I conducted a phone interview Thursday with John Morrison, who will be a participant in the Elimination Chamber world heavyweight title match at the WWE pay-per-view Sunday.
You are the only "Tough Enough" winner to make it big in WWE. Why do you think you've been able to succeed while the others failed?
I think it's a variety of reasons for why some people didn't succeed. I think the reason that I've been able to succeed is that I was a fan of sports entertainment when I was a kid – that's what I wanted to do. The way I look at sports entertainment now and my career is [that] I am constantly moving down a path, constantly evolving, and I don't know where the path is going to lead. If the path is taking me to a world heavyweight championship, that's great, but all I really strive for and care about is putting on the best matches I possibly can. I try to do that by staying on top of the game – studying, watching tape, working out, staying in shape, staying injury-free. I think when you look at someone you work with and they've got those qualities and all they want to do is have the best match they can possibly have and they've done their homework, they're someone that you like having around and you want to work with. I think that's really what's made the difference for me.
You had tried out for "Tough Enough" the previous season and didn't make it. Did you consider giving up your ambition of getting into wrestling at that point?
Absolutely. When I didn't make it for the [second] season of "Tough Enough" it was a huge setback. Especially when you come close to something and you fail, of course those thoughts run through your mind, like "Man, I wasted my time," and "I shouldn't have done that," and you start doubting yourself. But I think ultimately I knew that I wanted to be in sports entertainment, and at that point I figured, "Well, 'Tough Enough' was a great opportunity, and now that it's gone, I'll start training on my own, and if I have another chance to be on 'Tough Enough,' I'll do that. If not, I'll just try to get as good as I can on my own." I started training in Sacramento. And then Season 3 of 'Tough Enough' announced that they were going to have auditions not too long after Season 2 was over, so I figured I'd just reapply, and I ended up making it. Now I think that not making Season 2 of 'Tough Enough' was the best thing that could have happened to me.
I was on a conference call with The Miz last week and he talked about the veterans not accepting him and giving him a hard time when he got to WWE after coming from reality TV.
He tell you about eating that chicken?
[Laughs]. Yes, he told that story. Coming from "Tough Enough," did you have a similar experience as far as being accepted?
Yeah, for me it was a little bit rough. I remember the first day I went to OVW, and everyone had already been there for a few months, for a few years, to several years, and seeing me and [fellow Tough Enough winner] Matt Cappotelli walk in fresh off the MTV show. ... If you put yourself in their position, they've been working at something for a few years and here comes some kid who right now is way more popular than they ever were because we've got all this hype and publicity from MTV. And so I think they were a little bit jealous and they didn't know us yet either, so of course you come in and you have to battle kind of a negative attitude from other people straight from the beginning. But if your attitude is good and you want to have good matches and you want to be employed for the right reasons, then I think people start to see that and respect that and respect you as a person, and you can fit in anywhere.
Do you still keep in touch with Matt?
Yeah, I talk to Matt like every couple weeks. I had lunch with him when we were in Louisville the other day.
How's he doing? [Note: Cappotelli has been battling cancer for several years].
Matt is the most positive person that I've ever met. He's doing really well considering he's the most unlucky guy that I've ever seen. It's setback after setback with him. The way he deals with it, though, is really inspiring. He found out he had a malignant brain tumor the size of a golf ball. They ended up removing it, and he finally finished his chemo back in November. He's been dealing with that for about three years. When I saw him, he had torn his patella tendon right as he was finishing up chemo, and broke his elbow playing volleyball somehow. Every time something good happens to him, something bad happens also. Given all that stuff, he's just so positive. He's managing a gym right now in Louisville and he's trying to just get healthy and get back in shape, and he looks like he already is in good shape.
How disappointed were you that your match with The Miz against Carlito and Primo at WrestleMania last year was bumped from the pay-per-view and was a dark match instead?
It really sucked. You know, you work all year. ... You think like WrestleMania is the Super Bowl of wrestling, and to not be included on the biggest show of the year after you've already invited your family and friends and told them that you are going to be is a real bummer, but at least I did get to do the dark match, which is really cool because I got to perform in front of that huge crowd in Houston. It's something where you just have to get used to it with World Wrestling Entertainment. You get a lot of curveballs and you just have to learn to roll with the punches.
