Major League Wrestling’s time on the sideline amid the coronavirus pandemic comes to an end on Wednesday with the kickoff of “The Restart” on MLW Fusion, but the return is twofold for out pro wrestler Mike Parrow.

“The Restart” marks Parrow’s first MLW appearance in over two years after being part of the company’s first restart in 2017. The powerhouse made his name in prominent promotions during his time away, but MLW holds a special significance for Parrow.

“[MLW] was one of the first places I was working when I came out… It’s almost like coming back home,” Parrow told Outsports. And that homecoming couldn’t come at a better time according to Parrow. He left MLW on good terms with the goal to grow as a wrestler with promotions like the National Wrestling Alliance and All Japan Pro Wrestling, but the hiatus also allowed him to learn about himself after coming out as gay.

“What people don’t understand about being closeted, it hinders our success in anything we do. Our straight counterparts don’t have those reservations,” Parrow said. “There’s always the perception of ‘Am I going to get fired if I tell them?’ That hinders our athletic ability. But when we come out and we’re visible… we are very successful at what we do.”

While Parrow enjoyed success alongside his tag team partner Odinson in AJPW’s tag division, stepping into an NWA ring was a key moment in his time away from MLW. “I wanted to be in the NWA because I wanted to be an openly gay wrestler in a predominntly southern promotion that was known to be against it,” Parrow said.

His appearance on NWA’s 70th Anniversary event provided a lasting image for his personal quest for LGBTQ visibility. Parrow entered the ring draped in the Pride flag, putting his identity front and center. But that wasn’t initially the plan. “That was Shawn Daivari’s idea. He was my agent for that match and he saw the flag sitting in my bag,” Parrow said.

Parrow had not planned on entering with the flag, for fear of how it would be perceived on his first night with the company, but Daivari pushed him to embrace himself fully. “He said, ‘No. Be You… wear it how you want to wear it, but I want you to be who you are, because that’s why you’re here.’ I give him all the credit in the world because that changed a lot of perceptions,” Parrow recalled. “I got so many letters from young people about what that meant… visibility matters because it changes how people view us. We have to make them see us as people rather than a sexual act.”

Visibility was also key in Parrow’s involvement with EFFY’s Big Gay Brunch prior to resigning with MLW in October. He failed to outlast EFFY’s onslaught of twinks in the event’s Twink Gauntlet, but seeing his peers carve out a space for themselves superseded all. “The one thing that struck me was walking into that locker room in the morning and seeing the queer talent not being afraid and just being themselves… that teared me up,” Parrow said.

“After the show, EFFY and I hugged and cried. We cried because of the frustration. I don’t think people understand how frustrating it is being openly gay in wrestling. It’s still not very comfortable for a lot of people to be themselves in the locker room. You still feel different, and to see them go out there and kill it gave me and EFFY hope,” he added.

Parrow now looks to put that hope into action in MLW. And he is aiming historically high. “I want to be the first ever openly gay world champion,” Parrow firmly stated. “When we’re visible, it puts humanity behind the letters. It allows them to actually see us for the first time… I always want to be the athlete I needed to see when I was young because I know for a fact that would have changed my whole life.”

The one-man demolition machine’s quest is a worthy one, especially as it sets him square in the sights of current MLW world heavyweight champion Jacob Fatu. But Parrow isn’t sweating it. “I can’t wait to beat Jacob. He was one of the major reasons I wanted to come back. Jacob was coming into the company when I left and he impressed me then,” Parrow said.

Beyond personal glory, returning to MLW offers Parrow a chance to influence the next generation of pro wrestling stars. MLW’s roster boasts influential veterans (Savio Vega, Tom Lawlor, Davey Boy Smith Jr.) alongside rising stars (Jordan Oliver, Myron Reed, Alex Hammerstone), and the company’s ability to keep its finger on the pulse of wrestling’s future excites the 11-year veteran.

“It’s like watching sports evolve. Football is totally different than it was five years ago,” Parrow said. “You have to find ways to evolve. That’s what I like about working with the younger talent. I have to make sure I’m at their level. I love the drive… I want to be the best, so I put myself in a situation that challenged me to be the best.”

“It’s a high level of talent there. MLW is putting something out there, especially with heavyweights, that a lot of companies aren’t doing,” Parrow added.

The challenge Parrow puts on himself is honorable, but there was a time recently where the opportunity to chase that historic title win felt out of reach. The pandemic’s impact on the pro wrestling industry made Parrow question whether his in-ring career was over. “I got married and three days later the world shut down. I went from having all these plans for wrestling this year to ‘Am I ever going to wrestle again,’” Parrow said. “It got real for a lot of people … I’m blessed to have the opportunity to come back. Especially to a place that I started with, where I came out and that feels like home.”

Thankfully Parrow’s decade-plus career rages on and he is antsy to throw any and all MLW fighters into the nearest wall to accomplish his world champion aspirations. He’ll do so when MLW’s Restart gets underway Wednesday, but he already has one title under his belt. Parrow was named one of the 20 sexiest men alive of 2020 by Project Q Atlanta on Thursday. He took the news with pride and humility, but his husband Morgan is definitely keeping him grounded.

“He said, ‘That’s nice. Did you put the dishes in the dishwasher and move your gym bag like I asked,’” Parrow chortled. “The support from him was just phenomenal.”

MLW’s Restart begins on MLW Fusion, Wednesday at 7 p.m. EST on Fubo Sports Network and YouTube and anytime on DAZN.