In a few short weeks, one of Utah's longest-running pro-wrestling promotions will celebrate a milestone. --- Ultra Championship Wrestling ZERO marks its tenth anniversary, the longest active pro-wrestling promotion in Utah today, and proud members of the National Wrestling Alliance. The company will be honoring the occasion with -- what else? -- a massive wrestling event featuring some of its best talent and some visiting names.
The name Martin Casaus will sound familiar to many pro-wrestling fans, as this past year he was one of the contestants on the WWE reality series Tough Enough. The Utah native had a strong showing and looked to be at least in the finals, if not the winner, but an injury in the ring took him out of competition and off the show. Casaus returned to his home promotion of UCW to help the business grow, and as the anniversary show comes around, he'll be in the ring against his on-screen rival, Luke Robinson. Today, we chat with Casaus about his career here in Utah, becoming co-owner of UCW, his time on Tough Enough and some other random thoughts.
Gavin: Hey, Martin. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Martin: I like long walks on the beach, wearing spandex, and I smile a lot. While these are all true, it would be more appropriate to start by saying I am 27 years old, born and raised in Utah. I grew up in West Jordan, where I played many sports at Juan Diego Catholic high school. I graduated from high school and proceeded to earn a bachelor's degree in business administration and land a job as a stock broker at a financial firm. I bought a home in Saratoga Springs and I am a co-owner of UCW-Zero, where I train and perform as a professional wrestler.
Gavin: What first got you interested in pro wresting, and whowere some of your favorite wrestlers growing up?
Martin: The Monday Night Wars, the moniker given to the TV-ratings battle between WCW and WWF in the late '90s, got me hooked on wrestling. I was a WCW fan through and through and wouldn't even consider watching the WWE/F at the time. I loved the Macho Man, Sting, Flair, and DDP, but my favorite was Goldberg. They often referred to Goldberg’s football background, so I related to him. Goldberg's first match was also one of the first matches I actually remember because it was in Salt Lake City. I was quite upset when I realized the event was taking place in my home state and I did not know about it beforehand. Ironically, Goldberg’s debut in Utah was against a guy named Hugh Morrus, also known as ... my future WWE Tough Enough trainer, Bill DeMott.
Gavin: You had taken part in a lot of sports during high school, but went to get your degree in business administration. Why the shift in degrees rather than pursue sports in college?
Martin: I loved sports. I played football, wrestling, track and lacrosse my senior year. But, out of all the sports I played, I only loved football enough to consider pursuing it beyond high school. Unfortunately, my senior year in high school football, I fractured my collar bone and had to captain the team from the sidelines. After the fracture, I took a second to think about it, and realized football wasn't something I saw myself doing in 10 years. I still received football scholarships, but knowing that no one else in my family had earned a college degree, I decided that education would be more important. I loved saying I was one of the first of my family to get a degree, and I figured that it would be the most beneficial for me in the long run. It has proved to be a fruitful decision and I highly recommend pursuing education to any and everyone who wants to succeed.
Gavin: When did the decision come about for you to formally break into pro wrestling, and what made you decide to go to UCW-Zero for your training?
Martin: The decision to start pro wrestling occurred in July of 2003, when I went to a WWE show with my friend Anita Quintana. I was waiting in line when this buffed-out quiet guy came up and handed me a flyer for his upcoming local professional-wrestling show. This man was Derrick Hubbard and he was promoting his match at UCW-Zero. I put the flyer in my pocket and forgot about it. Needless to say, I missed the match. I really don't remember why I didn't go. Fortunately, I found the flyer later that year on my desk in my room. Once I saw it, learned there was a wrestling school here in Utah, and realized I could actually wrestle somewhere besides my friend’s backyard; I was beyond excited. I called promoter Steve Nielsen and was in the ring for the first time the very next night. I went with my buddy Pete Gallegos, who had wrestled in the backyard and in high school with me. We thought we knew what we were doing because we were good at emulating what we saw on TV in our backyards. We had no idea the complexity and art of this business. Pete became my first opponent, and I soon realized that backyard wrestling is a far cry from what happens in the squared circle.
Gavin: What was it like for you learning the ropes under Derrick Jannetty and Steve Nielson, and developing your technique, performance and skills as a wrestler?
