EXCLUSIVE: The OJMO talks winning the British J Cup, thoughts about NXT UK

The current RevPro British Cruiserweight Champion The OJMO (Michael Oku) spoke with POST Wrestling's Andrew Thompson about overcoming stereotypes in wrestling, the NXT UK brand, the surprise match that was planned for Scrappermania 6 and much more.

 

There are many rising stars in pro wrestling and those stars hail from various portions of the world. The independent scene overseas has brought the likes of Scotty Davis and The OJMO (Michael Oku) and a plethora of talents to the forefront of the wrestling scene and has introduced those talents to audiences that may not have not had the chance to see them wrestle before.

The OJMO had an accolade-filled 2019 and early 2020 as he was able to win the British J Cup tournament and that led to him becoming the RevPro British Cruiserweight Champion. In that tournament final was The OJMO himself, PAC, El Phantasmo and Robbie Eagles. It was an elimination match and the final two came down to the rivals, OJMO and El Phantasmo. Winning that tournament was a stamp of approval for Oku who feels that it was then when RevPro was beginning to get behind him as one of their go-to guys. I had the opportunity to speak with The OJMO and he explained how much winning the British J Cup means to him and what that did for him in the months following the tournament.

“It’s such a weird thing because when I looked at the lineup of everyone who was in the tournament when — I was only finding out who was in it as they were getting announced online. When they had announced ELP would be in it, PAC was gonna be in it, Robbie Eagles, Amazing Red was gonna be in the tournament. All these dudes that — they are some of the best wrestlers in the world and then here I am as well, just with them. Already, that was an achievement to be like, ‘We’re putting you in this league of world-renowned wrestlers’ and then for it to be a thing that I come up as the victor, it was just like — especially at York Hall. That’s their big venue, that’s the big show. For it to be like, ‘Here’s the main event. This is the guy we are crowning. This is the guy that is the focal point of the promotion,’ it meant so much, it really did. Especially, the crazy thing as well, the British J Cup, the whole tournament went on New Japan World. So there’s a whole new audience of people who have never seen me for the first time and the first time they’re seeing me is in that light and one of the biggest achievements of my career that I can have, against people that they do know. So it was just, the magnitude of it, big deal.”

The OJMO recognizes the in-ring chemistry he has with El Phantasmo. The two engaged in a feud over the British Cruiserweight Title that climaxed when OJMO was able to dethrone Phantasmo at ‘High Stakes’ this past February. When asked about that chemistry, OJMO said that he and Phantasmo aren’t necessarily close in the sense that they’ve never taken the time to sit down and get to know one another, but when they step in the ring they instantly understand what one another likes to do. OJMO shared that early on in his career, Phantasmo helped him improve in the ring and over the years, they just continued to find themselves across the ring from one another.

“I feel like that’s just kind of what it is. We’re not super close. When he was living in the UK, he was living in Wolverhampton which is way more North and I live in London so we weren’t even around each other a lot, and the first time we wrestled each other, it was a singles and that was my first victory in RevPro, and that was the first time we probably had a match and gotten to know what each other does and at that time, I was so super nervous as well because it’s back to me being new, where like I don’t even know the moves I do. I don’t know my moveset and I can’t think of stuff to do. So he’s also helping me come up with stuff that I could do and from that first match, things just seemed to — people just seemed to attach themselves to our matches, then we had another one at Summer Sizzler which was for the title, then of course, we just kept coming to each other. Basically was the feud of RevPro. I feel like it is one of those things where it just worked.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ireland’s Scotty Davis was becoming a fixture in OTT coming out of his victory over Jushin Thunder Liger at last year’s Scrappermania event. This year, Scotty was going to defend the OTT No Limits Championship against Omari at Scrappermania. The OJMO had nothing but positive comments to share about Scotty Davis. Seeing as how the two men are two of the rising talents in their respective areas and having wrestled each other before, The OJMO has developed a great deal of respect for Davis.

OJMO feels that he and Scotty are destined to have a big singles match on a grander stage and made mention that-that stage could possibly be National Stadium in Dublin, Ireland.

“I’ve got a lot of time for Scotty. I’m not afraid to sing his praises. I’ll plug our match. Again, that was the first time we wrestled each other. It’s free on YouTube if you wanna catch it — for PROGRESS and [PW] Clash and he’s… his nickname is like Prodigy, The Irish Prodigy, the Savior Of Irish Wrestling and he deserves all of that. He’s so good, he’s got an amateur background that starts from when he was a kid. I say, ‘When he was a kid,’ he’s 18 now which is the crazy thing. So, for him to be as good as he is now, freakishly strong and freakishly athletic and that he’s only going to get better is the scary thing. That’s a guy I’m like, ‘Man, I can’t wait for us to wrestle on a big, big stage’ and I can see it. It’s very few people I can just see, ‘Oh yeah, we wrestled here in this small venue’ but when we wrestled, it was nearly a barn. If you look at the venue, it’s like a barn. It’s in a pub but like on the side it’s a side room, and you’ve got to watch yourself as you’re doing dives and to think of what we’ve done since then or even before then, I could feel like we’re destined to wrestle again on a bigger stage and it’d be just kind of crazy to think where that could be. I’d love for it to be in National Stadium in Dublin for OTT. That’d be cool, but who knows.”

