August 25, 2004
Alex Shelley: Next Generation superstar
By JASON CLEVETT - SLAM! Wrestling
At merely 21 years old, Detroit's Alex Shelley is rapidly becoming one of the names to watch in Independent wrestling. Whether tearing through Ring of Honor as a part of the "Generation Next" faction or teaming with Abyss under the guidance of Goldilocks in TNA, it's hard to argue the statement that Shelley has "talent on loan from God."
"Honestly, that saying is just catchy," Shelley told SLAM! Wrestling. "A friend of mine who's an indy worker under the name CK3 cuts these promos with a thousand catchphrases preceding his name, and that was one. I figured, hey, it's by God's grace I've made it as far as I have in such a short period of time anyway, I might as well give him props. Luck or fate, you decide."
Does God charge interest? "The interest God charges me on my 'talent,' and I use that term loosely, is the same interest every other wrestler has to pay. You miss everything at home if you're really dedicated. Think about how many chicks I could've banged if I was home every weekend. Like, at least two or three more!"
Shelley watched wrestling as a child but his interests turned to other things at the age of six. That changed when he was 11 and turned on Monday Night RAW.
Shawn Michaels was flying around and doing all this athletic stuff. The more I watched, the more wrestlers I saw doing this kind of thing, such as 1-2-3 Kid, Owen Hart, Hakushi, Brian Pillman, Liger. That kind of wrestling is what motivated me to become a wrestler." In August of 2001, three months before graduating high school, he signed up for training.
"It was a lot of fun, as three friends and I all went to train together. The training itself was the absolute shits because the guy who we gave our money to was nothing more than a creep and a scam artist who had had maybe 100 matches. He had absolutely no respect around here, so from day one, it was kind of hard for guys who were trained by him to earn other people's respect," he said. "I was lucky enough to have another school near my house where Truth Martini and Breyer Wellington would go to train, and that's where I first met them. They ended up training me in the fall of 2002, and I'm forever grateful, as they really showed me what I needed to know."
Shelley followed the same path as many wrestlers do, setting up rings, doing security, and working for little money. In January of 2003 his career path would change for the better when he first went to the Windsor, Ontario gym of Scott D'Amore. In retrospect it would be one of the smartest things he would ever do. Like Martini and Wellington before him, D'Amore really tightened Shelley up on technique and fine-tuning.
"Scott's completely different in the ring from Truth, who's a good spot worker and flyer, and Breyer, who's an excellent technical wrestler. Scott's a brawler and a rough kind of worker, so I got to see the mentality behind his techniques as well. I now consider Scott a good friend and a mentor in the business, as he's helped me out more times than I can count."
Also a big influence is Joe E. Legend, who Shelley met in the spring of 2003 when Legend moved back to Windsor from Germany.
"I was kind of intimidated talking to him at first, mostly because dude's huge. But he's one of the nicest guys I've ever met. From the first day I met him, he would gladly show me tricks and techniques, and he did so until he left for Germany in July. Again, he had a completely different style than anyone I'd trained with before. His was more European, but he also flashed strikes and lots of innovative moves in with it. I trained with him for a year, and I'm very proud to say I'm one of his students. He really helped dramatically improve myself, Chris Sabin, and Petey Williams. The Three Musketeers know tons more than they did before he got here."
Having trained in Canada he gave his argument as to which country has better booze.
"I don't drink beer. But this much I know. Canada has a higher alcohol content than the U.S., no matter what the drink is. So I'll say Canada. PLUS, it's cheaper in Canada. Also if I'm drinking in Canada, it usually means Petey Williams isn't far behind, which equals fun."
Eventually the time came to pick a name. Shelley was lucky to pick his own instead of having a promoter decide for him, and he put a lot of thought into it.
