Jordan Devlin’s earliest memories of wrestling are those of sitting in front of his television at the age of seven on Saturday mornings watching WWE on Sky One. It was at this time that he became impassioned by the colourful characters and the dramatic storylines that were being presented by the world’s biggest professional wrestling promotion.
“To be honest with you, I tried my hand at rugby, karate, GAA, and all kind of sports but nothing really grabbed me like professional wrestling did, nothing captured my imagination like professional wrestling did,” he says.
Fast forward 20 years and the Bray-native is holding aloft the NLW Heavyweight Championship — the most prestigious title in Irish pro wrestling — in front of 2,500 adoring fans at the National Stadium in Dublin after beating Mark Haskins in what is called the biggest match in Irish professional wrestling history.
“It was in the build up to the Mark Haskins match and people were saying that it was the biggest match on the biggest show in Irish wrestling history and I had to take a second to say ‘this is really cool’,” he says.
“All I wanted was to headline the Wolfe Tone Community Centre in Bray, Co. Wicklow and now I’m in the biggest match in Irish wrestling history. It stuns me now and again and I have to pinch myself and just be thankful that 15 years of hard work is paying off now all at once and is starting to bare a little bit of fruit.”
Jordan’s story of going from Aguila II — the awkward and inexperienced luchador competing for NWA Ireland — to becoming the pride and joy of Irish professional wrestling as ‘The Import Killer’ in OTT is one of hard-work, perseverance, and redemption in front of a fanbase that now adores him.
Jordan’s journey to become a professional wrestler began in 2002 when, at the age of 12, he was handed a phone number by his mother. That phone number was for a new wrestling school that was opening in his local area of Bray and belonged to Fergal Devitt, who would become an international wrestling megastar in New Japan Pro Wrestling and WWE as Finn Balor.
Jordan spent his early years being trained by Devitt and Paul Tracey. While he does say that Devitt was an amazing influence on him, he credits a lot of his progress to Tracey.
“I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of my training and my wrestling experience came from him rather than Fergal. My main takeaway from training with Paul is that, every single training session, you have to give it your all to be the best person in the room,” he says.
Devlin also says that his family were huge supporters of his when he first got into wrestling, although he says that he doesn’t think his mother knew what she was getting into when she gave him that life-changing mobile number.
“I think she thought that it was going to be a nice little hobby for me. I don’t think she knew at the time that she had introduced me to what has taken over my life.”
His first match as a wrestler came in 2006 for NWA Ireland at the age of 16. Due to Devlin’s size and youthful appearance, the booker had a particular character in mind: Aguila II.
“They wanted to put me on shows and give me some match experience but you couldn’t get away from the fact that I looked like a little kid with grown men so they stuck a luchador mask on me because I was small and skinny, so I couldn’t be throwing guys around the ring.
“There had been a guy before me and his ring name was Aguila. For whatever reason, he had stepped away from wrestling so I took up the mantle — the heavy burden of being Aguila II.”
Jordan won that debut match, a triple threat for the NWA Ireland Junior Heavyweight Title, but he admits that he was “terrible” during his early run as Aguila II — and later Aguila Artois — to the point that looking back at that time makes him cringe.
However, despite that less-than-ideal start, Jordan has gone on to have hundreds of matches (and counting) during his career thus far, including a six-month spell with ZERO1 in Japan when he was 21-years-old under the mantra of Frank David.
“I went to college in UCD purely because my parents had sworn to me that, if I got a college degree, they’d help me pay for my first trip to Japan. A week after I finished college, I flew into Tokyo for a three-month spell.
“It was amazing. I think that was a turning point in my wrestling career. I really started to ‘get’ wrestling and think ‘I can really do this for a living’. We were on the road travelling up and down Japan and it felt like I was living the wrestler lifestyle.”
“It was a completely alien style to me. The scene wasn’t what it is today (in the UK and Ireland) for sure so when I got there these guys were kicking me and chopping me and I didn’t know what to think. I couldn’t believe how hard they’d go in the ring. It was just a different style that I had to adapt to really quickly but I’m really happy I did. It was great and it added a lot to my repertoire.”
While Jordan values his experience in Japan as hugely beneficial, he admits that it was initially difficult for him to acclimatise to his surroundings. His initial three-month run — from May to July 2011 — did see him compete for the ZERO1 International Junior Heavyweight Championship in the famous Korakuen Hall in a match which he describes as a “major tick off my bucket list”.
However, he did not feel entirely comfortable in Japan until his second spell which spanned from August to November 2012.
“The second time I went there were a couple of Irish guys over there with me – one of them was Sean Guinness who I’ve known since I was 12. He was there during my first training sessions in Bray.
“The two of us formed a tag team together and we won the tag team titles over there and defended them in Korakuen Hall which was awesome.
“Having Sean there, it was the two of us against the world and we could take anybody on. It was just so much fun living with him and training with him and eating with him and then wrestling four or five days a week the length and breadth of a beautiful country.”
Jordan would return to Ireland in November 2012, feeling that he had accomplished everything that he could in ZERO1, and has since become the face of a growing Irish professional wrestling scene.
He wrestled his first match for Ireland’s premier wrestling promotion — Over The Top Wrestling (OTT) — in 2014, losing in a triple threat match against Pete Dunne and The Fabulous Nicky. Since then, he has been on a tear in OTT, becoming the face of the promotion and the country’s wrestling scene in general.
Then, in 2017, history was made when the WWE held a tournament in Blackpool to crown the first-ever WWE United Kingdom Champion. Jordan competed in the tournament and made it to the quarter-finals, at which point he was defeated by eventual winner Tyler Bate.
