Week in Wrestling: Bobby Lashley says Trump isn’t racist; Shane Helms on Brady and Ric Flair

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Wednesday February 8th, 2017

SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling. This Super Bowl edition includes a feature interview with Impact Wrestling champion Bobby Lashley; The Shoot on the Super Bowl with Shane Helms; the Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff; a Top Ten with Kayfabe Commentaries; and Five Questions with The Blue Meanie.

Bobby Lashley on WWE, President Trump, and his fourth reign as Impact Wrestling’s world champion

Courtesy of TNA

Bobby Lashley is in the midst of his fourth reign as Impact Wrestling world champion. Known as “The Destroyer,” Lashley also competes as a heavyweight for Bellator MMA—his mixed martial arts record is an impressive 15–2—and he also helped headline Wrestlemania 23 with Umaga a decade ago, in a match that featured the infamous “Hair vs. Hair” match between Vince McMahon and Donald Trump. Now 40, Lashley is at the peak of his wrestling game and plans to continue to dominate Impact Wrestling for the foreseeable future.

Bobby Lashley has attained success on the amateur wrestling mat, as well as on the pro wrestling ring and the mixed martial arts cage. Yet there is one fight that has eluded him: a matchup with “The Beast Incarnate” Brock Lesnar.

“I want that fight with Brock Lesnar,” said Lashley. “I don’t care if it’s the ring, the cage, or in a street fight.”

Both Lashley and Lesnar are heavyweights, though Lesnar has competed for the majority of his career in the UFC, a rival promotion of Bellator’s. After his pro wrestling program concludes with Bill Goldberg, WWE could turn a profit off Lesnar/Lashley if they seriously pursued the 40-year-old grad of Missouri Valley College.

“Brock is at one of the highest points in the business, so high that they’re trying to bring him down to make other stars. Brock brings legitimacy to the business, and he has Paul Heyman with him to do everything else he can’t do. I’m completely up for that fight.”

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Lashley worked closely with President Donald Trump a decade ago during the build to WrestleMania 23. Trump and Vince McMahon were involved in a “Battle of the Billionaires,” and Lashley, representing Trump, defeated Umaga, which allowed Trump to shave McMahon’s head.

“Everybody gives Trump an extremely bad rap,” said Lashley. “He’s a businessman, so he is not trying to rub your back and tell you everything is going to be OK. He is going to set standards and, when everything is in chaos, you need someone who is willing to do what needs to be done. He’s going to take abuse for the next four years, but when everything gets fixed, then we can elect someone like The Rock, who will make everyone feel good. There is a time for strict and there is a time for leniency, and I don’t think he is a bad person for the job.”

Trump has been dogged for years by accusations that he is racist, which Lashley outright denied.

“I worked with him at WrestleMania, so when the media starts throwing all these accusations at him, I can tell you he was not racist,” said Lashley. “He made that WrestleMania so successful because he was great in his role as ‘The Donald.’ He had WWE on a big billboard in Times Square, he put us in different media outlets that we otherwise wouldn’t have been in, and he helped make that the largest WrestleMania in history. We need a leader who can make change, and he is the man.”

In addition to his current run as Impact Wrestling champion, Lashley is carving out some time in his busy schedule for WrestleMania weekend. Lashley battles Jeff Cobb during the WrestleCon Supershow on Friday, March 31. If he is finished with his match in time, he revealed that his goal is to attend the WWE Hall of Fame to watch his friend and mentor, Kurt Angle, be inducted.

“Hopefully I can get some tickets to the Hall of Fame,” said Lashley. “I want to be there to support Kurt and congratulate him. Kurt got me into the wrestling business. He saw me at the Olympic training center when he was doing a vignette, and he said, ‘Man, you’ve got a great look. You might want to really consider pro wrestling.’ It’s magic when Kurt is out there. If Kurt wasn’t in the Hall of Fame, then there was something wrong with the Hall of Fame. Kurt is a star, and I’m extremely happy for him.”