"I got the Alex part from the main character of A Clockwork Orange. The Shelley part has two sources. I wanted a name with some flair, so I thought 'What would my name have been if I were a girl?' Shelley. Also, the lead singer of '70s punk band The Buzzcocks, whom I adore on a musical level, was named Peter Shelley. I thought it sounded pretty good. I've got a knack for picking these names where people make fun of me, what with Alex Shelley and 'The Next', even if that one was handed down to me."
If he is "The Next" Alex Shelley, one has to ask what happened to the first one?
"The first Alex Shelley is hanging out with the third Undertaker and the version of the Ultimate Warrior who died in the motorcycle accident. Or did a shark eat him? I don't know, one of the two," he quipped.
Shelley first started making waves in Ian Rotten's Indiana-based IWA-Mid South.
"Danny Daniels had done some shows in Michigan, and saw my work and was pretty impressed, he had been working for Ian for a few months. Truth Martini and Chris Sabin were the first guys from Michigan to go down there, and Ian absolutely loved their work, so of course he wanted them back. There was an opening on an IWA show, and Danny told Ian about me, so Ian said he'd bring me down for a match. Jimmy Jacobs had done a shot down there back in November, so he, Martini, and myself packed up and headed for IWA in January. I'm not one to complain about car rides, but I hate having to drive through a winter wasteland with no CD player. Nothing bugs me worse. That drive was miserable."
When they arrived Shelley was told he would be wrestling Nate Webb, but Webb was late so he instead faced Steve Stone, who was also debuting.
"We had a solid match. A couple weeks later, I worked him again, and another solid match. From then on, Ian told me he'd use me whenever I could make it. My third match there was against Jimmy Jacobs, but that's a whole other story. And the drives did progressively get better as the weather improved."
As he started to establish himself on the independent scene, he also spent a great deal of time in "Wrestlehouse," where dozens of wrestlers have stayed.
"That's Chris Hero, Mark Wolf and Helena Heavenly's old house in Clarkesville, IN. It's literally two minutes away from Louisville. I miss that place. The walls were COVERED in posters, and there were serious shelves of tapes everywhere. Hundreds of tapes. We've had some good times there. I remember last Thanksgiving, Ian had a show, and a bunch of us came in for it. Myself, Zach Gowan, Jaimy Coxxx, Brian Gorie, Petey Williams, The Wildcards, Nate Webb, and Chris Hero. We all couldn't be with our families, so I guess the next best thing was being with each other. We didn't have a Thanksgiving dinner, but we certainly partied like it was 1999. Just things like that. Throwing a dozen wrestlers into a house will make for some interesting stories and fun. Besides that, I got with a lot of girls there. It ruled."
In the fall of 2003, IWA didn't have any buildings to run in so Shelley and Jacobs decided to try and branch out. IWA had just finished an inter-promotional feud with Combat Zone Wrestling in Philadelphia and the booker had seen their work and wanted to bring them in. They debuted in a four-way match that included Sonjay Dutt and Trent Acid.
"I still really like that match today, and John [Zandig] was so impressed he announced us back for the next show that night, which I was very happy about."
Although he hasn't participated in them, CZW has an annual "Tournament of Death" featuring extremely violent matches involving barbed wire, light tubes, thumbtacks and other instruments of destruction. Many wrestlers frown on the style but Shelley watches.
"Honestly, I find it entertaining, those guys are fearless. That Cage of Death 5 main event was just insane. Some people are marks for those kind of matches, and that's cool if they dig that stuff. I wish the guys would be careful of what they're doing though; some of that stuff looks quite dangerous. But I think the matches can be very exciting."
At the same time as CZW, Shelley began to break into the popular Ring of Honor promotion.
