Justin Barrasso
Wednesday March 9th, 2016

SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.

News of the Week

After only minimal buildup, there is far more anticipation for this Saturday’s Road Block main event between Dean Ambrose and Triple H than the headline match featuring Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 32.

Reigns was taken off television because he would have been booed relentlessly by the fans at Raw in Chicago, and he is also not scheduled to appear at next week’s show in Pittsburgh. His absence the past two weeks from Raw has been refreshing, which is a bad sign for the soon-to-be champion.

Even without Reigns, however, the ending on Raw fell flat. The finish of the Ambrose-Bray Wyatt match saw the WWE creative team turning off the lights (again) and having the Wyatt Family appear at all sides of the ring. There was the brief standoff between Wyatt and Triple H, and a quick comeback from Ambrose as the show went off the air. I was genuinely surprised that Brock Lesnar did not appear to clear house with Ambrose, effectively building toward both of the marquee matches on Saturday. Lesnar and Ambrose remain destined to fight at WrestleMania, and the end of Raw was a missed opportunity to have the show end in a stare down between the two.

As much as I was looking forward to a program between Kevin Owens and AJ Styles, the return of Sami Zayn is big news for the WWE product. Zayn’s greatest attribute is his ability to play the underdog, which is actually a role that is wide open (Roman Reigns, much to WWE’s chagrin, has not excelled in this role, and Kalisto has yet to connect with the audience in any sort of deep manner). Zayn brings out another side of the villainous Owens, and the decision to pair the two heading into WrestleMania allows for a breakout opportunity for both men. Owens fans, myself included, will be devastated to see the IC title match booked in a clunky, convoluted multi-man match while Kalisto and Ryback square off in singles action for the United States championship. Please keep the Miz as far away as possible from Owens and Zayn.

In other news…

• Shane McMahon will absolutely deliver a couple of memorable spots against the Undertaker at WrestleMania, but there is zero chance that these two produce a quality 15-minute match. John Cena will be present at WrestleMania, and he has to be involved somewhere here.

• The Chris Jericho/AJ Styles duo met its demise on Monday. Jericho hit the Codebreaker on Styles after the pair lost to the New Day, but the match was extremely well done, told a strong story, and built to a logical finish with Big E overpowering both Styles and Jericho. I would have preferred to see Y2AJ win the tag titles and continue the storyline, but hopefully Jericho and Styles will be given twenty minutes at WrestleMania to steal the show.

• WWE’s booking of the Diva’s division continues to mystify. The Sasha Banks-Becky Lynch match on Smackdown was actually stopped–mid-match–so Charlotte’s entrance music could play. Lynch and Banks stopped wrestling while the Nature Boy and Girl strutted to the ring. The women have received more attention recently, and I still think the actual match will be terrific, but the booking in the buildup to WrestleMania has been terribly weak.

• Speaking of Smackdown, lead announcer Mauro Ranallo checked in with Sports Illustrated for an update on the support he has received on from the MMA world on his new gig with WWE: “I’ve got more support from people in MMA and boxing than anywhere else,” said Ranallo. “I think those days are long behind us with the stigma that may have been attached once upon a time to sports entertainment. People realize what it is, and they also realize how talented these athletes are–they are athletes as much as anyone else. Frankly, when you look at the UFC, you look at MMA, or you look at Floyd Mayweather in boxing, everyone has stolen from the sports entertainment playbook when it comes to marketing and the interview styles. At the end of the day, the action may be choreographed and the endings may be pre-determined, but I would challenge anyone in MMA, boxing or kickboxing–and just ask King Mo, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Brock Lesnar or Ronda Rousey–and they’ll all tell you that sports entertainment is as hard as it gets. I didn’t expect any pushback, and those who are negative about it? Well, that’s their problem, not mine.”

• The New Japan Cup is down to its final four. The semi-finals include Michael Elgin vs. Hirooki Goto, as well as Toru Yano battling Tetsuya Naito this Saturday in Aomori, Japan, and the finals will be decided the same night. Look for the winner of Elgin-Goto to be the eventual champion. An interview with Goto will be featured in the Week in Wrestling next Wednesday.

• Jim Ross’ debut calling New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV this past Friday was a success. Josh Barnett mentioned last week in this very column that the content airing on AXS will only be a month behind the current New Japan product, but the show that aired on Friday featured content from May of 2015. Curious to see how quickly AXS TV catches up viewers to the product.

• Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks are one of the hottest acts in the world, and the watering down of the Bullet Club is one of the main reasons why “The Elite” was born. Cody Hall, Yujiro Takahashi and even a brief stint with Jeff Jarrett were all very questionable inclusions into the stable.

• I couldn’t help but enjoy Monday’s R-Truth/Goldust/Mark Henry segment with the Chicago deep dish pizza. It’s remarkable that we are here in 2016 and still enjoying backstage vignettes with Goldust–whose character debuted in 1995–and Mark Henry, who started in the WWE in 1996 at the age of only 24.

• Not all roads lead to WrestleMania. Over the next few weeks, SI.com will post stories of the major superstars in the business that will not be present for Vince McMahon’s legendary creation. Feature stories include New Japan’s Hiroshi Tanahashi, the Young Bucks, IWGP Intercontinental champion Kenny Omega, Ring of Honor’s Moose, and IWGP world champion Kazuchika Okada.

• A little late to the party, but I finally read “A Life Lived Forever,” the WWE-produced Ultimate Warrior book. The Warrior was still alive when the project began, so his own commentary and perspective is featured throughout the story. It is definitely worth a read, but the part that left a sour taste in my mouth is the narrative regarding how Eric Bischoff mishandled the Warrior’s tenure in WCW. The WWE is notorious for painting Bischoff’s inability to keep up with Vince McMahon as the sole reason for WCW’s failure, but the truth is that the 1998 Halloween Havoc match between Warrior and Hulk Hogan was horrible, and that ultimately falls on the performers.


Weekly Top 10

1.) Dean Ambrose, WWE

Ambrose will not win the WWE championship this Saturday, but he has generated a lot of interest in this match. Strong showings against Triple H and Lesnar will lead to a WWE title reign for Ambrose in the imminent future.

2.) Kevin Owens, WWE

I was a little miffed that Owens did the job for Ambrose on Smackdown while Alberto Del Rio–who means far, far less to the WWE–did not on last week’s Raw.

3.) Kenny Omega, New Japan Pro Wrestling

Even when Omega is not entertaining in the ring, he and the Young Bucks are making the most of their free time with their videos on Twitter.

4.) AJ Styles, WWE

Styles is in the midst of an old school feud with Chris Jericho, one that will run from the Royal Rumble to WrestleMania. He has the rare opportunity to produce two match of the year candidates from two different continents in two different promotions within four months, having already delivered one with Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom 10 in Tokyo, and now again at WrestleMania 32 in Texas.

5.) Brock Lesnar, WWE

The “Beast Incarnate” will wage war with Brock Wyatt this Saturday in a match with absolutely zero doubt on the outcome.

6.) Jay Lethal, Ring of Honor

Lethal headlines the upcoming “Conquest Tour” with Matt Sydal on Saturday in Philadelphia.

7.) Roman Reigns, WWE

Reigns’ absence from Raw has been refreshing, which is not encouraging as WrestleMania creeps closer and closer on the calendar.

8.) Kazuchika Okada, New Japan Pro Wrestling

“The Rainmaker” is in search of a new dance partner. He’s in tag matches all weekend, and it is a shame that New Japan and Ring of Honor did not find some way to have Okada and Lethal wrestle at the 14th Anniversary pay per view.

9.) The Young Bucks, Ring of Honor

Is there some regret from the WWE from not signing Nick and Matt Jackson? The New Day has privately agreed that they would love to fight back against the Elite on Twitter, but so far, WWE has not allowed it.

10.) Matt Hardy, TNA

Hardy is making the most of his opportunity as TNA world champion. A series of matches with Drew Galloway would make sense–especially since a feud would reconnect their story from last summer–while EC3 is currently out of title shots.


WrestleMania Dreaming with Mick Foley

Mick Foley’s “WrestleMania Dream Vacation Sweepstakes” is running until March 15, and the grand prize is literally a dream for a wrestling fan. The winner of the sweepstakes, along with one guest, will enjoy an outrageous return that includes round-trip air transportation; dinner with Foley; $1,000 in spending money; two ringside tickets to WrestleMania and tickets to the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Monday Night Raw, AXXESS and NXT. It is an incredible package, and all of the proceeds will benefit RAINN.

Foley’s accomplishments in the business are legendary, but he has made an even bigger impact outside the ring. He first grew interested in RAINN, the largest anti-sexual assault organization in the United States, when a conversation with a certain singer sparked his interest.

