It’s always been pretty good to be Jaden Hunter.
Better known as Xplode to the masses, there aren’t many things you can think of that he hasn’t accomplished, or been part of. Whether it was becoming the first Undisputed Champion at StrangleMania XI as part of his record-setting 393 days as EWC’s top dog, his legendary battles with the late Ashton Drake, being part of a Hall of Fame marriage with Ruthann Hunter, or anything in between, it’s impossible to deny the legacy Xplode created, along with the reputation that precedes him.
Even in retirement, it’s not uncommon for the Hall of Famer’s name to be invoked by today’s generation of EWC Superstars, largely out of reverence.
So, to get another window into a man who certainly needs no introduction, we figured we’d present a balanced look at what he’s been up to in this next stage of his life, and to get his take on the current landscape of the promotion he’ll always call home.
Upon arrival at the palatial estate in San Francisco, it’s immediately clear that you’re in Hunter territory.
No expense is spared in ensuring even the most minute details on the property are immaculate, and there’s no attempt at being coy about the fortune the Hunters have amassed. Why would there be? It was all earned.
It’s enough to make a girl pulling up in a nondescript 2005 Honda Civic turn around in shame, but Jaden would have none of it, having graciously made himself available for a talk with a reporter whose name he probably didn’t know.
“Julie, right?” he asks as he stands in the atrium, looking every bit as relaxed as he’s earned the right to be. “Please, make yourself at home.”
What?!?! He knew my name! Best. Day. Ever!
As Xplode offers a guided tour of the Hunter estate with all its history, he also casts a fond glance at the current crop of talent permeating the EWC landscape.
“I honestly feel that every generation since I stepped away has picked up that ball and ran with it,” he explains as he leans against the mantle of an expertly-tiled fireplace, drink in hand. “You can learn a lot from the folks who did it before you. The EWC has never forgotten that. That’s what makes this promotion the greatest on the damn planet.”
Very much a singular, standout talent in his heyday, the man previously known as ‘The Destroyer of Worlds’ is respectful about the differences he sees between the present crop of talent and other eras in EWC history.
“As an example, when Drake was on top, he was everywhere representing the fed,” he says, pausing for a sip of his drink. “He was that guy people looked to as the standard. He was the face of the company. I’m not sure if it’s possible to have that in today’s generation, because the talent is spread out and pretty strong. It’s going to take a special person to reach that status again.”
The second Xplode appears on the premises of any EWC show, he almost immediately becomes EWC’s equivalent of the Pied Piper. Such is the magnetism of the man who moved the needle like few others in EWC’s history, and deservedly so.
It’s no different once he sets foot in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for StrangleMania XV, the same venue where he’d faced off with President Mac inside Hell in a Cell three years earlier in his final match as a full-time competitor.
Though Xplode’s gear is safely tucked away at home this time around, it’s clear his eyes and mind for the business aren’t going anywhere any time soon. The second he’s within the familiar backstage confines, his mind switches on, and he’s immediately drawn to a monitor featuring one of StrangleMania’s dark matches involving Bosa, a young competitor Xplode believes could fit the mold of being that special, transcendent talent sooner rather than later.
“I see a lot of myself in that kid,” he openly admits, his eyes never leaving the monitor. “He is one of the most skilled talents in the fed right now, and in all fairness, the biggest rookie of 2020. He has the size, mentality, and discipline. It was a shame to see him out there without direction.”
Without missing a beat, he’s also quick to compare his mentorship of the young Samoan Warrior to the guidance he received from the late Terry Jones, who managed him at the height of his success.
“I believe he can be huge, so I offered to help him,” he says unequivocally. “He could be the next big thing. I don’t say that often. When you’re swimming in a sea full of sharks, you gotta learn to do more than survive, however. You have to become the apex predator.
“No one understands that better than me.”
Back in San Francisco, the rooms and walls of the Hunter estate are littered with photos and other memorabilia from a truly iconic wrestling career.
However, for everything he accomplished in the ring himself, Xplode’s pride grows even stronger when the subject changes to Ruthann Hunter, a newly-minted EWC Hall of Famer in her own right.
