Of Sons And Suns

[Originally printed in Squared Circle Magazine – May, 2000.]

“OF SONS AND SUNS”

One of the most recognized faces on the international wrestling scene for the past decade, Scott Cruise has never quite achieved the kind of stardom in his homeland he initially sought, but has nonetheless carved out an impressive international career which has made him a near legend in the world outside the United States. So how did this handsome kid from East Texas make it all the way to the squared circles of Japan? It was anything but a direct route, but one which the “Wayward Son” was glad to make.

Charles Scott Braddock came into the world in the wee hours of the morning on August 16, 1968, the first and only child of Charles and Marina Braddock of Athens, Texas. Charles, an auto mechanic by trade, would spend the first three years of his son’s life serving in Vietnam, leaving Marina to look after the child with only Charles’ meager military income to support them. The early years for the Braddock family were rough ones and young Scott (called by his middle name so as to avoid confusion with his father) grew up knowing very little in the way of comfort or luxury. The family lived in a trailer on a patch of unruly land on the outskirts of Athens which Charles had purchased some years prior with the intent of building the couples’ dream home. Upon returning from the service he struggled to find work, eventually settling into a position as janitor for the local elementary school just to make ends meet, and the dream home never materialized.

“Things were always rough in terms of money, so to be honest it never seemed like a big deal to me. We never had it so it was never something I thought about. It was just the way things were.”, said Scott during an interview conducted in his Dallas apartment last month. “I knew we had less than some of the other kids, but it wasn’t exactly like we were the only ones in that position, so you just didn’t let it get to you. Even the kids who we considered ‘well off’ were middle class at best compared to other parts of the country. You’re out in the middle of nowhere so there wasn’t so much need for money anyway. People had what they needed to live and that seemed enough.”

At age five Scott began attending school while his mother Marina took up a job as a secretarial assistant at the school meaning all three members of the Braddock family spent their days in the same building, although Charles’ role as custodian kept him there longer hours than either Scott or his mother. The odd hours combined with his father’s growing drinking problem kept Scott and his father from ever spending much time together and as a result he grew extremely close to his mother.

“I was a mama’s boy, no question. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my old man and he was a pretty decent guy, but I just didn’t get to know him. He worked all the time and even when he was home he was either drinking and listening to country records or out back tinkering with whatever hunk of junk project was cluttering up the yard at the time. He had this beat up ’49 Ford pick-up he tried for years to retool but he never really got very far with it. Something was always coming up.”

While the drinking was certainly a cause for alarm in the Braddock household, it was apparently more for the damage it was doing to Charles’ health than any of the real danger or violence that follows many alcoholics. “He was a mellow drunk more than anything. Sure, he could be a real dick when he was drinking, but he never hit me or my mother. It just wasn’t in him. When he got home he just wanted to bury himself in a beer and listen to Willie Nelson records to wind down. My mother used to tell me all the time that it was a result of the time in Vietnam. It messed with his head enough that it took the alcohol to shut it all out, I guess. So he drank and we just learned to let him be. The only time him and I ever really spent time together was on the weekends and even then it was just a lot of silent time spent working on the pick-up.”

Despite the lack of a truly bonding relationship with his father, Scott grew up with a strong sense of family and loyalty, a fact he attributes more to his mother than anything. “She was one tough broad. I’m more of a man thanks to what she taught me than from anything I’ve learned from any men I’ve known.” It was his mother who pushed him into sports and as Scott became a star on the local high school football team it was she who never missed a game. “Dad came when he could, but mom, she was always there. She supported anything I wanted to try.”

That “anything” soon included an ill-fated trip to California to start a career as an actor. “I was a stupid kid. Barely 18 and knew it all. We all go through it, but I guess in my case it was a little more pronounced. I loved my folks but I knew early I didn’t want to end up like them. Working too hard for too little. So I met this guy from Hollywood back when I was fronting this blues band in Dallas. The guy told me he thought I had ‘the look’ and asked had I ever tried acting. That’s all I needed was somebody to plant the seed in my head that I could become a star and I was gone. Of course without any real experience or training I was doomed from the start. But that didn’t stop me at the time.”

