SI.com’s Wrestling Week in Review is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
The Future of WrestleMania
WrestleMania is just as much about honoring the past as it is creating the future.
The Rock and John Cena returned to share a WrestleMania ring, and the show was highlighted with moments from WWE legends “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, Chris Jericho, and Brock Lesnar. Shane McMahon delivered his most memorable spot in fifteen years, flying off the top of the cage in a vain attempt to deliver the most memorable elbow drop of all time, and the main event was a foregone conclusion with Roman Reigns winning the WWE championship.
The Raw after ‘Mania, however, was all about the future.
Apollo Crews and Baron Corbin both debuted on Monday, and fans were treated to an in-ring promo from Enzo Amore and Cass. The Vaudevillains also make their main roster debut on Thursday’s Smackdown, and three-fourths of the main event on Raw included Kevin Owens, AJ Styles, and Cesaro. One Raw is a small sample size, but the rash of injuries leading up to WrestleMania 32 hopefully served as the impetus for pushing new stars toward the top of the card. Highlighting the women’s division is also a priority, as is toying with Zack Ryder at every chance possible.
There was some irony involved, too, with Shane McMahon serving as the inspiration for the call-ups of Crews, Corbin, Amore and Cass. Those are all products of NXT, which is Paul Levesque’s brainchild. A feud between Shane McMahon and Levesque would be compelling, especially if it can last until WrestleMania 33, but the WWE would be wise to keep its priority on elevating more talent to the top of the card.
In other news…
• I am grateful to have watched a weekend full of wrestling during my four nights in Dallas. I watched NXT on Friday, as well as shows with Evolve, Ring of Honor, and the WrestleCon Supershow. The Jim Ross show on Saturday night included surprise guests Rob Van Dam, Shane Helms and Jeff Hardy, but the highlight of the weekend was the NXT ring at WWE AXXESS. This one area was home to some incredible matches, even featuring a full slate on Sunday morning that included Shinsuke Nakamura and Austin Aries, plus a rematch between Amercian Alpha and the Revival at 11:30 on Sunday morning.
• Austin Aries was not shy about revealing his goal in NXT. After his victory in the NXT ring on Sunday at AXXESS, Aries commented, “Whenever I’ve walked into any company I’ve ever worked in, my goal is to be the champion. So far, that’s always happened. And here at NXT, it’s going to be the same way. So whether it’s next week, next month, next year–at some point, Austin Aries will have the NXT championship around this finely sculpted waist.”
• Was WrestleMania purposely prolonged to tire out the crowd–and limit the booing–for Roman Reigns’ championship victory?
• WWE sold empty boxes of Booty-O’s cereal during WrestleMania weekend–and they sold out within two days. How soon until the actual cereal is made?
• The Zack Ryder saga continues in the WWE. My gold standard for Intercontinental title matches at WrestleMania includes Randy Savage-Ricky Steamboat, Roddy Piper-Bret Hart and the Shawn Michaels-Razor Ramon ladder match. It would have been ludicrous had any of those winners then lost the title the following week, let alone twenty-four hours later. Though it is possible that WWE is building up Ryder to be the company’s next underdog, his past booking makes you genuinely question whether there is a long-term plan.
• The return of Colt Cabana to Ring of Honor was another highlight to the weekend. Cabana pinned ROH champion Jay Lethal minutes before returning to WrestleCon to sign more autographs. Although he won’t dethrone Lethal, Cabana’s presence adds some excitement to the top of the ROH card.
• Drew Galloway and Johnny Gargano successfully defended their Evolve tag team titles at Eddie Deen’s Ranch this weekend. It is a crime that “Johnny Wrestling”–who was just added to the WWE’s Global Cruiserweight Series–is not employed full-time by the WWE, Ring of Honor or TNA.
• I loved Brock Lesnar’s honesty in the Associated Press story that posted on Sunday. “This is a job and I’m not caught up into it like maybe I’m supposed to be,” Lesnar told the AP. “I approach this as, I’m a skilled worker. I clock in, I clock out. People pay to watch me and, by chance, I guess they find me entertaining… When I look back and what I’m proud of is the money in my bank account.” Don’t expect a Lesnar title reign any time soon.
• Loved the call to have Charlotte successfully defend the newly-minted WWE women’s championship at WrestleMania. The women truly shined at WrestleMania, and I hope Charlotte’s reign is extended until Sasha Banks defeats her this August at SummerSlam.
