Week in Wrestling: Undertaker returns; Ring of Honor’s Jay Lethal
SI.com’s Wrestling Week in Review is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
News of the Week
Dean Ambrose is going to win the WWE title at WrestleMania.
Vince McMahon has a knack for delivering the goods at WrestleMania, and Paul Levesque has helped influence the main events from the past two years. McMahon was forced to call an audible for both WrestleMania 30 and 31, as Batista and Roman Reigns were replaced late into the booking stages with Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins.
Roman Reigns cannot close out the company’s signature show by winning cleanly without a dreadful reaction from the crowd. McMahon, who almost always shies away from screwjob finishes at WrestleMania, needs to continue to shift away from the Reigns narrative by readjusting his plan and turning the main event into a four-way match between Triple H, Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, and Dean Ambrose. Lesnar’s status immediately adds value to the match, and the seeds can be planted for an Ambrose-Reigns run after the “Lunatic Fringe” wins the title.
The WWE Network’s “Road Block” special on March 12 is Ambrose’s audition for the main event of WrestleMania–let’s all hope it is a success.
The Undertaker returned on Monday. In only 38 words, he delivered the best promo of the night, effectively building his match with Shane McMahon for WrestleMania. Vince McMahon also sells better than anyone on the roster.
In other news…
• Fresh off his victory at last week’s Lockdown, TNA champion Matt Hardy sent over an exclusive interview to discuss future career opportunities for EC3. Video credit goes to Reby Hardy.
• The Ring of Honor 14th Anniversary pay per view included many highlights, but none were impressive than the six man tag between The Elite and the team of ACH, Matt Sydal, and KUSHIDA. Kenny Omega is the most talented wrestler in the world not on the WWE payroll, and ACH’s “Air Jordan” dive is even more outrageous in-person. Another highlight was Moose’s performance against IWGP champion Kazuchika Okada. Although I expected at least one title to change hands, I loved the manner in which Jay Lethal defended his championship in a terrific triple threat against Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly. Lethal is only 30 years old, while O’Reilly is 28 and Cole is 26, so Ring of Honor is well-stocked with young talent for its future.
• Bret Hart launched his new weekly podcast, “The Sharpshooter Show,” yesterday on WrestleZone.com. The last WrestleMania appearance for the Hitman, if you recall, was last year in Santa Clara as he and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper endorsed Daniel Bryan–and his “Yes!” chants–as Intercontinental champion.
• The finish of the Sasha Banks-Becky Lynch match fell flat. There was no logical explanation for both women to suddenly pass out, especially Sasha Banks, who successfully delivered the sunset flip and then magically blacked out. The finish was so illogical that broadcast team did not even bother to explain it. The two have a rematch tomorrow on Smackdown for the right to challenge Charlotte for the Diva’s title, and all signs point to a triple threat match at WrestleMania.
• AJ Styles and Chris Jericho are far too friendly, and their breakup is imminent. I’m very interested to see how Kevin Owens is included into this feud, especially considering the Diva’s title match is already scheduled to be a triple threat match at WrestleMania.
• Kalisto’s deal with the devil continued on Monday. On one hand, he was given the United States title–but, in return, he is now forced to remain in a never-ending feud with Alberto Del Rio. Hard to believe that Del Rio was the one tapped to defeat John Cena to end his U.S. title run.
• The WWE returns to Chicago next Monday, which serves as a reminder of how much more exciting each week would be if CM Punk were still on the roster. Punk received his termination papers on his wedding day, effectively ending any chance of a reunion.
Weekly Top 10
1.) Kevin Owens, WWE
For those keeping track, this marks two consecutive weeks where Owens was not allowed to cut a promo on Raw.
2.) Dean Ambrose, WWE
Ambrose needs to have the performance of his life at “Road Block” to prove he should win the championship at WrestleMania.
3.) AJ Styles, WWE
When will Styles and Jericho be put in a program with Kevin Owens?
4.) Kenny Omega, New Japan Pro Wrestling
“The Cleaner” brought his broom to Vegas, and showed again why he is one of the top five wrestlers in the world. His matches build anticipation, suspense, and are full of reality, not to mention a dragon suplex that is a thing of beauty.
