Ringing in the New Year with The Young Bucks
After an incredible year, which began at Wrestle Kingdom 10 in January in a four-way tag match, the Bucks set the wrestling world aflame in 2016. They had the match of the year in October during Ring of Honor’s “Ladder Wars 6,” but also grew into a powerful trio—known as The Elite—with Kenny Omega, as well as remained important cogs in the Bullet Club machine. The Bucks re-signed with Ring of Honor in December, eschewing the chance to go to WWE, and they discuss their decision and more in the Week in Wrestling.
The Young Bucks, comprised of Matt and Nick Jackson, made tag team wrestling relevant again over the past calendar year. Their work in Ring of Honor, New Japan and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla helped the duo become Sports Illustrated’s “Tag Team of the Year,” and the team is a worldwide commodity even without the WWE machine behind it.
“The schedule was perfect for us and the family and we still have rights to sell the Young Buck brand, as well as a lot of freedom,” said Nick. “We also have a lot of input in what we do, and that is priceless. We love ROH and NJPW and they also gave us a very healthy raise. We’re as happy as can be. If fans are disappointed that we didn’t sign with WWE, I understand why—but family comes first and I hope they can understand that. But to WWE fans, well, never say never.”
For the Bucks, re-signing a two-year deal with Ring of Honor and New Japan was best for business.
“It was such an easy choice,” said Matt. “The money. The schedule. The freedom of creativity. The ability to continue our run in Japan. Everything. It’s tough to find happiness in wrestling and we’re truly happy. My family will always come first, and this was the best decision for them.”
The decision to stay with ROH and NJPW did signal the end of a dream match between the Bucks and WWE’s New Day. Although The New Day broke the WWE tag team title record for consecutive days held, Matt Jackson was asked if Kofi Kingston, Big E, and Xavier Woods should count their blessings that they did not square off against the Young Bucks.
“It’s really hard to say,” said Matt. “It all depends on how one man perceives you. We could’ve just been more fodder for them. Or we could’ve gotten a big program out of it. Who knows, and we’ll never know. I do know that I’d love to one day work with them, and I know many people would as well. They’re so talented and I’m sure we’d have great chemistry.”
“The New Day vs. The Elite should still happen somewhere somehow,” added Nick, referring to a six-man match with Kenny Omega. “That would be a feud for the ages with the personalities involved. The promos would be hilarious.”
Omega and the Bucks are the leaders of New Japan’s Bullet Club, but also form an elite sub-group called, fittingly, The Elite. Both of the Jacksons hope to be ringside on Jan. 4 at Wrestle Kingdom 11 in the Tokyo Dome as Omega challenges IWGP champion Kazuchika Okada.
“We sure hope to be, but that’s totally up to Kenny,” said Nick. “If he wins, it will help NJPW penetrate the USA market like they want. So it’s not only good for him, but it’s also good for the company if he wins. Kenny main-eventing is a huge step in the right direction. But I’ll say this, Kenny Omega will go down as the greatest foreign wrestler ever in Japan.”
Either way, whether ringside or with the rest of the fans, Matt assured fans that he and Nick will be watching Omega make history as a foreigner in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom, which is New Japan’s version of WrestleMania.
“Winning the G-1 Climax and being in the main event at Wrestle Kingdom has already solidified Kenny as the greatest foreigner to ever wrestle in Japan,” said Matt. “Winning the match will make him a legend.”
The Bucks are also striving to one day reach legendary status. They can take another step toward their goal with a marquee match with the Hardy Boyz in 2017.
“We plan to visit the Hardy Compound this year,” said Matt. “The Hardys-Bucks needs to happen on a large stage. It’s one of the last money matches left.”
Due to travel issues, the Bucks could not appear at “Broken” Matt Hardy’s Total Nonstop Deletion tag team Apocalypto.
“We would’ve loved to have been on ‘Total Nonstop Deletion,’ but we were in Japan when they filmed it,” confirmed Nick. “This feud is just an organic, natural thing. Our career paths are very similar and we always get compared to them. It’s the one feud we’ve always wanted and I am happy that it’s happening.”
The most memorable match of the year took place on Sept. 30 in Lowell, Mass., at Ring of Honor’s All Star Extravaganza with Ladder Wars 6, which is where the Bucks—risking life and limb—defeated The Addiction and Motor City Machine Guns to capture the ROH tag titles.
“I have a huge scar on the side of my ribs and probably will have it forever after falling off the top of the ladder to the floor through a table, so I’m still recovering,” said Nick. “What’s crazy is I don’t even think it was the best match of our career. I think each year we get smarter as wrestlers so we won’t have to necessarily cause any more damage to ourselves. We will be better with that, but with that being said, fans keep pushing us and if we’re in that category of being the best tag team, we will always push the envelope.”
Without causing too much more physical damage to themselves, the Bucks do have some ideas percolating on how to exceed their level of greatness from Ladder Wars in the upcoming year.
