Paul Walter Hauser has heard the questions from his peers in the acting world about his forays into professional wrestling — which now includes two matches, with his most dangerous one upcoming.

“Right now, people ask me what the hell I’m doing because a lot of people in Hollywood are just like,  ‘What is this?’” the “Richard Jewell” and “Cobra Kai” star said in a Zoom interview. “I keep saying it’s the ‘reverse Dwayne Johnson.’”

After establishing himself in Hollywood — highlighted by Emmy and Golden Globe wins for his portrayal of serial killer Larry Hall in the series “Black Bird” — Hauser is giving professional wrestling a go. He compares it to The Rock taking the opposite path in his career after becoming a megastar in WWE. 

“Dwayne had cemented himself in such a healthy, viable, beloved way in wrestling before The Scorpion King and The Rundown [movies],” Hauser said. “If you go back and watch those movies, he’s not bad in them but he’s definitely grown as an actor. This is the equivalent of my Scorpion King of wrestling and in about five years time it might look less like Scorpion King and more like Pain and Gain with Mark Wahlberg and Michael Bay.”

Hauser, off to a solid start with the basics down along with a showmanship flair, faced Matthew Palmer last November and Matt Cardona (formerly Zack Ryder in WWE) in a no-disqualification match earlier this month with The Wrestling Revolver promotion. The latter included wrestling legend Bully Ray putting Cardona through a flaming table.

The 37-year-old — who has the Karate Kid crane kick with the signature headband tie to his repertoire — now takes his 2-0 record into a street fight with former Impact star Sami Callihan at WrestleCon’s Supershow at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia, the old home of ECW, on April 4 (7 p.m, Highspots TV) during WrestleMania week in the city. 

Callihan is one of the most accomplished, unpredictable and violent performers in the industry and was the person who invited Hauser to appear for his first match against Palmer at a charity show in Los Angeles. 

When Highspots gave Hauser a chance to pick his opponent for the WrestleCon show he tried to think of the wrestler who most embodies ECW in the business today and ended up calling out Callihan — who goes by the nickname “Death Machine” — during an interview with Chris Van Vliet.

“I have no idea what to plan for a Sami Callihan,” Hauser said. “He’s dangerous. It’s almost like wrestling (death match king) Nick Gage where you don’t know where they’re coming from and you know what they’ve done and it’s kind of harrowing.”

Hauser, a lifelong wrestling fan, began this journey long before his new level of Hollywood success. 

In trying to slim down to play Hall in “Black Bird”, he enlisted the help of WWE Hall of Famer Diamond Dallas Page and his DDPY training program — living in his house in Georgia for seven weeks.

While dropping from 286 pounds to 246, Hauser soaked in the knowledge of the wrestlers staying in or stopping by as guests at Page’s home. That included former AEW wrestler and boxer Anthony Ogogo and indy wrestler Darian Bengson inviting him to work out and learn in the ring. 

Hauser thought maybe he’d run the ropes and take a bump. But pretty soon he was in “full-on training mode,” with former Dark Order member Preston Vance also jumping in at Cody Rhodes’ Nightmare Factory wrestling school.

“Pretty soon I was taking clotheslines and running the ropes and giving body slams and it was a lot of fun,” Hauser said. “Whatever pain I was feeling was kind of muted or numbed by the fact I was having the time of my life getting to do the thing that I loved for so long.”

Since last year Hauser has been trained by 24-year veteran and former WWE cruiserweight champion Paul London, whom he credits for holding him accountable in the ring. London sees something special in Hauser. 

“I think he has limitless potential,” London said.

Hauser was a fan of people outside the wrestling world crossing over, mentioning Giants great Lawrence Taylor and NBA stars Karl Malone and Dennis Rodman in the 1990s. Actors Jay Leno, David Arquette and Stephen Amell have also had matches. Hauser also remembers the other side when comedian Will Sasso was manhandled and embarrassed by Bret Hart in WCW in 1999. 

“Watching [Sasso] kind of put a chip on my shoulder in sort of an air of kinship,” Hauser said. “I want to step in the ring one day but when I do I want it to look more like Stephen Amell and Bad Bunny than say Will Sasso and Jay Leno. So that’s what I’m trying to do, trying to take it serious enough and hone my craft so that I can entertain people and also put on a decent match.”

London praised Hauser — who wakes up at 4 a.m. to work on his conditioning even on days he’s training two to three hours in the ring — for being committed to learning and improving. He called him a perfectionist, who would do something over and over again until he got it just right. 

Hauser’s acting background makes him comfortable in front of an audience and good at getting the most out of storytelling moments in a match. It’s about getting more ring time. 

“It’s just a matter of repetition,” London said. “That’s the challenge because he’s so in demand. Everybody wants him that it’s difficult to get consistent reps. I can tell he’s so talented that even in that sparse amount of time he’s still making progress every time. If I had him three days a week….”

His wrestling journey has included some surprises along the way.

Hauser initially thought he was going to make an appearance and sign some autographs at Revolver’s charity show until Callihan broached the idea of a match with Palmer, whom he credits with doing an “amazing job” getting him through the contest. 

He was late getting back from filming movies in Canada and arrived a few hours prior to his match with Cardona before learning it would be a no-disqualification, but credited his opponent’s professionalism in handling it all.

Even his appearance in AEW last January included an unexpected guitar shot from Jeff Jarrett after Hauser reached out to company president Tony Khan about bringing his Golden Globe to the show and using it as a foreign object. 

Hauser went on to call out Jarrett at the ESPYs. Ultimately things didn’t line up for anything more to come of it, but he isn’t giving up hope for the future.

“I really tried to drum up some heat for that and try to get a match out of it,” Hauser said. “Put it this way, it almost happened last year but I was shooting a movie in another country. So the timing was off, but I fully intend to hit up Tony again and pitch that idea.”

That said, Hauser refuses to get ahead of himself for what’s possible for him in wrestling even with his connections to AEW and WWE’s “Monday Night Raw” heading to Netflix opening the possibility for a “Cobra Kai” integration. 

He’d like to wrestle the underrated greats such as Jarrett, Eric Young and Dustin Rhodes before they retire. 

“I have no delusions of grandeur like I’m gonna hold a title belt or be in a WrestleMania, but I do know I can learn and I do know I can get better,” he said. “So that’s what I’m trying to do.”

London believes Hauser is capable of making it in pro wrestling if he continues to put in the work and get the ring time he needs.

“For me, the real challenge was, how do I keep him excited about this but also really help him understand he can do this?” London said. “He can totally do this. It’s been wonderful to watch him grow at this.”

Part of Hauser’s goal is to help shine a light on professional wrestling in the acting world.

“That’s really what I’m trying to do is put wrestling in the spotlight for Hollywood and put myself at the center of it to merge those worlds, and both enjoy my opportunities and also try to afford wrestlers opportunities in Hollywood,” Hauser said.

Added London: “He just really wants to have a mark in the business, as huge as that sounds. Why not? He’s got the Golden Globe. He’s got the Emmy. What can’t he do?”

Facing Callihan on WrestleMania weekend is the next step and one unlike any he’s taken so for. 

Hauser knows Callihan will bring out a different side of himself.

“Sami knows he can break my body but he can’t break my heart or my spirit,” Hauser said. “I’m going to go into that match and I don’t care if he makes me bleed. I don’t care if he points out my wife in the crowd and tries to get under her skin. I don’t care what he does. Nothing is going to stop me in that match. I’d rather be resuscitated in the middle of the ring than walk in with any form of timidity or fear. This is going to be as unleashed as anyone’s ever seen me in Hollywood or in the ring.” 

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