SI.com’s Wrestling Week in Review is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
“Broken” Matt Hardy puts Bray Wyatt on Notice
“Broken” Matt Hardy has a message for Bray Wyatt.
“I actually find fondness and appreciation for the Bray Wyatt,” said Hardy. “I see that he is driven by a higher power, much like I am driven and motivated and inspired and given strength by the Seven Deities. I respect how he doesn’t walk the normal path, he carves his own. I would love, one day down that road, to show up in WWE and have a match with the Bray Wyatt. I would love to bring him to my battlefield and delete him–that would be my honor.”
Hardy’s “Broken” character is giving TNA new life on Pop TV, as the Impact Zone delivered its highest rating of the year on its Thursday night debut last week. An integral part of TNA’s success stems from when Hardy fought his brother, Jeff, at the Hardy compound in North Carolina in a cinematographic, Lucha Underground-style match–which occurred a week before the WWE aired a similar package between The New Day and the Wyatt Family on Raw at the Wyatt compound.
“If The New Day and the Wyatt Family would have been there with me, I would have not only deleted them, I may have even eaten them,” said Hardy. “My brokenness has made me become more primal, more instinctual.”
Even while in character, Hardy understands that The New Day and the Wyatts were placed in a difficult spot to follow the Hardy brothers’ “Final Deletion.”
“Those guys having this thing in their compound was a very tough position for them,” said Hardy. “The ‘Final Deletion’ was something that was so amazing–it was my brilliant masterpiece I performed in front of the world. Then, only a week later, for these guys to go out there and have this compound fight, especially in such a serious environment when the ‘Final Deletion’ was such an entertaining piece of art–it was a hard act to follow, and the fans let them know that.”
Imitation, Hardy agreed, is the sincerest form of flattery.
“It’s wondrous to see your masterpiece be emulated as such,” exclaimed Hardy. “It’s truly delightful.”
Hardy described his “Broken Brilliance” as the consequence of his brother Jeff’s actions.
“There was an incident at the end of the ‘I Quit’ match between myself and my brother, and he descended from the heavens from the top of the Impact Zone, and put me through a table,” explained Hardy. “My brother had no remorse for my young son, King Maxel, or my beautiful wife, Rebecca–he didn’t worry about leaving them without a husband or father. He was trying to end me.
“This incident was so traumatic that I woke up in the hospital with this shark streak in my hair. All of a sudden, I spoke differently. I thought differently. I moved differently. Considering this incident broke me, it also opened up parts of my mind that I did not have access to before–it unlocked potent areas of my mind, and now I have premonitions. I am often able to hear what people are thinking. In essence, it’s made me magic.”
Hardy, who has fully embraced his “Broken” character, stressed that he dreams of becoming whole once again.
“I yearn to be whole once again,” said Hardy. “I don’t know if that can happen. This started out as a curse, but it is truly a blessing in many ways. Something I yearn to attain once again is the title of the world.
“I was the champion, and my brother just couldn’t be happy for me. He didn’t support me, and he is the reason I lost the title of the world. I need the title back, and maybe that can make me whole once again. I started the year being the champion of the world, and I will not be complete until that comes full circle and I become world champion again.”
Hardy’s character and accent are heavily mocked on social media by longtime rival EC3. Hardy revealed that he pays close attention to the insults.
“EC3 is blasphemous, he is sacrilegious,” said Hardy. “EC3 is going to be one of my victims. I am going to lure him to my battlefield in North Carolina, and I will have Señor Benjamin prepare the massacre room.”
The “Final Deletion” saw Matt Hardy defeat Jeff on his battlefield back home in North Carolina, and the victory allowed Matt to claim–or, as he describes it, “delete”–Jeff’s name and identity.
“Brother Nero has been deleted,” said Hardy. “Right now, he exists in the darkness of deletion. That means I deleted everything within him that made him special–his aura, his essence, his spirit, his soul. Everything that made my brother a charismatic enigma, I took that away. I deleted it, and now he is nothing more than an empty vessel of flesh.”
Ultimately, Hardy explained, the Seven Deities–a group of powerful demigods who watch over the Earth–will decide his destiny.
“In order to be whole again, the first thing that comes to mind is the title of the world,” said Hardy. “I don’t know if that will even work since I have been broken so severely. My condition may be a permanent issue, so if that does not work, there must be a message the Seven Deities will send me, or a journey–because I have such a greater purpose in life than just being a normal, mortal person. I am more, I am magic.
“When the Seven Deities let me know what I must do to be complete again–even though I will be stronger and more than just a regular mortal man–I will fulfill that mission and become whole once more.”