“I’m sure we’ve arguably had better matches, but I certainly won’t dispute the claim that it was our best,” said Matt. “It was certainly special, and was one of those matches you feel privileged to be a part of. Everybody looked at Frankie Kazarian, Chris Daniels and ourselves a bit different the next day.
“How can we exceed a match like that?” Matt continued. “Well, physically I’m not sure that’s possible. However, there is so much left for us to do, story-wise. We want to have matches that play out like movies. We want to do things that are supposed to be taboo in wrestling. We want to break every rule that stands. Our brains are constantly on, thinking about the next thing. Maybe a ladder match with the Hardys. Could you imagine? A cage match with the Briscoes. Show up on TNA’s program? Wrestle teams from NXT? Talent swaps. Man, if I was in charge, I’d do it all.”
The Bucks kick off 2017 in Ring of Honor with a two-out-of-three falls match against the Briscoes in February in Texas. Despite all of their own success, they believe that Mark and Jay are the best tag team in Ring of Honor history.
“Without question, they are the greatest team in ROH history,” said Matt. “They’ve continuously reinvented themselves. Somehow, they’re just as over as they’ve ever been. Man, they’re so good. So real. People will always love them.”
“When it’s all said and done, the question of ‘Greatest Tag Team in Ring of Honor’ will be up for debate if we stay here as long as they have,” added Nick. “As of now, nothing but respect for those guys. They bring the best out of us.”
The Bucks have their immediate vision on New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 11, where they will defend the IWGP junior heavyweight tag team championships against Roppongi Vice.
“We’re the best, most exciting, most entertaining tag team—maybe ever,” said Matt. “We do crazy stunts and tear the house down in front of 400 people in a bar in Reseda, California. What are we going to do in front of 40,000 to 50,000 people in Tokyo at the Dome? Tokyo Dome is big, so everything will be bigger. The moves, the body language, even the outfits.”
Nick Jackson revealed that the Bucks will be debuting new ring gear at Wrestle Kingdom.
“We have brand new gear for the night to celebrate our recent success and we have something we’re debuting for that night that we’re both excited about,” shared Nick. “Our match will most likely open the show, so that puts some pressure on us to start the night with a hot match and set the tone for the rest of the show.”
The Bucks, Nick explained, did more than simply hit their goals for 2016.
“We exceeded them,” said Nick. “We’ve proven to many fans and wrestlers you don’t need to go to the WWE to be successful in this day and age, and it’s cool to be your own boss and do things on our own. We set out goals and we hit those goals, so 2016 will never be forgotten. We have the best most loyal fans in the world and they keep pushing us to become better wrestlers and, more importantly, better people. We’ve held the PWG, ROH and IWGP Jr tag titles all at the same time for the second time ever and we were the first guys to do that. I don’t think it’ll ever happen again and that’s something I’m most proud of.”
Matt Jackson stated that 2016 was the year of The Bucks.
“2016 was the most money we’ve ever made in wrestling,” said Matt. “We feel like we had the most quality matches we’ve ever had in our careers, and we did a lot to push both The Elite and Young Bucks brand. Our ‘Being The Elite’ series is getting more popular. We feel like we’ve gotten more eyeballs on Ring of Honor and New Japan.
“I’m most proud of the moments we created. The amount of merchandise we moved. The performances we’ve had. The fingerprints we’ve gotten to leave on our own body of work. The ability to be a bad ass wrestler and a bad ass dad all at the same time. That’s almost impossible for this type of career.”
News of the Week
As the calendar turns to 2017, this edition of the Week in Wrestling marks the final column of 2016.
This is the 51st consecutive week of the column, and I would like to thank those involved in the weekly process. Dan Gartland is one of the most talented editors at SI.com, and we were also fortunate to work with Brendan Maloy, who is a master of the written word. I’m certainly biased, but I believe Andy Gray doubles as a brilliant writer and editor. He is equal parts Bill Belichick and Ernie Adams, and I’m not sure higher praise exists in this world. Collectively, our goal is to provide unique coverage of the wrestling world—which extends further than just WWE—and differentiate our coverage from ESPN, Rolling Stone and the various other sites that cover the business of professional wrestling. We want to give you something different, memorable and enjoyable with the Week in Wrestling column, and we’ll do everything we can to continue that in 2017.
Above all, I am thankful for the people who take time to read each week. The internet has become the Wild West for writing, with a variety of different options and ways to spend time, so I am grateful when people take the time to invest in our stories. I appreciate every email and tweet (even from the person who continually emails ways in which I should completely change the column, or from the young man who repeatedly emails to ask if I’ll ever interview John Cena), but I really appreciate the feedback—The Shoot was born out of an email from a reader.
Thank you for reading, and we’re onto 2017.
