Wrestling is a medium unlike any other.

It’s a global tradition, but still regional at its heart. It’s a sport where the absolute best in their craft are littered worldwide in different organizations. It’s a television show that’s been going on for over 50 years in the United States alone. Wrestling’s shared history since its television debut makes it a completionist’s nightmare. No matter how long you’ve been watching wrestling or how many promotions you watch, you have a blind spot. You can’t go back to season one and watch wrestling front to back, and when a new wrestler makes their debut in your promotion of choice, they don’t get a spinoff series, so you can understand what got them here. The challenging part of catching up on a wrestler you’ve never seen before is that you’re never going to see every match they’ve had, but without context it’s hard to know what is important to their career.

The Career Playlist Project aims to give every featured wrestler their own series in the evergrowing history of wrestling. A playlist where you may not find the complete history of a wrestler, but the major moments that define them. 

We begin the series with a look at one of the best wrestlers in the world today, Will Ospreay. From Essex to an Empire.

Born in 1993, Will Ospreay is one of the most prominent wrestlers of the early to mid 2010s UK indies boom. Along with his contemporaries such as Pete Dunne, Zack Sabre Jr, Mark Andrews, and others, Ospreay helped revive a scene that had been stagnant for years. Ospreay grew up in a household where wrestling was on occasionally, but it wasn’t appointment viewing. In an interview with Danny Stone from the Huffington Post, Ospreay said he didn’t find himself interested in The Rock or Stone Cold Steve Austin. Wrestlers like Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, and Essa Rios were the ones that stood out to him.

When asked what inspired him to become a professional wrestler, Ospreay has cited in multiple interviews that once he saw the Unbreakable main event between AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, and Samoa Joe, he started looking for places that he could train to become a professional wrestler.

PROGRESS and Rev Pro

Ospreay trained at Lucha Brittanica’s school in London, making his debut in April 2012. Just over a year later, Ospreay won his first championship under the name of Dark Brittanico. While this was Ospreay’s first taste of gold, this is not the promotion where he started to make a name for himself.

Just two months after his debut with Lucha Brittanica, Will Ospreay made his first appearance in an upstart company called PROGRESS Wrestling. While it was clear that Will had talent and athleticism, the connective tissue wasn’t there yet in his matches. Regardless, Will’s debut at Chapter Two had impressed enough that he was entered into the Natural Progression Series, a tournament comprised of young competitors from the UK. He lost his opening match in the tournament to Mark Andrews. Coming up just short became a trend for the young Ospreay, and he gained momentum with the crowd as the kid who was constantly on the doorstep of a big win. Outside of multi man tags, Ospreay did not get his first win in singles competition until Chapter 14. This win could not have come at a more opportune time, as his win in the gauntlet-style Thunderbastard match netted him a shot at the PROGRESS Title. Ospreay’s winning ways would not continue as Jimmy Havoc loosened the top rope, rendering Ospreay unable to perform his finishing move. At the next event, Ospreay lost another title challenge in a multi-man match. The next event on the Progress calendar was the Super Strong Style 16 tournament. Coming off back-to-back unsuccessful title challenges, Ospreay needed to do something he had yet to accomplish to get another shot: win multiple matches in a row. Over the span of two days, Ospreay beat El Ligero, Roderick Strong, Mark Haskins, and Zack Sabre Jr. to win SSS16. He once again found himself on a collision course with Jimmy Havoc. In a no-disqualification match, Ospreay got the signature win of his career by defeating Jimmy Havoc and becoming the PROGRESS champion at Chapter 20. Ospreay’s reign didn’t last as long as his chase, losing the title to Marty Scurll after four defenses. Despite the brief reign, Ospreay had made a name for himself and was not slowing down.

While Ospreay gained much of his fan support from his run in PROGRESS, his most powerful allies in the business came from another promotion. Ospreay made his debut for Revolution Pro Wrestling, another prominent UK independent, in early 2013. After several singles matches, Ospreay quickly found tag success as part of The Swords of Essex with Paul Robinson. The Swords won their tag debut, and then won the Tag Team Titles in their next appearance. Ospreay was a tag specialist for Rev Pro until the Swords lost their titles to Rich Swann and Ricochet, ending a nine-month reign. Ospreay moved on to the cruiserweight division and after losing his return to singles competition, won the RevPro British Cruiserweight title in October of 2014. Although he held the title, the most important match of his career was looming, and it wasn’t a title defense.

2/15 vs AJ Styles
Rev Pro High Stakes 2015

The working relationship between RevPro and New Japan Pro Wrestling allowed some of NJPW’s top talent to come to the UK for the occasional RevPro show. Making the journey this month was newly crowned IWGP champion, AJ Styles. Ospreay was familiar with his opponent. In an interview with The Wrestling Compadres Slamcast, Ospreay said of Styles, “He is the sole reason I became a wrestler.” Styles, older than he was for the triple threat that inspired Ospreay, played a spoiler for Ospreay’s aerial offense, neutralizing Will’s legs late into the match with the Calf Slicer. At the end of the near 25 minute battle, Styles had to deploy the Styles Clash from the middle rope to down Ospreay for good.    Maybe this battle against the leader of the Bullet Club was an omen of what was to come. Maybe this match had caught the eye of someone else in the New Japan locker room.

