Having spent nearly 18 years on the scene, “Scrap Iron” Adam Pearce is the personification of independent professional wrestling. Beginning his training with Sonny Rogers and Randy Ricci in November 1995, the Illinois native made his in-ring debut on May 16, 1996 in Waukegan, Ill., at just 17 years of age.
Over the years, Pearce has appeared in both dark and televised matches for the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment), trained at now-defunct World Championship Wrestling’s Power Plant and has appeared on television for both Ring of Honor and Impact Wrestling. Additionally, he has traveled the world, wrestling internationally in England, Germany, Canada, Mexico, Japan and Australia.
A five-time National Wrestling Alliance World Heavyweight Champion, Pearce captured his first NWA Title on Sept. 1, 2007, when he defeated Brent Albright in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, in the finals of the Reclaiming the Glory tournament. His fifth reign came to a controversial end on Oct. 27, 2012, when he vacated the title following the seventh and final match in his Seven Levels of Hate series with Colt Cabana and left the organization.
“Seven Levels of Hate: The Uncut Story of Independent Wrestling’s Greatest Feud,” is the story behind the series as told by Pearce, Cabana and others involved. Pre-orders are currently being taken through Sept. 15 for the two-disc DVD, which includes a documentary and the full series of seven matches with seven different stipulations in seven different cities around the world.
I recently spoke with Pearce about the project and some of the stories behind the “Seven Levels of Hate” project.
Before we actually get into (the “Seven Levels of Hate” project), let’s talk a little bit about your background with the NWA over the past several years.
I know when you were breaking into the business, a couple of years prior was kind of when the NWA, in a lot of people’s eyes, really ceased to matter, I guess. Once (the NWA) ended their run with WCW and Turner, I know in a lot of people’s eyes, the NWA and the NWA Title kind of lost a lot of its luster.
I’m sure you consider yourself a wrestling purist (and) when it comes to those types of people, the NWA Title has always kind of been seen as the wrestlers’ title. The NWA Title was always that go-to (with) the guys who really got in there and wrestled and (were) what wrestling was about. That was the title that was held in such high regard.
When it comes to the NWA and the NWA Heavyweight Title, in your own words, what does that title mean to you?
I’m on record saying this and I believe that the NWA World Title is the godfather of all modern wrestling championships in our country. Notwithstanding the fact you can practically trace every lineage back to, at some point, the NWA Championship, it’s exactly as you described it.
It’s always been the wrestlers’ championship and obviously when Jim Crockett Promotions sold to WCW and the NWA really ceased to have a presence on a national or worldwide scale, the luster of the 10 Pounds of Gold kind of fades.
That doesn’t change the history of the championship (and) it certainly doesn’t change what a lot of people in the industry feel about the championship. Particularly those who are blessed enough to have been able to wear it. The lineage and the list of people whose names are attached to that belt is second to none and I don’t care what year it is.
Going back to (the Reclaiming the Glory) tournament and your involvement in that, was it you and Brent Albright in Puerto Rico in the finals for that?
Yeah, it was supposed to be Brent Albright and Bryan Danielson but the week previous in New York City on a Ring of Honor card that I also happened to be on, Bryan had his orbital bone broken and a detached retina in a match against Takeshi Morishima.
So, I knew probably that Saturday before that there was no way he was going to be able to make the date. I had lost to Bryan in the semifinals in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada), so he moved on to the finals. I got a call the Wednesday before the show asking if I could even be in Puerto Rico and I assumed it would be to put Brent over. I didn’t find out actually until I got to the building in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, that they were putting me over for it.
Logically, you would think since you had lost to Bryan, that’s what would happen. So, you come in and find out. Puerto Rico’s got a legendary reputation for what it is and I know it’s not necessarily the same these days as it was in its heyday, but what was the atmosphere like for that match, especially with it being your first NWA Title victory?
It was crazy and in fact, looking back now, a lot of it’s a blur just because, like I said, I didn’t actually know what was happening on the card until I got to the building. So, you can imagine coming into a situation where you feel like you’re kind of standing in for somebody and kind of a placeholder. Going from that mentality to now you’re gonna be the guy and we’re gonna kind of roll the dice here.
It changes the aura around the match, definitely. You know, it said to me that people were willing to take a chance on me. Largely at that point, outside of wrestling diehards – Ring of Honor fans and whatnot – I didn’t have much of a name, at least on a national scope. I thought it was a pretty bold move and it was one I was eager to take.
It seems like you were very willing, also to really travel with that belt.
I think there are two sides to that coin. There’s got to be someone who’s willing to do that, and the other side of the coin is that promoters have to be willing to invest in that person. I think after the first and second reigns, particularly after promoters had gotten a sense of what it was I was capable of doing in the ring, on top of how I conduct myself outside of it, it made a lot of people comfortable. It made business a lot easier than it may have been for someone else.
