By Nick Perkins, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@WesternRebel)
February 20, 2009 could have been the worst day of Colt Cabana’s life. After a less-than-stellar stint in WWE, Cabana was quietly released from his contract with the company. For most people, this could have been a deathblow to their career. For decades, WWE was seen as the mecca of professional wrestling and Cabana had spent his entire career working his way to the supposed “top.”
Cabana had spent the previous ten years building a name for himself on the independent circuit. All across the country, he put on veritable mat classics with people like Kassius Ohno, CM Punk, Austin Aries, and Nigel McGuiness. Cabana also began utilizing comedy ‘spots’ into his matches, ignoring the decree that “funny doesn’t equal money.” Colt proved that it did, which endeared himself to audiences around the world.
Then, he got to WWE and things didn’t go as planned. The ‘powers-that-be’ didn’t see the potential in Cabana, nor did they seem to understand what it was that made him popular in the first place. With very little fanfare and the obligatory wishes of well-being in future endeavors, Colt Cabana had once again found himself as an independent wrestler.
Some wrestlers would wallow in despair, spending a significant amount of time in dark, dirty bars- talking to a different face every night about “what could have been.” Others would market themselves as “As Seen on WWE Television” for the remainder of their career, perhaps finding financial success but never finding fulfillment. Others would quit the business entirely. But Cabana didn’t do any of those things. Instead, he ordered a large pizza, ate the whole thing, and got back to work. He reinvented himself and, in doing so, he quite literally reinvented the business of professional wrestling as well.
Cabana started a podcast called ‘The Art of Wrestling,’ long before most people even knew what a podcast was. Taking cues from the comedians that he admired, such as Marc Maron, Cabana wanted to create a wrestling road diary, so to speak; offering insight into the world of professional wrestling and the people who inhabit it. Like Maron’s WTF podcast, Cabana would sit down with various wrestling personalities and just…talk. It wasn’t anything fancy. In the very early days, there was very little post-production. It was simply a guy with a microphone, who wanted to delve into “the hearts, the souls and the minds of professional wrestlers.” For nine years, Cabana would record his weekly podcast, without missing a single week. Before Colt, very few people, especially wrestlers, saw how popular podcasts would become. Nine years later, almost every wrestler in the business has either been a guest on a podcast or has hosted one themselves.
Many, no, most of them can thank Colt Cabana and The Art of Wrestling for that. Now, after recently announcing that he would be ‘retiring’ The Art of Wrestling, more or less, Cabana was able to reflect on what has been one of the greatest achievements of his personal and professional life.
“At [the point in my career] in 2010, I knew that there were so many cool guys and girls in the back and none of their stories were being told,” Cabana revealed in a recent interview I conducted. “I think a lot of it could probably have to do with the fact that, you know, I tried so hard [to get to WWE] and I worked there for a while and then I got fired and then it was back to square zero. And I knew what a weird, wild story I had and that it wasn’t just me. There were so many people out there who had these stories, just like me.”
Cabana heard these stories on a nightly basis and he wanted to bring those stories to a wider audience.
“I just knew it needed to be done and I was waiting for someone else to do it and then I realized that I had to be the one to do it,” Cabana said.
The amount of people that Cabana has interviewed over the past nine years is, as the saying goes, a who’s who of the wrestling world. He saw these wrestlers on a daily basis and he knew that each had their own fascinating story to tell. He provided them an outlet to do so, and people like Aleistar Black, Cesaro, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Seth Rollins, Pac, and literally hundreds of others were first introduced to a wider fan-base, because of The Art of Wrestling.
While Cabana doesn’t take any credit for the success of these individuals, he is proud that he was able to give them a platform to share their story.
“What’s really fun is that some of the wrestlers that I podcasted with a long time ago, now they’re becoming or have become these big stars,” stated Cabana. “That kind of holds a nice place in my heart because it’s almost like I was the tastemaker and I was like ‘hey, you should know this person because they’re going to be a huge star, and then here we are [X] number of years later and they are the star that they were supposed to be and yeah, that’s a really good feeling.”
Some of the most (in?)famous episodes of AOW involved ‘grizzled young vets’ like Luke Gallows and Cliff Compton (formerly Domino). While these two, in their early runs with WWE, had very little opportunity to show their true personalities, Cabana’s podcast showed just how fascinating these guys are in their real lives. Compton, in particular, went on to become one of Cabana’s most well-known guests, simply because of the stories he told and the experiences he shared.
“Of course, the obvious [highlights of the podcast] have been guys like Gallows and Cliff Compton and Grado,” he continued. “It’s just been so fun to give an outlet to my friends. That was the whole point [of the podcast] – to give an outlet to my friends and let the world know how great these guys are.”
For the first few years of his podcast, Colt would simply interview a friend of his; sometimes inside of his studio…apartment and sometimes backstage at a local wrestling show. Each episode offered a glimpse into the danse macabre that is professional wrestling.
