Sitting down to watch a pro wrestling match featuring “Mad Dog” Connelly feels exactly like what his moniker suggests: abounding intensity and tenacity. The Paradigm Pro Wrestling regular has thrived over the last year in the promotion’s UWFi Rules division, a style of wrestling that blends MMA and grappling with the expected pro wrestling fare.

Connelly attributes much of that success to a personal evolution in which he began embracing his full self. Part of that journey involved coming out publicly as pansexual earlier this year, but Connelly believes what has driven his growth more than anything was using pro wrestling as an avenue to own and manage his mental health struggles.

“I spent a long time focusing on who Connelly is and what Connelly is,” Connelly said during an appearance on the Outsports podcast LGBT In The Ring.

Before taking on his current form, Connelly first portrayed a character named Dan Liplock – a “pretty boy” persona Connelly described as “annoying” and “flamboyant.”

“It felt like I was trying to be somebody that I wasn’t,” Connelly added. “Dan Liplock wasn’t me.”

When the Covid-19 pandemic forced many pro wrestling promotions to pause activity last year, Connelly saw a chance to rethink his presence in pro wrestling, ultimately deciding that Dan Liplock needed to go away in favor of something more authentic to himself.

As he developed this new in-ring persona, Connelly leaned on his own lengthy struggles with mental health.

“I am naturally a very shy, very anxious person,” Connelly said. “I’m very paranoid. I stay at home by myself a lot.”

Connelly implanted those personal characteristics into this developing persona alongside a new aggressive focus in training.

“I was feeling more confident and more comfortable being that aggressive, and I really liked being that aggressive,” Connelly said. “If I’m being completely transparent, I’ve had anger issues since I can even remember. I have a good handle on it now that I’m an adult, but those issues combined with my actual mental health issues made for a character that I was more interested in portraying.”

A lot of it had to do with playing into my anxiety – I was diagnosed with bipolar II – playing into that, playing into my paranoia and just trying to heighten those things to an eleven,” he added. “I’m able to portray myself that is more genuine and natural for me.”

The shift in character has paid off, leading Connelly toward a showdown with former Ring of Honor World champion Davey Richards at Paradigm Pro Wrestling’s anniversary show on Oct. 15. But more importantly, Connelly’s transformation into the “Mad Dog” has proven therapeutic to Austin Connelly the man.

“There are ways of it that feel like a huge outlet. Whenever I do one of those promos, it feels like I’m literally puking up all of the emotion that I have,” Connelly said. “I feel like it is good for me to be able to have those feelings there where they are contained, controlled and expressed outwardly instead of kept inwardly … it does feel empowering in a way to be able to live my truth and just have my ugly self be on the forefront and become this powerful figure instead of something I’m afraid to show.”

Connelly also sees his persona as one that can speak to audiences who revel in his in-ring performances that share his struggles. “If this character is something that can bring those things to light and start a conversation with somebody about their own issues or things that they would like to address, then I’m very grateful,” Connelly said.

“I can only hope that it helps them continue searching for a way to help with those problems. I’m very glad that it starts the conversation because the conversation starter is the first step and most important step.”

Listen to the full interview with Connelly on the Outsports podcast LGBT In The Ring. Download and listen to new episodes every Thursday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and all other podcast services.