Speaking about the tournament and his signing with the WWE, Jordan said that it helped him find his passion for wrestling again.
“I heard that there were rumours that they were going to do the WWE UK show and, at the time, I wasn’t really training very hard, I was coasting along and not too in love with wrestling.
“Paul (Tracey) grabbed me and said: ‘Listen, this is a real possibility. They’ll be doing try-outs soon. You’d want to get your act together’.
“The two of us trained like maniacs three or four days a week and it got me interested and motivated again.”
Forever focused, Devlin admitted that he was too concentrated on the try-out with WWE to be star-struck by his surroundings.
“I was more concerned with being the best person at the try-out and smashing every fitness challenge and every trial that they put in front of us. I’m a little bit guilty of having tunnel vision.
“Obviously when you walk out into the arena and the titantron is there and it has all the RAW graphics up and you step into a WWE ring for the first time you take a second and say ‘cool look at all this’, but meeting William Regal and everyone else, you can’t really stop and be star-struck because they’re giving you drills to do so you have to listen and do them to the best of your ability.”
Despite not winning the tournament, his experience in the WWE was an undoubtedly important one. His reputation was boosted almost immediately following the initial run.
“We were doing the live show in the 3Arena (with the WWE). I got out of the taxi, walked up to the service door to be let in – I still don’t expect people to know who I am — and I was stopped by a few people going up to the door asking for photographs. I just can’t believe the reach of the WWE.”
His involvement with the WWE started what would prove to be a career-defining 2017 for Jordan. It was that year that he came into his own as ‘The Import Killer’ — a persona which, like the best mantras, was rooted in a legitimate chip that Jordan had on his shoulder at the time.
“The Import Killer came from a very real gripe that I had with the fact that the main event of these (OTT) shows was always an English guy or an American — who were great athletes who fully deserved to be where they were — competing for our title.
“I was getting sour grapes because I thought that I was as good and if I was given the chance in a main event setting that I would catch the ball and run with it. It was a very real problem that I had with not getting the chance in the main event.”
WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS STRONG LANGUAGE!
Jordan spent the year being booked against, and beating, ‘imported’ wrestlers such as Tyler Bate, Chris Hero, Tommy End, Ryan Smile, and many more. However, when asked which of these matches proved to be the most important for his progression, Devlin’s memory casts back to June of 2017 — against then-Impact Grand Champion Moose.
“Up until the Moose match I was very much a bad guy and hated in OTT.
“I started out that match being absolutely abused but, by the time the final bell came around, they were on their feet and cheering for me. From that moment on I was on a path to the title.”
Five months later, Jordan Devlin beat Matt Riddle to become the number one contender for Mark Haskins’ NLW Heavyweight Championship. It was a match of the ‘strong-style’ variety that harkened back to his training and experiences with ZERO1 in Japan, with his chest being left red raw from chops at the hands of Riddle.
The title match against Haskins a month later at ‘Being The Elite’ felt like a coming of age moment for Devlin. It was a match in which his mission as ‘The Import Killer’ was accomplished. Here was a Bray boy headlining an OTT show — featuring such names as Cody, Marty Scurll, and The Young Bucks — for the NLW Heavyweight title in front of 2,500 adoring fans at the National Stadium in Dublin.
A month later, at ‘OTT Homecoming’, Devlin retained the title against Timothy Thatcher — only to be presented with the newly-minted OTT Heavyweight Championship, becoming the promotion’s first-ever top champion.
“It was amazing. It was an honour, to be honest with you, and I wasn’t sure if it would ever come around,” Devlin says.
The year of 2017 was a year in which Irish independent professional wrestling attained a level of reputation that it has never had before. However, Devlin has made sure to credit three Irish superstars who have made a name for themselves in the WWE: Sheamus, Becky Lynch, and his former trainer Finn Balor.
“It’s hard to even quantify how much of an impact those three have had. I don’t think that the scene in Ireland, certainly in the training schools, would be anything like it is now without the three of them.
“Particularly Sheamus because he became so famous so fast and on the biggest stage. Fergal went to New Japan but, up until he was signed to WWE, he was a relative unknown. He could walk down Bray main street and not get stopped.
“Obviously, there would be interest in wrestling but it wouldn’t be anything like it is now without them.”
The future is bright for Jordan Devlin. He remains the OTT Heavyweight champion, and is on a collision course for a headlining title defence at OTT Scrappermania 4 – a show which is already receiving acclaim for its star-studded card featuring NJPW stalwarts Tomohiro Ishii, Minoru Suzuki, and Will Ospreay among many other international stars.
Devlin himself believes that we are on the cusp of a golden age of Irish professional wrestling, a golden period which he is sure to lead.
“It’s been incredible and I don’t think anybody who was around at the beginning of Irish wrestling could have guessed it was going to be anything like this.
“To see Joe Cabray’s (head booker of OTT) vision come to life in front of us and to see where he has dragged Irish wrestling to is quite incredible to be honest with you. It’s something that we are so thankful for.
“Short of NWA Ireland, I don’t think there has been a group of guys and girls as talented coming through at the same time so I think you are going to see a real powerhouse of European wrestling in Ireland in the next 5/6 years when all these guys hit their stride at the same time.
“Joey Cabray will not rest on his laurels and neither will I. We’re both really looking forward to seeing what the next stage of Irish wrestling will be like and making it bigger and better.
“With kids like the Legit 100 guys, Nathan Martin, Darren Kearney, and LJ Cleary coming through — and we have guys in Cork and guys up in Uprising in Belfast — the scene is going to be in good hands for a long time to come.
“Believe me when I tell you — we are only getting started!”