The current RevPro British Cruiserweight Champion was going to be competing at this year’s Scrappermania before the COVID-19 pandemic began and forced OTT to postpone the event. Sean Guinness, Paddy M, Terry Thatcher and a mystery partner were going to be facing The OJMO, Mike Bailey, Eddie Kingston and Black Taurus. OJMO said he was very excited to be teaming with Eddie Kingston but there was a surprise match in the works featuring Scotty Davis, Omari, himself and a name who OJMO opted not to reveal because of the possibility that the match could still happen in the future.

“Also, it’s the secret thing that people don’t know was that there was supposed to be a surprise match that was gonna — we were trying to fit the pieces together for a surprise match with me and Omari and Scotty Davis and somebody else. It still might happen in the future so I don’t want to say, but again, it seemed like it was going to happen…”

The OJMO was asked if this current time has made him consider or change his stance about signing an exclusive deal. Prior to the pandemic, it was not something that came to mind but he has thought about how different things would be if he did sign a deal, but for OJMO, it’s not about the money and the day he does decide to sign exclusively, he wants the company that signs him to truly want him there.

“Yeah, it’s just that thing where like, in your mind, you’re like, ‘Man, well, if I had a contract, I’d be getting something coming in the mail. I’d be getting a paycheck,’ so to speak, and I’d be alright. But at the same time, I’m not the only one in the situation. There are thousands of other independent wrestlers in the situation, and I’m trying my best — I always said I’m not gonna sign a contract for the money because if you’re getting into wrestling to make money, you have wait a while because you’re gonna be scourging around for the ole’ hot dogs and just for scraps and for a long time, but that’s a part you’re supposed to enjoy and I’m enjoying what I’m doing and I believe when I sign a contract, I wanna feel that I’m ready to be with whatever company wants me, and yeah, it’s tough man. It’s a tough situation. I’m not in the worst situation. Financially I’m not in the worst situation, luckily. So, I don’t want it to be like, ‘Ah man, I feel pressured because of a global pandemic that nobody could’ve predicted to sign a contract with someone that maybe I don’t wanna be with right now or I don’t wanna be with at all.’”

The conversation then turned over to WWE’s NXT UK brand. When it comes to what the brand has done to the European wrestling scene, Michael understands both sides of the coin. He does think that it has caused some damage because there are many promotions who relied on some of those top talents who are now fixtures in NXT UK to draw a packed house for their respective promotions. Michael dove into how the restrictions for contracted NXT UK talents began to tighten up as far as what promotions they could and couldn’t work for.

On the other side of OJMO’s response, with most of those top names off to NXT UK, he noticed that their spots were now freed up and it forced promoters to start endorsing and investing in new talents to build up and position to be in those top spots. He feels that the easy thing to do is to bash NXT UK but some of his close friends are there and although he knows what their absence has done to the British wrestling scene, had they not gone off to NXT UK, he wouldn’t have been able to step up when he did.

“I mean, from a fan perspective, I can see the negative of it, 100 percent for sure, in a sense that yes, a million percent, it has taken the biggest stars from the scene away from the independent shows. It used to be a regular thing. So I started in 2017. That’s when I’d be crewing shows as well. I’d be amongst these RevPro, PROGRESS shows, other shows. I just mentioned two promotions but it was a thing where any show around the country, you could see some of the best wrestlers in the world. You could just stumble upon Pete Dunne in Leicester, and then see him in Brighton and then see him in Manchester. You’d see Zack Sabre Jr. and I know that has nothing to do with it but you’d see top tier caliber wrestlers performing all over and you don’t see those wrestlers anymore. Again for me, there is that belief in me that if those people didn’t go, if they weren’t signed, then maybe I wouldn’t have achieved the success that I’ve achieved. There was a void that was open and as soon as it opened, as soon as I heard — I remember there was a big article that got shared around that was about restrictions because the signings happened, and then there weren’t really any restrictions, but then there was like the big, ‘Hey, we heard the rumors of the restrictions of where they’re allowed to wrestle’ and as soon as I heard that, I was like, ‘Well, that means people need to step up.’ I’m waiting to step up. I would’ve preferred to be stepping up while they’re still here because I could test myself against them, and I could be learning, and that’s the key. The key part is learning amongst them because there’s so many knowledgeable guys there. Zack Gibson, super knowledgeable, Trent Seven, super knowledgeable. So just having them in the locker room to get feedback off your matches was just super valuable as a young wrestler. So that the fact that they’re not there does hurt, but then again, there’s that opportunity where promoters are forced to now build new stars. Fans, in a way are now forced to get behind new guys and not feel comfortable with the same old, same old. It may be a bit rushed or quicker than it should happen. It wasn’t organic, in terms of the transition of one generation to another, but its happened and again, I’m benefiting from it. I’m not afraid to say that, but at the same time…

At the same time, people who are signing, some of them are friends of mine. They’re like ten years in the game. They’re like super experienced and so, some of them are seeing the compensation of ten years of not being able to afford places to eat sometimes, and now they’re able to afford a roof over their head without worrying week-to-week where they’re gonna wrestle or if they get injured and can’t afford to pay their bills so… I know some people could say, ‘NXT UK sucks!’ There’s a lot about it that I’m not a fan of. I’m not afraid to say that, but at the same time, without them, without them signing people up, I wouldn’t have found success I don’t believe.”

