After WWE, Micheal Tarver held gold in Florida and spilled a man's blood in Japan.
Once a menacing member of The Nexus, Tarver has had to journey to smaller ponds to wage his battles. His run alongside Wade Barrett and company wasn't enough to have him remain with WWE, but it has made him a star in smaller promotions, the aura he built with the band of invading rookies traveling with him to gyms across Florida.
Donning black armbands and scowls, the contestants from NXT's first season stomped down to the ring and surrounded John Cena and CM Punk on June 7, 2010.
Tarver stood among a stable that would become famous for the wreckage it caused each week. Daniel Bryan, Barrett, Skip Sheffield (now Ryback), Justin Gabriel and Heath Slater all continue to compete for WWE today. The man identified by the black mask wrapped around the bottom part of his face did not last on that stage.
WWE released him on June 13, 2011.
Three years later came Tarver's career peak outside of WWE. It was, however, also his nadir—a defeat stuffed into a victory.
On Feb. 9 2014, after years of wrestling in small shows in Florida, he stood with his arms raised in the Hiroshima Sun Plaza in front of over 5,000 fans. Elsewhere, fans, writers and critics were typing away about an underwhelming match.
His debut with New Japan Pro Wrestling marked the first time since leaving WWE that he was working for a major company. The bout featured little worth celebrating, though.
New Japan put on two New Beginning shows, one in Hiroshima and the other, two nights later, in Osaka. Tarver went up against Hiroyoshi Tenzan, a stout, accomplished brawler who invented the Anaconda Vice.
The awkward, uninspired match may have just been forgotten afterward had Tarver not left his opponent with a bloody gash above his head. Charging from the ropes, Tenzan bowled Tarver over. As both men fell to the ground, Tarver's elbow met his foe's brow and blood began to spread across his face.
That blunder didn't help the match's reviews.
Tarver later ended the match with a haymaker punch, but critics piled onto him afterward, making it feel like far less of a win. Zach Dominello wrote for F4WOnline, "Tarver busted open Tenzan out of pure clumsiness. Tarver's knock out punch looked awful." Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Newsletter, via ProFightDB.com, gave the bout only 1.25 out of five stars.
In between his departure from WWE and disappointment in Japan, Tarver bolstered his resume in Florida. He didn't have to travel far from WWE's developmental promotion, then known as Florida Championship Wrestling.
His last tastes of action at FCW saw him lose to Xavier Woods, Big E and Tito Colon. WWE saw bigger things in those stars' futures, so Tarver became the launching pad for them. He had to head to NWA Florida Underground Wrestling and the NWA Wrestling Alliance to rediscover what victory felt like.
He initially worked under his real name (Tyrone Evans) but reverted back to Tarver before long.
Still wearing his trademark mask and possessing the same intimidating gait, he wrestled in places like the Gasoline Alley Cafe in Key Largo, Fla., a bar and music venue. On Sept. 6, 2011, he knocked off Tyson Tomko there as two WWE cast-offs met far from the spotlight Raw once offered them.
No longer one of The Nexus' forgotten members, Tarver found that in his new home, he was a title contender, a commodity and a star.
Although he lost both times, getting two cracks at FUW heavyweight champ Bruce Santee in 2011 had to feel like progress. FUW became the stage on which he performed most often. It became synonymous with opportunity and success for him.
Tarver knocked Eddie Taurus to the mat to claim the vacant FUW Bruiserweight title on March 20, 2012.
He would win a Battle Royal a month later, defeat James Alexander in a best-of-three series and time and time again, emerged the winner of his matches. FUW had its share of former WWE developmental wrestlers like Marcus Owens and Ryan Nemeth, as well as TNA's Robbie E, but in this world, Tarver was among the biggest names.
Smaller crowds and less pay than WWE couldn't have been ideal, but going from being barely used to being constantly showcased is a salve for a wounded ego.
On Feb. 1, 2013, he main evented a FUW show, clashing with Deimos to decide who would walk away with the vacant NWA Florida Heavyweight Championship. His former Nexus comrades wouldn't have traded their WWE gold for this belt, but it was one with a great lineage.
Hall of Famers Dusty Rhodes, Terry Funk and Ron Simmons had all won an earlier incarnation of the title.
Here was his chance to join those men. His match with Deimos took both men outside the ring where they traded forearms, and Deimos bodyslammed Tarver on the three-point line of what was normally a basketball court.
A smattering of screeching fans watched as Tarver leaped at his opponent, clubbed him with his fist and hooked his leg for the pin.
He would hold onto that championship until August that year and win it a second time on Feb. 21, 2014. Many of his stops outside of FUW were brief. NWA Houston, Warriors of Wrestling and Lucky Pro Wrestling all featured him a handful of times total.
Every where he went, though, he rekindled memories of The Nexus. That group was the genesis of his career, even if it didn't send him rocketing into big-league success.
Even during his match against Brian Fury at the The Elks Lodge in Clinton, Mass., Tarver brought up his WWE resume.
With the company in his rear-view, Tarver has experienced time as champion and the chief attraction. He has traveled to Japan, competing for a highly respected promotion against a man who was won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship four times.
Most of his resume post-2011 has seen him star in small productions rather than be the extra in a major show. Sold-out arenas gave away to lodges, gyms and bingo halls. Tarver has exuded the same bravado in those places that he did when The Nexus tore through WWE, though.
Maybe he has redefined what success means for him. Maybe thriving in obscurity is still thriving in his mind. Many men from The Nexus remain with WWE while he is alone.
He is a wolf separated from his pack, forced to trek to a forest where fewer eyes watch his movements.
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