When did you get the word that you weren't going to be on the show?
It was about a week or two before. We got the word that Kid Rock wanted to play music for like 25 minutes and they were going to cut our match from the pay-per-view.
You had a string of great matches last summer and fall with Jeff Hardy, CM Punk, Edge, Chris Jericho and Rey Mysterio. Do you have a favorite match among those?
It's tough for me to say which one is my favorite. All those matches are on the DVD "John Morrison: Rock Star," which just came out Tuesday. I think for me the defining moment of the past summer and all those matches was my match against Rey Mysterio. I think it's because Rey Mysterio is someone I always looked up to, and when I was first getting into wrestling I watched hours of Rey Mysterio on tape and imagined, "Man, if I could wrestle him," or "if I could move like him, how great would that be?" When I wrestled him, though, it was cool, but, I got a feeling the fans were going to start booing me because Rey Mysterio is so popular that they're not going to want to see me beating up on Rey. What was so cool about that match for me was that that didn't happen. They didn't boo Rey, and they didn't boo me either. They cheered for both of us, and I ended up beating Rey for the Intercontinental championship, and they cheered for me at the end, too. I picked Rey up and hugged him and they cheered for both us because we had such a good match that the fans were cheering for the match, and I think that's really what the object of sports entertainment is.
It seemed at that time that you were on the verge of becoming the world champion. What do you think you need to do to take that next step?
It's just the right combination of time and place. I think I'm ready to be a world champion. I think I just need the right opportunity and the right time. As far as things to do, there's plenty of stuff I can work on. I can always improve in the ring; I can improve on the mic; I can consistently keep improving. I think that's what you have to do because sometimes for political reasons some people become champions; sometimes it's because people deserve it; sometimes it's just a fluke – right time, right place. HBK [Shawn Michaels] told me and Joey Mercury a story when we first started and we were kind of asking him for advice. We were a little bit frustrated with our position at the time because we wanted more time on TV, we wanted to wrestle people that were higher up the card, and he kind of gave us the same advice. He said, "Right time, right place." He said, "Ten years ago I asked 'Macho Man' Randy Savage the same thing, and Macho Man told me, [imitating Savage] 'Don't take yourself out of the game, kid.' And that's what he told us. As weird as it sounds, I think that's exactly the right advice for sports entertainment. You don't take yourself out of the game. As long as you keep improving and you're there and the fans are responding to you, sooner or later you're not going to be denied anymore.
You're in one of the Elimination Chamber matches Sunday. Do you prepare differently or have a different mind-set when you're going into a gimmick match such as that? Do you watch tapes of past Elimination Chamber matches?
I wouldn't say necessarily a different mind-set. You definitely have to be more psyched-up and ready than you would for a normal match. I know for sure in an Elimination Chamber match or a ladder match, you just have to prepare yourself for pain because you know that it's going to hurt. You just have to get over the fact and accept that, "All right, this match is going to really hurt, so I'm not going to worry about that until after the match. I'm just going to go in, do everything that I need to do, stay focused and not lose my mental concentration." That's usually the best way to go into it. And, yeah, I have been watching a lot of old Elimination Chamber matches. I'm really excited because I think this has the potential to be the best chamber match that they've ever had. Both matches do, but I think the Smackdown one in particular, because it's my first chamber match; it's R-Truth's first chamber match; you got Rey, Punk, Jericho and Undertaker in there also. So I think the potential for a lot of innovative, interesting and original stuff is all there.
There's some question as to whether the ankle injury you suffered on last week's Smackdown was real or part of a story line, so I'll just phrase the question this way: How's the ankle?
The ankle is tweaked. The ankle has been bothering me. It's something that, if it had happened to John Cena, it would have pulled John Cena off the shows. But I'm trucking through it because I don't want to let the fans down. And I didn't want to let the fans down when we were in South America just recently. So I figure as long as I'm preparing myself for pain in the Elimination Chamber, I can mentally prepare myself for a bum ankle while I'm there.
Photo courtesy of WWE