QT Marshall is never not busy these days and that’s just the way he likes it.
The Livingston, N.J. native (real name Michael Cuellari) is not only an on-screen performer for All Elite Wrestling, but he also serves as a producer and trainer for the company and, on top of that, co-owns and operates a wrestling school alongside Cody Rhodes.
On the day of a television taping, Marshall says things can get hectic.
“I wake up to about a thousand text messages from everybody else in the company because I’m kind of like the liaison between [AEW president and booker] Tony [Khan] and everyone else,” Marshall told TSN.ca. “So I try to answer them as much as I can to the best of my abilities and say, ‘Hey, I’ll tell you when I get there,’ and stuff like that. We get to the building at around 12 and it is non-stop until show time. If I have something to do on the show, it just adds one more thing to the plate, but again, as much as it can be stressful at times, it’s the dream job. So, there’s no way I’m ever going to complain about it. It’s what I chose to do. It’s what I love to do."
The collaborative nature of booking AEW means that Marshall finds himself frequently working with other talent to help put together shows, angles and storylines, something that is encouraged by Khan.
“Tony has a very open-door policy,” Marshall explained. “Sometimes we’ll be sitting in there trying to get the show together and literally every two seconds, there’s another person at the door. They’re telling him what they think, what they feel they can do and this, that and the other thing. He listens to everyone and, of course, as long as it fits the vision that he has because at the end of the day, kind of like with WWE where Vince [McMahon] is the be-all, end-all, so is Tony. He’s the boss. If it doesn’t fit his vision, it’s not going to happen... It’s just a fun environment with everyone bouncing ideas off of each other and I think it shows in the shows that we put on.”
The 35-year-old Marshall says he’s gotten better with compartmentalizing his different responsibilities, especially if he were slated to appear on TV during that Wednesday night’s edition of Dynamite, but it was something with which he initially struggled.
“That’s when Cody sat me down and was like, ‘Hey, you need to take like an hour before the show and just get prepared mentally’, because I am such a laid-back person and I’m really not concerned with my in-ring work,” Marshall said. “One, I don’t do anything that I don’t know how to do and, two, I’ve just been doing it so long in the ring and I still train four nights a week, so I’m not ever nervous about that stuff. But if there’s a promo or a backstage interview or something like that, I have realized ‘Okay, I do need to take a little bit of time to just kind of forget everything else going on.’ We’ve also brought on a couple of new people backstage to help out with certain duties I have when it comes to local talent and stuff like that to really help take that pressure off of me. We’ve made it where I can do both things and it’s not as stressful as it used to be.”
As part of his duties as a coach with the company, Marshall helped put together Shaquille O’Neal’s match on the March 3 edition of Dynamite. The basketball icon teamed with Jade Cargill to take on Rhodes and Red Velvet in a mixed tag match on what was a live episode of the show. O’Neal ended up taking a cross body from Rhodes on the apron that put the behemoth through a table at ringside.
Marshall was impressed with O’Neal’s professionalism and work ethic and says that not only did he take what he was doing seriously, but he also went to great pains to make sure that he never disrespected the industry.
“He had a lot of questions and he really cared about it,” Marshall said of O’Neal. “He also cared about not disrespecting the wrestling industry. One of the things we spoke about was his gear. He was like ‘I’m not wearing wrestling gear. I’m not a wrestler. I don’t want to make a mockery of this. I’m going to go out there in my workout clothes.’ Who am I to argue? But yeah, he trained really hard for it. He really took a lot of notes. It was something that he took very seriously. He did not want to come out there and look like a joke. We appreciated that more than anything and I think it really showed."
Marshall’s affinity for training others is what led him to open the school now called The Nightmare Factory in the Atlanta area. A product of New Jersey’s famed Monster Factory school that also helped produce the likes of Bam Bam Bigelow, Scott “Raven” Levy and Chris Candido, Marshall says that patience is one of the keys in being able to succeed as a trainer.
“You have to understand that people learn at all different levels,” Marshall said. “That definitely helps. You can’t get frustrated. You have to understand going in that wrestling may not be for everybody, but at least it’s something for them to do. It could be a hobby for some. It could be an outlet just to express their creativeness, but we just have to understand that not everyone is going to put 100 per cent into it. You can only lead them to water. But as long as you understand all of these things going in, it does make the experience a lot better.”
In identifying potential, Marshall says that sometimes it only takes a few days of training to see who might have a knack for the business.
“You can tell who’s there for fantasy and who’s there to really make this a profession,” Marshall said. “We don’t separate those two [groups] in the sense that we’re going to ask somebody to leave because, at the end of the day, if they’re going to do it just for fun, I’d still rather them do it the right way and know that they’re not going to hurt anybody or hurt themselves. And at least they’ll understand and respect the etiquette and the business sense that goes into it. But yeah, usually you can tell within the first couple of weeks who’s going to put the work in because, at the end of the day, that’s what it takes to succeed. It’s not about how athletic or how big you are – how hard are you going to work?”
What Marshall and the rest of the trainers at the Nightmare Factory stress is competency in the very basics, something he says he also tries to instill at seminars with more experienced wrestlers, as well.
“I think – I hope – they [understand] that when we’re searching for talent, you can’t show us the crazy magic trick if you can’t open the box the right way,” Marshall said. “That’s kind of our whole philosophy. And there are some one-hit wonders. There are people who do succeed on just the crazy fireworks, but it’s extremely difficult and those are the exceptions. In life and in wrestling, you kind of don’t want to be the exception. You just want to be exceptionally good at doing all of your stuff. So, it’s just a matter of you needing good fundamentals. Every house that stays up for a long time has a great foundation. If you don’t have that foundation, the house is going to crumble."
