AJ Francis

AJ Francis (fka Top Dolla): What Went Wrong With His WWE Career, Signing With TNA, Hit Row

AJ Francis (@ajfrancis410) is a professional wrestler signed to TNA and is best known as Top Dolla in WWE. He is also a musician and a retired NFL player. He sits down with Chris Van Vliet in Hollywood to talk about how his NFL career lead him to signing with WWE, training with D-Von Dudley, being part of Hit Row in WWE, his wrestling persona being inspired by Suge Knight, partying with Tom Brady when he played for the New England Patriots, signing with TNA and making his debut at Hard To Kill, his music career and much more!

Quote I’m thinking about: “You are not your past. You are bigger than your past and you are better than your past. Let it be part of who you’ve become, but don’t you dare let it define you.” — Lexi Ryan

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On life after WWE:

“So I live in Orlando. Saturday I drove from Orlando to Tampa. I stole the show with Joey Janela at GCW. People have been talking about it all weekend. Shout out to Joey, great match, great opponent. That night went to Battle Rumble with Mega Ran, DNA, Max Caster was there, Lio Rush was there. It’s this really cool Hip Hop wrestling show where we all perform songs and then we did a cypher at the end. It’s been getting a lot of traction. Mega Ran is gonna take it on the road. I’m gonna be doing a lot of stuff with him, that was also in Tampa, same night, double booked same night. Then didn’t even have time to sleep. Because that same night, at 5 am, I fly out of Tampa to Sacramento. I land in Sacramento, go straight to a signing. I do a signing in Sacramento, watch the Rumble. People pay these like VIP things to not just see me but we all watched the Rumble together. It was a great time, great people. I can’t wait to go back, loved my time there and then went to my hotel, played EA Sports FC till about three in the morning when I had to leave for my next flight which was 6am. Fly to LA at 6 am, 7:30 took a nap. After my nap I got picked up, went and kicked it with the great people at Jimmy’s World Order. Did the show with them and a signing with them. Then after that went back to the hotel, played EA Sports FC again, you know, before I passed out and finally got 10 hours sleep which is more than I got in the previous four days combined. And now And then I woke up to a text from you saying I’m 15 minutes away.” 

On being busier than ever: 

“Yeah, and I’m making more money too. It’s crazy because like, I made more money this weekend that I made at any time, any weekend. Yeah, it will surprise people, it actually surprises me. It’s at the point where like, I loved my time in WWE, but they decided to do something else and go another direction. But there’s not just one place in this world you can make money. And so now I’m using the fact that I have these connections already in the wrestling industry. I have a fan base of people that want to see me. People flew me from Royal Rumble weekend to Sacramento in LA just to have pictures and sign autographs take pictures. I’m saying it’s a great time and I’m enjoying my time being able to do the things that I love, like going to GCW, going to TNA, being able to do all the other things that I’m going to be doing this year that people don’t even know is coming yet.”

On his music career:

“So I just released my new single We Outside with DJ Whoo Kid. Great song. It’s my entrance music. You know, we’re working on the music video now. We did the music video for the TNA show, but really it was all a set up just to get the Joe Hendry thing. It was so funny to see people’s reaction online like, ah, TNA is back to trash because they’re doing music videos. Why are they signing AJ Francis? In the meantime, it’s all a work, the video was never gonna play longer than 25 seconds, right? But because it works so well, because you can play wrestling fans like fiddles, like, you know how they’re gonna react to these things. If you go back and watch the clip, TNA did it on purpose. A lot of times when you play a music video, you like overlay the audio, so that you don’t hear the audience. So you’re going to hear the video, but the video plays for like 25 seconds and you hear the audience booing the entire time. Because you that’s what you want. You want them so that when Joe Hendry’s face appears on the screen, they’re like yeah” Because that’s wrestling.”

