On June 15th, 2020, I recorded an interview with Over The Top Wrestling founder Joe Cabray. Within a few days of the interview being recorded, the #SpeakingOut movement began to grow as many women within wrestling or involved in wrestling openly and anonymously shared their experiences of harassment and assault. I commend every woman who chose to speak out and I also commend the individuals who are not ready to publicly share their story/stories yet. During the interview with Joe Cabray, we did talk about Jordan Devlin, David Starr and Scotty Davis who allegations have been placed against. I decided to edit out portions of the interview that were Starr, Devlin or Davis heavy. There are portions of the interview when their names are brought up in passing. The interview can either be listened to via the video below or can be read by way of the written version beneath the video.
The Dublin, Ireland-based promotion Over The Top Wrestling was founded in 2014 by Joe Cabray. Cabray, formerly known as “Luther Ward” in WWE came out of his time in the sports-entertainment company with a rejuvenated passion for the business and while he went on to continue traveling Europe as a pro wrestler, it was not long after that he put a plan in motion to create his own promotion.
Cabray suffered several concussions during his time in WWE that he believes set him back. He admitted that when he first joined WWE, he thought he was going to come in and find success and was also determined to get out of developmental as fast as possible to make it to the main roster because of his age at the time. The concussions derailed Joe’s confidence and according to him, it may have been something he was not able to get over.
“So, I had been promoting shows throughout Europe and if you remember, around Europe, we had a big economy crash and I was kind of at a crossroads. ‘Do I just kind of leave wrestling or kind of get a shoot job I suppose?’ And I decided I was gonna try and get to WWE. But at the time, I was quite late, when I got signed. I was 31 when I got signed so, I kinda knew I needed to make it out of developmental as fast as I possibly could and onto the main roster because of my age, and I just had so many setbacks. I ended up getting two concussions and I just didn’t — those concussions set me back so far that I just became… kind of lost my passion I suppose a little bit. The concussions just derailed me so much and I missed home and a whole other host of things just made me say, ‘I kinda wanna probably try and do something else in wrestling.’ WWE at the time wasn’t the place that I really wanted to be I suppose. I was unhappy, I was unhappy and I was also unhappy as well about my… my own performance. The setbacks of two concussions. I thought I was gonna go there and just absolutely blaze it and the concussions just really put a spanner in the works that I personally couldn’t get over I suppose.”
The week that the Coronavirus pandemic shut down the majority of the world at a rapid rate, OTT’s biggest show of the calendar year in Scrappermania 6 was set to take place from the National Stadium in Dublin. The headlining bout on the card was going to feature AEW World Champion Jon Moxley. Joe Cabray shared that the week of Scrappermania, he spoke with some friends and chatted with them about the possibility of cancelling Scrappermania due to the pandemic but it was not something he actually thought was going to happen. Cabray admitted that the COVID-19 pandemic could have very well taken out OTT as a business but with the support of their fan base and the OTT on-demand streaming service, the promotion is able to continue moving forward.
“Yeah it was crazy because I remember that week leading up to it, I remember saying to some friends, ‘I don’t know, there might be a chance I might have to cancel this show.’ But it was just amazing inside a week as to how rapid it all just grew and as I said, the week previously, I was saying, ‘I might have to cancel.’ In my own mind, I didn’t really believe it, but it just escalated so, so fast that we just had no other choice. The safety of everybody was the priority I suppose but yeah, it was such a killer. When you’ve booked all the hotels, the venue, flights, the security, you put so much money into advertising and it all — and we also had an amazing hype video as well that kind of just went to the side and yeah, it was a massive blow but at the same point, I was completely overwhelmed by the response. I think there were so many people that thought that this might be something that could sink OTT and it could’ve, but fans setting up GoFundMe’s and all that and we had an out pour of fans just buying merchandise and its really helped us survive this pandemic.”
There was an OTT fundraiser that saw many fans and wrestlers alike contribute money to the promotion after the cancellation of Scrappermania. There were hotel bookings, flights and other fees that went into Scrappermania that were not able to be made up for because there was no show. It was pointed out that there was a generous donation to the GoFundMe by “Jonathan Good”, who is known in wrestling as Jon Moxley. Moxley did not mention that he donated to the cause but Joe Cabray noticed and commended Moxley for supporting OTT.
“Yeah, just amazing. That’s what I’m saying. I was saying from the fans’ point of view just how overwhelming its been but when you see somebody like Moxley kinda reaching out as well, just amazing. We did lose a lot of international flights as well but, to see him as well support independent wrestling as well, again, just shows that he’s a top, top guy.”
With all that is going on in the world, Joe and Over The Top Wrestling stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. The racial injustices in America that African-Americans have dealt with for years has been met with a collective effort from a variety of different races who’ve come together to support the movement.
