In an industry that is far too often dragged through the tabloids for it’s tragic stories of wrestlers falling from grace, either in health, finances or unfortunate demise (even Hollywood chimed in with the dramatic The Wrestler featuring Mickey Rourke), it always feels extra special as a wrestling fan when we see a story of comeback. And not the underdog storylines of characters like Daniel Bryan, but the inspirational tales of real life, such as the emotionally charged revitalization of Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Scott Hall, two of the industry’s most notoriously damaged Legends, in the stunning documentary, The Resurrection of Jake “The Snake” Roberts. And while not as bottom hitting as these two now WWE Hall of Famers, the latest one is unfolding in the WWE Cruiserweight Classic and involves former WWE Tag Team Champion Brian Kendrick.
In many ways, Kendrick’s name should be mentioned more in the genesis of the New Era. While it’s most often CM Punk and Daniel Bryan who get most of the credit for it’s eventual implication, the beginnings of the creation of an indie style that would soon dominate the mainstream that involved Daniel Bryan – or should we say, Bryan Danielson – also involved Brian Kendrick. Back in 1999, Kendrick, a Virginian raised in Olympia, Washington, moved to Texas to pursue a career in professional wrestling. It was there, as the Attitude Era was hitting it’s peak and bringing more entertainment than sports, that Kendrick would seek guidance for a man that definitevly showcased the greatest combination of both sports and entertainment, “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels. Michaels was amidst an indefinite leave from the WWE following his Wrestlemania XIV WWE World Heavyweight Championship loss to an emerging “Stone Cold” Steve Austin left the DX founder broken, mentally and physically, after years of abuse on his mind and body. Michaels had retreated back to Texas, seemingly retired from the industry, and began a wrestling school, the Texas Wrestling Academy (TWA).
Kendrick was part of a training class that included not only Daniel Bryan, but also Lance Cade and future tag team partner Paul London. Michaels had a history of bucking WWE’s authority while an employee – it only made sense that his early recruits continued to work on a style of wrestling that his former employer seemed intent on getting rid of, technical wrestling and high flying aerial moves. It was these skills that these four would bring out with them as they moved through just about every other promotion of the 2000’s, like Ring of Honor, NJPW, FMW, TNA, PWG, Chikara, and much more, infecting and absorbing styles from around the world.
Under the ring name Spanky, Kendrick debuted on October 8, 1999 in a match against another first time grappler, Bryan Danielson. By February of 2000, they were both on the radar of the WWE. They were both signed to WWE’s developmental territories, Memphis Championship Wrestling (MCW), winning Tag Team gold together. But a year later, they were both released from the company when WWE parted ways with MCW and opted not to take on either wrestler’s contracts. But while Bryan would head to Japan with fellow TWA classmate Lance Cade, Kendrick opted to join Paul London in the newly created Ring of Honor.
Kendrick and London eventually made it to WWE, but after a couple years of misuse, they both returned to the indies. Kendrick flirted between NWA territories, Ring of Honor and Japan, plying his trade.
Kendrick and London would return to WWE again in 2005, resulting in their greatest WWE success, where they held the WWE Tag Team titles for an astonishing 331 days. By 2008, the pair were separated via the brand draft, and Kendrick became The Brian Kendrick, a mini-version of Shawn Michaels, with his own Diesel, played by Ezekiel Jackson. Despite some cult status success with indy fans, Kendrick was released in 2009. Stories of Kendrick’s party lifestyle began making its rounds. Many were worried that the sins of the Teacher may become the sins of the Student.
But if partying was even thinking of slowing him down, it was wrong. Kendrick continued to work, with a short stint in TNA, followed by appearances in PWG, DragonGate, and NJPW, including two appearances in New Japan’s Best of the Super Juniors Tournaments. The fire was still clearly in Kendrick’s belly and his constant push to compete with the elite kept him physically active and sharpened his mind and his focus for the industry.
Much like his mentor, he returned from conquering his demons and opened a training school, The Brian Kendrick School of Wrestling, at Santino Bros. Wrestling Academy in Los Angeles. In 2014, he showed up at the WWE Performance Centre looking for a job as a trainer and ended up with a small cameo return in NXT. He was handed one of NXT’s biggest projects, teach the most hated Diva on the roster – Eva Marie – how to wrestle.
But it was the announcement earlier this year that Kendrick would be one of the 32 competitors in the inaugural WWE Cruiserweight Classic that people really began to believe again. His interview in the opening special, Bracketology, touched a lot of people, especially those who were weary of Kendrick and his partying past. But he seemed clear for the first time in years. Sincere in his speech. It was hard not to cheer for him.
Initially, most people thought Kendrick was just getting a first round match out of it, a “thank you” for at least trying with Eva Marie, a good will match before he became a full trainer at the Performance Center. But then a strange thing happened. He won the first round match-up. Granted it was against Raul Mendoza, not exactly one of the favourites to advance either, but no one expected Kendrick to move forward other than as a nostalgia act. But he look good.
Which lead us up to tonight. Surely this was a one time victory, right? Kendrick got a feel good win, now it was time for him to push a younger star, someone who could be springboarded to NXT after the tournament with newfound momentum.
His opponent tonight was Tony Neese, a rising star who’s been shining the past few months with his work in Evolve, the WWE-affiliated indie promotion run by Gabe Sapolsky and WWN. It only made sense that this prospect was just what NXT needed. A strong, built guy who would look huge in NXT but excite with Cruiserweight style, with charisma to boot.
But he did it again. Brian Kendrick won. And while it wasn’t the masterpieces like previous weeks Ibushi/Alexander or Gargano/Ciampa, it still did a great job showcasing the capabilities of Nese, while creating a great feel good story featuring a Kendrick that still clearly has the goods.
Brian Kendrick is now in the Elite 8 of the CWC, a group that currently consists of Kota Ibushi, Gran Metalik, Noam Dar and Tozawa Akira (three final entrants to be determined next week at the Second Round’s conclusion). And regardless if he moves on once more (although, he’s facing Ibushi next round) or it’s his final destination in the CWC, I don’t think it’s the last of the man formerly known as Spanky.
His comeback story has been one of the emotional highlights of this tournament, and one completely based on reality. And while his story will most likely end as a trainer with the Performance Center, it probably won’t be quite yet. After all, Raw is a month away from starting it’s own Cruiserweight Division. And someone like Kendrick is just the person to help draw eyes to the division, for both casual WWE fans and diehard indie fans.
Welcome back, Brian Kendrick.