basics, and practice them consistently.
• “Anyone that has a question about Out of Your Mind Fitness, either me, or my partner … Jeff Carrier, the two of us developed the entire thing together, and he too is very interactive. And there are a couple of others on our team that are working very hard to make sure that anybody who has any question about Out of Your Mind Fitness gets an answer.
His film projects
• “(Since leaving WWE), I’ve done three movies that haven’t come out yet. Redemption: The Darkness Descending is going to debut at Comicon in July. I shot a movie in Brooklyn called The Factory, a horror movie that his a tip-top cast. It has a lot of talented Broadway actors, and was very cool to be a part of. I just wrapped a movie in Oklahoma called Get Justice with Tiny Lister, a.k.a. Zeus from No Holds Barred, who called me Mr. Johnny Nitro the entire time.
• The thing I’m most excited about in movies is right now I’m producing and starring in … kind of a pilot presentation for Boon the Bounty Hunter, which is about a narcissistic bounty hunter who does parkour to capture his bounties. But then his friends get in trouble, he gets humbled and realizes that he needed his crew all along, so he has to punch and kick his way out of trouble to clear he and his crew’s name, basically, to save the day. I’m really excited about that, man. (We’ve) shot a bunch of stuff already. I shot some stuff with a guy named Nick Searcy, who stars on Justified on FX, and Nathan Barnatt, who is a really funny comedian on YouTube, and also Josh Barnett; I had a fight scene with him two days ago in a hallway … I’m still sore. Shad Gaspard, from Cryme Tyme, is in it, and there’s a lot of other talented actors and actresses. It’s going to showcase the action that I’m capable of in this movie, and it’s really strengthening my vision of Boon the Bounty Hunter as a whole. I think that when this is done, and it will be done soon, it’s going to be a very strong package that will be a really kick ass action movie.
Controlling his creative freedom
• “It is nice to kind of have a little bit of control over the schedule. I’m shooting Boon Saturday, getting a motorcycle licence Saturday morning, shooting Boon through the afternoon and night, then Sunday shooting a music video. It’s a comedy music video that a buddy of mine that does comedy music videos asked me to play an ’80s style Miami Vice drug dealer. And I would never be able to do it in WWE. It’s going to look really gritty, but I’m going to do it because I think he’s really talented. The guy’s name is is Freddy Scott. He’s really talented. That’s the kind of thing that’s nice to have the freedom to be able to do.