It’s rare in professional wrestling to come across a true innovator but in Chris Sabin, that reference certainly feels apropos.
Be it as part of the pioneering class of X Division athletes in TNA or through his trailblazing tag team with Alex Shelley, the Motor City Machine Guns, echoes of Sabin’s legacy thus far can be felt across the entire pro wrestling landscape.
Just a few short weeks out, Inside the Ropes’ Liam Wyatt caught up with Sabin to discuss his career, dealing with injuries and his impact on today’s talent.
Chris, it’s been nearly a whole year since you and Alex Shelley made your big return to IMPACT at Slammiversary 2020. Clearly, the no fan environment has made this a very different experience from your previous run(s) in Impact. How do you reflect on the last 12 months?
Yeah, nothing but positive thoughts about the last 12 months. It’s been quite a ride, you know, after being out again with another ACL injury, but I feel like I’ve come back from this injury stronger than the previous two for sure. Without a doubt, I really feel that way, so it’s been quite a ride. I’m actually just starting to launch the rocket on being a singles wrestler. I came back, obviously with Alex Shelley as a tag team, then I converted to Beer Guns with James Storm and now maybe it’s time to go at it on my own and see how that goes. But it’s been a good year.
You mentioned your previous injuries, have you had to make any adjustments to your style or to your training in order to stay fit for this run?
Yeah, for sure. I mean, whatever I’m doing, whether it’s training or wrestling, competing in a match, no matter what it is, I try to have my knees in the back of my mind even though they feel good. Right now it’s just something I want to avoid. I don’t want to go through any sort of knee injuries again – I don’t know if I’ll be able to, but I’m going to try my hardest not to.
You mentioned Alex Shelley earlier. I have to ask for all the Motor City Machine Gun fans out there, should we expect to see the two of you in a ring together anytime soon?
I don’t know, I prefer to leave that as a surprise as to whether it does or doesn’t happen. I don’t think we’re ever going to break up as a team, but we’re not gonna always be a team. So you never know. I think it will just be cool throughout the years for the Motor City Machine Guns to kind of just randomly surprise fans. To just pop up somewhere.
It’s been interesting seeing your team with James Storm. What’s that experience been like for you?
It was cool! I’ve known James for a long time. I’ve worked side-by-side with him since I started in TNA back in 2003. So he’s always been around and it was nice because it was comfortable. I knew James and I were comfortable around each other. We obviously have a history against each other. So yeah, it was a pretty natural transition.
Looking back at your career, alongside names like AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels, you guys were part of an absolutely huge upswing in the US indie scene and more latterly with Ring of Honor and TNA. The groundwork you collectively laid out essentially shaped how mainstream wrestling is conducted today, in terms of the moves and styles represented in today’s product. What was it like being part of the scene at that point and did you have any inkling of the sort of effect you were having at the time?
I don’t think we had any idea the effect we were having. I think it’s just that all those guys, myself included, were fortunate enough to be a part of the evolution of pro wrestling and play an important role in it. And it’s cool to look back and see the effect that we had now. But at the time I don’t think we knew what kind of effect we were really having on the reality of pro wrestling.
One of the things that you’re career has been associated with is your time in the X Division. Something that struck me recently is how many proponents of that the X Division style back in the day are now in the main event scene and that style has been essentially adopted by the heavyweights. With that in mind, do you think there’s a challenge for the X Division wrestlers of 2021 to come up with new things or to separate themselves from the pack?
I don’t think so. I think if we just look at the current crop of guys, I think the X Division is the strongest it’s been in a really long time. I think especially if you watch the hour-long Iron Man match with TJP and Josh Alexander. The X Division earned a reputation for being an innovative division of wrestling and I think that reputation still holds up to this day, and I think that when a wrestler becomes a part of the X Division, part of the reason why is because they’re going to offer something unique. You know, they bring something different and unique to the table, which is what defines the X Division.
Do you think there’s a challenge in X Division wrestlers moving up to the heavyweight scene?