• WrestleMania is truly a pleasure to cover. There were over two-hundred media members in the press box at AT&T Stadium, and WWE treated the Fourth Estate to a dinner of brisket, macaroni and cheese and turkey. Although no interview opportunities existed after the card, which is an aspect that differs from covering a professional sporting event, the atmosphere covering the WWE is a positive experience unlike any other I have ever experienced in pro sports. There are rules in place preventing the press from cheering while covering games, but the WWE has created a wonderful environment where writers and reporters–with some in wrestling t-shirts and others literally beside them in full suits–are free to cheer, applaud, and boo the proceedings. The WWE staff and superstars put on terrific shows, but none that entails more work than WrestleMania.
Enzo Amore and NXT
Enzo Amore officially introduced himself to the wrestling world on Monday. The first question from the brash-talking, New Jersey tough guy was, of course, “How you doin’?”
The 29-year-old Amore spent time on Saturday speaking to fans during a question and answer session at AXXESS, and he displayed his customary wit, charm, and perspective to the crowd in Dallas.
“We drive a lot of miles,” said Amore, who made his debut on Monday night along with 7’0” tag team partner Colin “Big Cass” Cassady. The two are going to work with the Dudley Boys, who specifically requested to work with Enzo and Cass. “Four hours here, five hours there, NXT all over the state of Florida.”
Amore revealed he travels with NXT champion Finn Balor.
“[Balor] is the guy I ride with,” said Amore. “He’s a wealth of knowledge and he’s one of the best at doing what we do.”
Amore also admitted that Balor’s work in the ring left an impression with him–both mentally and physically.
“Let’s not forgot about the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Tournament Memorial Classic,” said Amore. “[Balor] put his feet right across my diaphragm. I feel bad for anybody who's ever had to be on the other end of that, but if I was going to lose to anyone in the Dusty Rhodes Classic, and everybody knows what Dusty meant to NXT, it was going to be him.”
The quick-talking Amore also showed off his playful side, explaining that he is, in fact, the make-up artist for Balor’s intricate face and body paint.
“I’m a phenomenal artist,” said Amore. “If you don’t believe me, know this: when everybody else was in class doing regular schedule, I was in Special Ed playing Paint on Microsoft all day.”
Amore, who is a relative rookie with only four years of experience in the ring, shared that the ‘Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels served as his first inspiration to enter the business.
“There is an entire generation of people who were inspired by HBK,” said Amore.
“That’s my guy, that’s the one I’d want to see, and I’d want the IC title hanging over a ladder, with a microphone also. Whoever gets to the top first can talk all about how great they are.
“Personally, if you ever ask me my favorite match is, it’s the Shawn Michaels-Razor Ramon ladder match. There’s something about that IC title hanging up in the air, baby.”
The future is now in reach for Amore, but he will always remain grateful for his start in NXT.
“This is something people either don’t hear about or don’t know about, but before NXT became the third brand of the WWE, there were some, to say the least, humble beginnings,” said Amore. “Big Cass can tell you about wrestling in front of ten people at armories in Florida, and it was just this past December that same guy stood right next me when we wrestled in London in front of 13,000 for the U.K. tour. With the additions of people like Samoa Joe, Sami Zayn, Finn Balor, [Shinsuke] Nakamura, we have seen a brand build that rivals any in the world. Some of the best matches and some of the best performances is right here in NXT.”
KO-Mania and a Balor six-pack
Extra Mustard posted a story yesterday about Finn Balor’s interview at AXXESS. Balor was interrupted by the man who he defeated for the NXT championship–Kevin Owens.
“There is a lot about you I truly admire,” Owens said as he walked onto the ramp. “Your fashion sense, your Irish accent–man, I wish I could have that–but I’ve decided that there is something about you that I like so much that I want to get my own. I’d really like to get a six-pack just like you. How much work do I need to put in, two or three weeks? Will a month of one-hundred crunches a day give me the Finn Balor six-pack?”
Balor could not keep a straight face, and explained to Owens that, “No amount of crunches are going to help you if you keep eating those cheddar cheese sticks from BJ’s every day.”
Before walking away with a disgusted look on his face, Owens replied, “So you’re telling me that, in order to have a six pack like you, I can’t eat cheese sticks? I’m out of here.”
