Maz Debating in Self Isolation ft. HUSTLE - The HIPE Train Returns

Maz Debating in Self Isolation ft. HUSTLE – The HIPE Train Returns

For the last month or so in the Columns Forum, LOP Hall of Famer Mazza has been posting daily interviews with personalities from the site’s past and present. Today he brought back Main Page legend Hustle and we thought it was the perfect time to shine a spotlight on the excellent series.

Down in the Columns Forum you can check out Weeks 1, 2 & 3 (they are all links BTW) where he chatted with other site legends such as ‘The Doc’ Chad Matthews, forum mainstay T.O. and other surprise returners like former main page writer Romeo who has gone on to become a pro wrestling pioneer in the Philippines. All of them are worth checking out and Mazza continues to pump out an interviews every day, so head down there to follow along and join the conversation.

Enough from me though, on to the interview with the man who once posted daily columns here on LOP for 630 days straight!

Maz Debating in Self Isolation
Week 3, Day 2

‘Sup, Lords of Pain and welcome to another day of Maz Debating in Self Isolation. LOP has seen a lot of people come and go over the years and one thing I’ve particularly enjoyed in this series is talking to people who have moved onto other things. You see them going about their everyday lives on social media but it is really cool to get stuck into a convo with them again. Today’s guest’s name will have gone hand in hand with Lords of Pain for so many readers over the years and I am really glad he has agreed to chat today. Ladies and gents, I give you Hustle. Hus, it’s been a while since you’ve been on an LOP platform. For those not following you, how the hell have you been?

Hus: Chillin’ out, maxin’, relaxin’ all cool. Shooting some b-ball outside of the school.

Maz: Well I sure hope a couple of guys haven’t been up to no good. Hell. I know guys. I am sure they have been. I think our best place to start, as always, is right at the beginning. How and when did your love for the wrestling business begin?

Hus: I don’t remember the exact date or anything, but I remember being about four years old, randomly flipping through channels on television. Eventually, I ended up seeing a Ric Flair promo. I’m surprised I remember that much information, to be honest, because it was over three decades ago, so I don’t remember the specific promo, but I just remember being amazed as Flair was his typical larger-than-life persona, yelling into the camera about things. I was hooked. I’ve been hooked ever since.

Maz: So I am guessing we are talking about NWA days here. 4 is a pretty early age compared to a lot of fans. Your love for the Nature Boy is something that remained through the years. Were those early times focussed purely on NWA or were you quickly getting your fix elsewhere too?

Hus: I had older cousins and friends that were WWF fans, and I’m sure they showed me some of Vince’s work before this event, but the first non-NWA show I remember seeing was SummerSlam 1988, a little after I turned six. The NWA may have had Ric Flair, but the WWF had Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage, Demolition, Andre The Giant, Jake Roberts, and the whole cast and crew from that era. From that SummerSlam on, I pledged my wrestling allegiance to Vince McMahon’s company. They simply had everything a young wrestling fan could ever ask for.

Maz: Rock n Roll wrestling really was something magical for a kid. For me it was like nothing else I’d seen before. So captivating. Sadly we don’t remain kids forever. What works for us at that age doesn’t necessarily as we hit those teenage years and head towards adulthood. We are pretty much from the generation where Vince hit the nail right on the head twice to keep us coming back. How did your wrestling tastes progress over the next decade or so?

Hus: Man, I was becoming obsessed with everything wrestling as those years went on. If there was wrestling on TV, I was watching it. If there was a wrestling video game, console or arcade, I was spending money to play it. Wrestling tapes available to rent at video stores? Toys? Magazines? Me, me, me. Those next few years saw me at a perfect age for the wave that wrestling was riding. I was 10 when the WWF began airing Monday Night Raw, so I had no problems with some of the “cartoon characters” that were running around at the time. I was 13 when WCW Monday Nitro debuted, and I saw my first ECW tape a few months later, so I was growing tired of the stuff that was aimed at the younger demographic. I was even losing my Hulk Hogan fandom by that point! Like many other fans that watched his meteoric rise and dominant reign, I was just getting tired of the one-dimensional formula that his promos, matches, and storylines had. I was growing up. I wanted something that grew up, too. WCW was giving me that, ECW was damn sure giving me that, and while it took a little longer than everyone else, the WWF finally started giving me that, as well.

