“It’s like an old friend,” Jeff Cannonball says after sipping a bottle of Sprecher Cherry Cola.
In a video filmed in front of a TV and a framed photo of a cat in a spacesuit, the burly wrestler gives his 85th succinct soda review. Not counting the intro, it’s just five words and a smile. The whole thing lasts only 10 seconds.
The micro monologue, like the other editions, is densely packed with charm. Cannonball is likable, relatable, unassuming. Watching it, you feel like a buddy is firing off a one-liner in your living room.
These playful, pithy critiques of sodas have become the 33-year-old’s calling card of sorts. Thousands of people watch him talk beverages on Twitter and Instagram. People mail him sodas to review. The clips have even inspired fan art.
Cannonball didn’t plan to be known as the soda guy, though.
Short Soda Reviews #43: Worm Ooze pic.twitter.com/SNsaxCC9Fn— Jeff Cannonball (@JeffCannonball) November 30, 2020
Last year, the project was born when he asked his wife, fellow wrestler Terra Calaway, to film him tasting a root beer for an Instagram story. He jokingly said it was the first edition despite there being no thoughts of creating a second or third, much less a 90th.
“It was supposed to be this one-time thing,” Cannonball told me in a phone interview. “People loved it, so I just kept on doing it. By the third one, people were requesting sodas.”
In the crowded and scattershot world that is indie wrestling, it’s tough to get noticed. Some folks do so via a memorable gimmick. Sometimes, GIFs of a match go viral. Cannonball stumbled onto a whole new avenue for widening his fan base—soda of all things.
Yes, this veers off the path he was on previously, battling in bloody matches, playing the stone-cold bad dude, reigning on the indie scene as King Ugly, but Cannonball has embraced where things have headed.
Short Soda Reviews #66: Sprecher Fire-Brewed Root Beer pic.twitter.com/F8Jr95lY0i— Jeff Cannonball (@JeffCannonball) January 22, 2021
“I’m okay that I found my way in drinking carbonated sugar water,” he laughed.
Before becoming the internet’s unofficial soda sommelier, the Jersey native made his mark wrestling all over the Tri-State area. He earned his way onto Combat Zone Wrestling cards where he competed in the company’s Tournament of Death event. He’s stepped in the ring against Al Snow, D-Von Dudley, Jim Duggan, Joey Janela.
Over time, deathmatches became Cannonball’s specialty.
The gory, peculiar subgenre saw the big fella crush a cinder block over a man’s back. He gouged a man’s face with a broken light tube. He suffered the anguish of a carpet strip’s row of tiny nails piercing his skin.
Cannonball soaked up the freak show aspect of it all. Whether fans were grossed out, gasping, or shocked, he was getting a reaction, and when it comes down it, that’s what a wrestler is after.
Deathmatch wrestling appeals to him especially because it is so outrageous. It’s punk rock. It’s performance art.
“It’s pretty much wrestling turned up to 10,” Cannonball explained. “Deathmatches are just wrestling done super over the top.”
While he had the size, toughness, and the willingness to bleed for one’s craft to thrive in that world, something was missing. Earlier in his career, we weren’t getting the real Jeff Cannonball in the ring. He said he was trying to force things, to be a stereotypical serious, brooding wrestler that didn’t suit him.
The build to a hardcore punk show was one of the surprising catalysts that helped change that.
Cannonball’s old punk band Altered Boys was set to play alongside Zero Progress in California. Matt Saincome from Zero Progress proposed the idea of the bands doing dueling wrestling-style promo battles.
The result was a series of absurd clips of dudes yelling at the camera. At one point, Cannonball is standing shirtless in a field growling threats to the other bands.
“Prison Scare! Zero Progress!” he barked. “A bunch of boys in a man’s game. Well tonight, daddy’s gonna spank you. It’s a cold world, fellas. Get a sweater.”
