SI.com’s Wrestling Week in Review is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
The newly-crowned WWE Universal Champion, Kevin Owens, has the beginnings of a tremendous professional wrestling legacy. The “Prize Fighter” is a former Ring of Honor and NXT champ, and has also worn the Intercontinental title on two separate occasions. Owens connected with SI.com to discuss wrestling Shinsuke Nakamura, his fundraising efforts with the Canadian Red Cross, and revealed the most talented wrestler not currently signed by WWE.
Owens is far from content as WWE Universal champion, though. He has much loftier ambitions, including becoming one of the greatest WWE champions of all time.
“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” said Owens. “I’m sure some people might disagree, but they’re wrong, so it’s all good.”
Owens explained that, step-by-step, he has accomplished every goal placed in front of him.
“I work with goals,” said Owens. “I wanted to sign with WWE, I did. I wanted to make an impact with NXT, I did. I wanted the NXT title, the Intercontinental title, WrestleMania, and now it’s the Universal title.”
Owens admitted that capturing the WWE world championship, which is a title held by Smackdown’s Dean Ambrose, remains atop his goals but he preferred to be selected by Raw during the WWE draft in June.
“I wanted to be on Raw, so I’m happy be there, regardless of where the world title is,” said Owens. “If I’m on Smackdown, of course I’m going for the world title – I’m sure, with time, I’ll have a chance with that one, too – but the Universal title is already on the same level as the world title. That Universal title, to me, means just as much.”
Asked if he was better than Dean Ambrose, Owens was quick to reply.
“Of course I’m better,” said Owens. “Who am I not better than?”
Speaking of talented wrestlers, Owens singled out TNA’s Eddie Edwards as one of the world’s most talented wrestlers not currently working for WWE.
“Eddie Edwards is amazing,” said Owens. “I think he should be here, and I truly hope one day he gets here. I know he had a tryout here once, and I’m not sure why it didn’t work out, but I feel like today would be very a different story. Hopefully he makes his way here.”
Owens also singled out wrestling against Shinsuke Nakamura as a career highlight. They first battled in Ring of Honor and have since wrestled twice on the WWE canvas, both in Hawaii and Tokyo. He sees the “King of Strong Style” as a legitimate rival for the title of greatest in the world.
“The match in Tokyo was a great time,” said Owens. “It was pretty cool to wrestle him in Japan, and there is something so special about beating somebody up in front of their home crowd. It felt the same way when I wrestled [Finn] Bálor last year in Japan, because he made his career there.
“We’ve been together in the ring before WWE and now twice in WWE, and all three matches were ones anybody would enjoy. I’m looking forward to sharing the ring with him many more times in the future.”
Owens explained that his charisma in the ring is natural because he is simply being himself.
“I’m just me,” said Owens. “Last year they handed me flowers in Japan before the match with Bálor, and I got rid of them pretty quick. But this year, they didn’t give me any flowers. Whatever, it’s just a waste of time. I do whatever entertains me. If it entertains me to throw flowers halfway across the room, then that’s what I’ll do. I don’t think it out beforehand, I’m just doing what I do and having fun.”
Unlike other WWE superstars, most notably Enzo Amore, Owens does not believe he is a trash-talker – instead, he takes pride in being a truth-teller.
“When I talk, people listen,” said Owens. “I don’t think I’m a loud mouth. Enzo is definitely a loud mouth. Half the stuff he says makes no sense, means nothing, and goes on and on. At the end, people say, ‘That sounded cool,’ but ask them to repeat it and no one knows what he said. I talk for a reason and with a meaning.”
Owens is also active behind the scenes, and he teamed up with fellow Canadian Tyler Breeze this past May to raise money for the victims of the Fort McMurray wildfire, and the pair generated $66,000 in American dollars to the Canadian Red Cross.
“The contributions were overwhelming,” said Owens. “It was close to $85,000 Canadian. We were taken aback by just how many people donated.”
Owens and Breeze gave incentives for those who donated, including a follow on Twitter as a thank you for any donation, as well as a thank you video for those who contributed donations of $100 or more.
“We’re going to follow everybody who donated, and we’ll send videos, too,” Owens confirmed. “We haven’t finished doing that yet because there were just so many people, which is great. So if you’re reading this and still waiting for a follow or visit, it’s going to come—I promise. That money helped a lot of people, so thank you.”
