Justin Barrasso
Wednesday November 16th, 2016

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

This issue includes an interview with NXT’s Bobby Roode, the Wrestlers’ Tribune with Kurt Angle, The Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff, and Five Questions with former Ring of Honor star ACH.

A Glorious Future Ahead for Bobby Roode

Courtesy of WWE

Bobby Roode is ready to come home.

The Toronto native battles Tye Dillinger, a fellow Canadian, in one of the marque matchups on Saturday’s NXT card headlined by world champion Shinsuke Nakamura and Samoa Joe.

“This is the biggest match of Tye’s career, but he has to remember who he’s in the ring with,” said Roode. “I’m almost a twenty-year veteran, and I’ve been in the ring with a lot of the top stars that this business has ever had to offer. I know this is my hometown of Toronto, but I’m going to treat TakeOver: Toronto like it’s another night at the office. I’m going to prove why I am one of the best in the world.”

Roode is one of the top talents in wrestling, yet remains a fairly unknown commodity to WWE fans that did not watch TNA. Roode dedicated more than half of his 17-year career to making TNA a viable alternative to WWE, and the former two-time world champion has made an immediate impact since his arrival in NXT this past April.

“I was in TNA for over a dozen years,” said Roode. “I had a great run there, I had a great career, but obviously WWE has always been the be-all, end-all of sports entertainment. Until you get there and experience it on a personal level, you just don’t know.”

An integral piece of Roode’s transition to NXT, which has seen him quickly elevate himself into one of the top stars of the promotion, is the guidance of NXT senior producer Paul “Triple H” Levesque.

“Triple H is very hands-on and approachable,” said Roode. “My whole ‘Glorious’ song is because of Triple H. Before I even signed my contract, we discussed what I wanted to do and what he felt like I could do. It’s been a real joy working for him.

“There were nerves, but at the same time, I was confident. All I wanted was an opportunity. Triple H was willing to give me that opportunity. Here I am, six months after I signed my contract, and I’m now a part of my second Takeover and in my hometown – and it’s been a lot of fun.”

With Thanksgiving around the corner, Roode believes that Kevin Owens and AJ Styles—WWE’s two world champions—should be thankful that he is not currently wrestling on Raw or Smackdown, and his ultimate goal in NXT is to wear the world title.

“Kevin, who is another fellow Canadian, has done an incredible job and I couldn’t be prouder of him,” said Roode. “AJ, of course, I’ve known for years, and I’ve got to know him on a very personal level and we’re good friends. I always knew he was the best in the world, and he’s been proving it for the past year since the Royal Rumble. But, as far as I go, you’re in this business for one reason, and that’s to be number one. Obviously Nakamura is someone I’m looking at very closely.”

Roode has worked with countless stars—most notably Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe, and Sting—and was asked to share whom he believes are the top three wrestlers in the world.

“That’s a really tough question,” admitted Roode. “Obviously AJ Styles is one, Seth Rollins is another guy that’s really good, and I’ve always been a big fan of Dolph Ziggler’s work. I think he’s amazing, and I would love the opportunity to work with him. It’s so hard to pick just three guys. Being in the WWE and having a look at the roster of NXT, Smackdown, and Raw, there are just a plethora of guys I would love to do some stuff with. But if I have to give you three names, it’s AJ, Seth, and Dolph.”

In addition to his nearly perfect gamesmanship in the ring, Roode is also a student of the business. He was watching closely this past Monday during the final altercation between Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg before the two battle at the Survivor Series.

“There is going to be a great story there,” noted Roode. “Just look at the in-ring psychology from Raw on Monday night. I thought that was an excellent segment, especially the fact that they didn’t touch. People are waiting for them to kick the crap out of each other. Brock is a beast and he’s been killing everybody, and he beat the Undertaker for the first time ever at a WrestleMania, and Goldberg is back for the first time in a dozen years, so there is a really good story there. It’s going to be unpredictable, and that’s the best part about it. I can’t wait to see it.”

