Wednesday night’s Dynamite will be a proving ground for Karl Anderson.
Known primarily as a tag team specialist or as an important part of an ensemble, Anderson has the chance to star in singles action later this week in a match against Jon Moxley for New Japan’s IWGP United States title.
“It’s the biggest opportunity I’ve ever had,” says Anderson, who has teamed with Doc Gallows in New Japan’s Bullet Club, AJ Styles’s The Club in WWE, and is now partnered with Gallows, Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks in AEW and Impact. “Me and Doc, we had a big tag team at WrestleMania , but I don’t look at that as the greatest thing to ever happen in my career. I look back at matches in Hiroshima and Ryogoku and Tokyo, but nothing like this showcase. I’ve always said that when I get the opportunity, I am going to take it. This is my opportunity.”
This is the opportunity and platform the 19-year veteran craved during his run in WWE. He had just left New Japan Pro-Wrestling, where he starred in matches—and victories—against top stars Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi. But Vince McMahon decided early on that while Anderson could play a valuable role in the ensemble, he was never to be the lead.
This decision was soul-crushing for Anderson. He smiled outwardly, but he ate himself up internally, watching as other wrestlers took spots that he believed he had earned. He remained a professional and continued doing the job that was asked of him, but the frustration grew to the point where it affected his daily life, including his marriage and relationship with his children.
“What we do is scripted entertainment, and I’ll be honest, there are times when I felt like I deserved more in WWE,” Anderson says. “Going on the road in WWE, especially in 2018 and 2019, I was taking my frustrations from the road back home. My wife didn’t understand what I was going through; my kids couldn’t understand why I was in a bad mood. All I wanted to do was get out of that bad mood. I was only home for two or three days, and then I had to go back to this f------ place I didn’t want to go back to. A couple weeks very quickly turns into six months. I love my family so much, but that affected my life at home. Getting released by WWE was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Anderson always prided himself as a world-class pro wrestler. A ring technician, he is the type of professional who can make any opponent look good, delivering an in-ring performance that is realistic and hard-hitting, and he cuts promos that seize a viewer’s attention. But the frustrations with his job and the way it impacted his family weren’t entirely negative: That experience woke him up to the reality of how much he cherishes his family.
“It’s been a reminder that wrestling isn’t everything,” Anderson says. “At the end of the day, family is No. 1. Sometimes you can lose sight of that. I am honored to do what I do in wrestling, but I’m also extremely proud to be a husband and a father.”
The end result of his whirlwind journey with WWE is a renewed passion for pro wrestling. Anderson’s work in Impact Wrestling and AEW has him overflowing with more confidence than ever. He has an increased notoriety from his years spent working for McMahon, and he now wrestles for a title in New Japan, the company where he honed his persona as The Machine Gun. In an even more unique twist, the match has the added exposure of taking place in AEW on Dynamite.
This is Anderson’s first singles match for an IWGP title in six years, when he wrestled Shinsuke Nakamura in November 2015 for the IWGP intercontinental championship. He had a lot to prove then, and despite the passage of time, he still has a massive chip on his shoulder.
“I’ve been counted against my entire life,” Anderson says. “When I first told people that I was going to be a pro wrestler, I was told I was too small. When I moved to Los Angeles for more opportunities, I was told I wouldn’t make it. Then I got hired by New Japan, and people told me I’d only be a job boy there. Next thing you know, I’m IWGP tag champ with Giant Bernard [Matt Bloom] for a record amount of days. Then Giant Bernard goes to WWE, and I get a chance in a singles match in 2012 against Nakamura in the New Japan Cup at Korakuen Hall, and I beat him. I’ll always bet on myself. I knew we could bring more eyes to Impact, and now we’re able to work with New Japan and AEW. It’s such a unique time, and we’re making the most of it.”
While it is unlikely that Moxley would drop the belt with such a short build, it would make sense with the upcoming New Japan show in August in Los Angeles. Moxley is a dynamic babyface, a role that is enhanced when chasing the heel champ, which Anderson knows is a position that places him in a spot to steal the show.
“This is a badass chance for me to show what I can do,” Anderson says. “It’s an opportunity I have wanted, and I’m confident it’s going to live up to the expectations.”
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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.