The Miz on ‘Mania
Mike “The Miz” Mizanin is more than just Intercontinental champion.
He celebrated an extremely meaningful anniversary this past March with his ten-year anniversary working for the WWE.
“As a seasoned veteran in the WWE, I look in that locker room and there is barely anybody–I think there are two people–who have been in the WWE longer than I have,” said the Miz. “And this is coming from a person who was supposed to be fired within three months of being in the WWE. A person that was kicked out of the locker room–and brought back in, thank God–after a year of changing in bathrooms and areas you couldn’t even imagine. The fact is it’s an honor and a privilege to be here. A lot of people think I shouldn’t be here. I was supposed to be fired, but I wasn’t, because I can do this.”
The Miz also conducted a question and answer session at WWE’s AXXESS in the NXT ring, and he was asked by a fan how much he makes for his performances in his WWE Studios movies.
“I make just enough not to buy a Fight Owens Fight shirt,” joked the Miz. “But making movies for WWE Studios has always been a dream of mine. I remember Arnold Schwarzenegger and all those action flicks, and now I actually get to play a Marine.”
The Miz then explained that he lost a good friend who served the United States as a Marine, so the role took on extra meaning.
“He was a Marine, and sadly he was killed fighting for our freedom,” said the Miz. “To anyone out there in the Armed Forces, thank you very much.”
Even after a decade in the WWE, the Miz is just as enthusiastic about the business and WrestleMania, and he even took the time to defend his friend, Roman Reigns, from the daily onslaught of criticism.
“WrestleMania my favorite week of the year,” said the Miz. “As annoying as it kind of is, it is still cool to see everyone outside our hotel, hoping to catch a glimpse of anyone from WWE, like a Roman Reigns.
“You know, you boo Roman Reigns, but there is no denying his athletic talent. The only reason you guys don’t like him is because you think the company is giving him the rocket, but the fact is the guy deserves it. He has a coolness, and he’s calm, cool, collected in that ring. As much as you want to boo him, the fact still remains that guy is talented, he’s tough, and he’s very good at what he does.”
The Miz married Maryse Ouellet in 2014, and the two met while working together in the WWE. He explained that he is a vocal proponent for the success of the women’s division.
“The women of the WWE and NXT are really revolutionizing everything for women,” said the Miz. “The WWE has been doing a great job of really showing the positive nature of our women. They’re strong, they’re smart, they’re sexy, and they’re athletic. They’re everything that I feel a woman–and I married one–should embody. It’s incredible to watch, and I hope that little girls out there look at our WWE Divas and have someone–like I had like Ultimate Warrior, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart–in one of these women, because they are definitely role models for each and every little girl out there.”
The Miz also fondly recalled serving as a “mentor” to Daniel Bryan on the original NXT, and lamented the retirement of who he believed is the best wrestler in the world.
“Any time you’re in Seattle and you’re with Daniel Bryan, there is something electric in that arena,” said the Miz. “I remember when they were combining the world heavyweight championship and the WWE championship. It was Randy Orton versus John Cena, and the only thing the audience would chant was ‘Daniel Bryan’ throughout the entire show. It was incredible.
“I remember when he first came to NXT, and people doubted him. He overcame that underdog status and became one of the biggest WWE superstars of all time. He’s personally one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in my entire life, and he’s always working hard to make everyone better inside the ring and out of the ring. To see and watch him retire before he wants to retire–because I know there’s nothing more that he wants than to be in the ring and competing–and to watch him retire is scary and you don’t like it. But I’m also happy he found a way to just go on. I’m happy he found out before anything really, really bad could happen. I just hope and pray that he’ll be OK, and his brain will be sent off to amazingness, because of the fact he retired. But we all know he’ll be missed in this WWE ring.”
Rusev on Booty O’s, WrestleMania, and his toughest opponent
Rusev is not a fan of Booty O’s.
“What is Booty O’s?” asked the frustrated Bulgarian Brute. “There is no such thing. There is no cereal. Have you tried it? Go ahead and eat from that box. There’s nothing in there, the joke is on you.”
The former United States champion also delivered a compelling Q&A on Saturday evening at AXXESS. Rusev broke character for the majority of the interview, while Lana stayed in character and did her best to keep the accent.