The opportunity to play a major role in the development of NXT has lit a competitive spark in the already ambitious Roode.

“This is more than the developmental territory everyone believed it to be—NXT is a brand,” said Roode. “We were just on a five-day trip of California and we sold out the Palladium in Hollywood, we sold out San Jose, and we have stars on our roster. Nakamura is a huge star, Asuka, Samoa Joe, and so many young guys that are going to be huge stars in this industry. Our Dallas TakeOver was right on par with WrestleMania. The TakeOver in Brooklyn that I was a part of was on par, if not better, than SummerSlam. NXT is a brand, we’re producing great TV, and the TakeOver events are unbelievable. We’re touring overseas in Japan and Australia in the beginning of December. As far as I’m concerned, NXT is the place to be.”

Saturday’s match takes on a little extra meaning because Roode and Tye Dillinger were partners in the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic until Roode turned his back on the partnership.

“Tye’s character makes him unique,” said Roode. “It’s always a pleasure to be in the ring with a guy who has character and can get that reaction from the crowd. This Saturday night is going to be an opportunity for two local guys that grew up within hours of the Air Canada Centre. Toronto was really the mecca of sports entertainment for Canadians. You’d go to Maple Leafs Garden and watch all the big events. The Air Canada Centre has now taken Maple Leafs Garden’s spot, so this match is pretty special. Tye has been around for a long time, but we’ve never crossed paths to this point. He’s looking forward to Takeover, and I know I am, too. Tye is going to have his hands full.”

News of the Week

Outside of Shawn Michaels, has any other wrestler left a greater impact on the current age of wrestling than Eddie Guerrero?

Guerrero, who passed away eleven years ago on November 13, 2005, left an indelible mark on contemporaries such as Rey Mysterio and Chris Jericho, as well as inspired newer stars like Kevin Owens and Sasha Banks.

New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Hiroshi Tanahashi, who is arguably the biggest current star in Japan, also credits Guerrero as a major influence. Tanahashi’s frog star splash is arguably the best since Guerrero’s.

Guerrero delivered one of his finest moments at WrestleMania XX when he successfully defended the WWE championship against Kurt Angle. Chris Benoit then won the World Heavyweight Championship in the main event against Triple H and Shawn Michaels, and the show ended with the 5’8” Guerrero and the 5’11” Benoit – two former cruiserweights – celebrating together in the ring.

Guerrero may be gone, but in the business of professional wrestling, he is far from forgotten.


What is actually at stake this Sunday at the Survivor Series?

Yes, the entire Cruiserweight division is on the line in a match between Raw’s Brian Kendrick and Smackdown’s Kalisto (hint, hint: the new cruiserweight show will be airing on the WWE Network after Smackdown); Raw’s Sami Zayn challenges Smackdown’s The Miz for the Intercontinental title; and the future of the IC title—whether it stays on Smackdown or returns to Raw—represents the highest stakes on the show.

But something else is missing. Somehow, there is no stipulation for the five-on-five match between the top singles stars.

That match—led by AJ Styles’ Smackdown team and Raw co-captains Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho—should have had major consequences for the winner and loser.

The winner could have picked their spot at the Royal Rumble, or had the number one pick in the next draft, or claim the main event spot for their brand at WrestleMania. Yet none of those implications are part of the match, which is solely for bragging rights.

High stakes would have allowed the match to mean more and deliver a greater impact, which is the one piece missing from the Survivor Series.

Extra Mustard
Quiz: Can you identify these WWE stars by their real name?

In other news…

• Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg delivered a unique, non-contact segment on Raw. Goldberg seemingly got the better of his encounter with Lesnar, though he never actually laid a hand on him. Lesnar has been protected throughout the build to Survivor Series, and all signs point to a Lesnar win this Sunday.

