INTERVIEW W/ SENSEI MICHAEL PARISI ( HWI )
Where did the inspiration for the character Sensei Michael Parisi come from?
Sensei Parisi is a reflection of Michael Joy. I had just finished a ten year journey and earned the title of Sensei in the art of Aikido. I had reached my goal and captured my first degree (shodan) black belt. Now, I was ready to embark on another journey in the world of Hardcore Wrestling International. I wanted to use everything that I learned in Aikido and combine it with my knowledge of professional wrestling, and hopefully create a unique style for myself. I think HWI commentators once called me an “athletic nightmare”. At the time, there were definitely more similarities than differences between myself and the Sensei Parisi persona.
Obviously playing heel is more fun than being the face. But from a creative stand point what did you do to separate the face Parisi from the heel Parisi?
Sensei Parisi as a face is very relaxed and reserved, patterned after wrestlers like Ricky Steamboat and Bob Backlund. He did his talking inside of the ring, because he wasn’t particularly a great talker behind the microphone. I played Parisi this way the majority of my HWI career, however I did have two very memorable heel runs. The heel Parisi is the polar opposite of his face counterpart. My personality in front of the camera changed from reserved to very animated and over-the-top once I became a bad guy. There was noticeably improvements in my interview style too. I think playing Sensei Parisi as a heel gave me more freedom to express myself, and it showed.
You developed a friendship with CCW’s very own Skeet Slander during the course of your career. Would you care to describe how that cross country friendship developed?
Yes, it was born out of marketing the HWI brand. Let me explain. It was the early 90’s and the height of the tape trading boom. I had videotaped the now infamous Terry Funk vs Stan Hanson island match at Cooper River in New Jersey. I immediately put the word on the street ( and in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter ) that I had this match and I wanted to trade for it. That single match helped me build my wrestling tape collection as everyone wanted it. I did business with wrestling tape collectors across the United States, Canada, and even Australia. Now, our own HWI promotion was going strong at the very same time. What I did was put HWI matches on the back end of each and every Funk/Hanson match that I mailed out. This aggressive form of marketing helped HWI get established as the premier backyard wrestling company in the country. It helped us gain relationships with other backyard organizations. One of those organizations, was the yet to be formed California Creative Wrestling (CCW) founded by Peter Hinds (aka Skeet Slander). I got a tape sent to me in return of this wild and crazy match between Skeet Slander vs Skip Roma somewhere in the hills of Northern Calfornia. They used sheet metal a lot. Anyway, the rest is tape trading history. They prompted HWI to push the creative envelope and I think we pushed them to do the same. In our 20 year long distance friendship, I have yet to ever meet the man behind Skeet Slander. However, I have said this in the past and I mean it - If there is one match that I would come out of retirement for, it would be a match against Skeet Slander in the ring of reality brutality.
Please share with us the day you broke your arm and any of the behind the scenes memories from that fateful day?
I dislocated my elbow. I was lucky that I didn’t break my arm. It was a match against Bobby Decker and I was attempting a flying forearm smash coming off the “ropes”. I hit my target but upon landing my arm twisted the wrong direction and I immediately knew there was something wrong. The match was stopped and I don’t recall the official decision but I imagine it was a no contest. Of course, not knowing any better I was offering “anyone” to try to pop my arm back in. Decker stepped up to plate. He held my arm steady with both hands and I braced myself for the jolt. It seemed like we were standing there forever, before Decker thought better of the bad idea and opted not to try practicing medicine. At this point, there was no choice – Sensei Parisi was going to the hospital. HWI newcomer Mad Matt Campbell twirled his comb a few times before agreeing to be the designated driver. The rest of the HWI crew stayed behind to watch over Big Mama’s Pancake House. I remember the drive to the hospital like it was yesterday, every bump on the drive there was uncomfortable. I think Mad Matt purposely hit a couple pot holes. Anyway, I recall being on the table and the doctor telling me to count to ten. The next thing I knew I was waking up with a cast on my arm. My HWI wrestling career was threatened but it was an obstacle I would overcome.
Would you care to describe the mood, the match, and the aftermath of the day in which the infamous shoot fight with Jonathan Day took place?
I was working midnight shift at ADT security at the time. We used to tape shows on Sunday mornings at the Monster Factory. I used to get home from work around 8:30am and then sleep for maybe 2 hours before I had to get up and get ready for HWI. There wasn’t really a whole lot of time for mental preparations. During this time period, I was usually the last person to show up and sometimes interviews were already being taped by the time I walked in the door. All that being said, I was extremely excited to work a shoot match against Jonathan Day. The match was completely my idea and I knew what was at stake. I was HWI champion at the time and there was no plans on the table for me to drop the belt. If it happened, it was going to happen for real. MMA was relatively new to the world and gaining popularity, so I thought this was something that I wanted to integrate into our promotion. If it worked out, this would be a natural progression for my character. We decided ahead of time that there would be no strikes, only grapping and submissions. I regret not thinking over the rules more because I think that lead to my downfall in that match. Once the bout was set in motion, Big Bad John Day kept going for the ropes and breaking the flow of the match. I made an executive decision half way through the match and had the referee change the rules to NO breaks on the ropes. It was too little too late. I had already wasted a ton of energy trying to trap John Day in submissions during the first half, so by the second half of the match I was spent. He is two times my weight, maybe more, so when I got trapped underneath of Day’s massive frame, I just couldn’t escape. Instead of trying to wait it out and get into a long boring match, I opted to tap out for the sake of entertainment. I eventually had another shoot match years later and won, but it’s a return shoot match against John Day that has escaped me for many, many years.
