There’s been a lot of talk in wrestling about stories recently. Finishing them. Starting them. But before all this contemporary chat about narratives, there were a handful of wrestlers fighting to keep that lost art alive. One of said custodians, comes in the shape of The Draw, The Death Machine…Sami Callihan.
The former Impact Wrestling World Champion has become one of the staples of the promotion and during his tenure has been part of some of the biggest feuds, moments and matches in the company’s history. Most wrestling fans outside of Impact will have heard of Callihan’s infamous rivalry with Eddie Edwards that exploded onto not just wrestling website headlines, but mainstream media too. But let’s rewind…
Every story has to have a beginning, so just where does Callihan’s penchant for good storytelling come from? “Well as a kid everyone else was like ‘oh, I like this guy because he’s a good wrestler!’ or ‘I like this guy because he has cool moves!’ I was always a big fan of intricate stories behind them, like The Undertaker. You look at The Undertaker’s entire career, 90% of what he did was all story based, story driven. You look at some of the top moments in professional wrestling, it wasn’t always about the match quality, it was everything else,” said Callihan in a recent exclusive interview with Wrestlesphere.
“Professional wrestling is one of the only things in the entire world that can be action, we can be melodrama, we could be pretty much any form of entertainment all wrapped up into one ball and that’s what made me love professional wrestling.”
Approaching 20 years in wrestling, Callihan has seen more than the usual highs and lows in his career, from shattering his leg and ankle and being ruled out for a prolonged amount of time (albeit returning in a superhero time frame compared to doctors’ original estimates) to having a match against one of the best highest regarded in the business, Kenny Omega.
Whether the hero or the villain, every great story needs a rivalry for the ages. Batman has The Joker. Sherlock Holmes has Professor Moriarty. Laurie Strode has Michael Myers. You get the picture. So who has been the antagonist in Callihan’s career so far?
“You look at something like me and Eddie Edwards. Me and Eddie Edwards is a story like Marvel. It’s a story that will never be done. We could be together until the last step in our wrestling career and I don’t think people would get that tired of it, because we’re able to latch on to different stores,” said Callihan.
“We’ve done the stuff with Alicia Edwards, we’ve done the stuff where we can be friends and respect each other for the “fighting spirit” so to speak and I think that aspect of professional wrestling specifically on the indies more than ever, I think it’s lost.”
But exactly why has the aspect of long-term storytelling been lost to the ages in a thriving independent wrestling scene? In part, the last few years have given rise to the “TikTok generation”. Attention spans have shortened and so has the ability to grab attention in anything over 30 seconds or 280 characters. But does that really affect the wrestling industry?
“We are in that generation right now and it kind of bugs me! I think it’s extremely detrimental to the growth of some of these young professional wrestlers, because they might be a year or two in and they’re still learning. They’re still cutting their teeth. They’re still becoming who they are and they’ll have one clip that goes viral and it’s like “Oh I got a million views of me doing this cool move!” and then they feel like they don’t have to learn anymore,” laments Callihan.
“They feel like they don’t have to advance. They feel like they can live off that one moment. But to put it into perspective, I put it to all my students at Piledriver Wrestling Academy in Ohio, I’m like look, it’s cool to have something go viral. That’s a cool little thing on your resume, that’s added visualisation of what your body of work is. But at the end of the day, videos of cats get millions of views on Twitter!”
The notion of instant gratification in wrestling has seen promotions like Impact, AEW and WWE enjoy wildly popular social media accounts and millions of views on YouTube. Back in March 2018, it was Callihan and an accident that catapulted him to viral infamy. Following a loss to Eddie Edwards, The Death Machine viciously beat down his victor before placing a steel chair on the chest and throat of Edwards. A swing of a baseball bat and both men’s careers would change forever. Instead of further lodging the chair into Edwards, the bat ricocheted off the seat section and landed squarely into the face of the prone wrestler.
Social media sounded off immediately, sparking a huge backlash against Callihan and accusations that he was unsafe in the ring rather than putting it down to the obvious accident it was. But after discussing instant gratification with someone who found infamy through virality, isn’t that somewhat ironic?
“I didn’t just live on that one moment. Sure I added a baseball bat to my repertoire and it’s a fun little nod to that moment, but I don’t think that’s the only moment people remember Sami Callihan for,” said Callihan.
“I took that one moment and I continued to build my body of work. And continued to use that notoriety, use that instant form of gratification to get myself to the next level and continue growing myself from that aspect.”
With close to two decades worth of experience in the industry, Callihan has turned his attention to not just furthering his own narrative, but helping shape the next generation’s too. Opening his own wrestling school, Piledriver Academy, as well as owning a promotion called Wrestling REVOLVER, The Draw is well positioned to help with the future.
Where other wrestlers or Superstars look to finish their story, Callihan simply seems intent on adding the next chapter in not just his career but the industry in general. But can holding the booking pencil ever compare to walking out in front of thousands of expectant fans?
“I love running a wrestling show almost as much as I like being a professional wrestler. It’s a different form of gratification. Being in the ring and getting those cheers, that’s great. But also putting something together, or having a story, or every little piece clicking together for stories. Seeing a young talent go out there and it finally clicks for them? That is a great feeling.” said Callihan before adding, “With Wrestling Revolver, not only do we have some of the best wrestlers on the planet, we have Impact Wrestling who have been very amazing to us and a very integral part of us growing our product, helping us out with amazing talent. We’re one of the only indie companies you see talent from Impact Wrestling, AEW, Ring of Honor or New Japan in one place and under one roof. Without the egos. Without any politics. Just everyone going out there and believing in the product as much as I do and having the most awesome shows that we can ever put on.”
Listen to, and watch the interview here: