Week in Wrestling: WWE wanted to pair Rob Van Dam and Paul Heyman in a heel turn
- Rob Van Dam discusses the possibility of working with Paul Heyman, his involvement in the Nine Legends documentary, and whether there is any possibility of a return to WWE.
- Brian Pillman and the infamous Steve Austin gun incident
- WWE legend Haku shares his memories of Andre the Giant
SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
This issue includes an interview with Rob Van Dam, The Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff, the Top Ten with Drew Galloway, The Shoot from “The Miracle” Mike Bennett, and Five Questions with Haku.
Mr. Monday Night
Rob Van Dam discusses the possibility of working with Paul Heyman, his involvement in the Nine Legends documentary, and whether there is any possibility of a return to WWE.
Before his last WWE run, Rob Van Dam was set to be a “Paul Heyman Guy.”
Yet Van Dam turned down the offer.
“The office wanted to put me with Paul and turn me heel,” explained Van Dam. “But I already have one foot out the door in wrestling, so why change to a heel when I’m on my way out? I’ve been so willing to stay strong and stick to my guns for so long when it comes to my beliefs. I’m a symbol to people for a lot of different things, and changing me to a heel, at the last minute, could change that.”
Similarly, Jeff Hardy’s heel turn with TNA in 2010 left a bitter taste in Van Dam’s mouth.
“I thought the Jeff Hardy heel turn was stupid before they did it and thought it was stupid watching him spit at the fans and the little kids who loved him,” said Van Dam. “That’s a traditional thing that the office looks at as money, but I don’t know I agree with it.”
More recently, Van Dam was featured in Nine Legends, a documentary produced by David Sinnott.
“From David’s perspective, I’ve impacted culture enough to be relevant enough in a documentary based on wrestling,” said Van Dam. “I’ve been wrestling for many years, I’ve accomplished a lot—but I take pride in being genuine, honest, and down-to-earth. Those are the qualities I really respect about myself, so I’m really pleased when I see that the energy that I want to exude is well received.
“David putting me on his documentary tells me that my insight is appreciated from the perspective of all the efforts I’ve put into it, so it’s very rewarding. It’s all about leaving behind your mark, that’s why those of us in the entertainment business do what we do.”
For the 45-year-old Van Dam, his WWE championship-winning match over John Cena at the 2006 One Night Stand pay per view is still the highlight of his soon-to-be Hall of Fame career.
“That is the top moment of my career,” shared Van Dam. “That whole night was about the spirit of ECW and reviving it and proving that it lived strong in all of us wrestlers who preferred to express artistically in that manner, and also the fans who preferred to watch it. Everybody was very vocal in expressing their feelings and exuding their love for ECW.
“It’s not because taking the WWE championship was a goal of mine—and I’ve never been one to try to stick my head in the office and find out what plans are. I’m like the opposite of an ‘office guy.’ I don’t want to be at the arena until right before my match. We were bringing ECW back as a third brand after that, and it was a huge success for me personally in my career.”
Van Dam is also headlining the Pacific Coast Wrestling show on Saturday in Torrance, California, against Lucha Underground’s Pentagon Jr. Although he is scheduled for a few select bookings, Van Dam remains a hard man to find in the ring.
“I’m not as out there as most of the other guys,” explained Van Dam. “I’m a lot more selective about when I leave home. It’s few and far in-between. This is like my sixth match of the year, and I’ve got a couple more on the books.”
Although he may not be wrestling as often, Van Dam is still visible, albeit in different forums. He is working on his comedy, and will be performing Rob Van Dam’s Stand Up Comedy Tour on Thursday, November 17 in Dayton, Ohio.
“I have a lot of experiences to share,” said Van Dam. “I’ll answer questions, whatever people ask. I’m always most comfortable not reading written material. I do some acting, and I am putting more energy into that, but if it were up to me, I would prefer to share the truth. I’m a big fan of non-fiction, and I am a believer that fact is much more exciting than fiction.”
Van Dam, who considers Black Mass among his favorite literature, is always looking for a new book. He spends a large chunk of his travel time reading as much history as possible.
“I’m a huge fan of mafia history, mostly the Italian mafia but also their associates, as well as Whitey Bulger and the Winter Hill Gang,” Van Dam shared. “I read books and I watch documentaries, and that is the hobby that I put the most energy into that is not business-related.”
Acting is also on Van Dam’s resume, including a recent role in Sniper: Special Ops with Steven Seagal.