Maz: I am obviously a huge fan of that era. It takes a lot of heat these days from some of the smarter fans. Some of it justified and some not. What is hard to explain to people who weren’t around or watching at the time is just how exciting and gripping it was. Anything could happen and with the internet still in its early days, backstage info wasn’t as readily available. That was changing though. With the industry booming and technology advancing, sites were popping up all over the place. How quickly did you discover the wrestling corner of the internet and how soon did LOP pop up on your radar?

Hus: It was during my freshman year of high school. I had a friend who had a cousin that had told him about attending an episode of Raw that was taped. We didn’t really understand, but the cousin was telling us about how they did the entire show, and it hadn’t aired yet. Sure enough, everything that he mentioned actually aired on that night’s episode. From there, I started looking online for Raw results. I don’t remember the first site I found, but it had the Raw taping “spoilers” posted, and being the juvenile delinquent I was, I figured out a way to make money on it. I’d read what was going to happen, and then go to school so I could bet people. Simple stuff… I’ll bet you five bucks that so-and-so is gonna be the next WWF Champion, I’ll bet you ten bucks that such-and-such team is going to split up, etc. It wasn’t too long after that when LoP itself showed up. If I recall it correctly, RAW Is Snapple was the first LoP columnist I saw, and then Tito, and then everyone else that was around at the time. It took a few years before I started going to the Forums, though.

Maz: Haha I love that story. Fantastic use of being ahead of the smark curve. Wrestling in a Bottle from Snapple was one of my earlier LOP memories too. I couldn’t even begin to put a date on it though. Were you aware of the forums at that point? It took me a long time to realise and make that move. What prompted that move for you?

Hus: It took me a hot minute to learn about anything other than the main page. I don’t remember the exact date, but I signed up for a forums account in 2003, which would’ve been at least a few years after I started getting my news and columns fix from LoP. No crazy story there. Just saw the wrestling discussion, to go with the sports and music talk, and I signed up.

Maz: Did it take long for you to try your hand at columns?

Hus: It did, actually. It took me until 2007. Back then, most of the columnists you’d see debuting in the forums were new accounts. They either joined with the sole purpose to post columns, or they started writing soon after signing up. I went the other direction, building a “name” for myself before ever stepping foot in the CF. I was posting everywhere for those four years, always having an opinion on things. I really wish I remember who first came to me about writing, because I owe them a ton of gratitude, but someone was basically telling me that my opinion was already respected, so I might as well take a shot at this column writing thing. I figured it couldn’t hurt, so I did, and my feedback was overwhelmingly positive right away.

Maz: Obviously there is the grammatical and technical side to column writing but I think the biggest thing to learn when people start out here is how to present an argument or an opinion. I’d say that is what usually takes a while for people. Four years on the boards will definitely help bypass that. It’s like you got your degree rather than learning the job fresh out of school. Took me 4 years writing in the CF to be able to bring that type of analogy! But you are 100% correct. Most columnists will have seen a Davey, a Tito or a Hustle, thought “I can do that” or “I want to do that” and headed straight to where they needed to be. I am no different there. I am loving discussing other parts of the forum with people who have been around a bit so before we jump into the column side of things, tell us a bit about your time around the rest of the site. Did you try a bit of everything? Efedding, FFAing? You must have some good stories from those times?

Hus: I’ve been a member of several e-feds in my life, going back to my high school days. Some are better than others. Some are more difficult than others. I have never in my life seen an e-fed like what LoP has had through the years. If you’re going to succeed there, you have to be ded-i-ca-ted to the craft. In column writing, you can pop something out that has 1000 words and you can get your point across quite nicely. In that particular e-fed, 1000 words wouldn’t have even gotten you to the end of your description of where you are. Your character hasn’t even started speaking yet! 2500 words, 5000 words, 7500 words, 10000 words… you keep going and going, painting a vivid picture. Sure, sometimes things went TOO far, with people dabbling in supernatural aspects that just didn’t make any sense, but for the most part, those folks there are great at what they do, and I won’t knock them for it. I know it’s not for everyone, but hey, neither is column writing, so I can dig it. Kindred spirits and all that.

