2021 didn't start so well for Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood. The team known as FTR each had gone through their own personal issues. But as the old saying goes, 'It's not how you start, but how you finish.'
The duo picked up championship gold on the October 16 edition of Dynamite as Wheeler and Harwood dressed as luchadores and defeated The Lucha Bros (Penta El Zero and Rey Fenix) to win the AAA straps.
From there, the run continued into 2022. First, Wheeler and Harwood won the Ring of Honor tag team titles from The Briscoes in one of the greatest matches in tag team history back in April. Then at Forbidden Door in June, FTR won the IWGP belts from Jeff Cobb and The Great O-Khan to currently hold three sets of tag team belts in three major organizations.
Ahead of their six-man tag match on Sunday at AEW All Out, as they team with TNT champion Wardlow against Jay Lethal and The Motor City Machine Guns, FTR talk about the issues they went through, being left off the debuting AEW video game, the CM Punk situation and more.
(Editor's note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.)
DAZN: There are a lot of great tag teams that you can say are the greatest of all time. You got The Hart Foundation, The British Bulldogs, The Hardys, Edge and Christian, The Dudleys, The Road Warriors, and Rock and Roll Express. But does what you guys have done to this point make you the best tag team of all time, or does it put you in that conversation in your guys' mind?
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Dax Harwood: I'm gonna speak humbly. Maybe when I retire, when I can't get heat for it, I guess. I would never put us in the category above, say The Midnight Express, only because their body of work speaks for itself in a very competitive time. In the 80s, there were tag teams for both companies (NWA and WWE) that will go down as the greatest tag teams of all time. But Bobby (Eaton) and Dennis (Condrey) completely changed the whole outlook of tag team wrestling, but they also completely changed the whole style of tag team wrestling. Before Bobby and Dennis, there was never really that fast pace, in-and-out tag teams. The great tag teams were like Gene (Anderson) and Ole (Anderson) when they would just come in and beat on you for a little bit, and then the babyfaces would get a little comeback and shut you right back down. With Bobby and Dennis, they created a style that was athletic and created a style where they worked around their babyfaces and made the contest more fun to watch.
Cash Wheeler: I'm extremely proud of our body of work, the careers we've had so far, and what we've been able to accomplish. Like he was saying, it's hard to ever put yourself above those guys. It was a different time, too—the amount of travel they had to do. Not having the guarantees that some people have. Having to make your way from town to town pretty much on your own, not having the luxury of flights as much as we do these days. It was just a different time period. A different beast. Those guys had to be out there, away from home and family, working through every injury. Look at the reach we have today. The platforms we have. You can watch anything from anywhere. You didn't have that back then. So for them to leave so much behind in an era where not everything's captured on tape, not everything's etched in history. They still did it and still changed everything for how things are done.
DH: I will say, however, that if you ask Dennis and you ask Arn Anderson who the best tag team is, they'll say us.
DAZN: I talked with Dax about this before we started recording. There is a report out there (and) I don't know if you've seen the report about you guys not being in the upcoming AEW video game. There's a report that you are upset because you aren't going to be in the game. Can I get your thoughts on it?
CW: We've known about it for a while now. And it's really not that big of a deal.
DH: Steve, I want you to listen to his story. And I want you to (see) how well it matches up with my story.
CW: I'm not gonna go real in-depth with it. I guess how we found out bothered me. But once we got an explanation, I was fine with it. Like I said, it was months ago. For the most part, you want to know why. You want an explanation because being taken out or something like that could be bad. But it wasn't. We moved on. It's been months now. Yesterday (Sunday), we were at a show all day in North Carolina. We had a seminar starting at 10. Then we went straight to a meet and greet. The show had already started by the time our meet and greet had ended. So we go straight to the back, change, get ready for the match, and then drive back to the Charlotte airport because I had a flight at like 10:30 last night. That's when I realized that the shit hit the fan. I was like, 'What is going on with my phone right now?' I don't know why the news came out yesterday, because we've known about it for months. We got it resolved. We figured it out. That was really the end of it for us.
