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411 Exclusive: Zack Clayton on His AEW Debut, AEW’s Health & Safety Protocols, His Plans for What’s Next (Full Transcript)

July 6, 2020 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Zack Clayton

Last month, professional wrestler Zack Clayton made his All Elite Wrestling (AEW) debut in a singles match against QT Marshall. Clayton started his career training out of WWE Hall of Famer Johnny Rodz’s wrestling school in Brooklyn, New York. After previously working in independent promotions, Clayton now has his sights set on a major company like AEW.

Recently, 411mania got the chance to sit down and speak with Clayton for the 411 Wrestling Interviews Podcast to talk about getting the call about making his AEW debut just three days before the TV taping, AEW’s safety protocols during the global pandemic, and what it’s like to work in wrestling without that live crowd component. Here’s what Clayton had to say on his AEW debut and what’s next for his wrestling career:

Jeffrey Harris: Tell us on getting your matchup on AEW Dark with QT Marshall and how you got to make your AEW debut?

Zack Clayton: So, I’ve always been in touch with AEW to some extent, and they let me know a few days before that event to come on down. And I didn’t know what I would be doing or anything like that, just knew that I had to be there for a few days. And met QT there, never met him before. So, we ended up finding out that we were going to work together there. And from then on, worked the second night on Dark, and it ended up being a great time. QT ended up being fantastic; really great guy, and he was actually the one I was in communication with to come down.

Jeffrey Harris: How did you like getting to wrestle QT Marshall in your AEW Debut? He’s also an experienced wrestling coach and teacher, so do you think that helped the matchup at all?

Zack Clayton: Right, he is. That was great. That was a great opportunity for me, and that was something he spoke to me about before we actually did the match, was that it wasn’t just going to be a match. It was going to be something to show what I could do, and a great match for the story to give us. So, that was a great opportunity for me, but working with QT was very easy and fantastic. He was great. We ended up doing a really good match, so I was really happy with that.

Jeffrey Harris: Did you need to go over the match much beforehand, or did you just call it in the ring?

Zack Clayton: No, we didn’t go over much, just a couple ideas, and then kind of put these together. That’s how I like to do things, and that’s how he likes to do things, which I found out, which is a great thing. I just think things go a lot better when that’s kind of the plan going in.

Jeffrey Harris: But how do you feel that you would’ve won had Allie not interfered and grabbed your food? Do you think that gives you a moral victory at all?

Zack Clayton: That’s right. I did not lose clean, so the next time you see me, Allie — she better come up with something else because it’s not going to go over for QT and them next time I’m there.

Jeffrey Harris: Well, I hope we’re going to see you in AEW again at some point, but what do you think?

Zack Clayton: I think for sure, you’ll see me there again. I’m hoping so. I’m hoping that’s the plan. I believe again that it went really well. It really did. And everyone seemed happy with it there backstage, got great feedback, so I’m really hoping I do get to have that opportunity again.

Jeffrey Harris: It’s a very strange time for wrestling now due to the pandemic, but please tell me what the backstage atmosphere was like at AEW?

Zack Clayton: It was very relaxing and welcoming. Not too relaxing, obviously, because there’s still a big production show to put on, but it was very welcoming. Everyone was very nice, open with support, but yeah man, it’s totally a weird time in wrestling right now. Obviously, the whole world, but especially when what you do is contingent on a crowd and reacting and noise. It’s very different to not have any of that and wrestle, so it’s a very different element to it. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more difficult, but it’s out of the ordinary. But I have a lot of fun doing it, and with the element of no crowd, it did make it definitely feel out of the ordinary. But it’s certainly a challenging time that everyone, especially AEW, is getting through very well right now.

Jeffrey Harris: But regarding the no crowd element, how daunting is that to work that way for the performance art of pro wrestling? What was it like to make your AEW debut without a live crowd for you to play off of?

Zack Clayton: Yeah, so I’ve been hearing it a lot for sports in general, like, ‘Hey, could the NFL, could baseball, could these sports go on without crowds?’ The answer is yes because with or without the crowd in those sports, there’s still a contest going on. Right? In wrestling, it’s a performance that’s based on crowd reactions, so that’s the difference there in terms of can this happen without a crowd? Yes or no. The element was very different because obviously, it puts you more direct in tune with what’s going on with you in the match, which is easier to focus on, which is good. But it also takes out the element of, ‘Hey, wow. That worked really well.’ Or, ‘They didn’t like this,’ or ‘Let’s do this instead of that,’ because there’s nothing to go off of, right? So that’s the difference. I found it to be pretty easy to be honest because we worked pretty easy together, so I don’t think it was that much of a factor with us, but I know the match obviously could have been or would have been a lot better with an audience to react to what was going on, especially the story we were telling throughout the match.

Jeffrey Harris: Also, during the match, Taz gave you a shoutout because you trained where he got his start at Johnny Rodz’s wrestling school in Bethlehem. Do you know he gave you that shoutout?

