Interview: Shawn Daivari

Shawn Daivari is a manager and wrestler best known for his time in WWE and TNA where he was a one-time X-Division Champion.

The 32-year-old from Minneapolis, Minnesota managed the likes of Kurt Angle, The Great Khali and Mark Henry during his tenure in WWE and also got to work with legends including Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Roddy Piper and The Undertaker.

Daivari and fellow grappler Ken Anderson opened up The Academy: School of Professional Wrestling and we caught up with him to talk about his spells in WWE and TNA, Ariya’s performances in WWE and much more.

How did you first get into the sport of professional wrestling?

I never really thought about having a job or career, I was someone that took things day-by-day. When my high school guidance counsellor asked me what I wanted to do after I graduated I didn’t have a clue and the only thing that I liked was wrestling so I told him I wanted to be a wrestler.

I thought I was going to finish high school and then go to the WCW Power Plant to become a WCW wrestler but you had to be 18-years-old to go to the Power Plant. However a kid at school told me about a wrestler in Minneapolis who didn’t care if you were 18 or not, he trained anybody and that is how I broke into the business.

Who were some of the wrestlers that influenced you when you were growing up?

It varies on what age group you’re talking about. As a kid Sting was my all time favourite and then as I got older I became a fan of Shawn Michaels. When I started wrestling I was a big fan of Mick Foley but throughout my career I was a fan of lots of different wrestlers for different reasons.

What was it like when you signed your first professional contract with WWE?

It’s funny, I don’t remember how I felt when I got it. The only thing I do remember when it came in the mail the first person I called was Ken Anderson.

I told him Dr. Tom just signed me, but to be honest I don’t even know why I was calling him to tell him. I don’t know if I wanted a pat on the back or if I was rubbing it in his face, I don’t know what happened but Ken was really supportive and he was happier for me than I was for myself.

Daivari with Marc Copani (Muhammad Hassan) at WrestleCon 2016

Around the time of WrestleMania 21 you got the opportunity to work with Hulk Hogan & Shawn Michaels, what was the experience like?

Working with Hulk and Shawn was awesome because it is one of those things people always said would be difficult. Pretty much anyone that has worked with Shawn or with Hulk have said it isn’t easy but I found that to be completely the opposite. That might be because I wasn’t jostling for position, I knew my role, Muhammad Hassan knew his role and we knew Hulk and Shawn’s role so there wasn’t any back and fourth.

My experience of work with both Shawn and Hulk was fantastic; it was great exposure for me. People still remember that, it was over a decade ago! I’ve been on TV almost every week since 2004 between WWE, TNA, ROH and Lucha Underground and people still talk about my time working with Shawn and Hulk, so it did wonders for me.

In 2005 you began working with Kurt Angle, what was it like managing Kurt and then feuding with him?

Working with Kurt was great, he was a top guy in the company and we were working with John Cena who was another top guy. Kurt treat me like I was in the mix even though I really wasn’t, I had only been in the job nine months at that point but he treated me just like an equal. Kurt, John Cena and myself were three characters doing one angle.

I didn’t realize it at the time but my perception changed overnight from working with Kurt and John. I had been seen as the new guy and just by the way Kurt treated me and the way I conducted myself I became an up and running established guy on the roster.

What are your thoughts on Kurt being inducted into this year’s WWE Hall of Fame?

It is totally deserved. I don’t know if there is anybody else who is in that main event calibre that can still go today like Kurt can. It is awesome that he is being inducted and it is awesome that he is someone like a Sting that if the audience wants to see him wrestle he can still work.

Kurt was such a huge help to my career but he also helped my partner The Academy’s Ken Anderson as well. When Ken got to TNA, WWE did him a little dirty and there might have been a bit of stigma attached to him from people in the TNA locker room that didn’t know him and had never worked with him wondering why WWE would let him go if he was the real deal. Ken’s first program when he went to TNA was with Kurt and they tore it down every single night and Ken was able to prove that he was the real deal because him and Kurt were doing so well and delivering great matches including the cage match at Lockdown.

As for myself and Kurt, we were travel buddies in WWE and TNA, he taught me a lot. During our time in TNA together Terry Taylor was booking the house shows and television was booked by Jeff Jarrett and Vince Russo and on the house shows I was tagging a lot in the main event with Kurt and he was always pushing for me to get a main event slot on TV. Kurt has always gone to bat for me and when Ken and I opened up The Academy he endorsed both of us, so to get a stamp of approval from someone that is that good of a wrestler saying we are the place to train and he knows that from being in the ring with us, that is as high an honour and complement you could ask for.

You managed The Great Khali, what was he like to work with during that time and facing the likes of the Undertaker and Roddy Piper?