DH: Completely meshes with the exact story I told you. Let me start really quick, and then we'll move on from this stupid subject. After that, we didn't care that we weren't in the video game. We cared that we were pulled out when we initially heard about it. We cared and thought we had done something wrong. Then we found out the reason why. And we're like, 'Ok, that's fine.' Because we don't care about video games (laughs). What I care about is leaving a legacy behind in professional wrestling and being able to take care of my wife and daughter through professional wrestling. And that's it and having fun with my best friend. That's all. We don't care.
CW: As soon as we found out it wasn't bad news, it was fine. But when you're told you're taken out of the video game, you expect the worst because you don't know why. You find out why. It's good. Ok cool. That's really the gist of it. I don't know what happened yesterday. But my God, what a day.
DAZN: It's been a heck of a year for you guys. Do you consider this year the greatest year in wrestling for FTR?
CW: As far as like success, yes. I think 2016 maybe was the best year for us as like a coming out party type thing because that was the year we really broke onto the scene and made a name for ourselves and first started getting some buzz. For me, that was huge because it was never supposed to happen. We didn't know if we would ever have a real future as a tag team when we started. So for 2016 to come and for us to get some tag titles and for us to get some big matches on some big special that was like, 'Wow, we've actually made it. We're really doing it.' But as far as just having the time of my life and having fun with my best friend like we were saying and doing things that are significant to us and they matter to us as far as being fulfilled, which is a big reason why we wanted to branch out and try new things. Yesterday, we wrestled in front of I don't know, 1,500 people in a packed little auditorium. I love that atmosphere. I want to be able to do stuff like that here and there when we can. But winning all these tag titles, getting to work with some of the people we worked with this year as far as just major successes, and checking bucket list items for us, I would by far say it's our most successful.
DH: I also think probably our most rewarding you too. Personally, last year, as we spoke about in great detail, was very dark for both of us. Cash tore his arm open, and I watched him almost bleed out. Then at the same time, I was going through this dark period of anxiety, and I had no idea how to handle it. We had to do a lot of soul searching within each other but also with each other. To the point where I don't think he minds if I tell you, but to the point where he wanted to quit last year. He called me after the arm thing, and he was in tears. He'll still kick everybody's ass, so don't mistake that. He called me in tears. He was like, 'Hey, I just want you to know that I think I'm ready to retire. I think I want to quit. I'm not having fun.' We both started crying. And he was like, 'I've wanted to do this just for fun. I've wanted to do this for enjoyment and not for money. Now I feel like I'm just doing it for money, and I feel like I care more about it than he cares about me. We both have separate contracts that you can keep going. I don't want to hinder you or your family, but I think I'm gonna quit.' So we had this long conversation, and we talked about it, and then he helped me get out of my anxiety period, too.
Anxiety breeds a lot of hardships. I was taking my anxiety out on wrestling because I've never taken it out on my wife and daughter, but I was bringing anxiety to work. He said, 'Look, if we're going to do this, we're going to do it. We're going to have fun doing it. We're not going to let it mentally and physically kill us. But if we're going to do it, let's have fun. And if we're not having fun, we are not going do it.' I'm not kidding. After that speech, conversation, and whatever he gave me, things started picking up and turning around for us. That's when Darby and Sting happened. That's when Darby, Sting, and Punk happened, then Punk and Mox (Jon Moxley). Then all these things are rolling and getting into place. That's how the universe works and what I perceive not everyone, but I proceed to be God and faith. That's how it all works. All that wrapped in on top of the titles, on top of Bret Hart, working with us, that's why I think 2022 has been the most fulfilling, successful year of our career.
DAZN: You look at how 2022 has gone, and we got to here and teaming with Wardlow at All Out. What do you guys make of his progression so far this year?
