Inside The Ropes’ writer, Liam Alexander-Stewart recently spoke with independent wrestling mainstay ‘Speedball’ Mike Bailey to discuss his storied independent career, his rumoured WWE signing, the cultural differences in international wrestling and how COVID-19 has impacted his ability to train and maintain his in-ring ability.
You have been out of action for a considerable amount of time now, how have you adjusted to life without wrestling and how has COVID-19 impacted your ability to train and maintain both the mental and physical skills you need to perform in-ring at your best level?
“I mean, I haven’t stopped training for one second, like in whatever form I could like, since I haven’t taken a week off from training ever since I was like, I don’t know, twelve years old. When I started going to taekwondo every day and in whatever capacity that was possible like.
I’m aware that wrestling is is different, right, in terms of cardio and in terms of ring shape and all that, and there’s very much a thing to like staying on top of wrestling and the mental side of it on top of just the physical side of it. And when I say mental, I mean like writing and planning the matches and remembering your stuff and going through matches. And I think when people come back from the pandemic, that’s going to be the hardest part is like remembering, man, what do I do during a match, what do I even do? How do I even put it together? And that’s going to be the hardest part. But like staying, staying in shape has not been difficult. I’ve had to adapt my workouts and make them different.
When I didn’t have a gym, it just became a lot more push-ups, squats and chin-ups and no more weights. And, you know, it’s annoying. It’s less fun. I go to a gym because I prefer going to a gym and I’ve had to do it at home. But you got to do with what you got. I have a Bas Rutten. What does he even call it? Like kicking, striking system. It’s a weird kind of weird dummy that you set up that I have. And I’ve been using that for kickboxing as well as like gymnastics and movement and everything. I have grass. So I use that when it’s not winter.
I’ve also had access to a wrestling ring for a long time, which is good. I mean no training partners makes things a lot less productive but I’ve had access to wrestling so I’m like I’m fairly confident I’m better now than I was before the pandemic, which is a good thing I think because my biggest accomplishment in life is every single year I’ve been alive has been better than the last. And that is included in pro wrestling as well. I have never like I don’t think I’ve had a match that showed like a decline in progress in my wrestling and I think I’ve continued to get better.”
You have wrestled across the globe in a range of different styles, for different promotions and audiences. What have you found to be the biggest differences when it comes to wrestling for say WxW in Germany vs. DDT Pro in Japan?
“Here is Liam a true interview professional sending me on one of my favourite Rants, one of favorite things to talk about, which is like the cultural differences between like professional wrestling and it’s different everywhere. Audiences all over the world exist within a spectrum between Mexico and Japan. Right. And going everywhere in Mexico when most wrestling happens, of course, there’s always exceptions and different little pockets of different styles.
But culturally, when wrestling happens in Mexico, it’s, hey, Lucha is in town. Let’s go. Let’s watch. Let’s get drunk and let’s, you know, enjoy the show because it’s like you don’t have to be a fan of Lucha Libre to go and enjoy a show. It’s like they’re in town. Let’s go, let’s have a party and so that’s very much reflected in wrestling.
If you watch Lucha Libre, they do amazing stunts, amazing performers, incredible athleticism, really, really mind-blowing stuff like the most impressive wrestling, if you’re looking for athletic ability happens in Mexico easily.
However, like. Logic and match structure and details are not as present because it’s not as important. Right, whereas if you go in Japan, there’s a very, very rich and Long-Lasting culture around pro-wrestling and like fandom in Japan is very like it’s fandom. A lot of them are fanatics. It’s a lot more common, like when I wrestled for DDT in Japan, which I did for like four or so years before the pandemic. The same 50 people, I want to say, came to every single DDT show and they pay attention, they are quiet, they’re listening, they’re trying to catch on on little details.
The culture is in storytelling in Japan, even outside of wrestling, very detail-oriented and catching all the little subtleties and all that. And so it’s important when you wrestle in Japan, you must pay attention to this. And logic and structure become a lot more important than, you know, doing big stunts which are always fun and always important, but not as important. So, of course, that affects how the wrestling is like, how the wrestling happens. It’s a lot more detail-oriented because you have to please the audience and then you have like America and England and Germany and that all like situates somewhere in the middle of that.
