Today, most WWE fans only know Nigel McGuinness as a WWE commentator, working on multiple brands, such as NXT, 205 Live and Main Event, as well as the WWE United Kingdom Championship specials. Today he made his debut working along 205 Live partner Vic Joseph as part of the inaugural commentary team for NXT UK. But he wasn’t always an announcer – during the 2000s, he was part of a class of indie superstars, mentioned in the same breath as emerging indie stars like AJ Styles, CM Punk, Bryan Danielson (Daniel Bryan) and Tyler Black (Seth Rollins). But fortune turned to misfortune as he hit the Golden Gates, and he was forced into retirement, while his peers went on to become some of the biggest WWE Superstars in history.
London, England’s Nigel McGuinness entered the world of professional wrestling in an unusual way for a British wrestler – via the United States. In the mid-90s, McGuinness moved to the US to attend university, going to Kent State University in Ohio, graduating as a Chemistry Major in 1997. Living in the heart of the American Midwest territory, he found Les Thatcher’s legendary Heartland Wrestling Association (HWA) in Cincinnati and begun training to become a pro wrestling, having grown up a fan of The British Bulldogs and original Hart Foundation. He made his live debut in September of 1999 and became a star rookie with HWA. When his money ran out, he returned home to the UK and began working for All Star Wrestling in Liverpool, where he received extra training from UK legends Robbie Brookside (now an NXT trainer) and “Squire” Dave Taylor. As he would save up money from two jobs, he would split time flying back to the US to wrestle as well.
In 2003, his skills caught the attention of Ring of Honor and Nigel McGuinness found his home. With ROH, he became a force to be reckoned with, a self proclaimed “punk rock soccer hooligan… Billy Idol meets Johnny Saint”. After a slow start, he soon found himself in feuds with main event stars like Colt Cabana and Samoa Joe, winning the ROH Pure Championship in 2005.
In 2006, he began an epic feud with Bryan Danielson, who was the ROH World Champion. The two champions feuded for ages, before a title unification match was announced, where Pure Champion McGuinness would face World Champion Danielson and whomever won would become the undisputed ROH World Champion. McGuinness lost the match and the Pure Championship was deactivated, but in his 350-day reign, McGuinness became an indie superstar.
He moved on to feuds with Jimmy Rave and Chris Hero, clawing his way to the top once again, defeating Takeshi Morishima for the ROH World Championship in 2007. He would go on to face some of the best in the indies, names who would have legendary careers in the independents and become WWE Superstars, not only keeping up but in some cases leading the pack. He had classic matches against the likes of El Generico (Sami Zayn), Jerry Lynn, Kevin Steen (Owens), Tyler Black (Rollins), and more. And much like most of his peers, by the end of the 2000s, he was offered a WWE contract. He was scheduled to start at the same time as arguably his greatest rival in ROH, Bryan Danielson.
But things went sour quickly when McGuinness completed his medical screening before reporting to developmental. Some health concerns showed up and the WWE withdrew their contract offer. Danielson went threw and started the YES! Movement and the rest is history. But McGuinness was underterred and instead signed with TNA/IMPACT Wrestling instead. He debuted in October of 2009 under the name Desmond Wolfe and began a feud with Kurt Angle. TNA was having a surge in popularity at the time and the arrival of the former ROH superstar was an exciting addition to the TNA roster that featured some of his old opponents like Samoa Joe and peers like AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels (McGuinness would surprising face AJ Styles for the first time in his career with TNA, in a match for Styles’ TNA World Heavyweight Championship on a December 2009 episode of IMPACT). His last opportunity for the TNA World title was in May of 2010 against champion Rob Van Dam, but Desmond Wolfe’s involvement in TNA storylines was waning. In the fall of 2010, Nigel McGuinness was gone from TNA. But it wasn’t by choice – neither McGuinness or TNA. During a medical, he tested positive for Hepatitis B, an infectious inflammatory illness of the liver. Luckily for McGuinness, there is a vaccine for Hep-B (unlike it’s deadlier cousin Hepatitis C), but he spent 14-months recovering and fighting the disease. By June of 2011, TNA had waited out long enough and officially released McGuinness from his contract.
Although medically cleared to return to the ring, at 35-years old Nigel McGuinness had simply had enough. He was too beat up, too drained, to ever catch on with the WWE, and his body wasn’t going to get back to the peak condition of his ROH years. He returned to the US and rejoined Ring of Honor, although this time on commentary. He remained at the ROH announce table until 2016, when he finally made his final destination – a gig with the WWE. Although not his dream of performing as a WWE Superstar, he became the voice of WWE’s next expansion plans, the United Kingdom. He made his debut on the WWE commentary team with the inaugural WWE United Kingdom Championship tournament, followed in January of 2017 with his appointment to the NXT announce team to replace the departing Corey Graves. That September, he would add to his duties by joining the booth for 205 Live and Main Event. And now, he returns to the UK as the colour commentator on WWE’s next big endeavour, NXT UK, highlighting the UK indie scene that McGuinness wrestled in over a decade ago.