Johnny Mundo talks new documentary, leaving the WWE & more!
Johnny Mundo has a new documentary coming out where he trains two guys with no in ring experience to their first match in only 6 short days. I recently had a chance to interview the current Lucha Underground star Johnny Mundo and his trainees (James Willems and Lawrence Sonntag) about their experiences together.
James Willems has a dream job – playing video games and making videos for more than 1 million subscribers on the Funhaus youtube channel, but he still harbors an unfulfilled childhood dream: to become a professional wrestler. That all changes when he and fellow Funhaus creator Lawrence Sonntag enroll in a Los Angeles wrestling school and train with real-life professional wrestler Johnny Mundo for a tag team match up against a vicious pair called “HATE.” How far will these new wrestlers push themselves to achieve James’s dream? Do they have what it takes to wrestle a pro team and not get killed? RT Docs announces Haus of Pain, the newest social experiment documentary from Rooster Teeth, directed by Mat Hames and premiering April 28 exclusively on FIRST, Rooster Teeth’s streaming service available at RoosterTeeth.com and on Xbox One, Apple TV, iOS and Android apps.
Johnny Mundo Questions
What made you want to train James and Lawrence in the first place?
I was stoked to train James and Lawrence because I heard they were fans of wrestling and were genuine about their desire to learn.
What was the biggest obstacle for each guy to get over while learning?
Time. Both James and Lawrence were fighting to learn as quickly as possible. Frequently training was about prioritizing what was most essential to have a match and spending time on that.
Do you think there could be a career in this for James and Lawrence?
There could be a career in this for James and Lawrence. I’ve learned when it comes to the wrestling business, never say never…but if they were going to make it as pro wrestlers they’d have to spend years training. A while back Jake The Snake asked me, “What do you want?” It’s a really simple and profound question that I think about frequently now when ‘what if’ questions like this are posed. Could James and/or Lawrence make it as wrestlers? If they wanted to, and were willing to do what it takes, then yes. It could potentially take them 5 years, or 15 years, or 5 months…If they wanted it and were willing to do what it takes to make it, then yeah, sure. They could do it.
Why did you leave WWE the in 2011?
I left WWE for the first time in late 2011. I left because I wanted creative autonomy, to be in the driver seat in my life. It was tough for a while, it took some adjusting to get used to a more normal life after being on the road so long, but ultimately I feel like I made the right decision. Towards the end of my run I started to feel like I was giving up more that I was getting from my work with WWE. I’d always dreamed of making an action movie and felt like it was time for me to get after that goal, or sign another contract and come to terms with giving up the dream. What came out of that is Boone: The Bounty Hunter, a feature length action comedy that comes out May 9. The movie took thousands of hours, I am so proud and excited that it’s finished. If I hadn’t left WWE I would have never been able to create Boone, I wouldn’t be in Lucha Underground and Triple A World Champions, and I wouldn’t have been able to be a part of this awesome documentary with James and Lawrence.
James Willems and Lawrence Sonntag Questions
Tell me a bit about your new documentary coming out later this month.
James: This documentary, Haus of Pain, follows myself and Lawrence Sonntag as we attempt to enter the world of professional wrestling. I’m a lifelong fan and spent much of my youth dreaming of becoming a professional wrestler, while Lawrence is approaching this very differently. He wasn’t exposed to health and fitness until well into his adult life and views this opportunity as a chance to challenge his now much healthier lifestyle. Additionally, despite its immense popularity there’s a still a stigma that wrestling is a lower form of entertainment and our combined journey intends to show that that mentality severely underestimates the mental and physical requirements of the sport.
Lawrence: Haus of Pain is the result of our very smart plan to get Rooster Teeth to pay us to become professional wrestlers. However, apparently getting our bosses to pay for it came with strings attached. While most people train to be wrestlers over the course of several months, we had six days from start to finish to train for and to perform in a professional match.
What was the hardest part about training with Johnny Mundo?
James: The hardest part about training with Johnny Mundo was time. Wrestling takes a physical toll on the body, like any sport, but due to the nature of this production, Lawrence and I only had 6 days to learn how to capably compete in a wrestling match in front of hundreds of people. The time we spent with Johnny was crucial, but limited. Luckily, we had several other trainers provided by Millennium Wrestling Academy of Moorpark, California in our corner to ensure that we learned as much as possible in such a short time.
Lawrence: Johnny Mundo opened my eyes to just how complex wrestling can be as a performance art. Until that point, I’d been 100% preoccupied with the technique and physicality of wrestling. I was mostly worried about making sure I did the right moves at the right time. Johnny made me realize that’s only a fraction of what’s needed to be a good performer. Not only do I need to execute the moves properly and safely, but consider that it’s all part of a continuing performance. That means that each move has to be done in character and in context of what’s happening in the ring. Being able to sense all that as it happens is so far beyond my abilities now that I can’t even imagine getting to that level.
Is this just a one off match or do you and Lawrence plan to take this further?
