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 Rey Mysterio discussing Lucha Underground and a potential return to WWE; Marty Scurll putting the wrestling world on notice; The Shoot from New Japan’s Juice Robinson; the Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff; and Five Questions with Billy Gunn.
Rey Mysterio on Lucha Underground, WWE, and the top three wrestlers in the business
Rey Mysterio is a former three-time WWE world champion,and currently serves as the signature star of Lucha Underground. In an interview with SI.com, Mysterio names the best wrestler currently active in the WWE, whether he will ever return to WWE, and his goals with Lucha Underground.
Rey Mysterio hasn’t actively competed in the WWE since April 2014, but the 13-year WWE veteran knows the roster well enough to share who he believes is the most talented wrestler in the company.
“Randy Orton is, in my eyes and in my heart, the best wrestler in that company,” said Mysterio. “I’m not talking about high flying, I’m not taking about the fast-paced acrobatic style. To me, he’s the best in WWE right now. I don’t think there is ever going to be a guy that works the style he does. The way he carries himself in the ring means a lot to me. Randy has a great presence and style that can’t be compared to anyone, and nobody can imitate his style.”
Mysterio’s son, Dominick, is ready to train to become a pro wrestler, and the father has instructed his son to watch as much film as possible on Orton.
“I actually use Randy Orton as an example to my son because he wants to start training in January,” said Mysterio, whose son was involved in WWE storylines in 2005. “My son is a big kid—he’s 6’1”, 205—and I insist that he must watch and learn from Randy’s style. Not to imitate, but just to learn from what he has done over the years and see his evolution into who he is now. I have tremendous respect for that man. He’s an awesome human being, and he’s a general in the ring.”
The 42-year-old Mysterio is enjoying his run as the face of Lucha Underground. As evident by a recent “Loser Leaves Town” battle with Chavo Guerrero, which Mysterio won, the innovator of the 619 can still deliver a compelling wrestling match.
“Lucha Underground is a completely different atmosphere compared to what I was accustomed to for the last 14 years from schedule to staff to talent,” said Mysterio. “Some wrestlers will tell you that wrestling is wrestling, but, for me, it’s always exciting to get to step into the ring with different opponents. I learn from each match that I have, especially when it’s a different opponent. That’s something I’ve picked up over the past year-and-a-half at Lucha Underground. I’ve been able to wrestle with a different caliber of wrestlers like Pentagon, King Cuerno, Matanza, the signature match at the end of Season 2 with Mil Muertes, Marty the Moth, and it’s just a variety of talent that has kept me up on my toes because the competition is big.”
Mysterio also believes that the future of the business is Ricochet, who wrestles for Lucha Underground as Prince Puma.
“Prince Puma is the crispest dude in that ring,” said Mysterio. “I truly believe that he’s the future of this sport. I know there is a lot of talent out there that is incredible, and maybe I haven’t seen some yet or I’m not aware of others, but after sharing a corner in the ring with Prince Puma—then sharing an opposite corner with him—I believe that he is the best wrestler out there right now. That’s because his talent is just amazing—the precise moments, the way he executes each and every move, the timing, and the way he carries himself in the ring is just incredible.”
There is no regret for Mysterio, who first rose to fame in WCW’s cruiserweight division 20 years ago in 1996, over his decision to exit WWE.
“Leaving WWE happened at the right time,” said WWE. “My contract was coming up, I truly felt burnt out, and I saw my kids had grown up almost in the blink of an eye. It was like they were babies and I was taking them to school, and, all of a sudden, my son was in his last year of high school. Time just flew. I didn’t realize because I was so caught up in what I was doing, and that was traveling so much and being away from home. I was gone four days a week, and it ate me up. I’m a father and I provided for my family, but I could only enjoy so much of that when I was always on the road. I’m not about the money, I’m about being around my wife and my children, and I’m enjoying that to the fullest right now.”
As for an inevitable return to WWE, Mysterio offered his tried and true—yet genuine—reply.
“You never say never,” said Mysterio, “but I am very, very comfortable in the position I’m in with Lucha Underground. I love their schedule, I love their style, I love what they have to offer. I don’t think there will ever be another company that has what Lucha Underground has. It’s very unique, exciting, and fresh—this is really something new.”
In one of wrestling’s greatest anomalies, Triple H and Rey Mysterio worked with each other in WWE for 13 years yet, incredibly, never worked a singles match together.
