SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling. While Kevin Nash rehabs from shoulder surgery, this edition includes Terry Funk discussing the evolution of the hardcore style in professional wrestling; The Shoot with Rockstar Spud; the Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff; Brian Cage sounding off on the controversy surrounding his Donald Trump-loving character in Mexico; exclusive coverage of the new line of WWE Mattel action figures; and Five Questions with Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl hero Jacoby Jones.
Terry Funk on the Evolution of Hardcore
Terry Funk is the “Hardcore Icon” in professional wrestling. The native of Amarillo, Texas wrestled with the WWE, WCW, the NWA, throughout Japan, and was a two-time world champion with ECW. Funk, now 72, connected with SI.com to discuss modern day professional wrestling, as well as memories from his own career.
Far away from the confines of WWE’s Raw, or the “Road to WrestleMania,” is Terry Funk.
Funk is not on weekly television, nor does he have any plans to return. The wrestling icon is quite content with life in Amarillo, Texas, yet his senses for the business remain as sharp as a bowie knife.
Wrestling still runs through Funk’s veins, though he admitted to watching less these days.
“I still love watching it, which is maybe why I don’t watch it,” Funk explained. “I love it too much. I loved what I did for all of those years. What it’s evolved to? Am I happy with it? I really don’t know, but I certainly don’t dislike it. I certainly like the athletes that are in it right now, and I think there are a lot of talented people in the wrestling world right now. If they weren’t talented, they wouldn’t be producing at the box office the way they do.”
Funk enjoys watching an old-school talent like AJ Styles.
“I don’t know if everybody would agree with me, but I like the way that he’s risen to stardom,” Funk said. “AJ Styles is of a different genre, and he’s a wonderful part of wrestling, doing things that a lot of guys can’t do. No one can do what he does unless they’re in the ring with him. AJ Styles is an excellent in-ring performer, and he’s as good of a guy that they’ve got up there right now. He’s busted his ass. He busted his ass and made it.”
Funk, 72, was last seen on WWE television nearly a year ago, when he helped Dean Ambrose in his pursuit of Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 32 in Texas.
“Ambrose is a great piece of talent,” Funk said. “He’s got the ability to take the business where it is going—he’s a very sharp and wise individual. He knows the business and where it’s going.
Funk has witnessed firsthand the transformation of old-school professional wrestling into sports entertainment.
“I’m not really surprised,” Funk said. “What’s made it evolve is far more important, and that is the turnstile. What makes that turnstile turn? That’s what made wrestling what it has become. The fans dictate the direction of the wrestling industry.”
SI.com asked Funk if he believes it's problematic that older, part-time talents—like Bill Goldberg and Brock Lesnar—are scheduled to headline the biggest show of the year at WrestleMania 33.
“Are they old-timers?” Funk said. “I prefer to call them ‘fresh-timers.’ That means that they’re pulling people in from the outside with a fresh taste to it. They have a tremendous following from the wrestling universe. Who hasn’t heard of Goldberg? Who hasn’t heard of Lesnar? There are many people out there who want to see what is going to happen when you put those two into the ring.”
Funk was a cavalier—or “Bolshevik,” as he describes it—in pro wrestling, moving from territory to territory across the United States and even exploring the scene in Japan. Vince McMahon, however, forever changed the business when he created a wrestling monopoly.
“It’s his vision,” Funk said. “He’s the one that exists. You better work for him if you want to make a buck. I’m from a different era, but right now, you better be on the boss’ side. If not, there’s not much room out there anymore. There are no more Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks, with radical views, they’re very few and far between now. People were more of their own boss. When you got done with one place, you could get your shoes, socks, jock strap, and tights, put them in your bag, and drive to the next territory. Now there is just WWE.”
Funk praised Paul Heyman, who currently works for the WWE and once ran Extreme Championship Wrestling, where Funk was a two-time world champ.
“Paul Heyman knows shock value, and he was able to find talent,” Funk said. “He could find guys who were great, but he could also pull guys out of a hat and make them successful. He has a great mind for the world of professional wrestling, and he certainly did because he existed when McMahon wanted to destroy everybody and was attempting to do so.
