By Michael Melchor, Executive Editor
BJ Whitmer’s story is the story of an independent generation.
The generation that followed the “Attitude” era is the generation now leading the sport, both in and out of the ring. While many of those stars are seen every Monday and Tuesday nights on television, others from that generation are finding success while balancing other roles aside from wrestling or, in some cases, without having to wrestle at all.
Among those names is BJ Whitmer, currently a fixture on Ring of Honor pay-per-view broadcasts as the color commentator alongside play-by-play man Ian Riccaboni. In the preceding 14 years, Whitmer has wrestled with and against many of Ring of Honor’s top stars in his storied history with the company. His rugged, no-nonsense style merited gold in several promotions throughout his career from his start in Les Thatcher’s Heartland Wrestling Association to being four-time Ring of Honor World Tag Team Champion.
Two big influences lead him to those championships and served as inspiration for him to get involved in the sport.
“I discovered wrestling as a child,” Whitmer explained from his home near the Cincinnati area. “I was probably 6 or 7 years old and very involved in sports as a child – football, basketball, soccer, baseball. I happened to be home on a Saturday morning and turned on the TV and I saw Jim Crockett Promotions and I was like, ‘What is this?’ I fell in love with it – the showmanship, the pageantry of it all. I was completely enamored by it and was bit by the bug right away.”
He continues, “I remember I really liked the Rock and Roll Express. I was a huge fan of tag-team wrestling. A couple years later, about 1989, a guy from Cincinnati shows up – Brian Pillman. I could relate to him at 9 or 10 years old. ‘Wow, there’s a guy from Cincinnati wrestling on TV! If this guy can make it, then why can’t I?”’
After winning gold in HWA and IWA-MS (including winning the Ted Petty Invitational in 2002), Whitmer made his Ring of Honor debut in January of 2003. He would capture the RoH Tag Team titles four times – twice as a member of The Prophecy with Dan Maff (still plying his trade as part of Da Hit Squad) and twice with Jimmy Jacobs (now a member of the WWE creative team).
Holding the Ring of Honor Tag Team Championships was a special accomplishment for Whitmer, based on his early love of the sport.
“With some of my favorites being tag-teams, it was always cool to hold tag team titles,” he said. “The kid inside me couldn’t help but mark out a little bit when I held a tag-team title because I’d always been a fan. But once I got in, I just wanted to wrestle as much as possible and as many places as possible. As long as I was wrestling, I was happy.”
Whitmer would make the transition to wrestling solo in bloody fashion. Jacobs’s affection for Lacey lead to not just a disbandment of the team but a violent year-long feud that Ring of Honor fans still talk about today. Helogged time afterward with other factions including the “Hangm3n” (“Hangmen Three” alongside Adam Pearce, now a trainer at WWE’s performance Center facility) and The Decade. While a member of The Decade, Whitmer engaged in another memorable feud with Steve Corino last year before Corino also moved on to join Pearce as a trainer.
Whitmer now finds himself in a similar role to those of his former partners and adversaries, starting with being on the microphone in a different capacity.
“I’m enjoying color commentary when I get a chance to do that,” he said. “I got to call the last pay-per-view [Best in the World 2017] with Ian [Riccaboni] and I’m still really green at it, but I really enjoyed doing it!”
Whitmer explains his road to Best in the World 2017: “I got to work with Kevin Kelly a lot when I was out with knee surgery and coming back from that. I got to call a couple matches with him at live events and couple on iPay-per-view. I hadn’t done it in a while and I got thrown into the fire on live pay-per-view! But I like that environment, I like high-pressure shows and big crowds. That’s when I seem to thrive.”
One of Whitmer’s first appearances on commentary alongside Ian Riccaboni
On top of doing commentary for the company, Whitmer is also backstage helping others in those high-pressure situations as well as employing other skills picked up throughout the years – skills that he uses in other critical roles.
“I was helping a lot with being an agent for the Women of Honor matches,” he explained. “Once they saw I enjoyed doing that, I just took ownership of the Gorilla position. I just jumped into the deep end of the pool and handled the position the way I felt it should be handled. If I’m not doing commentary I’m on a headset at Gorilla on a monitor helping time out the shows, pay-per-views, in communication with the truck, relaying messages to the truck or from the truck to the guys.”
Alongside commentary and helping shows go smoothly backstage, Whitmer also helps things run smooth outside the arena.
“I’m also booking travel for Ring of Honor – booking the flights, booking the hotels and stuff like that,” Whitmer said. “I’m handling a lot more administratively than I ever have in the past.”
Handling the travel for Ring of Honor talent also entails doing so for the performers of New Japan Pro Wrestling when the two companies come together for shows as a result of their partnership. Whitmer has a closer view than many of how that relationship has grown over the past couple years.
“It’s been really cool watching the [Roh/NJPW] relationship develop,” he said. “I’m working with them a little more than I would have been had I not gotten the travel job. I’m working with them a little more 1-on-1 on the business side of things, making sure they’re happy with their flights and things like that.”
Some of Whitmer’s contemporaries, like New Japan stalwarts the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega, have become international stars by breaking the mold of what defined stardom for decades.
“I think a lot of guys in our generation that weren’t given an opportunity [in WWE] were still able to make a living and make money, provide for ourselves and our families, without them,” Whitmer said. “And I think that’s really cool in this day and age. You’re seeing all these guys doing it on their own now.”
“Hell, look at the Young Bucks. Those guys have never had the mainstream machine behind them and they’ve got their shirts in every Hot Topic in America and they’re selling like crazy! How cool is that? One guy that set the bar for that is Colt Cabana – he gave the template for how to do it on your own. They’re a good part of the reason Ring of Honor is drawing big houses – business is up this year – and they have a big role in that.”
He has parlayed his love of wrestling into a great living for he and his new bride, Kelly Klein. Much like those he has traveled with and fought against – Adam Pearce, Jimmy Jacobs, Steve Corino, and many others – Whitmer has done so as one of what he calls the “independent generation” leading the sport, both in and out of the ring.
“Guys like Sami Callihan and some of those guys younger than I am, that’s the independent generation,” Whitmer said. “The Young Bucks are in that bracket – those guys have shown you don’t need the mainstream machine. You can do it on your own. It just takes a little bit of work, effort and sacrifice. You can do it without them.”
Whitmer can count himself among those who have found that success, especially with what his experience means to Ring of Honor behind the scenes. But this doesn’t mean he’s quite finished in the ring, either.
“I know there’s talk of me getting back in the ring, there’s just no timeframe of when that’s gonna happen,” Whitmer explained. “I’m becoming so valuable backstage that I don’t know that they want to disrupt that by adding one more thing to the plate. There’s a possibility that I may be wrestling more on a part-time basis than a full-time basis. I would like one more good angle, like the angle I did with Steve [Corino]. Whether it’s as a heel helping get a young new babyface over or if I’m in Steve’s role where I used to be the heel but now I’m helping a young heel get a lot of heat. That’s a goal I have before I hang it up completely.”
Whitmer is in a position – several, actually – to give back to the business he loves. With a new bride and one last semester to go before he finishes nursing school, he said his life is a busy but satisfying one as he lives doing what he loves and helps to guide others to carry the banner.
“Whether I go full-on, backstage or announcing or whatever the future holds for me, whether it’s running the Gorilla position or helping write and format TV shows, doing color commentary – as long as I’ve got a job in wrestling, I’m happy.”
Whitmer can be heard next calling the action for Ring of Honor’s War of the Worlds show in Liverpool on August 19, 2017. More information about the event can be found on Ring of Honor’s website.