All wrestlers dream of making it to the big show — but for Kyle O’Reilly, a Canadian kid who has been working the independent scene for the past five years — that big show wasn’t the WWE, it was Ring of Honor. O’Reilly’s heightened athletic ability and single-minded purpose drove him to believe ROH was where he truly belonged and just this past fall, he achieved his dream. But to do it, he would need to take a long journey and quite possibly, the mother of all road trips.

Kyle O’Reilly at a Ring of Honor show in Mississauga, Ontario, in November 2010. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea

It was 929 miles to Plymouth, Massachusetts, a destination it would take 20 hours to get to by car. Anyone who has ever taken a seriously long road trip understands that something happens to you when you are alone that long in a vehicle by yourself. After awhile, you don’t even really notice the road anymore and the landscape passes by, becoming nothing but ubiquitous wallpaper. In the end, all you are left with is your own thoughts and you are left to contemplate the intricacies of your own past, present and future. And, suddenly, the destination no longer matters — it’s the journey there that changes you, forces you to come to terms with everything you are and everything you are to become. But when that destination is a Ring of Honor show and a key bout with Austin Aries, things become a little more complicated.

This was the journey that lay ahead for Kyle O’Reilly. He had travelled long distances before, but this time it would be different. The long, solo drive to Plymouth would take him to a match with Austin Aries that would determine his fate with the Ring of Honor promotion. ROH was not just another promotion for O’Reilly, who has already put the miles in working for other notable promotions such as EVOLVE, Dragon Gate USA, IPW, FIP, NWA, AAW, Fight Club: Pro, Chikara, ECCW — the list could go on and on. No, ROH was something special for O’Reilly, not just because it was his final destination after an exhausting 20-hour car ride, but because it was a destination he had been trying to reach for his entire wrestling life.

“ROH is somewhere I’ve wanted to be since I got into wrestling,” O’Reilly said in a recent interview. “So it’s been a five-year journey to get there and I’ve spent the last year making all the proper steps.” Those steps led him to working some pre-show matches for ROH and even led to a TV appearance or two with the company. “I knew they were interested in possibly offering me a deal in September so I got in the car and drove 20 hours to Plymouth to face Austin Aries in a do-or-die match.”

As the miles clicked by and towns came and then disappeared in his rear-view mirror, all thoughts turned to wrestling and the task that lay ahead. Everything O’Reilly had worked for was on the line in this match with Aries. He knew that if he wanted a steady job with ROH, he needed to put on the performance of his life. It was all he could think about.

“Rest stops and mileage signs all blend together; empty coffee cups and energy drink cans pile high,” O’Reilly said, recalling the most important drive of his life. “The odometer continuously climbs adding to the thousands of miles I’ve put on since first driving my car from Vancouver to St. Louis 14 months ago. It was about five hours in that I got a text message informing that I was booked to face Austin Aries in Plymouth. I began to excitedly honk the horn and psych myself up with a surge of energy. I had always imagined such an opportunity. I knew Austin would give me a great match; he’s one of the best performers in the world.”

For O’Reilly, being on the road, chasing his headlights towards his dream, was all part of the lifestyle he had chosen to live. “You always hear the stories of the greats who travelled the highways from show to show building their reputations,” he explained.

“Although it seems to be a thing of the past, the notion is alive and well in myself. It’s simply a matter of mind over matter. Sure, driving 20 hours to a wrestling show seems ridiculous, but it’s a chance to reflect and come to realize that you’re earning what you’re chasing.”

Turns out the long road trip was worth it. By the end of the show, O’Reilly had his deal with Ring of Honor. The dream O’Reilly had indeed been chasing for the last five years was finally realized.

“It’s all very surreal,” O’Reilly said, that feeling still prevalent weeks after the do-or-die match. “It feels very rewarding. I’ve worked very hard to get where I am and made many sacrifices along the way. It’s overwhelming to think that a kid from Delta, British Columbia is getting the opportunity to do what he loves to do in such an elite company.”

Hard work and sacrifice are the bedrocks of any serious career in pro wrestling. Although athletics have always come relatively easy for O’Reilly, he understood early the importance of being in excellent physical condition and not just to give him a wrestler’s physique. He knew that if he wanted to compete in a promotion like ROH he would need to have excellent cardio and be able to move as quick and nimbly as many of the athletes there. To that end, he began to step up his work-out game, moving from the stuffy confines of the weight room to other learning grounds. And he did it with it some of the best independent talent around.

