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On the 13th of March Will Ospreay’s visage appeared in front of a New Japan Pro Wrestling audience for the first time. Being as I’m far from the most long tenured of wrestling fans, Ospreay is the first person I’ve really been able to watch take every step in his growth from his very beginnings all the way up to the stage where he can really say to himself that he’s ‘made it’. So when he showed up on the big screen at the finals of the New Japan Cup, not only to confirm his debut for the second largest wrestling promotion in the world but also to announce he’d be placed straight into the title picture, I felt a near overwhelming sense of pride for the man.
While NJPW’s Invasion Attack 2016 will be the first time a large proportion of the wrestling sphere has a chance to enjoy an Ospreay match, and many others will have had their first taste of him over WrestleMania weekend with WrestleCon and WWN, the man has been tearing it up on the British indie scene for the last few years. He’s played a large part in the recent hot period for quality wrestling in the region, being not only a component but also a stimulus in the rejuvenation and increased worldwide attention that BritWres has garnered over the last several years. Many of you will yet to be familiar with the Aerial Assassin and his career to this point however, so consider this your primer for the man who I feel confident in saying will soon join many a New Japan fan’s list of favourites.
Will Ospreay’s poise and general presence when in the ring is something that’s developed so far beyond what we as wrestling fans have become used to for somebody so inexperienced, and as a result it’s easy forget that Ospreay won’t even have his 23rd birthday until this coming May. After receiving his training from the London School of Lucha Libre (a school affiliated with the Lucha Britannia promotion which just happens to feature a wrestler by the name of Dark Britanico who bears a remarkable resemblance to young Will), Ospreay first showed up at a promotion of note on the second ever PROGRESS show in June of 2012. In this debut Ospreay teamed with Alex Esmail as a part of the Velocity Vipers, a team that couldn’t possibly scream “we’re fresh out of wrestling school” any louder if they tried, against the London Riots. The match itself was an utter disaster, with a freak incident resulting in Esmail breaking his leg, but even in this short encounter you can go back and see the earliest of early signs of potential in Ospreay.
Ospreay returned to PROGRESS later that year, this time as a singles act, where he really made his mark with a pair of highly touted matches against a man his career would be intertwined with from then on: Mark Andrews. These matches were incredibly rough around the edges and unrefined, but even going back now they’re incredibly entertaining and especially impressive showings considering he was months and not years into his career at that point.
I think a significant part of what makes Ospreay so great is his ability to have complete control of his body, a skill he nurtured through trampolining. He made use of that not long after this point when he made the transition back to being a primarily tag team competitor, teaming with his long-time friend Paul Robinson in the Swords of Essex. Together they would achieve great success and almost instantly became one of the most beloved teams in the country, earning early success as soon as June 2013 by winning the RPW Tag Team Championships from Project Ego. It was during this period where he first faced off against Ricochet, a rematch of which blew people away on the WrestleMania weekend EVOLVE shows, which was a real show of faith from RPW placing him in such a big singles match so early in his career. These two would again face off towards the beginning of 2014 when the Inner City Machine Guns took the title from the Swords of Essex in a great all-go match at the York Hall.
Meanwhile in PROGRESS the Swords of Essex team was broken up as the impetus for his singles push and now infamous feud with Jimmy Havoc and his Regression stable. The team didn’t last much longer in RPW either. At the 2014 Summer Sizzler York Hall show Paul Robinson never showed up for the match so Ospreay had to take an emergency partner in the form of Jake McCluskey to take on the Irish team of 2 Unlimited. This was the first time I was really sure that Ospreay was more than just good. On a show featuring Marty Scurll vs. Kevin Steen (Owens), Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Zack Sabre Jr. and Adam Cole vs. Prince Devitt (Finn Balor), he managed to have the match of the night teaming with an unfamiliar partner who has been entirely uninspiring with his work since then against a team who has never got close to the same heights before or after this match. This match was where I realised Ospreay was really something special.