You have to organise your matches in a completely different way. If you’re going to wrestle in front of an audience that knows wrestling, that has expectations, and then you’re going to have the chance to play around with those expectations in order to surprise them versus a brand new audience that doesn’t have any expectations and part of your match is maybe a bit more to create the expectations so that people higher up in the card or later in the match, you’ll be able to play off with those expectations.
But it’s a very complex machine, my this like it’s my favourite part of wrestling. Playing with that, playing with audiences in matchmaking and understanding that part, I always want to say that if you wanted to push pro-wrestling to more mainstream audiences and not just wrestling fans, I would show them that the event of having two people who do not speak the same language and have never met go in a room together for 30 minutes, approximately, do a bunch of, like, weird gesticulations at one another and then turn that into a live-action, one, take flawless fight choreography that happens in front of an audience that goes nuts for it. And I think showing that whole process would be a lot more interesting than showing just the end result.”
We have seen you face off against a plethora of incredibly talented performers with an array of styles and in-ring strengths and weaknesses and you seem to have adapted this incredible ability to adapt to each style, has this been a conscious effort on your part or has it been something you have simply learnt on the job per se?
” Absolutely. No, it’s something that I’ve had to, like, really be mindful of, which goes two ways. Like when I wrestled in Mexico. I realize that, like you have to understand, again, it’s all about the why, right a good understanding of why you’re doing the things you are doing.
Like why in Mexico, people jump off the top a lot more than you do in Japan. There’s a good reason for that. So when I went to Mexico, knowing that I am never going to be as good at Lucha Libre, then all the other, like lifelong luchadores that literally have been doing this since they were 12 years old, I’ve been doing those specific Lucha things.
I have to focus on everything else and then as well as in Japan, applying my stuff to the Japanese style and make sure that it’s familiar enough with the Japanese audiences to play with expectations. But that’s absolutely something that I have wanted to do. When wrestling in America and achieving what would have been my first goals in wrestling of, you know, getting a big contract and getting paid became unavailable for five years, I decided I’m going to make the most out of it.
Making the most out of it is was not to be staying in one place and getting better, but it was travelling around and learning from as many different styles and as many different people as I could. And because you know that that’s the most productive, that’s how you get good, I think the best wrestlers in the world, some of the best wrestlers in the world are people that are trained in Mexico and then learn to have good matches in Japan.”
You have faced off against so many veterans of this industry and a who’s-who of talent from Canada to Japan, is there a particular opponent, match or moment that you recall giving you a ‘WOW’ I just learnt a lot moment from?
“The belts in taekwondo go white, yellow, green, blue, red and then black. My coach would always say that green belt was the worst belt because it’s when you start thinking, you know things, blue, you then realize you don’t. And I think that happens a lot in wrestling.
A lot of people like. Early on in their career. Think, OK, I’ve figured this out and then wrestle somewhere like, oh, boy, I do not have it. And then eventually it happens again and then you’re constantly reproving yourself wrong and put in different scenarios that challenge your beliefs. But it’s happened to me. Lord knows how many times.
Like the first few matches I had with Kevin Steen, where Kevin Owens now, where I very much realized, wow, OK, his brain just works differently. He gets it. And then eventually working with Kenny Omega was like, wow, OK, I want to understand what this guy understands and then getting to Japan and saying, OK, wow, this is why things work the way they do. And I assume that if I do at some point start wrestling like on television, I’ll have the same.
Not that my expectations are that I know anything about wrestling on television or that world. But I assume it’ll be the same experience.”
It has been reported recently that you are under negotiations with the WWE following the end of your US Visa Ban after five years, can you confirm if there is any truth to these rumours?