Martin: It was nerve-racking and exciting at the same time. I have always been athletic, so the physical part of it wasn't the hard part. I was shy, and being in a ring was a whole new environment for me. Everyone was very nice to me and coached me through. I just kept my mouth shut, listened, and did what I was told, hoping to soak in anything I could. I met with Steve that first day on a day that there was no formal practice. Since there were only two of us, I was able to get a lot of personal instruction and critique as I learned the basics. Later that week at my first formal practice, I met Derrick. He introduced himself to me and I remember him as the undisputed leader. He was leading the practice and the drills, and when he spoke, it seemed like everyone in the room listened. When I saw him practice, I knew why. He was good -- really good. He is still a leader in the locker room.
Gavin: You originally made your debut as a heel for the UCW owner Stevie Slick. What were your early matches like, and how was it for you performing for the crowds at that time?
Martin: I was thrown into shows really early in my wrestling training. Steve was already established at the time as a bad guy and he was instantly booed -- much hasn't changed. Hence, walking out of the curtain with him made it easy to get an emotional response from the fans. Early on, I really didn't understand what I was doing in the matches. I was taught the concepts, but it was all still new to me. I just knew that I did what I was trained to do and it worked. The fans were booing like crazy. Steve let me know that for a bad guy -- heel -- the boos are just like a good guy -- babyface -- getting cheered but, obviously, much more fun.
Gavin: Over the years, you rose up through the ranks and captured championships in the promotion. How was it for you being given those opportunities to shine and carrying the ball as a title holder?
Martin: I think UCW did it right with me as far as titles. I wasn't ever given a title; I had to work for it. I was never a "right place at the right time" guy. In fact, it was a long time before I even had a shot at a title, especially the heavyweight title. I even like the order in which I received the belts. I first won the tag titles, then earned the Ultra X title, and lastly, became the heavyweight champion. This gave me a respect for each title that I won.
Gavin: What was it like for you capturing the heavyweight title and being given that torch as the main guy of the promotion?
Martin: I believe that when you hold a title, you should be the best at what that title represents, and a representation of what that company stands for. Therefore, when I won the heavyweight title, I did not take it lightly, and saw it as a shot to represent the company as one of the best and as the face of the company. I felt it was on me to represent the company well by having the best matches, being a leader, taking the company to new heights and representing the company well in promotional events. I think any and every champion should feel that way. You want to be able to send your champion anyplace and to any situation knowing that he will carry himself well.
Gavin: Having the years of experience on the indie circuit as it is today, with the NWA affiliations and Ring Of Honor, how hard is it for someone to get over and become popular as an independent talent these days?
Martin: It is not easy at all being successful on the independent scene. Being successful at anything takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Wrestling is no different. There is a lot of working hard for little or no pay. You could wrestle in front of 20 people or you can wrestle in front of hundreds or thousands in the indie scene. You'll most likely lose a lot of money and spend most of your weekends in a car, away from your loved ones, driving to a town where there is a show with an open spot for you on their card. There are a lot of amazing wrestlers on the indie scene, yet there are also alot of the opposite. You do not know what to expect. You have to really work hard, protect yourself, study the craft, be passionate, and always be a fan. Bret Hart --1991-1994 WWF champion -- told me that was one of the most important things to remember. That concept stays true whether you are in the crowd or the guy headlining Wrestlemania. Always be a fan.
Gavin: Prior to 2011, did you make any moves to branch out onto the national scene and join one of the minor promotions, or were you comfortable working the Utah territory?
Martin: I did branch out. I actually started traveling the country in 2008. Steve, myself and a few of the guys went down to NWA Hollywood in California. It was a great learning experience and gave a few of the guys and me some television time. I continued to work with them and that started my traveling bug. I think to be a real professional wrestler you need to branch away from your comfort zone and wrestle as many times as you can, with people better than you, in different territories than you're used to being in. Traveling gave me the opportunity to see and experience amazing things. I have made a lot of great friends and had great matches with some of the same people I used to see on television. I have learned an incredible amount by traveling and I continue to travel today.
Gavin: What made you decide to tryout for Tough Enough, and what was your audition for the show like?
