Hard work pays off, and Larry Jones is proof
"Typically about I six years ago I would have 80 to 100 [matches], and then the last four years it’s jumped to about 200 or 220 (per year)," Larry told me in the back room of the Oleika Shriner's Hall in Lexington, Kentucky.
Mere weeks after we spoke, he'd be signed to Impact Wrestling as Larry D, his wrestling persona. Wrestling is far from all he does. Whether he's Larry Jones or Larry D, he's always working.
"I wrestle every Wednesday, every Thursday, typically every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Plus, I have to work 40 hours a week as well. So, it’s tough. Then I train. I run my academy on Tuesdays. I tell everyone I have a switch. When I walk through the doors of a venue or an arena, I switch to Larry D. Then when I walk out I’m back to Larry Jones. There’s not much difference, but there is a smidge," he clarified.
Before being picked up by IMPACT Wrestling, Larry had the benefit of working several of their events. His grueling schedule ended up playing a big role in getting him familiar with the company. Wrestling in Kentucky is turning a corner in part thanks to Larry, but he credits his trips to Ohio in helping getting him noticed.
He would go on to work several Twitch shows along the way.
"It’s a blessing to be honest. It took me going to Dayton, Ohio and getting in the Midwest territory with the Rock Star Pro. Through there I met Sami Calihan, Dave and Jake Crist, and those guys have just sky rocketed me because they believe in what I do. It took me proving myself with Sami, and Jake and Dave, all three, just to get in there with guys that I get in there with like Johnny Impact and get to main event their Twitch IMPACT!s where the IMPACT! Wrestling World Title is just something I never imagined. Once you get up and get out, you just gotta prove yourself night in and night out," Larry said.
While Kentucky has some promotions, it's not quite the promised land of independent wrestling that Chicago, Cleveland or the like are. However, after all the hours Larry's put in, he thinks that will change and continue to improve.
"I think the Midwest is gonna grow and continue to grow far beyond," Larry said, moments before he donned the tights for one of his own shows. "There’s promotions that pop up every day, I feel. There’s bad promotions, there’s good promotions. But, fortunately there’s been great promotions with great talent that they have big budgets and they can bring in IMPACT! Wrestling stars, they can bring in the upper echelon of independent wrestlers and things like that. I’m just blessed to kinda be mixed in with all of them."
Growing the Kentucky wrestling scene is easier said than done. The state is one of the few regulated by state athletic commissions, with the regulatory body often comparing it to MMA. Despite the hurdles it causes for talent and promoters, Jones is well aware of how to navigate those waters.
"I think that I’ve been in it so long that I have an eye for it, I feel. I’m one of the very few people, I’m okay with the Athletic Commission. I’m used to it. It’s all I’ve known. I look at it like, I have to wear my seatbelt to drive. If I get pulled over I’m gonna have a ticket. I think it’s just another part of wrestling that we have to deal with. I’m absolutely for Tim and the rest of the commission, they’ve been great to me. I’ve been on other places, they’ve tried to get me to dog or discredit the commission. But, if we didn’t have a commission here, I think we’d just run rabid. That’s how bad wrestling happens. So, I just try to do my best within the commission rules to put on good wrestling," said Jones. "They’re not just wrestling commissioners to me. They’re genuinely friends. I’m blessed to be able to know them the way that I do."
For what Larry does, operating in the state without a commission would certainly be easier. Promotion rules would be relaxed, wrestlers wouldn't need licensed and the like. There's an element of gatekeeping done by the commission, which limits the number of promotions, but furthers their view of having worthy promotions running events.
The hardcore, even deathmatch style is often attributed to the fact that Kentucky is now a sanctioned state, but Jones thinks that the are could benefit from a little diversity.