News of the Week
The WWE’s “New Era” officially began this week as both Raw and Smackdown premiered revamped shows with their own exclusive rosters. WWE delivered an incredible stretch of wrestling from Sunday-Tuesday, culminating with Finn Bálor’s victory over Roman Reigns as well as Sasha Banks defeating Charlotte for the women’s championship on Raw, and Dolph Ziggler capturing the number one contender spot on Smackdown.
But not every week will have the same buzz, nor will each week feature number one contender matches and main events including a debuting Finn Bálor. So what will happen when the ratings are low?
Will executives at the USA Network understand, due to the purity of the brand extension, that John Cena can only wrestle on Tuesdays? Won’t executives want the top stars to wrestle on both Monday and Tuesday? This was discussed ahead of time with USA, but WWE fully expects its ratings to be significantly higher with the brand extension.
The ratings play a major role in the “New Era.” USA wants an immediate return on their investment from WWE, which is the whole reason Smackdown is on Tuesdays. That has impacted the way Vince McMahon booked his first episodes of Raw and Smackdown–otherwise, the Sasha Banks title victory would have waited until SummerSlam and Bálor’s push would have manifested over time instead of occurring in a three hour timespan.
The big winner of all of this is the viewers, particularly the devoted pro wrestling fans who are constantly overlooked. It is a given that they will always watch (and it’s true–we always will). Although there were pieces of the revamped programming that I did not enjoy–the interviews with the ham-and-eggers before their eventual poundings on Raw made me cringe, and some of those camera angles on Smackdown were dizzying–I am excited to see how the WWE will embrace the challenge of keeping our attention on back-to-back nights for the foreseeable future.
Battleground was WWE’s most successful pay per view of 2016. The show consisted of solid–or spectacular, in the case of the Kevin Owens-Sami Zayn–matches, advanced the storyline between John Cena and AJ Styles, and delivered the long-awaited triple threat for the WWE championship between former Shield members Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns.
Battleground served as a humbling reminder that the roster is being split just as the major players are finally healthy. For the first time in 2016, WWE’s roster includes Ambrose, Rollins, Reigns, Cena, Brock Lesnar, Styles, Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Owens, Cesaro, Zayn, and Finn Bálor.
The additional “universal” championship on Raw allows for some creativity in who holds the title–and will open the door for title runs for Styles, Wyatt and Bálor–but a run with a secondary title is not the same as a chance to hold the WWE heavyweight championship. Success or failure on the brand extension will be better determined by the time we reach WrestleMania 33–until then, let the “New Era” begin.
In other news…
• In addition to the return of Shelton Benjamin and Rhyno to the WWE, two other superstars very likely to be seen again are Matt and Jeff Hardy. Both of the Hardy’s contracts with TNA are up in February of 2016.
• The WWE is clearly unhappy with Brock Lesnar. Randy Orton directed a low blow at Lesnar during his interview on Sunday regarding Lesnar’sUSADA doping violations–but insults are only effective when the other side is aware. There is zero chance Lesnar was watching or cared.
• The backstage locker room cheering during the triple threat title match at Battleground was ridiculous. Why would Goldust care if the WWE title comes to Raw? Does it really make a difference to The Ascension if Smackdown has the world champ on its roster? Also, I would have preferred that Shane McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, Mick Foley and Daniel Bryan were not ringside for the match–all attention should have been focused on The Shield’s first-ever triple threat match.
• A year after the “Diva’s Revolution,” the WWE is finally utilizing its talented women’s roster–which now includes Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, NiaJax and Natalya. Bayley needs to make the transition to the full time roster as soon as possible, but Banks feuding with Charlotte into SummerSlam is the right call, and meaningful opportunities exist for angles between Natalya, Lynch, and Jax.
• Season three of Lucha Underground will premiere later this year, and Chavo Guerrero Jr. revealed there are plans for much more: “There are plans for up to season 10, to be honest,” Guerrero, who is a producer on the show. “There is no actual date set, but everybody is loving it. Only time will tell, but I think that Lucha is not done at the end of season three. It’s El Rey’s flagship show, and they are very happy with the product, but it’s all about getting eyes to the product. There are a lot of different avenues to do that, and hopefully Lucha will utilize some of those avenues in the future.”
• Shouldn’t The Miz and Rusev both have been drafted in the top ten of last week’s draft? Each were selected in the fourth round, with Rusev – the United States champion – chosen at sixteenth overall and The Miz – WWE’s Intercontinental champion – at seventeen. Both titles should be extremely meaningful, so the men who hold those belts should have been drafted earlier.