In other news…
— John Cena—complete with a reference to WWE’s “New Era” slogan—returned on Smackdown and delivered a prototypical Cena promo. Cena is now set to face AJ Styles for the WWE championship at the Royal Rumble, which is opportune timing as the top of the Smackdown card is especially thin for babyfaces to challenge Styles.
— WWE needs to infuse new main event talent into the world title picture on Raw, which is an easy fix with Big E already on the roster. Big E’s work in the ring is entertaining, and he would work as a face or a heel in the main event, as there is so much charm in his personality, which he briefly displayed last week on Raw. I’m ready for Big E to split from The New Day.
— Tetsuya Naito asked SI.com to clarify a couple of points regarding Wrestle Kingdom. First, his loss at last year’s Wrestle Kingdom against Hirooki Goto was a fluke; and secondly, Naito explained, New Japan “ace” Hiroshi Tanahashi is in for a world of trouble at this year’s Wrestle Kingdom 11:
“I’ve never won a singles match in Tokyo Dome,” admitted Naito. “I was very disappointed to have lost the match last year at Wrestle Kingdom to Goto, but there is a lot more to the story. Compare Goto and Naito since Wrestle Kingdom 10, and see where we are now. Yes, I lost that match to Goto, but I’ve won ever since. And now I wrestle Tanahashi for the Intercontinental title. Comparing Tanahashi to Naito is like comparing a pig to a steak. The belt knows this, and if it comes down to a decision between myself and Tanahashi, the belt will always choose me.”
— New Japan World has released every title match of 2016 for free without subscription, as well as unveiled its new New Japan web page in English. New Japan is looking to expand in 2017, particularly in the United States, which is interesting as WWE looks to expand in Japan. Kenny Omega, who challenges IWGP champion Kazuchika Okada at Jan. 4’s Wrestle Kingdom 11, would be the perfect champion for NJPW to highlight in its effort to grow outside of Japan.
— Was Charlotte listening to Stephanie McMahon’s jab at CM Punk in the opening of Raw? McMahon effectively shifted the crowd from any further Punk chants in her promo, in which she insulted the former WWE champion for his quick defeat in the Octagon at the hands of Mickey Gall. Meanwhile, Charlotte continues to be inches from a breakdown in the ring every time the crowd chants “What?” at her.
— Legitimately surprised to see Randy Orton take the pinfall in defeat against American Alpha, but WWE is clearly trying to build some momentum for Chad Gable and Jason Jordan, who are the new Smackdown Live tag team champions. The “Freebird Rule,” which allows any two of the three members of a team to defend the tag titles, and was used by The Wyatt Family, has been overused to the point that it devalued the win by the Alphas, considering Bray Wyatt was not in the match.
— Rey Mysterio revealed to SI.com that he is planning to expand his brand in 2017: “There is a little project I have on the side,” explained Mysterio. “I’d hate to give a spoiler, but it’s my own project and it is in the works. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, and finally the opportunity came about. I’m thinking by July or August of 2017 that we should be releasing what it is.”
— Some wrestlers have reached out regarding the Week in Wrestling’s choices regarding the wrestler of the year, and former UFC fighter and current indie wrestling sensation Matt Riddle weighed in with his opinion:
“I know I shouldn’t be considered ‘Wrestler of the Year,’” shared Riddle. “I’m still very young in my career, and I still have a lot to work on. I have a lot of potential, but I don’t think I’ve been in enough hard situations or been in enough big match situations in my year of experience to get selected. In my opinion, AJ Styles has accomplished a lot this year on the biggest stage possible, but Chris Hero is right there, too. I’ve never seen a Chris Hero match that was bad. He works a certain style—he’s a bully, and he’s a really good bully. Those are my two picks: AJ Styles on the big stage, and then on the real note, it’s Chris Hero.”
—For those in desperate need of quality wrestling, you have found your destination. Here is a three-way elimination match between Daniel Bryan, Samoa Joe and AJ Styles from all the way back in 2004:
— Coming attractions: Kenny Omega will discuss Wrestle Kingdom 11, his shot at Kazuchika Okada’s IWGP championship and the WWE next Monday on SI.com.
The Year in Review with Jim Ross & Jim Cornette
Ross is set to start off 2017 with “RINGSIDE with Jim Ross” shows in Phoenix on Jan. 12, followed by a matinee show right before the Royal Rumble in San Antonio. The Ross Report drops live every Tuesday on PodcastOne, and this week’s guests include Kenny Omega and Dave Lagana. Ross will also be commentating ITV’s World of Sport Wrestling on Saturday, Dec. 31. Jim Cornette’s fine line of classic collectibles can be found on JimCornette.com.
January, Jim Ross:
Triple H wins the WWE title for his 14th reign at the Royal Rumble: “That created a buzz among WWE fans, and I’m not sure it was meant to do any more than that. All these months later, it doesn’t seem as though it was a major development. He wasn’t around to wrestle full-time, so I don’t know what the objective was, but I assume it was to get people talking and to provide the audience a little bit of a surprise. It seems like that’s an objective for all wrestling shows these days—do all they can to find surprises, whether they work or they don’t. I think Triple H helps the show when he’s on it. He lends stability, he’s a link back to a very successful era, and he’s tied to some very significant talents in the annals of WWE history. Any time he can come back, it’s a good thing.”
