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    Sunday, December 27, 2020

    Brodie Lee (1979-2020)


    In most other sports, to be called a "journeyman" is almost a backhanded insult: someone reliable, but not excellent. Journeymen move between teams to play for, and are never the marquee players of the teams that they play for at that time of their careers. The pennants are many, but the recognition is scarce: you won't see championship rings or trophies on the mantle of a journeyman. 

    But professional wrestling isn't like most other sports: to be a "journeyman" in wrestling is to actually travel those roads, to perform in venues and promotions big or small, to adapt to wherever you may be as long as there's a wrestling ring in it. And some of the best professional wrestlers in the world are journeymen: in the strictest sense of the "journey," and the highest respect we accord to the word "men."

    One of those wrestlers was Brodie Lee.

    Jonathan Huber started his career 17 years ago as a backyard wrestler in his hometown of Rochester, New York. From those rickety rings, Huber moved on to Chikara Pro Wrestling in 2007 under the Brodie Lee gimmick, which has evolved into the familiar trucker-type "Big Rig" gimmick that made him a beloved mainstay of the independent circuit for the next five years. In his time in the independents, Lee made a name for himself as a blueprint for agile, athletic big men in professional wrestling: while most other wrestlers his size (Lee was 6'5", and was well near 300 lbs.) would be relegated to squash-style moves for their lack of athleticism, Lee would be putting on wrestling clinics that made him fondly remembered by indy fans (most of whom tend to be most critical about things like workrate and execution).

    As a wrestling "big man," Lee often played the role of the Goliath in independent wrestling promotions. Lee can trade holds as much as he can do high spots. Lee had one of the most believable move sets in the business: it's hard not to gasp at the impact of his Big Boot, or to hold your neck a little when he does his Discus Lariat, or watch how a man nearing 300 pounds would gracefully dive into opponents outside the ring. However, where he truly shined was when he was matched up against wrestlers with similar size, build, agility, and skill. Chikara's first steel cage match in 2008—where he faced Claudio Castagnoli (now known as Cesaro)—comes to mind.

    Of course, it's hard not to take notice of wrestlers like Brodie Lee: be it his natural charisma, or crispness in the ring. In 2012, Lee—then known as Luke Harper—made his debut in the WWE developmental system as the first member of The Wyatt Family. The "Big Rig" gimmick was tweaked to transform him into the first follower of Bray Wyatt's cult: a salt-of-the-earth type who hung on to Wyatt's mesmerizing message, and was there to be his enforcer alongside Erick Rowan. The Wyatt Family eventually won gold in NXT, but were set to debut on WWE's main roster.

    Many would say that Harper's career in the WWE was hampered by a creative team who didn't know what they were doing with a talent like him. Despite these limits, Harper was still able to showcase his abilities and skills to fans the world over. Harper was a former Intercontinental Champion, and a former two-time Tag Team Champion in the WWE. Yet despite these glints at success, a long and successful career in WWE at that time was not meant to be, and Harper reverted to the Brodie Lee name, albeit with a new dimension.

    Mr. Brodie Lee debuted in All Elite Wrestling in 2020: as The Exalted One, the leader of The Dark Order. Now dressed in suits and ring attire accentuated with gold, Lee became the figurehead of a cult-like faction in AEW that sought to establish a villainous, sinister presence in storylines. Rather than be a follower, Lee was now the controlling, domineering presence that—with a few deft humorous twists—gave new facets to the faction as it ran roughshod over the promotion. Lee also defeated Cody Rhodes for the TNT Championship toward the end, before dropping it back to Rhodes—in an epic Dog Collar Match that would be his last bout—to take time off in October 2020 for an undisclosed injury.

    A few hours ago, we were all shocked by the passing of Jon Huber. With his career revived and reinvigorated, one would think that a run at the top of AEW's cards would not have been too far-off in his future. Or that we would probably see him back in the WWE, albeit with a more fleshed-out character and more meaningful storylines he could sink his teeth into. Or that we would get to see some more of Brodie Lee's finest work in the independents: a return to the "Big Rig" form that made him so beloved among wrestling fans. All that, in Lee's passing, is not meant to be.

    Granted that there are many journeymen in wrestling: people who hop between promotions, travel the roads, perform in wrestling rings. But few—so few—have made that journey as meaningful and memorable as Brodie Lee had: a traveler, a wrestler, a father, a friend, and certainly one of the best at his craft in his generation. 

    Beyond that nuance of the "journeyman," Brodie Lee was one of the best men to ever make that journey.

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    Item Reviewed: Brodie Lee (1979-2020) Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Marck Rimorin
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