The Week In Wrestling touches on Finn Balor’s arrival on Raw and talks with Jake The Snake about the state of wrestling and his new clean lifestyle.
SI.com’s Wrestling Week in Review is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
The Ritual of the Snake
Jake "The Snake" Roberts is now 60 and living a clean and sober life for the first time in ages. So when he sees someone struggling with the same type of problems he's faced, there is an immediate desire to help. Enter troubled ex-Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel.
“They’re shoving Roman down everybody’s throat, and that’s not working too well," said Roberts. "It’s a shame, because he’s a great athlete and a great guy, but they went at it the wrong way.”
Roberts sees overflowing potential with Reigns, but wishes the WWE champion would add another element to his promos and work in the ring. Unfortunately, Roberts is unlikely to have the opportunity to work with him.
“It doesn’t look like I’m going to get the opportunity to help any of these guys, though I wish I would,” said Roberts. “I’m more than available, but they’ve got their little formula they want to stick with.
“If they did bring me back, I’ll be the first to say, I’d probably do something really stupid and piss everybody off. I’m really stuck on the way I believe, so if someone wasn’t listening to me, I’d probably give him a, ‘What if?’ and throw something out there that would get a charge out of everybody.
“For Dallas to go all balls in and give me a shot–and bring in Scott too–and support us financially, emotionally and give us direction is pretty amazing,” said Roberts. “I’m so happy, and so proud, and so grateful. If Dallas can do that, then maybe I can help somebody, too. I can’t tell you the amount of letters I’ve got from people trying to change their lives, too. If I can do it, somebody else can, too. Somebody else can be a Dallas, and somebody else can be a Jake.”
Roberts is willing to help anyone who reaches out, but he lamented that he has been unsuccessful in his attempts to connect with Marty Jannetty and Manziel.
“I’m trying to reach out to Marty Jannetty right now, but I’m not having a whole lot of luck,” said Roberts. “But that doesn’t mean I’m giving up.
Despite the success of Roberts’ documentary, WWE declined to promote the DVD on its programming.
“They want to keep their hands off of it,” said Roberts. “They’re saying it’s because of the rawness of it, but you know it’s all politics. And that’s fine, it’s Vince’s choice. If he doesn’t want it, I’m not hurt by that at all. I think he’s missing the boat on that, but maybe they’re a little scared that I’m not going to make it. Maybe he thinks I’m going to fall again, but I’m going to surprise the hell out of everyone and keep doing what I’m doing. Living clean isn’t that bad–I’m kind of enjoying it. I don’t have to suffer the way I used to, and my mind is so much cleaner and sharper.”
In addition to finishing his autobiography, Roberts is also on the road with “The Unspoken Word World Tour” sharing road stories and memories from his Hall of Fame career.
“Dallas tried to name it the ‘Spoken Word’ tour, but I said, ‘Hell no, I’m not doing that. I’m going to call it the ‘Unspoken Word,’ just to eat him up a little bit,” said Roberts. “It’s telling road stories and going down memory lane. I’m bringing fans in the locker room, in the car telling road trips, and even the strip joints enlightening you on the type of insanity that was going on. It’s quite humorous, quite funny, but it is raw. It’s not for kids, but not many locker rooms are. I’m just grateful I survived it–a lot of guys didn’t.”
The current environment in the WWE is extremely scripted, which gnaws at Roberts, who perfected his craft in a very different era of pro wrestling.
“It took me five or six years to get going and I was wrestling every night, but these guys have got so much pressure on them,” said Roberts. “They’re not given the chance to learn. And then you take away that opportunity when you say, ‘We’ll write everything for you–just do the work in the ring.’ That separates the character from the athlete. The character is then no longer available.
“A lot of that had to do with the talent not being given the time to learn this business inside and out of it. These guys today are marvelous athletes–they’re much better than we were–but they’re not given the time to hone their art. Picasso didn’t go out there, pick up a brush, and be perfect. It just doesn’t happen that way. These guys are expected, within a year or two, to be at ‘Mania. Well, my God, I’ve never done that. We don’t get characters now, we only get them now and again. You have Bray Wyatt, hopefully they won’t screw that up, but it kind of looks like they are.”
Roberts gushes when discussing Wyatt, who he feels is the most talented and misused talent on the roster.