February, Jim Cornette:
Shane McMahon returns to the WWE: “People would rather have seen Shane McMahon than probably anybody else they could have put in that spot against The Undertaker, and that was part of the problem. Shane made a big splash when he came back because of the nostalgia factor. People still remember when wrestling was good, whatever their frame of reference was— if it’s the ‘Monday Night Wars’ or the '80’s, and my old saying is, ‘How can they miss you when you haven’t been gone?’
Well, people missed Shane—he had been gone for so long. It’s the same as bringing Goldberg back —WWE made a new star out of him, beating Brock Lesnar that quick, but the problem is that the new stars they make are the old stars that are 50 years old. Is that an indictment of younger talent or an indictment of the system? Is there no professional wrestler they can put in Shane McMahon’s spot that would have meant more in that situation? There’s no younger guy who could get the rub that would mean more than Goldberg in that situation? They’re doing the right thing with the right people, but the problem is that those people aren’t right long-term.”
March, Jim Ross:
The Revival defeats Enzo and Cass at Road Block to retain the NXT tag team championships: “The Revival take their job very seriously. They’re not comedy wrestlers, though they’ll occasionally do some things to make people chuckle. I don’t have a problem with that, because that’s not their priority. I like their approach to their job, I like the fact they wrestle in a physical, albeit logical, fashion, and they have the ability to tell a story. There’s no team in pro wrestling today that is any more fundamentally sound and does things the right way than The Revival. I hope they stay together and get a chance to take their skills to the next level and contribute.
Also, at March’s Road Block, Dean Ambrose lost to Triple H for the WWE championship. Ambrose also did not shine in his WrestleMania loss to Brock Lesnar: “Nobody in wrestling had a perfect year being booked. You can look back at any storyline and say, ‘If this left turn had been a right turn, the end result would have been a lot more entertaining for the fans.’ I thought that Ambrose really had to start over after WrestleMania. There wasn’t much left of him after Lesnar was done with him. I wasn’t quite sure of the logic of that—did Lesnar need to guzzle Ambrose that thoroughly? Or would it have been OK, which I think it would have, if Ambrose had been a little more competitive?
I don’t think anyone thought Dean Ambrose was going to beat Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, but Ambrose could have had a better showing. There’s not necessarily an indictment on the talents as much as it is on what was laid out and what they executed. I got a feeling the game plan was executed to the best of their ability. After I saw the match, and in hindsight, it would have been better to have Lesnar get into a little more trouble and then Ambrose, with the door open, get a little momentum before Lesnar awakened and destroyed him. My point is the match was static. There were no significant peaks or valleys, there was no drama or twists and turns. It was almost like an enhancement match with two main-eventers with the way the match was structured. If those guys had been instructed to do something else, it would have been better for both of them.
April, Jim Cornette:
Roman Reigns becomes the face of the company and wins the WWE championship over Triple H at WrestleMania 32: “There is nothing wrong with Roman Reigns. He’s a big guy, he looks great, and has the bloodline. There is nothing the matter with him as a person or a talent, but the problem is that the WWE took a guy who they wanted to be ‘the star,’ when there were a few other guys the people liked better. That’s why, to me, the promotion has never been the heel in wrestling for over a hundred years. The promotion itself was always the good guy. But WWE has told fans for the past 20 years that the company has been run by the evil McMahon empire and you’re not supposed to like them because they screw your favorites over. So when they tell you to like their hand-picked favorite, why wouldn’t the people riot against them? You can’t push someone down people’s throats. That’s the problem. Any time the fans see a guy has been chosen to be the top guy by the McMahon Family, who are the heels on television, they’re going to say, ‘No! We don’t want that guy!’ It’s not that hard to figure out.”
May, Jim Ross:
Seth Rollins returns—as a heel—to WWE programming: “Looking at this in hindsight gives us an advantage, but obviously WWE thought that Rollins would be a heel. They may have thought that because they needed him to be a heel, and they had plans laid out with him as a heel in storylines, so they put their blinders on. I’m sure the plan made sense on paper, but you can’t always predict the organic response from an audience. But when the music changes, the lyrics change. Rollins returned and got such an amazing ovation, and people wanted to embrace him. They wanted to see him succeed after making an emotional investment on social media as he rehabbed his knee.
That’s where WWE made the mistake_the decision of where to go with Rollins should have, at first, led to asking more questions than providing answers. Wait a few weeks and see if the audience maintains its buzz for this guy, and, if they do, then organically create an environment where you create a big star babyface. The emotional investment was already there, so the mistake WWE made was not waiting a few weeks after Rollins returned to television to see if they’d still embrace him as tightly on night one, and that makes your decision for you whether he’ll be a babyface or a heel. I like Seth a lot and he’s a real key player for WWE in 2017. He’s got some work to do, but I like his upside.”
