TJP is still a young man, but he's essentially a greybeard in terms of wrestling experience. He began training in the late '90s at 13 years old and has been affiliated with major pro wrestling promotions for 20 years.
"When I was growing up, I mean, obviously I was a big WWF fan and of all the wrestling. I was a huge WWF kid, you know, so it's not to say I wasn't in regards to wanting to be a wrestler. I never thought-- being at WrestleMania was not my goal," revealed TJP. "So when I was starting, and even now, like what would be WrestleMania moments for other people, for me, it was like I want to go to Arena Mexico, or I want to go to the Tokyo dome, or Korakuen Hall and all things like that, because a lot of what was really capturing my imagination was a lot of stuff from around the world.
"Like NJPW & CMLL were two of the primary things, which the craziest thing is that was what ended up being the first two things that I ended up doing when I kind of got out of Los Angeles. So, I mean, that's really what kind of guided my decision, but honestly, I mean, the path kind of just took shape on its own. I wanted those things but I wasn't really aiming for them because at the time, you got to remember, this is 21 years ago/22 years ago. Social media and all kinds of things like that like Google and YouTube all that stuff was not around. The Internet was barely a thing yet, so there wasn't really a way to kind of formulate a plan to get to like a NJPW or CMLL.
"You kind of either had to have it happen or not. It was really rare to get to those places, and that's why at the time, it was like you only heard of guys doing that. There's only a handful of guys that you would hear that really did all that sort of stuff, you know. Your Owen Harts, and your Jerichos, your Benoits, your Guerreros, your Malenkos – there weren't a lot of guys that were going to all these places because it wasn't an easy thing to do. You almost had to just be really lucky, and in my opinion, I was just really lucky."
Before he was even old enough to drink, TJP had worked in both Japan with New Japan and Mexico with CMLL. He had his initial training with New Japan at the Inoki Dojo in Los Angeles, and he worked alongside the likes of Daniel Bryan and Rocky Romero.
TJP recalled his initial New Japan experience and what other famous athlete he would compare himself to.
"I think the best way to describe that was like Kobe Bryant getting drafted into the NBA right out high school because it just felt like that. I was 17 and finishing my last year of high school in that summer. I started being recruited by NJPW, so I became a young boy in the gym that they had in LA. They set up the first NJPW dojo in LA - that was in 2002, and so I was finishing up my last year of high school while starting to go there," recalled TJP.
"And then I graduated and spent the summer going there every day, and then right when I turned 18 at the end of the summer in September, they said, 'okay, we'll process a visa for you and send you over.' So it was just crazy because I'm sitting on this business class flight going over to NJPW and wrestling at Korakuen Hall and the Tokyo Dome, and them handing me the tour contract? Like, for me it's a big deal and it's a huge change of speeds because just a few months before that, I was literally sitting in English class. I was very much a kid, and now fast forward just weeks and months later and now I'm going to do this thing.
"So it's like kind of a culture shock because you land and they hand you $1,000 in Japanese cash. Then they're taking you to your hotel, and checking you in, and getting all this paperwork processed, and putting you out on these big shows. It kind of comes real fast and then you're hopping tour buses and checking into hotels, and it's really crazy. I obviously have been wrestling for three or four years at that point already but it's still not the same thing because now you're at the tippy-top now, like you moved up a level. It's kind of crazy to go from that to that, so I like to compare it to that because if you're a guy like Kobe or something like that, or LeBron, you're playing basketball in high school gyms in front of 50 people one day then the next day you're at Staples Center. And it's a great restaurant form and its totally different. It took a while and for me; I'm kind of a late bloomer, so it took me a while to kind of mature to grow into being an adult."
Last summer, TJP returned to New Japan after spending three years in NXT. New Japan planned on having 'Best of the Super Juniors' this summer but the pandemic had other plans. TJP had participated in the tournament in 2011 and finished in seventh place, and he was asked if he was supposed to take part in this year's event.
