Drew Gulak: The Heel Malenko

To indie purists, the name Drew Gulak is one that commands a lot of respect. He’s an eleven year veteran of the indie circuit, is a highly regarded trainer whose taught dozens of today’s indie stars, and his technical ringwork and psychology is a thing of beauty. But for many, the Drew Gulak they are now seeing on Raw and 205 Live is there first time encountering the man. For the educated few, Gulak’s emerging push on the main roster in it’s Cruiserweight Division is a bit of a shock – many assumed his (seeming) lack of character would lead to him being one of the guys who remained in the enhancement shuffle. But his “No Fly Zone” straight laced character of the past few months has begun to gain some traction, especially since the addition of his now infamous Power Point presentations. But for those who are still new to Drew, sit back. He’s a bit of a hidden gem.

Photo: WWE

In 2004, emerging indie promotions CZW and CHIKARA merged their training facilities together to form one wrestling school, with Drew Gulak being one of the early students after the alliance. A year later, he made his debut with CZW, where he would be a regular performer until he joined the WWE last year following his appearance in the Cruiserweight Classic. He left the company after 11 years, as a former CZW World Heavyweight Champion, CZW Wired TV Champion and 2x CZW World Tag Team Champion, with Andy Sumner in Team AnDrew.

While CZW was his home turf, Gulak was also quite prominent throughout much of the emerging North American indie scene from the mid-2000s. If the first wave of North American indie stars to break out included AJ Styles, Tyler Black (Seth Rollins), CM Punk, Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan) and Samoa Joe, then Gulak would definitely stand to be listed in it’s second wave. Over the past decade, he’s been active with CHIKARA (it’s rumoured he played the long-running character Soldier Ant from The Colony, who coincidentally retired the night Gulak had his final match before joining the WWE full time), MCW, Beyond, wXw, Smash Wrestling, IPW:UK, SWE, House of Glory (HOG), and more. He made his long awaited PWG debut in 2014 at that year’s Battle of Los Angeles tournament, and spent his last four years on the indies working with EVOLVE in the stellar shoot style faction, Catch Point, where he held the EVOLVE Tag Team titles with “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams.

A lot of people were genuinely (pleasantly) surprised to see Drew Gulak’s name announced as one of the competitors in last year’s WWE Cruiserweight Classic. Not because Gulak lacked the skills to compete at that level – far from it. But more because Gulak just didn’t seem to fit with the current WWE “mold”. He wasn’t the handsomest face in the locker room, his charisma seemed more akin to the John Cleese stoneface wit than WWE’s prefered Will Ferrell schoolyard style, and his moves were far more technically based than the WWE was used to having. In a way, he was very much like a modern day Dean Malenko – beloved by purists for his old school performance and smoothness in the ring, but forever worried that their personalities may not be understood by the vast majority. But Gulak won his opening match against Harv Shira (now Samir Singh, one of Jinder Mahal‘s henchmen), before losing to Zack Sabre Jr. in the second round.

He was brought back almost immediately after his second round exit to work matches on NXT television, facing Hideo Itami, and then propelled into the national spotlight with the reboot of the WWE’s Cruiserweight Division at the of September in 2016. For most of the first six months, he was the partner of another EVOLVE star, “The Premier Athlete” Tony Nese, and worked mid-level of the division as the guys to get through to reach the main event guys (a vastly underappreciated role by a lot of fans today). But as they two distanced, it was Drew Gulak who emerged with the strongest character, donning a suit and protesting the high flyers, chants and gimmicks of the WWE, protesting “No Fly Zones” and “No Chants”. At first his character was an irritant to most – the indie fans were upset at his apparent misuse and the unknown fans were puzzled who this guy was.

But the funny thing is, thisĀ is the Drew Gulak for his CZW days. He had many feuds based around his calm, collected, superior character, complaining about the rising hardcore and death matches in CZW for years. This WWE character is actually just his CZW character now entering a different company that has ideals the character Drew Gulak has issues with. The only difference is, that the WWE could afford him Power Point projectors.

So it’s a great joy to see someone like Drew Gulak offered his first proper WWE Pay-Per-View appearance, even if it was just to kick off the event. He’s had two other PPV match before, in tag matches on the Kick Off for Hell In A Cell and Survivor Series last year, but those were more of a showcase of the new division for new fans. This time, though it was just a Power Point presentation, it shows that WWE is taking notice. Unfortunately, the re-shuffling of the card due to illness caused a last minute bump of his spot, at least they were giving him a platform bigger than 205 Live, and bigger than Monday Night Raw, to grow his character to a wider audience. And that can only be considered a good thing.

Because just like Dean Malenko, Drew Gulak is a gem of a performer, whose subtleties in the ring are far too often missed or ignored. Hopefully tonight marks the introduction to something bigger and better for Gulak in the WWE Universe.