SI.com’s Wrestling Week in Review is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Mauro Ranallo & WWE a Perfect Match
Monday nights are appointment-viewing for wrestling fans, but Mauro Ranallo is going to make sure you tune in on Tuesday, too.
The 46-year-old Ranallo joined WWE this past January as the lead voice on Smackdown. Yet, despite his prominent role on the show, even he does not know what is in store once the WWE holds its brand extension draft on Tuesday, July 19.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Ranallo. “I don’t even know if the announcers are going to be part of the draft. I love working with Byron Saxton and Jerry Lawler, and I hope I continue to do so. To be honest, I would love to stay with Smackdown. Michael Cole is the voice of WWE and the voice of Raw. But when we go live, I want to help Smackdown become an ‘A’ show.”
Ranallo may be new to some WWE fans, but he has worked, non-stop, for the past thirty years to become one of the most premiere play-by-play men in combat sports.
“Honestly, it’s all about sacrifice,” said Ranallo. “I don’t think it’s been healthy what I’ve done in my life to get to where I am mentally and otherwise, but it is the path I’ve chose. I’m not married, no family and my hobbies are my loves. I love pop culture, I love sports, I love entertainment. The fact that I get paid to be a part of this is like, ‘Woah.’”
Ranallo began calling wrestling matches at 16 years old with Vancouver-based All Star Wrestling, and has also called fights for Pride Fighting Championships, Showtime for Elite XC, Strikeforce and Showtime Championship Boxing. He began calling New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV with Josh Barnett in 2015, and revealed that he treats calling wrestling, MMA and boxing all in the same realistic manner.
“I can gladly say–nothing, there is no difference,” said Ranallo. “I never thought I’d be able to say that, going into WWE and hearing the stories that I’d heard about the way announcers were treated or taught. And sure, like any employer, I’m asked to tweak what I do because it has to satisfy the boss.”
As a former broadcaster, Vince McMahon did offer some advice to Ranallo.
“I thank my lucky stars–the two critiques I’ve received from Vince are it isn’t radio–and I’m aware of that, even in all my other sports,” said Ranallo. “It’s like Doc [Mike] Emrick–I love him and think he’s one of the greatest announcers ever. A lot of my friends don’t feel the same way because he never stops talking, but I just think he’s so creative and brings the action to life, and that’s what I try to do with my storytelling. Vince said lay off just a little bit on the play-by-play.”
McMahon’s second critique was that not every day is WrestleMania, although that is a constant fight for the genuinely ebullient Ranallo.
“At first Vince thought, ‘Not everything is WrestleMania,’ but I think he’s learned that’s just me,” said Ranallo. “Everything is WrestleMania to me. I go into calling any match, any fight–I don’t care if it’s the main event or the opener–that these guys have put in their work, they’re here for a reason, and there’s a reason I’m calling this fight, so I do want to give it as much attention and respect and energy as I would the main event or a championship fight.”
Ranallo’s work on AXS TV calling New Japan gained him notoriety, winning the Wrestling Observer’s “Best Television Announcer” award for 2015. He feels right at home with fellow former New Japan talents in AJ Styles, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson.
One of Ranallo’s favorite moments took place during the April 18 edition of Raw as he interviewed “The Club” while filling in for Renee Young.
“Renee Young, a fellow Canadian I worked with at The Score, she’s got a green card, so she was landlocked,” said Ranallo, who was asked to fill in for Young while WWE was in London. “So here it is, the first backstage interview with Styles, Gallows and Anderson – and I was there, too.
“If you listen closely, even in their first appearances, there is that hitch–that smile in my voice, though I am unbiased. If they’re bad guys, they’re bad guys, and if they’re good guys, they’re good guys. But even with AJ, and what he did to John Cena on [Memorial Day], there is a part of me that still cheers and thinks, ‘Wow, he got the opportunity to be a part of this and be treated at the same level as the guy who is the face of sports entertainment.’ There were all these questions and speculations–‘Oh, Vince won’t give him respect as the superstar that he is,’ but that’s been the furthest from the truth. If you look back from debuting at the Royal Rumble to being at WrestleMania against Chris Jericho, and now headlining two consecutive pay per views against Roman Reigns–sure, he didn’t win the big matches–but I’m not worried about AJ Styles at all.”
