SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling. Cody Rhodes’s first-person piece on carrying on his father’s legacy ran earlier. This edition includes an interview with New Japan’s Will Ospreay, a look at Chris Jericho and Goldberg’s WCW feud and Perry Saturn opening up about his brain trauma.
Within the next five years, Will Ospreay is going to be one of the most recognizable names in all of professional wrestling. For now, however, after a year that includes a victory in the vaunted Best of the Super Juniors tournament, a New Japan match with Ricochet running rampant and going viral, and an upcoming debut with Ring of Honor, Ospreay is almost content with 2016.
“It’s been f------ mental,” said Ospreay. “Wrestling is my life. I even dream some weird f------ dreams about it.”
A stop in NXT and WWE is inevitable for the 23-year-old Ospreay.
“I’m never going to say that WWE has not been in my mind,” said Ospreay. “For anyone who ever gets into wrestling, WrestleMania is always the dream. Right now, I am over the moon with New Japan and I could stay here for another five years with all the talent coming through. Everyone backstage is a joy to work with, but WWE is on my mind, and they obviously had had interest in me. But right now I just want to learn from the best in the world in Japan.”
The 6’1” aerial expert, who is a proud native of Havering, England, was offered a contract to wrestle in EVOLVE by Paul Heyman.
“I watched Paul Heyman as I grew up, right on my TV screen, so for him to call me out and say how much of a revolutionary I am in this business, it was so surreal,” said Ospreay. “Gabe Sapolsky, who was Paul Heyman’s right hand guy back in the ECW days, runs EVOLVE, and they have a connection with NXT. If my contract with New Japan didn’t say that I have to hand over all agreements and contracts, then I would have signed on the dot, that moment. I cannot thank Gabe Sapolsky and Paul Heyman enough – it was one of the most touching moments of my life.”
Ospreay is the subject of Ryan Carse’s “OSPREAY” documentary, which is in the midst of a kickstarter campaign to raise funds for production.
“When they told me they wanted to do the documentary, I thought, ‘Why me?’” admitted Ospreay. “I’m still learning the tricks of the trade, and people forget I’ve only been doing this for four years. I’m still learning to walk, much less run, so I thought they would be better off with someone like Marty [Scurll] or Zack [Sabre Jr.].
“Then they showed me this video package with the trailer, and I was in awe of it. It showed me wrestling in front of fifteen people, and showed where I’ve come from and where I am now. I’m really honored that they’ve covered some of the most touching moments of my wrestling career. I hope that people watch it and are inspired by it. Even if you don’t like wrestling, I hope you’re inspired to do something daring with your life.”
Ospreay has fully embraced the hard work needed to succeed in wrestling. He recently left his full time job, but is willing to return whenever needed.
“If they ever need help and I’m in the country, I’ll happily come down and help,” said Ospreay. “You see the rubber sills in your bathroom? That’s what I used to do—I’d touch it in and make it look nice and make it look pretty. Those are my roots. I’m the guy who wrestled Kushida at Sumo Arena in front of 10,000 people, then came back Monday morning, went straight to work, and worked my nine-to-five.”
Ospreay followed in the footsteps of Finn Bálor when he captured New Japan’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament this past June.
“I had the opportunity to work the best talent in the world—Bobby Fish, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Tiger Mask—and then work the final with [Ryusuke] Taguchi,” said Ospreay. “And I always love working with Ricochet.”
Ricochet and Ospreay worked an extremely controversial match on May 27, while some—like William Regal—praised the match, others—like Vader—compared their match to a gymnastics routine.
“I appreciated that it helped New Japan, and I’m humbled that I could help the company,” said Ospreay. “I’m totally humbled to wrestle with New Japan. I’m just a boy who had a wild, wild dream to do wrestling for a job. Now I’m doing it—I’m legitimately paying bills through wrestling.”
Vader’s criticism of the match generated plenty of buzz online, which actually led to a match with Ospreay in August that saw the 61-year-old Vader win.