"ROH came in between CZW and IWA-MS around June of last year. CM Punk was in for one of the big monthly IWA shows, and Jimmy Jacobs and I were set to have a 30-Minute Iron Man Match. Punk ended up doing commentary and the match went pretty well. Punk really liked it and said he was taking a copy of it to ROH with him, which was cool. A few weeks later, Sabin called me. He had just started with ROH and they wanted him to drive out to Philly for the next show. He didn't want to drive alone, so they told him he could bring someone with him to work the show, and that the person he brought could bring someone else with them as an opponent. Well, I called Sabin back and told him that I'd go and I'd bring Jimmy Jacobs as an opponent. He called (ROH Booker) Gabe Sapolsky back and Gabe told Punk, I believe, who convinced Gabe to push us up to the main card in a four-way instead of the showcase card before the show. It was originally supposed to be Jimmy, BJ Whitmer, Monsta Mack, and myself. Then Mack got switched with Johnny Kashmere. Then Kashmere got switched with Tony Mamaluke, and that was ended up being the match. BJ and Tony were awesome to work with and carried us to a great match. After the show, Gabe said we'd stay in touch, and he brought us back for more and more shows throughout the year."
Everything seemed to be going Shelley's way when a botched tilt-a-whirl headscissors with a trainee in D'Amore's gym put him on the sidelines.
"I assumed he'd done them properly before, but boy, was I wrong. His technique was all wrong and he ended up dragging me down. When I took my roll off it, I was so far down I went right on my shoulder. As soon as I hit, I heard it snap. I knew something was wrong right away. There was a bump in my collarbone that wasn't there before, and I couldn't move my arm at all. That night, I went to the ER, and sure enough, broken collarbone. I was pretty upset, because this meant I had to miss the ROH Pure Wrestling Tournament and the CZW Anniversary Show. Gabe was actually good to talk to, as he calmed me down and explained that I'd have many more opportunities in the business and the best thing now is to let the injury heal. For the next two months, I basically drank my sorrows away. I couldn't work out, I couldn't wrestle, I could barely watch tapes just because I'd feel so crappy if I did. But damn if I couldn't go to the bar. And that's what I did. I don't drink much these days at all. I did it then because a) there was nothing else to do, and b) I was pretty depressed about not wrestling. I don't regret it, but I'm sure my liver does. I don't have many concerns from it. I'm really still a kid, and compared to most 21-year-olds, I'm pretty dry in the drinking department. In April, I had mobility back and started training lightly, and at the end of the month, I was back in the ring, carrying a few extra pounds I might add. That's the price I pay for all that gin."
Shelley made a huge splash upon his return to Ring of Honor. TNA had pulled contracted talent like AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels and Sonjay Dutt off of ROH shows, forcing the company to scramble to create new main eventers. "Generation Next" was born on May 22nd, 2004 as Shelley, Austin Aries, Roderick Strong and Jack Evans stormed the ring and took over the show.
"The angle itself couldn't have gone better," Shelley recalled. "When we first figured out the angle and the grouping, I was very, very excited. I think it was exactly what ROH needed at the moment, since the roster had taken such a hit. Everyone in that stable brings something different to the table. It's really easy to see when you watch us together too. I think the different styles make for a really entertaining stable overall. For anyone wanting to know, yeah, the name's taken from a comic book."
All four men wrestled twice that night, culminating in a 45-minute 8-man tag against John Walters, Jimmy Rave and the Briscoe Brothers that had the crowd on their feet in one of Shelley's favorite moments.
"A lot of fans were chanting 'Match of the year!' and 'Thank you!' Both of which were super cool, and I didn't see coming at all. To know that fans enjoyed that so much that they'd chant that is really satisfying." Shelley enjoys crowd interaction. "I'm a sucker for an 'Alex Shelley!' chant as much as the next girl with fishnets and Monroe piercings."
Each member of the group brings their different styles and strengths to the team. Some fans feel that Jack Evans' highflying style doesn't fit in to the group. Shelley disagrees.
"Jack's been improving so much, I'm very proud of him. He's been nothing but cool since I met him, and with the attitude and athletic ability he has, plus all the potential for improvement and the desire to do so, I'm sure he'll end up being a mega super duper star somewhere."
