Exclusive: James Ellsworth Shares The WWE Creative Behind Helping Carmella Win Money In The Bank, More

(Photo Credit: WWE)

Former WWE star James Ellsworth exclusively spoke with PWMania.com‘s Ari Barkan about a wide range of topics including the WWE creative process behind his character and keeping his WWE contract quiet for storyline reasons. The creative process behind him helping Carmella win the 2017 Women’s Money in the Bank ladder match, his future, and more.

You can check out the complete interview below:

On what he’s been up to recently:

“I still wrestle in the indys, and do a lot of shows all over the country. If you follow my social media, you’ll see, just doing that all over the country. Spending time with my family, I have two daughters, and I got married in April of 2022. Just enjoying time with my wife and kids, and still hustling on the independent scene.”

How he originally got involved with WWE:

“Well, yeah, it’s like I tell everybody, when WWE is in your area, let’s say like 250 miles or less, and people have traveled farther. You can email them if you’re an independent wrestler and aspiring wrestler to try to be an extra talent on the show if it’s Raw or Smackdown. And you know, to send pictures or whatever. And they’ll take almost anyone to do that…

“That was a lot of fun. I remember Zelina Vega was a Rosebud when I did it. There’s a picture of it somewhere. I’m sure you guys probably find it tracking down. You guys are smart.

“That’s basically it – any independent wrestler can do it. You don’t have to be like crazy talented or anything. It’s like it’s a TV show or on SmackDown or TV shows. Just like any other TV show. They need extras. They need people in the background for people to pretend to be security guards. Sometimes you get a match out of it and get beat up real quick. Like it’s all just the luck of the draw.”

If he expected the reaction he received when he wrestled Braun Strowman in his first WWE match with his message “any man with two hands has a fighting chance:”

“I mean, you can’t ever expect something like that. Right? Like, I remember when Jimmy Jacobs who was an amazing writer, I heard a rumor he’s helping with creative for AEW now and if so good for them because that’s a good get, Jimmy Jacobs is amazing. And he was the writer for that match. And, you know, I was very fortunate to get a promo which, you know, they did it every week after that with Braun Strowman for like six to eight weeks where basically when you were the extra talent getting beat up by Stroman. You got to say your last words before he, you know, killed you. And I remember asking Jimmy Jacobs “Hey, man, can I say any man with two hands has a fighting chance,” which is kind of like I stole it from Rocky five… if you have two hands, you have a chance. That was the line for Rocky five. So I’ll put my own little spin on it. And when I remember saying it, I remember it felt good. I didn’t think it would turn into this crazy thing. But I remember it felt really good as I said it for sure.”

On facing AJ Styles for the WWE Championship and the creative to it:

“Anderson was the agent for a match. He was like, “Hey, man, you made my job easy.” He’s like “Vince wants to see you,” and I was like “Vince wants to see me?” I was scared to death because I had walked down the ramp as an extra talent back in 2016. You’re not allowed to walk down the ramp. And I did. I don’t know why I did. I just did. So I thought he was gonna yell at me for that. It was the best talk with Vince McMahon I’ve ever had. He was just like, “hey, man, your facial expressions were great. Your selling was great. Your verbiage was great. I’m going to be in touch with you. I’m probably going to hire you.”

“And I’m like, yeah. So six weeks later, to get to your question, I drove to Smackdown which was in Philly because I live in Baltimore. It’s only two hours. So I drove to the Smackdown, that was the next time they invited me. And they’re like, “Yeah, we’re gonna do this. AJ is looking for a partner,” AJ Styles, WWE champion. He was a heel. And he was looking for a partner and like the story was everyone in the dressing room couldn’t stand him. Nobody would team with him. He was gonna wrestle Dean Ambrose who was now Jon Moxley, obviously you have to say that and John Cena in a tag match. And so Daniel Bryan appointed me as his partner because no one else wanted to team with AJ. It was the kind of play with AJ – Daniel Bryan was the general manager at the time.

