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By Mike Johnson on 2023-03-28 00:00:00

The professional wrestling road winds and twists, never ending, but sometimes pausing for brief moments of respite.

For most of the talents who enter that world, it begins with an excited, naive outlook, hoping to take over the world, live their dreams and perform inside the wrestling ring, giving back to the larger than life beast that somehow captured their attention, enrapturing them.

To enter professional wrestling is to give everything of yourself, to put the business before everything, including yourself.

It’s your mother’s birthday?  Well, you have to make that independent booking, because this could be the one that makes or breaks your career.

It’s your best friend’s wedding?  Well, they understand you have to be at that seminar, because this could be the moment that gets you on national TV.

Your girlfriend needs you?  Well, you're a million miles away in Japan on tour, trying to earn your way to the next one.

Your back is killing you?  Well, there’s seven more hours to go on this highway before you pull into the show and you can’t miss the show.  You just can’t, so you hope for the best and dive into the ring, beating yourself up in advance of the seven hours' drive home with just a few hundred backs in your pocket.

For every pro wrestling talent, whether they be a Wrestlemania main eventer or a rookie at the local wrestling school, they are bonded by one obsession, by one dream, by one unrelenting feeling that they have to take the next bump, the next booking, the next match, the next dream.  

In doing so, they legitimize every doubt that creeps in.  The ones from within, that make them hesitate.  The ones from the outside, the criticism of their work.  The doubts that come from the ones they love, concerned they are on a thankless cycle, breaking down their bodies while running on empty, hoping for a moment in time that will ascend them to the dreams they believe they can accomplish.

I’ve watched, written and witnessed the rise and fall and resurrection of a lot of truly wonderfully talented professional wrestlers.  Some are the most giving people you could ever hope to meet.  Some are as paranoid as they are talented, scrutinizing every detail of not just what did in the ring, but every second of what they and everyone else did outside of it, sometimes creating nuclear wars out of perceived slights, missed spots and simple misunderstandings.

For every single one of them, the moment where the theme music begins for their entrance and the moment until the second they return to the locker room sweaty, spent, beat up and hopefully proud is the most important period of their lives, until the next night when what happened the previous show is replaced.  In that period, they are the most important people in the room and remain that way until the arena disappears in the distance into the night as they trudge forward.

They live their lives in a fishbowl, a series of events that are uniquely individual while also infinitely repetitive.  They jump on a cosmic treadmill, hoping that when they finally step off, they have made history as much as they’ve made money and that everything they hurt for on a daily basis was worth it, not just for the naive person who started the journey but the person they have become - calloused, perhaps rich, perhaps bitter, perhaps both.

The reality is that for many professional wrestlers, even the ones who happily retire, there are no real happy endings, because there are no real endings in professional wrestling.  It’s as much of a soap opera behind the scenes as it is live on television, because the very nature of professional wrestling sucks in the talents, consumes them and forces them, for better or worse, to define themselves by how they are seen within and by professional wrestling.

So, in a world where there really are no happy endings, I choose to cherish the happy moments.

This Sunday, Paul London will be among those honored by the Indie Wrestling Hall of Fame.  While everyone who has been inducted previously and will be inducted this weekend are deserving, the news that London would be enshrined hit me in a harder, more personal way.

I can still remember Paul London the dreamer, who signed up for a training school that promised all sorts of amenities only to learn it was a scam.  That dreamer found his way to the former Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy, where he began training and through Rudy Boy Gonzalez, found himself in a van full of fellow mavericks driving from the Lone Star State to Philadelphia with nothing but a promise of a potential booking for Ring of Honor.

I can remember Paul London, the magnificent, taking fans in Philadelphia’s Murphy Rec Center on the ride of their lives in a Ladder match against Michael Shane that was never supposed to happen, sparking the first ever “Please don’t die” chant.  I can remember Paul London battling Bryan Danielson at ROH’s Epic Encounter in a 40 minute plus classic best of three falls match that sparked the first-ever back and forth chant.  That night, it was “Let’s go Dragon, Let’s go London” but it’s been co-opted by endless fans at countless shows since.   It was a match so good that even today, it's hard not to be impressed by what was such a great bout, I can't describe it as anything else but inspirational. 

