The Week In Wrestling gets in depth with Rey Mysterio, looks at AJ Styles future prospect in the WWE and considers the RAW/SmackDown split
SI.com’s Wrestling Week in Review is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Carrying Lost Friends in His Heart, Mysterio Continues to Excel
Mere hours before the 1996 Great American Bash, security refused to allow Rey Mysterio in the Baltimore Arena.
“I couldn’t even get into the arena,” said Mysterio, whose baby face–at the age of only 21–was particularly pronounced without the benefit of his trademark mask. “They thought I was a kid.”
Mysterio wrestled Dean Malenko that night–nearly twenty years ago on June 6, 1996–in his tryout with WCW, which just so happened to have the added caveat of being live on pay per view.
“Dark matches are usually off-camera,” continued Mysterio. “Sometimes you don’t even wrestle in front of the crowd, you wrestle in front of the agents–but my first match with WCW was on a pay per view. I thought, ‘Do you really trust me that much to throw me on a pay per view with Dean Malenko?’ But I guess they did, and that is what opened up the doors for me.”
Despite his diminutive size at 5’6”, Mysterio kicked open every door in wrestling. He built a Hall of Fame career through his high-flying maneuvers–including a springboard hurricanrana, springboard seated senton, and a flip piledriver – and combined the revolutionary moves with a deep in-ring psychology. The master of the “619” is now active with Lucha Underground. He is signed through the show’s third season–season two began airing in January and season three will premiere on El Rey Network in early 2017–and Mysterio believes that he is currently working for the most innovative entity in the business.
“Lucha Underground is the evolution of wrestling,” said Mysterio. “It’s high style, high flying, fast-paced hybrid style wrestling, and we’re actually paying homage to lucha libre for the first time. The feel that it has with character development and backstage vignettes is very cinematic. If you thought you’d seen it all in wrestling, check again.”
Mysterio warned fans not to make the same mistake with Lucha Underground that he once made with the television program Sons of Anarchy.
“People said to me, ‘Watch Sons, you’re going to love it,’” said Mysterio. “I started watching while season four was on, so I had to go back to the beginning. I probably saw the first four seasons in one day–that’s how hooked I was. Speaking from experience, Lucha Underground is going to have you feeling the same way. Lucha Underground is what’s really happening right now. It’s something refreshing, something new, and it’s almost like a cult following right now. Catch on now before it’s too late.”
Mysterio is still healthy enough to perform at the age of 41, and he proudly carries the ghosts of friends who were stolen by the business. Mysterio continues to light the memory of Eddie Guerrero, who passed away at the age of only 38 in 2005, from pillar to post in wrestling rings across the world.
“Always, I always feel that,” explained Mysterio. “That’s why I have a tattoo of a cross and a tombstone with his initials. That speaks to how important Eddie was and how much he influenced me. He was a very important part of my life. His memory has never faded, and it shouldn’t fade.”
While the list of his peers still wrestling is thin, there is one in particular–Chris Jericho–who Mysterio follows closely. The manner in which Jericho continually defies Father Time has mystified Mysterio.
“I’m amazed by Chris–and not only with his wrestling,” said Mysterio. “He’s all over the place. He has his podcast, he has his rock band, and that’s the Jericho I’ve always known. I’ve got big props for what he’s doing.”
Jericho and Mysterio were embroiled in a memorable feud in WCW in 1998 over the cruiserweight championship, which was roughly a year before Mysterio was unmasked in a controversial booking decision by Kevin Nash and Eric Bischoff.
“It’s really hard to say [if I should have lost the mask],” said Mysterio. “I was definitely against the idea of losing the mask. At the end of the day, you think about it and say, ‘OK, I’m pretty much signed to a contract and whatever they want to do with me, they’re going to do.’”
The experience served as an introduction to the harsh realities and insensitivity in the business of pro wrestling.
