SI.com’s Wrestling Week in Review is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Word Association with EC3
EC3 plans on avenging his loss to “The Miracle” Mike Bennett this Sunday live on pay per view at TNA’s Slammiversary. After flying in from a weekend of wrestling in Mexico, the former two-time TNA champion–and one of the sharpest minds in wrestling–took time to play word association with Sports Illustrated. Word for word, these are his replies.
SI: “Broken” Matt Hardy
EC3: “Brother Nero?” Terrible (British?) accent.
SI: Lucha Underground
EC3: Intriguing product, great production. Huge Paul London fan.
SI: “The Miracle” Mike Bennett & Maria
EC3: Bizarro EC3. Great competitor, great acquisitions, will be defeated Sunday.
SI: Jeff Hardy
EC3: Brother Nero! One of the best and our most valuable asset.
SI: Triple H
EC3: King of Kings of all the Kings.
SI: Daniel Bryan
EC3: Chicks in America.
SI: Brock Lesnar
EC3: A true attraction. Makes me hungry for Jimmy John’s.
SI: Paul Heyman
EC3: Vocal verbalization, very well done.
EC3: A side project I will make famous.
EC3: True pay per view. A blank canvas–time to paint a masterpiece, I’m stealing the show.
News of the Week
Brock Lesnar’s return to the UFC is a stroke of marketing genius by the WWE.
Lesnar’s return to the Octagon at UFC 200 will draw an enormous gate, potentially even greater than the money that would have been generated in the originally proposed 200 rematch between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz. The move was deemed necessary by UFC president Dana White, who desperately wanted a double main event to pair alongside the light heavyweight title match between Daniel Cormier and Jon “Bones” Jones. Lesnar’s return is, undoubtedly, the biggest possible addition and wisest business move by the UFC.
The only potential drawback for WWE would be realized if Lesnar were to get knocked out in the opening round by Mark Hunt. Although Hunt is older (42) and smaller (5’10”), he is a proven fighter and is battle-tested–Hunt has fought nine fights since Lesnar lasted entered the cage. All of Lesnar’s losses have occurred in the first round, and the potential for disaster looms if Lesnar is caught with an early blow. As the Michael Bisping-Luke Rockhold fight–which saw major underdog Bisping knock out Rockhold in the opening round–reminded us this past Saturday at UFC 199, there are absolutely no guarantees in the world of pro combat sports.
I have been asked repeatedly if there are legitimate concerns about Lesnar’s conditioning, but his training camp will alleviate concerns about conditioning and stamina. The bigger concern is a pre-match injury that either puts the fight on hiatus, or if the ultra-competitive Lesnar is injured during camp yet decides to fight anyway and ultimately pays the price for that hubris on fight night.
There are no promises in the UFC, but as long as Lesnar is competitive, this move will only help draw interest in his return at SummerSlam. A dominating victory could even propel Lesnar into the title match with Roman Reigns, and he could continue working his reduced schedule by making special appearances on both Raw and Smackdown as the WWE’s heavyweight champion.
The showdown between John Cena and AJ Styles would have been significantly enhanced if the buildup had lasted until SummerSlam.
Styles and Cena are set to face each other at Money in the Bank on Sunday, June 19. The leader of The Club is in desperate need of a clean PPV victory, which will not happen here against Cena. Had the showdown been built up throughout the summer, both men could have run through opponents until their inevitable meeting in August at SummerSlam. Vince McMahon and Co. are still masters at building a feud, and watching this one play out all summer long would have been extremely compelling.
The wait would have also been positive for Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, who are warming up for their first run together as tag team champions. SummerSlam could have included a Styles victory over Cena, as well as the crowning of Gallows and Anderson as new tag team champs.
In other news…
• I traveled to Los Angeles this past weekend to interview Stone Cold Steve Austin. We discussed his new beer line, his appearance at WrestleMania 32, as well as the current WWE product. Austin was honest, insightful, and engaging–and the story is set to run next Monday, June 13.
• The opening of Raw–with the six Money in the Bank ladder match competitors sitting atop ladders–was an effective buildup to the upcoming pay per view. The focus was rightfully on the match... until the Teddy Long promo brought the segment to a grinding halt.
• The UFC is helping promote SummerSlam. UFC 202–which is rumored to have CM Punk’s debut in the Octagon–takes place the night before SummerSlam, and the WWE is reportedly interested in bringing in UFC women’s star Paige VanZant for SummerSlam. Give the WWE credit–the 22-year-old VanZant, who also starred on Dancing with the Stars, is young, beautiful, and talented–and would instantly add to the WWE product.
• Mick Foley delivered some of the best news of the week when he announced that, for the first time since 1990, he is down to 270 pounds. Thanks to DDP Yoga, Mrs. Foley’s baby boy has lost 68 pounds in six months.
• Charlotte’s “apology” on Raw served as another reminder of how the WWE botched her breakup with Ric Flair. Why wouldn’t Charlotte be allowed to cut a natural promo against her father? People always refer to the “Attitude Era” in the late 90’s as a golden era for wrestling, and that is largely because we as an audience felt an intimate connection with the performers. Instead of the writing team producing a long, drawn-out soliloquy–one that was almost certain to be submarined by the “WHAT?” chant–the immensely talented Charlotte should have been given the opportunity to tell her story. That missed opportunity could have been a game-changer in Charlotte’s development as a bona-fide star.
