WWE/TNA: The Sin of Omission and Why I'd Riot (an Open Letter to Alex Shelley)
Welcome to the most difficult column I’ve ever tried to write. Yes, in three years of writing wrestling columns, this is easily the most daunting task I've ever taken on.
It started by making an error that I can now pass on as a life lesson: If you are going to tweet a professional wrestler, know what you are trying to say and how you want to say it first.
From my Twitter account, I tweeted to Alex Shelley:
I wasn’t ready to write my "open letter" or to clarify my thoughts. I had been re-watching Alex Shelley tape for a couple of days and was just inspired and sent that little tweet off into the Netherlands, expecting no reply.
I got one, from Mr. Shelley himself:
It was an honor just to hear from Alex Shelley, who, as you will see, is one of my inspirations. But, like Shelley, I also didn’t know what I meant. Or, rather, I knew, but I didn’t know how to express it. I soon tried, in nine tweets that I later deleted, not satisfied with how any of them turned out.
The struggle was deeper.
To whom should I say it?
And is it my place to say it at all?
These are the things I struggled with, but ultimately, I came to this: It would be nearly blasphemous, hypocritical at minimum, for me to write to Alex Shelley about what his inspiration means (and could mean) to pro wrestling, only to turn around and deny the inspiration that was leading me to write this
So, without further ado, and after tapes of Shelley and drafts of this column, here it is: the most difficult (and most rewarding) column I’ve ever written.
Dear Mr. Shelley,
I still don’t know who this letter would best be addressed to—you, TNA, WWE, nobody at all? After all, I’m just a wrestling fan. No amount of time watching—though I've been watching for 23 years—makes me even an inch closer to knowing what goes on behind closed doors or why some people get that elusive monster push and some do not.
And even though I perceive it a crime that you have not yet received such a push, it is the hardest crime to report, one of omission.
It’s not like when RVD faced John Cena, and an overthrow of the norm was so close the folks in the Hammerstein Ballroom could not only taste it, but they could get out markers and a banner and fly the words, "If Cena wins, we riot."
No, this is not like that.
And that is why it’s more difficult to articulate. But may I say, that is why it’s far more necessary.
I have been watching your matches and promos for many, many years, but the first time I realized you had something that very few in your class had was when I saw your promos with Kevin Nash, along with your work on Paparazzi Productions.
How many guys in the X-Division could pull off that kind of humor, timing and overall presence of personality?
I would watch TNA only to see you and Kevin Nash. You two, dare I say, were as entertaining together as I remembered Hall and Nash in WCW.
The reason I mentioned Chris Jericho, and WCW’s missed opportunity with him, in my tweet is because, like you, Chris Jericho had "it" coming out his ears and nobody who mattered seemed to know or care.
The old question is, if a tree falls and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Allow me to use a variation: If a wrestler makes magic, in the ring and on the mic, but nobody who can push him forward notices, is that wrestler really making a sound?
Sadly, more and more, the answer seems to be no.
Not only did I expect a future main event push for you when you proved you could hold your comedic own with Kevin Nash and create absurd magic with Paparazzi Productions, but years later, when Mick Foley pointed out that his son now wanted hair like Alex Shelley's, I believed that was one more guy
who understood "it," realizing that Alex Shelley had "it" coming out his ears.
Some of these qualities—that "it"-factor, the presence, the ability to be a trendsetter—can’t be taught. They can’t be handed down with a gimmick. It can’t be given to preferred wrestlers who don’t have "it."
Have you ever noticed how many guys become world champions but how few leave their mark, their presence and their identity on a product?
Ric Flair left his on 80’s NWA; Hulk Hogan left his on 80’s WWF; Steve Austin left his on late 90’s WWF. Chris Jericho left his. HBK in the second half of his career, becoming Mr. WrestleMania,
Lately, in TNA, they’ve been doing more than making champions—they’ve been making eras.
Watch Bobby Roode develop from the long-haired babyface who failed at Bound for Glory 2011 to the tailor-made, trim-cut wrestler who became the longest-reigning TNA champion in the history of the company. Watch Bully Ray, who was never supposed to have this chance—watch him leave not just his thumbprint but his whole handprint on everything that is TNA.
When Bobby Roode was champion, it was his company.
Right now, it’s Bully Ray’s company.
And I’m left to imagine what it might be like if it was your company, your run, your turn.
These days in TNA, the storytelling takes longer to unfold, the characters are more well-developed and the opportunities for greatness are actually trickling down to the guys who deserve it.
And every bit of that made me think of Alex Shelley.
Made me think of what I’ve known for more than half a decade: Alex Shelley is not the guy who would simply carry around a belt; Alex Shelley is the guy who could set trends, create catchphrases and start a movement that could inspire and challenge and demonstrate an era of excellence in TNA—where in-ring talent meets personality—that we’ve hardly ever seen.
In other words, like those fans in the Hammerstein Ballroom, I have seen what it would be like for Alex Shelley to have his era. I’ve been close enough to sense it and to take out pen and write it.
Of all the things that could ever happen in wrestling, only one leads me to this: If Alex Shelley never gets his monster push, if he never gets the belt and a chance to leave his mark, I riot.
And what does that mean?
Precious little, unfortunately, at least as it affects the world around me. But inside, I rage against the machine of unfairness. I will spend years wondering whose fault it was.
I will be left to wonder why the most obvious opportunity I’ve ever imagined never came to pass.
Just for the record, my first year watching wrestling, I saw a long-haired, funny-shorts rookie named Stunning Steve Austin defeat Beautiful Bobby Eaton. And while I liked both men and flipped out for the Alabama Jam, even eight-year-old Shane knew Steve Austin could change the wrestling world.
