SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling. This edition includes “Broken” Matt Hardy sharing his Total Nonstop Deletion premonitions; Ax and Smash of Demolition discussing The New Day; The Shoot from New Japan’s Bad Luck Fale; the Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff; and Five Questions with Ring of Honor’s Matt Taven.
Seven Premonitions with “Broken” Matt Hardy
“Broken” Matt Hardy is finally ready to unveil Total Nonstop Deletion. The show, which airs this Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on Pop TV, promises to be unlike anything wrestling fans have ever witnessed.
In honor of the Seven Deities, the “Broken One” shared seven premonitions while preparing for tomorrow’s Total Nonstop Deletion.
I.) Hardy’s first premonition: Hardy knew you’d come.
My success all comes down to the fact that the Seven Deities have given me the ability to foresee the future. They often give me very specific events that are going to happen in my potent premonition. I know I can see the future and I know what lies ahead, so I knew that people would grow invested in my “Broken Brilliance.” This was a mission I was sent upon, and it starts with strengthening Impact Wrestling and helping it thrive once again. From there, I can expand to the entire United States, and then I will focus on the United Kingdom and the Brexit issues. I am literally here to save the world.
II.) Hardy’s second premonition: The Young Bucks need to be deleted.
Myself and Brother Nero have been mandated to prove that we are the greatest tag team in all of space and all of time. There are other tag teams in their respective promotions, and that includes the Bucks of Youth in the Honorable Ring, the Day of New on MeekMahan’s Raw, also the Family of Wyatts are champions now. Most people I speak to tell me the Bucks of Youth are the hottest and greatest tag team currently, so obviously myself and Brother Nero must prove to ourselves and the Seven Deities that we can defeat the Bucks of Youth. That is a challenge I have issued, and I did not do it lightly. I invited them to Apocalypto, and if they are restrained by Sinclarity’s shackles, then we’ll have to go to the Honorable Ring and beat them to prove we are the greatest tag team in all of time and all of space.
III.) Hardy’s third premonition: The future, which could include re-signing with TNA or even an appearance on the post-WrestleMania 33 Raw, remains unwritten.
I am committed to be with TNA and I will make them first priority, at least until the end of February. There is interest everywhere else in myself and Brother Nero, but I will say that the dates that have been projected for a match on April 1st with the Bucks of Youth is very hypothetical. That match has not been confirmed in any way, shape, or form. The biggest two parties that want this match to happen—more than ROH and Impact Wrestling—are the Broken Hardys and the Bucks of Youth. We will make the match happen, and it may be on Impact, it may happen on Honorable Ring, and it may happen on the compound. There is no certain game plan going forward, but I am certain this match is going to happen. Then, eventually, one of us is going to have to step back up and win the Impact Wrestling Title of the World. That will be the next mission after we prove we are the best tag team. But in all actuality, where I’ll be come April is still a mystery.
IV.) Fourth premonition: Keeping the “nefarious” Brother Nero away from his primal monkey spot instincts is no easy task.
Brother Nero has a very, very powerful addiction to his spot monkey instincts, and there are certain times where he does relapse. He has done much better lately. At the end of the day, a professional wrestling match is an athletic contest—it’s supposed to be a fight between two men in hand-to-hand combat. That is what I’m looking to get back to. Over the years, a lot of the performers have allowed the wrestling fans to push them into a corner and see what you jump off that is the highest, or how many flips you can do in this move, or what type of fall you can take. That has led to injuries and cutting time off careers, and that is a pandemic in the wrestling business. That’s where I am trying to help. I have a renowned scientist working on a spot monkey antidote right now.
V.) Fifth premonition: In order for wrestling to remain relevant, the business needs to focus on moments in addition to the matches.
As times have changed and people have become more aware of how the industry works, wrestlers have allowed wrestling fans to dictate to them how the product is going to be. Then people would go out and have these amazing matches, but professional wrestling became more about the moves than the moments. I am trying to reverse that effect. I am trying to make professional wrestling more about the moments than the moves, and that should be a win for everyone. Wrestling remains an entertaining spectacle to watch, which allows casual fans to enjoy it even more. If you can combine the elements where you can have a great wrestling match and great storytelling, that—when it is done at its very finest—is what professional wrestling is supposed to represent.
VI.) Sixth premonition: After criticizing King Maxel, Dave Bautista is certain to face… deletion.
