As previously noted, former WWE Superstar Tye Dillinger, also known as Shawn Spears, was recently a guest on E&C's Pod Of Awesomeness. Among many other things, Spears talked about growing up as a WWE fan. According to Spears, he became a wrestling fan early on and WWE Hall Of Famer Ultimate Warrior was his favorite babyface.
"I didn't have a father for the first 10 years or so of my life, but my mother would kind of just let me watch whatever I wanted to watch on television as a kid growing up and it always happened to be that [pro] wrestling was right up there with cartoons, and ThunderCats, and all that other jazz that was going on at the time." Spears continued, "in terms of who I used to love, I loved the Warrior, Ultimate Warrior, growing up. He was the only good guy I really, really liked. I remember being over at my uncle's place. I want to say it was SummerSlam. And it might have been him versus Honky [Tonk Man] where the match lasted maybe 15 seconds for the IC title. And I just remember when the Warrior won the championship, my uncle and his friend high-fived. Like, they were the happiest I've ever seen two grown men in my life. I remember thinking, 'that is the coolest thing. Like, I love wrestling. Holy hell, they love wrestling too. We're the same! Like, we love it the same! I'm a kid and they're adults. Like, I can love this when I'm older!'"
Interestingly, Spears was unaware of independent pro wrestling till he was actually training to become a pro wrestler.
"Here's a thing I don't think anybody knows and it's probably bad of me to admit after all these years of being, and I'm using the singular quotation thing, and I had been a wrestling fan growing up, I didn't know that independent live events existed until after I started training for wrestling, so I didn't go to a lot of shows as a kid. Like, my father, stepfather, he never brought me. He didn't no idea either or if he did, he didn't bring it up. I had no concept of the independents. I had no concept that any outside wrestling really existed other than what I saw on WWF at the time. I mean, shame on me for being that ignorant." Spears added, "I mean, the only time I really started looking was when I looked to go to a wrestling school for the first time. I had no idea they even ran television tapings. I would have been there every damn month or however often they ran."
Apparently, Young trained him for free when he learned of the bad training Spears was receiving.
"I started [training] in Cambridge, Ontario, which is where Eric was, but I started at a different school first," Spears explained. "Being in Cambridge is where I eventually met Eric Young and he had a school just down the street. He was very familiar with my situation and he said, 'look, I won't even charge you. I just want to teach you the right way.' And I went down and met him at his school and I said, 'okay'. And two things, he said, 'I cannot guarantee. I can't guarantee that you will become a WWE Superstar. I can't guarantee that you'll ever make any money in this business, but I can guarantee that I will teach you how to wrestle.' And I said, 'okay.' And that began that relationship."
Spears was picked up by WWE after a tryout in 2006. The Canadian grappler noted that the tryout was one of the hardest things he has ever done, as the likes of WWE mainstays Randy Orton and The Undertaker were ringside for part of the tryout.
"That was at the HSBC [Arena] in Buffalo [New York]. Mm-hmm. I don't know if it's still called that [writer's note: it is now called the KeyBank Center], but that's why it was always one of my favorite buildings for that reason. That was probably the second hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life." Spears recalled, "I think we started probably around noon of one [o'clock], roughly. Yeah, and as it was winding down, talent was filtering in. All-of-a-sudden, you look around the ringside and there's Taker and there's Randy and you're like, 'what the f--k is going on?' And yeah, it was just wild."
The successful tryout landed Spears in OVW. Spears indicated that he really enjoyed his time in OVW.
"I enjoyed the training," Spears admitted. "Danny Davis was incredible. He's a phenomenal guy. The talent was really good. It wasn't as structured as things are nowadays, of course, because everything evolves. But we were there to cut our teeth and learn how things were done in WWE at that time."
Also during the podcast, Spears recalled working John Cena in a one-off match at OVW. According to Spears, Cena was very nice and laid out the match in a way that showcased Spears and he always appreciated that.
"Finally when we did run into each other, I think the second match had just started and they were not going to go 20 minutes because it was pouring. So he kind of just said, 'alright, what do you do?' And I was like, 'uh…' And I think I had a title, like I might have had the OVW Television title at the time, so I was like, 'hey, how about I catch you with a quick rollup somewhere, maybe they'll think, 'ahhh!' I'm trying to be like, 'whatever you want to do!' And then, he kind of just looked at me for a second. I went, 'oh s--t, I said the wrong thing. Dammit!' He kind of looked off to the side and then he rattled off a finish for us that we had knocked down a referee; I brought in the WWE title; I hit him with that. He rattled off this finish, and I'm sure you guys know, and it was like, whoa. He didn't have to do that for me and he did. Here's the guy, on top, making the company millions and millions of dollars, has a big match a month later, a day later. Who knew? But going out of his way to take some kid who he doesn't know, maybe that he probably barely heard of, and he made it a night I will never forget." Spears said, "so hat's off to John Cena."
Shortly after OVW closed its doors, Spears was released from WWE. Spears divulged that he went through a dark period after his WWE release and worked odd jobs to support himself.
"Without sounding dramatic, [the years in between WWE runs] were pretty dark," Spears admitted. "They were pretty rough. Luckily, [Primo] Colon, he's a fantastic dude, he got me set up in Puerto Rico. I went and worked with Carlos. I think it was for eight months. I went to do a couple of shots in Mexico. I tried to keep busy, but I couldn't make a living off of independent wrestling during that time. And I was never a big independent name like a lot of guys are nowadays off the independents. I never had that name value, so I wasn't getting booked everywhere or making a ton of money. So I had to hold odd jobs." Spears continued, "that was probably the worst of times without trying to sound too dark because everybody has some rough times, but that was probably the hardest time for me."
Check out the podcast here or in the audio player below. If you use any of the quotations that appear in this article, please credit E&C's Pod Of Awesomeness with an H/T to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.