Everyone has their favourite wrestlers and everyone has wrestlers they hate, however in the world outside of WWE there is no more controversial performer that Britain’s own Will Ospreay.
The 24-year-old from Essex is one of the premiere high flyers in the world. He can hit everything from a running shooting star press to a 630 senton, and the amount of gif-able moves in his arsenal has led to a reputation as a “flippy shit” wrestler.
There are many big divides between wrestling fans these days, but one of the main ones is between the “WWE style” match and the “Indie style”. The WWE style is well known and what most wrestling fans are familiar with. The babyface starts off like a house on fire, the heel gains the advantage through some nefarious or underhanded manner and begins a long beatdown, maybe he works a specific body part, maybe he just beats the hell out of the face in general, then there is a turning point and a comeback, then they finish it up one way or another.
That is the format of 98% of WWE matches, and that’s fine. It can generate classics and it usually ensures there are very few duds; however it can also get extremely repetitive when every match on the card is like that.
On the other side is the back-and-forth, all-action, fast-paced style of an Indie match, one that gives the crowd, be they 10 or 1,000, a show they won’t forget. To the WWE style fans it comes across overly choreographed and with far too little selling. Moves are often strung together and “no sold” for a while until both participants collapse.
Ospreay’s matches fall very much in the latter category. His speed and agility naturally lend itself to the faster pace of match. He has the stamina to run the ropes for hours and if his opponent can keep up then the moves can flow together in such a blur that it starts to resemble a superhero film more than a wrestling match.
Breaking the internet
Ospreay has been well known to UK Indie fans for a while now despite his young age. His chase of the PROGRESS title through 2014 and into the summer of 2015 was remarkable, and his match against Jimmy Havoc at “Chapter Twenty: ThunderBastard: Beyond ThunderBastard” remains the most emotional moment in Indie wrestling that I have witnessed.
His “big break” came with an invitation to take part in PWG’s 2015 Battle of Los Angeles, and not long after he was offered a contract with EVOLVE, however Ospreay opted for the far east and New Japan Pro Wrestling, making his debut there at Invasion Attack in April 2016 in a phenomenal, show-stealing performance against then-IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Kushida.
He then went on to have his first “controversial” moment during that year’s Best of Super Juniors (BOSJ) tournament when he and Ricochet put on a match that broke the wrestling internet. The incredible athleticism of both performers allowed them to put on a spectacle that they simply couldn’t with another opponent. They both put on an unbelieveable performance in a match that dominated discussions on Reddit and Twitter for weeks with talk of “exposing the business” and “that ain’t my wrestling”. Ospreay would get into a heated discussion with Vader that eventually led to a match at Rev Pro, where Ospreay would receive one of the most raucous receptions of his career following his return after winning the BOSJ.
The no selling
This is the “problem” a lot of people have with Ospreay’s performances, and why he is such a controversial figure in the world of wrestling. It’s important that I say that while yes, Ospreay won’t sell some moves, he is FAR from the only one in wrestling. There are plenty of people, both in and out of WWE, that bounce right up after a hurricanrana or DDT, the difference with Ospreay is that he is so athletic and so comfortable at working a fast pace that he will occasionally do it a little too quickly. Then there are the common complaints that Ospreay just “shakes off” a body part that has been worked over so he can run and jump and flip.
Does he take a few moves to the knee and then 5 minutes later start running? Yes. However in the interim he is limping and struggling, only when he fires up does the pain go away, which is very similar to even the best WWE performers, and part of the “plucky babyface” character that is a well-established trope throughout the wrestling world. Ospreay is very unrepentant of his style, and I can't blame him given just how far it has taken him in the world and the reactions it gets in the building. Unfortunately his responses to things like Randy Orton's "... dive" twitter rant and comments from veterans about how the business should work have vilified him in the eyes of a lot of the "WWE style" faithul.
Style and improvements
In his 13 months in New Japan there has been a huge improvement in Opsreay’s in-ring work. He has always been athletic and flippy, but his selling has gone from huge facial expressions and yells to the back row to more subtle and nuanced movements. There are still the odd exclamations of annoyance with his opponent, but they are not as ubiquitous as they used to be.
Then there is his versatility. The common complaint with Ospreay is that it’s all-flips, all the time, but that often comes from people who watch the GIFs and little else. In the last 12 months Ospreay has shown he is capable of going hold-for-hold with technical masters like Zack Sabre Jr or Kushida and of exchanging flips with the Young Bucks or Ricochet, but since going to Japan the striking part of Ospreay’s game has come on leaps and bounds. That was shown most notably when he went toe-to-toe with Katsuyori Shibata (get well soon) earlier this year and has continued into his matches with other junior heavyweights. He has adopted things like the corner-dropkick and tightened up his uppercuts to the point where his believability is on par with almost anyone.
No wrestler has ever been universally liked, or done things that 100% of the audience appreciate. There will be people who always prefer brawling over flips, or storytelling over movesets, and that is absolutely fine. Wrestling is like music, there is a genre for everyone and nothing makes one type artistically or creatively better than another. however anyone who watches Ospreay cannot deny that he is superb at the style of wrestling he chooses to execute. There is a reason New Japan chose to put him in the BOSJ final once again and why it was another superb match that everyone must see.
Love him or hate him, Ospreay is going to be around for long time and make headlines across the world. He wants every match to blow away the audience, in a recent interview with ESPN.com he said; “There's always a couple haters, but at the end of the day, who cares. I'm entertaining the people that wanna be entertained.”
Well, I want to be entertained and be it in York Hall or Korakuen Hall, Will Osrpeay never fails to deliver.