Extra Mustard
Kurt Angle on WWE Hall of Fame induction: The fans spoke and WWE listened

Arriving at a WWE event will inevitably lead to speculation that Lashley is returning to his former company, where he worked from 2004-2008, but he revealed that he has no current plans to depart Impact Wrestling.

“I’m really happy where I am,” said Lashley. “I’ve never been a politics guy in wrestling, I’m just someone who came out and worked. I’m a product of amateur wrestling, and there is no one there to help you with matches or win matches—you have to do it yourself. I love wrestling, and of course WWE is the main stage, but I’m happy to be with TNA. If the right scenario ever came up to return, then it’s a possibility, but I am extremely happy where I am right now.

“Do I have anything left to prove now that I’m a four-time champion? Every time I go out there, I have something to prove. Something more, something different. I deserve the title right now, and there are so many other things I deserve in the business of professional wrestling that I’m going after, so I’m going after the things I deserve.”

Impact is building toward a compelling feud between Lashley and MMA star Josh Barnett. In addition to a 20-year MMA career, Barnett has also competed with New Japan Pro Wrestling and currently provides color commentary alongside Jim Ross on New Japan’s Friday night television program on AXS TV.

“Josh Barnett wants to get back in pro wrestling, but he doesn’t know what he is getting himself into,” warned Lashley. “Josh is a great fighter. He’s always been into pro wrestling, and he worked in Japan, so it’s not like he doesn’t have skills and it’s not like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But he’s in my world now, and I’m going to make him pay his dues. He can be on the show, he can be a star on the show, but he’s not ready for my spot at the top.”

Lashley is the product of hard work, which is embodied in the ways he trains and has led to him developing one of the most unique physiques in the entire business.

“When people underestimate or think my success has come easily, that doesn’t bother me,” said Lashley. “There are ignorant people, ones who simply don’t know, all over the world. I went through the trenches. My family comes from Panama, and I grew up in a single parent household with my mother, who barely spoke English. She couldn’t get a good job, yet there were four of us for her to raise. I grew up with nothing, and that was my motivation. I didn’t want to be a part of that life anymore.

“When you wake up and there is no hot water, that sucks. So I’d have to go boil water to make it hot. Those were parts of my life that I resented, and I trained on a whole other level to get out of there. Training was all I did, I busted my ass. The harder I’ve trained, the luckier I’ve got.”

Lashley has brought the style he learned in the WWE to Impact Wrestling, but, he revealed, he is far more talented now after truly learning the craft.

“When I first came up in the WWE, we knew the style of showmanship,” said Lashley. “That was the style of superstars for the main stage, and it’s a big piece to this big chess game of wrestling. I didn’t get enough background in the technical aspect of wrestling. I was thrust onto such a big stage in a short amount of time, and I thought I knew everything, but there is so much to wrestling. Impact Wrestling has really allowed me to enhance my game, and I can work with anyone now. I’ve traveled around the world learning different types of wrestling, including the lucha style in Mexico, and put it in my repertoire. My game, right now, is at a very high level.

“I main evented one of the largest WrestleManias in history, but I still had to beg and plead to get in the business. I was a single father, training at five in the morning, and no one believed in me as a fighter or a wrestler. There is a whole buddy system in wrestling, but I’ve never been part of that. As far as those people that think I’ve had an easy road, they are sorely mistaken. I’m still proving myself.”

The other world champions in pro wrestling include John Cena, Kevin Owens, Adam Cole, and Kazuchika Okada. Lashley admitted that he constantly compares himself to the other elite talents in the business, and takes a lot of pride in defending his world title – both in and out of Impact Wrestling.

“I compare myself to the other world champions in wrestling, and I hope they’re comparing themselves to me,” said Lashley. “I’m bringing it hard on these guys right now. There are a lot of levels to beat me on if you want to be champion. We had the whole deal with Conor McGregor smack talking the guys in wrestling. That’s the key part about being a world champion in wrestling – you defend the title against everyone else in your promotion, but you’re also defending against everybody outside of the wrestling business that wants to talk trash. Conor McGregor said he’d b---h-slap any professional wrestler, but he wasn’t talking about me. He wouldn’t do it to me. I bring legitimacy to wrestling. I’m not a character. I am trying to hurt people and take what I deserve.