One of the best in the business in one-on-one action, Owens was asked if the seven-man ladder match at WrestleMania frustrated him or cramped his style.
“It’s WrestleMania, so everybody wants to steal the show and have the best match possible,” said Owens. “The outcome could have been better for me, but I think we had a great match. We put on a hell of a show as the first match on the official card, and I think everybody else after us had a hard time following us, which is exactly what we wanted.”
Owens’ greatness is found in his constant pursuit of perfection in the ring, as he is continually adding new wrinkles, nuances, and moves to his matches.
“That’s just me trying to stay interesting,” said Owens. “I was a wrestling fan long enough, and once in a while, I would get bored. I’d be on board with a superstar and love what he’d do, then eventually I would get bored with him. I don’t want people to think that way of me, so I’m doing everything I can to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
Owens remains extremely humble despite his status as one of, if not the most, talented wrestler in the world.
“It’s not hard for me to stay humble,” said Owens. “I think there is always somebody better than me, so that’s what keeps me humble. A lot of people could learn how to stay humble.”
News of the Week
A.J. Styles was crowned the new WWE champion on Sunday at Backlash, but his initial booking on Smackdown made the champ look more like a chump.
Styles defeated Dean Ambrose in a 25-minute affair on Sunday, once again bringing out the best in his opponent. There is no doubt that Styles is the most talented wrestler on the WWE roster, and he deserved his moment the following night on Raw with the championship. Unfortunately, with the brand split, Styles wasn’t on television for nearly 48 hours after his historic victory.
Styles won the title after a low blow to Ambrose, but the move made sense. Heels cheat, and Styles is the number one heel in wrestling – plus, the move was opportunistic, and served as backlash for Ambrose dropping Styles crotch-first onto the ring ropes before their title match on Smackdown. The more problematic issue was the booking of the new champ last night on Smackdown.
Why is Styles, your champion, booked by WWE as an afterthought in the John Cena-Dean Ambrose feud? Was it necessary to have him find his own tag team partner, and have the likes of Kane and Baron Corbin reject Styles’ offer to team with the champ?
As momentous as it is to have Styles, the former face of TNA who was vying for the IWGP title a year ago at this time, as WWE champion, it remains to be seen if his reign will be remembered as anything more than a missed opportunity.
CM Punk quickly found himself out of his element at UFC 203 this past Saturday.
A chokehold by Mickey Gall forced Punk to tap, ending his impossible dream just two minutes and fourteen seconds into their fight.
While the fight, which was as one-sided as you will witness in the Octagon, reaffirmed that there is a wide gap between UFC fighters and WWE wrestlers, the outcome does not alter or diminish the toughness of those in the business of professional wrestling.
As evidenced in the Punk fight, pro wrestling is a far different than mixed martial arts. The strength—and toughness—of pro wrestlers is found in their endurance. Traveling from city to town all across the globe, performing for children on their birthdays while missing the parties of their own kids, a wrestlers’ life is all about sacrifice.
Punk looked no more out of place than Mickey Gall would have had he entered the squared circle, and although it does not change the decision of the fight, one outcome is certain: you need to be tough to make it in wrestling, which is a far different world from the UFC.
In other news…
• Styles, John Cena, and Dean Ambrose combined to deliver a phenomenal opening promo last night on Smackdown. Like the rest of the crowd in Philadelphia, I did not expect Cena to call out Ambrose for his for poor performance on “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s podcast. The notoriously rough Philly crowd popped for Cena’s comment.
• Kevin Owens shared a phenomenal story on Chris Jericho’s “Talk is Jericho” podcast: “I remember when I first got to the Performance Center, they had this thing where they were going to take pictures and videos of everybody in their gear for the entrance video and stuff like that. But me, I hadn’t debuted yet. I didn’t have a name. I didn’t know anything. So I had this nice singlet made because I’m in WWE—I can’t wrestle in shorts and a t-shirt, even though that’s what got me here. So I showed up, put my singlet on, and Enzo [Amore], of all people, looked at me. He was like, ‘What are you doing?’ I go, ‘I’m a wrestler.’ He goes, ‘No, where are your shorts and your shirt and stuff?’ I don’t have it. I have my shorts in my bag, but I don’t have a shirt. He’s like, ‘Ugh, you’ve got to be you.’ I turned my Guns N’ Roses shirt inside out, I cut the sleeves off, and I used Finn [Bàlor]’s paint. That’s another thing. Finn’s like, ‘Should I paint for this? I don’t know if they want me in paint.’ Enzo’s like, ‘Yeah, put the paint on!’ So I used Finn’s paint to write ‘Fight’ on my shirt and that’s how the look came about.”