On signing with TNA:

“I trained at the Team 3D Academy when I first started wrestling, so I had a relationship with Bully Ray already. One of the very best friends that I’ve made in this industry, he’s like my second dad really is Mark Henry. He looks like my dad too. He looks like my Daddy, looks like my dad’s next-level evolved Pokemon. So I have very good relationship with him. And they both also do Busted Open Radio with Tommy Dreamer. And because of that, I also have a relationship with Tommy, and I’m talking to Tommy and Bully about going to TNA. When I knew I was leaving WWE, I wanted to go to TNA. Honestly I wanted to go to Impact, but then when I found out it was going to be TNA, I was like, Oh, I gotta go to TNA. I was knocking on Tommy’s door. My agent AB, he does a lot of work with Swerve and other people too. He talked to Tommy a lot and talked to Scott for me and we set it up. So we have a very good relationship now. And it was funny because people, thanks to guys like Dave Meltzer who just say things without facts or any actual backup or just innuendos and just lie on my name and perpetuate these myths that I’m a terrible person, when not a single person to ever come on record to say, Hey, this is the thing that he did. What is the thing that I’ve ever done? I don’t know. I’m accused of being a bad person. And when people ask why it’s, oh, he’s hard to work with. Oh, he’s hard to work with. Well, nobody who’s ever actually worked with me thinks it’s so hard to work with. AJ Styles doesn’t think I’m hard to work with. Rey Mysterio doesn’t think I’m hard to work with. Legado doesn’t think I’m more to work with. Pete Dunne doesn’t think I’m hard to work with. The Usos don’t think I’m hard to work with. Rhea Ripley doesn’t think I’m hard to work with. Naomi doesn’t think I’m hard to work with. Paul Heyman doesn’t think I’m hard to work with. Michael Hayes doesn’t think so. So who are these people? But because of that, you have these guys like Tommy telling people at TNA bring him in, we’ll see how it works. If he is hard to work with like they say he is, then we just won’t bring him back. Scott’s like, okay, cool. I meet everybody at TNA. I do the show in Vegas. And they’re like, Wow, you’re great to work with. Brian Myers goes on his show with Matt Cardona, who I hate, and he goes, Man, AJ was great to work with. He’s hard-working. Scott, I have a conversation with him at TNA. He’s like, man, you’re good to be around, the boys like you, the girls like you, you’re not causing any problems. You’re hard-working, you’re on time, because I love the energy you bring. So it went from, we’ll see how it works with TNA. Maybe we’ll do one day in Vegas to now I’m at TNA for the foreseeable future. I’m not signed anywhere. Now, that’s not saying that I wouldn’t sign with TNA. I’m not saying that at all. It’s just like, I’m at a point now where I just got out of a pretty tough relationship with WWE. I loved my time there, but apparently, they didn’t love my time there. So I’m at the point now where like, do I want to be locked in anywhere? I don’t know. That was my thought process for the entire time. But now that I’ve been at TNA, I’ve had such a great time at TNA, and I love the people at TNA, and I love what we’re doing at TNA. I would not be opposed to it at all. But that’s another conversation down the road long-term thing. Like, that’s not a conversation that we’re having right now. Down the road, could TNA be my permanent home? That would be great. I’d love that. I love working there. I go there and I have fun. I love being around that environment.” 

On the first WWE release:

“The first time I got released I personally I don’t know. Once again, nobody’s ever told me. No one’s ever been like, this is what happened. They always make it seem like oh, this is just business right? And budget cuts, that’s what they always try to make it seem but it never feels like that. The first time I got released. It felt like I got released because I stood up for B-Fab. Like that’s what it felt like. It felt like because B-Fab got released, because what happened was when they were doing a bunch of call ups. They were getting ready for the draft in 2021. John Laurinaitis came to the PC, and they would have shows and they would just have him sit and watch acts because John Laurinaitis and Vince they weren’t watching NXT. I’m sorry, this is a newsflash but they don’t watch. They didn’t watch the next day. So they didn’t know anybody on NXT. So they would literally come to the PC and like, see the talent in the PC and oh, okay, that’s cool. Well, I wonder what I can do with him. So B-Fab had already planned a vacation that she was going on, right? They sprung a show up on us on a Wednesday, they’re like, Oh, we got a PC show Saturday for John Laurinaitis, but B-Fab was already out of town. So she was gonna change her stuff to get back and she wasn’t wrestling anyway. It was a singles match me versus Mace. Swerve, and Tehuti were there. So the first time that John Laurinaitis ever lays eyes on hit row, it’s just me, Tehuti and Swerve. He doesn’t even know B-Fab is there with the crew, which in my opinion, she was the most integral part of the crew. Because, let’s say you want to take the four original members of Hit Row, and you want to get rid of one of them? Well, if you get rid of me, you still have a beautiful woman valet who can also wrestle and you got a good tag team. If you get rid of Swerve, it’s a beautiful woman valet that can wrestle and you have a tag team. If you get rid of Ashante Thee Adonis, it’s still a beautiful woman valet and you got a cool tag team. But if you get rid of B-Fab, we’re just Hip Hop New Day. We were not different, we’re just a three man group. She was the special element plus she raps. She’s sexy. I go places where people see me because they see how big I am. But they stare at her. She got released because whatever reason they released her for. I feel like John Laurinaitis didn’t think she was a necessary part of Hit Row. Because when he saw Hit Row, she wasn’t with us. So when she got released, I went to Laurinaitis and Vince, and was like, Yo, I feel like you shouldn’t have done that. I feel like she added a lot to the group. I feel like, yes, we can still do this and it’ll still work. But I feel like you shouldn’t have done that. And that conversation is somehow I’m an asshole three years later. Mind you, she’s still in WWE right now. So clearly I was right. Clearly I was correct.”

On coming back to WWE:

“Then I get brought back because Hunter gets the power. And Hunter recognises the wrong of the situation as well. So Hunter calls me and says, When can I have you? And I was like tomorrow if you booked a flight, I’m ready right now. I was like, but I don’t want to come back if I’m not coming back with the rest of the Row. I don’t know if me saying that is the reason he decided to bring them back too or if he was already going to bring us all back. But I said that to him. So then two days later, we set up a call with all of us and Hunter, laid out the plan, and then we re-debuted the week after that. And that’s when we came out in North Carolina. And it was a great time and the crowd reacted crazy. But then like after that, like there was never really a plan for Hit Row. We would pitch ideas and 90% of times they wouldn’t use them. And a lot of times when they did use them like it was cool and it worked.”

On creative plans being denied:

“I wanted to do the diss songs, obviously, like the diss song went viral with The Young Bucks. Like the songs went viral a lot of times I did them but they never put them on TV. So we did one. Finally, they reached out to us. And they’re like, We want you to diss The OC. I’m like finally. Like finally so I literally mind you they tell me this on Wednesday at like 10 pm and my flight is Thursday at noon. So in about three hours I write record, shoot the video, edit the video. So I posted it Friday morning at noon. Across all platforms, it gets almost 2 million views by 8 pm. So in eight hours, by the start of SmackDown, it has almost 2 million views. So clearly it worked, the plan worked. So much so that we had the match with The OC. Crowds red hot behind it, the match is great. AJ Styles at the game gives me a phenomenal forearm. Everything goes great, couldn’t ask better. That night is why me and AJ Styles are so much cooler now because he had never actually worked with me. And you know, he heard all the same rumblings about everybody else talks about me. And then that night, he’s like, man, you’re great. I’m so happy we got to work with you. So I can’t wait to work with you again. And we became good friends out today. I call him Big AJ, he calls me little AJ. It’s hilarious. I know. So we do that, it goes great. And then nothing like nothing ever came from that storyline. We never brought it back up. We could have did like a match between B-Fab and Michin. We could have did singles matches with AJ, we could have ran back tag team matches. We never did anything because there was never a plan for Hit Row.”

On his final WWE match:

