This year’s Belmont Classic lineup has been one of the most contentious in the event’s history. The selection process alone has caused a major shakeup to the event’s board of directors, and those that remained were still arguing about the last competitor until a few hours ago. The selection has finally been made, though it has already caused further controversy.
With that in mind, we present the final entrant in the 2022 Belmont Classic:
GRAY’S WRESTLING ACADEMY
Word spread quickly around the wrestling world, with nearly everyone weighing in on the subject.
Vincent Mariano, president of the Newark-based Destruction Productions, defended the decision. “Look, this guy is a hot ticket, right? Ain’t seen buzz like this around a rookie in a long time. If putting him in the tournament means more eyeballs on the screen, more dollars in the pocket, I’m all for it.”
The decision has met with near-universal condemnation from trainers, though, with several prominent schools threatening to pull their students from the event. “We all saw what he did to that Rhine fella,” said Bradley Reardon, who operates a training facility in Dublin. “And they were supposed t’be friends, for God’s sake. He shouldn’t be anywhere near a ring, especially against kids. Piper’s the best student I’ve had in years, and I think she can win the whole thing…but if there’s a chance I’ll have to look her mum and da’ in the eye and tell ‘em their daughter’s been hurt, or worse…just isn’t worth it.”
Patty duPont, the play-by-play commentator for this year’s event, gave her own thoughts on the matter. “I’m very concerned, of course. But there are a lot of rules and agreements in place to protect the wrestlers, ever since the incident in 1997. I hope Paxton understands that any out-of-bounds action could get him blacklisted from the industry. I also hope that I only have to announce the end of the tournament, and not the end of someone’s career.”
While the tournament has very strict rules about unsanctioned attacks on fellow participants, this has done little to assuage concern. Unconfirmed reports state that two more members of the selection committee have resigned in protest.
Belmont Foundation president Carter Laughlin cited Ray’s recent reinstatement to PRIME as one of the factors that helped cement the decision. “If they have allowed him back into their company, if Jonathan Rhine himself has endorsed his return, we can hardly say no. The purpose of the tournament is to showcase the best rookie talent in the world, and Paxton Ray definitely qualifies. His inclusion means more viewership, which can only be a benefit to all the entrants.”