• The Cruiserweight Classic is extremely well-produced, as well as perfectly called by Mauro Ranallo and Daniel Bryan. The matches are fast-paced, exciting and come close to capturing the feel of the cruiserweight matches on WCW’sNitro in 1996 and ‘97.
• TNA earned its highest-ever rating this past Thursday on Pop TV. Thursday is a great night for wrestling, and it is much better to promote an upcoming Sunday pay per view on Thursday than it is to do so on Monday or Tuesday. For that reason alone, I believe Smackdown will eventually return to Thursday nights on the USA Network.
• The next Sports Illustrated Facebook Live is set for this upcoming Sunday with Lucha Underground – and the subject of this week’s “Five Questions with…” – star Brian Cage. Cage wrestles Keith Lee at Beyond Wrestling’s “Americanrana” this Sunday in Providence, Rhode Island, and he will be taking questions at 3pm ET.
The Shoot: Steve Corino
Ring of Honor’s Steve Corinois a 22-year veteran of the squared circle. The former ECW world champion now wrestles and broadcasts with ROH, as well as calls action with Kevin Kelly on the English announce team for New Japan Pro Wrestling World. King Corino has traveled to Japan 82 times in the past fifteen years, and shares the story of his journey in this week’s edition of The Shoot.
FOUND IN TRANSLATION
If you ask most young professional wrestlers what their dream is, they would most likely tell you to be the main event of WrestleMania.
I might be the exception.
Growing up in the early to mid 1980’s in suburban Philadelphia, we were lucky enough not only to get the WWF on local television, but Southwest Championship Wrestling out of San Antonio, Texas and Georgia Championship Wrestling. All different styles. I loved all three.
But I would say my obsession with professional wrestling really started when I discovered what is now commonly known as “The Apter Mags.” Bill Apter was one of the top writers for the magazines and people just associated them with him. For me, Bill Apter was my Mark Twain.
The first and last Tuesdays of the month, I would run across the street to the old “Trappe Deli” and spend my allowance on professional wrestling magazines. Apter’s written words were like musical lyrics. I would read them over and over again, learning about areas that were not mine, wrestlers that I could only dream of seeing on TV, and places that looked so exotic that I never could imagine going there.
Japan was that place.
As I got older, VHS “trading” of wrestling was the big thing. And I was a huge tape trader and my love for New Japan Pro Wrestling and All Japan Pro Wrestling was as high as my friends’ love for the WWF. Jumbo Tsuruta was my Hulk Hogan. RikiChoshu was my Ric Flair. Giant Baba was my Bruno Sammartino.
Not only was I into the professional wrestling, I researched the culture and history of Japan. It was my immediate long-term goal when I started training to be a professional wrestler. Did I ever think it would become a reality? Gosh no. But it was the goal.
From 1994 to 2001, I worked hundreds of independents, USWA, WWC in Puerto Rico, and eventually, Extreme Championship Wrestling. When ECW closed in early 2001, most wrestlers and fans were thinking that everyone would want to go to WCW and WWF. For me, this was my Hail Mary into the world of Japanese pro wrestling. But where would I go? All Japan was going through difficulties with most of the talent leaving and creating Pro Wrestling NOAH. New Japan, my dream, was in a phase of going to more of a “shoot style” and did not want to continue to wrestle a hardcore style, so FMW was out of the question. The next question was who would want me? It is great to say, “Hey, I am Steve Corino and was just the World Heavyweight Champion of ECW, can I get a spot?”, but that wouldn’t ensure me a spot with any company.
Luck, which always finds me somehow, had scored me a series of tours with the brand-new Pro Wrestling ZERO ONE, headed up by the legendary ShinyaHashimoto. From the moment I stepped off the plane at Tokyo Narita airport, I knew my career and life was about to change.
Every early tour was flooded with new cities and towns. I would venture out before the live events, even if it were just to walk around and experience the culture. The people, food and the way they lived was so unique to me that all I wanted to do was learn more about this land.
Within a year of landing at ZERO ONE, I was offered an office job where I would help in the booking of foreign talent to our company. In my eight years in that office, I was responsible for bringing over 51 different foreigners. Names from ROH World champion Jay Lethal, former WWE tag team champions Brian Kendrick and Paul London, ECW original CW Anderson, WWE star Epico (then wrestling as Orlando Colon), Goldust as Dustin Rhodes, the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes and some fella that is tearing up the WWE right now named Kevin Owens.
Each tour, I would try to show everyone around and teach them the way a foreigner should act in Japan. Take them to all the best places to eat (especially on a budget) and hope that they could leave Japan knowing that they had just done something that thousands of fans and thousands of wrestlers can only dream about.