After missing this show Paul Robinson has yet to be brought back to RPW, so from that point Ospreay was pushed as a singles star. A tremendous amount of faith was put in him at the next of the tri-annual York Hall shows when he was placed into his first York Hall main event against Matt Sydal. The match itself was good but not great, but really laid down some groundwork for a tremendous series that would sprout out of this fairly run of the mill high flyer vs. high flyer matchup. He obviously did enough to impress those in charge though, as come the first York Hall show of 2015 he was placed back into the main event against AJ Styles in his first match in the company. This time the main event did completely blow people away, finishing 52nd in the Voices of Wrestling Match of the Year Poll for that year and far higher than that on my ballot. If rumours are to be believed, after this match Styles was so impressed by Ospreay that he went out of his way to talk him up everywhere he went, likely making Ospreay’s subsequent progression from a domestic to international star that much easier.
From there Ospreay would go from strength to strength, building off the groundwork he’d laid with Sydal and producing two more tremendous matches, the first of which showed off Ospreay as more than just a flashy high flyer in a really well thought out minimalistic match for RPW’s YouTube show that is still available for free.
The climax of the series, taking place at Summer Sizzler 2015, was a step above everything that had come before though. It completely and utterly overshadowed the AJ Styles vs. Marty Scurll main event that had to follow it in the main event. The match was a magnificently put together two out of three falls match, a style of match I’m not usually a big fan of, that was packed with elaborate counters, edge of your seat near-falls, rewarding call-backs, breath-taking high-flying sequences and in general everything I love about pro-wrestling. Matt Sydal was the perfect foil for Ospreay, managing to perfect the art of vicious high-flying and worked in subtle heel work to help Ospreay shine even more. And shine Ospreay certainly did. I have no qualms in calling this a masterpiece. It was my favourite match of the entirety of 2015, and had a very strong showing in the Match of the Year voting.
Meanwhile back in PROGRESS he would finally pick up his first win in the promotion, and did so in style by winning the inaugural Thunderbastard match and earning himself a shot at the title. The match itself was a mess, with the best part being the final two of Scurll and Ospreay, but it marked the start of Ospreay’s singles push and ascension towards Jimmy Havoc’s title. After losing his initial shot, he would come back strong by winning the two day Super Strong Style 16 tournament, besting Zack Sabre Jr. in a tremendous final, and then finally ending Havoc’s 609 day reign at Chapter 20. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the two Havoc matches, I felt they tried to cram too many story points in and it killed the flow of the match, the story told was fantastic and it did a great job of crowning Ospreay as the guy on the UK scene.
During this time period Ospreay was also tearing it up across the rest of the UK in a variety of promotions. He had his first taste of Japanese competition against Akira Tozawa at the final set of Dragon Gate UK shows, and impressed yet again against Zack Sabre Jr. in the final of IPW:UK’s Super 8 tournament. He also had a brief spell up North in Preston City Wrestling, a stint cut short by a dispute with management, highlighted by a highly regarded match against John Morrison.
After confirming his status as an elite talent on the UK scene with his tremendous series with Matt Sydal, Ospreay went from strength to strength in RPW with three great matches to close out the year. The first of which was against Marty Scurll, the first high profile encounter of a match-up that has since become the definitive “modern touring Super-Match” according to our own Joe Lanza, and very much had the feel of a PWG try-out match. They matched off again at the final York Hall show of the year, this time in a triple threat with then champion AJ Styles, having yet another blow away match and then the next day having the match of the night against Okada at Global Wars UK. Ospreay impressed people in high up places over in Japan that weekend, with Tanahashi talking highly of him on his podcast and calling him the “English Ibushi”.
It’s important to note that at this point Ospreay was only now in the narrative having his 22nd birthday. In his young career he’d rapidly ascended from flippy undercard guy to trusted and heavily relied upon main eventer. In the summer of 2015, prior to his schedule being filled up with international dates, Ospreay began working a multitude of the UK’s third tier indie promotions and facing off against the local hot prospect, relied upon as a steady hand to guide through a youngster with potential but often lacking crispness despite frequently actually being the younger man in the match. Perhaps the best example of this was in SWA (now VII) against Chris Ridgeway, where Ospreay really exuded a veteran presence that’s shocking to see at such a young age.