It is fitting that Generation Next was born in Philadelphia, as it is one of Shelley's favorite places to work. On the other hand, if he can bathe after a match it makes it a favorite venue.
"I absolutely love Philly. I love the city itself, performing there, and the fans. The old ECW Arena is cool, but overly hot. I actually miss Ian Rotten's old building in Clarkesville. Lots of memories there, even if we did have to piss in buckets. The Chicago Ridge building ROH runs is tremendous, as is the RexPlex. I also like performing in the Pittsburgh CCAC Campus for IWC. If I'm there, it means I rode there with Josh Prohibition and/or M-Dogg 20, and those guys rock the casabah. Anywhere with showers is cool, really."
One of Shelley's goals was achieved a few weeks ago when he debuted on TNA's Impact show. Scott D'Amore contacted him and offered to fly Shelley to Orlando out of his own pocket as the company was interested in him.
"It's the best thing that's happened to me in wrestling so far. Working as a wrestler and living off it is a dream come true. Scott was a big hand in making that happen and I'm very thankful."
Dubbed "The Baby Bear" Shelley was the second person (and only willing one) to join Goldilocks' stable, and put in a team with Abyss. Many fans hate the name and the association with Goldilocks.
"I don't care about the nickname at all, really. I've said it before, I'm just very happy to have a chance there. I know lots of fans loathe the nickname, but eh, everyone has their opinions, right? My tenure so far has been all right. I'd really like to go to the X-Division when the time is right. I don't think there are any guys there who work the style I do yet. The closest things would've been Chad Collyer and maybe some of the British workers in the Cup gimmicks. But everything will happen when the time is right, and I'm perfectly happy working the guys I do and staying in the spot I'm in."
"Sabu's the main guy who's really helped me out. I worked him there in my first few weeks and ever since he's just been absolutely great. He's really one of the most stand up guys I've met in this business and he will ALWAYS help the young guys out if they listen to him. Jerry's awesome too, especially when he's working with the X matches. There are lots of veterans there to get advice from. Terry Taylor is another guy who stays on me and tries to make sure I get better. Plus, Scott's there every week and he's always a guy I can go to when I have questions, worries, need advice, whatever. But really, there's something to be learned from everyone, like Dutch Mantel on TV presentation, or Shane Douglas on facial expressions. I mean, there's bits and pieces you can take from everyone."
Signing with TNA caused ROH fans concern. The possibility is there that Shelley may not be allowed to work ROH shows in the future, and some feel that his push in ROH has been lessened in favor of Austin Aries. Others say that after his scheduled ROH dates are over he won't be working ROH anymore. Shelley was glad to address these rumors.
"They are totally false. The deal when I signed with TNA was that I was allowed to work ROH until someone in the office objected, which no one has. They've been more than understanding in the situation with me, and I couldn't be more appreciative. While it's always possible that TNA could exercise the fact they have me under contract, there's been no signs they were going to. Austin getting a push has nothing to do with me, it has to do with him being a great wrestler and being in the right spot at the right time."
TNA gives Shelley the chance to spend more time with friends Chris Sabin and Petey Williams. Williams is the captain of Team Canada and Shelley had nothing but praise for the group.
"Team Canada's great. They're so over as heels, it's fantastic. I've known Petey for about two and a half years now, and he's an awesome guy. There's a group of guys in Michigan, like myself, Petey, Sabin, Jimmy, Zach, Truth, who are all really close with each other and around the same age, so it's easy to relate to each other and hang out from time to time. I was responsible for initially getting Petey Williams out there. I pushed to get him down in IWA, where he started getting exposure, and I got him booked in CZW, regardless of whom he came in with. He's an awesome worker and a very close friend. The rest of the Canadians down there, we've known each other for a while. Eric Young and Bobby Roode were doing Scott's shows in Windsor years ago when I started out and such. Johnny Devine's awesome too. That moonsault frogsplash is something else. He's another one of the guys I hang out with down at TNA. That guy loves the nightlife and he's pretty hilarious to boot. They're super cool guys, and I think they all compliment each other well. It's nice to have people in the TNA locker room you were friends with well before you all got there."