"I think I’m hot and cold on it," Jones admitted. "I think that if there wasn’t a commission here, we would have tons of backyard wrestlers that would be able go make money. Well, they probably wouldn’t make money, let’s be honest. But, they would make it appear as though they are professional promoters, wrestlers, entertainers. I think it would hurt our product more because we have the guys that are untrained and they don’t really know how to promote, how to set-up. Because it’s mostly friends and family in the backyard anyway. Also, I think it could boost our economy if we did have a more extreme version of wrestling here because it’s something we’re not used to. Death matches sellout all over the country. I’m not against them. Some of my best friends that I’ve met, some of the coolest people I’ve met are death match wrestlers. I think that it would have a market in Kentucky, if it were done right and regulated right. I feel like maybe we could turn the corner, not any time in the next five years I don’t feel. But, if the right layout came to the Athletic Commission as to how we could regulate blood, how we could regulate what’s used and not used, I feel like it could really boost the market of wrestling here in the state. I would like to see more of a comedy side of wrestling. I think that a lot of times it gets crapped that people do silly things like, maybe wrestle the Invisible Man or—I’m big on that. I love that because it’s entertaining to me. Things like that, I feel like, would be hard to accept in Kentucky because we have been so sculpted to a certain southern style of wrestling, a Memphis style where it’s good guy, bad guy. But, I look at it as a competition. So I feel like, if it’s a competition and a sport that we’re trying to get over as being a legit sport—I might be a fan of UK basketball, but I’m also a fan of Michigan State, if they play each other, I’m torn. I think it’s the same way in wrestling. It’s just a competition."
Prime Time Wrestling, based out of Paris, Kentucky, does plenty of that themselves. Their personal case studies are the live crowds themselves, and so far it's working out.
"We go outside the box a lot here at PTW," Larry said as a half dozen wrestlers got instruction in the ring from veteran Chris Michaels. "We’re not afraid to put a Derrick Neal who is a babyface against a Larry D, that’s a babyface. I feel like our crowd accepts good, solid wrestling. They’re starting to appreciate it more. So, I feel like we’re slowly turning the corner."
PTW is Larry's baby, but he's still in his mid-30s and working away inside the ring, too. He was applying that hard work on IMPACT shows, hoping to catch the eye of Scott D'Amore and Don Callis.
"Every time that I’ve ever done any business with IMPACT! Wrestling, Scott and Don’s always been there," said Larry. "Josh (Mathews) has been there. It’s always been great, it’s positive. After the Johnny Impact mtach. Scott D’Amore grabbed me in a hug and told me how much he really enjoyed calling the match. So, I talk back and forth with Scott on Twitter. I feel good about it. I’m just doing my best to try to earn a job."
Larry did earn a job.
Just weeks after we conducted this interview, Larry was competing at IMPACT's No Surrender. The aforementioned D'Amore hit the ring and gave him some exicting news -- he'd be offered a contract to join the roster.
"Dammit @legendoflarryd, you need a bigger stage to play on...you need to be an IMPACT Wrestling star."— IMPACT (@IMPACTWRESTLING) December 8, 2019
What a moment at #NoSurrender as @ScottDAmore offers Larry D a contract! pic.twitter.com/c6s053Pv1f
It's like Larry was looking into a crystal ball
"I’ve always said this, I get this question a lot—I feel like, of all places that is a fit for me being a father, a family man, IMPACT! Wrestling is the place for Larry D. Because I will still get to be home, I well still get to do the independents, and I’ll still get to make money and provide for my family doing something that I love on top of being on a national scale. I think IMPACT! Wrestling right now is the most talented roster that they’ve had in several years. Right now there’s more eyes are starting to go [on] IMPACT! Wrestling. More eyes are starting to see their product. Now they’re on every Tuesday night. You’ve got Brian Cage, Moose, Michael Elgin, you’ve got the Crist brothers, Rich Swann. It can go on and on and on. Everyone there is so talented. I feel like the contracts and the deals allow them to still float around and stay humble and come back home to the indies like they are here," he said.
It's not just the fact that he was familiar with IMPACT that had him hoping to land there. Working with IMPACT allowed Jones the opportunity to keep doing what he's familiar with -- growing Prime Time Wrestling and the Kentucky wrestling scene, both of which need him.
"I think it’s 100% a selling point. I also believe that they see a vision, and they see the same vision that IMPACT! Wrestling has. Together they both work toward that. What the Crist Brothers—they’re all about helping people. Sami’s all about helping people. They’re scouts themselves. They may not be official scouts for IMPACT! Wrestling, but if you look at Dezmond [Xavier], Zack[ary Wentz], Trey [Miguel]—we got all those guys that are IMPACT! Wrestling now—Ace Austin, Ace Romero," said Jones, as the PTW wrestlers shook hands just feet away before their show that night.
