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COMMENT





Nigel McGuinness in it to win it
Brit star reflects on his career, ROH's return to Britain
By JASON CLEVETT - SLAM! Wrestling


Nigel McGuinness with the Pure Wrestling title.
- courtesy Ring of Honor

This weekend, March 2-3, marks a homecoming for Ring of Honor's Nigel McGuinness. The London-born wrestler is set for two huge matches this weekend in Liverpool as Ring of Honor returns to the United Kingdom for the second time.

"It's huge, it was such a landmark event the first time we went over. The match I had with American Dragon [Bryan Danielson] really helped me turn a corner as being taken as a credible guy in Ring of Honor and so now this is the opportunity to go back and build on it," McGuinness told SLAM! Wrestling, previewing his opponents.

"I have two big matches that I think I can really tear the house down with. I have Samoa Joe on the first night. It's a fantastic opportunity to wrestle him on his second-to-last match [for Ring of Honor] and he is going to go out there guns blazing to try and have the sort of a match that will be remembered as one of his best in Ring of Honor. That is certainly my hope going into it and is going to be something special.

"I've been feuding with Jimmy Rave for a good few months, there's some heat and steam built up behind it and I think this is going to be the big final match for that. I am really excited about it, it is great to be back in front of those fans. They are really starved for Ring of Honor over there and we are going to do a lot more over there in the future."

It has been a long road to success for McGuinness. He debuted with Ring of Honor after a run in the Heartland Wrestling Association in January of 2004 and it wasn't until 2006 that McGuinness broke out as a main-event player.

"I have had a few interviews and people have said the same thing. One guy said I used to be really crap. I can see his point, bluntly put," McGuinness admitted. "I have come a long way and my style has developed a lot and that is a large part because I have been in Ring of Honor. There are other avenues in the wrestling business but I really do believe that the reason I have progressed so much is because I have stayed in Ring of Honor and had the chance to wrestle the sort of matches that I can be out for 20-25 minutes with guys like Joe and Christopher Daniels and Dragon, guys that really are the top tier in the wrestling world. You can only improve when in there with them.

"Back when I started out I looked at myself and said 'why am I not at their level? What do they do that I don't and how are they getting over when I'm not?' So consequently I have watched a lot of those guys wrestle live and on DVDs. A lot of the influences I have taken from Pro Wrestling NOAH as well. I think like anything if your heart is into it and you are constantly trying to improve, then the sky is the limit."

McGuinness defeated Samoa Joe for the ROH Pure Title on August 27, 2005 and held the belt until August 12th in Liverpool when he lost the belt to American Dragon, who unified it with the world title. Many fans say that McGuinness established the Pure title the same way Samoa Joe had with the ROH title, a compliment he takes with pride.

"I am back and forth on its retirement. I did feel that I had become kind of synonymous with that belt and making it stand out with the different match rules and such. It was sad to let it go and be retired, but I think to a certain extent in wrestling everything has a shelf life and that may have been it," he said. "I look at the matches and after a certain amount of time there are only so many things you can do with the gimmick. Paul Heyman always said it's best to leave with your heat, so that was the perfect time. You never know maybe it will come back again sometime."


Against American Dragon.
- courtesy Ring of Honor
The match with Dragon in Liverpool has received rave reviews and finally established McGuinness as a top tier performer in Ring of Honor. The match was brutal and included Dragon pulling Nigel four times face first into the ring post, as well as a brutal back and forth headbutt sequence.

"It's like Mick Foley said, there is a time and a place for everything and that was the time to pull out all the stops and give everything. It didn't feel good. At the time with the blood pumping and the adrenaline you really don't get a sense of the damage until later on when the adrenaline has worn off," McGuinness explained.

