Exclusive: PJ Black Explains His New Look, Pitches New Character To WWE, Discusses AEW Talks, His Future, More

Former WWE star PJ Black (aka Justin Gabriel) exclusively spoke with PWMania.com‘s Ari Barkan about a wide range of topics including his new look, pitching his new character to WWE, discussions with AEW, his recent IMPACT Wrestling appearance, his future, John Cena, Ryback and more.

You can check out the complete interview below:

On his new look:

“I didn’t plan on growing this beard during lockdowns, I kind of just grew a little goatee unto a point. And it just started growing and growing…I even cut a bit off every week. And I was like this will work for this new character that I’m trying to launch. This Dr. Darewolf / shaman character, which I have not yet…fully pulled the trigger on, but I’ve dropped some hints on it. So it kind of works. So let’s see where it goes.”

On what he has been up to lately, and if we can expect more of him in IMPACT Wrestling:

“Yeah, I’ve been very selective on taking bookings, I took the IMPACT booking because it seemed like fun. It was just the end of the tournament. You know, I love wrestling and tournaments because you get to wrestle multiple people. There’s a few guys in that tournament, I really, really wanted to wrestle. My favorite thing in wrestling is working with people I’ve never worked with before, so that to me, that’s awesome. I’ve been very selective about taking bookings. But I’m trying to fill it up for the summer. I’m working on this new character, and I just haven’t fully pulled the trigger on it yet. I’ve been working on some vignettes. I’ve sent it to all the big companies out there and they all like it. But it’s you know, how the business is going right now and how the economy is going right now. So, you know, even if someone doesn’t want to run with it, I will just run with it on the indies. You know, we have social media and wonderful platforms like this, you can push certain characters and narratives and storylines, if you will. So well, we don’t really need big companies anymore. It will be nice to work there again. But it’s not something I have my hopes set on. I just really want to show people this character that I’ve created is like, like a shaman/ Darewolf character. Once you see it, you’ll know exactly what I mean. It’s kind of hard for me to put into words, it’s more of a visual character.”

On William Regal spotting his talent early on, on working with him, and on Regal and Cena believing in him:

“Yeah, it was pretty cool. I mean, I’ve been a fan of (Regal) ever since I can remember. So going way back, my dad was a promoter in South Africa and in the 90s, not many people know this, but in the 90s, late 80s early 90s, even South Africa was like an unofficial territory… people used to come to stay in South Africa for like 6-9 months at a time. You know, and William Regal was one of them… like in the UK you have one style, Canada, and then Mexico you have Lucha Libre. in Japan, you have the strong style, so we didn’t really have our own style. So I kind of combined all these styles from around the world and funny enough, William Regal was one of the characters I watched that I studied and I still use a lot of the moves and techniques…so it was really cool. I remember at that time, certain moves were banned; a lot of.. the risky high, high risk moves were banned. We weren’t allowed to do any German suplexes and stuff like that. And I remember Cena saying to [Regal], “this guy hits a really good 450”. And Regal was like, “Nah, I’ve had, I’ve had too many knees in my face and elbows in my face, there’s no way that anyone can do that move safely.” And he put a crash pad in the middle of the ring, and we put a dummy. And he put it in different angles in different places in the ring, and I hit it perfectly every time. He’s like, “Okay, I’ll take that”. So that was kind of like the start for me. So it was a very unique experience that I’ll treasure forever.”

On Ryback:

“We used to be friends, we used to be friends up until a while ago, I remember asking him something or trying to help him on one of his podcasts and steering him in a different direction. And he just got so angry at me that he blocked me and I haven’t spoken to him since that night. I mean, recently, like, I saw him at a signing at the wrestle con in LA. And I saw him and we talked and it was like, you know, like, catching up, like we’ve never left off.”

“I didn’t really follow any of the controversial things that he said, some people smarten me up to it. And I was like, ‘well, I, I can’t believe I can’t see how he would say anything like that’.