“My favorite scene was when I put my thumbs up at the end,” kidded Van Dam. “I’m not a big fan of guns, so I didn’t enjoy the part where everyone was running around and shooting. There was a lot of tension on the set because of the guns. Everyone was making sure that the guns were pointed down and seeing if they were loaded. That whole scene made me want to just stay in my trailer.”
WWE reached out for a return in late 2015, and the plan was to include Van Dam with Tommy Dreamer and the Dudleys in their feud against the Wyatt Family. It was reported at the time that Van Dam turned down the offer, but he explained that was not accurate.
“I didn’t turn it down,” noted Van Dam. “That is somebody’s twist on my words. We weren’t able to come to an agreement. I was super busy and it wasn’t a good time for me. Because of that, it would have taken more for it to be worth my while than it would have been for them, so we just didn’t do it.”
Van Dam remains outspoken for his passions in life, and he is a major proponent of medical marijuana.
“I have gone my career using it,” said Van Dam. “From personal experience, I can tell you that it works for me. It might not work for everybody, but now that they’re starting to take the first honest look at marijuana and its benefits, they’re finding that it can cure almost anything. It’s like a miraculous plant that Jack Herer used to tell people about way back in the 70’s. Everybody thought he was crazy, but we’re still finding out about all these uses—and the conservatives are still fighting the studies and still fighting the changing of the law.
“I was taught in high school that marijuana and acid are the same thing. Now, today in 2016, the federal government still has them both classified as a Schedule 1 drug. It’s amazing, and stuff like that has to change. Once the conservatives find that they can profit on it in some way, they’ll turn and try to own it.”
One of Van Dam’s closest friends in wrestling is Sabu, who is recovering from surgery on his left hip. Van Dam noted that the most “homicidal, suicidal, genocidal” man in wrestling history needs help covering the cost of his medical bills.
“Sabu is beat up,” shared Van Dam. “He’s been hurt since the day I first met him and he’s not happy unless he’s hurting his body, but now he’s broken up quite a bit. A lot of fans are contributing to his recovery. He’s very touched by all the love, and he’s been over-generous his entire career. He always gives, even when he doesn’t have enough to give, and always believes that it will come back to him. Now, he’s finding that to be at least partially true.”
Van Dam and Sabu still share a competitive, brotherly relationship, which dates back twenty-seven years.
“I met Sabu when I was 18 and he was my mentor,” said Van Dam. “He and the Sheik introduced me to the business, and we both learned from each other. His generosity, and the way I saw him treat people, helped mold me into the man I would become.”
ECW still resonates, Van Dam explained, because of its authenticity.
“We set a lot of trends. We were pioneers. We weren’t afraid to cross the line, and that made us so cool. You’d be shocked in the crowd—and we were shocked—by what we were watching. The crowd’s reaction to what we were doing was a huge part of the show, but we were also reacting to them. I haven’t seen that duplicated in the exact same manner anywhere since.”
As for whether Van Dam plans on resuming an active schedule with WWE, the door remains open for a return.
“I have an open door with WWE as far as wrestling goes,” said Van Dam. “I also have an ongoing merchandise relationship. I hope that the right opportunity presents itself so that I will do another run with WWE. For me, the fans missing me and wanting to see me on TV is very important, but the business end of it also has to be right.
“I certainly hope that comes together, and it will be something that is right for me and right for WWE and right for the fans. But at this point, I do not have any plans of such. Even when I’m not wrestling, I still appreciate all my fans. I take all the compliments to heart. I don’t think all the other wrestlers hear the same love from the fans that I do—they are extreme about it.”
News of the Week
The Undertaker returns to WWE programming next Tuesday for the 900th episode of Smackdown, and it is fitting that the ‘Taker returns to his old home.
The Smackdown brand was his home during the last brand split, as well as the home of his last match on cable television, against Dean Ambrose in 2013.
As WrestleMania approaches, Smackdown also represents the ideal landing spot for the Undertaker. As the slow-build begins for WrestleMania 33, WWE needs to position the 51-year-old Undertaker in a favorable match-up that hides his limitations. Smackdown has the perfect roster, as AJ Styles and John Cena are the two best options for a match with the Undertaker at ‘Mania.
Despite rumors that Cena is on pace to win the Royal Rumble, he is more likely to face off against Styles for the world title. Shawn Michaels is expected to remain retired, so without HBK walking through that Alamodome curtain, the money singles match at the Rumble will be Styles-Cena.
