Losing a friend is never easy, especially one that you’ve known for 20 years. Before we even met, I knew that Mike Kelly was a likable, fun-loving guy when I would attend Midwest Territorial Wrestling shows in the mid-1990s. Before I started my wrestling training, I regularly went to local independent wrestling shows around Detroit, and Machine Gun was the MTW Champion, with his old-school gangster gimmick complete with fedora hat and a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. To pull off a persona like that, you gotta know how to have fun and not take yourself too seriously.
When I finally met Mike soon after I entered the business, I noticed how down to Earth he truly was. As we got to know each other better, I learned that Mike loved the Lord, adored his wife Margie and their two kids Mikey and Angel, and he enjoyed a good laugh, sometimes partaking in a few locker room ribs to lighten the mood backstage. Mike would tell me where I could get Japanese wrestling tapes back in the day and we even discussed working together on different projects.
I remember when Mike started his own promotion called Great Lakes Wrestling, it really changed the landscape in Detroit. With his large frame, beard and long hair, the GLW fans constantly reminded him that his appearance was much like that of Hacksaw Jim Duggan, and every time he’d come to the ring he’d be greeted by a chorus of “Hoooooooo’s” by those in attendance!
A few years later we found ourselves in a bitter feud, and engaged in some matches that eventually lead to a brutal street fight. Jimmy Jacobs later remarked that that was the best match he’d seen Mike have, and I was proud of it as well. Mike was also very proud of his tag team with Al Snow called The Wild Bunch from the late-1980s. As our program began to wind down, Metro Pro Wrestling brought in Al to reunite the two and I had the privilege of being involved in that angle. Mike always treated me with respect and was well-liked by the boys once they got to know him.
When the news broke that Mike had passed on March 29, those close to him posted on social media regarding the impact he left on them personally. I reached out to a few of his peers in the business and the response I received was overwhelmingly positive. Here are just a few thoughts concerning Mike Kelly and what others remember most about Machine Gun:
Dave St. Onge (Outlaw Bobby Lee):
“Got a call this morning on my way to work at 6 a.m. at the passing of a friend ‘Machine Gun’ Mike Kelly passed away Tuesday. I don’t know many of the details at this point, however I do know he lost his wife little over a year ago and he was heartbroken. I need everybody to help me pray for his two children Mikey and Angel. Yesterday I actually posted a picture that has Mike Kelly on it unaware that he had passed away, very sad news for myself and anybody that knows Mike. Mike and I trained for over a year in 1987 with Al Costello to learn The craft of professional wrestling. Mike and I spent many hours together on the road, at each other’s house although the last years we kind of lost touch. I did get to see him last October at XICW’s Cobo Hall show, I will cherish the times Mike and I had together. Machine gun, rest in peace, my friend.”
“All I can say is that Mike was a wonderful friend and a truly kind, caring and generous human being. I will miss him and am grateful that I had him as a friend and had gotten to see him even if only for the day at the Cobo Hall event last October.”
“Back in the day, it was a lot harder to get into professional wrestling. Besides Gary Woronchak, Mike was the very first promoter to take a chance on me. Michael Kelly was definitely the first person to invite me into a locker room. He allowed me backstage to film interviews with the wrestlers & allowed me to film his Great Lakes Wrestling live events at The Wayne Ford Civic League in Westland, Michigan (and years later booked me to referee there). The year was 1995. Looking back at all my wrestling accomplishments thru the years, his gamble worked out. Who knows what I would have checked off the bucket list without his help and early friendship? Thank you, Mike Kelly. I very much appreciate you. Tell Margie I say hi…”
“Just got the sad news that my friend Mike Kelly has passed away. Mike was my friend going back to the mid ’90s. He promoted Great Lakes Wrestling at the Wayne Ford Civic League in Westland for years. So many memories from the those shows and I owe all that to Mike. Not only that but many nights Mike and his late wife Margie opened their home to me so I had a place to sleep after a show. Many nights watching Japan wrestling tapes. One time I stayed the night with Reckless Youth and Don Montoya so we could get up early to make a Saturday night shot in Medham, NJ, and we talked for hours until Margie yelled at us to go to sleep. I last saw Mike in October at a show in Detroit. He and my friend Dave St. Onge opened doors for me to shoot shows in Detroit and I owe so much to them. I am truly heartbroken but take comfort that Mike is with Margie now and at peace. RIP my friend!”
“I broke into the wrestling business when I was 15 years old. As a kid from West Michigan, the goal was to get booked out in Detroit where, at the time, there was a healthy independent wrestling scene. When I was 16, Mike Kelly was the first guy to give me a break. I don’t know what he saw in me honestly, but I’m glad he saw something because Mike Kelly’s company Great Lakes Wrestling was the top wrestling promotion in Detroit. Mike’s faith in me allowed me to be on the same shows as the best wrestlers in the area — Elvis Elliot, Brian Ireland, Danny Daniels, Jimi V, Brian Fury, Kid Copperpot. But beyond the opportunity in wrestling, Mike was always exceptionally kind to me and my brother Bobby Bambino, who also wrestled for Mike. Back in the days before cell phones, Mike called our house looking to speak to my brother or me, but instead talked to our parents. I’ll never forget how proud my parents were after Mike spent some time on the phone with them letting them know that they had raised two really good kids. I was always very grateful of Mike giving me that first break in Detroit and his kindness. Fifteen years after Mike first booked me, I signed a contract with WWE as a part of their creative team. Mike was one of the guys I called right away to thank him for his part in helping me get there. When I think of Mike, I will always think of how he took a chance and give me an opportunity to wrestle in Detroit before anyone else did, and how kind and nurturing he and his wife Margie were to that 16-year-old kid.”
So there you have it, Machine Gun Mike Kelly left an indelible impression on many, and his passion for the wrestling business and compassion for others will be always remembered. He was a genuine fellow who loved God, his family, and made friends with just about everyone. Godspeed Machine Gun, thank you for sharing your life with us.