“And instead of going to dig for this stuff, I’m not really a guy that digs for dirt or anything like that. I was just like, oh, wow, he must, must have gone through some crazy times. And he tried to explain to me the stuff that he was going through. And I don’t know if I’m allowed to repeat any of that stuff. But they have made his life very hard. But that’s no excuse for saying some of the things that he did. I don’t know exactly what he said, but I know it was pretty harmful. And then people kind of turned on him and stuff. But, you know, over the last few years, a lot of us have gotten crazy, for lack of a better term, you know, a lot of weird things that have happened in the world. And yeah, I mean, I do believe that he is a decent human inside. I’m not saying he’s a bad person at all, but he’s probably just been so aggravated with the way things have gone, and the ways his career has gone. And I know, they made a lot of promises that were never kept and, and, you know, I can relate to stuff like that. But I mean, it really shows your character, how you respond to these things. You know, like, I try to keep stuff like that to myself. I had this conversation with the NXT coaches the other day, and they asked me if I was clean on social media, I was like, what does that even mean? You know, like, all my stuff on social media is in character. I would never show the world the real me or what my beliefs are…because I think you know, everyone’s different and we’re entertainers.. I don’t think my/our real values should be broadcast to the world. You know, the character I play on TV. That’s the stuff I do on social media. This is probably the most real interview you’ll see of me.”

On being a rebel with Nexus, and destroying the set of RAW in 2010:

“That was kind of cool. Like, none of us really knew what to expect that day. NXT was just over and we thought we were all gonna get sent back to developmental but they called us to TV in Miami that day. And Vince called us into his office and laid out this plan and we were all like, “yeah, I guess it sounds cool. You’re a self made billionaire. You know what you’re talking about” We just couldn’t envision it you know, we couldn’t see it. Like usually in wrestling. Everything is recycled. Dr. Tom used to say this all the time. What’s old is new and what’s new is old. There’s hardly anything new that happens right? So as a wrestler, you can always kind of go back to a storyline or era or character or anything and kind of reference that and see how you would play this out right. But there was no there was no no reference to that and I mean o’clock. The Navy like ended with NWO stuff. And we weren’t really like, over or anything like we weren’t stars at the time, you know? So we were just like, Yeah, okay. I mean, this has been this idea, we’ll kind of just go for it and see what happens. Like none of us really thought anything about it until, a few months later, we saw the impact it made on people, especially people that have worked there for like 20-40 years, you know, there’s crew guys in WWE that have worked there for decades. That’s when we realized we were like, “Okay, well, this, this is something really cool”. And it was really fun to be a part of.”

On working with John Cena and pinning him on TV:

“Oh, that was pretty cool. I think I believe that happened more than once. Especially at live events, that happened for like six months straight up. I got to write and I got to work with John, you know, like for months, and that was really, really cool. You know, regardless of what people say about him, he is a master at his craft. He knows this business inside and out. Like I learned so much from him. And it was an honor to be there with him. You know, and, and I don’t know why I got so many chances. I guess I was, for lack of a better term, more capable than anyone else in my group to have those kinds of matches…it was a fun time. It was really cool. And, you know, coming from South Africa, I was the only South African who’s ever made it. You know, I remember being a kid and my mom was like, “no one from South Africa has ever made it” and I was like “great, then I’ll be the first”. So wrestling is incredibly big in South Africa right now it’s the third biggest market in the world. Many people don’t know this.”

On his base jumping accidents:

“I broke both of my legs twice. Actually, I’ve been in two crazy accidents. Doctors told me I’ll never walk again. And I’m usually one of those people who proves people wrong. You know, like when my mom told me I’d never make it to the WWE is like, well, now I guess I’ll show you…the doctors they told me I’ll never walk again. I have steel pins in this leg. I have 23 screws in this leg. I have titanium in this leg with hinges. And you know, they told me I’ll probably never wrestle again. struggle to walk again. And I was like, Well, I guess I’ll show everyone wrong. And now I’m doing the same stuff. And probably doing even crazier things these days. Here I am doing backflips again at my age. And I believe that the mind, mind over matter, right? Your mind is way more powerful than you can ever imagine. And if you set out to do any goal, I believe you can do it. And I’m living proof of that.”

On whether he sees himself in the WWE again or AEW:

“I mean, never say never [with the] WWE. I did show them this new character I’ve been working on and I sent them the package. I sent it to all the writers, the producers and everyone I know that works there. And you know, it’s kind of mixed reviews. Everyone’s like, interesting. I really want to see what’s next. Some people’s some people were like, Wow, there’s so much we could do with it. Because there’s so many layers to unpack. Some of the AEW people were just like, “ah, yeah, this is cool, but can you just be Darewolf?” And I was like, Yeah, I can do that, too. So we’ll see what happens. I haven’t really had any, like, solid offers or anything like that. But like I said, it would be nice, but I mean, I’m not going to wait around for that before I pull the trigger on this character. So we’ll see. We’ll see it. I mean, it’s a very interesting time in wrestling right now. There’s so many companies and great talents all over the world. So I think it’s a really exciting time. This is what I like about wrestling. You know, like if it evolves and if you don’t have depth, then you get left behind. And then you’ll see guys like Chris Jericho, Rey Mysterio has been around forever and ever and ever, and they just kind of like adapt and go. So I’m trying to not be like Chris Jericho, but kind of just adapt to the time reinventing myself playing a new character, like just bringing some new new things to the table that I think will be fresh and exciting.”