After we are forced to suffer through the inevitable Styles loss – and endure Cena’s sixteenth world title reign – the WWE can build Styles-Undertaker for WrestleMania 33. That is an all-star caliber match even without a championship involved.
Shane McMahon is the fifth member of Team Smackdown Live for the Survivor Series.
And it’s brilliant.
Although the move shows the lack of superstar depth on the Smackdown roster, this will mark McMahon’s first time wrestling since his memorable encounter with The Undertaker at WrestleMania 33.
Every time McMahon enters the ring—particularly against Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho—will be compelling, must-see moments of the show.
In other news…
• The Bayley/Charlotte moment from Raw—as the crowd in Glasgow, Scotland serenaded Bayley and essentially destroyed Charlotte’s scripted promo—is significant for multiple reasons. Bayley, clearly, is connecting with the crowd, and for all of Charlotte’s talents, she still struggles the moment she is forced to go off-script on the microphone.
• Tommy End makes history this weekend as he wrestles EVOLVE 72 in Queens, New York, on Friday, and then again on Saturday at EVOLVE 73 in Joppa, Maryland. End just signed with WWE, and WWE-signed wrestlers rarely ever work independent shows, which is not lost on EVOLVE co-founder Gabe Sapolsky: “WWE deserves a lot of credit here. We’ve been building the relationship with them for a while. We had a bad situation with Drew Galloway and Ricochet having to cancel off the weekend due to injuries. We exhausted every possibility of replacement talent from the indies. WWE then stepped up and gave us Tommy End as a make-good to the live event ticket holders.”
• Will Chris Jericho bring “The List” with him as he returns to the music world? Jericho’s band, Fozzy, has been announced as part of June’s Download Festival. Based off previous music-related departures, Jericho will also need studio time with his band to cut a new album, which puts into question whether Y2J even appears on WWE television in 2017.
• If the New Day is to pass Demolition’s record 478-day tag team title run, then they would do so on Wednesday, December 14. Kofi Kingston, Big E, and Xavier Woods currently sit at 444 days as tag team champions.
• As we prepare for the 2016 Survivor Series main event of Bill Goldberg versus Brock Lesnar, here is Goldberg delivering his most impressive jackhammer of all time against The Giant.
• New Japan Pro Wrestling took some major steps this past weekend toward building January’s Wrestle Kingdom 11, their version of WrestleMania. The main event is IWGP champion Kazuchika Okada against “The Cleaner” Kenny Omega, and the junior tag team title match is set as the Young Bucks defend their titles against Roppongi Vice. Omega teams in New Zealand this weekend with the Young Bucks in six-man tag action against Okada and Roppongi Vice at On The Mat Charity Pro Wrestling, which is available on iPPV.
• I spent my Sunday at the day-long Beyond Wrestling show in Providence, Rhode Island, and two points were reaffirmed to me after watching over three hours of fantastic pro wrestling. First, Matt Riddle—who won three matches to become the new “Ace” of Beyond—is the real deal and will eventually become a force to be reckoned with in NXT. Secondly, Joey Styles—who is proud to report he is the new Sales Director for StockTwits.com and MoneyBadger.com—is so talented that he even made a writer by the name of Justin Barrasso sound serviceable on the air in this hard-fought match between Deonna Perrazzo and Veda Scott.
• Wrestling highlights from this past weekend also included spending my Friday night watching the Top Rope Promotions show in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Some of the promotion’s top talent includes Vinny Marseglia, TK O’Ryan, and Nico Silva. Top Rope promoter Ryan Waters shared his promotion’s philosophy on building talent: “You can’t really build talent. You can find talent, then work with that talent to pull out what you see in the talent. I did a seminar of Jamie Noble’s in 2005, and he said, “I can’t tell you what’s wrong, but I can tell you what’s right.” That stuck with me, because there are a lot of different wrestlers and a lot styles—I can’t tell them what’s wrong, but I can tell them what is right, and they can then expand on that.
• This year’s Survivor Series takes place on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The pay per view began thirty years ago as a Thanksgiving Day tradition, as wrestling was a longstanding tradition in the southern territories on the holiday. In honor of the 30-year anniversary, the Week in Wrestling will air Survivor Series videos until Thanksgiving, beginning with this clip of Jesse “The Body” Venture stirring the pot with “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who survived alongside Mega Powers partner Hulk Hogan – from the 1988 Survivor Series.
