The Week in Wrestling: Santino Marella’s Royal Rumble memories

Wednesday January 18th, 2017

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 Santino Marella sharing his memories of the Royal Rumble; The Shoot with JT Dunn; a top ten on the Wrestle Kingdom 11 Intercontinental title match with insight from Tetsuya Naito and Hiroshi Tanahashi; the Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff; and Five Questions with the “Voice of Bellator MMA” Sean Grande.

Santino Marella and his Royal Memories

Courtesy of WWE

Santino Marella has already made his pick for the 2017 Royal RumbleBrock Lesnar.

“I love Brock Lesnar and hope he wins,” said Marella. “I’d have him eliminate Undertaker at the end. That would be a good swerve. Everyone would think Undertaker was going to get his revenge on Brock, and then Brock would eliminate him, as to say, ‘Not today.’ But there are a lot of big names in the Rumble, which means there will be all these big names who don’t win.”

A vote of confidence from Marella, however, may be the kiss of death for Lesnar in the 30-man battle royal. Marella is best known for losing, and the runner-up in the Rumble holds the distinction of the “Santino spot.”

“I have a long history with second place,” admitted Marella, who was speaking out of character as Anthony Carelli. “My brother was born first and I was born second, so I’ve always been number two. At the national championships for judo in Canada, I finished in second place four times before I finally won a gold medal. That is part of the romantic connection with the Santino character. The people always wanted more. They never got completely satisfied with what they wanted to see Santino do.

“I was a one-count away from being world champion, the runner-up to the Rumble, and kept coming close. Ultimately, I’d like to think that if my neck didn’t keep crapping out on me, then there would have been that one miracle day when I finally accomplished that achievement. Yet to leave people in the forever state of always wanting more is a cool thing to have.”

Marella’s most memorable Rumble moments occurred in 2009, 2011, and 2012. He set the record for shortest Royal Rumble appearance in 2009 at 1.9 seconds when Kane eliminated him from the ring.

“Hopefully that record stands for a long time,” said Marella. “I actually know how to beat it, but I’m not going to tell anybody. I found a way to shave off half a second, but I don’t want anyone else to beat it.”

Marella’s elimination was one-tenth of a second quicker than the Warlord’s record, which had been intact since the 1989 Rumble.

“I knew the Warlord’s record was beatable,” said Marella. “There was no sense of urgency in the way he entered the ring. When I broke the record, I had my technique down: I was going to slide under, pop up, and Kane was going to meet me at the right time. I had very little room for error, but I found a way to even beat my record. I think I could do it in about a second-and-a-half.”

Marella is connected to the Rumble in multiple ways, and—fittingly—just fell short of winning the event in 2011 when he finished runner-up to Alberto Del Rio.

“I was just a few steps away from headlining WrestleMania,” said Marella. “The way I was living it in the moment, people really thought I was actually going to do it. When you can give people a real solid swerve, they remember that for a long time.”

Marella explained that he and Del Rio did not meet with Vince McMahon before the match, but instead with WWE agent and producer Jamie Noble.

“Pat Patterson was the mastermind behind all the Rumbles, but Jamie Noble was doing them the last few years that I was there,” said Marella. “You have to be a chess player to know where everybody is, what everybody’s doing, and Jamie has a mind that is good for that sort of stuff. I just put together a Royal Rumble for Battle Arts Pro Wrestling, and it took me a while to figure out what was going on.”

Marella and Mick Foley also delivered a Royal Rumble moment in 2012 when Foley’s Mr. Socko battled Marella’s Cobra.

“Mick and I were brainstorming, and I said, ‘What if we bump into each other’s back, jump around, and do an old-fashioned cowboy draw?’” Marella reminisced. “Mick just started grinning and said, ‘Absolutely, let’s do it.’ We fed off that, and it worked out. The timing of putting on our socks, the audience was into it, but the only thing was they broke it up too early. We wanted to go back-and-forth a little more, but it was interrupted by Cody Rhodes.

“I also like how Kofi Kingston does some incredible moves of agility every year, and even John Morrison used to do some crazy stuff. Wrestling is interesting because there are a lot of ways to build drama, and there is such suspense in the Royal Rumble. It reminds me of the anticipation of holding a wrapped present on Christmas. You have a constant anticipation throughout the whole match, and that’s what makes it so special.”

The 41-year-old Marella officially parted ways with WWE last spring, but he is keeping busy with his Battle Arts Academy in Ontario, Canada.

