The Week in Wrestling talks with New Japan legend Jushin Thunder Liger, new TNA star Moose, and looks at the recent WWE draft.
SI.com’s Wrestling Week in Review is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Moose to TNA
Quinn “Moose” Ojinnaka is bringing his considerable talents to TNA, and began his run by delivering a beatdown in his debut on Impact Wrestling to world champion Bobby Lashley.
“Bobby Lashley can expect a Game Breaker in his future,” said Moose. “He’s just warming up that title for me to take it.”
The 6-5, 300-pound Moose played for seven years in the National Football League, most notably for the New England Patriots in 2010. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell just won his league battle that will suspend four-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady for the first four games of the upcoming season.
“I wasn’t surprised, but I still owe Goodell a spear,” said Moose. “I want Bill Belichick and Brady in my corner for my TNA title match.”
After inking a two-year deal with TNA, Moose had the wrestling community buzzing over his attack on Lashley. He has received multiple questions why he entered TNA as a heel, but he advised people to wait before casting him as a good guy or a bad guy.
“I’m not a good guy, I’m not a bad guy, I’m Moose,” said Moose. “The paradigm in wrestling has shifted so much. People are saying that me debuting with Mike Bennett makes me a heel. I’m just going to be myself. If people want to chant my name, that’s great. I’m an ass kicker, so it’s up to the fans on how they want to take me.”
Moose was heavily rumored to sign with WWE, but explained that–although the two sides were close–the timing was right with TNA.
“I was grateful that WWE had interest in me,” said Moose. “We’ll see what happens in the future.”
Moose finalized his contract with TNA just hours before their television taping last Tuesday, and admitted to a combination of nerves and excitement before walking through the curtain.
“Everything happened to fall like that. When I decided to go with TNA, it just happened that the taping was on Tuesday and I signed that day.
“I didn’t know how I was going to be taken by the crowd. I was nervous just because of that–it was a brand new company and you never know how they’re going to take you, but it didn’t long at all for the ‘Moose’ chant to start. I saw everyone doing the fist pump and doing the chant and I said to myself, ‘I guess I’m home.’“
Moose confirmed that he will be keeping his name in TNA.
“Nothing has changed, I’ll be known as ‘Moose’ in TNA,” he said. “That was part of the deal–I get to use everything that I did in Ring of Honor.”
Moose wrestled for the past two years with Ring of Honor and admitted he was torn over deciding whether he should depart a company that cared for him as a wrestler and a man.
“It was very difficult to leave Ring of Honor,” explained Moose. “Everybody that knows me personally knows I had a hard time with the decision. One of the reasons I wanted to stay with Ring of Honor was because I’m so close with the guys on that roster, and saying goodbye wasn’t easy. Leaving was a really hard decision to make, but I have experience with that. In seven years in the NFL, I played on four different teams, so I’m used to packing up and going to a new team.”
The 32-year-old began wrestling in 2012, and–with an incredible combination of size, power, and agility–quickly turned himself into one of the most unique talents in the business. He stressed, however, that this was not accomplished alone–and thanked Ring of Honor world champion Jay Lethal for his friendship and support.
“If I wasn’t on the roster with a guy like Jay Lethal, I wouldn’t be as good as I am today,” explained Moose. “Jay helped me become the wrestler I am today, and I talk with him just about every day. He honestly was one of the guys who helped me during my progression as a pro wrestler.
“It will be hard to be in the locker room without guys like him and Roddy Strong and Adam Cole. There are so many guys there that helped me in my progression, and going to a new company is going to be different without them. Ring of Honor helped me become the wrestler I am today, and now it’s time for me to do things on my own and see how far I can progress on my own.”
Ring of Honor has a history of producing the best wrestlers in the world, but Moose sees TNA as a place that creates a different entity.
