EXCLUSIVE: Fred Yehi discusses EVOLVE, MLW, rise of Black wrestlers, ROH Pure Title tourney

POST Wrestling's Andrew Thompson spoke with former EVOLVE Tag Team Champion Fred Yehi. Yehi was candid about his hope that black wrestlers can get together and start their own wrestling company. He also spoke about his time with EVOLVE, if there was ever a deal on the table from MLW and if he feels underappreciated for the work that he's put in on the independent scene.

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Fred Yehi has been a fixture on the independent wrestling scene for close to a decade. Yehi has competed in AAW, Major League Wrestling, wXw in Germany, PROGRESS Wrestling and many more promotions in the United States and outside of the country but he is often associated with the EVOLVE promotion.

Last month, EVOLVE was acquired by the WWE and the EVOLVE content library will ultimately be up on the WWE Network. Fred Yehi spent two years in EVOLVE and captured the promotion’s tag titles with Ring of Honor’s Tracy Williams and he was also a part of the Catch Point faction that included the likes of Matt Riddle, Drew Gulak, TJP, Tracy Williams and Malcolm Bivens. While speaking with Yehi, he told POST Wrestling about the consistent association between him and EVOLVE and some of the influences that he had while he was with the promotion.

“I worked for EVOLVE from 2016 to 2018, early 2018. I don’t know, it’s funny. I don’t know, a lot of people, they still think I work for EVOLVE. I haven’t been there in about three years, it’s crazy. I don’t get it. ‘Hey, don’t you do EVOLVE?’ I do a whole lot more than EVOLVE, but that’s what really stands out to them which is a good thing. EVOLVE was a very fun environment to work [in]. As I mentioned earlier, just being a sponge. I had the pleasure of working with some guys who had been in the business 15 years man. Just learning from guys such as Chris Hero, TJP, [Drew] Gulak, [Zack] Sabre man, just to name a few. It was very cool and that had a really good influence on my development as a performer. It was a really big, giant learning tree for me, especially at that stage of my career. A lot of things I just didn’t know and from watching those guys and working with those guys, I learned a whole lot and was able to apply it later and still applying it now, so it was great. It was great.”

Yehi, also known as the “Savageweight” only wrestled six times this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Earlier in the year, he wrestled ACH in AAW which was a part of ACH’s return to the independent scene after he departed from WWE. In June, Yehi competed for the St. Louis Anarchy promotion on their joint-show with ‘Journey Pro’ and he wrestled a 60-minute Iron Man match against Jeremy Watts.

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As far as wrestling during the pandemic goes, Yehi thinks promotions are doing everything that they can to provide a safe environment for all involved.

“I mean, they just have to do what they can. You just have to be careful and it’s gotta be safe. We know that we can’t allow but so many people in and then, you have to take the… just be careful with how everyone — I know they want everyone in masks. That’s what I’ve heard through the grapevine. I haven’t wrestled [much]. I haven’t had a match since the 60-minute Iron Man but from what I’ve heard, they wanna keep everyone in masks while they’re in-doors. So yeah, they just have to be careful. I believe that the promotions who are running right now, they are doing the best that they can. They’re taking every safety precaution that they can think of so, but it’s cool. Something is better than nothing and they’re doing what they need to do.”

Over the past several months, there has been an uprising in professional wrestling and a great deal of black talents have rose to the forefront of the conversation and put themselves in position to receive opportunities in the sport of pro wrestling. While speaking with Yehi, names such as: Trish Adora, Darius Lockhart, O’Shay Edwards and Faye Jackson among others were mentioned as names that can be featured talents on a nationally televised wrestling program.

After his near-decade in the business, Yehi believes that it’s time for black wrestlers to get together and start their own company that’s black-owned. He feels that racism is deeply rooted in professional wrestling, although many promoters and company owners are making strides to change the old guard. Yehi is glad to see black wrestlers no longer waiting on opportunities and taking them but also feels that they should work together to start their own program, opposed to using their talents to get on someone else’s.

