by Luke Raven (@ravenluke)
This is the first edition in what I hope to be a long line of “What the Hell Happened!?” These articles will be about guys who had a chance in WWE, but somehow didn’t work out. First up is Chris Hero. One of the greatest independent workers of the last 15+ years who was with NXT for a time before finding himself back on the indies.
If there has ever been a King of the Indies then Chris Spradlin would arguably wear that crown. Spradlin trained in the late ‘90’s in his home state of Ohio. He would soon adopt the character of The Wife Beater named after the nickname of the popular undershirt. Unwanted national attention was not far behind as a women’s group began to protest the character. Not long after he would become known as Chris Hero.
Hero would wrestle for well-known independent groups like IPW Mid-South, Chikara, Combat Zone Wrestling, Ring of Honor, etc. He would cross paths with other future internet darlings like CM Punk, Colt Cabana, Low Ki, Necro Butcher, and many more. He would even form a popular tag team, the Kings of Wrestling, with Claudio Castagnoli now better known as WWE’s Cesaro. Hero would be a centerpiece at one of the best invasion angles in the history of pro wrestling with CZW versus Ring of Honor.
In late 2011, Hero took part in a tryout for WWE at the same time as his tag partner, Castagnoli. While Castagnoli was immediately Hero’s signing was delayed due to elevated testosterone. This was clearly not a great start for the beloved wrestler. Nine times out of ten this would be a signal for a wrestler being on some form of performance enhancing drugs. Anyone that had seen Chris Hero perform were shocked by the news given he isn’t what one would call a “body guy.” After numerous more tests were conducted it was revealed that Hero has a naturally high levels of testosterone produced naturally by his body. Not long after the results of the further testing Hero was signed to a developmental deal.
Hero would debut on Florida Championship Wrestling (WWE’s developmental at the time) television in March, 2012, as Kassius Ohno. Oh no, indeed. After an already rough start to his tenure due to his physical the WWE sticks him with that name. Clearly it was meant to be shortened to “KO” as in knockout since Hero’s style is very hard hitting. Hero’s elbow strikes remain the best in all of pro wrestling to this day.
FCW was soon rebranded as what we now know to be NXT. Hero was reintroduced and began feuding with Richie Steamboat. The Kassius Ohno character would basically be the same villain that Hero portrayed on the independents. He was talented and knew it and if you didn’t would feel his elbow on the side of your face. Once his time was done with Steamboat, Ohno would move forward feuding with new NXT General Manager, William Regal. Aside from the name everything seemed to be going smoothly.
Then the fall of 2013 came around which saw Ohno’s on screen time deteriorate to nothing. In November of the same year Hero would be unceremoniously released and our king would be heading back on the indies. Stories ran wild on the internet, as they always do, that Hero was not taking the physical conditioning seriously. We can look back at this today and laugh due to Kevin Owens not being a body guy yet still is the Universal Champion. This can also be pure ignorance on WWE’s part as Hero was never a bodybuilder. His weight would fluctuate throughout his independent career. However, during his WWE tenure it was clear that he was doing what he can as he had clearly lost weight and started wearing the traditional trunks during his matches. This in complete juxtaposition to his long, baggy pants and sleeveless shirts we were accustomed to seeing in CZW among other places. The effort was there.
After both of their releases, CM Punk stated he had the initial idea for The Shield. Punk stated the three he chose to be part of The Shield were Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and Chris Hero. WWE had no issue with the first two, but told Punk he had to take Roman Reigns instead. It may be hard to imagine now The Shield without Reigns, but instead try imagining it with Chris Hero. A 6’ 4” athlete who hits hard, can talk, and provide more than just a Superman punch and spear. Sorry, Roman. That’s pretty much what you did during those days because Rollins and Ambrose could cover up your weaknesses. Now think of those same great Shield matches against Evolution, the Wyatt Family, Uso’s, and add another guy who can wrestle his ass off.
Other talk was Hero got some backstage venom because he would give pointers to other talent during training. How AWFUL that one of the best wrestlers in the world would try and impart some of his unparalleled, worldly knowledge on a few guys who needed the guidance! Such arrogance of someone to go out of his way to see someone needing help and doing what he can to make them a better talent! If you cannot tell those last two sentences were meant to be read with comedic levels of sarcasm.
Hero consistently delivered while on screen in NXT. His promos became more engaging and gave everything he did a big fight feel. His matches contained amazing levels of suspense because the viewer knew that big elbow could come at any time. Now, Hero is back on the indies doing some of his best work ever. Check out any of his stuff from PWG, EVOLVE, or anywhere else the man steps in the ring because you won’t be disappointed.
Editor’s note: Look for future installment’s of What the Hell Happened!? in the very near future!