“ECW was a very physical form of entertainment. It was an era that was more physical than it is right now, and it also provided an existence for guys who didn’t want to be involved in the WWE Universe.”
Funk wrestled in a physical, believable style, which he developed by watching his father, Dory Funk, wrestle.
“When I was a kid, everyone wanted to be cowboys and Indians,” Funk said. “They wanted to be Roy Rogers or Gene Autry, but I didn’t want to be any of those a-------. I just wanted to get into a wrestling ring like my father. I came from a different era, a totally different era. I came from my father’s era. When I was a young man, I grew up believing: If people criticized the business, you beat them up. That was the way it was back then. I’m not saying that was the right way, but that was the way I learned the business.
“I felt I had to be believable, I had to be physical, and I had to give the people their money’s worth. That was all considered highly important to me, and that was because of the way I was brought up. I wanted to get into a wrestling ring, like my father, and I did. I also wanted to follow his beliefs about what the business should be, and I did that, too.”
When Funk reflects on his career in pro wrestling, he displays his pride.
“I’ve enjoyed the way of life that I’ve chosen,” Funk said. “I’m very proud of what I accomplished in the business, and every time I got in the ring with somebody, believe me, they did their damndest to have a great match with me, and I did the same thing with them. Wrestling is truly my life, and I love being part of the professional wrestling world. I sure love the fans – I beat up a few of them, but I still loved them.”
News of the Week
Follow the money.
Pro wrestling is no different than any other major corporation in sports and entertainment. Talent come and go due to salary, or a perceived slight in financial figures.
If you follow the money, you see that the Hardys are coming back to the WWE. The post-WrestleMania Raw would be a perfect landing spot for Matt and Jeff to return home to the WWE.
The Hardys continue to generate headlines. The Hardys have delivered genuinely compelling moments over the past 10 months, from the “I Quit Match” that saw “Big Money” Matt swantom bombed through a table by Jeff, then the emergence of “Broken” Matt and the Brother Nero storyline. Their match with Psicosis and Super Crazy, which aired this past Thursday on POP TV, was reason alone to watch Impact Wrestling.
It would seem a lock that the Hardys will re-sign with Impact, especially considering the brothers receive creative freedom in the company.
But look a little closer: Jeff Jarrett is now in control of Impact Wrestling, and his first mission is to slash salary. As a wrestling traditionalist, Jarrett is not enamored with the Hardys’ “Broken Universe,” and multiple sources close to Impact Wrestling told SI.com that Jarrett is receiving financial bonuses when he slashes salary at Impact.
Impact’s CEO is Canadian businessman Leonard Asper, and Asper’s goal is to continue to acquire more media content. The need for that media content is why Asper pursued Impact Wrestling, and that allows Jarrett to bring in talent at a lower cost from his Global Force Wrestling promotion. That's why the Hardys have received a contract offer for far less than they deserve. Creative control is also a factor.
The end result looks to be a return to the WWE for the Hardys.
Brock Lesnar quietly retired last week from professional fighting, which is significant to the world of professional wrestling.
Lesnar immediately appeared at a WWE house show this past weekend in Dallas, which is rare, and is scheduled to be part of every Raw from now until WrestleMania. He is no longer subject to random drug testing from USADA, and he is free to perform with the WWE as he sees fit.
The timing is perfect for Lesnar and WWE, as the plan remains for the “Beast Incarnate” to leave WrestleMania as the Universal champion.
In other news...
• Professional wrestling has experienced a difficult start to 2017, as George “The Animal” Steele and former WWE champion “The Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff both passed away this past week. Jake “The Snake” Roberts, who worked with Steele in the WWF during the mid-1980s, shared his memories of “The Animal”:
“I used to tell people he had the worst looking punches in the business but those punches hurt more than anybody else’s,” Roberts said. “It was a thud, it just hurt, man. I wrestled George a few times, and he could do anything with his character. George had that doll named ‘Mine,’ and I always had my snake. There was one match with him where he knocked me on my can outside the ring, then he crawled over to the snake bag and grabbed it with his teeth and brought it back to his corner of the ring, and said, ‘Mine! Mine!’ We spent twenty more minutes doing just that. I’d bring the snake back to my corner, then he would drag it back. It was ridiculous, but it was a lot of fun. We developed a relationship, and he knew I was about all hard work and making sense in the ring, and he always had my back when he was an agent for the company. I can’t believe he’s gone.”