The FFA, on the other hand… well… the ridiculousness of that place is legendary. Just a breeding ground for trolls, incels, possible serial killers, and people who wear shoes with no socks. You need a thick skin to be there, and even that won’t always help you.

Maz: I had Sean on a while back and it definitely seems like a nice little community in LPW (and the predecessors). As for the FFA, I guess that pretty much is the comments section on most internet sites today sadly. Anyway, so you’ve headed to the CF with a built in audience. How were your early days there?

Hus: I didn’t have a lot of early days there, actually. I had posted six columns in the CF, all pulling in consistent views and replies, when I was e-mailed by LoP owner Calvin Martin out of nowhere. He told me he wanted me on the LoP main page, and he almost made it sound like more of an order than an offer, so I was “called up” quickly. At the time, I don’t think anybody had ever been promoted that quickly, but I was providing something different. I’ve always prided myself on thinking ahead of the curve and seeing trends before they start happening. Back then, I was just about the only columnist anywhere that was trying to blend pro wrestling with the world of hip-hop. My columns had an “urban” feel to them, I had “urban” topics discussed, and I would always post a list of the songs I was listening to while I was writing, many of which were rap or r&b tracks. I wanted to stand out, so I did.

Maz: That was certainly something very unique and definitely tapped into a big part of the audience. Wrestling always walked hand in hand with rock music. Me and my boys would crave WWF/Hip Hop crossover during the Attitude Era. While WWE did some dabbling, it was half hearted and they never totally committed. You know what we would have given to have Stone Cold’s glass smash at Mania and have DMX rap him to the ring? Rock music was never my thing. I can appreciate the attitude of it but I wanted hip hop and R&B content with my wrestling and you delivering that with your columns was very cool indeed. Whilst we are on that subject, where are some areas you think WWE could have really made some good money in that crossover back in the day?

Hus: In 2008, the year I debuted on the main page, 63 of the top 100 charting songs in America featured some sort of urban vibe, whether they were outright rap or r&b, or were crossover hits that featured a rapper or r&b singer on them. The culture was super hot. Like you said, wrestling has always been hand-in-hand with the rock genre, but that was a great time to work on getting a different demographic to the product. The easy choices would’ve been to add some rap entrance themes, or to have rappers make appearances on wrestling programming. Say what you want about their music, but acts like Lil Wayne, Kanye West, and T.I. were huge at the time, and even having them appear on your show would bring buzz and more potential eyeballs to the product.

If you want to take it further, a company like WWE could’ve had something serious on their hands with MVP and/or Shelton Benjamin. Were they the best to ever do it? No. Did they need to be? No. MVP was someone the company could’ve pushed as a main event guy, as a face or as a heel. He worked well as the cocky athlete heel, but his backstory with turning his life around after a lengthy prison sentence was tailor made for those redemption stories that WWE has loved to deliver through the years. Shelton, while never having tremendous mic skills, is one of the most gifted athletes to ever step foot in a wrestling ring, and has a great amateur background to match. He could “go” with anybody, big or small, of any style.

I was the first to call for Kofi Kingston to become a main event player. Now, admittedly, him being a main event guy back then wouldn’t have been as good a story as KofiMania gave us, but he was red hot in his feud with Randy Orton, and I feel WWE dropped the ball by not doing anything with him there. It really wouldn’t have taken much to capitalize on the popularity of the hip-hop culture.

Maz: It’s always funny how on some things WWE can have a finger on the pulse of pop culture yet with others they can be so far behind the curve (or totally tone death on some stuff in recent years). It was a format that certainly worked for you. It can be really tough and lonely on that main page, especially in those days before the comments section and common social media interaction. I have so much admiration for guys like yourself and Tito for building up a brand and a fan base. Did it hit home from the start and you must have had some funny email feedback during that time? To put together a mail in response usually means someone is passionate about the content but it was also a bit of an outlet for the crazies in my experience.

Hus: You name it, I had it. I had everything from amateur rappers hitting me up and asking to be featured in my next column’s playlist to people calling me every type of racist name in the book. People that were very appreciative that I was representing their “voice” at a time when nobody else would. People that were mad I got called up to the main page so quickly. People that would e-mail me feedback that seemed like it was just as long as the column they were replying to. You said it… for someone to take the time to do an e-mail response, back before social media had really and truly taken off, meant that they were definitely feeling strongly about something.

