Fred Rosser is a professional wrestler on NJPW Strong and an inspirational anti-bullying advocate. He also has the chance to become the second-ever NJPW Strong Openweight champion if he’s able to defeat the dastardly, “Filthy” Tom Lawlor.
A victory over Lawlor would not only be momentous for Fred, but also for all of the underdogs that he represents. I was lucky enough to be able to ask Fred Rosser some questions about his professional wrestling journey and what it means to live as an LGBTQ athlete. Being out as a public figure already presents the danger of harassment, but also provides the opportunity to inspire. Given the unique medium professional wrestling is, wrestlers have a very special way to inspire fans through their storytelling.
Do you think there’s anything especially useful about pro wrestling when trying to spread your message against bullying?
"I think for too long, our society has shrugged off bullying as being okay. It says, for example, that students should simply get over it. I feel these attitudes need to change starting with our youth. Every day, students are bullied into silence and are afraid to speak up and I want to help break this silence and end school bullying by continuing my #BlockTheHate Movement speaking to the masses all over the world about the damaging effects of all forms of bullying and be that hero to someone who needs saving.
The point of this Block The Hate movement is to show that we all aren't as different from each other as we think. We all get bullied for one reason or another but in order to be strong and successful, you must BLOCK THE HATE."
Rosser is a true veteran in the business. Before his current run in NJPW, his most well-known stint in wrestling was his time as a member of WWE’s Nexus under the name Darren Young. After Nexus dissolved, Young was one half of the Prime Time Players alongside Titus O’Neil.
In 2013, Rosser made national headlines when he came out of the closet as gay. This made him the first superstar to be openly gay while signed to WWE. Fred was featured in media outlets like People Magazine, ABC News, and The Ellen Show. During every appearance Fred’s message was always clear: someone’s success should be determined only by their character, not their sexual orientation.
While Rosser’s place of work has changed since coming out, his resilience in sending out his message to the world has never wavered.
Rosser was released from the WWE in 2017. He then worked a bit on the independent scene until his friend, Lance Archer, invited him to come to an NJPW show. Rosser watched from the audience and made it his goal to join the ranks of the New Japan roster.
Rosser eventually made some appearances on NJPW Strong and on June 14th, 2021, NJPW announced that Rosser had signed an exclusive agreement with the company. Since then Rosser has been winning fans over with his in-ring performances and his inspirational #BlockTheHate message.
What are the differences between the backstage environments of NJPW and other companies you’ve worked for?
"For me, I’m a pretty easy going guy in the locker room and I find myself always still in the zone, still nervous 19+ years in wrestling because now on New Japan STRONG, I’m competing with a solid group of athletes that are so damn talented and I’m always worried that my game might be off in the ring. But that’s just the perfectionist in me so if I can put the most pressure on myself as possible, that’s where I’m going to perform my best!
Tom Lawlor and myself received the 2020 match of the year for New Japan STRONG which is my biggest honor and personal victory in wrestling for me. We recently wrestled again, a year later and people in attendance are saying it was better than our first encounter during the pandemic which is truly gratifying to hear.
In the last year with New Japan STRONG, I’ve continued to prove to the wrestling and entertainment world that you can be a successful athlete and also be part of a great community because who you are doesn't determine what you can and cannot achieve."
Currently, Rosser is set to challenge NJPW Strong Openweight Champion Tom Lawlor at Detonation. His capturing of the belt would be incredibly momentous for the history of NJPW.
First, Rosser would become the fourth ever Black champion in NJPW history (the three previous champions were IWGP Heavyweight champion Bob Sapp in 2004, IWGP Intercontinental champion MVP in 2011, and IWGP Jr Heavyweight champion Black Tiger (Rocky Romero) in 2005).
His title victory would also continue Rosser’s legacy as a pioneer in LGBTQ wrestling, as his victory would make him the first openly gay champion in NJPW history. It would be a landmark moment in pro wrestling, an industry that could hardly imagine a gay athlete reaching the top of the mountain a decade ago.
How has pro wrestling changed in regards to its treatment of the LGBTQ community since your coming out in 2013? Do you see yourself as a representative of the LGBTQ in New Japan or in pro wrestling in general? What are the responsibilities that come with that?
"I absolutely, totally see myself as representative of the LGBTQ community because by being the first openly gay WWE superstar to come out while still signed to a major organization, I’ve been able to pave the way for LGBTQ athletes in wrestling and beyond to come out and live an honest "authentic" life. Most importantly, I’ve shown other LGBTQ athletes that they have a duty to instill confidence in our youth and to lead by example.
Ever since coming out in 2013, my goal has now been to inspire others to be comfortable in their own skin. The reason why I’m so passionate about the LGBTQ community or anyone that gets bullied for various reasons is that I have something that the other generations before me didn’t have. There wasn’t much real representation out there before me and by living my truth, I’ve been able to encourage and inspire wrestling fans all over the world to go for their dreams and not allow the opinion of others to derail their journey to greatness."
I can’t stress enough, though, that Fred Rosser shouldn’t just be Strong champion for the accolades of representation it would bring NJPW. Rosser is very much over as a babyface with NJPW’s fans and brings the necessary experience to a pretty young roster.
A champion acts as a representative for their company; when a promotion anoints someone as champion, it means that performer is emblematic of the company’s priorities, whether the wrestler is a young star on the rise, a dependable ace to deliver solid main events, or a heel who’s there to rile up the company’s babyfaces.
Rosser being champ would not only lead NJPW Strong into a fresh new era under a babyface champion, but would also cement that Rosser is living proof of his message; hate might hurt, but it can’t bring you down if you block it out.