The Meteoric Rise of Grayson Waller
By Mick Robson
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As I sit down to write this, I've just finished watching one of the most star-studded SmackDown episodes we've seen in quite some time. The headline news- The Rock appeared on WWE TV for the first time in 4 years! It got a pop that basically blew the roof off the building, and he was great fun in a segment with Pat McAfee and Austin Theory, who- of course- took a People's Elbow to end the segment. But it wasn't the thing that main evented or closed the show. No, that honour went to The Grayson Waller Effect.
The Grayson Waller Effect is a talk show hosted by- well, you might be able to guess- Grayson Waller. Waller was called up to SmackDown in the 2023 WWE Draft, debuting his talk show on May 19 (Kane.jpg) with special guest AJ Styles. It took some time for Grayson to wrestle on the main roster, owing to a leg injury suffered in his final NXT match against Carmelo Hayes. Despite that, Waller kept himself relevant by running his Grayson Waller Effect show almost every week, with other star-studded guests including Charlotte Flair, Logan Paul, Rey Mysterio and Edge. And this week, his guest was none other than John Cena!
So, as the worldwide audience gets to know Grayson Waller, they may be wondering- who is this guy? And why is he sharing the spotlight with so many major legends and superstars? Well, to get into the meteoric rise of Grayson Waller, we first need to take a look at his humble beginnings...
I first saw Grayson Waller a few months into his wrestling career. Before signing a WWE contract and joining NXT, he wrestled on the Australian indie scene as Matty Wahlberg. My first impression of him was that he was going to be a star. Easy to say that now, but here's some video proof- I made a little highlights video of the Rock N Roll Wrestling show I saw Waller/Wahlberg at, and he features prominently, showing off both his athleticism and charisma, which quite frankly blew me away, especially for a newcomer.
The next time I saw Wahlberg was at Pro Wrestling Australia, tagging with Carter Deams as The BABES- The Blond and Blue Eyed Squad, I think it stood for. Both guys were uber-athletic, but in those early days, it was Wahlberg who was far more comfortable in the character department and on the mic. One particularly memorable moment was giving them shit over the alcohol in their red party cups not being real, and he got right on the mic and roasted me about not being able to last two minutes in the ring- or the bedroom. Look, I've sorted out one of those and still working on the other, alright?
On a more serious note, Wahlberg's talent was undeniable, and both the quality of his work and the reactions he was receiving soon led him to solo success, where he would challenge Caveman Ugg for the PWA Heavyweight Championship. He would fall short in an epic encounter, but many would argue his stock rose in that hard fought loss, and also in the build-up to the match, which Wahlberg carried on his back, putting together a 3 part docuseries entitled "The 21st Century Success Story". It was a raw, honest look at the trials and tribulations he faced finding his way in the Aussie wrestling scene, mixed with a little kayfabe hype for the showdown with Ugg. It was unlike anything anyone else in Australia was doing at the time, and that's what helped set him apart from the rest.
Wahlberg was showing he would do whatever it took to be noticed, and that came into play again in the next step of his career- he joined the cast of Australian Survivor: Champions vs. Contenders. Understanding the spotlight this could put on himself, PWA, and Aussie wrestling as a whole, Matty ramped up his intensity and energy throughout his time on Survivor, giving his all to the challenges, but his exuberant personality rubbed some fellow cast mates the wrong way, with one remarking, "he's an actual idiot, aye". So Wahlberg went and got "Actual Idiot" merch made. Lemons into lemonade, baby.
Despite the talent, despite the popularity... for Wahlberg to become a top star in PWA, he needed to start getting some major victories. He would have amazing matches- such as against Caveman Ugg, or a visting TJP- but ultimately fall short. The breakthrough came in the 2019 Colosseum Tournament, where he would defeat Chris Basso, AEW's Orange Cassidy, and NXT UK's Travis Banks to win the Colosseum Sword. Apparently, this was the night WWE scouts saw him and decided that he would be signed. Shortly thereafter though, the pandemic hit, putting plans on hold.
Wahlberg continued to perform in PWA, despite rising to the top of the mountain in 2 years, he would spend another year and a half in Australia, wrestling between lockdowns, including another great performance in the PWA Premiership tournament, while managing a long brewing feud against trainer Mick Moretti. After paying that off in a sense through the 2021 PWA Rumble, where Wahlberg and Moretti were #1 and #2, and went coast to coast, it was time for Matty Wahlberg to leave PWA, and it was time for Grayson Waller to join WWE.
Grayson Waller made his WWE TV debut in June 2021, just 3 months after officially joining the PC, on 205 Live. Grayson seemed a bit too big for the Cruiserweight division, and they told a story of Waller cutting weight to make the 205 limit. Fairly soon after, WWE essentially scrapped 205 Live, actually releasing a number of the cruiserweights that Waller wrestled, but it was time for him to join NXT proper. On NXT TV, he turned some heads with high quality matches against Roderick Strong and Tommaso Ciampa.