It was a really cool thing getting to work with The Great Khali and I really enjoyed working with him professionally. People from different walks of life fascinate me and here was someone from a different world, a third world country like India and not only that but he is a legitimate giant. The difficulties he had navigating his life, we do a lot of travelling and he couldn’t fit properly in an airplane seat, it was really interesting travelling with him and an eye opening experience seeing what this guys life was like.

As far as working with Taker and Piper at that time, Taker was always really cool with me, I don’t know why he liked me but he did. I went back in 2012 to do a match for SmackDown and Taker was there for some reason, I’m not sure why, but he pulled me aside an we hung out all night and I could just tell he was bored. He was the last cowboy, he didn’t have any friends there, he didn’t know any of the new guys, I didn’t even know any of the new guys. I remember my first time there in 2004 and he was around then so I can’t imagine what he felt like in 2012.

The Pipers Pit stuff was cool, I worked with Roddy a little bit on Raw before we did some house shows in the north west with Jericho. The Pipers Pit thing was an awesome deal because we just got a new writer from Hollywood on SmackDown and in Hollywood they like to script everything. When the Pipers Pit thing came around he was told Roddy doesn’t do scripts and the writer was really nervous but it ended up being an awesome segment.

Piper was first guy who I idolised as a kid that I became buddies with, he was larger than life, when I was a little kid Roddy Piper was the man.

Looking back at your time in WWE, what were some of your highlights?

I don’t really remember too much of my time in WWE because it happened so fast. When I watch clips of myself in WWE on YouTube or the WWE Network it seems as though I am seeing it for the first time, it feels like an outer body experience, I don’t remember it through my own eyes.

Really my WWE highlight is right now watching my little brother Ariya every week on Raw and 205 Live and knowing how much harder he had to work to get there than I did.

What was Vince McMahon like as a boss?

Vince is cool as a boss, I always had a good relationship with him. I was actually backstage at SmackDown this past week to visit my brother. I walked into Vince’s office and they were writing the end of the show during the first two segments as it was happening live. Vince stood up to greet me and it was an awesome moment to stand there next to my brother and I now feel my brother can go and speak to Vince anytime he wants, moreso then before that moment.

You had a spell in TNA, where you became X Division Champion, what was that like for you?

My time in TNA was really cool and it was a really good time for me to be there. Things didn’t work out me the way I wanted them to in WWE in 2007, WWE had offered me a contract extension until 2010 but I didn’t take it. Just the way things went I couldn’t put myself through that again.

At that time TNA was at the peak of its growth, I came in right after one of the Lockdown PPV’s and that Lockdown was the highest PPV sales the company ever had up until that time, it was main evented by Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe and Joe won the World Title.

We were getting the highest television ratings in the companies history on Spike TV, house shows and merchandise were doing well, everything was growing week after week. It was a great time for me to be there, a lot of the funding was done by Panda Energy and they had a lot of money coming in from Spike TV, international touring was way better than in the states. It was exactly what I wanted, I wanted to be a part of something that was growing and not part of something that already was.

A number of wrestlers who were in TNA at the time, Xavier Woods, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Bobby Roode and Eric Young have gone over to WWE, what have you made of their success?

As far as guys like Xavier Woods, AJ and Joe making it in WWE and doing well hasn’t really been a surprise to me. The whole time I was in TNA I couldn’t believe I was one of the only people that knew they were going to make it to WWE and be a success.

I had worked with a couple of the other guys before, with Xavier Woods I had just met him there and I kind of took it upon myself to teach him how to work because he was so capable. I don’t mean teach him how to wrestle, teaching him to work was taking his skill set, the tools he already had developed whilst training to wrestle and then fine tuning all of them.

All of the guys in TNA at the time that had already been in WWE didn’t think these guys could hack it but I thought you got to be kidding me. The things that the likes of AJ and Joe didn’t have, if they were missing anything in their arsenal it was only because it hadn’t been presented to them yet and as soon as they were presented it they mastered it and were going to do it better than anybody else on the planet.

We’ve recently seen WWE stage tournaments such as the Cruiserweight Classic and the United Kingdom Championship on the WWE Network, what have you made of these shows?

WWE is finally doing what I’ve said they should be doing all along and that is being a wrestling platform not a wrestling brand. With the UK tournament and the Cruiserweight Classic, I think they should do a women’s tournament and a hardcore one, I think you should have a show for children and an adults show. WWE has become a platform for media and it is the direction they should have gone down all along but now it makes the most sense of doing with the Network.

Your brother Ariya appeared on the Cruiserweight Classic and has since gone on to the main roster, what have you made of his performances in WWE?