After a run as the company’s hottest heel, the WWE has cooled on the extremely talented Rusev. He is one-third of the League of Nations, but he is not currently involved in any significant singles storyline. He admitted to spending a good chunk of time watching the NXT product.
“I was them once,” said Rusev. “Before I debuted in the  Royal Rumble, I was just a guy that walked down the ramp who nobody knew. I was just one of them, I was a little nervous, but I proved I belonged in the WWE ring. The rest is history–undefeated for a year, and I got to headline WrestleMania against John Cena in a tank. Lana had an army, and then I lost.
“I was watching the NXT live special [on Friday], which was amazing, and these guys are just crazy good. [Samoa] Joe was bleeding everywhere and still kept going. If that were me, I would have left a long time ago. I’m really looking forward to working with Finn [Balor], with Joe, with all these guys. They just know so much. I’m looking forward to learning from them, and I’m pretty sure they’re going to bring me up to the next level.”
Rusev confessed the identity of his toughest opponent in the business.
“My toughest opponent, definitely, is Lana,” said Rusev. “She was down there smacking me in the face, and I couldn’t do anything.”
Before departing for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony with his fiancée Lana, Rusev revealed his inspiration to join the business happened while watching the World Wrestling Federation from his home in the People’s Republic of Bulgaria.
“When you’re a little kid and you’re foolish enough to believe anything, I believed in Bret Hart and I believed in Stone Cold Steve Austin,” said Rusev. “They were just going out there and taking names and beating everybody, and going against Vince McMahon. As a kid, that was the coolest thing ever.”
Women’s Wrestling Revolution
Barbi Hayden is set to make wrestling history in the Northeast this weekend, a skill that seems to come naturally to the 25-year-old bombshell.
Women’s Wrestling Revolution makes its return to Providence, Rhode Island with an all-women’s show at 5pm this Sunday at Fete Music.
The card, which includes a match between Hayden and Ring of Honor’s Taeler Hendrix, also features Candice LaRae, Santana Garrett, and TNA’s Raquel.
“An all-women’s wrestling show is very different,” said Hayden. “The entertainment level is actually higher than it is with the men. The men are brawn versus brawn and trying to beat each other up, and the women are more character-driven.”
The 25-year-old is also gifted in the ring thanks to seven years of hard work and dedication.
Hayden first started after an ex-boyfriend brought her to Monday Night Raw.
“My ex-boyfriend took me to Raw for one of our first dates, and I immediately feel in love with it,” said Hayden. “I saw Mickie James, and thought, ‘I want to be just like her.’ I love being athletic and I love entertaining, so it was a good transition.”
Born in College Station, Texas, Hayden began training at eighteen in Austin, Texas with “Mr. Mexico” George De La Isla.
“I trained there for a year-and-a-half,” said Hayden. “I made the two-hour drive three days a week, and after that, I started working with Lance Hoyt and [Shoichi] Funaki.”
Seven years in the business has taught Hayden the importance of both the mental and physical aspects of a business centered around sacrifice and dedication.
“There is the physical well-being part, but also the mental aspect,” explained Hayden. “There is no off-season in wrestling. We miss a lot. I missed my nephew being born and several birthdays, holidays, and weddings. You have to be a little more selfish than you want at times. So you have to physically be able to wrestle year-round, and you need to mentally be able to do that.”
Hayden has the drive to push beyond standard limits. She even received another shot in the arm to succeed on Sunday night while watching the women’s title match at WrestleMania between Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch.
“Those were girls who started out where I started–on the indies–and made it to the grand stage,” said Hayden. “They were front and center for WrestleMania, and more people were talking about that match than any other match. It’s so incredible to see women put on that pedestal, and it’s proof that what we’re doing is worth it. It’s so cool to see girls come from my level to be some of the main attractions of such a huge event, and it shows there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Hayden has wrestled with TNA and Ring of Honor, and is working every day to improve and move toward her goal of one day joining the WWE.
“I’ve gotten so much smarter, so much stronger, and smoother in my wrestling. There is not a lot of strength factor behind the moves in women’s wrestling, but I was trained old-school. I was trained to be a brawler, and I bring more of that physical aspect. If people are fans of Ronda Rousey, they’re going to be a fan of me, as well.”
Tweet of the Week
It’s very rare to see someone–Ring of Honor’s Moose, in this case–make Big E look small.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.