“It was very different than working in Mexico,” noted Mysterio. “It was my first bad experience in the U.S. working for a major company. Whatever happened, happened, and I lost the mask–but if that run wouldn’t have happened, who knows what I would have been.”
Mysterio still succeeded without the mask. He was then booked in an angle to battle–and defeat–some of WCW’s giants, such as Bam Bam Bigelow, Scott Norton and even Nash.
“That whole ‘Giant Killer’ era was actually kind of fun for me,” said Mysterio. “That is what elevated my name in WCW. Being in there with the likes of Bam Bam Bigelow–I grew up watching the guy–and Kevin Nash, who was so hot after leaving WWE. It was a good experience for my character.”
Mysterio remains opposed to losing the mask, but the experience of wrestling without a mask allowed him to connect with the fan base in a different fashion.
“I always had the curiosity to see what it would be like to wrestle and see the fans, eye to eye, without having my face covered,” said Mysterio. “I’d never had the chance to do that. I guess I was so consumed by the fact that I lost my mask that maybe I didn’t enjoy it as much, but now that I recap on it, it was actually kind of fun.”
WWE, and Vince McMahon in particular, never considered Mysterio without the mask. McMahon respected the lucha history, but he also saw dollar signs–ones that WCW refused to consider–in merchandise sales.
“[WWE wanted the mask] due to a marketing campaign,” explained Mysterio. “WCW never really marketed the mask, which was something we kept telling them from the beginning, which was, ‘Sell the masks, push the masks, the masks are going to sell.’ Well, Vince capitalized on what WCW could never do.”
Unlike the WWE, Lucha Underground allows a significantly reduced schedule for Mysterio.
“The schedule works perfect for me,” said Mysterio. “I can pick and choose right now the amount of days I get to work throughout the year. Keep in mind that one season of Lucha Underground is forty episodes–but I’m not necessarily wrestling on all forty of those episodes, so we’re talking even less days. And that, to me, is a blessing.
“As you get older, your body doesn’t hold up as much. My body isn’t even as good as it was in my 30’s, and I felt like I was in my prime then, but I can still go and still entertain the fans like I want to.”
The humble Mysterio had a brief run with the Trios title, and while he is a natural fit to be Lucha’s champion and top draw, he is cognizant of those who were with the company before him.
“I’m happy to be a part of the show and part of the roster and, in a way, be a mentor,” explained Mysterio. “I understand the attraction that I bring to the table, which is great, and I love to take baby steps. Even though I’ve been through so much in career, from AAA to WWE, I like to respect and give everyone their place. I wasn’t part of the first season–I came in towards the end of the second. There were guys in line before me, and I respect that. They deserve opportunities, as well. In time, I’ll definitely know where I should position myself in Lucha Underground.”
Mysterio was quick to note that while the nonstop physical toll of wrestling is burdensome, he will be forever grateful to those who support him and the business.
“Your body isn’t accustomed to getting slammed every day for 365 days a year,” said Mysterio. “It’s not that I don’t love or that I don’t drive off the fans–because I do–but when you’re on the road constantly, and you’re aching, tired, and worn out, the only moment that is the best moment is when you’re in the ring. That’s when you forget about everything.
“When the spotlight is off of you, that’s when you go back to the aching and soreness. But you’ve got to move onto the next town, and thankfully it’s the fans who motivate and push me to perform at the highest level.”
News of the Week
AJ Styles was nothing short of phenomenal on Sunday at Extreme Rules. In return for his service, Roman Reigns speared and superman punched Styles back to the mid-card.
There are absolutely zero plans for Styles to re-enter the world title picture. Despite genuine, organic excitement over Styles’ connection in “The Club” with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, the decision was made to disband the trio. When Styles said, “We’re not in Japan any more, boys,” he was speaking the absolute truth.