“When I was in Japan with the original Battle Arts, I fell in love with the fact that the MMA fighters and the pro wrestlers trained together and in the same way,” said Marella. “They’d get to a higher level and then branch off to specialize, but the base was submission wrestling. Japanese pro wrestling, in the traditional sense, is a pro sport and the wrestlers are pro athletes.

“Battle Arts is true to that, and we have three facilities. There is MMA, pro wrestling, and I coach judo, and we have boxing, Olympic wrestling, and the other side is the Ontario Performance Center with explosive power training for football players and hockey players. Right in the middle of the gym, we have the Don Kolov Arena. Originally, it was built for our pro wrestlers to have the opportunity to work in front of a live audience and watch it back afterward for a valuable learning experience. We also have boxing events in the arena, kickboxing events, even a jiu-jitsu superfight card. It’s all growing in a balanced way.”

Neck injuries took their toll on Marella, but he is working behind-the-scenes to put together an independent show highlighting Canada’s best pro wrestlers.

“I’m still around the business,” said Marella. “I’d love to work with WWE and I’d love to get a Canadian developmental territory, and I’ve pitched that. We have everything ready to go, so hopefully the new WWE show in England opens the doors for that kind of thinking.

Marella admitted that he is thrilled to finally be home after years spent on the road, and he has started his first garden and picked up hunting. He also claims he has no plans to break his record at this year’s Royal Rumble.

“I’m retired from the in-ring competition,” said Marella. “My neck is not good. I could probably do a Rumble, but I couldn’t go back on the road. I’m good with contributing in other ways.”

News of the Week

The best possible surprise entrant for the Royal Rumble?

Daniel Bryan.

Bryan should return to eliminate The Miz.

Yes, this would be bittersweet. Bryan is unlikely to ever return to active competition in the WWE, and memories are all that remain of his transcendent wrestling career.

Bryan could enter the Rumble, eliminate a long-standing nemesis in The Miz, then eliminate himself. He wouldn’t have to bump, and he would be the one delivering all of the offense. Bryan could even wear one of those goofy sweaters he sports in his role on Smackdown.

Considering the WWE always seemed to swing-and-miss when it came to Bryan and the Rumble, this would allow for some nice closure.

A return by Bryan, even if short-lived, would be a Royal Rumble moment for the ages and one of the highlights of wrestling for all of 2017.

***

The Elimination Chamber is returning in four weeks, as Smackdown’s AJ Styles, John Cena, The Miz, and Dean Ambrose have all been announced as competitors in the match.

The show will be just two weeks—yes, two weeks—after the Royal Rumble.

One of the major problems with the brand split is the inability to properly build a pay per view. The Elimination Chamber is one of the most exciting matches of the year, but matches need story behind it in order for the athleticism and moves to have meaning.

In other news…

• Kurt Angle is the perfect choice to headline this year’s Hall of Fame ceremony. Angle spoke yesterday with SI.com, and shared he is also thrilled to celebrate out-of-ring moments like Milk-O-Mania and singing his own rendition of Sexy Boy:

“I do want to be remembered as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, but the entertainment factor also has a huge impact,” said Angle. “That should be accented every bit as much as the wrestling. I really wasn’t funny, but that’s what made it so funny. That is just as important as the wrestling, and fans are going to remember that. The fans always reach out to me on social media for memories about the entertaining moments.”

• The “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels admitted to Sports Illustrated that he wrestled while drunk, yet was so talented in the ring that most people would never notice. Despite Michaels’ brilliance in the ring, his demons—which include wrestling with vices far greater than alcohol—leave him a notch below Bret “The Hitman” Hart in the annals of the WWE. Michaels and Hart will forever be connected through the “Montreal Screwjob,” and while Hart did not offer the flash or sizzle or HBK, the “Excellence of Execution” was entertaining in the ring, allowed his opponents to shine in compelling matches, and never put his fellow wrestlers at risk.

• Jim Ross still has his fastball, as evidenced by his call of the Kenny Omega-Kazuchika Okada match from Wrestle Kingdom 11 that aired this past Friday on AXS TV. The decision to have Okada retain the IWGP heavyweight championship, despite brilliant storytelling and the added element that it took four of Okada’s Rainmaker clotheslines to finish off Omega, still feels like a missed opportunity by New Japan.

• The return of Brock Lesnar on Raw served as a reminder that the “Beast Incarnate” instantly becomes the single most captivating figure whenever he steps foot on Raw. Lesnar and Heyman remain the WWE's top act, and Lesnar needs to go over Goldberg at WrestleMania in convincing fashion.

