ANTONIO BANK$is a newcomer to IPW coming from the apparently defunct Future of Wrestling promotion. So far he has made a huge impact and has targeted the IPW Heavyweight Title. He has been sidetracked on the way to the title and is currently involved in a violent feud with LEX LOVETT. Mr. Banks is a former FOW Tag Team Champion with his partner THE PUNISHER, and is pretty much a 'man without a country', as he has absolutely no friends of allies in IPW. Funny thing is its just the way he wants it.As much as he is disliked in the dressing room, the fans have rallied behind his no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners attitude. He proved his toughness when he wanted to take on THE SHANE BROTHERSBY HIMSELF when THE PUNISHER couldn't make an event due to an injury. IPW Commish 'Honest' EDDIE EDWARDS wouldn't sign off on the match and ended up getting dropped by Banks for his troubles. Despite a troubled youth that Mr. Banks will talk about in this piece, he has come out on the other side a confident man. This interview took place at the intermission of IPWs UnchartedTerritory show on March 22nd.
Alan Wojcik: Where did you grow up and was wrestling apart of your childhood?
Antonio Banks: I grew up in the Miami area, a town called Opa-Locka. Got to news websites and youll find all kinds of things about it. It is the armpit of Miami. There is an area there called The Bab. It was so overrun with drugs that the Feds came in to clean it out. My dad was police officer but my parents split when I was young. My Mom made sure even thought we lived in a rough neighborhood, I went to a predominately white school and received a proper education. I stayed out of trouble until my later years. Wrestling was something my cousins and I watched growing up along with Kung Fu movies. We would watch it and try to do the moves we had seen. I was never a big mark but it was fun to watch. You brought back a memory of the first show I ever went to with my Mom at the Miami BeachConvention Center. It was the first time I saw Sweet Brown Sugar wrestle. I was blown away by the incredible things he did in the ring. The main event of the show was Terry funk and Dusty Rhodes. On April 13th of 2002 I worked a show where the main event was Terry and Dusty, so that was an amazing experience. Growing up everyone wanted to be Dusty or Ric Flair but I wanted to be Tony Atlas, Sweet Brown Sugar and Butch Reed. I wanted to be the big jacked-up black guy and I guess I turned into that (laughs.)
AW: You alluded to some trouble in your past, could you elaborate on it please.
AB: Right around I was 12 yrs old I started hanging out in the streets. The graffiti gang I joined turned into a street gang. The street gang started fighting and that escalated to other things. I became a generally bad person that didnt care about anyone including myself. I got involved in gunplay, robbery and drugs. I ended up committing a robbery and shootout and that led to six months in a juvenile program. I got out and kept straight until one of my friends got killed by a rival gang. I snapped inside and I pulled a robbery that got me in the papers big time. At age 16, I was sentenced to 18 years with a mandatory 3 years. All total I did 9 ½ years.
AW: When did wrestling come back into your life?
AB: When I was doing work release about 4-5 months before being released from jail I met a corrections officer that worked as an independent wrestler. Prime Time Darryl D. was his name. He was the first guard I ever talked to on a regular basis. He worked the shift. Before his tour ended and I went out to work, he would bring in tapes of him working for me to watch and title belts for me to check out. It really peaked my interest. He told me when I got released if it was something I wanted to do, come see him since he had a ring to train people in. It turned out I picked up really quick.
AW: Who was your first match against and what do you remember of it?
AB: My very first match was against a good friend Omar Montiovaro (sic) who worked as Primo Fernandez. It was at a flea market and I didnt have any gear. I had on street clothes. I cut a promo, he ran in and it was over before I knew it. The one I count as my first match where I had ring gear was at a TV taping for Larry Hamiltons WWW promotion in Jacksonville with my sometime tag team partner the Punisher.
AW: Early on in the business, did you find any resistance in locker rooms due to you being African-American?
AB: Its interesting, the guys that trained me and brought me along in the business were primarily African-American and they had heat in the business. I was able to avoid those promotions they had heat with. I was under the impression that there was racism in the business. As I got to befriended guys I learned that no matter what, people have their issues. If the people in the business see they can make money off you, your race doesnt matter.
AW: How much of Antonio Banks is in the character Antonio Bank$?
AB: Antonio Bank$ is me with the volume turned up. I guess I take some of the old me and put him into what I do. Pretty much what you see is what you get away from the ring.
AW: How did you begin working for FOW and what were your initial impressions of FOW owner Bobby Rogers?