Senor Benjamin wanted Bautista to come and be King Maxel’s first opponent for his open challenge. The thing that stuck out to me is that I’ve been an ally of Dave Bautista in the past. I like a lot of the things he’s done, and I think he’s done very well for himself in the movie industry. It seems to me that his comment—about jumping the shark—was a comment he made without watching the product. I can almost guarantee you of that. My “Broken” universe is almost similar to his “Guardians of the Galaxy.” You could say that a tree that is talking and is an interstellar agent, as it was in his Guardians, was jumping the shark. We are performing a different type of entertainment in the “Broken” universe, and he was making that comment out of context in many ways. A lot of people who understood King Maxel’s story and what we’re doing defended us against Bautista. When you understand the scenario, I think it is a very enjoyable story.
VII.) Seventh premonition: Those who watch Total Nonstop Deletion will be satisfied with their decision.
You should make time to watch Total Nonstop… Deletion! It is truly going to be different from any show you have seen in the past. The dome that is behind my house, which we are entitling “The Dome of Deletion,” is going to host the event up until Apocalypto. Then, in the Apocalypto match, the Seven Deities have told me that if Brother Nero and I do not prove we are the greatest tag team in all of space and all of time, which is why we offered an open challenge to all tag teams, then the sacred land of deletion will be destroyed. The Seven Deities require a certain result out of myself and Brother Nero after they have allowed me to foresee the future and have these premonitions. So on that day, in the Dome of Deletion, we’re going to present the most enjoyable, most entertaining wrestling match most people have ever seen. It’s going to simulate a wrestling match wrapped in a movie. I promise this is a match you will want to DVR so you can watch again and again and again and again.
News of the Week
John Cena hosted Saturday Night Live this past weekend, and his appearance on the signature sketch comedy show reaffirmed one very important detail in wrestling and Hollywood.
In case you didn’t already know, John Cena is no Dwayne Johnson.
Cena, who was not even in the “Live from New York” cold open, delivered a stale opening monologue (complete with the customary Cena hat toss), as well as groan-inducing skits as Rob Gronkowski, a Fabio lookalike, and a parody of the Karate Kid.
Cena’s scenes—including “Hook a Hunk” and “Alabama Football”—were progressively worse, saddling Cena with lazy, stereotypical writing for an athlete. Why wasn’t Cena allowed to show off his acting range? Instead, we were treated to a bad spoof of Gronk, and when was Fabio last relevant? The writing was designed as though everyone asked “How do we make this scene work for a muscular guy?” instead of writing for someone looking to expand his acting repertoire.
There was no acting range, no laugh-out-loud scene, and overall, this was a missed opportunity for Cena.
Who is 2016’s “Wrestler of the Year”?
The Week in Wrestling will be revealing our top five wrestlers of 2016 over the next four weeks. Criteria consists of work in the ring, drawing ability, skill on the microphone, and relevance in the business of professional wrestling.
The first selection started his year with a classic at Wrestle Kingdom 10 against Shinsuke Nakamura. Unfortunately, New Japan sent an edited version of the match when it aired on AXS TV, so many fans have still not seen the masterpiece put together between AJ Styles and Nakamura.
Styles debuted in January at the Royal Rumble, and he has exceeded all expectations on the microphone and in the ring. Vince McMahon did not coronate Styles upon his arrival. The 39-year-old, who was the former face of TNA, earned his spot, connecting more with fans than homegrown Shield talents Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose.
Styles started as a face, feuding with Chris Jericho, who defeated Styles at WrestleMania 32. His run finally picked up steam after turning on John Cena, as Styles reunited “The Club” with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. Styles’ “Beat up John Cena!” promos are some of the year’s most memorable on WWE television.
During an interview for SI.com right before the brand split this past summer, Kevin Nash spoke to me and was prescient in his prediction that WWE would split up Styles, Gallows, and Anderson. Nash believed that since WWE did not create “The Club”, which is based off New Japan’s Bullet Club, the powers-that-be wanted to see if the three men could succeed without working together. Although Gallows and Anderson have struggled on Raw, Styles flourished on Smackdown, leading to his current run as WWE champion.
In other news…
• This Sunday is Road Block, which is the final WWE pay per view of 2016. The show is headlined with a main event of Kevin Owens versus Roman Reigns, as well as features a 30-minute Ironman match between Sasha Banks and Charlotte. The show will be entertaining, simply because the roster is so extraordinarily talented, but sheer number of “major” shows means Road Block has had minimal build-up and has even fewer meaningful storylines attached to the show. Count me among those ready for the build to the Royal Rumble.