“This is a business, and I do what I’m told to do, but I am unhappy about the way it went about,” admitted Ospreay. “The original plan was for me to be over, and it changed the night before because he didn’t want to do it.
“I was a little bit disappointed in the fact that a man like Vader, at the age that he is, refused to put over a guy like me—maybe because I don’t fit the mold of what wrestlers look like. I never complain about putting someone over, but this is one time—after the headache that I went through—that I should have gone over.
Unlike anyone else in the world, Ospreay tells a story on the mat and, better than anyone else, in the air.
“I want to get to the point that Finn Bálor has reached,” said Ospreay. “I’m always looking to see who is the best at what they do and I try to pick their brains. You can’t get better in this sport without wrestling the best people in the world, and that’s all I want to do. I want to take little gems that they have to offer and make the product of Will Ospreay even better.”
As for the best wrestlers in the world, Ospreay did not hesitate when asked to share his top three.
“The first is Kenny Omega,” said Ospreay. “By far, he’s incredible. Also, Kazuchika Okada and AJ Styles. I can’t remember a time or a year when AJ wasn’t incredible. Even when he was put in terrible storylines in TNA, he made the best out of it. I’ve never seen him have a bad match. AJ is my hero.”
Ospreay’s next stop is Ring of Honor. He will debut during ROH’s November tour in the United Kingdom, then work full time in the United States in 2017.
“I’m excited to go to Ring of Honor and apply my trade,” said Ospreay. “Those are the best wrestlers in the world. If you look at WWE right now, both champions are former Ring of Honor champions. And the best part is I’m not going alone, I’m going with Marty Scurll, who is a personal friend. It’s been a huge year for British wrestling as a whole, and I’m so humbled and grateful that Marty and I, two Brits, get to go over and wrestle for the Ring of Honor crowd.”
Ospreay shared that his heart stopped beating when he was only a year old, and he was legally pronounced dead before resuming a normal heartbeat.
“My heart stopped beating, and my nan said, ‘You were put on this planet for a reason,’” said Ospreay. “I must be on the planet for a reason, and I have a really, really good feeling it’s something to do with the four sides and the three ropes.”
Ospreay thanked those who have donated to the kickstarter, and invited people to come along for his journey.
“Anyone who’s donated, you don’t know how much it means to me to tell my story,” said Ospreay. “I can’t thank you enough for putting your hard-earned money into this product, and I will do my absolute best to make sure this goes worldwide.
“I’m a boy that came from backyard wrestling—from a wrestling ring that my mom and dad bought and put in my backyard. I was in that ring every day, and now I’m wrestling in a twenty-by-twenty ring in Tokyo and living the dream. I’ve always been told I can’t, and I’ve always found a way to prove them wrong.”
News of the Week
AJ Styles told SI.com last week that he wants Shawn Michaels to come out of retirement for a match at the Royal Rumble. If the match does come to fruition, there is only one logical conclusion: Michaels has to put Styles over.
WWE is using the same formula for the Survivor Series: bring back a returning hero in Bill Goldberg and have him headline the marque. Goldberg is expected to drop the match to Brock Lesnar, which is the exact same framework that would be in place for Styles and Michaels.
So the question remains: why would Michaels return? What would motivate the “Heartbreak Kid”—who retired at the top of his game after his loss to The Undertaker at WrestleMania 26—to put his legacy on the line? Hulk Hogan is obviously a far different worker than Michaels, but Hogan continues to lament the fact that his final match was a disaster with Sting in TNA. Michaels had a perfect send-off nearly seven years ago—and, to his credit, has not been lured back to wrestling. It ultimately does not make sense for him to return.
Yet, even though this match is extremely unlikely to ever take place, the prevailing question is, what if? WWE is allowing discussion to build. AJ Styles discussed the match in an interview with SI. What if Michaels is serious about a return?
As improbable as it is, give WWE credit for making us consider the possibility.
In other news…
• Did WWE possibly think that Brock Lesnar was going to be booed in his hometown of Minnesota this past Monday on Raw? The Heyman promo was a disaster because the crowd refused to react the way WWE envisioned, but why would anyone think that Minnesota would ever boo Lesnar?