I pride myself on being a good businessman and doing good business for the promoters that take the time and put their money into investing in my travel. I live in San Diego, Calif. Flights from here to practically everywhere in the country aren’t on the cheap side and they never have been. I’m a big believer in treating people the right way and they will do the same for you.
Your fourth reign was on the heels of the whole situation that came up after the Sheik got the belt from Cabana. There was a whole stink at the time raised over what happened there with him being stripped of the belt. So what is a little bit of the back story with that and what led to the four-way match (with Pearce, Chance Prophet, Jimmy Rave and Shaun Tempers) to fill that vacancy?
A lot of that’s covered in the movie. The situation at the time was tenuous at best. I think you had one group of people, a very large group of people in our country, that were ultra supportive of Colt Cabana as NWA World Champion, myself included. And you had a smaller sect of people who happened to be in control of the National Wrestling Alliance who made the decision to go elsewhere.
Logically, that was something that was challenging for a lot of people to understand. A lot of it was based on emotion and loyalty to a couple of different people and for very personal reasons. I’m not saying they’re not honorable, but I think it was a situation where the decision was made and it was absolutely at the worst time.
You and Cabana, y’all have a connection going way back. You’re from the same area and I know you came up before he did, but kind of came up around the same area and around some of the same people.
We go back to high school together. We went to rival high schools and played high school football against each other. I’ve known Cabana since I was probably 16/17 years old.
You know each other, you’ve got the background with each other, you’ve been around each other for that long coming up through business and both making names for yourselves. How did the idea between you two for Seven Levels of Hate really come about?
Again, that’s why I put the movie out to tell that story. I think it’s one of the more interesting parts of how the evolution of the story comes about. “Seven Levels of Hate” really is the story of friendship turned into learning experience into kind of a maturation process in the wrestling business.
And it’s right place, right time, right guy. I think this goes to pretty much any era of wrestling, the people who end up having the memorable programs against each other, whether it’s Flair and Harley Race, who obviously are great friends to this day, that plays a big part into it. You need to have a certain camaraderie. You need to be able to have a certain trust, I think is huge. Certainly, Cabana and I had all those things and history to be able to come together and put ourselves in a situation where we could hopefully make some magic.
You’ve had people who have done series of matches – best of five, best of seven. To take a series of seven matches and take it on the road and really, around the world because you ended up in Australia with it, was kind of, in a way, groundbreaking because you hadn’t seen something of that nature done before.
Yeah, I think that’s one of the unique aspects of this thing. It wasn’t a promoter or a promotion putting together a program and then booking it around town. It was the creative talents and ideas of myself and having someone like Colt Cabana willing to go along for the ride, and then shopping that out to various promoters.
It was very much the opposite of how things generally work in the wrestling business. I think that makes it all the more gratifying. To come up with a concept – an idea – bring that to practical application and find the correct partners to do it. To me, anyway, it’s a textbook example of what can be achieved when people put ego aside, check the ego at the door and make business happen. It was beautiful and a lot easier to get things done than you might think.
At what point did you really think, once you got into the idea and into the program, that this is good stuff, this is something that people are going to remember and this is something special?
I don’t know that there was any point where myself or Cabana thought that. I think the feedback from the fans that were coming out to watch the matches was what really cemented it for us.
I think we got a real sense of the public being interested in what we were doing when we did the first title change in … it was March of 2011 … when he beat me for the title the first time when things just kind of went crazy and all of a sudden, here was this almost out-of-nowhere positive vibe and huge dialogue about the NWA Title and really, an outpouring of support for Cabana. I think that was kind of the first red flag that said there’s something here.
With the series (and) the NWA Title being involved, was this something that, from the start, the NWA had kind of given you its blessing and was behind?
Yeah, I don’t think there’s any way you could go about doing something like that with the NWA Title being the centerpiece without having people sign off on it.
They ultimately control that.
As we saw with how things ended. Absolutely. They were in control.
How things ended, I know that’s been well documented. The video of what happened hit YouTube fairly quickly with the title being cast aside. At what point during the series, and I know this is probably covered heavily in the film, did issues really start popping up and you guys really start seeing you might have an issue here?
Probably about halfway through. It seemed like there was always something going on and probably halfway through … is when people started hearing rumors of potential lawsuits happening. And then the next thing you knew, ownership of the brand transferred and there was a whole new sheriff in town and (there were) a lot of people that were uncomfortable with the new ownership, mostly because they didn’t know the people. These were brand new people coming in.