• WWE was within their rights—Backlash was, after all, their own programming—but Dolph Ziggler and The Miz recreating and mocking CM Punk’s UFC fight was extremely unprofessional. Unlike other reports, most notably by ESPN.com, this was not done as a tribute to Punk’s courage or fighting spirit – it was an insult.
• If CM Punk does not return to the UFC, he would be a major draw for New Japan Pro Wrestling at January’s Wrestle Kingdom 11, which is NJPW’s version of WrestleMania. Punk would be a crowd favorite in Japan, so an ideal opponent—especially if the top two matches are Kazuchika Okada-Kenny Omega and Tetsuya Naito-Hiroshi Tanahashi—would be the Bullet Club’s Yujiro Takahashi. The angle could be whether or not Punk will join the stable, similar to the WCW/NWO storylines.
• Mick Foley’s greatest contribution to Raw is his logic. There is always a reason behind his decisions, and his willingness to stand up to Stephanie McMahon on the air has added an interesting dynamic to Raw. So far, Foley has considerably out-shined Daniel Bryan, who is still adjusting to the same role on the Smackdown brand.
• The brand extension has allowed a closer view of some of WWE’s talent, particularly in the women’s division. I’ll be the first to admit that Sasha Banks has not impressed, struggling with her promos and working a style that borders on dangerous (and you can also include her mistake on the pin with Bayley on Raw with her own shoulders still on the mat), but Charlotte and Becky Lynch have excelled with the added exposure in the ring and on the mic.
• TNA’s Impact Wrestling is quietly transforming into quality programming every Thursday. In addition to the Hardys, there is a talented roster centered on the Bobby Lashley/EC3 feud, and Moose has been a solid addition. TNA could stand out with its cruiserweight X Division, which includes current champ DJ Z, Mark Andrews, and Trevor Lee, but must invest more time in one-on-one bouts and allowing the talent to work extended matches. This is an area where Impact, if done correctly, can be better than Smackdown.
• Led by Rob Van Dam, Tommy Dreamer, and Cody Rhodes, Chaotic Wrestling delivered a very good show this past Saturday in Lowell, MA. Despite the fact that he is in top condition and would add some much needed intrigue to Smackdown, Van Dam confirmed he is not currently interested in a return to WWE.
• For those interested, Kayfabe Commentaries just unveiled a new shoot video with Kevin Nash playing guest booker entitled, “The Outsiders Stay Inside”. The premise is that Nash and Scott Hall stay in WWE, and Nash has creative control for WWE in 1996.
• Next week’s Week in Wrestling will profile a behind-the-scenes look at Lucha Underground.
The Wrestlers’ Tribune: Hangman Page
Hangman Page joined the Bullet Club this past May, and he has enjoyed the best stretch of his career over the past three months. Page defeated Ring of Honor staple Jay Briscoe at Death Before Dishonor in August, and looks to build even more momentum during his upcoming trip to Japan.
Shoot for the stars. You probably won’t make it though.
I came from a really small town in rural Virginia; the kind with only one stop sign and a now-defunct elementary school. My dad worked endlessly to keep up a family farm. We grew maybe twenty-five acres of tobacco every year, had a few pastures full of cows, and did some odd fencing jobs to make ends meet. When I was little my mom started pursuing a teaching career, eventually becoming a full-time teacher at the local high school. Pretty normal stuff for Halifax County, Virginia.
I can remember first getting into wrestling at about eight or nine, and it wasn’t long before I made up my young mind that I was going to be a professional wrestler for a living. It probably had something to do with those “My Sacrifice” desire videos WWE put out in the early 2000s.
By ten or eleven my friend Adam (the real Adam) and I started putting on wrestling shows on the backyard trampoline and we’d make all of our families come and watch. My sister usually ran the CD player with entrance music, my dad would man the video camera, and Adam’s sister was sometimes the referee. By then I was sure that wrestling was what I would do for a living and for my life: this was my passion and it was the only thing I’d dedicate myself to in my entire life.
