INTERVIEW: JR Kratos in talks to do bare-knuckle fight, chats NJPW STRONG, NWA, AEW TNT Title open challenge video

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It has been just over 10 years since J.R. Kratos began his wrestling career. Coming up on the California independent scene, one of the promotions he became a regular for was All Pro Wrestling. He was a constant in the promotion for eight years.

While speaking to Kratos for an interview, he explained what All Pro Wrestling has meant to his career:

I think what All Pro Wrestling has meant (to my career) is just, it’s a great place. Even the promoter, Markus Mack, believed in me a lot so he was able to put me in big matches with names that, you know, he would bring into the show and it’s just kind of a full circle kind of thing. My first name that I ever wrestled was Tyrus, and then now, he’s become one of my personal friends and it’s just a trip how life works out but All Pro Wrestling for me, it was great because I learned a lot. It was one of, if not the biggest promotion out there so they had the greatest vets in the locker room. They were bringing in names like I said and Markus would give me opportunities to wrestle them and it was just a good promotion for me and then good learning experience as well because like I said, I was in the ring with guys who did this sh*t for a living so, it was cool man.

Over the weekend of June 2nd, Kratos was in Winston-Salem, North Carolina for the National Wrestling Alliance’s Crockett Cup event(s). He was part of the tournament with Odinson and the pair made it to the quarterfinals before losing.

He reflected on the weekend and then went on to speak highly of the organization and Billy Corgan’s vision for it.

Oh, I did great (Kratos laughed). Just overall vibes there (during Crockett Cup weekend). NWA, it’s a great, great place. Billy (Corgan) has a vision that is just, in a nutshell to sum it all down, it’s a good place to be and have him in the driver seat. His vision, his drive to get to bigger and bigger places, it’s showing. If you stay relevant and you stay watching the product, you can see it just continuously growing from the crowd. Not only that but from the arenas that we’re in and the places that we’re traveling, it’s just new and the plans that he has for NWA and just the people, the vets that he has in the locker room, those guys are — he’s got WWE Hall of Famers back there. He’s got guys that have done this for a living and continue to do it for a living and just the vibes of the Crockett Cup, that’s a big deal. It’s unfortunate Odinson and I came up short but I think we made a good, prominent force out there and I think good things are gonna come for us. If not as a tag, individually for sure. He’s a beast. He’s worked hard, looks like a million bucks, great talent, he’s professional so but overall, the vibe in North Carolina is great. The fans out there are old school so they’re energetic, they like to interact so the vibe out there was good. I mean it was a little warm (he joked). Other than that, it’s good times. NWA is cool. It’s a product that I am just very happy and fortunate to be a part of so, it was a good overall vibe. It always is so, it’s cool.

Throughout his time wrestling for the NWA, there was a point when Kratos and Aron Stevens held the organization’s World Tag Team Championships.

They first won the belts during a United Wrestling Network Primetime Live special in late 2020. Kratos and Stevens held onto the titles until NWA 73 in the summer of 2021. Kratos feels that they were able to get the most out of the tag title run. He added that Aron Stevens changed his career and called him one of the greatest minds in pro wrestling.

I feel at the time, yes (myself & Aron Stevens got the most out of our NWA Tag Team Title reign). I think we did and then for me personally, just to do it every time I can, to give kudos to Aron. How much that man has literally changed my career. The knowledge he has kicked down to me and being able to have conversations with him and then the chance I had to actually work with him and to see it happen in the ring and to see it happen with the crowd and actually apply it in the ring and watch it work, it’s been career-changing for me so, as a talent and me, I think I got the most of it. Now, I get to hang out with him all the time so it’s like, you know, that’s great but, yeah, it was cool. It was weird how it happened and it fell on my lap and then we just had a great, great run. We did some cool, cool storylines and stuff like that but again, Aron, he’s one of the greatest minds in professional wrestling hands down so I had the great opportunity to be alongside him so it was cool.

As the conversation turned over to doing GCW/Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport and mixing a bit of MMA into his wrestling style, Kratos revealed that he is in talks to do a bare-knuckle fight. He feels it’s just a matter of time before it happens and adds that he’s thought about doing MMA as well.

What’s funny man, you’re gonna be the first to hear it on your podcast. I’m in talks right now, maybe to do a bare-knuckle fight. So we’ll see but MMA, I mean, yeah, I’ve thought about it. I go to all the fights out here (in California) when I can. I got a bunch of friends that do it and I love it man but I don’t know, it’s just something about bare knuckle… So I’ve been talking to the guy that runs (a bare knuckle fighting promotion). I don’t know man. We’ll see. If the stars align, I would love to do it so, I think it’s gonna happen in the near future for me. I wanna do it so it’s just a matter of time.

Several weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Kratos wrapped up a tour with All Japan Pro Wrestling. He does not think the door is closed in regards to a potential return.

