By Chuck Carroll
There’s more to John Hennigan than what you see inside the wrestling ring. Yes, he gained fame and fortune as John Morrison in WWE, where he became one of the biggest Superstars on the roster.
He debuted on the main roster in 2003 and bounced around a couple of different gimmicks before being written off for a while to return to WWE’s developmental territory at the time. Then, in 2005, he resurfaced as Johnny Nitro, one-third of the faction known as MNM. It wasn’t long before the gold started piling up. And by not long I mean his first night back.
He and tag team partner Joey Mercury pulled the upset of all upsets by snagging the WWE Tag Team Championship from Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio. It would be the first of four tag titles he would capture there. His resume also includes winning the Intercontinental Championship on three occasions as well as becoming the ECW World Champion. Not bad for a seven-year run on the main roster.
He parted ways with WWE in 2011, but the exodus never sullied his career. If anything, it has picked up steam after he branched out to a number of well-known rival promotions including Lucha Underground, Impact Wrestling, and most recently Major League Wrestling. And yes, the gold is still plentifully but so too are his passions outside of the ring.
Prior to embarking on a career in professional wrestling, Hennigan dreamed of working in Hollywood and studied acting at the University of California at Davis. Shortly after leaving WWE he began pursuing roles on film and television. Among his credits, he’s landed roles on the popular Showtime series Shameless and the long-running iconic soap opera Days of Our Lives. But the role he’s proudest of is one of his own creation.
Hennigan co-wrote and starred in Boone: The Bounty Hunter which premiered in 2017. The project was painstakingly slow to come together, but worth the wait for the ex-WWE Superstar. The cast included Hollywood vets Corbin Bernsen and former child star Jonathan Lipnicki, who is best known for his role in the 1996 box office smash Jerry Maguire.
Hennigan is now turning his attention to reality television and will be a contestant on the upcoming season of Survivor. The 37th season of the show, which has a David vs. Goliath theme, will premiere in late September on CBS.
I had a chance to chat with Hennigan recently about his wrestling accolades, acting career, and the challenges of filming Survivor.
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MLW is coming off of the big Battle Riot event. This seems like it’s a fun upstart promotion. What has your experience been like there?
If I had to put it in one word I would say “impressed.” I’ve done a couple of shots for MLW. The first one was less than six months ago. Between then and now at the Battle Riot show in New York, it’s been like night and day. The production was done pretty well when I was there last year and now it’s a national TV show. [Former WWE writer Court Bauer] has done a great job securing the best talent in wrestling.
Do you have any more dates booked with MLW, or is it a case of we’ll see what happens in the future?
Both. I’m returning to MLW on September 6 in Fort Lauderdale. After that I think we’ll see. But I’m looking forward to that. It’s a great group of people there in front of the camera and behind the scenes.
You’re not limited to MLW by any stretch. You’re in Impact Wrestling as well, which is another interesting promotion. They’re on their way back up after being in the depths of wrestling’s basement. Is this a company you’ll be working with in the future?
Impact Wrestling is coming on really strong. They just held Slammiversary on pay-per-view. The whole card that night delivered. I think everyone knocked their match out of the park. It’s really cool to come back to a place like Impact. It has so much history and has turned the corner recently. They’ve really upped the quality of their wrestling and are putting stuff on TV that everybody likes and that we, as wrestlers, can be proud of. It’s a really cool time for Impact. When a promotion turns a corner like that, you can almost feel the momentum when you’re watching they show. They’re doing a lot of things right, and it’s a program that people need to watch.
What does it take to turn around a promotion like that? Especially one that had such a negative stigma for so long. Does that fall on the creative team to build the buzz, or is it more a product of changing the morale in the locker room?
The secret of having a successful promotion is having an awesome promotion with wrestling matches that people like. That’s what happened at Slammiversary. The crowd was awesome, and they loved the show. Every match was great. Whether the morale in the locker room changed before that or after that is hard to say. It snowballs, and people are feeling good in the locker room, and then Slammiversary happens. People are then feeling good about the pay-per-view and it continues.
I want to ask you about your former promotion, WWE. Have there been any talks about a possible return, and do you foresee anything happening there again?
WWE is a great company. There is nothing specific on the horizon between me and them right now. I plan on staying with Lucha Underground for a while. As far as do I see anything on the horizon? Who knows. When I left WWE in 2012, I was planning on taking a year off, and now that’s turned into quite a while. But I couldn’t be happier outside of WWE right now, because of places like MLW, Impact Wrestling, Lucha Underground and independent promotions all over the place. There are a lot of really cool places to work outside of WWE, and I’m having a really great time doing that right now.
Lucha Underground is in a world of its own. It’s one of the most creative concepts to come to pro wrestling in a very long time. As a talent, how did you have to adapt the way you approach performing? Do you see it as a chance to spread your wings, creatively speaking?
Yeah. That was one of the cool things about Lucha Underground was that it was going to be a blend of professional wrestling, “grindhouse cinema,” and take a lot from lucha libre. All of those things are things that I’m in to. When I debuted on SmackDown in 2005 against Eddie [Guerrero] and Rey [Mysterio], I’d always been a big fan of lucha moves that Rey could do, and guys like Super Crazy and Psychosis in ECW and WCW. This is just a really cool place for ideas to merge. The vignettes are shot straight up like a movie or TV show with multiple cameras. It’s a cool place to go and allows you to think outside the box.
Have you heard anything about a potential Season 5 of Lucha Underground?