Styles allowed Roman Reigns to shine on Sunday in a match that served as a humbling reminder that Reigns has neither the presence or storytelling of Hulk Hogan nor the wrestling psychology of Bret Hart. After Reigns injured his knee–and he may have forgot the sequence, as it took him a few moments to sell the injury–he was back on his feet twirling around Styles like a rag doll, fully recovered from his injury. (Sidenote: Why not have Styles injure a different part of Reigns’ body? He is so dependent on his legs for his power moves.) Reigns also relies heavily upon the superman punch and spear, which are booked to be extremely effective, unlike the Styles Clash.
In an alarming trend, Styles dished out the Styles Clash–arguably the most devastating finisher in the business–on two separate occasions. Styles even delivered one on a steel chair, yet Reigns kicked out of both pinfalls. The loss is extremely discouraging for Styles, who was fed to Reigns to help put over the champion. Styles lost his Money in the Bank qualifying match to Kevin Owens on Raw, and he is likely to be served up to Finn Balor by the summer. For those keeping track, Styles has lost his last three pay per view matches, and his window of opportunity for the world title picture has just been slammed shut.
Cody Rhodes’ sudden departure from WWE underscores the biggest problem in wrestling: there is no viable alternative to the WWE.
That is by no means a knock toward Ring of Honor, New Japan or TNA–but none of those promotions possess anywhere near the reach of WWE within the United States. Even if Rhodes–who is vastly talented–were to capture the imagination of every wrestling fan during his time away from the WWE, the inevitable question would be…when is he returning to the WWE? The death of WCW forever changed the landscape of the business, as it signaled an even greater distance in power between wrestlers and Vince McMahon.
As for Rhodes, who will be 31 in June, he is capable of succeeding anywhere in the world. He may even follow the model of the Young Bucks and make more money–and finally possess control of his own schedule–outside of the WWE. Yet there is no doubt that the WWE is the industry leader that runs the entire enterprise. If you don’t like their storylines, or WWE’s top writers continually ignore your logical idea to drop a tired Stardust gimmick and return as Cody Rhodes, who is the late, great Dusty Rhodes’s son–then your only option is to leave. Rhodes’ next move will be worth watching.
In other news…
• The WWE brand split is a healthy move for the company. Beginning July 19, Smackdown will air live on Tuesdays and house the brand extension. The draft of talent–where we will see which talents are with Raw and which are on Smackdown–will be appointment viewing. Fortunately, the move is necessary with the influx of talent on the main roster.
• Seth Rollins’ return was the most emotional piece of WWE content since Daniel Bryan’s retirement on Raw in February. Business has significantly picked up with Rollins’ return, but is anyone else surprised that WWE isn’t saving Reigns-Rollins for SummerSlam?
• The Charlotte interview on Raw was extremely uncomfortable. WWE throws me a curve every time I want to invest in the women’s division. The finale of Sunday’s match between Charlotte and Natalya was nearly as bad as the faux “Montreal Screwjob” finish a month ago. Even though he was banned from ringside, why would Flair’s music play–literally out of nowhere–during the match, allowing Dana Brooke to enter? Why was Brooke dressed up as Ric Flair? And that Flair-Charlotte segment on Raw–where the Baltimore crowd’s “What?” cheers almost broke Charlotte–was nearly unbearable. There was hardly any buildup to the split, and Charlotte loses an integral component of her character without Flair. Is the “Nature Boy’ being punished for recent off-screen troubles?
• The tack sequence in the Chris Jericho-Dean Ambrose match is another reason to genuinely love pro wrestling. I knew Jericho was taking the bump since he was wearing those jeans, but the buildup–with near-falls onto the tacks–kept me guessing and was extremely well-executed. Despite his years of service and sacrifice, Jericho never gets a rep for being hardcore, but he gained the respect of a former adversary in Randy the Ram with that spot.
• Can Kushida call gimmick infringement on Rusev? Kushida comes to the ring dressed as Marty McFly, but WWE – along with Rusev and Lana – are attempting to undue a year of bad booking – and go back to the future – with Rusev reclaiming the United States title.