His brief fling with the glitz of California behind him, Scott returned to Athens in the spring of 1988, determined to make something of himself although unsure of how to do it. “California really changed my outlook. I learned pretty fast that I wasn’t cut out to be an actor but I stayed a while longer anyway just for the experience. It was like another world compared to Texas. Even Dallas, which is a pretty major city, is no comparison to L.A.” After a few months spent working assorted jobs, including a brief stint as a male model for a local department store — “decent pay but boring as hell” — a chance meeting with an old high school football teammate set Scott on the path that would soon dominate his life.

“I was working at a liquor store in Tyler one night when I ran into this guy Luke Dunwoody that I had played football with back in Athens. We got to talking and he was all on about this wrestling thing. We had a thing back in high school, back when the Von Erichs were big in Texas, particularly around Dallas, and the guys on the team used to mimic wrestling a lot. I was never a huge fan but I watched from time to time. But I’d never given it a second thought in terms of a career. I guess like a lot of people I just kinda laughed at it. It didn’t seem like a place for real athletes.” The conversation turned into Scott checking out a local independent show where his former teammate Dunwoody was performing and before he knew what had hit him he was taking lessons from local legend Hoss Hanlon.

(PART TWO)

Hanlon, who had found minor national success in the late 60’s as “Crazy Hoss” Hanlon, a stereotyped “wild cowboy” for a number of NWA territories, schooled a skeptical Scott Braddock in the basics of wrestling and quickly erased any thoughts of the sport being “fake”. “Man, old Hoss tore me up those first few weeks. I still remember the smirk on his face after the first time he tossed me. I had come in all cocky and thinking I knew what the hell I was doing and you could just tell he was licking his chops to set me straight.” “I had seen Luke wrestle the week before and although it was nothing special, I saw him up there working the crowd and I thought, ‘hell, I can do that’. Luke was always a bit of a rube to begin with; we used to call him ‘Dumbwoody’ ’cause the guy was always slow to pick up on stuff, and I figured if somebody like him could do it, it had to be easy.” One training session with Hoss Hanlon changed that outlook. “To this day I remember bouncing back to Tyler in Luke’s Chevy that first day, bumping off all the potholes and stuff and him laughing at me cause I was in so much pain. I got my ego handed to me in a brown paper bag that day. But as soon as I got home and started thinking about what had gone down, I just new it was the right thing for me. My mind hooked on it, almost instantly.”

Within two months of that initial meeting, Scott Braddock made his pro-wrestling debut as Stud Wayne, a self-absorbed Hollywood snob. “Man, old Hoss, he was a great trainer, but he was pretty piss poor in the creativity department. Once he heard I had gone to California and had done some modeling he pretty much labeled me ‘stud’. So when it came time to pick a wrestling name there wasn’t much thinking that needed to be done.” The Wayne was added as a surname as a direct rip-off of Bruce Wayne, the alter ego of comic super hero Batman. “Batman was all the rage that summer what with the movie coming out and all, so of course Hoss just had to steal from that. The idea was to play me up as this snot nosed pretty boy, rich guy type. I had just started growing my hair out at that point, back in the midst of my ‘soap opera dirtbag phase’ as my mother liked to call it, so I guess I had this sort of rugged stud quality he wanted to cash in on.” As for the actual wrestling debut? “Of course I sucked.”

Despite losing his debut to old friend Dunwoody, the doubt was completely washed away after that first match. “No question, once I got out there and got in front of a crowd, I was in for life. I had fronted a band before but this was different. I got to be the heel and it was so much more interesting than being a singer. It was one thing to try and entertain people when you’re singing. That’s why they’re there, so they’re easy to get going. But man, being a heel, trying to get people that have no clue who you are to care enough to hate you, that was awesome.”

Scott worked the independent circuit around Texas for the better part of the next two years before eventually making his first real permanent move into the world of professional wrestling. “The Texas stuff was cool, but it was still more of a hobby than anything. A really tough, time consuming hobby, but a hobby nonetheless. I mean, I still had a day job, still had thoughts of maybe settling down. It wasn’t until Mexico that I started to think in terms of career.” An invitation to tour Mexico with a small handful of other Texas independents was too good to pass up and soon Scott Braddock, a.k.a. Stud Wayne, found himself south of the border and re-learning the entire business, a process that nearly brought his career to a halt before it ever had the chance to get going.