“I love the guy,” said Roberts. “I’ve talked to him quite a bit, and I wish I could spend some time with him. I saw him at one Raw taping, and he was having a hard time coming up with an interview. I said to him, ‘Are you serious, man? With everything you have to work with?’ We sat down and, within five minutes, he had about six months of interviews lined up.
“A lot of times, when people are demanding so much from you, you start trying to think, ‘Well, what should I change to meet that?’ That’s the wrong way to think. Don’t change a damn thing. What got you to the main event is what you were doing.”
Along with Wyatt, Roberts also believes Kevin Owens is a must-watch talent every week.
“The Owens kid has something special,” said Roberts. “Bray and Owens aren’t the cookie-cutters. They’re not the hard bodies, the fit-looking soul looking prim and proper with the abs and all that stuff.
“Even with prime rib, you don’t want to eat it seven days a week. They’re throwbacks, and they’re getting over because they’re different. Give me a ‘Crybaby’ George Cannon every now and again, and then when a hard body gets in there, you’ll be excited to see him. But when everybody looks that way, it’s just the same old stuff.”
Despite his skill in the ring, Roberts will always be remembered for his unforgettable promos. He admits that he wrote his own interviews from an eerie and ominous point of view that reflected his struggles in life.
“My home life was so dark and the issues with my family, so I learned to lie real quickly,” said Roberts. “I lied for survival purposes. When you’re talking about a child being molested, you learn to react and act certain ways for certain people, and you’ve got to change on the run. The last thing you want to do is go through it again.
“As crazy as this sounds, those interviews were [so good] because of my childhood. And I wonder if that’s one of the things that helped me. By the age of ten or eleven, I would flip flop around like a fish so I wouldn’t get stuck. Maybe that’s part of it, but I love interviews. I like old movies too, so there you go.”
In addition to his documentary, upcoming book and one-man show, Roberts is also scheduled to be involved with the Las Vegas-based Classic Wrestling Revolution.
“I’m still waiting for it to happen,” said Roberts. “We had to re-do a lot of things because we shut everything down. They want to get everything absolutely perfect before they kick off, and that’s smart. Everything they want to do is so big, so when it happens, it will be a very big for wrestling and entertainment.”
Roberts admitted he is still mourning the loss of his mother, who just passed away, and exited with one final request.
“If you have someone in your life who you love,” said Roberts, “make sure you tell them.”
Roberts is accepting orders for DVDs and T-shirts through his email address at firstname.lastname@example.org.
News of the Week
All signs point to an imminent debut for Finn Balor with WWE’s main roster.
Once AJ Styles informs Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows that he does not want their assistance in his title match against Roman Reigns at Payback, the door immediately opens for Balor to debut and unleash his unique brand of fury on Styles and even Reigns.
Balor turns 35 years old this July, and he is too old, too talented, and too accomplished to stay with NXT any longer. Shinsuke Nakamura, 36, and Samoa Joe, 37, are two other extraordinary talents who would continue to inject life into the main roster. Joe helps fill Brock Lesnar’s void as a certifiable beast, and Nakamura would deliver magic with Cesaro for the Intercontinental title. Although I am excited to watch NXT live this Thursday night in Lowell, MA, I am much more excited to see Balor, Nakamura and Joe every week on Raw.
TNA delivered a good showing with last night’s Impact, but the end of the Dixie Carter era is near. The TNA roster is filled with talented individuals, as well as a fantastic support team behind the scenes, but the promotion needs to be rebranded by its new investors–reportedly Aroluxe Marketing–to ensure the focus is on the present and not the past. The roster includes too much talent to fail, as EC3, Drew Galloway, Mike Bennett, the Hardys and Bram provide an extremely solid foundation. The company could also take a page out of Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore, which highlights discarded NXT talent–like Sami Callihan and Bull Dempsey, and even former trainer Billy Gunn–immediately after their release.
In other news…
• How is Zack Ryder not involved in the Intercontinental title picture? Hopefully he interferes at the aptly named Payback to continue his feud with The Miz from WrestleMania, but I worry that Ryder is back to NXT for the foreseeable future.
• Due to the recent earthquakes in Kumamoto, New Japan Pro Wrestling canceled its upcoming pay per view slated for April 29. The show was scheduled to feature Kenny Omega defending his IC title against Michael Elgin, as well as a tag match featuring Kushida and Ryusuke Taguchi against Tiger Mask and Jushin Liger designed to build the Kushida-Liger feud. Elgin just signed with NJPW, and is expected to dethrone Omega for the title.
• WWE programming is always enhanced by the return of Bret “The Hitman” Hart, who will be in Natalya’s corner at Payback against Charlotte and Ric Flair. If the two can recreate their magic from NXT, that match has the potential to steal the show.
• Speaking of NJPW, the show from AXS TV this past Friday–which included Kushida vs. Kenny Omega for the Junior Heavyweight title and Hirooki Goto against Nakamura–is the best hour of wrestling on television. Jim Ross is just beginning to hit his stride with the NJPW product, and I can’t wait for Friday’s airing of AJ Styles defending his IWGP championship against Kazuchika Okada.
• Big news for the Ring of Honor/New Japan talent exchange, as the Guerrillas of Destiny make their ROH debut and defend their IWGP tag team championship in Chicago on Sunday, May 8 for the Global Wars pay per view.
• Has anyone actually bought gold from Jeff Jarrett’s “Global Force Gold” scheme?
• Looking forward to catching the Beyond Wrestling show this weekend in Somerville, MA, which includes Chris Hero, Donovan Dijak, an inter-gender match between Colt Cabana and Kimber Lee, as well as Lio Rush and Matt Riddle.
• Brian Fritz, who covers wrestling for Sporting News and The Orlando Sentinel, had yours truly on his “Between the Ropes” podcast yesterday to discuss the upcoming debut of the Balor Club, the potential of a women’s match headlining SummerSlam, and the Shane McMahon storyline:
Five Questions with… Eddie Edwards
Eddie Edwards is a former Ring of Honor world champion, as well as one-half of The Wolves with Davey Richards. He is currently competing as a singles wrestler while Richards recovers from a torn left ACL, though he was unsuccessful last night on Impact in his pursuit of Trevor Lee’s X-Division title.
SI.com: Can you talk about your infamous cookie eating contest in Japan with Daniel Bryan?
Eddie Edwards: We were outside Tokyo, and it was a layover from one of the Pro Wrestling NOAH tours until the Ring of Honor shows [laughing]. We sat in the lobby and they had these unreal soft cookies. Davey [Richards] was at the hotel, as well, but Bryan and I went to the lobby and bought these cookies. They were all individually wrapped, so we felt even more guilty as we unwrapped and ate each cookie. Davey was outside doing sprints and jump roping, and Bryan said, ‘Oh man, we suck. We never should have done this.’ We tapped out in the twenties, but I think we ate two batches each. We both gave up out of shame.
It’s unfortunate what’s happened to Bryan, but I’m really happy for his success. He was one of the first guys in Ring of Honor to take me in, and he was a really good friend, so I was very happy for him.
SI.com: You and Davey Richards tried out for the WWE as the American Pitbulls in 2013, and even appeared in an NXT match against the Ascension. Why didn’t you and Richards sign with WWE?
Eddie Edwards: There is a right place and right time for everything, but the stars didn’t align at that time. It wasn’t the right time, and we found our fit at TNA. We had our tryout match with the Ascension, and it just wasn’t the right place or time. We were also in talks with TNA, and that happened to work out, which has been great. We’re signed through the end of 2017.
SI.com: You are only 32 and still have so much to offer the business. What do you consider as your highlight in wrestling from the past fifteen years, and who do you still want to work with in the ring?
Eddie Edwards: After the “Ladder Wars” match in Ring of Honor when I broke my elbow, the fans respected me for going out there the next day and wrestling in a ladder war. That was 2008 or 2009. I broke my elbow in Boston against Kevin Owens, and the next night Davey and I had a tag match against Owens and Generico [Sami Zayn] in the ladder match and I had my arm in a straight cast. The fans got behind me, and slowly but surely I continued on. I started doing some singles stuff, and I had the match-up with Roddy [Roderick Strong] for the title at Manhattan Mayhem, and the crowd erupted when I won. No one expected me to beat him. I like playing an underdog. I’m not this big, overpowering guy. I got my a-- kicked by Roddy for a while, then I finally found a way to beat him, and the crowd erupted. That crowd reaction is one of the favorite moments of my career. I wasn’t an overpowering guy, so people never knew when I was going to get my a--kicked and lose the title, so I liked that dynamic.
There’s so many guys doing well these days. It’s Owens, [Sami] Zayn and Claudio Cesaro, and I’ve been able to work with those guys in the past on a personal level, and it’s awesome to see them all doing so good. Wrestling is in such a good spot right now. There are so many good guys out there–Drew Galloway is someone I’ve never gone one-on-one with, and I’d love to wrestle EC3 and the Hardys, who keep reinventing themselves and continuously give back to pro wrestling.
SI.com: You have experience as a singles wrestler, including a run as Ring of Honor world champion that saw you dethroned by Davey Richards. How are you readjusting to a steady stream of singles matches while Richards is out?
Eddie Edwards: We were continuing to hit our stride, so it obviously sucks that Davey is hurt. I’ve had the chance to do a little more talking on TV, which is something I want to work on and do more of, and I’m enjoying it but I do miss Davey. My goal is to put on a great show. You have to do that if you want to be respected by guys and the crowd to have a good time. When people pay their money, they deserve a good show. I want to keep putting on the best matches possible to keep the people invested in me. I want to be at the point where people are emotionally invested in what I’m doing, so they can feel part of it. That’s such a cool part for Wolves fans–we have such a great dynamic with the fans, and we connect with them and they connect with us. I like that connection.
SI.com: How do you assess your career trajectory?
Eddie Edwards: I set goals for myself. I wanted to be a part of Ring of Honor, which I was. Of course I wanted to be a mainstay, then I joined Sweet and Sour, and I felt like I had a direction in the company. I knew what our character was–we were the heels, but I still hadn’t hit my stride as a worker. When Davey came in and we started tagging, then I knew what I was doing. I started to feel comfortable, and we’re still getting better. Once we started tagging, we had this instant chemistry.
We wouldn’t be able to do anything without the fans. Thank you to the Wolves Nation, thank you for all of your support. I hope you support every level of pro wrestling, and thank you whether you watch TNA or not. I would like people to watch–if you’re a fan of wrestling, watch every show you can. I hope the fans understand their importance.
Tough Enough with Gabi Castrovinci
Less than a year into the business, the beautiful Gabi Castrovinci learned a very ugly side to pro wrestling.
Castrovinci was training at Wild Samoan Afa’s wrestling school in Florida, and claims she was assaulted by two female wrestlers who worked very stiff with her in a triple threat match this February in Miami.
“I learned that nobody will ever do that to me again,” said Castrovinci. “We actually trained together so it was surprising that that happened to me. I didn’t think it was going to happen, and they never apologized. I’m here to succeed, and that’s why I didn’t do anything.”
The 30-year-old Brazilian, who finished tenth in the past season of WWE’s Tough Enough, is set to make her in-ring debut with TNA on April 22 as Raquel.
“I love wrestling,” said Castrovinci. “I train twenty hours a week, and I’m going to keep working and I am dedicating one-hundred percent of my time to wrestling.”
Castrovinci, who also sells her own brand of leggings, now trains with the talented Santana Garrett.
“Santana is my trainer and my inspiration,” said Castrovinci. “She pushes me and keeps me going. She’s everything to me, she sets a great example, and I’m so glad to be with her.”
Castrovinci is still honing her craft, and worked a recent all-women’s show in Providence, Rhode Island for Women’s Wrestling Revolution. Although her background in fitness modeling has enhanced her look, she also wants to appeal to fans for her wrestling ability.
“I did a lot of professional fitness modeling and competitions with beauty and pageants,” said Castrovinci. “The hardest part of my transition was more understanding how wrestling works. As a fan, I never knew the detail that went into a match. Learning the psychology of a match has been the hardest part for me, not so much the physical.”
As for future goals, Castrovinci has the remainder of 2016 planned out.
“I watch Raw every week,” said Castrovinci. “You have to watch wrestling to learn it, and I watch a lot of live shows. I want to work on MMA to improve my wrestling and find my character–I need to find who Raquel really is.”
Tweet of the Week
I have decided to retire young.— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) April 19, 2016
Thanks for the cheese.
Catch ya's later.
Conor McGregor only follows 452 people on Twitter, but four of those include Shane McMahon, Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, and Becky Lynch. If McGregor were to come to terms with Vince McMahon and Co., he would represent the biggest free agent signing in WWE history. And, for what it’s worth, he would not start in NXT.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.