“So, right before the match The Miz beat me up and The Miz ended up being AJ’s partner. And they said to me after that, “Hey man, we’re going to bring you back to wrestle The Miz in a couple weeks.” I was like, oh man, The Miz is Intercontinental Champion, this is cool. So they brought me back in a couple weeks. I watched every Miz match I could to get ready for that. So I’m going into this fully expecting to wrestle The Miz. I get in there and Adam Pearce is like, “Hey man, what if I told you, you’re pinning the World Champion tonight?,” and I said, I would call you a liar. And he just laughed at me and said, “I wouldn’t lie to you James,” and he walked away. I was like yeah whatever. And then I’m sitting in catering, eating food and AJ came up, put his arm around me and said, “Hey man, it’s me and you tonight.” Am I was like, “Why is everyone playing with me tonight?” That’s what I told him and he goes, “I’m not playing with you.” It didn’t really hit me until he handed me the booking sheet, the run down for the show, and I saw it. And once I saw that Ambrose was going to be the referee, I was like oh my God, we’re really doing this.”

If he already had a WWE contract then and keeping it quiet:

“Um, I did, they just wanted me to keep it hush-hush. Because eventually, we did that ladder match on SmackDown where I won my contract. They let me finish up my indies. They just told me to be quiet. I didn’t even I didn’t tell anyone. Not even like my parents that like, hey, they saw I feel like everyone kind of knew like that, hey, you’re there every week, you’re usually on TV every week.. you pin the World Champion, like, you know, they’re going to sign you and I just, I kept working my regular job. Like, I wrestled AJ Styles for the WWE title, and flew in and I put in my two weeks at my regular job. I used to work with people with special needs. You know, when I was an independent wrestler, I had a regular job. I wrestled for the WWE title and flew in to work the next morning and went right to work. And like I remember like, a couple of guys were like, Why are you here? You just wrestle for the WWE title last night, why are you here? I’m like, you know, honoring my commitment. So that’s all I would say. I wouldn’t say hey, like I’m already signed like or you know, this is like, because I knew the story was getting there where they were gonna do the math for the ladder match for the contract.”

The creative to helping Carmella win the Money in the Bank briefcase in 2017:

“They didn’t tell me til the day of that it was actually happening, but we have rehearsed at Money in the Bank. I mean, just watching wrestling my whole life and understanding it, when we did the rehearsal they had every girl climb the ladder and grab the briefcase, right? And then before we left they’re like “Hey James, climb up the ladder grab the briefcase real quick in case we have you like teasing you know, climbing the ladder at the at the show,” and I was like oh okay and I climb. I remember after that, I went up and pull Carmella aside. Carmella and I always got along. I absolutely love her. I’m gonna publicly congratulate her and Graves. I call him SJK cause that was his indy name and I knew him way back then, we used to be on shows together. And you know, obviously, they’re expecting two great people. I’m glad that they got together because I love them. Both are both amazing people. So I just want to congratulate them.

“I remember telling her, I said, “you’re gonna win the match, I’m gonna help you win the match.” In rehearsals, like there’s a reason why they just had me do that. I was like, I’m gonna help you win the match. And she goes, “James, it’s the first-ever women’s Money in the Bank… they’re not going to have a guy grabbing the briefcase. And I said, “that’s probably why they’re going to do…they like that controversy.”

“And then I remember the day of the Money in the Bank, when they had the meeting, they said, “Hey, this is what we’re doing. The reason why we’re doing it is later on an episode of SmackDown, we’re going to do another one, you know, and like, it’s going to help us pop a rating for Smackdown, the controversy will be good.” They explain it to everyone why we’re doing this. And so we always knew we were going to do the second Money in the Bank on SmackDown two weeks later, we always knew that. See the internet so funny place man, like something gets on there, and then people just go with it and say, oh they had to redo it because of the backlash of James grabbing it. No, it was planned the whole time. And I remember, I told her that day, the day of the Money in the Bank, I said “hey, I just spoke to Laurinaitis,” because he was the one that told me, he told me first, he was like, “Hey, you’re gonna climb up there as quick as you can grab it, throw it down to Carmella, we got to rehearse that.” And I told her she’s like, “really? Like, I’m winning it?” I’m like, “Yeah, I told you, I’m gonna grab it and give it to you like, it’s gonna be great.” And that was just me like, again, watching wrestling my whole life and knowing like, “Oh, this is what’s happening?” You know?