Smackdown 900 highlights: The return of King Booker; Edge’s interaction with former Rated RKO tag team partner Randy Orton; the four-man—yes, four man!—broadcast booth; and the Undertaker’s return promo. ‘Taker explained that WrestleMania will no longer define him and that Smackdown is, once again, his home.

• The Miz regained the Intercontinental title from Dolph Ziggler last night on Smackdown, which is suffocating Ziggler’s momentum. Imagine if Bret Hart had dropped the IC title just a month after defeating Mr. Perfect in 1991? The constant title changes only devalue the title.

• ICW’s Fear and Loathing IX on Sunday offers an alternative to the Survivor Series while also highlighting many former WWE stars. The card, which will be broadcast on FITE TV, features Kurt Angle, the Dudleys returning as Team 3D, and Drew Galloway, and also includes Finn Bálor as special guest enforcer. Bálor is filling in for Mick Foley, who could not keep the obligation due to his role as Raw commissioner at the Survivor Series, so ICW worked out an arrangement with WWE to have Bálor work the event instead.

• Will there be a reunion for The Club this Sunday at Survivor Series? The show is set for four hours, which should provide enough time for a backstage interview with AJ Styles, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson.

• Speaking of Raw, did anyone else find it infuriating that Bray Wyatt was wearing a light blue Smackdown shirt? This was not the finest moment for the “Eater of Worlds,” and he would have been so much better going rogue without the blue t-shirt.

• ESPN Films announced a new 30 for 30 documentary entitled “This Was the XFL,” which will premiere on February 2 on ESPN. The documentary will include insight from Vince McMahon, and has the potential to tell a remarkably compelling story.

• After the Chicago Cubs rallied from a three games-to-one deficit to win the World Series, you can rest assured WWE will use that same gimmick during Sunday’s Survivor Series. As for who is most likely to overcome such staggering odds? Look no further than Roman Reigns.

• In honor of the 30-year anniversary of the Survivor Series, the Week in Wrestling will air Survivor Series videos until Thanksgiving. This week, by popular demand, is the opening to the 1989 Survivor Series, which features the nearly orgasmic sound of Vince McMahon introducing viewers to the annual Thanksgiving Day tradition. 

• Coming attractions: Sports Illustrated connects with Mick Foley this Friday on SI.com for a preview of the Survivor Series, and there will be a Thanksgiving-themed column next Wednesday.

The Wrestlers’ Tribune: Kurt Angle

Courtesy of Kurt Angle

Kurt Angle just celebrated the birth of his fifth child, and he is packing his bags for ICW’s “Fear and Loathing IX” this Sunday in Glasgow, Scotland, which can be seen on FITE TV. Angle, who is almost ready to unveil his AngleStrong app, also touches on whether he will ever return to WWE in this week’s Wrestlers’ Tribune.

Fatherhood Keeps Me Angle Strong

Tell Booker T to look out.

I am now a five-time father.

Oh, it’s true.

As I held my baby daughter, Nikoletta, in my arms last week, I was in tears. My wife and I chose not to find out the sex of the baby—we wanted it to be a surprise. I’m now blessed to have four girls and one boy. It doesn’t matter how many times you go through childbirth—when your child comes to life, right in front of you, it is the most incredible thing. You fall in love.

You know this child is part of you, and you also know it’s time to up your game and provide for your family. I will do everything I can to protect her, just like my four other children, and do everything I can to make sure my children are successful. As a career man, I have had a lot of success but I have not always put my family first. It was easy to focus on myself, but overseeing my kids and making sure they have the same success is a lot harder. When you’re cheering from the outside, it’s much more of a challenge than getting in there and doing it yourself. My kids are going to make mistakes, but I’ll be there to pick them up. They have to learn from their mistakes to make them stronger. It’s a scary thing being a parent. When you really love your kids, you want the best for them, so there is a lot of pressure involved.

I don’t want my kids to know about my career or my success. I’m their dad—that’s the way I want them to know me. Yes, I know they are going to find out, whether I want them to or not, eventually. I want them to be proud of me. More importantly, I want them to know that I am a good dad and loving parent.