“If someone wants the title, then come beat me. Come take it from me, but you have to beat me across the board, and no one is capable of that.”

News of the Week

The latest setback to Seth Rollins—an MCL tear suffered during the Samoa Joe beatdown last week on Raw—changes plans for WrestleMania 33, which was supposed to see Rollins battle Triple H.

Yet the injury, when reframed, can also be looked at as a blessing in disguise.

Rollins returned this past May after missing six months due to tearing his ACL, MCL, and medial meniscus, but the return has been an abject failure. Despite overwhelming fan support for Rollins while he was rehabbing his knee, the WWE decided to have him return as a heel. Rollins’ heel persona was once a cutting edge character, but the refusal to evolve simply made him stale. His return was poorly executed, and even his building feud with Triple H – which kicked off because Triple H chose to support Kevin Owens as his champion instead of Rollins – was never fully fleshed out. Rollins even recently started teaming up with Roman Reigns, which made no absolutely zero sense, considering Rollins pteviously turned on Reigns, broke up The Shield, and made his life hell for over a year.

WWE needs to fully commit to Rollins as a babyface when he returns from this current setback. Rollins needs to fully explain his past actions, if he regrets breaking up The Shield, and the reason for his animosity toward Triple H. This injury is a chance to truly reboot Rollins.

The injury is also causing a ripple effect for WrestleMania 33.

Reports of the card—including Rollins-Triple H, a mixed tag match featuring John Cena and Nikki Bella against The Miz and Maryse, as well as AJ Styles versus Shane McMahon—look extremely underwhelming.

The Rollins injury creates an opening on the card for Triple H, who is now rumored to wrestle Shane McMahon—which would be a genuinely compelling match-up, particularly considering the real-life friction between the two—and frees AJ Styles up for a match with Finn Balor, a three-way for the WWE championship, or a rematch with Cena.

In other news…

• The opening scene on Raw was extremely well done. Although it took a moment to grow familiar to seeing Samoa Joe in a suit, his moment with Mick Foley and Roman Reigns set the stage for a compelling main event between Reigns and Joe. While the match was hurt by outside interference from Braun Strowman, the sight of the seventeen-year veteran Samoa Joe on the main event of Raw was incredible to watch.

• It’s interesting to compare how Roman Reigns was protected during his loss to Samoa Joe with outside interference, while Baron Corbin cleanly defeated AJ Styles in a four-way match on Smackdown. It will be very interesting to watch how Styles is booked from here to WrestleMania.

• Bill Goldberg versus Kevin Owens is set to main event the March 5 Fastlane pay per view, and the stage is set for Goldberg to win the WWE Universal championship. Who would have ever thought Goldberg would reclaim WWE gold in 2017? If Goldberg wins the title, the three Universal champions will be Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, and Goldberg, which are three names that do not usually go side by side. A Goldberg victory will also help put the wheels in motion for Jericho and Owens’ feud for WrestleMania 33.

• The ESPN 30 for 30, “This Was The XFL”, was a fascinating watch. The opportunity to listen to Vince McMahon is now fairly rare, especially considering this special allowed viewers to hear McMahon admit mistakes from his brief sojourn into professional football. The real highlight, however, was the simmering feud between NBC’s Bob Costas and McMahon—and this was a battle that Costas, who astutely predicted the XFL to fail and fail spectacularly, won.

• Impact Wrestling is under new ownership (Anthem Sports), new leadership (Jeff Jarrett, who is also the promotion’s founder), and a new booker (“Dirty” Dutch Mantel, who was last seen in WWE as Zeb Colter). Impact Wrestling also needs an infusion of new talent. In addition to re-signing the Hardys and Drew Galloway, the company would be wise to pursue Ring of Honor stars like Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish, who could both work in the main event, as well as the Briscoe Brothers and former ROH talent ACH. These signings would be costly, but if you added that type of high caliber talent, along with former WWE stars in Ryback and Wade Barrett, then Impact would quickly vault itself into the discussion of one of the top wrestling promotions in the world.