• Coming attractions: Sports Illustrated connects with Stu Bennett—who was better known as Wade Barrett in WWE—next Monday on SI.com.
The Nitro Files: The Infamous Gun Incident
The Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff will delve into a moment from WCW’s Monday Nitro era. Bischoff, WCW’s president 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.”
This past Saturday, Nov. 4, marked the twentieth anniversary of the infamous gun incident on Monday Night Raw between “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and “The Loose Cannon” Brian Pillman.
Austin and Pillman, who arrived in WWE in June of 1996 after a tenuous period in WCW and some explosive, expletive-laden rants in ECW, were in the middle of a heated feud. Pillman was home in Walton, Kentucky as Austin broke into his home. Pillman, whose hysterical wife, Melanie, was next to him, was prepared to meet Austin with a loaded gun. Monday Night Raw went off the air with Pillman threatening to kill Austin, dropping an expletive on live television, and a fade to black as gunshots were fired.
“The scene—with Pillman and the gun, and the intensity of all it—was too much,” said Bischoff. “Wrestling had always been, up until that point, the king of alternative television. You saw things that blurred the line between fiction and reality. It didn’t fit into a nice little box like drama did, or a sitcom did, or sports did. Professional wrestling was that one thing that could blur the lines between fiction and reality, but WWE was responding to the change in climate we created with WCW and Nitro. When I saw that scene, I thought that it went too far. It was intense, and it certainly caught people’s attention, much like a bad car wreck would, but it was taking it to a point where it was almost too unbelievable, even for me, someone who loves blending fiction and reality.”
Bischoff revealed he rarely, if ever, watched Raw, instead only consuming small pieces of the show, but he was particularly invested in anything to do with Pillman, who had persuaded Bischoff to allow him to leave, and Bischoff ultimately fired Pillman in February of 1996.
“Some people think Brian manipulated or worked me, but that was not the case,” said Bischoff. “Brian and I kept in pretty regular contact from the time he started in WWE. He didn’t share a lot of insight, and those calls only took place every two months, but we talked about eventually coming back to WCW.
“Brian wanted to leave WCW, and the handshake agreement between Brian and I about Brian eventually coming back to WCW is something that still has a lot of controversy around it.”
Pillman, sadly, was found dead of heart disease at the age of only 35 in October 1997. He suffered from a terribly painful ankle injury, but Bischoff noted that his biggest issue went even deeper than the shattered ankle.
“The injury was part of it, but Brian, like a lot of guys at that time, fell victim to drugs,” said Bischoff. “That was a bigger issue than even the injury.”
Despite drug problems, Pillman was so talented in the ring and on the microphone that he was quickly growing into one of the best talents in the business.
“If you look at the time, one of the reasons Brian was so excited about trying to make that transition—and one of the reasons I agreed to create a story around him leaving WCW and going to WWE then possibly coming back to WCW—was because Brian was a brilliant guy,” said Bischoff. “He knew that our roster was loaded. The ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ aspect would have worked really well for him if he were to leave WCW, go make a name for himself in WWE, then he would have come back at a far higher level than had he just climbed the ladder. That’s the thing that is missing in the business today. It’s great for WWE, because they don’t have to worry about losing any talent to the competition because contracts are so tight and onerous, and there is no place to go.
“That’s a great position for WWE—but for the fans, and for the story, it’s a negative. If you look at the brand split, and this is the second time that WWE tried a brand split, they’re trying, once again, to artificially create that sense of potential transition from one brand to another, but it just doesn’t resonate. It doesn’t feel the same, and therefore, it’s ineffective. Brian was smart enough to see the fact that, if he left WCW and went on to WWE and made an even bigger name for himself then came back, he would have been worth twice what he was when he left.”
WCW did not respond to the gun incident.
“We weren’t reacting to WWE, especially, in ’96, we were in the driver’s seat,” said Bischoff. “WWE was reacting to Nitro and to WCW. Vince McMahon was reacting to Eric Bischoff, and I wasn’t worried about reacting to Vince McMahon. Now that would change by late ’98, I will admit, but I didn’t feel the need to react in ’96, ’97, and most of ’98.”
As for whether Vince McMahon made the right decision in airing this controversial content, Bischoff sees both sides of the argument.