When my day comes and I leave this earth, I want them to remember me as the best dad they could have ever possibly known. I’m not much of a spoiler, but I’ll give them what they need. If they want something extra, they’re going to have to work for it. That’s how my parents built my work ethic, and that’s what I am going to do with my children to make sure they turn out right. I will be happy as long as they know I did everything I could to help them and protect them.

Welcome Angle baby 5. #Nikoletta Sky Angle 9 lbs 1 oz. #Lovemykids #Kyra #Kody #Giuliana #Sophia

A photo posted by Kurt Angle (@therealkurtangle) on

There is a lot happening in my life. I’m very grateful to have love in my life from my wife and my children, and I still have a connection with wrestling and the people who support this industry. Even if it is not on WWE television, I am still wrestling for fans. The independents are my third act in wrestling.

This year alone has been really special. I originally planned to take 2016 off, and the independents were not destined for my future. I main-evented WrestleMania and I’m a thirteen-time world champion, so I wasn’t sure if I should go to the independents.

I only wanted to wrestle five matches this year so I wouldn’t get ring rust, but the chance to wrestle on the independents has had an entirely different effect on my soul. The passion from the people reminds me why I love professional wrestling. I wrestled Zack Sabre Jr., Rey Mysterio, Cody Rhodes, Joe Hendry, and the energy from the crowds has made my heart beat.

I wrestled for WCPW in England with 2,800 passionate people there in the crowd and the atmosphere was incredible. This is no disrespect to TNA, as there was a time when TNA had thousands of people in their arenas, but the numbers went down the last few years and we were wrestling in a studio in Orlando in front of 300 people. So I’ve been blown away by the independents and the fire of the crowds. Fans are so dedicated and supportive, and I don’t think people have ever understood the psychology of a wrestling match better than they do now.

The independents have provided great opportunities to wrestle guys who I thought I’d never wrestle. I’m doing two more matches at the beginning of next year. I wrestled Cody Rhodes in a one-off, but then we split the series at one win apiece. Part three of our trilogy is in January. I’m also wrestling Alberto Del Rio in February, and I still want to get my hands on Ryback.

Wrestling on the independents is a challenge. Keeping up with guys who’ve had great success in WWE is a great feeling. I would encourage any wrestler—even the ones with great success, like Brock Lesnar, who actually did something similar in Japan when he left WWE—looking to go to another dimension to wrestle for yourself on the independents. It’s been a lot of fun to be able to challenge myself. Wrestling at these shows—like ICW in Scotland this Sunday—for people that I normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to wrestle in front of is pretty special. I’m grateful for my career in WWE, TNA, and now on the independents.

Even though wrestling is a challenge, I need to make an announcement:

Wrestling fans, we’re not in Fresno any more.

I will not break down in the ring. I can go ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes, or an hour. I can go to the very end and I still have more left in the tank.

The one night in my entire career when I couldn’t go the distance? “Stone Cold” Steve Austin can tell you all about that. It was in Fresno. Austin and I went about thirty minutes, and I was pretty beat up and tired. I’d wrestled straight through for weeks at a time, and Austin got me. He blew me up. He got me tired and it was a bad feeling, so bad that I never wanted to ever feel that way again. And I haven’t, so Steve Austin can state the claim that he blew me up.

There were times when I tried to blow guys up, and that’s what happened in John Cena’s debut match. If you ever see that match, I didn’t let him rest for twelve minutes. I was on him and I made him work. He literally stayed toe-to-toe with me. That’s the night I knew he was going to be a star. Once he’d polish up his technique, I knew he’d be money. Now, if I’d had ten more minutes, I’d have blown him up. But from that day on, he gained my respect.

Some wrestle to remember, some wrestle to forget. I’m in the ring to remember. I know who I am and the value I bring. Will WWE ever bring me back? I don’t know. That is not my choice. If they do, I’ll be ready. If they don’t, I’m OK with that.