• The WWE crowned Tyler Bate as its first ever United Kingdom champion this past weekend in London, but the stars of the tournament were Mark Andrews—who joined The Shoot this past September—and Pete Dunne, who finished as the runner-up. Both Andrews and Dunn wrestled one another in the PWG BOLA this past September.

• Nigel McGuinness was on commentary for the UK Tournament, and his contributions to the business of professional wrestling were perfectly captured in this story on WWE.com: “How Nigel McGuinness helped influence a generation of Superstars.” I would have also enjoyed reading the perspective from those who never competed with McGuinness—John Cena, AJ Styles (who is connected with McGuinness through TNA), and Shinsuke Nakamura are three who standout—to see what, if any, influence he had on those who watched his work from afar.

• Zack Ryder is arguably the most lovable underdog in wrestling since Daniel Bryan. There is understandable disappointment at the news of his recent knee injury that will reportedly keep him out of action for the next four-to-nine months. The disappointment is further compounded by the fact that Ryder suffered the setback as he was on the cusp of winning the tag team titles on Smackdown with Mojo Rawley. Ryder is also a cancer survivor, which he shares in this video with Michael Cole, and the interview also serves as a reminder of how his one-day run as Intercontinental champion after WrestleMania 32 was such a missed opportunity for WWE.

• Jimmy Snuka passed away at the age of 73 this past Sunday. Snuka was known as “Superfly” and took to the air in ways that were previously unseen throughout the history of WWE. His “Superfly Splash” off the steel cage against Don “The Rock” Muraco at Madison Square Garden in 1983 was cited as a major inspiration and helped change the business. Snuka is a WWE Hall of Famer, but his legacy may be overshadowed by his from being charged with the 1983 murder of his then-girlfriend, Nancy Argentino, in a case that was recently reopened but then closed due to Snuka’s failing health. Despite a legendary career, the death of Argentino will eternally haunt the legacy of Jimmy Snuka.

Extra Mustard
WWE superstars mourn death of Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka

• The Rock and Tom Brady announced their new tag team partnership with Under Armour, which saw The Rock outshine Brady in a battle of who-can-cut-a-better-promo. Brady, however, has defeated countless of Rock’s brethren from the University of Miami during his storybook NFL career, including this past Saturday night against the Houston Texans’ Lamar Miller.

• Coming attractions: SI.com will have an exclusive interview with Sabu this Monday, and the Week in Wrestling is also set to unveil The Shoot from “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair in next week’s Royal Rumble-themed edition of the weekly column.

Top Ten: Naito vs. Tanahashi

Courtesy of AXS TV

This edition of “The Weekly Top Ten” details the top ten highlights of the Wrestle Kingdom 11 co-main event between New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Tetsuya Naito and Hiroshi Tanahashi.

Naito is the reigning Intercontinental champion and leader of the popular heel faction Los Ingobernables de Japon (The Ungovernables of Japan), while Tanahashi is a living legend and known as the “Ace of New Japan.”

The 25-minute match, which took place on Jan, 4 in the Tokyo Dome, will be broadcast on AXS TV this Friday at 8pm ET with commentary from Jim Ross and Josh Barnett.

Naito delivered on his promise to defeat Tanahashi, who rarely loses at Wrestle Kingdom and entered the match with an 8-2 record on January 4 at the Tokyo Dome.

“Pro wrestling fans all over the world who watched this match now know what sets Tetsuya Naito and Los Ingobernables de Japon apart from the rest of the wrestling world,” Naito told Sports Illustrated. “The truth is I did respect Tanahashi, but that’s old news now, just like him. He’s a shell of his former self. What is there to respect now? I would have really liked to have taken on the sharper, fiercer Tanahashi at the Tokyo Dome.”

Tanahashi dealt with an injury-riddled year in 2016, but he remains a seven-time former IWGP heavyweight champion.

“The Naito I faced at Wrestle Kingdom 11 was overflowing with self-confidence,” admitted Tanahashi. “While I planned to focus on his knee to take him down, instead it was me who took the beating.”

Here are the top ten moments from the Intercontinental title match at Wrestle Kingdom:

10.) The pre-match video package from AXS TV: AXS captured the importance of the match, and it was interesting to hear Tanahashi discuss Shinsuke Nakamura in the video.

9.) Naito’s entrance: That skull mask? Pure fire.

