Will Ospreay is a divisive figure in wrestling – the “flippy guy” who found success around the world, his style is an acquired taste and I’ve found myself torn between loving and hating his work in equal measure.
The first Will Ospreay match that blew me away was Velocity Vipers vs The London Riots as they faced each other at PROGRESS Chapter 2 in 2012.
Just over ten minutes into the match, Alex Esmail starts to favour his leg in what would turn out to be a career-ending injury and Will Ospreay spends the final third of the match on his own against two big bruisers, and what a performance he gives.
From there, Ospreay was, for me, one to watch. As a fan of technical wrestling and displays of power, Ospreay was anathema to what I usually watch in wrestling. I described him, in conversation, as a fireworks display – the sort of thing that’s impressive when you watch it, but you don’t think about it after that. I called him “the McDonald’s of wrestling” – you might like it but you’ll want something else half an hour later.
All this and I still couldn’t stop watching him and seeing an evolution in his ability that kept me coming back. Over the years, I’ve seen (both live and online) his fantastical work with the likes of Mark Andrews, Jimmy Havoc, Paul Robinson, Marty Scurll, Pete Dunne, Ricochet, KUSHIDA and others. I’ve seen him go from the guy who had standout matches to the guy who told standout stories.
Then, I listened to the first Flash Morgan Webster Wrestling Friends podcast where, alongside his two Swords of Essex stablemates, he buried those who had criticised him. This was Ospreay at his seemingly most arrogant and, occasionally, angry, and it vexed me. This isn’t the Will Ospreay who would later speak to Chris Jericho on the Talk is Jericho podcast with Bea Priestley. He’s proven himself, on many occasions, to be funny, eloquent, with a wonderfully laddish sense of humour who is loving life and loving Bea.
When he’s not in the ring, telling the story that he has to tell, he speaks his mind and that can make him his own worst enemy. Anyone who follows his Twitter account will see that he occasionally sees injustices, be they social or business based, and speaks out. He’s entitled to speak his mind, it’s his opinion and he never professes to be a master of all things, yet he has such a presence in wrestling that he often finds himself the focus of outrageous responses. People don’t ignore what he says, they jump on it; they either praise or vilify his words, just like many of us have done with his wrestling over the years.
Like many British wrestling fans, we’ve followed Will Ospreay around the world, maybe not in person but thanks to the power of the Internet. He’s broken away from tag team wrestling to chart his own destiny and taken Paul Robinson and Jimmy Havoc, a divisive figure in wrestling himself, to extremes. He’s become the centre of a Twitter storm with Vader and delivered a consistent series of career-defining performances at NJPW and in PROGRESS, amongst other places, and become a centrepiece of WCPW/Defiant. And, when you look at the timeline for this, you realise what we’ve really seen isn’t a poorly written fictional character that writers have only just realised how to use, this is a capricious kid who has grown into a young man who has done it in front of us all.
He may not be the archetype of a British wrestler, but he never claimed to be. He has an intensity of ambition that few can match and it’s ambition that has taken him around the world and turned him into an astute businessman. He’s the backyarder with big ambitions who has done what many dream about yet few achieve in the UK – he’s living his dream on a global scale. It’s also a dream that has led to the rise and fall of his own company (the partnership that was Lucha Forever is available on Demand Progress) and, from this, like the Phoenix, he has created Frontline Wrestling and hopes to learn from past mistakes.
Learning from past mistakes… surely, that’s a commendable skill. And, he certainly has. Looking at his work since his NJPW debut, this is a reborn Will Ospreay, harking back to his idea of evolution. He strikes with precision and has developed a psychology of his own. He looks like he could really hurt you in multiple ways and he’s in the best shape of his career. He still moves with a style that some have compared to Cirque Du Soleil and that Dave Meltzer suggested would put him in a wheelchair, but this is a man who, as with everything he does, takes calculated risks that pay off wherever he appears and whatever he does.
He took the anger of Vader, the criticism over his performances with Ricochet and the consternation over his style and turned them into positives. He might as well have said “so what?” because he knew that we were all watching and talking about him (and that recognition spread to the podcasts of some of the best-known names in wrestling). He was getting the recognition he wanted and he was getting the type of exposure that many can only wish that they would get in their careers, and all before he turned 25 (which he did, in May 2018). He’s a marquee performer where every match becomes a must-see event and it’s easy to see why that self-confidence may tip over into an arrogance that frustrates. He’s a product of his own success, success borne of criticism and tempered by self-belief.
Is he reckless? Anyone watching him would certainly think so. But, take the time to watch more than the GIF and you see a great showman who is a supreme example of athleticism – you can see, in his work, an artistic gymnastic skill that wouldn’t look out of place in the Olympics, a presentation that harks back to his theatre background, an intensity that has driven him throughout his career as he defies all expectations and will, one day, when he’s ready, lead him to the WWE.