As for what Marshall has been doing in the ring lately, his character underwent a major change in recent months. In the spring, Marshall turned heel on Rhodes and the Nightmare Family, forming a villainous stable with trainees Anthony Ogogo, Nick Comoroto and Aaron Solow called The Factory.
Marshall insists that his very real sentiments are what have informed the bitter version of his character that is seen on AEW programming. He says he legitimately grew tired of the online sentiment from some that he was only on TV because of who he knew and not because of his own merit.
“I’ve probably spent $30,000 over my lifetime on wrestling training,” Marshall said. “So, I find out that I get the opportunity to wrestle [on an edition of AEW Dark] in Pittsburgh in 2019 and Tony liked my in-ring work and kept giving me more opportunities and then I see all these people like, ‘Well, I guess he’s here because he’s Cody’s friend.’ Yeah, that’s why I got the job backstage, but that’s not why I’m wrestling. This is a business at the end of the day. If I was not good at the job or whatever the situation was, I wouldn’t be on TV.”
Marshall, who will wrestle Paul Wight in his first match with the company at the September 5 All Out pay-per-view in Chicago, knows that not everybody can be a main eventer and has no qualms with where he finds himself on the card.
“Obviously, there are people who are very protected in AEW, with their situations and storylines, and I’m not one of them,” Marshall said. “And I’m okay with that. This is all fun. At the end of the day, of course, everybody wants to be world champion, but at the same time, I do understand where my storyline was going and what it was for. As long as everybody is honest with each other on the front side of it, it’s an easy job. But my character is 100 per-cent me. I’m an Italian from New Jersey, I’m a little bitter and I’m very upset that people do disrespect all of my hard work because they don’t see it. I don’t post about it. I’m not tagging my school all the time when I’m there. I don’t need to do that. Hopefully, my work speaks for itself and if it doesn’t, hey, maybe I’m not promoting myself the right way, but I’m also not a clout chaser and I never will be.”
In the presentation of Ogogo, Marshall acknowledges there are difficulties. An Olympic bronze medal-winning boxer in the very infancy of his wrestling career, the 32-year-old Ogogo has been given a devastating punch as his finisher, a move that must make sense using wrestling logic.
“This is wrestling and anything in wrestling can be done,” Marshall said. “You’ve just got to wrap your head around it and think, ‘Okay, how do we make this make sense?’ The first thing, one of my friends texted me right away – and he’s the typical wrestling fan who complains about everything, but watches everything – and he literally was like, ‘Well, how’s he going to have a match? He should just punch everyone in the face,’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, Greg.’ But that’s the art of what we do. Like if you’re good at what we do, you can tell any story – or else everybody should just go out there and hit their finish and leave. Jake “The Snake” [Roberts], he was very good at telling that story, that he was going to continue trying to go for the DDT, but he would do other wrestling moves on the way there. He was great at that. He sold [the importance] of that DDT.
“So, you’ve just got to figure out the best way to do it and with Anthony being Anthony and as inexperienced as he is, I think it’s just about getting in there with the right guys and having the right coach, myself or somebody else that has these ideas. I thought he put on a great performance at Double or Nothing [against Rhodes], especially for his first match that was more than three minutes long. I think he shocked a lot of people. And I knew that within the first three months of training that guy. He’s going to be something special.”
Marshall also believes the best is yet to come for Comoroto. A hulking, hirsute big man who bears a striking resemblance to the legendary Bruiser Brody, Comoroto had previously trained with Marshall at the Monster Factory several years ago. Marshall hopes their existing rapport will translate into growth for Comoroto.
“There’s a trust that I’m not going to put him in the wrong direction,” Marshall said. “I genuinely want everyone to succeed…when it comes to Comoroto, I think he can go as high as he wants. It’s just a matter of how much work he’s going to put in. We haven’t heard him speak yet. In real life, he was on the dean’s list in college. He’s a very intelligent person, as well. He’s not just some Neanderthal wearing a straitjacket. He needs to be ready at the right time for when something happens for him, but he’s a physical presence and you can’t teach that. I think he’s definitely somebody to look out for in the near future.”
What’s in the near future for AEW is more firsts. Friday night’s edition of Rampage, only the second episode of the company’s second TV show, comes from the United Center in Chicago and will be in front of the largest crowd in AEW history. Marshall says the time was right to expand AEW’s slate of programming with the company back on the road and in front of full audiences again after over a year of being based at Jacksonville’s Daily’s Place amphitheatre.
You can catch AEW Rampage LIVE at 10pm et/7pm pt on TSN Direct and the TSN app or at 11pm/8pm pt on TSN2.
“Pro wrestling is all about engaging the fans and grabbing those emotions from them,” Marshall said. “It’s very difficult when you’re just wrestling for the TV audience. Of course, we’re very thankful for that audience, but I think even the TV audience has grown and it’s shown ever since we’ve been in front of live arenas again because there’s nothing like an AEW show live. Other companies, they’ll teach their wrestlers not to play to the audience and just play to the cameras – we’re the complete opposite. We want to give those fans the greatest experience possible.”
And he wants that experience to keep growing. The September 22 Dynamite is being billed as “AEW Grand Slam” and will emanate from Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, the company’s first stadium show and first in New York City. But Marshall is thinking bigger.
“If it was up to me and I thought we could do it, and I do believe pretty soon we will be able to, I think doing a humungous show – I’m talking like 50,000-60,000 people – [would be it],” Marshall said. “Arthur Ashe is pretty big, but I’m talking like – if it were up to me, it’d be at Yankee Stadium. That’d be the dream come true for me: Yankee Stadium and wrestling mixed together - my two loves, baseball and wrestling. Of course, I think that’s the goal for everyone is to one day have a show and put 100,000 people in there and have them go as wild as they can and showing them what AEW is, which in my opinion, one of the absolute greatest live-event experiences possible.”