Motor City: A Journey Through the Detroit Underground

A Retrospective and Observation of one of the most influential tag teams in pro-wrestling, through subculture with adaptation. The denouement of Beyond the Detroit Underground: A Motor City Machine Guns Retrospective. -Ashley Rose Nova Edited By: Stephanie FRANCHOMME of Steel Chair Magazine

“Both these kings.” The sound of The Factory echoes with the sound/roar/passion of the Impact Wrestling fans. In the ring, Two tag teams, both with two different styles. Most importantly, two different legacies. – August 27, 2022- Dallas, Texas: The Factory in Deep Ellum.

Brief History: Detroit (Insert from Beyond the Detroit Underground: A Motor City Machine Guns Retrospective)
Detroit is considered one of the largest cities in Michigan. The city was founded in 1701. Detroit does, unfortunately, have a negative reputation to some people, being called a murder city or people highly focused on the crime rate. However, some choose to recognize the city for its musical history. Very few cities in America have such a strong musical background. Detroit’s musical heritage is rich in rap, rock, and blues. And, of course, it is the home for Motown. In 1968, The Stooges played at the Grande Ballroom in the city. They were originally billed as the Psychedelic Stooges, creating one of the early sounds of punk. Other bands include MC5, The Dirtbombs, Destroy All Monsters, and others.

In pro wrestling, the city is recognizable to the fans because of one of the most influential and skilled tag teams, known as Motor City Machine Guns.

The team of both Chris Sabin and Alex Shelley originally began in 2006. Before forming what TNA/ Impact Wrestling fans would learn to be Motor City Machine Guns, they teamed up at Pro Wrestling Zero1-Max. There, in Japan, the two would begin to discover a style that would not only change but define tag team wrestling. The two would defeat Minoru Fujita and Ikuto Hidaka allowing them to become the Zero-1 Max International Lightweight Tag Team Champions for nearly two years. Founded in 2001 by former New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s Shinya Hashimoto and Shinjiro Otani, Pro Wrestling Zero1-Max (Zero 1) is a promotion based on the fundamentals of Japanese Strong Style.

What is Strong Style? (Insert from Editorial Strong Style: The Never Say Die Spirit 2018)
Japanese Strong Style (PuroResu) – Strong Style can be described as a combination of pro wrestling moves and martial arts. Strong Style is not just striking as some people would describe it. The true art form of Strong Style is the battle of the heart of a man. The will to continue fighting and battling with one’s heart and soul. The style developed in the 1950s when? American-style wrestling became popular in Japan.

MCMG debuted on April 2007 at TNA Wrestling. Both Shelley and Sabin were listed as singles competitors for the X-Division before becoming an official tag team. Collectively as a tag team, they have held gold at All American Wrestling, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Zero 1-Max, TNA (IMPACT), and Ring of Honor. This is not including their tag team accomplishments in the independent circuit. At one time, they were billed as Murder City Machine Guns. While holding the AAW tag belts, Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin would remain billed under that name. To further the 2007 Detroit and Chicago feud.

Courtesy AAW Wrestling

Alex Shelley – The King of the Indies

“I always enjoyed sports. When I was 10 or 11 or so, I was just fascinated with video games and comics, fantasy-type settings, and movies. Wrestling kind of fit in the same bucket.”- Alex Shelley’s Comments to Eric Novak at ARWP

Courtesy of Impact Wrestling

When Alex Shelley comes to mind or is referenced, you as an individual may receive different answers. Paparazzi Productions with Kevin Nash, a content creator for TNA Baby Bear from the TNA Asylum years with manager Goldy Locks? These are important mentions about the wrestler, Alex Shelley.

Who is Alex Shelley? The Technical Messiah? The Motor City Machine Gun? The Iggy Pop of Pro-Wrestling? The Punk Rock boy from Detroit? Musician? The Battling Artist? Time Splitter? Medical Professional? Teacher/coach? Or simply The King of the Indies?
Truth is, he’s all those things.

Alex Shelley, born on May 23, 1983, would train under Truth Martini in Center Line, Michigan. He would also further his in-ring education with Joe E. Legend and Scott D’Amore. He would also credit a lot of his inspiration and advancement in the ring to Ikuto Hidaka. Shelley would also state in IWTV’s The Life of… that Ikuto Hidaka would put together Motor City Machine Guns. He spent six months in IWA before joining Combat Zone Wrestling in Philadelphia, this would be roughly around 8 months after his debut in wrestling.

From Generation Next to The Embassy

Shelley made his Ring of Honor debut on June 28, 2003. This would be at WrestleRave 2003. On May 22, 2004, Shelley established the stable “Generation Next” at Generation Next with Austin Aries, Jack Evans, and Roderick Strong. Generation Next attacked other wrestlers throughout the whole show, proclaiming that they were the greatest that Ring of Honor has to offer. They started engaging in conflict, by feuding with wrestlers who valued tradition and honor, such as Jimmy Rave, Matt Stryker, and R. J. Brewer. At Manhattan Mayhem on May 7, Shelley unsuccessfully attempted to challenge Aries for the ROH World Championship. Shelley and Generation Next engaged in a feud during the first half of 2005.