8.) Naito’s antagonistic wheelhouse: Naito pokes, prods, and provokes so well, even spitting in the face of the “Ace” of New Japan. Few play the role of heel better than Tetsuya Naito.

7.) Tanahashi’s “High Fly Flow” frog splash: Nick Jackson of the Young Bucks described the self-inflicted punishment of Tanahashi’s frog splash: “He’s pumping mid-air then taking it straight on his knees and elbows. He’s going full throttle opening himself up completely.”

6.) Tanahashi attacking Naito’s right knee: The idea of the match was that Tanahashi would take advantage of Naito’s surgically repaired right knee, but Naito was prepared for the attack.

5.) Naito attacking Tanahashi’s left knee: Naito attacked the left knee of Tanahashi right from beginning, and he delivered his attack with incredible precision.

4.) The commentary: Jim Ross was even better in this match than he was in calling Omega-Okada, as he was genuinely invested in the psychology of the match, and Josh Barnett also sounded very comfortable breaking down and analyzing as Naito and Tanahashi methodically went after each other’s leg.

3.) Foreshadowing the finish: Naito’s precise attack on Tanahashi’s leg—more specifically, his left knee—was so well sold throughout the match that it would make Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat proud.

2.) The prelude: The idea that Naito was always one step ahead of Tanahashi was the real story of the match.

1.) The finish: Naito winning is the right call, which is an even more significant moment in New Japan as this marks the first time that Tanahashi has ever lost in consecutive years at Wrestle Kingdom.

Courtesy of NJPW

Naito grew irritated when asked if he is now the new “Ace” of New Japan.

“The ‘Ace’ of New Japan?” asked Naito. “I couldn’t care less about that title. I’m a Los Ingobernables de Japon man through and through.

Tanahashi, who admitted that sitting on the losing end of a Wrestle Kingdom match remains foreign territory, vowed to return to prominence.

“I will look to challenge for a rematch, but first I need to get results I can be satisfied with, results I can be proud of,” said Tanahashi. “My first focus is building my confidence up again. Right now, I’m thinking on the best ways to get there. I know I will in time.”

Naito stated that he has no plans to pursue the IWGP heavyweight title. He did note, however, that the championship belt may choose to chase him.

“There is no championship more prestigious than the IWGP heavyweight belt, but I’m not interested in chasing after it,” explained Naito. “The reason is I’m simply at a higher level than that. Little by little, the IWGP heavyweight championship is coming close to reaching me. It hasn’t stopped chasing me since I left it. So whats my plan? What should I be doing? The answer is, but of course, ‘Tranquilo’—just calm down.”

The Nitro Files: World War 3

Courtesy of WWE

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.”

Eric Bischoff always enjoyed the concept of the WWE’s Royal Rumble.

World War 3 was a Bischoff-orchestrated pay per view that began in 1995 and ran for four years. Clearing up the ground between fact and fiction, Bischoff also explained that World War 3 was created with the Royal Rumble as a model but designed to be even grander with 60 men and three rings.

“It was taking the Royal Rumble and putting it on steroids,” said Bischoff. “We wanted to make that idea bigger and feel different. The challenge wasn’t to be better than WWE, and I’ll discuss that very subject this week on my podcast. I’m a firm believer that, when you are embarking upon a new endeavor in a competitive environment, the last thing you should worry about is being better than your competition.

“More often than not, you’ll fail against the incumbent at trying to be better. If you focus on becoming different, then you might likely find a niche to become more popular. That was what Nitro and WCW was all about—trying to become different, and World War 3 was a manifestation of that.”

The genesis of the creation of World War 3 came directly from Bischoff’s challenge to turn a profit for WCW.

“We were increasing the number of pay per views,” said Bischoff. “If you go back to ‘94 and ‘95, one of the criticisms that came my way on a regular basis was that I was going to dilute the value of pay per views by increasing the number of them.”

Bischoff created the modern day monthly pay per view model by first increasing from four to six shows per year, then moving to eight, then ultimately moving to twelve.

“When I started increasing then number of pay per views, the WWE followed suit,” said Bischoff, noting a key distinction in his business method. “I did it because I had to do it. WCW was hemorrhaging money because pay per views were one of the only sources of revenue that WCW had. We didn’t have the license fees that WWE enjoyed because we were programming content for our own network, so there were no paydays or television licensing revenue stream that WWE enjoyed from the USA Network.

