The relationship between the company and one of its most beloved stars has been strained, so fans were shocked when Cabana reemerged at ROH’s Supercard of Honor X events in Dallas.
“They’ve been reaching out to me ever since they did a changing of the guard,” Cabana explained.
“I turned them down a bunch of times because I wasn’t happy with the way it all went down in the past. I had been a part of the promotion for so long, but with the new management, that idea was kind of overlooked. Then as I was kind of let go, I felt like I had made so much movement. I was in all these national articles. I was on billboards. I had all this cool stuff happening for me, which I thought would lend greatly to a promotion like Ring of Honor.
“So everything left a chip on my shoulder. I wanted to do things my own way at that point. So, after years and years, they kept asking. The chip kind of went away here and there. I realized that it was time to let bygones be bygones and move forward in a positive way for my career. When I made that decision, it was then we started putting it together.”
For Cabana, ROH has changed some since the last time he was a part of the locker room.
“It’s more of a machine,” he said.
“It seems more corporately organized. Back when I was there, it was Cary [Silkin] and he had people helping him out. Instead of a mom-and-pop sort of organization, there is a bit more money there. It’s somewhat stable for the guys, which is nice. It’s not about the money for me though. I’m doing okay for myself. It’s about great wrestling. Great wrestling seems to still be there. There are a lot of great wrestlers there and a lot of great talent. There have always been the guys who have been overlooked. A lot of those guys out there are in Ring of Honor with chips on their shoulders and feel they have something to prove. It’s a competitive atmosphere.”
Serious conversations began toward the end of 2015. Now Cabana finds his career coming full circle, revisiting a place where he made a name for himself. He comes back with a world of experience and a brand he built from the ground up. Even with all he has done, Cabana found walking through the ROH curtain again to be a unique experience.
“I’ve been in a real good position for basically five years, and the podcast movement happened. I have been not only able to ride that wave, but be one of the originators of it,” Cabana said.
“I have had a lot of great success. Everything has been going alright for me, so this was the first time in a long time where it was a real change-up. Not that I doubted myself, but it was something different and out of my norm. A lot of that was going into my head before I went out there. I was stoked. I had feelings I hadn’t had in a long time. I had fun butterflies. I had fun feelings inside of me and emotions I can’t explain.
“When I came out, I knew in my head it would be a great reaction. However, it’s nice for it to happen the way it did. It was less of a promo and more of a statement. I had a lot of things to get off my chest and get out of my head that I wanted to get out there. That’s what makes the best wrestling is the reality of a situation. This was very real, and I think it meant for a memorable night and more memories to come forward.”
Cabana, known for his humor and fun-loving personality, took advantage of the moment. He truly spoke from the heart and didn’t waste any time in making his intentions known: he was gunning for Jay Lethal and the ROH championship. Since he began with the company in 2002, it’s the one title that he hasn’t won. The proud Chicagoan looks to make history before a hometown crowd as he challenges Lethal for the gold 8 p.m. ET Sunday, May 8 at Global Wars on pay-per-view.
“I have been a wrestler there for many years and have done many main events,” Cabana said.
“I have done matches with CM Punk. I’ve done matches with Dragon, Austin Aries, all these guys. I’ve proven I could hold my end of the bargain on a big show. This is something that has eluded me my whole career and I’ve had this great, long, successful career and Ring of Honor is where a lot of it started for me. I’ve watched a lot of guys reach the top of the promotion. Not that there was any jealousy or anything, but when you look back on it and realize that it was something I wasn’t able to achieve.
“Now I have this opportunity with this invite back. Now I feel I hold more cards than I did before. I have a better hand this time. Part of that is willing to go into the main event and fight for the title with a lot going for me. This is going to be the crowning achievement of my career at this point.”
At one point the lifelong fan saw a big dream realized. It was 2007, and he officially signed with WWE. However, it became clear to Cabana the decision-makers didn’t have much for him. As a result, nothing of substance came of his two years there, which was disappointing. The perception of developmental and the company’s mindset for talent in general has evolved since his absence. WWE has come to embrace those who had established names and legitimate experience outside the universe —like a Cabana.
“It is crazy how times have changed,” he said.
“When I was there, it was so taboo. There were so many people who were made fun of, looked down upon for wanting to be road warriors. I don’t mean Hawk and Animal, but guys interested in traveling and wrestling as much as possible. It was frowned upon for so many years. I guess it’s nice that they are able to change with times. They are a little late, but it’s good they are changing with the times. It’s sad for many who were made to have a harder road, but that hard road sometimes makes for the best stories for a lot of these guys. And you are seeing it now.
“There are all these guys who fought through the hard road for over a decade, but because they chose to be the journeymen or chose the independent wrestling lifestyle, there was the thought they may not make it to a higher level. As the years go by, you look at a guy like Samoa Joe or Sami Zayn or Kevin Owens or Austin Aries. They accepted they wouldn’t make it to a bigger place in their career by taking that crazy road. Then because times have changed, you look at where they are now. And it’s pretty cool.”
Cabana never let his WWE time sway him from continuing to pursue other opportunities. He has since flourished working for a variety of promotions from around the world. The drive remains to get his name out there. A great vehicle for this has been his successful “Art of Wrestling” podcast, which is approaching 300 episodes. Despite not having the backing of a major company, he managed to draw an audience and win over listeners. Even today when it seems everyone has a show, Cabana endures.
“It is fun because the podcast has been going for so long — almost six years,” Cabana said.
“There are a lot of guys people didn’t know at the time, and now you look back at the shows with them. There are a lot of guys who were on before they were superstars like Pac (Neville), even Seth Rollins and Cesaro. But I’m not looking for top interviews with people necessarily. I’m looking to show this weird lifestyle that involves going out and trying to do what we do and the sacrifices you make. It’s why we do what we do, as opposed to just getting the top stars. Everyone has a story, and I want to get it out there.”
Cabana appreciates the conversations with his eclectic mix of wrestlers from the past and present. One of his favorite experiences the host had was his sit down with respected veteran Johnny Saint.
“He is a hero of mine,” Cabana said.
“I remember being there with Johnny Saint and Sara Del Rey in a car. Somehow the podcast came up, and Sara knew I wanted him on. She helped guide me to asking him. He said he would do whatever. I was like, ‘Oh my God. This is amazing.’ Then all of a sudden I got to talk to him about everything I’ve ever wanted to talk to him about, and I’m allowed to do it because I have these microphones. Otherwise it can be weird with me just hitting him with these rapid fire questions. That was such a special moment. There have been so many over the years. Every one of them for a different reason, too.”
With ROH back in his rotation, Cabana is as busy as ever. Fans can find him doing comedy and commentary shows with comedian Marty DeRosa. He is also gearing up for another year participating in the Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show. Cabana is excited for the upcoming release of the third installment of his documentary “Wrestling Road Diaries” series. Called “Funny Equals Money,” the project follows the adventures of Cabana with fellow funny grapplers Grado and Kikutaro.
Given his resume and job history, you can see his influences — Marc Maron, Chris Hardwick, Patton Oswalt and Zach Galifianakis — shine through.
“These are independent comedians who didn’t have a platform early on and found it,” Cabana said.
“That’s what I try to do in the wrestling world.”
- Watch Ring of Honor at midnight ET Wednesdays on Comet TV or in syndication via Sinclair Broadcasting affiliates. The company also recently announced a new partnership with Fight Network in Canada, which will air ROH 11 p.m. ET Tuesdays beginning April 26.
- Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN.