Publish date:

Alex Shelley Loving His Return to the Independent Circuit: ‘This Is What Makes Life Worth Living’

The Week in Wrestling: a 19-year veteran on his experience working the indies, how the WWE draft could reshape the company’s title picture and more.

SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath-the-surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.

Alex Shelley on Daniel Garcia and Wheeler Yuta: “These guys are the future of pro wrestling”

The brilliance of Alex Shelley will be on full display over the next two days.

Shelley shares the ring with rising star Daniel Garcia in a Beyond Wrestling ring Thursday in a match that adds a special flair to the Season 3 debut of Uncharted Territory, which is broadcast live each Thursday on IWTV. The momentum continues a day later when Shelley challenges Wheeler Yuta, another future professional wrestling mainstay, for the Independent Wrestling championship during IWTV’s Untitled show.

“These guys are the future of pro wrestling,” Shelley says. “I consider myself very lucky to share a ring with them.”

A 19-year wrestling veteran, Shelley has enjoyed a tremendous career, especially while teaming with Chris Sabin in the Motor City Machine Guns. He has played a starring role for New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Impact Wrestling and Ring of Honor. He even had a brief NXT cameo in 2020, reuniting with former Time Splitters tag partner Kushida. Yet there is a uniquely rejuvenating aspect to stepping back into the indies, almost as if he is splitting time to travel to an oasis of pure wrestling.

“These are new territories for me,” says Shelley, who is 38-year-old Patrick Martin. “The goal is always the same, and that is to prove myself. In order to do my job right, that’s what I plan on doing.”

Shelley is constantly seeking to raise the level of respect he commands in the ring. One of wrestling’s most prized free agents, he confirmed that he received contract offers from a number of companies before the pandemic, though he opted to work in the medical field instead. Now back in the ring, and performing at an exceptionally high level, it would be a shock if he were not signed full time by 2022.

“Right now, the independents are where I want to be,” Shelley says. “That’s not to say I wouldn’t go back to a big company. AEW looks amazing. I had a great experience in WWE/NXT, Impact is doing some great stuff and so is Ring of Honor. I miss New Japan so dearly. But I very much enjoy independent wrestling on a grassroots level.

“When I was growing up in this industry, I saw how dog-eat-dog it was, and I learned I needed a contingency plan. That was hard because I love pro wrestling so much. I’d pursued my education so I had a backup plan, and I promised myself I would never wrestle because I needed to, but rather only because I loved it. I’ve kept that promise. Wrestling Garcia and Yuta, these are matches I want. I’ve found a special kind of joy and energy grinding on the independents.”

This action-packed week also includes a match against TJP on Major League Wrestling’s Fightland special, which airs on Friday on Vice. Shelley is one of wrestling’s endearing personalities, as well as a master of precision and technique in the ring.

The chance to demonstrate his art inside a wrestling ring continues to be a source of inspiration for Shelley, as well as for those who have the opportunity to watch him apply his craft. That gives extra meaning to his next two matches, both of which air live, against Garcia and Yuta.

“I’m a play-for-the-love-of-the-game player,” Shelley says. “To me, this is what makes life worth living. And now I get to feed off the energy and spirit of Garcia and Wheeler. These are two very special wrestlers. If I can hang with these guys, I can hang with anybody in this industry.”

The (online) week in wrestling

  • Sammy Guevara defeated Miro last week to become the new TNT champion, bringing even more excitement to Dynamite.
  • Bobby Fish makes his AEW debut Wednesday night, challenging Guevara in his first defense of the TNT title. 
  • Before Drew McIntyre heads to SmackDown, he has a very meaningful opportunity to help cement Big E’s title run.

SI Recommends

  • Bryan Danielson and Kenny Omega are building long-term to a pay-per-view showdown.
  • NXT is building toward Tommaso Ciampa–Rex Steiner (or, if I must, Bron Breakker) at its Halloween Havoc special. 
  • MLW has an impressive show in store for its Fightland special Thursday on Vice, led by Alex Hammerstone seeking to dethrone Jacob Fatu to become the new MLW champion. 
  • The caption adds so much to this video. 