AB: I got involved with FOW thanks to the Blackhart Dave Johnson. He had done some time and when he found out my background we hit it off. He has been a tremendous impact on my career and taught me volumes. He told Bobby to use me and I had potential. Bobby was only going to use me one time but he listened to what Dave had to say and Bobby kept me on. I was apprehensive going out for my first FOW match as they are comparable to ECW fans. I got a pop from them and had a good match with Psycho Sean Allen. Jodi, Bobbys girlfriend, saw the match and told him he needed to check my tape out. From that I secured a spot. My initial impression of Bobby Rogers was that he kept to himself. He was only social with very few people but as I got to know him, he opened up. He seemed to be a pretty good guy with a good mind for the business. But as we have found out recently, he was a master manipulator and not a good person.
AW: What led to your tag team with the Punisher?
AB: Hes a great guy and good friend. We were working separately for Rusty Brooks and both of us were involved with big pushes. He asked Bobby to protect us while we worked for FOW and the best way to do that was to put us in a tag team. He put the FOW straps on us and it was a good run.
AW: Do you prefer tag team or singles and why?
AB: Selfishly I prefer singles because I have more fun working one on one. Working with the Punisher was fun because he is such a huge guy. Realistically no one could do anything with him. So in a ten minute match I would be in there for seven of it taking the heat and he would bat clean up. It was good for me because I got my conditioning in. Tagging can be fun but in the end I prefer singles.
AW: Which leads to the age old question, do you prefer heel to babyface and why?
AB: It may sound weird but to me it doesnt matter. Im a team player and if a promoter needs a babyface I am fortunate I can pull it off. If they need a big heel, I can use what Dave Johnson taught me and put it to use. Overall I have no real preference.
AW: During your FOW Tag title reign with the Punisher, you wrestled in an Extreme Xmas Tree match. Describe for those that didnt see the match the idea behind it.
AB: It was fun. We had a big feud going with Dave Johnson and Casey Thompson and the team of Dennis and Sean Allen.We had been having a three way matches and both teams had been stealing our belts even though we never lost them in a match. FOW had a tradition of putting up a Christmas tree with gift-wrapped weapons brought in by the fans under it. That is the idea of the match. While Im not a hardcore wrestler, I pride myself on my versatility and many fans thought it was one of the most brutal matches they had seen. We beat the sh$% out of each other that night. Garbage cans, pots, pans, broom sticks and other stuff. Dave Johnson took a bump from me that sent him rolling down the bleacher stairs. Punisher choke slammed him through a table and then I hit him with my finisher. It was the most fun I have had in a match.
AW: Describe your finisher, which is known as Malicious Intent.
AB: It is setup with a punch to the stomach then a spinning heel kick to the face, its also called an Kapoeta (sic) kick that I got from the video game Tekken. Its a move that the character Eddie Gordo does. My brother and I would play that game for hours, sometimes until 5-6 in the morning. My brother was a state amateur wrestling champion. We have a big rivalry but instead of taking it to the mat we took it to the video game. I had that Eddie Gordo character and would kick his ass with it. When I used that kick in the game, I wondered if I could do it in the ring and turns out I could and its been with me since.
AW: How did you get to IPW Hardcore and what was your first impression of Ron Niemi?
AB: Billy Fives, who is another mentor and was the yardstick I measured my career to, was the one that put out the word to Niemi. Niemi wanted to use me but I worked for a rival promoter and wouldnt use me unless I quit that group. When we talked it out, it made sense to me and I saw the opportunities that IPW had to offer. I accepted the terms and Billy vouched for me. My initial impression of Ron was a drunken dwarf. He is pretty cool after getting to know him. Hes all about getting opportunities for the guys that want to bust their asses to make the company better. I appreciate all the things he has done for me since I joined IPW.
AW: When you first came to IPW, the locker room members didnt take kindly to you. Why do you think that happened?
AB: When I first got here I came representing FOW. I was still ½ of the FOW tag team champions. I wanted the locker room to know Antonio Bank$ is all that. A lot of the guys felt threatened because their title belts were not safe anymore. As long as I am around the IPW World title and NWA Florida title arent safe.
AW: During your FOW title reign you were scheduled to defend against the Shane Brothers. Due to injury, the Punisher was unable to attend. But you wanted to take the Shanes on yourself??
AB: Unfortunately Punisher was not able to work but I wanted to take them on. We had been scheduled to face them several times but it never happened. We really wanted to work them because everywhere Punisher and I worked we were the biggest guys on the roster. I was so fed up with the matches never happening. The Shanes had been jawboxing and flapping their lips about what they were going to do to us. I told them to bring it because Ive been in situations way worse. If the match had happened they might have come out on top, but they would have known they were in a fight.
AW: The FOW title reign was ended by Ricky and Tommy Vandal. What are your thoughts on the team?
