Josh Prohibition was my first favorite "indie wrestler." I think he was my first favorite "backyard wrestler," too.
I came to know Prohibition the way that many did -- a Backyard Wrestling video game on PS2 and Xbox. Prohibition and M-Dogg 20, now known as Matt Cross, were heavily featured in the game and made the most of the opportunity. Capitalizing on the backyard wrestling craze of that era, Prohibition and Cross became the poster boys for backyard wrestling, for better or worse.
Twenty years later, that still isn't lost on Prohibition. As I met him for our interview, I walked through a Cleveland gym.
Past the weight equipment, past the cardio equipment, past an MMA area sat a ring with wrestlers pouring out of it. I wondered how many of them came to know Josh the way I did.
"Yeah. It, for a long time there, was basically part of my identity when it came to wrestling," said Josh. "In some ways, I think, it was a little bit of a detriment to us that we had to, in some ways, work harder than other guys. Also, to prove [ourselves] to be true professionals because that stigma stuck for a while. Especially with some of the veteran guys who were really angry about the backyard wrestling craze. But, for young kids that didn’t even know there was a wrestling school within hundreds of miles, what else do you do when you love pro wrestling besides go in your backyard and wrestle? I always said it to the veteran guys that would be angry about the fact that we had backyard wrestled, that the moment I knew that there was a school in Cleveland, which I never knew about, the moment I knew I went and I got trained."
Prohibition is well aware of the training situation in Cleveland now, because he's a giant part of it. Back then, the curtain hadn't been pulled back quite as much. Once he made his appearance in the game, he ended up going about things in a different way.
"It’s exactly what they tell you to do. I was always under the assumption, because when I got into wrestling it was before the internet really even took off. I thought either you went to Japan to train to be a wrestler or the WWE had a school. The only idea I had of a wrestling school were those two places. I didn’t know anything about indie wrestling. I didn’t know there were any other schools out there. So, when I found out about it I was all in. I basically stopped trying to play baseball and I went and got trained like every veteran told me to," said Prohibition.
If you want to hear a full circle situation, now Prohibition is guiding the Cleveland wrestling youth as a trainer. That's been the case for quite a while.
"So, this is about the third wrestling school that I’ve worked at. I worked at the Cleveland All-Pro Wrestling School with J.T. Lightning helping train guys there," Prohibition explained. "This promotion before used to be called, I think, Cleveland Championship Wrestling and I helped run that school. Then obviously I’m back here. I’m actually a school teacher during the day and an indie wrestler on the weekends. So, I love to coach and I love to teach, and it’s kind of a collision of all things that I enjoy—taking my love of pro wrestling, the years and years of teaching and coaching I have under my belt and being able help a lot of young, hungry guys here in Cleveland that are definitely gonna make some noise, I think."
Among those that were in the room training while the interview was being conducted: Dom Garrini, AIW owner John Thorne, AIW tag team champion Marino Tenaglia. No one is above learning in the group. They're constantly evolving and changing, something Josh knows very well.
The Cleveland area in particular might not initially strike someone as a wrestling hotbed, but it is. Talent overflows from the area and takes over every promotion in the land. If it isn't someone from the area, they're probably booked heavily there, at least.
"I may step on toes, I know people [always talk about] Philadelphia and all these other places, but look at, like you were just mentioning, from Cleveland," Prohibition said with a sense of pride. "I helped with Johnny Gargano. I helped train Ray Rowe [(Erik of the Viking Raiders)]. We got Greg Iron, Matt Cross, all these guys that you’re naming, [Dolph] Ziggler came out of Cleveland, the Miz, you got so many guys that came out of this. What is it? I don’t know. They always talk about Cleveland being [an] incredibly tough place to live, and I don’t know if that helps breeds that resilience that you need to be a pro wrestler. ‘Cause pro wrestling kicks your ass. You’re always beat up. You’re always tired. You’re always frustrated. You’re not getting paid and just to keep grinding."
Tucked away, albeit in the back of an impressive facility, isn't as glorious as the WWE Performance Center or the New Japan Dojo. The results, however, are indisputable. The area produces stars, champions, future Hall of Famers.
Prohibition credits the bitter cold of being a Cleveland native as a contributing factor to the success rate of talent.