Ranallo also touched on working with WWE Hall of Famer Jerry “The King” Lawler [Editor’s note: The interview with Ranallo occurred before Lawler’s recent arrest].
“Jerry Lawler and I met for the first time when I walked to ringside, and he was always wearing his headset,” said Ranallo. “I shook his hand and said, ‘Mr. Lawler, pleasure to meet you,’ and realized, ‘This is it.’ In my thirty years of experience working with a variety of people, I do know how to make people feel comfortable, and I know what my role is. I’m just the biggest fan who gets to sit ringside, and I’m doing what I wanted to do my whole life, and I wish everyone on earth had an opportunity to–whether it’s to fly to the moon, make the world’s best pizza, or create the world’s greatest race car–experience that same feeling.
“That’s why I keep working extra hard now, because of the fear of losing everything. This can be very fleeting. People ask me, ‘Why do you do so much?’ Look around us–as much as I can be respected or considered good at what I do, jobs come and go, so I spread my wings and I have been very fortunate to remain at the highest level possible. One thing that I’ve learned is that you don’t have to be a prima donna or think you are better than other people in order to succeed. The people I work with are in this because they love what we do and do not try to be bigger than the product.”
Ranallo can also be found every Friday on AXS TV with INSIDE MMA, as he and co-host Bas Rutten discuss the heartbeat of the fight world.
“Bas was the guy instrumental in me having a career in combat sports when we connected in 2001,” said Ranallo. “He is a larger than life force overflowing with charisma, and you look at his credentials–he’s one of the baddest men to ever walk the planet. He could ruin your life in many ways very quickly. I’ve learned so much from him.”
In addition to his WWE schedule, returning to AXS TV remains a major priority.
“I love MMA, and working with Bas Rutten again was the biggest reason I accepted,” said Ranallo. “I love being with INSIDE MMA. It’s the longest running show of its kind, and we just have fun–we try not only to inform but also to entertain. There are so many great stories, and we just want to continue to dig down deep.”
Broadcasting is a lifelong dream for Ranallo.
“When I was a kid, five years old, literally without knowing the term visualization, I visualized life,” said Ranallo. “I would literally get stomach aches when we’d go to the wrestling shows. I needed to be a part of this, and I knew I was going to be a part of this, but I just didn’t know how. I’m a country kid, debilitatingly shy–nerdy, the glasses, book smart, always with a book, always reading, not the jock, not the most outgoing person, even then, but I knew what I wanted to do in life. I wanted to communicate, I wanted to entertain.
“At sixteen, it started with my first love–professional wrestling–and now, thirty years later, at 46, I’m literally on top of my profession in ways that I could never imagine. WWE, MMA, Pride, all the things I do. Now I get to co-host INSIDE MMA, boxing–I got to call [Floyd] Mayweather versus [Manny] Pacquiao, for crying out loud–and kickboxing. I’m blessed.”
Ranallo remains euphoric about his opportunity to work for WWE, and expressed gratitude for such a warm welcome from the fans of the WWE community.
“I know how polarizing I am,” said Ranallo. “I get a kick out of the fact that some people have that much of a visceral reaction to what I do, whether you’re a fan or a critic or a hater. It’s all I know, so I just do what I know.”
Going live with the brand extension is on the forefront on Ranallo’s mind, and he is anxiously awaiting the chance to get started.
“I’m very much looking forward to the challenge,” said Ranallo. “I’m glad that they’re looking at distinct rosters, and distinct writing teams, and distinct announcers. We’re going to be in competition with Raw, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m actually looking forward to wrestling Michael Cole at WrestleMania–wait, no, I’m not. This is going to be a huge opportunity for everyone on the roster–I can’t wait for July 19.”
News of the Week
Roman Reigns has the chance to turn into a bigger star than he ever imagined.
Count me suspicious of the timing, as this happened less than 48 hours after dropping the WWE championship, but Roman Reigns’ 30-day suspension for violating WWE’s talent wellness policy is the best possible thing to happen to him.
Reigns can use the next thirty days to add something different to his arsenal. He needs work on his mic skills, and adding a couple of new moves into his repertoire–like Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins do on a consistent basis–would go a long way in earning the respect of the audience. Reigns also needs to return more bitter than ever.