• WWE continues to sign the top talents from the indies. The latest addition is Tommy End. The tattooed, 31-year-old martial artist out of the Netherlands has torn up the independent scene in the United Kingdom, Europe, and most recently with Gabe Sapolsky’s EVOLVE. End will add depth to NXT, and eventually make an impact with either Raw or Smackdown once he debuts with the main roster.
• Due to a shoulder injury, Hiroshi Tanahashi is officially out of his match against Intercontinental champion Kenny Omega at New Japan’s June 19 Dominion show. Tanahashi and Omega were supposed to star in New Japan’s first ever ladder match, but that distinct honor will now be presented to Michael Elgin. Dominion is one of New Japan’s top shows of the year, which means the extent of Tanahashi’s injury is far worse than we were led to believe.
• Will Ospreay, the 23-year-old product of London, became the first-ever English wrestler to capture New Japan’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament. Ospreay is now also the youngest man to ever win the BOSJ. In its illustrious history, Finn Balor (2010, 2013) is a notable two-time BOSJ champion. Ospreay won this year’s 16-man tournament by defeating Mexican luchador Volador Jr. in the finals on Tuesday. Ospreay will now challenge Kushida for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title.
• Although I could have done without the multiple Willows at the end of last night’s Impact, TNA aired a strong go-home in anticipation of this Sunday’s Slammiversary. The battles between Jeff and Matt Hardy, EC3 and Mike Bennett, and the world title match between Drew Galloway and Bobby Lashley are all must-see matches.
• Did the Michael Bisping victory over Luke Rockhold at UFC 199 remind anyone else of the “Texas Tornado” Kerry Von Erich’s upset of Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig at SummerSlam ‘90? The legendary Von Erich tornado-punched his way into the WWE history book after being announced as Perfect’s opponent just ten days before the match–nearly identical to Bisping filling in for the injured Chris Weidman seventeen days before the fight against Rockhold.
• Coming soon: a Father’s Day tribute to the late Mr. Perfect. More info to come next week.
Weekly Top 10
1.) AJ Styles, WWE
Styles looked terrific in victory over Kofi Kingston on Smackdown. He used the Styles Clash to perfection on Kingston, and finally received a chance to speak on Raw when he was face-to-face with Cena. He still needs an unfiltered conversation with either Michael Cole or Mauro Ranallo, but it was definitely a step forward.
2.) Kevin Owens, WWE
Owens should have never lost the Intercontinental title at WrestleMania 32. A long title run ended by Sami Zayn, in my humble opinion, would have served far better in the long run. Of course, all will be well in the pro wrestling world if Owens captures the Money in the Bank briefcase.
3.) Kenny Omega, New Japan Pro Wrestling
Omega is the most talented wrestler in the world not employed by the WWE. Stay tuned for a feature with Omega right here on SI.com.
4.) Will Ospreay, New Japan Pro Wrestling
Ospreay won the Best of the Super Juniors, but will he be able to dethrone Kushida as IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion? The match takes place at the Dominion show on June 19, and my money is on Kushida to retain.
5.) Samoa Joe, NXT
Joe needs to obliterate Finn Balor in a steel cage this Wednesday night at NXT TakeOver: The End, which will help cement his role as the single most destructive force in the history of NXT. The loss will cause no long-term damage to Balor, as the feud can eventually resurface on the main roster.
6.) Finn Balor, NXT
I still believe we will see Balor-Styles at SummerSlam.
7.) Shinsuke Nakamura, NXT
Three of wrestling’s top ten talents currently reside in NXT, but that will change as Nakamura, Joe and Balor all need to be part of the brand extension between Raw and Smackdown. The Nakamura-Austin Aries match on Wednesday will be appointment viewing.
8.) Tetsuya Naito, New Japan Pro Wrestling
Naito prepares for the biggest match of his career as he defends the IWGP title against Kazuchika Okada on June 19. He wrestled this past weekend in six and eight-man tags against Okada.
9.) Jeff Hardy, TNA
What does Hardy have in store for this Sunday at Slammiversary? The aerial spectacle could be reason enough to order the PPV.
10.) Cesaro, WWE
Cesaro picked up a meaningful win over Chris Jericho this Monday, and the brand extension will be particularly beneficial for him. We are accustomed to seeing him wrestle superb matches twice a week, but now his matches will be must-see viewing once he will only be seen on either Raw or Smackdown.
Five Questions with… Drew Galloway
TNA world champion Drew Galloway faces his greatest challenge this Sunday against Bobby Lashley at Slammiversary. Lashley, who has headlined a WrestleMania and competes as a heavyweight in Bellator MMA, marks Galloway’s first opponent in a TNA pay per view title defense. Galloway shared his time to speak with Sports Illustrated about the match with Lashley, which can only be won by pinfall or submission, as well as to discus his love for the business and even assess the work of a fellow world champion in Roman Reigns.