"The front of your head is a lot harder than people give you credit for, it's when you get hit in the back of the head is usually where people get the damage and concussions. Your head is designed to hit things at the front there. It was still a pretty devastating injury at the time, over the next couple of weeks I was still feeling the effects. Two weeks later I wrestled Dragon in Minneapolis; we had an hour-long match and I was really in no fit state to wrestle that night. I was still feeling it and had two black eyes that pretty much swelled shut a few days after the show in Liverpool. I had a lot of troubles the next couple of weeks. Touch wood hopefully that won't happen again but never say never. Whether it happens or not I hope I don't have any more head injuries."

A month later McGuinness had arguably the biggest match of his career in New York City at the promotion's debut at the Manhattan Center. Only days earlier his opponent Naomichi Marufuji had won Pro Wrestling NOAH's GHC Heavyweight Championship in Japan. For the first time the belt was being defended in the United States and the pressure was on McGuinness to perform.

"It was massive. That is a match that will always stand out," he said, praising the belt's lineage and prestige. "It was also the first time that it had been held by a junior heavyweight like Marifuji and people were watching to see how he held up in a heavyweight title environment.

"The thing with the wrestling business is there is a lot of downtime. What people see of you is about 5%, they don't see you going to the gym or tanning or eating every three hours or the travel. A lot of that downtime is dull and tedious, and even when you wrestle on shows you may not do well and wonder 'Why am I doing this?' Then a time comes along when that changes and is really special, and that night was one of those nights where I could stand back and really feel happy and content that I had achieved something in the wrestling business. I get that quite a lot in Ring of Honor, proud to be there in a company with all these guys busting their asses to put on the best show they possibly can."

McGuinness joins a long line of wrestlers from the United Kingdom that have successfully transitioned to careers in North America. While many of them have influenced Nigel, he credits William Regal as the person that set him on his career path. McGuinness wrestled on the final Brian Pillman Memorial card and asked Regal to watch his match and give him advice.

It was Regal that suggested that McGuinness abandon the American style that he had been working, and concentrate on the British style.

"That was really significant in terms of me going back and learning that style and the reason I got into Ring of Honor in the first place was because I wrestled that style," McGuinness said. "There was no way I was going to get a shot here doing your typical indy old-school style, I had to stand out and that gave me the opportunity to do that and I have developed it since then."

Since then, McGuinness has watches tapes of British grapplers like Fit Finlay, Marty Jones, Pete Roberts and Johnny Saint. From Les Keller, "a fantastic comedy wrestler," came his rebound lariat move. "I try and take a little bit from here and there and throw it into my game," he said. "In a sense it is difficult to break into the States because there isn't the work over here and there are a lot more people trying to get spots in a lot fewer shows.

"By the same token because I am British and a characteristic of that is having a different style that has given me a better opportunity to get those gigs," he continued. "But the British style that I learned and was in vogue and making money in the 1970s and 1980s is really hard to present nowadays in any sort of environment so I have to change it to make it accepted."

There is more opportunity for McGuinness to work in the U.S., but he also sees events like April's King of Europe as a sign of progress across the pond. "Things are going to pick up in England, I hope at least."

McGuinness has been in many epic and varied feuds in his career, and asserts that he learned something from each one. He reflected on some of his favorites.

"The first one that springs to mind is a match I had with Cody Hawk, who is an HWA wrestler that I started out in the business with. We had a tryout for Ring of Honor in January of 2004. It was difficult because we were both at the stage that the ROH faithful didn't really know us so it was difficult to get a response. I was really proud of that match as we both went out there and gave 100% and that is what you need in a match.


"The soccer-riot match with Colt Cabana was one that stands out because it was the blow-off to our feud. We did a lot of different things in that feud and I really enjoyed and was proud of it. In the wrestling business a lot of things become cliché and I think we did well in diversifying it and doing different styles of matches. Some didn't get over as well with fans as others but you've got to try everything.

"The first match I had with [American] Dragon in Cleveland was supposed to be a one-shot deal but the fans that night were just up for wrestling and were really into it. Because of that is the reason [ROH booker] Gabe [Sapolsky] decided to keep booking us together because of the chemistry we had.