Extra Mustard
Dutch Mantell on getting death threats, being stopped by cops with The Undertaker

Tommy Dreamer correctly predicted in September, right here in the Week in Wrestling, that the New England Patriots would win the Super Bowl. Dreamer commented on his clairvoyance: “I would love to say my prediction was science-based, but it had more to do with a gut feeling, the specialness of an athlete like Tom Brady, and studying the game – because history always repeats itself. Also, of course, I was right due to a lot of luck on my part.”

• Am I the only one who thinks the cruiserweight division feels an awful lot like the first few months of the “Women’s Revolution”?

• The Rock ‘N’ Roll Express is certainly deserving of inclusion into the WWE Hall of Fame, though it is hard to comprehend that the Hart Foundation, the British Bulldogs, the Rockers, and Demolition are all missing.

• Chris Jericho added four-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady onto “The List” this past Monday on Raw. WWE also sent the New England Patriots their own customized WWE championship belt.

• Coming attractions: Bret “The Hitman” Hart returns to SI.com next Wednesday in the Week in Wrestling.

The Shoot: Shane Helms

Courtesy of Shane Helms

Shane Helms is a former WWE superstar as The Hurricane and current on-air talent and agent/producer for Impact Wrestling. Helms is one of the godfathers of the wrestling podcast, and he can be heard each week on Fightful Online and Keepin It 100 with Konnan.

Flair is Brady, Brady is Flair

Ric Flair and Tom Brady.

Tom Brady and Ric Flair.

When I see the hate for Brady, and this is hate that goes back for years, I’m confounded by how no one can give me an actual reason why they hate Brady.

I’ll tell you why people hate Brady, and it’s the same reason they hated Flair. They hate him because he’s a winner, and that is the worst reason in the world to hate someone.

I can think of a million reasons to hate somebody, but hating Brady because he is good? Or hating Brady because he is a winner? That is the last reason to ever hate someone.

I grew up in Flair country and Flair was one of my favorites, and I consider him to be the all-time greatest in the business. Back in the day, when Flair was on top of his game, I’d argue, “how can you hate somebody who is that good?” Then you add in Deflategate, and all of a sudden, Tom Brady becomes Ric Flair and he transformed into the “dirtiest player in the game.”

Extra Mustard
Ric Flair on Tom Brady, why Charlotte is ‘the greatest of all time’ and Hell in a Cell

I always thought Deflategate was the equivalent of a jaywalking ticket. It’s like a poke in the eyes from “The Nature Boy”, although people try to act like it is vehicular manslaughter when it’s really more like a parking ticket. But Deflategate fit in perfectly with the “dirtiest player in the game” motif, and Bill Belichick is the J.J. Dillon of the Patriots. He is Brady’s manager, always backing up his players, and he never sees them do anything wrong, right? Even when there are shenanigans going on right in front of his face, he never sees nothing, which is perfect for a bad guy manager in the world of pro wrestling. The matters between the Patriots—particularly Brady—and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell seem as though they were written in a WWE creative meeting by Vince McMahon.

The Patriots are such cool winners that, just like the Four Horsemen, they’ve started to turn fans. People rooted for them to defeat Goodell, but the Patriots still get an undue amount of heat, so they remain the heels in this scenario. The Horsemen were beloved in the Carolinas, but hated everywhere else. The Patriots’ fans are heel fans, too, but they’re fully backing their team. Once they leave the northeast, people just hate them.

The Patriots even line up perfectly with the Horsemen. Rob Gronkowski? He fills that Barry Windham role. Julian Edelman is your Tully Blanchard, Danny Amendola is Arn Anderson, then Brady and Belichick are Flair and Dillon. Gronkowski got hurt, though, so now LeGarrette Blount has replaced him as the heavy hitter, and he is the Lex Luger of the group.

Goodell is Jack Tunney. You don’t know if he’s really handling s--- or not—you can’t really tell if he’s legit or not. Also, lurking in the background, is President Donald Trump. He’s backing Brady and Belichick, which makes him the “Million Dollar Man” of this scenario. Though, if you look at Trump, he looks more like Doink the Clown. Is that orange skin even real?