My story is still unwritten. AngleStrong will be here on January 1, 2017. We partnered with Dr. Harold Jonas, who helped develop the AngleStrong app, and we are in the process of signing the final contract. AngleStrong is an app for recovering addicts to stay in recovery. The app sends messages, makes sure people check in, and there is a monthly Skype call with me. If a person is in trouble, we’re going to send help. There are so many dimensions to this app, especially for recovering addicts.

The hardest part for recovering addicts is when you get out of rehab. It’s really hard not to relapse, and I really believe the AngleStrong app is going to save a lot of lives. This is my new life. I’m working with an incredible producer, Tim Beggy, and we have pain-relieving products that are natural supplements that help with pain from Levare. A lot of retired professional football players are taking it, and it’s designed for addicts who cannot take painkillers. I’ve been taken it for six months, and it’s incredible. We also have a mind-sharpening supplement called Advyndra. We’re bringing these products to the market, and these will help people stay clean. Athletes who have had concussions can really benefit, too. This is going to be challenging, but I can’t wait to help.

If I may also offer some advice, I want people to remember: don’t be so hard on yourself. We all make mistakes, we all have setbacks. If you are a recovering addict and you make a mistake, move forward. Don’t feel guilty. The more guilty you feel, the more likely you’re going to take drugs again. The best thing to do is forgive yourself and get back to the program.

People who are recovering addicts need to remember to put themselves first. Put your recovery first—not your marriage, not your family. If you don’t stay clean, everything else will fail. You’ll lose your marriage, you’ll lose your kids, and you’ll lose your job. So put your recovery first and stay clean. Make goals – stay clean for the week, a month, a year. Take life one day at a time, that’s the exact attitude you need to have.

Set goals, and eventually, you’ll find gold.

See you in Glasgow.

~ Kurt Angle

The Nitro Files: The Montreal Screwjob, Part I

Courtesy of WWE

The Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff will delve into a moment from WCW’s Monday Nitro era. Bischoff, WCW’s president during the company’s most successful years, hosts his weekly Bischoff on Wrestling” podcast, as well as delivers a “Controversial Video of the Week” with 120 Sports’ Nick Hausman, and plans on proving every week in the Nitro Files that the “truth is out there.”

The “Montreal Screwjob” rocked the wrestling world, particularly shaping the future of WWE and WCW.

But on that particular evening—November 9, 1997—Eric Bischoff was not watching the Survivor Series, nor was he in contact with “The Hitman” Bret Hart on the day of the event.

“I was sitting at home with my wife and my family watching television,” explained Bischoff. “I’d talked to Bret several days prior to the pay per view, and Bret was concerned then about the belt and whether he should keep it. I actually remember exactly where I was standing in the Salt Lake City Airport when I got paged and it was Bret because he wanted to talk about it. I said to him, ‘Bret, it doesn’t matter. Win, lose, belt, no belt—it’s not going to change anything. You’re Bret Hart.’ The value of Bret Hart, at that moment, was not mitigated by whether he came with the belt or he didn’t.”

The story of the “Montreal Screwjob”—where Vince McMahon forced referee Earl Hebner to ring the bell and award the match to Shawn Michaels in a finish that was not agreed upon by Hart—is not complete without context.

Hart had nearly signed with WCW in 1996, yet instead opted to remain loyal to the WWF and Vince McMahon.

“The lines of communication with Bret had been open for some time,” said Bischoff. “Bret and I had almost done a deal before. We’d sat down together at an airport restaurant just outside of Los Angeles, and we got along really well. There was an instant chemistry and connection, and Bret was very interested in Native American and Native Canadian Indian indigenous culture in Canada. I’ve always been fascinated with Native American history and the whole period of western expansion, so we had a lot in common. We ultimately didn’t do the deal as Bret went back to WWE, but we remained in contact. I respected him for his decision and he respected the way I did business.”

