I recently interviewed former WWE star Kevin Fertig, who wrestled as Kevin Thorn and Mordecai. In the first part of the interview below, Thorn discussed getting into the business, signing with WWE, why he left WWE the first time, working with CM Punk and more.
* * *
I think a lot of people know that you were kind of discovered by Sid Vicious, but were you a wrestling fan growing up?
"Yeah, definitely. I mean, growing up in Memphis, it's kind of hard not to be. The weird part for me, and I've mentioned this a couple of times, is my dad's a southern Baptist deacon, kind of pastor figure and wrestling was never really allowed to be watched, so I always had to sneak over to people's houses and stuff like that to watch Saturday morning wrestling. So I was kind of raised up on southern wrestling, USWA, Jerry Lawler, [Bill] Dundee, and all the list of names that came through there, Sid, Taker, pretty much everybody came through Memphis. So I mean, it was kind of a great place to grow up watching, that's for sure."
How'd you end up getting hooked up with Sid?
"Well, I was the morning manager of a Gold's Gym and his workout partner kept missing and he just kept having me come spot him and I was there at five in the morning, open the doors at five in the morning and didn't really have anything to do till eight. So, and Sid was an early guy. He'd get in there at five. And finally he was like, 'why don't you get your stuff and start working out?' [Fertig replied] 'okay, fine.' And it was kind of like a surreal moment. I didn't want to hugely mark out, but it was also like, 'holy crap! This guy thinks I'm big enough, strong enough, and everything else, to work out with him. Hell yeah, I want to work out with him!'
"So we just started working out and one day, it ended up being, he was coming off of the broken neck and was going to start doing some independent stuff. And he was like, 'well, I need to go knock some ring rust off' and we went to Buddy Wayne's backyard, a Memphis legend down there, and I remember going there and the ring was still set up in his backyard. The boards looked like they were going to deteriorate underneath us. When we rolled the carpet out that was a mat, there were probably three or four dead rats. Put this dirty ass canvas on it, got in the ring, and I'm looking at it and the ropes and stuff and I'm going, 'okay, this is wrestling? I mean, these things are radiator hose and wires and half the wires are sticking through the radiator, so I know at some point I'm going to need a tetanus shot. Turnbuckles are duct taped. And then, out comes Buddy Wayne's son, Aubrey Wayne, who's a referee, a young kid at the time, but he could do anything and everything in the ring. It was just crazy watching him bouncing around.
"Basically, it went from there. Basically, lock up, grab a headlock, an arm, and then, two weeks from that, about two weeks after that, I was wrestling up near the Knoxville area for Mo from Men on a Mission against another kid by the name of Dirt Bike. It was like, I mean, I didn't own a pair of boots, I didn't own a pair of trunks, and Sid goes, 'well, here [are] my boots - you're a size 13. Here's a pair of trunks. Go buy a leather vest.' And I went, 'okay.' And I was basically Sid Vicious' young protege of [his] and that was kind of how it went from there.
What was Sid like in the gym? He seems like he'd be a beast.
"Oh, he's an animal. I mean, he's an absolute animal. I mean, he's just something else. He lifts mass amounts of weights. He [has] got that intimidating presence about him. I mean, it's crazy."
Is he someone that you still keep in touch with?
"Man, I haven't talked to him in a while. We just keep missing paths. My parents still live in Memphis. I need to get down there and see him, but we haven't reached out in a while. So definitely, I need to do that."
Yeah, and you signed with WWE, it was only a couple of years after that, right?
How did you get on their radar?
"I think, man, just right place, right time. I mean, just because I was doing some of the Power Pro [Wrestling] stuff. I was a young kid, had decent size. Man, I mean, I really lucked out because I was terrible. I was beyond terrible. But I had good size and I was a friend of Sid's and stuff, so Randy Hales and Brandon Baxter of Power Pro Wrestling, they were kind of booking it at the time, they used me because they wanted to use me because they knew Sid would come out if I came and that kind of thing. And the developmental territory's there. The way I got my start was Kurt Angle was down there. It was like Kurt Angle, Matt Bloom, I'm trying to think who else was down there, Crash, a couple of other guys that never really made it, but, basically, Kurt got called up to TV and they needed somebody to fill the spot that day, and they were like, 'do you want to do it' and I said, 'sure'. I mean, I went out there. Of course, I was terrible. I look back at some of those matches. I'm like, 'God, I singlehandedly have the worst [working] punches known to man'. As a guy who can actually punch, when I was punching in wrestling, I just looked terrible."
