Justin Barrasso
Wednesday June 29th, 2016

Fighting Words from Mark Hunt

Mark Hunt is counting the minutes until UFC 200 on July 9.

“I’m looking forward to being the one to welcome Brock Lesnar back to the UFC,” said Hunt. “This is what I do for a living. I’ve been fighting for 27 years. I’m not a pretender, I’m a fighter. Come July 9, I’m going to whip his ass. I’m not going to play around, I’m going to be out for blood.”

UFC fighters coming out of retirement are required to undergo four months of drug testing from the United States Anti-Doping Agency, yet that requirement was waived for Lesnar.

USADA did reveal that it tested Lesnar on five different occasions in the past three weeks, but count Hunt among those skeptical of their claim.

“Lesnar’s been juicing his whole career,” said Hunt. “I’m still going to go out there and punch his face in until he’s knocked out.”

Lesnar is facing an uphill battle after a five-year absence from the cage, while Hunt has had nine fights in that same period of time.

“He’s coming into my domain and back into my sport,” said Hunt. “I’m going to knock him back to pro wrestling.”

Hunt revealed that there are no plans for a rematch against Lesnar in August at SummerSlam.

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“I have no plans to wrestle in pro wrestling,” said Hunt. “The only thing I’m interested in is fighting against Brock Lesnar in the UFC. I’ve got nothing against pro wrestling–I’ve done it myself in Japan. People bust on it because it’s not real, but I’ve got nothing against it.”

Hunt noted that he respects what Lesnar has accomplished throughout his career in the Octagon.

“If you don’t respect someone in a fight, then you’re going to get pummeled,” said Hunt. “I respect Brock. He’s such a big guy, he can punch you out, and he’s won a UFC title, which I’ve never done. Of course I respect Lesnar as an athlete, but he’s been inactive for a long time. He thinks he’s going to pull me right down and the fight’s over, but I’m not going to let it go down like that.”

All three of Lesnar’s losses in the UFC occurred in the opening round, and the blueprint for Hunt is clear–he needs to attack Lesnar early. If the fight moves to the mat, Lesnar, who is a former NCAA Division I heavyweight champion in collegiate wrestling, has a significant advantage.

“Lesnar’s a wrestler,” said Hunt. “If he can’t get me down, he’s going to get knocked out in the first or second round.”

Hunt predicted a victory for himself and a painful return to mixed martial arts for Lesnar.

“I don’t care what he’s been up to and I don’t care if he’s at full strength,” said Hunt. “I’m going to go out there and knock his face off.”


News of the Week

The waiting is the hardest part.

WWE is officially in a holding pattern. This past Raw was a throwaway and extremely predictable, as all focus is on the upcoming brand extension on Tuesday, July 19.

How could a Raw-headlined by Seth Rollins-John Cena, as well as Dean Ambrose-AJ Styles–be so forgettable? The finish was predictable to anyone who watches the product. After Styles cost Cena his match, it was inevitable that Cena would return the favor to Styles. Of course, the inevitable inevitably occurred.

The jokes on Monday included Cena’s “funky as a monkey” line and Cass joking with the Social Outcasts about getting “hard.” Even the finish, as WWE split heat with The Club attacking Cena while Rollins pummeled Ambrose, was disjointed. There is no doubt a new era of WWE begins with the brand split, and the monotony and predictability of this past Monday served as a reminder why there is reason to be optimistic with a two hour, Mauro Ranallo-announced Smackdown in our future.

In other news…

• The New Day is tough to watch as a babyface group. The trio has shifted entirely into a comedy act. Big E would be another great addition to the world title picture instead of being part of the non-stop comedy routine, and each comedy attempt serves as a reminder that the trio worked much more effectively as heels.

• The WWE’s Live SummerSlam Heat Wave Tour stopped in Boston this past Saturday and was highlighted by a main event between Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins. Ambrose was successful in his first ever WWE title defense, defeating Rollins at the 19:01 mark after delivering “Dirty Deeds.” The match of the night, however, was a 12-minute wrestling clinic that saw Cesaro victorious over Alberto Del Rio.