• Although Charlotte and Sasha Banks have been given a considerable amount of hype for the first-ever women’s Hell in a Cell match, my pick for most outstanding performer for this Sunday’s show is Kevin Owens. He really needs to defeat Seth Rollins to add some credibility to the WWE Universal championship.
• Jimmy Hart breaks arguably the biggest piece of news ever broken in the Week in Wrestling: the Hart Foundation’s theme song, which Bret “The Hitman” Hart then used for his own entrance music, actually contained lyrics in its original form.
• A highlight to last week’s return of Bill Goldberg on Raw was Big E’s priceless reaction to the former WCW champion.
• Are there other Curtis Axel fans out there, or am I the only one? Axel is the son of Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig, and he has struggled in every heel gimmick during his WWE tenure. Axel is a true underdog, and needs to embrace his “Not Quite Perfect” status to succeed as a fan favorite.
• Colt Cabana’s Wrestling Road Diaries 3: Funny Equals Money, which he wrote about last week in The Shoot, is now available for pre-order on DVD and digital download. Autographed covers are included with the purchase of the DVD, and the digital version—which I will be purchasing—is available to download November 11.
• For those keeping track, James Ellsworth currently has tied Finn Bálor for the same number—three—of main roster television matches, and Ellsworth also has more wins in WWE than Sting.
• Vince McMahon’s strangest creation—and that is saying something—just turned legal. Goldust celebrated the twenty-first anniversary—can you believe that?—of his October 22, 1995 debut in WWE. Unfortunately, Goldust did not don the golden wig on Raw.
• Goldust turning 21 years old made me think of the “Attitude Era,” which immediately brings me back to two memories: Steve Austin flipping off anyone in his way, and Vince McMahon’s intro video to a new era of wrestling.
• Coming soon: Joey Styles delivers his first interview since exiting WWE this Monday on SI.com.
The Nitro Files: Chris Jericho and Goldberg
The Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff will delve into a moment from WCW’s Monday Nitro. Bischoff—who was WCW’s president of WCW during the company’s most successful years—hosts his weekly “Bischoff on Wrestling” podcast, as well as delivers a “Controversial Video of the Week” with 120 Sports’ Nick Hausman, and plans on proving every week in the Nitro Files that the “truth is out there.”
Chris Jericho and Bill Goldberg fought in WWE. No, not in the ring.
The fight took place behind the curtain, in front of the boys, and Jericho actually got the better of Goldberg.
The problems all started in WCW, but the origins of the dispute had far more to do with ambition than personal differences.
As WCW reached unheard of levels of popularity, the cruiserweight division proved to be far more complicated than anticipated. The cruisers—Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit, and Chris Jericho—were simply too talented to be relegated to a separate division.
“It was actually a trifecta of difficulties, to be honest with you,” explained former WCW president Eric Bischoff. “When I brought guys, like Chris Jericho, in originally, my vision was to create a cruiserweight division that had a completely unique style and tone and flavor from the bigger heavyweights.
“From my perspective as executive producer, I really wanted to create this distinct—almost a brand within a brand—cruiserweight division. Initially, all the guys—like Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Eddie, and Dean—were all very excited about that. But the competitor in them—and their drive, which they all had in abundance—made them all want to transcend the cruiserweight division that I was desperately trying to keep intact.”
Bischoff refused to lose the uniqueness of the cruiserweight brand, which has proved justified, as there has not been a legitimate cruiserweight division over any duration of time in North America since he created one on Nitro.
“I wanted to keep Chris and his peers confined to the cruiserweight division, while they, in turn, wanted to branch out and prove they could be more,” explained Bischoff. “That is natural for guys who were as athletic and competitive as guys like Chris Jericho were and still are.”
Jericho caught fire on Nitro, and in 1998, a seemingly throwaway feud with Goldberg—who Bischoff was grooming as the face of WCW—grew to the point where fans were calling for the match. Jericho embraced the opportunity to wrestle Goldberg, who was WCW champion, but the feeling was not mutual.