• The legendary Bruno Sammartino was the second–ever WWE champion and once held the title for a nearly eight-year reign. Sammartino first won the title in 1963, then he dropped the championship in 1971 at Madison Square Garden to Koloff. He shared his memories of Koloff with SI.com:
“Ivan Koloff was an absolutely tremendous man,” Sammartino said. “He looked like a very tough guy in the ring, and you wouldn’t want to fool with him outside the ring. I thought people would boo when Koloff beat me for the title, because he was the villain, but when he won the match, the building went silent. When the referee counted three, you could have heard a pin drop in Madison Square Garden. It was such a shocker, and I thought something actually happened to me. That was quite a moment. He was a great man and a dedicated family man, and he will be deeply missed.”
• The New Day will serve as the official hosts of WrestleMania 33 in Orlando. Am I the only one who is looking forward to the popular trio breaking up? The group has accomplished everything it possibly can together, and Big E should be in the world title picture on either Raw or Smackdown. Personally, and I don’t know if this makes me old school or simply just old, I would prefer we turn back the clocks and have a WWE icon—preferably “Stone Cold” Steve Austin—host WrestleMania.
• The finish to Smackdown did not go as planned, as AJ Styles was eliminated from the battle royal well before Luke Harper. As a result, the referees, commentary team, and even Daniel Bryan all looked foolish for arguing over the result when the finish was clear. Much to the audience’s surprise, there was no backup plan—perhaps one of the referees could have rushed into a decision, despite the replay, and then called the match a draw, but the way this was handled was very clumsy. Look for Luke Harper to continue to work his way into the main event picture with Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton, while this could also lead to Shane McMahon starting his feud with AJ Styles—or even McMahon calling up Shinsuke Nakamura from NXT to wrestle Styles at WrestleMania.
•Justin Roberts’s new book, Best Seat in the House: Your Pass Through My WWE Journey, shares some fascinating moments with Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn, particularly in terms of their feedback to ring announcing. The book will be released to the public on April 1.
• Joey Ryan—the pro wrestler best known for his infamous crotch move—debuted a new character called “Stardong” this past Friday at the APW show in California. Ryan, who is a spokesman for pornography site YouPorn, revealed his new character—donning a Stardust-themed outfit—to upset Cody Rhodes, who he will battle on May 6 in a steel cage match at an APW show.
“The idea just came to me,” Ryan said of his peculiar character's origin. “Cody and I both have very busy schedules, and our APW match isn’t until May and this was the last match we’d be on together until then, so I wanted to do something that would stand out. Even though the match isn’t happening for ten weeks, I wanted to have a story going into it. Whether I wear the Stardong outfit in May? That’s to be determined.”
• Diamond Dallas Page is the newest member of the 2017 class for the WWE Hall of Fame. Page is a genuine underdog and has a magnificent story in wrestling, but all that could come to mind when I heard the announcement was… cookies. Chocolate chip cookies. Mick Foley’s first book, Have A Nice Day, which is arguably the greatest wrestling book ever written, revealed an incredible story involving Foley, Page and Steve Austin:
“It’s hard to imagine these days “Stone Cold”, “DDP” and “Mankind” splitting a $40 Days Inn Motel room, but Steve and I had the beds and Page had a fold out cot. That went with the territory, low man on the card had the least of the ‘perks’... We had just started a 7-day road trip just after Page had started wrestling, and Steve Austin, Page, and I were sharing the ride and the room. We had been frequent traveling partners and Steve and I would bet on how many days it would take to ‘break’ Page and get him to lose his temper.
