They say that the quiet guys are the most dangerous. Dominic Garrini certainly fits that description.
Coming up in the ranks of Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), his “mouth shut, ears open” approach to professional wrestling saw him establish his name early in 2016 during his rookie year. He is smart, polite, and very hungry. With an impressive array of opponents and territories already under his belt, Garrini is on a trajectory for success in the world of professional wrestling.
Super No Bueno: Describe your background in martial arts?
Dominic Garrini: My background in martial arts began during my junior year of high school. I was a big fan of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and I’d always hear Joe Rogan (UFC announcer, comedian, podcaster) go on about how the best base for MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) was amateur wrestling. So, I started wrestling my junior year. (I had a coaching change going into my senior year where I would end up being coached by Brian Dolph a D1 NCAA National Champion at Indiana and an alternate at the 2000 Olympic Games.)
Make no lies, I was awful at amateur wrestling. But, I always came back and was willing to learn. This allowed me to start coaching on the staff after I graduated. While at the Ohio state wrestling tournament in 2009, I had the chance to meet Olympic gold medalist, and now UFC fighter, Henry Cejudo. I spoke with him about wanting to start jiu-jitsu. He willed me into it. I stepped through the doors of East Coast Martial Arts almost nine years ago and have never left.
When I began training, I was doing so just as an attempt to learn to do MMA, but over time I fell in love with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and the competition aspect of it. My coach Chad Kuhn never pushed me to compete but always encouraged it. And when we hooked up with Mark Vives out of New Breed Training Center in Chicago, I jumped full steam into BJJ training. Between the years of 2009 and 2015, I’ve probably had over 200 competitive jiu-jitsu fights. I competed in the Pan Ams and World Championships and any other tournaments I could. Overall, I was extremely successful. At one point I even obtained a Top 10 ranking in the world in no-gi. Though at some point in 2015, I just didn’t feel like competing anymore and was a little burnt out. So during that off-time, I delved into something I loved prior to the UFC: pro wrestling. That’s why I’m here now. However, I still actively train in BJJ on a weekly basis.
Are there similarities between training for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and professional wrestling?
Similarities are there for sure, such as rolls. Coming into the AIW (Absolute Intense Wrestling) Academy, I already knew how to do things such as quarter rolls and break falls due to my time in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Coming from many years of BJJ, my cardio is a stronger than someone who just comes off the streets and wants to wrestle. Wrestling is all about picking guys up and moving them. This is very similar to BJJ.
There are also differences. Obviously, staying off your back is something that is preached in wrestling since if your shoulder blades hit the mat you are losing, so adjusting to trying to keep one’s shoulder’s up is something different. Additionally, wrestling is about working with an able and cooperative opponent, as opposed to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu where you are working with someone who doesn’t want to give an inch. This was easier for me since I do a lot of “flow” rolling where myself and a partner will trade positions to try and work into situations and practice moves. Lastly, during most of a BJJ match, you try to keep a blank expression on your face so as to not tell your opponent what may hurt you or be a weakness, whereas pro wrestling is all facials. You have to show that struggle, triumph, and heartbreak at all times.
BJJ/MMA fans and wrestling fans often have an open animosity toward one another. Since you straddle both worlds, how does that affect you?
That’s actually funny. It’s split. A good portion of my friends from BJJ love it and support me. They know that wrestling is “fake,” though they love the idea of the art form and that I’m using it to spread the knowledge of BJJ. I do know that some people wonder when I’m going to quit that “fake” stuff and compete again. Though I think with guys like Matt Riddle, Tom Lawlor, Jon Kermon (NOVA Pro) and myself we’re trying to show both audiences that what we do can be fun, awesome, and violent in its own way.
The first break in your young career occurred at the 2016 JT Lightning Invitational Tournament (JLIT) when you were called in on hours’ notice to replace Tyson Dux who was to face “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams. It is a terrific piece of business. What was your mindset entering the ring that night?
I had the chance to meet Tracy a few shows before this. I knew of Tracy’s background, having done some BJJ in the past and being a huge fan of his work. We discussed BJJ and the idea of involving it into wrestling. After we’d had a few conversations, I considered him a friend and someone I looked up to. I went to Wrestlemania weekend in Dallas, and two matches stuck out to me: Zack Sabre Jr. vs Matt Riddle and Tracy Williams vs Matt Riddle. I set myself a goal to work all three of those guys by the two-year mark of my career. So, when I gave (John) Thorne (AIW co-owner) Billy Gunn’s merchandise money and he asked me if I had my gear (young wrestlers lesson #1 always have your gear), I said “Yeah. Why?” He goes, “You’re wrestling “Hot Sauce,” get downstairs.” To put you in my head, here I am literally three months after my debut getting ready to wrestle a guy that I had a goal to wrestle. Needless to say, I was intimidated by the idea but welcomed the challenge. Johnny Gargano (NXT star, AIW head trainer) saw me come downstairs and said “You’re working Sauce? Just listen to him and have fun.” At that moment all fears/doubts left my head.