"There are a lot more but with all the blows to my head it's hard to remember off the top."

Having used ROH as a springboard to other independent opportunities as well as overseas, SLAM! Wrestling asked Nigel to compare fans and the locker rooms he has been in around the world.

"I would say the difference in Japan is that wrestlers are seen as professional athletes and there is a lot more respect for them. I was never really involved in the politics, I just go over and do the job but I am sure there are politics I just don't see much of it. As far as ROH goes, the fans have a lot of respect for you but they can turn on you really quick as well. They can be brutal much like the ECW crowd used to be. Backstage is a wonderful place to be, I have never really experienced any of the backstabbing and politics that you hear about because I have never really been around WWE or TNA long enough to get a sense of it. I talk to people and hear about it and understand how it must go on but one of the greatest things about ROH is there is nothing there -- it is all about in-ring product. There are to a certain extent politics going on, but not to the extent of WWE and TNA because there isn't the money there, no huge paydays to fight for. It is a team and family environment and one of the things that separates it from a lot of smaller shows is that everyone there is a real professional and are there to do business, it's business first and no one is a mark for themselves."

It comes as a surprise to many that McGuinness hasn't yet signed with WWE or TNA. He has wrestled matches on Heat for WWE and faced Shark Boy on the pre-show of TNA's November 2005 Genesis pay per view. He's also had matches in WWE developmental territory OVW, but actually signing has yet to happen.

"I have had talks with WWE for a couple of years and gone back and forth with various levels of interest at different times. The same with TNA. Other things have seemed to get in the way. A year and a half ago I was having serious talks with WWE about a developmental deal and then I had my first tour in NOAH at the same time and I said I wanted to do that, did it and lost contact with WWE after that. With TNA, I have had other commitments that meant I couldn't commit to them the way they wanted and it didn't pan out. A lot of the wrestling business is right time right place and it hasn't been. On the other side of the coin, I am very happy to be in ROH. I think this year it is really going to step up and reach into new markets and make more money and be more visible. In the same way I am probably in a better situation now, with the opportunity to become a big name in Ring of Honor than to be thrown into the big sea of people in WWE or TNA and fighting for a very limited small spot. If I had gone to either of those places two or three years ago I wouldn't have improved or progressed the way I have in Ring of Honor. I am not getting rich and the injuries are adding up but I still feel I have a lot of room to improve and step up and Ring of Honor is where I can do that."

One of the things that may have McGuinness at a disadvantage is his age. At 31 he is a bit older then many of his fellow independent wrestlers. While he has wanted to be a pro wrestler since he was a teen, McGuinness also wanted security.

"It's funny because since I was 14 I never wanted to do or be anything else but a wrestler. I think when I was 18 it was a period in my life where it was something I wanted to do but needed time and space to make sure," McGuinness said. So, he hit the road, and spent six months traveling the world. Knowing that the chances of making wrestling a career, he went to university for three years.

"Hindsight is 20/20 it is always easier to look back and say 'what if?'" he explained. "Sometimes I wonder if I hadn't gone to university and had tried to break in '95 or '96 then when the business was booming in '98 and '99 I could have been in a spot to make some real money. By now I could be well and truly on my way to retiring and enjoying the rest of my life. Now the business is still in a low and there's opportunities that it's going to pick up but seven years of your life is a long time to put into something when its only in the last year or so that I have started making significant money."

Looking back, McGuinness isn't sure if he would have taken the same path. He wavers when offering advice for any aspiring wrestlers.

"I think everything would be on a case by case basis. If someone who looked like Brock Lesnar came to me and said 'I want to be a wrestler' I'd say call Johnny Ace you'll have a job tomorrow. But that's not usually the people who want to be pro wrestlers; it is usually wrestling fans who don't look like Brock Lesnar," he said.

"My advice to anybody is to realize there is a world out there outside of wrestling. Guys who have been in the business a long time have made a lot of sacrifices and gone through hard times, they probably wish they could go back and do some other things in life."