What is your most memorable match in HWI history?
Well, I already mentioned 2 of my most memorable matches. The match when I dislocated my arm against Bobby Decker and the shoot fight when I lost the strap against Jonathan Day. Let’s go for a third. It’s the “Valley of Tye” match against Johnny Rotten at the sand dunes behind Camden County College. It was such an interesting location that upon scouting it with Death Kotegashi, I knew it had to be featured in an HWI broadcast. This match had a different feel from anything that we had ever attempted before, and it worked. We used Kotegashi as the host and we broke the match into two segments, so the first segment had somewhat of a cliff hanger effect. Another gimmick that we used was fake blood and lots of it. It looked like Johnny Rotten was in a blood bath. Also, because of the look of the location we were able to play up the story that we were wrestling in the middle of nowhere. This match also featured a crazy suicide dive off of a really high dirt hill. What makes that memorable is it was probably the first “high risk” move that I had attempted since my arm injury. It paid off.
Some honorable mentions include matches, against Death Kotegashi at Cooper River, against Steve Ignorant at HWI Tournament, and against Buddy Harvey at 2nd shoot fight.
Would you care to share your thoughts on the legendary feud with Bobby Decker?
It was our version of Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat. It was the HWI rivalry that would survive the test of time. We built ourselves as the top stars in our territory. I think our early matches had a natural chemistry, so it was very easy for us to work against each other over and over and over again. At least in the very beginnings of HWI, I think it was safe to say that while we had bodies to wrestle, we didn’t have a lot of “talent”. It was up to me and Decker to provide the heat. I think the breakout angle that started it all was the Parisi/Decker parking lot brawl. I remember we filmed it after an NWA wrestling card at the Woodbury Armory. It was our tribute to Jerry Lawler/Eddie Gilbert parking lot brawls. It was a love/ hate relationship between Parisi/Decker, as they would feud and then they would join forces against common enemies. I think one of my favorite wrestling angles is when Decker turned on his “friend” Sensei Parisi and hit him with multiple dimensions of the piledriver. It was the best I had ever sold anything. It was my academy award winning performance. Bobby Decker was right on mark with as a heel. The commentary for the angle was some of the best in HWI history. The angle was perfect. Actually, the only thing MORE perfect would happen years later. We duplicated the same exact angle but this time with Parisi turning on Decker. The only difference was the angle was kept a close secret, so no one knew what was happening until it actually happened. We got great knee jerk reactions from everyone, especially the announcers. This was Perisi/Decker coming around full circle and we were embarking on some of the best booking that we ever did. The culmination of the feud was Perisi losing a Loser Leave HWI Match, but only return to HWI under the identity of Bobby Decker. We had started a storyline that focused on the real Bobby Decker vs the fake Bobby Decker, but these were our last tapings.
You had great success in HWI. But is there anything that you never got to accomplish?
I feel that my story with Bobby Decker is still open. I would have liked to official close the book on that chapter of HWI history. Our last couple of HWI broadcasts were among some of the most creative that we had ever done, and we took the Sensei Parisi – Bobby Decker soup opera to the next level of booking. It was good stuff, but we left it wide open.
Why do you think HWI was so successful?
Devotion. I lived and breathed HWI during that time period. I know I lot of the other guys were passionate too. On the business end of things, I think me and Decker worked together like a producer and a director. I always excelled behind the scenes making things happen while Decker was best at giving the direction to the crew. On the flip side of the camera, it was everyone who made HWI a success story. Death Kotegashi (B.M.) was our version of Jim Ross behind the camera, and our version of Kevin Sullivan in front of the camera. He was HWI’s most loyal employee. Big Bad Jonathan Day (M.F.) was our version of Stan Hanson. He made our promotion look “too legit to quit” because of his intimating size. Steve Ignorant (B.M.) was our own personal Sabu. He had the “it” factor more than anyone else on the roster. He took HWI to the next level with his death defying stunts. Johnny Rotten (M.M.) was our version of Jim Cornette. He was custom made to be a professional wrestling manager, and if HWI didn’t have him then another promotion definitely would. These were our soldiers. These men are the reasons why HWI is so respected and so successful.
Where is the Sensei Michael Parisi now?
Retired.. as is most of the HWI talent roster. There has been rumors that I might show my face in front of the camera once again, but it probably won’t be in any type of wrestling capacity. It would take a lot for me to actually wrestle again and that includes a lot of training. I’ve been approached about doing a “shoot” interview in front of the camera, but nothing has been signed yet. Now, you probably want to know if I currently consider myself a face or a heel. I’ll say this, I’m whatever Bobby Decker is not!