June, Jim Cornette:
Dean Ambrose wins the WWE title, but the company failed to strap a rocket to him and let him succeed as the sole world champ: “They strapped a rocket to him, but it was pointed up his a--. Imagine this brand split happened during the '80’s. They go up to Hulk Hogan in the locker room, and they say, ‘OK, Hulk, you’re going to be champion on one side, and another guy on the other side is going to be champion and he’ll be pushed in the same respect as you and have the same status and be looked at as equal to you.’ And Hulk Hogan would have said, ‘Who is this motherf-----? ‘Cause that ain’t gonna work!’ You can’t have two equal champions. It’s like having 12 seven footers—then no one is a giant.”
July, Jim Ross:
The WWE breaks its roster in half with the brand split, which leads to the end of Jerry “The King” Lawler as a color commentator for WWE programming: “If I had to rank the greatest talent I’ve ever worked with—either calling a match for them, working beside them, working in the same company as them—my top two guys would be Bobby Heenan and Jerry Lawler. Reason being is anybody who followed the business knows that Jerry was an amazing in-ring worker. Not good, not average—he was amazing. Bobby Heenan was one of the greatest heels in wrestling of all time. He was the straw that stirred the drink, largely with [Blackjacks] Mulligan and Lanza. There was so much Bobby and Jerry could do from a creative standpoint, from wrestling to managing to commentating. They far out-shadowed anyone else I’ve ever worked with.
I think Lawler’s absence is going to be felt, and he had amazing contributions there. You can’t feel too bad for him because he’s got a great life. He made a lot of money at WWE, and he’s still making money. He can still wrestle every weekend if he wants to, and he’s still keeping busy. I’m going to miss him on TV, don’t get me wrong, but he’s healthy. When Lawler and I were on the set of Jim Carrey’s Man on the Moon, Carrey asked us how much longer Jerry and I were going to work together. At the time, which was 1999, neither Jerry nor I had any intention of not working together. We were locked at the hip and happily so. Jim Carrey said, ‘Remember, television executives, especially here in Hollywood, place more value on youth and looks than they do on experience and talent.’ If that’s true, and I can’t believe that it’s not to some degree, then it was bound to happen—but you hate to see it happen. The good news is Jerry’s financially secure, he has a great business in Memphis, he’s going to the U.K. in 2017 to do some one-man shows, and he’s one of the great promo guys of all time.”
August, Jim Cornette:
AJ Styles defeats John Cena cleanly at SummerSlam: “That was definitely the right call. Any time you can get a win over a guy with the stature of John Cena makes you a main event star in the people’s eyes. That’s the way main event stars were always made—by beating main event stars, and then becoming main event stars themselves. Again, this isn’t that difficult. A lot of guys have criticized Cena for never elevating anyone, but he can’t just go out there and go into business for himself. He does what they tell him to do, and, for once, everyone was on the same page. AJ Styles is a great wrestler and a great talent, and he deserves that spot. If the Hulk Hogans and some of the other stars in the '90’s were more active_like Mick Foley, he put everyone in the building over, including the popcorn guy, and it didn’t hurt him a bit but it helped other guys—and if that was done more, with the right guy at the right time, I think some of the younger guys would be better off.
September, Jim Ross:
AJ Styles defeats Dean Ambrose to win his first-ever WWE championship, drawing comparisons to the “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels: “Shawn Michaels has more natural charisma than AJ Styles, but AJ continues to get better. For AJ, it’s like his hair—he continues to grow into it. He’s getting better at sharing his personality with the audience, and I’m liking it a lot. He’s come a long way, just since being in WWE, in just that aspect of his game. In terms of his change of direction, his acceleration, his elevation, his quickness, his accuracy, his technique_all those things have glimpses of Shawn Michaels. He’s got a great second gear, which a lot of guys, even top guys, don’t have. If you’re looking for the closest thing to a healthy Shawn Michaels, then that’s AJ Styles. From calling his matches on AXS TV and seeing his work in TNA over the years, I truly believe he is, from bell to bell, the best pro wrestler in the business.”
October, Jim Cornette:
Comedy found its way into the main event with the “Best Friends” friendship between Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho, as well as James Ellsworth somehow involving himself in the middle of the feud between AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose: “Here’s the thing: there are always parts of wrestling shows that have been funny and people got a laugh out of them. On the card, somewhere with the peripheral people, it can be a little funny, but the last thing you want is the people laughing at the matches. You want the people laughing with the babyface as he gives the heel his comeuppance, but you don’t want them just laughing like this is silly stuff not to be taken seriously. It’s not as bad as a guy wrestling a blowup doll, but still, I’m sorry—if the guys perpetrating the angle are winking and trying to be funny instead of being serious and making us believe in what they’re trying to sell us, then people aren’t going to buy. Would you buy a refrigerator if a Jack-in-the-Box came out of it? That’s a meat-and-potato appliance, and you don’t want it to be funny.”