You look now at NXT, and the kind of the system that you were brought up in. Do you kind of wish there was something like that back then?
"Oh man, dude. You've got it so good. Oh, they've got it so good. Having the trainers that they have there, personal training with the weights, the guys that can teach you the weights, the doctors there. I mean, it would have been a totally different ballgame now, I think. I mean, it's just insane what they've got. I mean, we were lucky to get a roll of tape. I mean, at OVW sometimes. I mean, we had Rip Rogers, Danny Davis, [Jim] Cornette, Lance Storm, Al Snow, [Bill] DeMott. I mean, the list of names that came through there was great. We were pretty much on our own in the gym. And then, too, they never snuck any money in house shows and stuff, so I mean, most of our house shows were done with a, remember the old jam boxes, and a microphone. And they'd hold the microphone up to the jambox and add whatever music you put. I mean, it was just terrible and it was a dirty curtain taped over a door and that was supposed to be the next generation coming out looking like they're the biggest tool bags in the world. Granted, when we got up to TV, it was a totally different story. But no money invested in it."
Yeah, so how did you feel you were when you got called up to the SmackDown brand? Did you feel like you were ready at that point?
"I was definitely ready. My problem was me and [Travis] Tomko were tagging so long that I built my ring wind around the tag guy and after 'Mania at Madison Square Garden. we went and met with Vince and he basically told us, 'you guys are frickin ridiculous as a tag team. I don't need tag teams. I don't want tag teams.' And we're like, 'okay'. He goes, 'Tomko, you're going to go to RAW and Kevin, you're going to go to SmackDown. We've got an idea to put you against Taker. Do this and this and off you go.' And, I mean, the first couple of house show matches, the first couple of TV matches, my wind just wasn't what it should have been. And then, I had the incident in the bar that kind of screwed me and it just, I killed myself at that point in time. I think they hired me back. They definitely knew I could do it. I just needed to disappear for awhile and get back to where I was before tagging."
Yeah, and the bar incident, is that something you can discuss?
"It was me, Maven, and Sly were in the bar, Louisville, we'd just come up from a show. It was either Sly [Sylvester Grenier] or Maven's birthday. I can't remember. Basically a kid decided he wanted to hit us with a bottle and I kind of intercepted him and broke his nose. And they found out that I was supposedly a WWE Superstar, a WWE guy who worth so much money. If they knew how much money I had at that time, which was jacks--t, they probably wouldn't even have sued, but they thought I was the second coming of Christ, I was a WWE guy, I had all this money, and so they pursued it. And then, they pursued trying to sue WWE. It just became a big debacle when it was basically Vince going, 'you've got to go. I've been nice to him. After this point, I offered them some money and they didn't want to take it, so guess what? Now they're trying to sue me for a lot of and you've got to go.' And that was basically how it was done. And then, when they realized how much money I didn't have, it got pretty much dismissed. I paid a little bit of money and it was done. But long story short, it was something that the kid started and I just finished it.
"I lost the match to Mysterio, and I come through the curtain, and Jim Ross was like, 'that was the best match you've had yet. You're starting to get it, kid.' And I went, 'well, yeah, that's great, Jim. But they told me about three hours ago before that they're going to send me back to Louisville and let me be for awhile.' And he just looked at me dumbfounded. I was like, 'I don't know either'.
Yeah. During that brief run, what was it like backstage? How were you perceived?
"Man, I always had a good relationship with everybody and I know you hear the horror stories of Bob Holly, and JBL, and those guys, but they were coming up through Louisville whether or not they were rehabbing and whatever else. I always got along with them great. Most of the time, we rode to the shows together, did stuff, they came over to my house to eat. I never had a problem. I didn't garner the heat, I guess, that some guys did and I was always treated with respect and I treated them with respect, so I loved it. I mean, you're traveling the world and you get to go to Italy and Germany and England and here, there, and everywhere and get treated like royalty. It's the greatest job in the whole world."