Courtesy of Coons Photography

On July 23, Aries and Strong would team up against Shelley and an unnamed partner. A new wrestler making their Ring of Honor debut, according to Shelley’s assumption in a backstage promo, maybe his partner. Later, he admitted that he had joined “The Embassy,” Prince Nana’s stable, rather than bringing someone into ROH.

On June 24, he made his final regular appearance in Ring of Honor, managing Jimmy Rave and Conrad Kennedy III in a futile battle against the Briscoe Brothers.

The Time Splitters tag team was reformed on January 8, 2020, for the first time since their New Japan Pro Wrestling days in 2015, being Shelley’s first time wrestling on WWE.

Alex Shelley made his MLW debut at Fightland on October 2, 2021, where he lost to TJP in the Opera Cup quarterfinals.

He has worked and been a champion at several independent wrestling promotions. These include but not all: UWA Hardcore Wrestling, Westside Xtreme Wrestling, Xtreme Intense Championship Wrestling, Smash Wrestling, Ontario Championship Wrestling, Prestige Wrestling,, Insane Wrestling Federation, Maryland Championship Wrestling, Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre, Combat Zone Wrestling, Border City Wrestling, Black Label Pro, AIW, Sanctuary Fight Club, Action, Mr. Chainsaw Pro Wrestling, and other Indy wrestling promotions.

The life and blood in the independent circuit run through the veins of pro wrestling, making it a true backbone for the sport.

“I make art, sometimes I make true art, and sometimes it fills the empty places in my life. Some of them. Not all.”― The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Chris Sabin – Hail Sabin

Chris Sabin would also have a successful independent and international run in pro wrestling. Sabin was born on February 4, 1982, in Pinckney, Michigan. His training began in Michigan at the NWA Great Lakes Pro Wrestling School. He would then go to Windsor, Ontario, and finished his training at the Can-Am Wrestling School under Scott D’Amore and “Amazing” N8 Mattson. After four months of training as “Chris Sabin,” he made his debut in 2000 and began performing for D’Amore’s Border City Wrestling organization, as well as indie companies in Michigan.

Courtesy of Impact Wrestling

Sabin debuted in TNA Wrestling in April 2003 and won the X Division Championship a month later, on May 14, by defeating then-champion Amazing Red and Jerry Lynn in a three-way match. Sabin surrendered the X Division title on July 11 at Impact Wrestling in exchange for a shot at the TNA World Heavyweight Championship. The next week, Sabin triumphed over Bully Ray on Impact Wrestling’s Destination X program to secure the World Heavyweight Championship, becoming TNA’s sixth Triple Crown Champion.

Sabin would comment to Chris Van Vliet, that he was not ready to be TNA champion because he had just returned, and he was tag-team wrestling for some time. 

Chris has worked and competed at the following: ALL JAPAN, Border City, Great Lakes All-Pro, Maryland Championship Wrestling, Maximum Pro Wrestling, Michigan Marquee Wrestling Association,  Discovery, NWA Florida, NWA Great Lakes, Twin City, West Coast Pro, and other indy wrestling promotions.

“A philosopher once asked, “Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?” Pointless, really…”Do the stars gaze back?” Now, that’s a question.”― Stardust

Truth Martini would comment about how Motor City Machine Guns changed tag team wrestling in IWTV’s The Life of Alex Shelley. 

As a tag team, they collectively match accurate timing in the ring and have the advantage of using their timing to their advantage against their opponents. Shelley masters technical wrestling with few high spots. Sabin integrates a Lucha Libre style to match his technical attributes.

TNA -Total Nonstop Action Wrestling

MCMG debuted on April 2007 at TNA Wrestling. When beginning their start at the company. Both Shelley and Sabin were listed as singles competitors for the X-Division. 

At the Lockdown pay-per-view, they both became regulars in the tag team division. The team continued to work on indie promotions that would work with TNA. This would allow the team to hold the All-American Wrestling Tag Team Championship from September 2007 to January 2008. From there, MCMG would begin a feud with Team 3D in one of the most memorable feuds in TNA. This would lead the teams through a series of special-style matches such as Ultimate X and a Street Fight. The feud also included Jay Lethal, allowing Lethal to become X Division Champion again.

Sometime in 2010, the TNA World Tag Titles became vacant. At the Sacrifice event, Motor City would defeat two teams. Those teams were Beer Money and Team 3D.  It was at Victory Road of that year that MCMG would win the vacant titles against Beer Money.

Motor City Machine Guns would hold the titles for around 182 days. They would lose the titles at Genesis to Beer Money.

Due to unfavorable circumstances, Motor City would be inactive for three months. Alex Shelley at the time was reported with a collarbone injury. Chris then continued to the X-Division as a singles competitor. In April 2011, Shelley made his return to save Sabin in a match. However, Chris Sabin received an injury during that match to his knee. Sabin was out for the rest of the year due to an ACL injury. (Beyond the Detroit Underground: A Motor City Machine Guns Retrospective) 

The tag team returned on April 5, 2012, on an episode of Impact Wrestling. They would disband in May of that year.