5.) Jay Lethal, Ring of Honor
Lethal dazzled in his main event victory over Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly at ROH’s 14th Anniversary.
6.) Brock Lesnar, WWE
Missing in action on Raw.
7.) Roman Reigns, WWE
Reigns continues to drop in the rankings, and is on pace to be replaced as the winner in the WrestleMania main event for a second consecutive year.
8.) Kazuchika Okada, New Japan Pro Wrestling
“The Rainmaker” defeated Ring of Honor’s Moose on Friday in a non-title match, then flew out of Vegas on Sunday to return in time for his tag match on Thursday (Okada and Kazushi Sakuraba vs. KUSHIDA and Katsuyori Shibata) in Tokyo.
9.) The Young Bucks, Ring of Honor
The best tag team on the planet returns to the rankings after a successful defense with Kenny Omega of their NEVER Openweight 6-man tag team titles over ACH, Matt Sydal, and KUSHIDA. They taped a tag match on Saturday against Hiroshi Tanahashi and Michael Elgin that will be appointment viewing as soon as it airs.
10.) Tomohiro Ishii, New Japan Pro Wrestling
Ishii defended his Ring of Honor Television title in a triple threat match against Roderick Strong and Bobby Fish on Friday. His physical repertoire–filled with chops, head butts, lariats and brain busters–immediately won over the live crowd in Vegas.
Gambling in the House of Truth
Jay Lethal stayed off the Las Vegas Strip this past weekend, preferring to steer clear of distractions and focus on his triple threat title match. The decision paid off, as he retained his title over Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly with a sublime double “Lethal Injection.” He has held the title for 257 days and counting, and shared some of his time with Sports Illustrated to explain what wearing the world title means to him.
“In the wrestling business, it is the highest honor when a company makes you their number one guy and the face of the company,” said Lethal. “That spot has to be earned before it was given, and then once it’s given, you’ve got to continue to do what you did to get there. It’s a test of your work and it’s a test because the company sees so much in you to make you their number one guy. This is the first company I’ve ever worked for that’s known around the world and I’m their champion, and it’s unbelievable.”
Lethal has shined as champion, delivering superb matches with Roderick Strong, Kyle O’Reilly and Adam Cole. He also defeated AJ Styles this past December in Philadelphia in a match where Lethal out-classed his extremely talented opponent.
“I feel like I’m doing a tremendous job,” Lethal admitted. “But if I wasn’t and the company thought I wasn’t–I wouldn’t be the number one man any more. I’ve learned to trust my instincts more. My manager, Truth Martini, always reminds me that when you’re good, you’re good, and you can’t be afraid to say it, or walk like it, or talk like it.
“We walk this fine line in wrestling with our characters, and I don’t want to be too cocky or too braggadocious, but you have to believe in yourself and your ability. Some people get carried away with that belief, so there is that fine line to dance, but you have to know that you’re good and believe that you’re good, and that is when great things happen.”
Truth Martini is Martin Krcaj, a former pro wrestler trained by Al Snow. His career was curtailed by a career-ending neck injury, but he noted that one skill he attained while active in the business was the ability to spot greatness.
“There are different types of wrestlers in the world,” explained Martini. “There are good wrestlers, great wrestlers, special wrestlers, and then there are undeniable wrestlers. When I got paired up with Jay Lethal, it was like a dream come true. Jay is the best wrestler in the entire world. Nothing happens by accident, and his title reign is no accident. People are witnessing Jay Lethal take that next step from special wrestler to legendary.”
The highlight of the 14th Anniversary show on Friday was Lethal’s double Lethal Injection to close out the match on O’Reilly and Cole.
“I still have this image of Stone Cold giving a double stunner,” said Lethal. “I always thought it was cool to have a move that you could hit on multiple people at the same time. My favorite move is the Diamond Cutter, made famous as the ‘Ace Crusher’ by Johnny Ace [Laurinaitis]. As soon as I was able to use it as my finisher, I was ecstatic because I knew, at one point, I’d eventually use it on two people at the same time. It was pretty cool to debut something like that on pay per view.”
