Will Ospreay Talks Bryan Danielson and AEW Dynasty

Wrestling Features Will Ospreay
Will Ospreay Talks Bryan Danielson and AEW Dynasty

Pro wrestling is an art, and if you ask fans who’s been the best artist in the business over the last decade, many of them would say Will Ospreay. The British wrestler was a young phenom who aged into the main event (and his industry-leader status) by learning from the best during an almost-decade-long run in New Japan. Now 30, he’s wrestling in America regularly for the first time in his career after signing with All Elite Wrestling. For the last two months he’s dazzled viewers of AEW Dynamite almost weekly with his almost inhuman combination of speed, grace, and precision, immediately becoming one of the most popular wrestlers in the company and becoming Must See TV all by himself. Upon his arrival in AEW in March, Ospreay targeted Bryan Danielson—a living legend who has widely been considered the greatest in-ring wrestler of this century (and, perhaps, all time). They’ll finally square off against each other at AEW Dynasty, a PPV broadcasting live from St. Louis at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday, April 21. The two best wrestlers in the world today will match up for the first time ever, making Dynasty just the latest in a series of hotly anticipated AEW pay-per-views.

Paste recently spoke to Will Ospreay about his huge match with Danielson, his decision to join AEW, and how working in America differs from the UK and Japan.

The following has been edited for clarity and concision.

Paste: You’ve been a full timer in AEW for almost two months now. What’s been the most surprising part of working full-time with them and also working regularly in America?

Will Ospreay: [Wrestling] is a lot quicker here. I must say with Japan, I was always afforded to explode and take time, where I believe a lot of these guys are all like freak athletes. So they’re able to keep the ball continuously moving. Which is challenging, because like, it’s just me adapting but like, my style, and the way that I do wrestle, is very adaptive. Like I’m very good at being able to pivot to anyone else’s style, especially in listening to my team. They’re always there, always good with seeing how a guy wrestles and then breaking it down so I can transition my style to fit, how I can win the matches. And coming over to America man, like I mean, I’ve said it for ages, man, Japan was my home for so many years and leaving that took so much of me to cut it off. There was a part of me that I needed to cut off in order to grow. Didn’t mean I wanted to do it. But like for me coming over here now, AEW has made me feel right at home. The fans have made me feel right at home. I believe in what I’m doing. I believe in this team, I believe in the product. So I’m excited going forward, especially going into Dynasty.

Paste: Yeah. So just like on a day to day basis, when you’re traveling around the states, what are some of the big differences you see between here and the UK, or here and Japan?

Ospreay: Japan is extremely efficient. Japan’s one of the most efficient countries ever. It’s kind of like how I imagined what my country England should be like, but they just do it way, way better. America, it is so, so hard to really put a finger on it because I’m not really here all the time. I fly in on Tuesday, wrestle Wednesday, and then go home on Thursday. So like, without being, what’s the word, facetious, I haven’t really embraced America too much yet. Just because—I almost like to say we’d be in the hotel circuit. This time round, I’m here for about 10 odd days. So I’m gonna go stay with Kyle Fletcher over in Chicago. And for the couple of days off, I’m gonna walk around, we’re gonna see what life’s like, and I’m gonna go to the American gym culture, like I’ve never really experienced, like the English culture is a little bit crazy. So I’m excited to see what the American Dream country is always like. But yeah, the world of what wrestling is, and how fans and their enthusiasm is so infectious to all the wrestlers, it inspires them to continue to drive in the best products going.

Paste: Speaking of British fan culture, it’s influenced American fan culture so much in the last decade, I mean, the chants and the sing-alongs and stuff that wasn’t really a part of American wrestling fan culture until we were able to see how the British fans react. So it’s cool to see how different countries and their fandoms can influence each other. 

Ospreay: If there’s one thing I know about England, we might love a theme song sing-along. If we can turn it into a song, we’ll definitely do it.

Paste: So you’ll be wrestling Bryan Danielson at Dynasty this weekend, one of the all time greats. What’s your first memory of seeing Danielson wrestle?

