Justin Barrasso
Wednesday March 23rd, 2016

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

News of the Week

The opening match on Raw was everything that is right in wrestling. Kevin Owens and AJ Styles wrestled for twenty minutes. The two built an incredible match that was both logical and compelling. There were multiple highlights, including an outrageous frog splash from Owens. A distraction from Chris Jericho cost Styles the match, but the battle won over a hostile Philly crowd. All seemed right in the world when it appeared, post-match, that there was going to be a triple threat match to determine the number one contender for Owens’ Intercontinental title at WrestleMania.

Then the bottom fell out.

Instead of Owens competing against Sami Zayn, which is a match with built-in history and emotion–and also gives WWE a chance to highlight the first great feud from NXT–we will instead be treated to a spotfest ladder match between Owens, Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler the Miz, Sin Cara, Stardust, and Zack Ryder. We watched the same ladder match at last year’s WrestleMania, except with a far stronger cast. Why are half the wrestlers–specifically Sin Cara, Stardust, and Zack Ryder even included? The buildup to WrestleMania has been one long headache.

Kurt Angle and Rey Mysterio put together a match on Sunday’s iPPV that was worthy of WrestleMania. Unfortunately, it was instead on a UR Fight iPPV, whose camera angles and overall production value is not anywhere close to the gold standard set by the WWE. The finish was weak, culminating in outside interference from musical act Riff Raff, but there was no way Mysterio was going over cleanly. Jim Ross was phenomenal and carried the broadcast, but Quinton “Rampage” Jackson–who mentioned multiple times that Mysterio was “little,” repeated Ross’ observations and continued his commentary during pinfalls–was not the right fit next to JR (though he created a legitimate laugh out loud moment when he called Angle a “motherf-----” after hitting Mysterio with a chair). Ultimately, the match served as a reminder of how mind-boggling it is that Angle, Mysterio and Ross all won’t be at WrestleMania.

In other news…

• Just so we’re all on the same page, wrestling fans will be forced to watch Roman Reigns win the championship for a third time at WrestleMania and see a singles match between Ryback and Kalisto. Kevin Owens, however, will be thrown into a multi-man cluster for the Intercontinental title. How does that make the slightest amount of sense?

• Solid promo from Vince on Monday, but calling Shane McMahon the most formidable opponent that the Undertaker has ever faced at a WrestleMania is ludicrous. At least the ‘Taker now has incentive to defeat Shane, considering a loss means this is his final WrestleMania.

• The Big Show and Kane do not make me want to watch the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. The crowd in Philadelphia was so bored by that segment on Raw that it did not have the energy to even boo.

• Do people invest more emotion into a character when it is apparent that the wrestler is constantly working to improve? I had a discussion last night about how certain wrestlers–Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins, Cesaro, Jay Lethal and Dean Ambrose, for example–continually add new wrinkles into their skillset, while some–like Roman Reigns, Sheamus and it pains me to include him, but also Bray Wyatt–have, move for move, not changed their matches for nearly two consecutive years.

• How did Triple H and Stephanie McMahon not see Reigns walking toward their limousine? And why wouldn’t they lock the doors or have the driver speed away? Are details like this discussed in creative meetings, or are viewers supposed to accept every scene and never question the logic?

• Dean Ambrose delivered some exceptional vignettes back home in Cincinnati on last week’s Smackdown, and Terry Funk was terrific in his brief cameo on Raw. “And if I had a daughter…”

• The WWE Divas continually take one step forward and two steps back. The back-and-forth from Smackdown’s encounter between Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch was realistic and passionate, while the bickering on Raw felt more like a scene out of Total Divas.

• The Young Bucks’ Nick Jackson discussed whether he and his brother, Matt, would ever return to TNA: “They called about a year ago, and the conversation lasted one minute. They made us an offer, and we explained that we already had higher offers on the table. They said, ‘Let us sharpen our pencils and we’ll call you back.’ They never called back, but if they offered us huge money, we’d consider it. AJ, Gallows, [Anderson]–now they had a huge offer, so maybe TNA has a little more money now.” Keep your eyes peeled for a new feature on the Bucks that is soon to hit SI.com.

• Speaking of TNA, Eric Young and Bobby Roode both received their release and finished up with the company this past Saturday. Both were champions, which necessitated title changes at the tapings in Orlando. Unless NXT is interested, which is unlikely, these two are destined to reunite with Jeff Jarrett. When I spoke with Jarrett this past September about adding talent to Global Force Wrestling, he specifically mentioned the pair as two wrestlers he greatly admired: “I consider Bobby Roode one of the greatest wrestlers on the planet,” Jarrett told me, “and Eric Young is very, very talented.”