The 30-year-old Lethal’s love for the business is genuine, and his years dedicated to watching have helped foster a unique ring psychology matched by few in the business.
“The things I loved most about professional wrestling happened before I was even born,” said Lethal, whose eyes widened every time he discussed Randy Savage’s work as a heel Intercontinental champion in 1986. “I’ve done my homework and my studying, and it’s one of the true testaments to show how much I love this business.”
The lineage of the Ring of Honor world championship includes title reigns from CM Punk, and Daniel Bryan. Lethal is honored to have his name on the same list.
“The title means the world to me,” admitted Lethal. “My goal was to do something special with this title, and I really want to get to the point where you don’t even think about who had the belt before me. That would be spectacular.”
In order to succeed in wrestling, Martini explained, your priorities need to be completely out of order.
“As sick and twisted as this may sound, it takes an unbalanced human being to be successful,” said Martini. “Wrestling is not a hobby, it’s a life style. If you put wrestling second or third, then that’s where you’re going to be–second or third. You need to be so unbalanced that you put wrestling first. Sometimes your family isn’t going to understand, sometimes your friends aren’t going to understand the sacrifices you need to make to be on top of a company, and people have no idea what it is to be champion.”
In addition to an uncanny impersonation, Lethal’s ring work and interview style has drawn comparisons to the late “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
“I’m honored to have my name in the same sentence as the ‘Macho Man,’” said Lethal. “But I’m not a modern day version of anyone. I’m a mesh. I was a huge fan of Randy Savage, a huge fan of Ric Flair, and a huge fan of Bret “The Hitman” Hart. If you watch carefully, you can see all of that in me. I know I’m the ‘bad guy’ right now, but I was also the good guy for eleven years of my career. I got to stand on the other side of the ring from every type of bad guy. I’ve seen all different aspects of the bad guys, and I got to pick and choose the parts I liked for my character. I’m honored to have my name in the same sentence as Randy Savage, but I’m more of a modern day student of the game.”
Lethal is also a champion behind the scenes, motivating everyone to pick up their game in the ring and with production values to elevate Ring of Honor to another level. Another highlight of the 14th Anniversary pay per view was the double submission spot with Kyle O’Reilly locking up both Lethal and Adam Cole. Lethal designed the sequence where Cole stopped Lethal from submitting just as his hand was destined to hit the mat, and was proud that the fans responded with such emotion.
“I’m striving to keep the Ring of Honor world championship,” said Lethal. “In the history of professional wrestling, at some point in time, title reigns come to an end. As long as Truth Martini and I stay cool and we still relevant, and continue to do what we do out in the ring, then this title reign will carry on much longer.”
Five Questions with… Josh Barnett
Jim Ross makes his debut this Friday on AXS TV calling New Japan Pro Wrestling alongside Josh Barnett. The UFC heavyweight set aside time with Sports Illustrated to discuss New Japan, the departure of AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, and his own mixed martial arts career.
SI.com: What has struck you the most about Jim Ross? And do your goals moving forward include calling live shows in Japan?
Josh Barnett: Jim Ross is fantastic at what he does. His experience really shines through, and he’s incredibly easy to work with. Our content is only behind a month or so. You can watch the match as it airs on New Japan World, but I don’t think you’re going to get the same experience from it if you’re an English speaker compared to what we do here on AXS. We’re also really open to the possibility of covering some live events.
SI.com: New Japan is structured in an extremely realistic fashion with its weight classes and strong style. In addition to once wrestling with NJPW, you also have a legitimate fighting background–is that one of the draws to calling NJPW?