With that said, things started getting completely out of control when I wrote my Chris Benoit column. You know the one I’m referring to, but for those that weren’t around back then, I wrote a column about the Chris Benoit tragedy where I looked at a completely fictional perspective of watching the news and finding out that Benoit hadn’t killed his wife or his son, and hadn’t killed himself, but instead, it was Kevin Sullivan who carried out the orders. I mentioned real people, real facts, and even dug into the bible a bit for that one, but I guess I did it in such a convincing manner that people thought it was 100% legit. I was flooded with e-mails after that. People saying that they were crying as they read it, because Benoit was their favorite wrestler and they were glad to see him found innocent, even posthumously. I had NUMEROUS news stations from all over the world that wanted to follow up on my sources so that they could go ahead and air the “breaking news” of Benoit’s innocence. People that felt they had hunches about Kevin Sullivan all along. It was insane. I had to stop replying to people after a while, because I was getting tired of repeating myself so often.

Maz: One of those I’m sure you knew would be controversial but not to that level. I’m interested. Did Calvin have a take on that one?

Hus: Calvin was pretty notorious for staying behind the camera, so to speak. He rarely ever reached out to me about anything, choosing to let me do what I do, but that was one of the rare times he did. He was getting contacted, as well. He knew it was fiction, but he was amazed at the attention it was getting.

Maz: Crazy how many people bought it as fact. Let’s switch to something a bit lighter and jump aboard the HIPE train. You went on an insane streak of writing every day during your run. Can you still remember how many days it was?

Hus: I wanna say it was 630-something days, but there were days with multiple posts, as well as 30 Day Challenges on top of my normal columns, and appearances on other people’s columns.

Maz: Do you sit there now and wonder how the fuck you managed that?

Hus: I have a child now. I’m lucky if she gives me enough free time to write one column a month. The idea of putting something out every single day for nearly two straight years is completely insane to me. It’s even crazier because I was staying busy back then. Dating, working, hobbies, spending time with friends… I had a lot on my plate. I had to sacrifice a ton of sleep.

Maz: I am sure. It was a fantastic achievement. During your time up top, the technological revolution continued. Social media grew and grew. Podcasts became the wave. You were ahead of the curve again as Lords of Pain Roundtable became LOP Radio. Tell us a bit about how the idea started and the process to make it what it became.

Hus: My main man, De, and I were giving a conversation about doing some sort of an audio show for us and our friends. We knew where everything was going. We knew that, before too long, every site would have some sort of podcast content, and we wanted to use my platform to get one for LoP. In no way, shape, or form am I saying LoP Radio was the first audio show in the site’s history. I’m well aware of that. It was time for something bigger, though. I started doing research on different hosting sites for a podcast, and BlogTalkRadio was recommended to me by a handful of people. I messaged Calvin and pitched the idea of doing a podcast, telling him about the free plan that BTR had. He browsed their site, got back to me a few minutes later, and told me he had signed up for the platinum package, which was $2500 for a year, if I recall correctly. He told me I was in charge of everything that would be on the air, and to just message him if there were any financial issues. That said a lot about how much faith he had in me to provide content for his site.

For that kind of money, I knew LoP Radio had to be something more than just me and my friends. We had three hours a day to work with, and I wanted there to be variety. I had people in mind that I wanted to see, and I also put out the call for people to “try out” for a spot. I also knew that I wanted everyone to have their own freedom. Calvin trusted me, and I wanted to show similar trust in everyone else. You can vouch for that. If the RSOTP crew had any technical issues, you could message me, and I’d help you, but otherwise, you guys were fully in charge of everything, from the content to the music to the name, and everything in between. I’m proud of that. I enjoyed seeing everyone’s creativity and excitement for LoP Radio.