“The first tour bit the big one, no question. By then I’d been at it for almost two years straight so I was pretty set in my ways. I knew what I was doing in the ring and I wasn’t exactly open to people changing my style. I figured, ‘hell, it’s wrestling, how different can it be?’ But damn, down there it’s about as different as possible. The moves are different, the pacing is different, not to mention the lifestyle. I grew up fairly poor, so I wasn’t exactly looking for life in the Ritz Carlton, but Jesus that country is a dump. It’s just a total culture warp to be there, even for a little time. I remember being there barely a week and thinking ‘I gotta get outta here or I’m gonna die’. It was really miserable.” Miserable enough to quit? “Sure enough. I was all but packed. At that point I still wasn’t 100% hardcore into it, you know. I had a life back in Athens and it was lookin’ pretty good from where I was sitting in this decrepit old building in Mexico. I was all set to call it a career.”

But a funny thing happened on the way to premature retirement, Stud Wayne caught on and Scott Braddock’s attitude changed. “To this day I’m sure I’d of quit had I not been received well that first trip. That’s what kept me in this business for sure.” Miserable as he was, Scott was encouraged by the vocal responses he was getting during his brief tour of Mexico and it was enough to keep him from turning his back on the business forever. In fact, it had such an impact on him that when the opportunity came up three months later to tour south of the border again, this time for a two month stretch as opposed to two weeks, he jumped at the chance. “The first time was culture shock, no question. But that second time, knowing what to expect, being prepared for what was gonna lie ahead, that was a whole ‘nother ballgame. Mentally I was ready for it that second time.”

(PART THREE)

By the summer of 1991 Stud Wayne had become a well known and steady drawing heel in both Texas and Mexico, and the prospects of a full-time career as a wrestler began to crystallize in Scott’s mind. “I was ready. I’d gotten much better in the ring and I was starting to get feelers from some of the bigger companies. WCW was just becoming WCW back then and Hoss was still pretty tight with a lot of the old NWA guys, and he kept putting in a good word for me.” That “good word” soon turned in a tryout in the spring of 1992. “I guess you could call it an audition or a tryout, although to be honest things didn’t really work that way back then. Not like now. Back then it was more of a ‘you got a job unless you totally suck’. You had to know somebody to get your foot in the door and once you were in you got a small run to see what you could do. If you were good and the fans liked you, you stuck. If you sucked, you were back on the indies soon enough.” For Scott, or more importantly for Stud Wayne, it was the latter. “I wish I could say for sure what went wrong, but truth is, I don’t have a clue. I guess it was just an awkward time all around. WCW was trying to break away from the NWA and establish themselves as a player alongside the WWF, so their focus was clearly all over the map. And the NWA break was ugly to boot. And the world was changing too. We’d just come off a war and then music was going through this massive shift. If I had to make excuses I’d guess that the Stud Wayne thing just kinda looked silly at the time, but I didn’t really help my cause either. I didn’t wrestle particularly well because of nerves and just a feeling of unfamiliarity with the style, and my attitude didn’t help. I had become a bit of a big deal back in Texas, so I thought I was better than I was.”

Despite his own negative feelings towards his performance, Scott was still with WCW, three weeks into his eight week trial run, when the news arrived that would alter his life. His father had died of heart failure at age 48. Upon hearing the news, Scott cut short his run in WCW and returned home to be with his mother. “In retrospect it’s easy to say that I did the right thing and it all worked out, but I got to be honest, at the time I was torn. Yeah, I was sucking in WCW, but it was still better pay and better exposure than the dust circuit back home. I didn’t want to pull out, but I needed to go home and WCW didn’t have time to wait around for me. I wasn’t important enough to them for them to hold my spot, and I can’t say as though I blame them. But I still did what I needed to.” Returning to Athens, Scott put his wrestling career on the shelf and returned to bartending, while his mother urged him to keep on track. “She wasn’t too happy with me coming home. Not to stay at least. She thought I’d go back to wrestling after a week or so. She was pretty mad at me back then.”

