In professional wrestling, for some reason there’s nothing more thrilling than watching a babyface drag their broken body off of the mat and attempt to fire up one last time after being beaten and battered over and over again. That little spark of flame that builds and builds until it’s a roaring fire of a comeback, every bit of life and energy the performer has left pumped into this one moment. When done correctly, a true underdog can become one of the most beloved and admired performers in the business.
Yet despite the underdog being one of the most common archetypes in wrestling, it’s also one of the most difficult to master. After years and years of seeing performers play the role, it takes a special blend of charisma and likability to be able to get the fans behind you while playing a true white knight without showing a few shades of grey. There are really only a handful of guys and girls that can pull this off at the moment. Names like Daniel Bryan, Darby Allin and Kylie Rae come to mind as all heart babyfaces that can get the crowd behind them in an instant, and it’s no surprise that they’re among the post beloved wrestlers in the world. But if you ask me to choose my ultimate underdog, I’d be hard pressed to name someone I enjoy watching more than Mike Bailey.
I won’t lie, when I initially saw Speedball walk through the curtain, I didn’t expect much. Wearing his trademark martial arts gi with no shoes, Bailey looks like the instructor of your local gym’s youth taekwondo class. Standing at 5’8 and coming in at under 200lbs, at first glance Bailey is very much a regular dude, a stark contrast to most of the giants and over the top characters in the wrestling world. Of course, to be fair Speedball’s everyman appeal was amplified to the highest degree on that night because his opponent was current WWE champion Drew McIntyre (wrestling under his real name, Drew Galloway) who dwarfed Bailey and looks like the epitome of a professional wrestler.
On the second night of Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s 2015 Battle of Los Angeles tournament, the capacity crowd of about 400 was fired up from the moment Galloway and Bailey stared each other down. The Scottish Psychopath looked like an absolute monster opposite Bailey, but it was the Canadian that had the love and support of the PWG faithful on his side. The chants of “Speedball!” echoed the halls of the American Legion Hall from the moment Bailey stepped into the ring and they only grew louder as the match wore on as he gave Galloway the fight of his life.
A true David to Galloway’s Goliath, Speedball was tossed around the ring like a ragdoll and booted in the face over and over again, taking a tremendous beating, but dishing it right back in a way you rarely see smaller wrestler do. Bailey wasn’t just going to the air or using his speed to run circles around the bigger man, he was bringing the fight to Galloway by kicking the freaking daylights out of him. You hear the term educated feet thrown around in pro wrestling quite a bit. Well, Speedball has about a dozen PHD’s in ways to leave opponents unconscious with his legs and he put every one of those late night study sessions to good use in this one. As a result, despite being a massive underdog and getting punished from post to post for portions of the match, the crowd never lost faith in Bailey’s ability to get the job done.
I dare someone to watch this match and not bust a smile as Speedball fires up and lands what feels like 100 unanswered strikes (about 99 of them kicks) after he’s had enough of Galloway’s taunting, or to try and not jump out of your chair when Bailey miraculously kicks out of a Claymore kick and Southern California becomes unglued. You feel the pain that’s written on his face every time Speedball gets his head kicked off or gets overpowered and driven through the mat, and as crucially, you feel every bit of his heart and desire to win every time he fires back up and puts Galloway on his heels again. To me, the mark of a good underdog is the ability to make me care and then to make me believe and Bailey always delivers both in spades.
Speedball is an incredible wrestler and can tear the house down on any given night against any type of opponent. His PWG run in 2015 is a thing of beauty, with the Galloway match being just one of an incredible run of matches that included the likes of Kenny Omega, Chris Hero and Roderick Strong that showed how immensely talented and versatile Bailey could be. Whether it was a technical showcase, a highflying spectacle or some good old fashioned hardcore chaos via Guerrilla Warfare matches, Speedball did more than enough to prove he was among the best in the world.
Soon after his incredible run in 2015, disaster struck. The Canadian was busted for wrestling in the US without a work Visa in early 2016, and as a result he was given a 5 year ban from wrestling inside the country. Ironically, one of wrestling’s best in ring underdogs was being forced to overcome insurmountable odds outside of it as well. For many independent wrestlers this could have been a death sentence. For Speedball it ended up becoming a blessing in disguise in many ways, as he’s taken to traveling the world and putting on absolute bangers wherever he competes instead of resting on his laurels.
Instead of just becoming a huge name on the US independents, Speedball has been showcasing his abilities all over the map and is now one of the most popular indie wrestlers in at least a half dozen different counties. Between stints in Japan working for DDT and teaming with Mao as one half of the Moonlight Express, showing he’s one of the best the country has to offer in his native Canada and then going overseas and becoming one of the most popular acts in the UK, Ireland and Germany, Bailey hasn’t missed a beat while awaiting his stateside return.
While he’s often the lesser known act in his high profile bouts on the independents, he’s so damn good that he’s almost always the one you’re left raving about after the match. His last few years have been littered with absolute classics against some of the best and most popular acts in the world, facing everyone from NXT champions Keith Lee and Walter to AEW stars PAC and Sammy Guevara. Even in a year where he’s been limited to just a few months of action due to the pandemic, Bailey still managed to put on a match of the year contender against Bandido at WXW 16 Carat Gold in March.
In a strange way, it feels like Speedball has somehow simultaneously become one of wrestling’s best and worst kept secrets. Independent wrestling fans know how great he is, but he rarely gets talked about when discussing the top unsigned wrestlers in the sport because everyone knows he’s unable to be signed at the moment. It’s a strange catch 22 that Bailey finds himself in, and one that he’s hopefully about to escape after nearly half a decade.
Speedball’s love for competing in Japan is well known, and there’s no denying he has plenty of unfinished business on the independent scene worldwide, so there’s no guarantee he ever decides to sign with a major company. As talented and enjoyable as he is to watch, I have no doubt that Bailey is going to continue make a name for himself one way or another. But selfishly, I want to see Bailey get to compete in front of a huge audience and let the world get to see him through the same eyes I do whenever he steps into the ring.
Throughout his career both the Speedball character and Mike Bailey himself have faced seemingly impossible odds. Whether it’s the monstrous Drew Galloway trying to kick his ass inside of the ring or a five year ban from the states at the height of his popularity flipping his life upside down outside of it, Bailey hasn’t just made the best of his situation, he’s overcome the odds and blown expectations out of the water. He’s made me and so many others both care about Speedball, and with his visa issues hopefully coming to an end sooner rather than later, the dream to root for him on a major stage could become a reality.
If we’ve learned anything over the last five years about Bailey, it’s that you can’t keep the man down. If his goal is to end up wrestling for one of the biggest promotions in the world, I have no doubt that will happen. And if/when the day comes where Bailey gets to showcase his skills to the masses, I can’t wait to get to see the world start to believe in Speedball the same way I did as he drug himself off of the mat against and fired up against Galloway all of those years ago.