“I started as a RAINN donor in 2008, and then a volunteer a year later after meeting singer Tori Amos,” said Foley. “I knew the work that RAINN did was important, but as a male, I didn’t see how I could make a difference. Then, when I read more about it, I realized it was where I could make the biggest difference. Sexual assault and rape are thought to be issues for women, but there are so few men involved, so I thought I could make a difference as an advocate and later as a volunteer.”

Foley headlined WrestleMania 2000 in a fatal four way match with Triple H, The Rock, and Big Show. Each wrestler had a McMahon in his corner, with Linda McMahon supporting Foley. Even with the main event status, WrestleMania 2000 is not Foley’s fondest ‘Mania memory.

“There are some people who are up in arms over this year’s official WrestleMania main event,” said Foley. “But don’t worry about that–worry about the match that is most important to you. I don’t look back at the 2000 WrestleMania as special just because I was in the main event, and isn’t nearly as important to me as the one I did with Edge in 2006, which in no way was the main event.

“It’s not that we didn’t have a good match in 2000, because we did, but the match with Edge has stood the test of time. Strange as it sounds, there is a level of trust in a match like that, not unlike the kind you would experience in pairs figure skating. There is no way you even try the ‘Iron Lotus’ if you’re Chazz Michael Michaels and Jimmy MacElroy unless you completely trust each other. The ‘Iron Lotus’ was to figure skating was what Edge and I going through a burning table was to professional wrestling.”

Rumors are circulating that Foley will be part of WrestleMania 32, which would mark the Hardcore Legend’s first pay per view appearance since SummerSlam last August.

“There is a rumor that I will be participating in the show,” said Foley. “I’m not sure how just yet, but I’ll try to add to the excitement of WrestleMania.”

Foley noted the significance of wrestling at WrestleMania, as sublime performances at the hallowed event allows wrestlers the chance to become immortal.

“Everyone on that card should look at their match as the main event,” explained Foley. “I look at the chance for the women, who could have a ground-breaking match in front of close to 100,000 fans as my main event. I’m hoping the women’s match produces one of those ‘WrestleMania Moments,’ not only for the women, but for women’s wrestling in general.

“Ambrose could have the shocker of the year. He could also have that morale victory without the literal one. There is any number of guys who could really steal the spotlight on this show.”

Foley’s dream vacation will also create WrestleMania memories for a lifetime. His own favorite memory includes two legends of the squared circle.

“Savage-Steamboat from WrestleMania III,” said Foley. “It had the ability to cast an impression that’s lasted thirty years. I haven’t mentioned Savage much, maybe because he came up in-between the Jimmy Snuka years and the Terry Funk/Bruiser Brody years, but when I entered pro wrestling, Savage was my favorite guy. I was really impressed, not only by his character, but also with his work ethic. I understood even at 19 years old that there was so much more to Savage than the character. He was an extremely hard worker, and I admired that.”

Regardless of whether it is his charity work, wrestling or comedy, Foley always fully invests in his work. He is on the road all week performing his one-man show, and Foley–who is a self-proclaimed Christmas lover–entertained the crowd, fittingly, in Santa Claus, Indiana last night.

Extra Mustard
Countdown to Lockdown for Matt Hardy and EC3

“One of the things I’m proud of with my comedy is I went out there, like Dolph [Ziggler] has done, on my off-nights and worked for free, and failed and felt terrible,” said Foley. “I don’t really think you can appreciate the good shows until you’ve had some really bad ones under your belt, and that goes for wrestling, as well. You can’t appreciate your WrestleManias until you’ve had 26 people watching you in Poca, West Virginia–and I know that because I counted them in 1986. If performing ever looks effortless, it’s because of all the hard work that’s gone into it, and I’m proud to say I’ve put a lot of hard work into my shows.”

Foley has also put a great deal of effort into advocating for RAINN, and he is grateful for all of the support from the wrestling community.

“I really look forward to making a difference, and so many of the fans do, too,” said Foley. “Wrestling fans have raised almost a half-a-million dollars over the past five years, and that’s pretty astounding. This is fourth year of the WrestleMania Dream Vacation, and with all of the excitement surrounding it, we’re going to try to make it an annual event.”


Five Questions with… Nick “Magnus” Aldis

Courtesy of Lee South

Nick “Magnus” Aldis is the world champion of Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling, as well as one of the top free agents in the business. The 29-year-old is healthy, having recovered from his torn bicep, and looks to make an impact in one of wrestling’s top promotions.

SI.com: Are you signed to a contract with Global Force Wrestling or are you a free agent? And why did you leave TNA?