I am among those who enjoyed the way WWE booked the main event at Money in the Bank. After Rollins turned his back on the Shield, Ambrose promised that he would forever be a thorn in his side–and you have to love it when a storyline comes full circle… yet the Shield triple threat match was scheduled too quickly for Battleground. Once Reigns returns–with an edge before going full out heel–he can unleash an entirely dark new side to his character at SummerSlam.
Dean Ambrose’s title reign is a monumental shift in the direction of professional wrestling.
Unlike a flurry of former WWE champions–most notably Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan, CM Punk–Ambrose does not have a Ring of Honor pedigree. He competed there briefly in 2007, wrestling two dark matches, but Ambrose is a proud disciple of Gabe Sapolsky.
Sapolsky was the original booker in Ring of Honor, but the company cut ties in 2008. He then reinvented himself with Dragon Gate USA and EVOLVE, and Ambrose is his greatest success story. Sapolsky also worked closely with Daniel Bryan, but Bryan was already a much bigger name than Ambrose on the independents when he connected with Sapolsky.
Ten of ROH’s twenty-two world champions–Rollins, Bryan, Punk, Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, Austin Aries (two title reigns), Low Ki, Jerry Lynn, and Jamie Noble–have competed on WWE’s main roster, but the route to the WWE has changed. Sapolsky’s EVOLVE is viewed by many in the business as the premiere breeding ground for NXT and WWE.
Ambrose’s title reign validates Sapolsky and EVOLVE, and shows that the avenues to WWE from the indies is quickly changing.
Why can’t AJ Styles defeat John Cena cleanly?
Thanks to outside interference from Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, Styles defeated Cena this past Sunday at Money in the Bank. While a victory by Styles on a WWE pay per view would normally be cause for celebration, the finish of the match was tainted by a knocked out referee and interference.
Why does Cena need to be protected? Cena would not have been hurt, whatsoever, by a clean loss, which is what he will certainly acquire sometime in the near future on Styles. Cena pinning Styles while the referee was knocked out only taints Styles’ victory.
Also, I understand that Styles is a heel, and heels use outside interference to win. But if Cena had kicked out of the pinfall after Gallows and Anderson interfered, and then Styles delivered the Styles Clash for the victory, that would have been a more meaningful finish. For those keeping count, Cena marks the third opponent–following Chris Jericho and Roman Reigns–to kick out of the finishing maneuver.
In other news…
• Coming next Monday: Kurt Angle opens up about his battle with addiction and how he using his past to help others.
• Such a fantastic contrast between the New Day and the Wyatt Family. The extremely creative Bray Wyatt’s “New Day falls” line will go down in infamy along with “Anyone but you, Roman” and “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” Wyatt is long overdue for some WWE gold, and it would be refreshing to see the Wyatt’s with the tag titles.
• The Zack Ryder burial continued on Raw. While JBL sang the praises of Baron Corbin as a future world champion, WWE refuses to give Ryder a meaningful singles run.
• The New Day are soon to be the longest reigning WWE tag team champions. The trio is at 304 days for their single reign, trailing the 331-day record set by Paul London and Brian Kendrick. There is a distinction, however, as Demolition–at 478 days–remains the longest reigning world tag team champions, which is considered separate and has a different lineage, in WWE history.
• Adam Rose found himself in more hot water last week. Despite having all charges dropped from his arrest in May, Rose decided to sell a t-shirt on Pro Wrestling Tees with his mugshot following his arrest for domestic abuse. No one should buy or profit from a t-shirt celebrating abuse, and the move was extremely tone-deaf from Rose. The shirts are no longer on sale.
• Dana Brooke’s inexperience is more visible by the week. Brooke is extremely green and her role as Charlotte’s enforcer feels forced, but it was encouraging to see Charlotte and Paige receive the second longest match of the night on Raw, as well as wonderful to see the return of Sasha Banks. Hopefully WWE will build up the Charlotte-Banks feud until SummerSlam.
• The next time we see Jerry Lawler is when he is working for another wrestling promotion. WWE suspended Lawler indefinitely after he and his girlfriend, Lauryn McBride, were both arrested for alleged charges of domestic assault. I have been told to expet a Raw broadcast team of Michael Cole, Corey Graves, and Byron Saxton after the brand extension, with Mauro Ranallo and JBL on Smackdown.
• Am I the only one who didn’t enjoy John Cena’s impression of Hulk Hogan?
