By Jim Phillips, Senior Editor
“For me as a fan, if the product isn’t telling a story, then I don’t wanna watch it. That’s what draws me in and that’s what I tell people when I train them. Tell a story and invest in it.” — CODY HAWK
Welcome back, Bruthas and Sistas. I had the pleasure of talking to one of my fellow old schoolers in ethos, and a hard working wrestler that never stops kicking out. He’s trained some of the stand-out younger generation in the business, while continuing to work in the ring himself. He is a twenty-plus year veteran in professional wrestling, and new promotion owner as well. His name is Cody Hawk, and this is his Life Through the Lens.
Born in the little one red light town of Dayton Ohio suburb of Bellbrook in 1973, Jason Myers grew up on a regular diet of little league football and the NWA product that he and his Father would watch on Saturdays. It was on these mornings that the seeds for his future would be planted, and a bonding between not only he and his father, but he and the business would begin.
While he loved to watch the Horsemen tear it down every week, it was football that he aspired to take him into his future. Myers played for his high school team in the tackle position on both offense and defense. He was lean, fast and enjoyed the hard hitting competitiveness of the sport. I asked him about that experience and he had this to say:
“We only had around ninety people in my graduating class, but my Senior year we went undefeated in football. We went to the playoffs and that was the first time that ever happened there. We won that game but didn’t make it any farther in the finals. It was a great feeling.”
After high school he had his sights set on Wilmington College but that turned out not to be in the cards for him, and he opted for Sinclair Community College instead. He played some football there but soon realized that it wasn’t going to work out for him. Myers stayed on, however, and got his degree in education. Even at that age he had a desire to teach young people and pass along knowledge to the up and coming generations. This would resonate throughout his life in, and out of the ring.
Another love of his came to the forefront in the years that followed. Myers owned a 1978 Trans-Am and was hooked on the adrenaline rush that came with racing. He got introduced to the local racing scene by helping a friend with his race car and going to the Kilkare Dragway near his home. That car was his baby, and he poured every cent he had into it.
Wrestling had always been a part of his life even when it wasn’t the focus. That’s how it goes for us lifelong fans. No matter what path your life takes, it’s always anchored in the love of professional wrestling. Whether it be from this country or abroad, the new product or something from our favorite historical era, it is a mainline that runs through the entirety of our lives.
Myers got married around the age of twenty two and life began to take on yet another facet for him. But as life often does, it brings you full circle back to what you set aside, and true passions never die. It was one evening in front of the television, watching Thunder with his then brother-in-law, that fate came calling, and let me tell you Bruthas and Sistas, when it knocks, you had better be there to answer.
“It was Thanksgiving evening and we were watching wrestling, and I made the comment that I always wanted to try doing that. Unbeknownst to me, he had been dabbling in pro wrestling for years as a manager. So he took me down to the wrestling camp that they had at Heartland Wrestling Association, and that’s where I met Les Thatcher for the first time.”
The youngster stayed and watched them train for the rest of their session with the wide eyed enthusiasm that only a true lover of the sport can emote. This wasn’t lost on Thatcher, who allowed Myers to take his first bumps that evening, and his life path was set in a different direction after that.
This new direction he was taking meant leaving behind, what had been up to that point, the focus of his free time, and most of his money. Upon telling his wife of his new dream, the ultimatum on a decision was quickly laid down. He looked back on this pivotal decision, that in the end, was no decision at all for the new wrestling student:
“It wasn’t easy, ya know. I had invested years of my time, working on that car and building it up. I had probably fifteen thousand dollars in that car and then to sell it for twenty five hundred…it was hard. But, I gave it up, and moved on. The money went to Les and I started school the next evening.”
Les Thatcher was born of the old school approach to wrestling and had been involved in the business since the Sixties when he too had started out as a young twenty year old under the training of Tony Santos, at a school he ran in Boston. Les would eventually come back to his own central Ohio stomping grounds to start up his own school and promotion in the mid-Nineties. It was there at HWA, that Myers learned the basics of the business, the old way.