AB: Working for a moment. Our title reign ended because I got hit in the head with a chair while the refs back was turned. It was a screw by the heels that the Vandalz turned into. On the shoot level, that match was the last FOW match ever. We blew the roof off the place. As a team the Vandalz are full of potential and you havent seen their upside yet. But they are streaky. When theyre motivated they are sharp.
AW: During your current IPW run, you wrestled the man who at the time of recording this is the IPW World Champion, Rod Steel. Any thoughts on the Rod Damn Champ?
AB: The Rod Damn Champ as a heavyweight champion is a joke, I laugh at him. The only reason he beat me was I underestimated him.Anytime you wrestle him you have that pack of pugilistic pigmies, the Alliance of Defiance, come out and save him. Ever notice how none of those guys are tall enough to do the rides at Disney World? None of them are over 5 feet tall. (Interviewers note: the version of the AOD Mr. Bank$ refers to was Scoot Andrews, Mike Sullivan, Rod Steel and Billy Fives.) The night before I wrestled Steel, I was out partying, living VIP style. I thought I would wash him up but he got the better of me that night. But Ill tell you this when I am done with Lex Lovett, if the Rod Damn Champ has the belt still, I will make a statement. (Interviewers note: Rod Steel lost the IPW World title to NWA Florida champion Billy Fives later in the evening.)
AW: To bring a serious tone to this interview. The show on which you lost the FOW tag titles to the Vandalz you were witness to the late Curt Hennig winning the FOW Heavyweight title. Any memories of Mr. Hennig?
AB: I actually met Curt Hennig before that night at the IPW/NWA Florida show Independent Armageddon. I hung out with him and Tommy Vandal and David Sierra in Curts hotel room. It was weird because as Mr. Perfect I grew up watching him on TV. Not to slander his name, but he was heavily under the influence of some substances and I was concerned for him. But I figured he had been doing this for a long time and hell be alright. When I got the word he passed I was very saddened to hear what happened.
AW: Currently you are involved in a feud with the aforementioned Lex Lovett. What was the birth of that feud?
AB: Lex Lovett had been in a feud with Steve Madison. During a match I had with Madison, Lex attempted to exact revenge on Madison. But the missile dropkick intended for Madison hit me instead and it cost me the victory. Late that night Lex had a shot at Rod Steele and I returned the favor and cost him the title. Needless to say neither one of us are happy with the turn of events and havent been too fond of each other since.
AW: As you noted before FOW has died, what comments do you care to make on the situation?
AB: In a nutshell, Bobby Rogers over a period of time had been spinning an intricate web of lies and deceit. His house of cards was built on trickery, deception and manipulation. That house had no foundation and the walls of it came tumbling down on him. All the lies and deception came to the head at the same time and he was exposed for the fraud that he unfortunately turned out to be. I really like Bobby Rogers when I thought he was a good person. I honestly cant say anything good about him.
AW: You are scheduled to go Nashville for a dark match on NWA: TNA in mid-April. Any nervousness going there?
AB: Not yet but I am like Keyshawn Johnson, give me the damn ball. I want the chance to run with the ball and show the people what I got. I have met some guys that have worked for TNA like Christopher Daniels and Low Ki. They told me what to expect going up there. When the day comes Im sure Ill have some anxiety. I can say I am excited to possibly elevate myself to the next level.
AW: What will fans find when they log onto Antoniobanks.com?
AB: The site is still under construction. When it is up and running, fans will be able to peek into the life of Antonio Bank$. I intend to have a column called jawboxing, which will be my takes on life and the business. Ill have a photo gallery. I love to take pictures when I am out hanging around. And those pictures will be up there. One day if I become an established guy in the business, Antonio Bank$ fans can say they were be able to follow me from the beginning.
AW: Word association. Ron Niemi.
AB: Great guy. The individual that has given me the biggest breaks in my career so far.
AW: The Punisher.
AB: The mans got the genetics of a Wookie.
AW: The Shane Brothers.
AB: Impressive, athletic freaks of nature.
AW: AOD member Rod Steel.
AB: The biggest mouth in the business since Jimmy Hart.
AW: David Babylon.
AB: A natural.
AW: The Vandalz.
AB: Dummies (laughs.) But my favorite dummies. Great upside and tremendous potential.
AW: Break from the format please for Lex Lovett.
AB: Tim McGraw in wrestling trunks (laughs.) Seriously, Lex is a tremendous athlete and incredible technician. But in this case he bit off more than he can chew. Lex Lovett and his special friend, his life partner, Vivacious Vito DeCoochie (DeNucci) are gonna get exactly what they got coming to them. Because Im Antonio Banks and Im all that. You dont have to like me but you will respect me and I will teach them how to read between the lines.
AW: Where do you look to be by the end of 2003?
AB: I hope to be a regular on NWA: TNA and a regular in Japan.