Picture Credit: James Musselwhite – Portrait Of A Wrestler (@POA_wrestler)
2014 was a year that saw Will Ospreay firmly make his mark on the British wrestling scene, establishing himself in notable promotions such as PROGRESS, Southside, IPW:UK, FutureShock and Revolution Pro, winning numerous tag and singles titles along the way. The daring high-flyer was in increasing demand up and down the country, but while last year saw his stock rise at home, this year would bring him some serious international acclaim and prove to be a memorable twelve months in the young career of ‘The Aerial Assassin’ Will Ospreay. The first quarter of the year saw Ospreay compete against peers such as Tommy End, Jimmy Havoc & Mark Andrews as well as some big names in international wrestling, namely: John Morrison, Chris Sabin and Rocky Romero, the latter of whom proved a stern test for Will. Romero is one of the most experienced Jr. Heavyweight wrestlers in the world and he and Ospreay put on a fantastic contest for Revolution Pro TV that saw Ospreay successfully defend the RPW Undisputed British Cruiserweight Title.
However, the most heralded match that winter was reserved for Revolution Pro’s York Hall show ‘High Stakes 2015’ and it was the biggest match of Ospreay’s career up to that point, as he took on ‘The Phenomenal’ AJ Styles in a fantastic main event and early contender for British match of the year. A well travelled international veteran of sixteen years, Styles had the decided edge in experience and at times it showed, but Ospreay is a quick study and took the fight to AJ in a big way, ultimately proving that he was able to hang with the former two-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion even though on that night he came up short. The next few months would bring further high-profile matches, this time against former WWE Superstar ‘Reborn’ Matt Sydal. After an impressive match for Revolution Pro TV, the two followed it up at Revolution Pro’s ‘Summer Sizzler’ which saw Ospreay defend his RPW Undisputed British Cruiserweight Title in a show-stealing 2/3 falls classic (no mean feat when following the likes of Roderick Strong vs Shinsuke Nakamura!).
The biggest event for Ospreay in the first half of 2015 was definitely the inaugural Super Strong Style 16 tournament, hosted by PROGRESS Wrestling. Will’s performance throughout the two-day tournament was certainly a memorable one as he defeated El Ligero, Mark Haskins, Roderick Strong and, eventually, Zack Sabre Jr. on his way to winning the SSS16 and earning himself another title shot at the nefarious PROGRESS champion, Jimmy Havoc. The seeds for that match had been sown in January. Ospreay, who had previously injured himself in executing his 630 senton splash finisher, had shown a lot of apprehension about attempting such a risky high-flying manoeuvre again. But in their match in January that apprehension was gone and Havoc did everything in his power to stop Will from hitting the 630, even going as far to remove the top-rope to stall forestall ‘The Aerial Assassin’. Ultimately, Havoc was victorious that night, but with Ospreay’s win in the SSS16 the stage was set for a huge title rematch at PROGRESS Chapter 20.
The resulting match was a wonderful moment, both for Ospreay and for PROGRESS. After an epic confrontation that saw Ospreay take everything Havoc had to give, PROGRESS had a new champion, Will Ospreay had won his first major title in professional wrestling and Jimmy Havoc’s six hundred and nine day reign had come to a close. Havoc’s shocking turn and title win had been a huge factor in the growth of PROGRESS, his actions and the hatred they derived from the audience would be instrumental in creating a must-see atmosphere that saw tickets for PROGRESS in ever-increasing demand. As such, there was now a heavy burden on the shoulders of young Will Ospreay, the onus being on the champion to lead the promotion forward into a new era. Five months on and it’s safe to say that Ospreay is doing just that, but not before he and a handful of other luminaries of the European scene were booked in the 2015 ‘Battle of Los Angeles’ tournament for Pro-Wrestling Guerrilla.
Ospreay, along with Mark Andrews, Marty Scurll, Zack Sabre Jr. & Tommy End, made a big impression stateside for the 10th anniversary of PWG’s prestigious tournament, Ospreay defeating Mark Andrews and Matt Sydal before falling victim in the semi-final to another young up-and-comer, Canada’s ‘Speedball’ Mike Bailey. It was a great accomplishment to reach the later stages of the tournament in his debut, but perhaps that owed something to Will’s experience wrestling Sydal & Mandrews in the past. Either way, it was undeniable that Ospreay had wowed the crowd in attendance that weekend and praise was running high for his aerial abilities amongst the PWG faithful. Back home, his PROGRESS title reign was getting under way in good style, with a fantastic main event bout against ‘The Star Attraction’ Mark Haskins at PROGRESS Chapter 21. Haskins, while known as a high-flyer in the past, has styled himself as a more technical, submission based wrestler in recent years and has quietly gone about his business to become one of the more versatile and underrated performers on the British wrestling scene.
Haskins provided quite a test for the young PROGRESS champion, effectively grounding him and piling on the punishment as he worked on Ospreay’s arm to set-up for his armbar finisher, but Will’s breathtaking agility ultimately won the day and the champion retained his newly won title. It was a very assured performance from Ospreay, who has proven quite adept at working from under those opponents who are perhaps more technically gifted, more physically imposing or just more experienced. In Revolution Pro, meanwhile, Ospreay racked up impressive wins against fellow high-flyers Ricochet and PJ Black, before once again getting to share the ring with AJ Styles, this time challenging for AJ’s RPW Undisputed British Heavyweight Title in a triple threat match that also featured ‘The Villain’ Marty Scurll. It was an excellent bout that drew a standing ovation from the sold-out York Hall crowd, but Styles once again walked away champion.
The very next night Ospreay was in action again for Revolution Pro, this time facing off against another huge international star: the IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada. Will made good use of his fast-paced offence to keep Okada off-balance, frustrating him on a number of occasions and putting in an admiral performance before falling victim to the Rainmaker. It was another great match for Ospreay’s résumé and the two showed some surprising in-ring chemistry, especially for opponents facing off for the very first time from two very different backgrounds. In the past few months Ospreay has continued to be matched against some high profile opponents, including the likes of Austin Aries & Drew Galloway. He made his debut in Scotland for BCW & the SWA, defended his PROGRESS title in two more great bouts, including one particularly notable match against Mark Andrews that bettered their encounter in the Battle of Los Angeles and showed that both are at the top of the game when it comes to fast-paced, high-flying action. Plus, just this past weekend he returned to the US for PWG, facing off against Trevor Lee and Kenny Omega.
Suffice to say, it’s been a very good 2015 for Will Ospreay. He won his first major tournament, won his first major title, faced off against some of the very best in the business today and competed in new promotions and in new countries, putting more eyes than ever before on ‘The Aerial Assassin’. His bout with Okada is even available on NJPW World, giving Japanese fans what is perhaps their first look at this talented competitor. But what does 2016 hold for one of Britain’s fastest rising stars? As PROGRESS Champion he’ll undoubtedly continue to be pitted against some of Britain’s very best, while in Revolution Pro he already has a bout lined up for their return to York Hall against ‘The Villain’ Marty Scurll, who feels Ospreay cost him his shot at regaining the RPW title from AJ Styles. Newly won fans across the pond will be hoping to see Ospreay return to PWG and perhaps debut for other promotions in the US, while fans of Japanese wrestling worldwide would surely love to see him included in next year’s NJPW Best of the Super Jr’s tournament. Whatever the case may be, the future looks bright for Will Ospreay and, with a string of great bouts in the past twelve months to his name, his star seems set to only further ascend in 2016.