• Chris Hero is “The King of the Indies”, but he is also rumored to be returning to WWE. Hero spoke with SI.com regarding those rumors: “In wrestling, anything can happen. Believe it when you see it instead of when you hear it. When you hear it, maybe there's some truth to it, maybe there’s not. It's pro wrestling, believe it when you see it. That’s really all I can say.”
• Jerry “The King” Lawler was removed from live television earlier this summer, but promised a spot on the pre-show for the foreseeable future. That has changed, however, as Lawler—along with Amy “Lita” Dumas—have been removed from the preshow to make the show more cost effective. Incredibly, there is no room for Lawler—a fixture of WWE programming, nearly continuously, since 1993—on six hours of live WWE television each week. Yet somehow the viewing audience is subject to David Otunga every week on Smackdown. Lawler is still scheduled to host the Hall of Fame Induction ceremony during WrestleMania 33 weekend, though the company is moving away from “The King.” The only silver lining is that Lawler is destined to reunite on a broadcast—perhaps on AXS TV, possibly on an iPPV—with Jim Ross.
• Bret Hart makes his writing debut for Sports Illustrated this Friday with The Shoot. “The Hitman” was asked to share a memory of his brother Owen for this week’s Week in Wrestling column, and he did not disappoint:
“No matter what was happening in life, my brother Owen was someone who could always brighten your day,” said Hart. “Owen was always in a good mood. He always had something funny or humorous to say. He was genuinely a kind person. Owen cared a lot. You hear about how Luna Vachon and Chyna speak about Owen. He didn’t care if you were the biggest star on the roster, he just wanted to be your friend. He was a shoulder for people to cry on if they needed it, but he kept that away from the public eye. Owen was kind and loving, and he was always there for his friends. Yes, he had impeccable timing with his jokes, but his real gift was his heart. There is a reason he was the ‘King of Harts.’”
• Cody Rhodes is the newest addition to New Japan’s Bullet Club. Personally, I was looking forward to Rhodes’ run as a loner, potentially even facing off against Kenny Omega. Then I watched the Rhodes video teasing his debut at Wrestle Kingdom 11, and I’m looking forward to his debut—he adds an additional layer of credibility to the Bullet Club.
• Vice Sports ran an in-depth feature on the WWE this past week, which revealed that Shane McMahon returned to the WWE in 2012 when he attempted to take creative control of the company. If you believe the rumor and innuendo, Shane McMahon and Paul “Triple H” Levesque do not see eye-to-eye creatively, and the new revelation adds more reason as to why there is a rift between the two.
• On the subject of Triple H, have you ever wondered what happened to his ponytail? If you guessed that it is in a frame on the wall of Vince McMahon’s office, then, you are, incredibly, correct.
• What surprises do the Hardys have in store for Total Nonstop Deletion? Surprises are hard to achieve in the current age of wrestling, but Matt Hardy promised some genuine memorable moments for those watching this Thursday. My money is on some familiar faces from Ring of Honor and even WCW…
• Am I the only one disappointed that the Wyatt Family will be defending their Smackdown tag team titles with the Freebird Rule? The rule allows Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt, and Luke Harper to each defend the titles, similar to the way in which The New Day’s Xavier Woods, Kofi Kingston, and Big E alternate in title matches. Purely in terms of storyline, why would Daniel Bryan ever approve that decision? I would much prefer to see Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt—who are arguably the best tag team in wrestling at the moment—with Luke Harper in their corner, instead of Harper ultimately being the one to take the pinfall when they drop the titles.
• Coming attractions: Stu “Wade Barrett” Bennett will share some bad news and an update on his career next Monday on SI.com.
The Shoot: Bad Luck Fale
Bad Luck Fale is “The UnderBoss”, serving as the protector of the Bullet Club inside the ring and overseeing all the talents from New Japan Pro Wrestling outside of it. The 6’4”, 330-pound native of Tonga is an original Bullet Club member, and he is dedicated to dominating New Japan Pro Wrestling—and helping the company grow on a global scale—in 2017.
In his own words, Fale details his journey in professional wrestling, as well as shares his goals for the upcoming year.
All Me to Introduce Myself
I am the The UnderBoss.
I am the protector of the Bullet Club. The Boss is there to protect and look out for the boys. A lot of the foreign boys don’t understand the Japanese style or the language. So when those situations arise, that’s when The UnderBoss steps in.
You may have heard that Cody Rhodes is joining the Bullet Club.
