An Interview With Martin Stone

He’s a man of many names. Whether you know him as Martin Stone or Danny Burch, you know Martin Harris as a hard-hitting, talented wrestler that has made a name for himself both in the US and Europe, most notably in NXT.

I was able to catch up with Martin in February and had a wide-ranging interview detailing everything from his upbringing in London to his recent career renaissance.

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Photo by Harry Aaron/Courtesy of Limitless Wrestling

What got you into wrestling and when did you start?

I had always watched wrestling as a kid. I remember watching on a Saturday afternoon with my cousin around my nan’s house watching Superstars and Wrestling Challenge. I was blinded at that point in time because NWA was on about nine for an hour then challenge would start at 10 and Superstars would start at 11 or 12. That was my first experience with live wrestling: the massive, larger-than-life superheros I guess would be the best the term to use. That was my first introduction to pro wrestling.

What was your background? Where did you grow up? What was life like on the couch growing up watching all that wrestling?

I grew up in the East End of London, Bethnal Green. In the particular part of London that I grew up you either put on a pair of football boots or a pair of boxing gloves. From the age of six to the age of 17 I boxed. I was always being active as a kid. Loved watching wrestling, and as soon as wrestling was finished my cousin and I would jump up and down on each other trying to reenact what we just watched. Usually it was me getting my ass kicked.

I was still watching wrestling. I got away from it for a bit. I watched wrestling religiously up until Wrestlemania 9 and then I kind of lost track of it.  I got back into it, and the match that made me look at wrestling as having a lot more to it than what I used to think was just wrestling was when the Radicalz split. The match was Eddie and Benoit. This match, to this day, holds a special place in my heart.

I started looking online and found Dropkicks Wrestling Academy in Essex. I went to my first class and was hooked ever since.

How old were you when you went to your first wrestling class?

It was 2003, I was early 20s.

You watch wrestling religiously all the way through Wrestlemania 9. Hogan, Macho Man Ricky Steamboat. Then your wrestling style is so very different from what they did. How did you find yourself in the ring and find your wrestling style?

Obviously I trained in England so it was a very World of Sport style. Training in that particular style I started to look at who did this style. So then I started watching a lot of stuff of Japan, Fit Finlay, Mark Rocco, Martin Jones, Dave Taylor, William Regal, I started watching those guys religiously in the English style of wrestling. There’s so many great wrestlers that brought such an aggressive style that was nothing I’d ever seen before because I hadn’t been exposed to it. My wrestling was Hogan big booting people and leg dropping them in 15 minutes.

Then I started training and my trainer started giving me tapes, and then I’m being exposed to 60-minute matches, the round system, intricate holds and reversals. I was like ‘well, why can you not kind of mix the two’. You’re not going to see me go to the top rope and do a 450, all credit to the people that can do that, I ain’t that athletic. It was a case of strip away the stuff I know I’m not going to use. I still have a lot of fun now watching a lot of old school stuff and trying to pull it apart.

 

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Photo by Harry Aaron/Courtesy of Limitless Wrestling

You talk about mixing and mashing styles, you look at the rise of British Wrestling at places like Progress, ICW, the works…people think of guys like Zack and on the other side guys like Mark Andrews. You have guys like Zack, Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate get down on the mat and have these really good mat-based matches almost like fights. Do you think that British wrestling has grown as a result of going back to its roots, so to speak, or is this just a happy coincidence?

I have no idea what happened to British wrestling. I first reported for duty in developmental at FCW, in Tampa, in 2012. A huge show, with a big money backer, might have like 1,000 people. It was still an average show. I’m in developmental for two years, it doesn’t work out. I come home. I’m staring at a building filled with 1,500 people and this is a small show.

What happened here? It’s amazing what happened in a very short time frame. I’ll say all day long it’s the best scene in the world. You can’t beat the shows. You can’t beat the wrestlers that are out there. I don’t know why, but usually when there’s a boom for wrestling on TV then wrestling everywhere does good. It’s not the case. It’s not like the year 2000 again when you had Austin, Rocky, and HHH all on top. You had to watch every week and everywhere does good because of that.

Pete’s been wrestling since he was 15 or 16. Now he’s 24. He’s been wrestling a long time. The guys that are on top have put in a serious amount of wrestling. You learn on the mat first and you add stuff to do after that. The one advice I give to anyone that says they want to be a wrestler is find a place that teaches you the basics. If all else fails you’ll always have the basics to fall back on.

What was your career like up until you got that call [to report to FCW]? Where was your first couple of matches in England? How did you grow the Martin Stone character? How did that all kind of come about until you got that first call in 2012?

My very first show was a month after I trained. I wasn’t ready. I got thrown into the deep end. There were two coaches where I trained. One guy was a stickler for getting things right, everything has to be good. The other was there just to take the money. They used to argue all the time, and the coach that knew what he was talking about left. We were left with the guy that just wanted to make as much money as he could so he used to throw people in the deep end and contact promoters and say ‘yup, he’s great blah, blah, blah’, spin him a line, and the guy would show up and the promoter would be like ‘that’s not what the I asked for’.

