A year ago, Erick Stevens wasn't an active wrestler. In a week, he won't be either.
But that year was a ride.
"I look around this locker room and ten months ago I knew nobody here. There is not one person in this locker room that was wrestling during my first run, at least in my circle. So, it’s pretty surreal to be in a locker room with so many young, hungry guys. I’ve had the opportunity to wrestle a lot of great, skilled people. I mean, Josh Alexander, I think, had just started wrestling when I was finishing up. I think he got to PWG around the time I was finishing up. I used to watch him and I was like, “Man, I can’t wait to wrestle that guy.” “I wish I still wrestled so I could wrestle that guy,” and here we are."
There we were. Just behind the curtain minutes after a successful Black Label Pro Title defense by Stevens, weeks before he'd wrap up his wrestling career for the second time. He'd been in such high profile independent spots in his year back.
When I personally first saw Erick, it was on a bright stage, but in a much different light.
"I have the distinct pleasure of being squashed by Monty [Brown], not once, but twice," Stevens said of a his TNA Wrestling appearances from 15 years ago. "First was one on one, which was a pleasure. I know it sounds funny, but it’s great. I’ve got nothing, but good things to say about Monty. I still don’t know how his career didn’t pan out. I know everybody freaks out when they see those clips, but it was just, probably, the most fun I’ve ever had getting my ass beat. It was awesome. I took two Pounces in the first match and then a single Pounce in the next one. It was a good time. It was a nice experience. It’s a very similar experience. Because one second you’re hitting one of those six sides and then you’re flying. I distinctly remember the first time I took it, not being prepared for the force of the contact, and my head hit the ropes on the other side."
Stevens had done four matches for TNA within a month, and nothing came of them beyond that, but he was young in his career. You could even say that he was young in his career when he walked away from it in 2010. 27 years old, television exposure and he was gone.
In 2019 he was back, and he was everywhere. Black Label Pro, AIW, Beyond, MLW. It didn't look like Erick had missed a beat. But how does one take nine years off of wrestling and come back in the first place?
"I’m a planner. My life is planned out. My wife’s a life coach. So, she’s big on structuring the day, structuring the week, structuring the months, and years to a point. So, the plan all along was to come back and really it was a perfect storm. I’m not gonna bore you guys with the long version, but one night the wife and I went out, we had some margaritas. It was WrestleMania weekend last year. I bought the FiteTV package. I watched a bunch of collective stuff and I was really jacked up because I hadn’t watched IMPACT! wrestling in years. I was really jacked up on independent wrestling and I was drunk, and my wife asked me, ‘cause she’s a life coach, [to look inside]. “Are there any dreams you have that scare you?” I was like, “Yeah.” Like, every year I’ve wanted to come back, but it’s scary as shit. It’s scary. I was scared of failure. She’s like, “Just do it.” I’m like, “Really?” She goes, “Yeah.” So, I tweeted it out, I didn’t even remember it the next day, but I got some interest and I figure, you know what? Take a couple bookings a month and ride it into WrestleMania weekend, finish in Tampa where I cut my teeth, the Ybor. I’ve actually wrestled in the Cuban Club before, not a lot of people that weekend. This coming weekend I’m going to have that distinction like I’ve wrestled there before. I’ve wrestled in a lot of those clubs, a lot of those bars and I just think it’s poetic to go full circle and to finish where I started," Stevens said.
Stevens didn't make his intent to return and re-retire a secret. Still, he competed for championships, and won plenty along the way. Even though he didn't know anyone in the Black Label Pro locker room when he came back, the respect from talent backstage was evident.
Stevens shared and reciprocated that respect. During our interview, he heard the theme music of emerging star AJ Gray, and pumped his fist, shouting out a "LET'S GO!," as he was excited to see the former GCW Champion in action against AEW vet Kylie Rae.
The fact that Stevens even took to Twitter to announce his return showcased the change the wrestling business had enjoyed since his exit. One of many.
"Oh, man. (Many is) an understatement," Stevens said So, its changed for the better in a lot of ways in that there’s so many more opportunities now. Whether it’s in Japan, over seas, Europe, the WWE is just signing more people. There’s not a crab in the bucket mentality. Nobody’s stabbing each other in the back for opportunities for shots anymore because there’s so many opportunities. You can make a living on the independents. There was like six guys that were doing that back in my day and some of them were in TNA, too. So doesn’t really even count. On top of that, Ring of Honor was so good because everybody went out to outdo each other every night, right? Every match was competitive with each other and now the whole indie scene is like that. Everybody’s trying to one up each other and the fans benefit from that. It’s really competitive in a good way, a healthy way," Stevens noted.
Just hours after I spoke with Stevens, AEW would hold their Revolution pay-per-view just an hour away. Two days before, WWE was across the world running a major show in Saudi Arabia. The following week, Ring Of Honor was on PPV themselves. There's a talent war being waged, and Stevens more than qualifies as a reputable name that could fit on any roster.
Does that change anything? Is Stevens having second thoughts?
"The closer the end comes the more I think about it the more melon collie I become about it," he admitted. "Because there’s so much that I’m not going to miss—the travel, being away from my family, all that stuff. That’s the hard part. The physicality? Getting beat up? That’s easy for me. I love that part. That’s the part, the cheers, that’s the part that makes me happy. But, I’m gonna miss a lot of aspects. But, the part that I don’t like, I’m not gonna miss one bit, especially the travel."