"Yeah, I would have been. I know they announced the cancellation so I was hoping that maybe when everything starts opening up, that they might still try to do the G1 and the BOTSJ, like the bigger more notable tournaments. They might jump back into those just to kind of still have those, but who knows, it might be canceled totally for this year which would be a bummer because that would be a lot of fun. And same thing with the MSG show - I was looking forward to that, but obviously they're already having a contingency plan for that so that'll eventually kind of come about," said TJP.
While New Japan cancelled this past summer's Best of Super Juniors tournament, they did resurrect a version of it which is currently ongoing and will wrap up on December 11. But US-based wrestlers are unable to travel to the event, so it's taking place with only local wrestlers that live in Japan.
The US-based promotion that TJP spent the most time in is TNA/Impact. He made his debut there back in 2004 and had sporadic appearances for a decade. He then returned full-time in 2013 where he debuted his Suicide/Manik character, and he talked about the beginnings of that.
"I think it was 2012 or 2013. I was definitely Suicide by 2013 - maybe the spring time - somewhere around there. It was when they brought it back and it was a three-way match with Joey Ryan and Petey Williams on Impact, and I'll never forget it because life works in mysterious ways. I had spent all those years being at rock bottom and it was in Tampa at the time, like the homeless stuff and all that stuff," revealed TJP. "And it was a long process trying to get back on my feet and getting back to LA, and then going to Lucha Libre USA, which led to ROH, which lead back to TNA. And I remember getting back to TNA was kind of where I was before, kind of like I got knocked all the way down. And I'll never forget it because it was like one of my last shows was in ROH. One of my last shows in the Tampa area was in St. Pete and my first show in TNA was in Tampa.
"That was the match with Pete Williams, and Joey Ryan, and Suicide, and it was kind of like re-debuting. It was like I had been on a hiatus for a little bit there were bumpers for weeks saying Suicide's coming. I was sitting at home, and I had done a PPV that week and I see these bumpers on TV. And I called them and I said I would love to do it, and I kind of gave it that Spider-man/Deadpool type of feel. And I just remember from the first show they were like, 'This is what we had always envisioned it being,' and from that point on, I just hit the ground running."
After spending 18 years working all over the globe and with various promotions, TJP finally made his way to WWE in 2016. He had spot appearances in the promotion beforehand but he became a regular and was even the inaugural holder of the newest version of the Cruiserweight Champion. He talked about the process of joining WWE and why he was initially reluctant to sign with them.
"When I was leaving TNA previously, I almost didn't stay with WWE after the [Cruiserweight Classic] because my plan after TNA was to have a few years where I can just be free and go back to NJPW or CMLL and all that. I kind of started laying the groundwork for going back to these places and I kind of was developing a plan of what I wanted to do. And, I mean, WWE just fell on my lap and I didn't intend for that, and I kind of fought it a little bit," admitted TJP. "They made an offer during the CWC and I turned it down, and it was William Regal that really kind of talked me into it."
In early 2019, TJP was released from his WWE contract, which would pave the way for his return to Impact and New Japan. He talked about his WWE departure and which side wanted out of the contract.
"I was wanting to leave WWE. I had told them a year before that that it was my primary note. Well my primary note was that I felt like I was unhappy, but like, I wasn't contributing anymore. I didn't want to waste resources to Vince and to the company, and I told him, I said, 'Look, I'm wasting your money. I don't want to waste your time, and I'm not happy.' I'm not the type of person that is complacent that way," said TJP.
"You know that kind of goes back to your first question, like what motivated me to go to NJPW or CMLL. It's because I have a hard time being complacent like that. So, I always want to go somewhere else if I can or I want to be able to contribute and make a difference, you know? So my primary thing was if I can't be a commodity here and if I'm wasting your time and money, then I want to be able to go do things that for me are near and dear to my heart. I feel like WWE is a family and it is a place that instantly became a home for me and probably will always be a home for me in some regards. I'll always feel like if I go back, it would feel like I was going home."