There aren’t a lot of wrestling theme songs that instantly make me want to fire up and run through a wall, but every time I hear Viro the Virus spit those words as Chris Hero steps through the curtain I feel my adrenaline spike a bit. In the same vein as when you hear the glass break you know Stone Cold is on his way to raise some hell or Big E’s “AWWWWW” coming through the loud speakers is a universal signal that the fun is about to begin, when the lyrics hit and Hero starts strutting down to the ring while singing along with every word to “Chris is Awesome”, you know that there’s a very real chance you’re about to witness an independent wrestling classic.
As someone who was late to the party when it came to Indy wrestling, Chris Hero was a name I’d heard for years and never really gone out of my way to see. As a stalwart WWE fan, Hero was almost like a wrestling myth, someone you’d heard in whispers had put on 5 star classics with all of your favorites who you’d never really seen with your own eyes. So needless to say, I was extremely excited the first time I popped in a DVD and heard the “HERO HERO HERO” chants that kick off his music, and it didn’t take more than a a few moments before I realized I’d been missing out on something special.
Hero’s status as an Indy wrestling star was born nearly 20 years ago, back in early 2002 when Hero and CM Punk put on an absolutely incredible TLC match for IWA Mid-South where they literally tried to tear the house down (it was their last night in the venue, they LITERALLY tried to destroy the building). Tables are broken, ladders are busted, both men put each other through the walls of the building, and eventually hang from the scaffolding while kicking at each other like kids on a jungle gym before crashing to down to earth. It’s absolute insanity in the best way and there was no chance these two were going to be overlooked any longer after going through hell and putting on a classic in front of what looks to be about 100 people.
The match helped put both men on the map, and within 10 years of that classic CM Punk had the masses calling him the “Best in the World” on national television. Ironically, some independent wrestling fans have given that same title to Hero at various points of his career.
Since that night, Hero has put together a body of work that’s virtually unmatched on the Indy scene, traveling the world and becoming one of the most admired and respected wrestlers of his generation. His moves and bits of his style have been emulated by dozens upon dozens of wrestlers over the last decade and his “Wrestling Genius” nickname is considered almost too on the nose. Name a top independent company from the past 20 years and not only has Hero been there, he’s probably participated in a few of the best matches in the history of the promotion.
“Pound for pound the best without a doubt so come on down and get left out for the count.”
The last line of the first verse from Hero’s theme perfectly describes the first part of his career for me. From 2002 to 2012, the “Knockout Artist” put on classic after classic with the best wrestlers all over the world, blending superb technical wrestling with some of the most vicious striking in the game and making him one of the toughest men to defeat in the sport. His matches with Punk may have put him on the map, but it was his matches with guys like Bryan Danielson, Eddie Kingston, Claudio Castagnoli (Cesaro, who doubled as Hero’s tag team partner as The Kings of Wrestling) and countless others that made him one of the most anticipated acts on the independent circuit.
By the end of the decade, being able to hang and go 20+ minutes, Hero was considered a massive milestone for an up and coming wrestler. If you were lucky enough to beat him, either you were already a star or Hero did his damnedest to make you one in the process.
Hero had reached the pinnacle of Indy wrestling, and after a few years spent at the top he decided to make the move to the WWE in early 2012. The former King of the Indies became a member of the NXT roster under his new name, Kassius Ohno and things didn’t exactly go as planned. Outside of a really good and intriguing feud with William Regal, it seemed like the Knockout Artist never really found his footing in NXT, and Ohno was released by the company in late 2013.
Barely missing a beat, he immediately made it known that Chris Hero was headed back to the Indies and was looking to make a statement. Over the next three years, Hero went out and made sure no one had forgotten why he had dominated Indy wrestling for a decade.
“No lying, this as real as it gets, a perfect mix of killer instincts with ring generalship.”