It hasn't always been easy, as Shelley has had to balance wrestling, college and a part-time job. Being signed by TNA allowed him to finally quit his job and earn a living as a wrestler.
"Luckily, I'm not in school right now, because it's summer break. It's definitely not easy balancing something as time consuming as wrestling and school. I was always exhausted and generally didn't sleep enough. I'm not sure how I did it. I arranged my college schedule to be Monday through Thursday, with morning and early afternoon classes so I could train and such at night. I was just getting general credits, so I didn't declare a major yet, which was probably easier in hindsight than if I had declared a major. Quitting my job to make a living at being a pro wrestler was easily the most satisfactory decision I've ever made. I kind of wish I could quit a job everyday to go full time with wrestling."
Shelley has never worked for the WWE or had any interest expressed by them, and that isn't in his current agenda. He does however have a similar goal as many wrestlers, to work in Japan.
"There's only a few ways to get into the WWE system, and working for Ian Rotten definitely isn't one of them. I don't think the WWE would have any use for me at this juncture, seeing as I'm an athletically built but not overly built guy, who's 5"10' on a good day, and is all of 21 years old. That's not to say I wouldn't like to go there someday, but there's no need for me there right now. I want to go to Japan really bad, but I don't know for who. I can't get into New Japan, because they use dojo guys and such. I'd really like to go to NOAH. Lots of my friends have gone there like Ace Steel, BJ Whitmere and Doug Williams, and they all say it's just awesome. I'd love to go for Toryumon, but they don't have much use for Gaijins and such. When I was 14, I used to love watching Michinoku Pro tapes, so it'd be cool to work there one day. There are so many companies. I'd like to go to All-Japan too, because the wrestler in Japan I'd most want to wrestle is far and away Kaz Hayashi. He's one of the guys I try to model my style after and I think he's just awesome."
Already considered a phenomenal talent despite having just turned 21, Shelley knows that every day in the business you learn something new, and looks forward to improving.
"I'd like to master TV wrestling. I'd still like to cut different types of promos. ROH has really let me cut loose with some of my promos. I cut one talking about how Matt Stryker should slit his wrists because the fans think he's so boring. I mean, of course he shouldn't slit his wrists, but where else would I be able to say that? I cut one at CZW that involved talking about porno and painkillers. Various places let me do different stuff in different styles. There are so many small things I need improvement upon. I'm confident working the places I am will help that immensely."
Wrestler commentaries have become an integral part of fan interaction on the web. Shelley's journal, available on his website, chronicles the life of a typical 21 year old who just happens to wrestle. At times it seems no topic is taboo as he talks about road trips, partying, girls, girls, and more girls.
"I figure, why not? Maybe it gives some fans more reasons to connect to me. I know I've always enjoyed reading wrestlers' commentaries, even before I was in the business. The stories are entertaining. I'm not really ashamed of many things I do, so why not broadcast them."
Having already achieved a level of success so young, where does Alex Shelley go from here?
"Well, nowhere to go but down, right?" he joked. "Hopefully things will turn out alright. I've been so lucky so far; I don't see how I can be any luckier! My goals are to become one of the best wrestlers in the entire world, and hopefully make enough money to live off of doing it. I want to go to other countries and wrestle, I want to wrestle wrestlers from other countries, I really just want to experience all of it. I'm just very lucky I've gotten so far at the age I have. There's not a moment where I'm not thankful for it."
For more on Alex Shelley visit his website www.alexshelley.com.
Jason Clevett is from Calgary, Alberta. His Live journal isn't as interesting as Alex's but you can still check it out at www.livejournal.com/~slamjay