“That is crazy,” remarked Mysterio. “The fact that we were able to start up a Royal Rumble and be part of the last three in that ring is very similar to having had a match with him, but he always told me, face to face, ‘Rey, I can’t wait for the time we work together.’ That never happened, but I would imagine that he had a good spirit about wanting to work with me, and vice-versa.”
As for Mysterio’s top three opponents of all time, he bent the rules to include wrestling legend Eddie Guerrero.
“My top three, without a doubt, include Eddie, but I need to pick one from each company, so it’s more like a top four,” explained Mysterio. “Psicosis with AAA, Dean Malenko with WCW, and it’s between Kurt Angle and Randy Orton with WWE.”
Similar to Orton, Mysterio hears voices in his head—and they are all from his wrestling past—when he plans out or wrestles in his matches.
“I don’t block anything out,” said Mysterio. “What I do pick up is a lot of the voices of the people I shared the ring with. My communication with Eddie Guerrero was very precise and very on-point. I can recall listening to Eddie’s voice in my head on many different occasions when something is not going the way it should in the ring. Another person who helped me get started to who I was potentially going to become, without me even knowing it, is the owner of AAA, Antonio Peña. He gave me so much guidance in-between my first couple matches, and I still hear his voice in my head. When I hear Vince McMahon, I hear his laugh—his deep, deep laughs.”
Mysterio is already looking toward 2017, and his goal is to tour with Lucha Underground.
“I truly can’t wait for Lucha Underground to start touring and conquering some of those cities that have been asking for the Lucha Underground product,” said Mysterio. “There is so much to come with this company. We’ve barely got going and it’s already a big hit. I’m really looking forward to the evolution of Lucha Underground. We’re going to bring a lot of excitement to those fans who want this product live in their hometown, and hopefully I can be part of that. I’m really hoping to grow with Lucha Underground.”
News of the Week
Road Block served as the 15th and final WWE pay per view of the calendar year. The proliferation of marquee shows only highlights the caliber of talent of the wrestlers in WWE.
Charlotte Flair excelled in her overtime Iron Woman victory over Sasha Banks, new tag team champions in Sheamus and Cesaro were crowned, and—despite an overabundance of false finishes and a DQ finish—Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns delivered some incredible spots in the main event.
Yet the show served as a holding pattern as WWE began its major build to January’s Royal Rumble.
The Rumble will feature all of the heavy hitters in Brock Lesnar, Bill Goldberg, AJ Styles and John Cena, as well as Kevin Owens, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. The wrestling cycle is nonstop, and, at times, repetitive through a calendar year—but the months of January through April are its peak.
Let the road to WrestleMania 33 begin.
The Week in Wrestling is in the process of revealing its top five wrestlers of 2016. Criteria consists of work in the ring, drawing ability, skill on the microphone and relevance in the business of professional wrestling. In addition to AJ Styles, another wrestler who has continued to make an impact all year is Matt Hardy. He began the year as “Big Money” Matt and solidified himself as a world title contender. He ends 2016 as “Broken” Matt Hardy.
Last week’s “Total Nonstop Deletion” was a Hardy-infused creation. The two-hour show was unique, creative and delivered pro wrestling in a completely different lens than the WWE offers. Although some viewers were disappointed that the Young Bucks did not appear, Hardy created a show based on moments instead of spots.
Now begins Hardy’s quest to regain Eddie Edwards’ TNA championship, or, perhaps, return home to WWE. What if Matt stays with TNA and Jeff Hardy returns to WWE? I believe the Hardys will come to a decision together, and the first few months of 2017 will provide a clearer indication of what to expect for the “Broken” Hardys.
In other news…
— I connected earlier this year for a story with New Japan’s Kenny Omega, and his passion for video games injected itself often into our discussion. With both Christmas and Hanukkah mere days away, Omega touched on his favorite video game, which was one found in many presents over the years:
“Street Fighter is my game,” said Omega. “I grew up with it, and it’s tethered to my youth. My character right now is R. Mika, who is coincidentally a pro wrestler. If I played Xavier [Woods] in a first to three, I’d win three-zero. In a first of five, I’d win five-zero. In a first of 10, 10-zero. Do you see where I’m going?”
— WWE announced its plan to produce original programming out of England with the WWE United Kingdom Championship Tournament, which will be a 16-man tournament broadcast live on the WWE Network Jan. 14 and 15. Paul “Triple H” Levesque made the announcement recently in London:
“The success of NXT and the cruiserweights brings us to why we’re here today,” said Levesque. “It’s the next chapter of our talent development and content strategy. One of the great things about the WWE Network is our ability to further engage our fans around the world with localized content. We spent the better part of a year working right here [in the United Kingdom] with brands such as Progress, RevPro, ICW, and OTT in Ireland. We spent that time to identify and cultivate the best talent in the U.K. and Ireland, and we’re excited to announce that we will crown, for the first time ever, a WWE United Kingdom champion.”