Cody is in good hands. The Bullet Club is special, and that is directly related to one reason. One word.
Once you’re let in the Bullet Club, you become family for life. That’s what makes us special. The brotherhood with the boys in Bullet Club separates us from everyone else in the world. We look out for each other in and out of the ring.
Fergal Devitt and AJ Styles helped develop the culture of the Bullet Club. Fergal Devitt, or Finn Balor as you know him in WWE, was our first leader. His determination and drive made all of us want to improve and reach for bigger goals. He left a little prematurely, so he wasn’t able to have any significant influence as the Bullet Club arose to a bigger stage.
The moment when AJ Styles, Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, and the Young Bucks joined us was when the Bullet Club elevated to a whole different level. AJ never claimed himself as the leader. He took the front spot, but he made sure everyone succeeded with him.
Kenny Omega now leads the Bullet Club. After January, when a lot of the boys left for the WWE, we did not have a front guy. Naturally, Kenny became the front guy. At the same time, a lot of the other boys weren’t sure what was going on until the G-1. That was when Kenny cemented his spot and made history by becoming the first foreigner to win it. He is the leader of the Bullet Club, and he really stands out as the best in the world.
I pursued a career in pro wrestling for a simple reason: I was told I couldn’t do it. That’s the main reason. I’m the type of person that likes to take on a challenge, and professional wrestling is a great challenge. I was told in middle school and high school that I was wasting my time wrestling and that I’d never amount to anything.
I was born on a small island in the South Pacific called Tonga. I was there until I was six, until my family relocated to Auckland, New Zealand. That’s where I spent my youth and lived there until I graduated from high school. After high school, I moved to Japan to play rugby and get a degree at a Japanese university. Then I began wrestling in Japan, so I’ve been here in Japan for the past sixteen years. In the last five years, I’ve been going back and forth from Japan to New Zealand once a month. In between tours, I’m in New Zealand, and I’m in Japan during tours. Right now, I pretty much live in both countries.
When I decided to pursue wrestling, I had a friend who was a sumo wrestler. He was retiring from sumo and wanted to try out to become a wrestler. All I knew was that I wanted to be a wrestler, and I didn’t care where I started. All I really knew about was WWE—I didn’t know about New Japan Pro Wrestling brand. Being ignorant, I figured everything in wrestling was the same as WWE. So I joined my friend for the try-out, except he backed out and never showed up. I tried out without him, and they called me back a few days later. They said I was the only one who made it out of that class. A couple days after that, I saw in a Japanese newspaper a story read, ‘Professional rugby player signs with New Japan Pro Wrestling,’ but I still didn’t know a lot about New Japan. My phone didn’t stop ringing for days—my friends in Japan were in awe of the fact that I was going to work for New Japan. That’s when I began to learn how big this sport is in Japan.
As a child, I watched the old school guys. Hulk Hogan. Ultimate Warrior. All the big names. But the two guys who stood out for me were King Haku and the Barbarian. Back then, they were the first Tongans to be world famous. Naturally, they were big role models to all of us young Tongan kids. That goes back to why I pursued this career—they were the first guys I saw compete on the world’s stage, and that’s what I wanted to do and that was who I wanted to be. Going back to when I started training, the biggest influences on my career were Shinsuke Nakamura, Manabu Nakanishi, and Yuji Nagata. I would train with these guys every day, and I learned how to wrestle, how to grapple, and all those guys had a big influence on teaching me in the first stage.
Learning the Japanese strong style is not easy, and a big part of why I am successful in portraying the UnderBoss character is because of Matt Bloom. He taught me how to be a big man. Work as a big man. I never fully understood until I worked with Matt, who was my size, and he completely changed my work in the ring. Matt helped transform me from a young boy in the ring to The UnderBoss.
I was a fan of WWE as a kid. When I came to New Japan, I realized there is a big difference between the two. New Japan is more physical, it’s more athletic, and this product is a whole different story. The reason New Japan is called “strong style” is because it’s so realistic. A lot of WWE fans haven’t seen our product, but once they do, they’ll see the difference and fall in love with this more physical, hardcore style.
Sometimes I’m asked if I would ever wrestle for WWE. That was my dream at the beginning, but that dream has faded away since I found New Japan Pro Wrestling. But… never say never. Maybe one day, but I’m having too much fun kicking ass in New Japan. I have a lot of other goals, too.
I was IWGP Intercontinental champion and have defeated Kazuchika Okada. But my goals are even bigger for 2017.