"I don’t know if it’s that Cleveland sports mentality where you just get beat up so often that you just keep getting back on your feet. I think also part of it, honestly, you’re only as good as the guys you work. I think in Cleveland, back in late 1990s and early 2000s, we had a really good group of guys that were in our chop shop grinding. I feel like we got really good at what we did. Then the next generation came up and we worked with them. Then that generation worked with the next. I think it’s that whole idea of passing it down and iron sharpening iron. You got guys that love wrestling, that are good at it that are taking the time to help bring up the next generation below them and then below them. So, I think you’re gonna still see a steady stream out of Cleveland that’s just quality wrestlers and just genuinely good human beings," said Prohibition.
That good human beings thing certainly extends to Prohibition himself. After he'd cleared off, I heard numerous stories from students about how helpful he was. When I'd contacted John Thorne about potential subjects to interview, Prohibition was one of the first names brought up. It's clear the area is as proud of him as he is of them.
Speaking of Thorne, and the area, the Cleveland region flourishes in major part because of Absolute Intense Wrestling has performed well.
"I do think that’s a testament to John Thorne, the owner of AIW, he has loved wrestling for as long as I’ve known him," Prohibition said, in the multi-colored gym. "I met him when he was 15 years old and he rented a ring and we did a backyard show in some hall. I knew that this was somebody that was a lifer. When you meet people like that, that aren’t in it just ‘cause they wanted a five minutes of fame or fifteen minutes of fame, they do it because they love wrestling. There’s been some real tough times in AIW. Those first few years were very thin. We just kept grinding. It wasn’t for glory or it wasn’t for internet pay-per-views or whatever. It’s ‘cause we genuinely loved wrestling. AIW, I feel like as soon as somebody gets a contract, the next guy steps up. We just keep pumping out new star, new star, new star. As it stands right now it seems like almost everybody has a contract. So, there’s a lot of spots open. Especially in AIW and these indies around here where if guys want to step up to the plate, the opportunities are there to become top tier indies guys now."
One of those Cleveland departures was Prohibition himself, once upon a time. While he's teaching in the ring now, he spends his afternoon molding the minds of the youth in the classroom.
Initially everything was fine, and Josh was able to balance both. As is often the case with pro wrestling, judgment took control from people who didn't know any better (but thought that they did) and pressured him to leave. That was almost it for his career.
"When I got my job as a school teacher 11 years ago, I had informed my principal and my superintendent, “Hey, listen. I’m a pro wrestler on the weekends.” They thought it was really cool," Prohibition recalled. "They were like, “Hey, use that to connect to your students. You might be able to get students that traditionally other teachers wouldn’t be able to reach.” So, I get the job, I get hired. It’s the summertime, so I’m about a month away from starting my first day of school and I get a call from the principal that says, “Hey, you need to come in. We need to have a conversation.” So, I was a little bit concerned with this tone in his voice. So, I drive all the way to the school, I sit down with the principal and the superintendent and they said that a lot of the teachers at the school had Googled me. They were very concerned about the influence I was going to have on the kids. So, at that point they said to me, “You have a choice. You can either you can stop wrestling or you can keep your job.” At that point I had about $60,000 worth of student loans, so I said, “I guess I’m gonna stop wrestling.”
Prohibition was still in his 20s and effectively done as a pro wrestler. His day job took center stage over everything. Josh still loved wrestling, and even thought about ways to possibly get around the ultimatum.
"I was kicking around the idea of becoming a masked wrestler and not telling anybody who I was and continuing to do it. But, I stopped for a good year or so," he said.
Considering our interview took place in front of a wrestling ring, things clearly changed.
"What ended up happening was kinda cool," Prohibition started. "I had one year of teaching under my belt, I did a really good job. Good relationship with the kids. The baseball team was doing really well, that I was coaching. There was a TV show used to be called Pro Wrestling Ohio, used to show on a Cleveland station called Sports Time Ohio and they were running re-runs from two or three years ago and I was on one of the re-runs. I walked into school on a Monday morning, ‘cause it played on Sunday night, I see my principal down the hallway and he practically came jogging at me. I was like, “Why is he jogging at me?” As he was getting closer I could see he was really excited and laughing. He was like, “Josh, last night I was Sports Time Ohio and you were holding up a championship belt! It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” I was like, “Well, can I talk to you about that? Because a year ago you guys said I had to stop.” He’s like “Oh, no, you’re all good now. We all know you.” He’s like, and here’s where it got a little creepy, some of the teachers thought you might be some kind of masochist. He used the word masochist, and I was like, “They thought I was a masochist because I was a pro wrestler? But, anyway, once that I had demonstrated that I was a sane individual and not a masochist, they were okay with me wrestling again. Actually, my first match back I came to AIW and ran an angle with Greg Iron. Again, that year off, that was hard for me. When I got back in, you felt like part of you came back to life that had, essentially, died for a moment."