CW: I think he's made massive strides. Not just in the ring, but as far as his growth as a person, his character stuff like understanding more about how everything works and making things work for him. I think he's just scratched the surface at this point. He's still young. He's in great shape. He's smart. He's talented. He's really good. He's only had a couple of matches where he's had to go into deep waters and show what he can do. His first match was the cage match against Cody, which was a glimpse. He's grown leaps and bounds since then even. His mind and his physical ability now, he's ready to, I think, carry the business. At some point, he'll be the face of wrestling, or he's going to be one of the biggest names and most recognizable faces in wrestling.
DH: All those accolades Cash just laid on, above all, he's an incredible human. He's a great person. And he gets to show that. He gets to take that personality and show that he cares about kids. He cares about people. He cares about the fans and giving them a show.
DAZN: You guys talked about Punk earlier. It seemed like you were just getting ready to scratch the surface, and then he got hurt with his foot. He's getting a lot of flack, and you guys know him better than most people. What do you make of all these characterizations of you guys' good friend, CM Punk?
CW: I think it's a lot of things from the past, mostly. I think there's a lot of old grudges. I think there's a lot of old biases. I think there's a lot of unresolved issues that are tainting how people react to seeing him now sometimes because he's been nothing but nice and helpful to anybody that wants it. I know there's underlying animosity between... once you're in wrestling for so long, and especially at the top of it, there's gonna be guys who don't get along because you're all vying for the same thing. You all want the same title. Egos are going to hit. It's inevitable. I know there's going to be old tension. But as far as how he is as a person now, he couldn't be more inviting. He couldn't be more company-oriented as far as what he's thinking and anything to the contrary; I really think it's uneducated to go off of it because there's only been one side (and) that's all been the negative stuff. He hasn't even really commented on it publicly because he's not going to give it that much time of day and that much notoriety because it doesn't deserve it. But I will say there's two sides to every story, and then somewhere in the middle, that's the truth. Somewhere in the middle is the truth. He's been nothing but a great person, a great mentor to a lot of guys there, somebody who wants the best for the company. That's why he's wanting the biggest houses, the biggest gates, and the most fans in the arena. I think it's just going to be one of those things where time will tell. Over time, you'll see that he has been well-meaning, he has been doing some good stuff, and like I said, anything to the contrary is, in my opinion, just people being childish and behaving like middle-schoolers.
DH: And insecurity. I'm not gonna speak much on it because all that was perfectly put. But I'll tell you this, what's the better headline? 'CM Punk goes into business for himself and shoots on somebody?' Or, 'CM Punk invites Will Hobbs into his locker room and explains to him for 30 minutes what he could have done to better himself for the match earlier?' Or if the headline says, 'CM Punk goes to Danhausen, who came to him and asked for advice, watched his match, and CM Punk gave him notes of advice on what he could do to better the match next time?' Or if Brock Anderson says, 'Hey, do you mind watching our tag match tonight?' CM Punk sits there even though he's got a busy night and watches it and says, 'Hey, come into my locker room. Anybody else want to come into my locker room? Let's talk about this.'
What's the better headline? The more juicy headline is the one of him going into business for himself.
CW: The old Punk, and it's not the old Punk.
DH: Right now, I think I can safely say he's one of our best friends because we all share the same passion for professional wrestling, and sometimes passion gets mistaken for being an asshole because you just want the best. He wants the best for AEW. He wants the best for himself as well. We all do. But he wants the best for AEW and puts AEW above himself. I haven't met too many guys who have the love and passion for professional wrestling that he has. And I'll close on CM Punk with this, and we'll move on. I wish a lot of people, a lot of the guys look at it instead of saying, 'Oh my God, this guy from WWE is here in AEW, and he might be taking my spot' to say, 'Oh my God, this is a guy who has a legit Hall of Fame background guy who is drawn money, who's made money for a big company, who doesn't want to go back to the big company.'
CW: He came from nothing. He made something of himself.
DH: He made something of himself. Let me work with him and even if he's beating me, let me work with him. And that'll put me as a bigger star. That was my whole mindset going into the match. Punk let me call the whole match, but I knew just wrestling myself, Dax Harwood, with just wrestling a legend like CM Punk, puts me from here to here (moves his hands to show what he means).