Joe stated that a shirt was released on OTT’s official merchandise store and all the proceeds are going to George Floyd’s daughter’s foundation to set up her future.
“I think everyone is just kind of deflated. The world — we’ve just gone through a pandemic and then this has to happen. It’s just — we kinda wanted to. We all got our heads together and said, ‘What’s the best way that we could help?’ So we released a really nice OTT t-shirt. I think it’s a pre-order for now and we’re gonna fulfill those orders and then it’ll go to George Floyd’s daughter’s foundation. Just in any way that we can support. I think it’s important as well, but yeah I think you’ll agree, what a kind of crazy up and down time it is in the world right now.”
It was announced via the official OTT Twitter account that the promotion is planning to run the National Stadium in October and a show date is tentatively set for October 31st. Cabray is hopeful that they’re able to go through with the National Stadium show but he also wants to have a few shows under his belt before they return to the venue where OTT holds its biggest show of their calendar year.
“So, our issue as well is that we lost our training school as well to this pandemic, which was another massive hit so, kind of our priority right now is looking to getting the school back open and running, and then just kind of seeing — again, in a time of uncertainty, just seeing what kind of restrictions are gonna be put into place, is it going to be valuable to run the National Stadium? I’m very hopeful that it will be, but safety for the fans and our performers and staff is the priority but, it’s just waiting to see what the landscape will be around October. It’s even hard to put tickets on sale because you don’t know what kind of social distance will be required in venues at that time so, it’s just a wait and see but I’m really, really hopeful that we will be back in October and if it is possible, I’d like to come back before October if [it’s] possible and safe.”
The likes of WWE and All Elite Wrestling have transitioned from the empty arena setting to having wrestlers sitting ringside to create background noise. Most recently, Game Changer Wrestling ran a show in Indianapolis, Indiana with fans in attendance in what was a social distancing setup outside. Joe Cabray and his team did consider the idea of doing empty arena shows and it’s not something that is off the table as of this writing. He feels that it’s possible for OTT to do but wants to ensure the safety of the performers and staff who would be a part of the event[s].
“It’s something we’ve talked about. I think again, as loyal as our fan base is, our roster is equally as loyal and they’re just looking forward to getting back into the ring so, I’m sure if an empty arena show is possible with safety being the key, I’m sure the guys would jump at the opportunity just to get back in the ring and start producing content again for the video-on-demand — OTT-on-demand essentially just keeps us in business. If we didn’t have that, I don’t think — we couldn’t put on the kind of shows we put on so, I kinda look at VOD as, ‘Yeah, you’re getting a product but you’re getting to see our catalog and other promotions but you’re also kinda supporting OTT I suppose as well.’ But yeah, it’s something we’ve spoke about and we have to kind of look at the — essentially we have to do a risk assessment and see if that would be something valuable for us but again, if it’s possible, we’re on board 100 percent.”
For context, the next quote from Joe Cabray had to do with Jordan Devlin specifically but applied to various performers who are under contract with WWE and are allowed to compete in other promotions as well.
The comparison of how some talents are positioned and viewed on the independents versus how they may be positioned and/or viewed in an NXT was the topic of discussion. For Joe, he feels that it comes down to him giving talents free range to express themselves. In that same vein, Joe understands how different it is to be in the WWE system and how the company operates in regard to their on-screen product. Joe feels that with WWE doing live television and live pay-per-views, they have to have a certain formula in place which can sometimes only allow wrestlers to show half of what they’re capable of in the ring.
“You know, I think they’ve earned the freedom essentially to just give them free range, and to be very honest with you, I’m very, very seldom disappointed. Anytime that I’ve given talents that I feel confident in free rein, they almost always knock it out of the park. In terms of WWE, I suppose it’s different. It’s a different animal. The thing that when I went there, I had to get used to the fact that you have an agent watching the monitor who’s linked up to the referee and then the referee is telling you things you have to do in the match. So that can be very, very different for a performer and it can be a bit restricting as well when you’re told, ‘Go to a rest hold because we’re in an ad break or something like that’ so, I’d say [it’s] basically just a thing of there’s a lot more restrictions and there has to be as well I suppose in WWE because they’re doing live TV and they’re doing live pay-per-views but, I’d say it’s that.”
At last year’s Scrappermania on March 15th, British Strong Style (Pete Dunne, Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) defeated Bonesaw, Damien Corvin and Dunkan Disorderly to win the OTT Tag Team Championships. Seven and Bate are still the holders of the belts. The finish of the match came to the surprise of many because it was a “Loser Leaves Town” match and with Bate, Seven and Dunne coming off the heels of the first NXT UK: TakeOver event along with being three main players on the NXT UK brand, many in attendance and those watching from their own personal spaces thought that the match was going to be a farewell for British Strong Style.