November, Jim Ross:
Bill Goldberg returns to WWE to defeat Brock Lesnar: “The decision to put Goldberg over quickly and suddenly over Brock Lesnar had some elements of surprise weighing heavy in the decision. The audience has spoken about how much they liked Goldberg coming back, and WWE called an audible. They listened and paid attention. Personally, I don’t have a problem with Goldberg beating Lesnar. If Lesnar’s talent-depth is so shallow that he needs to be babysat to the degree that he can never lose, then everybody involved has done a very poor job in presenting Brock Lesnar. Having said that, I do not believe that to be true, which is why that loss presents no issues on his credibility or image. Even though a lot of feedback was negative, I knew that the angle worked. It ceased being Geneva. It wasn’t Switzerland. It wasn’t neutral. There was a bona fide, prominent emotion elicited from the storyline, and that’s what you’re looking for. You can’t have Geneva and be successful in a storyline.
December, Jim Cornette:
Brock Lesnar was suspended, dating retroactively to July 9, for one year and fined $250,000 by the Nevada Athletic Commission after failing two drug tests before his fight at UFC 200: “I can’t read Brock Lesnar’s mind, thank god. It would probably be light reading. And I can’t know what he was doing or what he was thinking or not thinking. A guy like Brock, a genetic freak and an anatomical beast, has a couple different professions he can make several million dollars in when he wants to. He’s not really in love with wrestling; he just does it for the money. I don’t know if he’s in love with fighting.
The last fight he had against Mark Hunt looked like the old Brock Lesnar, but the fight before that [UFC 141 loss to Alistair Overeem], when he was coming off the diverticulitis, looked like he just covered up and took the pay-off. That wasn’t the same Brock, and I think he wanted to prove something. If it were up to him, he’d stick with UFC. When wrestlers are asked, ‘Is wrestling fake?’ they’re offended by that. You might hear a guy say it’s prearranged or manipulated, but they’ll tell you it’s real and they’re in there getting hurt and competing. Brock is the guy who says, ‘Of course wrestling is fake.’ He never liked the wrestling business, and I could tell that when he was training. But he’s made millions of dollars in it. If it was up to him, he would stick with UFC, ‘cause he thinks that is really proving himself—whereas wrestling is just there to make him money, which is obvious by the fact he seldom shows up and, when he does, he gets it over with and gets out of there.
January 2017, Jim Ross:
New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 11 is coming to AXS TV with a four-part series airing beginning on Friday, Jan. 13, at 8 p.m. ET with Kazuchika Okada defending the IWGP championship against Kenny Omega: “That’s a result of the diligent efforts between the very pro wrestling friendly executives at AXS TV and their on-going relationship with New Japan. We would like to do a lot more on AXS TV with New Japan. We were willing to broadcast all of the G-1 Climax and rebroadcast on a more strategic broadcast time. If New Japan wants to expand its operations and get its talent over in this marketplace, then AXS TV is a great platform to help with that process. There is no doubt in my mind that AXS TV helps the New Japan guys get over, which also helps the Ring of Honor guys get over. I’ll call the matches from Wrestle Kingdom on January 10, and I’ll have my notes and I will be ready. I read the other day that I’m the only broadcaster to call Starrcade, WrestleMania and Wrestle Kingdom, so I’ve really been fortunate to be in some right places at some right times.”
Cornette: “It’s the best announcing in wrestling, and it just happens to be some of the best matches. I’d like to see more Americans in the mix like it used to be in Japan in the '80’s, because you got to see so many dream matches. But when you think about it, there aren’t that many dream matches left in American wrestling, but I would definitely say, if you’re a wrestling fan, this is a worthwhile way to spend your Friday night.”
The Shoot: Yoshi Tatsu
Yoshi Tatsu is a former WWE talent and current leader of New Japan’s Hunter Club. He returned to New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2014 to feud with AJ Styles and the Bullet Club. Tatsu expressed his frustration that WWE and NXT talent would wear Bullet Club t-shirts and were fans of the act, so he started the Hunter Club to hunt out all Bullet Club members. Tatsu introduced Billy Gunn as his new tag team partner this past November, and he now shares his story and explains the origin and meaning of the Hunter Club.
The Hunter Club
Last week, Billy Gunn spoke about joining New Japan Pro Wrestling and the Hunter Club. I’m here to tell you more.
Bullet Club is the most famous wrestling group in the world, but when I terminate Bullet Club, my name will rise again in the wrestling world. The Hunter Club is Billy Gunn and me so far. We will be the most famous wrestling group in the world.
