INTERVIEW: Kevin Ku, One of the Best Independent Wrestlers in the World


Originally published on Fanbyte on December 8, 2021

Featured image by @itsomgjess

When Kevin Ku enters the Zoom call, he’s wearing an American Dragon hoodie. No shock, he and I share the same favorite wrestler. In fact, the first time I had the opportunity to interact with Kevin Ku online was when he volunteered to be a talking head on my “Bryan Danielson is the Greatest Wrestler of All Time” video essay in April 2020.

At the time, Kevin Ku was already a big name on the indies, as one half of Violence is Forever alongside Dominic Garrini. In the time since, he signed with Major League Wrestling, becoming a regular part of their programming as part of the Team Filthy stable, while also remaining one of the most sought-after independent wrestlers in the world.

For my money, Kevin Ku might just be the best wrestler on the independents today. He’s the kind of worker that’s been everywhere, wrestled so many of the best names, and done a little bit of everything—whether it’s his excellent tag work or his recent run of great singles matches, babyface or heel.

From the Front Yard to the Stage

As with so many of his contemporaries, Ku can trace his time in the ring today to experimenting as a backyard wrestler in his youth.

“It was in [my buddy’s] front yard, so it wasn’t even his backyard, it was just his front yard at the end of the cul-de-sac,” says Ku. “Every day after class, we would just go out there, and we didn’t even film it because we didn’t care enough.”

As a member of the Heritage Oakes Wrestling Federation—so named for the neighborhood they held their shows in—Kevin Ku days spent with his friends, watching them bump on a trampoline or through makeshift skate boxes covered in jagged bits of nail and metal. As for Ku himself, he paid tribute to one of the greats in his time with HOWF.

“I insisted on my finisher being the Batista Bomb. That’s what I insisted on the entire time. And I did it really shittily where it looked like I was going to blow out my knees every time. I had to do it as an homage to the man.”

Ku didn’t go straight from the backyard to the wrestling school as others did, however. Instead, Kevin Ku’s path led him to spend most of his early adulthood on another defining passion of his: music. After being a regular at local and shows concerts throughout his youth, Ku began becoming an actual part of those shows at the age of 16.

“But that was just like local punk bands, we just played local shows. But when I started actually touring and stuff like that, I was probably like 18 or 19 when I left high school.”

“The biggest tour I did was a 3-week West Coast tour with Social Distortion, Frank Turner, and this UK band called Sharks. That was super cool because me and my buddy that I usually did the tours with, we started in Vegas, which was a terrible idea because we flew there two days early and pretty much spent all our money before the tour started. So we started from even more zero than we usually would have.”

Ku wore many different hats on the road. He worked as a tour manager, helping book shows and venues for a variety of different artists. He helped design and sell merch, and when any friends needed an extra hand, he even got to play bass on stage.

“I’d only toured like playing like once or twice I think. It was a local band from where I live currently in Nashville called Courtesy Drop, and it was a really cool punk band.”

In many ways, Ku’s time on the road doing music prepared him for the travel-heavy, do-it-yourself world of independent wrestling. It also meant that while he maintained a healthy interest in professional wrestling—even regularly attending BEYOND, Wrestling Is, and Chaotic Wrestling shows in the Boston area—Ku didn’t begin formally training as a wrestler until he turned 25.

“Quite honestly, I think it helped me a lot as far as mentally goes, because I pretty much had lived a life before that with touring and music. So I was, I guess, a little bit more grown up so I could take people yelling at me and stuff like that.”

Ku trained at the New England Pro Wrestling Academy, where he received tutelage from a who’s who of the local pro wrestling scene. He learned to take his first bump from Max Smashmaster of the Devastation Corporation tag team, spent most of his days training under Ivar of The Viking Raiders, and even received training from major independent stars like Eddie Edwards and Tommaso Ciampa who came by the facility.

Though Ku might not have realized it at the time, it seems fortuitous that so many of the wrestlers that helped mold early on were those that had extensive experience in tag team wrestling.

Wrestling With Logistics

One of Ku’s most notable accomplishments early in his career was his role backstage with Southern Underground Pro. Founded in 2017, SUP continues to be one of the most enduring fixtures of the American independent scene, especially in the south. The promotion has helped raise the stock of wrestlers like AJ Gray, Allie Katch, Brett Ison, Marko Stunt, and more.

Even with his experience as a tour manager though, Ku found that helping promote wrestling brought along its own unique set of challenges.

“Man, it was a headache. I booked shows, concerts and stuff like that too, but you’re just dealing with two to three bands. And with a wrestling show, you’re dealing with like twenty to thirty different wrestlers maybe at a time. Luckily, I have and had a lot of help with running that stuff and doing stuff.”