Nick Aldis: GFW is a start-up, so I’m not under contract there. They’re not in any position to be signing anyone to a contract. I want to dispel this idea that I left TNA in order to join GFW. I certainly don’t want that to be the idea at TNA. I hate the idea that there’s a notion floating around that there are sour grapes. I have nothing but gratitude for TNA, and I’m not backtracking from anything I’ve said, but I want to make that clear.

The situation with TNA is this–business wise, at the time, TNA was not in a favorable period. They said to me, “Look, your contract is coming up. The offer we would be able to make you is an embarrassment and a slap in the face to your work and your value to the company.” So I said, “OK, then don’t make the offer. I’ll venture out and see what happens.” I’d been under contract there for six years, and the majority of my adult life after signing with them at 21, and there was never any “Screw you, I’m out of here.” They were very honest, it was emotional, and there was no desire for it to end on either end.

SI.com: Have you recovered from your torn bicep?

Nick Aldis: It was a very successful surgery and I’ve been cleared by doctors. I was fortunate. It’s a rough idea, but knock on wood, it’s the worst thing I’ve ever had in ten years as a full-time wrestler. I’ve never really been sidelined by an injury until now. I’m pretty much ready to go back to full work and full booking.

I’m in a limbo period in my career being a free agent and unsure where to try and attempt to go next, and unaware of where may or may not be interested. It forces you to reflect. There was definitely a part of me that had fallen into a little bit of a comfort zone, but luckily I was the person to identify that before anyone else. I’ve been going to gymnastics coaches and working on jiu-jitsu to integrate that into my work and evolve. There is a lot of emphasis now on moves and the term ‘work rate,’ and there is a real emphasis on what I call selfish workers. Their whole MO is “What can I do to make myself look good?” instead of “What can we do to take the fans on this great story?”

SI.com: You are a national athlete, and accomplished a lot as both a swimmer and tennis player. Is it an advantage to have your size and skillset in wrestling?

Nick Aldis: It may just be me being paranoid, but sometimes this an unfair assessment of guys in the business who are 6’4” and 250 pounds. There is a natural assumption among the vocal minority that these guys don’t care about the craft of the match, and that guys like me just assumes I’m going to be a main event guy and deserves the spot more than a 5’10” guy who is working his ass off in the ring. I have been so frustrated by that notion. In the modern era, to be a guy who is 6’4” with a good physique–and I’ve worked for it since I was twelve years old–are the equivalent of the fat guys in the 1980’s. “Oh, you’re just another body guy.” Back in the day, if you didn’t have big muscles, promotions didn’t want anything to do with you. Now, if you have a good physique, you must be a terrible wrestler.

SI.com: TNA’s roster helped you develop into the wrestler you are today. Who were some of your major influences?

Nick Aldis: The roster at TNA was an incredible learning tree with Kevin Nash, Mick Foley, Sting, Booker T and Scott Steiner. And the roster was filled with Bobby Roode, Kurt Angle, AJ Styles, the Machine Guns, Jay Lethal and Samoa Joe.

Extra Mustard
Billy Gunn talks about DX’s invasion of WCW, his release from the WWE

I certainly took a lot from Samoa Joe in the ring when we were working together as a team and then opponents. He forces that on you–his offense, especially, but just his demeanor and the way he operates in the ring. He works on such a level that you have two choices–you can either step up and match it, or you can fade away and be the background. I didn’t want to just team up with Joe and be the ‘Other Guy.’ I wanted to make sure we complimented each other and it was more about us as a team, and I think we achieved that.

Kevin Nash was another guy who liked to talk shop and talk about the business, instead of talking with guys who asked, “What did you think of my match?” Kevin and Sting were actually speaking up for me quite seriously. In terms of mechanics in the ring, it was Joe who helped the most, and from the business side of things, it was [Shawn] Daivari and Kevin Nash.

SI.com: You are healthy, have a beautiful wife in Mickie James, and even wrote a book. What is next for you? Will you go to a promotion with your wife?

Nick Aldis: We would make a pretty cool pairing at this point. We have great chemistry, and we can both talk, we can both work, and we have a deep respect and appreciation of what one another can do. We are open to it now, and it could be a really cool way to reinvent ourselves.

Lucha Underground really interests me. The biggest problem with the business right now for the boys is that the remaining market share that doesn’t belong to WWE is divided up by so many companies. TNA used to have that market share, but now it’s divided up by so many entities. Financially, it’s not a great time to be a wrestler because it’s the same portion of market share divided up by more entity, but Lucha Underground is so different that it could bring in new fans.

