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Michael Wardlow is quickly becoming a dominant force in pro wrestling. Standing 6’3’’ and weighing in at 270 pounds, the Middlefield, OH, native is a member of All Elite Wrestling’s “The Pinnacle,” a group that is set to face off against Chris Jericho’s Inner Circle this Sunday at the Double or Nothing pay-per-view.
Muscle & Fitness caught up with the wrestler simply known as Wardlow to trace his origins in pro wrestling, his approach to health and fitness, and why he struggles to find a regular gym partner.
Growing up, Wardlow can’t recall a time when he wasn’t hooked on the action and excitement of professional wrestling. Getting into the ring was a calling that would see him leave his regular job of fixing up cars to chase the bright lights of sports entertainment. “Everything I have done, has been for training to be a pro wrestler,” he says. “Any outside activity that I do is ultimately to better myself in the ring. I just knew, at a very young age, that this was what I wanted to do with my life.”
With a passion for pro wrestling, a love of bodybuilding seemed like a natural progression. “I grew up on the Hulk Hogans and the Ultimate Warriors,” says Wardlow. “It was the Arnold and Sylvester Stallone era. In elementary school, I had a Bowflex cable system in my bedroom … a very small bedroom [laughs], and it took up the entire bedroom, but that’s how much I loved working out.”
In high school, the 33-year-old’s love for bodybuilding became even more serious. “Dave Bautista was blowing up in the wrestling world, and I remember looking at him and thinking, ‘That’s it, that’s what I am gonna be,’” he says. Wardlow began to grow, and started training with the football team after school for extra conditioning. When friends were partying, he would show up, but would bring a duffel bag with protein powder inside. “I was like, I gotta get my protein every couple of hours,” says Wardlow.
Eventually, with an imposing physique and a desire to turn his dreams into reality, Wardlow set about building his combat skills to complement his presentation as a pro wrestler. He worked hard with both boxing and jiujitsu so that people would see him as a bona fide athlete. “I heard about this gym near me, the Gracie Jiu Jitu camp, and I just wanted to become the best athlete that I could for pro wrestling,” he says. “I wanted to take boxing skills, and jiujitsu skills, into the wrestling ring to solidify me as being a legitimate wrestler and a dangerous individual.”
Fortunately, through a combination of self-learning, and a natural aptitude for combat sports, he excelled straight away.
“It’s funny, with jiujitsu, the first day I went in, they paired me with one of the most experienced and largest dudes there,” he says. “He was a purple belt, and I just remember as soon as we squared off, I shot in and double-legged him, and he was really impressed and surprised.”
Rather than relying on his size, Wardlow worked on his posture, and striking skills so that he would look every inch the plausible fighter in the wrestling ring. “Being able to throw a punch is obviously very important, and then grappling,” he says. “You know, in jiujitsu there are so many techniques with grappling that cross over in the amateur stye of wrestling, and crosses over to the world of pro wrestling.”
Wardlow made his debut at age 26 at a small independent show, but the experience was none the less epic. “I think there may have been 25 or 30 people there,” he says. “But it’s so much adrenaline, like you can’t even comprehend it. I was asked how long I had been wrestling, and people were surprised that it was my first match. In that moment, I knew that this was what I was meant to do.”
As Wardlow’s star began to rise, he began winning titles, and made his debut with All Elite Wrestling in 2019, quickly aligning himself with Maxwell Jacob Friedman in a partnership that would eventually lead to the formation of the “The Pinnacle,” alongside Dax Harwood, Cash Wheeler, and Shawn Spears, all under the watchful eye of Tully Blanchard.
In his AEW debut, Wardlow wrestled a highly physical steel cage match on live television against Cody Rhodes. “I remember me and Cody squaring off in the ring,” he says. “And that’s it. I don’t remember the entrances, or anything else. When I got backstage, I was so overcome with emotion because I had put so much pressure on myself. This was my literal dream coming true.”
— Wardlow (@RealWardlow) March 18, 2020
With a reputation for being able to perform at the highest level, Wardlow has found himself increasingly involved with brutal matches, such as the Blood and Guts contest that took place on a recent episode of AEW Dynamite (airs Wednesdays on TNT). “I’ve now officially been in the first-ever steel cage match in AEW, the first ever lumberjack match, and the first ever Blood and Guts match”, he says. “Blood and Guts was the sorest I have ever been after a match, and for anyone that wants to say that what we do is fake, step into the ring with Chris Jericho when he’s got a baseball bat in his hand!”
On Sunday, The Pinnacle will do battle once again with The Inner Circle (Chris Jericho, Jake Hager, Sammy Guevara, Santana and Ortiz). If Jericho’s team loses, he’s agreed to disband the team forever. So, not surprisingly, there is another stipulation for such an important match, as falls will count anywhere under “Stadium Stampede” rules. “I truly believe that The Pinnacle is the most impressive faction in the wrestling industry for 15 years,” says Wardlow.
“There’s no weak link in this group. The Inner Circle were formed in AEW on night one and they were the first major faction, running wild, but there’s a reason we are called The Pinnacle, they are gonna get hurt badly inside that football stadium, and then hopefully they will move on with their lives.”
Wardlow has worked closely with a fitness coach to tweak his regimen during the last several months and currently has a calorific target of 4,000 per day, but due to his hectic schedule there is some flexibility. “I do carb cycling,” he says. “Wednesday and Thursday is my recovery period (following AEW Dynamite), so there are almost no carbs, it’s very light meals, and then Friday and Saturday I’ll eat carbs with every meal.”
Wardlow loves to eat steak, chicken, and fish. He also keeps his fat intake up by eating dairy. While he has experimented with fasted cardio, Wardlow finds that he tends to drop too much weight, so he began curtailing it. The master of the mat also aims to drink two gallons of water each day: “It’s challenging,” he laughs. “I’ll have an occasional Gatorade Zero for a treat. Usually, if anything, I’ll just squeeze lemon into my water.”
Wardlow changes up his gym session frequency every six weeks. Currently he works out four times per week. “When I’m not in the ring, the happiest I can be is when I am in the gym,” he says. “I work out for as long as I can, I spend a couple of hours in the gym each time. I train on my own, I’ve never been able to have a workout partner, because all my friends like to get in and get out, and I’m like ‘no’, I love it in here [laughs].”
As his career as a pro wrestler has progressed, Wardlow has transitioned from a bodybuilding-focused training plan, to a more athletic program designed to improve his in-ring stamina, opting for sessions that are similar to that of NFL football players. “I do a lot of legs, and then I just throw in some upper-body workouts with each leg day,” says Wardlow.
When it comes to supplementation, “I am big on flaxseed oil for your joints,” he says. The ring warrior says he also takes creatine after workouts, and utilizes beetroot powder, BCAAs and citrulline.
Wardlow understands that for longevity, he must take care of his body. “When I get home, I will most definitely catch up on sleep … there will be no alarms set,”, he says. Wardlow also feels better after taking saunas. “The sauna is probably my biggest tool”, he says. The big man understands the need for stretching, and has set a goal for himself to take more yoga sessions.
Watch Michael Wardlow and The Pinnacle go to war with The Inner Circle on pay-per-view this Sunday at AEW Double or Nothing 2021, available on BR/Live in the United States, and FITE TV internationally.