In 2012, it all but ended for me. Eleven years and 79 tours. ZERO ONE had gone through many hardships, including ShinyaHashimoto passing away in 2005. It had changed its name to ZERO1 MAX and then, eventually, ZERO1. The sponsors were gone and the live event attendance dwindled to a point where my services were no longer needed. It was an amazing run where I enjoyed four reigns as NWA Intercontinental tag team champion, defended the NWA World’s championship like my heroes of the past, and made a second career that I could be proud of. There were no regrets.
New Japan Pro Wrestling was always the number one company in my youth (All Japan was always a close second). ZERO ONE was based off the New Japan “Strong Style” when Hashimoto broke away from New Japan to open ZERO ONE. I watched the Tanahashis, the Nakamuras and the Gotos from when they were an opening card kid to the main event. I studied Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Satoshi Kojima and Tiger Mask. YugiNagata was/is like a mythical being to me.
I had always wanted to be in New Japan, even if it was for one match. To walk the long ramp at the Tokyo Dome in front of 40,000 fans. To look at the lion in the NJPW logo and wrestle in the same ring as the old school heroes of the past.
But it was only a dream. New Japan had a new crop of great young foreign talent. I was a “ZERO ONE” guy and no use to them. It would have to go on being a dream...until April 2016.
With Ring of Honor’s partnership, I got to see not only ROH in-ring talent start to appear more frequently in New Japan, but lead television announcer Kevin Kelly made his Japanese debut after almost 25 years in the wrestling industry. I couldn’t have been happier. I was even happier that he was paired up with a man that I brought over to ZERO ONE in 2004, former WWE star Matt Striker. They had good chemistry and I believed they were going to end up with great chemistry. But luck would find me again, hanging out at the beach in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, when I got a call from the ROH office explaining that I would be replacing Striker for the future broadcasts to keep an “All ROH feel” to the New Japan World broadcasts.
Returning to Japan after four years was like going home again. The old saying, “You can never go home again” is so wrong. You not only can go home, but you can create a new legacy for yourself. This time, I will do it as a broadcaster.
Four years had passed and I was nervous to see what had changed. Was Roppongi still going to be the place where I created the most sin? Wink. Were my old hangouts and restaurants still open? What was going to be the difference in office procedures? Would fans even remember me after four years and now in the biggest company in Japan? I made the rare jump up in companies. What would ZERO1 fans think? It was nerve-racking.
It wasn’t until I landed at Tokyo Narita airport, going through customs and out to the limo bus to take us to the Tokyo Dome hotel, that I felt like I was home again. And now, I had my buddy, Kevin Kelly, with me. A new person to take around. To teach the sometimes confusing aspects of a fascinating country.
As for the work? What work? I spent almost three years calling some of the best action on the planet with Ring of Honor. I would joke that I am the least prepared commentator in the sport. But that is only because I have the best partner. Kevin Kelly knows the ROH product so well that I have always just been filler. A voice of a sophomoric joke or to scream SUPERKICK like it was the first time I saw The Beatles.
I brought eleven pages of notes with me on that first New Japan tour! Not only was I going to be prepared, but I was going to show the English New Japan World viewers a different side of King Corino’s commentary skills. Gone was the humor and I became more of an analyst. I know everyone’s stories. I was there for some of them! I went from being a newer Bobby “The Brain” Heenan in ROH to the John Madden of New Japan Pro Wrestling. To me, it was even easier than ROH.
My tours now consist of me showing Kevin Kelly every “Pepper Lunch” restaurant I can find in Japan, translating for him, planning our next adventure on the Tokyo Metro line, and taking a step back every day to enjoy a second run in a land I only dreamed about 34 years ago.
Will I get to walk that ramp at the Tokyo Dome on January 4?
Weekly Top 10
1.) Dean Ambrose, WWE
Ambrose defeated Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns on Sunday at Battleground in the first-ever triple threat match between the former members of The Shield.
2.) Finn Bálor, WWE
Bálor looked impressive on Raw, especially in his victory over Roman Reigns. The 35-year-old is ready for his call-up to the main roster.
3.) John Cena, WWE
Cena was spectacular at Battleground on Sunday.
4.) Brock Lesnar, WWE
The “Beast Incarnate” remains the most discussed man in professional wrestling.
5.) Seth Rollins, WWE
Rollins’ feud with Bálor is a fresh match-up at the top of the Raw card.
6.) AJ Styles, WWE
Styles took the pinfall at Battleground and on Smackdown, and he is unlikely to change that trend against John Cena at SummerSlam.
