Every Man With Two Hands: A Salute to James Ellsworth

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WWE announced the release of James Ellsworth on Wednesday, marking an end to one of the most unique and legitimately inspiring chapters in professional wrestling history.

The end of James Ellsworth’s tenure in WWE comes at a logical time, though the exit might seem unceremonious. His final bout was a loss to Becky Lynch in the Battle of the Sexes on SmackDown: Live — quite a departure from one year ago around this time, when Ellsworth was involved in an angle with the WWE World Heavyweight Champion and greatest wrestler in North America today, A.J. Styles.

And yet, every moment in the brief WWE tenure of James Ellsworth is remarkable in its own right. Whether losing to Becky Lynch, or beating the champion A.J. Styles in a series of matches, Ellsworth lived the catchphrase that landed him a dream opportunity.

Every man with two hands stands a fighting chance.

James Ellsworth the wrestling persona exists as a throwback. In the 1980s, when TV shows were used to drive viewers to purchase live event tickets and closed circuit broadcasts, wrestlers of Ellsworth’s ilk were abundant. These were men who performed in nondescript attire, lacked the physique and physical presence of the stars (by design), and rarely — if ever — successful performed a maneuver.

Call them job guys or enhancement talent, whatever the label you use, they went the way of Aquanet and hair metal once the ’80s transitioned into the ’90s. Wrestling became more of a TV product with the late ’90s wrestling boom, and as a result, material that would have been saved for live and pay-per-view crowds in an earlier generation was aired on cable. That forced out the ham-and-eggers like the Mulkey Twins, Barry Horowitz, and Brooklyn Brawler; the predecessors to James Ellsworth.

Some things had to break James Ellsworth’s way for him to even have an opportunity. That the WWE opted to experiment with enhancement talent on the federation’s flagship show, RAW, was remarkable in and of itself. He was paired with Braun Strowman, the enormous, mountain of a man positioned to be the company’s next featured attraction.

But as easily as Ellsworth could have been fodder in a fleeting moment of wrestling history, he sensed an opportunity. You see, James Ellsworth’s is a story that transcends the spandex-clad world of professional wrestling, and could really apply to any of us, no matter our passions or pursuits.

In an interview on Chris Jericho’s podcast last autumn, Ellsworth talked of negotiating for the opportunity to speak on the microphone for just a few seconds. That moment is when he uttered his catchphrase, a slogan that gained him a level of notoriety.

It’s catchy, and it bears similarity to the more popular, “Shoot Your Shot.”

Shooting Your Shot has found its way into cultural consciousness of late, in part as the motto of the prolific and talented writer, Shea Serrano. For background, read this excellent profile by Sarah Kelly Shannon (who you should also follow on Twitter, @thesarahkelly).

Although different avenues, Shea Serrano and James Ellsworth embody the same ethos; an ethos with which I and surely many of you reading struggle: the fear of failure is self-fulfilling prophecy.

I know I have encountered it, allowing self-doubt to prevent me from pursuing opportunities or challenges. One of my bigger breaks in sports media, I spent several months allowing fear of failure to dictate my actions, and my work reflected that. 

The fear is explainable, irrational as it might. There’s the inherent fear of falling back down after the ascent, or the fear of rejection. But then, I look at a performer like James Ellsworth, and everything about his presence suggests audiences should have rejected him; they didn’t. And while he steps out of the marquee spot in his industry, any fall he might suffer is to a much higher place than where he started. 

Ellsworth talked on the Jericho podcast of his background, wrestling in front of a few dozen people at some shows. He’ll no longer perform in arenas with audiences of thousands, but that he shot his shot over a year ago ensures the crowds will be bigger when he returns to the independent circuit.

His time in the brightest spotlight may not be over permanently, either. James Ellsworth still has two hands, after all. If you struggle with self-confidence or internal doubt, know that you stand a fighting chance, too.