You've probably already read stories about what Gregory Iron has overcome, and CM Punk endorsing him. You've probably read about him being motivational.
But what about all the times he has to be an asshole? That's a battle in it's own.
Fightful spoke with Gregory over the course of about a half hour in downtown Cleveland, an area where he's made his mark for years. Being local doesn't always mean being the fan favorite, even when so much of the population knows what Iron has battled with Cerebral Palsy and the work he's put in. It would be easy for Iron to rest on his laurels.
Easy isn't something that seems to appeal to Gregory. He's willing to work for everything, even if that everything is intended to make you not like him.
"I take a lot of pride in defying the odds in being a good bad guy," Iron said, clad in a fanny pack and a backwards hat (he also had other things on.). "Because initially when I was approached about it, geez, like ten years ago now, no one thought I could be a bad guy because I have cerebral palsy. So, I like a challenge, like I said. So, I could channel those feelings and that anger that I had as a kid when people would make fun of me. I had this other perspective of people who would look at me like I’m disabled. But, then I think to myself, these people that were making fun of me, I would look at their own flaws. I can go back to that place so now as an adult wrestler man in Spandex I could channel those feelings and that’s how I knew I would be a bad guy. Because I take all these feelings I have from when I was a kid, and flip ‘em. I go, “Well, you look at me, like I have a disability, but have you took a look in the mirror lately?” I think that’s how it works.
Balance in pro wrestling between character and human is one that many struggle with. Being a deplorable, unconscionable person on stage isn't something that everyone wants to carry over to their everyday live. Couple that with the fact that Iron is actually a significant source of inspiration to thousands of people, and it can be an ongoing conflict.
"Is there balance?," Iron asked. "Here’s the thing, I think I’ve gotten lucky enough that my fanbase understands, particularly on my social media, that we live in a time where everyone wants to be in on the joke. So, if I make one post, and I’ve done this before, almost like a test. I can make one post in the morning about something inspiring, I’m like, “Let’s get motivated today, let’s overcome the odds.” I can be Good Guy Gregory Iron. Then middle of the day I’m working somewhere else as a bad guy, so I want to promote what I’m doing there. So, then I make a post about whatever angle I’m doing there and it’s kind of passive aggressive or being mean to the fans or your wrestler."
Even though the audience has become smarter and some are in on the act, social media plays a big role in not just getting someone as a character over, but relating to the performer as a person.
"I struggle with mental health," Iron admitted. "A lot of people do. We have these moments where we feel alone, like there’s no one there for us and we can only go through these problems by ourselves and I want to make people understand that, even though I’m in the public eye, I struggle too. So, I can make a post about what I’m going through, and I think people can relate to those in different ways. They understand. I think if you let the fans in on what you’re doing and don’t treat them like they’re idiots, they’ll invest in you more. I guess that’s where the balance comes in, I guess."
That balance isn't for everyone. Some people never step away from what you see on screen or in the ring. Whether it be just how they are or a role they're portraying, sometimes it's a foggy road to travel.
"I tell guys when they’re trying to figure out how do we blurring the lines between reality and fiction, MJF is a perfect example," Iron explained, with full heel beard in tow. "I’ve seen him since he was just a kid training in New Jersey when me and Zach Gowen used to do shows for Pro Wrestling Syndicate and I think he rides that line pretty well. There’s been times recently where me or a friend will reach out to him and be like, “I don’t know about that.” ‘Cause now he’s in AEW and it’s a little bit more public scrutiny, you can’t be doing certain things. I think in general I think it’s okay to, even at the gimmick table sometimes, I don’t want you to be a complete ass to people, but I think you can still make them believe you’re a bad guy to an extent without completely berating them and insulting them."
The thing about Iron is, he's an incredibly likable person. He's a wrestling fan that wanted to become a commentator and instead pursued his dream and became a wrestler. It's tough to not like him anyway. He rattled off names from the 1996 Royal Rumble with me. As much of our conversation was about what we love and fondly remember about pro wrestling as it was about him and his travels. Any wrestling fan that grew up in the 90s will be able to connect with him. Iron had the same dreams that so many others did.
In modern wrestling, a lot of fans ache to be a part of the magic, a part of the act. Plenty want to be perceived as superior and ahead of the curve. With Iron already facing an uphill battle to get people to boo him, he was asked if he prefers people who "appreciate the heel work," to boo him accordingly, but it's not a hard and fast rule.