Landing in IMPACT came because of his own hard work, but getting in front of them? It didn't hurt to have a few friends along the way
"I feel like they trust Sami (Callihan)'s word, they trust Dave (Crist), they trust Jake (Crist). They know that they have an eye for talent. So, if they [come to IMPACT! Wrestling, and] say “I have this Larry D guy.” They’re gonna be more likely to put me in there, let me swing a little bit and then once they see I can hit it past the infield there, they’re gonna be likely to use me a little bit more," said Larry, who had actually just welcomed Jake to his event.
Though he's much of a self-made man, it's evident that Jones isn't hesitant to credit others in the business who have aided in his development. From Shriner's Halls to Twitch Streams, he sees plenty of different crowds and says that a TNA legend turned WWE agent helped prepare him.
"There’s two guys that have helped me tremendously," Jones began.
"First, that would be more known, the monster Abyss. He’s took me in, and years ago, on a more personal side—my first marriage ended and I had a number that came across. I didn’t recognize it, so I hit the ignore button. Then it called again, I hit it again. Then I got a text and it was Abyss, telling me “Hey, this is a biz. Call me. I want to talk to you.” So, I called him back. Then from that point forward we would talk every week for two or three times a week. He’s just really good for advice, really good at pushing me, helping me. Then the other guy was, locally, Scott Hayes. I didn’t have an idea of wrestling. I could wrestle, but I didn’t have an idea of how to put it together—false finishes, things like that. Scott Hayes took me in and retrained me without me knowing it. I owe him so much for where I’m at today," said Jones.
It's perhaps poetic that Abyss' journey led him from being a wrestler based in Kentucky, through IMPACT Wrestling into his new role as a WWE agent. The latter is something that Jones himself has taken to and embraces
"My favorite part about pro wrestling is agenting," he said. "I love taking two guys and their ideas and then me helping them, and me not having to take a bump. I see it unfold and I get so excited to see two young guys struggle and they ask me for help. Then I get to help them and then I see what they do. It’s so pleasing to me. At the end of the day, once my career is over I pray, if I hit the lottery, it would be I could get a job as being a match agent."
Running his own promotion, Jones gets plenty of opportunity to stretch his legs in that role. Now with the chances that he's given himself, he wants to give to others.
"I think its just opportunity. I wanted an opportunity to open up a shop. I wanted the opportunity to help people. I think that Prime Time Wrestling gave me that platform to open up Legends Pro Wrestling Academy. We’ve got 15 students right now. So, I know I’ve got 15 kids getting ready to go out and on their own journey. Hopefully 15 more come back and I can help them do the same. At the end of the day, I’m not gonna be able to do this forever. But, I fele like if I treat them right, teach them right, my legacy will stay forever."
Many of those students were taking in a seminar ahead of the show, learning from veteran Chris Michaels, who was replacing an ailing Tracey Smothers.
When you're backstage at a Prime Time Wrestling show, you see an excited Larry, dip in his lip, ready for the night. He's going to be wrestling, he's going to be agenting, he's going to be promoting. He's fully immersed and engaged, doing media with us before taking on all that awaited him.
"The Best Hand in the House" has developed a house that has grown to appreciate what he's doing.
"Central Kentucky is a great spot for pro wrestling. I feel like I bring the best talent from Kentucky and the Tri-State and anywhere else to Prime Time Wrestling and it’s made it what it is today. I have. They started out as just a southern base crowd. They had to be good versus bad. Then we threw a mix in. So now, once we mix in, more Midwest fans come down, some more Indiana fans come down, some more Tennessee fans come up. We mix them together and they mix in each other. So, they’re teaching each other how to be fans, if that makes sense."
Larry Jones is a beloved person in the Kentucky area, and Larry D is a beloved character. Anyone I spoke to along the way who learned I'd interviewed him would glow with praise for the man. With 200+ bookings per year, it's easy to make enemies. If they're around, it's not been easy to find them. With all that mileage on his body, Larry isn't slowing down any time soon.
"I feel great. My back was bothering me a little bit about a year ago. I never went to the chiropractor. Finally went to the chiropractor and now I feel like I’m five, ten years younger. I’m back to wrestling 35, 45 minutes if needed. I feel great. I feel like I could wrestle another 10, 15 years, to be honest with you."
Get used to Larry D.
IMPACT Wrestling goes into Larry's territory Friday, February 21 from the Lexington Ice Center for Outbreak. The show is held in conjunction with Ohio Valley Wrestling. You can follow Prime Time Wrestling and Larry D on Twitter.