Larry Jones’ professional wrestling journey started thanks to friends — and therefore, who really needs enemies? — pelting him with barbed-wire bats and folding chairs in a backyard “ring” reinforced with well-worn tires.
That grind took him to Dayton, Des Moines and any other Midwestern or Southeastern outpost whose name rolls off the tongue. Basically, he traveled anywhere with a tiny gymnasium and spectators of all ages eager to work off a little steam.
Jones and his burly, bombastic character, “The Legendary Larry D,” carved out that niche on the independent circuit for nearly two decades. And it was good. But it wasn’t the ultimate goal.
“I’m the type of guy if you tell me I can’t do something, I’m gonna try to do it,” Jones said.
Late last year, while competing at one of those countless, intimate house shows in Ohio, Jones caught the eye of a talent scout from Impact Wrestling.
Impact, founded in Nashville, Tennessee and now headquartered in Toronto, Canada, is regarded along with WWE, AEW and Ring of Honor as one of the elite pro wrestling federations in North America. Its Tuesday night presence on AXS TV makes it one of the go-to broadcasts for ardent fans.
Those followers now regularly get an eyeful of a six-foot, 332-pound, dirty-blond brawler from Georgetown, Kentucky. Impact signed Jones to a multi-year contract in January.
“They’ve been around 20 years. They were an NWA affiliate to start. Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, anybody who’s anybody has wrestled for them at one time,” Jones said. “They’re one of the tops in the world. They have worldwide coverage. It’s a great company to work for. I felt like I was welcomed by everybody with open arms. It’s hard to do that in today’s wrestling business.”
Jones spent more than half his life to date becoming an overnight sensation.
As a junior in high school, Jones was a center on one of coach Jim McKee’s first football teams at SCHS. He enjoyed the game, and many teammates saw it as perhaps their ticket to a college scholarship and success in adult life.
It was a winning strategy, but not one that resonated with Jones. He still was fascinated by the thought of lacing up his wrestling boots and traveling the world like his boyhood heroes, Hulk Hogan and Dusty Rhodes.
“My mother will attest that I told her at six years old that I wanted to be a pro wrestler,” Jones recalled. “My dad placed us front row (at a local show). I fell in love with pro wrestling, and I told my mom then and there that I wanted to be a pro wrestler. Obviously children want to be doctors, firemen, lawyers, policemen. Pro wrestler is probably not on the list, and if it is, it’s probably not expected to be there very long. But it’s what I held onto.”
During those impressionable high school years, Jones crafted the rudimentary, backyard wrestling stage with two of his closest friends.
“We took fence posts. We would bury them probably three feet in the ground,” Jones said. “We would collect car tires, probably 16 tires across (the sides), some plyboard, carpet padding, water hose for the ropes. To us, that was the WWE ring. We thought it was the coolest thing ever.”
Jones’ uncle had connections to one of the local wrestlers and invited him to watch and critique. Whether the visitor was playing the bad-guy role or simply trying to test their level of commitment is uncertain, but the grappler booed and taunted the youngsters for most of the evening.
Still, he must have seen qualities he admired, because he returned to ringside a week later. On that occasion, he brought Calvin Smith, a wrestler fresh out of high school with the still-developing alter ego of “Pain.”
It was a fateful meeting. Jones and Smith became fast friends with the common bond of wanting to turn that Saturday afternoon and Monday night childhood TV fare into their lifestyle.
“One Sunday after we were finished, Calvin said, ‘Hey, get back in there. I want to at least show you how to fall down.’ He showed us how to lock up. He showed us how to take a bump,” Jones said. “Little did we know that from that day forward, there would be four of us each Sunday and Wednesday night learning how to wrestle in my backyard.”
Months later, when Jones made his pro wrestling debut at the tender age of 17, it was against Smith, on the grounds of the local flea market.
“Both of us were scared. He was only two years ahead of me by way of experience, but he showed us what we knew with his two years, and we ran with it,” Jones said. “I had to do a lot of on-the-road learning. I knew the basics, but I didn’t know the full dance. I was a junior in high school.
“From there, we got booked through the local indies (independent circuits. I owe my entire career to him. He took me in and gave me a gift that to this day I’m passing along to my students.”
Jones traveled throughout Kentucky and to most of its neighboring states, more nights than not each week. He was billed as “Little Larry D” at the time, though his character hardly fit the description.
“I was pushing 400 pounds, terrible shape, just the awfulest color hair and the awfulest outfits,” he said. “My mom and dad told Calvin as long as I graduated high school, then whatever it takes. There were times we got back at one or two in the morning, and I would have to be in school at 7:30 and was doing my homework at the breakfast table. I still knew that I wanted to make sure that my parents were happy.”
He was “bit by the wrestling bug,” as those in the sports entertainment business describe their addiction to touring and entertaining the masses.
Jones competed with the Central Wrestling Alliance and eventually established enough credibility to take the reins of the local promotion, Prime Time Wrestling.
“We didn’t know what we were doing,” Jones said. “We wanted to have fun, and the business side of what we didn’t know made it not fun for us. We decided to close it, and from there I decided to be a journeyman and travel the circuit and build my name.”
Kentucky’s mini-version of the WWE was the Mountain Wrestling Alliance. Jones gained his fuel from naysayers who told him it was a bridge too far for his self-made acumen in the sport..
“That’s where I really learned to understand wrestling and how there’s more out there than your local bubble. That’s where you wanted to be,” Jones said. “I made it a point to get into the MWA and went on to become their longest reigning heavyweight champion, three years. From there it just kept steamrolling.”
Most recently, Jones, a 36-year-old father of four, was working under the auspices of Rockstar Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Revolver when he was selected to compete with some of Impact’s stars in a scramble match (similar to a battle royal) on the larger federation’s Twitch channel.
“After that match in Des Moines, (the fans) they loved me. I guess it was my size, and they say I move well for a big guy,” Jones said. “From there not only did I get to interact with fans of that area, but through Impact’s Twitch network, now (I was) seen worldwide by Impact Wrestling fans.
“In the comments it was, ‘Hey, who is this guy? I’d like to see this guy on television.’ But from there it was still a three-year journey before I got offered a contract in Dayton, Ohio, of all places after a match, and completely unexpected. The in-betweens were working eight-to-10-hour days, having to come in early, leaving early, get in the car, drive four or five hours, wrestle 20 minutes, drive all the way back just to shower and get up and go to work the next day.”
Jones laughs when confronted with some skeptics’ notion that pro wrestling is “fake” or “staged.”
The storylines may be hashed out before the spotlights are illuminated, but the physical portion of the theatrics is painfully real. Jones wakes up every morning with a variety of aches and pains in his neck, back, shoulders and knees.
He can’t fully explain what Impact saw that inspired the organization to offer a contract and pair Jones with similarly stout Acey Romero in a tag team known as “XXXL.”
“A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that this is easier than it is,” Jones said. “My goal (in mentoring wrestlers) is to make their path not as hard as mine. Wrestling can be very shady at times. You meet some of the best people and some of the worst people. I’ve been blessed to meet some of the best people.”
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.