• Now that Kalisto’s uninspiring run as U.S. champion has come to its end, what is his next step? I envision we’ll see a lot of more of the Lucha Dragons in tag action, but his title run was a wasted opportunity.
• The Fatal 4-Way match at Extreme Rules was 18-minutes of fantastic action and storytelling, but the match was hurt by the obvious finish. The Miz is too soon into his reign–and return with Maryse–to drop the title, despite the fact that Cesaro and Kevin Owens would both make far better champions.
• Kenny Omega unleashed a vicious attack this past Friday on Hiroshi Tanahashi. The beatdown, which included Omega smashing Tanahashi’s arm with a ladder, serves two purposes–while Tanahashi “recovers,” he will use the time off to rest and recuperate from a nagging shoulder injury. The angle is also an effective buildup to the Dominion match on June 19 as Omega defends his IWGP Intercontinental title against Tanahashi in a ladder match.
• Time for fresh opponents for Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin. Ziggler is so talented, but a new gimmick–or even a tag team partner–would rejuvenate his character. I would love to see a tag team title run for Ziggler and Zack Ryder.
• Mick Foley and Shane McMahon put together a fantastic interview. I particularly enjoyed Shane’s recollection of the Montreal Screwjob, as well as his meeting with WCW’s talent after Vince McMahon seized control of the company.
• Recommended reading: Through hell, fire, and brimstone, Kane is ready to become mayor of Knox Co.; Paul Heyman’s insight alone is worth the read on WWE.com’s Sabu feature; and there was a well-done profile on WWE official Drake Wuertz.
Weekly Top 10
1.) AJ Styles, WWE
Styles claims the number one spot after carrying Roman Reigns on Sunday, and then a fantastic match with Kevin Owens on Raw.
2.) Kevin Owens, WWE
Owens is the leading candidate–and perfect choice–to become Mr. Money in the Bank this June.
3.) KUSHIDA, New Japan
The IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion dropped the decision to Ring of Honor’s Kyle O’Reilly in a 20-minute affair this past Friday to advance in New Japan’s Super Juniors tournament, but was still spectacular in defeat. The 33-year-old speaks English and would be an incredible fit for Intercontinental or United States champion.
4.) Dean Ambrose, WWE
Ambrose and Jericho did not produce an all-time classic at Extreme Rules, but I enjoyed the match and the manner in which the two sold every foreign object–culminating in Ambrose dumping Jericho onto a bed of thumb tacks.
5.) Kenny Omega, New Japan
“The Cleaner” was victorious night after night this weekend in multi-tag action.
6.) Chris Jericho, WWE
Y2J put together two very different matches with Dean Ambrose on Sunday and Apollo Crews on Monday. The Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla can still go, as both matches delivered–but I’ll be curious if emerging star Crews will eventually get revenge upon Jericho.
7.) Roman Reigns, WWE
Reigns has a serious test at Money in the Bank with Seth Rollins. Considering that Rollins has been out of action since last November, Reigns will be expected to help carry the match.
8.) Cesaro, WWE
Cesaro has been steady since his post-WrestleMania return. His vertical suplex did justice to the late “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, and like Smith, Cesaro deserves a run as Intercontinental champion.
9.) Tetsuya Naito, New Japan Pro Wrestling
Naito’s gimmick–where he has a complete disregard for the IWGP championship–is gaining momentum in New Japan.
10.) Bobby Fish, Ring of Honor
The Ring of Honor Television champion was victorious in six-man action on Friday before a loss in the first round of the Super Juniors to Jushin Liger. The 39-year-old Fish is one of the most underrated wrestlers in the business.
Coming on Friday: The G1 Climax
New Japan Pro Wrestling returns to AXS TV this Friday with the first of ten broadcasts from the 2015 G1 Climax at a special show time of 8pm ET.
In honor of the occasion, there will also be a G1 Climax feature story this Friday on SI.com with insight from Jim Ross, Josh Barnett, Hiroshi Tanahashi and IWGP champion Tetsuya Naito.