October 3, 2015 vs. Kazuchika Okada
Rev Pro Global Wars UK 2015

Once October rolled around, New Japan was in the United Kingdom once again. And once again, Ospreay found himself across the ring from the IWGP Heavyweight champion, this time in the form of the Rainmaker, Kazuchika Okada. Okada, in his third reign as IWGP champion, had defeated Styles a couple of months earlier in Osaka. Despite different results against their common opponent, Okada wasn’t able to put Ospreay away quickly. Ospreay didn’t surrender to any of Okada’s signature moves until he made use of the Rainmaker to get the fall. Although Ospreay may have come up short again, he made a fan that night. Perhaps the most influential fan he could ask for.

Super Junior

After his match with Okada, Ospreay impressed many of the top stars of New Japan. Ospreay noted that Okada and Tanahashi both sang his praises, but the deciding factor was AJ Styles telling New Japan that they needed to sign Ospreay. In March of 2016, Ospreay joined Okada’s faction CHAOS and in the same segment, challenged the current IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion KUSHIDA. On the day of his match at Invasion Attack, Ospreay signed a one-year deal with New Japan Pro Wrestling.

April 10, 2016 vs. KUSHIDA
Invasion Attack 2016

Now a CHAOS member, Ospreay was poised to make his New Japan debut, with gold on the line. KUSHIDA and Ospreay looked like a style mismatch, with KUSHIDA favoring submission offense and Ospreay taking to the skies. At one point in the match, Ospreay attempted the Rainmaker, which was reversed by KUSHIDA. Ultimately, KUSHIDA’s experience proved too much as he targeted Will’s arm for the duration of the match and was able to pick up a submission victory. Ospreay once again shone in defeat and earned himself an invite to the Best of the Super Juniors tournament next month and a year extension on his newly signed contract.

May 27, 2016 vs. Ricochet
Best of the Super Juniors 23

For better or worse, this match is the first thing that comes to mind when many think of Will Ospreay.

This match was a lightning rod for controversy in the wrestling world, and was emblematic of the culture war between more modern professional wrestling and tradition. The match wasn’t out of the ordinary for Ospreay and Ricochet, both wrestled an athletic style with a focus on high flying normally, but a clip of one sequence was the center of wrestling discussion. Early in the match, Ospreay and Ricochet traded offensive moves for about 40 seconds, with the opponent countering every attempt. This sequence ended with both wrestlers doing a back handspring and staring each other down while striking a pose. Wrestlers from older generations decried the sequence, comparing it to dance rather than a combat sport. Many younger wrestlers defended the sequence, citing the athleticism required to execute all the spots. This match is a must-see to decide where you land.

June 7, 2016 vs. Ryusuke Taguchi
Best of the Super Juniors 23

At the end of Best of the Super Juniors 23, Ospreay found himself at the top of the B Block, albeit in a four-way tie. Due to his victories over the other three people in the tie, Ospreay pushed through to the final. Coming out of the A Block was a surprising winner, Ryusuke Taguchi. In a block with Kyle O’Reilly, Matt Sydal, and even the reigning Junior Heavyweight champion KUSHIDA, Taguchi had come out on top with a tiebreaker win over Sydal. The final was set for Sendai, with Ospreay looking to become the first British winner of BOSJ, and Taguchi aiming to be one of only five wrestlers at the time to win the tournament a second time. Taguchi had the favor of the Sendai crowd, who hoped to see him recapture previous glory. Ospreay had to overcome the home-field advantage for Taguchi and once again had to fight through an injured limb. On a flip counter, Ospreay had jammed his knee into the canvas, which then turned into a bullseye for Taguchi. Taguchi targeted the leg with strikes and seemed intent on winning the match with an ankle lock, which he attempted several times. In a testament to his growth as a wrestler, Ospreay modified some of his high-flying offense to avoid using the bad leg, and was ultimately able to hit the OsCutter for the win and the trophy.

Next up, a rematch with KUSHIDA.

June 19, 2016 vs. KUSHIDA
Dominion 2016

Ospreay came into this match as the winner of a tournament that KUSHIDA was also in. This was not lost on Ospreay as he showed his trophy to KUSHIDA before the match. KUSHIDA’s strategy was similar to the first meeting and he enacted it early, countering an Ospreay headscissors with a penalty kick to the arm. KUSHIDA’s preparation was apparent with counters to moves that Will had hit him with in the last encounter. Ospreay was once again bested by KUSHIDA in their second meeting. KUSHIDA’s preparation gave him the edge, the win coming when KUSHIDA countered the OsCutter with his Hoverboard Lock submission for the win.

After Dominion

Ospreay finished his 2016 by returning to PROGRESS, competing in several multi-man tags in New Japan, and starting his run with Ring of Honor. He won the Television Title in his first ROH match, but dropped it to Marty Scurll only two days later.

Ospreay’s youth was, at the same time, an advantage and a hindrance. In nearly every match on this list, the commentary emphasizes how impressive Ospreay’s success is at his age. Still, his lack of experience showed in matches with the real upper echelon of talent. Ospreay’s initial journey to Japan was a resounding success, and he had more to prove in future tours.