Imagine reaching your dream only to find out it is a nightmare. That’s what Anthony Nese experienced and in the end he had to let the old dream go and find success with a renewed focus.

As a child Nese watched as much wrestling as he could and wished he could step into the ring with his heroes. At first it was the WWE with his favourites being Shawn Michaels, Undertaker and Bret Hart. Nese was so enamoured by The Undertaker that he dressed up as the Dead Man for multiple Halloweens.

Anthony Nese is always in great shape. Photos by Christine Coons

Fast forward to today, and Anthony Nese is a 5-foot-10, 213-pound piece of sculpted granite. Through the week he trains religiously and watches his diet to create his wrestling character “The Premiere Athlete.” The 28-year-old grappler is passionate about his sport and craft, which were taught to him in a very old school way by former ECW favourite Mikey Whipwreck.

His excitement for wrestling grew as he got older and soon found WCW and ECW on his TV screen. “I would go to the Hammerstein Ballroom ECW shows and everything, and I just loved the reaction and everything about it,” recalled Nese at a recent Empire State Wrestling show in Lockport, New York. It was his first look at ECW that spawned the realization that there were groups other than the Big Two of WCW and WWE, and he started to seek out independent wrestling shows.

Nese was a star hockey player on Long Island, New York, but realized at an early age that he had a passion for wrestling. “And then I started to get into the independent wrestling scene when ECW was getting pretty big,” said Nese. “Actually, Mikey Whipwreck started an independent company on Long Island. So I found out about that. Went to check out a show and I just fell in love with independent wrestling. I started seeing ads for a school they were having. I was still too young at the time, but I knew that as soon as I was of age I was definitely going to join a school and give it a run.”

When he finished high school, Nese enrolled in Whipwreck’s wrestling academy. “I just wanted to stand in that ring one day getting that reaction and doing all that stuff,” said Nese with enthusiasm.

Whipwreck did not make it easy for Nese, or any of his students to become a wrestler. “He knew I had potential, but he wasn’t going to let me have a big head. So he made me wait the longest in the class. It was three or four months I didn’t get to step foot in a wrestling ring,” said Nese.

Trained in a manner that forced the participants to respect the business Nese is thankful for the solid foundation that Whipwreck provided. Whipwreck was trained by Sonny Blaze and then he was polished up in ECW by Taz. “He always says he owes a lot to his secondary training at the House of Hardcore and he carried on the way Taz would train to us,” said Nese. “He would just be very rough with you and you had to earn his respect. He never talked to you outside of training. Never did anything that would make you think he was your friend. He would be very strict and to the point. There were plenty of times where I went home ready to die. The thing is it really made you respect what you were doing.”

Tony Nese shoulders Brodie Lee (now known as Luke Harper in WWE) at DGUSA Uprising 2011.

The methods employed by Whipwreck made a great impression on the young Nese. After two years of working under his mentor, Nese felt he had gained Whipwreck’s respect by being booked on his wrestling shows. “His training was very rough. It wasn’t unsafe. He didn’t beat you up for the fun of it, but just to make sure you learned the right way,” said Nese. “As soon as you earned his respect, the Mikey you saw on TV was now the Mikey you were getting. He was no longer my hardcore trainer. He was a nice guy who was willing to help me every step of the way. His goal was to get you to respect.”

From 2005 to 2007 Nese worked local independents, and while he was improving he had yet to find a break that would take him to the next level. That break came in 2008 when Nese was asked to participate in the prestigious ECWA (East Coast Wrestling Association) Super 8 Tournament.

“I went to one of their shows (ECWA), with someone who was on their shows, and I gave them a tape of my stuff,” said Nese. “It was a week later that he called me and said, ‘Hey, I want to bring in some new guys that I see potential in to do the Super 8. Would you like to do it?’ And me growing up knowing about the Super 8 and all the guys that have done it, that was a huge things for my ego and my career.”

With the experience at the next level of independent wrestling achieved Nese set his sights on TNA and WWE. At every opportunity Nese would go to try-outs for TNA and WWE.

Then his dream happened when he received a call from TNA. The X-Division was having a “showcase” tournament but they were not able to find many quality independent wrestlers who could participate in the event. “They were kinda low on the list and had no people to bring in for this tournament because a lot of guys were signing those indy iPPV contracts,” said Nese. “They would sign guys to a deal where they couldn’t perform on anything televised — which was really dumb on their part. So a lot of guys that they wanted to use couldn’t do it, so I was the next guy on the list.”