“We can look back now, in 2016, and see it as a big moment that created a lot of buzz, got people talking, and spurred a lot of water cooler discussion in wrestling,” said Bischoff. “In one sense, it could be argued it was the smart evolution of what WWE in the ‘Attitude Era’ was going to become. From my perspective, it was too much. It was too unbelievable and it reeked of desperation. I feel the same way now—it was a very desperate move from a company that, at the time, was very desperate to try to compete with the momentum that we had created on Nitro. It wasn’t rich in story or in character, it was rich in shock, much like the Howard Stern Show. It wasn’t that it was that creative, or that it was that compelling, but it was something that had never really been done before. It was crude, it was crass, and it did get people talking.
“I feel like it was effective in that it got people to at least take a second look at WWE, because they were getting trounced pretty consistently at that time. Fans had left them and come over to WCW and Nitro because we were providing a more compelling story with more compelling characters that was more relatable. So, to me, this was a desperate move, but I understood it. Vince McMahon is a very competitive guy, and he was getting his butt kicked, and he wasn’t going to take it lying down. He wanted to get his audience back, so I understood it, I just thought it was too much.”
Top Ten with Drew Galloway
ICW has a major show out of Glasgow, Scotland on Sunday, November 20—Fear and Loathing IX—that features Finn Bálor as special guest enforcer, the return of the Dudley Boyz as Team 3D, Kurt Angle, and Drew Galloway.
Galloway, who was the first ever ICW champion, has reached out to the Week in Wrestling with an exclusive video highlighting the top ten reasons to watch Fear and Loathing IX on FITE TV.
The Shoot: “The Miracle” Mike Bennett
“The Miracle” Mike Bennett is one of TNA’s top superstars, as well as the husband of the stunning and talented Maria Kanellis. Bennett made waves as part of The Kingdom with Matt Taven in both Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling, but forayed into singles wrestling this past January when he signed with TNA. While many fans are pushing for a reunion with Taven, life remains busy for Bennett working for TNA, filming “Anders Manor,” and running his new wrestling facility at the Kingdom Event Center in West Warwick, Rhode Island.
Believe Me, I’m a Miracle
Your talent will take you far, but your character will determine how far you go.
Those were the exact words Bob Evans whispered to me, as we both laid in the ring, tired, beaten and bloody, surrounded by a metal cage. For the past twenty-five minutes, Bob and I had figuratively and literally kicked the living crap out of each other. In front of, maybe, 100 fans, in the Moosup VFW Hall in Moosup, Connecticut. It was the summer of 2006, and this was my last match in the New England area for a while. I was preparing to pack my entire life up and move to Louisville, Kentucky, to train with Rip Rogers at the legendary Ohio Valley Wrestling. This was just one of the many times I would go all in to pursue my dream of being a professional wrestler.
That summer, I was 21 and I had been wrestling for five years. Fast forward to today, I am now 31 years old, I have been wrestling for fifteen years, and believe it or not, the Miracle has just begun.
To truly understand The Miracle, you need to know the person behind the moniker. You need to know the shy and soft-spoken little kid, who saw pro wrestlers as everything he wanted to be, but wasn’t. You need to know the extremely goofy teenager, who instead of chasing girls and going to prom, was wrestling men twice his age, in VFW halls and school gymnasiums. You need to know the 25-year-old man—despite being fairly well-respected, was constantly told he would never be successful because he didn’t know how to stand up for himself. Through all of that, you will get to know Michael Ryan Bennett, and understand that it is truly a Miracle I have made it this far.
My journey into wrestling started when I had just turned sixteen. I had convinced my mom and dad to sign me up for a wrestling school in New Bedford, Massachusetts. When I say I convinced my parents, I really mean, we negotiated a deal. We agreed that if I went to college after I graduated, then they would sign me up for wrestling school. The deal was struck and I started wrestling school. Every Tuesday and Thursday my mom would drive me to and from practice. After six months of training, I finally had my driver’s license, and started driving myself. It was also at that time coincidentally, that I discovered Bob Evans’ school in Providence, Rhode Island. Bob became one of the more influential people in my career and in my life. I cannot begin to explain how important he was in helping shape my career and giving me the tools I needed to succeed. He also became one of my best friends and was constantly fighting to get me opportunities. It was also through Bob that I met the late Steve Bradley.
Steve also had a huge impact on my career and life, but for very different reasons. When I first met Steve, I was in awe. I instantly admired him. I wanted to be just like him. To this day, he is still one of the best wrestlers I have ever worked with or learned from. He understood wrestling better than anyone I had ever met, and he carried himself like he was the biggest star in professional wrestling. I learned from Steve as a mentor and talked with him as a friend. There are very few true heels in this day and age in pro wrestling, but Steve taught me the dying art of a genuine heel. He taught me how to take over a crowd and to always be the most hated person in the building. Unfortunately, like far too many in this business, Steve had his demons.
