For 22 years, John Mellnick has been a staple in the Michigan and Southern Ontario indie circuit as John E. Bravo, a nefarious hoodwink with a penchant for violence. An early student with Scott D’Amore‘s Can-Am Wrestling School student, the Michigan native is a original (and still regular) wrestler with D’Amore’s Border City Wrestling (BCW) in Windsor, Ontario. Last year, Bravo saw a shift in his career, as he followed the paths of many other pro wrestlers, such as Drake Younger, Scott Armstrong and others, and became a referee, when he joined the reffing staff for Impact Wrestling. As Impact Wrestling heads “home” to Border City Wrestling and Windsor, Ontario for this weekend’s set of television tapings, LWOPW talked to John E. Bravo about his career and his new opportunities with Impact Wrestling.
Last Word on Pro Wrestling: So first things first. A lot of people now recognize you as an Impact referee, but you’re going on 20 years in the business as a wrestler as well. What first drew you to pro wrestling?
John E. Bravo: This November will actually be my 22nd year….I started in 1996. Like every kid in the 80s, I loved watching WWE (WWF). I always dreamed I wanted to do it. But the actual moment I realized it was something I wanted to pursue was after watching Bret Hart vs Mr. Perfect at SummerSlam 1991. They weren’t particularly big guys like Hulk Hogan and they gave smaller guys like me aspirations to want to pursue Pro Wrestling.
Once you’d decided to pursue it as a career, who did you turn to for training?
I’d actually seen an article in the Detroit News about Scott D’Amore’s Can-Am Wrestling School in 1994. So my dad called him. Because I was 16, I went and met him at a show in Inkster, Michigan and he described the school to me. One year later, I lost the phone number, but my neighbour was a DJ that did the audio at a local wrestling show in Michigan called Great Lakes Wrestling. He told me if I helped him and was his assistant for one day, he would introduce me to the promoter. That promoter was “Machine Gun” Mike Kelly…. he gave me a phone number for “Irish” Mickey Doyle, who was also a head trainer at Can-Am Wrestling School (so I got the number back). Mickey told me to show up with knee pads and water. So I did, and I never looked back.
Do you remember your first match?
Unfortunately yes (sarcasm)…It was me and Bobo Brown versus the original “Canadian Destroyer” Doug Chevalier (who also trained D’Amore) and Ricky James. It was a tag match, because I was green, and that’s a good way to hide somebody with less experience. It wasn’t bad – I did really well for my first match. It was about 20 minutes long, I did some highflying things, because back then I was high flier. But when I watch it back on VHS, I have a few cringe worthy moments, just because of my experience – but that’s everybody.
You’ve become one of BCW’s most beguiled villains over the past two decades. Do you find being the bad guy is a more natural fit for you? What heels did you draw inspiration from in finding your inner John E. Bravo?
Growing up, heel Roddy Piper, heel Razor Ramon, heel Mr. Perfect…Yokozuna’s heel eye stare…but to be completely honest, heel John E. Bravo is the real guy – John Mellnick is the persona. You can’t tell people what you actually think of them in real life, but you can in wrestling. You can’t smack a drink out of somebody’s hand in real life and not have the cops called on you, and in Pro Wrestling you can. Pro wrestling and the character that I play is basically the guy I wish I could be every single day of my life in public…but society doesn’t allow that, haha.
You’re a product of Michigan, but also work a lot in Southern Ontario’s indie scene as well. Why does this area not get as much focus as other regions around North America when it comes to it’s indie scene? With so much talent that’s come out of Michigan and Southern Ontario, both in the majors and indie circuits worldwide, this area is still somewhat unrecognized and underappreciated.
That’s debatable…I think at times it does get its recognition, but you’re also correct there are times it doesn’t. Everybody knows Rhino is from Detroit, everybody knows the Motor City Machine Guns are from Detroit. Everybody knows “Showtime” Eric Young, Bobby Roode, Petey Williams. We’re all in Team Canada together with Coach Scott D’Amore. And most of those guys got their big break at Border City wrestling. There is a ton of talent to come out of Michigan and Ontario. And if people didn’t recognize that in the last few years…with Border City Wrestling hosting Impact television tapings this week, the rest of the world is going to pick up on that real soon.
