As a commentator around the Pittsburgh independent scene, I have the chance to call the matches of a variety of athletes with different levels of experience and varying degrees of potential. Some are well established veterans that have the skills, but just weren’t at the right place at the right time to get the major spotlight. Instead, those seasoned grapplers have respectable careers within their area and give back to the industry as a resource for younger talent. On the other end of the spectrum, there will inevitably be dreamers that aren’t skilled enough or dedicated enough to make it so they float around local shows until eventually they move on to a new hobby. There are also those that you can tell from the moment they step into the ring that they have the “it factor” to make it big in an often unforgiving industry.
Locally, the Western PA scene has several outlets to showcase several talented athletes. Before he put on the headset to broadcast Raw weekly as Corey Graves, Sterling James Keenan was a mainstay of the iron city. The ability to entertain extended through family ties, and Graves’ brother, Sam Adonis is currently one of the biggest heels in Mexico for CMLL. Plus, prior to rejuvenating the X-Division on Impact, DJ Z polished his skills around the Pittsburgh area. But, who is the next breakout star?
Granted, there are several factors that play a role in the path a wrestler takes in their career, but based on pure skill alone, there is a clear answer for who could represent the steel city next on the main stream stage. When I first talked to Lee Moriarty at a Pro Wrestling Express event, he was a quiet, respectful student of one of the most respected veterans of Pittsburgh, Brandon K. When Brandon told me, “Lee is going to be really good,” I knew the endorsement meant that the young trainee must’ve done well learning the basics. However, when I called the action for his debut match in late-2015, it was clear that Lee Moriarty was well beyond basic. Using a Japanese-inspired approach with an influence of European technical skills and just 22 years old at the time, the rookie carried himself in the squared circle at the level of an athlete with years of experience. He absorbed professional wrestling knowledge as quickly as the sport itself consumed him just over a decade ago when he discovered it.
“I was home alone channel surfing and come across The Boogeyman. His entrance was enough to make me stop and watch what was going to happen next. I immediately became obsessed from that moment on. Nothing else came close to keeping my interest like wrestling has,” Lee explained.
However, professional wrestling wasn’t his first exposure or interest in athletics. Moriaty played sports extensively throughout his school years, which allowed him to use that athleticism to transition to the sports entertainment genre.
“I studied Tae Kwon Do for a bit around the same time I started watching wrestling, and played on my high school rugby team. Both sports helped me prepare for wrestling mentally and physically because both sports require thick skin and discipline.”
As his career progressed throughout 2016, he won championships and elevated his profile with every in-ring performance, impressing fans and contemporaries. His rise through the ranks wasn’t without setbacks, as he suffered a serious shoulder injury that required surgery to repair a torn labrum in June of that year, putting him on the shelf for six months. The healing process was as challenging mentally as it was physically.
“I couldn’t stay away. I never considered quitting but I did fall into a deep depression my time out. The only thing that would pull me out was still going to training to watch my friends grow and improve,” Moriarty said.
It wasn’t the first time that the talented athlete had to overcome an obstacle. A few years into his Tae Kwon Do training, his family couldn’t afford for him to continue the lessons during his time in high school years so he continued to practice what he learned on his own. Around the same time, he discovered one of his heroes and biggest influences, the legendary Bruce Lee.
“Bruce Lee created his own version of martial arts called Jeet Kune Do that boils down to removing limitations. That always stuck with me. Removing the mindset that I can’t do something and changing it to I don’t know how to do it yet, but I can learn has helped me through my life. Especially in wrestling. Flipping in the air and landing on my back wasn’t something natural to me. Thankfully, I had a mindset to get past those mental blocks. The way I wrestle now is completely different than when I started because of that mindset,” he explained.
When Moriarty returned to action inside the ring ropes in early 2017, he was more focused than ever and wanted to expand upon the lessons that he learned from extensive film study of styles used around the world. Soon, he began wrestling for more groups around the tri-state area and his ability earned him an invitation to add international experience to his resume. The previously mentioned DJ Z was impressed with Moriarty’s skills and arranged for him to tour Mexico in May of last year. He considers the two weeks he spent south of the boarder to be extremely valuable and one of the highlights of his career so far.
“He set me up with one of his friends, who is a worker named Low Rider, to help me out while down there. He and his wife, Sadika took really good care of me and helped me a ton. I even got to train under a lucha legend named El Oriental. The experience was amazing and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
When he returned to the United States, his momentum continued throughout the year with a series of stellar bouts and culminated when he won a tournament to become the first Grand Champion of his trainer’s organization, Ryse Wrestling.
Still the current Ryse champion for Brandon K’s promotion, Lee hopes to continue and grow as an athlete in 2018. Perhaps the main quality that will lead to success for him is his humble approach to the sport and his desire to continue to learn as much as possible.
— WrestlingMayhemShow (@MayhemShow) December 3, 2017
“I think my entire 2017 is a highlight. Between touring Mexico and becoming the first Ryse Grand Champion, I’ve been very blessed. My overall goal is to make this my primary living. My dream is to do it as a regular competitor in Japan. I just want to thank everyone for their support and help. I honestly didn’t expect things to go this well this fast in my career,” he said.
Professional wrestling is an unpredictable business, but talent is talent and Lee Moriarty has the skills to become a major star within the industry. All things considered, it might be just a matter of time before this Pittsburgh prodigy makes his way onto national television, similar to others that had their start in the steel city before they become known to the main stream audience.
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