Travis "Flip" Gordon was one of 30-plus aspiring wrestlers vying to catch their big break at Ring of Honor's tryout in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in January 2017. Gordon wasn't handpicked for the tryout, or even recommended by someone within the company. Instead, he applied on ROH's website just like anyone else hoping to catch the right person's eye.
Billed at a modest 5-foot-10 and 187 pounds, with little in the way of verbal promo skills to speak of at the time, the then 25-year-old Gordon felt almost out of place amongst a group of hungry, seemingly more advanced performers. After all, he'd been wrestling for less than two years.
"It was a little scary because you think you're at a certain level and you go to a camp and you're like, 'Alright, now I'm trying out to be on TV,' Gordon said in a recent interview with ESPN. "And then you see other guys get in there and you're like, 'Oh gosh, he's really good. I don't know.' You start getting in your head."
The attendees' started the tryout by participating in a series of in-ring drills to test their cardio and basic fundamentals. The second part challenged wrestlers to cut a promo as the entire camp watched on. Lastly, each performer competed in a 5-minute match with another member of the camp. Gordon's self-doubt quickly went away once he stepped into the ring with Maxwell Jacob Feinstein (otherwise known as MJF in a variety of prominent independent wrestling promotions).
"I didn't think I did my best and I was starting to get frustrated," Gordon remembers. "I thought other people were doing better than me. I'm very competitive. Whenever I see somebody doing better, I try to figure out what they're doing. I think [MJF and I] had an amazing match."
After each wrestler's match, ROH officials determined if the performer was ready for TV. ROH veteran Christopher Daniels and head booker Delirious were quick to say 'yes' when it came to Gordon. He was the only wrestler at the camp to eventually get signed by ROH. It was the first time in Gordon's life that he knew he could pursue wrestling as a full-time career.
He had been preparing for that moment for a long time, but unlike a lot of other independent wrestlers, Gordon had given himself something else to fall back on in case it never worked out.
Before he ever stepped into the ring as a professional wrestler, Gordon became an active member of the Army National Guard in 2012. His best friend since his freshman year of high school, Joaquin Calderon, enlisted in the Army and recommended to Gordon that he should join as well. Though he was unsure at first, Gordon felt he'd "regret it" if he didn't give it a try. He ultimately enlisted as a 12 November, which is a Horizontal Construction Engineer. He would later reclassify to 12 Bravo as a Combat Engineer, specializing in explosives such as C4 and TNT for use with roads, bridges, doors and windows.
Gordon's service still requires him to go the Army's Regional Training Institute two days a month to assist with their school. Even with the success he's enjoyed with Ring of Honor and other organizations, he still views the Army as an opportunity to build a career in the event that his wrestling career doesn't carry him for the rest of his life.
""[Wrestling's] always been my dream, but I knew I had to do other stuff as a backup plan because if this doesn't work out I can't just have no backup plan," Gordon said. "That's why I enlisted in the Army. I think I'm doing pretty good for myself so far, so hopefully I don't need that backup plan."
In his year-plus stretch with ROH, it appears as though Gordon will have a shot to make his dreams come true the way he'd always hoped. Gordon made his ROH debut against Matt Sydal in April 2017 and impressed officials enough that he was offered a full-time contract shortly thereafter. Gordon signed an exclusive deal with arguably the second-biggest wrestling promotion in the United States almost exactly two years after his professional debut.
The decisions Gordon's made and the paths he's pursued since well before beginning his career have helped the dynamic high-flyer to make an almost seamless transition to professional wrestling with a style that's caught a lot of eyes.
Gordon, who grew up in rural Kalispell, Montana, became an amateur wrestler in high school after watching Kurt Angle, Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin successfully transition from the sport to professional wrestling. While attending North Idaho College, Gordon picked up gymnastics to help improve his aerial repertoire for a future wrestling career.
His girlfriend at the time, who was a cheerleader, helped Gordon learn how to control his body in the air. In addition to gymnastics, Gordon also served as the school's mascot "Cecil the Cardinal." As foreign as these activities seem to be from each other, Gordon was able to take bits and pieces of what he learned to create an offensive repertoire that's made him one of the most noted high flyers in the business today.
"I think it was just everything that I did to prepare for [wrestling] earlier in life," Gordon said. "Gymnastics, dancing, amateur wrestling -- that taught me a lot of discipline and footwork. Even the Army -- [that] helped me mentally be ready."
After years of picking up the skills he needed, Gordon packed of all his belongings that could fit in his pickup truck in 2014 and made the cross-country drive from Idaho to Brian Fury's New England Pro Wrestling Academy in North Andover, Massachusetts. After six months of training, Gordon found his first wrestling home at the nearby Northeast Wrestling.
"I saw something in Flip where I said, 'There's a guy that can make it. There's a guy I see as a champion for our company,'" said Northeast Wrestling president Michael Lombardi. "I had a plan to help him get his name out there around the world and just to be seen by our fans at a higher level. I guess a term I use for him is that I was gonna strap a rocket to his back. As long as he worked hard, he was dedicated, and did his part, I'd do mine."
