Editor’s note: This interview was conducted in August 2021, before Kidd Bandit changed their pronouns. We have amended this interview accordingly to ensure Bandit is referred to as their preferred pronouns.
Ready for this?
Here we are, around 13 years after Kenny Omega first showed up in DDT Pro-Wrestling; a decade since Kazuchika Okada had an excursion/exile in TNA; 5 years since Cody Rhodes left WWE. These are athletes, along with others like Jon Moxley, Becky Lynch, or Asuka, who are still in their prime and still performing at a high level, but have also crossed a threshold where they stand to be idols for the next generation of professional wrestlers.
Kidd Bandit has been training in pro-wrestling for two years, and the influence of the current crop of championship calibre wrestlers on them is very apparent. They have been able to appreciate and absorb what has made others great and use that to create their own character and put their own spin on what professional wrestling can be. Everything about Kidd Bandit, from the flow of their body on offense, to their look, is a blend of déjà vu and revelation. There are familiar bits borrowed from wrestling, anime, gaming, and more, remixed in new ways, and all done while Kidd Bandit is learning the actual art of wrestling.
“The Protagonist of Professional Wrestling” spoke to us about those influences, what it was like to train at the Nightmare Factory, as well as what they hopes to accomplish in the future.
So I know you’ve been training at the Nightmare Factory, how did you end up there? How long have you been training?
I started training around the summer of 2019 at Santino Bros. Wrestling Academy in Los Angeles. I started the journey with my good friend and current tag team partner Ishmael Vaughn. Right at the apex of our training, when we were being prepped for our debuts, our school unfortunately shut down because of the pandemic and we had no place to go to. It was pretty depressing actually.
Unable to find a consistent home gym together, Ish and I planned on going to the East Coast, both to expand our networking contacts as well as finish up our training once the nation started to open up slowly. The Nightmare Factory was brought to my attention one day, serendipitously actually. I was friends with Brooke Havok on Facebook thanks to our mutual association with Jack Cartwheel. I immediately messaged Ish about training there after we struggled to both find a place to train at together. The funny story is I actually paid my tuition using my old high school email’s PayPal, but I applied using my new professional email, so I didn’t even think to check my old email to see if I passed the screening process and got accepted until about 4 days before day 1 of camp.
I definitely credit Cody Rhodes, QT Marshall, Glacier, V, 10, Baron Black, Luke Grimes and the alum of the NF for helping me further my skillset and preparing me for my debut. Outside of that, I’ve had the pleasure of learning from Kenny Marquez (FKA Jake Atlas), Eli Everfly, Supreme, Zokre, Phoenix Star, Joey Kaos, Heather Monroe, Robby Phoenix from Santino Bros., and Lil Cholo & Mariachi Loco of Lucha Homies fame. Also, I would like to mention Vintage Dragon and OCCW.
Can you talk a bit about the training process at the Nightmare Factory?
As I previously mentioned, I totally didn’t even think to see if I had been accepted by checking my old email that I used to pay. I believe they accepted me about a month after completing the application process but I never knew it until it was four days out! That’s my fault. The end date/graduation happens after 3 months of wrestling training and strength and conditioning. It was a very gruelling but also rewarding experience. We trained for four hours a day and consistently stuck to our meal plans to achieve maximum benefits by our debut.
What coaches did you work with there? What are they like?
Right before we got to the Nightmare Factory, QT actually turned his back on Cody. So Cody was gone for a while and we had the pleasure to learn our craft from QT Marshall. He had a very pragmatic approach to the craft and it was amazing to see his perspective on pro wrestling. He actually was the one who taught me the Phoenix Splash which I’ve been using as my finisher since.
Cody came in after a couple of weeks, once he had his return to form and attacked QT Marshall and the rest of The Factory. His approach is very idealistic (which is a lot like mine) and he was so down-to-earth that you forget he’s CODY FREAKING RHODES. Coming into the NF, Cody was already one of my favorite wrestlers, even before he went into the indies and reinvented his career. It was very hard not to fanboy insanely.