“Conversely, our house show business was losing money hand over fist. We didn’t have established licensing in merchandising, so the only thing WCW had, for the most part, was pay per view. So for survival, I had to increase the number of pay per views, and I needed to give each pay per view as much personality and identity as possible. World War 3 was the result of, ‘How can we do something different?’ The idea of three rings going on simultaneously put the battle royal on nitroglycerin, and that was the genesis of it all.”

Xavier Woods and 2064: Read Only Memories

2064: Read Only Memories, which includes Xavier Woods’ first video game voiceover role, has released its official trailer.

The Shoot: JT Dunn

Courtesy of JT Dunn

JT Dunn refers to himself as “Pro Wrestling’s Savior,” which is a title rife with irony, as pro wrestling actually saved his life. Dunn is a star in New England, but also an emerging talent across the world of wrestling, and the 27-year-old from Providence is finally ready to share his story.

Wrestling with Addiction

The ability to stand back up each time we are knocked down is the real testament to our life journey.

My life, much like others, has been nothing short of a 12-round boxing match. Simply taking a beating from all angles but finding the motivation to get back up to fight. My motivation? Life. The most consistent aspect of my life has been and always will be my battle with addiction.

From a young age, I developed obsessive tendencies and have a very addictive personality. I grew up with the support of my mother who, like the majority of mothers, told me I could do anything in this world as long as I worked hard for it. I was addicted to my mother’s positivity. Our lives were far from great, but my mother never stopped smiling.

My mother passed away in 2004. I was 14 years old and a freshman in high school. Devastated would be an understatement as to how I felt and still feel. It was at that time I realized that reality was not for me and I needed to alter it. I began to experiment with drugs and alcohol because “my friends” assured me the pain would go away. At 14 years old, I began down a path that would dictate the rest of my life.

At 16 years old I found out about independent wrestling when I came across a match featuring CM Punk versus Chris Hero. I had always watched wrestling, but I just didn’t understand its intricacies. I was fascinated by “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who was the coolest guy I had ever seen. However, Punk versus Hero connected with me on an entirely different level. I saw the actual wrestling aspect and these two men with such carefree attitudes. I wanted to be just like them. With my life being so consumed by my addictions, this was finally a positive for me. With no clue on how to actually enter training, I took every opportunity possible to be near a ring—even if it was frowned upon by those who went about it the proper way.

A year plus into “training” and thinking I was doing everything the right way my grandmother passed away. My grandmother was my strongest connection to my mother. I was reintroduced to darkness, my old friend. Professional wrestling is notorious for the ability to access drugs as well as alcohol. I now found this darker hole and allowed it to consume me. I was unattached from reality and did not realize I was making every wrong move in professional wrestling. I had garnered myself a horrible reputation in my home area of New England with many veterans being vocal about removing me from shows. I spent the next couple of years making the same mistakes but making some friends who saw I desperately needed help. Just when I was ready to give up on life altogether, I met two of my absolute best friends, Dave Cole and Triplelicious.

Even with my personal life in shambles I was getting better with my in-ring work and began to find proper training from reputable schools in the area. This led to a phone call from a man named Rich Bass and PWF-New England when another wrestler could not make it. He explained I had one chance to change people’s minds and earn a spot with a reputable company in New England. He didn’t care about my demons as long as it didn’t interfere with my professional work. I met Dave Cole and spent more time with Triplelicious, who vouched for me to Bass. It was a conversation with Cole that completely changed my perspective. He told me what others said about me, that my addiction was out of control and I was on borrowed time. In that moment I realized that there is no reason he would go out of his way, along with Triplelicious, if I didn’t possess positives. It was now up to me to change my life.

I took the opportunities with PWF-NE and poured my heart and soul into everything. I was still battling my demons but I finally had something to fight for… me. In 2012, I made the decision to save my life and I quit everything cold turkey. No meetings, no program, no help. I’m a very stubborn person and that mentality brought me to this point and it set me free. I proceeded to torture my mind and body in the process. This led me to working for Beyond Wrestling, which professionally changed everything for me. Beyond was growing and trying to become more than it was at that time—and so was I. We became the perfect fit for each other. Drew Cordeiro saw how motivated I was to be the best. He saw how motivated I was to make Beyond the most talked about promotion. Together we aimed to change wrestling in New England.

We brought Beyond Wrestling to my home city of Providence by running shows in collaboration with Fete Music. This changed the dynamic of wrestling in New England. I was able to pick my opponent for the first ever and I picked Johnny Gargano.