We would hide the towels when we knew he wanted to take a shower and force him to call the front desk. We would then hi-jack the towels en route forcing another call, then another, until we would have Page drying off with wash cloths and hand towels. We would sit on the bed while he would stand there naked, dripping wet and screaming at the hotel operator. We’d do this in two or three different towns, making him believe he was ‘jinxed’ until we would find another way to crawl under his skin.
We had him so mad that he had flipped out and had threatened to throw me off of a second story balcony once. Well of course it never came to that because I seized the opportunity to rib him again when I said, ‘Don’t worry Dallas, if I don’t make it the first time I’ll just throw myself over like you did in that match with the ‘Z-Man’”. That incident had happened over a year prior to that while Page had been a manager, and he had ridiculously ‘oversold’ a bump when he was to have flipped over the ropes in that match. It had become a long-running rib, and we used every opportunity to remind him about it.
That same trip we had gotten a huge plate of chocolate chip cookies given to us by a fan. Page had been out and by the time he had got home, I had lined his entire cot with the cookies between the mattress and the sheets. Steve and I were in bed, faking sleep and waiting for Page to stroll across the room to get into bed.Now, I must tell the world that Page is far from modest. In fact it was not unusual to see him nude, except for his ice bags rigged to various places just ‘hanging out’ around the room.
So of course he slept nude, so when he got into bed, we could hear him trying to get settled in while we could hear the sound of cookies crumbling. In the dark of the room he yelled, ‘Which one of you motherf------, put the f**king cookies, in my f------ bed!’
I was laughing so hard without a sound that he could see me shaking in the bed from holding in the laughter. In a rage he gathered up a handful of the crumbled cookies, threw back the sheets, spread the cookies over me, and then sat on me to grind the cookies on me. While he was jumping on me he continued to scream ‘How do you f------ like it!” over and over again. I calmly said ‘Page I can ‘deal’ with the cookies, but your naked ass is really going to cause you a problem’.”
If you haven’t already done so, read Foley’s book—it’s fantastic, and some of its best stories feature Page.
• Friendship the Magician—otherwise known as 22-year-old Las Vegas magician James Kelsey—made his WWE debut during the Chris Jericho–inspired “Festival of Friendship,” and he was thrilled to be part of the moment.
“Chris Jericho was the one who had the idea for the paper coils and making the scarf for him,” Kelsey said. “We discussed a few ideas on what I could do, and since it was TV and it was live, we wanted something fast and visual. He had that idea right before we went live.
“I’ve never done live TV, and nothing quite like this—this was huge, but the communication with Chris Jericho calmed me down. Chris made this very easy. Even behind the scenes, Chris was really high energy and very excited for this night. He wanted this to be the best night ever, and I just wanted to live up to that for him. Kevin Owens was around but he was very focused on what he was doing. I don’t have any plans to return, but I would in a second. They are one of the greatest companies in the world.”
• Kevin Owens continues to move toward “KOMania II,” which is his extra flair on WrestleMania, though it appears that Owens will be wrestling Chris Jericho for the United States championship as Bill Goldberg is on the fast track to capturing the Universal title at Fast Lane. In honor of Owens’ return to his dark side, which audiences worldwide witnessed last week as he dismantled Jericho, the Week in Wrestling proudly presents a clip from Owens back when he was Kevin Steen, discombobulating Seth Rollins who was then the Ring of Honor world champ.
• Coming attractions: SI.com will have an extensive feature with Triple H this upcoming Monday.
Brian Cage on his Trump-loving character and Sam Adonis
President Donald Trump has made Brian Cage a very unhappy man—but the reason has nothing to do with politics.
Cage created a Donald Trump-loving character in Mexico’s AAA promotion, which has been copied—to much media hype, including a story on CNN.com—by CMLL’s Sam Adonis, who is the younger brother of Raw commentator Corey Graves.
“The day [Trump] won the presidency, I knew I had a golden opportunity,” Adonis told CNN.
Cage was apoplectic. He created the gimmick nearly a year-and-a-half ago.
“This works, so I can see why this kid wants to use it,” Cage said. “The fact that he acts like he created it is absolutely absurd, and he hasn’t even at least acknowledged that I was the first to do it.”
