The Urban Legend of Cliff Compton

The pro wrestling business, which originated from the carny circuit, is often described as a shark tank, an industry where those that enter the business risk their health for a chance to make a name for themselves. In the modern era, shady local promoters often try to thrift their way through events to make an extra $25 on the show, while gutsy performers work on dirt-stained canvases in hopes of making enough of a name for themselves that they get the chance just to have a tryout in front of those in the major leagues. That notion alone requires dedication to chase the dream, local hopefuls wrestle in rundown venues for barely enough cash to cover their gas money, but they do it to live the dream.

Sometimes, depending on an individual’s circumstances, the level of passion needed to achieve their goal of pro wrestling glory exceeds logical limits, but the willingness to push themselves that far is a primary reason why they become successful.

For Cliff Comption, long before he held the WWE tag team championship or became a cult favorite online, he was another dreamer, a kid from Long Island that saw his heroes on TV and wanted to emulate them. Cliff wasn’t content with just visions of climbing the steel cage in Madison Square Garden like his future mentor Jimmy Snuka, he wanted to actually step inside the ropes to give this improbable dream a shot. He chose the well known “Monster Factory,” a training center ran for many years by Larry Sharpe, who was regarded as a skilled technician and worked WWF house shows for nearly a decade. The school was responsible for the introduction of stars such as Bam Bam Bigelow, Raven, and others.

“I started training to be a pro wrestler at 19 at the Monster Factory in New Jersey. I had one goal and that was to make it to WWE. That’s a pretty impossible goal. I was realistic about what I could do in wrestling, I was a pretty big guy with athletic ability. I wasn’t the size of Hulk Hogan, but I looked the part. I honestly thought I could make it because of my dedication. Pro Wrestling is hard! The ring is made of wood and steel. The ropes bite you when you hit them. The mat at the school was soaked with sweat and blood. My first weekend of training left me in pain from head to toe,” Cliff recounted.

He began the training in 1998 and quickly learned that the path to fame wasn’t so glamorous. Studying criminal justice at the time, Cliff also worked a full-time job during the week. He lived in a very small apartment and similar to many college students, he didn’t have much money. Still, that didn’t deter him from traveling two hours, sometimes double that depending on New York traffic, to the Monster Factory every Friday for the weekend of lessons. He left Long Island with enough cash to cover gas and road tolls, unsure of how he would pay for any unexpected costs during the course of the trip. With no extra funds in his budget, he frequently slept on a trainer’s couch most weekends because he simply couldn’t afford lodging after road expenses. Just a few months later, he began working shows and put all his aspirations into the sport.

“As time went on I focused on three things, wrestling,working out, and eating. My interest in college was fading and my grades were showing it. I majored in criminal justice and did well, but I honestly had no time to study. I regret not finishing college and always tell aspiring wrestlers to get your degree. The more I trained at the Monster Factory, the better I got. I started doing indy shows in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Georgia. I avoided wrestling in New York because you needed a license from the athletic commission and that cost money,” he said.

Along the way, he worked with some of the legends that he watched perform at the Nassau Coliseum during his youth. His bouts against King Kong Bundy and Nikolai Volkoff remain early career highlights for him. He also ran into a few of the perils of the independent scene in those early years, including a match against a particularly clumsy opponent, whose careless body slam left Compton with a concussion. After vomiting on the side of the road several times during his trip home, Cliff knew it was time to make a push toward moving his career forward.

“As time went on everybody was talking about OVW in Louisville, KY. It was the WWE developmental center and was owned by Danny Davis. Jim Cornette was the booker and Rip Rogers was the head trainer. I’d been doing TNA matches at the Nashville Fairgrounds back when TNA was still owned by Jeff and Jerry Jarrett. I needed a change and I’d been wrestling for five years at this point. I attended an OVW tryout camp and decided I needed to be there.”

Eventually, the tough road of learning the craft paid off when Cliff was signed to a WWE developmental deal to became Domino, and was paired with Deuce, to form the 50s-inspired team in late 2005. Just over a year later, a classic car and a Doo Woop theme beamed through the television screen as a throwback trio made their WWE debut.

“We were set to debut on Friday Night Smackdown in January 2007. Smackdown was on UPN in those days and not cable. The day of the debut was a routine hectic TV day for WWE. We had to rehearse our entrance and promo several times in front of Vince. The WWE was not big on yelling in those days, so that debut promo was very relaxed compared to what I was used to. The promo and match went great. It was exactly what WWE wanted. When we got to the back Vince and everyone were clapping.”

With Cherry literally skating by their side, the greasers became extremely popular characters that generated a crowd reaction. This new Smackdown commodity found early success, winning the Smackdown Tag Team championships in April of that year.

“It was September of 2007 and I really couldn’t complain about anything. Deuce and Domino were a fixture on Smackdown for the last nine months. We had been on almost every Smackdown TV, a few Raws, and a lotsof ECW. We won the tag belts and had been around the world. Our theme music was one of the top selling WWE songs on iTunes. We were in all the magazines and now had action figures. I created Deuce N’ Domino and now it was being marketed to the world. We had a unique look and our entrance was always good. I was proud of Deuce and Cherry, they played their characters great. We did an appearance at a Best Buy somewhere and I remember pulling up and seeing a ton of people. People had signs and were dressed like us, one girl was even on roller skates. I remember thinking to myself this is crazy, this team started in a flea market.”

But the wrestling business can be a harsh environment. The concept of tag wrestling had yet to receive the refocused emphasis seen in the WWE today, and 2008 was a time when the division wasn’t prominently featured on the global programming. Without the continuous exposure or a major storyline, Cliff and WWE management mutually agreed for his release..