Gargano’s story inspired me and his in-ring ability was something I emulated. This match led to more high-profile matches and bookings and I finally earned respect amongst my peers. They saw my life change so rapidly. I was now clean and sober, working harder than ever to be the best I could in the ring and the fans of Providence embraced me wholeheartedly. I love my city and I cherish the opportunity Beyond Wrestling gave me to find myself. This growth allowed me to travel more on the independents with places like CZW, FIP, Evolve and even the all-women’s promotion of WSU (which was so much fun, those wrestlers are motivating!). I was able to make noise in the tag team wrestling ranks with David Starr as Juicy Product. We went on to hold the CZW and FIP World Tag Team Championships at the same time, which has only ever been done by the Briscoe Brothers in 2002. A lot of the success attained as Juicy Product would have never been possible without the aid of Oi4K (Jake & Dave Crist). They taught us how to wrestle like a team, be confident and earn opportunities. I’ll forever be grateful for them.

Juicy Product was beginning to fade. In wrestling so many things come and go, that’s just how it is. I wanted more, not in a selfish way, but in the way of a life challenge. I needed something else to push forward with and for. Enter the return of “Knockout Artist” Chris Hero, my idol.

Hero was the man I idolized. I emulated him every way I could purely out of respect and admiration. Everyone knew and recognized that everything I was doing in Pro Wrestling was to get to Chris Hero, even when I didn’t see it. When he returned to independent wrestling, Beyond Wrestling didn’t even hesitate to pull the trigger on this matchup. Our first match was in Providence and was my first time main-eventing a star studded Beyond Wrestling show. Mentally and physically I felt better than ever. I was still clean and I wasn’t even thinking about drugs or alcohol. I was purely in love with life.

The first match with Hero ended via double knockout leading to a second match to be held under Last Man Standing rules. These two matches again altered my professional career and helped bring me to a new level in the ranks of wrestling. When approached by Beyond Wrestling to come back, Hero stated he wanted to team with me and see if there was anything there. There was instant chemistry, and we called ourselves “Death By Elbow”. Never in my life did I think I would share the ring with Chris, let alone form a tag team with him. The respect level Chris has attained through his years of hard work assures that his stamp of approval means something. Death By Elbow brought me into a level of wrestling elite that previously I had no clue existed.

Death By Elbow solidified my name amongst the best in the world. To remain at that level and show the world I belong there on my own merit was the toughest obstacle professionally I’ve endured. Death By Elbow led to working with Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, which is the place to be if you’re truly one of the best. We were able to go there and showcase what we can do. I knew I needed to deliver and now after three appearances there, it’s safe to say I’ve listened to everything Chris has taught me.

The World Tag Team League hosted by WXW in Germany is one of the most elite tournaments in the world, showcasing the best tag team talent from around the globe. Hero and I were invited to participate last year. After nearly winning the tournament (also having a MOTYC versus Zack Sabre Jr. & Marty Scurll) on top of several days straight of wrestling on my first international tour, Death By Elbow resonated throughout the building and again I was riding a high of life. No temptation to drink, no temptation to take pills because I was with my brother Chris Hero living my wildest dreams out.

Those experiences led me to round out 2016 with the achievement of over four years clean and sober. I then began a rivalry I never expected against Cody Rhodes. Our first encounter would happen for Pro Wrestling Magic in New Jersey. Cody wanted the absolute best after his WWE departure. I believed I could bring that fight like no other. We went on to battle for the What Culture Pro Wrestling Internet Championship (which he just won in the United Kingdom) knowing a lot of eyes were on this match. After over 30 minutes in the ring with Cody, I was defeated via Cross Rhodes but felt like a winner. I brought the fight out of Cody. I earned his respect. I did that by myself. No tag match. Just JT Dunn vs Cody Rhodes. The rematch was immediately set for Limitless Wrestling on Jan. 27 in Westbrook, Maine.

If it were not for my failures leading into 2012 I would have never grown to experience these moments. Beating addiction will always be my greatest accomplishment. Addiction is real and can consume the strongest.

Thanks to these hardships I was able to shine light on my life through a partnership with Strong Style Brand and Frankie Screamz to produce “Relentless”, which is a documentation of 2016 and forward of my professional career. This has helped my progression throughout the last year and is a big motivator to share my story without the worry of being judged. Being in control has led me around the world to work for some amazing companies. 2016 was my most successful year to date. Earning opportunities to work for TNA Impact Wrestling, Chaotic Wrestling, DreamWave Wrestling, Atlanta Wrestling Entertainment, Xtreme Wrestling Alliance, Five Borough Wrestling, Top Rope Promotions, Northeast Wrestling and House of Glory. All of these companies allowed me the chance to grow and become a better person. Their belief in me reassures me that I’m on the correct path in life.

