Where Are They Now?: Joey Mercury
“There’ll be a dozen Hall of Famers who thank Joey Mercury first and foremost in their acceptance speech,” Dean Ambrose told WWE.com.
For those who simply know Mercury as one half of MNM alongside John Morrison, Ambrose’s statement might be a little shocking. However, Mercury’s greatest impact on sports-entertainment came after he stepped out of the ring, and into his new role as one of WWE’s most respected producers, as well as a mentor to breakout Superstars like The Shield.
“He is a mastermind when it comes to wrestling psychology, and the ins and outs of being in the ring,” Seth Rollins explained. “He loves teaching people how to do things and do them better. He’s a talent maximizer. He takes your best assets and makes them better. He takes the things you’re terrible at and helps you improve.”
It’s a position that Mercury relishes, even at the age of 34, when most in-ring performers are in their prime.
“One of the things I was concerned about with being a coach and producer so young was thinking, ‘Am I missing out on that feeling of being in the ring and making the fans pop out of their chairs?’” he said. “I don’t, because it’s very fulfilling to live vicariously through the guys you help. If I give an idea about gameplan or strategy, and they implement it and it works well and they get that reaction, I feel it twofold.”
Mercury’s deeper understanding of the mat game goes back to the beginning for him. When recalling the starts of their fandom, Superstars often remember the people, the places and the moments that drew them in. For Mercury, it was something more.
“It made me feel,” he explained. “There were times when it made me happy, times when it made me angry, times when it made me laugh and times when it made me sad.”
When most teenagers were worrying about English papers and prom dates, Mercury was on the road, wrestling three to four times a week, making a name for himself on the independent scene with another Cicero trainee, Christian York.
“We both loved the business and complemented each other well,” he said.
Only a few years into his career, Mercury, along with York, Shannon Moore and Shane Helms, caught the eyes of WCW officials, who quickly signed the foursome. Though plans were originally made for the four to debut together, things quickly changed as Helms & Moore joined the high-flying boy band 3 Count, while Mercury & York sat on the couch.
“After we got hired, I never had a match for WCW,” he explained. “But I was on the payroll for seven months.”
While others in the same situation were content to collect paychecks for sitting at home, the young and eager Mercury wanted to be in the ring.
“We were sitting there, asking, ‘Do you want us to go to the Power Plant? Do you want us to go to TV tapings? What do you want us to do?’ They were like, ‘Sit tight.’” Mercury recalled. “I’m 19, I don’t want to sit at home. I didn’t really care about the money at that point. I wanted to wrestle.”
Itching to be close to the ring again, Mercury and York began going to ECW shows to hang out, even though they were still under contract to WCW. Mercury’s serious passion for the business made a quick impression on everyone he came across in ECW.
“From the first day I met him, I knew Joey was a lifer,” Paul Heyman told WWE.com. “When you started explaining something to him, he ended up finishing the sentences for you, because he got it halfway through the lesson.”
Once their WCW contracts expired, Mercury and York began competing full-time for ECW in summer 2000. Though ECW would close nearly six months after his arrival, Mercury made the most of it, soaking up as much knowledge as he could from Heyman and the rest of ECW’s braintrust.
“Joey was always asking all the right questions of all the right people,” Heyman said. “He was never satisfied with the knowledge that he had. Once he understood an aspect of the business, he wanted to understand it from different perspectives, so that he never limited his vision or his understanding to just one option.”
By the time he was 21 years old, Mercury had worked for WCW, ECW and WWE (he spent seven months in WWE’s developmental system after ECW closed), and had armed himself with a veteran’s knowledge of the business. That helped him when he settled down in Louisville, Ky., home of WWE’s former developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling. With Batista vouching for him, OVW heads Jim Cornette and Danny Davis welcomed Mercury, even though he wasn’t signed with WWE. Seeing his aptitude for teaching, Cornette paired him with the duo of John Morrison and Melina, hoping Mercury would rub off on the rookies while creating a little squared circle magic. He was on the money.