7.) Kenny Omega, New Japan Pro Wrestling
Omega has been spectacular so far in New Japan’s G1 Climax, dropping a fantastic affair with Yoshi-Hashi on Friday before defeating Toru Yano on Sunday.
8.) Dolph Ziggler, WWE
Ziggler is the new number one contender to Dean Ambrose’s WWE title, and his upcoming heel turn will add a lot of excitement to the feud.
9.) Sami Zayn, WWE
Zayn picked up the biggest win of his career on Sunday at Battleground over Kevin Owens.
10.) Roman Reigns, WWE
The people have spoken: Reigns is in dire need of a change in the direction of his character.
Five Questions with… Brian Cage
Born and raised in Chico, California, Lucha Underground star Brian Cage has also wrestled for WWE, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and TNA. He graduated high school with a quarterback by the name of Aaron Rodgers (“I was a little pissed off that he got the world title before I did,” said Cage.), and the 32-year-old is finally finding the success he dreamed about in Lucha Underground’s Temple.
SI.com: You have wrestled in WWE’s system, as well as for TNA, but never found success quite like you have in Lucha Underground. Even before signing with Lucha, you had a WWE tryout booked that you canceled. What has allowed you to succeed with Lucha Underground?
Cage: I had a WWE tryout booked, but I told WWE, ‘Nevermind on the try-out, I don’t want to do it.’ Then I signed with Lucha Underground, and it’s the absolute best decision I ever made. It’s the most fun, and the best treatment from a company I’ve ever had. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had.
I was so determined and destined to get back to ‘The Fed,’ and I felt like my life was over unless I got back there. After so many ups and downs, Johnny Ace [Laurinaitis] called me down and then said, ‘Nevermind,’ and then I was called again, and it was, ‘Oh nevermind,’ then it was like, you know what? F--- these guys. Once I let go of that, everything got better in my life. I’m not bitter or spiteful. I won’t say I’ll never go back, but if I don’t ever go back to WWE, I’m more than fine with it.
I worked in TNA multiple times, I had a couple dark matches. Al Snow was really good to me, and Chris Daniels and D’Lo Brown were really pushing for me. Al Snow got me my matches, wanted to protect me and allow me to shine, and [TNA official] Bob Ryder said they wanted to work with me in the future and sign me. It never happened. Things happen for a reason, and I’m sure I would have done well, but I’m not sure I would have had the same sort of showcase that I’ve gotten over here at Lucha Underground.
SI.com: Who were your inspirations in the business as a child, and how was the late Chris Kanyon involved in your development as a pro wrestler?
Cage: Obviously, as a kid, I was a fan of Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan. My two first idolizing figures in wrestling were Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon. I loved Shawn’s “Boyhood dream” and that the fact that wrestling was all he ever wanted to do–I was ten years old, and that’s what I wanted to do.
Chris Kanyon was a little less known, but he was also one of my all-time favorites. He had such an innovative offense and style, and that’s what I emulated. I was lucky enough to befriend Kanyon and he actually helped train me and gave me an opportunity to get my career to where it is now. I made a sign that got his attention at a Monday Night Raw in Sacramento, and he came back down after the show, signed my sign, and gave me his “Who Better Than Austin?” shirt since it was Steve Austin Appreciation Night. That right there made me want to be a wrestler even more–that was such an incredible night. I wanted to be able, someday, to give that experience to another person.
He actually talked me into going to [WWE developmental territory] Deep South. I didn’t get signed then, but I was the only non-contracted wrestler working full time and practicing with the developmental talent there. Unfortunately, Deep South got shut down and they reopened as FCW in Florida. I moved back to California, but I did a couple dark matches, got signed shortly after that, and moved back to Florida.
SI.com: Instead of stalling, your career has gained momentum after your release from WWE. What do you attribute to your success?
Cage: When I got released, it was the biggest shock of my life. I was actually expecting a raise, and I had been for a while. I missed a [phone] call from WWE, and I called back all excited. Then I was told, ‘We’re going to come to terms on your release,’ and I literally said, ‘Did you call the right number?’ I was so baffled. Wade Barrett even texted after and said, ‘In all my years being here, this is the most absolutely ridiculous release I’ve ever seen.’ I had a lot of support from the guys and the trainers, and I had been determined from the beginning to make it.
After I was released, I thought this was my boyhood dream that wasn’t going to come to fruition. But I was signed by the time I was 24 years old–I did that, I accomplished that. I did not wrestle at WrestleMania, things just did not happen that way. It was a roadblock, but I just tried to be the best I could. I was just so determined to make it, and it took a little longer and I took a different route than I thought I would, but it all worked out.