Few people are considered veterans when they still have almost two decades to go before they receive an AARP card, but professional wrestler T.J. Perkins accomplished all he set out to do just as he could legally drink.
In the early stages, most professional wrestlers work wherever they can, trying to establish themselves in the most obscure promotions, the dingiest dance halls, and inside the dirtiest rings. However, Perkins’ body had bounced off mats owned by all of the top companies in the world before his 22nd birthday.
“By the time I was 21 [years old], I had pretty much knocked out my bucket list of anything I really wanted to do,” said the 17-year veteran of the wrestling business. “I had wrestled in a WWE ring, I had wrestled for TNA, I had wrestled on pay-per-views, television, and then New Japan, my run in AAA.”
“From that point on, it actually got a little bit easier and at times like this, I don’t have to make plans because I can just kind of go where the door is open. Instead of thinking ‘Oh, I need to get here before…whatever.’ I’ll just wrestle anywhere and I’ll be happy anywhere.”
The time Perkins is referring to is his recent release from Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling, via Wrestlezone.. After spending parts of the last three years with the company, performing under several different characters and roles, it all came to a quick end.
Starting on a new network (PopTV), and putting a focus on a lot of new and past performers, TNA has a lot on its corporate plate. It showed in their communication to Perkins, not even giving the well-traveled veteran a reason for his release.
“There was no reason given or anything. When I was notified, it was literally just one sentence; ‘The date of your contract is up and we won’t be renewing on our side,’ and that’s it.”
It was the first time that the 31-year-old was ever fired – especially via a one-sentence text message— as he’s normally the one to leave a promotion and move onto greener pastures. However, the former X-Division Champion holds no feelings of bitterness or anger towards the company.
Before he joined the IMPACT roster on a full-time basis, Perkins was still with Ring of Honor (ROH) and had about one year left on his contract.
“They pitched an idea for me to come in on GutCheck and then one day, sitting at home, I saw a commercial, the first commercial on IMPACT announcing that Suicide was returning. I called the office and said ‘I want to do that.’ Turned out they didn’t really have anything in mind for it.”
Suicide is a character that originally debuted on the TNA Impact! video game back in 2008 and shortly thereafter introduced to fans on television. However, during its various appearances, Suicide, a masked character, has been portrayed by various performers. Some wrestlers who have donned the Suicide costume include Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, and Austin Aries.
But, when Perkins saw the commercial, TNA had no plans for the Suicide character outside of a one-off appearance. However, once Perkins put the costume on and hit the TNA ring, that all changed.
“It blew them away, it was exactly the way they dreamed the character would be played,” said Perkins. “One match turned into two, and they were blown away again, so two [matches] turned into three.”
Even Dixie Carter, the president of TNA, took notice of Perkins’ performance.
“We were at a TV in Las Vegas and remember Dixie [Carter] pulled me aside and said ‘You know, I have to be honest with you, I didn’t know who you were coming in, I didn’t remember you from before, and we only planned on having this character around for like a day. But you’ve made it so we can’t get rid of it – you’ve become a commodity.”
“She thanked me and was just blown away by it all. That turned into the next three years.”
Perkins’ run as Suicide didn’t last long but it wasn’t wasted. Perkins transitioned out of the traditional Suicide look and turned into a masked character named Manik. Still donning his own version of a mask and in-ring gear, Manik became a one-time X-Division Champion while wrestling all of TNA’s top performers at the time.
Time passed and Manik’s on-screen role slowly diminished, culminating with the release. Yet, the release is far from a tragic result to his TNA stint, as he once slept in laundromats and didn’t have a place to call home while chasing his dream of wrestling stardom.
Running around from promotion to promotion may have helped Perkins’ visibility, but at the drop of a hat, he made a choice that put his life in limbo for a few years.
“When I was maybe 22, 23 years old or so, I was sort of floating in between New Japan, Ring of Honor, TNA – not really committed to one place,” Perkins recalls. “I had an abnormal log of WWE appearances that were kind of strung together in a short period of time, I did like eight RAW’s and SmackDown’s in just a few months.”
“It got to where one of the agents was like ‘it might be your best bet to go down to FCW.’ So, being dedicated and a hard worker, I was told exactly how I’m supposed to do it, 100 percent. The next day, I packed my stuff and moved my life.”
Injuries and other circumstances prevented Perkins from attaining WWE stardom. During that period of time, he was homeless for a few weeks and admits that it took a few years to really get back into the a rhythm as his decision to uproot his life caused him to stop wrestling for other promotions.
Perkins couldn’t even support himself with another job as he essentially left all of his past connections behind – during a major financial recession – all for a failed attempt at WWE.
“I didn’t want wrestling anymore, I wanted to not want it,” Perkins admits. “But I couldn’t get a job anywhere, which was part of the reason I was homeless. I couldn’t get a job pumping gas. I couldn’t get a job working at a warehouse, I couldn’t get a job at Baskin Robbins, I couldn’t get a job anywhere.”
The learning experience was invaluable, however, and upon winning the X-Division title in 2013, it was a cathartic moment of redemption. Speaking into a TNA camera, Perkins recalled those dire moments of being without a home, without motivation, and the owner of nothing but a dream. Now, he was a titleholder of a championship previously held by some of the best wrestlers in the world.
Having gone through that, Perkins is confident with anything wrestling or life brings his way. His high flying ability could be a fit for Lucha Underground, his past with TNA could lead to him working more with Global Force Wrestling, and PWG has been one of his homes since 2003. The possibilities seem endless.
Still, Perkins admits that he’d be lying if he said that hadn’t thought about where he’d like to be.
“I’d really like to go back to New Japan because it feels like home and I love that place so much,” said Perkins, who became the youngest foreign-born performer in NJPW history in 2002 (18 years, three months).
“It would be cool to work in a system like NXT, I have a lot of friends there. If there’s any untapped or uncharted territory, it might be that. I’ve been there and been exposed to that type of stuff. I’ve trained in a couple of different developmentals and wrestled on TV for them. But it’d be cool to be a major player in a system like that.”
If Perkins’ near two-decade career has shown us anything, it’s that versatility is a strong suit.
Whether it’s been as turned up Teddy James Perkins or a masked character such as Manik, Suicide, Puma, or Sydistiko, the Philipino-born master of the Detonation Kick doesn’t mind a character change.
“I sort of approach wrestling the way Johnny Depp approaches movies. I don’t really care necessarily what I’m portraying.”
Audio of this interview can be accessed at this link.
[Photo via Wrestlevines/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0]