Grin About Them: Roderick Strong

Almost exactly one year ago, I posted this series’ first and until now, only entry. At the time, I was struggling for motivation on this side of things, my written content feeling awful redundant after four years of features on Fightful. I wanted to do something slightly different, a piece divorced from analysis or logic and instead, something sincere. Basically, it’d be my biased, subjective perspective alone, gut feeling without the more measured counterpart. Silly as it may sound, it had been awhile for me in that regard.

Last year, I wrote about Samoa Joe, perhaps my all-time personal favourite. At the time, Joe’s career was shrouded in mystery which indeed, I guess some things never change. It’s been quite the year for Joe since then, including two releases, an authority role, a return to the ring and even an NXT Title win. Well, this series remained a sole effort for almost a year but at last, I’m finally ready to produce a sequel. Ideally though, this entry will come with a better outcome but then again, perhaps some patience will fix the original also.

Either way, today I’m writing about Roderick Strong, a wrestler that I talk about so much that frankly, it’s become just another bit. That’s fine with me, as it’ll probably pay off before long but I guess that for once, I wanted to express some more genuine thoughts on the matter. This is going to sound weird, but I honestly take a bizarre pride in Strong’s recent return to relevance. After all, I felt on an island mere months ago but as always, things change awful quick in the increasingly wild pro wrestling landscape.

With the trio of Adam Cole, Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly shocking AEW’s system in recent months, Strong has been a natural topic of conversation. Alongside those three, Strong earned great success in NXT, the workhorse of that brand’s most dominant faction. For me though, that particular lane of investment is always slightly confusing. I mean, not really, it makes perfect sense actually but it’s just not the root of my personal fandom, so I often play dumb. Either way, it’s only natural to ponder Strong’s potential return to those ranks.

In the meantime though, Strong has been producing his best work in years, thriving as Diamond Mine’s centrepiece. Few suggested otherwise anyway but just in case there were any doubts, Strong has emphatically proven that he’s still very much the man that almost stood alone in the mid-2010s. In 2015 especially, Strong appeared to be the world’s best wrestler, delivering in multiple promotions, somehow maximising two differing roles. In NXT, Strong has been sublime but for a range of reasons, it’s been easy to forget that at times.

General lack of exposure aside though, that’s not been the case in recent weeks. Instead, Strong is front and centre, working main event matches and reminding the world of his capabilities. Ultimately, Strong has been on the losing end more often than not, which brings a slightly saddening reminder of its own. In this case though, at least its transparent, as NXT 2.0 looks towards the future, putting a very obvious ceiling above Strong’s head. That’s fine, it’s a role worth playing but for me personally, it’s impossible not to consider what still could be.

To be clear, that isn’t a reference to reuniting The Undisputed Era either. This isn’t about the ongoing wrestling war, it’s about Roderick Strong but trust me, my grand alternative isn’t exactly Strong standing in the background during snappy pre-tapes. I don’t know what it is really, it’s certainly nothing particularly realistic but in my mind, there’s still a world of possibilities for Strong, even after almost two decades of world class performance. It’s hard not to believe that considering Strong’s efforts as of late, again showing the familiar form of an ace.

Unfortunately, those performances come in a setting that simply can’t sustain Strong, or certainly not in this fashion at least. That’s confirmed by Strong’s recent presence at main roster television, working dark matches before both RAW and SmackDown. I don’t know how such a stint would go but like you, I have an understandable concern or two. That’s fine though which in many ways, is the point. Somehow, Roderick Strong feels completely safe from the company’s wild mood swings, an obvious home now within reach. That’s guess work of course, but it doesn’t feel like much of a reach.

That takes me back to the slightly puzzling pride that I referenced earlier. Sure, I personally hope that before this story reaches its end, Strong is trusted to truly reach his actual ceiling on the national stage. Indeed, I still wish that in some form or fashion, the ultimate role player could bring his greatest hits to the wider wrestling world’s eyes. In truth though, I want that for me. In some ways, I feel like Roderick Strong has two identities, which is hilarious considering the straightforward consistency of his work.

To most, Strong is The Undisputed Era’s midcard good match merchant. He’s a guy without much personality but a hard worker, reliable in the fleeting big match. To those of us that watched him go to war with Bryan Danielson though, he’s something slightly different. To those of us that watched the classic (yes, classic) with ‘Speedball’ Mike Bailey or the often staggering feats against ROH’s many chosen ones, he’s more than that. To us nerds or more specifically to me, he’s one of the generation’s finest in-ring performers, deserving of a mention among the absolute greats.

If I’m being honest with myself, that belief will probably fade away in wrestling history. Though Strong’s performance hasn’t waned, his role as a supporting act has almost certainly been set in stone. I can live with that though because while not as glamourous or triumphant, it still represents a fitting legacy. In many ways, that’s indeed who Roderick Strong is, the wrestler who doesn’t need your attention or spotlight, because he’ll be great regardless. There are few safer bets than a Roderick Strong match, almost always worth your time and money.

Strong is the guy that through ups and downs, can be trusted to deliver when it matters most because simply put, he seldom misses when it matters least. It’s all the same to Roderick Strong, another chance to do what he does best. Another night to bring that energy, that physicality and intensity that has breathed life into even the dullest of shows. Though I’d love to say otherwise, I don’t relate much to Roderick Strong in that sense. I mean clearly, this is only the series’ second entry and this project started almost a year ago.

With that being said, I sure do admire that element of Strong’s career, a defining trait that’ll always keep me watching, regardless of the promotion playing host. Whether it was ROH, NXT or something in-between, Strong was, and continues to be, a constant source of entertainment. Whether the arrogant bully of PWG or the fiery young babyface in FIP, Strong’s core ingredient remains unchanged: that unwavering commitment to make the most of every night, a palpable desire to make it work, no matter the opponent or opportunity.

After all these years, I sense that truth won’t fade and so, I’ll keep watching. Whether it’s Monday Night RAW or perhaps even AEW Dynamite, I’ll stay on this ride until the wheels fall off because simply put, I know that once the bell rings and all things are equal, Roderick Strong won’t let me down.

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