All wrestlers have to start somewhere on the path to making their dreams a reality, whether it be a wrestling school, church basement, bingo hall, etc. From there, those wrestlers work their way up to the pinnacle of their dreams. For many, that’s a career in WWE or more recently AEW, IMPACT Wrestling or even NJPW. But sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination. In LWOPW’s newest feature, “Before They Were Famous,” we take a look at the pre-WWE careers of some of the company’s top current stars, following along on their road to superstardom. In this edition, we take a look at the hard-hitting powerhouse known simply as Wardlow.
Boasting incredible power and athleticism, “The Man They Call Wardlow” is one of the rising stars of All Elite Wrestling. Today, on AEW programming, he can either be seen asserting his authority over fellow stars or doing the bidding for Maxwell Jacob Friedman. He made his debut for the company in late 2019 and has shown promise ever since. Like many stars that landed in AEW, Wardlow’s path to where he is today isn’t straightforward. Let’s take a deep dive into the career of “Mr. Mayhem” himself.
Prior to becoming a professional wrestler, Wardlow was involved in different physical endeavors. Born in Middlefield, Ohio, Wardlow trained in boxing and jiu-jitsu. He was also involved in weightlifting, which allowed him to develop his powerful physique. The aforementioned training in combat would be instrumental in wrestling, which was what he had wanted to pursue for quite some time beforehand. By the mid-2010s, he did exactly that.
Wardlow trained and learned under various individuals. In addition to learning from fellow Middlefield native Matthew Justice, he was taken under the wing of Josh Emanuel, who not only wrestled largely in Ohio but Pennsylvania as well. Wardlow made his official debut in March of 2014 for the Ohio-based promotion, American Revolution Wrestling. He briefly exchanged victories with Nickie Valentino before making his debut for International Wrestling Cartel the following December. It was in IWC where “Mr. Mayhem” saw the lion’s share of his pre-AEW success.
Starting in late 2014 and into April of 2015, Wardlow went on something of a winning streak in IWC, even emerging victorious in the Ric Flair Invitational Battle Royal. By the spring, Wardlow joined forced with Team LaBar, led by Justin LaBar. The group would see a multitude of stars come and go, including RJ City and Rhino. Though he was part of a team at this point, Wardlow went on to see singles success independent of Team LaBar.
In September of 2016, Wardlow debuted for Premier Championship Wrestling, teaming with Valentino to defeat Uppercut Ulysses and Dropkick Dave. By December, Wardlow received his first taste of gold when he bested City for the vacant IWC World Heavyweight Championship. This would be the first of three reigns Wardlow would see with the title. As one might expect from a man with the moniker of “Mr. Mayhem,” he proved to be a dominant IWC World Heavyweight Champion.
In 2017, from January to October, Wardlow successfully defended the IWC World Heavyweight Championship. He saw victories over such names as Matt Conard, Rocky Reynolds, Shane Taylor, and the current Joaquin Wilde of WWE, DJ Z. He also defended the title in August in his first Cage Match against Jimmy Vegas. However, in December, Andrew Palace managed to unseat the powerhouse from Middlefield for his title. Though Wardlow’s first reign came to an end, the fact that it lasted for 364 days was nothing short of impressive.
2018 showed that Wardlow wasn’t out of the world title hunt. If anything, his loss the December prior made him that much hungrier. This hunger would pay dividends in March, when he defeated Palace for his second IWC World Heavyweight Championship, ending his opponent’s reign at 98 days. However, as the months rolled on, dissension rose in Team LaBar. From a viewer’s perspective, while Team LaBar went one direction, Wardlow seemingly desired to go his own way.
This came to a head at IWC Caged Fury 2018 in August, when Wardlow defended his title against Jack Pollock in the main event Cage Match. Wardlow looked to have the match in his favor before Team LaBar interfered on his behalf. Keep in mind that, leading to this match, Wardlow instructed his team to stay away from ringside. However, an errant superkick by Team LaBar member Chris LeRusso cost Wardlow the title, with Pollock being crowned the new IWC World Heavyweight Champion. Post-match, an incensed Wardlow laid out LaBar multiple times. Effective immediately, “The War Dog’s” affiliation with Team LaBar was no more.