“There’s just no point in doing a chokeslam when you’re losing the match in three minutes. My last match, which was with LA Knight, go watch it, great match. It’s three minutes long. It’s incredible. The crowds go crazy all the time. If I give LA Knight a chokeslam in this match and a three-minute match and he kicks out my chokeslam is terrible. So why would I even think about trying to give him a chokeslam? And why would he want to take that bump? This match is three minutes long. My longest singles match in WWE is literally that match with LA Knight. I never had time to do anything like that. And then my other long matches were tag team matches. So there’s at least three sometimes it was a fatal four way tag match, sometimes seven other people in the match that all have to be able to do things, you can’t always get your stuff in. People see me do the two-man move the three-man move where I carry three people around the ring. Nobody else has never been able to do that successfully in WWE, or any other high promotion I’ve ever seen. No one gives me my credit it’s the greatest feat of strength in the history of wrestling. Let’s talk about it. The only other one you can count you can say Cena with with Big Show and Edge. That’s cool, too. But he also didn’t carry them around the ring. Mark Henry is a legit well, at the time, like 400 pounds. That’s less than three people. I’m just I’m just calling it like it is. Love Mark. Also, he’s my second dad. He’s also the strongest man ever. I’m not saying I’m stronger than Mark Henry. Mark Henry could have done that move. Big Show also could have done that. But there’s a lot of people that could have done that move. I’m just saying I’m the only one that has.”

On the diss track gimmick being too similar to John Cena:

“The one good thing is that Paul Heyman used to stand up for me a lot. And Paul Heyman would say they can’t see the difference between what John Cena and Max Caster and what you’re doing. He said this is like, not comedy, but kayfabe rap. It’s rap within the wrestling room. Yours is like actual, livable, breathable hip hop. And he said because of that it makes it more real. So if you’re not into that you can’t understand it. Do they not want me to do it? No, they had no problem with me doing it. They just wouldn’t go and put them on TV. There’s so many times Paul Heyman would text me, man, this should be how we start the show tonight. I would send him a video, I sent him one I did for the Christmas show. He was like this should start the show tonight. I did it, sent them so many different ones that we did. And mind you I never get my flowers, Hit Row never gets our flowers. When LA Knight had that 2 million view video on YouTube in 24 hours from the Madison Square Garden dark show we were in the segment with him. No one ever gave us our flowers for that. I don’t know how many times that happened on WWE, not just with LA Knight, but just on WWE YouTube since, but we never got flowers for that. The only match that that was promoted for the Christmas show. That’s one of the highest-watched shows in SmackDown history. And I think the highest-watched pre-taped show in WWE history. The only promoted match for that was Usos vs. Hit Row for the Tag Team Titles, we never got flowers for that. But Paul Heyman would always show me love. I would send him my videos, and he would love them. I would send other people my videos and they would love them, but they just would never put them on TV. And then sometimes I would make videos we would make videos, Hit Row, and we would send it to the creative team. And they’d be like this is great. We’re gonna try to put this on the show and then something would happen I don’t know who, I don’t know why, but it just wouldn’t be a part of the show. And it happened with LA Knight. We did a whole segment, people don’t remember this, but LA Knight was a heel, even though he was getting babyface reactions everywhere he went. He was a heel until he crossed paths with Hit Row. That’s what made him officially a babyface, go check the timeline. And it started with that night in Madison Square Garden. And then he ended up having a match with Ashante two weeks later, and he had a match with me two weeks after that, which is my last match in WWE. I had the idea to set up our match, I made a diss song that was dope to try to set up a match with LA Knight because we were already gonna have a match, but like add a little juice to it so that when he eventually beats my ass, which is what happened, there’s like, oh, yeah, LA Knight  So they loved it. But then they were like, Oh, well, we don’t know if we can air some of the things you said. One of the things I said was my line was, they say you biting off Stone Cold and The Rock, but you did it wrong. You’re clearly biting off Little John. That was the line. And they were like, Oh, we don’t know if we can say he’s trying to be like Stone Cold and The Rock. And then two weeks later, The Miz said all that. So it’s like, Do you not know or do you not want me to say it? You see, I’m saying like, it’s cool. You can literally come out and be like, we don’t want you to be the person to say this. And I’ll be like, respect. I know my role. My role in WWE was to be the class clown punching bag. Do I think that anyone who actually was saying these things to me, in character would ever say that to my face in real life? No. These fans? No, they never would. Because I’m playing a role. I’m playing a character. I’m cool with that. But don’t try to pull the wool over my eyes and make it seem like, Oh, well. We don’t know if we could say that and then let somebody else do it. Like two weeks later.” 

What is AJ Francis grateful for?

“To be alive, to be able to support my family and to get to do what I love.”

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