TNA Impact Wrestling’s focus has been rebuilding and creating new stars for its brand. Count Eli Drake among those looking to make their mark.
The 33-year-old has emerged from a background player to the forefront thanks to his loud-mouthed and arrogant swagger.
The wheels for his signing started turning when his promoter, David Marquez of Championship Wrestling from Hollywood, and TNA creative’s Dave Lagana were in communication. Because of his work in developmental and NXT, Drake — real name Shaun Ricker — was also recommended by WWE to TNA’s talent relations head John Gaburick. Within a month he was set up with a tryout match with Mason Ryan and competing in a Gut Check tournament.
The rest is history.
“I had spent countless years trying to get the attention of either one of these companies,” Drake said. “If I’m honest about myself, historically I haven’t been the greatest networker. I have a tendency to just say hello to people and then keep to myself. This may surprise some people, but I’m a bit of an introvert. It kind of hindered my progress in getting to a WWE or TNA. I had an opportunity to go to NXT in 2013. It was great, and I loved my time there. There were some parts I kind of hated. But it was very enjoyable, and I still have close relationships with a lot of people on the talent side and office side. I only have good things to say about it.
“When I went to TNA, in a way, it was a breath of fresh air,” Drake continues. “There was this air of positivity…There is just a vibe in the locker room that is cool. There was a time in Ohio where I was starting with Heartland Wrestling Association. The training I got there was phenomenal, top-notch and helped me to get better. At same time, there were a lot of miserable people and backstabbing and trash-talking. It wasn’t the greatest environment. To come to TNA and everyone is cool with each other, for the most part anyway — I can’t think of anybody I have any heat with or they have with me — it’s just a cool environment. I get to do my own thing and be me.”
Drake says there are two sides to himself. In his personal life outside the ring, he keeps to himself and is a man of few words. However, the second the camera is on or he has a microphone in hand, Drake says it’s like he is shot out of cannon.
“I always have something to say,” Drake said. “My whole lure to wrestling wasn’t necessarily the wrestling so much as it was the entertainment aspect, the theatrics, the ridiculous amounts of trash-talking. When I was a kid, one of my favorites was Hulk Hogan. Then you move onto high school and my favorites were Steve Austin and The Rock. Now seeing those two guys, they were the best talkers ever in the business. So I take a lot from both of them in the sense of their personas. It was kind of like, ‘I want to do that.’ It solidified everything for me. It’s those big personas. There is a little bit of Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts in what I do. There is a little bit of Flair in what I do. There is a little bit of Rock. There is a little bit of Austin. All those things come together, and it makes Eli Drake.”
The performer got the chance to work with one of his inspirations, The Rock, on Hero, a reality show competition on TNT. Drake found it hard to get some time with Johnson, who was splitting his time as Hollywood heavyweight and WWE champion. However, when he did, he appreciated it.
“He was coming in, we’d film the show and he would have to go out and do Raw or SmackDown or do movie premiere in Australia,” Drake said. “It was just all over the place — and we were filming in Panama. It was an awesome experience. We did get a chance to bond here and there. It’s funny because I was kind of painted as the bad guy the first couple of episodes. I can remember we did a press junket in Miami and he did an impression of me, which was incredibly flattering. Here was The Rock impersonating me. It was a fun time. It was incredible. He is a good guy and everyone he is surrounded by is a beacon of positivity. It’s fantastic.”
Drake has found his stride in recent months. His confidence continues to grow as the character becomes more defined. The driven competitor finds added motivation in proving WWE missed the boat letting him go.
“I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder because I always believed that I’m very good at what I do,” he said. “I don’t mean that in a boastful or bragging way, but in a sense that I know I have something to offer this business and have had something to offer this business for a long time. It’s just taken the longest time to be seen, be noticed and be out there. If you read the internet it says I got fired from WWE because of an email or this and the other thing. It was three different things. One of them got blown out of proportion. It really didn’t happen the way it said it happened.
“There were just two different personalities between [coach] Bill DeMott and myself. I don’t have a bad thing to say about the guy. It was just between his and my personality, we butted heads a lot. That’s going to happen. We both tried very much to get by and work with that. But eventually it just came to a head and there was nowhere to go with it.”
Drake is moving on from the past, learning from his experiences in the business thus far. He was happy to be part of The Rising upon his debut in TNA, joining familiar faces Drew Galloway and Micah. He found a level of comfort within the group.
Today Drake is paired with Jessie Godderz
“At first I heard people on the internet make comparisons to us,” he said. “At first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this tag team because it’s putting me in the vanity thing. That’s nothing against Jessie, but it has never been my thing. I remember tagging with Brian Cage years back in Championship Wrestling from Hollywood. He is a guy that likes to flex and do all that stuff. I’m not that guy. But I will say that now Jessie and I have been working together it’s been phenomenal. We have this great chemistry and a difference between us that works. Even though we might look similar, as far as personality is concerned, it’s a good chemistry.”
In the singles ranks, his primary rival on television has been the comedic Grado. Their feud escalated during Feast or Fired. Drake secured the title shot briefcase, while Grado was fired. Grado returned to annoy his adversary further as the masked Odarg the Great. Drake enjoyed working with him during TNA’s tour of the United Kingdom.
“You have this whole place going nuts for him, which is a little bit different than the American audience,” he said. “They were losing their minds for him, because it’s his home turf. It was great to have the energy in the room. By the time it was all said and done, we gave the people a hell of a good show.”
Reflecting back on his first year in TNA, Drake believes the first promo he cut after he turned on Galloway to be a highlight. Another was his and Grado’s ‘six sides of steel’ match.
“It was my first-ever cage match,” he said. “In 12 years of wrestling I had never had a cage match. The favorite moment so far might be that cage match with Grado and being able to work there in the Wembley Arena. It was a phenomenal night and an awesome time. People may have a hard time believing that, but it’s true. There was this atmosphere and feeling you can’t describe. It’s wild.
“…I’m very versatile in the sense that in this comedy setting I’m the straight man. That is what makes it work. From there I can continue that normal Eli Drake persona, who is boastful, a jerk. That versatility you can use in any situation. That can be a main event world champion persona or a comedy guy. It makes me a guy that can be used in many different facets. That’s the beauty of having the freedom to just be me.”
Photos Courtesy: TNA Entertainment