Josh Barnett: The strong style work of New Japan is very easy for me to call, but it’s even easier for me to watch. I love keeping pro wrestling more akin to its roots of real fights that it used to have and the real tough guys that used to inhabit it. It would be a lot harder calling two guys going through some dance choreography. I’ve been privy to a lot of great matches over there, especially with some of the guys I used to tour with all the time, like [Jushin] Liger, but for the newer stars, [Katsuyori] Shibata has really impressed with me his evolution. He’s probably my favorite guy to watch, but I’ve also been really pleased to watch Hirooki Goto. He’s got more wrestling flavor than Shibata, and he’s a hard-hitting, fast-paced guy. I like the way he puts his moves together–he uses that strong style and it’s very realistic. And [Shinsuke] Nakamura never failed to disappoint.
SI.com: The departure of the “New Japan Four” is a huge loss for the company. Was departing for the WWE the right decision for AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Doc Gallows and Karl Andreson? Does it concern you that WWE is trying to mask Styles’ southern accent?
Josh Barnett: They had an incredible run. But as anyone who follows wrestling closely knows, it’s not always about the wrestler. It’s also about the cards they get dealt. Hopefully they’re able to express themselves in the best way possible.
As for Styles, the WWE has grown so much from an international roster–French Canadians, Spanish speakers and Japanese wrestlers who never even cut promos. But media and entertainment projects are sometimes searching for that lowest common denominator, and act like accents don’t exist and skin colors are just right. They don’t want to go too far left or right on anything, and that just makes everything bland.
SI.com: You have had enjoyed a tremendous career in mixed martial arts. Do you plan on returning to the cage? And what did you think of Travis Browne, a recent opponent of yours, receive no penalties for repeated pokes to Matt Mitrione’s eye?
Josh Barnett: I’ve never eye gouged anybody, and I’ve had a lot of fights, so I don’t understand the difficulty with all the eye gouges. And it’s more fighters than just Travis. It’s a bit absurd, and Travis deserved to be penalized for it.
I’m 38, which is old for MMA, but I plan to be an exception. I’m exceptionally weird, and I’ve been exceptionally hated and exceptionally loved, so why not stick with exceptional?
In my last fight [a loss to Ben Rothwell], I walked into the ring with every physical capability necessary. I had felt I could fight with anybody out there and succeed. Ben Rothwell has a really great argument for being the best heavyweight, and he’s pretty much beaten everybody out there at this point. If he isn’t deserving of a title shot, I don’t know who is.
SI.com: Do you think CM Punk is starting his MMA too late? And, before we wrap up, what would you like to share with people interested in watching New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV?
Josh Barnett: You can’t think of all “I couldn’t, I shouldn’t” variables. Phil is driven by a passion to do something, so he should go out there and accomplish it. I know Phil fairly well, and it’s just a matter of time for him to go out there and see it through.
The reason to watch New Japan is because you’ll be watching the best wrestling in the entire world. Jim and I are just there to accentuate an already amazing product. It’s hard-hitting, knuckle-breaking, nose-to-nose, face-to-face action, the kind you’re probably not used to at this point.
Monday Night Ran
“New Day Rocks” is the latest track to be released from Mega Ran’s “Mat Mania” album.
Raheem “Mega Ran” Jarbo is proud of all of his music, but this piece holds a little extra meaning.
“This song is special to me in a different way,” said Jarbo. “New Day has been my favorite thing to watch on television. They’re so entertaining, and this track is one of my favorites because of all the memorable things they’ve said and done.”
Jarbo is close friends with Xavier Woods, who brought him as his guest to last year’s WrestleMania.
“I met Kofi and Big E at the WrestleMania after-party last year, and they’re hilarious separately and together,” said Jarbo. “You can instantly tell why they have such great chemistry on-screen. Big E had me in stitches about one of his stories from the road, and I don’t know how they get anything accomplished–it’s really non-stop laughs.”
The first two songs released from the album were more serious pieces about Brock Lesnar and the “Macho Man” Randy Savage, but this track provided a different challenge.
“I’m not a guy who makes parody raps for a living, and I struggle thinking that I’m funny. Brock’s track was very serious, and Macho’s was also serious and nostalgic. I had to make sure the lines for the New Day were funny and interesting, not only to myself or [producer] Casey [Van Buren], but to someone who listens. It’s hard to enough to gain validity and respectability in this subculture of nerdcore, so I’ve always been afraid of funny in rap music.”
