There are many names who are to be credited for the growth of Ring of Honor on-screen and off-screen in the early 2000s. As far as the in-ring talents go, the likes of Homicide, Cesaro, Chris Hero, Bryan Danielson, Jimmy Jacobs, Low Ki, Kevin Owens, Nigel McGuinness, Sami Zayn and many more names contributed. One individual who was with Ring of Honor from 2002-2011 and went under the radar as far as accreditation goes is Julius Smokes.
Julius was the head of ‘The Vulture Squad’ that included Ruckus, Jack Evans, Jigsaw and Mercedes Martinez. Thriving in the pre-social media era, Julius’ mannerisms and catchphrases stood out. I had the opportunity to catch up with him and asked him if he thinks he made his strides in the wrong period of wrestling, opposed to now where if one does something memorable, they can become a GIF or videos of them circulate around the internet for many years.
“I’d be driving a Maybach right now, right?” Julius laughed. “They eating off my food, eating off my plate. Nah, nah. Not necessarily. Life’s all about progression, about opening doors for others. When I saw New Jack in ECW and the whole ten yards with the music and The Gangstas and the whole ten, it was incredible. So that was intriguing and that was in Hip-Hop mannerisms and everything that took place there.”
Continuing on the topic of The Vulture Squad, Julius shared his thoughts on Ruckus. He stated that it was an honor to work with him and brought up how Ruckus has slimmed down over the years since their time together in Ring of Honor. Both Julius and Ruckus were discussed on the most recent episode of Bushby & Thompson’s Wrestling Adventure podcast.
“My chocolate vulture. Yo, he could do push-ups underneath your door right now, didn’t he slim up? Yo, your body [is] your temple and basically, he was 200-something pounds, going on 300 it looked like, about to pop like a tick and he slimmed down, and had that gymnastic body and everything else and he did it too. So, nuff respect for him. It was an honor just to work with him to be honest with you.”
To begin this article, a handful of names were mentioned that helped lay the groundwork for Ring of Honor. Julius Smokes talked about that time period and how there were a bunch of “caterpillars that turned into butterflies”.
That saying holds weight in regards to the topic as many of those who were in Ring of Honor at the time have gone on to have very successful careers in the sport of pro wrestling. Julius made sure to mention the names that he was tight with during that period such as Rocky Romero and Ricky Reyes.
“Let me tell you something right now, that’s when it was straight up raw. When it was caterpillars that turned into butterflies. You called ‘em, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003. The Christopher Daniels, Samoa Joes, wow. Dan Maff, Low Ki, Homicide, ‘Low Life’ Louie, Rottweilers, Ricky Reyes, Rocky Romero. List goes on baby. Gotta put over my guys because that’s what the wrestling business is about, and put over Gabe [Sapolsky] and Terry for giving us the opportunity at that particular time to do what we do best because we was running New York City.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ring of Honor was planning to run a Women’s World Championship tournament, their Supercard of Honor, 18th Anniversary and Past vs. Present shows. The Past vs. Present event consisted of matches such as The Havana Pitbulls versus MexiSquad, John Walters vs. Mark Haskins and Homicide versus Brody King.
Julius Smokes is a good friend of Homicide’s and he was a key piece to Homicide’s run in Ring of Honor, as well as Game Changer Wrestling’s tribute show for Homicide in the summer of 2019. Julius questioned why he wasn’t contacted for the Past vs. Present event. He was told that Ring of Honor “couldn’t get in contact” with him and mentioned that throughout his time in the company, he was always professional and never caused trouble.
“See, you talk about the elephant in the room that everybody else is scared to talk about. ‘What happened to Julius Smokes? Why didn’t I book with Julius Smokes?’ See, I like that. Keep it one grand. But people from the outside looking in are telling me something totally different, it’s crazy. Let’s talk about it. Why do you think I wasn’t booked on that show? What was the situation behind that? The hook and crook? Now [to] be honest with you, Homicide told me that, ‘Yo J, they didn’t have your information to get in contact with you.’ I was like, ‘Huh? We’re all on Facebook together.’ That’s what he told me. It’s all love for Homicide after he told me the truth behind that, because he wanted to know too what the situation was. ‘They said they couldn’t get in contact with you.’ I said, ‘Wow, okay.’