Eight-year-old Shane knew it, but it would take six years and three wrestling promotions before Steve Austin would get that chance. And then he had to first overcome the Ringmaster they placed upon him.
Same with Chris Jericho, and I still wonder, had it not been for the Monday Night Wars and the need to push the best to the top, would we have even seen guys like Steve Austin, Chris Jericho and Mick Foley get their shots?
In any other era, they would have been unlikely candidates, especially for WWF/E.
Truth is, Great stars can be overlooked.
Charisma can unfortunately be ignored.
The "it"-factor can remain forever locked inside of should-be stars.
So, I write this, not to Alex Shelley, or WWE, or TNA.
I write this, if I may, to anyone who will read it.
I was a high school dropout who failed English, but I was born with strong intuitive skills. I can’t tell you what color the walls are in a room that I spend the day in, but I know all about inspiration, creativity and the invisible qualities that ultimately lead to breakout stars.
With no background, I was ultimately, eventually accepted into the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked graduate creative writing programs in the United States. I was also recently invited to join a TV writing program set up by the former head writer of one of the top sitcoms of all time.
It was not talent that got me there—it was passion. It was the from-birth abilities we sometimes take for granted.
But you know what’s crazy?
I didn’t go to any of those programs.
Maybe I didn’t see myself the way they saw me, or maybe there was nobody around who told me I should go.
That I was good enough to go.
That’s why I write this.
Not for what Alex Shelley will or won’t say.
I write this so that it will be on the record—that somebody said Alex Shelley was good enough to leave the kind of mark on wrestling that only a certain class can leave.
The future will unfold.
Alex Shelley will wrestle in Japan against legends like Jushin Liger (for which I cannot blame him), as he is doing now. But one day, more than likely, he will come home.
He will return.
And somebody will use him to his potential or they won’t.
But nobody—not Alex Shelley, not WWE, not TNA—will be able to say that nobody saw the potential he had.
I saw it.
And now I’ve said it.
And the reason I included Paul Heyman’s Twitter diatribe when I tweeted you, Mr. Shelley, is for this reason.
I’m just a fan.
I don’t know what keeps a guy from that monster push. I imagine it is a combination of unfortunate politics on the part of powerful people and a lack of no-matter-what ambition on the part of young stars.
But like I said, I don’t know.
But Paul Heyman knows.
And in his tweets, Paul Heyman said this (h/t Wrestle Zone): “If there was no opportunity, I created my own,pushed my way in/manipulated the circumstances to beg, borrow, plead, blackmail, bribe, cajole, threaten…and/or manufacture/All I wanted was a mic in my hand.”
You are currently making your own way in Japan, and that’s wonderful.
But what might Alex Shelley be able to do in the U.S. with just a microphone in his hands?
Paul Heyman added this: “I saw @ShawnMichaels go from tag team wrestler to greatest all around in-ring performer ever. Think it was easy for him?/I remember when Shawn and Marty were blackballed in the business, and could only work in Ala-[explicit]-bama/Think it didn’t take @ShawnMichaels everything 'and then some' to break out of the Rockers and get a chance as 'HBK'?/AMBITION. ASSERTIVENESS…and the ABILITY TO BACK IT UP is what it takes to create the next generation of main eventers.”
From tag team wrestler to great. Does that sound familiar?
Paul Heyman said it took Everything and then some.
Imagine being the guy who gave everything, but fell short because the next guy gave everything—and then some.
Nobody wants to be that guy.
And, finally, Paul Heyman said this: “The need for new main eventers is readily apparent/”DOCILE” and “COMPLACENT” and “HUMBLE TO A FAULT” won’t cut it/While a dose of humility is
always needed, that “main event confidence” is just as important/And it’s time
for the next group of superstars to stake their claim and create their own generation
for others to follow/Peiod. Excla-[explicit]-mation point. The lecture is over.
Pontification has ended. Hope I’ve been of help 2 ANYONE who follows this
acct/and maybe even to someone who doesn’t!”
If you have anything, Mr.Shelley, it is “main event confidence.”
To close, I will point out two more things, not from me, but from Mr. Heyman, whom you respect.
He said it was time for Superstars to stake their claim and create their own generation for others to
He said this one year ago in June.
Who has since done it?
Who will do it?
When I saw his diatribe a year ago, I happened to have an injured shoulder, arm and hand. And yet, my computer wasn’t working properly, so, despite the pain, I typed the entire diatribe in paragraph form and posted it as a column here on B/R in hopes that somebody would be inspired.
Now, a year later, I send it to you.
And it’s only now that I see Mr. Heyman’s last words: that his diatribe may be of help to someone who follows his account or someone who doesn't.
I don’t know which category you fall into.
But the words have now reached you.
And I will say one last time—as I said of Steve Austin at eight, of Cactus Jack at nine, of Chris
Jericho as a young teen—if ever I saw somebody who could be somebody, who could lead somebodies, who could change the climate of professional wrestling and inspire and touch lives with his talent and persona, it is you.
It is Alex Shelley.
I could go on, but why?
I don’t have the booking power to make Raven’s catchphrase come to life here.
"So it is written, so it shall come to pass."
I can only say, "So it is written."
Only you, Alex Shelley, can finish that line.
Only you can bring it to pass.
With hope for the best,
P.S. I didn’t even get to point out why I would pitch your return to the United States as Lord Tensai meets AJ Styles. I guess some things are better left unsaid.
Follow me on Twitter: @ IMPCTRevolution.
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