What about the first time around? What happened?
Stevens had been with Ring of Honor for years. They were growing on television with HDNet, but a lot of things were changing. Jim Cornette was at the helm booking the show, and a lot of turnover was happening. When asked to pinpoint a specific thing that led to him leaving, Stevens didn't point the finger at his sometimes-online-rival Cornette, instead, he accepted responsibility.
"Well, that’s a complicated issue. I don’t want to bring up he-whose-name-shall-not-be-spoken, but there was a new regime in Ring of Honor. Different direction and I’m going to take the blame for this because there was a situation where I had a big role in the company, new staff came in, my role was diminished. Instead of taking the opportunities that I was given and making the best of them, I felt sorry for myself. I kinda got lazy. I just lost my passion. So, I wasn’t valuable any more and I don’t blame them for not using me any more," said Stevens.
Stevens was also quick to shut down Cornette's accusations that he was a part of a 2010 "jobber cut."
"I wasn’t part of any jobber cut," Stevens specified. "Jim Cornette and I never even spoke when I was at Ring of Honor. Once. I think there were a lot of guys he had creative input with, guys he cared about. I wasn’t one of those guys. So, he’ll say what he says. But, we never had any sort of interaction. Hunter [Johnson] was the last person I talked to. He said, “Eh, we’ll use you again, maybe.” Never heard back. Whatever, that’s business. But, I don’t want anyone to think that I was cut because I didn’t do what I was supposed to. There just was no place for me in the company. I don’t blame them for letting me go. But, I lost my passion and I gave up on myself. That’s it. Simple as that."
For reference, the night before Stevens' last match in the company, he was in a top contendership match for the TV Title. A few weeks before, he competed for that Title. When teaming with The Embassy, the team was on a seven match winning streak across TV, PPV and dark matches, so the "jobber" shoe didn't exactly fit.
Stevens' retirement match had been announced. It was set for the same place he returned -- Beyond Wrestling. That's not hard and fast, though. He's well aware that....well, shit happens. And shit has happened. He knew that COVID-19 was a threat to his retirement match months before it.
"One of the main reasons I came back was to prove to myself that I could still do this at a high level and I’ve done that. If for some unknown reason, knock on wood, maybe COVID-19 (Coronavirus) flares up and we cancel WrestleMania weekend and I don’t get to write the ending of my story the way I want to… I’m not saying I’d be happy about it, but I’d be satisfied because I’ve had so many matches where I never thought I could do this again and I proved to myself I could. So, I got a nice little portfolio to go to sleep on," he says.
For a lot of people in the wrestling business, that business defines them. Or at least it does in their own mind. They might not know where to go next. Erick Stevens doesn't have to worry about that, because he already knows where to go.
"The real reason people know me is not because of wrestling. It’s because of my Instagram where I review food with my kids. I post all the newest junk food. That’s @FamilyFoodDude on Instagram. I’m on Youtube with the same user name. That’s where you’ll find me. Also @KookiesAndKreamSarasota. That’s my shoot job. Food is my passion. I like making ice cream and cookies and talking about food. Ironically the same reason I got into food is the same reason I got into wrestling. I used to watch wrestling and it used to make me feel so good, I’d get so excited. I was like I want to make people feel the way I felt. Food’s the same way. When I eat good food I’m like, “Man, I want to give this feeling to somebody else.” So, that’s why. Don’t worry guys, don’t feel sorry for me. I’ve done what I wanted to do in wrestling. Now I’m moving on to more delicious pastures and I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished," he said.
I didn't get paid for the plug, but Stevens gave me a Twix cookie, and it was the most delicious snack I've had in my life. No hyperbole. All day, wrestlers, media members, fans said "you have to get an Erick Stevens cookie." I sure did.
If you're wondering "how can he make that work?" How is that his regular job? A combined 140,000 Instagram followers, 17,000 Youtube subscribers and millions of views will do that.
I gave Erick the opportunity to bury someone on the way out. Instead, he was level headed and eloquent. You know, kind of how a guy would have to be to be successful after nine years off from wrestling. He's leaving wrestling, but he isn't leaving the idea of loving it.
"Let’s get it out of the way. So, Jim Cornette—I just want to speak to Jim Cornette one on one as a man. I know you’re working, I know it’s your gimmick. I know. You’re very good at it. You’re a genius. You’re a great wrestling mind. You really know how to work these fans of yours into a tizzy. But, the problem is, Sean, the fans don’t understand that Jim Cornette is doing a gimmick. He’s working and when you divide, you weaponize the fan base and you’re that divisiveness—it creates a lot of negativity where there doesn’t need to be any. There’s too much good wrestling to worry about the stuff you don’t like. There’s too much. I got two kids, I got a job, I can’t even keep up with the wrestling I like, let alone the wrestling I don’t like. So, my advice to you, if you’re a member of the cult or not, just focus on what you like. There is so much good wrestling. Go to independentwrestling.tv, use code BLACKLABEL. Trust me, you’ll watch all night. Tons of good wrestling out there and that’s not all. Japan and everything. It’s so good."
It is good. Erick Stevens' last ride has been a part of why it's so good.