TNA brought in Nese, Jesse Sorenson and Jack Evans for the match. They ended up having such a great match that they pulled the three wrestlers aside to let them know that TNA wanted to sign them to a contract. Jack Evans said no because he had a great deal in Mexico and lived there. “Me and Jesse Sorenson, being new in the business said, ‘Absolutely.’ And then a week later they brought us back for TV and signed our contracts and everything,” said Nese.

When not in his wrestling gear, Anthony Nese appears to be a regular Joe. Photo by Caleb Smith

It didn’t work out the way he dreamed. Nese appeared on television only a handful of times. “It was very short-lived. … At the time it was a terrible experience. It was a frustrating experience,” said Nese.

What made matters worse was that Nese only got paid when he appeared on TNA’s shows. “Not to say I am the type of guy to sit there and collect a paycheque, but I like to get more out of what I’m doing. I was starving and wasn’t making anything,” remembered Nese. “I wasn’t even allowed to work a lot of indy companies because if they produce DVDs or iPPVs, which were getting very popular, I couldn’t work for them. So here I am making no money. It was a very frustrating time for me. So eventually I said, ‘Hey, listen, I want out.'”

In his darkest time an amazing opportunity was presented to Nese. Pro Wrestling Syndicate in New Jersey asked Nese if he would like to tag up with Sami Callihan against The Great Muta and Kai. He agreed, but then found out the show would be broadcast as an iPPV and that would go against his agreement with TNA.

Immediately Nese contacted TNA officials to ask for advice. “I called up TNA and said, ‘Hey, listen, I got offered to do this match. I already accepted the booking and then they changed it to an iPPV. They obviously want to broadcast Muta so I’m asking your permission to do it. You have not used me in five months. It would help me career if I worked it. It would be a great experience, can I please do it?'” said Nese. The answer that came back was a resounding no. TNA felt if they allowed Nese to do the event they would have to bend the rules for the other wrestlers as well.

After taking a day to think about the situation Nese called back TNA and on May 17, 2012, asked for his release. “They were good about it. They said, ‘All right, listen, if that is where you want to go with your career we understand and we will give you your release.’ A couple of minutes later I got an email with my release form. Printed it out, signed it and it was all set,” said Nese.

“I got to wrestle Muta and it was better for my career,” said Nese with a smile. “PWS gave me a couple of big matches after that. I wrestled Matt Hardy, a year later I got to wrestle [Jushin] Liger. So I got to wrestle some pretty big matches. So they rewarded me well for quitting TNA for them. I think my career took a better path after that.”

Nese saw his bookings take off after the news hit the wrestling community that he had asked for his release. “It brought up a bit of awareness that, ‘Oh this guy quit.’ And companies brought me in because of that TNA name. Even though I wasn’t on much I still had that kind of rub,” said Nese. “They would bring me in and people would see me and say, ‘Whoa. Why didn’t TNA use this guy?’ It built a little bit of a buzz. ‘Did you see this guy that TNA didn’t even use? You’ve got to watch him because they are crazy for not using him.’ That was the reaction I was building.”

Soon after Nese began working with DragonGate USA, EVOLVE and Pro Wrestling Guerilla, which are known as some of the best independent wrestling promotions in North America.

Su Yung, Anthony Nese, and Mr. A are all members of the Premier Athlete Brand.

DGUSA and EVOLVE booker Gabe Sapolsky is decidedly a fan. “Anthony Nese is the head of The Premier Athlete Brand stable in EVOLVE/DGUSA for a reason. He’s a phenomenal athlete,” said Sapolsky. “Anthony is much more than a great athlete, though. He brings an intense work ethic, discipline, dedication and professionalism to the locker room. He’s also improving rapidly when it comes to being well rounded and showing personality. All these elements make him a building block for us and we are lucky to be able to move into the future with him on”

Nese also realized one of his wrestling goals in 2013 as he went to Japan to wrestle for DragonGate. After spending a month wrestling in the Land of the Rising Sun, Nese returned to the United States energized about his career prospects.

Success has started to come to Nese with his whirlwind wrestling schedule over the last few years. He has not just found fulfilment in the ring, but outside of it as well. Nese and his wife had their first child in May 2014. The new dad is certainly excited about becoming a father and his daughter’s arrival has pushed him to be the best wrestler he can be.

Sometimes our dreams turn out to be less than we expected. In the case of Anthony Nese his shattered dreams set him on a new path that has brought him new-found recognition and happiness.