INTERVIEW: Nigel McGuinness Talks LA Fights, His Return to the Ring
There's an alternate universe out there, somewhere, that's anticipating a version of WrestleMania 31 with Nigel McGuinness on the card. There, his contract with WWE didn't fall through, and he made a steady rise to the top alongside fellow Ring of Honor graduates Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins. As we all know, that wasn't the way things turned out — but, happily, Nigel is cooking something up that might just exceed anything he could ever have accomplished working in someone else's promotion.
"Even when I was at TNA, I knew I had the ability to create something new within the genre," Nigel says. "But only once I'd retired and finished everything with my documentary — about eighteen months ago — did I start working extensively on what I could do with the knowledge I'd amassed, and ideas I'd developed, during my career." The product of that toil is LA Fights, a Kickstarter project that will hopefully result in a six-episode television series that offers a new take on televised pro wrestling.
Rather than ape the structure of WWE, LA Fights is looking to hit drama series like Breaking Bad and Sons of Anarchy for inspiration. In essence, it's the same move that propelled WWE to the top of the mountain in the late 90s; understand what's working elsewhere on the box. Then, 'trash TV' of Jerry Springer's ilk was pulling in the viewers, and as such we saw that tone and atmosphere become what we now know as the 'Attitude Era'.
Now it's 2014, and WWE is still attempting to peddle a watered-down version of the same product — and it's not what people want to see. TV has gotten much smarter in the past decade. Now, the most popular shows offer the twists and turns of an ongoing narrative, and audiences couldn't be happier to invest themselves fully in plotlines that stretch out for months, even perhaps years.
It's an environment that's perfectly suited to pro wrestling — and one that no one seems interested in taking advantage of. Something like Lucha Underground comes closest, but it's more concerned with telenovela trappings than mimicking the success of heavyweight shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. Those two series have combined niche subject matter of fantasy kingdoms and zombies and brought it straight into the mainstream via the serialized television programming. We've seen the concept work time and time again in recent years, so why not try it out with pro wrestling?
That's the idea being presented by McGuinness with LA Fights. It's a fresh take on the subject matter that seems poised to bring it back to the mainstream, but it's built on age-old foundations of the wrestling business — human interactions that we can all recognize from our own experience. Here's a description from Nigel on some of the characters he has prepped for the series:
There are characters you like that sometimes disappoint you, and characters you despise that sometimes surprise you. There's a character who is dealing with drug addiction. How does he handle his need to perform when he is injured; his fear of being told he failed and gave up; and the conflict with a girlfriend who loves him dearly, but is having trouble continuing to be with him? Or, is he entitled to do what he wants with his life after all? There is a character who is battling to juggle a family he loves dearly that wants him to settle down and stop fighting with his dream to be a star when he is finally, seemingly, on the verge of breaking through with this new concept.
It's clear where McGuinness is heading with this: he's creating the thinking man's pro wrestling show. Here, the spectacle is in the ring; outside the ropes, it's more concerned with characters that we can identify with, rather than broadly drawn caricatures. It's an idea that, like any other, will succeed or fail based on its execution — but it's one that has the potential to produce something worthy of its $370,000 goal on Kickstarter.
"A wrestling fan should back it because they want to see a totally new product that can reinvigorate the industry," "Because maybe they've had some of the same ideas themselves, but never had the ability to make them a reality. Because they love pro wrestling, and know how much is possible in the genre. Because they believe in me, they've seen what I did with my documentary and know I can create something as good if not better with this."
Nigel's pitch will no doubt pique the interest of both disillusioned fans looking for an alternative and wrestling evangelists eager for the next stage of the sport's continued evolution. However, good ideas are easy to come by, the difficult part is finding someone who can make them a reality. That's where McGuinness really comes into his own.
His accomplishments in the ring are no secret; anyone can type 'Nigel McGuinness' into YouTube and watch him wrestle. What's more unique is the skillset he's amassed behind the camera, thanks to his work on 'The Last of McGuinness' — a documentary following his retirement tour. I ask him what he learned from creating the film. "How to edit and tell a story on screen, of course," he replies. "But also all aspects of post production; financial accountability; contracts; DVD authoring and design; delivering content across a broad spectrum of media platforms; delegation to reliable and knowledgeable people; determination to give 100% of yourself to a project until it is finished. More than I can begin to describe."
"The feeling from creating something like the documentary seems to be longer lasting and perhaps more profound," he continues. "Even though the feeling from a match came from years of learning the art form and developing your style, nine times out of ten it seems to pass by the next show." All going well, Nigel will be able to experience both sides of the camera with LA Fights; if funded, he'll make his return to the ring as part of the project.
"I feel healthier now than I have in over a decade," he tells me. "The idea of going back in the ring, and risking injury again, is certainly a thought. But I believe part of the change of the in-ring style will make for a less bump heavy, safer, style; to minimize risks. Nonetheless, the chance is still there — but such is life in anything physical such as this." Many fans would jump at the chance to see McGuinness wrestle again, especially seeing him do so on his own terms, in his own ring.
But that will only happen if the project finds funding and, at present, that's in doubt. There's a long way to go for LA Fights to come to fruition — but it's far from impossible. A swell of support is all the series needs to go from good idea to must-watch show. I ask Nigel how important it is to him that LA Fights is a success. "I have put so many hundreds of hours into this," he replies, "Developing the script, the in-ring style, dotting all my i's and crossing my t's. It couldn't be any more personal."