PJ Black, formerly known as Justin Gabriel from his time in the WWE, finds himself with a new lease on life. In 2017 he suffered a BASE jumping accident that resulted in him breaking one of his legs so badly he need two metal plates and 27 screws surgically inserted. At the time, doctors said the idea of ever wrestling again was out of the question. And yet by the end of that same year he was already back in action.
Throughout 2018 Black was offered contracts from both Ring of Honor and WWE, with the latter promising him a run in NXT. But the promise of creative freedom of his character and control over his promos led him to signing an exclusive deal with Ring of Honor, which started back in mid-March.
Black sat down with ComicBook.com recently to discuss his first few months with Ring of Honor, as well as give his thoughts on how wrestling has changed since he first debuted on television.
ComicBook.com: I know it's been early, but how would you describe your time working for the company thus far?
PJ Black: Oh, it's so much fun. I really didn't expect it going into ROH, but when we were in contract negotiations, they basically gave me everything I wanted and more. I'm really looking forward to this venture. One of the things that attracted me to it was the roster that they have. They signed some phenomenal talent, and I kind of looked at the roster, and I was like, "Yeah, I can have great matches with all of these people." I'm super excited about that.
You were this new wave of talent that came in here at the start of the year. How were you received by some of the ring of honor veterans?
By the veterans, pretty good. By some of the other talent, they weren't really sure. And by the fans, a lot of the hardcore fans were really excited. But there was also a part of the fans that were like, "eh, here's another ex-WWE guy who just likes phony matches and stuff like that."
That's the reason why I left [WWE] there because I felt like I wasn't used to my full potential and I wanted to show people what I could do. And within a few weeks, all those naysayers were like, "Oh, man." They're on the PJ bandwagon right now.
What kind of creative freedoms are you given working in ROH?
Just doing the things that I feel comfortable [with], that I think my character needs to be doing and saying and wearing.
All the aspects of that and also when it comes together, like by putting matches together and stuff like that. I don't have anyone telling me, 'Don't do this move, don't do this move. You're limited to doing this and this and this and this.' No proverbial handcuffs, if you will.
Were there moves you weren't allowed to do back in WWE?
Oh yeah, there was a whole list of moves that you couldn't do. It changes all the time. It seems like it's changed back now but there's still a list of moves that you're not allowed to do.
It seemed like when you were there, you were the only guy that was allowed to do a 450 splash and now half a dozen guys are allowed to use it.
Right, right and then that also took me a while to get that cleared, show them that I could do it safely. It took forever. Yeah, I'm just glad that they're loosening up right now. Maybe it's because of the promotions like ROH and the AEW and all these other things popping up. WWE is like, "Aw, man. We got to keep up with the trends right now. We got to keep evolving with the business."
Lately a lot of people has been talking about Jon Moxley's interview where he talked about being frustrated with WWE's creative process. Did you have a similar situation during your time there?
Oh, yes. I think everyone has. You get to a certain point when they trust you a little more and you can start writing your own stuff but for some reason, for some guys it just always reverts back to that, where you have to get stuff cleared and they want you to say stuff line-by-line.
And that's where the creative freedom comes in. And it's not only with promos. It's with matches, it's with time, it's with what you wear. I feel like they just micromanage everything. And to a certain extent, that does work and some people do need that. A lot of us are artists and you can't handcuff us and tell us, "This is the way we need it done." Again, for some people that's fine but a lot of people are not like that.
We've heard you talk about your injury recovery in the past. Do the metal plates and the screws in your leg limit your mobility at all?
Right now, I'm good. A couple of months ago, it was still hard for me to land on my feet if I did a back flip off the top rope. I could do it but I think it was just a mental thing. Physically, I'm good to go. It's still a mental thing where sometimes it's in my head, like "Oh, I don't want to get hurt." Physically I'm 100%.
You've mentioned in the past that your goal was to wrestle for New Japan Pro Wrestling, even before you joined WWE. Have they given you an indication that they want to work with you?
I've been talking to them. I don't want to say too much. Discussions have been going on for quite some time and obviously they're partners with Ring of Honor. I feel like it's just a matter of time. Things with them, with the communication gap, that takes a bit unfortunately. I have friends there that it took them years of negotiation.
I spoke to A.J Styles and it took him literally like three or four years to negotiate a good deal with them. Only time will tell, but I feel like it's definitely going to happen.
If and when you do end up in New Japan, do you want to join the Heavyweight or Junior Heavyweight division?0comments
Actually, I told them I want to be a heavyweight. I'm on the cusp right now, where I could go either way. I feel like I can contribute to the heavyweight division a lot.
Photo: RING OF HONOR/Corey Tatum