— Wouldn’t The New Day dropping the tag team titles at WrestleMania 33 have made for a more compelling moment than losing to Sheamus and Cesaro in the opening match of December’s Road Block? A match with Enzo and Cass at 'Mania with the titles and their record on the line would have been memorable.
— Brock Lesnar reached a settlement with the Nevada State Athletic Commission this past week, agreeing to a one-year suspension and $250,000 fine as a penalty for a drug test failure from his July 9 UFC fight against Mark Hunt. Lesnar’s victory over Hunt has officially been overturned to a no contest, but he will be free to return to mixed martial arts on July 10, 2017. Lesnar and UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic is still the money matchup for the UFC, and would be a perfect fit for next summer.
— AJ Styles’s reign as WWE champion has reached 101 days, surpassing Chris Jericho’s 98-day run and making him 29th all-time for combined days as champion. You’ll notice that Styles is now referred to as solely WWE champion, as both ‘world champion’ and ‘world heavyweight champion’ have been dropped from the company’s lexicon.
— Five years ago, in NXT-precursor FCW, then-WWE champion CM Punk made an appearance to wrestle the up-and-coming Dean Ambrose. After the match, Punk challenged Ambrose to do the same for another talent in five years. Has Ambrose lived up to his end of the deal?
— CM Punk facetiously remarked on Twitter last week that he will be back on Smackdown to interfere during John Cena’s return on Dec. 27, which takes place in Chicago.
— On the subject of a possible Punk return, his good friend Chris Hero remarked that it is unlikely Punk will re-emerge in 2017, though that possibility still exists for Punk to appear in New Japan before Wrestle Kingdom 12 in 2018:
“I can’t picture him wrestling right now,” said Hero. “It’s not out of the question, but I don’t think that’s in the question right now. It’s very cool to see the platform he’s created for himself over the years and what he’s been able to do with it.”
— One final Punk-related post: just to tie together all of the connective tissue, here is CM Punk and Seth Rollins vs. Cesaro and Kassius Ohno (Chris Hero) from NXT on Oct. 17, 2012 with Jim Ross, William Regal and Byron Saxton on commentary:
— Coming attractions: the Week in Wrestling will have a special end-of-the-year column next week, reviewing the top stories in wrestling with The Young Bucks, Jim Ross, and Jim Cornette.
Wrestler of the Year: Marty Scurll
The WWE made news this past week by announcing it will be traveling to England and crowning a United Kingdom champion, but Marty Scurll has other plans. The talented Brit has arrived in the United States to conquer Ring of Honor and, eventually, WWE.
“Right now, I’m very much concentrated on conquering Ring of Honor piece by piece,” said Scurll. “The WWE has the largest amount of eyes on it and is the biggest wrestling company in the world. It would be a huge honor for myself to work there, but am I going to be given the same ‘Villain’ mic time? I’ve got a story to tell. Would I get that chance there? I don’t know. Yes, it would lead to more eyes, but will it be the character I want to get out there?
“I already started in Ring of Honor by winning the TV title on my very first weekend. That’s unheard of —Will Ospreay did it, too, but it doesn’t count because he lost it in his very first title defense. I won the TV title, I’ll win the tag team titles, and I’ll win the world heavyweight title in Ring of Honor.”
Sports Illustrated is naming its top five wrestlers of the year for 2016, and the third selection is “The Villain” Marty Scurll.
Scurll, the current Ring of Honor Television champion, enjoyed a remarkable year. He claimed the Television title by defeating Will Ospreay just three days after his ROH debut, as well as won the prestigious Pro Wrestling Guerrilla “Battle of Los Angles”—better known as the PWG BOLA—this past September. For those interested in learning more about the 27-year-old, umbrella-touting man who calls himself “The Villain,” Scurll has plenty to share.
