By Arune Singh
a mutant in
the squared circle
Imagine you've traveled the world as a successful athlete, won multiple championships and get mobbed by legions of fans whenever you tour—what else could you want? Enter Alex Shelley, Total Non-Stop Action—TNA—wrestling superstar and comic book fan, who still wants one thing—to join the X-Men. For real. As one half of the Motor City Machine Guns, one of the world's most popular tag teams, Shelley has made a name for himself with his trademark wit and a highflying style that leaves everyone's jaws on the floor…including the ones he kicks down there. Marvel.com caught up with Shelley to learn all about the world of wrestling, his mutant aspirations and why he gets beat up for a living.
"When I was about 10 or so, X-Men was just starting to get mainstream big," Shelley explains. "Before that, my closest exposure was that sweet side-scrolling arcade game where you picked one of six characters—remember that? Anyways, it became a top cartoon for Fox, released their own toys, etc., etc. Up until this point in my life, pro football player was the chosen occupation, but I always figured it'd be tops to have some sorta powers. The powers never developed, but I did start watching wrestling. I don't remember how or why or when really, I just did. The first few guys I really freaked out over were Jushin Liger, Brian Pillman and Shawn Michaels. Those were the mainstream guys doing all sorts of athletic, high-impact moves and it blew my mind. I likened the two, wrestling and super heroes, just because of the above, in addition to the costumes, personas, adoration/disdain of the crowd and so forth. So there you have it."
Prior to drifting out
of comics in the '90s,
Shelley was a Cable fan
When asked about his favorite comics, Shelley's reply should come as no response: "I only read the X-Men books. I dunno, I never got into solo heroes because I enjoyed the interaction between different personalities on a team. Plus, it's fairly obvious to see who the first few super heroes for Marvel were and who was created later, just in that the writers and creators themselves had to really think outside the box later on, because of what was already done in the early stages. I liked a lot of the popular characters like Gambit, Wolverine, Cable and what have you, but I dunno, I always dug Madrox a lot for some reason. And the Generation X kids."
Like many people of his generation, the 24-year-old fan-favorite wrestler found himself drifting out of comic books during the mid-'90s, only to return with a vengeance of late, thanks to the exciting developments in the X-universe such as the "Messiah CompleX" crossover currently making its way through all the X-books.
"It's weird, the more I got into wrestling, the less I got out of comics and mainstream sports," remembers Shelley. "I'm reading stuff again and I keep up on things a little bit, but I missed a lot. I stopped shortly after the 'Onslaught' saga, and just kinda now picked things up to see a lot of the characters are gone or de-powered or really fleshed out. In the end, it's cool, 'cos I'm coming across lots of new characters too."
Sure, the arcade game proved a big attraction, as did the much-loved '90s "X-Men" cartoon, but Shelley quickly admits another big draw for him when it came to the X-Men—legendary writer Chris Claremont: "I think at the time, it was something fresh, and he had a lot of great characters to work with. A workman is only as good as the tools he's given, or at least to an extent. He just managed to maximize the appeal of everyone. It's interesting, whenever I talk X-Men with someone my age or someone who was a fringe fan or someone who read the books then stopped, they ALWAYS mention the characters he worked with. He just created a bunch of great ones in addition to making the existing ones more popular. Hell, the arcade game I've mentioned was full of Claremontisms. I guess I can't explain it, he just kinda really kick-started a strong era for the X-books and created some real lasting characters."
Like his admiration for Claremont, Shelley's favorite X-Men characters have remained consistent over the years. "I stand by Madrox," asserts Shelley. "I popped when I saw him in the last X-Men movie they made, I was so excited! Of course, he didn't fight, but whatever. He was there! Wolverine's timeless though, and I'm happy to see Gambit's a total scumbag. That kinda made my day, knowing there's not just black and white, just shades of gray still, at least as far as morality goes. Granted, dude changes shades like the wind."
Even though both enjoy flashy characters and engrossing storylines, wrestling fans and comic book fans don't always seem to get along. But Shelley, the man walking in both worlds, can't fathom why either group would shun the others' passion.
"I think they're real similar, but the general consensus of pro wrestling in the United States these days isn't exactly all positive," contends Shelley. "To me, they're both far more elaborate art forms than anyone really gives them credit for. It's easy to be narrow-minded and write the fanbase off as comic nerds or wrestling geeks, but if you're going to hop on that train of thought to begin with, you've not got two brain cells to rub together anyway. When I do Japanese tours for Zero One MAX, I see people of ALL ages, backgrounds and genders reading manga, comics, over there. And ditto for the attendance at wrestling shows. I think a lot of it is just the American way of thinking, but you're talking about a country who elected Bush—or did they?—and has made a star out of Paris Hilton, amongst other wastes of skin. Some people are just too self-conscious to truly appreciate art in different forms."