“It’s something. I read Lou Thesz’s book like five times, The Hooker. So I read that like five times man. It’s [racism] deep in the roots. It is what it is. Professional wrestling here in the US, it’s white-dominated, it’s white-ran and of course in Japan, they have their thing and in Mexico they have their thing and for the longest time, being a black performer, we were seen as the minority. In my opinion, we were the minority even if there was a Japanese worker on that show or whatever. You’d bring in the Mexican talent, the blacks were always the foreigner and the reason being because, the Japanese, they have their own. Mexico, they have their own. They have two or three major companies if I’m not mistaken and Japan has five, six, maybe seven in theirs and here in the US, everything is pretty much — the major companies are white-owned. Problem is, black performers, we’re striving to make a name for ourselves on these other platforms that are not owned or dominated by us and because of that, only a percentage of us really get those opportunities and [an] even smaller percentage of us reach a certain level of a higher success.

And it kinda sucks because it puts us in a situation where we have to compete against ourselves, which I see it a lot where it’s a shame where you don’t really hear, ‘Well who is the best Japanese talent? Who’s the best Mexican talent?’ You don’t really hear that. You hear that about the black talent, because we don’t have something for ourselves. I put up a post on Twitter about a week ago and I just wanna clarify it. I’m not at all pushing for a segregation. We, black performers, we have to be liberated from that whole system and we need to design a system for ourselves where we create our own stars, we create black stars and we don’t depend on these major companies to do that for us. So, that’s very important. I believe that’s a change that needs to take place and I believe there are several other black wrestlers like myself who are taking those actions and who are taking that approach. We’re not just waiting for opportunities, we have to build something for ourselves and will we see, will we reap all the benefits in this generation? Who knows but, we could be very well blazing that trail for the next generation of black wrestlers coming up but I think that’s a pretty important — it’s important we actually — I’m glad more and more of us are waking up to that, because again, it’d be so phenomenal to see 20 black-owned wrestling territories running here in the U.S. and whatnot and then from there, venturing overseas or what have you but that’s the thing, we need that. We really do. There’s too many, too many, too many of us who are just so talented and it’d be a shame trying to waste all of that talent trying to get onto someone else’s thing. No, build our own. We need to build our own at this point.”

After departing from EVOLVE in 2018, Yehi worked a number of matches for Major League Wrestling from April until the end of that year. Over the past several years, MLW has added a number of young talents to their roster and signed them to exclusive deals, most recently Calvin Tankman. While Yehi was with the organization, the topic of a contract was brought up to him but never followed up on but all-in-all, he was not looking to sign another contract after just getting out of a deal with EVOLVE.

“I don’t know. Let me first say, I enjoyed myself there but I didn’t quite understand — this is my experience — I didn’t quite really understand what was going on, what was really gonna be asked of me. I know they expressed certain ideas and I ended up going on a tour of Germany and then when I came back, it’s like everything kinda changed up. Like all this stuff happened and I’m like, ‘Wait, what am I doing? What’s going on?’ So it was more-so, that was my experience with MLW. Something about a contract was mentioned to me but nothing was ever further discussed and honestly, I was in the mindset of I didn’t wanna sign with anyone. I just came out of a two-year deal with EVOLVE and I didn’t really wanna sign with another company at that point. I just wanted to kinda freelance and get around and just keep learning and keep growing anyway. But, that was my experience. I had a good time working with Tom Lawlor and Simon Gotch, shoutout to them. Just interact with people. I had a good time. Linking up with Jason Cade and getting on the PS4 or whatever. I had a really good… I had a good time but as far as that [a contract], I didn’t really know what they were trying to do. It just is what it is.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic putting the wrestling business on hold, Yehi was scheduled to compete in Ring of Honor’s Pure Title tournament. He was going to be joining the likes of Jay Lethal, Jonathan Gresham, Yuji Nagata, Tracy Williams, Rocky Romero and a slate of talented individuals to compete for Ring of Honor’s workhorse championship. Yehi shared how that opportunity came about and said he’d be interested if something else comes up with Ring of Honor.

