“Won’t you come see about me?
I’ll be alone, dancing, you know it, baby“
As I write this, wrestling is still re-integrating its most obvious loss from the COVID-19 pandemic: live crowds in the building, i.e. the people who fuel everything with their reaction. While the product survived its time with webcam closeups (WWE), talent as the audience (AEW), or just going without (IMPACT), the noise and presence of people have never seemed more important than once it was gone. But amidst that presence, there are other ongoing absences that are still being felt. Many consummate and successful wrestlers have been unable to travel and ply their craft due to travel restrictions still in place around the world or other related reasons.
Their circumstances are all slightly different, naturally. There are those who have the stability to focus on training and being able to jump on whatever the first opportunity is. Others have turned to taking on non-wrestling work to make ends meet. Some are still limited by local lockdowns, while others have recently been set free only to find that the world has turned and left them there. While I’m sure fans the world over are wishing them well and hoping they soon hasten down the wind, it’s up to all of us to remember why we loved watching them in the first place and express that love right now. Say it through merch, tweets, and Patreon/YouTube subs. Say it loud enough so they can hear you knockin’. Let every promoter out there know who you want to see at the earliest possible convenience.
It starts now (technically it already has, but we’ve only just begun). Here I go again, highlighting performers I miss terribly with the only language that 1) everyone can understand and 2) properly announces a wrestler’s entrance to a new world – music. Eighties music, to be precise. Why? Because, one way or another, I’m going to find them and have the time of my life.
“Once Upon a time there was light in my life/ Now there’s only love in the dark”
Total Eclipse Of The Heart by Bonnie Tyler
A former Heart Of Shimmer Champion, Shazza McKenzie established herself in wrestling as a fun, pastel-loving BFF-type – the queen of “Heartcore” who brought smiles to every room she was in. Her playful poses, positive vibes with opponents, and commitment to entertaining the audience no matter what it took made her a natural fan favorite. That popularity, along with her quality in the ring, carried her around various indies and through Beyond Wrestling, Shimmer, SHINE, and even to both NXT and AEW.
But in each instance she found herself smacking into the same wall, just shy of the brass ring, and each time it felt a bit less awesome. The big moments in NXT, her national tv slots for AEW, none of them ever seemed to end with HER hand raised. What they did result in was battered bones and plenty of bruises. Over time, she got tired of listening to the sound of her tears, as well as that of the ref’s hand hitting for 3 against her. Darkness moved in, a shadow on her all of the time, and Shazza decided she’d had enough of ALL OF OUR shit and was ready to use that darkness to fuel any vengeance she could muster.
The colors are darker, the edges sharper, like a song transitioning to a foreboding minor key. I couldn’t wait to see where this new direction would take Shazza in the ring – more bloodthirsty, less rule-following? Unfortunately, due to repeated lockdowns in her native nation that have only just ended, we haven’t had many chances to find out. But there is no doubt she can bring “heartBREAKcore” to life just as vividly as she radiated positivity, and even less doubt that it can result in insanely good wrestling and storytelling. McKenzie has shared the mat with a who’s who of amazing female performers at all levels of the industry, from Mercedes Martinez to Bayley, from Kimber Lee to Thunder Rosa to Kris Statlander. And Shazza has proven she can more than hold her own. Now that she’s freed a deeper well of rage within herself, I hope that before long she has free reign to share it with the rest of us. If you really need her tonight, let forever start and let folks in charge know!
“Ain’t got no case, ain’t got no style/Ain’t got no gal to make you smile –
Don’t worry…be happy.”
Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin
Gentleman Jervis serves as another example of a performer who’d made a consistent name for themselves around the thriving independent scene in America when it was put on a dramatic pause. A modern absurdist twist on a territory-era hero character, he acts in unrelenting light and love without fail. Pre-COVID, Jervis put on some of the most unique matches to be found anywhere. Not just putting his opponents to sleep with a hold, but making sure to tuck them in after; showing off true chain wrestling and counters, but triggering them with plain ol’ tickling. Perhaps more than any other character in the business, “The World’s Sweetest Man” was plugged in with the crowd and needing the context of that reaction. Their hugs, chants, laughter, and engagement became an integral part of his matches. Both the man taking the oddball actions, and the people eating them up, felt less out of place due to having each other.