Martin: I was still debating whether I was going to tryout or not when I received an e-mail on Facebook. It was supposedly from a producer of Tough Enough. He said that I was on the WWE radar and they wanted to make sure I put in my application and paperwork. I thought he was pranking me, so at first I didn't respond back. Then the "what if" thought came in my mind and I contacted him. He had me do an audition tape to show my personality and send some pictures. After that, there was about a million and a half interviews over the phone before they ever sent me to California to audition. They sent the final 30 contestants to California for final cuts and more tests. There were a lot of psychological tests, physical tests, and bloodwork test. It was tedious but exciting.
Gavin: When you were picked to be on the show, what were your thoughts about the show's history and WWE at that time?
Martin: I freaked out when I was picked! I really never saw any of the other Tough Enough shows so I had nothing to compare it to. I ended up buying the Million Dollar Challenge version of Tough Enough on DVD and watching that. This current season was very different from previous versions of the show. I just had the thought in my head to train my butt off to be able to handle the physicality. I never even thought of it as "I am going to be on international TV!" I just saw it as a chance to make the WWE. I didn't realize the impact of the show until watching it on air and seeing the fans react. People from so many countries watched WWE Tough Enough and saw me do what I love -- wrestle. It is a great feeling.
Gavin: From the looks of the show, you appeared to be the top contender all the way until your injury. Reality-show footage aside, what was the real experience for you being in that house and training with Steve Austin?
Martin: That mansion was amazing, and if you weren't focused on why you were in that house, it probably could have been easy to treat it as a five-star vacation. There was nonstop food, drink, liquor, beautiful scenery, a hot tub, etc. I know from hanging with some of the cast members after the show that these people knew how to have a good time. However, me and every person there really took it seriously. We knew the mansion was for the show, and I am sure I speak for the rest of the cast when I say I would have done the show even if we were in a one-bedroom hut with boxes to sleep in. We were there for a goal, and watching us were some of the biggest stars of the industry. We had to answer to them if we weren't performing. None of the trainers, including Steve Austin, really came into the house just to mingle with us. Steve Austin and John Cena did have dinner with us, and I know Trish talked to the ladies, but there wasn't much mingling and relax time with them.
Gavin: You already had years of experience, and at this point are now a co-owner of UCW. What did you learn from WWE training that you didn't already learn from prior experience?
Martin: The importance of the little things is a big thing I learned. A lot of the independent circuit just mimic what they see on TV and don't understand why they do it. Booker T harped on the concept a lot. The smallest things such as a grimace or the way you turn while wrestling makes so much difference between ticket sales and people catching a movie instead of seeing you. We are selling believability, and going through the motions is not going to cut it.
Gavin: It's not entirely clear on camera, but you ended up out with a fracture. What caused the injury and how was the recovery for you after leaving the show?
Martin: I have watched the footage of the injury literally hundreds of times, and at every speed you can think of. Me and my doctor, who was working on my ankle rehab, cannot explain what happened. We can guess, but all that they would be is guesses. My ankle wasn't twisted, rushed, or put in any kind of position where it was in danger or even had a reason to sustain an injury. Yet it happened. I ended up needing surgery and having two metal pins permanently put in my ankle. I hated the recovery. I was on crutches for what felt like forever. I have always been an active person, so sitting there doing ankle exercises on the couch was not my idea of happiness after WWE Tough Enough. I relied a lot on friends and I appreciate them for it. The recovery process was long and painful but I feel better than ever now. I think I grew up a lot. I learned to not be upset and worry yourself with things that are out of your control. I couldn’t go back in time and stop myself from fracturing my ankle, but I could stay positive and use it as mental ammo to come back stronger, and that’s just what I did. I believe very strongly in the power of a person’s mind, setting goals, positivity, and work ethic. As long as these attitudes are in check, a person can achieve anything.
Gavin: After leaving and watching the show develop, do you believe Andy was the right choice or do you believe you would have won had you not been injured?
Martin: I really do not think Andy was the right choice. He was a nice guy, it seemed; he really didn't talk to anyone much. Yet, I don't think he did anything on the show to constitute him winning it. Yes, there are varying opinions of Luke. I believe, though, that Luke was the right choice when it came down to the finale. I thought the whole time that it was going to come down to Luke and myself in the end. At that point, it was up to the judge and executioner, Stone Cold Steve Austin. It didn't end up that way, but I believe everything happens for a reason. I can’t change the past, but I can control what happens now and I am doing that.