Courtesy of Justin Barrasso

• Out of all the potential opponents for Miz’s Intercontinental title, we were graced with Kane on Monday night. The match was arguably the lowest point of Raw in 2016, while the wildly talented Cesaro–who would be a tremendous fit as the IC champ–was relegated to a tag team match where he only saw three-and-a-half minutes of action.

• For those watching the introductions during the Becky Lynch-Summer Rae match, Natalya quoted her uncle–the late, great Owen Hart–on commentary when she said, “Enough is enough, and it’s time for a change.” The match, however, never took place, nor was there any official announcement as to why, after Lynch attacked Natalya. If WWE doesn’t care enough to inform its viewers about the match, why should we care to watch it?

• From 2003 until this past weekend, Roderick Strong was “Mr. Ring of Honor.” Strong wrapped up an incredible run this past weekend with the company, and now takes some much needed time off before, presumably, entering the fall NXT class with Quinn “Moose” Ojinnaka and “Big” Damo O’Connor.

• The WWE announced a new international partnership with Special Olympics, which is actually a relationship that began in 1995 through Linda McMahon and Susan Saint James, who is the wife of former NBC Sports head Dick Ebersol. During her recent interview with Sports Illustrated, McMahon explained, “We’d gotten to know Susan Saint James during WrestleMania I, and developed a relationship with Susan and Dick Ebersol. Susan asked me to co-chair Special Olympics in Connecticut, which I did, then Vince and I were co-chairs on the Governor’s committee that brought Special Olympics to Connecticut. The Governor was Lowell Weicker, and he had a son who had Down’s syndrome, and his son dearly loved WWE.”

• Is there a more cringe-worthy move in professional wrestling than Dana Brooke’s Michinoki Driver? I wish she’d learn a running lariat or the DDT, or anything else that does not require so much vulnerability from her opponent.

[youtube:https://youtu.be/XGtYGRGHU30​]

• Sasha Banks adds an entirely different element to the women’s division–she is the roster’s most dynamic worker, and she is also extremely realistic in the ring and can talk. I am very interested how Banks’ feud with Charlotte for the women’s title is prolonged–and hopefully, kept fresh–until SummerSlam.

• The success continues abroad for Michael Elgin. One weekend after capturing New Japan’s IWGP Intercontinental title, Big Mike traveled to Mexico, dominated Lucha Libre Elite’s world championship tournament, and defeated Volador Jr. to become Elite’s inaugural world champion.

• I just finished WWE: 100 Greatest Matches. The book is a very good read, especially with the lead-up and follow-up to the matches. There are far too many new matches–there is one match from the 1960’s (Buddy Rogers vs. Bruno Sammartino) and one from the 1970’s (“Superstar” Billy Graham vs. Dusty Rhodes)–as well as ones that could have been easily replaced (the “Montreal Screwjob” was left off the list, yet holds far more historical weight than, for example, the Uso’s vs. the Wyatt Family match listed in the book from 2014). Matches from CM Punk, Hulk Hogan and Jeff Hardy–as well as Chris Benoit–were all included, which is significant because they either work for another promotion, like Hardy, are no longer in the good graces of the WWE (Hogan, Punk), or, in Benoit’s case, erased from existence.


The Wrestlers’ Tribune: Tommy Dreamer

Courtesy of Tommy Dreamer

With summer upon us, WWE legend and ECW pioneer Tommy Dreamer shares, in his own words, the importance of baseball in his life.

Most people know Tommy Dreamer for his heart, soul and passion for professional wrestling. At 18 years old, I started that journey and I’m still living my dream 27 years later.

But way before I even knew what my path in life would be, my main goal and passion was the game of baseball. Growing up in the 1970’s and living in New York, all I wanted to be was the third baseman for the New York Yankees. My hero was Graig Nettles. His fearless play at the hot corner–diving to stop the ball, risking life and limb to get an out–was legendary in New York. Being a child, I liked every New York Yankees player who was on the team. To this day, I can rhyme off the entire lineups, including back-ups, without hesitation, but when asked what day my wife’s birthday is, or for a password or certain other things, I have to think hard.