I, unfortunately, was one of those people thrown into the deep end. It was a tag match. It was horrible. I shudder when I think about it. I told myself I’m not going to step back in that ring until I’m ready. I found the good coach and trained with him. Then we went out into the world.

I really cut my teeth working for a guy named called John Coppin who, unfortunately, passed away a couple of years ago. He really gave me a start. They weren’t great matches, but I was getting better every time.

Then my real breakout was in 2005 which was a promotion now known as Rev Pro but at the time was IPW:UK. They got in touch with me and said ‘how’d you feel about wrestling Samoa Joe?’ I was like damn, of course I will. They brought me in for a couple of shows to build me up then put me on with Joe.

At the time Joe was on his destruction of the TNA X Division. It went to a time-limit draw. That was the draw where Joe did so much for me in that match, made me look super strong, really put me over. That was the match people looked at me said ‘well, who’s this?’

Call after call started coming in. It got to the point I really started to find my feet in 2007. I really started to find out who I was.

I was working a fulltime job in a warehouse from 6 am-4 pm, hitting the gym, wrestling twice during the week and every weekend. That led up to 2009 I had my first tryout which was in Sheffield against Bram. The very first time I tried out I was in the ring with Bram. That was when Arn Anderson said I want to see you in April. I got signed in April of 2010 but then didn’t report until 2012 because when I got to Pittsburgh the first time I found out I had a torn ACL, torn meniscus, when I looked at the scan my knee looked like a shark bite. They said we can’t touch you until you’re fixed.

Do I curl up in a ball and headbutt a wall because my dream is gone or do I fight through it and get it done? Needless to say I got it fixed and went back in 2011, and in 2012 I jetted off to sunny Tampa.

Were you walking around on your knee with no idea it was beat up?

No idea. I remember falling down the stairs before I was wrestling. It swelled up a couple of days after that. Then it went down and I was fine. I didn’t have any of the slipout issues you would have with a torn ACL. I was wrestling on it. I was working on it. It would get stiff in the cold; it was a lot more serious than it was. The doctor that fixed said I shouldn’t be walking on it. Apparently because my quads were so strong because of deadlifting and squatting that they acted as an ACL to my knee.

It’s 2012. You’re at FCW. What was it like being in that developmental territory? Also you were there when it flipped to NXT so what was it like when you reported and what was the transition like?

It was pretty brutal. I thought I’d have a week to say my goodbyes to my family in England and stuff, and I got my visa on the Friday. I told the office I had my visa and they said you can start Monday. I literally had a day to say my goodbyes. At the time I was married to my first wife so it was all up in the air as far as what would happen. I was told ‘if you go I don’t know if I’m going to wait’ and this and that. I was like whatever, it is what it is. I packed my life in a carry-on case and a hand luggage bag.

I got to Tampa on Sunday at nine at night and started the following morning at nine. What it comes down to in developmental is if you can’t get better it’s your own fault. You’ve got Terry Taylor, Ricky Steamboat, Norman Smiley. As it transitioned you had Joey Mercury as well. Dream was there. Billy Gunn came in. Realistically if you can’t get better learning from people like that you’ve only got yourself to blame.

It was great. It was straight into the deep end. I did my first match the following week, which was well-received, against Brad Maddox. The second week I had a singles against Joel Redmond, who I reported with from England. Then I had two six-man tags, and Monday morning I re-blow out my knee during a training drill. Now I’m back to square one.

The looked at it and said it was a torn ACL and I’d be out for a year. I managed to shave the rehab down to six or seven months. I was in a position to rehab all day. I was with the trainer from 8 am to 3 pm Monday to Friday. I was like if I can’t be in the ring wrestling then I’m going to treat my rehab as if I’m in the ring wrestling. I did whatever I could to get back.

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Photo by Harry Aaron/Courtesy of Limitless Wrestling

Where did the name Danny Burch come from?

At the time you submitted 10 names and highlighted the ones that you wanted. That name got thrown together by four of the other names that I’d picked. I never actually came up with Danny Burch. They said ‘yep, we want to run with that’, and I was like ok. From that day forward I was Danny Burch.

What’s it like working in the performance center and Full Sail? I’ve seen old clips of FCW. Compared to what you have now FCW looked like it was in a warehouse compared to Full Sail.

The training center when I first started wrestling was in a judo school. Then when I started training properly, and we moved away and me and a group of friends got a ring, we were in a railway arch. There was nowhere to pee. It was real bare bones.

Getting to FCW was nice. It’s air conditioned. There’s toilets. There’s three rings. But then when we got to the performance center and there’s seven rings, a fully equipped strength and conditioning place. There was a room for promos where you would film yourself and come back and watch it. It was like wrestling heaven. If you can’t get better and thrive in that environment you’re doing something wrong.

Were you always on a per date contract? Were you properly signed? It seems like over the last year you’ve gotten back onto the indies.