No disrespect to the Atlanta Falcons, they’re definitely the babyfaces in this scenario. They are the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express, they’re the Hardy Boys, they’re the team that’s going to get cheered the most! But, at the end of the day, the heels were going to take home the gold. It’s tough to beat the Horsemen.

When Brady was driving the Horsemen – I mean the Patriots – down the field for the game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion, all I could think of was Ric Flair. Brady was chopping the Falcons, the fans were chanting “Woooo!” and he locked that figure-four leglock right in the middle of the ring.

Tom Brady won his fifth Super Bowl championship and his fourth Super Bowl MVP. Like Ric Flair before him, Brady is now the official G.O.A.T.

~ Shane Helms

The Nitro Files: NFL Players in WCW

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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.”

Pro wrestling and the National Football League share a storied history.

Some of wrestling’s most popular talents—including “Big Cat” Ernie Ladd, Wahoo McDaniel, and Bill Goldberg—first played in the NFL before making their way to the squared circle.

WCW made it a priority to bring in active NFL stars during the late 1990s, most notably Kevin Greene and Reggie White.

“Kevin Greene was with the Carolina Panthers and was the standout for us back then,” said Bischoff. “This certainly followed our methodology in terms of bringing stars and big name crossover athletes into our events to attract the press. It was really all about the press. It wasn’t about the turnout, or how the house would do, or even about how the pay per view would do, because it was all about enhancing the brand. Bringing in a Pro Bowler like Kevin Greene, who was at the top of his game, brought us press that in other ways we wouldn't have received, and is very expensive to pay for.”

Steve “Mongo” McMichael, who won a Super Bowl championship with the Chicago Bears and joined WCW as a color commentator on Nitro and later joined The Four Horsemen, was the conduit in connecting NFL talent to Bischoff.

“Steve was the first big name football player from the NFL that we had,” said Bischoff. “He had representation that reached out to us to see if we were interested. He had the credibility of an NFL Super Bowl champion, and anyone that knows Steve McMichael knows he is a living, breathing, 24/7 character. He had the right attitude and the credibility, and while he may not have been a long term fan or had the wrestling DNA, he was very passionate.”

Bischoff noted that his experience working with NFL players in WCW was easy as far as ego, as talent never expected to win a match because of their name value.

“There was never any ego,” said Bischoff. “With the NFL players, ego was never a part of the equation—never for a split second. The biggest challenge was twofold. As phenomenal of athletes as they were, wrestling is an entirely different sport. Guys found out very quickly that it was a whole new physical experience, regardless of their athletic prowess.”

Part two of Bischoff’s “Bischoff on Wrestling” podcast with Lex Luger will be released later this evening.

“The first part of the interview covered so much of Lex's history that, quite frankly, I was unaware of,” shared Bischoff. “We covered his emergence into the wrestling business and his transition from pro football into the wrestling industry, and I was fascinated.

“In part two, we're going to delve into the more controversial aspects of Lex's career and life and his personal choices, and how he's dealt with all of that. We're going to get more personal and into the headlines of his career.”

Top Ten: Kayfabe Comentaries

Courtesy of Kayfabe Commentaries

This edition of “The Weekly Top Ten” is provided by Kayfabe Commentaries, which is one of the leading providers of wrestling “shoot” videos.

The shoot video is closely intertwined with professional wrestling, and has allowed wrestlers to shoot from the hip and share their own unfiltered stories. For Kayfabe Commentaries, however, that was not the original plan.

“We first launched with an audio project,” said Sean Oliver, who is a co-founder of Kayfabe Commentaries with Anthony Lucignano. “The plan was to create downloadable audio commentary tracks for wrestling matches, but explaining that to the lay person was madness. You would go on our web page, and there would be a list of historic matches that you’d seen a thousand times. Much like a director’s commentary on a DVD where they are walking you through a certain scene, we wanted to bring in wrestlers, put them on headset, and walked people through their most famous matches. You could, theoretically, sit on your couch with the Iron Sheik and watch the night he dropped the belt to Hogan in 1984.