• Ring of Honor’s Best in the World pay per view takes place this Friday night live from Concord, North Carolina. Jay Lethal defends the world title against former champ (and one-half of the current IWGP tag champs) Jay Briscoe. The match of the night, in my humble opinion, will either be the TV title match between Bobby Fish and Dalton Castle or the special challenge featuring Kyle O’Reilly vs. Kamaitachi.
The Wrestlers’ Tribune: Bobby Fish
In an exclusive to the Week in Wrestling, Ring of Honor World Television champion Bobby Fish explains, in his own words, the importance of his title.
I don’t want for there to be any confusion, so first, let me tell you what this Ring of Honor World Television title doesn’t mean...
It doesn’t mean that I’ve arrived! It doesn’t mean that I’m finally getting the recognition I deserve. It doesn’t mean that magically, now I’ve been accepted into the ranks of the untouchable; that all wrongs against me have been righted and my fairytale adventure is safe to begin. It doesn’t mean that the decision makers are giving me a long overdue carry of the ball!
What it means is that I continue to do what I’ve done my entire life, and that, in as plain a language as I can speak, is to be UN-F------ DENIABLE! This carry is not a reward for my good soldiering and it will not serve as my audition for the starring role...
The World Television title is my DECLARATION, and it states emphatically that there is no man in the Ring of Honor locker room who can say the things I say or do the things I do–and do them in a style that is truly one of its kind, a style that is unapologetically me. I have created a body of work that stands alone as an example of what is possible in our art form! This Ring of Honor WORLD Television title serves as identification. I am THE KING, the guy this company requires–if it is to evolve, to become something this business has yet to see. This is my path, and it is time now for this company to understand that my path and its own are one in the same. The path is unclear and not without obstruction, but a path marred by less resistance than what I’ve come to expect is a path I’m not willing to travel, anyway. Such a path provides me no message, it encourages little growth, and in its end, solicits no evolution from those who follow it.
I will continue to chase my destination well beyond the crossroads. Outside of the zone considered comfortable, because within that zone lives wasted time. This business is my very own “dead horse,” and I will beat the sh-- out of this horse until I feel like stopping! This Ring of Honor WORLD Television title means is my art. It doesn’t fit neatly into your box.
This title confirms, especially for those who’d be happy to finish last in the race to accept it, that I am the #1! This is my art and I make no apologies for it or how it is that I create it!
Bobby Fish defends the ROH Television title this Friday night against Dalton Castle at Ring of Honor’s Best in the World pay per view.
Weekly Top 10
1.) Dean Ambrose, WWE
The new WWE champion was spectacular in the Money in the Bank ladder match and, six months into 2016, his victory over Seth Rollins stands as the moment of the year.
2.) AJ Styles, WWE
Styles needs a dominant victory at Battleground in July before his inevitable loss to John Cena at SummerSlam.
3.) Kevin Owens, WWE
This Owens-Zayn feud would only be enhanced with the Intercontinental title on the line at SummerSlam.
4.) Kenny Omega, New Japan Pro Wrestling
Even in defeat, Omega put on a WrestleMania worthy performance at New Japan’s Dominion show this past Sunday.
5.) John Cena, WWE
It is easy to criticize and complain about Cena–and I do it all the time–but it’s good to have him back on WWE television. But you have to wonder: when will the fifteen-time champ re-insert himself into the title picture?
6.) Roman Reigns, WWE
You cannot be a bona-fide star in the wrestling business until you figure out your character and what you stand for, and Reigns’ changes by the week.
7.) Kazuchika Okada, New Japan Pro Wrestling
The 28-year-old returns to the top ten after regaining his IWGP championship this past Sunday for a fourth time.
8.) Cesaro, WWE
Cesaro remains the most under-utilized wrestler on the WWE roster.
9.) Bobby Lashley, TNA
Although Lashley would not headline a WWE pay per view, TNA has done a solid job of making its world champion look dominant.
10.) Michael Elgin, New Japan Pro Wrestling
The new IWGP Intercontinental champion rounds out the Top Ten after his exhilarating 33-minute victory in a ladder match over Kenny Omega this past Sunday in Japan.
Five Questions with… KUSHIDA
Fresh off a victory over Super Juniors king Will Ospreay this past Sunday at New Japan’s Dominion, IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion KUSHIDA discusses New Japan, his dream match with Daniel Bryan, and if he will ever work for the WWE.