Hart agreed to a twenty-year deal with McMahon, which actually would have just expired this past October, but the contract only lasted for a year. McMahon explained to Hart that his company was losing money and he longer had the money to pay for Hart, who was the WWF champion at the time, and encouraged him to see if the offer from WCW was still on the table.

“At that time, when Bret subsequently reached out to me after our initial negotiation, I had a mandate from Ted Turner to launch a second prime time series on the TBS network,” said Bischoff. “We had Nitro, we had four or five syndicated shows, we had a show on Saturday night, and then we found out that we were mandated to produce another two hours of live television that was to compete in the prime time schedule. I knew the only way I could do that was to increase my talent base, and we needed someone on the top of that TBS roster that was a Hulk Hogan-esque type character.

“I’m not going to B.S. readers—I didn’t look at the fact that Bret was looking at coming over again as reason that there could be something wrong on the other side of the equation. I knew from my first meeting with Bret that he had some creative differences and philosophical differences with the WWE, and there were certain things that really bothered him about the way his character was being portrayed. Those were all things we discussed in our very first meeting, so when Bret called and said, ‘Things aren’t working out. Would you like to talk again?’ I assumed he was in a situation that he thought was going to work out but didn’t.”

Hart refused to drop the WWF championship in Canada to Shawn Michaels at the ’97 Survivor Series, but Bischoff stated that, regardless of whether Hart was champion, there were no plans to use the WWF title on WCW television.

“There were absolutely zero options to utilize that belt in any way, shape, or form,” revealed Bischoff. “I knew that prior to Bret coming in. Had he shown up with the belt, I would have not been able to and been prevented from—not that I wouldn’t have wanted to—utilizing that belt on our broadcast.”

People have been skeptical of the claim, though, because Bischoff was the mastermind behind Madusa tossing her WWF women’s championship in a trash barrel in her WCW return on Nitro, but Bischoff explained that there was an ongoing legal matter that prevented him from using the WWF belt.

“If you put the timeline in context at that particular time, WCW was on the receiving end of a federal trademark lawsuit from the WWE and we were getting hammered over Scott Hall and Kevin Nash,” said Bischoff. “WWE had claimed that we had hijacked their trademarked characters, brought them over to WCW, and confused the audience into thinking that WWE was invading WCW. I had a room full of attorneys at Turner Entertainment that would have strung me up from the ceiling had I tried anything with the belt.”

In a rich twist of irony, Vince McMahon cried foul that WCW would ever use his world title belt yet he was guilty of the same maneuver when Ric Flair brought the WCW championship belt with him to WWE television in 1991.

“I admire the hell out of Vince McMahon and I have nothing but immense respect for him, but facts are facts,” stated Bischoff. “If you look at what Vince McMahon did to establish the WWF back in the late 80’s, it was essentially to steal all the top talent from the regional promotions by offering them more money. That’s what he did to everybody, and I watched it unfold with Verne Gagne in the AWA. I was there in the aftermath of it all when Hulk Hogan, Gene Okerlund, Bobby Heenan, and so many other top talent that Verne created or made stars out of – that Verne thought he had handshake deals with – all abandoned Verne and went to the WWE because the future was brighter there. Now when Vince does it, he says, ‘That’s what’s good for business, pal.’ But when it got done to him, it was highway robbery.”

Bischoff will discuss the aftermath on Nitro following the “Montreal Screwjob” in next Wednesday’s Week in Wrestling, but he did reveal that Hart did not enter WCW—even post-Montreal—with any bitterness or revenge on his mind.

“I’ve got heat with Bret now, but I will say I never got the impression that revenge or sticking it to Vince was what he was most motivated about,” said Bischoff. “Quite frankly, I didn’t see a lot of motivation in him, period, which was, in my opinion, part of the problem. I can certainly say, to Bret’s credit, he didn’t come in with an agenda to bury Vince McMahon. He was angry, he was frustrated, he didn’t have a lot of great things to say about Vince, but it’s not like he wanted that to manifest itself into any storyline or angle.”