Zack Clayton: Yeah, Taz actually put me over pretty good. He said a lot of great things about me, which was good. Johnny Rodz, I went to him in Brooklyn for a few years, and that was a great time with him. So, it was good that Taz saw that and threw the mention him.

Jeffrey Harris: So tell me about what made you want to start a career in pro wrestling and becoming a pro wrestler?

Zack Clayton: As a small kid watching on TV, it’s always something I looked up to and thought that I could do, and when I got old enough, I actually stopped playing baseball and football — when I got into college, I decided to stop doing that. And 2014 is when I started wrestling. It’s been about six years, and I love it more every day.

Jeffrey Harris: Was Johnny Rodz your main trainer?

Zack Clayton: So, I started in a very small, local place in Upstate New York just to learn the basics, and then I realized that I had to move on from there pretty quickly to go with someone who could get me to where I wanted to because I always said, ‘How could someone get you to where you want to be, which is the top, if they’ve never been there themselves?’ Right? So, I knew I had to go to someone who’s been there. So, I went to Johnny Rodz in Brooklyn.

Jeffrey Harris: In terms of the future of your career, do you want to sign a long-term contract with any promotion? Would you rather play it freelance for a while? What are you looking for in the next step in your career?

Zack Clayton: I’m looking to be locked down somewhere long-term for sure. Not for anything else other than to know that I have a place and a purpose because if I have that, that’s all that I’ve wanted out of wrestling, so that’s what I’m looking for.

Jeffrey Harris: With regards to the health and safety aspect, since we are in the middle of a pandemic, did AEW do that right, and did they do a good job in making you feel safe in the middle of all this right now?

Zack Clayton: Absolutely. As soon as I got there, they don’t let you go to the venue until you get tested by them for COVID. So, absolutely. Everyone there was tested, and the safety protocol is very strong backstage. And it’s a very safe environment for sure.

Jeffrey Harris: The other issue is that this pandemic has shut down a lot of the industry, and wrestlers such as yourself have had to work a lot less shows as a result. Can you talk about at all how difficult this global pandemic has been on the wrestling industry?

Zack Clayton: Exactly, you’re right, and it is a global pandemic because everyone in every field is feeling it to some extent, but especially in sports, you can’t train. You can’t do what you normally would do to get ready for events and games and things like that because no one’s open. And not only that, if they are open, it’s not to the extent it needs to be for you to get ready how you need to. So yeah, that’s difficult to kind of keep up with the game so to speak, but I’m still training and doing what I can do in my time to make sure that I don’t lose that.

Jeffrey Harris: In terms of other promotions, are you looking at NXT? Are you looking at Impact Wrestling? I’m just curious to where your head is at and where you’re leaning right now.

Zack Clayton: My focus is AEW right now. I have my eyes there. Again, it’s something I’m hopeful for.

Jeffrey Harris: Does that mean we’re going to see you on AEW Dark again later this summer?

Zack Clayton: I hope so as well, and definitely shooting for that.

Jeffrey Harris: Are there any lessons you received from Johnny Rodz or during your training that they impressed upon your or anything inspiring that you’ve taken with you for the rest of your career?

Zack Clayton: Yeah, a lot. And the thing about this business that’s different than any other sport is that everyone will have their own thing to say to you, which is true to other sports, but this particular sport gives you your own way of doing your own thing. So, everyone might tell you a little something different along the way to help you individually. The biggest thing for me is to always be ready because like that call for AEW, I got the call three days before I had to be there, and if I wasn’t ready to go, then the shot’s gone. So, one thing for me is to literally always, every single day, be ready for any call.

Jeffrey Harris: Was there ever any wrestler when you were young who really captured your imagination? Maybe not a wrestler you modeled your style off of, but a wrestler or performer who really just inspired you?

Zack Clayton: Absolutely, it’s Ric Flair. Yeah, it’s hard to go wrong with him. You couldn’t look at him on TV and not just stop what you’re doing and just watch.

If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit the 411 Wrestling Interview Podcast on 411mania.com and please embed our podcast player or YouTube video.

0:00: Intro
1:36: On how his debut for AEW against QT Marshall came about, his experience working with Marshall
3:40: On Allie interfering in the match and whether it’s a moral victory for him
4:07: On the reception to the match at AEW, whether he expects to get another opportunity to work there
4:35: On what the atmosphere was like in AEW, the roster being welcoming to him and the effect of the pandemic on wrestling
5:44: On working without an audience in attendance, making his AEW debut under those conditions, getting a shoutout from Taz on commentary
8:08: On what made him want to get into wrestling, being a fan as a kid, training with Johnny Rodz
9:22: On what his goals are, if he’s looking to sign a long-term contract sometime soon
9:59: On AEW’s handling of safety via the pandemic, what their process is like
10:33: On the affect of the pandemic on the wrestling industry, how it’s complicated things
11:34: On if he’s open to working for NXT, Impact and other bigger companies
12:19: On what his biggest lessons have been from his trainers
13:25: On the wrestler who inspired him as a kid
14:01: On where to find him online
15:35: Outro

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