The SWERVE: Shane Strickland Prepares the Killshot

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Shane Strickland
Credit: MLW

In 2015 in Lucha Underground, under the persona of masked wrestler Killshot, fans began to discover who Shane “Swerve” Strickland was, even if they didn’t know it at the time. Much like Jeff Cobb under the mask of Matanza Cueto, many didn’t know Killshot’s identity right away and some likely didn’t discover it until he was unmasked at Ultima Lucha Cuatro, revealing himself as Lt. Jermaine “Killshot” Strickland.

Throughout the series, for those who did realize that Killshot and Combat Zone Wrestling veteran Shane Strickland were one in the same, the hype behind Strickland grew and grew to the point where, by 2017, he was considered one of the top independent wrestlers in the U.S. Now, in 2019, he’s become one of pro wrestling’s top and most sought after free agents, though that’s not expected to last long. With WWE/NXT a not-so-secret suitor and the brand new All Elite Wrestling looking to sign the best wrestlers in the world, Strickland will no doubt find a new home sooner rather than later.

And when that happens, when Strickland makes NXT or AEW or somewhere else “Swerve’s house,” all eyes will be on the 28-year-old army veteran.

That seems like a good place to start. For those who don’t know, the Killshot character Strickland popularized was not just a random gimmick Lucha Underground assigned him. Rather, it was born out of Strickland’s own background as a signal communications specialist in the U.S. Army Reserves. As Strickland told The Orlando Sentinel, LU asked him to change his Swerve character into one that was a better fit for the look and feel of the promotion. Strickland took this as his opportunity to go with a different approach, opting to use his military background and take it up a notch. And he did, leading to the creation of Killshot, a masked luchador who was revealed to have been hiding his face because of the shame he felt at betraying his brothers during the depths of war.

But prior to Killshot, an 18-year-old Strickland, just one year into his military service, decided to try wrestling almost on a whim. He began training at Ground Zero Wrestling Training Academy shortly after in 2008, doing so while still active duty for the military. Strickland’s military commitment in York, PA., forced him to stay relatively local in the early years of his career but talent always finds a way. In 2012, Strickland landed with the hardcore CZW, based out of the tri-state area of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), New Jersey and Delaware. In many ways, this is where Strickland’s career really kicked off and in a big way.

In his first year with CZW, Strickland worked with guys such as Rich Swann, AR Fox and OI4K (Dave and Jake Crist). He even took part in Best of the Best (his first of many) that year. By 2013, Strickland was climbing up the company ladder and found himself involved in the CZW Wired title picture. It wasn’t until the following year, however, that Strickland won not just his first CZW title, but his first pro wrestling title period, when he defeated Devon Moore in March 2014. Strickland held the title for a few months, lost it, and then gained it right back, only losing it again at CZW’s final show of 2018, Cage of Death XVI. Strickland held the title for about nine months that year, defending against guys like Mike Bailey, David Starr, Joe Gacy, Caleb Konley and Candice LeRae. During his reign, he also took part in the World Triangle League tournament of CZW, Big Japan Pro Wrestling and Westside Xtreme Wrestling and the CZW/Southside Wrestling Entertainment Cruel Intentions tour. It marked the first time his wrestling had taken him across the pond and one of very few times he had left the U.S. and its East Coast.

By 2015, the eight-year commitment Strickland had with the Army had come to an end, allowing him to wrestle more frequently and more extensively geographically. It was also the year that he began working the West Coast for the first time, thanks to Lucha Underground. After wrestling a few dark matches under his own name, Killshot debuted as part of Big Ryck and The Mack‘s team to crown the inaugural trios champions. The group reached the final and alongside Cage, King Cuerno and Texano, lost in a triple threat to Angelico, Son of Havoc and Ivelisse. From there, Killshot kinda just floated through the LU landscape, but in doing so, put on great matches that showcased his athleticism and high-flying abilities.