I just meant that the indie promotions in the area don’t get the kind of conversation like say AAW, AIW or IWA Mid South in the Midwest, or California’s PWG, or the East Coast’s EVOLVE, Beyond, etc. It almost seems like while there is a lot of promotions, there doesn’t seem to one one that is making a huge presence on the indie scene as far as name recognition. Smash and Destiny in Toronto definitely are starting to, and BCW has always had a lot of industry respect. Is there a Detroit promotion that is ready to become a leader in the area as far as the indie boom we’re seeing via On Demand sites?
Xtreme Intense championship wrestling (XICW) is the number one organization in the Detroit area in Michigan. They’ve been running around 15 years, maybe more. It’s a much different product – the business model is very much old original ECW. Flaming elbows, barbwire, people cutting promos dropping the F bombs. And their crowd absolutely loves it! It’s definitely not for everyone. Ultimate Championship Wrestling (UCW) is based out of Bay City, which is about two hours from Detroit and that’s run by a gentleman by the name of Brian Maday and The Brooklyn Brawler. They’ve been around for about 17 years, and I am the booker there for them. I’ve been hired there to help clean up that organization and we’re hoping to do some things with BCW and Impact in the future. I just booked Jeff Jarrett there last Saturday. In fact, Brooklyn Brawler brought in Jerry Lawler last year. So they’re definitely going in a great direction. But those are the only two with higher production, as opposed to those other organizations you brought up. A lot of the Michigan and Ontario organizations are smaller venues with less production, but there’s plenty of them out there which is good places for people to practice their craft.
You’ve worked with a lot of names over the years. Who have been some of your greatest opponents in the ring? The guys who have always been fun to work with and brought out the best in you?
My number one opponent without a doubt is Aiden Prince. Our matches have been legendary for many reasons – people could never figure out what was the work and what was a shoot. We blurred that line of what was real and what was fake. And we did that by having a gentleman’s agreement that we were going to hurt each other respectfully. I asked him if I could break his nose, at the end of our first match to get people to think what the heck did I just see was that real or fake? It was real because he agreed to it. In exchange, he was allowed to try and break mine in our second match. And plenty of other little things we did, really hitting each other as hard as we could, never putting his hand up for a super kick, double springboard double clothesline me talking crap to his mom…to this day, she still thinks we hate each other.
You’re also a trainer now at Can-Am Wrestling School. How did that transition go about, going from an early student to now helping the new generations coming through?
I apparently was doing it for years and never even realized it! I would always help out as much as I could, because I’ve gone to that school every Monday for the last 18 years and rarely do I ever miss a night. But I was always doing my best to assist the younger kids. But the first time I realized it was when head trainer Scott D’Amore was having issues with his father‘s health declining, the same with Tyson Dux. And then a kid by the name of Idris Abraham showed up to our school. Scott and Tyson weren’t there to train him, so I would show him things. But I would tell him I was not his trainer, I did not want that responsibility of being anybody’s trainer. And if Tyson and Scott were to show him something differently, that he was to listen to them and not me. Then one day, I was sitting down in class and it was just him and I, this was months later, I looked at him and I said “I kind of became your assistant trainer didn’t I?” He said “Yes, you did” and that’s when I realized I actually was a part of the school as a trainer.
After so long as a wrestler, how did the opportunity rise to become a referee with Impact Wrestling?
About four years ago, I did a try out for Jeff Jarrett when he came to Windsor for Global Force Wrestling (GFW) via BCW. I impressed him and his wife and they liked me. I did well enough that I asked if I could be an intern at his GFW event in Las Vegas, so I flew myself out there for zero pay…set up his ring and worked my butt off backstage. Two years later, Scott pulled me into his office and said “There’s a GFW event coming up in Timmons, do you think you would be able to referee it?” I told him I never thought about refereeing before, but I would be willing to give it a try. So I did the show – I was the only referee there and I refereed seven matches, did the whole show and apparently I was a natural at it. Because I’ve been a wrestler for so long, I know what I expect from a referee and I just go out there and do it. Jeff Jarrett thought I did really well and asked Scott how many years had I been refereeing and Scott told him this was my first day…so the goal was for me to be a referee at GFW. Impact was never in the plan.