I don’t know. I think that maybe some guys don’t want to, maybe some guys just want to be in the X Division, but at the same time, I think there’s less of a hierarchy in pro wrestling locker rooms nowadays. I think it’s more of equality and people want each other to succeed – there’s less backstabbing going on in wrestling.
That’s interesting to hear, has that been a recent development?
Yeah, I think it’s just my generation and the generations that have come after – I think the world we grew up in, how we were forged, I think people want to do good. People are naturally evolving to be better people and I really think that’s how the culture is and moving more towards that way nowadays so that that characteristic is going to carry over into wrestling too. So I think that if you’re good enough you’ll get there. I like to think that, but whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. But, hey, let’s be optimistic, right?
Absolutely. Now you’ve been part of Impact going as far back as the TNA days. What are the biggest differences with the company now or to when you’ve been involved previously?
I think it’s there’s more of a singular vision nowadays. I think back in their earlier days there were just too many cooks in the kitchen, too many people wanting to impose their will on what the company was capable of doing, and I think that nowadays there’s more of a singular vision, and people are more of a team and more on the same page.
Going back to when you made your return at Slammiversary last year, how were you and Alex received by the younger wrestlers? Because The Guns are what I would describe as cult heroes in many ways. So were you treated as such?
Yeah, it was. It was pretty crazy because just to see how some of the younger guys reacted to us like they were reacting to me the way I would react to some of the guys that I grew up watching which was just kind of shocking to me because you never see yourself in that light, you know? And yeah it was really cool and it’s really humbling to see the positive effect that you have on people and you have to just be grateful for that gift.
You wrestled The Rascalz (now MSK in WWE NXT) in what was one of the biggest surprises of the night. How was the experience of wrestling two guys that I would say have clearly been influenced by the Motor City Machine Guns?
Yeah, I think they were the perfect opponents for our first match back. Without a doubt, I definitely see a younger version of Alex and myself in those guys and they have such a great career ahead of them and they’re on their way. Obviously, they’re on their way.
Speaking on the Impact locker room in general, is there anyone in particular that has caught your eye since you’ve been back?
Oh yeah, I mean, I don’t want to single out anyone because everyone has been so impressive. I think the locker room is just top-notch right now and like I said, everyone gets along really well. Everyone is considered, you know, and has a team mindset. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed because they know if someone else succeeds, a rising tide lifts all ships as they say, and I think that’s definitely true, especially for a company like IMPACT.
If I could draw a comparison, I see a lot of Chris Sabin in Ace Austin. Is that something you’ve noticed or is that just me?!
Someone has mentioned that before, but I’ve also heard people mentioned that they see Alex Shelley (in Ace), so maybe it’s a little both of us, which is cool! Either way, it’s really cool just to have a positive influence on someone.
You talked about rising tides earlier, and I think that’s been one of the really nice things of 2021, with the Forbidden Door opening, we’ve seen a lot of collaboration between Impact, All Elite Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling. When you were coming up, could you have imagined cooperation on this scale from companies of this size?
Yeah, I don’t know like this. New Japan has always worked with U.S. companies throughout the years but as far as two major U.S. companies working together, I think that’s really unique and that helps give the fans a unique experience in that the popularity of wrestling is getting spread out and I think that’s really cool. It’s not as concentrated on one company as it used to be. I think the attention span of wrestling fans is a lot more spread out thanks to the Internet and where we want to be an alternative product, I think AEW and Impact working together is definitely a big part of that.
You had the opportunity to wrestle Private Party, another team where you can see some Machine Gun influence, as a result of that working relationship.
Well, thank you, it’s extremely cool for you to say that. Yeah, that was great. I really enjoyed doing that with them. It was fun working with them and they were great guys.
Given that you’ve wrestled for New Japan earlier in your career, have you given any thought to going the other way through the Forbidden Door and trying your hand in New Japan again? Or even AEW?