Exclusive Lucha Underground clip

Twenty competitors will compete in “Aztec Warfare” on tonight’s Lucha Underground, which is available on iTunes, continues its third season tonight at 8pm on El Rey Network.

Something to Wrestle with Conrad Thompson

Courtesy of Conrad Thompson

Conrad Thompson and Bruce Prichard produced an incredibly compelling “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” podcast this week chronicling the life of Brian Pillman, who died of a heart attack on October 5, 1997. Thompson was unremitting in his pursuit of the Pillman story, questioning Prichard on every area of his WWF tenure, including the infamous gun angle with Steve Austin in 1996 and his tragic death in 1997.

“Bruce knows my philosophy is that there is my version, your version, and the truth is somewhere in the middle,” said Thompson. “My version is the one we grew up on as wrestling fans and his is the white-washed-through-Vince McMahon-colored-glasses version, and I don’t think it’s ever as rosy as he said but it’s never as bad as we read.”

WWF was involved in a ratings battle with WCW, which made the 1996 gun incident in 1996 and the decision to interview Pillman’s widow, Melanie, on Monday Night Raw a year later, so delicate.

“Both of these risks were centered around the Pillman family, particularly Melanie,” said Thompson. “Neither one of those stunts resulted in the ratings they were looking for. I wasn’t nearly as offended as others by the gun angle, but I thought the little nuances from Vince were interesting. He didn’t want people to say ‘gun shots’ or ‘bullets.’ He wanted people to say ‘explosions.’

“I also found it interesting that Bruce Prichard was the first person officially notified on the WWE staff that Pillman had passed away. We hadn’t discussed that before. There are still so many people who believe Pillman died of a drug overdose, but in all of the official paperwork, that’s not the case.” (An autopsy revealed that Pillman died of a heart attack brought on by undiagnosed heart disease.)

The “Vader Era in WWF” won the poll for this week’s podcast, which drops on Friday at noon, and Thompson is busy preparing his research. Vader just announced that doctors have told him he has two years to live due to congestive heart failure.

Extra Mustard
Former WWE wrestler Big Van Vader says he has two years to live

“In 1996, the original plan was to have Shawn Michaels against Vader, then have Vader win the belt at Survivor Series before he lost it back at Royal Rumble ‘97,” said Thompson. “But supposedly Shawn refused to work with Vader, or there were politics, but something happened to change that plan. Sid was thrust into that position, and as a result, everything changed. Sid got the belt back in February, and then Sid main-evented WrestleMania 13 when Vader ended up tagging with Mankind in a pretty ridiculous, doesn’t make any sense, who-gives-a-s–- match at WrestleMania. What could have been and why it changed is what we’re going to dig into this week.”

Five Questions with… ACH

Courtesy of ACH

ACH is best known for his time in Ring of Honor, and he is one of the best aerial artists in the business of professional wrestling. After nearly five years of working with Ring of Honor, ACH is now a free agent and ready to explore WWE, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and prove that he is as talented of a wrestler as he truly believes he is.

SI.com: Why did you and Ring of Honor decide to part ways before your contract officially expired?

ACH: I went to Ring of Honor and we discussed the future plans. The internet reported that there was bad blood, but there is no bad blood. I love everyone in the office, from Greg Gilleland to Joe Koff to Kevin Kelly. They all watched me grow in the business for the past four-and-a-half years. They stuck with me through a lot of my bad times. A lot of people don’t realize the issue with me missing my flight had nothing to do with what was being reported. I learned from that situation. Even when I’m not at fault, I still need to be in control. A lot of people don’t know the story behind the missed flight. People just assumed that I missed my flight, and then the second time, when I wrestled Nakamura, a lot of people think I forgot my gear. But a lot of people don’t know the situation, and it kind of put a blemish on who I am. One thing I learned from Kevin Kelly after I missed that flight was when he said, ‘Take your punishment, man up, and make sure you are in control of these things in the future.’ That’s all I could do. I got to a point in my career with Ring of Honor where I was stale. They’d always tell me I wasn’t, but my perspective was a little different. The fact that they let me out of my contract early shows that they are good people. They could have said, ‘No, we own you until the end of the year.’ But they didn’t, and I appreciate them for that.