“Paris Hilton was everywhere,” Mercury said when explaining the creation of MNM. “I’m a firm believer that you look at what’s on TV, see what’s not there and create your own niche where there wasn’t one. That way, when you leave, you create a void.”
After a year on top and three WWE Tag Team Championship reigns, it all came crashing to a halt for Mercury on Dec. 17, 2006. During a Fatal 4-Way Ladder Match at the Armageddon pay-per-view, the young Superstar was severely injured when the brunt of a ladder was driven directly into his nose. Mercury described the incident matter-of-factly, though anyone who has seen a clip of the incident undoubtedly reacts in horror.
“To walk you through it, I got hit in the face with a ladder at a very high velocity,” he said. “What was going through my mind? The fourth rung.”
Although he tried to get back into the match, Mercury was pulled out of action and rushed to a nearby hospital. Thirty stitches were required to close the wounds, in addition to broken bones in his nose and a cracked orbital bone. Though he was only out of action for several weeks as the bruising and swelling subsided, personal issues began to creep up on him, leading to his release from WWE.
“I wasn’t doing the things I needed to do to take care of myself,” he explained. “WWE gave me every chance in the book, but I was at a place where I was unemployable.”
Once he got his head on straight, Mercury began traveling the independents again, where he began making a huge impression on a generation of future Superstars.
“Wrestling Joey for the first time was mind-blowing,” Seth Rollins said of a 2007 battle with Mercury. “I had never been in the ring with someone who looked at what we did so closely and so analytically. I was like, ‘I’ve got to step my game up if that’s what a WWE Superstar is thinking and doing.’”
Eventually, though, Mercury needed to leave the wrestling business to focus on taking care of himself. After a year and a half away from the squared circle, a conversation with CM Punk led to Mercury’s return to the ring.
“I just started getting the itch again, I guess,” Mercury said. “I wasn’t even 30 yet, and I was in the best shape of my life and wiser than I used to be.”
Mercury rejoined WWE under a mask as part of Punk’s Straight Edge Society in spring 2010, before having the hood forcibly removed by Big Show. After tearing his pectoral muscle at SummerSlam that year, Mercury headed down to Florida Championship Wrestling — WWE’s developmental territory prior to NXT — to finish up his rehab. The staff down there, including Steve Keirn, Norman Smiley and Dusty Rhodes, ended up preparing him for a completely different role.
“They told me, ‘If you see anything you can help the guys with, have any suggestions, feedback or anything, be our guest. You’re a road agent in training down here,’” he said.
What started out as a rehab stint turned into a permanent position as a coach at FCW, where Mercury began working with many of the Superstars the WWE Universe now goes crazy for every week. Anyone who has come through FCW and NXT has a tremendous amount of respect for Mercury and the knowledge he brings.
Mercury formed a close bond with the three members of The Shield in NXT, which continued as The Hounds of Justice joined the main roster and Mercury became a producer on the road.
“He’s like a fourth member,” Roman Reigns said. “Any time Joey’s around, it could be a five-star match, but he’ll nitpick us. That’s what makes us better. He keeps us honest.”
“He’s definitely a hero to us,” Ambrose added. “At this point, if he tells me a way to do something, I do it that way first, because he’s right 99 percent of the time.”
After all that Mercury has been through, it’s easy to forget that he’s not even 35 yet. His combination of youth and experience makes him a valuable asset to WWE.
“He brings an old man’s wisdom and a young man’s vibrance,” Heyman said.
Though many grapplers his age are still battling in the trenches, those closest to Mercury don’t think he’s itching to get back in the ring any time soon.
“I think he’s found peace,” Rollins said. “He once told me that he’s never had a feeling in the ring by himself that compares to the feeling he gets [working with Superstars].”
Joey Mercury echoes Rollins’ sentiment. “I look at them like they’re my babies,” he said. “I have a lot of children out there. To see them grow up and make it to what they’ve been working for and tear the house down, that’s really rewarding.”
Keep up with Joey Mercury by following him on Twitter @WWEMercury.