The reason for his absence after helping Carmella win the Money in the Bank contract:

“It was never told me to, but it was a rollercoaster ride. She had the Money in the Bank contract right, so why does she really need James Ellsworth for? She has a guarantee in her hand. So they’re like, “we really don’t have anything for you.” They gave me the 90-day thing, they’re gonna release me. They call me before the 90 days is up, “Hey man, we’re gonna bring you back.”

“They honored my whole deal, which I appreciate so much. I was like, well I just took like 60 indy dates, and they’re like “go ahead and do that, just sign anywhere else, we’re going to bring you back.” And they didn’t tell me what for, this was February 2018. Sometimes it works for you and works against you. Then I saw Braun Strowman was going to have a mystery partner at WrestleMania for the Tag Titles against Sheamus and Cesaro and I was like, maybe they are going to bring me back for that. Maybe I’m going to be Strowman’s mystery partner. I remember, I was hoping and praying that was going to happen and when it didn’t, I was like, ah that’s a bummer. Then when I was Carmella was wrestling Asuka, I said, their gonna be calling me any day now because Asuka only lost one match at that time, she was running through everybody. I’m like I feel I’m gonna come back and help her beat Asuka. And then they call me the day after the Backlash pay-per-view that year in May, I think Carmella wrestled Charlotte on there and won, she cheated to win, I don’t remember how. They called me the day after and said, “Hey, we’re bringing you back at Money in the Bank, obviously you were a big part of it last year, you’re going to be a big part of it this year.” They didn’t tell me what I was coming back for, they’re like, “You’re either you’re gonna be involved in the Women’s Money in the Bank ladder match again or you’re gonna be involved in the Carmella/Asuka.” I was going, I hope they pair me back with Carmella because I really thought that worked well, her and I together. That’s what wind up happening and it was a lot of fun, coming back and taking the Asuka mask off. That’s what WWE is about, it’s about those moments. Like you touched on earlier, that Money in the Bank moment I had at the first-ever Women’s Money in the Bank ladder match, every year when they have a Women’s Money in the Bank ladder match, there’s going to be somebody going “Hey, remember the first one? The guy, what was his name, Ellsworth, he grabbed it and gave it to Carmella.”

If he ever sees himself back in WWE:

“You never know, I was watching RAW, I think it was last RAW of October or the first RAW of November. And Dominick Mysterio said, “I’m this generations Eddie Guererro,” and AJ Styles said, “No you’re not, you’re more like this generations James Ellsworth,” said my name, and I was like wow that’s cool, and I remember, I text AJ the next day cause I still keep in touch with some people there and AJ’s one of them. I said, man, thank you for saying that, that was cool and I made a video reacting to it and put it on TikTok. He said, “Man, I loved your video, I’m glad we got to say your name.” I’ve been gone almost 5 years now, I haven’t been on TV since like, I think the last thing I did for them was Smackdown 1000, it was just like a backstage they put on digital, so almost 5 years. They mentioned my name, they mention me every now and then. Over the years, people, Sasha Banks, Dana Brooke, Alexa Bliss, they’ve all said to Carmella, “Oh if it wasn’t for the chinless guy, you’d never been champion.” AJ actually said my full name on RAW which was cool.

“I’ll be 40 years-old next year, I loved playing the James Ellsworth character, it was so much fun. Always felt like, I didn’t go through NXT, and this is just my feeling, I’ve never been told this. But they have time and money invested in people that went through the Performance Center and NXT, and I didn’t go through that system, so I always like an outsider, that caught wind with that Strowman match. I was always grateful they found a spot for me, cause I was never in their plans. They found a spot for me for a couple years. I had two good years there.

“I feel like the Ellsworth character is somebody you could bring back for a Royal Rumble appearance or another Money in the Bank appearance or something with AJ or something was Strowman or something with Carmella, and they all still work there. Since they all three still work there and I have history with them, if they did you know like AJ Styles, this is your life or Carmela this is your life. So you never say never. I feel like Carlito, for instance, he’s been gone 10/11 years and now over the last two or three years he’s been there twice and looks like it might be more. I don’t know… You never say never, MVP came back after several years. Several people have, I don’t know, I would love that Ellsworth character to be that, in the future, be a Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, or a Jim Cornette manager for somebody, like I was for Carmella. It worked well and I keep going my thing, keep staying positive, keep working hard on the independence, like I said, I love enjoying time with my family. So whatever happens, I was very grateful to live my dream and be a part of WWE for a few years, I’ll never forget it. And absolutely, if they call and want me to do a cameo appearance or even more, I’ll definitely be there for them.”