Two months of nagging was all it took before Scott dusted off his trunks and returned to the wrestling scene, this time with a renewed outlook and a changed attitude, although not in the way you might expect. “I turned into this total dickhead when I first went back. It’s funny, you’d think my dad dying would be this triumphant story of me being inspired to go out and make something of myself and turn my life around, but it kinda did the opposite. I went back out with this massive chip on my shoulder, even bigger than the one I normally had. I was angry all the time, ready to fly off the handle at a drop. It was pretty bad. And I can’t even really say why. I just was. Suddenly things just weren’t where I wanted them and I didn’t feel like making the effort to change them, so I took it out on the people around me.”

Fortunately for Scott, it didn’t take long for his new attitude to lead him back to the one place where it wouldn’t be tolerated — face to face with his mentor, Hoss Hanlon. By the fall of 1992 the “new” Stud Wayne had begun amassing a rapidly growing reputation as a difficult man to work with, and once this news reached ol’ Hoss, he took steps to make sure Scott’s head was screwed on right. “He showed up one night when I was doing this show out in Odessa. Total middle of nowhere Texas. He cornered me backstage and pretty much just laid it on the line. ‘I hear you been makin’ a nuisance of yerself.’ We talked for about a half-hour, he mentally slapped me around for a bit, then I went out and had a kickass match and things just kinda got better from there. He just put me in my place, reminded me who I was, what I was capable of, and basically threatened to kill me if I let it go to waste. Just what I needed.”

With his attitude readjusted, Scott decided it was time for his image to get a little tweaking too. “Stud Wayne was played out. Times were different and I felt I needed to change with them or I was gonna get left behind.” The result? “High Octane” Scott Cruise, a gimmick lifted from the big screen which played off of Tom Cruise’s recent film hit “Days of Thunder” in which he played a hotshot young racecar driver. “I’d always kinda had a Tom Cruise look about me, but when he let his hair grow out for ‘Days of Thunder’ it was much more apparent, because that’s how I’d always kept mine. So when I went looking for a new name, that seemed to fit. My girlfriend at the time liked it and the fit was natural. A promoter in San Antonio added the “High Octane” and we did a pseudo racer gimmick, although thankfully we agreed it was better to play up the energy level of me the wrestler as opposed to having me come down in a racing jumpsuit and a helmet. I’d play up being a former driver in my interviews and stuff, but it wasn’t nearly as cheesy or blatant as most gimmicks, especially that horrible ‘Sparky Plugg’ deal they saddled Bob Holly with in the WWF.”

Armed with a new attitude and new gimmick, it was time for Scott to make his move on to bigger and better things. Having already established himself in the southern U.S. and Mexico, he decided it was time to see more of the world and jumped at an offer to tour Europe during the early stages of 1993. “It was just time. I needed to try some new stuff, and Europe was there for the taking.” He toured Europe and parts of Western Asia for nearly a full year, only occasionally returning home for holidays and the anniversary of his father’s death. While success in Europe didn’t come overnight, the experience proved to be just what the doctor ordered for 26 year-old Scott Braddock. “It was a chance to be exposed to a whole bunch of different styles, and to really work at the wrestling aspect of my game. The language barrier was tough in some places so you couldn’t rely on mic skills or a lot of talking. I had to hone my game in the ring. I picked up a lot of great heel tips over there. Old school stuff most guys forget about, or never even knew of. That year was crucial for me.”

By the fall of 1994, Scott Braddock, a.k.a. Scott Cruise, was reaching the peak of his game, regularly headlining shows throughout Europe while rapidly building a cult following among hardcore wrestling fans back home, who followed his progress through “dirt sheets” and tape trading. Still, the big two were uninterested in his talents, and with the prospect of heading back to the American indy circuit looming, Scott made another fateful decision. He headed to Japan.