All of it is dumb fun and far more memorable than just stapling a bunch of flyers to light poles. Cannonball had hit upon some outside-the-box marketing and discovered a new side of his wrestling self.
“That was my first time not being Mr. Tough Guy Wrestler,” Cannonball recalled. “I was just being a goofball which I think got me more noticed. Those promos were kind of me just being more me.”
Flash forward to today and you can see that same exuberant, silly energy in Cannonball’s matches. Never mind that his head is caked with blood. Never mind that he and his partner are torturing each other with items you can find at Home Depot. It’s still all about fun.
“I am still making jokes throughout the match,” Cannonball said. “That’s just who I am. It’s me being me, even in the midst of flying glass and getting tangled in barbed wire.”
Now, the soda videos are an extension of that embrace of his true self. We see the real Jeff three times a week in ten-second-or-so intervals. His metaphorical mask is off, and a daffy guy from central Jersey talks about something he loves.
During his soda reviews, Cannonball has called Australian Coca-Cola “similar but worse.” He said of the A-Treat Big Blue, “That tastes like magic.” He has sampled and appraised Moxie, Malta, Squamscot’s Fruit Bowl. He’s offering an education in unheralded beverages.
Ranch dressing soda has been his most disgusting taste adventure thus far.
Short Soda Reviews #40: Ranch Dressing Soda pic.twitter.com/a2u0v3iziq— Jeff Cannonball (@JeffCannonball) November 22, 2020
On episode 40 of Short Soda Reviews, Cannonball gave the ranch-flavored drink a cutting critique. “Oh! That’s the worst!” he blurted as his body curled in repulsion.
Ranch, mustard, and dirt remain the three strangest sodas he’s had to this point. Curiosity will keep him coming back to oddball flavors like those. His growing fan base will be watching when he does.
The reality of him having an audience for something so ridiculous still hasn’t quite set in.
“I’ll drink a weird soda and 17,000 people will see it,” he said. “And that’s just bizarre to me to this day.
Cannonball, who has been vegan off and on for about eight years, is careful not to overdo it with the sodas. He has three a week for the Short Soda Review series, but often doesn’t finish them.
In the past, he has slammed a whole pizza and “felt like a piece of garbage for the next two days.” Today, though, he takes better care of himself. Long gone are the days of a diet heavy on French fries and Swedish fish. Veganism helps him maintain his energy and avoid feeling sluggish.
Short Soda Reviews #79: Coca Cola with Coffee pic.twitter.com/lhV4Y72xi4— Jeff Cannonball (@JeffCannonball) February 22, 2021
He’ll need that energy should he get the chance to face one of his dream opponents, the madman from Hokkaido, Japan—Jun Kasai. The heavily scarred deathmatch vet has long been on Cannonball’s wrestling bucket list as he’s one of the most successful figures in the hardcore corner of wrestling.
Abdullah Kobayashi, a 360-plus pound brawler, is in Cannonball’s sights, too. Beyond being someone he’d love to tangle with, the deathmatch star has also been an inspiration.
Cannonball said of Kobayashi: “He’s kind of like me. He’s this fat, goofy guy who does brutal deathmatches. He’s one of those guys who made me realize I can be the fat, funny guy in wrestling. I don’t have to be another serious guy.”
That’s been key for the man known as King Ugly.
He’s found himself as a wrestler. He’s nestled into his niche. Of course, he’d love to make more money and lock horns with Kasai, Kobayashi, and former WWE talent Hornswoggle, but Cannonball is content.
“I’m happy with my life,” he said. "I can’t complain. I make a decent bit of money. I’m 5’9”, and I’ve been a fat guy my whole life. Somebody who looks like me shouldn’t be making money off wrestling.”
But he has. That’s come by way of hard work, painting the canvas red with his own blood, and most recently, offering us some silly entertainment during a long pandemic."
Now, he has made a name for himself in an industry where gimmicks are king with sodas rather than suplexes. No bloodshed required. No back bumps needed. Not a drop of sweat spent.