In December of 2008, I received one of the worst phone calls of my life. Bob called to inform me that Steve’s demons had got the best of him. I had not talked to Steve in over a year, and the last few times I had seen him, he was not the Steve Bradley that I first met and that I idolized. I always had hope that Steve would overcome his demons, but there was always that lingering thought in the depths of my mind that I needed to prepare for that dreaded phone call. There is so much of Steve that lives on through me and my work, and he has had the biggest influence on my career and who I am as a pro wrestler.
The death of Steve Bradley, mixed with almost a decade of struggling to “make it,” left me feeling deflated, defeated and depressed. By 2009, for the first time in my career, I was ready to quit. My love of wrestling was starting to die. There were times, in the past, when I felt like giving up, but my love for wrestling always pushed those thoughts out. This time, however, was different. I had watched wrestling take my idol. I had watched wrestling chase off every relationship I ever had. Being a pro wrestler is already a red flag when trying to date—but being a pro wrestler who is broke and trying to make it, I might as well be draped in a red flag. Not only was I falling out of love with wrestling, but I was starting to blame wrestling for every negative thing in my life. I was beginning to think that maybe this whole wrestling just wasn’t meant to be.
A series of events then started to unravel that reignited my fire and love for wrestling. Around this time, I was doing a show in Franklin, Massachusetts, for a company called Top Rope Promotions (a company I considered my home base). That night I was booked in a tag match, and one of my opponents that night was a brand new guy by the name of Matt Taven. Immediately, I could tell that Taven was going to be special. We hit it off instantly, and it was clear that we were both very similar people and were bound to be great friends. From that point forward, Taven and I began traveling to every show together. I would get him booked on every show I was on, and vice versa. Matt always gives me credit for training him and teaching him during this time, but he doesn’t realize how much he truly taught me. He was a major reason I continued wrestling. In this business, people come and go—you have many acquaintances but very few friends. Matt is not only one of those few friends, but he is one of my best friends in life and we share a friendship I cherish so very much.
Another one of those events that I credit with saving my career was a random show in Plainfield, Connecticut. The reason this show was so special had nothing to do with the show itself, but more about Kevin Kelly’s presence at the show. I had met Kevin back in 2003. From that moment, he has always been a mentor and wonderful friend. This particular encounter with Kevin was very different than others. Kevin was a friend of Steve Bradley and knew how much he meant to me. He also knew my frustrations in pro wrestling were at an all-time high. So this night he pulled me aside at the end of the show and spoke with me. Kevin informed me that he was now working with a company called Ring of Honor, a nationally televised company that is known for its extremely talented wrestlers and its ability to make stars. Kevin told me that he had lengthy conversations about me with Jim Cornette, who was the head booker. During those conversations, Cornette expressed interest in me coming to work for the company. Kevin told me about a tryout camp that ROH was holding at their school in Bristol, Pennslyvania. I did not think twice, and enthusiastically told Kevin I would be there and I wouldn’t let him down.
Fast forward to the summer of 2010. I had done the ROH tryout camp and it went as well as possible. Now one thing I learned in my years in the wrestling business is never get your hopes up. Some may say that is being jaded, and maybe it is, but it has helped me from getting too down on myself. So even though many said the tryout camp went great, I made sure to keep myself grounded and level-headed. Months after the camp, I was invited to start doing dark matches for ROH. Every month I would drive myself down to Philadelphia and I would wrestle in the famous ECW Arena. I did that routine from May until the end of August. Despite not being under contract and not knowing if I would be offered a contract, I was thoroughly enjoying myself every show and every match. I was wrestling in front of crazy ROH fans. I was in a locker room with guys for whom I held an incredible amount of respect. Most of all, I was having fun. Then, at the end of August, I got offered my very first wrestling contract. It was a Saturday afternoon. The night before, Adam Cole and myself had wrestled in a dark match. We both went into the match with the thought process of “Let’s get each other signed,” and as the match grew closer, we just kept saying it to one another.
“Let’s get each other signed!”