It took a little while for Waller to find his place in NXT, throwing a few different ideas at the wall- was he a Golden Gloves boxer? Was he an adrenaline junkie? They eventually settled on him being a superstar always looking for that "viral moment". He turned more heads with an elbow drop from the top of the cage at War Games, then cemented himself as a higher level heel by being given the distinction of the man to drive Johnny Gargano out of NXT.
While Grayson Waller wasn't winning championships or even a whole lot of major wins to his credit, it was clear WWE higher-ups saw something in him. Perhaps he wasn't picked to be the face of NXT 2.0, in the same way that Bron Breakker and Carmelo Hayes appeared to be groomed for the role of top star, but he worked hard to prove that he should have been. He was soon rewarded with a visiting AJ Styles having a match with him in a main event on NXT TV, and his time with NXT was essentially capped off with a feud with the legendary Shawn Michaels, with Johnny Gargano returning and serving as a proxy of sorts at NXT Stand & Deliver on WrestleMania 39 weekend.
The 2023 WWE Draft took place across a couple of episodes of WWE TV, both Raw and SmackDown, and every time a name was called, I was hoping for it to be Grayson Waller. Both episodes passed by without his name being called. But... there was a supplemental draft, and the last name drawn in that... was indeed Grayson Waller!
Grayson Waller gave a passionate reaction to that in an interview on Raw Talk, and despite not being able to physically go for a while, carefully built up equity in his character on SmackDown with his GWE segments. He eventually revealed that he had suffered a leg injury, in response to online complaints that he hadn't wrestled yet. His gift of the gab meant he definitely had a place on the roster, even though exactly where on the roster was yet to be defined... until Money In The Bank.
John Cena made his shocking return to WWE on the MITB PPV in London. Grayson Waller interrupted. Getting to share screen time with a legend is huge in itself, but Waller made sure to make the most of it. The rowdy London crowd tried to drown him out with a "shut the f**k up" chant, which he handled masterfully. Many would have let that throw them off, but Waller showed poise and handled it like someone who had been in this spot a million times before. Even more impressive was his quick wit in responding to a "wanker" chant- "trust me, I don't need to". He then verbally sparred with Cena and held his confidence the whole time. Waller looked like he belonged opposite John Cena. A common line seen across social media following this segment- "Grayson Waller is everything that WWE thinks Austin Theory is."
Waller is a smart man, and has largely dismissed attempts to compare him to other wrestlers, be it Austin Theory, The Miz, MJF, or anyone else. Grayson Waller is his own man. And importantly, that big PPV segment with Cena ended in Waller's first physicality on the main roster, as he took an AA. That meant Waller was cleared, and his first main roster match was imminent.
It's hard to get a bigger TV debut match than what Grayson Waller got. It was an episode of SmackDown in Madison Square Garden. The World's Most Famous Arena. Waller had WWE Hall of Famer Edge as a guest on the GWE, and after Waller got under the Rated R Superstar's skin, it was made official- Edge vs. Grayson Waller, in the main event of MSG! Edge told Waller "it's sink or swim", and after a great contest- which Edge won- he grabbed a mic and said, "Hey Waller, you swam." Hell of an endorsement from a Hall of Famer, somewhat reminiscent of the handshake a rookie John Cena received from The Undertaker after taking Kurt Angle to the limit.
Waller has gone on in recent weeks to have matches with Rey Mysterio and Jey Uso, and his matches and segments have continued to be towards the top of the card. With the Grayson Waller Effect this week seeing John Cena take off his shirt and get in Waller's face, after Grayson questioned Cena's desire to be an in-ring competitor, could we see Waller vs. Cena in some capacity over the next few weeks?
One thing is for sure- WWE are not putting Grayson Waller alongside these legends and top names by accident. At times on the Grayson Waller Effect when it first began, Waller appeared to be in the background of his own segments to an extent, but now that he's healthy, it's been Edge, Mysterio, potentially Cena... hell, Waller got The Rock to bite back at him on social media recently, when he hadn't had any connection to WWE in ages! Grayson Waller is athletic, extremely smart and witty, and it seems he has an extremely bright future in WWE.
Let's have a brief overview of his career trajectory before we wrap this up. Two years between his professional wrestling debut and being scouted by WWE. Two years between starting in NXT and joining the main roster. Where will Grayson Waller be in another 2 years? I'm predicting he makes those strides far sooner, but it's food for thought. Waller has taken every opportunity he's earned and hit a home run with it. And despite a relatively short pro wrestling career so far, he had life experience before joining the business. He's a 33 year old with his head screwed on, without the miles on his body that other 33 year old wrestlers might have.
It seems like a no-brainer that Grayson Waller has many championships and major matches in his future. He's been called the 21st Century Success Story, and the way his WWE career is unfolding is living up to that moniker, as he continues to represent Aussie wrestling, still showing love to his home and his roots in PWA, making them proud. And that, my friends, is the Grayson Waller Effect.
What do you think of Grayson Waller's ability and potential? What do you see him achieving in the future? Let me know in the comment sections of wherever you see this article!
Until next time, keep killing it as always!