Between 2007 and 2018, Motor City also competed and won gold at Ring of Honor.
The Influence and Development of the X-Division Style

“When the match happened, it was the first time we were climbing on that thing, hoping this thing stays together.”-Chris Sabin on Chris Van Vliet comments on Ultimate X

X-Division showcases different styles in pro wrestling. The styles usually consist of Japanese strong style, high-flying, Lucha Libre, and technical wrestling. The title debuted on June 19, 2002. In the beginning, the title was known as the NWA X Championship. The X Championship was not about weight limits, it is about no limits! This was once stated by commentator Mike Tenay. (The X Division: A Division with No Limits)

“Ultimate X is capture the flag, the objective of this match is to climb that, get to that X then down as fast as humanly can.”- Alex Shelley Comments on Ultimate X to Matthew Laws

In 2003, Ultimate X was introduced. A red letter “X” would be suspended above the ring by two cables. The cables would create an “X”. This match would include several competitors in competition to recover the giant X. This would determine who the winner of the match was. (The X Division: A Division with No Limits)

“All we had was hope that day.” – Sabin on Chris Van Vliet comments on Ultimate X

Both Chris Sabin and Alex Shelley would compete in the X division throughout the history of Impact Wrestling. Both would strive and hold the X-Division title. The combined and individual styles would progressively influence the upcoming talent, men and women, throughout the years. The X-Division would and continues to evolve. In the long run, this would lead to the first women’s Ultimate X match at Impact Wrestling.

New Japan Pro-Wrestling…

MCMG would become the second Gaijin team to win the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship. The event was Wrestle Kingdom III in the Tokyo Dome. Two of the title defenses took place at TNA. Motor City Machine Guns were defeated by No Limit in December 2010. The tag team returned to New Japan Pro-Wrestling on July 31, 2016, unsuccessfully challenging The Young Bucks (Generation Me) for the titles.

In 2012, Alex Shelley would team up with KUSHIDA in several tag matches, which lead to them becoming one of the most knows tag teams in NJPW history called The Time Splitter. Shelley would go on to compete in NJPW in 2013 taking his spot in Best of the Super Juniors. In 2015, he would be pulled out of Best of the Super Juniors due to an injury. The injury was reported to be ligament damage and an avulsion fracture in his left foot.

In 2020…
Shelley and Sabin returned to IMPACT Wrestling on July 18, 2020, defeating The Rascalz. The Rascalz issued an open challenge after a victory over The North. They would lose the belts to The Good Brothers. Sabin would defend the titles alone due to Shelley being out. He would miss Hard to Kill in 2021, due to COVID-19 protocols at his job in Michigan. Shelley returned to Impact Wrestling on March 5, 2022, to take on Jay White. He would lose that bout.

Courtesy of Impact Wrestling

KUSHIDA would join IMPACT Wrestling for a few matches in 2022, making creating the team Time Machine which included Shelley and Sabin. The faction’s run was cut short by KUSHIDA’s injury.

Courtesy of Impact Wrestling

On October 29, 2022, after 12 years, the Motor City Machine Guns would become the New Japan Strong Tag Team Champions. It would be the first time in 6 years that Shelley and Sabin would compete as a tag team in New Japan history, defeating one of the most dominating tag teams currently in NJPW, the Aussie Open.

Motor City Machine Guns have shaped and adapted pro-wrestling in numerous ways. This, of course, is not the full history but only enough to understand the impact they carry with the weight of honor. They continue to teach and learn more every day. They disband but manage to find one another again. The gaps between the timeframe can only be described as a resting period. When wrestling anywhere needs adaptation and familiarity, they return. The gapped time does not need to be prominent or viewed as inconsistent. When they do reform again after a rest period, the gap time seems to be forgotten.

During those resting times, I prefer to believe that Alex Shelley is out there somewhere in Michigan, adapting his craft, along with educating. Chris Sabin is enjoying life, He is living and breathing Impact Wrestling, producing or attending with the objective of making it better for everyone, including fans. Once again that’s what I imagine as a writer. (Opinion, not fact)

Courtesy of Impact Wrestling

Behind the barricade, you remember and ignore lost time. Both are currently active and are performing in a higher compacity. They are working, even more, advancing in both Impact and Indies. The success of Motor City Machine Guns is not based on just a collective but also the success of each member’s singles in-ring talent.

Courtesy of Impact Wrestling

“Each person who ever was or is or will be has a song. It isn’t a song that anybody else wrote. It has its own melody, it has its own words. Very few people get to sing their song. Most of us fear that we cannot do it justice with our voices, or that our words are too foolish or too honest, or too odd. So people live their song instead.”― Neil Gaiman

Reference & Special Thanks: AAW, Christine Coons photography, Impact Wrestling, IWTV, Chris Van Vliet, Steel Chair Magazine, ROH, Eric Novak at ARWP, Matthew Laws, puroresu system, A Little Detroit, but most of all you the reader.

More From This Author