Swerve Strickland And His Unconventional Path To Being A World Champion

Swerve Strickland, got his first national exposure as a wrestler on the critically acclaimed Lucha Underground television series. It was his friendship with Prince Puma (better known as Ricochet in the WWE) that led to him being signed.

It was here that he would play the character of Lt. Jermaine Strickland, a military vet who carries dog tags to honor the memories of his fallen comrades and wrestled under a mask as Killshot.

Lucha Underground was known for having a more cinematic approach with storylines and Strickland would work with the head writer to flesh out his character more after his introduction at the end of season one. 

Swerve wrote three different backgrounds for what Killshot could be and they ended up a little bit of all of them and combined them together. So, by the start of season two, Killshots backstory had more military elements added to it and that was a natural fit for Swerve since he was raised in a military family. In fact, before Swerve took up wrestling he had enlisted in the Army Reserve and was a signal support communications specialist for eight years.

As you may know, this wasn’t enough for Swerve, he decided that he also wanted to be a wrestler and started training when he was 18 years old and decided that he would eventually like to pursue the sport as his primary career. In an interview with ESPN.com Swerve would say,

“I always wanted to wrestle primarily but I knew financially it was impossible, especially being the father of two little girls. It was good to have the military help supporting me for so long while helping me pursue my dream at the same time. I was very fortunate to have good leadership help me along the way.”

Strickland first heard of Lucha Underground in late 2014 while traveling from New York to Rhode Island alongside Ricochet for an indie show. During the car ride Ricochet told Swerve that he had just finished filming the first half of Season 1 as the show’s star, Prince Puma. Strickland asked if Ricochet knew anyone who could help him get onto the show. Strickland then sent some of his matches to Konnan, who passed them onto Lucha Underground management. After a tryout match against Willie Mack and three months of waiting, Strickland was offered a contract.

Signing with Lucha Underground and gaining national TV exposure for the first time in his career gave Strickland the confidence to leave the Army in January of 2015.

Swerve would play a character with the code name Killshot, a former military sniper who was part of an elite unit sent into hostile territories. Killshot became a central character to the fabric of Lucha Underground, as one of a small group of characters to appear in every season. Swerve would use his military background to lend a special reality to his character.

“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.”

It was during Season 3 that Strickland spent the season building a feud with Dante Fox, who Killshot left for dead as brothers in the military. The feud was settled in a “Hell of War” match, with the first fall decided by first blood, the second no disqualification, and the final fall requiring your opponent to be carried off in an ambulance. The match was one of the most brutal and intense to ever be seen in professional wrestling.

“Me and Fox putting that match together, our mindsets, we were always on the same page with anything we had ever done in the ring — [but] we had to be on 12 pages. You can’t just be on one page anymore, we gotta be on 12-15 pages to make sure we execute everything on point. That match came off exactly how we both envisioned it. We couldn’t have done it any better. To me, that whole story between me and Fox culminated the perfect way. I wanted to make a statement that no one could outperform me.”

 “Season 1 I got introduced, I didn’t really stand out. Season 2, the wheels started turning a little bit and understanding the character and my place in the show, but once again I didn’t outperform anybody. Season 3 was the staple. I knew who I was, I knew how I was going to outperform, and I feel like me and Fox and Sami Callihan as Jeremiah Crane outperformed every single other character on that show. That Ultima Lucha match was the exclamation point.”

In Lucha Libre, the truly important matches, the bouts that make up one’s official record, are not even world championships. They are, rather, Mask vs. Mask matches where Luchadores wager their masks on the outcome of a fight. When a wrestler is defeated and unmasked, his face is seen by the public for the first time. His name and his birthplace are published in the papers. His mask, which symbolized his honor, is retired and cannot be used again.

At the end of the final season of Lucha Underground, Killshot would face Son Of Havoc in a mask vs mask match and would be unmasked.

After his iconic run in Lucha Underground Swerve Strickland was signed by the WWE in 2019 where he would be known as Isaiah “Swerve” Scott and would debut in the NXT developmental brand.

Here in NXT Swerve would have his first real feud with Santos Escobar who had also worked for Lucha Underground under the name King Cuerno.

It was not until 2021 that Swerve would get to do something potentially impactful by leading the newly formed Hit Row faction that would also include Ashante Adonis, Top Dolla, and manager B-Fab. 

It was also at this time that Swerve was able to defeat Bronson Reed to obtain the NXT North American Championship, a title that had been previously held by Adam Cole, Ricochet, Keith Lee and Johnny Gargano. But no one who has ever held this belt has ever really done anything on the main roster other than Damain Priest.

Swerve would hold that title for just over 100 days, dropping the title to Carmelo Hays in what you could safely call an overbooked angle involving the kidnapping of his teammates and surprise second title defense after already retaining against Santos Escobar. But this was pretty well expected after Hit Row was called up to the WWE at the start of October only to be cut from the company in a round of layoffs shortly after.

But maybe this was for the best as it is hard to see Swerve’s run in the WWE panning out better than what he has been able to accomplish in AEW to date.

But that wasn’t the end for Hit Row, in 2022 they reunited in the WWE without Swerve for an uneventful run as a tag team before disbanding again in 2024. 

They also got together for a music video, this time with Swerve but without Adonis for the song “Price Went Up”

Swerve would go on to sign with AEW in 2022 and 2024 would see Swerve win the AEW World Championship. Swerve was recently able to retain his title against Will Ospreay at Forbidden Door 2024 and it set to defend his title again at All In at Wembley Stadium on August 25th.

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Frank Hartgrave

ByFrank Hartgrave

Mr. Hartgrave produces daily content for YouTube and Instagram and does a weekly AEW Wrestling Live Stream every Wed. at 6PM that is broadcast on all platforms.

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