“Ruthie belonged in the Hall of Fame from the start,” he declares before taking another swig from his glass. “She has been the definition of a superstar. She has helped others, in and out of the ring. She was a pioneer, battling and winning in a sport that was dominated by men. She has never taken no for an answer. Ruthie is one of the greats, and a huge reason as to why the EWC has reached the pinnacle of this sport today.”
Almost as if on cue, Ruthann Hunter herself emerges from a nearby room, clearly following the kind of workout that kept her along the best in the business for such a long time.
Though he has what some may occasionally consider a gruff exterior, any kind of front Xplode puts up melts away when Ruthann is in the vicinity.
“She IS the Hall of Fame,” Xplode states succinctly, putting an arm around her waist. “It meant a lot to me to see her recognized for what she means to this sport. Too often, she is referred to as “Xplode’s wife”. No. She is Ruthann Hunter… the baddest woman on the planet. She earned everything that has been given to her.”
One look at the attentiveness Jaden possesses as he watches StrangleMania XV unfold is enough to know he hasn’t lost his passion and fire for the business, even in retirement.
The way his eyes move as he studies each match, it would be easy to think he’s making mental notes for a future War Journal. It certainly wouldn’t go unwelcomed by EWC fans, as the mere idea of him appearing still creates a palpable buzz to this day.
He still follows the product closely; in addition to Bosa, he cites Clay Byrd as someone who, from a pure talent perspective, reminds him of himself. Meanwhile, he sees parts of himself in Dominic Sanders, Melody Malone and Ace King in terms of how they approach the business.
However, he’s quick to differentiate himself from today’s crop of competitors.
“Most of the goals that people make in this industry were invented by me,” he states bluntly. “I’ve always been a guy who has been very goal driven. I need something to work towards, something to achieve. Finding that now is sort of hard.”
Although he admits the urge to step through the ropes will always be with him, even at age 46, he’s completely at peace with where he is now.
“Once this sport is in your blood, it never leaves,” he acknowledges. “All too often though, people retire, return later, and then retire again. That’s not who I am. When I make a decision, I stick to it. If I find another avenue to be in this business that I haven’t tried however, I would love to give it a shot.”
Within the Hunter estate, it’s sometimes easy to forget you’re in another person’s home instead of a professional wrestling museum, of sorts.
There’s a common theme throughout the majority of this time capsule: Xplode standing triumphant when all was said and done. It’s an image befitting a man who’s never been short on confidence.
“I never looked at an opponent and felt ‘Oh… he can beat me,’” he explains as he looks at a photo from Wrestlefest XIV, moments after earning his second Undisputed Championship reign. “That came across in my training and in my efforts in the ring. I always tell people, fight like you are already the champion.”
With that mindset, it may come as a surprise to hear his approach to success didn’t contain a laser-like focus on holding gold.
“If I stepped into that ring right now, I guarantee you that my match would be just as hyped as an Undisputed Championship match,” he states, not a hint of bravado in his voice. “Why? Because I ALWAYS fight as if I am the best in the world. If a talent adopts that mindset, they will achieve a level of respect that not many obtain.”
In his mind, the mandate for any wrestler is relatively simple.
“Go out there, and be the best,” he says as he finishes his drink. “Be the best in every match, win or lose. Don’t worry about how your opponent is training because YOU are the one to beat. Focus on YOU. Sell yourself as such. Do that, and no one will be able to stop you.”
As for what he’d consider his greatest failure?
“Getting old,” he says with a laugh. “Don’t do that.”
As the fireworks go off inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum heralding Scorpio as the new Undisputed Champion, Xplode simply nods in acknowledgement and gets his things together.
As he rises from his chair, he turns to me one last time.
“Thank you for taking the time,” he says with a nod, before adding “You may see me a bit more soon.”
Before I could press him on that statement, he was gone. It’s quintessential Xplode, I suppose: Maintaining an aura few can match, delivering when called upon, and always leaving people wanting more.
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