After finding the right side of the tracks, Cliff Compton, formerly known as Domino in the WWE from 2007-2008, has developed into a popular performer on the independent circuit of professional wrestling.
Starting his training at Larry Sharpe's Monster Factory in Paulsboro, New Jersey, almost two decades earlier, Compton has experienced the glory of WWE championship gold and the uncertainty of smaller crowds, venues, and pay. Despite that, the well-traveled Compton has not lost his love for wrestling -- something he feels certain young wrestlers must first develop.
"Nowadays everybody wants to be on TV instantaneously, and that's not the way it should be," said Compton before competing for Five Borough Wrestling in Brooklyn, New York earlier this month. "I was wrestling almost 10 years before I even considered going to WWE."
Toiling on the indies during the early stages of his career, Compton was signed by WWE in late 2005 and sent to Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW), the company's developmental brand at the time. That was over a decade ago, and since then, the WWE's developmental system has evolved into a viable brand with the success of NXT.
Before NXT was creating superstars, signing independent wrestling mainstays, and selling out the Barclays Center, it was OVW, a tiny promotion that received little-to-no exposure. When Compton was there, names such as CM Punk, Cody Rhodes, Cryme Tyme (Shad and JTG), and The Miz were trying to break onto WWE's main roster.
"OVW was run like an old school territory by Jim Cornette and Danny Davis. You felt like you were working for Bill Watts, it was definitely a territory, it was a lot of fun. We went all over Kentucky, Indiana, even parts of Ohio. It was a completely different experience, completely different company."Wrestling as Dice Domino, Compton was partnered with Deuce Shade – the son of WWE Hall of Famer Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka. In OVW, the duo was first known as The ThrowBacks and later The Untouchables. They captured OVW Tag Team gold on three occasions, solidifying themselves as one of the top duos in the territory.
Conquering the WWE's minor league system put The Untouchables in a good spot as the tag team scene on SmackDown was "not a focal point," according to Compton. So, when 2007 rolled around, the company decided to promote The Untouchables to the main roster alongside their valet Cherry.
WWE Main Roster
However, the tag team – now known as Deuce N' Domino – got off to rough start due to WWE's infamous tendency to make last-minute changes.
"It was tough because we were supposed to have six vignettes prior to us debuting and then that got scratched at the last second," Compton revealed. "So we debuted 'cold' as they would say so no one knew who the hell we were. It was kinda tough at first. Instead of, like, Jesse and Festus who had 25 vignettes [before they debuted]."
Deuce N' Domino eventually got into a groove and found success on WWE's main roster. Just three months after their debut, the duo defeated Paul London and Brian Kendrick for the WWE Tag Team championships – ending their nearly one-year long reign on top.
With gold around their waists, Deuce N' Domino now had matching titles to go with their matching white t-shirts, black pants, black leather jackets and slicked back hair. Their shtick was a throwback to the greasers of the '1950s. Even their theme song, All About Cool, evoked memories of Elvis Presley while mentioning that their pants "couldn't be too tight." As Deuce N' Domino drove their convertible into the arena every night, Compton grew to like the act and theme song.
"It was a little slow for me at first but Stephanie McMahon loved it [the theme song] and if she loved it, I loved it," said Compton with a smile on his face. "It was a top seller on iTunes, so I was impressed."
Their reign as WWE Tag Team champions lasted just a few months and shortly thereafter, Deuce N' Domino started being utilized infrequently. However, Domino was learning lessons from several WWE veterans he carries with him to this day.
"People that showed me respect, you know, and taught me how to respect the business, to be respectful, show respect and always give respect back," said Compton. "I learned that in WWE from some of the veterans."
Compton cites the late Chris Benoit as one of those veterans that taught him respect. Many people associated with wrestling are uncomfortable to this day when it comes to mentioning Benoit, given the horrific end to his storied life and career.
To some, Benoit is viewed as one of the top wrestlers in the history of the genre. To others, Benoit is a real-life villain whose actions resulted in the death of his wife Nancy, son Daniel, and himself. Compton remembers "The Rabid Wolverine" as somebody who had wrestling's best interests in mind.
"Chris Benoit, I know he ended up a lot differently, but he used to take all the new guys and mentor them all. He'd take new guys under his wing, teach you stuff, he was one of the guys who looked out for me when I was there. Obviously, s**t hit the fan with him but other than that, he was a good guy."After Benoit's unfortunate demise in 2007, Deuce N' Domino remained with WWE and were eventually split up as a team. Domino remained on SmackDown and Deuce was drafted to RAW but neither man got much of a chance and both were released in 2008.
While their run as singles wrestlers in WWE didn't pan out, the company originally had more serious plans for Deuce' Domino.
"There were plans for me and [Sim] Snuka, actually. It just didn't pan out as it happens to many guys, it didn't pan out. There was supposed to be plans for a Domino babyface turn, I believe; work as a singles guy, do comedy stuff, be more serious, there was a lot of ideas thrown around."Compton added: "I can't complain, I would've liked for those ideas to come to fruition but it happens to everyone."
While Compton made a brief return in 2010, wrestling a few matches at Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW), he has not been on WWE television in nearly eight years. That doesn't mean Compton is struggling to find work.
As a free agent, Compton works for promotions such as Global Force Wrestling (GFW), Ring of Honor (ROH), and more. ROH, in particular, is a special place to Compton, who has nothing but high regard for the company.
"They claim to be the best wrestling on the planet and I think they do put the best show on and I don't just that because I wrestle there," said Compton. "I think they put the best show on from an entertainment standpoint, in-ring quality, it's a cool show."
Arguably Compton's most popular program was with former ROH World champion Kevin Steen (Owens). After months of fighting, Compton and Steen put an end to their rivalry in an Unsanctioned Philadelphia Street Fight at ROH's 12th Anniversary Show in 2014. That bout was the main event of the evening.
Steen came out victorious but Compton walked out injured, putting a damper on some plans.
"I got a concussion and we were supposed to start tagging together but then I was hurt so we couldn't really do it."Future
At 36 years old, Compton is at an age where many wrestlers are usually exiting their prime and looking forward to winding down. After all the years, injuries, and other issues of being a touring wrestler, perhaps putting wrestling on the back-burner wouldn't be a terrible move.
With that in mind, Compton wants to play a role in correcting one major flaw in today's wrestling world.
"I try to give them a little bit of everything. Not so much of the physical side of the training but more fundamentals of how to act. Respect for the wrestling business...it's lacking today."Audio of this interview can be heard here.
[Featured Photo by By Mike Kalasnik (Flickr: Cliff Compton (Domino) | Wikimedia Commons| Cropped and Resized | CC BY-SA 2.0 ]