Viro’s description of Hero in the second verse fits Hero’s second Indy run to a tee. Chris Hero 2.0 took everything you loved about the first version and turned it up to 11. He added a decent amount of weight that made every elbow and boot to the mouth look twice as lethal and leaned even harder into his technical background at times. It was during this stretch where I was introduced to Hero, so I’m likely biased when I say I believe that his second stint on the indies has been his best work to date. However, there was something about his aura as a returning legend to the scene mixed with his veteran savvy and instincts in the ring that made him feel even more unbeatable than ever before.
The new Hero still took a sick pleasure in torturing his opponents on the mat, but when the tempo picked up and it was time to start trading blows, he was more likely than ever to knock your ass out. With a brand new set of promotions to showcases his skills, (including Evolve, Dragon Gate USA and companies all over Europe) to go along with some of his old stomping grounds, Hero started putting in the work and putting on an equal amount of mat clinics to barnburner brawls against a fresh crop of independent talent.
The Punk’s and Danielson’s of the scene were long gone, but in their place were guys like Zack Sabre Jr, Mark Andrews and Tommy End (Aleister Black), all of whom gave Hero equally different yet equally awesome matches. Hero spent the next few years adding more and more epic bouts to his already incredible resume and crossing items off of his bucket list, including getting to go one on one with Jushin Thunder Liger at PWG’s 2016 Battle of Los Angeles and an incredible two day stretch in the UK where he took on Tomohiro Ishii and Katsuyori Shibata on back to back days with two of the best matches of his career. Hero was back on top and on one of the best runs of his life.
Ready for a bit of déjà vu? Hero was once again at the pinnacle of Indy wrestling in late 2016 and once again he signed to join the NXT roster. Back under his Ohno moniker, things went better for the most part this time around, with The Wrestling Genius enjoying a sort of duel role as an active wrestler and coach, getting to both perform on TV and have a few Takeover matches while helping shape the next generation at the WWE Performance Center. However, when the WWE decided to release a couple of dozen wrestlers from their roster earlier this year, The Knockout Artist suddenly found himself in a very familiar situation.
“Got the hunger of a Young Lion, and the eye of a tiger, pummel you like he’s a young Tyson.”
With his second stint in NXT now behind him Hero once again has a chance to rejuvenate his career in a big way. He may have just hit 40 years old last year, I’m pretty damn confident The Wrestling Genius still has more than a little gas left in the tank. He could easily end up signing with another major company, but pretty much everyone allows their talent to work select independent dates these days, and his return to his roots seems inevitable.
Just like the last time he was released, Hero was quick to let the world know he was far from done following his NXT departure, taking to Twitter and posting a video announcing Chris Hero is back! Go ahead and take the minute to watch that video and tell me you’re not excited to see a motivated Hero back to take the world by storm once again.
As he gets set to enter the independent scene for a third time, it’s mind blowing to think of the possibilities and the exposure Hero could end up getting once he returns to wrestling. It’s become extremely easy to watch live independent wrestling due to services like IWTV and FITE TV, and it’s incredibly exciting to think that fans who may only know him from his NXT stints could finally get to see one of the best independent wrestlers of the last 20 years thrive in the environment where he’s had he must success.
More so than it was when he returned to the Indy scene in 2014, the wrestling landscape has completely changed since we last saw Hero bouncing from promotion to promotion. Many if not most of Hero’s old mainstay companies are either defunct or have fallen by the wayside, and nearly all of his old opponents have moved on to other promotions. That means an entirely fresh slate of places to take over, wrestlers to help elevate and fans to blow away with his incredible wrestling skills and knockout power.
The idea of Hero showing up to GCW or Beyond Wrestling to take on the likes of Tony Deppen, Wheeler Yuta or Lee Moriarty is salivating, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of young wrestlers who grew up idolizing Chris Hero that have been chomping at the bit to get the chance to work with him since the moment he announced he was back. To the lucky few the get the call and end up stepping into the ring against The Knockout Artist, I’ll leave you with one last quote from “Chris is Awesome”, and fittingly enough it’s the first line of the chorus.
“You better bring your best, cause here comes the best. Now who’s your hero? It’s CHRIS HERO!”