“I mean I am very focused on long term goals and I am still not signed anywhere right now if that is the question”
“Of course, I’m not specifically goal orientated. I will take whatever opportunities arise and go with it. I have a long term goal with wrestling which is to become a millionaire and share my passion and teach a good objectively fun replicable version of wrestling to as many people as possible but there are many steps between myself and that. I’ll get there by whatever way makes the most sense”
I want to ask you about the Canadian wrestling scene as Canada continues to produce incredible performers from yourself, Kenny Omega, Josh Alexander, Kevin Owens etc but the scene itself does not seem to have shown any signs of growing on an organic level. Why do you think this is and what needs to happen for the Canadian scene to grow?
“So Canada is a strange place because it’s like so close to the US yet just a little bit too far right for American companies to actively recruit Canadians in the same way that they do Americans. The necessity for work visas just doesn’t make that possible.
There’s a lot of bad wrestling In Canada. There’s a lot of bad wrestling everywhere, I think. So the perception kind of in Canada is because although it’s very close, people get a lot of time to be. You know, not as good as they are and then finally reach your potential and then finally be on everyone’s radar. And I think that’s a big part of it. But I don’t think that only applies to Canada.
I think that applies to so many other countries. I do. I dedicate one to one day a week, usually to streaming in French. And I have a lot of people like that has connected me to the French from France wrestling community, try to play like as many Francophone matches. And I found a lot of interest in the independent wrestling scene, and wrestling in France is very, very good.
There’s a lot of very, very good wrestlers. But still, just because of the linguistic barriers, it feels a lot like Quebec where it’s like you’re so close yet so far there’s a lot of French talent that would have a perfectly good place on UK independence shows. But they don’t get there because they’re, you know, just a little bit too far away.
Right. And then there’s so many other countries in the world like that. Southeast Asia has a booming wrestling scene that I’m sure you know very little about because many people don’t. But it’s absolutely fantastic and it’s amazing.
The visa thing is a real shame and the fact that it’s so difficult to cross that border into the U.S. for Canadian wrestlers and that I don’t like because of that, I don’t think Canadian wrestlers get a fair shake at the biggest opportunities when compared to American wrestlers. What I hope for the future is that the Internet will be a great equalizer. And I think a lot of wrestlers have learned this during the pandemic, not being able to wrestle and having to move, you know, from a real live community of interacting with people at shows to moving that online.
And now, given that you can put everything you do online and you can be just as much part of the discussion as if you were there in person. I hope that through the Internet. Canadian wrestlers and French wrestlers and Southeast Asian wrestlers and Russian wrestlers and from all the wrestlers, from the countries that don’t have like giant scenes will be able to use the Internet in order to sort of level the playing field a little bit.
It will never be as easy. You will never it will never be as easy for a wrestler that is born outside of Florida to get a TV contract as a wrestler that is born like in Florida in like where there’s so much wrestling or the like northeastern United States or where there’s a lot of opportunities available. No, you’ll have to work harder and create your own opportunities.
And one of the best things that came out of the pandemic that I hope will stay is studio wrestling as a concept. And the fact that wrestling without a crowd has been normalized because that makes it so much more accessible for wrestlers in, let’s say, Turkey we’re putting on a wrestling show is nearly impossible, getting enough people to pay tickets to cover the costs and convincing whoever owns the building that it’s OK to have a wrestling show that’s a lot less accessible than it is for people to just decide, hey, we’re going to put on a camera, we’re going to broadcast it on Twitch or YouTube or Facebook or wherever, and we’re going to, you know, hopefully get some eyes on us through that.
I hope that keeps happening. I think that’s happening in a lot of revolutionary ways around the world. I don’t know if you’re familiar with ChocoPro in Japan, they’re run by Emi Sakura, and they host a lot of people that you’ve seen on AEW and what they do is they simply have wrestling. It’s live on YouTube. It’s on one big brown mat, hence choco pro and. I think what they’re doing is absolutely revolutionary. I think it will change wrestling. I think it makes being a pro wrestler and getting better at this art form much more accessible and I think that’s what pro wrestling needs more than anything.”