The one chink in my solid armor was that my dad was a fan of the rival New York Mets. He grew up in Brooklyn before moving to the suburbs and watched his team pack up and leave town for Los Angeles, so he could never root for the hated Yankees.

I remember when my dad said he was going to take me to my first Major League Baseball game, but it wasn’t going to be in the Bronx. It was in Flushing! I remember wearing my little league hat, bringing a ball and my Reggie Jackson glove. I figured I would suck it up and go to my first Mets game.

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The Mets just so happened to be playing the Dodgers, my dad’s former favorite team, that day. The moment I got out of the car, I knew it was something special. I remember how big the stadium was, the weird orange and blue designs as you drove into the stadium, walking–and then running–up those long ramps only to hear “Thomas!” shouted at me, which meant stop in your tracks because my dad either couldn’t see me or catch up to me. The grass was the greenest grass I had ever seen, the white lines were perfectly drawn. The air in the stadium smelled of hot dogs and pretzels and people walked around with giant boxes yelling “Soda here!” I loved baseball soda because it came in a wax cup and had a weird plastic wrap top covering it and I could make my fingers ice skate on my soda.

The Dodgers were taking batting practice and I stood there in amazement with my ball in hand. It was there that I got my first ever autograph in life, from Manny Mota, followed by Dusty Baker. The excitement I felt when I turned around to my dad and held the ball up in the air was like I had just caught the final out of the World Series.

We listened to the final inning on the way home in the car. I wanted to beat my dad with my fists all the way home for leaving in the seventh inning, but I was seven. Even though we didn’t stay until the end, I talked about it the entire ride home.

Later that same year, my dad took me to Yankee Stadium for a playoff game. The Kansas City Royals invaded my hometown and they were the enemy until their shortstop, Freddie Patek, flipped me the ball as he was running into the dugout. I again turned to my dad to display my elation. Those experiences took me on a journey. They helped me form an amazing bond with my father (though once 1979 came around and I saw my first wrestling match, a new dream took over). However, me and my dad would go to many more games and he eventually succeeded in making me a Mets fan, while I successfully made him not hate the Yankees so much.

As I got older and started traveling the country, I realized that I had the opportunity to go see games outside of my local New York Metropolitan area. The first stop was Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. I couldn’t believe how far the foul lines were from the stands. It was a complete circle, no open views to parking lots, a city or outside society and I loved it. I suddenly had a newfound excitement and the makings of a bucket list. I knew I had to go to every stadium in Major League Baseball.

That bucket list was just completed, some 40 years later. Professional wrestling not only became my job, but it opened a lot of doors for me in the world of baseball, be it meeting players who were fans, extending the professional courtesy of getting baseball tickets in exchange for wrestling tickets. My bucket list of seeing games at every stadium has afforded me many a unique opportunity.

I have played at Shea Stadium in a charity softball game to raise money for victims of 9/11. I’ve thrown out first pitches, had an ECW day at U.S. Cellular Stadium with the Chicago White Sox. I’ve sat behind home plate, behind first and third base dugouts, had luxury suites and sat in the nose bleeds. I’ve seen opening days, regular season games, season-closing games, the American League East title-clinching game, playoff games, All Star games, World Series games and even a no hitter.

I’ve been to Japan for Japanese baseball, which is an amazing fan experience. The final stadium on my bucket list was that of the Arizona Diamondbacks. To commemorate the experience, the club’s mascot took me on top of the dugout to lead the fans in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch.

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I’ve taken my twin daughters to games. They go mostly for the food and the experience, but I see other fathers with their kids, baseball hats and gloves in tow, creating their own memories. I’ve taken some huge wrestling personalities to games, where fans just politely say “Hey, can I get a pic after this inning?” Their enjoyment of the game supersedes the fact that they are meeting their own favorite wrestler. We are all united and equal as fans of America’s pastime. Hell, last year I even got to wrestle on Citi Field and dress in my own locker. I’ve had a blessed MLB fan journey and I suggest everyone go to a game at least once a year. It’s all about the experience and the moments, which really do last a lifetime. My dad is no longer with us, but it is fond memories like the ones described that remind me I was young once. Now we have camera phones that we can click and see our memories, but the ones inside your head last a lot longer.