McGuinness cites "American Dragon" Bryan Danielson as an example. "Nobody could argue that he is one of the greatest wrestlers in the world and puts 100% of his effort into being a wrestler. He has many other interests in life, he went to school while in the wrestling business and wants to get into the Peace Corps. Like anything in life it is important you have other interests and nothing should take 100% of your time."

It isn't about pointing fingers. McGuinness recognizes some of his own flaws. "I am kind of guilty of that I have put everything else on my life in hold and screwed up relationships and missed out on other opportunities in life that I didn't have to because I was so gung-ho about being a wrestler. Just find out who you are inside and find out what you really want. You really know deep inside what you want to do in your life. You can always go back to university but once you get to a certain age you can't really be a wrestler anymore. I think if I went back in time maybe I would do things different."

One of his interests away from the ring is writing. McGuinness has a screenplay and a book waiting for the right time to be released. The was actually finished a half-dozen years ago, and optioned three years ago to a small publisher. "We've been going back and forth on bringing it up to date and finding the right time and spot in the market to publish it," McGuinness admitted. "I don't know the exact details at the moment but it is at least sold and one step away from being published."

The screenplay he wrote with a friend, and it took three months to write, and has found a buyer as well. "It took two or three years but we sold it to an independent producer in England for a fair sum of money. Now we are just waiting for him to get the funding to actually make it which is the difficult part."

McGuinness has also had two major trademarks in his ROH career –- his catchphrase 'In it to win it!' and his trademark iron, neither of which have been used as of late.

"It's obviously a great tag line because I hardly ever use it anymore. When I first started out in HWA I ended up saying 'I'm Nigel McGuinness, I am not in the HWA to play, McGuinness is in it to win it.' It actually came from a national lottery in England, that was the catch phrase and I thought it was catchy," he explained. "I wanted something that people would know was coming and scream it along with me. I don't think I have said that in a good long time, but everybody knows it. I go to WWE and they go 'hey in it to win it, how you doing!'

"As for the iron I exploded it on Andreas Diamond's head in Italy in Italian Championship Wrestling. I was wrestling him over there and hit him over the head with it and it exploded everywhere. Currently it is sitting in my closet collecting dust. Maybe in time I will create a new one and bring it back out."

In 1992, McGuinness was one of 82,000 fans that packed Wembley Stadium to see SummerSlam. A World Title match between champion "Macho Man" Randy Savage and challenger The Ultimate Warrior headlined the show. McGuinness showed his allegiance by wearing Warrior face paint. Nearly 15 years later, McGuinness reflects back on that 15-year-old boy and his dreams.

"I feel good and happy. It is nice to be able to look back and say I achieved my dream and never gave up. In a certain sense it is almost better to have a dream than to achieve it. There's a sad finality of it when you actually get to say 'Okay, I have achieved it.' There is nothing like looking to the future and going 'okay, I've got a dream and hope' and arguably that is the essence of life, wanting something and going for it with all your heart. It is funny about life that we pursue these dreams and ambitions in life that ultimately are never going to bring us the sort of happiness that we imagined."

The ride continues for McGuinness in Ring of Honor. Now a bonafide main-event wrestler and a vital part of the company, McGuinness acknowledges the fans for helping him get where he is today.

"I want to thank the fans, I always do. When they come up after a show and say 'great show' I always thank them for coming out and supporting the product. If it wasn't for the people that come and watch Ring of Honor and buy the DVDs there wouldn't be the opportunity for guys like me to work and learn and improve. I hope they enjoy it as much as we do."

RELATED LINKS

  • Nigel McGuinness' website
  • Ring of Honor



    Visit the SLAM! Wrestling store!


    Lots of Nigel McGuinness! Here's just two:
  • ROH: Unscripted II DVD (Nigel McGuinness vs. Austin Aries
    Jason Clevett is a Calgary writer who could not survive in an era where a strict length of story was enforced.