“ROH truly has the most elite athletes in the world and we all share a strong work ethic at providing fans with the best possible product,” O’Reilly said, explaining the reason behind his intense workout regimen. He began studying under ROH’s own Davey Richards and Tony Kozina. “Working with Davey Richards means getting up at 6 in the morning for cardio then being at our MMA school by noon for kickboxing class, then doing weight lifting circuits at 6 p.m. which leaves time for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class at 7:30.”

Kyle O’Reilly tries to wriggle out of Rhett Titus’ grasp.

His training regimen is not that dissimilar from that of professional UFC fighters. But he’s not complaining — these sacrifices for him are no different than spending money on wrestling boots and gas for more ridiculously long road trips.

“I’m constantly surrounded by the most motivating and inspirational forces in the sport,” O’Reilly said, speaking of his training partners and actual trainers. “It has an extremely positive effect on my life and the way I view the sport.”

O’Reilly’s unrelenting pursuit of his dream has taken away from the comfortable surroundings he grew up in and sent him miles and miles from Delta, B.C. to as far away as England. He doesn’t get to spend as much time with his family and friends as he might like, but this is part of that sacrifice he mentioned earlier. He understands he is only going to be this young once and he has learned the importance of capitalizing on it from listening to those he now works with in ROH.

“Weekly road trips from four, nine, 12, or 18 hours are just a regular part of the business at my level of further establishing myself,” he stated matter-of-factly. “I’ve been to a lot of towns and cities across the United States and recently wrestling in Wolverhampton, England. And I know this is probably just the beginning.”

O’Reilly’s willingness to make these sacrifices and work this hard is one of the reasons he was noticed by ROH. Gabe Sapolsky, a former booker for Ring of Honor and current owner of the EVOLVE promotion, noticed O’Reilly and set him up with a match on one of his shows. Sapolsky wrote about it on his blog:

“Sometimes, you need to take an educated gamble. We’ve had two young wrestlers in EVOLVE that have risen with every opportunity. Their names are Ricochet and Kyle O’Reilly. What really impresses about Ricochet and Kyle O’Reilly is the fact they have each shown creativity, athleticism, desire and a strong work ethic. It was time to go next level with them. In order to do this, they needed the chance. That came by putting them in the semi-main event. If they had a breakout match, they would make the entire show. If they didn’t, we had a safety net in the main event of [Brian] Danielson vs Sawa, but it would be a momentum killer that would definitely hurt buzz coming out of the event.”

That match, it seems, was a success. Gabe wrote of it, “I am so proud to say Ricochet vs. O’Reilly came through and rose to the spot of the card with a flyer vs. striker contest that gained the second loudest fan reactions of the night behind the Danielson-Sawa main event.”

O’Reilly remembers that match and how important it was to him. “Working for EVOLVE has been a special experience for me. I was in the very first match on the very first show, and that is something I take a lot of pride in. Working the semi-main event on a show headlined by Bryan Danielson and Munenori Sawa is every indy wrestler’s dream. I’m grateful to have been given that opportunity and Ricochet and I did our best to make the most of it.”

Not long after, ROH came knocking and the unreal journey for O’Reilly continued. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that O’Reilly was a mid-card wrestler for Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling, a Vancouver-area promotion, whose main venue at the time was a little community center in Surrey. It’s amazing to O’Reilly how fast things have happened.

“I can look back on everything I did in ECCW and be proud to say that my roots stem from there,” he said retrospectively. “Going from the Bridgeview Hall in Surrey to the infamous ECW Arena in South Philadelphia is still a concept that is surreal for me to grasp. Although, honestly, I probably miss wrestling at the Russian Community Centre on West 4th street in Vancouver more than anywhere else.”

And although O’Reilly still makes an effort to get back and wrestle in his hometown, his sights are definitely set far, far ahead. For now, however, he is just stoked to be living his dream working for arguably the best wrestling promotion in the world and it’s something he absolutely does not take for granted.

“I don’t possess any unique ability that sets me apart from anyone,” he explained. “I’ve just learned to have belief in myself and an undying willingness to sacrifice everything in pursuit of my goal. Like I said before, living with Davey Richards and Tony Kozina has provided me with the best support system in wrestling. We train harder than anyone else, every day. The notion that ‘Hard work is always rewarded, and talent cannot be ignored’ is bred into my mind constantly.

“Just looking around at what I’ve accomplished in the last year has me motivated and excited to see what the next year has in store and the next and the next, etcetera. I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t have Davey constantly pushing me towards the insanely high level of expectation he has set for me as well as himself. Looking around at the talent pool within Ring of Honor is a motivation factor in itself. If I can share a locker room with these elite athletes, who knows how far this dream will really go, and I feel honored every step of the way.”