Ospreay: Honestly I think it was the Nigel McGuinness series that he was having. They were locked in a feud in Ring of Honor. And I remember him hitting the ropes and headbutting each other. Like I’ll always remember that. I remember seeing McGuinness being pulled into the ring posts. So that was my first experience with it. And then I think another experience I remember was when Homicide beat Danielson at Ring of Honor. That was like my backbone structure. And obviously then you start doing the research and Bryan Danielson, I’m realizing the plethora of talent now—like how he went from this tiny [company], like, I mean in comparison—like the Hammerstein Ballroom is completely tied into what he’s done all around the world, I mean, he’s won World championships, retired, come back to wrestling, left one of the biggest companies to help AEW reach its full potential and to show people, like, once again that that catchphrase that hangs over AEW right now, this is where the best wrestle. Bryan Danielson, without a shadow of a doubt, is one of the best wrestlers ever.

Paste: Right. How has he inspired you as a wrestler?

Ospreay: I think the one thing that always will stick out is Bryan Danielson types in wrestling—and not saying that he’s short at all, but like, it wasn’t the typical prototype to forge a star in what professional wrestling was. But his ambition and his enthusiasm towards wrestling is the thing that made him stand out and the thing that I… I saw what he did in Ring of Honor and I love telling this story. It’s one of my favorite stories to tell people. My dad’s trying to understand what teenage me enjoyed, and I enjoyed Ring of Honor, New Japan, Noah, Dragon Gate and TNA. They are my five, like I wasn’t that big of a [WWE] guy. I just never—like, I enjoyed it, but like I never was that guy, like even if you look at the people that influenced me like AJ Styles, Amazing Red, Naomichi Marafuji, like, Hayabusa, and then as I’ve matured yeah guys like Okada and Kenny [Omega] fit into that spot, but I always looked at Bryan Danielson as someone that wasn’t reachable, you know? I mean, it was just like he was The Guy. And then my dad took me and all my backyard wrestling friends to go see All Star Wrestling over in the UK, which was a 40 minute drive. They were running the Cliffs Pavilion in the Southend. And they would do is more like pantomime wrestling, where it’s more for kids. So you’d have these big fucking giant belly guys like [Ospreay makes like an ogre sound or something here?] and patting their belly, and all the kids are like clapping their hands. I mean, at the end of the show they normally would do the British guys versus the international talent. And all the international talent came out. It was an eight man tag, and two of them I cannot remember who they were. But one of them was Rene Dupre, which, I was like, “the fuck are you doing here?” And then I’ll never forget it, man, like me and my friends lost our shit at this, but Bryan Danielson came out. And it’s not the Bryan Danielson with the burgundy trunks, the burgundy boots, coming out to “The Final Countdown.” Man was coming out in these bright blue baggy trousers, waving a pirate flag, and going “U.S.A.!” I’m like, what the fuck are you doing here? So like, I’ve never escaped that feeling of going like, “oh my god, he’s right there.” He’s like, reachable. Like I could high five him if I wanted to. And then to see him go from fucking All Star Wrestling, to, like, Pro Wrestling Noah, he’s done stuff in New Japan, his lengthy run with Ring of Honor… I always just felt like, oh, like this is possible. Like, this is possible to really stretch out, and not be just limited to, like, oh, I’ll just be a pro wrestler on the weekend. You could really spread yourself out and pick out all the different wrestling companies and learn the trade.

Paste: Yeah, those indie guys from the oughts, I hope they realize how important they’ve been to wrestling. You know, like setting that template, letting younger wrestlers know that there are ways to make a living at it without you going through the one company that really dominated for all that time. 

Ospreay: Yeah. I almost feel, like, sometimes it is better for a lot of people to sacrifice. This is just me and I know I’m an anomaly and some people can take it or leave it. But I feel like, because I applied myself in Japan and in indies for eight years, like I had the option to sign with WWE, TNA, or New Japan. And I started with New Japan, because they allowed me to not only come home so it would work in tours, I would go two weeks on and then get one week off. Six weeks, two weeks off, and so it will be tours, right? But I’d learned the trade of what professional wrestling was. I see people now, and I can I can tell why a lot of people don’t enjoy it as much as they would enjoy, like, aa Stone Cold or a Rock or like a Kenny, because now it’s almost so fast paced that nothing is digestible, like nothing really is being digested properly. So taking myself over to Japan, where I was afforded the opportunity because AJ left, Carl Anderson and Doc Gallows, and Shinsuke Nakamura left, there was a giant opening. And New Japan took a chance on this little British kid. And I started out as a Junior Heavyweight learning that style, learning how to pace my match, learning where my boundaries are, learning how to hit the ropes properly, like learning how to attack the mat and still come up. Like that was one of the main things with New Japan. And I almost feel like a lot of people these days, they just go, like, “I just want to be signed,” and they don’t want to enjoy the journey. And like, I can’t say enough man. The eight years that I spent in Japan shaped me as a man for all my flaws and all my mistakes, both publicly, personally and privately. I was able to mold myself into the man that I am today. And I understand now the responsibility of what it is to be in the public eye of what professional wrestling is. So although I have hiccups here and there, like I’m fully understanding of who I am or what my objective is within pro wrestling, so honestly right now my advice to all the young guys is this: don’t just be, like, “I just want to be signed.” Like I think that’s  the easy option. I could sit on my ass sometimes, not even be used and still get this money. But there’s so much of a life experience out there. And if you go and chase it, then they’ll chase you eventually.

