Many Florida pro wrestling fans in the early 2000s have fond memories attending Major League Wrestling (MLW) events or watching matches on Sunshine Network and DVD.
More than a decade after the promotion closed its doors, CEO Court Bauer is bringing back MLW with a One-Shot event on Oct. 5 at GILT Nightclub in Orlando. The show is headlined by Ricochet versus Shane Swerve Strickland.
In a bit of breaking news, MVP will also be on the card against Sami Callihan.
Before MVP worked for WWE and New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), the South Florida native honed his skills on the independent scene as Antonio Banks. He competed for pretty much every company statewide except on: MLW.
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“One show in particular at the War Memorial Auditorium [in Fort Lauderdale] it was Sabu, Norman Smiley, Billy Fives and Vampiro all vouching for me,” MVP recalled.
“They told Court, ‘Hey, use this kid. Give this guy a shot.’ He never did. So, when I finally got back to WWE, and Court Bauer introduced himself to me from creative, I recognized him instantly. I said, ‘I remember you. I wasn’t good enough for your company.’ It was a nice little moment. We laughed about it. I told him I had to go all the way to WWE to work for MLW.”
Those who aren’t lucky enough to attend the One-Shot event in person can check out the action via MLW’s new digital service, MLW.tv.
In partnership with Pivotshare, the OTT on demand video streaming service will feature the ability to rent, purchase or subscribe to MLW content. The accessibility of pro wrestling or any form of entertainment nowadays were just relatively big ideas when MVP was coming up in the business.
“Back then YouTube was in its infancy, and tape trading was still going on,” he said. “MLW was one of those shows in Fort Lauderdale that you got to see [Satoshi] Kojima live for the first time and La Parka. I remember La Parka and Sabu had sick matches. The independent scene was jumping in Florida. I was on TV with a few different promotions at the time. There were some local cable TV in Orlando, Championship Wrestling from Florida on Sunshine Network. There was IPW based in Tampa where they briefly had TV. In Florida, there was a lot going on. Though it was hard to get out of Florida and get seen on a national scale.
“MLW had come down and had those shows at the War Memorial. The roster, nobody was doing shows like MLW at that time. They had a budget to bring in names like Kojima, who I saw and was in awe. Here was a guy I would watch Japanese tapes and go,’ This is unbelievable.’ Court was on to something back then with the whole idea of hybrid wrestling that caught on later. Now with social media and YouTube, FITE TV and internet pay-per-views.
“It’s a beautiful time on the independent scene because for the first time since the territories you can make a living on the circuit without having to be in WWE. I was at the House of Hardcore tour with Tommy Dreamer, and the Young Bucks were there. They had never been in the ring working for Vince [McMahon] or WWE television, but they were the hottest thing. They sold more merch and had the longest lines out of anybody. It’s a testament to how hot the business is today. Even though WWE’s brand saturation is insurmountable, pro wrestling is popular enough now that finally fans are realizing now there is a universe that exists beyond the WWE Universe.”
MVP left WWE in 2010 to pursue his dream of wrestling in the Tokyo Dome for NJPW. Since then, there has been dialogue with the sports entertainment juggernaut from time to time. However, the Houston resident says the timing wasn’t right.
“Right now, I’m really happy with my life,” MVP said. “I work the indies, and it’s very busy. I work just about every weekend. I’m a father now. I have a beautiful son who turned three in October. Being home during the week to spend time with him and to have a life outside of wrestling, I’m enjoying it a lot. When you work for a company like WWE, they own you. Your life is not your own. You’re going to be on the road two hundred plus days a year. Any type of family events, you need permission to go. It’s a great life early on in your career when you are first getting in and establishing yourself and making money and getting that grind. I’ll be 44 in October. I got two, maybe three years left. I’ve always said I don’t want to walk away. I don’t want to limp away.”
The veteran has no desire to own a wrestling school or promote his own events. He is open to the opportunities that would come next. Although MVP plans to step away from the ring, the popular performer would still make himself available for meet-and-greet and autograph appearances or other non-wrestling roles.
“Who knows? Maybe it’s possible I return to WWE one day in a behind the scenes role or commentary role. My personal opinion after Paul Heyman, I don’t think there is a better advocate in the business than me,” MVP said. “So, there are other options out there for me to participate without having me beat my body up every night to do it. “
There is also writing an autobiography. Anyone the least bit familiar with MVP’s life story knows it would make for a captivating and inspiring read.