SI.com: You have been Junior Heavyweight champion since defeating Kenny Omega for the belt on January 4 at Wrestle Kingdom 10. What has been your proudest moment as champ?
KUSHIDA: I do not have one proudest moment, but I want to exceed expectations. My heart is in every title match. I spend my whole life wrestling. I get one day off to go back home, and I’ll maybe stay three days in my home this month. This is my journey.
SI.com: What is your next goal? Do you still want to win Ring of Honor gold?
KUSHIDA: When I started in Mexico, there was no money. We couldn’t fill the house, I had no gimmick. Working in New Japan, I got a strong heart. I don’t forget the hard work that went into this journey, and I am very hungry for more.
SI.com: Who would you like to wrestle next? Do you have any dream matches?
KUSHIDA: I hope my next matches are with Roderick Strong, Jay Lethal, Adam Cole and a legend in Jushin “Thunder” Liger. Four years ago, I became IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team champion, which is a former title of Daniel Bryan [Editor’s note: Bryan wrestled as American Dragon in New Japan Pro Wrestling, and was one-half of the IWGP Junior Heavyweight tag team champions with Christopher Daniels–known, at the time, as Curry Man] in 2004. My greatest wish would be to wrestle Daniel Bryan, but since he is retired, I would love to sit down and talk Japanese wrestling with him. I would also like to wrestle Great Muta and Ricky Steamboat.
SI.com: You are able to deliver incredible matches with wrestlers of many different size and strengths, including Kenny Omega, Will Ospreay and Finn Balor. Your style works against the Super Juniors, but it would also work in a match with John Cena. How did you become so versatile in the ring?
KUSHIDA: When I was a junior in high school, I started MMA and grappling, boxing and amateur wrestling. Then I went to Mexico to learn lucha libre. When I was a child and watching independent shows, New Japan Pro Wrestling and WWE, I just loved pro wrestling. I don’t think there are different styles–there is one style, and it is emotion. Japanese fans cried when Okada lost the IWGP title to Naito, and American fans cried when Undertaker lost [at WrestleMania 30 to Brock Lesnar].
SI.com: Would you ever consider wrestling for WWE?
KUSHIDA: Yes. I still remember Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania. I was maybe ten years old, and I cried when Hulk Hogan lost. Pro wrestling is not moves–it is human. It’s not work–it’s heart.
Six years ago, I did not have a visa. I really appreciate the fans in America, and thank you very much to the ROH fans. I hope to go to ROH and WWE and measure up against those wrestlers and fight in that ring. Every day, I’m training, training, training. Sometimes, dreams do not come true. But this time, my dreams have come true. I’m so happy, and I want to come back to the U.S.
Big Mike Wins Gold
Congratulations to new IWGP Intercontinental champion Michael Elgin, who defeated Kenny Omega in a 33-minute ladder match this past Sunday at New Japan’s Dominion show. Since it was the first match of its kind in company history, Elgin goes down in history as the first wrestler to ever win a New Japan ladder match.
“Looking at this picture gives me goosebumps,” said Elgin. The new IWGP Intercontinental champion now travels to wrestle with CMLL in Mexico until July 12 before returning to Japan in a humbling reminder of the sacrifices he makes in order to reach greatness.
“It’s a moment I’ll always hold close to my heart. I’ve been a wrestling fan my entire life, and just like being a wrestler there are defining moments while being a fan. Two of those defining moments are Razor Ramon winning the first ever ladder match in WWF and Shawn Michaels winning the rematch.
“Those are iconic moments–these two men standing atop the ladder holding the intercontinental championship helped convince me this is what I wanted to do.
Now, as I look at this picture, I flashback to being a fan. I remember the feelings I had, and I hope that someone out there watching gets those same feelings watching me win the first ever ladder match in NJPW history.
“Like any career mine has had its ups and downs, but I found my home in NJPW. With not even a full year under my belt I have accomplished so much, and I’m only just getting started!”
Tweet of the Week
I apologize to my family, friends and fans for my mistake in violating WWE’s wellness policy. No excuses. I own it.— Roman Reigns (@WWERomanReigns) June 21, 2016
No gloating or belittling Reigns’ suspension, as he is getting a raw deal here from the company. I am, however, looking forward to seeing how Reigns responds once he returns.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.