Paste: Right, yeah, So I want to get your opinion about this. Your feud and match with Danielson is based on which one of you is the best wrestler in the world today. Now there’s a debate online—it’s sort of goofy, I think—about whether people who aren’t the champion fighting over the title of “best in the world” diminishes the champion and the world title. Like, it somehow makes Samoa Joe and the World title seem less valuable when two guys who aren’t the champ are arguing about which one is the best in the world. I don’t think it does. But I’ve seen that said online and stuff. What’s your take on that argument?

Ospreay: I don’t think so at all. I think what you have here is two lads, myself and Danielson, that have never crossed paths before, that have gone to their respective companies and held the top prize. Everywhere Bryan Danielson’s gone, barring AEW, he’s held the top prize, therefore giving him that right to call himself the best. But everywhere I’ve gone I’ve held the top prize. Like, I’ve dominated. I think Danielson and I think are very similar in a lot of respects. We have traveled the world and we’ve gone everywhere. We’ve gone to Australia, America. I haven’t gotten to Mexico yet—maybe one day, probably not. But Japan, England, we’ve held championships all around the world, which I’m sure the World champion Samoa Joe can say, and Swerve Strickland can say. And now obviously they’re fighting for that right to be the best. But I think this is more bragging rights between myself and Danielson, like, “my journey was different than your journey.” But like I hold Danielson up to such a high standard, like I do believe he’s the best wrestler that has ever done it. His journey inspires so many people, inspires me, and I want to fill those shoes as well. But like I said, I got to Japan and those shoes are too small for me. So I dominated. And everywhere that I went I took Danielson’s philosophy and I took his enthusiasm, and I forged my own path where a lot of people call me the best wrestler in the world. With all respect, I can’t just walk in and get a world championship match. I have to climb the rankings. And prior to AEW, I’ve beaten Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho, Dax Hardwood, Orange Cassidy, which all of them are champions. Jericho was the first ever AEW champion and Kenny was the second longest reigning champ. Orange Cassidy has the most defenses and is the longest reigning national champion. Dax Harwood, one half of the greatest tag team FTR, like, what more of a resume do you want? But then by the time I come in, I’m not gonna go straight for the title. Put whoever you want in front of me. Like, I said it in an interview but AEW is my Disneyland right now. When I go to Disneyland I don’t get the normal tickets. I get fast passes because I don’t want to wait around. So for me now, Tony [Khan, AEW’s owner and booker] just needs to put a number down. How many of these guys do I need to beat before I get a championship match? And I think personally, he’s done that now. He’s more or less said, alright, beat Danielson, and let’s see where you are. Because I think after this match it’s about seeing what championship gold is in my eyesight.

Paste: Yeah. And also, I think it’s a silly argument because, like, in competitive sports you have guys call themselves the best in the world, even when they aren’t the champion, all the time. So I think wrestling fans online look for things to complain about a lot of the time

Ospreay: [mock surprise] Wrestling fans complaining online? I’ve never seen it, mate. Never seen it before in my life. 

Paste: So I might have misheard you but did you say you probably won’t get to wrestle in Mexico or you probably will?

Ospreay: Honestly, I’m just scared of going over there. I guess I would like to do it because it is on the bucket list. But like, I think I’m just nervous about doing it. So maybe, maybe it’s time for me to cross that bridge one day because like, I guess that is the one place where wrestling is looked upon and revered as like a sport. So I mean, maybe it’s time that I go down and visit Mexico one day.

Paste: So two episodes of Dynamite ago you addressed some comments that Triple H made, seemingly, about you. Why did you feel a need to respond publicly to his statements?