“Les was a stickler, or hard-ass if you will. His training style is very old school, and aggressive. Everything that you did had to be perfect, or you weren’t going to do it. He pushed us hard, and I’m grateful for that. The things that really made me who I am in this business, all started out with what he taught us.”
Once he had shown potential in his training, Thatcher chose to put him to work in the ring, but wearing the stripes of a referee. Realizing that while this wasn’t the road he was expecting to go down, the hungry kid was smart enough to understand that any opportunity is a good one, and jumped at the chance. It would turn out to be a two and a half year stint, but it allowed him to work with some of the bigger names at that time, who regularly worked through the promotion. This not only gave him a taste of the in-ring product as it happened in front of a live crowd, but also let him get a look at life on the road
When it came time to develop his own character for the ring, it was a mixture of inputs that all seemed to point in the same direction, which led to his decision. It started with a comment from Shark Boy after he had reffed one of his matches, that he reminded him of a surfer. It was only days later that the idea hit him and put his brain through the washing machine until he had what he thought was a golden idea.
“Me and my wife were watching Point Break after it came out on video one night, and she suggested that I use the name Cody for my ring name, since it was a spin off the name of Patrick Swayze’s character in the movie. I was living on Hawk’s Nest Court at the time, and it just came to me…Cody Hawk. So I took on the surfer gimmick, even though there aren’t any surf-able waters in the Midwest. (laughs). Les let me run with it and the rest, as they say, is history.”
After only six months of being an active working wrestler, Cody received his first dark matches with the WWE, WCW and ECW. Doors were beginning to open for him, but it was when the WWE purchased their competition in 2001 that things at HWA began to take on a whole new atmosphere. All the non-contracted talents that the WWE had no plans to use right away were sent to the different developmental territories around the Midwest and Southeast, with the HWA being on the list. The small crew of a dozen or so ballooned to encompass nearly eighty stars that had no place to work on a weekly basis, but the WWE wanted to keep them in ring ready shape. This gave the young guys like Cody the chance to learn from some of the best names in the business at that time, and he told me about what it was like there after so many wrestlers inundated the scene there:
“We ended up with everybody. Chuck Palumbo, Johnny Bull, and when they closed the Memphis developmental they sent all those guys up to us too. So we got the Haas brothers, The Island Boys, Umaga and Rosey, Lance Cade, and all those guys. Then the guys that weren’t being used on television like D’Lo Brown, Val Venis, X-Pac, Tommy Dreamer, Raven, Hugh Morris, and Justin Credible, Rikishi, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Hall & Nash. The list of people they sent us was absolutely unreal, and we all worked under one roof, at one independent wrestling company for a year. How we all didn’t become millionaires, I don’t know.”
The sheer wealth of talent that was sitting idle there blew my mind when he told me this, and I had to inquire deeper into the situation to try to find out the logic behind this move by the WWE to keep guys active, but not take the time to push any of this overflowing talent roster that they had. In one of the few, but costly, moves by them, in my opinion, was to let these guys just go to waste, in an environment where big money could be made locally in that area. The answer I got made me not only shake my head, but gave me some insight as to the way the WWE valued these human commodities that they had pushed to the side with such disinterest. The up and comers like Cody, say this as a chance to sit under the learning tree, and some of the lessons that were taught to him, weren’t always the ones he was expecting, but they held value nonetheless.
“The people that were in charge back then, were getting a check from the WWE regardless if we drew or not, so that desire to draw wasn’t there like it should have been. The company didn’t care really if they drew or not, but they needed “X” amount of shows a week for these guys to work on. They were really just meeting a quota. The fans could have won in that deal, if more active promotion of the shows would have been done. The four to five hundred that did regularly show up got a good show. There was never any real advertising put out though. If they would’ve even flyered and ran a few media spots we could have drawn thousands of people.”
