Ring of Honor's War of the Worlds pay-per-view on Friday featured some of the best talent in the world of professional wrestling that aren't under the WWE banner. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Adam Cole, Bully Ray (or Bubba Ray Dudley, if you prefer), Cody Rhodes and Jay Lethal were just some of the big names competing in cross-promotional matches between Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling.
The show was electric from start to finish in front of the lively crowd at New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom. But even with all of those names in competition, the crowd was never more alive than it was during a match that featured two of the youngest competitors on the show: Jay White and Will Ospreay.
The 24-year-old high-flyers stole the show in a matchup that was, at the outset, overshadowed by the deep card. The match was fast-paced throughout, and included jaw-dropping sequences that simultaneously left the crowd in a frenzied state and fearing for the health of the competitors. White tossed Ospreay into the steel railing on the outside right at the start of the match, leaving the Essex, England, native with a massive welt on his back. Ospreay recovered to eventually pull off a ridiculous springboard shooting star press to set up his patented springboard cutter for the win.
The crowd erupted and gave the two men a standing ovation.
"It was incredible," Ospreay told ESPN.com. "Before we made our entrance I could hear the crowd cheering my name. I'm still new to America. It's really humbling that people believe in what I do. There's always a couple haters, but at the end of the day, who cares. I'm entertaining the people that wanna be entertained. I feel like at the end of that match, I turned a lot of those guys into fans."
Ospreay also had a lot of nice things to say about his opponent, for whom this was a potentially star-making moment.
"Jay White is probably one of the most polite and down-to-earth guys I've ever met," said Ospreay. "He was brought up through the young lion New Japan Dojo, so he knows his stuff. He's probably going to be the biggest star once he goes back to Japan. I consider him a friend, and I think he would even say, as well, that we were overwhelmed by the people and the kind of response we had with people saying that was probably the best match on the card, and some people were even saying it was probably match of the year. I was like, 'Oh wow, that's incredible.'"
Ospreay didn't leave the battle unscathed.
"I'm fine, my foot is killing me though," Ospreay said. "My foot is so wrecked from the suicide dive, and he powerslammed me into the barricade. My foot wrapped across the barricade. It was the most painful thing ever. My back is all scratched up. My obliques are all cut up. That's what this company is built on. It's built on sacrifice. I'm happy to sacrifice my body if it means this place is going to get more recognition."
Getting recognition is something Ospreay does with regularity. Ospreay's showy, video game-style approach to professional wrestling has helped him build a name for himself in a short time, but his style has also drawn the ire of many wrestling purists. His match at last year's Best of the Super Juniors against a fellow freakishly gifted athlete in Ricochet was one of the most talked-about matches in recent years.
The two pulled off some of the most acrobatic and well-orchestrated sequences you will ever see in a wrestling ring. The choreographed nature of the contest drew criticism from former wrestlers such as Vader, but there's no denying the kind of buzz they created together.
"I would like to show people that what I do is professional wrestling," Ospreay said. "A lot of people give me a lot of stick -- I'm cool, I can take it. Because my style is apparently not believable in a fight situation. Well, I've seen worse things, trust me on that. Ricochet says it best: Wrestling is an art form. I don't bash people for doing death matches, but I love death matches. I've done one a while ago at Progress [Wrestling]. I loved it. I don't mock the tech wrestling 'cause I can do it, but I don't like it. But at the end of it, I still think it's wrestling.
"No matter what it's an art form, and I think people need to accept that there's so many different styles. I symbolize myself as the Spider-Man of professional wrestling. How boring would Spider-Man be if he did everything everyone else would do. Imagine Spider-Man doing a wristlock. I'm Spider-Man. That could be the title of this interview: Will Ospreay is Spider-Man. That's what I want to be. I want to be a superhero."
One year after the much-talked-about match, Ospreay proved once again that he's not apt to approach much of life with caution when he found himself involved in a raging debate with a wrestling veteran. Randy Orton retweeted a post criticizing the repetitive style of today's indy wrestling. Upon receiving harsh criticism in return, Orton tweeted a fake apology saying, "I will go 'dive' back into my 13th title run and get ready to 'flip' when my bank statement comes this month.........headlock."
As always with Ospreay, he decided to put himself in the forefront of the debate, rattling off a series of tweets about the subject and even turning the situation on its head by turning it into a T-shirt.
"I thought it was really funny. I do agree a bit, quite a lot of it. I do feel like wrestling has become very similar [in style], but just listen to that crowd from New York. It is that format, and everyone was going insane. I don't know what to say but ... dive."
Although the high-flying style has given Ospreay much of the success he has today, the crash-and-burn downside has taken its toll. Ospreay says New Japan provides physiotherapists and doctors to check on him backstage and "nine times out of 10" he's OK, but sometimes it's not even his high-flying antics in the ring that do the damage.
A lot of the stress comes from zigzagging around the globe to fulfill his cavalcade of bookings.