Maz: Shoutout to Monday Night Countdown and Teachers Lounge of course. But LOPR was a big movement for the site. It really was an amazing outlet and it kept my fandom hanging on during some rough times for the WWE. And the friendships developed from years of that run was priceless. The podcast stuff took that to another level but doing this series I realise just how many friends I’ve made through the years on LOP. I love that it is still here right now even though I’ve not spent much time here over the last couple of years. You of course eventually moved on but left that Hustle legacy behind. Lots of highlights over the years. The running diaries. Taking on the curse of the 14th. The march madness brackets. Your interviews with up and coming stars. What were the highlights for you from your run?

Hus: First and foremost, because it’s something that is still mentioned from time to time, I didn’t steal the Rumble Curse column from sheepster. He created it, but when he stopped writing, I asked him for permission to keep it going. That’s a great column idea, and you know you can count on doing it again every year with a new update.

With that out of the way, you mentioned some of my favorite highlights. Interviewing Seth Rollins twice, back when he was known as Tyler Black in Ring Of Honor. Hustle Madness. Introducing the LoP main page readers to names like Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Kenny Omega, Kevin Steen, El Generico, The Briscoes, Shingo, etc. Running Diaries were always fun. Seeing how big LoP Radio got. The Chris Benoit column we talked about earlier. Man, there’s a lot of fun times I had at LoP.

Maz: 600+ entries just on, what, a quarter of your run would give you plenty of options. I don’t think I’ve thought too hard about the 14th in the last few rumbles. That could be ready for a revisit. Maybe we should get Tamina and Braun testing COVID vaccines just to be safe. Another regular Hus piece I love is the 30 under 30. In fact I think that is the last thing I read from you. Glad to see that still going strong.

Hus: I love looking to the future. It’s my jam. Wrestling, the NFL, the NBA… I’m always “fantasy booking” the future, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it, if I do say so myself, which I just did.

Maz: I hope you are monetising it somehow like with the spoilers as a kid.

Hus: Of course. I’m saving up to recreate the Mo Money Mo Problems video frame-by-frame.

Maz: You best not leave me hanging on that one!

Hus: Oh, you know you’re in, shiny suit and all.

Maz: I will get that badboy (always intended) to the dry cleaners then! Before we head to a wrap up, where are you are right now with your fandom? There is a lot of content out there at the moment (well certainly before the corona hit) but you are obviously a busier man these days. What are you watching? What are you enjoying? Who should we be keeping an eye out for?

Hus: I still try to keep up with most of what’s going down. I may not get to watch everything live, but there’s always streaming or recording it for later. I watch AEW and NXT every week. I was watching New Japan until they shut down because of the virus. Raw and Smackdown are hit or miss for me. Sometimes I’ll find myself multiple episodes behind.

I’m on a big Keith Lee kick right now. He’s going to be special. With AEW, I’m fully expecting Darby Allin to be a star.

Maz: Great stuff, I like to finish these things off with some quickfire questions. Who do you think is the best wrestler in the world today?

Hus: Kazuchika Okada in New Japan.

Maz: Who is your favourite columnist from your LOP days?

Hus: Not saying this to kiss up, although it couldn’t hurt, but all you RSOTP guys are right up there. Romans, Uncle Joe, Steve, CoLD, MissouriDragon & DJ Brilliant, aisce, etc.

Maz: Haha, I appreciate that. Just for that, I will call this next question “2.9”. Way far out prediction for the Mania 37 main event?

Hus: Not an original pick, but I think we’re going for Becky Lynch vs Ronda Rousey.

Maz: So many to choose from but can you pick your favourite column? Does the Benoit one take that prize?

Hus: I think it has to, yeah.

Maz: Last one, which hip hop artist would make a great crossover into the wrestling business today?

Hus: Drake. Love him or hate him, everything he does is noticed by everybody. He’d definitely get booed in the wrestling world, though.

Maz: Have him do what he does for the Raptors but turned up to WWE levels in a Border Wars reboot. The heat would be nuclear. Well, if the crowds are back anyway. Hus, it has been fantastic to have you back for an LOP cameo. Excellent catching up. Thank you for taking part. Do you have any plugs or words of wisdom before you head off?

Hus: Thank you for having me, my friend. This was a lot of fun. Follow me on Twitter @HustleTheSavage. Or don’t. But do.

Maz: Go do it peeps, it may not be everyday or even right now but you can still get your Hustle column fix with a follow. Thanks for reading guys, I will be back again tomorrow with another guest. Until then, peace!

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