I couldn’t tell you right off the bat what the future holds for me. That’s the most exciting part of the new journey I just began. In my life, in my career, I feel like I’m in control. A couple of months ago, I didn’t feel like that. To say I’m in control of whatever happens in the future makes me feel confident that I can make the right decisions for myself. In life, sometimes, you need to take a leap of faith. It is hard to do that when you get comfortable, and I think I got to a point in Ring of Honor where I felt comfortable. Ring of Honor treated me so well and I’m truly blessed for it, but I got comfortable there. Now I feel like I’m in control of my destiny.

SI.com: For the fans yet to meet you or watch you on television, who is ACH?

ACH: I express what I like and I don’t hide it. I like video games, I like anime. That makes me happy. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to make yourself happy. When people try to rip that away from you, then you get defensive and want to fight back. My self-expression is loud.  When people see me being myself, they want to stand up and be themselves. That’s my message. People sometimes say, ‘I don’t get ACH’s gimmick.’ It’s not who I am, it’s what I represent. I’m thankful for those who helped me—like Steve Corino, Kevin Kelly, and George Carroll. I am motivation, I am inspiration. I am Batman! I express myself so you can express yourself.

SI.com: Would you consider working full-time with New Japan Pro Wrestling?

ACH: Yes, and I’d love to go one-on-one in New Japan with Rocky Romero. A lot of people don’t appreciate how great of a wrestler Rocky is, and his locker room leadership makes him even more special. For example, Rocky pulled me aside during my previous tour and looked out for me, and I’ll thank him forever for that. There are tons of guys, especially in the Juniors division, I’d love to work with, including Kamaitachi since his comeback. My confidence is through the roof and I’m ready to step in the ring and make some magic with anybody.

SI.com: Cedric Alexander exited ROH and went on to succeed in WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic. Did that at all impact your decision to leave ROH?

ACH: Cedric leaving was a little bit of motivation, but he had his own reasons for leaving just like I had mine. I didn’t want anyone to think, ‘ACH left because Cedric left,’ and it wasn’t like that at all. I’m my own man. Cedric is one of my closest friends in the business and I am so happy and proud of him. I just wanted to make sure, when I left Ring of Honor, that it was right for me—not because I was sitting at home watching my peers do well. This is about me wanting to be better and go out and truly challenge myself.

SI.com: Moving forward, what is your next goal in wrestling?

ACH: I am a free agent. I was locked down for close to five years, so it’s like a breath of fresh air to start over. To be able to do this at a top level, with all of your potential and confidence, you have to be happy from within. If you do this out of love and passion, you can do it anywhere – and nothing else will matter. That’s how I want to wrestle. I had a really good conversation with [WWE writer] Jimmy Jacobs. He told me, ‘The cream always rises to the top, so keep doing you.’ To hear that from a guy like Jimmy, who I’ve always looked up to, it was empowering for me.

This is a chance to see how good I really am. Recently at AAW in Chicago, I first wrestled Chuck Taylor and then Zack Sabre Jr. They have two completely different wrestling styles, and the fact that I was able to show my range in one night—showing off my personality with Chuck Taylor and then being more aggressive when I locked up with Zack Sabre—meant a lot. Showing that range is important to me, and that range is something I’m going to show to people now as I feel I didn’t fully get to show it in Ring of Honor. That’s what makes me so excited for the future. Ultimately, my goal is to continue pushing forward and to be happy. A man’s dreams will never die.

Tweet of the Week

Paging CM Punk…

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

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