If he’s had talks with Impact Wrestling or AEW:

“I did some Impact when I left WWE, I wrestled Eli Drake, who’s now LA Knight, at a Bound for Glory pay-per-view. I did some joint shows with other independence Impact, and they used me a couple of times. Scott D’more is a great guy. I had fun working for him.

“AEW, I’ve never talked to. Chris Jericho, I always call him like my big brother in wrestling, and I still keep in touch with him. But I’ve never asked him, “Hey man, can you get me in a job in AEW.” I don’t ask questions like those. But my heart’s always gonna be with WWE that’s what I grew up watching. That’s the product I’ve always loved.”

The current product today:

“Wrestling these days, I always feel like less is more. Like, that’s just my opinion, there’s too much of it. Like it’s on almost everyday and that’s great for a lot of fans but for me, I can’t keep up with it all. Like, I get burnt out really quick. I love certain things like I absolutely love the Bloodline storyline, that’s amazing. I pay attention to everything they do because it’s such an amazing story.

“On the AEW side, obviously MJF is killing it, he’s one of a kind. So I like watching anything he does. To answer your questions, things that I’m interested in and things that entertain me, I will pay attention. Like, right now, LA Knight, LA Knight is killing it. When I wrestled him at that Impact pay-per-view, I said, oh my God, this guy, if given the right opportunity, is going to be one of the biggest stars in the business. And finally he’s getting the big push and I feel like he’s going to be a World Champion and some point. And he deserves it. He has the verbiage, he knows how to cut a promo, he looks great, he wrestles great, he’s got everything you need. To answer your questions, I watch a little bit of everything and pay attention to what entertains me.”

His future and goals:

“As far as wrestling school goes, never say never. I’m enjoying what I’m doing, wrestling just about every week. During the week, I enjoy being a father, enjoy being a husband, like, my wife has helped me become the best version of myself. I have a great home life, and I am so blessed with that. You know, not a lot of people are blessed with that I am. So just always making sure my daughters are taken care of and doing good in life is first and foremost the most important thing to me. I’ll be 39 December, 40 next year, so you know, still wrestling on the independents, but I’m not going to be 65 years old wrestling…nothing against anybody that does…I just don’t want to do that. But right now just keep working hard. Keep a positive attitude and just, you know, enjoy one day at a time.”

His message for up and coming wrestlers:

“So when you’re an independent wrestler, and I think it’s different than I started 2002, right? Over 20 years ago, 21 years. I went to a great wrestling school at a great trainer and Axl Rotten who had traveled the world been a part of the big companies. And that’s the advice I would give anybody aspiring to be a wrestler. Hey, go get trained by people that have been in the big companies that have made a living wrestling. That’s who you want to learn from. When I was an independent wrestler before WWE, if like I was on a show with to Tatanka or Matt Hardy or Shane Douglas or whoever it was, I would go ask him for advice. I would ask him to watch my match. I begged them to tell me what I did wrong, because these are the guys that have been with the big companies. That’s where I want to go and it wasn’t obvious I’m 5’8, 165 pounds like and I’m not. I don’t look like I belong in GQ magazine.

“It was not easy for me to make it to the WWE and I really feel like I made it there because I got the knowledge from the people who were there. And I think a lot of times independent wrestlers, a minority, not a majority, like to think they should automatically get all this money and they should automatically be in the spotlight. No, you have to learn how to deal with correctly you have to learn what separates you from other people on TV, and the only way you’re going to learn it, it’s get the tutelage of people who have done it before you. So if you’re going to wrestling school, go find a school where the people have done it for a living, had been in big companies, and there’s plenty of them out there. There’s Create A Pro that has Brian Myers, who was Curt Hawkins and Pat Buck who works for AEW, there’s D’Von Dudley school, there’s Booker T school, their schools all over the country, for you to go to and get this tutelage. So go to one of those schools and there’s more of them Gangrel as a school. There’s plenty of them all over the country, go to one of them and learn from the guys that have been there for sure.”

If you use any portion of the quotes from this interview, please credit PWMania.com with an h/t to PWMania.com for the transcription.