"I'm not gonna lie, my schedule is all over the place," Ospreay said. "I'm on three different time zones right now. It's my bed time in England, but it's morning in Japan and evening [in America].
"I'm so screwed," Ospreay said with a laugh. "I don't even know where I am right now, but I love every single minute of it."
Ospreay realizes he could travel a lot less if he settled down with one company, but he'd also make a lot less money in the process. For now, he will continue to wrestle for Ring of Honor and New Japan simultaneously, but if everything went his way, it wouldn't have to be for much longer.
"I'm living this dream and doing so much, but my goal, to be honest, is to retire at the age of 30 and have a house and just stay in England and just chill out and help the independent wrestling scene," Ospreay said. "That's my goal, but I don't think that'll ever happen. I think I'll stay with New Japan for the rest of my life, if I'm honest. I love it there."
While Ospreay is focused on ROH and NJPW at the moment, he still has a keen eye on wrestling all over the globe. He has an appreciation for who he believes are the best athletes on the scene today.
"Oh Ricochet is definitely up there," Ospreay said. "Desmond Xavier. He is the most insane athlete I've ever seen in my life. Shane Strickland. Kota Ibushi. And then other than me, oh shoot. Neville has got to be [on the list]. I can't believe I just thought that. I just thought of guys that are not in WWE right now. Yeah, I'd say Neville. He's insane, like one of the most insane guys ever when it comes to that style."
Ospreay vs. Neville is a dream match fans have been fantasy-booking for years, but surprisingly, the England natives have never had the chance to lock up. While Ospreay says the match won't happen anytime soon with both wrestlers signed to rival companies, that doesn't mean he can't at least imagine what the dream match would look like.
"I would just say it would be a computer game. Just glitched and no one knows what's going on. That's the only way I could describe that match," Ospreay said with a smile. "Here's what I'll say: If I could have Neville when he was as Dragon Gate Neville, so, as Pac, I think it would be just as crazy [as the Ricochet match], maybe even more. He's now kind of toned down with this 'Evil Neville' type thing. I mean, he still busts out the Red Arrow and stuff like that, but I'm talking 'let's go balls to the wall' type. I would love to do that."
Ospreay clearly watches the product, despite being outside the realm of WWE. He especially enjoys watching his UK buddies Tyler Bate and Pete Dunne, who will compete for the UK championship at NXT Takeover: Chicago on Saturday.
"You could tell I keep up with this because I love them," Ospreay said. "Pete Dunne is amazing, what a great heel. I said it years ago, to be honest, I put a bet that he'd be on the Best of Super Juniors this year, but I think because he signed with WWE that was probably, 'eh, we're not gonna use him now,' but it's worked in his favor. He's honestly such a throwback but such a new style, where he's kind of like a [William] Regal, but in this generation. I'm just such a fan.
"I said it so many times, Pete Dunne's my favorite guy to wrestle. I could probably wrestle Pete Dunne every day for the rest of my life and it'd still [in] some way be different from the last one."
Ospreay is not shy about admitting his interest in WWE despite having a year and a half left on his ROH deal. One day he might join his friends, but he first wants to improve his stock before making the jump.
"I am contracted. At the end of it, I'm with Ring of Honor, I'm with New Japan. I've got no choice," Ospreay said. "They say jump, I saw how high? Would I like to change? Absolutely, but I need to able to show them I'm worth something now, and this is how I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna spend two years with Ring of Honor under contract, and then I'm gonna say, 'Hey, I'm gonna do what I want to do.'
"I want to be able to offer them something by going around and performing, not just at Ring of Honor, not just at New Japan, but the world. Does that mean I want to go to WWE? Not right now, no, 'cause it's not what I want. I just want to be me and I want to be happy. My happiness comes way before priorities."
Ospreay's market value will continue to soar as he competes in the Best of Super Juniors, which kicks off on Wednesday. Ospreay is part of a stacked Block A that includes IWGP junior heavyweight champion Hiromu Takahashi, first-time participant Marty Scurll, NJPW legend Jushin Liger and, of course, Ricochet. The two will have a rematch of last year's classic on Thursday.
"I don't like to give too much away 'cause I want the spectacle to be a surprise, but I would like to say we're going to try something a little bit different and see how we go from there," Ospreay said. "But other than that, we're gonna just do us. No one can be Ricochet better than Ricochet. No one could do Will Ospreay better than Will Ospreay."
Last year's Best of Super Juniors was the high point of Ospreay's career so far, when he became the youngest ever to win the tournament.
"Oh, it's at the top. It's right at the top. It's made me," Ospreay said. "My name and my legacy from now on will be cemented with the Best of the Super Juniors. I literally cannot thank them enough for putting so much faith in me to carry such an award like that.
"It's overwhelming because of the guys that have held it, like Eddie Guerrero, Benoit, Ricochet, Kushida, Ibushi, Devitt, all those guys. They played such a huge part in building Will Ospreay. It means the world that people look at that tournament and think my name with it. It's incredible."