Week in Wrestling: Sasha Banks on her reign as champ; Top 10 with Kevin Nash
SI.com’s Wrestling Week in Review is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Sasha Banks discusses her run as WWE women’s champion
Sasha Banks only held the WWE women’s championship for 27 days, so she is fully aware there is still much work to be done to prove she is worthy of the moniker “The Boss.”
“I’ve only been in WWE for three years, and this is only my first year on the main roster,” reflected Banks. “But I’ve made noise from NXT Takeover last year to SummerSlam this year.”
Banks is taking time to recover from nagging injuries, but she remains in the throes of a feud with WWE women’s champion Charlotte that wrestling purists should admire. She is dutifully chasing the champion, and the art of pro wrestling is largely built on the chase. The 24-year-old Banks is confident that her story with Charlotte is far from over.
“Patience is key,” explained Banks. “You can’t get selfish, and that’s the number one thing I’ve learned at WWE. The world continues to go round, and I just knew–given the right opportunity and the right moment–that the world would know I was good, but now the world knows that I’m great.”
The opportunity to fight for the championship at WrestleMania in a first of its kind women’s triple threat match reminded Banks of her hero, Eddie Guerrero, and his coronation at WrestleMania XX at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“Eddie Guerrero is my number one,” confirmed Banks. “He is the reason I am in the WWE–I wanted to be the female version of him.”
People are talking about women’s wrestling, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted since I was ten years old. I wanted people to talk about the women and all they could do. We’re celebrating women’s wrestling. People want to see us, and we’re just doing our best.
Banks learned the business during her time in the independent wrestling scene in Boston, Massachusetts, and she credits that period for helping her evolve into the success she is today.
“Once I moved to Boston, that’s where everything came full circle for me,” said Banks. “I joined a wrestling school, and it was the same wrestling school I remember emailing when I was twelve and they told me I was too young. Then, there I was at 18, walking through the doors to this fantasy camp and I was the only girl. I walked in and thought, ‘I got this,’ and I got it. They gave me three months of free training, and they helped a little Mercedes KV turn into ‘The Boss’ Sasha Banks. That’s why I love Boston so much, it’s home. I got the phone call for my tryout in Boston. Boston is home, I love it.”
Banks revealed her post-Raw vices, which include carbs and, naturally, red wine.
“After a pay per view, I know there is TV the next day,” explained Banks. “But after Raw, I like to eat bad. I can have some pizza, French fries, a burger, live it up, a glass of wine–red, of course.”
Despite all the success that Banks has attained in the past year, she continues to have grand designs for her future.
“I’ve accomplished so many of my dreams already, but main-eventing WrestleMania is a dream,” said Banks. “Also, I want to be on the cover of the 2K game next year–bye bye, Brock. The sky is the limit, and there is no limit to my dreams.”
News of the Week
CM Punk’s UFC debut takes place on September 10, as the former WWE champion battles Mickey Gall at UFC 203.
Punk trains at Roufusport Martial Arts Academy in Milwaukee under the tutelage of Duke Roufous, and one of his teammates and training partners is former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.
Pettis, who holds a 19-5 record, is only days removed from his submission victory over Charles Oliveira this past Saturday at UFC Fight Night. Going by the nickname of “Showtime,” Pettis is the first ever UFC champion to grace the cover of a Wheaties box.
Despite MMA aficionados claiming that Gall will dominate and win, Pettis believes Punk is preparing to shock the fight world.
“Punk is going to surprise people,” said Pettis. “He’s here training with a group of young kids, and this is all they want–this is their dream, their goal, their passion. Punk is already rich, he has money, he has fame, yet he’s still in here grinding with us, and that’s what I love about him.”
The 37-year-old Punk, who has no background as a mixed martial artist, has impressed Pettis with his work ethic and humility.
“He’s been willing to work for it,” said Pettis. “He’s not a guy who just talks. He’s in here–every day–grinding with us. There are some killers in this gym, and he’s out here hanging out with us, and I think it’s going to rub off.
“Punk comes from a jiu-jitsu wrestling background, but striking is what he was missing–and we have some great strikers here. Duke is one of the best–he just made [UFC welterweight champion] Tyron Woodley a world champ, I’m working on my third belt, and Punk is on a great team.”
Duke Roufus will discuss Punk’s chances against Gall in next week’s edition of the Week in Wrestling, and Sports Illustrated’s one-on-one feature with CM Punk is set to run next Thursday, September 8.
Kevin Owens is the perfect choice for Universal champion.
Owens–who, at two days, is already the longest reigning Universal champ in company history, as Finn Bálor’s only held the newly-created title for a day before relinquishing it due to injury–heeled his way into the title with a major assist from exiled Authority leader Triple H.
WWE’s creative department weaved together a strong story only eight days after Bálor first won the title at SummerSlam, and the one-week tournament for the belt–which finished with a “Fatal Four Way” between Owens, Seth Rollins, Big Cass, and Roman Reigns–only enhanced the importance of the championship.
The only certainty now is that the extremely talented Owens is secure in his place as champion, but many questions remain. Does Owens now become Triple H’s prodigy? Does this also signal the return of The Authority? And will WWE finally turn Seth Rollins from a heel back to a babyface?
In other news…
• It is unlikely Daniel Bryan will ever wrestle again in the WWE. Despite a report from Forbes, there are no plans in WWE for Bryan to return to the ring, especially as the company faces a multi-million dollar concussion lawsuit. Even though Bryan allegedly received clean bills of health from his own doctors, the WWE’s medical team has yet to clear Bryan. If he ever did return, Bryan mentioned last night on “Talking Smack” that he would be wrestling in places like the Tokyo Dome, which is primarily home to New Japan Pro Wrestling.
• The decision to rush the rematch between Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton is tough to explain. Instead of promoting a long buildup, the return affair is scheduled for Saturday, September 24 at a house show in Chicago.
• Ring of Honor is introducing a new 6-man tag team championship. New Japan’s 6-man titles received a major boost from the title run of Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks earlier this year, and ROH is smart to add the titles. My early pick for the winner of the soon-to-be-announced tournament is Hangman Page and the Bucks.
• The WWE made the right decision in keeping the Universal championship off of Seth Rollins. The booking was smart–Rollins still has a legitimate gripe why he is not world champion because of Triple H’s interference–but WWE could not put the belt on a man who was eight days removed from putting the former world champion out of commission.
• Big Cass looked out of place in the Universal title match on Raw, and the match flowed far better once he was eliminated. Nevertheless, I am happy that Cass was included in the match–Owens is a master at his craft, Rollins continues to add wrinkles and nuances atop his greatness, and Reigns–despite his limitations–offers a tremendous ring presence. WWE desperately needs to build new stars, and the chance to work with those three talents can only help Cass as he heads in that direction.
• Seeing the Headbangers last night on Smackdown reminded me of how much I never missed them. Chaz “Mosh” Warrington is best known for his work as Beaver Cleavage, which was an extremely short-lived (yet memorable) character in WWE history.
• NXT is ahead of the curve in many ways, including its entrance music. Are there three better entrance songs in wrestling than Bobby Roode’s “Glorious”, Shinsuke Nakamura’s “The Rising Sun” and Samoa Joe’s “Destroyer”?
• All signs point to the end of Alberto Del Rio’s disappointing run in WWE. Del Rio can still work and, if motivated, would add a great hand to TNA’s roster.
• Ryback debuted his podcast–“Conversation with The Big Guy”–this past Monday, and offered a great deal of clarity on why he is no longer working with WWE. Ryback–whose name is Ryan Reeves–expressed his gratefulness for his time with WWE, yet also articulated some of the outdated practices and reasons–like travel expenses and booking decisions–that forced him to leave the company.
• The One Man Gang – I can still hear Gorilla Monsoon calling him “the big 747” – was dealt a tough blow last week as his house was wrecked due to floods in Louisiana. The Gang, whose name is George Gray, is raising funds through his GoFundMe page.
Weekly Top 10 with Kevin Nash
Kevin Nash was asked to provide Sports illustrated with the weekly top ten in wrestling, and he agreed – with one caveat.
“I can only go with guys I’ve worked with,” said Nash, explaining this would be a top ten of his top opponents. “I never got a chance to work with Steve Austin or The Rock more than a couple of matches. I never had a singles with Steve, so I can only talk about people I worked with. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to work with Punk. I hope he takes all the naysayers and shoves it up their ass.”
Nash explained that there are different art forms in pro wrestling, and while some–like Hulk Hogan–have the ability to wrestle a technically sound match, the crowd prefers to see something entirely else.
“Hogan can technically wrestle, but that’s not what I want to see,” said Nash. “I want to see someone get heat on, then see him turn around, shake his head, block a punch, block another punch, send you off with a big boot and a leg drop.”
As for Nash’s top ten, the list includes Sting, Ricky Steamboat, Ric Flair, Lex Luger, Raven, and Jeff Jarrett.
“I’d put Steve [Borden, aka Sting] on the list, and I loved working with Lex,” said Nash. “I thought Lex was really underrated. He didn’t throw the greatest punch, but he looked the part. Of course Flair. I had the chance to work against Ricky Steamboat, and I could tell he could make heels. His selling ability actually really elevated me in WCW before I left. Barry Windham was fantastic, and an unbelievable worker. Raven is another of the underrated guys, and I never had a bad match with Double J.”
The wrestling world was turned upside down in 1996 by the arrival of Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko and Rey Mysterio into WCW – and Nash enjoyed working with all of them.
“I don’t think anybody underrated Eddie, Chris, Dean, Mysterio–that whole crew of guys,” said Nash. “Those guys are in a league of their own. When you put them, in any form or fashion, together, it’s poetry in motion.”
Nash particularly enjoyed his run with Mysterio, although he regrets the decision to unmask Mysterio in 1996. Nash was WCW’s head booker at the time, and forced Mysterio to lose his mask.
“I wanted to take Rey’s mask off, but it was a different time,” said Nash. “I wasn’t a true wrestling historian with the history of the mask–or, in later years, the merchandising power of that mask–but I saw a pretty, young Latino man. We didn’t have that, and I thought he could be a crossover star for us. If I had to do it over, of course I wouldn’t do it.”
Nash also did the honors by losing to Mysterio, which added an air of legitimacy to Mysterio’s career that eventually carried over to his run with WWE.
“That was part of my philosophy when I got the book,,” Nash explained. “Look, in Major League Baseball, everybody can hit a home run. That’s why pitchers hit them. It’s no different in wrestling. Anybody can best anybody on any given night, we’re all that good. I wanted Rey to take one on me. The thing is, that crowd in Sacramento exploded when he won–but it wasn’t like it was some far-fetched story that he won. He’s that good. David vs. Goliath is a story people know and can relate to, and that’s how I always worked any match with someone who was smaller than me.”
Nash created his own section of greatness for Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall, Sean Waltman and Paul “Triple H” Levesque–the group responsible for changing the business–and better known as The Kliq.
“The whole Kliq is in my top ten,” said Nash. “Paul is one of the most underrated guys in the business. Scott had swagger. Compare Scott and Barry Windham. Barry Windham was big like Scott, he could work like Scott, and they could both sell amazingly. The difference is when Scott was a heel, he could turn into a mean prick when he turned it on. I see that in every guy in The Kliq, from Shawn to X-Pac. When they light a guy up, they light a guy up. Paul, you see it when he gets a guy in the corner.
“There’s no way that I become the wrestler I do without the matches I had early on in my career as Diesel with Sean Waltman, and then the Intercontinental title matches with Razor, and then with Shawn, so you have to take The Kliq out of it. Take Triple H, Scott, Sean, and Shawn out of it.”
Aside from The Kliq, Nash decided on a top-three list of wrestlers that he has worked with in his legendary career, beginning with Bret “The Hitman” Hart at number three.
“I would definitely include Bret Hart in my top three,” confirmed Nash. “I probably had a hundred matches with Bret, but we never had one bad match.”
Nash’s opponent from WrestleMania XII, The Undertaker, stands second on his list.
“‘Taker was the only big guy who, night in and night out, I could have a match worth watching with,” said Nash. “That’s hard to say, there aren’t many big guys like that. He could do everything. Storytelling, his ability to always work scripted, work on the fly, casket matches, gimmick matches, everything.”
While The Undertaker is known as “The Phenom,” the man who tops Nash’s list is the “Phenomenal One.”
“AJ Styles is special,” said Nash. “I’ve worked a lot with AJ, and I never had a bad match with him. He was great in TNA. I was in my mid-fifties when I worked with him, but I could still have a really, really good match with him. He’s that good.”
Nash believes that a Styles run as WWE champion is imminent.
“I knew, when he got to the show, he was going to go to another level,” said Nash. “AJ actually turned Cena into a true babyface, and now he’s been anointed by Cena. AJ will be champion, absolutely.”
The Shoot: Chris Hero
Days before competing in Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s vaunted “Battle of Los Angeles,” Chris Hero–a former Ring of Honor and NXT talent who is now currently one of the top independent stars in the business–shares a journey that began in Dayton, Ohio, made a pit stop in the WWE, and now travels to PWG for one of the premiere tournaments in wrestling.
King of the Independent Ring
As I type this, we’re days away from the 12th annual ‘Battle of Los Angeles’. What is the Battle of Los Angeles (or simply BOLA as I’ll refer to it for the remainder of the article)? Is it a Grammy-nominated, platinum selling album by Rage Against the Machine? Well, yeah. A video game-esque sci-fi flick with a litany of extraterrestrials and machine guns? Uh, well it’s that too. But it’s also Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s yearly tournament de force. I dare you to find a more diverse and action packed wrestling event on the planet.
In its current format, twenty-two matches will take place over the course of three days at American Legion Post 308 in Reseda, California to determine a winner. Previous BOLA winners include Davey Richards, CIMA, Low Ki, Kenny Omega, a guy who suspiciously resembles Sami Zayn, Ricochet and most recently Zack Sabre, Jr. This year’s lineup is literally insane. (Okay, not literally insane, but literally insane in the facetious way that literally everyone uses the word literally these days.) It’s a veritable who’s who of international professional wrestling.
Europe is masterfully represented by Will Ospreay, Jack Gallagher, Mark Andrews, Pete Dunne, Mark Haskins, Marty Scurll, Tommy End, and Zack Sabre, Jr. Lucha Underground’s presence is strong with such stars as Fénix, Pentagón Jr., Johnny Mundo, Jeff Cobb (Matanza!) and Ricochet. From Japan you have up-and-comer Kamaitachi and New Japan legend Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger (my opponent… seriously). You like Ring of Honor? You’re in luck! Kyle O’Reilly, Dalton Castle and Matt Sydal are competing. You’re from North Carolina? Excellent! You have CWC darling Cedric Alexander and the 22-year-old phenom Trevor Lee in the hunt. Rounding out the field you have Sami Callihan (to be honest, my fingers are crossed for the Space Cat). Cody Rhodes has the most arduous challenge to date on his ‘list’. 2016’s rookie of the year and former Ultimate Fighter Matt Riddle (no brainer on the ROTY thing) will also be there.
Am I forgetting someone? Oh yeah. There’s also a guy that likes to call himself the Greatest of All Time: Chris Hero. I can’t think of a better platform to stake my claim as pro wrestling’s GOAT (Earl the Goat?) than at this year’s BOLA. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of anyone else quite as fascinated as I am with the tournament concept in pro wrestling.
My curiosity started at a young age. It was 1989 when I fell in love with pro wrestling. I was nine-years old and I spent my time thumbing through flea market-bought Apter mags (Thanks Mom!). When I could get my hands on them, I’d scan through wrestling tapes ‘til I wore out the rewind button. As you would expect, VHS cassettes like WrestleMania IV and the Wrestling Classic left me in awe. Taking that into account, imagine how I felt on June 13, 1993, at the Ervin J. Nutter Center sitting merely eight rows away as Bret Hart battled his way through Razor Ramon, Mr. Perfect and ultimately Bam Bam Bigelow to be crowned “King of the Ring”. Yeah.
