Tye Dillinger: The Long Road To Perfection by Steve Melo

Growing up, I was always into the arts. From designing, acting and music production, it was always something that I excelled at as opposed to other things. I think that is why when I was first introduced to wrestling, I was so immersed by everything that was involved with it. From the wrestling right down to the entrances and theatrics, it was just something that I fell in love with instantly and still do to this day, regardless if it’s more of a love/hate relationship at times.

My good friend Stefan shared this passion with me, but on a completely other level. We not only went to elementary school together but also high school as well and I’ll always remember the times we kept getting in crap in gym class for doing wrestling moves to not just each other but to other students as well. When graduation came, we both knew what we wanted to do next. For me, it was Graphic Design. For Stefan, it was wrestling school. He even invited me to some classes just to watch and see the training process for myself first hand. It was shortly after this time that I first met a man who, unknowingly to me, would one day go on to become the man we all know today as Tye Dillinger.

Dillinger first started training at the Hart Wrestling School in Cambridge, Ontario. He was also trained later in his career by notable Canadian indy darlings “Dangerboy” Derek Wylde and Cody Deaner. But for those who don’t know, it was actually Eric Young that also trained Tye along with my buddy Stefan and many others at the WrestlePlex wrestling school. Other notable stars to train at WrestlePlex include Jake O’Reilly, TNA’s CrAzZy StEvE and Cody Deaner himself on various occasions just to name a few. I had no idea at the time, but looking back at it today, it was such a privilege literally being a fly on the wall those few times I had the honor of being in that tiny little dilapidated room watching these men learn and gradually improve in the art of wrestling. I was so proud of Stefan. He knew what he wanted to do and there he was doing it. Stefan would go on to wrestle as Floyd “The Gnarly Hippy” Osbourne, Johnny Fonzerelli & Hayden Avery (Hayden The Destroyer) on the independent wrestling scene. He had matches with the likes of Austin Aries, King Kong Bundy, Hacksaw Jim Duggan and tagging with Kamala, Raven and Kokomo B Ware. He also once pinned former King of the Ring, WWE Tag Team, WWE Intercontinental & WWE Hardcore champion “Badass” Billy Gunn.

As far as passion goes, not only did I definitely see it in the eyes of Stefan and his trainer Eric Young, but it was so clearly present in the young eyes of Tye Dillinger. The guy just had it, even way back then. I witnessed this first hand and always knew he had it in him to be a big star one day. I just never imagined he would be a perfect 10. Yes, pun intended of course.

He started his career as Shawn Spears and had his first match in March of 2002. He would continue wrestling on the independent scene until signing a developmental contract with WWE in 2006. It was at this time that the world would first be introduced to him in the form of a backstage producer simply named Stan. And poor Stan would go on to unfortunately be in the wrong place at the wrong time and be on the receiving end of a super kick delivered by none other than WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels. I’ll never forget the moment not only because there he finally was on WWE television, but also because of how random and hilarious it was. See for yourself.

Spears was assigned to Ohio Valley Wrestling, which was WWE’s developmental territory at the time. It would be another two years before we would see him again in 2008. Dillinger would make his WWE in ring debut on the August 19th episode of WWE’s revived version of ECW not as Shawn Spears but Gavin Spears. I always hated that name, but considering that he had finally made his WWE debut, I didn’t let it get to me that much obviously. I was just so happy for the guy, but it wouldn’t last. His last match ended up being against Finlay in December that same year and on January 19th, 2009, he was released from his contract.

It was back to square one. Most men would just accept that was it for them and live with the mentality that it doesn’t matter anymore because that was as good as it would ever get. But not Tye Dillinger. It would take many more years of hard work, determination and experience until he would finally get that second chance in 2013 in the form of NXT. It was here that we were all introduced to Tye Dillinger. But he wasn’t quite perfect yet. Not just yet. Slowly and surely, he got even better. He was so good in fact that he was the obvious choice for new stars coming into NXT to have matches against.

Dillinger’s biggest strength is not just the fact that he is an incredible wrestler or the fact that he can also talk on the mic, it’s in his ability in making his opponents look better than he is most of the time. I say it is his biggest strength, but it also falls into the weakness category simply because he is just so good at it that I think often times, fans overlook him as a mid-card talent at best. He is more than that. He was never destined to be a mid-card talent in my opinion. He has so much more to offer than that and I know I am not alone in thinking that.