“Wrestling has been built, for many, many years, as the good guy versus the bad,” said Scurll. “That’s how wrestling has worked forever. But I am ‘The Villain,’ and I am not defined by whether you like me or don’t like me. I’m a man obsessed with cheating, a man who doesn’t mind cutting corners, I’m a man who will do anything it takes to win the match. I am sick—people chant ‘Sick!’ at me. I am malicious, I am vindictive—that’s just the way I am. I spent my whole life getting knocked back, getting treated like crap, and now everyone wonders why I’m an a--hole. What you see is what you get. Do I have a chip on my shoulder? Absolutely. I’m here to prove to everyone that I’m the best wrestler in the world and that I can revolutionize this business. So when you look at ‘The Villain,’ that’s who I am and what you see is what you get.”
Every villain needs a great protagonist, but Scurll refuses to believe he is in the shadow of fellow British sensation Will Ospreay.
“End of the day, mate, Will Ospreay is a little troll that lives on rat water,” said Scurl. “When I say rat water, I mean these people. I’m not defined by if the people like me or not, I’m not fussed by that. That’s why my style is not flashy. I’ll grab a finger, I’ll grab an eye, I’ll grab a chicken wing. That’s what I do. I don’t have to jump and flip to the floor – that’s Will Ospreay. He might think like he’s some kind of British superman, but I’m telling you right now, I’m his friggin’ kryptonite.
“I beat Will Ospreay at the start of the year at High Stakes Revolution Pro Wrestling in a half hour match that everyone still talks about. I beat Will a week later to become the Progress champion. I beat Will at WrestleCon in Texas to make the Progress title a world title. I beat Will in the PWG Los Angeles final. Will won the TV title in Ring of Honor, and in his first defense, he lost it to me. So if anyone thinks I’m in Will’s shadow, then they’ve got another thing coming. The ironic thing is that Will is supposed to be the protagonist in this feud, and he comes across as a lovely guy – but the truth is, I know, deep down, he’s a really arrogant to----. The fact is that me and Ospreay might be paired with each other, but the results don’t lie – ‘The Villain’ always comes out on top.”
Despite only standing 5’7” in a world designed for giants, Scurll’s uniqueness in the ring and on the microphone allows him to stand out.
“I’m not here to play by the rules,” explained Scurll. “‘All wrestlers should be massive’ and all of the other rules. I became ‘The Villain’ because I knew I wasn’t supposed to do certain things, but I did them anyway. I know that’s not conventional, but I know, given the chance, I can be the best wrestler in the world. But I didn’t want to wait for that chance, I just went out and took it. People wanted to see bodybuilders prance around in their tights in the 1980s and pose down, but the business has changed. If you want to see a bodybuilder, go to the gym or pick up Fitness and Health Magazine. I don’t care how big you are, ‘The Villain’ will track you down, and I’ve been doing that my entire life.”
Scurll’s style has drawn comparisons to Daniel Bryan.
“‘The Villain’ thinks outside the box,” said Scurll. “I don’t care about having five star matches, I don’t care about pleasing the crowd. I’m far beyond this little wrestling audience. My aspirations and dreams in this business go much further than any of that. For example, I want to be the first professional wrestler ever to be knighted by the queen. That’s one of my goals, and I absolutely will achieve it. Everything so far I’ve wanted to achieve, I’ve done it.
“I’m two-time Progress champion this year – I took that belt and took it around the world. The PWG Battle of Los Angeles offered the 24 best independent wrestlers in the world, including guys from Japan, Mexico, Canada, and guys from WWE who quit the business to come do that tournament – and I won. I now find myself in Ring of Honor. Wherever ‘The Villain’ goes, business goes up. I am the U.K.’s biggest star, and I’ll soon be the biggest star in the whole world.
Scurll is proud to stand alone – he is not part of any faction, nor does he have any intention of joining one – but he has found inspiration from Bryan, which is one of the reasons he wanted to wrestle in Ring of Honor.
“‘The Villain’ doesn’t really have any heroes, as such, but as someone I looked up to more than anyone else and was influenced by, it was the ‘American Dragon’ Bryan Danielson,” said Scurll, who has an opt-out clause in six months with ROH if he chooses to explore WWE. “Daniel Bryan is the reason I wanted to come to Ring of Honor. I watched all those years and saw his body of work in Ring of Honor, and it appealed to me so much. I was just in awe of his work. For me, he’s the best wrestler of all time. I wanted to follow in his first footsteps in order for me to become the best wrestler in the world and the best wrestler of all time. People might laugh at that, but I believe I can do it, and that’s why I’ve come to Ring of Honor. I’d love to follow in Bryan Danielson’s footsteps in Ring of Honor and go even further, then get knighted by the queen, which I shall do.”
The Villain’s hit list includes Jay Lethal, the Young Bucks, and even ROH world champion Kyle O’Reilly.