Professional wrestling wasn’t always my dream. Then I fell in love with it and haven’t looked back since. This journey has allowed me to meet people from around the world and help those who can relate to my life. Professional wrestling saved my life, literally. I have learned life lessons while gaining life experiences because of wrestling. I now have a platform to speak where others will listen and with that platform I plan to continue on this path. A path of positivity, aiding those in need and continuing to become the person my mother saw before any of this became my reality. She believed in me. She’s always part of my motivation. Tina Dunn is still smiling. I wear her name because it gives me confidence, not in wrestling but in life.

My mother told me with hard work I can grow up to become anything I want and she was absolutely correct. I grew up to be the inspiration for others that she was for me. That’s what I’m destined to be.

So thank you, Mom. I still love you.

2017 already has me smiling.

~ JT Dunn

Something to Wrestle with Conrad Thompson

Courtesy of Conrad Thompson

Conrad Thompson and Bruce Prichard return to the MLW airwaves this Friday to discuss a… certain Royal Rumble.

“Much like the ’94 Rumble, it’s a controversy with two winners,” said Thompson.

The poll voting—which included Rumbles from 2005, 1998, 1994, and 1991—went down to the wire until, finally, the ’94 and ’98 Rumbles tied with 27 percent of the 5,389 votes.

“We’ll either talk about the time The Undertaker went to heaven, which has to be in the book of bad ideas, or we’ll discuss the casket match in ’98 with The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels,” said Thompson. “In so many ways, that match in ’98 changed the future of wrestling.”

Thompson also announced that “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” will unveil a special edition of the podcast with a show entirely dedicated to Vince McMahon and the XFL that will air on Feb. 10.

“The ESPN 30-for-30 will run on Feb. 2, and our show on the 10th will serve as the companion piece on the XFL,” revealed Thompson.

“We were also certainly planning to do another Rumble show, but we will put ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka on the poll next week. I think there will be a big appetite for all things Snuka.”

Five Questions with… Sean Grande

Courtesy of Sean Grande

Sean Grande is the voice of Bellator MMA, which is delivering Bellator 170 on Spike TV this Saturday from The Forum in Inglewood, California, headlined by Chael Sonnen battling Tito Ortiz.

Grande is also the radio voice of the Boston Celtics, as well as an authority on all things pro wrestling. His connections in the business of professional wrestling run deep, and he is close both personally and professionally with Jim Ross, who often joins Grande on the air for Celtics games in Oklahoma City against the Thunder. Grande helped broker the connection between Bellator and Kurt Angle, and you can see him interact on Twitter with a myriad of friends in pro wrestling, including Mick Foley, JR, and CM Punk.

SI.com: Does this Friday’s fight at Bellator 170 favor Chael Sonnen or Tito Ortiz? How much prep goes into calling a match of this caliber? And what else on the card stands out to you?

Grande: The people I talk to seem to be leaning towards Chael. His wrestling is so, so good. But people are thinking of the injured Tito of the last few years, and forgetting he had a great camp and was winning the first round in his title fight with Liam McGeary in September of 2015 and just got caught by a world class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu player. This is his last walk down the ramp, I have no doubt he’ll be ready. Prep-wise, on the one hand, two extraordinarily well-known fighters, on the other, there’s so much tape available. So many great fights of theirs to watch. Particularly for Chael, as this is the first time I’ve called one of his fights.

It’s a great card, start to finish, on Spike, showcasing some really intriguing fighters who have earned their place on this show. Hisaki Kato has been must-see; I’m really intrigued style-wise to see him match up with Ralek Gracie. We have two very high-level prospects that have been fun to watch: Derek Andrerson trying to get into the lightweight title picture against Derek Campos, who knocked out Melvin Guillard in front of Mike Tyson last year, and Emmanuel Sanchez, a Duke Roufus fighter that always brings it. But every fighter on our roster is pumped for Paul Daley and Brennan Ward. This fight, this is Bellator at its best—it’s two ferocious bangers who knock guys out. There are huge expectations for the fight, and huge ramifications in what’s now a crazy-loaded welterweight division. We don’t know exactly when Rory MacDonald will be ready, so with 19-2 Andrey Koreshkov, 12-0 MVP [Michael “Venom” Page] and Chidi Njokuani (who fights Melvin Guillard on Jan. 27) all waiting… an impressive win for Ward or Daley could earn either of them the next title shot.