"I guess it depends on the situation," Iron. "I prefer they go along with the story we’re trying to tell, but sometimes the crowd makes that shift and it challenges you and it allows you to adapt and go to a place that maybe you didn’t think you were gonna go in the first place. The only reason why I became a heel initially was because, after the CM Punk thing, there was a section in the crowd on the shows I would do in Cleveland that booed me because they thought it was cool because the white meat babyface thing was getting stale. So that forced me to go, when they pitched the bad guy thing, “Okay, how do I make this bad guy thing work?” So, it wasn’t something that was planned, like, “Okay, this month you’re gonna turn heel.” The crowd did that. So, I had to adapt to that. For example, they just turned me a bad guy in Texas last weekend. So, I was cutting this promo to set it up. Sometimes it takes you to places you didn’t expect it to go. So, I’m cutting this promo, I’m very white meat babyface, and I’m saying all these generic things. Almost like Kurt Angle circa 2000, sort of passive aggressive and at one point I say, “You know, I haven’t been having the best winning streak here in Texas. But, I’ve been training really hard this week, and I’ve been taking care of my body,” and we’re in a bar, that’s important to point out. I go “I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. So, I’m really taking care of my mind and my spirit,” and the crowd starts booing. Which is what I wanted. So, I’m like, “Yeah, I got ‘em now.”
Conflict is the name of the game. Not just in the ring, but in the mind of the fans. When Iron has to work on an evil side of things, he wants the audience to wonder if they should be able to boo him, before they even decide if they will.
"I feel like if they’re gonna buy your merch, they’re gonna buy your merch because they want to invest in the character right? If they weren’t gonna buy your merch, because you insulted them, they weren’t going to buy your merch in the first place. So, you have to find that even keel. Because people want to believe in the magic. They want to have those moments when they watch the show and they go and it sounds super generic, but they see something like, “Oh, that’s part of the story.” But, then you see another guy and another angle, you’re like, “Well, I don’t know about that.” Make you question them and that’s what I wanted them to do with the Gregory Iron character. I knew for people to invest in me as a bad guy with a disability I had to make fans, especially when I first started doing the bad guy thing, go “I think I hate Gregory Irons. He’s like a piece of garbage outside of wrestling," said Iron. "I mean, he does have a disability, but he does seem like an ass.”
With the range he's already shown as a character, Iron takes things from his every day life in an effort to make you despise him for it when he hits the squared circle. He called back to just turning heel in a Texas territory recently, and drew upon board games. Depending on the game you're playing (Monopoly is for sure a heel game), that could be hard to make work. Iron experienced that conflict first-hand.
"So, legitimately, all week I was playing board games with my friend Josh. Which is like super dorky, right? I wasn’t going to go see anything in Texas, I was just playing board games and I go, “So, you know, I’ve been training hard, my body; no smoking, no drinking and I’ve been sitting around playing a lot of board games. Give it up for board games, guys!” I thought of course they’d be like, “What a nerd, what a loser.” But, of course, I started getting this “Board games! Board games! Board games!” So I had ‘em as the bad guy and then they loved me again. So, I was like, “Damnit!”
In true heel fashion, Iron recalled playing Monopoly with Johnny Gargano and Candice LeRae one New Year's Eve, so Iron probably knew the shift in Gargano's attitude was coming a lot sooner than NXT viewers saw it in Portland.
While it wasn't necessarily tied to the question about the face/heel dynamic, a viewer question came in about what President Iron would take on.
"Well, you know, I like a challenge and so I feel like if I were to pick someone, I would probably have to pick Abe Lincoln," said Iron.
He chose Abraham Lincoln, one of the greatest, most beloved Presidents of all-time.
This guy is despicable.
"Because, I mean, he does have a wrestling background, from what I understand. He did some fighting back in the day. I think he would be quite the challenge. Plus, he made that cameo, not actually Abe Lincoln, but he was in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. That’s a classic. Absolutely a big boy. I’m the underdog. That’s a big man / little man story, I’m all about that,"
Unfortunately for Iron, when he was pressed about Lincoln's promo ability and love for Diet Mt. Dew, he was unfamiliar with it.
All that talent and he didn't do his homework.