Now that I think about it, it was actually in the Nutter Center parking lot, five years later, that I would witness my first ever independent wrestling show. A hundred and fifty fans gathered to take in a Unified Championship Wrestling event. I took one look at the Atomic Rhino, “Big Daddy” Rog Cox (RIP) and Mr. Saturday Night–and not only did I know that I could do this, I knew that I had to do this. I found my way to a makeshift wrestling “school” in Middletown, Ohio and just three months later, my journey began.
Aside from the shows I was fortunate enough to get booked on, my window to the wrestling world was the burgeoning Internet. I would read results on news sites and try to memorize the names. I’d also lurk on message forums trying to find out who was who and figure out how I could get my name out there. Names like Ace Darling, Devon Storm and Reckless Youth (the King of the Independents) led me to a wrestling tournament called the Super 8. A promotion called ECWA would hold these yearly tournaments in Delaware (Delaware?) and when one of these wrestlers would put on a memorable performance, the wrestling world took notice. They would then find themselves being flown back-and-forth to wrestling shows, coast-to-coast, where they would be put to the test by the top local wrestlers. Far more often than not, wrestlers like Christopher Daniels, Low Ki and Paul London passed these tests with flying colors.
In the summer of 2000, interesting things would happen in Charlestown, Indiana. CM Punk, Colt Cabana, Ace Steel, BJ Whitmer and yours truly would make weekly trips to Chuckstown to wrestle behind and occasionally inside a garage (barn?). IWA Mid-South promoter Ian Rotten held the first annual Sweet Science 16 (later rechristened the “Ted Petty Invitational”) on September 8 and 9. I had the privilege to take part in this tournament (my first of note) and the fortune to win the whole thing. Initially inspired by ECWA promoter Jim Kettner’s Super 8, the TPI would grow in size as well as stature. The 2004 TPI in particular, capped off by a three way final between Samoa Joe, AJ Styles and Bryan Danielson, is as brilliant as you might imagine.
Later in 2000, Roland Alexander’s All Pro Wrestling would dip their toes into the Independent wrestling tournament pool with their “King of the Indies”. The dalliance was brief but with their 2001 KOTI we were left with potentially the most important and influential wrestling tournament in independent wrestling history. Seriously. Take a look at that lineup if you don’t believe me! (Daniels, Danielson, Low Ki, Super Dragon, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Doug Williams, Bison Smith, Kazarian, Spanky, etc etc). The commercial success of the VHS release inspired the creation of Ring of Honor. When you watch the first year of ROH, you can clearly see the stylistic influence gathered from the Vallejo, CA tournament. It’ll be a travesty if we never see a full length documentary about the 2001 tournament.
Pro Wrestling Guerrilla opened their metaphorical doors in July of 2003. Holding half a dozen shows in their first year, PWG gained momentum with each wacky (and incredibly well written) press release. They would feature dream matches between reputable independent stars and simultaneously introduce the world to a bevy of California’s finest competitors. Tournament wise, first came the Bad Ass Mother 3000. Then they put tag teams on the marquee with the Tango & Cash Invitational. Finally, on September 3 and 4, 2005 at the Sweatbox in Hollywood, Chris Bosh defeated AJ Styles to win the inaugural Battle of Los Angeles. Here we are, eleven years later, and PWG is literally the hottest ticket in wrestling (again, literally hot). Once the tickets go on sale online, fans all over the world are already logged into their Paypal accounts (on multiple devices if you know what’s good for you). A few hundred clicks, four minutes later, every seat is taken.
This Friday evening, four hundred-ish fans will cram their bodies into the regrettably humid Legion Hall on 7338 Canby Ave (1.3 miles from Daniel-san’s apartment according to Apple Maps). Twenty-four of the world’s finest wrestlers will battle the heat, each other, and the probability of several matches in a single day (barring a draw/no contest/bye you’ll need to win three matches on the final day to win the whole thing). The last three BOLA winners will compete: Kyle O’Reilly (2013), Ricochet (2014), and Zack Sabre, Jr. (2015).