When asked who he liked working with in NXT on the Talk is Jericho podcast, current NXT Champion Shinsuke Nakamura named Tye Dillinger, Finn Bálor, and Samoa Joe. Here is what he had to say about Dillinger specifically.

“Tye Dillinger has experience. He knows timing and [has] a good character. Everybody wants to do ’10! 10! 10!’, so it’s easy to cheer for him. Yeah, ’10! 10!’ everybody understands. That was a good thing he found a good character.”

Even current Universal Champion Kevin Owens took notice on his Twitter after watching his NXT TakeOver match against Bobby Roode in Toronto.

Couldn’t watch it live but I just finished @WWENXT Takeover from Toronto. Thoughts: Revival vs DIY was fantastic. @WWEDillinger is the man. — Kevin Owens (@FightOwensFight) November 25, 2016

I was at NXT Takeover Toronto with my buddy John Canton and we had so much fun that night chanting “Ten” all night for Dillinger and even he wasn’t in the ring. Dillinger had the first match on the WWE Network broadcast against fellow Ontario born wrestler Bobby Roode. The match was expected to be very good, but I think they exceeded expectations. I think it’s fair to say that it was the breakthrough match in Dillinger’s career because the crowd loved him and wanted him to win. In a year or two, we will probably be able to look back on it and realize how important that match was for him. To his credit, he delivered the goods along with Roode.

It took many years and much sacrifice for Tye Dillinger to be in the position he is in today. This Saturday at NXT TakeOver Dallas, he has literally come full circle as he faces his former trainer, mentor and good friend Eric Young. To say that I am beyond excited for this match would be an understatement. I know the talent, passion and desire both these men have and have always had. They had it all those years ago and it has never left them. If given the proper time, there is absolutely no reason why these two can’t have a match of the year candidate. If I had to make a selfish prediction, I would think that the teacher Eric Young gets the win over his former student and the following night that maybe, just maybe, we will hear a familiar theme song start playing for the tenth entry of the Royal Rumble. Fans have been talking about it. I can only agree with them that it would be a perfect main roster debut for a man that not only deserves it, but has more importantly earned it.


In closing, I thought it would be only fitting to end this article with a message from an old mutual friend:

I remember when Tye Dillinger (then Shawn Spears) first walked into the Wrestleplex. He was training at the “Hart Brothers” school in Cambridge, Ontario. Our trainer, “Showtime” Eric Young, had set up place down the road and had invited Spears to work out with us. Spears is a very loyal person and it showed when he graciously turned down training at the Wrestleplex because he felt that he hadn’t given the other school a fair enough chance. Eventually, he stepped in the ring regularly with us. Spears just had that “it” factor, as did Showtime. Watching them run spots in the ring was nearly magical. Both have such a way of being able to suspend the audience’s disbelief. It was impossible to replicate what they could do in the ring.

I had gotten Spears a job at a local warehouse shortly after. Our jobs were to empty railway cars that were stacked top to bottom and side to side with 40 pound boxes filled with leather gloves. Spears could motivate people to keep going. That container would often reach 95 degrees in the summer and watching him work hard busting his ass to do his job made you want to work just as hard. Spears has a personality that’s positively infectious. Between that, his work ethic, the “it” factor… you knew it wasn’t if he was going to get signed by the WWE, but when. When he was first let go from his initial contract, it crushed a lot of people in the Ontario Indy scene. I remember trying to figure out why the WWE would let someone who wasn’t part of their cookie cutter style go. A guy who can tell a story in the ring. Someone so adept at listening to the crowd and making them react how he wants them to. A guy who can make a dime a dozen wrestler look like a million bucks.

Thankfully someone came to their senses and hired him back. This match between Eric Young and Tye Dillinger is going to be epic. My fingers are crossed that the producers take the collars off and let them tear the roof off the place as they have so many times in the past.


Thanks for reading!

Steve Melo
Twitter: @ProWrestleLinks

*Photo credits to Emmanuel Melo