(PART FOUR)

When Scott Cruise arrived on the doorstep of Royal Japan Pro Wrestling in October of 1994, little did he or anybody know what was to follow. A well recognized competitor in Europe and Mexico who was all but ignored in his home country, Scott didn’t know what to expect upon his arrival in the far east. What he got was beyond his wildest estimations. “To this day I get goosebumps when I think back to those first few months in Japan. There was just something magical about that time, the way it all went down.” While his status in America may have been teetering on “cult hero” at best and “total nobody” at worst, in Japan he was greeted as superstar, a fact which while unprepared for, he nonetheless welcomed. “It was odd, because these people knew me. They knew who I was, what I had done, what I brought to the table in terms of wrestling. It spooked me. But I dug it. And I dug the culture too. That may have been the biggest thing. Here I was this guy from Texas where everything is dry and spacious and sunny, and I get plopped down in Tokyo where it’s compact and crowded and rainy… and I loved it! It was so different from what I was used to that I just absolutely took to it.”

The exploits of Scott Cruise had been well followed by Japanese wrestling fans, and much to Scott’s surprise, Royal Japan had heralded his forthcoming arrival with a significant amount of hype during the weeks leading into his debut. At the time the company had been almost exclusively a homegrown promotion, refusing to fork over large amounts of money to foreign stars merely for their star power. Scott was the first gaijin they had signed in nearly 14 months and even then he was not a major “name” in the U.S. What he was, however, was a solidly skilled worker with a worldwide resume, a fact that Royal Japan touted. If they were going to bring in foreign talent, they said, they were going to make sure they got their money’s worth by bringing a hungry young “talent” as opposed to a greedy old “star”. By the time the “Wayward Son” (as he was immediately dubbed by Japanese fans) made his debut for Royal Japan on November 3rd, 1994, his story had been told a hundred times over by the wrestling media and the diehard followers of the promotion knew everything they would need to about the newest sensation. “It was so surreal. I went into it just thinking it was gonna be like any other tour over in Germany or something, and I get there and there’s all this press and all these people, and they all wanna know about me. What am I gonna do? Am I going to go right after Nawagana or will I take out the Family first? I didn’t even know who they were talking about.”

Nawagana was Ohanu Nawagana, the legendary “Rising Son” of Royal Japan Pro Wrestling and the company’s biggest name. A 30 year-old veteran of nearly 12 years, Ohanu was the crown jewel of Royal Japan and had held their Heavyweight title for close to 11 months by the time Cruise arrived. He had plowed through most of the competition with ease and it seemed Japanese fans were eager for a new face to challenge the star. That new face was Scott Cruise. Upon his arrival, Scott was immediately placed into a program with Shinzei Nugato, a 23 year-old youngster who was the reigning Junior Heavyweight Champion and more importantly, a member of “the Family”, the Nawagana led stable which had dominated Royal Japan for well over a year. While he would battle with Nugato for two months before wresting the Junior title away in February of 1995, the fans knew it would only be a matter of time before “The Wayward Son” and the “Rising Son” met.

“The expectation was so high, right off the bat, but I loved it. It was so intense. The crowd was so completely split because Nawagana and the Family were so popular and so respected, but at the same time it had been so long since they had been challenged. They just wanted to see me strike some fear into them so the Family would have step it up.” Indeed, as Nawagana and the Family dominated Royal Japan for so long, they had done so by defeating a purely native talent pool. Cruise represented the first real challenge from an outside source and the fans were hungry to see their hero Nawagana face competition from a true gaijin. The build-up was immense, so immense that it took nearly two years to complete. “Well for one thing, Japanese fans are far more patient. They prefer to see a feud like that boil for awhile. They live for the anticipation. Back in America it would have lasted maybe all of six months from beginning to end. But there… it was savored. I had to go through the family first, and they were eating it up. It was just kickass.”

Slowly but surely The Wayward Son worked his way through Nawagana’s “Family”. Along the way, Scott himself was growing leaps and bounds as a performer, adapting his technique to fit the Japanese style and building his confidence and attitude. By March of 1996 he had progressed into the position of the company’s top heel, and a showdown with Nawagana seemed tantalizingly close. “I had worked my way through the family by then. First with Nugato, then with O2, Ohanu’s younger brother. They added the occasional member as time went by so of course they’d be thrown at me first, but after about 15 months or so, I had pretty much taken out everybody. Nawagana was left.” But, as is often the case with a well laid plan, life took an unexpected turn and an injured elbow derailed the Scott Cruise express seemingly at it’s peek.

