Sweet Chin Music: Celebrating James Ellsworth’s Incredible Year In WWE

On November 15, 2017, the dream officially was over. That’s the day that WWE released James Ellsworth, bringing to a close one of the greatest 16-month stretches in the history of professional wrestling. For the past year and change, Ellsworth got to live the dream of millions of wrestling fans the world over: He got to be a WWE Superstar.

The story is so good, pure and uplifting, it should be turned into a Hollywood movie. We here at With Spandex have long been James Ellsworth champions, so let’s walk down memory lane and recap all of his best moments in the squared circle.

Ellsworth’s improbably successful run started on July 25, 2016, as he was used as local enhancement talent for Braun Strowman on the first episode of the post-brand split Raw.

While the match was nothing to write home about, it was Ellsworth’s pre-match promo (along with his multiple Offspring tattoos) that won over the WWE Universe, as he declared, “Any man with two hands has a fighting chance.” That is legitimately one of the greatest lines in WWE history, and it was most likely something he ad-libbed on his own. It’s the kind of motivational quote that you’d think would be attributed to Teddy Roosevelt or John Wayne or something. Simply genius.

Based on that overwhelmingly positive fan response, WWE brought Ellsworth back for a one-shot a few months later where he was supposed to be AJ Styles’ surprise partner against John Cena and Dean Ambrose.

Even though he didn’t end up competing (getting jumped by the Miz will do that to you), it’s still incredible that he was being used as a bait-and-switch for the main event with the biggest stars on Smackdown at the time. Once again, the crowd popped so huge for his mere presence, and the next thing we all knew, Ellsworth was an integral part of the Styles/Ambrose feud, to the point where he got not one, not two, not three, but four matches against Styles — including a goddamn ladder match:

Even crazier? Two of those four matches were for the WWE Championship — literally, the most important belt in WWE history, the one held by Sammartino and Backlund and Hogan and Austin. And yes, results are pre-determined, and no, Ellsworth never was going to win, but you never know what can happen in that ring.

What if Styles had been knocked for a loop and forgot to kick out? What if the referee accidentally fast-counted? What if James Ellsworth actually became WWE Champion? It’s the kind of thing every independent wrestler dreams of, and so very few ever even get the chance to be considered. And here sits James Ellsworth, with his own TitanTron intro, his own entrance music, his own T-shirt, his own action figure, his own entrance in the Royal Rumble match. He, through sheer force of will, lived the dream.

Ellsworth’s run in 2017 featured an alignment with Carmella and subsequent heel turn that resulted in him getting to walk the ramp at WrestleMania only minutes before the Undertaker would take his last ride. I cannot overstate this: James Ellsworth got to walk the ramp at WrestleMania.

I feel like this piece is full of me re-stating these types of facts, but every one of them is more unbelievable than the next. Did you know Ellsworth starred opposite Ric Flair in a Snickers commercial? Now you do:

Sure, Ellsworth was primarily used for comedic purposes. But man, some of that comedy was gold: Whether it was his “No Chin Music” finishing move, his constant referring to Carmella as “my friend, who is a girl,” or that time on Talking Smack when when the Big Hog stared deep into the eyes of Edge, everything he did had this natural humor to it that felt totally unlike anything else in the WWE Universe.

Some see Ellsworth as the butt of a joke. I’m sure if you were to ask him, he’d say entirely differently: He was an entertainer, and he was able to entertain millions of people across the world. And even in the days since being let go, Ellsworth’s spirits were high:

When Ellsworth’s non-compete clause ends this February, expect to see the man everywhere on the indie circuit. There will be a Pro Wrestling Tees store; there will be $20 photo ops at your local VFW hall; there will be matches against Joey Ryan and Space Monkey and Dick Justice (hopefully); there will probably even be a PWG appearance. Maybe one day, we’ll see him back in a WWE ring. But Ellsworth already got one unforgettable year, and that’s more than most of us will ever get.