Jarbo sent the track to Woods a couple of weeks ago while he was overseas in Germany.
“Xavier actually took a long time to get to me, so I got really worried thinking he didn’t like it,” laughed Jarbo. “But he got back to me a couple days later and they all loved it and were playing it in the car. I wouldn’t feel right if they didn’t like it, so it’s cool to know they approved.”
Jarbo is finding time for the album during his “Zombie Dinosaur Spring US Tour,” and just finalized plans to host a podcast and promote his new album in Dallas during WrestleMania weekend at WrestleCon. For now, however, he is content knowing that the New Day approve of his work.
“There is a little pressure to create something that I’m going to like, the fans are going to like and the subject is going to like, so I feel good that we did it and now it’s out there for people to enjoy.”
Tomohiro Ishii and the Television Title
Tomohiro Ishii defeated Roderick Strong at “Honor Rising” in Tokyo for the Television title two weeks ago. He successfully defended the belt this past weekend at Ring of Honor’s 14th Anniversary, and the 40-year-old Japanese strong man is eager to defend his title.
“I am the Ring of Honor Television champion, but I’ve had a wrestling career of over twenty years,” said Ishii, who spoke through an interpreter. “Wrestling is the most important part of my life every day. I’ve worked harder and harder, and deeper and deeper every day, and that’s why I’m the TV champ. I’ve worked for it.”
Ishii works the traditional strong style of Japanese wrestling, and his style is very stiff. He defeated Roderick Strong for the title, who was impressed with the pugnacious 5’7”, 220-pound brawler.
“Even though I don’t like him, I have a lot of respect for him,” admitted Strong. “Ishii is just so solid. He’s very aggressive and he keeps coming at you, and he is very, very physical.”
Ishii debuted in 1996 for Genichiro Tenryu’s WAR promotion, and dedicated his life to his career. He finally signed with New Japan in 2004, delivering an aggressively hostile skillset featuring the brain buster and the “Ishii Driller,” which is a vertical suplex that turns into a piledriver.
“I’ve been working in Japan for the past twenty years to get over,” said Ishii. “I am TV champion now, but the whole point is to keep getting better. I want to get better every day.
”The New Japan style is all about the fighting spirit. It’s a much more emotional fight. ROH’s matches are a little quicker. I want to show the audience that emotion. We have a different style in Japan that shows the audience what we’re fighting for, but that doesn’t mean that American style isn’t good. It’s just different, and a little faster. But my style never changes.”
Ishii learned his strong style from two Japanese legends in Genichiro Tenryu and Riki Choshu. Tenryu was a sumo wrestler before embarking on a 40-year wrestling career, and Choshu is one of the most influential Japanese wrestlers of all time and is credited with popularizing the Scorpion Death Lock.
“I learned as a young boy from Tenryu and Choshu,” explained Ishii. “They are two of the biggest stars in the history of pro wrestling. I very much respect what I learned from those two main guys.”
Ishii has no plans to stay in the United States, but admitted the Ring of Honor crowds have earned his respect.
“I wrestle for New Japan Pro Wrestling, so I don’t care if the American audience likes me,” said Ishii. “I’m not going to–and I cannot–change my style. But the American audience, their eyes are very educated to understand all types of deep wrestling styles.
Ishii refuses to look ahead too far, as his focus remains on defending his TV title, especially in front of the Japanese audiences.
“My goal is to try my best today, then improve again tomorrow,” said Ishii. “I don’t think by year, I think by day. I’m not a big guy, but I have the fighting spirit.”
Rarefied Air: PJ Black discusses Lucha Underground, WWE and Daniel Bryan
Formerly known as Justin Gabriel in the WWE, PJ Black now wrestles with Lucha Underground. Despite the change in name, he remains the first ever WWE superstar to hail from South Africa.
“That was and still is a huge honor,” said Black. “Especially when people told me it was never possible. I love proving people wrong. They used to tell me that no South African has ever made it, and I just always replied, ‘Great, then I’ll be the first.’”