The progression of African-Americans in pro wrestling has grown tremendously but there are still ways to go and many improvements to be made. It means a great deal to The OJMO to be a black man in wrestling and hailing from England because for him growing up, there were not many role models in wrestling that he could relate to on that level. Now, he’s in a position to be that role model for a kid or teenager that is watching him perform and may want to get into the business. OJMO recalled when he was working a show in York Hall and there was an African-American child that he spotted and the child appeared to be thrilled to see him. Several years ago when OJMO got into wrestling, he was focused on just improving and being the best that he could be but now he’s at the point where he’s realizing that he can be an inspiration for a new crop of individuals to get inspired and believe that they can make it in wrestling or life in general.

“It’s a thing that I didn’t even anticipate. I feel like I have a responsibility and I didn’t anticipate that that’d be the case, because I’m just like, ‘Alright, I’m just gonna focus on me. I’m gonna try and focus on me just being as good a wrestler as I can be,’ and it’s only as time follows that you’re realizing that, ‘Oh man, you’re making connections and bonds with fans because…’ and I should’ve seen it, because when I was growing up watching wrestling, there wasn’t that many black role models in wrestling. You can count them on one hand. If there were more than one, it would end on the same hand that you’d start counting it from, and even so, in Britain, British wrestlers aren’t in prominent positions anyway in the industry, so when I’m realizing that I’m finding success, at first I’m like, ‘Yeah this is cool. I’m succeeding,’ but then, again, because of things that you just said and then things that other fans are saying, even other wrestlers, especially actually. That’s kind of the really cool thing is other wrestlers saying to me how important it is that like, ‘Hey, the coolest thing about you succeeding is that you’re black.’ I’m like, ‘Man, such a good point’ and I didn’t even understand that there was that role to play. But I had to understand it when I’m seeing the response. I remember at York Hall, there’s a kid who’s in the crowd and he’s black and you could just see how happy he is to see me win and he supported me and I’m like, ‘Man, that’s what this is.’ I saw him and I was like, ‘That’s me. That’s me as a kid being a wrestling fan, and he’s being influenced by me’ and I would’ve never even imagined that that’d be the case, especially early on in my career, but I guess that’s what comes with being put in the spotlight, and being black, especially in a place where there just aren’t that many that are thriving.”

With The OJMO being in a prominent spot in Revolution Pro Wrestling, it makes the communication process easier that the promoter Andy Quildan is also a black man. OJMO stated that there is an understanding that the two have when it comes to the presentation of The OJMO character and not making it any more than who Michael Oku is and not forcing layers on top of that. OJMO shared that there have been times in his career when he’s had to deal with stereotypical wrestling promoters so it’s refreshing for him to cooperate with Andy Quildan and have an open line of communication there.

“That’s the best thing about my run in RevPro — started in the beginning of 2019, and the thing I’ve enjoyed more is the collaboration with Andy, as in we talk a lot about where I’m going and what I’m doing, and he leaves a lot of stuff — there’s that trust where he leaves a lot of stuff with me, and just like you said, I feel that because we’re both black…

When I said I just get to be a wrestler, that’s a huge part to him. Again, a huge part to him just being black and just being like, ‘I just wanna promote good wrestling and this guy, I feel like he can be a big deal and it’s not because I need to fill some type of quota –’ What quota does a black guy have to fill? So it’s not because he needs to fill something where he feels pressure from a community. He’s not feeling pressure by anyone or anything. He just saw something in me. He’s allowing me to be me.”

When the pro wrestling scene bounces back from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many goals that The OJMO wants to accomplish. While discussing those possibilities and what the future holds, the topic of the Best of the Super Juniors tournament came up. OJMO said he’d be happy to see Scotty Davis in the Best of the Super Juniors more than him but that’s one of those spots where he would also like for him and Scotty to meet on a grander stage to follow up on the last time they wrestled.

“I feel like there are times when I want to see Scotty Davis in Best of the Super Juniors more than I want to see me in the Best of the Super Juniors, but that is an example of me saying we will wrestle on the biggest stage some day. Like if we’re able to wrestle in the Best of the Super Juniors, the same way Will [Ospreay] and Ricochet wrestled in Best of the Super Juniors way back when… and obviously we’ve wrestled [before] but we’re completely different wrestlers from then, but it would feel to me that same kind of way that we would just be two people who are gaijins and just out there to prove ourselves big time in front of that audience.”

During the current pandemic, The OJMO has been uploading new videos to his YouTube channel to remain active with his supporters, as well as through social media platforms. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram @TheOJMO. The video of this interview with OJMO can be watched at the top of this article or on the Andrew Thompson Interviews YouTube channel.

About Andrew Thompson 306 Articles
A Maryland native and graduate of Norfolk State University, Andrew Thompson has been covering wrestling since 2017.