“Goldberg’s perception was a little different,” explained Bischoff. “He saw himself as a big bad ass, which he was and still is, but Bill was also limited. He only had about a year-and-a-half worth of experience under his belt, which is unheard of. So you’ve got a competitive, intense, former NFL athlete—who’s only had eighteen months, if that, worth of experience—then you’ve got a bunch of guys with all kinds of experience in the cruiserweight division, specifically Chris Jericho, who really wanted to break out.”
Jericho expected a pay-off to the feud on pay per view, which represented a massive opportunity for him to prove he was one of the best in the world, while Goldberg wanted a thirty second squash match on Nitro. Once Jericho saw the writing on the wall, he acted in the only natural way for a wrestling heel—he hid. Jericho retreated to the upper deck, far away from the reach of Bischoff, and never had the squash match.
“That sounds so much like Chris that I have to believe it,” laughed Bischoff. “While I don’t remember it, I do have to believe it’s true.”
Bischoff understood Jericho’s point of view in 1998, and is now also able to see it from a different lens.
“There is no question I can see where Jericho was coming from, especially now,” said Bischoff. “But then it was frustrating for me, because everybody wanted to be in that main event. If you go back and just look at the roster that I had at that time—Hulk, Savage, Goldberg, Hall and Nash, Sting, and Luger—there were so many big names. I had such a deep roster of so many big brand names that it was hard for me to let go of the vision I had to keep my heavyweights my heavyweights , and Goldberg was the new guy on the block—this young, fresh guy we were building the company around. It was hard for me to see experimenting with that formula to satisfy Chris Jericho.
“Going back to ’97, ’98, Bill’s repertoire in the ring was somewhat limited. That made a match with someone like Chris Jericho even more challenging. Bill didn’t have the experience or the ability to modify the kind of match to suit his opponent. As right as Chris was—and he was right, clearly, as we can see now and the success he had when he transitioned over to WWE—it’s just that the timing was horrible with the depth of the roster and my desire to keep the cruiserweights the cruiserweights, because that’s what made Nitro so special.”
Exclusive Lucha Underground clip
Johnny Mundo finally meets Sexy Star for the Gift of the Gods Championship, and Rey Mysterio also appears on tonight’s Lucha Underground, which is available on iTunes, and continues its third season tonight at 8pm on El Rey Network.
Top 10 with the “Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart
The Weekly Top Ten (this edition delves into wrestling theme music) is brought to you by WWE Hall of Famer Jimmy Hart.
The “Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart may be far better known on-screen, but his work away from the camera is even more remarkable.
Despite a Hall of Fame career as a manager, managing such greats as the Honky Tonk Man, the Hart Foundation, The Giant, and Hulk Hogan, a big part of Hart’s enduring legacy in the business of professional wrestling is his ability to create theme music.
Wrestling stars enter the ring to iconic theme music, and Hart has written and produced hit after hit for superstars in WWE and in WCW. Hart played with the Gentrys, a popular act in the 1960s, and creating music was his calling card for nearly three decades in wrestling.
Hart did an autograph signing with Big Time Wrestling this past weekend, and he took some time to discuss his top ten favorite theme songs in wrestling.
10. Eat Your Heart Out, Rick Springfield
“I still love to sing that one,” said Hart, before breaking into song—“‘cause she’s my girl and she always will be the only one for me!”
9. Tie: Superfly and Repo Man
“Both of these instrumental songs really fit the characters,” said Hart. “That’s what I was always trying to do.”
8. All American Boys
“All American Boys” is the catchy theme for the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers “I love this song,” shared Hart. “Matter of fact, we took them to Memphis, Tennessee at Sun Studio and did that. Knox Philips, Sam Philips’ son—who produced Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis—did the record for us there. The theme for the Rougeau Brothers is still one of my favorites, and I love their famous line – ‘We don’t like heavy metal, we don’t like rock and roll, all we like to listen to is Barry Manilow. Hey!’”
“This was Hulk Hogan’s original WCW theme,” said Hart. “Hulk needed a song for WCW, and I think this one really fit him for his first couple years there.”