Five Questions with… Dalton Castle
Ring of Honor’s Dalton Castle is the number one contender for the Television title, and he is also the most exaggeratedly flamboyant star in wrestling. Accompanied to the ring by two short muscular men, known as “The Boys”–Castle has developed a cult-following. The 30-year-old–who has nearly nine years of experience in pro wrestling–also has a background in amateur wrestling, and worked as a radio disc jockey from 2011-2014. Unlike any other, Castle adds flavor, color, and a display of magnificence to the squared circle.
SI.com: How do you describe the Dalton Castle character, and how is the Dalton Castle character an extension of yourself?
Castle: I don’t have an exact definition of what you’re looking at, and that’s part of the beauty of it. It comes to me naturally–I see myself more as an entertainer–a glamrock performer, somebody who demands attention and wants to put on a good show. Doing things out of the ordinary and wearing these outfits–basically Liberace, Freddie Mercury, Lady Gaga–I’m all these elements from the rock world in a wrestling ring. I’ve been loud and obnoxious my entire life, and I am a true wrestler at the bare bones of it. I’m classically trained in amateur wrestling, and feel like I’m a real athlete who is comfortable in his own skin and not weirded out by what normal society sees as different. I value humor–it’s the number one thing I like. If I have to choose a movie, I’m looking for a comedy. If I’m choosing music to listen to, it’s got to be catchy and fun. I don’t like being too serious.
I haven’t really changed who I am, but I’ve added a lot to it. My personality and the way I act kind of started this way, but the outfit has changed and the presentation has grown. You add the outfit, The Boys and eventually everything started working. When I first started, there was a disconnect between me and the fans. I think people liked me but they didn’t understand me. I was told this by people that I look up to in the industry–when big names would come into shows, I would always ask people to watch my matches and get advice. The most common advice I got from people was, ‘I think you’re good, but I don’t get it.’ I couldn’t translate who I thought I was physically until I pieced together the Dalton Castle you see today. Now when I walk through the curtain, I hope the fans get it immediately–I hope they know what they’re seeing. But if they don’t, I hope they like what they’re seeing.
SI.com: How did you create the idea for “The Boys”?
Castle: I didn’t start with boys. The first time I did it, I wrestled for a friend of mine at a show up in Toronto. He thought what I was doing was great, and he suggested, “I want to get a bunch of showgirls to come out with you and do a big Vegas style entrance,’ and I loved it. After hearing that idea, I thought we needed to do outfits, so I got a jumpsuit and we did the entrance with girls in feathered fans. I came backstage and he asked, ‘How did it go?’
I said, ‘It went well–it was a little clunky–but I think they need to be boys.’ Everyone I said that to said, ‘Ummm… I don’t know about that.’ But me–trusting everyone’s opinion and saying, ‘F-you, you don’t know what you’re talking about,’ immediately the next weekend I put together some outfits, recruited some boys, and came up with an entrance. The first time I did it was the very next weekend, and it clicked.
I never really intended ‘The Boys’ to be a focal point, but they’ve built themselves into that role by being so good at what they do on Ring of Honor TV. The plan was always just to cycle them out, and I’ve got boys all over the world that I use, but these ones on Ring of Honor have done such a great job with the role they have been cast. They’re really carved out a little spot for themselves alongside me. I really feel most comfortable when they’re out there with me.
SI.com: If this were 1996 and you were in ECW–which played bootlegged copies of hits for wrestlers’ entrance music–which song would you have chosen?
Castle: Before I was in Ring of Honor, I was using a song by Queen–‘I Want It All,’ but if we’re in 1996, it’s a toss-up between Ace of Base ‘I Saw the Sign’ or ‘Animals’ by Savage Garden. I think you can see how amazing both those songs are.