Yeah. Were there any people that were, like, tried to take you, like, under their wing during that first run?
"Billy Gunn and Bob have been some of my best friends for a long time. And Taker knew that I was more likely going against him at home point and was definitely helping me along the way. But still, to this day, one of my best friends is Billy Gunn. He always had my best interests and always helped me out no matter what and answers the phone every time I call. He's definitely my pops."
And when you returned, was it, when you returned back to WWE, it had been a couple of years later for the ECW brand. How soon before ECW launched did they contact you and was there any talk of you returning to that Mordecai character or was it always to go in a different direction?
"No, it was always go in a different direction. I have no idea why they never wanted to go back to it. Everybody was like, 'oh God, it was terrible!' Some guys hard it was terrible. I'm like, 'it really wasn't. It could have been insane if they had done it the way we had discussed and everything else. Basically, making, at the end of the day, it was supposed to be Mordecai was preaching about this god, but it ended up being the god is Vince and at the end of the day, the savior he's speaking of and everything else is Vince McMahon and so they didn't want to do it and it was fine because I had always been dark hair, dark this.
"The vampire thing [as Kevin Thorn] was supposed to be me, Gangrel, and Shelly. I still to this day don't know why they didn't put Dave [Heath] with me because it would have been awesome. And off we went. I stayed in contact with the office and Dreamer called me. It's time he was in talent relations. He's like, 'hold on, ECW is about to revamp, but they want some Sci-Fi characters. You'd be awesome here as a vampire. Just get ready.' And when they did it, I was ready.
Yeah, so I feel like that's the persona you're most well-known for. You had a win streak there in ECW and WrestleMania 23, was that the first WrestleMania you attended?
"Yep. Well, that was the first one I was a part of."
Yeah, and what was that like?
"Oh man, dude. Just like they say. There's nothing better. It's insane getting ready for that thing. Just go off and the crowd is just insane and you don't know where the noise is coming from because it vibrates all the way to the back and it comes back. You do something and then you're like, that normal crowd reaction is, like, instantaneous, and it's like a couple second delay. Then it comes back and it's like, 'oh, there it is'. I mean, there's nothing like it."
"Yeah, I did, man! I thought Trump was as cool as can be. He gets this devil stereotype and everything else by the media. No, man. Trump was as cool as can be and especially, I had this cool jacket done. It had all these spikes on it and all this other stuff and we're talking and he goes, 'that's a pretty cool jacket'. And I'm like, 'oh, do you want to put it on?' And he goes, 'no, that's your thing, but that is a really cool jacket.' I'm like, 'alright, that's pretty flattering that this guy's a mogul that understands and gets it. No, I have nothing negative to say about Trump. When I was around him, I mean, he was a gentleman."
Yeah. Another guy who's in the news right now, CM Punk, he ended your winning streak in ECW. What was it like working with him?
"Man, it was great! I mean, a lot of people don't know, like, when ECW started on house shows and everything else, I was attached at the hip to Punk. I mean, we were up and down the roads. We worked so many shows, and then, again, I mean, Kurt Angle is my lucky charm sometimes. When he left ECW and WWE, RVD had no one to work. They were like, 'alright, we need a heel to put him with' and then all of a sudden, I got thrown into that spot, so then I started working RVD on all the house shows. It helped bring me to the next level. And then, Punk went off with Knox and whoever else, but probably for the first 20, 25 house shows, it was me and Punk every night. And the first time we were like one and two on the card and we really started getting our rhythm together and everything else. And we started going higher and higher and higher up on the card. It was awesome."
You can follow Kevin on Twitter @TheKevinFertig and @thekevinfertig on Instagram. Make sure to check back next week for the second and final part of the interview, where Thorn discussed his second WWE departure, Vince yelling at him for looking like The Undertaker after being told to, if he had talks with WWE since leaving, TNA, WWE Wellness Policy violations, how often he was tested, Buff Bagwell's lawsuit against WWE, how much his royalties went down after the WWE Network launched, why former stars aren't returning to the company and more!