My one and only plan was to make it big in wrestling. I’d be rich and famous like all of those guys on TV. I’d pay my family’s house off, I’d make sure everything on the farm was paid for, and I’d be a local hero.
Though they were pretty selfish and unrealistic dreams, my family always supported me. One year for Christmas, my parents built an entire wrestling ring (with a trampoline center) in the backyard for Adam and I to wrestle in. When I finally started actual wrestling training at age fifteen, my parents would drive an hour or two to the small community centers and armories where I was wrestling and always taught me to make the most of it.
The thing I took for granted was how they pushed me academically. My mom always made sure I was in honors classes in high school. When it was time for college, my mom stayed on me and made sure I applied and helped me get settled into my major at Virginia Tech. Thanks to those college-level classes in high school, I graduated from Tech at nineteen years old with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.
What then? I had been wrestling for three years and I was supposed to already be making it big, but here I was still wrestling in those same high school gyms for ten bucks and a handshake.
By some weird stroke of luck I got a job teaching at the same high school back home. I was only a year or two older than some of my students but, there I was, trying to act like someone who had it all together and figured out. My first year teaching was pretty miserable. I never really felt like I knew what I was doing, and every night turned into three or four hours of preparation just to get through the next day. Why wasn’t I the big wrestling superstar I was supposed to be by now?
I’ll never forget the stories some of my students would tell me about the plans they had for their lives. I’d probably guess that at least eighty percent of these kids believed they’d be big stars like I had always dreamed of being. If they weren’t going to play basketball for a living, it was football. Or they were going to be famous rappers. Or actors. A lot of them just planned on playing video games for a living.
The thing that bothered me the most about some of their dreams was that they had no earthly idea what it would take to achieve them. The ones that were going to be the next LeBron James? They didn’t even play on the high school team. And what happens if they weren’t starring in movies right after high school? They didn’t have a clue.
I really do think that America is the land of opportunity and that we live in a world where you can be whatever you want. Those kids that wanted to play football for a living? I’d always encourage them to give all that they could to reach their goals. But the real important lesson that I’d try to teach them was that, statistically, they wouldn’t make it. Then what? I think we need more of that in our society, maybe hopeful realism.
Teaching made me realize a lot about myself in that respect. Thankfully I’d had parents who pushed me to do something else while I was carving out a place for myself in wrestling. These kids didn’t.
Somehow I’ve found myself living the life of a statistical anomaly. After five years of teaching, I’ve finally been able to quit and focus on wrestling full-time. Whether this lasts just a fleeting year or I make it last a full career, who knows. But you bet your ass I’ll have a plan either way.
~ Adam “Hangman” Page
Hangman Page will be wrestling at Ring of Honor’s “All Star Extravaganza” live on pay per view on Friday, September 30.
College Football Top 10 with Ron Simmons
The Weekly Top Ten (this edition delves into college football) is brought to you by WWE Hall of Famer and former Florida State Seminole Ron Simmons.
Ron Simmons played at FSU for the legendary Bobby Bowden from 1977-80 as a nose guard, and even finished ninth in 1979 in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. In addition to the WWE Hall of Fame, Simmons is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
As for the current Seminoles, Simmons believes Florida State is currently one of the top two teams in the nation.
“Florida State is right where they want to be,” said Simmons. “But we need to play in the first quarter like we do in the fourth quarter. That’s the biggest thing that concerns me because, sooner or later, you’ll run into an opponent that has that same mentality. You don’t want to get caught in that when you have the ability to play so much better.
“In big time college football, coming from behind—like Florida State did last week against Ole Miss—you can’t gamble like that. I was proud of the way they came back, and it showed a lot of team spirit and I admire the way they play together, but I want them to play with that same fire in the first quarter.”
Simmons also touched on number-two ranked Clemson, who squeaked by the unranked Troy Trojans, 30-24, on Saturday, as the prime example that upsets will occur if a team takes their opponent lightly.
“You cannot underestimate anybody,” said Simmons. “Beating a top-ten school puts you on the map. A lot of big time schools will go down, so you’ve got to take every opponent seriously.”
Simmons mostly stuck to the Associated Press’ rankings, but he did make a couple changes for his list of the top ten teams in college football:
4.) Ohio State
2.) Florida State
Simmons admitted that the season is far too young to predict a Heisman winner, but noted that he hopes a defensive player wins the award.
