If you’ve been watching independent wrestling this year, and even if you haven’t, you’ve probably heard of Mike Bailey. Lately he’s been on a storm through the America’s biggest indie promotions, having the match of the night on seemingly every show. Earlier this year, he wrestled a staggering nine matches across WrestleMania weekend.
He’s also been one of the brightest spots of Impact Wrestling’s strong 2022 run, currently reigning as X-Division champion and proving himself worthy of every bit of that belt’s prestige. With stunning matches against the likes of ACH and Konosuke Takeshita, Bailey has made a compelling case for Wrestler in the Year even without setting foot in the promotions that get the most fan attention.
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And if you’ve watched any of those matches, you’ve probably heard his story, repeated on commentary seemingly every time he steps in the ring. Wrestling out of Quebec, Mike Bailey was a rising star on the American independent scene, most notably through a star-making run in PWG when that promotion was at its most prominent. During that run he had one of my favorite David vs. Goliath matches ever against Drew Galloway, which did a better job of convincing me that Drew was a star than anything WWE has done with him. But then Bailey ran into visa issue, and was tragically unable to enter the US for five years, his career in suspended animation.
Now, of course, those five years are up and he’s making up for lost time by putting on a banger seemingly every weekend.
In Search of “Lost” Time
This narrative isn’t exactly wrong. Bailey’s visa issues did stunt his rise in the US, and if they hadn’t occurred his career would have been very different. Maybe he would have ended up in NXT during their scramble to sign every available independent talent, or maybe he would have been a founding member of AEW.
But there’s something Americentric about that story that irks me. It’s the same sentiment that makes people endlessly speculate about when a foreign or independent wrestler is going to AEW (or NXT before it), as if the rest of the wrestling world is comprised of farm leagues for the American big two.
Mike Bailey didn’t sit on the couch for the five years he was banned from the US. Instead, he put together a compelling resume of matches on three continents, work that helped to elevate multiple promotions, work that was every bit as good as the independent and Impact matches he’s now lauded for (and often in front of bigger crowds). Rather than seeing Bailey’s five-year exile as “lost time”, I think it’s worth valuing it as a barn-storming run of a different kind.
Speedball’s most prominent and long-lasting run was in DDT Pro Wrestling. Bailey first appeared for DDT in 2016, when the promotion was trying to retain its status as a major organization after stars Kota Ibushi and Kenny Omega had permanently left for NJPW.
Bailey was put in a prominent position pretty immediately, including teaming with Dick Togo at a Ryogoku Kokugikan supercard against Konosuke Takeshita and Tetsuya Endo, the two men DDT would spend the next several years building around. He would win his first title there in December, teaming with Takeshita to capture the Ko-D Tag straps, and become a mainstay of DDT until 2020, even wrestling empty arena shows at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bailey’s style perfectly fit the combination of athletic action and goofy comedy that is DDT. Some of Speedball’s moves which could seem overly contrived in other settings, like his dance-like series of alternating kicks or his repeated spins into a tornado-like corner kick, fit like a glove in the Japanese promotion. He formed a fantastic tag team with MAO known as Moonlight Express, which fit the Golden Lovers formula of pairing a top foreigner with a rising Japanese star, both with absolute disregard for their own safety.
Bailey also had great singles matches, including multiple battles with Takeshita that set the stage for their fantastic match in the US this year, and a brutal fight with Shuji Ishikawa in the first ever D-Oh Grand Prix. Past DDT foreigners like Omega and El Generico left big shoes to fill, but Bailey managed to make the role of top foreigner his own.
Europe and Canada
Mike Bailey was also a major part of the European wrestling boom in the late 2010s, making regular appearances in prominent promotions like OTT, Revolution Pro, and WXW, as well as smaller shows. In many of these matches he wrestled the same names as he would have on the US independents – such as Bandido, for instance, in a match at WXW just days before the COVID-19 shutdowns began, establishing a chemistry between the two that paid off in one of the best matches this WrestleMania weekend.
At its peak, the European scene thrived on pairing local stars with North American imports, and Bailey was one of the most frequent and available guests who could be counted on to put on a great match.
Less heralded but perhaps just as important was Bailey’s work on the Canadian indies. Like much of the rest of Canadian entertainment, talented wrestlers typically move south quickly in search of greater recognition, meaning that even in major Canadian cities it’s not that common to see an indie show with a lot of recognizable names. (This is especially true post-COVID.)
In this setting, Bailey was a guy that you could actually see in your hometown who seemed like a genuine star, and would put on a great match. I remember watching him at a C*4 wrestling show in Ottawa where he wrestled Jonathan Gresham in a very technical contest. It was sandwiched in between hardcore gimmick matches and a tired audience didn’t give it a lot of energy, but it was a great effort and today would probably be marketed as an indie dream match. Bailey has been a regular presence during a challenging time for the Canadian indies, and has both directly and indirectly helped a lot of Canadian talent develop when opportunities were otherwise scarce.
At the same time, I think Bailey himself has grown a lot from his excursions abroad. The classic excursion system used in Japanese wrestling was created based on the idea that working in different countries with different wrestling styles would help to create a more well-rounded performer. This is less of the case in the modern wrestling world that features a more homogeneous style, but exposure to a lot of different promotions and places still broadens a wrestler’s horizons and teaches them how to connect to a crowd.
In comparison to the version of Mike Bailey that burst out on the indies several years ago, the current Speedball feels as though he’s better able to work with a greater variety of wrestlers and get his style across in a shorter amount of time, both skills that one has to learn quickly when working in new areas.
Of course, borders are monstrous, and I’m glad Bailey is now able to fulfill his goals of working in America. Certainly, he’s been a breath of fresh air on an independent scene that often seems drained of talent. But I think the process of travelling around the world and working all over the place is one that was beneficial for both Bailey and the wrestling world at large.
While overseas travel costs can be prohibitive, a lot of young up and coming wrestlers today would benefit from such extensive travels abroad, as would a lot of wrestling promotions outside the American mainstream. Moreover, American wrestling fans need to consider international promotions as valuable in and of themselves and not just as a stepping stone to AEW or WWE. The work that Mike Bailey did in his five years abroad weren’t wasted time, but an essential part of the star wrestler he is today.