SI.com: You were an on-air radio personality in Rochester and then in Albany from 2011-14, and even hosted a YouTube series, “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Tights,” where you interviewed pro wrestlers such as CM Punk, Dean Ambrose, Matt Hardy, Luke Harper, and Velvet Sky. What did you learn most during the experience?
Castle: I was always a wrestler from the time I started radio. I think I did radio for only a few months before I finally started training as a professional wrestler, and my career in both worlds grooved together. As I progressed in one field, I moved up the ladder in the other. I was very lucky to be given the gift of being able to speak and be comfortable in front of a crowd, and enjoy performing. So what I learned was that radio was fun, but I loved wrestling.
I had a pretty good understanding of how their lives were as wrestlers when I was interviewing them. I look back at those interviews, and the sit-downs I had with those guys, and I feel like I wasted those opportunities. I went into them with a little fear, unlike when I interviewed bands or comedians–that was not a world I was tying to break into or succeed, and I wasn’t afraid to offend so I would just speak my mind and shoot the s--- and talk to these guys. But when I sat down with the wrestlers–these people that I look up to and respect–I badly wanted their approval. I kind of held back. When I look back, I should have just relaxed and we could have had a much more enjoyable conversation and maybe I could have dug in deeper or asked more serious questions. Because I knew the wrestling schedule, I knew where they were coming from. A lot of these guys came in real early in the morning, so part of it was I wanted to show respect and not give them a hard time. I knew most of these guys had been doing media since six in the morning with no sleep being asked the same horrible, standard morning news questions over and over again, so a lot of it was me trying to keep them comfortable, but those were wasted opportunities.
SI.com: You won a Four Corner Survival match at Global Wars to become the number one contender to Bobby Fish’s Ring of Honor Television title, and your opportunity takes place on June 24 at the Best in the World pay per view. What do you have in store for Fish, and is this the most important match in your eight-plus years in the business?
Castle: When I walk through the curtain, I’m feeling excitement, I’m feeling anxiety and I’m always feeling just a little bit hungry. I can’t control how the office at Ring of Honor feels, all I can control is how well I do and how serious I take this. Regardless of how I look or how I act on that stage, I take this one-hundred percent serious. This is who I am, and the reason I’ve seen so much success with what I’m doing right now is people believe in me because I believe in me and I always have. I know what I’m doing, I’m fearless, and I’m going to be the best I know I can be. I’ve been prodding at it, pushing at it and working on it–with the fans support, we’ve got the attention of the Ring of Honor office and they’re finally showing more support in me. They’ve always been supportive, but now they’re showing they have more trust in me than ever to put me in this kind of spotlight. I’m real excited, and I can’t wait to see where we take this.
Now I get the opportunity to fight Bobby Fish, and let’s not overlook him–Bobby is, quite possibly, one of the greatest wrestlers out there right now. He’s a real athlete, and he’s a friend of mine. He’s one of the main reasons I was able to break into Ring of Honor. He’s helped me out big time–we train together, we travel together, and he’s a fighter. He’s got a background in kickboxing, and I’ve got a background in wrestling, and these are styles that are going to clash. Both of us border on the word expert in our respective styles of fighting, and he’s at a point where he thinks he’s the best. He’s going to want to show Ring of Honor that they are not making a mistake in putting an investment in him, but I’m at a point where I’m ready to do the same. It could be very interesting–you put us in that ring, we’re going to try to out-do each other, one way or the other.
I look back at these last two years, and I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. It’s such a rush. I’m doing what I love and I feel appreciated. I try to never forget that I love this. Everyone thinks that you’ve got to be on TV or be a giant superstar in WWE, but to make it in wrestling–to me–is to just make a living doing what I love.
“New Era” Tracker
The “New Era” phrase was spoken 13 times this Monday night on Raw.
Tweet of the Week
Dusty Rhodes had the courage and conviction to succeed outside the WWE – now it is time for Cody Rhodes to do the same. Cody’s wife, Brandi “Eden” Rhodes, will also be exiting the company.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.