And that’s valid. If you don’t know someone and you’re not familiar and you’re not comfortable with them, I think it’s very valid to have your reservations and really rethink your involvement.
Even somebody like me who had worked for Bruce Tharpe, who I consider a friend still to this day, and Chris Ronquillo in Houston. I’d worked for these guys on a number of occasions, so it wasn’t as if I was unfamiliar with them. I think the vast majority of everyone else was. The lawsuit stuff and all that, myself and Cabana, the guys in the ring, that had nothing to do with us. We were so outside of that stuff that we didn’t really pay a whole lot of attention to it because it didn’t directly affect us until there was a changeover and there were new bosses to answer to.
And then it came to the point where you had that final match where both of you guys kind of stepped aside from the whole thing.
Can you explain the feelings and what was kind of going through your head that night? You were there in Australia to finish this thing off. For a title match, which is what you had originally planned. (What were) your feelings, knowing what was going on and with what ended up happening after the match?
Hugely disappointed. I don’t think anybody involved at that point was feeling anything other than disappointment. You certainly never want, particularly when you lay something out conceptually and you’ve got blood, sweat and tears literally and your creative thought and your emotion all wrapped up in something for upward of two years or so at that point, you don’t really want to see it end any other way than the way it was supposed to.
When it becomes evident that what’s been on the table and what’s been agreed to for months and months and months simply isn’t an option anymore, you can’t help but be disappointed. I know there were hurt feelings, definitely. I think there was a lot of sadness in several people, myself included.
And there was a lot of anger, too from a lot of people who came into this thing thinking they were going to end up with one thing and kind of, I guess in a sense, got a knife in their back. At least, that’s what the feeling was. How could you be anything but angry about that? It was unfortunate. I think that’s really putting it mildly.
Was the basic issue (the NWA) did not want you defending the title in that match?
Obviously. That’s why it was unsanctioned. The entire story, at least from the perspective of the 20 people who were interviewed for “Seven Levels of Hate” is documented to the letter in the movie. Perspectives and opinions and facts and just everything that you can imagine that went into that decision is all covered.
The only people’s perspectives who are not covered in the movie is that of Bruce Tharpe and that of Chris Ronquillo because they refused to be a part of it. But Fred Rubenstein, who was part of the new ownership group, thankfully did lend his opinion, did lend his perspective and did lend his voice.
The documentary and the DVD. Had you planned, initially going into this series to document it? At what point did you really decide that you wanted to do this project and really cover what was going on and what was going down?
We had the benefit from the beginning of the television. Championship Wrestling from Hollywood had been there chronicling the entire feud pretty much from the outset. Since this thing was born in Los Angeles. We were in an advantageous place to be able to have the footage and have all of that chronicled.
Once we started getting into the series, itself and going from town to town and working with promotion to promotion, I knew that I wanted to document as much of that as possible. Simply because I thought it was an intriguing wrestling story, more than anything else.
Then, of course, when you get the added drama and all of the emotion and the controversy that happens at the end, that’s kind of the hook. I think it was a no-brainer to document it. So many people wanted to know what the story was and I’ve never been a guy to run to the Internet or start running my mouth, necessarily, but I thought this story was one that was worth telling and I’m happy to be able to make that public.
It really was one of those cases of something that kind of turned into a bad situation … it allowed you to now get this out there and tell this story. You were able to make something out of kind of a rough situation and make something that is compelling and intriguing.
It’s funny you say that, because only when you get a chance to kind of step outside the bubble do you really get to reflect on what you were able to do. And certainly, as I think anyone that’s followed the series would know, it’s obvious that it didn’t end the way it was initially intended to from the beginning.
When you step back and kind of reflect on everything else that we were able to accomplish, this was a hell of an undertaking and, in so many ways, successful. If you go strictly by box office numbers, this was great for everyone involved. Myself, Cabana, the promoters, the promotions and, kind of vicariously through all that, their talents, who got a chance to be a part of something and on cards that, at the very least, wound up memorable in their area for whatever reason.
On top of all that, we come now to put this thing down and make a film. A lot of the same cooperation that I had from the various promoters and players from the beginning, all was still there when it came time to document this thing. I’m so grateful that the story’s not just told by me and not just told by Colt Cabana, but literally by everyone else that was involved outside of Bruce and Chris. And I really wish they would have lent their voice to it. An opinion that’s contrarian is not necessarily a bad one.
Plenty of people had plenty to say and one thing I’ve come to learn through this whole process is that sometimes silence says the most.
Pre-orders for “Seven Levels of Hate: The Uncut Story of Independent Wrestling’s Greatest Feud,” continue through Sept. 15 with orders being shipped on Sept. 20. The film will be fully released on Sept. 27. For more information on the project, visit sevenlevelsofhate.com.