John Skyler’s NeXT Chapter in Wrestling

by William Renken

 

Just before we launched the New Blood Rising Podcast in March of 2015, I had the chance to interview Mike Mooneyham, famed wrestling columnist for the Post and Courier who to this day spins many a beautiful tale of recap and nostalgia of today and yesterday. This was a dream interview for me being someone hustling through the new age (or maybe New Era?) of pro wrestling journalism. One of the questions I had circled and marked because it was so important for me to ask Mooneyham about was the first time he remembered seeing Ric Flair. I found this important because as Mooneyham covered Crockett in the Mid-Atlantic during the time of some of the hottest wrestling in the country, this also was the time he would strike up one of his most important personal and professional relationships in seeing Ric Flair ascend to iconic Nature Boy status.

Mooneyham remembered the day and moment in great detail as the impeccably dressed Flair exited a vehicle and made his way into the auditorium, and I relate to this because as I along with Jason Keisler, Charlie Stabile, and Martin Dixon continue our treks in the past of of wrestling’s glorious and not-so-glorious past, there is a very interesting and inspiring tale taking place before my very eyes in the present.

I was privileged to catch up with John Skyler, who you might have seen this week on WWE Monday Night Raw under a different alias along with Corey Hollis taking on the debuting Shining Stars. He has also been making appearances (also in tags with Hollis) against many tag teams in NXT on Wednesday nights. At this point in his career, Skyler is on the precipice of the ultimate summit on the trek up his Everest. For many independent wrestlers and pretty much every young child watching Raw every week, it’s the same ultimate precipice. It’s everyone’s Everest as a wrestler. It’s being a WWE Superstar.

It’s been four years since I last talked to John Skyler, and in such a short time so much has changed. I carried a note pad and a tape recorder to conduct interviews. I was all about the face-to-face engagement and would make the 3 hour trek just to get write a short piece for a blog or website. Where the pieces are headed hasn’t changed so much, but this time I had the chance to talk to Skyler via Skype for a special episode of the New Blood Rising Podcast.

The rain outside was approaching monsoon levels, and I was convinced that the power would go out, thus losing the last hour of conversation I’ve had with Skyler. For him, it’s been eight years since he started in the business, and in a short period of time, he’s found his way to many places. We talked about the treks from Birmingham to Dover and back the same night. We talked about about the two hours of sleep, then the early rise for classes at University of South Carolina as he juggled school, work, and wrestling on the weekends. Most wrestlers have a story like this or similar in most respects. Many of them can’t maintain the grind and say sayonara after a short period.

When I first met Skyler, (as Mooneyham did Flair) it was at the matches. Charleston, South Carolina. The promotion down there that still runs to this day, Old School Championship Wrestling, had an event that had veteran and mentor Bob Kellar putting his career on the line against his former protege, Skyler.

It was a hot crowd. Kellar was an overwhelming fan favorite with the locals, whereas Skyler played beautifully into the heat the crowd had from his first appearance through the curtain as the heel. The match wasn’t a 5-star classic, but it didn’t need to be that type of match. Skyler is capable of that type of match. I’ve seen it as well. But this match in particular I took a liking to because it showcased wrestling psychology at its finest and further showed how you can deflect the focus on work rate towards the raw, primal emotions that wrestling for so many years has been brilliant at bringing forth.

What I’ll never forget about what Skyler did to fan the flames with the audience was something so simple. He merely avoided getting in the ring. He delayed his entrance enough to where the insults were flying from the Charleston faithful. They hated him; despised him; wished they could be in the position of Kellar to get their hands around his neck. In reality, Skyler had them right where he wanted them.

Therein lies the moral of the story. That’s where this guy comes from as a performer. He’s not a big guy, maybe not the most athletic on the scene, but he has a knack and natural instinct for storytelling.

Where Skyler and I pick up from after our last interview in 2012 is his breaking in with Resistance Pro Wrestling and then his leap into the international scene of professional wrestling. Before 2012, that might have been the ceiling for a wrestler of Skyler’s size. Even with all the psychological tools and storytelling acumen at this disposal, it was no secret that the typical guy to get a look with WWE was someone of much larger size.

But that is where the wrestling business itself is fascinating and an evolving beast itself. Just like there were “eras” and “wars” of the past that shaped and changed the industry, so did new trends. With the success of CM Punk and even moreso with Daniel Bryan in terms of audience appeal, the ceiling has grown for wrestlers like Skyler. NXT has become the birthing ground of the next main show talents for WWE. Even as we look at the main roster now, it’s vastly different in body composition compared to where it was less than 10 years ago. The New Era monicker, although laughable at times due to its ubiquitous usage is not a misnomer.

The first question I asked Skyler before we actually started recording was “how do I address you?” I figured, and Skyler confirmed it, that saying “NXT Superstar” is getting ahead of myself since that isn’t official, but it’s not to say Skyler’s work has been unofficial in any capacity. You might have even seen him briefly in the rise of Ryback when he was squashing one or two local guys at once on his way up. Skyler took one of those Shellshocks. He also found a great groove with Corey Hollis as the Bruiserweights in NXT tag matches against Enzo & Cass as well as recently, American Alpha.

One of the questions I ask later about the NXT Columbia show, I kind of already know the answer. For that show in particular for Skyler, it was a true full-circle moment. The Township Auditorium located in downtown Columbia showcased many NWA wrestling shows over the years. It was actually the building where Skyler saw his first wrestling show when he was a boy. Fast forward to 2016, and it was his turn to reverse roles and walk through the curtain with the ovation of a world champion waiting him as the true local guy. That was a landmark for Skyler; a moment for which if the journey ended there, it would have all been worth it for that moment to wrestle at the Township.

But the journey isn’t over yet for Skyler. NXT and Raw are giving him platforms to be seen around the country and the world, but he’s still hitting the road and taking on huge matches. Not long before he debuted on Raw, Skyler got to take on Karl Anderson, who is revealing himself to the rest of the wrestling world that didn’t know him that he is the rebirth of Arn Anderson. This month, as well, Skyler is taking on one of the best junior weights in the world in Zack Sabre Jr for PWX on May 21st.

I can tell you I am no Mike Mooneyham, and Skyler I’m sure would shy away from any Nature Boy comparisons right now, but as someone on the sidelines of pro wrestling, it’s amazing and uplifting to watch someone make the moves after putting in all the time and effort and get to nearly the highest level with only a short way to go. One cannot predict the future in regards to pro wrestling, but maybe, just maybe, the next time I will talk to John Skyler, I can safely call him NXT Superstar without trepidation.

To listen to the episode where I interviewed Skyler, head over to http://newbloodpod.podbean.com!

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