SI.com: Considering this is your first PPV title defense, what is the ideal match for you and Bobby Lashley this Sunday?
Galloway: Jeff Hardy is on that show, and he always does something to standout–but I guarantee the Lashley-Galloway match will steal the show. I will do something to get everyone’s attention.
My first couple of matches as champion were against Matt and Jeff Hardy, and those were some cool opportunities. Going into this feud with Bobby Lashley has given me something pretty unique. Bobby is on that same level as Brock Lesnar–he’s the only guy fighting in MMA and professional wrestling at the same time, so it’s a unique opportunity for me to up my game to keep up with Lashley.
SI.com: Does Bobby Lashley remind you of Brock Lesnar? What is it like to work with other-worldly specimens like Lashley and Lesnar?
Galloway: I didn’t get much time in the ring with Brock–it was just the 3MB thing that was one and done. He destroyed us, but he gave us good advice. I could tell from him touching me and him moving with me that, ‘Wow, this guy could do anything he wants to me right now.’ It’s the same way with Bobby. Those two were just born different. I’ve never encountered anyone else as strong as they are or as fast as they are. Everything they touch, they’re able to do athletically. They are different breeds of athletes.
People know that Bobby is legit, and that’s the story we’re going to try to tell in the ring. He is an MMA guy, so I need to treat him like the beast he is. He’s the biggest, baddest guy, and he’s used to kicking everyone’s a--. Maybe he’ll kick my a--, but I won’t stop. I’m not going to treat this man like a pro wrestler, because that’s not believable or the way you beat Bobby Lashley.
SI.com: As world champion–as well as someone who genuinely loves the business–you are constantly surveying the landscape of pro wrestling. Do you ever compare yourself to other champions, most notably WWE champion Roman Reigns?
Galloway: Obviously I keep my eye on the wrestling product, I am the biggest wrestling fan in the world. I love this, and I need this. This is my first official world title reign, and I want people to remember this. I’ve been traveling the world defending the title, and I’m trying to be a unique champion in the social media age. The way TNA is filmed, I can go out and wrestle other shows and get people’s attention on TNA and Drew Galloway.
I travel all the time, but I try to watch as much as I can. Roman is such a talented guy. People can see that he’s been protected a lot, which is understandable. If I was in a position of power, I’d put him in the exact same spot. But it takes years to truly get over and get the fans fully behind you. People have to come on this journey with you, and they’ve been with me the whole time. I won the IC title, they saw 3MB, and it really does take a long time for people to get to know you. Truly getting over is a lot different than just getting a reaction, and time is what it takes. I understand that now. A couple years from now, or after he comes back from an injury, Reigns is going to be one of the biggest stars ever.
SI.com: There are similarities between the inaugural title runs of yourself and Bret “The Hitman” Hart, particularly in the authenticity of your work as champion. How much of an influence is Hart?
Galloway: Bret Hart was my hero growing up. It’s so bizarre to hear your hero say kind things about you, it’s just crazy. Hulk Hogan was the larger than life character that everybody loved, but there was just something about Bret Hart. He had the jacket and the glasses, but I was just obsessed with watching his matches. As I grew up, I began to realize I enjoyed the matches so much because Bret told such a captivating story in the ring with his moves. He wasn’t phony, and I immediately recognized that. He told compelling stories in the wrestling, and that’s the most genuine thing in this business. Guys like Bret Hart, William Regal, and Fit Finlay–those are three guys from over the years that have influenced me and I really respect.
SI.com: Even though you are 6’6”, you are so talented at your craft that you are able to play the underdog extremely well. How important is your ability to sell for your opponents and also engage the fans in regards to your core philosophy as a wrestler?
Galloway: That’s what I strive to do, and that’s the art of wrestling. I try to take myself out of the situation and look at it from the outside. When I’m wrestling a guy that is smaller than me, people think I should run right through him. So that’s my job as a professional to take that situation and say, ‘This is his character, this is my character, and this is the current storyline. If people think we’re going to go in this direction, we should think outside the box for the best match possible.’ That’s the joy of wrestling. As an artist and creator, you can come up with these scenarios and see the result of your hard work and see people react to it. It’s such a rewarding feeling that you’ve created something like that.
If I don’t wrestle for two weeks, it feels like I haven’t worked in six months. I try to wrestle as much as I can, and different companies–like PWG and EVOLVE–provide different opponents and lead to different ideas. PWG is like a Member’s Only club, and I’ve been there a few times and I’m finally accepted on the roster. The crowd there decides if you’re going to be back–it’s almost like the Coliseum in gladiator time. And that’s what makes me a little different from the title reigns of Kurt Angle, EC3, and Matt Hardy–I want to wrestle all over the world and take the TNA title with me.
Tweet of the Week
The news of Muhammed Ali’s death dominated press coverage over the weekend. Ali occasionally forayed into the world of pro wrestling, playing a role in the original WrestleMania and engaging in feuds with Gorilla Monsoon and Antoni Inoki. The boxer with the greatest influence on the business of pro wrestling, however, was and will always be “Iron” Mike Tyson.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.