Alex Shelley made one of the biggest decisions of his career in 2012, when he decided not to renew his contract with TNA Impact Wrestling.
After eight years with the company and a successful run with Chris Sabin in the Motor City Machine Guns, the young star was ready for a change. A few months later, his journey started with New Japan Pro Wrestling.
“Sabin was fully aware,” Shelley remembered. “He obviously did quite well on his own, too. I think it was refreshing for both of us to venture into something new. I can’t say he wasn’t an amazing tag team partner and is an amazing friend. I still talk to him frequently today.
“It’s definitely a risk. If you’re passing up guaranteed money, and I was, to move somewhere else. That’s scary on its own. I was at a point in my life where I was finishing up college in a few months…I had seen so many management changes in TNA. I had worked for New Japan previously.
“I was brought in 2009 as a special guest. I knew a lot of the guys just from TNA or meeting them randomly on independent shows. I met [Kazuchika] Okada in 2006 in Toronto. That definitely helped influence my decision, knowing a lot of people there and what I was getting into.”
More than two years later, Shelley remains proud to call NJPW home. He is part of a team called the Time Splitters with KUSHIDA. The popular duo returns to the United States against Ring of Honor tag team champions reDRagon (Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish) as part of ROH’s Final Battle pay-per-view 8 p.m. EST Sunday, Dec. 7 in New York City. The international performer planes to Japan between 10 and 12 times a year for tours and big shows.
“If you’re talking the wrestling, I couldn’t ask for a better schedule for me personally,” Shelley said. “The tours allow me to wrestle frequently over a short period of time and then have time off to do what I please. I usually take an independent show here and there to get the ring rust off. To have the time off is really nice. Of course, there are some down sides to it as well.
“I went to my physician not too long ago because I told him the jet-lag was killing me and going back and forth this year. He said you can expect one day per hour in time-zone difference in terms of recovery. When you look at it that way, you’re 13 hours ahead over there. It takes a good week or two to get re-acclimated.”
The Time Splitters have developed quite a bond in the ring and out. The team is former IWGP junior heavyweight tag team champions. Shelley respects his partner.
“He is a phenomenal wrestler,” he said. “I truly believe he will be the future of the junior heavyweight division over there, especially after his performances this year. The differences compared to Sabin, obviously right off the top of my head is the language barrier. Him being Japanese and me being American, that’s going to be the most glaring difference.
“In terms of wrestling style, he pretty much has a style similar to my own. Partially, that is because he grew up watching some of the same guys I did. You’re talking about a crop of wrestlers in the 1980s and 1990s that made their mark by traveling the world and learning how to wrestle in Mexico, in Europe and learning how to wrestle in Japan.
“In that sense it’s really easy to mesh with him because his timing is spectacular. He is a spectacular athlete as well. He also has similar beliefs and fundamentals as far as how he wants his style of wrestling executed. That makes it easier, too.”
Shelley finds wrestling is wrestling no matter what the language or country.
“Most of the guys speak English in Japan,” he said. “They teach English in the schools over there. So a lot of them have some sort of English they speak. KUSHIDA speaks really good English. He also lived in Canada for a couple of years training with Scott D’Amore. Again, that’s part of the reason we gelled so well. Having the same trainer generally helps. I speak of Japanese. You also factor in the clothesline is the clothesline anywhere around the world.”
Shelley and KUSHIDA came together rather organically, filling a void in the junior heavyweight division. The two, each 31, are only two weeks a part in age. Even though Shelley has wrestled significantly longer, KUSHIDA helped the foreigner adjust to the culture and be accepted by the audience. He did the same for his Japanese friend in the United States. They have gotten so close, to the point Shelley gave a speech at KUSHIDA’s wedding.
Shelley is looking forward appearing for ROH, where he spent many of the formative years of his wrestling life.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “Ring of Honor has always held a special place in my heart. I had my ups and downs there for sure. If it weren’t for them giving me a chance and opportunity in 2003, my career would have probably been very different. To go back, it’s a different company than when I was there full-time. I kind of saw it change gradually with the appearances I’ve made. There is a lot of new talent there that it would be refreshing to compete again.
“Obviously, redDRagon would be amongst them. I don’t consider myself some foreign hope or success story for New Japan. I look at it as a match I’m going back to Ring of Honor to wrestle these guys. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t sure how the fans would receive me. I don’t expect to just walk in and have them immediately cheer me and appreciate everything I do.
“So I expect to have to prove myself. Every time I go back there, when I’m not there as a regular, I feel a certain sense of pressure to have them recapture what they liked about me in the first place over 10 years ago.”
The recent rivalry with reDRagon has spilled over between NJPW and ROH in 2014. It was O’Reilly and Fish who defeated the Time Splitters for the IWGP junior heavyweight tag team titles.
“The first time I ever met either of them, I wrestled Kyle O’Reilly in April. Before that I’d only heard his name, but then watched him wrestle Arik Canon. I thought, ‘This guy is really quite good.’ I asked to be against him the next month. He and I had one of my favorite matches in a very long time. I was really happy with it. This guy was a tremendous wrestler. So whenever people asked me who is a good wrestler or who would be good in the bigger companies, Kyle was usually my first answer because he is so good in the ring.
“He is so smooth. So when they came over the G1 Climax Finals they had a lot of pressure on them. I think they did awesome. They are very talented team. I’ve known Bobby since he was doing security for Ring of Honor in 2003 or 2004. They work extremely hard to get where they are.”
The Time Splitters and reDRagon are also going to compete at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 9 on Jan. 4 from the Tokyo Dome. The event will be broadcast for the first time in the United States on pay-per-view through the promotion’s partnership with Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling.
“It’s interesting because I know they have the number one product in the world,” Shelley said. “I’m not saying that because I’m part of the company or contributing to it. It just is. You can’t argue that. Pound-for-pound their roster is the best pro wrestlers collected currently. They have been for a while and probably will too. So in that sense the people who order the show are going to be blown away by the quality of matches and presentation as well. The Tokyo Dome show is New Japan’s WrestleMania in the sense that everybody has cool costumes, flashy entrances and the set-up looks great.
“The momentum is on the company’s side. Business has picked up the last couple of years. It will be a slow burn, as far as accumulation of fans. Word of mouth has been strong with fans.”
- Watch the Time Splitters (Alex Shelley and KUSHIDA) battle (Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish) for the Ring of Honor tag team championship 8 p.m. EST. Sunday, Dec. 7 at ROH’s Final Battle on pay-per-view. Jay Briscoe also defends the ROH title against former champ Adam Cole.
For information, visit www.ROHWRestling.com.
- For details on how to watch New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 9 in conjunction with the debut of Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling, visit www.GlobalForceWrestling.com.
- Follow Alex Shelley on Twitter @fakekinkade.
- Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN
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