A couple of nights back, it was 1:30 am and I was going through the usual phases of my insomnia that always seems to begin with randomly surfing Youtube to seek out someone new that I have never seen in the ring before. As I waded through match after unexciting match, I fell into a lull of disinterest; So much so that I ignored what I was watching completely, as Youtube began auto-playing videos in the background. I decided to step outside to give my dogs a quick walk and get a few breaths of air before getting back to the grind. Upon returning to the room, I no more than made it through the door when I saw a young man transition his opponent into one of the sleekest standing submission finishers I have ever seen, playing brightly on my computer screen. My reaction was a mixture of surprise and elation. It was the wee hours of the morning and I found myself in front of my laptop jumping up and down in celebration like I was having a “Summerslam” party with dozen-plus guests. “Who is this mystery man?” I asked myself.
That young man’s name is Wheeler Yuta. He is a product of WWE “205 Live” mainstay Drew Gulak and has put on electric performances in many big name independent companies ranging from CZW to Beyond Wrestling. While many young, promising stars find a niche and do one to a couple of things well, Yuta has pushed the envelope like few could ever imagine. He flies with the best of them. He can take an amazing bump and sells well, often while adapting like a Chameleon to the in-ring style of his opponent. His submission skills are akin to the great Dean Malenko. Not to be overshadowed by his in-ring work is his attention to detail when it comes to his character and gimmick and the pizzazz and flair of his ring gear and entrance. With all of this combined, Yuta is seemingly a ball of potential that kneads like soft clay. Since his in-ring debut, he has shared the mat with an incredible list of opponents ranging from the ultra-popular Matthew Riddle all the way to an intergender contest with women’s stars Mia Yim and Tessa Blanchard (watch a video below of an amazing sequence w/ Blanchard) After binge-watching an hour and a half of his matches, I knew it was my duty to share his immense talent with the world. Luckily for me, Yuta is also one of the nicest guys on the independent circuit and gave me a few minutes of his time to talk about his training, charity work, mental health and a range of other topics in this exclusive interview for SteelChair Magazine.
(photo courtesy of @Thirdharry)
We will start with the most common questions. How did you first discover professional wrestling and how did you break into the business?
I first discovered wrestling when my cousins showed me the Wrestlemania XIX video game as a kid. I really enjoyed the game, but when my cousins then showed me that real people actually did this on television, I was sold. My obsession grew from there and I would watch any wrestling I could get my hands on, which was plenty since I’m lucky enough to be a child of the internet. As for my own start, I began training when I was 16 years old at the now-defunct AIWF Academy in Myrtle Beach, SC, under John Nichols and AC Collins. After getting my foundation there, I moved to Philadelphia to begin training with WWE Superstar Drew Gulak.
I’ve read that you were trained by Drew Gulak and then found your way over to Japan. Was your time there pivotal in shaping your style and gimmick and if not what is the driving force behind your in-ring presentation as a whole?
My in-ring presentation is strongly influenced by my appreciation of different Sci-Fi and cyberpunk films, as well as my own philosophies on wrestling. Movies like “Big Hero 6”, “Blade Runner”, and “Tron” have all influenced my ring gear to varying degrees. This is also influenced by my philosophy on wrestling itself. When training with Drew, I was taught to find my opponents weaknesses and make them my own strengths. In order to do that effectively, you have to be well versed in many different styles. I picked up traditional American wrestling in my initial training with the AIWF Academy. I expanded on that improved my striking and submission grappling while training with Drew because of his style. I picked up Japanese and Lucha Libre influences in the Michinoku Pro Dojo in Japan. To me, studying and blending every style is how you build the wrestler of the future, which I strive to be.
You’re a veteran in many notable organizations like CZW, Beyond, MLW and more. This year alone you have been in the ring with names like Matt Riddle, Mia Yim, Joey Janela, Flip Gordon and Jonathon Gresham. Tell us a little bit about what the journey to this point has been like and how it has helped you grow.