Black debuted with the Nexus in June of 2010, and the stable–chock-full of young talent–immediately became the hottest fad on WWE programming. Fads fade, however, and the Nexus lost considerable steam after a loss in the main event at that year’s SummerSlam by a makeshift group led by John Cena. With the power of hindsight, Black would have rebooked the Nexus angle.
“That’s always tough,” said Black. “We all know we should have won that SummerSlam match and maybe went on to at least have a WrestleMania moment.”
Daniel Bryan also started with the Nexus, but was actually fired after their debut on Raw for excessive storyline violence toward ring announcer Justin Roberts. Black is disappointed that Bryan retired, but he saw the writing on the wall for quite some time.
“I called it about a year ago when I said he’ll never wrestle again,” said Black. “The guy is super talented but I remember he couldn’t even remember matches that happened a few weeks ago. That is how I knew he was done and it was just a matter of time before he had to step aside.
“It’s still sad to me that we’ve lost such a great in-ring performer but it just shows you that we put our bodies on the line for fans’ entertainment and it could happen at any time to any of us.”
The WWE constantly promotes the idea of performers finding their own character, and Black planned out a wolf/daredevil persona. Though it is similar to the character Black is now portraying for Lucha Underground, Paul Levesque did not approve the idea.
“I think it was just a timing thing, to be honest,” said Black. “Paul was set in his ways to create the NXT brand to prove to Vince that he was capable of running the company someday. I think guys that were in the mix and not established characters or part of the NXT uprising were just pushed to the side. That’s why I left–I wanted to do more. I am like five years away from my prime. I didn’t want to waste it trying to prove myself. It was all timing.”
Before exiting the WWE, Black worked as the Bunny in Adam Rose’s “Exotic Express.” He revealed that plans were in place to turn the Bunny heel.
“It was difficult to perform the moves in the costume, but it was a new set of challenges,” said Black. “We were going to turn the bunny into an evil bunny with a really, really dark twist but unfortunately, with the PG era, it wouldn’t have fit.”
Only 34, Black still plans on evolving as a wrestler and performer for promotions across the world.
“I’m a few years away from my prime,” he said. “Right now I’m having so much fun and I think it shows in my work. I am constantly evolving and coming up with new things not only to entertain the world but also to see how far I can push myself. I’m only getting started, and the next few chapters of my life should be very interesting for sure.”
When asked if he would consider returning to TNA or wrestling with Ring of Honor, Black admitted that he prefers his current schedule.
“I wrestle internationally more now than ever,” said Black. “At least one week out of every month I’m overseas for shows somewhere in the world. While those companies are great, I’m happy where I’m at right now with Lucha. They let me do other shows and projects outside of the company so right now I’m in a perfect spot.”
The Lucha Underground locker room takes a lot of pride in working together, and Black believes that connection correlates to the success of the show.
“It’s a great environment to work in,” said Black. “With so much talent from around the world, it really makes it very easy to be creative and give the fans something fresh and exciting and also draws in a new audience of non-wrestling fans.
“I love the people that I get to work with–production, crew and talent–and also the passionate live audience makes it so special every time we perform.”
Black is joined on the Lucha Underground roster by another talented South African wrestler, Angelico.
“I was there when Angelico rocked up for his first day of training back in RSA,” recalled Black. “I was already signed by the WWE and was about to move to the U.S. so I didn’t want to get in the ring much. But I do remember him being there when I invented a few moves which he ‘borrowed’ and still uses today, so I’m flattered in that sense. I also wrestled him in his fourth match when I had to do a charity exhibition and I insisted to the promoters that I’d only do the event if I could wrestle him. The kid was just a natural since day one. He’s already a huge star in Mexico and slowly the world is getting to see him, and he has a great future ahead of him.”
Black also reconnected with the legendary Rey Mysterio in the Lucha Temple.
“Rey is more passionate now than ever,” said Black. “And he is still on top of his game after all these years.”
Another Lucha Underground opponent who Black enjoyed working with was Jack Evans.