Cage has perfected the Trump supporter character, and he showed off some testicular fortitude by using the gimmick for the past 18 months in Mexico.
“My training partner is Mexican,” Cage explained. “After Trump called Mexicans rapists and murderers, he asked me, ‘Are all Mexicans in trouble?’ So I wore a Trump shirt at TripleMania, which is AAA’s version of WrestleMania, in 2015. I asked Konnan, who was the booker at the time, ‘Am I going to [get] shot for this?’ but Konnan thought it was great.”
Cage said he's upset Adonis hasn't even given him credit for creating the gimmick and paving his path to success.
“I’m not crying, I’m not upset, but the kid is copying me and he’s acting like he came up with the idea,” Cage said. “When he’s been asked where he came up with it, he totally evades the question. And I’m not trying to say that the idea was so creative or original on my end, but I had the balls to do it in Mexico. If he made some mention toward me, I’d be a lot less annoyed. As for the stories on him, it’s some poor journalism. The people writing the story probably don’t care about wrestling or that they’re spreading this story wrongfully, and it’s become a really annoying frustration.
“[NXT’s] Patrick Clark tried to imitate me in some gym in Florida, but really, who cares? Doing this in Mexico is a whole different story.”
The Shoot: Rockstar Spud
Rockstar Spud is an on-screen performer for Impact Wrestling, and is currently serving as Aron Rex’s manservant. Spud is James Curtin, a 34-year-old talent originally from Birmingham, England. He is also extremely active behind the scenes with Impact. Despite some obstacles to his dream of succeeding as a pro wrestler—Spud only stands 5’4”—the loquacious Brit has succeeded in Impact due to a dedication to his craft and willingness to stand out and be different.
Behind the music
I was always a dreamer as a kid, so when I first saw wrestling, I was immediately hooked.
Watching the “Macho Man” Randy Savage reconcile with Miss Elizabeth? That sent my imagination running wild.
These were real-life super heroes with a sporting undertone. Wrestling had the theater, and it had the human nature of competition with winning and losing. It just captivated me, and since then it’s all I've wanted to do. Look at the card I was dealt with: I’m 5’4”. But I’ve made it this far, and creating a larger-than-life character is a big piece of that.
I am currently Aron Rex’s manservant, and REXcellent is larger-than-life. Everything I’ve done at Impact Wrestling has been creating larger-than-life characters. I’m a 5’4” human being, but I present myself like I’m ten-feet tall. I'm boisterous, and I want to grab your attention.
If you can turn heads in this business, you can make money. As long as you capture people’s attention, the human emotion is what connects you to the people. Aron Rex and I bonded immediately. We connected right away because we’re both Rip Rogers’s guys and trained at OVW. We sat down and had a conversation, and I told him how I am this sh---- little heel with plans to be the future world champion, but he always loses yet continues to shoot his mouth off. Aron had a character he wanted to pitch, and I’m down to make it work. We only met back in October, but look at our chemistry—we’re both on the same page, we’re passionate, and we understand the entertainment aspect of the industry. We’re not afraid to look silly, or dastardly, or anything that the audience wants. It’s got a reaction and it’s got people talking, and you can’t ask for anything more than that.
Yes, I am the antagonistic character willing to fight King Maxel as quickly as he'll wrestle Bobby Lashley, but I am a different personality behind the camera.
What am I working on behind the camera? Better yet, what am I not working on behind the camera? I’ve got so many things. Wrestlers often do more than one job. I was brought into the company by Jeremy Borash, who is one of the hardest working men I’ve ever met in the industry—he can help a company on so many different avenues, from editing to creative to being an on-screen personality. I’ve also sat under the learning tree of Josh Mathews, who is also one of the hardest working men I’ve ever met. I’ve learned a lot from their work ethics, and I’m very much involved with Josh on the video editing online, as well as helping produce segments and part of the writing meetings. I’m wearing many, many hats for the company, as well as my own online series for the Highspots Wrestling Network. There is more to me than just the in-ring performe—I want to learn everything about this industry so I can be an asset wherever I am. I like to think of myself as a versatile performer, but I want to be seen as a versatile performer in the front and in the back to help the company move forward.