Tommy Dreamer’s next House of Hardcore show is Saturday, August 6 at the Pasadena Convention Center in Pasadena, Texas. Billy Gunn, Mickie James, Carlos Colon Jr., MVP and the Sandman are all scheduled to appear.


Weekly Top 10

1.) AJ Styles, WWE

The “Phenomenal One” delivered a phenomenal array of moves–including his inverted backbreaker, flying forearm, and brainbuster–during his main event match with Dean Ambrose on Raw.

2.) Dean Ambrose, WWE

There has to be a better way to describe Ambrose than “The Dude.”

3.) Seth Rollins, WWE

Rollins looks incredibly smooth in the ring after missing six months of action.

4.) Kenny Omega, New Japan Pro Wrestling

Omega’s biggest victory this past week occurred out of the ring, defeating Xavier Woods in Street Fighter V at the CEO Fighting Game Championships in Orlando, Florida.

5.) Kevin Owens, WWE

Owens dropped a decision to Sami Zayn at a house show in Boston after taking a boot to the face.

6.) John Cena, WWE

Cena dropped a decision to Seth Rollins on Raw, and was laid out by The Club as the show ended.

7.) Kazuchika Okada, New Japan Pro Wrestling

Along with Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kenny Omega, Okada is one of the top three favorites to win the 2016 G1 Climax, which begins on July 18.

8.) Bobby Lashley, TNA

The “Destroyer” retained his TNA world title in a triple threat match with Drew Galloway and EC3 last night on Impact.

9.) Michael Elgin, New Japan Pro Wrestling

The IWGP Intercontinental champion enjoyed a successful weekend in Mexico, winning Lucha Libre Elite’s world title as well as learned he will be wrestling Japanese legend Katsuyori Shibata this summer.

10.) Cesaro, WWE

Cesaro was not given much time–three minutes and thirty-four seconds to be exact–to ply his trade on Raw.


Five Questions with… Tetsuya Naito

Tetsuya Naito is the leader of Los Ingobernables in New Japan and a former IWGP champion. He dropped the title to Kazuchika Okada just over a week ago at the Dominion show, and he is intent on regaining the title–but not for the reason you may think.

SI.com: How devastated are you to have lost the IWGP championship back to Kazuchika Okada?

Naito: I’m not sad–the belt is the one who is sad. The belt loved Naito. The belt wants Naito to take it again. The belt automatically wants to be closer to me than Okada. The belt doesn’t want to stay with Okada, the belt wants to be with Naito.

SI.com: What did you think of the departures of Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles this past January from New Japan?

Naito: People in New Japan were happy for them to go to WWE, but I was upset. I won’t forgive them for leaving, and I can’t understand why Nakamura would leave.

SI.com: You wrestled for TNA in 2009. What did you think of the experience?

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Naito: I worked with TNA in 2009. I did not have a good experience. I couldn’t be a top wrestler there. I learned a lot about the American style from Alex Shelley. Then my career changed in Mexico when I met Los Ingobernables [The Ungovernables], and then I brought that group to New Japan.

SI.com: Do you rank winning the IWGP title this past April as your career highlight?

Naito: It used to be my dream to be IWGP champion. But when I got the belt, when I became champion, the situation changed. The belt chased me. When I’d throw the belt down, the belt would always chase me and find me. The belt needs Naito more than Naito needs the belt.

SI.com: How do you compare the New Japan product to WWE?

Naito: I never watch WWE. I love New Japan Pro Wrestling, so why would I watch WWE? I am the best wrestler in the world. When Nakamura and AJ left New Japan Pro Wrestling, they created more opportunity for me.


Tweet of the Week

The Human Suplex Machine isn’t holding back his opinion of the third hour of Raw.


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

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