How do you view the match in hindsight?
It was only my second singles match ever, and I still love it. It was a little of everything that I like in my pro wrestling. It was a fight with stiff shots, we traded submissions, and we threw in just a tinge of pro wrestling. As well, it allowed me and Tracy to build a bond. I consider him one of my “wrestling dads” and, with Johnny (Gargano) of NXT, I often seek comments/criticisms from him.
One thing that thoroughly impresses me is your unabashed drive. In addition to wrestling for AIW, Beyond, IWA Mid-South, Alpha-1 and IWC, you recently worked Alex Daniels in Dearborn for EVOLVE. How did that match come to be?
The match came about as nothing more than an opportunity. I had participated in two previous EVOLVE tryout camps. One in Joppa, MD. last August, and one in Orlando this year during Wrestlemania weekend. Gabe Sapolsky (EVOLVE booker) knew of me through them and took interest starting with the Joppa try out last year. I thought I had what may have been one of the worst matches I’ve been a part of to date. It was so bad that I secluded myself to the back and waited until everyone had gotten comments and criticisms from Tracy Williams and Drew Gulak, as well as Gabe. All three thought it wasn’t my normal personality and noticed that I was different. Though I was only six months into my career, I wasn’t really ready for EVOLVE just yet.
I set myself a goal to attend the tryout WrestleMania weekend in Orlando. Gabe said he was impressed with me once again, but wanted to see a few cosmetic changes. However, he said that the world is mine to take.
So that brings us to Dearborn. I originally wasn’t going to do the tryout because I had just done one a month prior and knew what I needed to improve upon, but Alex Daniels was going to this one. About two weeks before the tryout, I wished him luck. Then I got an email from WWN (World Wrestling Network) saying that the best tryout match will be put on the Evolve show that night. I was extremely confident that Alex and I could have the best match because of our chemistry and the fact that we’ve developed a traveling match that we can put on in any promotion. Alex and I went on first, did our “Hot 5” as we call it, and got chosen to be on the show.
What is it like performing under the watchful eye of Gabe Sapolsky, who is arguably the premier evaluator of young talent of the last two decades?
It’s a great opportunity to get the chance to work with someone like Gabe. He’s been around since almost the advent of ECW and has seen some of the best talents of the last 20 years perform. So getting to work in front the man who is responsible for the wrestling I loved when I was fifteen was amazing.
Did you get any feedback, notes, advice after the match?
Gabe gave me feedback after the match, for sure. He was very adamant about facial expressions. Look at how he used to edit ROH (Ring of Honor) DVDs, so much of it was focused on the expressions of guys. He also spoke with me about how he feels my style is unique and allows me to bring something new and different to the table.
On Night 1 of AIW’s JLIT 2017, you squared off with ECW legend “Little Guido.” You two went toe-to-toe in a far more technical match than I was expecting. What is Guido like as an opponent?
Guido was one of the guys I most wanted the opportunity to compete against in the tournament. He is an amazing guy who brings so much to the table in terms of experience and knowledge. Little known fact about Guido is that he was broken in by Billy Robinson and did a lot of work with UWFI (Union of Wrestling Forces International) in Japan, so he was an opponent that I really wanted to face. I really hope to be in the amazing shape that Guido is in when I’m his age.
What is something you take away from facing someone of his pedigree?
Just trying to soak in whatever knowledge he was willing to pass down to me was really the big takeaway.
Credit: Derek Magrum, Stay Tuff Apparrell
On Night 2 of the tournament, you were part of a scramble that also involved UFC star “Filthy” Tom Lawlor. The two of you traded barbs via social media prior to the match. What do you think is the key to the “personality” portion of professional wrestling?
The key to personality is tough, but I’ll harken it back to facials. Your face tells the entire story during the match itself. Though on social media personality, in my opinion, is about being engaging. With Tom Lawlor, I was the one who wanted him in AIW, so from the moment he was announced I called him out—in a respectful manner. For me and the character I portray, trash talk isn’t what I do. But if you look at the biggest draws in pro wrestling or mixed martial arts, they’ve all talked their fair share of trash and that’s what draws fans in because either: A.) you want to see that person get their ass kicked, or B.) that person has engaged you with their persona so you want to cheer them on.
What is it like rolling with someone of Lawlor’s caliber?
Rolling with someone of Tom’s caliber is unreal. Even though he (is currently not competing in the UFC), he is still training and helping with Syndicate MMA daily in Las Vegas. He is a legitimate black belt on the mats–and strong as hell. It’s like a chess match out there: one false move and it’s game over.
Talk about your current involvement with the AIW dojo?
My current involvement is being an assistant trainer alongside Alex Daniels. We serve as the assistant trainers to Johnny and Candice (LeRae), who are usually in town about once a month. I handle more of the striking and mat work, while Alex handles a good portion of the “pro wrestling” parts of the class.
Dominic Garrini is dangerous because…
At anytime I can end a match. Think about how good I’ve gotten in a little over a year. Give me more time and imagine…
Special thanks to the good people at Stay Tuff.
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