By Chris Slater
One of the things that has made me happiest as a wrestling fan over the last year has been the rise to the top of Daniel Bryan and CM Punk. Two independent wrestling stars, who were both told they lacked the star power to make it to the top of WWE, are currently feuding over the WWE Championship.
The two former stars of the independent Ring of Honor promotion are two of the top stars of the top promotion in the world. I don’t necessarily want to talk about Punk and D-Bri right now. What I want to look at here is the sad story of Nigel McGuinness, a man who I feel like could have been right there with them now.
Nigel McGuinness is a 36-year-old retired wrestler currently working as a broadcaster for Ring of Honor. He started wrestling in 1998, first made a name for himself around 2003, became ROH champ in 2007, and is mostly known for his hugely successful ROH feud with Daniel Bryan.
So, why is he retired? Why did he sign a WWE contract in 2009, only to have WWE take back the offer? Why did he sign with TNA, only to be pulled from the company after several months with no explanation and released a year after? Nobody really knows, but there are plenty of rumors.
McGuinness first made his name in ROH for his feuds with Samoa Joe, Colt Cabana, and Daniel Bryan. British wrestling is more known for a proficiency in holds and counter-wrestling (think William Regal), and the British McGuinness followed suit. To stand out, he added a brutally physical aspect to his repertoire, becoming one of the hardest-hitting wrestlers in the hardest-hitting promotion in the world.
He made himself a star by becoming a must-see attraction. His matches were realistic and bloody. They looked like true battles and he put his body through Hell to entertain the fans. He was rewarded with the ROH Championship in 2007.
He earned the respect of fans worldwide during his reign, as he battled injuries throughout. In his first defense, he tore his biceps muscle. Luckily, he didn’t need surgery, but rehabbed for two months and came back. In his first match back, he received a gruesome-looking concussion that left him stumbling around the ring in a wide-eyed stupor, bleeding from a deep gash on his eyebrow that required over 25 stitches. Knowing today what we know about concussions, it’s scary to think back to the damage he was doing to himself.
Nigel reigned as ROH champ for around a year. He was an homage to traveling world champions of yesteryear, like Dusty Rhodes, Harley Race, Terry Funk, and other wrestlers from that era. Near the end of his reign, he was wrestling with two torn biceps, as his original tear had never fully healed and the muscle in his other arm had torn as well.
He had become a true legend of ROH, a status only a few wrestlers had received – Samoa Joe, Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Christopher Daniels. After putting his body on the line for so long he had earned the respect of wrestling fans everywhere.
In the summer of 2009, it was announced that Daniel Bryan had signed a WWE contract. His “Final Countdown” tour was set to culminate that November. In the fall of 2009, word came out that Nigel McGuinness had also signed a WWE contract. His last date in ROH was also in November. So, a tribute to one of the biggest rivalries was set for their last show, as Bryan and Nigel faced each other one last time in both their final matches with the promotion.
Bryan went on to WWE and the rest is history. McGuinness reportedly failed the WWE-mandated physical examination a wrestler takes prior to signing their contract. Word making the rounds at the time was that he had received too many concussions and WWE did not want to invest in a wrestler that they considered to be “injury prone.”
Nigel showed up at TNA and entered into a multi-month feud with former WWE Champion and Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle that stole every show they were a part of. TNA had seemingly found a new star that WWE had missed out on.
As is the case in wrestling sometimes, careers flounder. Not everybody can be the top guy at the same time, so Nigel – renamed Desmond Wolfe in TNA – took a backseat for a while and hung out in the mid-card. In the summer of 2010, he was making waves as part of a tag team with fellow British wrestler Brutus Magnus. They were set to receive a tag title shot at a pay-per-view, but on the day of the show it was announced that Nigel had been pulled from the card.
No explanation was given, and he was not mentioned for a few months. It was then teased that he was coming back. Then they stopped teasing it and he wasn’t seen for a almost a year. Then TNA released him and he returned to ROH as an announcer.
There are a lot of rumors about why he retired. The most prevalent rumor involves the fact that he wouldn’t be able to get licensed to wrestle in major promotions, due to potential issues that could arise if he were to bleed during a match. That has never been publicly confirmed, but McGuinness has stated that it was not a physical injury that made him retire.
ROH released a documentary retrospective on McGuinness’ career that is almost heartbreaking to watch at times. Nigel recounts aspects of his career, talking about how it seemed like a good idea at the time to put his body on the line like he did. He expresses regret at not taking time to enjoy the good fortune in his career, noting that he was always too impatient to get to the next milestone.
The scariest part of the documentary is when he admits he wouldn’t be surprised if he had suffered brain damage. It may or may not be related, but he had a lot of difficulty with details. When discussing certain matches, he could never recall where they took place. When recounting that concussion I wrote about earlier, he didn’t remember where the cut on his face was. He got embarrassed when he couldn’t remember Ricky Steamboat’s name, especially considering he was talking about one of the most famous matches of all time. He said, “Yeah, it’s like when [Randy] Savage and … Uhh… Oh, man…” He put his head down and a man off camera says, “Steamboat?” Then McGuinness continues with his story.
The documentary gets so sad when he talks about Daniel Bryan’s success in WWE. They both ended their ROH careers together and even took their WWE physicals on the same day, along with a Playboy model aspiring to be a WWE Diva, who Nigel jokingly mentions probably made more money from wrestling than he ever did.
Nigel admits that he can’t watch WWE anymore, because his peers are on top. He had the ability to get there, it just didn’t work out for whatever reason. It made me sad to watch Nigel break down and cry when he told the story about Daniel Bryan texting him the night he won the World Heavyweight Championship in WWE.
His dream was to make it to WWE. To get WWE’s attention, he needed to make a name for himself in ROH. The irony of that is by making a name for himself, he pretty much ruined his chances of going to WWE. He destroyed his body to get over, and then WWE decided that he was damaged goods and washed their hands of him.
His tale is one that shows that sometimes things don’t always work out. He became a wrestling star, but not the wrestling star that he wanted to become. Not every dream comes true. That’s a sad reality for some people, and Nigel McGuinness is a perfect example of that.