In addition to his continued efforts in IWC in 2018, Wardlow began to appear Revenge Pro Wrestling and Greektown Pro Wrestling during the spring. Though he was still heavily focused on IWC, not just in relation to the title but his feud with Team LaBar, he continued to build his name elsewhere. In December, IWC held its year-end event, The First Annual Pittsburgh Pro Wrestling Classic. In the main event, Wardlow challenged Pollock for the IWC World Heavyweight Championship. With a final score of 2 to 1, Wardlow became a three-time IWC World Heavyweight Champion.
Wardlow entered 2019 as not only the new IWC World Heavyweight Champion but his own man to boot. In March, at IWC Eighteen, he faced John McChesney in a title-for-title match; McChesney held IWC’s Super Indy Championship at the time. By the end of the match, Wardlow was crowned a double champion. As the new Super Indy Champion, Wardlow was the focus of that year’s Super Indy 18. Though he faced formidable opponents Dylan Bostic, Jaxon Argos, and Josh Alexander, Wardlow overcame them all.
The following July, Wardlow added another title to his resume at Revenge Pro’s The Battle of Lake Erie event. In a gauntlet match, Wardlow became the first-ever Revenge Pro World Champion. However, this reign would only last for 56 days; in September, he dropped the title to Pretty Boy Smooth. This would also mark his final in-ring match in 2019. However, greater things waited on the horizon for “The War Dog.”
In August of 2019, AEW held it’s All Out pay-per-view. During the event, a vignette aired showcasing Wardlow, who exercised his trademark power in a street fight. This was the first exposure to Wardlow many wrestling fans had. The following November, Wardlow would make his official debut on AEW Dynamite, attacking Cody, who had been at odds with MJF. Wardlow would go on to join forces with the latter, who employed the imposing star as his bodyguard. If MJF wasn’t confident before, he certainly was with new muscle by his side.
Wardlow wouldn’t wrestle his first match in AEW until this past February. Leading up to this, MJF issued a number of challenges to Cody; if Cody agreed to these, MJF would wrestle him in a singles match. One such challenge was for Cody to face Wardlow in AEW’s first-ever Cage Match. Given his indie experience in Cage Matches, this seemed up Wardlow’s alley. Despite putting on a tremendous effort against Cody, Wardlow failed to defeat “The American Nightmare.” Nonetheless, this was just a slight bump in the road for MJF’s heavy.
From April onward, Wardlow was incredibly successful in singles competition, whether on Dynamite or AEW Dark. From up-and-comers like Lee Johnson to established AEW stars such as Luchasaurus, Wardlow remained undefeated in one-on-one matches for months. In fact, he wouldn’t lose another singles match until late October, when he fell to Hangman Page in the semifinals of the AEW World Title Eliminator Tournament. Even then, Page had to dig deep to overcome the dominant “War Dog.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Wardlow’s work in AEW has been his dynamic with MJF. Though MJF employed Wardlow, “The Salt of the Earth” wasn’t shy about belittling him. Case and point, this past September, MJF failed in his attempt to defeat Jon Moxley for the AEW World Championship. Not only did he fire his campaign team, but he verbally abused Wardlow, who MJF put considerable blame on for costing him the match. As Wardlow bowed up to MJF, the latter made it clear who was in charge. MJF told Wardlow he was the only one that cared about him and saw his potential. Thus, MJF kept him under his employ.
Even recently, this toxic relationship could be seen when Wardlow was in the hunt for the AEW World Championship. MJF declared that whatever Wardlow had, so did he. This garnered a puzzled expression from “Mr. Mayhem,” who begrudgingly confirmed his employer’s claim. One must wonder how long it will be until this partnership finally comes to a head.
Last month, on Last Word on Sports, the argument was made that it was time for MJF and Wardlow to finally break up. Whether this comes due to the influence of The Inner Circle remains to be seen, but there’s something to be said about the singles potential of Wardlow. During his IWC days, though he was affiliated with a group, he showed that he could stand on his own as an individual star. With his look, ability, and quiet confidence, Wardlow may very well be the next breakout star in AEW.
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. You can catch AEW Dynamite Wednesday nights at 8 PM ET on TNT and AEW DARK Tuesday nights at 7 PM ET on YouTube.
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