As discussed during the interview, trying to book talents who are under contract with WWE can be tasking. As far as the Scrappermania 5 moment, he felt that it was too easy and predictable to go the route of British Strong Style leaving OTT for good, but now that Bate and Seven have been the promotion’s tag team champions for over 400 days and only being able to make a limited number of shows because they’re under contract to WWE, Cabray isn’t sure if the switch has paid off yet. Regardless, he understands that Tyler and Trent’s first priority have to be WWE but there is still a plan in place to have Moustache Mountain clash with More Than Hype [Darren Kearney, LJ Cleary & Nathan Martin] as they were scheduled to at Scrappermania 6.
“I think because we had a stipulation that was a loser leaves town and I think most people thought that — at the time, I think WWE U.K. were really starting to push British Strong Style which is Trent [Seven], Tyler [Bate] and Pete [Dunne] and I think people were assuming that [because] this was a loser-leaves-town, it was going to be their farewell essentially and put our guys over a bit strong but, we kinda we’re saying, it’s too obvious for that to happen. Putting the belts on them was a gamble. I can’t really tell you if it paid off in the end. We’ve had so many mishaps. Tyler has — this is what I will say about WWE is that people have to understand WWE is paying Tyler Bate a contract, so that has to be his priority. So when WWE comes calling, he has to go there because that’s his priority and so it should be, and then I think there was maybe one or two times where he genuinely just had an injury and couldn’t compete, but it’s really unfortunate because that match, I was talking to Tyler Bate leading up to the show and he was real pumped. ‘I can not wait to get back in front of that crowd.’ He was like, ‘There’s nothing that’s gonna make me miss that show. I’m 100 percent, I’m so looking forward to this’ and then the pandemic comes in and kills everything. But, I do think that when we do get More Than Hype [Darren Kearney, LJ Cleary & Nathan Martin] and Moustache Mountain in the ring, I do think it’s gonna be magic and when we can pull it off and I’m quite sure we will pull it off, I think it’s gonna be quite great as well for More Than Hype.”
Since 2016, there have been five holders of the OTT Women’s Championship. Each champion has had a reign of 100 days or more. Admittedly, Joe feels that the OTT women’s division was off to a rough start to begin with but over the years it has progressed and they’ve gone on to establish more homegrown talent and mix those talents in with those who’ve already established their name. He brought up OTT’s ‘Defiant’ show which is their all-women’s event that they run every year.
One of Cabray’s main goals is to get the OTT Women’s Championship to the level of prestige that the men’s world title has and he also has plans for the women’s title to headline one of OTT’s major shows.
“Yeah, I think we wanna make all our titles mean something. To be honest with you, I think people would agree, our women’s division was a bit of struggle starting off. I just didn’t want to put on a women’s division that just wasn’t to the standard of what OTT has become. So, I think the last two years, we’ve really worked hard on trying to get the women’s title to the standard of the men’s title. I always say it, every year we run a show called Defiant and it’s my favorite show of the year. It’s our all-women’s event and I just love it. I think it’s just… again, just really good energy. The locker room when Defiant — the fans are rabid for it as well, but it’s still gonna be a key of trying to get our women’s title as strong as possible and one day I hope that our women’s championship will essentially headline a major show for us. That’s kinda like the goal at some point.”
One specific name from OTT’s women’s division that Joe Cabray mentioned was Amy Allonsy. Amy is 20 years old and Joe feels that she’s going to be the next big thing in pro wrestling. He applauded Amy for her character and work ethic and added that on top of wanting to do the Scrappermania match between herself and Sammii Jayne for the OTT Women’s Title, he believes that Irish wrestling’s next greatest export will be Amy Allonsy.
“We still wanna do the Amy Allonsy match. So, hopefully we’ll be able to get it done. Amy Allonsy and Sammii Jayne. That was a match that, speaking of women’s wrestling, and watch out for Amy Allonsy. I think she’s going to be one of the next big things in female wrestling. She just gets it. Things just snap into place for her and she’s just amazing. Again, great person as well to be around but works her ass off as well so, she’s gonna be one of the next, I think, one of the next proud exports of Irish wrestling so watch out for Amy Allonsy as well.”
The RAINN website is very helpful and informative on the topic of sexual assault and harassment. The National Sexual Assault hotline is 800-656-HOPE. For those who continue to share their stories, you are strong and brave in the eyes of many and for those who’ve chosen not to share their story, you are strong and brave as well to continue pushing forward while carrying around the weight of said experience or experiences on your shoulders.