“We were doing this six-man tag match in Osaka, myself and two guys who had been dumped from the family, Kojo Sasaki and Yoshikazu Tanada, against Nawagana, Nugato and Bull Yoshida, their resident muscle. It was really simple really. We had been double teaming Nugato in the corner for ages and the crowd was really starting to make some noise, which isn’t always the case over there. But we were just all over the kid and using pretty much every dirty trick we could pull out. The heat on Kojo and Yoshi was incredible, since they’d been dumped like a month earlier. Anyway, we’re taking it to Nugato and I had him down in a cross-armbreaker when Kojo decided to try a slingshot senton. Problem was I was just about to release the hold and get to my feet, so when he came sailing over he hooked my shoulder with his foot and torqued my whole upperbody as I was rising. My arm kinda got caught in Nugato’s and I just felt this pop in my elbow and then there was this shooting pain like I’d never felt before.” Scott had dislocated his elbow and ruptured a tendon as well, an injury that ordinarily required six months in a hard cast to heal. Within three, he was back in action. “To this day I don’t know if it was a smart move. I mean I still can’t straighten my right arm completely and it’ll always be weaker than my left. But there was so much at stake. Leaving the feud for that long would have been suicide and I knew it. So I just really pushed the rehab process and prayed for some good fortune.”

Even with an injured elbow, Scott maintained a prominent position in Royal Japan, acting as a pseudo manager for a number of other wrestlers who were sent to challenge the mighty Nawagana family. By now Ohanu had reigned as Heavyweight Champion for nearly 31 months, an absolutely unheard of reign. Says Scott, “The people loved him. They didn’t seem to mind that he hadn’t lost a singles match in three years.” As challenger and challenger fell by the wayside, the build for the eventual Cruise-Nawagana showdown increased. By early July, Scott was back to active competition and after a brief feud with family member Bull Yoshida, the showdown was set. The Wayward Son would meet the Rising Son for the Royal Japan Heavyweight Championship at the company’s biggest event of the year — Coronation ’96. “It’s kinda funny, because their was actually a tournament leading into Coronation, as there was every year. The winners got to face the champs of their respective divisions at the big show, so there was always a lot of hype and drama going into it. But even then people knew I was going to win.”

Cruise had made it all the way to the semi-finals the year before and it was actually then that most fans thought the Cruise-Nawagana payoff would happen, but he was defeated in the semis by Tomoki Taira, a recent transplant from All Japan, one of Royal Japan’s chief rivals. “It actually made sense at the time. Getting Tomoki to jump had been big news and they needed to capitalize on it. At the time I was still being built up so waiting another year wasn’t that big of a stretch.” Taira failed in his bid to unseat Nawagana at Coronation ’95, and the Rising Son steamrolled into Coro ’96 and his showdown with the gaijin Cruise. The Coronation Tournament, which actually takes more than eight weeks to complete, ended on September 22, 1996 with Scott defeating Kojo Sasaki in the semi-finals. “It’s weird, but going into that semi-final, even with all the build-up I’d received, there was still some question in people’s minds if I would win, just because of Sasaki.” Sasaki had filled the roll as chief nemesis to the Family while Scott nursed his elbow to health, and the two even feuded briefly prior to the tournament as a result of Sasaki having caused Scott’s injury. “We might have actually milked it for more but there was too much risk in one of us coming out of it as a babyface, so we shelved the idea for later.”

The assurgence of Sasaki only added to the drama of the tournament and the interest in the semi-final match between them seemed to rival that of the eventual Cruise-Nawagana match. “I think part of the interest there was just the fans wondering if this would really be it. You know, they’d seen me built up from day one as a foil for Nawagana, and now that we seemed to be on the cusp of finally meeting, it was almost like people wanted it to go on a little longer.” But that was not to be, as Scott defeated Sasaki after 38 minutes of grueling competition, drawing a submission with his patented Gravedigger finisher. After nearly two years, the match was finally set.