Then, in a flash, he suddenly had no dates, no gigs, and no fans in any arena. This led to a much more existential question than other wrestlers faced. We fans only knew the outward-facing character, living to brighten our days through a perpetually woven on smile. Quite literally, who WAS a Gentleman Jervis who couldn’t do that anymore? He asked himself the same question, enduring doubt, hard choices, and crises like we all did. This would have been an easy time to say goodbye to the mask, the name, the fluffy singlet, the whole deal. His twitter could have been an open vent for frowns that would bring everybody down. This would have been understandable – lord knows most of our TLs look like that everyday, pandemic or not. But that’s not quite what happened.
Jervis opened up about doubt, fear, and setbacks. But, rather than use that to break away from the heart and encouragement of his character, he worked it in as part of the same whole. Much like Mr. McFerrin before him, he showed us that being happy doesn’t mean being oblivious to the list of hardships in your life (No place to lay your head, Landlord say your rent is late, etc. etc.). Instead, it’s owning them but making the choice to still see the good in the possibility of what you already have and what’s next. You’re realistic and honest, but keep control of your own outlook on life.
Jervis let us in as he worked through his trouble, knowing better than to worry and make it double. His example made it easier for us to do the same thing. Being able to have the pure enjoyment of his matches helps all the more for those in attendance, which we still need terribly right now. The shared embrace of something fully bright and wholesome by a room full of self-styled “smarter” fans feels like the warmth of the sun and a break from agonizing over the other high (kayfabe) stakes. Knowing that the man at the center of it all isn’t different, that we all feel the same in these hard times, reminds us that we have the capacity to let loose and look on the bright side of life too, as he has done. We’ve only been getting a small taste of that bright side for too long now. Be it on Brian Zane’s Wrestling With Wregret cards, or in the new touring Raise The Bar Events (check dates for near you), may we get together enough to one day sing it ourselves note-for-note.
“Out along the edges, always where I burn to be/
The further to the edge, the hotter the intensity”
Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins
Best known as one half of The Motor City Machine Guns, Alex Shelley spent years helping make tag team wrestling front-page news again. Needing little excuse to shove it into overdrive, he joined Guns partner Chris Saban to put on incredible displays of athleticism and brutality against the Young Bucks, Team 3D (aka the Dudleys), the Briscoes, Kevin Steen & El Generico, and even the likes of Apollo 55 in New Japan. The heights and speed at which they careened into opponents would even make Maverick blush. Shelley then broke off and formed the Time Splitters with new partner Kushida overseas as well, with both men looking to take it as high as they could go.
Shelley never stopped working, and eventually the world came full circle – his old home IMPACT! Wrestling was on the rise, featuring great tag teams, and needing some more for good measure. He and Saban stormed back, took it right into the Impact Zone, and reclaimed what was once theirs by beating The North for the IMPACT tag team titles.
Goose – I mean – GOES up must often come down (too soon?). Just as the Guns were put into the main event picture with the invading Elite forces from AEW, the Delta variant forced Shelley’s team to find a new wingman. But it wasn’t a lockdown, travel restriction, or even illness that forced his hand. He had made the decision years back to spread out his wings and plan his long term profession as a physical therapy technician. Rather than stick to the wrestling company bubble, Shelley proved himself to be (in Viper’s words) a natural heroic son of a bitch and made sure he could continue giving help to those who needed it while also preventing any resulting exposures to his locker room. This stuck him on the sidelines for months as IMPACT! moved on.
Luckily for us, he never lost that lovin’ feelin’ for forearm smashing others in the face. Shortly after returning to the ring in October 2021, Shelley victoriously captured the IWTV championship, a position that past champs have carried nationwide as a beacon of indie excellence through Beyond Wrestling, IWC New York, Black Label Pro, and many more. So hit up your keyboard and let your local indie know how desperate you are for this hot shot to make a fly-by. He’s earned it in more ways than one, and can be my wingman anytime.
No matter whether you share my love for the above performers, or are hammering away in the comments about who you want to see even more, make sure that love is known far, wide, and (politely) loud. We are the ones who can make bookings happen now that they’re here again. After all, you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.