“Ring of Honor is known for building great wrestlers, but TNA is known for building stars,” said Moose. “That’s not to knock Ring of Honor, which is so great of a company, but look at some of the guys who’ve went from Ring of Honor to TNA–like AJ Styles. He was a great wrestler in Ring of Honor, and he became a star in TNA. Both companies have their strong points, but TNA really does turn guys into stars.”
Some of the brightest stars in the business wrestle for New Japan Pro Wrestling, and Moose received an education from Japanese greats like four-time IWGP champion Kazuchika Okada and seven-time champ Hiroshi Tanahashi.
“I learned so much from those guys,” stressed Moose. “There is a chance that I won’t work with them again for the next two years, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to forget everything I learned from Okada, Tanahashi, and [Tomohiro] Ishii. Wrestling is its own language, so the language barrier was never an issue. We had our own language to communicate, and it was a lot easier working with those guys because they are so talented and some of the best wrestlers in the world.”
Although Moose is an athletic specimen, his two greatest attributes are his heart and his mind. The Syracuse alum, who majored in child and family services, constantly enters the ring with an emphasis on learning another nuance or wrinkle to help his matches become even more compelling.
“It’s always great to learn as many styles as you can,” said Moose. “I’ve learned the Ring of Honor style of wrestling, the New Japan style of wrestling, and now I can learn the TV style of wrestling with TNA, which is closer to the WWE style.”
Moose shares a genuine love for the business, just like those who watch wrestling each week.
“Big thanks to the fans who have come with me on the progression of my career to TNA, and thanks to those who followed me in Ring of Honor,” said Moose. “It makes my day that people have come with me to TNA.”
Although he is not clairvoyant, Moose admitted that all he can see in his future is gold.
“Winning the world title is my goal,” said Moose. “We’ll just to have to wait and see, but it’s time for me to make an impact.”
WWE Draft Anaylsis
The Shoot: Drew Cordeiro
Drew Cordeiro is the founder and president of Beyond Wrestling. He just produced Beyond’s first iPPV this past Sunday, and he is here in The Shoot to share his story.
This past Sunday Beyond Wrestling debuted at Melrose Memorial Hall in Melrose, MA for “Flesh”–a doubleheader with EVOLVE 65 and Beyond Wrestling’s live iPPV debut courtesy of WWNLive.com. Growing up I was glued to the TV when WWF aired after Saturday morning cartoons, eventually transitioning to scrambled pay-per-views when I got older. As much as I enjoyed watching wrestling, I was fascinated by the creative process. I was obsessed with backyard wrestling throughout high school, organizing shows with my friends at local parks. However, I will never forget the night that I became a lifelong wrestling fan. My tape-trading buddies dragged me to Wakefield, MA for Ring Of Honor “Honor Invades Boston” in August of 2002. I was mesmerized by the physicality and athleticism displayed during Jay Briscoe vs. Mark Briscoe. As far as I’m concerned, that was the moment I realized I wanted to contribute to wrestling in a professional capacity.
Gabe Sapolsky, co-founder and matchmaker for EVOLVE Wrestling, was the man responsible for putting together ROH’s Massachusetts debut nearly 14 years ago. I have been fortunate enough to build a working relationship with Gabe over the past few years. We had gone back and forth discussing the possibility of co-promoting a live event with our respective promotions in New England but the timing had never worked out. EVOLVE Wrestling was set to debut in Massachusetts on Friday, July 15th at the Americal Civic Center in Wakefield–the same building that hosted ROH’s first event outside of Philadelphia. I had done some legwork to try and secure other buildings for EVOLVE Wrestling and just so happened to have a hold on the Melrose Memorial Hall for Sunday, July 17th. The building in Wakefield fell through due to concerns over capacity based on EVOLVE Wrestling’s projected turnout, and so we decided to finally pull the trigger on working together... after Beyond Wrestling had already announced live events on Sunday, June 26th at Arts At The Armory in Somerville, MA and Sunday, July 31st at Fete Music Hall in Providence, RI.