James: I spent three decades with a desire to perform as a professional wrestler pent up inside me. Even though the training was difficult I don’t think it satisfied the urge to perform. I could absolutely see myself continuing down this path, at least in my spare time. The wrestling community is just that; a community…and I think wrestling is an amazing hobby to share with friends.
Lawrence: I caught the fever, both literally and figuratively. Training as hard as we did broke down my body pretty bad. I finished the doc with some minor nerve damage and an intense case of bronchitis that’s only now starting to clear up (we’ve been wrapped for almost three weeks). Still, I had some moments in training that were really transcendent. I locked into a rhythm with my partner and finding that wordless flow is intoxicating. It’s a weird mixture of athleticism, performance, and trust that I haven’t felt in any other sport. I’d like to keep training, but I know how life can get in the way.
What do you expect of the match?
James: I just want people to know that Lawrence and I gave it everything we had, and hopefully people will be entertained knowing how much work goes into just 10 minutes in a ring.
Lawrence: At this point it’s genuinely hard to say. My girlfriend recorded it and, watching it back now, there are moments I don’t even remember. The entire experience was so intense and surreal; it’s like grasping at fragments of a dream. In the end, I just hope it was entertaining for people. We had fantastic partners for the match that guided us through it and made us look good in the process. People say they liked it, so I’m very grateful to them for sharing their experience and helping everyone have a good time.
When you were younger, which moment in wrestling history had you absolutely hooked?
James: There are too many influential wrestling moments for me to count from my childhood, but one that always stands out was the 1995 Summerslam Ladder Match between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon. Two incredible athletes putting on one of the most compelling sports narratives, all inside a single wrestling ring. It’s one of the best examples of how much physical and mental capacity is required to make an incredible wrestling moment.
Lawrence: I somehow grew up watching zero wrestling. I don’t know how it worked out that way – so much of my personality now resonates with what makes and made wrestling a phenomenon.
How did you link up with the Rooster Teeth folks?
James: Lawrence and I are both Rooster Teeth employees and co-creators of their Funhaus brand. We’re a gaming channel focused on providing entertaining commentary for the games we play. Like Mystery Science Theater 3000 finds the humor in bad movies, we try to do the same with video games.
Lawrence: Back in 2014 we were looking for a business partner that aligned more closely with our creative and professional ambition. At the time, we worked for an MCN (multi-channel network) that had a different corporate agenda than funding and encouraging us as semi-independent content producers. Rooster Teeth is exactly that company, so it was a match made in heaven.
What were you thinking the moment before you walked through the curtain?
James: After walking through the curtain the only thing I could think was, “Don’t screw this up.” Wrestling isn’t choreographed. Moments are planned and discussed, but things can change and go wrong and even if you know how it’s meant to begin and end, you still have to fill in what’s in between. There was a moment of sheer excitement, but that went hand in hand with panic until the match ended.
Lawrence: I was trying to not think about anything. For better or worse, I’ve learned that simply emptying my mind and moving with the flow of a live performance helps me avoid second-guessing myself or seizing up and getting tense. It’s similar to cresting that first drop on a rollercoaster; you’re along for the ride at this point, so just get loose and enjoy it.
Tell me a bit about the birth of your wrestling persona.
James: All great wrestling personas are amplified aspects of that performer’s nature. It could be the best of them or the worst of them, or a combination of both. My character, James Angel, is the most egotistical version of myself. He’s the ultimate good guy, so much so that it becomes insufferable. If you don’t like him, he’ll go crazy trying to understand why. I think his catch phrase summarizes pretty perfectly what he thinks of himself: “Wanna know why God rested on the seventh day? Because he knew that right after, he’d be working OVERTIME on James Angel.”
Lawrence: I originally figured that James would be the face of the match, so I figured I would play the heel. I’m also fascinated with online culture and the ways it affects everything about our lives, so I picked the heel of the internet world: a troll. I figured the character concept would thrive on social media, and hopefully it would resonate with anyone that’s ever had someone insult one of their Instragram posts for no reason. Ideally, people would want to see me get beat up just as badly as they want to smack around someone who’s being a jackass on the internet for no reason.
How did you grow the Funhaus channel into what it is today?
James: Funhaus is a collaborative comedic effort. We only make the kind of videos we’d want to watch and treat every gameplay like an opportunity to create something new and special. I also think our community is diverse and vibrant and does a wonderful job finding common ground in the jokes we make and the characters we create.
Lawrence: There’s not a very simple answer to that, but I think the core of it is understanding what we offer and also working our asses off to ensure that we’re consistent and reliable. We’ve been working on this channel for about two years now, and I think we’ve uploaded a video late maybe once or twice (and I think that was due to YouTube scheduling errors). Everyone here is incredibly talented, hardworking, and humble. We’ve all been moving in the same direction since we started, and I’m really excited to see where that gets us in the coming years.
An Interview By: Philip Meraglia
You can follow Philip on Twitter at @phillyb1313
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