• Looking forward to watching Drew Galloway vs. Jeff Hardy, and overall excited for the Galloway title reign in TNA. Galloway and Roman Reigns share some similarities, as both are 30 years old and roughly the same size, though Galloway is three inches taller at 6’6”. There will also be a feature story on the new TNA champ next week on SI.com.

• AXS TV’s New Japan show with Jim Ross caught viewers up through May 22, 2015, but this upcoming Friday – highlighted by a match between KUSHIDA and Kyle O’Reilly – is must-see viewing for wrestling fans.

• Paul Heyman knows how to sell a match and extol the virtues of Brock Lesnar’s challengers, but couldn’t Dean Ambose have at least defeated Braun Strowman on Monday? If he is supposed to out-last Lesnar at WrestleMania, then a victory over Strowman was necessary.

• For those looking forward to tomorrow’s Smackdown, curb your enthusiasm. I attended last night’s taping at the TD Garden in Boston, and the entire card felt rushed and, outside of Lesnar’s appearance, forgettable. Surprisingly, there was no dark match for the crowd after the filming ended.


Weekly Top 10

1.) Kevin Owens, WWE

KO-Mania was running wild with a hot open to Raw, right up until his 7-man match for WrestleMania was announced. I’ll be devastated if Owens doesn’t walk away from ‘Mania with the IC title.

2.) Dean Ambrose, WWE

The “Lunatic Fringe” is supposedly a threat to defeat Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, yet cannot beat Braun Strowman on the main event of Raw.

3.) AJ Styles, WWE

Part of me wishes that Styles-Owens was saved for a major pay per view, but they delivered two outstanding matches this past week. I like how Jericho continues to outsmart Styles, but the “Phenomenal One” will get his retribution at WrestleMania.

4.) Brock Lesnar, WWE

Lesnar returns tomorrow on Smackdown.

5.) Kenny Omega, New Japan Pro Wrestling

Omega will reveal his thoughts on the WWE, WrestleMania, and more next week on SI.com.

6.) Jay Lethal, Ring of Honor

The Ring of Honor world champion is preparing to defend his title against Top Prospect Tournament’s Lio Rush on the April 1 Supercard of Honor in Dallas.

7.) Roman Reigns, WWE

Michael Cole introduced Reigns on Monday by noting that he could never be bought out by The Authority… which is hopefully a foreshadow to Reigns turning heel at WrestleMania. Also, why hasn’t the announce team–or Reigns–commented on his new entrance down the ramp instead of entering through the crowd?

8.) Kazuchika Okada, New Japan Pro Wrestling

We are in the midst of a busy stretch for the “Rainmaker,” as he is involved in six-man tag action tonight, tomorrow, Friday, Saturday and Sunday–all of his matches include Tatsuya Naito as one of his opponents.

9.) The Young Bucks, Ring of Honor

The Bucks and the Motor City Machine Guns continue their rivalry on April 1 at Supercard of Honor, and both teams will compete the following afternoon in a 4-way tag team match to determine the number one contenders for War Machine’s tag team titles.

10.) Chris Jericho, WWE

Y2J continues to flourish as a heel. Loved the wrinkle that he cost Styles his match against Owens on Monday, yet Jericho was sage enough to overcome the distraction in his match from Styles.


Cryme Tyme, Part I


Monday Night Ran

“Mat Mania” debuts a new track this week featuring WWE Hall of Famer Jake “The Snake” Roberts.

Roberts is known for his work in the World Wrestling Federation as both a babyface–wrestling the likes of Andre the Giant, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, and the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase–as well as a heel, delivering memorable feuds against “Macho Man” Randy Savage and the Undertaker. Mega Ran researched some of Roberts’ earlier career before he wrote the lyrics.

“I went back and watched some old Mid-South stuff, including a match where he squashed a young Shawn Michaels,” said Mega Ran. “I got so much insight into his character. But the best moments for me are the major feuds–Savage and the snake bite, Steamboat and the DDT outside the ring, and ripping off Rick Rude’s tights.”

Mega Ran’s personal favorites growing up were Savage and Roberts, but he gained an entirely different level of respect for Roberts after digging into his dark past.

“After I watched The Resurrection of Jake the Snake two or three times, then I watched a bunch of his older matches and that’s what got me in the mood to write this song. I have friends and family members who hit rock bottom just like Jake, and when I watched that, I saw them. Unfortunately some of them didn’t get out of the hole they were in, and most don’t, so thank goodness Jake had a strong support system around him.”

Mega Ran was searching for a certain type of emotion throughout the piece, and enlisted Doug Funnie for another perspective on the man from Stone Mountain, Georgia.