The TNA roster
boasts as many
as the X-Men
Shelley's not alone in his love for both comics and wrestling, as the TNA Wrestling locker room has lots of comic fans, including, "Samoa Joe and Christopher Daniels for sure. They'll actually let me borrow stuff too, which is a risk in and of itself considering I'm a lazyface [Laughs]
He may think he's lazy, but Shelley's the first to assert that wrestling's no cake walk and drains one both emotionally and physically. For those considering a career in wrestling, Shelley advised, "If you want to do it, do it. That goes for anything in life. At least you can say you tried at the end of the day. As a career, it's hard, and almost impossible. I got real lucky and had good timing as far as being in the right spot at the right time. Still, that's not to say you can't have fun. When I'm not having any fun at all, I'll quit. Advice? Go to a good wrestling school and get in good shape before/during your time there. That's the best starting block and universal advice for anyone starting out. It sounds a bit cliché, but hey, until I develop telepathy and I can give you more specific instructions, that will have to do."
Here're a few hints—eat healthy, hit the gym…and read your comics! For a big X-Men fan like Shelley, it's understandable that Marvel's merry mutants would inform his approach to wrestling.
Shelley would have
"Well, when I started out, I just kinda toed the line and did what everyone else did," admits Shelley. "Same look, same style wrestling. I realized that hey, you've gotta be different, you've gotta stand out, you have to be something unique. So a couple years ago, I started experimenting with different styles of wrestling and different looks. Looking the part is pretty important, especially when you're an average-sized guy like myself. I can comfortably say no one else in wrestling looks like me at this point. Like, some kid told my girlfriend at a show I looked like a character from Power Rangers. Well, thanks. It's better than looking like Joe Everyday. After watching him on the Sci-Fi Network, I really think Stan Lee could come up with some awesome looks/characters for wrestling, and that's one of the most important aspects to the business, larger than life characters and looks."
tag team partner
Chris Sabin (right)
Kevin Nash (back)
Getting back to Shelley's tag team with the equally skilled Chris Sabin, the Motor City Machine Guns, with their catchphrase "Detroit needs heroes" and their superhero-esque poses, the tandem must be comic book-inspired, right?
"You're going to be slightly let down," laughs Shelley. "'Detroit needs heroes' was brought up in everyday conversation between me, Chris Sabin and [former WWF and WCW World champion] Kevin Nash. Nash is responsible for part of our persona, he's helped us out a ton, and all three of us were discussing how Detroit never recovered from the '67 riots. Literally, the city looks like it's overrun by haunted houses in some parts. So we came up with that quote, thinking that bad guys in wrestling genuinely need to believe what they're doing is right. Not only did Detroit need heroes, but so did TNA. The poses and general poise, a lot of that came from our time spent in Japan and seeing how the wrestlers use body language over there, but also from me and Sabin playing 'Bungee Buddies' on Nintendo Wii. You win a different pose for each score. Well, first time we played, that was the pose we won, and we did it as a joke. The guns came from a pal of ours named Ikuto Hidaka. He does finger guns every time he wrestles."
and the X-Men,
Shelley flies high
It's been said that nothing comes closer to being a real-life super hero than being a professional wrestler, with larger-than-life stories and flying over the ropes. So Alex, what's the verdict?
"I'd say it's true," Shelley answers. "There's nothing else you can do that gives you that kinda platform to display that particular creativity to create a personality, display an attitude and do things normal people can't all at once. High-flying moves are kosher as Christmas if you hit your target. That's a big if."
Just recently the MCMG found themselves the victims of the heavily-decorated Team 3-D, being thrown through tables and severely injured. This eliminated Shelley & Sabin from the "Fight For the Right" tournament that could've allowed one of them to earn the #1 contender's spot for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship. So of course, this means war with Team 3-D!
As the X-Men
look ahead to
Shelley & Sabin
get set for
"One would certainly hope so!" smiles Shelley. "You're talking about a tag team [in Team 3-D] in this business that's done everything, made tons of money and refuses to step aside to let young guys take their place because they're just not ready to give it up. Gimme a break man. This is more than just wrestling, like, a lot of people in their mid '20s are paying the price because people a couple decades their senior may have paved the road, but left it filled with potholes. Why should any of the youth today have to suffer because these muppets ruined the economy decades ago with their lousy decisions, selfishness and general lack of foresight? 'Eff that. What goes around, comes around."
Before he became
Shelley wanted to
join the X-Men
If you haven't checked out "TNA Impact," airing every Thursday on SpikeTV (and often re-running on Saturdays), Shelley urges fans to see the MCMG in action.
"I wish I could offer some sort of deal," laments the grappler. "Like, if you watch TNA, and you see a Motor City Machine Guns match with Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin, and you're not entertained or impressed by our wrestling, I'll give you a free subscription to your favorite adult website. But I can't. I can promise that if you like watching highly-skilled athletes or you're just an action junkie, and you see the MCMGs wrestle, you'll enjoy yourselves. Hand to God."
Don't miss "TNA Impact" airing every Thursday on Spike TV at 9 p.m. EST. And you can visit Alex Shelley online at his web site.