— I once wrestled for WWE. My biggest influence was Vince McMahon. He taught me “how to show.” That’s hard to explain, but it deals with expressing emotion, feelings, anger, frustration and triumph in the ring. Presentation is very important in WWE. That is the biggest difference between the WWE style of wrestling and New Japan’s strong style.
Vince McMahon made WWE a huge international company. He is a wrestling god. I also respect him as a businessman. When my son was born, I gave him Vincent as his middle name in honor of Vince McMahon.
— There are men from WWE who would make good additions to the Hunter Club. Cesaro, Tyson Kidd and Zack Ryder all stand out to me as great wrestlers. Cesaro is a hard worker and honorable and respectful. When I broke my neck in 2014, he sent me a positive message. He is a very nice guy, and many WWE guys sent me messages of respect in one letter.
— I decided to go back to NJPW in 2014 after leaving in 2008, and it was to start the Hunter Club, which was made by me. Our purpose is hunting Bullet Club.
— The group was named after my “Bullet Club Hunter” nickname. Billy Gunn joining the Hunter Club is so significant. Billy is my friend and one of my mentors. His joining in Hunter Club means a lot to me. And I appreciate him. He is one of the all-time greats in professional wrestling.
— My goal for 2017 is not complicated. I’m going to make the Hunter Club bigger and more famous in the world, and then I will terminate the Bullet Club. If you’re not down with that, I’ve got two words for you— Hunter Club!
Exclusive Lucha Underground clip
Lucha Underground, which is available on iTunes, continues its third season tonight as Jeremiah Crane, who is better known on the indie scene as Sami Callihan, battles Mil Muertes at 8 p.m. on El Rey Network. (Click here for clip.)
Something to Wrestle with Conrad Thompson
“We normally put up a poll over the weekend, let people vote, then go long-form on particular topic on performer,” explained Thompson. “This week, we decided to do a potpourri edition where we can cover a variety of topics that we did not really think we could stretch into a longform, like a Vince McMahon freakout moment, whether anybody ever lost a belt, if there was an idea that Vince shot down that everybody liked, what about the legend of Tom Magee, and we cover 15 pages of those quick-hit ideas.”
Thompson was grateful for his nomination as runner-up for SI’s Sports Podcast of the Year, and also reported that Santa Claus, in the form of Bruce Prichard, delivered him one of his favorite presents of all time.
“Bruce had a ‘Podcast Champion’ belt custom-made for me by LeatherbyDan.com, which is our sponsor on the show,” said Thompson. “It has my cartoon face right in the center with a couple of microphones, and it says I am the ‘World Champion Podcast Host.’ There is the ‘Ric Flair Show’ logo as one sideplate, as well as the ‘Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard’ sideplate on the other. It is the coolest wrestling-related gift I have ever been given.”
Thompson said he is willing to defend the title, as long as he is surrounded by his loyal listeners.
“Our listeners make us unique,” said Thompson. “We approach everything we do with a fan perspective, and we let the listeners choose the topics. We wanted to give a different level of detail, like exploring a specific angle from 1988, and that level of wrestling nerd-ism is something people really gravitate to, and I do think we have the best listeners.”
Five Questions with... Ricochet
Sports Illustrated is naming its top five wrestlers of the year for 2016, and the fourth selection is Ricochet.
Ricochet, whose real name is Trevor Mann, pieced together a tremendously successful year under difficult conditions. Ricochet is a wrestling free agent, so he does not have consistent weekly television to air his talents. He has enjoyed a tremendous run as the masked Prince Puma in Lucha Underground, as well as Ricochet in PWG and New Japan, where he is one-third of the current NEVER Openweight 6-man tag team championship. Ricochet discusses the potential of joining WWE, explains why he is not on the 205 Live roster, and shares his goals for 2017.
SI.com: You are so dynamic in the ring and your style is so unique. Did you develop your style by watching anyone in particular?
Ricochet: When I started, I watched Rey Mysterio, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and Eddie Guerrero, but my favorite was, by far, The Rock. I was five foot nothing and 120 pounds, so I knew I wouldn’t be The Rock, but I knew I could do flips – so I stuck with that. I started wrestling on October 11, 2003, and I didn’t really have a clue about pro wrestling. Once I went to Dragon Gate in Japan nearly eight years later, that’s when I really started learning my style. Then I started to learn about Matt Sydal, Amazing Red, Jack Evans, and AJ Styles – and I tried to combine all four of those guys into one, but also with the charisma of The Rock. Slowly but surely, as I’m pushing 30 at 28 years old, I do a lot more suplexes and strikes rather than just flying. I’m trying to find cool combinations into moves, and that’s really what I’ve been trying to connect for the past two or three years.
When Lucha Underground wanted me to be Prince Puma, I was like their John Cena for the first two seasons. He never did any bad, and he didn’t do anything wrong. Ricochet will tell you to ‘Suck it!’ but Puma would never do that. I can’t be myself as Puma, but the character is a little like Ricochet. I wear a mask as Prince Puma, so you can’t see my facial expressions, and that’s where I learned a lot from El Generico [Sami Zayn]. He could show if he was hurting through body language, and I learned a lot from him.