My goal is the same as always—to be the top guy in New Japan. I always want to challenge the top guys, I always want to beat the top guys. That goal will never change. I also have some new goals. I did a show in New Zealand this year, and one of my biggest goals for 2017 is to bring New Japan to Australia, the Pacific Islands, Hawaii, and, of course, New Zealand. I want to expand the company, and that’s a big part of my goal for next year.
My goal is to become like Triple H. That’s what I want for The UnderBoss. I want to be the top guy who runs the show. I want to be part of the big picture, and more than just a top guy as a wrestler. When I think about WWE, I think of guys who would succeed in New Japan.
I really liked Wade Barrett. I really liked the way he portrayed the “Bad News” Barrett. That personality really suited The UnderBoss. He would have made a great Bullet Club member. “Bad News” Barrett and Bad Luck Fale could have made IWGP tag team champions, and, if I were ever given the chance, I’d also love to face him in the ring.
New Japan is very different from what you see in America with WWE. There is a lot more action and less talk. It’s very different. More wrestling, more athleticism. Once fans see it for the first time, I guarantee they’ll come back for more.
I am fighting in a gauntlet match for the NEVER Openweight 6-man tag team championship with the Bullet Club at Wrestle Kingdom 11. To me, being part of Wrestle Kingdom is an honor. I’ve been lucky to be part of it the past couple years, and this year I’ll get to wrestle against guys like Will Ospreay and Ricochet at The Dome. Whenever I’m in the ring, I am going to kick ass and I can promise you an entertaining match. It won’t be “sports entertainment,” but you could call it a sport—or an ass-kicking—that will be entertaining.
The emotion and atmosphere at Wrestle Kingdom is very hard to explain. It’s electrifying. It’s a different feel. When I played rugby, there were fifteen guys on the field. No matter how many times I’d played, I still felt nervous every time I stepped on the field. A singles match at Wrestle Kingdom is like you’re in a dream. Walking down to the ring in front of thousands of people, with all their eyes on you, is just an amazing feeling. I’m looking forward to the next one.
Don’t let my appearance deceive. Yes, I’m 6’4” and 330 pounds, but I’ve got speed and stamina. That size and speed make The UnderBoss devastating in the ring. I credit a lot of it to my rugby background, my boxing training, kickboxing training, and grappling training—those have really helped me succeed. A lot of people mistakenly see The UnderBoss as this big, slow guy, but I can go the distance. And that’s what makes me so devastating.
You’ll be seeing a lot more of The UnderBoss in 2017.
Demolition and a New Day in Tag Team Wrestling
Demolition’s Ax and Smash hold the longest-ever reign as WWE tag team champions at a record 478 days. That mark will be surpassed this Friday by The New Day, and they will be introduced on Sunday at Road Block as the longest-ever reigning tag team champions. Ax and Smash connected with SI.com to discuss The New Day, their own title run, and whether their concussion lawsuit against WWE has left them on uneasy ground with WWE and Vince McMahon.
Ax and Smash know exactly what they would do if they shared a ring with The New Day.
“We’d take all three of ‘em on!” shouted Ax.
Smash, of course, shared his partner’s enthusiasm to go to battle in the ring.
“We’d still get in the ring with New Day,” said Smash, laughing. “We’d win, even right now.”
For multiple different reasons, Demolition will not be entering a WWE ring any time soon. Ax and Smash—also known as Bill Eadie, 68, and Barry Darsow, 57—have held the longest reign as any WWE tag team championship run since 1989, yet their record of 478 days is set to be surpassed this Friday by The New Day.
In this running discussion—call it oral history, Demolition style—Ax and Smash discuss their own origin, The New Day breaking their longest ever reign as WWE tag team champions, as well as why they have been left out of the WWE Hall of Fame, and whether that is due to their ongoing lawsuit against the company.
Ax and Smash discussed whether they hold a grudge against The New Day for breaking their record:
Smash: I just watched 61*, the movie about Roger Maris beating Babe Ruth’s homerun record. I’ve heard New Day are good guys, and I hope they continue to do great.
Ax: Someone eventually had to beat the record. That’s what records are for – I’m happy for New Day. They are an exciting young team.
Both Ax and Smash are part of a concussion lawsuit against WWE. They were asked if legal matters have led to WWE looking to replace their long-standing record, or if that lawsuit is preventing their entrance into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Ax: I have no idea if that’s the case [with the lawsuit]. We have no communication with them, and we haven’t communicated with them. We have no control over the Hall of Fame. We get asked that a lot, and told that we should be there. If it was based on careers, we should be there. Whether we get asked or not, we don’t know.