Then Dixie Carter stepped down from her position at Impact and Anthem Sports took over and asked Jeff Jarrett and Scott D’Amore to come in as consultants. They told me I had an open door policy to come to Impact, but they didn’t have anything for me but they would do their best to try and find something for me. So they made me a judge a few times in the Impact Grand Championship matches. And I asked if I could referee and I was told no, that they already had three referees. So I kept showing up month after month, asking anyone I could, every time I was there, to referee. And my third month there, Jarrett pulled me aside and asked me if I brought my referee gear, and I told him yes and he told me to go get it. That’s how I first started refereeing at Impact Wrestling.
Obviously there’s a huge difference in being a wrestler in a match and being the referee, but the referee still holds a huge responsibility in the ring and match itself. What are some of the things you had to learn as you transitioned to the role? Did you get to pick the brains of some of the refs they had when you were first there? I would imagine Earl Hebner would have a little bit of knowledge, haha…
Earl was the absolute best to me!!!! All those guys, Brian Stiffler and Brian Hebner, all treated me well and with open arms and taught me so much in the four months that I refereed with them. It’s knowledge that you can’t gain anywhere else. To pick those guys brains for as long as I got to do, made me into the referee that I am today. Also, referee Harry D from Destiny Wrestling taught me a lot before I actually got to Impact, but once I did get there I was ready for TV because of Harry. It’s a very humbling transition – being a wrestler, you’re used to being the center of attention, you come back from a match people tell you great job or the match wasn’t good, but you get feedback. As a referee, your job is the blend in and disappear, so if you do your job people don’t notice you. If you mess up, they notice you. It’s one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done and I never realize it till I actually put on the stripes.
It’s no secret that Impact had some growing pains last year during the transition of ownership and management, but since about Bound For Glory last year, the company has seen a monumental shift in direction that has really started to get Impact buzzworthy again (on the good side) and ratings are showing this. How has the feeling been backstage to Impact’s 2018 so far? Everyone must be pretty excited and pumped about the way things are going.
Absolutely! And the one thing I can tell you from witnessing it firsthand, a lot of the stuff you read online or hear about in the news, when it comes to backstage, is really exaggerated or simply not true. Here’s a great example – there was a big outcry online that at Bound For Glory ’17 (in Ottawa), all the wrestlers and staff members had to pay for their own parking in the parking structure. People writing about how horrible Impact was to their employees and saying horrible things – I read this article on my phone while I was holding my free parking pass in my hand….no joke!
Because I was at Bound For Glory and I never once paid a day for parking. So a lot of the growing pains were actually there, like with any management change, but they are greatly exaggerated from what you read or hear about. Since day one that I’ve been there, everybody that works there does their best to put on the best product they possibly can. With us actually catching steam, the show going in the right direction, of course, people are going to be more excited, because everyone can see their hard work paying off. It’s a really interesting time right now to be a part of this…to say we are on an upswing is an understatement. I honestly feel like we’re on the verge of hitting this one out of the park! We have some of the greatest fans in Windsor and the world, their support is what keeps us going – without them we have nothing. So the fans are starting to have their voices heard and people are realizing that Impact wrestling is actually good and it’s here to stay.
Before we go, a little name association. A Detroit wrestling icon, The Original Sheik (Ed Farhat).
Absolute legend, one of the first people to blur the line.
He was instrumental in changing people’s perception of me – he did a lot for me around here and helped me transition into a national level. Two words for him – “eternally grateful”.
Moose! (Get it?) Actually, has tons of potential – he’s a big man and does a lot of things big man can’t do…keep an eye on him, haha
Crazy fascinating – in a good way!
Misunderstood perfection, I love that guy!
Scott D’Amore & Don Callis…
Don Callis, underrated business genius. Great wrestling mind. Extremely great leader. Scott D’Amore, I owe him everything. If it wasn’t for him, I would have no wrestling career. One of the smartest businessman I’ve ever seen in my life, I emulate him in business as much as I possibly can and it actually works for me! And a really good friend of 22 years.
John E. Bravo will be back in action as a referee for Impact Wrestling this weekend in Windsor, Ontario, for two nights of TV tapings in co-production with Border City Wrestling. Front rows are all sold out, but there are limited General Admission seats left.