SI.com: In an ideal world, who would you like to see CM Punk fight in a Bellator cage? And, sticking with our “perfect world” theme, which WrestleMania would CM Punk have headlined against Daniel Bryan?

Grande: I fully admit bias on this one. I’ve been a fan [of Punk] for many years and I’ve known him for about five. But he’s absolutely on the somewhat long list of UFC fighters I think would be better served in Bellator. The great Cris Cyborg is another, the Diaz brothers certainly belong back “home” with Scott Coker. But biased or not, there was true irony in Punk ending up with the UFC, when all the free agents coming to Bellator have talked about the freedom they now enjoy to be themselves, the respect they get from the promotion/Spike/Viacom, when you consider the issues that led him to leave WWE in the first place.

I’d have to think back on it, but it seems like WrestleMania 28 was the perfect spot for Punk to headline. Rock-Cena I, and Punk-Bryan for the title was the perfect co-main event, right?  If the idea was to have something for everyone, that was the way to do it. It hasn’t even been six years, but I think people already forget how organically hot Punk got in the summer of 2011 off the “shoot” promo. I’m not a Reigns-hater in any way, but when you look at how many chances he’s gotten, you can just imagine how big that long Punk title run could’ve been with just a little more behind it.

SI.com: Vince McMahon asks you to book WrestleMania 33. How to you build the card? What is the main event?

Grande: First thing I would tell him is I’m a play-by-play guy, and when it comes to pro wrestling, I’m just a loyal customer since Bob Backlund and Larry Zbyszko in 1980. But I don’t share the dim view a lot of people have of the company right now. I think the three-hour Raw idea is calamitous. In an age with more choices and shorter attention spans, it’s gone from start-to-finish must-see TV, to “I’ll just keep an eye on Twitter to see when to check in.” The roster is very deep with talent right now. You’ve had bad luck with injuries (Balor, Rollins) but that happens. I think my only two-cents would be this: If Cena and Brock and Goldberg and Taker are still truly needle-movers, then why do we need to see them against each other when there are so many younger talents on the roster who deserve that rub? And if you don’t think younger talent can carve out their own star-niche, please see Flair, Charlotte and Banks, Sasha.

SI.com: In addition to serving as the voice of Bellator MMA, you are also heard on the airwaves as the radio voice of the 17-time world champion Boston Celtics. The most memorable Celtics team of the past thirty years is the tea, led by Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, in 2008 that defeated the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA championship. Were the 2008 Celtics babyfaces or heels? If they were the NBA’s version of the NWO, then who is Hogan, Nash, and Hall? Would Rajon Rondo have served as the equivalent to X-Pac? And would Danny Ainge have been the group’s Eric Bischoff?

Grande: On one level, the NWO is the perfect analogy because they were babyfaces in some geographic locations and heels everywhere else. But, and I know growing up in South Carolina watching them—and KG would certainly appreciate this—they really were the Horsemen. Celtic fans can debate who was Ric Flair (KG) and who was Barry Windham (Pierce). I mean, we’re doing the Windham one here, not the Luger one, right, because, yeah, you want the best one. Ray Allen as the technically flawless, always reliable Arn Anderson and Rondo, I suppose, as the one who rubbed people the wrong way (Tully Blanchard). Plus just like the Horsemen, you had different guys come in and out of the group (James Posey, Jason Terry, Big Baby).

SI.com: If you could bring any professional wrestler into the world of Bellator to fight Bobby Lashley—who headlined WrestleMania 22 against Umaga in a hair versus hair match between Vince McMahon and Donald Trump—who would you choose and why?

Grande: Well, that’s a pretty easy one, right?  There’s no doubt the money fight is Lashley and Brock Lesnar. But if you had control over time and space, the answer could be a little more intriguing. Last year I asked Kurt Angle if the landscape had been different in 1998, if MMA had been 10 percent as big then as it is now… he didn’t even let me finish the question. He absolutely would have gone MMA. So my real choice, would probably be, say, 2001 Kurt Angle, before the toll pro wrestling put on his body. But hey, let’s not forget the historical importance of Bobby Lashley, by the way. If he loses at WrestleMania 22, and it’s not Vince that loses his hair, but the other guy has to shave his head? Our world right now might be a very different place.

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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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