I also had the pleasure of working extensively with coach Alan Angels. He was very good at structuring matches and figuring out how to properly fix the flow of things, which I struggled with because all I wanted to do was kick.
Coach Baron Black was also one of the coaches I worked a lot with, and he was more of a technical guy who helped me improve my mat work and figure out how to work body parts.
Coach Luke Grimes was in charge of camp when the AEW talent are on tour and he was giving us a lot of useful notes and advice as he supervised our practice matches.
Coach Glacier was also there briefly but had to leave for surgery. He didn’t get to work with us as much (which I was sad about considering my move-set is heavily kick/martial arts based like his), but he did impart some incredible wisdom to me and mine.
You hit that Phoenix Splash, an incredibly challenging move, in the Nightmare Factory Showcase. Have you always been athletic? Do you play any other sports besides wrestling?
I don’t actually! I spent the last two years learning how to do kicks and flips in my front yard, at a cheerleading facility and trampoline parks, with the intent of using these moves in wrestling. Originally, my big finishing move was gonna be the Leaf Hurricane which is a 720 rotation Black Mass, but it injured me in 2020 and I’ve been cautious about using the move since. The Phoenix Splash came into my mind after my campmate, JDX, over rotated from a springboard sunset flip and the move clicked in my head. I spent the next couple of weeks working with QT on the Phoenix Splash and I’ve used it since then!
What got you into wrestling? Did you grow up a fan, or was it more recent?
I first got into wrestling through the Ruthless Aggression era of WWE. I grew up in the Philippines, so the only wrestling I could watch was extreme tape-delay of SmackDown. The good news, however, is instead of it being a weekly programming, we had it 3-4 days a week so I had wrestling consistently playing in the background as I wrestled on my mattress.
Is your family into wrestling at all? What do they think of you wrestling?
They actually don’t like it because they think I’m doing MMA fights. My grandma is always worried that the people I wrestle (in her eyes fight) are way bigger than me. They do like the fact I’m acrobatic though and can put on a good show!
Did you have any favorite acts/promotions growing up?
I was biased with SmackDown and ECW just because I’ve always preferred the underdogs. I didn’t get into outside of WWE promotions until I was much older and exploring them to expand my wrestling knowledge. I was very familiar with TNA, especially AJ Styles, however.
Do you watch any wrestling currently? What promotions do you watch and is it for fun or learning/scouting?
I watch a mixture of new wrestling as well as older wrestling. My significant other is a big fan of wrestling as well so she watches a lot of WhatCulture, which suddenly puts me in a mood to watch matches. It’s hard for me to keep up with a lot of current product as far as storylines go, but when I do see a match up I think would be incredible, I definitely set aside some time to not only study, but enjoy as a fan.
You’ve talked about your body transformation on your Twitter account. Was wrestling your motivation for that? Was this achieved just from wrestling training or was there more to it?
Yep! I started wrestling training in 2019 but in tandem I also fixed my diet, did a lot of work in the gym and ran almost every day. It was extremely difficult but I think it helped me become better at wrestling because I used to lug an extra 100lbs of weight and now I don’t. It does make doing certain moves difficult because I learned them when I was in a different body shape so re-adjusting my body now makes certain moves feel alien.
Was the recent Nightmare Factory Student Showcase really your first match? What was it like going out there for the first time?
Yes, the NF Showcase was my first match. The funny thing is, Cody Rhodes posted the camp photo on Twitter and suddenly I became a meme and my phone kept blowing up. My peers kept approaching me about it and I’m just like…yo, I’m already freaking out about my match! So I technically started my career as a meme.
I want everyone to hear about your nickname, “Pro Wrestling’s Protagonist.” Can you talk about how you came up with it and what it means?