There’s nothing definitive. The roster of Lucha Underground would definitely be excited about a fifth season. Same thing with the producers and everybody. I know that the network is happy with the show and the ratings its created and the talent. I think it’s just a matter of time.
Talk to me about your movie Boone: The Bounty Hunter. That’s a script that you wrote. Talk to me about the writing process and how long it took to come together. Did you find it difficult?
Boone took quite a while, yes. It’s been on Netflix now for a couple of months, which is something I’m very proud of. The writing process was awesome. I went to film school and graduated in 2002. I wrote a couple of things while I was there and some other things when I was in WWE. But they were things I wouldn’t be able to shoot, because I didn’t have the format correct. I wrote this science fiction thing that turned into a 200-page mess. But then I started reading some screenplay books. When I started to write Boone, I found a writing partner. We churned out about 10 drafts. I started feeling good about the story and shopping it around and looking for money. The writing process was something I found to be fulfilling and fun. It’s probably why I’m still doing it now.
This was really your baby and you wore multiple hats for this. How time consuming was Boone for you? Was this a 40-hour per week commitment? 50-hour?
There were times when it was 40 hours, but it was really a five-year project. So there were times when I was waiting on people to become available. If the editor had to take another job and take a few weeks off, I wasn’t spending a ton of time on it. But it’s hard to say how many total hours were there. It was a lot.
Looking at the cast, you have Jonathan Lipnicki, Kevin Sorbo, Corbin Bernsen. A lot of the cast is well known veteran actors. Did you find it intimidating at all to work with experienced performers on that level, or was it a welcome challenge where you tried to learn as much as possible?
I was really excited about it. To put it in terms of a wrestling analogy, to get better in wrestling you need to wrestle people who are better than you. I thought that a lot. When I was doing scenes with Lorenzo [Lamas], or Kevin Sorbo, I was thinking that I’m doing a scene with an artist who’s been practicing their craft for years and years. It was pretty cool to have to force myself to level up to match a lot of the actors in the movie.
You’re going to be on the upcoming season of Survivor. It’s the 37th for the show. It’s already been filmed, so I want to ask you about your experience. Is it everything that we see on TV, legit and difficult to do?
Survivor is no joke. What you see on TV, from my experience, is authentic and real. It’s cold, it’s not easy, you’re starving, and it’s tricky. For me, the experience was interesting. I feel like I got to learn a ton about myself. I got a chance to be removed from social media and the internet and unplug, so to speak. I was able to get introspective about the things that I wanted. It was really cool thing, and I’m excited to see it when it starts airing.
Did you find you could push yourself a little bit further than you realized because you were so cut-off from everything?
Yeah. But also the people I was on the show with had a really high tolerance for uncomfortableness. I think that humans, in general, can do a lot more than they think.
The next season of ‘Survivor’ premieres Wednesday, September 26 @ 8:00 pm ET on CBS.
Mourning The Loss Of Three Stars
The pro wrestling world is mourning the loss of three well-known stars this week, WWE Hall of Famer Nikolai Volkoff, Brian “Grand Master Sexay” Christopher and Brickhouse Brown.
Volkoff, real name Josip Peruzović, died at his Maryland home last weekend at the age of 70. He had been hospitalized days earlier for a number of heart-related issues, according to multiple reports.
Brown, real name Frederick Seawright, passed away at the age of 57 following a battle with cancer.
Christopher’s death on July 29 has garnered the most intense coverage. Authorities in Hardeman County, Tennessee say he hung himself inside of his jail cell where he had been held for three weeks. The 46-year-old son of WWE Hall of Fame legend Jerry “The King” Lawler was booked on charges stemming from allegedly driving under the influence and attempting to evade police on July 7.
Authorities say that Christopher was taken to the hospital after being discovered hanging in his cell. He was placed on life-support before passing away that afternoon.
Christopher’s downward spiral had been well documented over the years as he battled substance abuse problems and bounced in and out of jail.
David M. Reiss, M.D. is a California-based psychiatrist with extensive experience working with athletes and entertainers. According to Reiss, second and third-generation performers can face immense pressure to live up to the extraordinary expectations that come with being the offspring of a legend.
“In sports, no matter what your lineage is, if you’re not performing at the right level you’re not going to make it. There’s constantly that pressure. Couple that with wondering ‘Am I as good as dad?’ and ‘Can I be better than dad?’ and you have the normal pressures basically escalated to a high degree. There can be a sense that they’re letting their parents down. A lot of times it’s been a lifetime dream to reach the level of their parent. And if they don’t make it, it’s very devastating.”
Interestingly, Reiss believes children attempting to follow in the footsteps of a successful parent are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.
News and Notes
Former WWE Superstar Hornswoggle says there are no talks between him and WWE at the moment. He tells the Press Slam podcast that his appearance at the Greatest Royal Rumble earlier this year actually caused him to be fired by Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore promotion. When he told the ECW legend that he was going to have to miss a prior commitment to fly to Saudi Arabia to appear for WWE, Dreamer responded by saying “you’re fired for this show, but re-hired for the next one.”
Legendary Japanese wrestler Jushin “Thunder” Liger is returning to Ring of Honor at the Death Before Dishonor pay-per-view in Las Vegas next month.
Maria Kanellis is training for a comeback at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando following the birth of her first child.
Glenn Jacobs, aka WWE Superstar Kane, is expected to cruise to victory in the August 2nd Knox County, Tennessee mayoral election after winning the Republican primary earlier this year.
Chuck Carroll is a former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality who now interviews the biggest names in wrestling. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.