As far as All Japan in the future, no, there’s never been a definite thank you for coming, have a nice life kind of deal. But no, I had the opportunity because Pro Wrestling Revolution, they brought in (Jun) Akiyama and I had the opportunity of wrestling him and we kind of kicked it off and Gabe (Ramirez) is the guy that runs Pro Wrestling Revolution and through his connections and networking and stuff like that, I had the opportunity for Akiyama to bring me out for the tour and that was cool. It was my first time out there. I got to debut in Korakuen Hall. So that was a really, really big deal for me. Just being a fan and studying all the guys and just the history of Korakuen Hall and being able to wrestle there. Not only there but in Japan for All Japan Pro Wrestling, it was cool. I had a great, great, great time there and I think now how wrestling is just — everybody’s working together which is a great sight to see. So to be able to (say) that probably things are closed? I would absolutely say no. I think great things are gonna happen in the near future. You got New Japan, they just did a show with them, they’re continuing to do a show with them. NOAH’s now getting involved so, it’s just good for the whole wrestling scene. You got New Japan and AEW, you know? They’re doing the Forbidden Door thing. It’s just a kick-ass time to be a part of it. IMPACT (Wrestling), when we did the WrestleMania thing, we were able to work with IMPACT. That was dope too and I look forward to it because All Japan, the talent, I still talk to them, when we’re still in lingo and stuff so, for me to say I wouldn’t go back or there’s not an opportunity, nah man, I would go back in a heartbeat.

In early 2022, Rocky Romero spoke about there being New Japan of America contracts for the talents that were well-received and well-pushed on STRONG. Kratos has been part of STRONG since 2020. He shared that he’s not under contract, but it has been talked about.

It’s been talked about (a deal with NJPW) but, it’s just been so much going on with so many companies right now that I’m just fortunate enough to just work with everyone but I’m in a position to be able to put everybody as a priority. So for me, it’s no contract but, it’s definitely, they have to be a priority. I guess that’s the easiest way to put it and I guess I’ve scheduled my calendar enough to make everyone a priority so it’s been cool for me.

Next up on the docket for New Japan STRONG is their Independence Day shows on July 4th and 5th. It’ll be STRONG’s debut in Japan as both shows are emanating from Korakuen Hall.

Kratos is advertised for the show and expressed how excited he is. He shared that the regulars of STRONG have been talking about the idea of the brand heading to Japan since 2020. He went to discuss what Rocky Romero has done for STRONG and feels he does not get enough credit.

We’re (NJPW STRONG) going to Japan here in a couple weeks. So that’s gonna be so dope. I was so excited when we got the news and to be able to go because, just to be honest, I’m just very humble because Japan fans, they’ve been hitting me up since STRONG started. ‘We can’t wait for you to come. We can’t wait for you to come’ so to know that there’s fans out there waiting for myself and Team Filthy to go and just do our thing, that they were able to see and Rocky (Romero) gave us a platform to do that on and now to be able to take it to Japan, bro, that’s a dream come true for me and it’s gonna be cool. I’m ecstatic. I can’t wait. It’s gonna be dope.

It’s amazing. It’s what we talked about earlier. To be able to take it all in and sit back and be like, you kind of remember little moments in your career like pillars. I debuted in Korakuen Hall for All Japan and then now to go back for the promotion, you know what I mean? The biggest promotion in Japan and to wrestle in Japan at Korakuen Hall with the history there and what’s another big thing for me is just, again, going back to the COVID, to the pandemic, all of us, Rocky (Romero) pretty much honestly taking a chance on us and building this product and we’re able to build it and see it catch momentum and then now, be able to take it to the fans in Japan… it’s like, we’re all gonna be able to do it. That’s gonna be cool to be coming in with my boys, (Tom) Lawlor and the West Coast Wrecking Crew and to be able to walk into Korakuen Hall and see — we were talking about this when we were in L.A. in front of nobody and we’re like, ‘Dude, imagine if this sh*t takes off bro. We get to go to New Japan…’

100 percent, 100 percent (it means something extra to know I was part of STRONG at the beginning) and I know Rocky, it’s not that he don’t like it, I don’t think that man gets enough credit. For what he does and getting me all emotional on this podcast and for him to take a chance on guys that have really just loved this business and busted their ass and that are great talents.

Back in 2020, J.R. Kratos uploaded a video to his social media platforms to throw his name in the hat of wrestlers who wanted to challenge Cody Rhodes for the AEW TNT Championship when he did the open challenges on Dynamite.

Kratos stated that his ultimate goal was to get the actual match, but it meant a lot to get the feedback he did from his peers.

100 percent (the feedback I got on my TNT Title open challenge video meant a lot) … At the time, he (person who shot the video) was just a little youngster. His name is Nick. You can find him on my Instagram. He’s the one that did all that videography and the media and all that for him and I just liked his vibe, he was a cool dude and I saw his work and I was like, ‘Hey man, I got this idea.’ I kind of wrote this down. I said, ‘You’re gonna have to roll with me to different places and just kind of hang with me for a couple of days and I wanna put this all together because I have an idea and I want this opportunity,’ obviously with the TNT Openweight Championship on AEW but, that didn’t happen, unfortunately but, the feedback that I got and the opportunities that I got from that was huge. It was definitely worthwhile doing it. Not getting the outcome that I wanted but the outcomes that came out of that were really, really cool and again, to, like you said, just to get the feedback from my peers and say, ‘Man, if this doesn’t happen bro, then wow. That was really well thought of, really put together.’ It was cool because a lot of people were like, ‘I don’t see how it’s not gonna happen. That was dope. You have to get the opportunity’ and unfortunately, it didn’t happen but, it was cool. I’m glad we did it and we got some other stuff in the works.

The match(es) that Kratos is going to be involved in at Independence Day has yet to be announced but himself and fellow members of Team Filthy are scheduled for the show.

Kratos can be found on both Twitter and Instagram @Jr_KRATOS. Our full interview can be watched via the player at the beginning of this article or on the Andrew Thompson Interviews YouTube channel.