Sometimes, Colt would interview a wrestler. Other times, he would interview referees, writers, legends and urban legends, like Dennis Stamp (which was a dream come true for Cabana, by the way). Sometimes, Colt would even interview friends who shared a mutual passion for stand-up comedy. Being that it was comedy podcasts that inspired him to start his own, this makes sense. For Cabana, comedy is just as fundamental to his wrestling style as a headlock. Some wrestlers want to shock audiences. Others want to frighten them. Colt, whether he was making them laugh or taking a more serious approach to a match, just wanted to make fans happy. Cabana, himself, is generally a positive, happy guy and that is evident in any of his matches, podcasts, or even his stand-up sets, another career that he’s began pursuing.
Colt understands the power of laughter, whether it’s on a stage or in a wrestling ring. That’s why so much of his wrestling persona is shrouded in it. But while he loves the art of stand-up comedy, his first passion will always be professional wrestling.
“Oh, it’s all based off of wrestling,” Cabana stated. “Everything I do is based off of wrestling. Even the comedy is all based off of wrestling, you know? Even the lightheartedness of the podcast has elements of comedy in it. I feel everything I’ve done is basically a merger of those two worlds. Those are the two worlds that I enjoy the most, and I just really enjoy putting them together.”
Whether the emphasis of his podcast was put on comedy or on wrestling, Cabana proved to captivate audiences, whatever the format. In fact, his show would serve as a template for future podcasts, including those hosted by ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, Ric Flair, Edge & Christian, Conrad Thompson and more. Thompson himself is referred to as ‘the pod father’ of the wrestling world but, with all due respect, if that title belongs to anyone, it’s Cabana.
So why, after almost a decade of podcasting, is he finally turning the ‘record’ button off? Why is he ending The Art of Wrestling? Well, like any great comedian, he wants his closer to leave audiences wanting more. But he also feels like there’s not much left to accomplish with his podcast. He achieved everything he wanted to when he started, nine years ago. Now, he wants to go out at the top of his game to make room for the next challenge, the next goal, the next dream.
“You know, I started [the podcast] when I was 30 and I’m almost going to be 40 and doing the podcast was just one part of the plan to change my career,” Cabana admitted.
Cabana added that “the overlying story of this whole podcast was like, ‘will I have success? How will I get my success?’ And I looked back at ten years and I just…it was a successful run, you know? I’ve been able to do a lot of great things and meet a lot of great people. I’ve got some good security because of it. It was a good ten year run and it did a lot for me. And, you know, I hope that there’s something else in my future that will do just as much for my career.”
Colt thinks about the future a lot. He always has. He continually asks himself about what his life will look like in five or ten years. He’s made peace with the fact that he’ll never have that ‘one great run’ in WWE. But the reason he’s been able to make peace with that is because he realized he can be successful, and he can find fulfillment, without it. Much like Bruiser Brody, who built his own legend outside of the WWF bubble, Cabana has earned the respect and admiration of fans and fellow wrestlers for a path that he has carved himself.
Cabana likens himself to Brody, in that both were more or less outlaws of professional wrestling. It would have been easy for Colt to say the right things, shake the right hands and kiss the right asses. Maybe that would have resulted in another run in WWE. But that’s not Colt’s style. He doesn’t enjoy being told what to do or who to be. That’s the whole reason he spent his entire life avoiding ‘real jobs.’ He’s his own man, in every sense of the term. He’s proven that ‘doing it yourself’ can and will work, if you believe hard enough in yourself to make it happen.
“This has been my full time job since I was about 23 years old,” Cabana said. “I started when I was 18. And throughout my career, I always make sure to self-check myself and remind myself that, like, ‘this is your job, it’s the only thing you ever want to do. And even when it’s bad or when you get fired or when you don’t get booked, you’re still making a living at this and you don’t have to go do an awful job that you hate.’ And I always, always keep that in the back of my mind. I always remember that.”
Many people don’t get to live their dreams. Sometimes fate, circumstance or one’s own decisions prevent them from achieving them. It would have been very easy for Colt Cabana to quit the business back in 2009. But he didn’t. He worked harder. He thought outside of the box. He stayed true to himself and he changed the world of professional wrestling forever. His podcast may have revealed the art of wrestling, but his entire career has served as an example of the heart of wrestling.
Colt Cabana travels the world as a professional wrestler and comedian. He is currently performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until August 25 and can be found every week wrestling and providing color commentary for Ring of Honor wrestling.
Follow him on Twitter at @ColtCabana.
For exclusive content, ad-free back episodes of The Art of Wrestling and much more, visit https://www.patreon.com/coltcabana.
The new edition of the Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features guest Eli Drake talking about signing with the NWA, his departure from Impact Wrestling, rejecting an intergender match with Tessa Blanchard, his WWE developmental run, and much more...