That said, no one has ever won the tournament twice. Me? I’ve made it to the Finals three times (2008, 2010, 2015). I’ve also lost in the first round four times (Thanks Genki, Joey, Willie & Matt!). Statistically, am I more likely to go one and out for the fifth time or concuss and KO my way to my fourth BOLA Final? Did I mention I’m on the mend from a nasty LCL sprain? Be that as it may, I know one thing. A guy that traverses the globe, jutting his chest out claiming to be the Greatest of All Time to any and everyone who listens would do one thing; he would win the whole damn thing for that thirteen-year-old who wanted nothing more than to be the King of the Ring.
– Chris Hero
The twelfth annual PWG BOLA begins runs from Friday to Sunday, and Chris Hero opens the tournament against Jushin Thunder Liger. The 24-man tournament, which runs in Reseda, California, is single elimination and concludes with a triple threat match in the finals. Notable winners include Kenny Omega (2009), Sami Zayn (2010), Adam Cole (2012), and Zack Sabre Jr. (2015).
Five Questions with… The Miz
WWE Intercontinental champion The Miz made news this past week during his “Talking Smack” interview with Daniel Bryan. A former WrestleMania headliner, The Miz looks to pick up some steam from the promo on Bryan–widely appreciated for its non-scripted nature–and bring some heat to his run as IC champ in his current feud with Dolph Ziggler.
SI.com: You are one of wrestling’s purest heels, and it is rare to see a wrestler ignore parts of the job–like hype your t-shirt sales–for the sake of your character. What is your philosophy for success in wrestling?
The Miz: I could care less if people are wearing my t-shirts. I have a job to do, and it is to be the greatest villain the WWE has ever seen. I don’t see myself as a villain, but everyone else does. People think I’m cocky, arrogant, and egotistical–but I’m confident in myself. That’s what people should be seeing me exude. People should be more confident in themselves in their own life. Some people are so negative on the Internet, as well as in the WWE Universe, that sometimes they don’t even realize how negative they are being. If they had a little more positivity in their lives, then maybe they’d cheer me.
SI.com: You and Daniel Bryan took different routes, but you both represent two extraordinary underdog success stories in WWE. Was the deck stacked against you when you first began in WWE?
The Miz: Everyone always said I’d be out of here in three months. People thought I’d be fired, and I was kicked out of the locker room. But–through hard work, sacrifice, dedication, blood, sweat and tears–I’m still here fighting and scratching and clawing and craving. This new era of superstars coming in makes it very difficult to keep your spot, but I’m motivated every day. The hatred that people send to me on Twitter and Instagram really motivates me to be better, and hopefully that motivates someone else, too.
I never really considered myself an underdog until an interviewer asked me how I felt about it. I thought, ‘That’s right–I am an underdog.’ No one looks at it that way, even though I am, so I’m doing something right.
SI.com: What is the most consistent challenge while performing for WWE?
The Miz: It’s definitely very, very hard to stay relevant. We have an influx of talent with this new era of superstars, like Enzo and Cass and Apollo Crews, and they’re out to take your spot. You have to figure out a way to keep your spot, and make sure the audience is captivated. Enzo and Cass are really hot right now.
SI.com: Can you describe what life is like for Maryse after having married The Miz?
The Miz: Marrying The Miz? I’ll answer for my wife: it’s an honor and a privilege. Seriously though, I think she’d honestly say that every day is better than the next. We’re a great team, we complement each other perfectly, and we’re able to talk to one another about our problems, our work, our success, and we learn from one another. It’s really great to be traveling with my wife, and I think she’d say the same.
I’m so glad she’s back in WWE because we have so much fun together. She’s been back for how many days? [Editor’s note: Maryse’s returned 149 days ago to WWE, which was the same night The Miz defeated Zack Ryder on Raw for the Intercontinental title.] Well, that’s the same amount of days I’ve been Intercontinental champion. I wonder why? She adds another degree of confidence for me.
SI.com: What does a post-Smackdown routine consist of for you?
The Miz: I’ll have a good solid burger after my match on Tuesday. That’s my cheat meal. I don’t go to the concession stand, I look on Yelp, find a five-star burger joint, and that’s where we go.
Tweet of the Week
Congratulations to WWE Universal champion Kevin Owens. The new champ still has some unfinished business with Sami Zayn–will Owens have a chance for redemption at Hell in a Cell on October 30 in Boston?
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.