I can remember Paul London, the driven, rising to become the first true homegrown ROH babyface hero, showing off the potential of being the next Ricky Steamboat, who pulled audiences in via his selling and made them surge with energy, urging him to victory.  I can remember London, still in the midst of that ROH stardom, pushing his way into a WWE contract, refusing to take no for an answer, even if in hindsight he may have made that jump too early, because as hard as he worked, the reality was he was chasing his dream and hoping to ascend to the next level to find the answers for everything he was searching for in life.

I can still remember Paul London the despondent, broken-hearted when his first ROH match ended unceremoniously when Chris Marvel shattered his ankle catching London on a dive.  I remember London winning the ECWA Super 8 tournament and watching him, exhausted, chasing down a bus of NYC fans that rode to Delaware to cheer him on, breaking down and crying out of appreciation for their support while admitting his own family was against his pro wrestling career.  I can remember London being the lone Cruiserweight in WWE not booked on the Cruiserweight Open at Wrestlemania XX, embittered that despite how hard he was trying, he was ignored on the biggest night of the year for WWE.

I remember the Paul London who just wanted so badly to live his dreams, the Paul London who was frustrated beyond words when things didn't work out as well in execution as they played out beforehand in his head, the Paul London who felt failed when he didn't get the chance to run with the ball in WWE the way he had in ROH and the London who matured from a young kid who popularized the dropsault into the adult who probably more than once wondered why he had sacrificed his youth and his body for a pro wrestling business that he loved far, far more than it ever consistently loved him back.

Let's be honest.  Paul London was the WWE Tag Team and the Cruiserweight Champion in WWE, but politics and errors and bad timing prevented that breakthrough moment or legacy that many expected for him.  He was there, but he wasn’t anywhere close to being the driving force.  There were no answers in the search for the next great moment, but a lot of questions left about why someone so truly talented was marginalized and at times, forgotten.

But the reality is that if you wanted to see the best Paul London there was as a performer, it was chiefly on the independents.  Sure, there were appearances in Lucha Underground, TNA and MLW, but the independents, especially the earliest era of Ring of Honor that was designed to be THE Super independent promotion, that was the realm where Paul London may not have been king, or rich, but he was certainly at home and one would hope, happiest - and at times during his post-WWE run, there were certainly flourishes of the same greatness that first made him rise to prominence, because in its best moments, independent wrestling is what's most pure and fun about professional wrestling - and when Paul London was having fun, there were few better than him on the independents, ever.

In recent years, London quietly floated away from wrestling for the most part.  Whether it was personal decisions, injuries, his push to get into acting or just his own vagabond soul sending him into a new direction, there was no happy ending, because pro wrestling doesn’t really present those to the majority of those who present themselves, with all their heart and soul, to pro wrestling.  He went from someone who was a constant to someone to was off doing his own thing, chasing new dreams and whatever life presented him that sent him farther and farther away from the wrestling ring.

There's no question that wrestling ring was, indeed, at one point in his life, London's truest passion.  From his dreams to his successes to his frustrations to all the conflicting feelings that come with the sacrifices he and everyone else made to journey through life as a professional wrestler, London fought to make his mark and his legacy.  For those who witnessed his work in those wonderful and often dilapidated venues and promotions, a most deserving Paul London being inducted into the Indie Hall of Fame is a full circle.  A cycle completed.  A good journey, even if at times it wasn't always great.

This Sunday, in a business that doesn't give happy endings, instead, there will be a happy moment.

I’ll personally cherish it, because if anyone truly deserved the nod, it's Paul London. 

Congratulations and Good Journey Paul.

The Indie Wrestling Hall of Fame streams this Sunday afternoon on FITE+.

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