Since the company was bought from Cary [Silkin], that transition that took place, that’s when the funny movement started taking place to be honest with you. So, it is what it is. Nothing last forever. I was there 2002 all the way to 2011. So some people was using that as a catalyst and catapult themselves on to go to the WWE and AEW and TNA and all that different stuff like that. They were using it as highlight reel. I used to look at Ring of Honor like, ‘Yo, we’re gonna be on TV one day. This is my home. F*ck it, I ain’t going nowhere’ and look what happened. You can’t blame it on Jim Cornette.
I never did anything destructive behind the scenes… I was professional all the way around, you know what I mean? That’s the way I carry myself and that’s the way I left, with respect, you know? And it was a great time. As I said, I enjoyed the experience. I just wanna be brought back on some reunion shows, because the fans want it. I’m an energy guy. Nobody does what I do, I’m original.”
At that Past vs. Present show, the late former ROH World Champion Xavier was scheduled to be in action against Jay Lethal. On August 16th, Xavier unfortunately passed away at the age of 42. He began his career in the late 90s and became a staple on the independent wrestling scene, specifically in New York. Julius talked about the passing of Xavier and what kind of individual he was.
“God bless his heart. Elegance, demanded respect by looking at the work that he put in, and respected the game. Your body is your temple, look at the guy. He was built. I thought he looked better than The Rock. Oops, wow. I just said that. He just had that look bro, you know what I mean? And I felt that if he wanted to go to the WWE and go through the system, he would’ve been there but I think he didn’t like how the system was or how it has to be. It is what it is. I don’t know what the situation was but he was very talented, loved his son to death. His son was just like him, and a tremendous loss man. God bless his heart, his family. Wow, my brother right there man.”
Although Julius Smokes was never part of WWE, he was around many individuals that went to the company and he spoke about the WWE system and how the company goes about treating their wrestlers. He feels that people know what they’re getting into before they sign their contracts so the best way to go about it is to exploit the company before getting exploited, though he does understand why some go there and want to change the system.
“Some people get into the WWE and stuff like that, you know what the system is. Some people get there and try to change it. I understand that to a certain degree but you know what it is when you get there. Just be a part of it. Exploit it before they exploit you. Know how to do it, you know what I’m saying? And… just be a team player.”
Smokes was present at Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s G1 Supercard show. It meant a great deal to Julius to see ROH on a main stage inside Madison Square Garden. He was invited backstage and got to hang out with some of the talents who were competing on the show that night.
“Even though somebody Al Davis’d me, Marcus Allen’d me a long time ago, I didn’t give a f*ck because I was like, ‘Yo, this is a great experience. I’m coming to celebrate too.’ Urban Wrestling League sponsored the tickets that night, Lotto da Don and we went and just had a ball yo. Seriously, I just went in there and chilled. It was [a] surreal atmosphere. I seen some of the fans that had been going to Ring of Honor shows for years up in there bro. Seriously, and I was able to go to the back at the end of the show, meet a couple of guys and whatnot, coming out of the entrance and stuff like that, wanted to party afterwards but it was a different group. They didn’t wanna do that,” he laughed. “Not my boys. It’s a whole different generation but they show love. ‘Oh J-Smokes!’ As I said, it was a lot of love man.”
One member of The Vulture Squad that was not primarily spotlighted during the early 2000s was Mercedes Martinez. Martinez, along with Sara Del Rey, Traci Brooks, Allison Danger, Mickie James, Daizee Haze along with many others were talented in-ring performers during a period where the spotlight was on the men.
Mercedes Martinez is currently a part of WWE and Julius had nothing but positive things to say about her. He referred to her as a “veteran”, a “real OG” and a “personified athlete”.
“Martinez? Aw man. She shines like a diamond, literally. WWE, God bless her. She’s definitely earned her spot in a lot of different ways. She’s a veteran and salute to her. She stayed with it, she got something out of it. She could’ve walked away from the industry years ago but she didn’t, she stuck with it and still was having classic matches, all over the world and they gave her an opportunity, she’s taking advantage of it and I’m definitely proud of her, seriously. She’s a real OG. I rode to a show with her a couple of times, just her and I in a car just kicking it. She’s about her game, literally, in every which way and I respect that and nothing but salute, seriously.
She’s a personified athlete. She’s passionate about what she does. Once you stay passionate and you’re really an athlete, you’re going to get something out of this, you know what I mean? And she’s blessed. Save your money. That’s what it’s about right now. Just save your money and enjoy life. She’s living it.”
Julius Smokes currently has his own music label and consistently puts out new content that can be found on Apple Music, Spotify and several other platforms. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram @devilsoninlaw and his merchandise store is at this link.
The full interview with myself and Julius can be heard on the Andrew Thompson Interviews YouTube channel.