“I’m all up for a challenge,” said Scurll. “That’s what I thrive on. I love wrestling – I love kicking the crap out of people, and I love getting the crap kicked out of me. I know that sounds weird, but I’m sick and I’m sadistic. I’ve come to Ring of Honor because it is the collection of the best wrestlers in the world. I grew up in a tiny little village in Cambridgeshire, England. I fought all the kids around me, I got expelled from school. I’ve fought my whole life, so I don’t care if it’s Jay Lethal or Adam Cole or Kyle O’Reilly or Will Ospreay. Bring ‘em all on. I’ll snap all their fingers and put them in the chicken wing, and I will take over Ring of Honor.”
Scurll offers a unique array of maneuvers in the ring, including the cross face chicken wing.
“Ironically, Bob Backlund did sign me the rights to the chicken wing,” said Scurll. “My actual influence for the chicken wing came from the British wrestlers from the 70s and 80s, guys like Marty Jones and Johnny Kidd, even Norman Smiley in WCW. That’s where I learned the hold, the chicken wing, but just like everything else I do, I made it mean ten times more than it did. The chicken wing hadn’t been done in twenty years, but now it means so much more. It’s the most effective move in British wrestling, and it’s not some flip – it’s a submission hold.”
Scurll took a moment to bask in the glow of his success in 2016, but promised that the best is yet to come.
“I’ve come to Ring of Honor to upset people,” said Scurll. “I’ve been watching the Ring of Honor wrestlers for a long time, and if you ask me, a lot of people seem firmly in their comfort zones. I think it’s about time the lads in Ring of Honor woke up and smelled the English cup of tea. ‘The Villain’ is here now, and ‘The Villain’ is coming for the Ring of Honor heavyweight title. I will not finish 2017 without the Ring of Honor heavyweight title around my waist. 2016 has been the year of ‘The Villain,’ and I don’t think there is any doubt about who the wrestler of the year is – but I’m promising you right now that 2017 will be, oh, so much sweeter.”
The Shoot: Juice Robinson
Juice is Loose
I will be wrestling Cody Rhodes on January 4 at the Tokyo Dome.
I didn’t have any idea if I’d even be a part of Wrestle Kingdom 11 until just a couple days before the announcement was made. Obviously, it’s pretty big news for me – and for Cody.
It’s definitely a stepping stone. I’m sure Cody wants to make a great first impression and continue on with NJPW in the future. This is his first step to doing that, but I believe it’s a nice steppingstone for me, as well. I need to have a hell of a match. I need to prove myself to the wrestling world. A successful night on January 4 is a must for me in my career. This match could give me a significant boost up the ladder, and it’s not an opportunity I’m going to take lightly.
A win at Wrestle Kingdom would be huge! But I’ve always believed it’s the emotion and heart that makes a match special and memorable. I’m just going to concern myself with bringing the passion. If I do that the rest will work itself out just fine.
People may remember me as CJ Parker from NXT, but that’s not me anymore. I am Juice Robinson.
I don’t know if Juice Robinson IS necessarily special, but that’s not for me to judge. I can tell you that Juice Robinson is genuine. That’s me out there. No BS, no pretending. I’m relaxed and confident nowadays and that’s the significant difference between CJ Parker and Juice Robinson.
New Japan is similar to WWE. Both are large, successful professional wrestling companies, although NJPW isn’t quite the machine that WWE is. It’s still thriving and continues to grow globally. I’d say the biggest difference between the two is the freedom and relaxed atmosphere here behind the curtain, which to me is vital for creativity and motivation.
NXT gave me a great foundation. The basic fundamentals were drilled into me for years. That’s so important to me and what I think goes into being a well-rounded pro wrestler. There are way too many coaches and fellow wrestlers who impacted me during my time there to name names. The wealth of knowledge I had access to and the talented men and women I worked with daily was insane. I’m incredibly lucky for my time in NXT.
I wanted to come to New Japan for a fresh start and to prove myself. New Japan is pro wrestling the way it is meant to be. It is pure. To earn the respect and admiration of the audience here is so honorable to me. It’s what I strive for in my career.
I have no idea if I’ll ever go back to WWE. If I were going to guess, I would say no. There’s so much for me here in NJPW and I absolutely love being here. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life and I don’t ever want that to change. I can 100 percent see myself staying here forever.