(PART FIVE)

November 8, 1996, two full years after his debut in Royal Japan Pro Wrestling, “The Wayward Son” Scott Cruise faced “The Rising Son” Ohanu Nawagana in front of 70,000 Japanese fans at the Tokyo Dome. The match was to be the culmination of 24 months of build-up and was expected to be the end of Nawagana’s now 35 month long reign as Royal Japan Heavyweight Champion. It was also expected to be a classic match in every sense, and the pressure to perform had never been greater.

“I think back to that night a lot. What was at stake. Here I was in front of seventy thousand people in Japan and yet I could still walk down the streets of my hometown and not be bothered. They had taken such a chance with me, to build me into something believable and compelling, and yet in America I was barely known. Trying to get a grip on that reality, you know, to really appreciate that, was mind blowing. They literally made me into a star.” Indeed they had, as the crowd for Coro ’96 was to be the largest in the promotion’s 15 year history. And amazingly, they had all come expecting, even wanting to see Cruise pull out the victory, despite the fact that he was both a gaijin -and- a heel. Nawagana’s reign was great, but it was time to end, and everybody new it.

They battled back and forth for 52 minutes that night, the crowd seemingly riveted to every move. While in the annals of wrestling history it may not go down as one of the greatest, most technically sound matches, it more than certainly earned it’s place among the most epic. After 18 near falls and a number of breathtaking moments, The Wayward Son pinned the Rising Son, and the legend of Scott Cruise was cemented once and for all. “I know I’ve had better in terms of crispness, no question, but for all it was worth, that was easily the greatest match of my life. Nothing will ever top that. Ever.”

History had been made and a whole new world opened up for 28 year-old Scott Braddock from Athens, Texas. “I got a call from the WWF like two weeks later. I can honestly say that I enjoyed telling them ‘no thanks’ at the time. I knew someday I’d have to eat those words and come home to the U.S. if I ever really wanted to achieve the success I dreamed of, but at the time it was nice to be able to turn them down instead of the other way around.” Offers not withstanding, Scott knew he had a home in Royal Japan and for him, the future was just beginning. “It’s funny how a lot of people see that night as the culmination of a long road, but for me it was really just the middle.”

The inevitable re-match with Nawagana occurred a month later in Osaka, with Scott pulling out the win in a sloppy match that set the stage for the series of matches that was to follow. The two fought no less than 12 times over the next 4 months, exchanging the title twice along the way. “After a 35 month long reign, people were ready for some rapid fire changes. We were more than happy to give it to them.” The feud between Cruise and the Family continued well into the summer of 1997 before the inevitable face-turn pitted Cruise and Nawagana together for a short time. “I gotta say, one of the things I’ve always loved about the Japanese booking style is the reality of the competition. I mean, yeah, I was the heel all that time, but I still wasn’t evil, you know. I wasn’t this cartoony guy like so many American heels are. I was just a guy who’d stop at nothing to win. So when Ohanu and I finally made our peace, there was some logic there. Some respect. We had fought for so long that it was okay for us to respect each other. It wasn’t contrived.”

In the three years that have followed since the culmination of his feud with Ohanu Nawagana and the Royal Japan Family, Scott Cruise has held the Heavyweight Championship three more times, as well as the Tag Team Championship twice, including once with Nawagana himself. While his career in Royal Japan has flourished, he sees the end of the road in the distance and longs for that one big chance to make it big back home. “It’s coming. I can definitely feel it. I mean, I owe so much — SO much to Ohanu and Hiromasa (Hiromasa Kida, Royal Japan President) for what they’ve done for me. But I’d be totally lying if I said I didn’t want to go home. I need to do it before I hang ’em up. And I really want to do it while I’m still young. While there’s still a chance to do it right.”

For now, he remains in the land of the rising son, plying the trade he has learned so well for the company that took a chance and made him a star. And while the day may soon come when Scott Cruise says goodbye to his home away from home, it will not be without a heavy heart and a suitcase full of memories. “I made my name here. I grew up as a wrestler here. This will always be a place where I feel like I belong.”

Belong he does.

(Story by Nick Culver. Nick is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to Squared Circle Magazine. He currently lives in Japan and has followed Puroresu since the mid 80’s.)

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