“John Laurinaitis called me and told me they were gonna exercise their 90 day out clause in my contract and release me. It was a strange conversation that lasted for about 45 minutes. John kept telling me how much he liked me and that I would be back in a year. He said it was just budget cuts. I guess they announced it on because my phone was getting tons of texts and calls. I remember after responding to all the text messages and calls, I sat on my couch and took a deep breath. I had been wrestling non-stop for 10 years,” he explained.

After his WWE release, Domino was at a crossroads in his career. Some athletes have a certain perception broadcast on global WWE TV and get typecast into that role, hoping to garner bookings based on that image. As popular as the leather jacket and retro car were on Smackdown, Cliff knew that presentation was tailored for WWE, and a change was needed to progress his career. It’s often said that the best personas in professional wrestling are simply extensions of real-life personalities and Cliff was no exception. A Dice Clay-inspired look, and Compton’s experiences growing up in New York brought along a new phase.

“I was getting e-mails about a Deuce, Domino, and Cherry booking. Jimmy was not interested and Cherry wasn’t either. The promoters wanted all three of us or at least two of us. I was getting calls from all over the world to wrestle as Domino. The big problem when you leave WWE is your stock drops dramatically. The power of TV is unreal so these promoters want to get you before people forget about you. I honestly turned most of the offers down. I was done being Domino and was burnt out on wrestling in general. I had money in the bank,” he said.

The spotlight was beamed toward this transition in one of the most unbelievable ways possible and the complete details of the story must be told directly by the grappler himself to get a true sense of the circumstances. World Wrestling Entertainment’s global television distribution brings the show to remote areas, even if for just a sporadic time frame.

One such place was Nigeria, a war torn country that had access to the Smackdown brand in 2007 before it abruptly went off-air two years later, but the exposure came at a time when Domino was the tag team champion. Another Smackdown star from that era was Festus, known currently as Luke Gallows. Real-life friends from their time on the blue brand, Festus called Cliff in 2011 with an opportunity to tour Nigeria for a good money deal. As Compton landed in the underdeveloped country, where guards with machine guns are a common sight, he noticed the promotional material for the upcoming matches. Advertised as “Super Domino,” the image to promote Cliff was actually a picture of former UFC Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. Unfortunately, this printing blunder wouldn’t be the last memorable mistake of the trip for the New York native. His opponent The Great Power Uti was somewhat of a national sports figure in the country despite the lack of any noticeable wrestling skills.

Uti played his trademark saxophone to the poorly-constructed ring for a less than stellar bout with Cliff in a soccer stadium. After the bout, a series of bombings in Nigeria made it critical that the pair of Smackdown stars return home for their safety. At their hotel, Compton was informed that Nigeria’s favorite wrestler hadn’t paid the bill, which was part of the tour agreement. Uti hadn’t paid the staff several times in the past, and this time the hotel refused to let the visitors leave without payment. Considering the urgency of the situation to make his flight home, Cliff paid the bill of roughly $1,000 to exit the impromptu hostage situation. When Compton recounted his story on Colt Cabana’s Art of Wrestling podcast, it launched online popularity that cemented his status as a cult favorite.

It also gave Colt, the independently-minded athlete that carved a profitable niche for himself without the exposure of the major leagues, an idea for his next project, a follow-up to his documentary debut, Wrestling Road Diaries Too.

“The filming of Wrestling Road Diaries Too made reminded me how much I missed being on the road. It’s hard to explain but it’s literally an adventure to get to each town. These wrestlers become your family and best friends. After we finished filming in early 2012 social media had really taken off. Colt was a master self promoter. He had YouTube shows and his own merchandise website. Social media revolutionized independent wrestling. You could promote yourself on many different platforms. I had made a name for myself on AOW. In 2012, it was pretty much the only podcast for wrestling. I know Colt was getting some very high numbers. I remember hearing about Kevin Steen, I could simply google him and see his matches,” Cliff explained.

Post-WWE was a rewarding time for Compton, as he wrestled around the world in a variety of places, and even saw his career go full circle when he worked for OVW again. Cliff’s wild stories of his global travels led to consistent merchandise sales online and even his own video series through the High Spots company. His online popularity helped him get the chance to work for Ring Of Honor in 2013 for a run with the SCUM faction, culminating in a main event unsanctioned street fight with Kevin Steen, now known as Kevin Owens in 2014.

Unfortunately, Compton suffered a concussion early in the match and that led to some tough decisions for him. Still wrestling a flexible schedule in 2015, over a decade and a half of professional wrestling took its toll on Compton. At just 37, he took the advice of his neurologist to officially retire from in-ring competition last year. He still remains active on social media, and his interviews with a variety of guests are among favorites on the High Spots video network. He also considers the friends he made, including many athletes currently on the WWE roster, a highlight of his wrestling career and stays in contact with most of them today.

The total of Cliff Comption’s journey is truly a success story. Thousands of aspiring wrestlers attempt to get a spot on global television, but through sheer hard work, Cliff made it to that level. From sleeping on a trainer’s couch when he had no extra money at the monster factory to working on pay-per-view, the dreamer from Long Island became an accomplished professional. The dream that he dared to chase took him around the globe and allow him to visit some of the most unique places in the world. Furthermore, he reinvented himself outside of the WWE landscape, which is not an easy task after the exposure of global TV. Undoubtedly, Cliff Comption’s nearly two decade path through the world of professional wrestling was successful.

Until next week
-Jim Lamotta