Beyond Wrestling typically only runs one live event per month, but there was no way I could pass up the opportunity to work with Gabe Sapolsky and EVOLVE Wrestling. Some of the most proficient technicians in pro wrestling have become international superstars thanks to EVOLVE Wrestling. There are more eyeballs on EVOLVE Wrestling than ever before as a result of their unprecedented working relationship with WWE, NXT and the Cruiserweight Classic. I knew it would be very difficult to coordinate an event of this scale with only a few weeks notice, but the risk would hopefully be worth the reward. By working with EVOLVE Wrestling, Beyond Wrestling would be able to debut on live iPPV for the very first time in our organization’s seven year history, thereby exposing our brand to hundreds of new fans.
There was a lot working against us. The timing of the event was not ideal. Running two shows on the same day in a new building means having roughly two hours from the time you get access to the venue until the moment you go live in front of a worldwide audience. We would have to adjust the execution of the Beyond Wrestling event to work within the confines of the live iPPV format. Every venue has different rules and restrictions but Melrose Memorial Hall is owned by the city, drastically reducing our margin for error. The success of Beyond Wrestling’s Melrose debut was dependent on the success of EVOLVE Wrestling’s New England debut, so I had no choice but to push forward despite countless hurdles.
Knowing Beyond Wrestling would be performing in front of one of our largest audiences ever, I wanted to put our best foot forward. In a lot of ways, this live event would serve as Beyond Wrestling’s introduction to many new fans. With that in mind, I assembled a diversified lineup, renewing some of the most storied rivalries in Beyond Wrestling history. Every match-up at “Flesh” would offer something different, from the submission prowess exhibited by Zack Sabre Jr. and Jonathan Gresham to the stiff strikes landed by Tommaso Ciampa and Matthew Riddle. I wanted to put together a card that would appeal to fans of EVOLVE Wrestling but had concerns it might come at the expense of fans that follow Beyond Wrestling regularly. For starters, our live events typically feature ten to twelve matches over the course of four hours. There’s no way that format would fly with EVOLVE Wrestling scheduled for a full event later in the day. Additionally, most Beyond Wrestling shows are filled with fresh “first time ever” contests, so it was risky to run a card comprised almost entirely of rematches.
As if the schedule wasn’t tight enough, I hit a ton of traffic traveling from Providence to Melrose on Sunday afternoon and didn’t even get to Melrose Memorial Hall until 30 minutes after call time. As soon as I arrived I needed to unload my car, check in with the city official in charge of the venue, set up the vendor area, will call, concessions and bar, coordinate with WWNLive officials on the production of the iPPV, meet with all of the wrestlers scheduled to compete, assign referees, prepare my commentary notes for the live two and a half hour broadcast, and make sure everyone got paid. Needless to say, I was a little bit overwhelmed. Very rarely do I get nervous but with so much riding on that particular afternoon, everything needed to be perfect. Typically the better prepared I am coming into a show, the less responsibilities I have the day of. I am extremely fortunate to work with so many team players (on Sunday Tanya, Paul, Ed, McKaila, Angela, Brandon, Myles, Allan, Erika, and Chris stepped up in a huge way) who worked tirelessly to ensure the smooth execution of both events.
Overall, I was very pleased with Beyond Wrestling “Flesh.” I know for a fact dozens of fans experienced Beyond Wrestling for the very first time live in person. Hopefully some of them will be willing to make the drive down to Rhode Island for “Americanrana ‘16” on July 31st. Even more fans watched our live iPPV which was flawlessly produced by Trevin and Sal from WWNLive. The acoustics in Melrose Memorial Hall were phenomenal, the vibe was cool, and the crowd was enthusiastic for every contest. Most importantly to me, EVOLVE Wrestling officials were happy with EVOLVE 65. I’ve tried my best to build and maintain working relationships with plenty of independent wrestling organizations since Beyond Wrestling was founded in 2009 but this is the one I am most excited about. To me, a successful partnership means that both parties are better off for working together. Beyond Wrestling can help EVOLVE Wrestling grow their fan base in New England and EVOLVE Wrestling can help Beyond Wrestling grow our online fan base worldwide. And that’s exactly what we plan to do for our next doubleheader at Melrose Memorial Hall in Melrose, MA on Sunday, December 11th.