The company recently celebrated its first show back with fans after shutting down due to the pandemic. Ku main evented by successfully defending the Tag Titles alongside Garrini.

“It’s still a massive headache between getting a ring rental; making sure the building is okay; now during the COVID-era, making everybody has a negative test or has their vaccination card for me,” says Ku. “But after the show, I would be so happy because it’s always a good time. It’s a show where I get to hang out with my friends and just have a good time.”

Violence Is Forever

Towards the end of 2018, Kevin Ku’s career took on a whole new trajectory. After spending the first few years of his career making waves a singles star in promotions like Black Label Pro, Pro Wrestling Freedom, and Southern Underground Pro, Ku would form the tag team to be known as Violence is Forever alongside his good friend Dominic Garrini.

“It was kind of a necessity thing because we looked at the general landscape of professional wrestling and we noticed that there wasn’t like a lot of actual, true tag teams that wanted to do that full time. And we didn’t have any egos about ourselves where we were like, well we have to be singles people. We just wanted to do what was best for wrestling at that point and for us at that point, and that was being a tag team.”

Seeing a gap in the market, Ku and Garrini sought to revitalize a style of tag team wrestling that incorporated an eye for the finer details of tag team wrestling with the kind of hard-hitting physical wrestling that they loved so much.

“[Dom and I] think very similarly about what we want in professional wrestling and what our ideas of what professional wrestling should be. We both grew up watching a lot of early 2000s Ring of Honor,” says Ku. “I think that’s what helps drive us a lot because that’s the style we feel like popularized what wrestling is now. And we just want that to not be forgotten.”

Among the team’s greatest influences is the reDRagon tag team of Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish, especially from their tag run in ROH in the mid to late 2010s.

“There was just something about them where all the strikes were so crisp and it just seemed like they were just always on the same page no matter what, as far as their big combo moves go.”

The decision to become a tag team on the independent scene came with a fresh batch of challenges for Ku and Garrini. For one, both lived in separate states, a full eight-hour drive away from each other. This meant that in-ring training as a team is difficult to come by.

“So it’s a lot of texting, sometimes we’ll have phone calls. We’ll just send each other back and forth, different matches or ideas and stuff like that.”

At the same time, the distance between Ku and Garrini also presented a commercial challenge to them. Convincing promoters to pay for two separate workers from two different states just for a tag team match is an uphill climb. This placed added pressure on Violence is Forever to prove their worth as a team worth booking. Because of that, they tried to make the best of the opportunities given to them.

“We got to wrestle Aussie Open, [and] the Workhorsemen so much. That happened really, really quickly where I want to say we weren’t ready for it. Mentally we were but as far as like our tag team career, we definitely weren’t ready for those opportunities there but I’m so, so grateful that people were able to give that to us. And we wouldn’t be where we are now without those opportunities.”

The match against Aussie Open played a vital role in the development of Violence is Forever as a tag team. Taking place on the April 10, 2019 edition of BEYOND Uncharted Territory, the match is a fun bout filled with a lot of big bombs. A breezy enough opener for an indie wrestling show, but one that comes across a little more fleeting and insubstantial that one might want. Especially in the middle of the match, there’s a formlessness that stands out.

“The match was good, I liked it. It’s definitely not the best match that we could have had and we learned a lot from it,” says Ku. “I just feel like we weren’t on our game.”

Ku mentions that at points in the match, he could feel that things weren’t going quite as well as they could have. He credits his opponents for their graciousness after the fact as they passed on their knowledge to the fledgling tag team.

“[Mark Davis & Kyle Fletcher] really sat down and like talked to us about what we want out of tag team wrestling and what we need to do to prepare for larger matches like that,” says Ku. “The big thing that stuck with me was they told us that we need to figure out what tag moves are going to be our signature moves. Just like in a video game. What are you going to be able to do every single match, no matter what opponent, and what are you going to be able to do very well every single time?”

This advice made Ku & Garrini put a stronger emphasis on tape study, so they could better plan out matches in the future. They took the advice given to them by Davis & Fletcher and made sure to find which of their spots remained the most versatile.

“We started to put different parts of our tag moves in different parts of our match. If you really watch all our matches, we kind of do the same moves throughout all of them but they’re all just in different places.”

By the time Violence is Forever got booked to do a multiple match series with the Workhorsemen—Anthony Henry & JD Drake—for Black Label Pro, Ku felt that they had come into their own as a team.

“We learned a lot from Drake and Henry, and we just kind of consider them our wrestle-dads at this point as far as tag team wrestling goes cause they just taught us so much and they were just so helpful with every aspect of our career.”

