Reach for the Sky Boy!

Caption: Mark (L) and Jay (R) Briscoe

By Ryan Harless

Ryan Harless is a third-year undergraduate at BGSU from Hillsboro, Ohio. He is majoring in Sport Management with a Journalism Minor. Baseball and golf at all levels are his primary interests but he is also interested in combat sports, hockey, basketball, and football.

January 29, 2023

On Saturday, June, 30, 2012, I sat in my living room with my dad as we scrolled through the TV looking for sports to watch. At the time, I was mainly into baseball and football with little knowledge of other sport options. We stumbled on “Ring of Honor Wrestling” (ROH) on the CW channel.

I was only vaguely familiar with the concept of pro wrestling. I knew it looked cool, but never sought it out prior to this. “That’s Matt Hardy,” my dad said, telling me about the person in the ring cutting a promo. I was a little confused by the lack of action that was happening while this man was talking into a microphone.

After he left the ring, I heard “Reach for the sky boy!” ring out through the speakers as I watched a set of twins in camo-cut off pants with more camo bandanas and massive beards step out on the ramp. They were introduced as Jay and Mark Briscoe, “The Briscoe Brothers,” and I was instantly captivated.

They were set to square off against The Guardians of Truth (The Headbangers in their WWE run). The Briscoe Brothers moved with such purpose, everything they did was so crisp it looked like they were straight out of a comic book. Jay, the leader of the team and Mark with his unorthodox method of strikes that he deemed “Redneck Kung-Fu” immediately had me hooked.

From that night on, I was a pro wrestling fan through and through. In the coming years, I watched more mainstream pro wrestling such as WWE and TNA/Impact, but I always found myself following ROH. As the years went on and names came and went in the pro wrestling industry, two names remained synonymous with ROH, Jay and Mark Briscoe.

The Briscoes have held the ROH Tag Team Titles a record 13 times, and Jay himself won the ROH World Heavyweight Title twice on his own. Inseparable as a team, the Briscoes continued doing what they always did, carrying the ROH company name on their backs week after week.

But in early 2020, COVID-19 became a very real problem for pro wrestlers. How do you continue to wrestle when there are no crowds to wrestle for? The company pushed through fulfilling their dates with limited to no crowds until the end of 2021 where it was announced that ROH was no more.

This left a massive void in the pro wrestling world as ROH had made a name as the premier destination for the best independent pro wrestlers around the world. Luckily, for fans like myself, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ owner had a son who LOVES pro wrestling and happened to already own his own company named All Elite Wrestling (AEW).

Khan himself announced that he had purchased the rights to ROH and its library on March 2, 2022. With this purchase, came a rush of talent that had previously worked for ROH, including Jonathan Gresham and Dalton Castle. But noticeably absent were Jay and Mark Briscoe.

They still got a lot of amazing air time through their all-time great trilogy of matches with FTR (The Revival in WWE) over the course of 2022, which saw the Briscoe Brothers lose their titles in the first match, fail to regain them in the second, and finally reclaim the belts in the final match of the series. This was hands down one of the best rivalries in pro wrestling in 2022.

The Briscoes always had an element of “southern pride” to their gimmick in past years. Jay even went so far as having a confederate flag backplate on his ROH World Heavyweight title after he won it over Kevin Steen (Kevin Owens in WWE). But all the controversy stemming from the Briscoes took place over a decade ago.

There was also major controversy stemming from a Tweet Jay sent out regarding same sex marriage, which he later profusely apologized for and took steps to learn.

Both Briscoes had long since been through sensitivity training and learned about the harmful imagery they portrayed as well as about other minority groups and how they had impacted them. However, even after all of this, Warner Brothers Media (the company who owns the broadcasting rights of AEW) was adamant about their refusal to have either of the Briscoe Brothers on their programming.

Tony Khan fought to get them on tv for weeks on end to no avail and unfortunately, that is where a lot of closure happened.

On January 17, 2023, Jay was taking his two daughters to cheer practice in his truck when another truck veered over the center line and struck Jay’s vehicle head on. Both Jay and the driver of the other truck were reported dead at the scene while both of his daughters remained in the hospital in critical condition.

Jay Briscoe, known by his family as Jamin Pugh, was killed at the age of 38, just eight days before his 39th birthday. He was still ROH Tag Team Champion with his brother at the time of his death. We never got to see Jay Briscoe make an appearance on AEW programming.

The silver lining to this story would come just over a week later on the January 25th edition of AEW Dynamite as Warner Brothers finally allowed Mark to be on TV. He was put in the main event of the evening against longtime rival and friend Jay Lethal. Lethal was another one of the long-time ROH mainstays who eventually made his way to regular AEW programming.

What was already an emotional night got even more emotional as Lethal made his entrance to the ring, visibly distraught with tears in his eyes. Once Lethal got into the ring, he looked to the entrance ramp as everyone in the Lexington arena and viewers at home heard the classic “Reach for the sky boy” intro to the Briscoe’s theme music.

Mark then received an amazing ovation from everyone watching as he carried both his and his brother’s tag team titles into the ring. Mark and Lethal proceeded to put on a clinic in chain wrestling and chemistry. For 12 minutes and 26 seconds, these two held every wrestling fan’s attention and ensured there were no dry eyes.

Mark hit a beautiful flying elbow drop off the top rope onto Lethal through a table early in the match, while they played at the storyline of Mark struggling to use Jay’s finishing move, “The Jay-driller.”

Mark was finally able to get Lethal into the air for the Jay-driller and pinned him for the three count and the win. When Mark spoke into the camera after the match, he told Jay’s children to keep their heads up and told them he loved them.

When Mark exited the ring, all the stars from the AEW locker room stepped out onto the ramp to give him another standing ovation. Mark hugged Lethal and carried both titles back to the locker room but not before turning to the fans and celebrating Jay one last time.

You can say what you want about pro wrestling being fake or scripted or whatever you feel. But there is no denying how powerful that moment was to everyone like me who followed wrestling for any length of time.

Pro wrestling will continue to move on and evolve, but the contributions of legends past are always present.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s