I couldn’t be more happy for my brother that he has been able to do his thing and I always knew he would succeed, I just didn’t know how he was going to get that shot. I could help as much as I could but me helping wasn’t going to get him fair opportunity but him doing it on his own gives him that credibility.

Ariya and I worked together for a show TNA did in India, I was the guy that was booked and he was my tag partner but he was doing so much better than I was, he is such a better wrestler than I am, he is putting on much better matches than I was but he was the guy that came with Shawn Daivari.

I’m so happy that in WWE that didn’t happen and everything he has achieved he has done on his own. He was brought into the Cruiserweight Classic to make this guy Ho Ho Lun look good. Ariya’s opponent in that tournament most of his training came from watching matches on YouTube so considering that he was really good but my brothers job was to make him look good and he did such a good job at that they took him down to NXT and there his job was to make this Australian tag team TM-61 look good and he was so good at that they tied him down to a deal.

We took him to Raw and his job there was to make TJ Perkins look good and he did a good job with that Vince took a liking to him and they but Ariya in a program with Jack Gallagher. Jack has a character similar to Cult Cobana’s, their characters work if their opponents put it over, if their opponents don’t put it over not only does it make them look like shit it doesn’t make the opponent any better, it makes everything look like shit. A lot of people ignorantly or selfishly would not do what my brother did for Jack, he did everything in his power to make Jack look like a million bucks. That is when Vince personally took a shining to him and wanted him to as one of his players on 205 Live. The highlight for me in pro wrestling is watching my brother.

You along with Ken Anderson own The Academy: School of Professional Wrestling in Minneapolis, how is the school doing and what can people expect from attending The Academy?

The Academy is going great, we currently have our first class in now, and our biggest problem is that it’s going too well. We have 42 trainees, which is like holy shit, Ken and I put in 90 hours a week, it is our operation, it is our baby now up and running, it is awesome the amount of knowledge we can give these kids and we have such an amazing team.

I have myself, I have Ken Anderson, I have Arik Cannon who is one of the best wrestlers and actually wrestled on 205 Live recently. Ariya is one of the trainers here as well and we have Molly Holly who I consider the best female wrestler ever because she can work with anybody. Some female wrestlers are great but you give them a model that hasn’t had a single match in their life and they are dead. Molly could have a great match with Victoria or Trish Stratus, she could get in the ring today with Charlotte or Sasha Banks and tear the house down and she could step in the ring with someone that’s never wrestled before and make them look good, that’s why for me she is the best, she is like Shawn Michaels or Triple H, the conversation isn’t about all the great matches they had but all of the duds they managed to pull great matches out of.

We are gearing up for our next class on March 27th, we’ve cut this class down to 20 and only have two spots left which will probably go quite quickly. We have made everything so easy, we’ve done everything online, it doesn’t sound that revolutionary a concept but everything is done on our website, all of the scheduling and planning, you can go on our website and get everything you need as a trainee locally or internationally, there is Google video services , the whole Academy is wired up with cameras so we don’t even need to be there, Ken could be training one day whilst I’m at home watching  someone train and I can send a text message to Ken saying checkout this guys footwork.

It’s really cool state of the art stuff, we’ve got the same thing my brother told me is going on at the WWE Performance Center. He pretty much told me everything that they are doing and Ken and I pretty much went through how we could do the same thing but scale it down to fit our budget. If you are at the Performance Center WWE is providing you the best education you can get on the planet, but if you’re at the Performance Center that means you already have that WWE contract.

So Ken and I have done a scaled down [on our budget] Performance Center, we provide everything from digital pre tape studio, crash pad and striking training, we bring in MMA fighters to teach our guys how to hit and take a hit, we talk about psychology, we’ve got a 120 inch movie projector that we do film review from the WWE Network. We do so much stuff that they do at the Performance Center, we are just doing a slightly smaller version.

The Academy is open to anybody, you don’t have to have a WWE contract to get really good training these days. We give you really good training and if the WWE is where you want to be we will get you that WWE contract hopefully and then you will get even more training. If you don’t want to go to WWE but want to go to TNA Ken and I have the contacts there, if you want to go to All-Japan I can get you in there, if you want to go to AAA in Mexico Ken can get you in there, if you want to go to ROH or Lucha Underground I can help you get in there. We really aren’t a pro wrestling training facility we are a pro wrestling career builder, anything you need for a pro wrestling career from workout plans, diet and nutrition, personal training, everything is under one roof at The Academy.

For more information about Shawn Daivari and Ken Anderson’s The Academy: School of Professional Wrestling visit TheAcademyProWrestling.com.

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