I only have one goal, and that is to climb the step in front of me. I need to have a successful Wrestle Kingdom – kick Cody’s Bullet Club ass – and that is the sole purpose and focus. Down the road, I also think it is fair to say that a spot in the G-1 Climax is also a goal of mine, but, right now, I’m living and breathing nothing but Wrestle Kingdom.
I’m just going to let my emotions out and try to be as present as possible in the moment. See you on the fourth!
The Nitro Files: Sting vs. Hulk for the NWO
[image:13752322The 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.”
What if Hulk Hogan said no to turning heel in July of 1996?
Instead of Hogan standing at the front of the New World Order, what would have happened had Sting led the NWO?
“I gave that a lot of thought,” confirmed Eric Bischoff. “I wasn’t one-hundred percent sure that Hulk was going to follow-through to turn heel until he literally showed up to the building about an hour before the event. So we had a Plan B, and it was Sting.”
The night Hogan turned heel was Bash at the Beach on July 7, 1996 at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Florida. Bischoff explained that only two people were aware of the identity of the mysterious third member to team with Kevin Nash and Scott Hall.
“Kevin Nash and Scott Hall did not know who the third person was going to be,” said Bischoff. “Sting and I were the only two people who knew. Sting was in the building, he knew the storyline, and he was ready to go. He knew he was turning heel, and that was something we could have laid out in a finish in twenty minutes or a half-an-hour.
Bischoff leaned toward having Sting attack WCW brethren Lex Luger instead of Randy Savage, who took a leg drop from Hogan.
“In retrospect, I might have,” said Bischoff. “It would have made sense. Sting would have come in at the very end, essentially the same version that Hulk Hogan did, but he would have done it in a Sting-fashion as opposed to a leg drop.”
In spite of his role as the face of WCW, Sting was willing to turn heel for Bischoff.
“There are a lot of reasons why I have so much respect for Steve Borden,” explained Bischoff, “but one of the biggest reasons is – and I remember specifically talking to him on the phone while Hogan was off doing a movie – I asked Sting to abandon the babyface position he was in and take on that heel role, which was a big ask, and Sting was willing to do it.”
Sting was going to be the third member – which ultimately would have made him the leader of the New World Order, which is a name Hogan coined at Bash at the Beach – until Hogan called Bischoff shortly before the pay per view.
“That’s when I got the phone call from Hulk Hogan, who was literally on location in the middle of some mountain range in California filming Santa with Muscles – which was a horrible movie, by the way – and he was on-location doing the movie and called me up,” said Bischoff. “Hulk said, ‘Hey brother, I’d like to talk to you about what’s going on. Can you make it out to California?’ I said, ‘Sure, I’ll come out,’ and I came to his trailer, which was basically his dressing room and his office. We had a twelve pack of beer on ice and a couple Cuban cigars. We sat down, cracked a beer, lit a cigar, and he looked at me and asked, ‘Who’s the third guy?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know, Hulk. Who do you think it should be?’ Hulk said, ‘Well, I think it should be me.’ Hulk never knew it was going to be Sting – that’s how much of a secret that was.”
Johnny Mundo and Sexy Star battle in a steel cage for the Lucha Underground championship on 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
One week after delivering a three-hour podcast on the 1997 Royal Rumble, Conrad Thompson and Bruce Prichard return to the MLW airwaves this Friday at noon to dissect and analyze perfection with a Christmas-edition podcast on “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig in the WWE on the “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” podcast.
“The golden age of the WWF is the 1980s, and I’ve always been fascinated at the way they developed their characters,” said Thompson. “Mr. Perfect was a gimmick that worked really well and resonated with the fans. I want to know some fun rib stories – Curt Hennig was a notorious ribber – and I’d like to know how his ‘Perfect’ vignettes were filmed, the intricacies of the Lloyds of London situation, and the way he left the WWF the first time and the reason he left the second time.”
Thompson and Prichard love to have fun on the podcast, and a Terry Taylor comment – that goes to Mr. Perfect – is the origin for some laughs.
“Terry Taylor has said, ‘They were pulling out of a box of gimmicks, and they had the ‘Red Rooster’ and ‘Mr. Perfect’ gimmicks cooking at the same time. He got Mr. Perfect and I got the Red Rooster, and I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened had I been given Mr. Perfect.’ We make fun of that sentiment a lot, and we even had a ‘Box of Gimmicks’ t-shirt made, but no such box existed.”
Hennig passed away too soon in 2003, and Thompson is up for the challenge of covering his career.
“There is so much wrestling history in the Hennig family,” said Thompson. “I look forward to covering the positive, but we’ll cover the negative, too.”