“Initially, I was contacted for it and I was like, ‘Okay, that’s cool. I’ll go ahead and run with it’ and that’s pretty much the extent of it and all this happened just threw it all off. So I mean, if something else comes up with Ring of Honor then cool. That’s really, really cool. But, they’re a great company, they have great talent. Jon Gresham as you mentioned, I consider him one of the best wrestlers in the world right now.”

Going back to the topic of the Catch Point group in EVOLVE, Matt Riddle, Malcolm Bivens, Drew Gulak and TJP have all signed with the WWE, with TJP being the one of the listed names to have been released from the company.

Yehi was asked if he’d ever be interested in joining WWE to rejoin his former Catch Point stablemates and it’s not something he’s against but isn’t 100 percent sure on it. While elaborating on the topic at hand, Yehi reminisced about looking back at an old EVOLVE match card and seeing how many talents on that card are currently signed to a major promotion and he’s not. He feels that-that has always been his journey though but for right now, he knows where his heart is at and that’s to create something special for black talents and to continue grinding away on the independents.

“I mean, my thoughts on it is this; obviously we’re all in different places and I could speak on my story. I think it’s very interesting that — actually, I saw an old EVOLVE card. Someone sent me [it] and said, ‘Hey, what do you think of this?’ And basically everyone on this card went [on] to get signed to major deals whether it was WWE, AEW or going off to New Japan and it was like, ‘Man, I’m the only one on the card that didn’t get that shot’ and I think that’s pretty interesting and I think it’s pretty cool, and that’s just my story. That’s just my story. I’ve always made it a point to treat everyone with respect and be a professional and you know, I’ve accepted that possibly, none of that stuff was meant to be in the deck of cards for Fred Yehi. Perhaps that was the case. Perhaps that’s the case just for the next couple of years. Who knows?

Anything could happen, we don’t really know but I know where my heart is now, but that’s just what is what — that’s just my story. I can’t really explain why it has happened that way and why it is what it is at this point. But as far as Catch Point reuniting, I could see it as a really cool thing. Would I be interested in it? I’m kinda 50/50 on it. Again, we’re all in different points of our careers right now and I would have to make that decision of, ‘Hey, would that be best for me?’ I’d have to make that decision but, again, for now I know where my heart is for now so…”

Following up on that answer, I asked Yehi if he feels underappreciated for the work that he has put in. Yehi made it clear that it doesn’t matter to him if he’s appreciated or not in the sense of potentially being signed, because he’s fueled by the passion and love he has for the sport. He added that with other jobs or sports he’s participated in, he always took breaks when he felt drained or mentally gassed out but with wrestling, he never has those feelings and continues to grind away at it.

“To answer that question, I don’t… I don’t care if I’m appreciated or not. That doesn’t really concern me like that. I know that for whatever reason, this pro wrestling thing, it’s been on my heart since the very first time that I watched it and I was like two-years old. I still have memories of just watching wrestling during that time and I don’t really understand why I love it so much, why I’ve been so driven to become the best version of myself. So I’ve never felt underappreciated. I never felt that way, I just know that I just love to do it. This is the only thing — and I’ve been involved in other things. I used to play basketball man. I played varsity basketball. I wrestled in high school and I wrestled collegiality, D1 and with both those things, as long as it’s just with regular work, but I remember there was a situation where hey, if I didn’t feel well or was just too tired, didn’t get enough sleep or I was sore or whatever the case may have been, I wasn’t really gonna perform my best. But with this pro wrestling thing, for whatever reason, it just comes from inside. It doesn’t matter how I feel. I could go off of no sleep, I could not be feeling the best, I could be super sore but when I step out the curtain, that stuff just goes out the window and I could go out and put on a really, really good performance and you wouldn’t be able to tell. So I’m not really worried about if other people appreciate me or not and that’s just coming down to a matter of acceptance and also just liberating myself from the whole system and wanting to create our own thing.”

Fred Yehi will be back in action this coming Friday for the St. Louis Anarchy promotion and he can be found on both Twitter and Facebook under his name, Fred Yehi. The video version of our interview can be watched at the top of this article or on the Andrew Thompson Interviews YouTube channel.

About Andrew Thompson 1719 Articles
A Maryland native and graduate of Norfolk State University, Andrew Thompson has been covering wrestling since 2017.