After languishing on the sidelines for Ring of Honor, Shane Taylor is making the most of his opportunity.
Shane Taylor is not a second-generation wrestler, though he did have the chance to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Taylor’s father was infamous throughout the streets of East Cleveland. He watched in awe as his father handled drug dealers, schemers, and scammers. While others died—shot, overdosed or mysteriously vanished—his father thrived. Lured by the money and prestige, Taylor wanted nothing more than to run the streets in the same manner as his father.
“My dad was a legend on the street, and that’s exactly what I wanted,” said Taylor. “So people were testing me to see what I was about. Me and my cousins were going above and beyond our family name to prove ourselves.”
Credibility on the streets is hard to earn and tougher to maintain, but it is attained through respect.
“It can be hard for people who don’t live in an environment like that to understand what I’m talking about, but respect is a big deal,” said Taylor. “Once you allow disrespect, then that grows. People start testing your limits, going from smart-ass comments to robberies.
“In that world, you have to make decisions and send some bold messages so people know not to mess with you. So that’s what I was doing.”
But Taylor’s father wanted a son, not a partner. He did his best to steer Taylor away from the lifestyle, and did so the only way he could—through fear.
“My dad sat me down one day and he said, ‘I can show you how to live this life and be the best at it,’” said Taylor, still marveling at the savviness of his old man. “But he also explained there’s no 401K or no retirement, but there is a 24/7 life of paranoia. He told me how you’d lose people, and I’d already been to hundreds of funerals. Then he told me how I’d end up in jail or dead.”
The alternative, his father explained, was to be a different type of man.
“He gave me another option,” said Taylor. “He told me I could be the first person in our family to go to college.”
The path was not easy, nor was it flashy, and it came with a hefty price tag, but Taylor earned his bachelor’s degree in business management in 2009.
Even though he left the street, Taylor is still haunted by the notion of what could have been. At night, when the 9-to-5 world is asleep, Taylor occasionally allows a thought or two to creep into his mind about the life he left behind.
“My pride wants me to say I’d still be here if I chose the street, but everyone that thinks that way ends up going first,” admitted Taylor. “I’ve had guns pulled on me, lost too many people, and seen too many bad things. I am the one percent of one percent to have gone through what I did and still be alive.
“Thankfully, I did not become a statistic. Would I still be alive? I don’t know. I’m better off just focusing on doing what I am doing now.”
The 32-year-old Taylor resides in Texas with his wife and two baby girls, and everyday life for the reigning Ring of Honor Television Champion is nothing short of beautiful.
“Being a husband and a dad changed my life,” said Taylor. “Before, it was just me. Now there are people who depend on me. Having my girls has pushed me to be a better person and a better man, and my wife is incredible, too. She’s everything I’m not, in the best of ways.”
An intimidating presence at 6'1" and 350 pounds, Taylor captured the ROH Television title in a victory during the War of the Worlds tour in May over fellow heavyweight Jeff Cobb. That encounter was a rematch from ROH’s 17th Anniversary show in February, where Taylor lost to Cobb in his first-ever pay-per-view singles match after three years with the company.
After years of being overlooked in the wrestling business, Taylor promised himself that he would capitalize upon every opportunity he was given.
“One chance, that’s all I need,” said Taylor. “There was no way I was going to bring anything less than my best, and that’s what people were finally able to see.”
Taylor’s ascension to champion is on the right track, though he knows the train will still run him over if he heads in the wrong direction.
Taylor arrived in Ring of Honor around the same time as Keith Lee in 2016 and the ROH creative team paired the two together. But the wildly talented Lee quickly left for a better opportunity to make it on his own, starring throughout the indies and working with EVOLVE, which led to a deal with NXT. Taylor, meanwhile, languished on the ROH sidelines.
While stuck opening shows with seemingly no direction, Taylor was hit with an epiphany: He would not become a bodyguard, a sidekick, or a lackey. For him, these descriptions fit generalizations he is unwilling to portray.
“I’m done with stereotypes of black culture,” said Taylor. “We’ve seen it, it’s tired, it’s boring. Ninety-eight percent of black culture aren’t pimps. They are everyday people who want the same thing everyone else does. We shouldn’t be relegated to being sidekicks or angry black dudes. So to be able to be where I’m from and represent this vision means everything to me.”
Taylor decided he would be himself—intelligent, intimidating, and articulate.
The decision didn’t go unnoticed. The ROH roster went through a turnover at the beginning of the year, creating new spots, and Taylor was given a chance to showcase his ability. Taylor now plans on redefining the TV title, and makes his first pay per view title defense against Bandido on Friday, June 28 at the “Best in the World” pay-per-view in Baltimore.
“Bandido is one of the best luchadores in the world,” said Taylor, who lost to Bandido in their first meeting in May. “But he’s trying to come into my house and take my property. There is no way someone takes what is mine. At the end of that match, all people are going to hear is, ‘And still Ring of Honor Television Champion, Shane Taylor.’”
Taylor looks to build a body of work in this field that is unparalleled, a feat that will fit nicely alongside his prior accolades.
“I know I’m the guy who was never supposed to be champion, I’m the guy who wasn’t supposed to be here,” said Taylor. “But that has changed. I am here, and now everyone is going to have to bow down and pay their respects to the man.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.