Like all great mediums of storytelling, professional wrestling rhymes. Years before squared circle hopefuls get their big break, many wrestlers cut their teeth on the independent circuit, competing for the infamous "hot dog and a handshake." While not all indie standouts reach a televised stage, there are occasional cards that offer a legitimate glimpse into the future. Pro Wrestling Guerrilla put on Kenny Omega vs. Will Ospreay six years before the two would face off inside the Tokyo Dome. Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley battled in front of an audience of hundreds before facing each other in a sea of thousands at WWE WrestleMania. Before they headline AEW Dynamite: Winter is Coming, AEW World Champion MJF and Ricky Starks were locking up in an Inspire Pro Wrestling ring.
Speaking to ComicBook.com's Liam Crowley, Starks noted that he's felt some of that full circle nature ahead of his title bout with Friedman.
"I saw a picture earlier today, me and him in the ring, and it did dawn on us. A few years ago, we were on the indies in front of 100 people," Starks recalled. "And now we're doing it on live TV and in front of millions."
While the Absolute One is happy that he and MJF are getting to run it back on television, he emphasized that it's overdue.
"It is cool in that sense, but at the same time, to me, it should have already happened," Starks continued. "That's how I think about it, as well. This already should have been happening."
Starks and MJF's paths crossing in AEW has been a long time coming, and those wheels were set in motion with the AEW World Title Eliminator Tournament, which saw Starks come out on top despite battling numerous nagging injuries.
"Honestly, that one was a battle in itself," Starks said regarding the tournament. "There's some things I had to deal with going through. It was rough, and it was tough for me. I do take that as a big sign of like, 'Wow, look what I can do in light of all of these situations.'"
That said, Starks noted that he's in perfect shape heading into Winter is Coming.
"I feel great. I feel pretty 100 percent," Starks continued. "I had the KT tape on [last week] just for preventative measures. I don't ever want to come off like this guy that's always hurt or something, because I'm really not. I only had one injury in my entire career. But I work through it, I get it done either way."
Starks kicked off 2022 as FTW Champion, reigning with that unsanctioned title for 378 days. During that time, he and former tag partner Powerhouse Hobbs pursued the AEW World Tag Titles but came up short in each of their opportunities. Once Starks had dropped the FTW Title to Hook, Hobbs turned on him, kicking off a blood feud between the former teammates.
That program with Hobbs stretched for two months, crescendoing at AEW Rampage: Grand Slam this past September. While he was able to win that feud, Starks was used sparingly on AEW TV until the AEW World Title Eliminator Tournament.
"It's no secret that this year has been a bit of a up-and-down for me, and I know there's been some frustrations from my fan base. Things like that, I'm very well aware of," Starks said. "I'm hopeful that this is the one that we're turning the corner on. The Eliminator Tournament was a great start. It was a great start to now, where we're coming into with Winter is Coming, where I actually have a shot at the AEW Championship."
Starks challenges MJF for the AEW World Title tonight at AEW Dynamite: Winter is Coming, airing on TBS at 8 PM ET.