“I don’t have a preference of styles my style in itself is a hybrid and can adapt to any style which makes it so fun and interesting for the viewers,” said Black. “My favorite thing in this industry is working with someone I haven’t worked with before. That, to me, is the ultimate challenge in being a well-rounded performer. Jack Evans is very, very good at what he does I have a lot of respect for him. I love his style and he pushes me to new limits all the time.”
Looking back on his time with WWE, Black admitted that, although he would have preferred more time as a singles competitor, he was grateful for his time in stables like Nexus and the Corre.
“At the time of Nexus, pretty much everything in wrestling had already been done,” said Black. “So to be a part of a group that made history and created something fresh in the world of sports entertainment was very cool. It was my foot in the door. I would have loved to have a better singles career after that, but that’s exactly what I’m doing now, so I can’t complain.”
Black does not regret leaving WWE. He left the door open for a possible return, but more pressing goals include his aspirations for 2016.
“I do not have any regrets,” said Black. “Right now I’m happy at Lucha and don’t have plans to ever go back to WWE. But ‘Never say never’ is one thing that I’ve learned in my 20 years in the business. One of my proudest moments was when my mom came to watch me wrestle for the very first time and it was at the biggest stage of them all, WrestleMania  in Atlanta.
“I’m just trying to improve and evolve as a person and character and as a performer, so I think 2016 should be amazing. My goals are just to have the best possible matches I can and work on myself to better myself. And just to have as much fun as possible. For a while, I almost forgot why I got into this and how much fun it should be.”
The Tweet of the Week
Kevin Von Erich and the Freebirds
In a move long overdue, the Fabulous Freebirds will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame during WrestleMania weekend.
The Freebirds will forever be known for their battles with the legendary Von Erich family during the glory days of World Class Championship Wrestling. The dueling sides feuded for eleven years in some of wrestling’s most hardcore matches.
Humming a song from 1982, WWE Hall of Famer Kevin Von Erich fondly recalled his fights with the men from Bad Street, Atlanta, GA.
“We beat the hell out of each other,” said Von Erich. “But we looked at it like this–we’re being paid well, so let’s honor it. We stayed away from the nose, teeth and balls–but everything else was fair game. It made for good TV.”
Although Jimmy Garvin–who is also being inducted into the Hall of Fame–had a brief run with Hayes in WCW, the Freebirds truly consisted of Michael “P.S.” Hayes, Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy, and Buddy Roberts. Von Erich shared a connection with each of them, particularly with Gordy.
“I’d already knew Terry Gordy, and he instantly gained my respect,” said Von Erich. “He was a big ol’ bad ass. I just loved him, and I knew he’d always go all out. We were professional wrestlers, not little wimps who complained about working too stiff. Big John Layfield, JBL, he knows exactly what I’m talking about–you can’t hit too hard in this business. You’ve got to commit and go out there and give all you’ve got, and that was Terry Gordy.”
While Gordy was the muscle and Hayes was the slick-talking front man, the Freebirds’ most overlooked piece was arguably their most talented in Buddy Roberts.
“Buddy was trained by Johnny Valentine, and he was one of those guys who was like a crash test dummy,” said Von Erich. “He was willing to go out. He wouldn’t complain, he’d just hit us back. Buddy and Terry were both like that.”
Von Erich holds Hayes in extremely high regard, and is extremely proud of his friend’s accomplishment. He did admit, however, that it took Hayes some time to adjust to the Von Erich style of wrestle.
“Michael was a little apprehensive at first,” explained Von Erich. “Our style was rough–we knocked teeth out, whacked you with cowboy boots and belt buckles and all that crap, and it took a full commitment. But Michael could talk. He could get the people so pissed off. People think he could really play a character. Well, no, that’s not true. Michael drew that character from somewhere down inside him. It was so organic, and he was perfect as the loud mouth. He’s really a great guy and will give you the shirt off his back, but that was just him. He’s as flamboyant as they come, he’s bigger than life, and the perfect head man for two battleships like Gordy and Roberts.
“You put a wild commander like Hayes at the helm, and you have a hell of a pirate ship, and that we did–we just fought those pirates every week. What a great stress reliever it was to beat the hell out of each other, and it brought us really close to each other.”