SI.com: AJ Styles is another of SI’s Wrestlers of the Year. Were you surprised how well he acclimated himself into WWE?
Ricochet: I wasn’t surprised at all. It’s just awesome to see him there, and for a while, I thought it was never going to happen. I’m not surprised at how quick he caught on because he’s legitimately the best in the last ten years – maybe Kenny Omega was better than him this year, but for the last decade, AJ Styles has been the best.
It’s a different business now. Chuck Taylor was talking about how the Hardys were small guys, but the Hardys are huge. There are spots for big guys, but it doesn’t need to be all big guys. AJ Styles has proven you can still get over and still do your thing by being the best guy. Devitt – Finn Balor – is another guy. I’m bigger than Devitt, and he went in, first night, and won the Universal title. I think it’s just changing.
SI.com: Ricochet is a name in the business yet you have not spent a second on WWE television. How much pride do you take in that fact?
Ricochet: I guess I don’t think about it, really. 2015 and 2016 were legitimately the busiest years of my life. They were so busy, which is a good thing. In 2017, I’m really going to try to focus more on my health and fitness, and not be as busy. Those two years were so busy that I was only focused on flying here and doing my match, then flying there and doing my match. My head was down and I was working, but I still see myself as Trevor from Paducah, Kentucky.
I was proud of a bunch of matches this year. My match with Will Ospreay in Japan from this summer had an amazing reaction. When Will wrestled Vader, I wrestled Pete Dunne that night. I guess Will’s finish could have been different, but I never once said a bad thing about Vader, even after he criticized us. We just had a six-man tag in Japan with me, [David] Finley, and [Satoshi] Kojima versus Adam Cole and the Bucks, and I really liked that. I liked me and Finley versus the Bucks from Ryogoku. Just going over to Japan is so fun, so we all just try to have as much fun as we can.
SI.com: Why aren’t you on Smackdown or Raw, or even WWE’s 205 Live cruiserweight show?
Ricochet: Right now, I’m enjoying New Japan. I want to focus on that, and that’s another reason why I’m going to take a lighter schedule in 2017 to focus on Japan. I want to do a lot more New Japan, and I’m really focused on winning the IWGP junior heavyweight championship. I want that title so bad. I’ve always had goals, and that is my last goal. After that, I can focus on the long distance future. The guys on the 205 Live cruiserweight show are awesome – my boy Swann is killing it. But that’s not the route I want. I want to go the Fergal Devitt route. Seth Rollins. Kevin Owens. That’s the route I want to take. I want to work my way up from NXT champion to U.S. or Intercontinental champion. I have goals, and I’m not willing to settle. This is nothing against the cruiserweights on 205, but it’s just not for me.
My girlfriend, Tessa [Blanchard], was just on Raw [during the bar scene with Cesaro and Sheamus]. I actually drove her there. We were in North Carolina spending time with her family, and she got called a day before. It was pretty cool. I just went golfing the other day with Sami Callihan and Tully Blanchard [Author’s note: Tessa is the daughter of Tully Blanchard] . We played eighteen holes, and Tully won by one-hundred swings. Me and Sami had a match in Iowa, and he gave us some advice, as did Magnum T.A. How cool is that to get advice from Tully Blanchard and Magnum T.A.? They’re both really cool guys and they don’t put you down when they give you advice – they’re trying to help you. Kurt Angle just gave me some advice in Scotland, and he did it purely to help me. Rey Mysterio is the same way – he just wants to help you out, and I think that’s so cool.
SI.com: You just mentioned on Twitter that someone on 205 Live literally ripped off a sequence of moves that you created. Does not being affiliated with WWE open the door for other wrestlers to rip off some of your unique skillset? And what are your goals for 2017?
Ricochet: There’s nothing you can do about it when someone takes your stuff. Everything in wrestling has been borrowed, but this was a certain sequence of moves I put into a combination. There’s nothing you can do about it, but it’s not what you do – it’s how you do it. I’m going to keep doing the same stuff I’m trying to perfect.
When I first started wrestling, I was the skinniest little kid. I was just doing it because I thought it was fun, but it started to come together in 2010. It’s really cool that fans want to follow me and my story, so I give them a piece of my real life.
I would love to be Intercontinental champion in 2017. That would be exceeding my goal. I’ve met Triple H a couple times, and he and William Regal are awesome guys. I would love to be with NXT. I feel like the Performance Center has a bunch of tools that I could benefit from – all the classes they have available could make me better. I don’t have a contract at the moment, but I want to focus on New Japan. It’s a super cool place, it’s gaining steam, especially with AJ and Nakamura coming from there to WWE. And I really want that junior heavyweight belt.
Tweet of the Week
Happy New Year, everyone.