Ku & Garrini have since become the preeminent name in tag team wrestling on the independent scene. They’ve taken their talents abroad to Germany as part of the infamous 2019 wXw World Tag Team Festival. They’re two-time winners of the IWTV Independent Wrestling Tag Team of the Year Award. They also still hold both the SUP Tag Team Championships and the BLP Tag Team Championships.

A Rising Singles Star

On June 19, 2021, Dominic Garrini announced that he would be taking an indefinite amount of time off from in-ring competition. This meant that for the first time since the inception of Violence is Forever, Kevin Ku had the opportunity to truly focus his efforts on his singles career.

“Quite honestly, it’s the best I’ve ever felt as a professional wrestler,” says Ku. “I always had different doubts like can I really do this at my age? Am I able to perform? Am I able to produce with these different types of people that are coming in that are just so good right out the gate? But now I really feel like that I can produce a quality match with literally anyone that’s out there.”

Even before Garrini announced his injury, Ku had already begun building a strong catalog of singles performances through early 2021. The first match that sparked a new confidence in his abilities as a singles worker came against Fred Yehi at ACTION Eyes on the Throne on February 12th.

“Fred is a guy who’s really, really good, and if you’re not on your game with him, he can eat you alive. And that’s not a knock on him, that’s just how he is. He’s super forward and he’s really good. I feel like I hung in there with him rather well. So after that is when I really feel like I started to click things.”

From there, Ku went from strength-to-strength as a singles wrestler. He had a prolific WrestleMania weekend which included an excellent Limitless World Championship match against Daniel Garcia. From there, he’s had great singles bouts against the likes of Kevin Blackwood, Matt Makowski, and Bryan Keith in various promotions.

To complement his singles run this year, Ku made sure to keep his body in the shape it needed to be to excel.

“I buckled down, I paid for an app that told me [how much I need to eat]. Once I started to do that, in the first four months, I think I lost like twenty pounds. Once I started to do that, I just felt so nice and crisp and good in the ring. It was obviously a confidence boost.”

On top of priming his body for peak physical performance, Ku has also adjusted his mindset entering each match. Where in the past, he took an intuitive approach to wrestling, now he approaches matches with a far more meticulous and thoughtful method.

“Tag team wrestling really made me watch these people because it’s two different personalities on the other side, so you kind of have to really hone in on that stuff,” says Ku. “So now I really super watch every opponent that I have, no matter how far in advanced they are.”

Now, Ku keeps notes on ideas for every upcoming opponent he has on his schedule. Ku credits the habit of studying tape on his opponents before every match to Daniel Makabe, a man he wrestled for SUP in January 2020. Ku and Makabe often discuss their ideas about upcoming matches, spending lengthy conversations discussing match structure.

“He’s never had a boring match to me,” says Ku of Makabe. “All of his matches are different, all of his matches are interesting.”

Ku has also been honing his skills through his time as a part of Major League Wrestling. It’s at MLW that Ku learned how to adapt his pro wrestling to game to a much more controlled environment. It taught him how to capture his essence as a character and adapt that to the need of the promotion’s storylines. It also made him much more aware of his physical surroundings in the ring, whether that mean noticing camera placement or reacting to the crowd at ringside.

“I was used to being so hyper-focused in the ring where I forgot everyone else around me,” says Ku. “But now I’m very much present in the real world where like if somebody says something to me four rows down, I’ll hear them and I’ll say something to them even if I’m still wrestling.”

As the year winds down, Ku finds himself as one of the most prolific and consistently excellent wrestlers on the independents today. Despite this, his goals with regards to wrestling remain simple.

“The main goal is to make a comfortable living in wrestling no matter what area it is. If I’m trainer somewhere, or if I’m in the ring, that’s my ultimate goal. But I don’t want to sacrifice any moral compass or the fact that I love wrestling and have fun doing it for that. I always told myself, the second I stop having fun in wrestling is when I’m done.”

Still, as someone who enjoys travelling and discovering new places, there’s much left for Ku to do. One day, he’d like to wrestle in South Korea, in honor of his heritage; Japan, though he admits his tattoos might pose a problem with that goal; and even a return to Europe.

No matter where he goes though, there’s one thing he’s always on the hunt for: good coffee.

His pinned tweet on his Twitter account asks for coffee places America that he might visit while travelling to wrestle. When visiting any of these coffee places for the first time, he always orders either a cold brew or an iced Americano. If he’s a little more comfortable and feeling adventurous, he goes for a flavored latte.

“If you’re ever in Tampa, there’s a place called King State,” says Ku, when asked for recommendations. “It’s one of my favorite coffee places I’ve been to in the country. I got to go there for Tampa [WrestleMania weekend], that was really cool.”

So if Kevin Ku’s ever in your town for a cup of coffee, try to catch him at a show. You’ll be watching one of the best independent wrestlers in the world today.

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