So originally my gimmick was a Cyberpunk Ninja which was supposed to be a mixture of Watch Dogs and Cyberpunk 2077, but I couldn’t find a good middle ground for that. Gradually I leaned more to the Punk Ninja gimmick but it just didn’t click with me as much. One day (near the end of the Nightmare Factory camp), Baron Black was talking about how working in the indies is gonna be hard for some but it might be easier for me because of how I look like an anime character and how anime is now mainstream. I went home that night and immediately Googled if someone was called a Protagonist in wrestling and sure enough nobody was. I stuck with it and a week later we debuted! It’s funny because that gimmick was such a last minute thing for me but I like to think it worked out well!
Kenny Omega has made an obvious impression on you. Can you speak a bit about how he has influenced you?
His legendary bouts with Okada definitely made me realize what kind of wrestler I’d strive to be. He’s got a killer explosive cardio and as well as a very good, innovative moveset. He’s also a big weeb like I am and we both draw a lot of inspiration from anime and video games. Two of my moves are actually inspired by Kenny, and my thought process with my Angel Killer move was how do I take the coolest move in pro-wrestling today (which was the One-Winged Angel) and make it even cooler?
Who are some other wrestlers you admire or draw inspiration from?
Cody Rhodes, KENTA, Hikaru Shida, PAC, Jon Moxley, Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Maki Itoh, Ricochet, Rey Mysterio, Asuka, Kairi Sane, Kofi Kingston, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Becky Lynch, Naito, Okada and Sting.
There is also a ton of anime influence on your character and move-set, the names of moves like the Angel Killer, Leaf Hurricane, etc. Would you talk about the overlap between wrestling and anime?
I was more into anime than wrestling as a kid, but once I got into wrestling both have been at the same place in my heart. I’ve always made my create-a-wrestlers to be anime characters. I saw a tweet about it a while back. Basically wrestling is just live action anime with rotating protagonists! Now there’s an actual Protagonist!
Do you have any favorite anime?
Trigun, Gundam SEED, Gundam Wing, Rurouni Kenshin and My Hero Academia.
Are there other fields you draw influence from?
A lot of JRPGs and games for sure! Devil May Cry being one that has influenced me the most (on the indies I’ve been coming out to “Crimson Cloud” from Devil May Cry V as my theme song).
Star Wars definitely, with Luke Skywalker being a core influence of my babyface character and Kylo Ren being a core influence of my heel side.
Batman Beyond, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies and a ton of other martial arts flicks.
I also take influence in some music acts with Alesana’s approach to their lyrics and album storytelling being a big part of how I approach my storylines with people.
Let’s also talk briefly about the future. Do you have your eye on any particular promotions down the line?
What are some general goals you have as a wrestler and performer?
AEW World Champion. 10 star match trilogy.
Would you like to shout out any wrestlers you think are going to break out soon?
My campmates! Especially Ishmael Vaughn, JDX, Brandon Gore, Joey Silver, Trevor Outlaw, Coach Young, Pretty Papi, Sandson, Silver Fox, Andrew Dreamer, Rayden, Dom Texeira and the Lord’s Warrior.
Locally in SoCal, keep an eye out on my fellow rookies: Chris Nastyy, Mylo Matters, Artorias, Hellman Rosecrown, Richie Coy, Mighty Mayra, Bucio and JBD.
Who are some active wrestlers you would like to compete with?
Mike Bailey, Janai Kai, Yoya, Eli Everfly, Heather Monroe, Carlie Bravo, Dean Alexander, Brooke Havok, Jack Cartwheel, Tony Deppen, and everyone really! I wanna steal the show with everyone!
I’ve got one last question for you: You have a table at Wrestle Inn. What meal are you eating, what drink are you drinking, and which two wrestlers are you bringing for company?
Chicken Katsudon with salmon onigiri; Bang Energy, Candy Apple Crisp flavor; and I’ll be bringing in Cody and Kenny Omega.
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