I was fully under contract between 2012 and 2014. I got released April of 2014. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. I would put the blame on me. I’m not going to turn around and say I didn’t get my shot. For whatever reason it didn’t work out. It was very frustrating because I couldn’t find the Martin Stone that got me there. Being out injured really took a toll on my confidence. I forgot who I was. I couldn’t find where that was. It just got to a point I was so unhappy because I couldn’t perform how I wanted to. I couldn’t get the gears into place. I was so unhappy because something that I loved so much growing up I started to resent because I couldn’t find that spark again.

I got pulled into the office and they said they had to let me. It was mixed emotions. I was like ok, at least now I can go and try to find this guy back home, and if he’s not there I’m done. Or I can find this guy and see what happens in the future. It was one of those things where it sucked. It was horrible being told that’s it. I have no regrets from my time there for two years. Not many people can say ‘hey, I got hired by WWE and I moved to Florida and was getting paid a good wage each week.’

At the time I was in a singlet. When I went back on the indies that’s when I went to jeans with bleach thrown all over it.  Also I was really fat so it was a way of covering up. At that point in time, about three or four weeks before I was released, I met my now wife. I did long distance. I was doing the indies in England, going to Germany. I was a regular for Rev Pro. I was a regular for ICW. I was working all the smaller shows so I was really, really busy.

I was doing long distance with my wife, and December 2014 I said let’s see what happens, and I moved back to Orlando. It’s been a hard transition. The Florida wrestling scene is not the greatest in the world. There’s some places that work really, really hard to promote stuff. You’ve got RONIN. You’ve got a new place in Fest. You’ve got Ignite as well which try really hard. You’ve got FIP, which has been a mainstay in Florida for years. It’s not the greatest of wrestling scenes in the world so I was really struggling. I said if this is what wrestling is here then I’m done. If it wasn’t for a promotion in Atlanta called AWE I would have hung my boots up.

Clip from Martin Stone’s first match in Beyond Wrestling vs JT Dunn.

What was it about AWE that kept you going? Then how did you wind up coming to New England and connecting with Beyond?

I got text offers from a really good friend of mine, Aaron Epic. He was like ‘hey, do you fancy a road trip to Georgia?’ I was like go on, why not. I then check on Twitter and see I’m wrestling Jimmy Rave. I text Aaron and say ‘this is THE Jimmy Rave from Ring of Honor, right?’ He’s like yeah, he lives in Atlanta. I was like, this was one of the biggest names that I’ve worked since being in the States.

This is about a year [in America]. I was trying to work as much as I could, but some of the houses were 15, 20 people. The last show I did in England was ICW and there were 4,000 people there. Then my first match in States there was 30 people in the crowd. I was oh, whoops. I had kind of gone back to how I started.

It was about this time that I was done. I was in a real low place. I had a conversation with William Regal and I started doing extra work again. I would come in, work whoever, and that was it. I’ve been really lucky. My first match as an extra was Kevin Owens. Then I worked Apollo Crews in his debut. Then I had James Storm in his debut. Then they gave me a match with Tommaso Ciampa, and we beat the living snot out of each other. It was great. Ciampa is such an incredible talent.

Around about that time was when I decided to get in the best shape I could. I was getting to the point where I knew I could work, I knew I could talk. What’s the chink in the armor? The only thing left I can look at in the mirror is my physique. I’m going to get in the best shape I can. If nothing happens at least I threw everything on the table, and I can walk away, hold my head high, and look back and enjoy what I did.

I dropped 60 pounds, had that match with Ciampa [at AWE, and I was in love with wrestling again. It felt so great to be in love with what I first fell in love with again.

That then for me was when people really opened their eyes and said ‘Jesus Christ, Martin’s still got it.’ I was very lucky to be put in the position I’m in now where I had the feud with Oney [Lorcan] and tagging with him. I think it was the feud with Oney that opened up the door for Beyond.

You click with JT, now you’ve almost become this regular up here. What’s it been like for you doing Beyond, Limitless and growing into the New England scene?

The New England scene legitimately reminds me of home because even the worst talent there is so hungry to get better and learn. The promoters actually promote. They actually draw. The fans are amazing. It’s home. It really reminds me of home.

I work out of Florida now. Pretty much the only times I work in Florida are at the NXT live events. Most of my stuff is in New England. I started with Beyond. I recently worked Gresham which was one of the funnest matches I’ve had. I had the chance to work JT again at XWA. I worked John Morrison there. It’s an absolute hotbed of wrestling. For guys that are trying to break out and cut their teeth I’d say move to the New England area. There’s shows all the time, and they’re really good.

My first experience with Limitless was fantastic. It’s funny how I go into places in New England, and I’m never concerned if the crowd is going to be good. They’re always good. I absolutely love that place. I love Beyond. Beyond has done so much for me. They give me some absolute banging matches. I had an absolute phenomenal match with Matt Riddle. They got me Gresham, Flip Gordon, Zach. I’ve been lucky.

You’re 36. It seems like you’re in a good spot. What come next for the next five years of Martin Stone, Danny Burch or whatever I’m supposed to call you?

For me it’s just keep getting better, getting my name out there, having fun with it. The minute you stop having fun in a job like this is the minute to walk away.

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