Smash: It would be a real honor to be in the Hall of Fame, but there are a lot of guys who should be in but aren’t. It would be a big thing, but who knows, we may never. There may be some heat there.
Ax: We haven’t spoken with anyone in the office for years. They realize we’re not going to be the ones to make the first call.
Smash: When Bill and I broke into the business, this was our whole life. We’ve had different gimmicks throughout our careers, and wrestling has been such a big part of our life. So it feels like [WWE] doesn’t care about what we’ve done our whole life. It was our whole life. When was the last time you got a phone call?
Ax: I haven’t.
Smash: Howard Finkel called us one day and said we’re going to be in a video game, but there was no video game. Wrestling was our whole life, and we’re still here at shows now because we love it so much. We want to see the next generation flourish.
Ax: We were on the road for years eating ham and cheese sandwiches on Thanksgiving. We worked all the holidays, so I’d celebrate Thanksgiving with my family the day before. The company would shut down from December 18 to December 24, and our travel day was Christmas Day, so we’d celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve.
Smash: Thank god we have life outside the wrestling business. Our families are the most important things in our lives. We gave so much of our lives to this business and we’d still like to be involved, so we stay involved in our own way and have a lot of fun.
Ax: We’re not bitter, and we understand this is part of sports. You can’t be a 45-year-old running back. We have no control over the Hall of Fame. I wish we could, or that we could give the fans an accurate answer, but we can’t.
Smash: The fans tell us we should be in the Hall of Fame, and that means a lot. People have asked me about the Bushwhackers, but personally, I don’t mind that the Bushwhackers are in.
Ax: The British Bulldogs and Rick Rude should be in the Hall of Fame too. I understand how it works. They have their focus on making money now. Back when we were there, they had their focus on making money then. When the guys on top leave ten years from now, they’ll have their eyes, again, on making money at that particular moment.
Smash: It’s a tough business. You’re on your own.
Ax: They don’t owe us anything. We don’t owe them anything. It’s a business.
Demolition originally formed in January of 1987 with Bill Eadie—who was a major star in Japan—as Ax and Randy Colley, who was a WWE tag team champion with the Moondogs as Moondog Rex. The pairing did not last long, and Barry Darsow replaced Colley in February of ’87.
Ax: Randy was too recognizable. He was already a world tag team champion with the Moondogs, and we needed someone new. I’d worn a mask for so much of my career, so fans had no reference point for me, and we wanted to be fresh. But as soon as Randy and I walked out of the dressing room, all you could hear was people chant, “Moondog! Moondog!”
Smash: Vince McMahon asked me if I’d mind tagging up with Bill Eadie.
Ax: I knew the gimmick was going to work, but it wasn’t going to work with Randy. I told Randy on our second day together as Ax and Smash that it just wasn’t going to work. He knew it, and he was gracious enough to step aside with a promise from the office that they would use him.
Smash: Bill’s credentials in wrestling were phenomenal. Of course I wanted to tag with him. At that time, I was one of the youngest guys in the WWF at 25 years old, so hooking up with Bill – who was an established guy – gave me credibility with Jimmy Snuka, Don Muraco, and Hulk Hogan. When I walked into the dressing room with Bill, it was instant credibility for me. It just kind of rubbed off. I’d wrestled in Mid-Atlantic and established myself with Crockett, so I felt pretty comfortable working with Bill, even though I was nervous and humble seeing the faces in the WWF locker room.
Ax: I was considering going back to Japan, but Vince and I chose Barry. We’d met in Charlotte and I could tell he was an honest guy and wasn’t going to BS me. He liked to work out, he liked to eat, and he liked to stay in nice hotels – we ate good, we traveled good, and we had good matches. He’s not the type of guy looking to put himself over – he was team first, and we reaped the benefits from that. We never knew how big we’d be, and it’s rather humbling.
Smash: I still really do look forward to seeing Bill on the road when we work conventions or sign autographs.
Ax: We’ve been together so long that Demolition is part of us.
Demolition was an integral part of the World Wrestling Federation’s success in the late 1980s, and the pair worked as the most popular babyfaces as well as the most hated heels. The three-time tag champs appeared in a Pizza Hut commercial, creating lasting memories for wrestling fans, and are grateful to be remembered as one of the greatest tag teams of all time.