Ah, possibly. You know I’d be open to it. Right now, I’m just focused on IMPACT and I just want to make sure I can stay healthy enough to be able to keep performing as a wrestler. After this injury, you never know – it’s always an element of, what am I going to be able to? Am I gonna be able to wrestle and come back from this injury? So I think I wanted to give that enough time and just get used to being in the ring again. But you never know. Maybe next year or something like that, or sometime soon, I’d definitely like to branch out a little bit more.
In terms of coming back from injuries, have you done anything with Sports Psychology or similar in order to get back in the ring or get over that injury?
I haven’t taken any Sports Psychology classes or anything like that but I’ve read a lot, and I’m sure I’ve come across stuff that would fall under the tree of Sports Psychology. And just like a story of how to stay motivated and how to keep your brain in tip top condition and whatnot, especially through injuries. So yeah, it’s a difficult thing because you’re just in an unknown place and all you can do is be like, well, I’m gonna train as hard as I can and do everything I can possibly do right. Listen to my therapists and just trying to do everything right, you know? But it’s a big unknown, whether you’re going to be able to come back strong or not.
How has the no fan experience played into that, as I assume the adrenaline or a live crowd would help keep you focused in many ways. What’s that experience been like?
Yeah, it did take a little getting used to, especially ’cause it’s just… It’s just different, you don’t feel the people’s energy and that’s something real. When you’re out there performing in front of people and they’re lively, sometimes you’re, performing for a crowd and they’re not very into what you’re doing, and that’s OK – that happens sometimes – but just the energy of the crowd is something completely different. The bumps kind of hurt more when people aren’t watching it. I don’t know why. For some reason, everything hurts a lot more in the ring when there aren’t people watching, but I’ve gotten used to it at this point, so actually, I’m a little bit more nervous to go back to wrestling in front of people! That kind of scares me a little bit, gives me butterflies ’cause it’s been so long. You know, this whole year since I made my return (has been without a live crowd) and before that it was over a year since I had performed in front of anyone, so it’s been like 2 and half years since I’ve performed in front of fans, in person anyway, so yeah, it’s a little scary. It’s all scary, but I’m psyched for it.
Well, we must talk about Slammiversary as you’ve got a big match coming up against a very big man in Moose! What have you made of his evolution over the last year?
Yeah, so regardless of my personal differences with him, as a fan, I think Moose is awesome and he’s just a star. And one of the things I respect about him the most is that he just really loves wrestling and he has this strong passion that I think really shows through his performances, so I have a lot of respect for Moose.
Where does he rank in terms of the bigger guys you’ve been in the ring with – he must be near the top?
Yeah, as far as size goes, I mean he’s no Abyss! Abyss was a little bigger than him. Kevin Nash, also a little bigger than him. Those are just two I can think of right now, but I have some big guy experience!
Do you have a preference for wrestling bigger or smaller wrestlers?
I don’t have a preference. Honestly, I kind of like wrestling guys that are a little bit smaller than me because most of the time I’m not wrestling guys that are smaller than me so I can actually have a strength advantage and that doesn’t happen often!
This feels like a very fresh match-up from a fan’s perspective so what should Impact fans expect from the match?
Oh, I think to expect the unexpected. I don’t even know what to expect! You know Moose has a super unique offence. He can do it all. He’s super strong, but he’s also super agile. He can do standing moonsaults and Spanish Flys and stuff so I’m going to have to craft a game plan that’s really unique against him. I expect to see a lot of passion on display because I know both Moose and I love wrestling, we both have a strong passion for wrestling and hopefully, that creates an entertaining energy for the fans.
The excitement for Slammiversary is massive this year, thanks in part to last year’s show with all of the big returns and surprises. How does it feel to be on the announced card this time around?
Yeah, it’s cool. I’m looking forward to seeing what the surprises are. Definitely, I don’t want to know, even if I had the chance to know, I wouldn’t want to know because I just want to show up that day and see who’s there!
Finally, if we were to sit down again in 12 months time, what would you like to have achieved in the next year?
That is a really good question and I haven’t really thought that far ahead, so I’ll just say I’ll be celebrating the one year anniversary of you asking me that question!