Wrestling has been very good to me in a very short period of time, and I owe a lot of that to the guys I’ve been in the ring with. CZW’s “Dojo Wars” program was instrumental in some of my early development and helped me earn the respect of guys like Joey Janela and “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams, who are now both my friends and mentors. I’ve been lucky that Beyond Wrestling has put me in the ring with some of the names you’ve mentioned like Riddle and Yim. When you’re in the ring with people like that, you have no choice but to elevate your game and become better. Flip Gordon isn’t going to wrestle you the same way that Jonathon Gresham is, and you have to adapt to that. Once I showed that I could hang with those competitors, I started getting more and more opportunities and other companies took notice. Being on national TV with MLW and Amazon Prime with Dojo Pro have been wonderful experiences that have helped me grow up as both a person and a wrestler.
You’ve been in the ring with many marquee names on the indy circuit including many former UFC alums. What is your take on MMA fighters turning to professional wrestling and how have your experiences been in these matchups?
Competing with former MMA Athletes is always a challenge that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. Matt Riddle and Tom Lawlor– who actually competed on the independent circuit before joining the UFC– have both made incredible transitions into the pro wrestling game. Whenever you compete against someone with a different skill set, you have to reevaluate your game, find their weaknesses and turn them into your strengths. If you can achieve this, you’ll be alright.
If you were to show a new fan one of your matches which one would you show them? Is there one that defines you from beginning to end?
If I were to show a fan just one of my matches, I’d probably choose either my match with “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams from Beyond Wrestling’s “Americanrana 2018” or my match with Alexander James from Night One of NOVA Pro’s “Commonwealth Cup 2018.” I’m really proud of my performance in both of those matches, both of which are available on the Powerbomb.tv streaming service for free with the promo codes “BEYOND” or “NOVA PRO”.
As someone who suffers with bipolar disorder and depression/anxiety, I was very touched by how much your charity work and what you are doing with “Hope For A Day” means to you. Can you tell us a bit about your experiences and how reaching out for help has helped you? I feel it could really inspire readers to look at their issues a little bit closer.
I’m very passionate about raising money for “Hope For the Day” because it works for a cause that really hits home for me. I’ve battled depression my whole life but never talked about it because I was scared. If things had gone differently last year and I hadn’t gotten help, I’m really not sure where I’d be. When it comes to mental health and suicide, the more we talk about these things, the more we realize we’re not alone. If you need help, please do not be afraid to get it. I’d urge you to read more on my fundraising page at my.hftd.org/wheeleryuta and donate if you feel so inclined. Hope For the Day’s slogan is “It’s ok not to be ok,” and I firmly believe that.
Your submission game is breathtakingly good. I have watched recent matches with you and Damien Smith and also matches Rory Gulak and I was blown away by the way you were able to capture those submission victories and how good they looked. How much time goes into your submission work?
I’m not entirely sure why, but submission wrestling has always fascinated me. I find it incredibly enjoyable to play a human game of chess and find a way to make your opponent concede that you’re the better man, at least in that moment. Because of that, I’ve spent hours and hours studying different submission manoeuvres, how to apply them, and how to escape them. I think it is one of the best parts of my game.
Do you have any memories from your April tag match where you and Jason Cade took on Simon Grimm and Seth Petruzelli? I just had to get a question in about that matchup being that Simon has been a hot topic following his WWE departure and of course Seth Petruzelli is best known for his nationally televised knockout of Kimbo Slice all those years ago. Was it just business as usual for you?
Wrestling Simon Gotch (Grimm) and Seth Petruzelli was quite an enjoyable challenge because they are two very different competitors. Gotch (Grimm) has a knowledge of submissions and throws that is incredibly vast, and Petruzelli is a remarkably fierce striker. Combining that with the high flying style that Jason Cade brings to the table, as well as my hybrid approach made for a very interesting contest.
If you could have one dream Wrestlemania match with anyone in any time period, who would it be?
In all honesty, I don’t think I could name a dream Wrestlemania opponent. I haven’t been able to successfully predict a single thing in my career thus far, and I kind of enjoy that. I live for the next match, next event, and next fan interaction. That’s what I dream about at night
Any parting words for our readers and where can they find you?
Please follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WheelerYuta, and like me at facebook.com/YUTAWrestling. That’s where you’ll be able to find out my upcoming schedule, links to by merch, and anything else your heart may desire regarding Wheeler Yuta.