Ax: I teach Special Ed, working with juvenile offenders in Georgia. They tell me I’m too old to have ever wrestled, until they look it up on the internet.
Smash: I run a print company in Minnesota. We print on safety equipment, and it’s a heck of a business.
Ax: When we travel now to shows—we don’t get involved physically, we’re really just making appearances—but it’s fun. We get to see some good talent, and those are the future stars. For us to have an imprint on someone’s life, that’s so humbling. It’s always nice to have people remember you.
The Nitro Files: Hulk, Hall, and Nash
The Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff will delve into a moment from WCW’s Monday Nitro era. Bischoff—who was the 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.”
Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall will forever remain synonymous with the New World Order.
“Those three have a bond and they stand by each other,” said Bischoff. “I can tell you—and I lived it, and aged a decade or two as a result of it—the initial chemistry between Hulk and Scott and Kevin was anything but comfortable.”
In the beginning, they were not always eager to work together.
“There was a lot of mystery to the NWO, and that’s one of the reasons it worked so well,” said Bischoff. “I can vividly remember an evening in Casper, Wyoming, during a live Nitro where there was a debate over finishes. One of those individuals was standing there with a baseball bat, another one had his hand in his pocket holding a switchblade—which I knew was going to be there because he told me he was going to bring it to the meeting—and the other guy didn’t care if someone came at him with a bat or a knife. I was standing in the middle of it trying to discuss a finish. It wasn’t always harmony, but age, success, and experience often lead to wisdom.”
Hearing a wrestling veteran criticize his peers is nothing out of the ordinary, but Hogan, Hall, and Nash are very supportive—even defensive—of each other in interviews, especially in support of Hogan after his dismissal from WWE.
“The great thing about getting over is the wisdom behind it. As Scott, Hulk, and Kevin reflect back, they can appreciate more now than they did when they were working together. Part of their bond is knowing they are going to resonate together for a very long time.”
The early uneasiness between Hogan, Hall, and Nash is simply the nature of the business of professional wrestling, though, Bischoff said.
“Scott and Kevin were trying to get themselves over, Hulk was trying to keep himself over,” explained Bischoff. “Those were the instincts. They weren’t bad people or selfish, but that was the way they were trained, from the moment they broke into the business: get yourself over and don’t depend on or trust anybody else. That was the culture of the wrestling business: everybody is out for themselves.
“When you put three people together like Scott, Kevin, and Hulk—especially at that time—who all had very high credentials and were all high-profile players and were all looking out for themselves, trust me—it was anything but harmonious. What occurred over a period of time of trials, tribulations, and disagreements was a mutual respect and a bond.”
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Something to Wrestle with Conrad Thompson
Conrad Thompson and Bruce Prichard are looking forward to exploring every angle of the 1997 Royal Rumble this Friday on the “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” podcast, but Thompson is also busy putting together his holiday wish list.
“I would really like to find a way to fit in a rapid fire format,” said Thompson. “I’ve done that with Ric [Flair] in the past, which we called #asknatch, and I’d like to get a #lovetoknow concept going somewhere during the holidays where fans could ask us quick hits, because Bruce is a smorgasbord of information.”
As WWE approaches the twenty-year anniversary of the ’97 Rumble in the San Antonio Alamodome, which is where the event will be held in 2017, Thompson cannot wait to sink his teeth into the pay per view.
“I heard an old Jim Cornette quote in one of the Kayfabe Commentaries shoots, where Cornette said, ‘Instead of having a show that needed a dome, we had a dome that needed a show.’ Vince McMahon’s thought process of booking a show in a dome when the business was down will be explored, and there are a lot of Hall of Famers in the match. The Rock is in there, Steve Austin, Terry Funk, Mankind, Bret Hart, and the famous finish to set up the Fatal Fourway in February. I’m curious of the behind-the-scenes mentality from Bruce, the booking standpoint, and how all of that evolved. This was also the time when Shawn Michaels was becoming very difficult to deal with and he wasn’t feeling well on this show, so there is lots of interesting stuff that surrounds the ’97 Royal Rumble.”
Five Questions with… Matt Taven
Matt Taven is the leader of The Kingdom, who are the first-ever Ring of Honor six-man tag team champions. The former employee of the New England Patriots tore his ACL in December of 2015, and spent the majority of this year rehabilitating to return stronger than ever. Former Kingdom partner Mike Bennett left Ring of Honor for TNA last January, and Taven has now reformed The Kingdom with TK O’Ryan and Vinny Marseglia, and the trio is putting all of Ring of Honor on notice.