“I tell people all the time I’ve done and seen things that most people have only seen on a movie screen. A book with film rights attached? That would be great,” he said. “Right now, I’m actually working on a book. I don’t have a deal or anything like that, but I’ve started working on a collection of memories from my time in prison. The crazy things I saw and experienced or was a part of during my time in prison. It’s kind of to whet your appetite because when you read this book you’ll think, ‘Wow, that all happened.’ Those will be just a few stories after a decade behind bars. Just wait for my whole story that is more amazing.”
MVP remains on the pulse of the business and enjoys the emerging talent making waves. He is also glad to see his friends doing well, including Shelton Benjamin and Bobby Lashley.
“I’m thrilled at the opportunity for Shelton to have the opportunity to go back,” MVP said. “I always thought that he was underutilized in WWE. Even at his age, he is still better than guys half his age with that athleticism. His experience makes him that much better.
“Lashley is killing it at Impact, doing phenomenal in not only pro wrestling but MMA as well. I’m always glad to watch the good guys excel. I came up the old school way. Most of the guys who came up in Florida are bastard children of the Malenkos. If you weren’t trained by a Malenko, you were trained by someone who was trained by a Malenko.
“As I’ve matured in the business and in life, my philosophy has changed quite a bit. I don’t necessarily subscribe what I used to the hardcore mentality idea of ‘Run those guys off. You’re doing it wrong.’ I look at this next generation like Shane Strickland and Ricochet, who are headlining the MLW One-Shot card. Will Ospreay and Zack Sabre Jr. and Willie Mack and the Young Bucks,
“I see all these guys making a name for themselves and doing extremely well. I see the business is in good hands as far as the entertaining, skillful athletes that respect the game. They are out there. I see a lot of the old-time veterans who piss all over the Young Bucks and all these guys saying, ‘You’re doing it wrong.’ Really? How are they doing it wrong when people are buying tickets to see them? They sell more merch than anyone, so how are they doing it wrong? Everything evolves.
“You started with the Model T, and now you have the Bugatti. You watch old action movies and you see John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, which I grew up on. Watch those fight scenes and choreography for them. Then watch a Jason Statham or a Matt Damon, Jason Bourne fight scene. Everything evolves. Looking at old school wrestling with Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair, that’s evolved. Now you have athleticism and ability like Ricochet and ‘Swerve’ Strickland. You can’t say it’s wrong if the people are entertained by it. I root for those guys and want them to do well.”
MVP is a combat sports fan in general and is as excited as anyone with the potential of a Jon Jones versus Brock Lesnar fight. If it happened, he thinks it would probably be one of the biggest, if not the biggest MMA bout ticket-wise and gate-wise. At the same time when it comes to dream match-ups MVP believes a Lesnar and Lashley confrontation would also be box office gold.
“Brock Lesnar is a move the needle MMA star, and Jon Jones has come back to put the exclamation point on being the greatest light heavyweight ever and make the argument for him being the best pure fighter of all-time,” MVP said.
“That’s a fight I would want to see. Then there is Bobby Lashley and Brock Lesnar. Who in MMA looks the part more than those two? Bobby Lashley is with Bellator and Brock Lesnar is associated with the UFC, so contractually that would be an interesting one to work out. In a wresting, it’s again a contractual thing with Bobby tied up at GFW for the foreseeable future and Brock at WWE. But to see them in a wrestling match or MMA match would be phenomenal and think would do great numbers. Though there are those pesky contracts and laws that would get in the way right now. That’s probably something we may never get a chance to see. Never say never though.”
Speaking of physical clashes, MVP has one of his own on the horizon against Callihan at MLW One-Shot. He has one word to describe the opposition: intense.
“First time I met up with him was during the House of Hardcore event in Philly. It was his last match before he went to NXT and my first match back from New Japan Pro Wrestling,” MVP said. “, we beat the s--- out of each other. It was a hell of a match. Tommy Dreamer thanked us both for it. My jaw wasn’t right for a few days after that. I remember having to eat soup for a little bit because we went at it that hard. I respect Sami Callihan and all he has done.
“I know at MLW One-Shot with the card they are putting together and people who are going to be watching, it won’t be a night off. It will be balls to the wall, all-in battle because Sami Callihan is relentless. I know his passion for professional wrestling is exceed by none. You might have some who are just as passionate, but nobody more passionate. I know he leaves it all in the ring. I can’t afford to step in the ring with him and not put forth any less effort than he will. So, I expect it to be hard, painful, intense, but most of all, worth the price of admission.”
- See MVP take on Sami Callihan at MLW: One Shot 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5 at GILT Nightclub, 750 Bennett Rd.
Tickets start at $15 and are available at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/mlw-one-shot-tickets-36283009458.
Fans will also be able to check out the event within 72 hours after the event occurring via www.MLW.tv
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