Ospreay will have first entered man people’s wrestling spheres when he debuted at the Battle of Los Angeles for PWG, wowing many with his debut against Mark Andrews despite it not even being one of their better encounters in my opinion. For me it was his fourth match in the series with Matt Sydal on the final night of the tournament that was the highlight of his weekend. He clearly impressed the people who needed impressing though, something that’s become a clear pattern in his career, with him being brought back again in December at All Star Weekend 11 having two more great matches against Trevor Lee and Kenny Omega.
Back in the UK, Ospreay finished off his year with a tremendous series of matches that made up his PROGRESS title reign. Starting off with a match against Mark Haskins where they really did too much but it was too much fun to not love, and he’d also have very good but very different defences against Paul Robinson and Mark Andrews. To close out PROGRESS’ year he elevated two guys whose level had more traditionally been the midcard in a triple threat with Flash Morgan Webster and Zack Gibson, having the best match of both men’s respective careers in the main event of PROGRESS’ first ever Chapter show outside of London.
Going into 2016 rumours were swirling about how Ospreay was set for a closer to full time gig abroad. These rumours were only enhanced in January after Ospreay lost two amazing yet varied matches in RPW and PROGRESS against Scurll, dropping the PROGRESS title and moving out of the RPW title picture after having seemingly have been being built towards the belt since late 2014. When it was announced that he’d be working TNA’s Maximum Impact UK tour many braced for the worst (including, somewhat embarrassingly, myself for a short period), but before he could even have his first match with the company news broke that he would be debuting for New Japan at Invasion Attack. Reportedly this blindsided TNA and out of spite cut the time of his debut against Mark Andrews (although the company has publicly denied this, stating there was a “timing mix-up”). The following two days he would have four more matches for the company, highlighted by a King of the Mountain match which was his only match to make Impact.
One may think that with a big New Japan Pro Wrestling deal in his back pocket that many would take their foot off the gas somewhat, perhaps going at 80% to lessen the chance of injuries ahead of his big day. Not Ospreay. In the intermediate months he has been spreading his wings even further and wowing people in a multitude of countries. In February, he made his debut in Ireland for OTT, having a highly touted three-way with Ryan Smile and Pete Dunne, while over in Germany he was the star of this year’s 16 Carat Tournament weekender, with all three of his matches (against Strickland, Sabre Jr. and with Bailey against Scurll and Trevor Lee) delivering.
Then there was WrestleMania weekend, and oh boy what a weekend young Will had. He kicked off his week against Zack Sabre Jr. at EVOLVE 58 in a match that a not insignificant proportion of fans felt was the best match of the entire WrestleMania weekend across all promotions. Not content with that, he followed that up with one of the greatest single days of wrestling in terms of in-ring quality that has ever occurred. He started his day with an incredible high-flying spectacle against Ricochet at EVOLVE 59. Next he headed over to the WrestleCon Supershow to challenge Marty Scurll for the PROGRESS title in yet another tremendous match in their series, making the title a world title in the process, before booking it back over to WWN’s Mercury Rising to compete in the six man tag main event alongside Scurll and Tommy End against Kota Ibushi, TJ Perkins and Johnny Gargano. All three of his April 2nd matches were widely regarded as ****+ matches, a feat that has only ever been done on a single calendar day in the entirety of wrestling history.
So that’s it, you’re now caught up on the career of Will Ospreay and perfectly primed to jump right onto the bandwagon that I can, only somewhat smugly, say I’ve been driving for years. I’m perhaps worried that I’m setting my expectations too high for the upcoming KUSHIDA match, but I feel safe in saying that as long as he gets opportunities Will Ospreay is not only going to be a hit in New Japan, he’s going to be an out of the park home run.
Let there be no doubt about it: Will Ospreay is great right now. What’s somewhat scary but far more so exciting is that at the age of 22 and on his current rapid upwards trajectory he’s set to become so much better, and now he’s going to be a featured player in a perfect environment for him. For Will Ospreay, the sky really is the limit.
Accompanying forum post with links to matches mentioned can be found here.