Lombardi stayed true to his word and put Gordon up against established names in the wrestling business from his first day at Northeast Wrestling. Gordon's first match was against Donovan Dijak, now an NXT superstar, and he'd go on to face the likes of Ricochet and War Machine's Hanson (both also now in NXT), Cody Rhodes and, most notably, legendary cruiserweights Jushin "Thunder" Liger and Rey Mysterio.
"Jushin Liger himself, after the match, endorsed Flip," Lombardi recalls. "He said to me, 'Hey, you were right. This guy is good. He's going to be great.'"
Mysterio had a similar experience after his first time working with Gordon.
"I remember when [Lombardi] was gonna put us against each other he wanted for us to have that match, and after we had that match I said I'd go back and wrestle him as many times as he wanted," Mysterio said. "There was just something special about him that you can feel right away."
When Cody could no longer appear regularly for NEW after signing an exclusive ROH deal, Lombari knew that Gordon, even after only two and a half years in the business, was ready to be the next Northeast Wrestling heavyweight champion. He would win the title in a triple threat match against Cody and Brad Hollister in December.
"I've never had someone believe in me as much as Michael Lombardi does," Gordon said. "To be the top guy and be the man in that company, for a company to put their trust in me to carry that company and be their heavyweight champion means a lot."
Gordon's success at Northeast Wrestling helped him gain legitimacy, the opponents he stepped into the ring with brought notoriety and his ROH deal got him more visibility. But the final push forward came in the form of what started as a cameo in a YouTube video and turned into something of a viral phenomenon.
It all boils down to a six-word phrase.
"Everywhere I go now, I have people yelling at me, 'Where do you think you're going?'" Gordon said.
Those words, regularly delivered by the Young Bucks' Matt Jackson in 'Being the Elite,' have taken on a life of its own. Gordon's first appearance on the show, where the Bucks performed a "harmless rib" by attacking him before an ROH show, was supposed to be a one-off in the ongoing, semi-fictionalized adventures of the Bullet Club. But the segment was such a hit that fans essentially demanded to see more from the newcomer.
Gordon is now a series regular, first appearing on the show to be tormented by the Bullet Club in one form or another in a way. It ultimately led to him shaking hands with Matt Jackson each time out, hoping this was finally the time he'd be accepted into the ROH family -- only for Jackson to stare into the camera and say with a menacing growl, "Where do you think you're going?", which led to some sort of embarrassing attack. In later episodes, Gordon ultimately got the upper hand by outsmarting his antagonists.
Appearing on 'Being the Elite' has helped expose Gordon to fans who had otherwise never seen him perform.
"It's crazy the outreach they have with Being the Elite," Gordon said. "A lot of the time I get comments, 'I've never seen you wrestle before, but I saw you on Being the Elite so I decided to check you out.' Because of that they're seeing me on there, not even really seeing me wrestle, but it then gives them the opportunity to see me wrestle. I think people are getting to see a side of me they wouldn't get to see on ROH TV, that they won't see in a ring."
The fictionalized antics have actually led to several in-ring contests, and a match featuring both The Young Bucks and Gordon caused a major stir on social media.
Gordon had the chance to face the Young Bucks in a six-man tag match at one of ROH's biggest yearly shows, Final Battle, in December. What at the time seemed like an innocuous spot in the match where all six participants in the ring performed dropkicks in stereo quickly turned into another raging pro wrestling debate. Some fans took exception to the spot "exposing the business" after a Twitter video of the sequence began to spread. The video became so viral that even UFC Light Heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier weighed in.
@philbaroni this is actually pathetic. This is what people wanna see? Go to a god dang gymnastics competition. Suplex, bodyslam, piledriver do some old school wrestling man. DDT, I remember when the frankensteiner was the most you'd ever see someone flip. I say Boo to this BS https://t.co/eF4pnCy0SA
- Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) December 17, 2017
"To be honest I didn't even know who he was until he made that comment," Gordon said. "The fans, they loved that spot. After if you listen to it, the fans went nuts afterwards. They only saw a 30-second clip, they didn't see the whole thing that built to that spot. We didn't try to get attention or anything -- it's been done many, many times. I had no idea people were gonna get that mad."
While Cormier's comments might not have been a ringing endorsement for Gordon, the virality of the conflict helped get his name out to an even bigger audience. Gordon hopes that kind of exposure, as well as some of his self-made buzz on social media, will help him accomplish a list of benchmarks he has set for himself, including competing in this year's Best of the Super Juniors and touring with New Japan.
Gordon scratches one of those goals off Friday in Japan, when he faces KUSHIDA and Hiromu Takahashi in a triple-threat match on the first night of the co-branded ROH and New Japan Honor Rising shows in Japan. On night two, he teams with Ryusuke Taguchi to take on Takahashi and BUSHI.
Ultimately, Gordon hopes to become a top guy in ROH and, in the more distant future, have the opportunity to showcase his brand of athleticism in front of a WWE audience.
As more of these opportunities emerge, the more likely it is that Gordon will finish his service with the National Guard when his contract expires on May 1. The experiences have served him well, but he feels as though it's time for him to pursue his life-long dreams full force.
"I need to become a huge name and I need to do it on my own," Gordon said. "I need to make the rounds. You can go in [WWE] two ways -- you can go in as an AJ Styles or you can go in at the bottom. I don't want to go in at the bottom. I'm in no hurry to go to WWE. I just want to keep learning. I love what I'm doing."