For years, Nigel McGuinness was a world class pro wrestler. Later when the dice didn’t roll his way for his in-ring career, he became a top color commentator and announcer for Ring of Honor, NXT and most recently in AEW.

Now add performing magician and illusionist to his resume.

Not long after he debuted in ROH in 2003, McGuinness entertained his fellow wrestlers with sleight of hand and magic on the road and at the hotels they stayed at. Fans had no knowledge of this other facet of his skillset.

For those conjuring artists who excel at close-up magic, sleight of hand, escapes and more, there is no question that major physical athleticism is truly required. That’s not the only parallel to pro wrestling, as there’s times when there’s marks or plants in the audience and the similar goal is to make people believers, while manipulating the minds of their respective audiences.

The scene was the Illusion Magic Lounge in Santa Monica, California, owned by McGuinness’ friend Randy Sinnott, just a short while after AEW had finished its Full Gear pay-per-view at the Kia (Fabulous) Forum in Inglewood which he mentioned.

With a large photo hanging over the stage, McGuinness paid tribute to his long-time friend Jay Briscoe, who died in January in a traffic accident, in the opening match, er, illusion. He began talking about Jay and what a loss his passing was for our entire community, “especially his loved ones, his wife and children, his brother Mark and entire family.” McGuinness played a new Jay Briscoe tribute video with Nigel’s voiceover, utilizing family and ROH friend’s photos, most hadn’t seen before as in several ways the show is built around Jay who was close to Nigel. He then showed an old video of him mystifying Jay in a hotel hallway with a deck of cards early in their ROH careers.

>>The first illusion began with a female audience member he said he’d try recreating the trick he’d stumped Jay with so many years ago, but with an unexpected ending.

Besides paying tribute to Jay Briscoe and the industry throughout, McGuinness never backed away from his wrestling past which he loves completely; openly discussing his career and the sport’s history.

The crowd was about half wrestling and half fans attending what is called “the conjuring arts.” Wrestling personalities in attendance included announcer Mauro Ranallo(who used to call weekly NXT and ppv’s with Nigel), Frank Shamrock(who did color commentary alongside Mauro for Strikeforce MMA). And AEW’s Miro, who told me after, “the entire show was really outstanding. He got me all night, I was fooled.”

Nigel McGuinness and a "Yes" monkey ... who could that refer to? Photo by Mike Lano,

Nigel McGuinness and a “Yes” monkey … who could that refer to? Photo by Mike Lano,

Besides the highs and lows of McGuinness’ in-ring career laid out in his “patter” — magician lingo for promos — he, naturally referenced frequent opponent Bryan Danielson. A fun running gag of the night had the crowd hiss without prompting, whenever Nigel mentioned Danielson. He also discussed being disappointed coming as close as possible but then not getting to WWE as a wrestler and his career soon after in TNA.

Bryan’s last match for ROH in 2009 was also his feud conclusion against McGuinness. Maybe the feud isn’t finished with them returning full circle, both working currently for Tony Khan

Danielson, who was not in attendance, did play a role — as a heel — when McGuinness had five volunteers including Mauro on-stage for an amazing illusion where Bryan and Nigel were once again focal points. I won’t stooge his uniquely created trick interplaying wrestling, which should be enjoyed in person. During the course of it, Nigel said he felt some of his finest matches after ROH, were those with Kurt Angle in TNA.

Nigel McGuinness asks an audience member to write down a wrestling finisher. Photo by Mike Lano,

Nigel McGuinness asks an audience member to write down a wrestling finisher. Photo by Mike Lano,

It was spectacular visually and McGuinness showed he’s mastered performing magic’s “Trios Champions” being adept at physical magic, mentalism and mind-reading besides classic pickpocketing made famous centuries ago in the UK.

After intermission, McGuinness again discussed Jay Briscoe and then during the conclusion, where there were few dry eyes in the house.

McGuinness was an open book about his life, wrestling family and the business itself; even while conversely misdirecting his audience during the magical illusions portions. He thanked all those worldwide who donated $100,000 on Kickstarter to get his autobiographic documentary The Last of McGuinness made. And gave a special thank you to his longtime girlfriend, Kaori Takee, who adeptly served as magical assistant and equally knows wrestling history.

As the show came to an end, McGuinness marveled: “It’s something that the kid who was mesmerized in 1992 sitting at Wembley Stadium at his first-ever live show watching Bret Hart versus British Bulldog’s masterpiece, deciding right then and there what he was going to do with his life. And 29 years later as one of the commentators on our All-In pay-per-view, back at Wembley last August was truly a full circle moment in my life.”

The audience gave him a lengthy standing ovation.

In performance magic, “going or being full circle” has been an expression while magician’s clubs and fraternities around the world are called “Magic Circles.”

Nigel McGuinness had indeed come full circle with his life and passions.

TOP PHOTO: Nigel McGuinness works his magic. Photo by Mike Lano,


EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been altered since publication.