SI.com: You returned to Ring of Honor pay per view on Friday, December 2 at Final Battle. This marked the one-year anniversary of the show when you tore your anterior cruciate ligament and medial meniscus and ruptured your lateral meniscus. Was the injury on your mind when competed at this year’s Final Battle?
Taven: Without a doubt, absolutely. I couldn’t get that off my mind. I freaked myself out all week, thinking, ‘What if I get hurt again? What if I injure my other knee?’ I saw [Chris] Sabin blow both knees out, but I was trying all day to get those thoughts out of my head. I didn’t even want to put those vibes out there in the universe. Last year, everything in my life changed. Now, putting that brace on before the match at Final Battle, it was just like, ‘S---, this is who I am now.’ It’s like I have a bionic leg, but I’m just on Cloud Nine to be back out there.
SI.com: Storytelling in the ring is a critical aspect of your profession. Despite a brace on your knee and nine months removed from active competition, you are clearly already working a high level. How did you enhance your ability to tell a story while you were injured, and how integral was your best friend and former Kingdom partner, TNA’s Mike Bennett, in that process?
Taven: Mike Bennett and I were on such a roll last year that I really think my game was at an entirely different level. After I hurt my knee, all I could—literally, all I could do—was sit at home and analyze everything that I do. I picked everything apart for nine months, so I hope that shows when I’m out there now. Me and Bennett are friends and we have a wrestling school together, and we’re always shooting ideas off one another and brainstorming. Not to expose the curtain too much, but I’ve got a close group of friends all over the place, from Eddie Edwards to Roddy [Roderick Strong], and I just try to pick their brain, too. I’ve been pushing myself to be the best I can when I returned.
It was super strange coming back to work, coming back to wrestle, without Mike Bennett. We’ve been through so much, and I was a little choked up after he texted me a congratulatory text after Final Battle. I’m just so thankful to be back. He helped me train and recover, and then when it was time to return to Ring of Honor, it was like, ‘See ya later,’ which was hard, but you never know—we could team up together again someday.
SI.com: Your match at Final Battle marked the finals of Ring of Honor’s inaugural six-man tag team tournament. You reformed The Kingdom with Vinny Marseglia and TK O’Ryan, and you defeated Jay White, KUSHIDA, and Lio Rush to become the first-ever champions. Why should people believe in The Kingdom?
Taven: TK and Vinny are stars. If you can’t see that, you obviously don’t know wrestling. Vinny, TK, and I have worked our asses off to be here. It’s actually great if you’re not familiar with them, because you’re going to love getting to know them. They are the future of Ring of Honor and the future of wrestling, and I’m so glad to have them in The Kingdom. I’ve known Vinny since we started training with Spike Dudley, and TK trained in the same school we did. I went from traveling the world with Mike Bennett, who is my best friend, to traveling again with my two other best friends. They are so hyped up to be here, and they’re my crew. The three of us together are magic.
SI.com: For those who are in need of a reminder, how do you describe The Kingdom?
Taven: The Kingdom does whatever we want, and we live by that motto. If people criticize, I could care less. I just fought back from a knee injury and nine months of rehab. If you don’t like me, you can kiss my ass.
Six-man wrestling is a lost art form. I watched those NWA matches as a kid, and I went to CMLL in Mexico not too long ago, where the trios matches are unreal. New Japan has the NEVER Openweight six-man titles, so it’s great to see how the six-man titles are represented around the world, and we’re looking forward to wearing these titles and showing people in the states that our championship is meaningful. The Kingdom is going to introduce people to a whole new meaning of six-man wrestling, and we’re going to take them around the world. Maybe even Mike Bennett will join us. That bond will always be there, so never say never. There’s always four seats in the car.
SI.com: As a proud New Englander and former employee of the Patriots, which NFL player reminds you most of yourself?
Taven: I am the Tom Brady of Ring of Honor. He is the Lord and Savior of the NFL, and he finds a way to win. The Kingdom also does whatever we need to succeed.
I can’t stop smiling now that I’m wrestling again. Life throws you curveballs sometimes, but I wasn’t going to quit or come back at half of what I was before. I was determined to do what I do best, and that’s to be on top of my game and let everyone know it. Everyone at Ring of Honor needs to take notice. I don’t care who or what you throw at me. I’m doing me, I’ve got my crew behind me, and I don’t see anyone beating us.
Tweet of the Week
My wish list for 2017 includes a Wyatt-Hardy feud in the WWE.