I’m very much a free agent. I just started working with [agent] Bill Behrens, who has done great work with AJ Styles and Moose. I’m absolutely at a point where I’m refreshed and my passion is back, and it’s time for me to explore more and reinvent myself. I’m going to be better than ever wherever I go.


KUSHIDA

Courtesy of NJPW

Yujiro Kushida is the ‘Ace of the Juniors,’ and he holds the hardware to back it up.

The 32-year-old native of Ota, Tokyo is IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion, which is open to all challengers under 220 pounds. The title holds some impressive lineage dating back to its inception in 1986–Juventud Guerrera defeated Jushin Thunder Liger for the title on Nitro in 1999, and other former champions include Owen Hart, Finn Balor, and Ultimo Dragon.

“I am the Junior Heavyweight champion, but here in U.S., I can get the heavyweight title, and I’m going to prove it,” said Kushida. “I want to challenge Jay Lethal’s ROH title and TV champion [Tomohiro] Ishii. It would be very cool if New Japan held all the ROH titles.”

Kushida was trained by Nobuhiko Takada and Yoshihiro Tajiri, and delivers a unique blend of aerial maneuvers and traditional wrestling that is well-suited to appeal to the American audience.

“Some U.S. wrestling fans like characters more than the Japanese fans,” explained Kushida, noting a difference between the two fan bases. “The Japanese fans enjoy the fighting spirit. That’s more important than characters in Japan, but there is emotion in both.”

ACH challenges Kushida for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship this Saturday in Philadelphia in a highly anticipated match-up. The positive response from fans in the United States, Kushida admitted, has been overwhelming.

“I’m so happy to connect with the fans in the U.S.,” said Kushida. “The U.S. has the big company in WWE, but I am a New Japan guy and I’m wrestling in the ROH ring. Whatever WWE guys can’t do, we can do.”

New Japan legend Shinsuke Nakamura will be debuting for NXT on April 1, and Kushida admitted that he cannot wait to see his friend battle Sami Zayn.

“I will be watching,” confirmed Kushida. “He’s fantastic, and I hope he’s a success.”

Kushida experienced an eventful 2015. He returned to singles action and captured the Super Juniors tournament, and is now a three-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion after defeating Kenny Omega at this past January’s Wrestle Kingdom 10. He revealed that the WWE did not reach out to him with an offer (“WWE has never called me,” said Kushida), and shared that his dream has always been to perform for New Japan.

“When I was child, my dream was to become a New Japan Pro Wrestling wrestler. By the time I was ten years old, I could do the moonsault press off my bed. My mom and dad were pissed off. We didn’t live in a house, we lived in a small apartment. The people living beneath us could always hear the ‘boom boom boom’ from my room. Mom and Dad said to stop, but my dream never changed. My dream came true. I’ll never forget the heart that went into it. The same heart I had wrestling on my bed, the same nerves, the same excitement I had wrestling in my room, I now have wrestling in the ring.”


Monday Night Ran

The card is always subject to change in wrestling, and the same can be said about Mega Ran’s “Mat Mania.”

This week’s song was originally going to focus on a WWE Hall of Famer, but after watching last week’s Raw, Mega Ran called an audible. The newest released track on the Mat Mania album is focused on the Undertaker.

“The Undertaker’s return is always a big deal,” said Mega Ran. “From his entrance to his in-ring style, there is an entirely different mood when he’s around. It’s chilling, but it’s also special and electric.”

Before the Undertaker locks up in his Hell in a Cell match against Shane McMahon, Mega Ran will be performing throughout WrestleMania weekend.

“I have a full booth set up at WrestleCon,” he confirmed. “So I’ll be there doing some signings and it’s the official release of the Mat Mania album. We’ll be recording two episodes a day of the ‘Mat Mania’ podcast, and I have some huge special guests coming by to the podcast. We’re also playing some shows in Dallas and Arlington, doing an event with WWN’s Evolve, as well as Kaiju Big Battle. They dress up in the cos-play as different monsters, and just wrestle. I’m super honored to be part of it.”


Flex Armstrong Paves Own Path

Jason Barrett had the chance of a lifetime.

The WWE offered him a spot on Tough Enough in 2011. While only standing at 5’8”, Barrett attracted the eye of the WWE because he was 224 pounds of pure muscle and wrestled a versatile style that most men his weight could not handle, and most his size were unable to replicate.

And he said no.

“I’ve had my opportunities to go mainstream to the WWE, and I passed on it,” said Barrett. “I would have had the chance for a lot more exposure, but I chose not to do so.”