“You’d download the MP3 from our site, and we would give you a start point to watch the match with the commentary—thus, the commentaries in Kayfabe Commentaries. Within a half a year, we saw that selling this micro-niche product for three bucks a track wasn’t sustainable with paying the talent. I did think, and still do think, that this product has long-term value.”

Kayfabe Commentaries is celebrating its tenth year after launching in February of 2007, and their innovative format—with the “Timeline,” “Guest Booker,” and “Supercard” series, which zooms in on one pay per view and covers every facet of that show—have helped keep the company thriving.

“The shoot interview had been around since 1995, so that was twelve years before we got into it, and it was still that head on a platter camera angle with this floating off-screen voice and a microphone held by no one,” said Oliver, who was a film and television actor as well as a long-time wrestling fan. “It was very easy to add some production value and some formatting, and we thought this could be a whole new sub-genre in the shoot interview. We brought in the ‘Timeline’ format, which is a historical timeline, or something like ‘YouShoot,’ where the fans conduct the interviews, and we wrote it, mic’d it, and shot it like everything else that was on television. I had this crazy idea to bring in a booker for ‘Guest Booker’ and give him a time in wrestling that they were not responsible for, but have them book it—watching that process was a psychological study.”

Here are Kayfabe’s top ten shoot videos:

10.) Guest Booker: Kevin Nash, The Outsiders Stay Inside

9.) Timeline: The History of WWE, 1984, with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper

8.) Timeline: The History of WCW, 1996, with Kevin Sullivan

7.) Timeline: The History of ECW, 1999, with Rob Van Dam

6.) Guest Booker: Jim Cornette, Re-Booking The Invasion

5.) YouShoot: Scott Hall

4.) Guest Booker: Bruce Prichard, Screwing Bret

3.) Timeline: The History of WWE, 2008, with Curt Hawkins

2.) Timeline: The History of WWE, 1998, with Vince Russo

1.) Timeline: The History of WWE, 1992, with Bret Hart

The shoot video industry is shifting further away from DVD and more toward digital content.

“Our digital delivery accounts for more than sixty percent of our revenue,” reported Oliver. “I still have to give mad props to the people who still want to hold physical, tangible products.”

Oliver has enjoyed his share of memorable moments over the past decade, as he has worked with nearly every major star in the business.

“When ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham came in to do ‘Timeline,’ he was aching physically,” explained Oliver. “He brought a contingent of people with him, one of which whose exclusive job was to hold a fan next to Billy. There are also times when some talent aren’t camera-ready. We had to throw a talent out who was too pilled up to speak, but that’s the only time we had to shut down production.”

Oliver is also known for his single-bullet theory regarding the “Montreal Screwjob” that occurred between Vince McMahon and Bret Hart at the Survivor Series in 1997: Oliver thinks the whole production between McMahon and Hart was a work, and he shared his feelings on set with Hart.

“It’s very clear to me, and I said it to Bret,” said Oliver. “The cameras were off, and the crew was around us and they’d heard me talk about it so much, so I couldn’t have Bret in the room and not f---ing man up and tell him what I thought. I said, ‘Bret, don’t even react, just listen—here is my theory. I’m not going to insult you and ask, but don’t you think it’s funny that, from the moment everybody saw it with their mouths agape, it was a brilliant work. Vince gets the belt back, Bret doesn’t have to lose and still goes to WCW and gets his money, Vince gets out of Bret’s contract and has a ‘Mr. McMahon character’ that he can run with.’

“Bret broke a few monitors, Vince took a punch and got decked, but confirming that whole thing was a work, to me, was when the bell rang. When the bell rings, the camera that you would cut to in the truck is the person who just won. Right after the bell rings, the shot is a gigantic close-up of Bret’s face. Why do we need to see that, unless it’s furthering some subtle psychological storyline? Bret disagreed, so maybe I’m the only one.”

Exclusive Lucha Underground clip

Lucha Underground, which is available on iTunes, is on its mid-season break, but will be reminding Sports Illustrated readers about what is in store once season three returns on May 31.