“It is too early for me to make a Heisman prediction, but I would like to see a bigger emphasis on the defensive players,” said Simmons. “They should stand out just as much as the offensive players. I’d love to see a defensive player put the trophy on his shelf.”
Simmons was asked if he had children who played football, but he explained that his son found a different path to success.
“I had a son who played football, but now he serves in the armed forces,” said Simmons. “That is even more impressive to me.”
The national championship, Simmons explained, runs through Florida State and Clemson. The two schools meet on Saturday, October 29 in Tallahassee, Florida.
“Let’s keep it real, I’m circling the Clemson game,” said Simmons. “If we both get there and we’re undefeated, the road to the national championship leads through those two schools.”
The Cruiserweight Classic
The Cruiserweight Classic concludes tonight with a live two-hour special on the WWE Network at 9pm ET. The semi-finals will see Gran Metalik vs. Zack Sabre Jr., and TJ Perkins vs. Kota Ibushi.
Zack Sabre Jr. was my pick from the beginning, and I’m sticking with that call tonight.
Five Questions with… Mike Tyson
WWE Hall of Famer Mike Tyson connected with Sports Illustrated and shared memories about his time working for Vince McMahon, his friendship with Muhammed Ali, and the longevity of the Nintendo classic “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out.”
SI.com: You spoke about your relationship with Muhammed Ali during the recent Spike TV documentary “Ali”. What allowed that connection to extend beyond the boxing ring?
Tyson: I met Ali when I was in reform school. He came to the reform school to see the kids, and he’s been my hero ever since. He was a totally different person. Not because he won his fights, but it was how he won his fights. In terms of fortitude, he would fight til the end. There no was quit in him. You know what kind of guy Ali is? If you ever fight Ali, you’ve got to be in shape to go fifteen rounds. He’s going fifteen rounds, that’s just what it is. I’m talking about a guy who inspired so many people. There wouldn’t be a Mike Tyson without Ali, it just wouldn’t have happened.
SI.com: You and Ali share a unique connection in wrestling, as both of you played significant roles at WrestleMania. Ali added a great deal of excitement to the inaugural WrestleMania, and you appearance was extremely significant for WWE at WrestleMania XIV. Did you ever discuss wrestling with Ali?
Tyson: Wrestling was important to both of us. Gorgeous George from wrestling is where Ali got his style. Gorgeous George always wore that blonde wig and said, ‘I’m beautiful, baby. Get away from me, you disgusting bugs. You might give me flees. I’m beautiful. Don’t touch me, you pigs!’ He said everybody hated him and was jealous of him because of that, and Ali said, ‘Woah, that’s how this guy made a lot of money.’ That’s how Ali learned that – he saw how Gorgeous George made the money. They always booed him, but he always looked good, had the money, and talked s---.
SI.com: Did “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who you worked with at WrestleMania XIV in Boston, remind you at all of Ali with his trash-talking?
Tyson: Absolutely, I thought about Ali immediately. Wrestling means a lot to me. Getting inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame is one of my greatest moments ever. That’s like my bucket list.
Look at Conor McGregor. All that smack talk comes from the old country, ones like Italy and Ireland. They talk a lot of s--- over there. It’s tribal and they fight to the death, but they do a lot of talking, dehumanizing people, too. Those guys from the turn of the century were Irish and Italian, and they made so much money in the wrestling business.
SI.com: “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out” become a phenomenal success after Nintendo released the video game in 1987. Did you ever play the game as Little Mac? Could you beat the Tyson character in the final round?
Tyson: At that stage in my life, I wasn’t into video games. I thought it was for little babies. I was so into being a big boy, a grown man, that I thought video games were for kids. I thought it was for geeky guys, but I just didn’t know. I’m a video game guy now. I’m getting ready to hit on Call of Duty 4 and get busy on my zombies. Did I ever think the game would last so long? Never in a million years. Maybe I’ll come out with another version.
SI.com: Muhammed Ali was a hero, and your hero turned into a friend. As the world mourned Ali, so did you. What do you believe is Ali’s legacy?
Tyson: Ali was a teacher. When I think of Ali, and I do all the time, I don’t just think about him fighting, but he was a fighter. But he would fight you to the end. Even if he didn’t look like that kind of guy, he would fight you to the end. You’d have to kill this guy to beat him. He was incredible.
Tweet of the Week
You guys want this or American Gladiators?
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.