It wasn’t until season two, that Killshot got his first real feud of his own, against Marty Martinez. This culminated in the first ever Weapons of Mass Destruction match which Killshot won, ultimately giving him a shot at the LU title against Matanza Cueto. While Killshot lost, what happened next truly put him on the map due to the arrival of Dante Fox, Killshot’s military friend who had supposedly been killed in battle.

“During my time in the military I learned level-one combatives, which is a form of jiu-jitsu. I try to incorporate that into a lot of the things that I do in the ring with my submission style, my ground-and-pound striking ability, my defensive techniques…I take little things that I learned from there. The little that I did learn, I grasped it and incorporated that with the Lucha Underground aspect of my style and the character that I portrayed there. It all pretty much came full circle.”

– Shane Strickland; interviewed by Michael Wonsover, ESPN

The two feuded, ultimately wrestling in a three stages (first blood, No DQ and medical evacuation) death match called The Hell of War, at Ultima Lucha Tres. And hell it was. In what fans have called one of LU’s best matches ever and one of the most brutal matches ever in any promotion period, Killshot and Fox put on a classic that is still talked about today with glowing praise. It wasn’t just a spot fest, though the spots were aplenty, but rather the intensity of the storytelling between these two former comrades that elevated this match to a place of greatness. “Flawless execution” was a phrase several fans, who rated the match a 9.35 out of 10 (55 of 80 voted it the full 10) on Cagematch, used to describe it.

If people hadn’t realized Strickland’s talent prior to that point, that match changed everything. Making up with Fox after the hell the two put each other through, Killshot, Fox and The Mack formed a trios team that went on to win the titles on the final night of Ultima Lucha Tres. However, when LU returned for its fourth season, AR Fox (the man behind Dante Fox), was not part of the cast. Son of Havoc was added to the team in his stead but Havoc and Killshot never quite got along. Dissension led to the team losing the titles against the same team they took them from, The Reptile Tribe (Daga, Jeremiah Snake and Kobra Moon). Killshot’s LU finale came at Ultima Lucha Cuatro, when he lost a mask vs. mask match to Havoc and turned from a heel back to a babyface, as he revealed his military transgressions and apologized for them. Closing the show, Strickland and Fox met up one last time as Strickland asked to be relieved of his duties and Fox, with a salute to his friend, granted the request.

In some ways, this was art imitating real life because Strickland himself, had asked out of his LU contract so that he could become a free agent following the conclusion of season four. While he had to wait several more months than he may have wanted, Strickland was granted that request in mid-January.

But before free agency and becoming someone any promotion would be ecstatic to sign, Strickland had to make a name for himself on the indies, beyond just LU and the East Coast. With his real-life military duties completed making travel much easier, in 2016, Strickland began to make his mark. He returned to Germany and wXw to take part in the 16 Carat Gold tournament and later the World Tag Team League, which he won alongside David Starr. En route to winning the tournament and the vacant titles, Starr and Strickland had to defeat Angelico and Jack Evans, Ringkampf (Timothy Thatcher and WALTER), Moustache Mountain (Tyler Bate and Trent Seven) and The Leaders of the New School (Marty Scurll and Zack Sabre Jr.) Not too shabby. Strickland also hit the UK circuit, wrestling for SWE, Fight Club: PRO, IPW, RevPro, Kamikaze Pro and PROGRESS.

By 2017, Strickland was a hot commodity and was someone people knew around the world. He continued to work for CZW, even winning his first world title there, picked up more bookings in the UK and on the West/Southwest Coast, notably with DEFY, where he is a former two-time 8xGP champion, PWG, and WrestleCircus, where he won the Ringmaster championship. Additionally, Strickland joined Major League Wrestling and started to work more in the Midwest too as well as in Mexico with The Crash and Lucha Libre AAA. He wrestled a then-career-high 105 matches that year, only to be topped by the 110 he wrestled in 2018.

This past year, Strickland continued to show why he’s one of the best, winning six titles, including world championships in MLW, EVOLVE and PCW ULTRA and putting on phenomenal matches everywhere he went. From the UK to Mexico, California to Pennsylvania and everywhere in between, everyone was and still is, talking about Swerve.

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