Something to Wrestle with Conrad Thompson

Courtesy of Conrad Thompson

Conrad Thompson and Bruce Prichard return to the MLW airwaves this Friday at noon to discuss the XFL in the “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” podcast.

“I was a little disappointed in the 30-for-30 and how short it was,” said Thompson. “I felt like a lot of information was glossed over and they didn’t go into as much detail as I’d hoped. There was no real breakdown of how the cheerleaders were recruited or the coaching that went into the announcers. Also, when NBC was going to pull out from the XFL, there was a backup plan to have the XFL on UPN and TNN – and then UPN backed out. That was all just glossed over, but to get Vince McMahon to sit down and talk on camera is a pretty big deal. I enjoyed it from that perspective.”

Thompson and Prichard will cover all aspects of the XFL, beginning with McMahon’s decision to create a professional football league.

“We’ll get into this on the podcast this Friday, but when Vince first brings up this idea, he brings it up in a room with Pat Patterson, who doesn’t watch American football, and Bruce Prichard, who doesn’t watch American football, and maybe Triple H, who also isn’t a diehard football fan. So when Vince starts promising to fix the ‘No Fun League’ and make it more exciting, there is no real thought or strategy to how that actually happens. That process fascinates me.”

McMahon’s storylines in WWE often lack logic, but that process was a recipe for disaster when applied to pro football.

“The XFL felt like a ready-aim-shoot approach,” said Thompson. “That’s what Monday Night Raw feels like sometimes. That organized chaos works in WWE but it didn’t work for eight football teams scattered across the United States and no one really knew what was going on.”

Five Questions with… The Blue Meanie

Courtesy of The Blue Meanie

The Blue Meanie is one of the most well-known figures in the history of Extreme Championship Wrestling. The Meanie, who is 43-year-old Brian Heffron, first gained popularity through his parodies in ECW. The Meanie also started The Blue World Order, which parodied the NWO, and he even had a successful run in WWE.

SI.com: Were you surprised that you reached such a height of popularity in both ECW and WWE as The Blue Meanie?

Meanie: It was amazing that I made it in wrestling at all because I was a severe asthmatic. Every spring and every fall, I would be at the Atlantic City Medical Center with an oxygen tent over my bed and an intravenous in my arm pumping me full of prednisone. Just the fact that I went from this fat asthmatic kid in Atlantic City to wrestle in the WWE is very storybook. It had a lot to do with the determination of having a vision, believing in that vision, and not letting anybody else’s opinion of my vision deter me. In high school, I tried out for the football team but I couldn’t play because I was allergic to the grass on the field. I was always on the heavy side, but that was just from complications from being asthmatic, and then depression would set in—and when you get depressed, you start eating. When you eat, you start getting fatter.

My escapism was always pro wrestling. It got to the point where I watched so much that I could call angles and predict what would happen. When Andre the Giant was about to turn heel on Hulk Hogan, and Andre was doing this special interview in front of Big Ben and the River Thames in London, and said, “I’m coming back to the United States and I have a very big surprise,” I just knew he was going to turn heel on Hogan. I was always an Andre fan because I could relate to him. I always felt like an outsider. Every day at school, I’d have to sit inside at recess with a breathing machine and breathe in medicine just so my lungs would get better. I would tell my grandparents that I wanted to be a professional wrestler and they thought, “Oh, that’s cute.” After high school, I worked the graveyard shift as a security guard in Trump Plaza and put every single dollar away for wrestling school. The day after WrestleMania X, I packed up my car and went to Lima, Ohio, to train with Al Snow. That’s when my family realized I was serious.

My look was part of my appeal in ECW. You had all these bruisers with scarred up faces, and ECW would do some heavy-duty stuff that you occasionally had to take the crowd in a different direction. Stevie Richards and The Blue Meanie would take the crowd in a more lighthearted direction, and when the next part of the show had to get crazy, there was an ebb and flow to the show.

SI.com: The Blue Meanie, Stevie Richards, and Super Nova created the Blue World Order to mock the New World Order. Who came up with the idea? And was there ever any negative feedback from the members of the NWO?

