Mark Pugh, better known by his nom de plume, Mark Briscoe, wrestled Jay Lethal on the Jan. 25 episode of All Elite Wrestling’s weekly two-hour show, Dynamite. The skills, talents and determination of two of the industry’s finest performers were on full display in this wrestling masterpiece. After Briscoe pinned Lethal, the longtime friends and rivals collapsed in each other’s arms in an emotional heap. They bathed in the joyful and tearful response from the audience, announcers and entire locker room of their peers.
What made this match so special? It was eight days removed from the tragic death of Mark’s brother, Jamin Pugh (Jay Briscoe), in a head-on collision minutes away from his rural home in Laurel, Delaware. It was held on his sibling’s 39th birthday, too.
How did Mark have the strength and wherewithal to perform at such a high level? His faith in God.
“It’s time to carry on for him,” Mark told wrestling announcer Caprice Coleman on Jan. 26. “He’s still with me right here…If I thought he was gone, then I wouldn’t be no good. I know he ain’t gone. I know he just moved on to the next higher level of existence.” He also made this profound statement in an AEW video tribute posted on Feb. 1. “If I didn’t know that Jamin [was] with God, in the arms of the savior, Jesus Christ? If I didn’t know that, then there’s no way I could go on right now.”
It’s an example of how this talented wrestler’s faith turned tragedy into triumph.
The Briscoes aren’t the first pro wrestlers to be practising Christians. Some well-known examples include Shawn Michaels, Steve “Sting” Borden and Mark “The Undertaker” Calloway. Yet, it was the brothers’ shared belief in God’s plan that set them apart from their contemporaries.
For more than two decades, they’ve been widely regarded as one of pro wrestling’s most successful and innovative tag teams. They were 13-time champions at AEW’s sister promotion, Ring of Honor, and held titles in various promotions like Impact Wrestling, House of Glory, Game Changer Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Noah. The tough, physically imposing men in the wrestling ring were quite different outside the squared circle, however. They were kind and friendly to competitors and fans alike. They loved their parents, wives and children with every ounce of their being.
Their strong Christian faith was a constant guiding force in their lives and careers, too.
During the Jan. 29 memorial service, their father, Mike Pugh, said that Jamin “is a Biblical name,” the second son of Simeon and grandson of Jacob. (It’s of Hebrew origin, and means “right hand.”) Jamin also had “scripture tattooed on his arm and it was Joshua 24 and 15…The last part of that scripture said, and Jamin proclaimed it his whole life, ‘As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’”
Regrettably, there were some who wondered for years whether this service had clouded their vision toward others.
Jamin posted some controversial homophobic tweets between 2011-2013. He apologized at a Ring of Honor event, saying the “redneck character he plays on TV is different from who he really is,” and he “does not raise his children to grow up knowing hate.” Multiple apologies followed. “I put out a stupid tweet nine years ago,” Jamin said on the Battleground Podcast last year. “We don’t hate nobody. We love everybody…I thought I was taking a stand for the Lord back in the day.” Mark chimed in, “You realized, from that immaturity, that’s not what you were doing because anything, God and the Lord, he has love above anything. That card trumps anything else.”
Jamin’s apology never wavered. He earned the support and trust of pro-gay rights wrestling commentator Ian Riccaboni, gay independent wrestler Taylor “Effy” Gibson and other diverse voices. He was a changed man, and for the better.
Not everyone felt the same way. AEW founder/co-owner Tony Khan’s repeated attempts to bring in the Briscoes fell on deaf ears with his television partner, WarnerMedia. (He did sign them to Ring of Honor, which doesn’t have a TV deal.) They also balked at a Jay Briscoe tribute show on AEW – and wouldn’t even let Mark wrestle, who had had nothing to do with this controversy.
This was the stroke that broke the camel’s back. The wrestling community erupted to express their displeasure. Khan fought tooth-and-nail on Mark’s behalf behind the scenes. These efforts succeeded where others had failed. The Briscoe-AEW ban was lifted for good.
While one Briscoe went home to be with God, the other found a new wrestling home thanks to God’s plan. Faith, and perhaps divine intervention, had turned tragedy into triumph once more.
Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.