On if his new character would thrive under Triple H or Tony Khan:

“That’s a good question. Whoever gives me more freedom, I think I’ll be thriving, but I’m also open to it, because there is a little bit of a way out there like my mind works a little bit different than most people, right. So one thing I learned from Dusty Rhodes in WWE is like, give them too much, because they can always pull you back and kind of guide you towards it rather than kind of like not giving them anything and be like, Oh, come on, do something. So that’s why I’m going way over the top with this, we wait till you see the result. I’m sure I’ve posted some teasers on my Instagram a while back, but it’s a little bit out there, this character, but I believe that’s what people want, right? Like we kind of went through this reality here. I remember the Attitude Era. And then it was like a reality here. And I call it the Hunter era right now. Like, it keeps evolving. So I feel like this character will fit in anywhere really, especially now because I believe that now with Marvel and DC and all these superhero movies that are good, most people know that business, right? So they want to be entertained. They want to see over the top characters like Bray Wyatt …that’s one of the coolest characters, right? That’s, I think that’s what people want to see. So that’s why I’m creating this super over the top character. And if I do go to one of those companies that can always just tell me to kind of hold it back or whatever. You know, I feel like Tony Khan would not hold it back so much. But then again, Triple H I respect him. And I think he has some amazing ideas and probably stuff that I haven’t even thought of yet. So I mean, I’m open to any of those things. Well, we’ll see what happens. It’s going to be an exciting year for sure.”

On whether he watches the current product:

“I watched a little bit here and there, I watch the pay per views. You know, my good friend, Taya Valkyrie. She’s on AEW. I’ve been watching all that stuff. I was at the pay per view in Vegas, because I had a couple of shows that weekend too. I mean, I’m a fan. We’re all fans, right? I love wrestling. I just…there is so much to watch these days. Like I watched NXT the other day and I didn’t. I didn’t know any of those people were they were all fantastic, like amazing performances, but I don’t know any of them. You know, and in wrestling you kind of want to gravitate towards a character that you know, right? If you watch it all the time you have your favorites and your non favorites and stuff like that. I justs didn’t know anybody there but the product was amazing. I feel it’s such a unique time in pro wrestling right now.”

On his goals for the next year and what we can expect:

“Yeah, I just want to I really just want to bring this character to life and show people what these ideas [are that] I have in my mind, and you know even if people don’t like it…wrestling to me is an art… it’s one of the reasons I left WWE because I didn’t feel like that side of me was appreciated enough and maybe I prematurely left but this is what I what I do. I’m an artist and I want to bring this character to life. That’s like one of the last things I want to do before I ever hang the boots up. But I mean I feel like I at least have another 10 years in me. My body feels good. My legs are getting stronger and stronger every day and now I have steel pins in them so now I can have a finisher.. can be a finisher you know, remember like Lex Luger had so many. Right? There’s so many layers to this. That’s all I really want to do. I’m taking a lot of bookings for the summer again, I got France coming up next month, Jamaica coming up, Miami, Denver. So every weekend, I’ll be super busy.

“Not much in August yet. But that’s another dilemma heavy like do I go full on with this character like on the independent circuit? Or do I wait? It’s like, this is what I got to decide. And hopefully by the end of the summer, I’ll have a much better plan and a much better answer for you on that. But for now, that’s what I’m doing. I’m just kind of still polishing this character and just you know, taking as many bookings as I can right now.”

Where we can keep up with him:

“Yeah, Twitter, Twitter [@darewolf333] and Instagram, and I have a little Facebook page. But I mean, I’m pretty active on Instagram mostly. So I post all the upcoming events and posters and some cool, some cool stuff on Instagram. That’s probably the best way.
Instagram. It’s @PJ450

His message to fans and up and coming wrestlers:

“I just want to tell people if you have a dream, go for it. You know, just don’t listen to anybody else. Just do you. Nobody else knows you. Nobody knows what’s in there. Right? So if you follow your heart and you add some passion to whatever you’re doing… It might take you a little bit longer than most people but it’s the heart..the heart knows what it wants. And yeah, just just follow your heart. Not so much your brain.”

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.