I always wanted to be the Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, or The Rock—the main eventers and the storytellers. I don’t get into wrestling matches. I get into drama, emotion and the connection to a character. I want to see someone win, I want to see someone lose. Look at the way we cared about Hans Solo in Episode 7. That is the same as pro wrestling. This is the best form of entertainment in the world.
Jeff Jarrett is back on board with Impact Wrestling, and Anthem is a great partner, and we want to make Impact Wrestling great again. There is going to be a lot of change, and I am going to do everything I can to make Impact as successful as possible. As a performer, as a wrestler, my goal is the same as always—to win the world championship. If I don’t win the title, I’m going to work hard to be a damn good asset and put myself in the position to be world champion. Whatever you give me, I’ll make it work. If you give me a one-year-old boy to wrestle, I’ll make it work. If I’m working a guy shorter than me, or if I’m working Bobby Lashley, I’m going to make it work. I’m going to make it entertaining, and that's always my goal and motivation.
The Nitro Files: Scott Hall
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 with 120 Sports’ Nick Hausman, and plans on proving every week in the Nitro Files that the truth is out there.
Scott Hall was one of the driving forces behind the success of the NWO, yet he was never thought of in WWE or WCW as a threat to the world title.
“Scott Hall is the type of character that didn’t need a belt,” Eric Bischoff said. “That’s not to suggest that other characters, like Bill Goldberg or Hulk Hogan, needed the belt, but Scott didn’t need it. That speaks more to his versatility than it does anything else.”
Despite Hall’s personal demons with drugs and alcohol, Bischoff noted that he is still one of the most incredible talents he has ever encountered in the business of professional wrestling.
“It’s unquestionable,” Bischoff said. “Scott had all the instincts, physical attributes, the look, the psychology, and an amazing instinct for sensing an audience’s reaction in a match. His timing was impeccable, and I can’t say enough good things about Scott Hall when he was at the top of his game. He was amazing, he was the complete package. He understood his character, he could get a character over in the body of a match or on the microphone, and both were believable. He allowed the audience to forget, for a moment, that what they were watching was scripted entertainment. Scott made wrestling feel so real and so believable because he connected with the audience in a way that was hard to describe. It’s the difference between an Eddie Van Halen and 900 different guitarists that are pretty good.”
Bischoff believes a world title would not have necessarily altered Hall's lifestyle outside the ring.
“We knew what we had in Scott and what we were going to get, we just weren’t sure when we were going to get it,” Bischoff said. “Scott had some real demons and a lot of things to overcome. That roller coaster nature made putting the belt on him even more risky, and I don’t think putting the belt on Scott would have helped Scott deal with his demons any differently. It would have been an even bigger problem potentially for us and a bigger problem for Scott to have that kind of pressure on him.”
History shows that Hall and Kevin Nash made a tremendous team together, but unlike Nash—who was a world champion in both WWE and WCW—Hall never enjoyed a run as the top singles star and, in some ways, remained in Nash’s shadow.
“I saw the dynamic between Scott and Kevin, but they’re two different people,” Bischoff said. “Scott felt more comfortable with a big guy. Scott didn’t come off like a super tough guy in his character. He wasn’t the big bad ass who could clear a room of NFL players, but Kevin Nash—at nearly seven-feet tall and 300 pounds—came off as that ass-kicker. Scott was extremely gifted physically and a sizable human being, but his work style was more of a lying, stealing, cheating heel than he was the ultimate tough guy. The combination of Scott and Kevin together was comfortable for Scott because of his role as a heel, while Kevin had to be that big, autonomous bad ass. It was good chemistry, but visually they were also able to balance off each other without taking anything away from each other because their styles were so unique and there was great harmony when they were together.”
New line of WWE Mattel Action Figures
Mattel unveiled its newest line of WWE action figures this past weekend at the 2017 New York Toy Fair, showing SI.com its new NXT line that will be a Target-only sale this fall.