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The Return of Alex Shelley

The Return of Alex Shelley

TO SAY THAT Alex Shelley has been everywhere and done almost everything in wrestling is an understatement. The Detroit, Michigan, native has plied his trade in Ring of Honor, IMPACT Wrestling, and New Japan to much success—and even cropped up in NXT for a brief time in early-2020. Away from the ring, he has worked just as hard in pursuit of academia and his day job. Now, after some time away, Shelley is on the cusp of a return to the ring as part of Major League Wrestling. PWI recently caught up with him to find out just what it is that keeps the former Motor City Machine Gun coming back for more.

PWI: A lot of fans are excited to hear that you are returning to wrestling again. Why is MLW the right place for that to happen?

Shelley: It’s the right place, right time. They contacted me about a year and a half ago, and it didn’t really work with my schedule because of my career outside of wrestling. But now, it does. On top of that, for me personally, I want to be creatively inspired. I want to be challenged. And I want to be excited about the wrestling I am going to produce. And when I saw the MLW roster, that appealed to me, as well.

PWI: MLW has announced that you will face TJP at the Fightland event on October 2 as part of the Opera Cup tournament. TJ is someone you are quite familiar with. What can fans expect from that match?

Shelley: I’ve known TJ since 2004. We both competed in the Jeff Peterson Cup in Florida when TJ was (wrestling as) Puma at the time. He was a guy who I had actually watched before I met him. I had watched CMLL and PWG, and he had been in both places. I thought he was very good. Then, I found out he was close to my age, too, When we first met at that Peterson Cup in Florida, Chris Hero and I had been sparring in the ring that day for close to an hour before the show started, just training. When we were done and got out of the ring, TJ came up to me and said “Where did you learn to do all that?”

A group photo of the 2005 Super 8 participants. On the right, Alex Shelley poses behind a crouching Puma (TJP), whom he’d first met the year prior. (Photo by Joe Zanolle)

Now, keep in mind, this was a peer of mine. He had more experience and better training than me—albeit different training. But that’s really where our bond was formed: over a love of wrestling, and technical wrestling in particular. And, if that doesn’t give you an idea of how this match will be, then I don’t know what will.

PWI: You touched on it earlier, but you do have a career outside of wrestling as a physical therapist. That obviously comes with its own responsibilities and was a key reason why you had to step away from IMPACT Wrestling earlier this year. A lot of wrestlers don’t plan for careers away from the ring. Is it something that’s been difficult for you to balance?

Shelley: I think it was different for me and for where I fell generationally. I’ve been doing this for 20 years, even though I’m still only in my late-30s. I remember very, very clearly around 2008, in TNA, due to the way the company was structured and how they operated at the time, I remember thinking that I don’t want to do this here forever. I don’t enjoy it. I love wrestling, love it so much, and I’ve given so much to it. But that environment just wasn’t good for younger wrestlers. That’s when I started making a contingency plan, and the obvious answer was to get an education. So, I got my first Bachelor’s degree in 2012. Then, I went to Japan for a little while, and Japan was an amazing experience.

But I fell in love with learning then. And, even though my first degree was in business, I got to thinking about physio. Everyone gets injuries, whether you’re a wrestler or not, right? New Japan had two trainers who went on the road with us, and I was around them for years. They helped the wrestlers get into the ring. Like, if you saw what goes on behind the scenes, with the amount of work that these guys put into the wrestlers, and what the wrestlers are then able to do after treatment, it’s very inspiring. And, at that point, I got very inspired to go in that direction.

Alex Shelley and Kushida teamed up in New Japan to form the two-time junior heavyweight tag champions, Time Splitters. While in New Japan, Shelley was inspired to pursue physical therapy as a vocation away from the ring. (Photo ©2013 New Japan Pro-Wrestling, LTD.)

And I thought, Well I guess it’s time to get another four-year degree (laughs). So, I went back to school after my New Japan contract was up in 2015, and that was all she wrote. But I was splitting my time between wrestling and school, and it was so exhausting. I was in Ring of Honor at the time. I gave them all I had, but wrestling requires a certain amount of mental study outside of the ring. I wasn’t able to do that as much as I would’ve liked. Because I couldn’t. I had to learn all sorts of stuff about joints and anatomy and systemic illnesses and oh, my gosh! That was easily the most stressful period of my life. But I got through it, and now I’ve got a degree in Physical Therapy. Now, I’m able to work in physio 40 hours per week and wrestle, too. And I’m not saying it’s easy—because it’s not—but it’s a grind that I love because I love both fields.

PWI: You have been everywhere and done everything in wrestling. And you have a Monday-to-Friday job away from the ring. So, what keeps you wrestling? Is it that desire to be creatively inspired, like you talked about earlier?

Shelley: Yes it is. It’s very much a love of creativity. But also, wrestling is supposed to be fun. Wrestling is a sport, and what do you do with sports? You play sports! And I was that kid that grew up playing sports. I loved it because I loved helping people, and I loved pushing myself, and loved just being in the moment and feeling that stress—not the bad stress, but the good stress, which is what you feel when you’re in the ring. You almost go into autopilot … And I think that’s the most fun. And to be paid to do that is such an honor, such a privilege. And to be able to use your body and to help other people, I mean, to anyone who has ever spent one minute watching me, thank you so much!

Alex Shelley attempts a submission on Mark Haskins at Ring of Honor’s Free Enterprise PPV in February 2020. Though Shelley is well known for his high-flying abilities, he’s also a sound technical wrestler. (Photo by Ring of Honor/Zia Hiltey)

PWI: Away from wrestling and physical therapy, you’re a big music guy. You sing and play guitar, and are a big punk rock fan. What kind of stuff is Alex Shelley listening to these days?

Shelley: For the most part, I revolve around the same things. Like, the bands that I like are going to be making music until the day they die because that’s just what they do. But, lately, there’s been this whole West Coast indie punk rock scene that’s popped up in the last ten years, and there’s this band called Wavves … f’n awesome man! It’s basically one guy. But he put out a new album not that long ago, and I love it because I can learn to play it, too, you know? It’s all basic chord parts, but so well structured. When I look at Wavves or Together Pangea or Fidlar or Guided by Voices or Electric Six … bands that I’m a huge fan of, they don’t tend to veer too far off [the same chords], just the strumming pattern is different. But they make the most out of the least, and it’s just so cool.

PWI: It’s quite clear that being creative is a big thing for you. With wrestling, your education, music … it’s a fire that burns pretty bright within you. You’re obviously going to bring that with you to Major League Wrestling. What can fans expect from you in MLW?

Shelley: I don’t want to say anything finite because it’s going to change from opponent to opponent. I’m going to wrestle TJP differently than I’m going to wrestle Calvin Tankman or Matt Cross. But I can promise you this much: Whatever I’m doing, or whoever I’m in there with, I’m going to work my ass off!

(MLW Fightland takes place this Saturday, October 2 from the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia, PA)