Five Questions with… Billy Gunn
reached new heights of success as one-half of the New Age Outlaws with “Road Dogg” James James, as well as in the reformed, Triple H-led DX.
Gunn was released in November of 2015 from his role as a WWE Performance Center due to a failed drug test due to performance-enhancing drugs. The 11-time WWE tag team champion debuted this past November in New Japan as the newest member of the Hunter Club, where group leader Yoshi Tatsu mimics Triple H, and wrestled as the tag partner of Tatsu in New Japan’s 2016 World Tag League.
SI.com: You have pretty much accomplished everything there is to do in pro wrestling, with the exception of a run with New Japan. What led to your arrival with the company, and what did you think of the experience?
Gunn: After I was let go by the Performance Center, I was out working indies. After everything I’ve accomplished, I have a pretty good name and I’m easy to work with. As long as you’re cool with me, I’m cool with you. I liked doing some indie stuff for a year, then Lance Hoyt called me and said that the New Japan office was looking for me to go over to Japan and do this tag tournament. If it’s a tag tournament and you have room, why not have me? My partner was Yoshi and he’s trying to do this Hunter Club thing, so they figured I could help him a little bit. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do, so I jumped on it.
I love what I do. I feel like I can still keep up with mostly everybody. That’s not being egotistical, that’s just being me. I’ve always been like that, and I’ve said as long as I can do this, as long as I can have fun, and as long as I don’t slither around like a slug out there and make myself look bad, then I’ll do this. When I get to do the Billy Gunn character, it’s always the same – you’re going to get the energy and the craziness and silliness that I bring. That has nothing to do with my wrestling ability, it has to do with how people have enjoyed what I’ve done. It took a while to get to the point I’m at, but now I feel people are just into seeing somebody they enjoyed in the ‘Attititude Era.’
SI.com: The storylines in Japanese wrestling – similar to the culture – are slightly different from those in North America. You tagged with Yoshi Tatsu in The Hunter Club. What exactly is the Hunter Club?
Gunn: That’s an absolutely great question, but to answer you truthfully, I don’t even know what it is. I tried to get into what they actually wanted from me, and it was just to try to get Yoshi on track. It’s not anything DX-related. Yoshi had his run here in WWE, and he’s great, and he was looking for what to do there [in New Japan], and I think the best thing you can do over there is feud anything with the Bullet Club because they’re so hot. They’re the thing over there, and I’m cool with working for anything that goes against the hottest guys in the company. That’s where you’re going to get the most attention. It’s an anti-Bullet Club and spoof of Hunter/Triple H kind of thing. That’s only my opinion, but it was something for Yoshi to sink his teeth into and get into, but I honestly don’t really know what it is.
SI.com: Would you ever consider a return to WWE? What did you enjoy most about your run with the New Age Outlaws when you reclaimed the tag titles in 2014?
Gunn: Of course I would. I loved coaching. That is my thing – I love teaching people that want to learn this business. I would go back in a minute if asked. Coaching was such a different avenue for me, and I didn’t think that I had it in me. When Paul [Levesque] hired me, he goes, ‘You can’t be one the boys, and we’ve got to trial run to see if you’ll be a good coach. Just because you’re good in the ring doesn’t mean you’ll be a good coach.’ There are different personalities who you have to coach, and you’ve got to be able to adjust. For me, a big part of coaching is having a trust for the students that are in your class. If they trust you, and you don’t talk beneath them, you can create an even playing field. Yes, what I say goes, but there has to be an open discussion. As long as they trust me, then they’re going to listen to me and then they’ll learn. If they don’t trust me, then what I say goes on deaf ears and they go out there and do whatever. As a coach, I had to have a relationship with every one of my students. I would love to go back.
When Brian [Road Dogg] and I came back as the New Age Outlaws in 2014, everybody misunderstood what it was. The Road Warriors did the same thing for me and Brian. If you’ve had an awesome career and there are guys they want to do stuff with, then you can look back at the Road Warriors. They were one of the most popular tag teams ever. They were big, scary, and nasty, but they were loved by everybody. When me and Brian were coming up and they wanted to put a little something behind us, they put us against the Road Warriors and let us beat them. It’s taking you on a ride and a story, and now people take notice. So now, the coolest thing is the New Age Outlaws. And you have kids in the crowd and you have their parents with them. So there’s nothing cooler than people saying, ‘Your return was awesome because I got to watch you guys with my son and I was able to tell him that you were the ones who I watched growing up.’ So now, when the New Age Outlaws come out and Brian does his thing – and everybody in the arena, including the staff and the janitors – say the whole thing, people pay attention.