Latest WWE draft creates interesting scenarios for the world champions

The latest rendition of the WWE draft has come and gone, beginning Friday on SmackDown and finishing Monday with Raw. Of course, there is not an exact science to this draft—Brock Lesnar declared himself a free agent, which isn’t exactly something you would ever see in a pro sports league draft—and there were key players (e.g., the injured Bayley) left off the draft board.

The card is always subject to change, but roster changes aren’t scheduled to officially start until after the Crown Jewel show in Saudi Arabia on Oct. 22. That offers a chance to put a bow on some current stories, particularly with Big E, who has the chance to further cement his title reign with a resounding win against Drew McIntyre.

Edge and Seth Rollins add a much-needed energy and presence to Raw, and both can eventually chase the WWE title. Bianca Belair gives another star to the show, while Hit Row brings some new life to SmackDown. In terms of WWE’s four top champions—Big E (staying on Raw), Becky Lynch (moving to Raw), Charlotte Flair (moving to SmackDown) and Roman Reigns (staying on SmackDown)—there is plenty of opportunity for excitement surrounding new matchups for the belt.

Big E has plenty of potential for new opponents, with AJ Styles, Keith Lee, Kevin Owens, Finn Bálor and Edge—not to mention Randy Orton and Matt Riddle, who are on their own collision course to WrestleMania—all available for a title program. Becky Lynch can continue her program with Bianca Belair, but it will also be great to see her start a story with Rhea Ripley. Alexa Bliss and Zelina Vega should also be presented as title threats, and there is real potential in Doudrop, who is incredibly talented in the ring.

The landscape on SmackDown changes with Charlotte Flair’s return, and it also allows Flair to reignite her longstanding feud with Sasha Banks. The Flair-Banks story should help carry SmackDown, and Shayna Baszler needs to continue to be showcased as a dominant, fearsome force in the ring. A real highlight of SmackDown will be the weekly development of Shotzi Blackheart, who possesses all the tools to become WWE’s next big star.

Roman Reigns appears to have a shortage of opponents for the universal title, yet this is now his opportunity to help further establish—and elevate—some of WWE’s talents. This is a pivotal moment for Ricochet, perhaps the most underutilized star in all the industry, to work with Reigns.

Ricochet is as talented as any top-tier star in the industry, and he needs to be in a main-event program against Reigns. In order for it to materialize, Ricochet needs to be positioned like a star. That means he needs spectacular finishes against opponents who people want to see get beaten, as well as a dedicated effort by the broadcast team to ensure people know he is a star. The commentary during a match is pivotal to a wrestler’s standing in the company. If the broadcast team is discussing another match while you are working, the implication is clear: you’re just filling time. This is why one of AEW’s greatest strengths is Jim Ross on commentary. When J.R. goes out of his way to get someone over, that talent inevitably gets over. The same is true for Pat McAfee with Rick Boogs, who has benefited tremendously from McAfee’s enthusiasm when he appears, and has connected Boogs with the fan base in a much different way than just through wrestling. So if the broadcast team is given the green light to tell the story of how the stars are aligning for Ricochet, then Reigns will have a great new opponent.

There is a lot of potential for Reigns to make stars with the new shakeup. Drew McIntyre shouldn’t touch the world title picture until 2022, as he needs time to showcase new layers and dimensions in his SmackDown reboot. The creative staff—which is a key to making this all work—will need to make sure he is protected. If WWE gives that same treatment to Humberto Carrillo, who has been completely misused over the past few months on Raw, then he is another potential opponent for a compelling program with Reigns. I picture Sheamus more as an opponent for Brock Lesnar, but it would be great to see Reigns work meaningful programs with Ricochet and Carrillo.

Tweet of the Week

Who could have possibly predicted Arn Anderson seizing control of social media in 2021?

More Wrestling Coverage:

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.