We went out to the ring and both brought the very best we could. We had a five-minute match and the crowd was into it from beginning to end. I felt extremely proud of the match as I walked back through the curtain, but that pride quickly turned to excitement when I was intercepted by Jim Cornette at the curtain. In the only way Jim can say things, he looked right at me and Cole and said, “Jesus Christ, you two just put on one of the best five minute matches I’ve ever see. You two just got each other signed”. Then he walked away and that was that. Cole looked at me for a brief second in stunned silence, then we both began to laugh. I gave him a big hug and I think we both knew we were about to start a very crazy career. Many people don’t know how important Adam has been to my career. We have literally been right next to each other during every major event in our careers, which is strange considering neither of us knew the other until we started doing ROH dark matches. Adam is in my circle of few friends in this business and he is one of the best humans you could ever meet. Just like Taven, he is truly something special and is going to be a huge star.
Fifteen years ago, I convinced my parents to sign me up for a wrestling school. All I knew was that being a pro wrestler was all I wanted to be and the only thing that made sense to me. Many people had no clue that before ROH, I had almost ten years of experience under my belt. I wanted to show people how important those ten years were and how those years shaped who I was as a wrestler and, more importantly, shaped who I am as a person. It turned a very shy kid into a charismatic performer. It turned a goofy teenager into a confident man.
Wrestling taught me about taking responsibility for yourself and standing up for what you believe in. It taught me about how to deal with the loss of someone you admire and love. It taught me that there is something to be said about the person who just does not quit. It taught me about life. Now, at 31 years old, married to the smartest, funniest and most beautiful woman in the world, I look back to those 10 years for guidance. This crazy business has given me things beyond my wildest dreams. It has given me my wife. It has given me the privilege to travel the whole world, from Moosup to London to Tokyo. It has given me my best friends and the greatest mentors.
I honestly don’t know where my career goes from here. I feel like I am in the prime of my life and all I want to do is entertain in wrestling and in movies. I do know I want to start focusing on my acting career as thoroughly as I do on my wrestling career. Will that pull me away from wrestling? There is no way of knowing. What I do know is that there are still so many goals in wrestling I need to accomplish. This business has caused me my greatest pains and has granted me my wildest dreams. I love what I do and I am thankful every day. Through everything I have endured, I am grateful for all of it. Because it built up my talent which took me very far in this business, but those 10 years more importantly built my character. And like Bob Evans told me in 2006, my character is what will truly dictate how far I will go.
So do me a favor.
When I tell you I am “The Miracle”? Believe me
Exclusive Lucha Underground clip
The “Man of a Thousand Deaths” Mil Muertes takes on Prince Puma, and 4’5” Mascarita Sagrada fights Famous B in a “Believer’s Backlash Match” where the fans bring the weapons on tonight’s Lucha Underground, which is available on iTunes and continues its third season tonight at 8pm on El Rey Network.
Something to Wrestle with Conrad Thompson
Bruce Prichard and Conrad Thompson delivered appointment listening last Friday with the “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” podcast as the pair broke down and analyzed the 1990 Survivor Series.
“Everybody wanted to hear about the inception of The Undertaker and, specifically, the Gobbledy Gooker,” said Thompson. “That is a particularly memorable show, and through a format like this, you get to pull back all the layers of the onion. It was a really good time.”
Prichard shared the backstory on why “Ravishing” Rick Rude was replaced on the card by Haku, as well as the etymology of The Undertaker, who took the spot of Bad News Brown, and was managed by Prichard as Brother Love.
“Bruce was actually in the office, and he is sharing insight from what Vince McMahon was thinking when all of this happened,” said Thompson. “Bruce’s position is the company’s position, and that was shaped, created, and maintained by Vince.
“Every angle and every feud really mattered, and there was a backstory and motivation for why someone needed to win every match. This was the golden era of wrestling for a reason, and they paid attention to the little feuds, and we try to do that on the show, too.”
Prichard and Thompson will explore the 1996 Steve Austin-Brian Pillman gun incident for this week’s podcast, which drops this Friday at noon eastern.
“I’m going to make sure we cover all things Brian Pillman,” said Thompson. “From his WWF run – which was from when he signed in June of ’96 to when he passed away in October of ’97 – but we’re going to cover the craziness before Pillman signed, his signing, the WWF gun incident, his passing away, and the interviews afterward. Pillman is a cult-rock hero type persona, and obviously it is a totally different situation, but people talk about Brian Pillman the way they talk about Kurt Cobain. We want to do him justice this week.”