When we worked with The Uso’s, who are great talent in their own right, we were just helping them so people would pay a little more attention. Our run was to siphon in some old with the new, have some of the parents get into this because this is who they watched growing up, and help move up the talent so they can hopefully, one day, do the same thing for somebody else. We kind of ran our course. People always want to see DX, but they don’t want to see us for very long. It’s a nostalgic kind of thing. People will say, ‘This is awesome,’ but if you see us for a long time, it gets stale in a way. We aren’t able to do the things the real DX, back in the ‘Attitude Era,’ could do. People were used to seeing DX do some of the most off-the-wall, craziest stuff they’d ever seen in their life. So when you come back to the PG era, when you can’t do too much of that stuff, people go, ‘Well, you’re really not DX anymore because you’re not doing anything crazy.’ We are still DX, but we have to put the brakes on what we do.
SI.com: What is it like to see your former partners in Triple H – who is WWE’s Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events, and Creative – and Road Dogg, who is a WWE producer, help lead the company?
Gunn: Seeing what they are doing is awesome. What Hunter did with the Performance Center is amazing. The place is absolutely unreal. If you come from the old school of wrestling, we all trained in sweatboxes or we all trained up north where it was twenty below with no heater. When you go to the Performance Center and see where talent that they want can go, it’s amazing. The place is unbelievable. And Brian [James], Road Dogg, has always had that in him. He just needed to open the door to let him get in there because he’s super creative and super smart when it comes to this business, as well as being one of the most talented guys I’ve ever worked with. I’m so happy to see Brian is doing awesome. And they have the Performance Center, so they can train guys. The WWE has its own way of guys working. They can’t pick up indie guys and put them right on the main roster, because then everything goes haywire. So they have a place – and I don’t mean this in a bad way – where they can program them to be WWE because there is the WWE way and everybody else’s way, and the WWE way works. You can’t say that it doesn’t because it does. It works, and now it’s going to work even better because they’re going to have their own place to pick from, and they know that all the guys are going to be ready when they pull them to the main roster. I think it’s awesome that they’re all doing that well. I hold nothing against anybody, I don’t do that anymore.
SI.com: What would you like to accomplish next in professional wrestling? Do you have plans to return to New Japan?
Gunn: I actually go back January 1st. I’m doing the Tokyo Dome and one other show. As soon as I agreed to do the tag tournament, they asked if I’d come back January 1st through the sixth, which is awesome. I just had a scope on my knee, but I’ll be good to go.
I get tired of hearing from people, ‘Oh, you’re 53 years old.’ Yeah, I’m 53, but I’m still better than you. I don’t know if it’s a jealousy thing or if people think I’m taking someone’s spot, but it’s not that. It’s just doing something that you love as long as you can do it. I can work as good as 95 percent of the people out there, and that’s not being egotistical – though it always sounds egotistical from me because everybody thinks I have a huge ego, which I do, because everybody does in this business if you ever want to be good at it, so you have to be ‘That Guy’ – I’m not like that at home, but when I’m at work, my work always speaks for itself. I went over there and I kept up with everybody. I’m not the guy who’s going to do all this flipping and all that – that’s not wrestling to me – but I am going to be the guy who you’ll get the most out of. So do I get tired of hearing about my age? Yes. There are not many guys that have a passion to do it because they love it – they do it because it pays well. The passion part is taken out of the equation. If I was lazy and couldn’t do my job the way everybody else could do their job, then yeah, I’d say, ‘You’re 53 years old, how about hanging them up?’ As long as I can do this, I’m going to keep doing it because I love what I do.
Next to everything I’ve done with Brian, working with New Japan is one of the greatest things I’ve ever done in my career. I wasn’t sure what to expect at New Japan, but everybody – including the fans and the guys in the back – were so awesome. It was amazing how cool everybody was. It takes a little adjusting, but it was so good and so awesome that it made me feel like I was brand new in the business again, which is something I never thought I would feel again. I would love to go back and have a year run. I’m not really hunting for any titles. I just want 2017 to be as good, or better, than ‘16. I want to do what I love to do, being able to stay healthy and have fun, and go out and entertain people. They’re not going to see a five-star wrestling match, because that’s just not me. They’re going to see someone entertaining and fun. I want people to know that wrestling can still be fun, and that’s what I bring to the table.
Tweet of the Week
Merry Christmas, everyone.