Gavin: A few of the contestants who didn't win are now working with the WWE, including some who were cut early and didn't get as far as you did. But you haven't been included in that group, and a number of critics believe both you and Luke should be. What's your status with WWE today and do you see yourself going to work for them in the future?
Martin: I still have talks with WWE talent relations, Steve Austin, and Bill DeMott, and keep them updated on things. All I can do at this point is improve myself physically and in the ring and be ready if they make the call. I can definitely see myself working there. That's the dream. I have a great life now with many other opportunities in it, so I’m not going to be in a gutter somewhere if the call doesn't happen. My life will be amazing in either case. Yet it's been, and always will be, the dream to stand on the biggest stage of them all.
Gavin: Your exposure has helped out UCW a lot and brought more attention to the local territory and other organizations here. How has it been for you to see that change of pace and attendance?
Martin: It’s great to see added attention on UCW. It is basically where I grew up in the ring and in life in general. I love seeing people go to shows who are WWE Tough Enough fans. The reaction I get here is great and I am proud of it. I will always try and give them the best show I possibly can. I just hope as a company we can capitalize on the extra attention and the 10-year anniversary show coming up. We have great opportunity for people to see us, and as a business we need to take advantage.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on being a part of UCW-Zero for most of its existence and watching it grow to this point?
Martin: I feel proud to be part of this organization for most of its existence. I feel like I have been there through the company's good and bad times and watched the company grow up as much as it has watched me do the same. I have seen many people come and go and am glad to have made such great friends doing this. My life would be so different today if it wasn't for this company. I feel like a family member with those who have been in UCW the longest -- a crazy and dysfunctional family, but a family, nonetheless. I have made awesome friendships with the likes of Steve Nielsen, Ricardo Aguayo and his family, Ryan Roghaar, Derrick Hubbard, Will Severance, Neil Stewart, Michael Thorsted, and so many others. Many of my friends no longer take the bumps in the ring, but still remain great friends. I feel blessed to be a part of this team and family. I think this 10-year show marks a great accomplishment in Utah wrestling, and also a great opportunity for us to remember where we have been and what got us here.
Gavin: There are other organizations in the state, and the old territory system is how small companies became big outfits like Extreme Championship Wrestling and Ring Of Honor Wrestling. Has the prospect of expanding or merging with another company come to mind, or are you comfortable where you are as a company?
Martin: I think if you are too comfortable with something that is when you become stagnant and complacent. I think no matter how good anything in your life is you should try and make it better. UCW-Zero is in a great spot, but we are always looking for new opportunities for growth in all areas.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and UCW-Zero over the rest of the year?
Martin: You can expect great things. From a company standpoint, I hope we are able to capitalize on the 10-year anniversary show bringing in new fans, students and sponsors to the promotion. Only time will tell our effectiveness in doing this. I hope we continue adapting and growing until I see the 20th anniversary of UCW bringing professional wrestling to Utah. As for me personally, I will continue to work hard and control what I can control in my life. No matter what happens in the future, I have a great life right now. I have been lucky enough to have done and experienced things people only dream about. But, as I mentioned before, I don't want to stop moving forward. I am going to continue to make things happen, and I fully believe that attitude is everything. You can make the most impossible things happen with the right attitude and work ethic
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Martin: The obvious would be to get your butts down to The Complex (536 W. 100 South) on March 31 for the UCW-Zero 10-Year Anniversary Show. This celebrates 10 years of wrestling in Utah for UCW and I am proud to say that I am a part of it. Also, if you ever thought about getting into a ring yourself, I fully encourage giving UCW-Zero a call. My life would be so different if I hadn't, and I’m glad I made that call. Call us at (801) 699-7977, message us on Twitter, or hit up the UCW-Zero website. Mostly, I want to thank those who have been there supporting me -- my friends, family, and fans. We have been from backyards to basements, to WWE Raw and to Wrestlemania, and it's been an amazing ride. There have been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that have gone to making this dream come true and we have accomplished alot. However, there is still a lot more to do ... a lot more. Keep in touch with me and message me via my Twitter, my personal Facebook, and my Facebook fanpage.
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