He was given a choice, and he chose family.

“I have three kids, and my little one is five,” said Barrett. “When I was cast for Tough Enough in 2011, I was ready to do all that. I flew out for the TV taping, then flew home two days before the taping for the birth of my daughter. I wasn’t ready to spend my life on the road and miss her early years.”

Now 32, Barrett wrestles under the name of Flex Armstrong, and he is the reigning champion for Big Time Wrestling.

“What separates me from a lot of people, and I don’t mind saying it, is that I don’t consider myself a wrestler because I threw on some face paint or dove through a table,” said Barrett. “I grew up watching the guys with the great physiques, and I treat myself like an athlete. The Ultimate Warrior, Rick Rude and Randy Savage were all big guys, but they were athletic, too. Coming from a boxing and MMA background, I consider this a one-on-one competition. I’ve got to look the part and showcase my athletic ability.

“When you look at me, you know I’m not 6’5” and 300 pounds. I’m built well, but I’ve still got to do all the high flying stuff, too, to get myself the attention I need.”

Barrett successfully defended his title this past weekend in a “First Blood” match against Bam Shaw in Lynn, Massachusetts, and despite the difficulties of the business, he remains thankful every time for the opportunity to step through the ropes.

“The owners of Big Time Wrestling saw something inside me,” said the multi-dimensional Barrett. “At the same time as that was happening, BTW really took off, and we’ve got a big following now.”

Wrestling is an insensitive, unforgiving business, and performing on the indies is not for everyone.

“Wrestling is not a glamorous life style,” said Barrett. “Leading up to a road trip when I’m leaving on a Friday, come Wednesday or Thursday, I’m looking into my daughter’s eyes and I don’t want to leave. Those are days and weekends you’re not going to get back. Even now, and I love doing this and I love being the champ and putting on a show for the fans, this is time being spent that I’m not with my family. So it’s always in the back of my mind, and anyone who says that doesn’t weigh on them is either lying or sucks as a family person.”

Barrett runs a personal training company outside of Boston in Billerica at Pro Fitness Plus, and plans on giving fans their money’s worth each time he is in the ring.

“I’m going to treat every match like it’s my last one,” said Barrett. “When someone pays for a ticket to see me, I never want to shortchange them. I owe it to them to go all out.”


Women of Honor: Mandy Leon

Courtesy of Ring of Honor

Mandy Leon plans on changing the way women are viewed in wrestling.

“Women’s wrestling has always been taken serious on the indies, but it’s much more mainstream now with WWE and NXT,” said Leon, who–more than viewing herself as a female wrestler–proudly considers herself a wrestler. “People always ask my favorite female wrestlers, but I loved wrestling. My favorites were ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and the Rock.”

The 24-year-old beauty is one of the most breathtaking figures in Ring of Honor, but she has bolder ambitions than solely interviewing ROH’s top talents–she also wants to wrestle them.

“It’s more than just the looks,” said Leon. “It’s personality, having the physicality, being athletic, and especially here in Women of Honor, that’s what we’re all about. I want people to see me as more than just the interviewer backstage.”

Leon is working to revive Women of Honor, and she will be wrestling this Saturday in a six-man tag at the Ring of Honor show in Philadelphia. Sumie Sakai and Jenny Rose are teaming up with Leon against Vera Scott, Kyoko Kimura, and Taeler Hendrix.

“My goal was to be the next Lita. So I started to study independent wrestling, and I learned that all these guys I liked–Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Seth Rollins–all came from Ring of Honor. So I went to the school in Philly, which was only an hour-and-a-half from me.”

Born in Brooklyn, Leon spent the majority of her childhood growing up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Extra Mustard
Ring of Honor COO Joe Koff on WWE, expanding his promotions reach

“I went to Philly and started training with Delirious [Hunter Johnston], and I’ve been working up ever since. Delirious made sure I was ready to debut before I debuted, which is especially important when you hold yourself to the men’s standards. The last time Women of Honor was really taken seriously was when Sara Del Ray and Daizee Haze were here [in 2008], and I would love to have a long story and an awesome feud like Deonna Purrazzo and Hania the Huntress.”

Leon is out to prove she is more than just a pretty face.

“I’ve had such a hard childhood growing up, so I always told myself that failure was never an option,” said Leon. “I’ve overcome a lot. I know what my dream is, and I’m going to stay focused to be there.

“Wrestling is all that’s on my mind. I want to be the face of Women of Honor, and hopefully it leads to a women’s championship. That’s all I think about, and I want to make history.”


 

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.