Beyond Wrestling’s Americanrana takes place at Fete Music Hall in Providence, Rhode Island on July 3. The show delivers a loaded card featuring Zack Sabre Jr., Johnny Gargano, Chris Hero, Matt Riddle, and Tommaso Ciampa.
Facebook Live with Roppongi Vice
Roppongi Vice, which is comprised of Rocky Romero and Trent Barreta, sat down with yours truly for a Facebook Live interview this past Saturday at the old ECW Arena in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The wildly talented duo discussed their opportunities with WWE–Romero just turned down an offer from WWE and Barreta spent 2007-2012 working for WWE–as well as their influences, rivals, goals and even whether New Japan will ever have a show in the United States.
Five Questions with… Jushin “Thunder” Liger
Known as one the most revolutionary junior heavyweight wrestlers in the world, Jushin Liger is a pioneer who helped transform the entire style of the industry. Despite repeatedly being told he was too small, the 5’7” product of Hiroshima, Japan fought to enter New Japan Pro Wrestling–and now, at the age of 51, still performs for the company. Liger also had runs in WCW from 1991-92 and 1995-99, and he sat down with Sports Illustrated for this exclusive interview.
SI.com: You revolutionized wrestling in Japan with your size and style, but a great deal of work went into even being hired by New Japan. How difficult was your journey to success?
Liger: When I was young, New Japan had to test me. I wasn’t six feet, I wasn’t over 5’11”, and they had weight classes so they wanted me to go to Mexico. I had to work around the weight classes. I traveled to Mexico and Canada and learned. I learned so much from Mr. Hito and Antonio Inoki. When I was in Calgary, Stu Hart wasn’t even there–I trained with Owen Hart. He was a very talented and funny guy.
SI.com: Is there a major difference between working in the United States and Japan? Did you bring a certain style to your match in NXT last August against Tyler Breeze?
Liger: Wherever I am, I feel the crowd when I’m in the ring. Wrestling for NXT showed me the skill of the wrestlers in WWE is huge, incredible. People in many countries watch their wrestling, and I really enjoyed working with Tyler Breeze–but I was so nervous. If there were plans to stay, I was too old to stay there. I wanted to give that chance to younger wrestlers.
SI.com: What lessons did you learn while wrestling with WCW?
Liger: Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero were working in New Japan Pro Wrestling and knew the New Japan style very well. My opponents were so great–Benoit, Guerrero, Dean Malenko–were very good wrestlers, so I learned from them.
I also wrestled Brian Pillman in WCW. I wrestled him and we tested each other. It wasn’t difficult for me to learn the American style–I was just so happy to wrestle Pillman, who was very, very talented.
SI.com: Daniel Bryan has mentioned that one of his favorite matches ever was wrestling against you. What do you recall about that match, and now that Bryan is retired, who are your current favorites in wrestling?
Liger: I was so happy to work with Daniel Bryan. Thinking of that match even makes me happy. He’s a good example–I have been lucky to have great rivals my whole career. He reminded me of Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, and I was so lucky to work with all of them.
Some of the young guys I like are Kushida and Okada. When I was growing up, my favorites were Antonio Inoki and Ric Flair. Flair was the perfect champion in the ring and the way he acted, conducted himself out of the ring.
SI.com: You continue to accomplish so much in pro wrestling, and you are even scheduled to work the upcoming Battle of Los Angeles for Pro Wrestling Guerrilla this September. Do you have a favorite memory in the business?
Liger: Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and I started pro wrestling together in Japan. When we were wrestling together, we were all rivals and pushing each other to be better. That was my favorite time in wrestling. My heart still beats a little faster when I think of those memories.
Tweet of the Week
Warning: Clip contains explicit language
Kenny Omega is out for blood in the G1 Climax.