RJ City, with his unique blend of wit, intellect and humour, is redefining the pro wrestling commentary scene

Michael TaubeThe second annual Forbidden Door pro wrestling pay-per-view event was held this past Sunday at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ont. Co-produced by two of the world’s largest promotions, Shahid and Tony Khan’s All Elite Wrestling and Bushiroad’s New Japan Pro-Wrestling, it brought together its top talent on one card.

There was also a pre-show hosted by two AEW on-air personalities. The first was Renee Paquette, who went by the well-known nom de plume “Renee Young” at World Wrestling Entertainment. The other was RJ City, who’s experienced an impressive rise as of late and become one of pro wrestling’s most engaging personalities.

RJ stands out more than just about any other current wrestling commentator. His wit, intellect, sense of humour and uncanny ability to reference cultural matters, both topical and obscure, has put him in a unique category.

RJ City pro wrestling

RJ City

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It could be argued that RJ is almost too good for pro wrestling. Then again, maybe his purpose is to make pro wrestling better and expose it to a broader audience.

Born RJ Skinner in Richmond Hill, Ont., he attended Ryerson University (now Toronto Metropolitan University) and majored in culture and entertainment, along with a minor in marketing. He trained at a small Maryland-based wrestling school while visiting relatives. “It was just a dump, really, a hole in the wall,” his mother, Emily, told the Newmarket Era on April 16, 2009, “But the guy who ran it was a real sweetheart, so RJ started going there every summer.”

It paid off. RJ worked for several small wrestling promotions. He held titles at Great Canadian Wrestling, International Wrestling Cartel and Destiny World Wrestling. He even forged a friendship with actor David Arquette, wrestling with and against him on the independent scene. (The matches went a little smoother than Arquette’s infamous death match against Nick Gage.)

RJ’s ambition was not only to make his mark in pro wrestling but also in Hollywood. He’s appeared in commercials, CBC’s Murdoch Mysteries and The Goods and movies like Monster Brawl (2011) and The Masked Saint (2016). He also played Gildar in the children’s game show Splatalot! (2011-2013) and its 2019 YouTube spin-off, Smashalot!.

Does he see the melding of these two industries as a natural evolution, or something detrimental?

“It’s the same thing!” he told me in a recent interview. “People who think otherwise don’t appreciate exactly what wrestling is. It’s a violent 4th-grade play; it’s vaudeville in its most basic sense. Hollywood has always been confused about wrestling, and wrestling hasn’t exactly had the best messaging for itself, but there have been so many people that transcend what you thought wrestling was.”

Considering several AEW colleagues he mentioned – Orange Cassidy, Danhausen, Ricky Starks, Kris Statlander and Willow Nightingale – it can be viewed as an example of “the strangest people getting to create the most wonderful things.”

RJ has also excelled in this strange, wonderful wrestling world, too.

It initially looked like his big break would be at WWE. He hosted Wrestlemania After Dark and appeared on WWE’s The Bump between 2019-2021. The creative process was different there (“A bunch of stuff was happening, then a bunch of stuff they would plan just wouldn’t happen for a million other reasons,” he told host Stephanie Chase in an interview). He opted to move on. A timely conversation with Tony Khan led him to work on AEW’s Road to Revolution video clips, start a weekly digital series, Hey! (EW), and achieve the creative freedom he craved.

“Hey! (EW) is really in its own weird world,” he told me. “Tony Khan was familiar with my work – he also has a great comedy brain – and really told me to come in and just do my thing. I have an incredible amount of freedom. All the notes and questions are mine and every guest really just does a trust fall into this idiocy. But I also have a great team behind me, Sonjay Dutt, Kevin Sullivan (not the wrestler, the SVP of Post Production) and a crew that always rolls up their sleeves to take Hey! (EW) to the next level.”

RJ also pointed out, “this kind of creative freedom and collaboration wouldn’t be possible in any other wrestling company. And this is also the only one that will let me talk about Don Knotts.” Knotts is one of his great passions in life, along with The Muppets, movie trivia, pro wrestling history, and so much more.

Having met RJ through author/wrestling historian Brian Solomon, I can confirm his mind is razor-sharp, and he has a great sense of humour. He’s also a first-rate interviewer who seemingly finds ways to showcase the good, bad and ugly of the wrestlers he’s interviewed. His first Hey! (EW) show with the avant-garde Danhausen, a long-time friend, was exceptional. Mild banter with wrestling legend Arn Anderson on how to pronounce “mauve” was fantastic. There’s also the precocious Skye Blue admitting she was excommunicated from her church for lighting a kid on fire. It’s always the ones you least expect!

RJ doesn’t believe Hey! (EW) conflicts with AEW, but “exists alongside it, a place where you’re able to see these people talk, exist and react in a way you can’t get anywhere else. Because of that, we have reached a different audience.” How so? “The common line is ‘My wife hates wrestling, but she loves Hey! (EW),’” he explained, “And that’s the highest compliment to me and what this is. This business only grows when we can reach new people and make new fans.”

There’s also his work with Paquette, a fellow Canadian. “I’ve been lucky to hit it off with Renee Paquette, despite my best efforts,” he says about the amusing, multi-faceted frenemy dynamic the self-described “Wrestle Aunts” have developed. “She can’t be unprofessional, and I can’t be professional, so we’ve managed to bring out the best and worst in each other. Letting the broadcasters have such personalities is something you don’t get to see that much anymore. It’s a real throwback to the Jesse Ventura/Bobby Heenan/Gorilla Monsoon era, and it’s definitely something that’s been missed.”

I couldn’t agree more.

If AEW continues to showcase RJ’s humour, wit, talent and panache, it will keep paying huge dividends for Khan’s ever-expanding promotion. As for the wrestler/actor, the worlds of pro wrestling and entertainment are slowly becoming his oysters.

The fictional Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife couldn’t be prouder of his real-life admirer if he tried.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

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