Josh Prohibition's boss-- a confirmed mark?
Either way, Josh Prohibition was alive, and so was his wrestling career. Looking back on the decade that preceded everything, we went back to his introduction to many people -- the video game.
Joined by the likes of The Sandman, Insane Clown Posse, and Andrew WK, the video game's cover stars were Prohibition and M-Dogg 20. Creating the cover might have been the most vicious part of the game.
"The cover, if anybody has seen it, is me laying on a table and I had a lot more hair then. I’m kinda prone and Matt is coming off of a roof on top of me through a folding table. When we got there the house that’s in the background does not do it justice, the picture, it is much higher than it looks. I would say it’s probably a 12-to-14 foot house. They wanted me to lay there without moving while Matt jumped off onto me, and it’s physically impossible as a human being not to flinch and to try to protect yourself when somebody’s jumping off. But, they wanted me to stay perfectly prone as he lands on me. I’m like, “I’m gonna break every rib that I have.So, we actually took the picture a few times with the actual bump and it was kicking my ass. It was California, we were in the middle of the desert somewhere. It wasn’t even grass. Underneath me was just like cement / rock kinda thing. So, we did it a few times where we actually took the bump through the table. I was getting so jacked up and they wanted to do it again because I didn’t stay still enough for the picture. I was like, “It’s impossible! You’d have to knock me unconscious to get me to stay there prone," Prohibition said, after sharing some stories about the game's designer, Kevin Gill.
Finally, a compromise was met and Prohibition's ribs were saved. Photoshop to the rescue!
So, somebody finally had the idea to superimpose me. I laid on the table, they took a million pictures, and then they put Matt on a trampoline and had him jump up and down a few times and just kinda look like a flying squirrel," Then they took the two pictures and put them together. I was like, “Man, I wish they would have done that from the beginning.” There’s some pictures of me actually going through a table, probably with the worst look on my face ‘cause it was brutal.
Much less strenuous than that was the promotional work he put forth for it. Also, the whole situation helped increase the profile of a twenty-something wrestler trying to make it.
"It helped," said Prohibition of additional bookings he received because of the game's notoriety. "One of the nice things for the game is, I know Eidos did a really nice job of setting up a tour for it to promote it. I went over to Japan with Mad Man Pondo and Kevin Gill and all we did was press conferences that turned into brawls. So, I didn’t even have to have a match and it paid pretty well. So, we would go over to Japan and we’d start a press conference, Pondo would start doing his Pondo thing, just going nuts. I’d just follow suit. Abdullah Kobayashi would get out and get mad ‘cause we’re disrespecting Big Japan [Pro] Wrestling, I think, and it would just turn into a brawl. So, we did it at TV shows, we did it in office buildings, we did it at their dojo. it was really kinda fun ‘cause it was no match. We didn’t have to remember anything. Let’s just brawl. Pondo would bring out the stop sign, and start whacking all the guys at the dojo. It was fun because we did that and we got to go to England, Matt and I put on a match in London, England. They took wonderful care of us over there—put us up, took us to every site you could imagine, wonderful food. Loved our time in England. So, yeah, the promotional stuff for the game was the highlight for me ‘cause I got to see places that I had not yet seen yet. It was just a cool opportunity and it was like a paid vacation."
The Backyard Wrestling series was discontinued after two editions, but the memories are still around, and so are the two cover athletes. For thousands of fans like myself, it could have been their first exposure to a world of pro wrestling that existed outside the auspices of cable television programming. A bit of counter culture that now helps cultivate talent in one of the hottest indie wrestling spots in the world.
Today, Matt Cross and Prohibition have taken categorically different routes. You've seen Cross on Tough Enough, Lucha Underground, NWA, All In, among other places. Prohibition is a teacher in and out of the ring, admittedly calling upon his experience as a wrestler to cut promos on unruly students, and calling upon his experience as a teach the next generation of wrestlers. But the two have careers that are still intertwined, and occasionally you'll see them teaming together, instead of putting each other through tables. Prohibition seemed okay with that.
But then again, sometimes you'll still see them taking each other's heads off. In April of 2019, they were doing just that in AIW. Less than a month later
Prohibition is a great example of learning and adapting. He didn't originally learn the way that some would consider the "right way," but did when he had the chance. When he became an educator himself, he was told that having a wrestling career wasn't the "right way," until it was. Now he's guiding the future, helping show them whatever way that works, and it's a proven success.