This attitude by the WWE, that can be likened to the subsidization of farmers by the government in their leans years, also began to create a breeding ground for dissention amongst the wrestlers, who were all trying to do whatever they could to get back to the main roster and out of this static time, during what was for some, the peak of their careers both physically and aesthetically. Some of the better known names took this time as a period to sit back and collect that WWE check every Monday and not worry about anything else cause they knew they had their fame to collect on in the back end of things. While I’m not trying to turn a dark light on the business, it is these realities that helped to make Cody a better trainer on down the road. As he put it himself:
“We were still indie guys and we weren’t getting that kind of pay, you know. We’d wrestle shows, set up the ring and tear down at the end of the night. We were making $20 to 30 a show while some of these guys were seeing $750 to 1000 a week from the WWE. It was a great learning time, but it was also the most cut throat time I’ve ever seen in wrestling.’”
All that changed in 2002 when the WWE pulled it’s contract with HWA. Cody had made a name for himself there and chose to continue on with the brand. He took on the role of head trainer and started to work with Thatcher in the booking end of things as well. He held both the HWA Heavyweight and Tag Team Titles during these years numerous times, and in 2003, he took full ownership of the company. Hawk continued to wrestle, but his office duties took on a more prevalent role.
Cody had many memorable matches during the time he wrestled for the HWA. His partnership and subsequent feud with Matt Stryker (not the WWE one), were legendary in the annuls of the promotion. He also went to war with Race Steele and Lance Cade over the HWA Title in the early 2000’s. It was at one of the first IPPV’s put forth, the 2006 Cyberclash that Cody and his most famous trainee to date had a bloody brawl inside a steel cage, that things took on new meaning for him.
He and Jon Moxley tore the house down with that match, and it gave Moxley the boost in the company that he was looking for. The two also reunited to capture the HWA Tag Team Titles on June 12, 2007 which brought Cody’s tally up to eleven times with the Tag Team Championship(as well as 4 times with the Heavyweight Title). Moxley took that momentum onto ROH, DragonGate and the FIP promotion in Florida, before he was picked up by the WWE developmental and given the name Dean Ambrose. We all know that since that, he has went onto the new upstart AEW as well as made an appearance in NJPW where he attacked their US Champion Juice Robinson under a mask.
Hawk has also trained NJPW and WWE star Karl Anderson, indie standout Sami Callihan, Impact star Eli Drake, as well as female wrestlers Hallie Hatred, who had a gold laden run in Japan and the U.S., and Shawna Reed, who has worked with the WWE recently as well. I asked Cody what it was like to see his students achieving in the business, and how he felt about helping them reach those goals:
“I’m proud of all my students no matter where the business takes them, but it is about making it up that ladder, and to be able to make money and thrive. It’s also about how I have been able to help maybe save a kid’s life by teaching them the safe way to do this, or changed their life by putting them in connection with that person that maybe did open the door for them and give them a big break.”
Cody has also recently helped bring wrestling to the city of Hamilton, Ohio, in the legislative battle with the township and the FGW promotion. Certain segments of that population believe professional wrestling brings the “wrong kind of environment” to their town. He was not to be desuaded by their lack of acceptance and helped to get the city to allow them to put on their shows, as well as run his school. This was not only a personal victory for Hawk and FGW, but a victory for the local fans of wrestling that will benefit from them being in the community.
Cody was reunited with his old friend Dean Ambrose (Jon Moxley), this past May at the 2019 Cauliflower Alley Club gathering. Hawk was presented with the Trainers Award from the organization and Ambrose gave the presentation speech honoring his teacher and friend. It was a great year at the CAC and it was there that I met Cody, and secured this interview, with a little nod from one of my G.L.O.W. Girl alums, Roxy Astor.
I want to thank Cody for his time, and patience with me during the writing of this article. I have been traveling all over the country as of late and he was very accommodating with his time and very open in his honesty about the wrestling business. It makes me feel good that we have some ground based, story driven people out there instilling the core values of the old school genre in the stars of tomorrow.
Well, Bruthas and Sistas, we’re going to say farewell for this week. In closing, always remember that the only thing that can diminish your horizons, is when you put limits on your achievable expectations. What will you see when you look back at you Life Through the Lens? Peace.