NXT’s Mannequin Challenge
Five Questions with… Haku
WWE legend Haku is best known for his time as a member of Bobby Heenan’s “Heenan Family” stable, as well as a seven-year run from 1994-2001 in WCW as Meng. The late, great WWF manager Frenchy Martin once remarked that given the option of going to hell or fighting Haku, you would be better off going to hell. With a reputation as the toughest man in wrestling—he was said to have bit off the nose of a man who questioned whether wrestling was, in fact, real—Haku re-enters the squared circle this Saturday in New Zealand for On The Mat Charity Pro Wrestling, which is available on iPPV.
SI.com: You return to the ring in six-man tag action this weekend for On The Mat Charity Pro Wrestling. The match is the Haku Dynasty—which is yourself and your two sons, Tama Tonga and Tonga Roa—against Juice Robinson, Nasty Nate, and “Hooligan” Marcus Kool. Your youngest son, HikuLe’o, also debuts on the card. How excited are you to return to the ring, and how meaningful is it to work with your sons?
Haku: Getting into the ring with my sons means so much to me. I’m out of the game, so getting to be with them in a six-man tag, and see my youngest son, who trained in a dojo in New Zealand, is very, very special.
SI.com: Your career is filled with highlights, perhaps none greater, however, than your time in the “Heenan Family” stable managed by Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. You were also tag team partners with Andre the Giant in the Colossal Connection, which defeated Demolition for the tag team titles, only to drop them back in a memorable encounter at WrestleMania VI at the Toronto Sky Dome, which was Andre’s last match in the WWF. What specific memories do you recall about working with Heenan and Andre?
Haku: Bobby Heenan made it all work. Bobby is unbelievable, even today though he can’t talk much. His spirit was always fun. We’d laugh in the dressing room, and then you’d try not to laugh in the ring thinking about everything he said and did.
Working with the big man, Andre, it was an honor. He wanted me to be his tag team partner. I didn’t realize that until later on in life that it was the only time that either of us were ever champions in WWF, so it was nice to be champion with him.
SI.com: You were 30 years old when you teamed up with Andre. Had you known him prior to your time in the WWF?
Haku: Andre could recognize an ancestor of the game. He was best friends with “High Chief” Peter Maivia from their time together in Europe. He got to know me and trust me, just like he did with Peter Maivia. Andre was not just a tag team partner—he was my big brother. Polynesian people look out for each other, and with him, there were times we cried together. He wanted to see his daughters. We’d sit there in the dressing room, waiting for the main event or having breakfast, and Andre would talk about how much he missed his daughters.
Eating with Andre the Giant is something I’ll never forget. My goodness. Polynesians love food, but Andre was a giant. He didn’t think twice that you were half or even a quarter of his size. He wanted to drink with you, beer for beer, and he wanted to eat with you. He thought you should be ordering the same thing—and amount—as him. He always called everybody ‘The Boss,’ so he never thought of anybody as smaller than him in that sort of respect.
SI.com: You have a long and distinguished reputation as a legitimate tough man who protected the business at all costs. Why was protecting the authenticity of wrestling so important to you?
Haku: In our days, everything was always built up. When we started wrestling, whether in Japan or America, we were told to take care of ourselves inside and out of the ring. Coming in from Tonga, family was my foundation. Then I came into Japan, and we were taught to live as Samurai. I moved to Japan when I was fourteen years old, and I believed I was a warrior from Tonga. We were taught to protect inside and out of the ring. Wrestling was in my heart and my soul and my blood. When I came to America, that was what was inside of me—wrestling was part of my soul. No one was going to talk about me, my family, or my brothers. That was my life. I was a protector of the business and a protector of the wrestlers. When we’d go out and have a few drinks, and someone would tell me wrestling was fake, I’d show those people how fake it was.
SI.com: Your sons—Tama Tonga and Tonga Roa—offer a physical and realistic style that has brought them success in New Japan Pro Wrestling as the Guerrillas of Destiny. What is the most important lesson you taught them?
Haku: I’ve always believed that wrestling is life, and I will die with that belief. That is the way Japan believes in wrestling because everything comes from the soul. That’s your job, that’s your life. It comes from your heart and soul. It’s not just about a paycheck. It’s about doing your job with passion. That’s what is in me, and I hope that is what is in my boys, except in a better way. These are the kids who went to college, they’ve seen the world, but better than me. More than anything, god bless the fans. They’re always there for us, and I cannot thank them enough.
Tweet of the Week
For those keeping track of Rusev’s past two weeks: he lost to Roman Reigns at Hell in a Cell, took a beating from Goldberg, did the job for Sami Zayn, and shaved his muttonchops.