Extra Mustard
Jake “The Snake” Roberts film delivers sad tale with happy ending

“We both were huge fans, but instead of us writing two separate verses about how great Jake was, I wanted to be different,” said Mega Ran. “My verse is about the dark side of the business–the side that is shown in the ‘Resurrection’ movie. His verse is about the classic Jake Roberts–his smooth style, deliberate demeanor, and technical skill in the ring.

“As we learn from the movie, as well as our knowledge of wrestling these days, these guys are often two very different people, and it can be hard to differentiate one from the other sometimes. So I wanted to contrast the two sides of a pro wrestler by showing the highest of highs, and lowest of lows. It is probably the deepest track on the ‘Mat Mania’ album for that reason.”

As a passionate fan of the business, Mega Ran made every effort to embed extra meaning to the DDT in his lyrics.

“So simple, yet so devastating,” said Mega Ran. “I loved how much they sold it, in ring and out, and how much they talked about it as if it were a secret lethal weapon. It could end a match at any time. It still irks me to this day when people kick out of a DDT. When we think Jake, even before Damien, we think about the DDT.”


Xtreme Wrestling Alliance

Courtesy of XWA

Xtreme Wrestling Alliance is an independent wrestling company based out of Rhode Island, and the promotion is elevating itself to an entirely different level by opening the XWA Event Center in West Warwick.

“I’ve always said that we’re the best thing that nobody has heard about,” said XWA founder Mike Antonucci. “And now people are starting to hear about it.”

The 35-year-old Antonucci created the XWA sixteen years ago, dropping every last measure of devotion into his product.

“The majority of the XWA was built in the last four years, so it took a long time to catch fire,” said Antonucci. “Our turning point was going toward the indie scene. We love bringing in the stars–like Rhino and Cryme Tyme–but then it’s our younger guys’ job to go out there and win that crowd over. T.K. O’Ryan was in a prominent spot this [past Saturday] with Rhino, and Travis Gordon is terrific and only been wrestling for a year.

Extra Mustard
TNA’s Davey Richards on disinterest in WWE, life in the wrestling indies

The goal of the XWA, which actually started at a Boys & Girls Club, is to help create the future stars of wrestling. “Pro Wrestling’s Savior” JT Dunn won the 30-man Xtreme Rumble this past Saturday in Providence, which also included War Machine’s Hanson and Rakishi.

“We had Vader as a surprise guest a couple years ago for our Xtreme Rumble, or last year when Carlito and Snitsky came out, and the whole place just went nuts. We bring in the stars to put them with someone we’re trying to help build, and what better way to learn from some of these stars.”


Woman of Honor

1:36 | Extra Mustard
Taeler Hendrix in action

Taeler Hendrix is the first lady of the House of Truth, and the 26-year-old ravishing red head is relishing her role.

“This is my first really huge opportunity and everyone has really taken me into the Ring of Honor family,” said Hendrix. “The House of Truth is literally the place to be, and it’s because Jay Lethal makes it that way. I’m leaning something new from Jay and Truth Martini every day. Watching old matches of his have helped teach me how to evolve as a character, and Jay’s impersonations of Randy Savage and Ric Flair are spot on. He really keeps things fun.”

Hendrix also has a brief run in TNA on her resume, which allowed her to dip her toes into the rough seas of professional wrestling.

“I had just turned 23, and I didn’t know my head from my toes,” admitted Hendrix. “But I’m a completely different character in Ring of Honor, and I’m showing the world how versatile I can be. Ring of Honor has embraced that and allowed me to run with it.”

The late “Sensational” Sherri Martel serves as a major inspiration for Hendrix.

“Sherri Martel is such a huge influence. She was revolutionary, but versatile enough to reinvent herself managing so many different wrestlers like Shawn Michaels, Ted DiBiase and Randy Savage. I want to be as versatile as her to survive and thrive in this business.”

In addition to her work as a valet, Hendrix also wrestles in ROH’s Women of Honor. She has set lofty goals for herself, and promises to keep working until she achieves them.

“I want it all,” said Hendrix. “I don’t just want to be in Women of Honor, I want to be in Ring of Honor. I want to be in the ring, on television, on commentary, I want everything. A lot of people say that they want to be the best, but I’m willing to prove that again and again until I’m where I want to be.”

Hendrix has such a vast appreciation and respect for the past, and she continues to use the legendary Bette Davis as another inspiration for her work in and out of the ring.

“Bette Davis is a huge influence,” said Hendrix. “She always believed that scripts should be larger than life, acting should be larger than life, and life should be larger than. That’s my mentality in pro wrestling. She always said, ‘Attempt the impossible to improve your work,’ and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.”


Tweet of the Week

Hogan’s resiliency is just as impressive as his accomplishments in wrestling. Whether or not you admire the Hulkster, the victory over Gawker certainly represents a huge financial swing for Terry Bollea.


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

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