Ospreay: Oh, my God, I don’t want to talk about this anymore. But like, I don’t know. For me, I was just so open about why I wanted to remain in the U.K. It’s very important for me, for my missus, and my stepson to not have their lives changing, especially with everything the missus has gone through. The last thing I’d want to do is to sign a big money contract and just be like, alright, you guys stay there, I’m gonna go [live in the U.S.]. And in the whole process, man, I was so respectful. Everything was just done so nicely by my team. So then just to see that and just to know, like, hey, this is what I’m fighting for, this is what I’m going for. We even tried stuff, like, I wouldn’t move to the U.S. but I’d happily do tours. I’ve done that with New Japan and I’ve done that in the worst era, like the COVID era. I never want to wish that upon anyone, like that fucking sucked, having to do that and to be locked in a small room. You’d be locked in a room, the window would open like two inches. It just wasn’t nice. And then to get to this point, I have worked with Tony [Khan] numerous times, I trust him. I really like him as a human being. He understood everything once they said, like, “this is the reason why [Ospreay] wants to remain in the UK.” He completely understood. And there were no hard feelings or anything. This was just the better one for me. So just having this whole thing of being super respectful, I’m even saying in so many interviews that the schedule is insane and I respect everyone who does it. And then when [Triple H’s comments were] released, I don’t know, man. I was just a little like, come on. I just felt it was a cheap shot, so I just show one back. I just don’t think it was that bad. It’s a joke that’s been fucking reused by like so many other lads. Now people are like, the thing I don’t like about this all is like, I don’t hate. I don’t hate [Triple H]. I think a lot of people are just trying to make this into something huge.. It’s all done with a wink and a nod. I don’t mean anything, for God’s sake. I’m a very chilled out happy go lucky person. I just felt it was a little bit of a cheap blow. So I did one back. That was it. And I just kind of want to move on from it. I don’t want to drag it out because now people are going after my missus. And it’s not kind. I mean, she’s gone through so fucking much, man. Like, I don’t know how she did it. But she’s done it and she’s raised this beautiful child. The fact that I’ve gotten to inherit this family means more to me than anyone can ever put into words. I respect every single person from both sides of the companies—TNA, New Japan, Noah, everywhere. I respect every single person doing this, but I just need everyone to respect that my needs aren’t to be the greatest wrestling star, the most famous wrestling star. My needs are I want to show everybody my abilities within a wrestling ring on a high platform, plus having a great balance of life with my family. And I don’t think that needs to be shot at. I don’t think I need to get a cheap shot, and I don’t think it’s wrong with me when I feel that cheap shot to jab back.

Paste: I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in wrestling, and especially anyone involved with AEW, where you can post the most innocuous stuff on social media, and you get so many replies and comments that are just attacking and harassing you. It’s really weird.

Ospreay: I must say this is the first time I’ve ever experienced true tribalism. And I don’t want to do it again. So like, I’ve learned my lesson. Like, I won’t use valuable time to discuss anything outside of AEW, it’s a little bit of a lesson. I don’t regret saying it, but from that day on, I’ll ensure to keep it within here.

Paste: You talked about how you don’t need to be the biggest star in wrestling. So what’s more important overall, the artform and, like, creating the type of match you like and respect, or the money?

Ospreay: I mean, obviously, they’re both important. But you can’t put you can’t put them in the same bracket tier, right? Like obviously, the money is super important because for the longest time, I’ve been doing this at the highest level at the lowest of money. So of course, for the first time in my life, I’d like to be selfish and actually go for who is going to look after me the most, who’s gonna look after my family. But in the same sense, there’s the legacy that you leave behind and the work that you show fans is super, super important. And I have got to the decision that I made—I don’t know many people that are remaining in their home country like the United Kingdom and doing that regular travel schedule every week. I’m traveling every single Tuesday. I do 8 or 10 hour long flights—the one last week was about 12 and a half. I do that, I get my sleep, rush out to the venue. I eat chicken and rice at the venue. And then I go put on the greatest wrestling matches that people have seen for the last God knows all along. And I do that with the biggest smile on my face because I get to do it in AEW, which, honestly, when this all started I knew I wanted to be here doing this. I knew even if it wasn’t as a part of the full time roster, like if it was up popup potshots, I’d have been more than happy with that. But for me, like you can’t put art and money in the same thing is a combined package. What’s more important to me is being able to showcase my art the way that I want to do, while having this amazing balance for family life. That is the goal of wrestling.

Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.

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