Meanie: Stevie Richards and I were doing parodies of other acts in other promotions, and that was the brainchild of Raven. He saw me and Stevie interact, and he came up with the idea for us to do these parodies. Our first parody was of The Fabulous Ones, who were these two, handsome, Chippendale-esque wrestlers – and here we were, two goofs in half-shirts and daisy dukes, and it grew from there. At the time, the hottest act in wrestling was the New World Order. I had been talking to my mentor and best friend, Al Snow, and I mentioned that Stevie and I should parody the New World Order. I was just bouncing ideas off him, and I finally said, “Blue rhymes with new, we could be the Blue World Order,” and Al popped. His reaction was so strong that I pitched it to Stevie, then Stevie pitched it to Raven, and Raven brought it to Paul E. We finally did it one night, and it was only supposed to last for one night, but just the sheer reaction from the crowd gave this look of astonishment on [ECW owner] Tod Gordon and Paul Heyman’s faces. They realized we could do a parody t-shirt, and the Blue World Order t-shirt was one of ECW’s highest-grossing t-shirts, which was mind-boggling.

When I went to the WWE, I had interactions with Sean Waltman, who was part of the NWO. I said, “Hey man, I hope you guys didn’t mind the whole BWO parody.” Sean responded, “Oh no, man, we loved it.” Later on, I found out from Scott Hall that he would rib Kevin Nash and say, “The leader of the Blue World Order is Da Blue Guy, and he’s supposed to be me, so I should be the leader of the New World Order.” I had the honor and privilege of working a couple shows with Kevin Nash, and he always said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Scott Hall even asked me for a BWO shirt, so I hooked him up with a shirt.

SI.com: Paul Heyman is arguably ECW’s most iconic star. What made Heyman so special as a leader in ECW, and what has allowed him to remain so successful?

Meanie: Since the first day he saw “Superstar” Billy Graham on his television, Paul Heyman has had that passion. Pro wrestling was all he wanted to do. He ate it, he slept it, he breathed it, and he hustled his way in. The fact that he’s still there is just a testament to his passion in the business. He went away from the business for a little bit in 2005, and I think that was the best thing to happen for him. He recharged his mental batteries and came back to wrestling with a fresh set of legs. Now he’s in a totally different setting where he doesn’t have people relying on him for their living. He can just be the talent and be himself and just have fun. He’s also a mentor to the young talent, and he’s such a wealth of knowledge that he is such an asset to the business. There are several people, myself included, who owe our careers to him.

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SI.com: What type of work do you as a trainer at the Monster Factory? And are you happy with your first Blue Meanie action figure?

Meanie: I’m one of five coaches at the Monster Factory in Paulsboro, New Jersey. I like to think of myself as more of a life coach. In the wrestling business, I’ve done a lot of good but I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I try to teach these kids what to do and what not to do, and I like to cover the more cerebral, mental aspect of the wrestling business. It’s a tough business, not only physically but also mentally. I’ve had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and if I can help one person, then I’m happy.

I’ve been in wrestling since ’94, but never had an official figure. Here I am, twenty-something years after I started as a kid who wasn’t supposed to make it in wrestling, but somehow I made it in ECW, and I got my foot into WWE, and getting my first ever action figure is like getting a cherry on top of a very extreme sundae.

SI.com: What are your favorite traveling stories with Mick Foley?

Meanie: We were at a Holiday Inn in Massachusetts, and I should have booked a room well in advance but I hadn’t, and there was a major snowstorm so the place was booked up. I decided to wait in the lobby all night, and Mick wanders in and said, “Hey Meanie, what’s going on?” He saw how dejected I looked that I couldn’t get a room. He felt bad that I had to sit there, and he let me stay with him in his room. He’d won his first ever WWE world championship that day, and that night, we watched A Bronx Tale on his hotel bed with his WWE title and ten pounds of Chinese food. I owe a lot of my success to Mick Foley, and that goes back to ECW, and he’s been a big part of my life.

Tweet of the Week

Owens remains one of the sharpest talents in WWE, but the Goldberg-Lesnar match, with the WWE Universal championship on the line, is going to headline WrestleMania 33.

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

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