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  • Goldberg-Lesnar may be the WrestleMania main event but Bray Wyatt has something to say about that.
  • TK O’Ryan’s broken leg made him change his whole perspective on being a heel.
  • Kyle O’Reilly explains what went down with Ring of Honor and what’s next for him.
  • Former WWE ref Earl Hebner explains what it’s like to work WrestleMania in zebra stripes.
By Justin Barrasso
March 22, 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 WWE world champion Bray Wyatt discussing his WrestleMania encounter with Randy Orton; Ring of Honor’s TK O’Ryan discussing his gruesome broken leg; the Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff; an inside look at officiating a main event with Earl Hebner; and Five Questions with former Ring of Honor champion Kyle O’Reilly.

Bray Wyatt: ‘I know what I’m capable of, and I knew I’d be here’

Courtesy of WWE

Bray Wyatt is the WWE champion and set to defend his championship at WrestleMania 33 against “The Viper” Randy Orton. Wyatt was first introduced to the WWE as The Nexus’s Husky Harris in 2010, but he never built any intrinsic connection with wrestling fans, good or bad. He ultimately found himself as Bray Wyatt, and debuted in NXT in 2012. Wyatt has consistently delivered compelling feuds in WWE, and that includes programs with Daniel Bryan, John Cena, The Undertaker, Dean Ambrose, and Roman Reigns.

Wyatt was interviewed by Sports Illustrated and revealed his insight regarding his reign as WWE champion, whether he should headline WrestleMania, and whether the Wyatt Family will ever reunite.

Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton are not scheduled to main event WrestleMania 33. Although both Wyatt and Orton have built a legitimately fascinating feud over the past six months, the final match—and true main event—at this year’s WrestleMania is currently scheduled to be Goldberg defending the WWE Universal championship versus Brock Lesnar.

Wyatt, who is the WWE world champion, does not envy their position.

“If I were Goldberg or Brock Lesnar, I wouldn’t want to have to go on after me and Randy,” said Wyatt. “From their standpoint, I wouldn’t want to be them and have to go on after us.”

Nearly every single former WWE world champion has a certain chiseled look and pristine physique, while Wyatt is a far more complex champion. While others would crumble under the self-doubt, Wyatt uses the doubts of others as the spark to his flame.

“That generic outlook of what a WWE champion should be is a joke to me,” said Wyatt. “The casual fan walks in and expects to see a guy in short trunks with abs and a shaven body. I do not believe in that. When you watch UFC, there is not a cliché champion who looks the same every time.

“I am a well-spoken, educated person, and I’m also an extremely accomplished athlete. For me, it’s disrespect and a slap in the face when people say I broke a mold as champion or I don’t fit as champion. I know what I’m capable of, and I knew I’d be here.”

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Bray Wyatt has served as an agent of chaos since he first entered WWE. Introduce a little anarchy, upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. Everything is fair in chaos, including a power play as the face of WWE.

“When people use the word ‘character’, I find it offensive,” noted Wyatt. “To do what I do, you can’t be a character. I’m a sick individual, and it takes a sick individual to do what I do. Becoming WWE champion was the number one goal all along. This was a power play, and now, this is truly the Era of Wyatt. This is my time, and it was the power that I sought all along.”

The 29-year-old Wyatt is a monster of a champion at 6’3” and 300 pounds, and he was once a threat on the gridiron when he played college football for Troy University. He was raised on wrestling, respect, and loyalty in a family that includes his father, Mike “Irwin R. Schyster” Rotunda, uncle Barry Windham, and late grandfather Blackjack Mulligan. His brother is Bo Dallas, who Wyatt is pushing to join the Wyatt Family.

“Bo Dallas is, quite possibly, the most talented wrestler on either roster,” said Wyatt. “He is the most underrated superstar of all time, in my opinion. He has so much to give. At some point, I would love to form an alliance with him because I know who and what he really is. Whether people want to look at him like that, well, then I’ll show you. It’s very, very possible.”

Wyatt was also asked if there are plans for the Wyatt Family to reunite to conquer the threat of Randy Orton.

“There is a lot of damage and many burnt bridges right now,” admitted Wyatt. “The Wyatt Family will always exist in one form or fashion, whether or not the four or us are ever back together again. It’s one thing to look at us on television, but when you’re standing next to all of us together, it’s almost too dominant of a presence. You can’t hack away at us—we’re four giants. As much as I would like to be reunited with my brothers, I don’t really need them right now, but it’s always a possibility.”

While Orton claims to have gained valuable intel on Wyatt while teaming with him for the past six months, Wyatt also noted that he learned exactly what makes “The Viper” tick.

“A lot of the relationship between me and Randy is undocumented,” said Wyatt. “The people only know what they’ve seen from small television segments. The real story behind me and Randy is that we were a cohesive unit. We both knew that and respected that, and we were even closer behind the scenes. We were a dominant force in the back and out in the arenas.

“People recognized, from both brands, that Randy and I were the omega of WWE. It’s baffling to me that he would choose to stab me in the back and ruin everything because it was a quite a dangerous tandem we had built.”

While Wyatt prepares to dismantle Orton at WrestleMania 33 in Orlando, he occasionally drifts off and thinks of his dream matches, which, he admitted, would have been nightmares for his opponents, including the “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels.

“Mick Foley would be one and Jake Roberts is another,” said Wyatt. “It’s the storytelling element behind their faces, but that one person who I’ve never really spoken about—and someone I could have done something beautiful with—is Shawn Michaels. Shawn Michaels is the ultimate storyteller, the ultimate in-ring performer. I would have loved to have done something with Shawn Michaels.

“I had the opportunity to do something with The Undertaker on several occasions, and Shawn Michaels is the one who got away. I like fighting smaller guys, they’re easier to move around, and Shawn Michaels and I could have created art together.”

Wyatt’s next pursuit within the WWE is to transform the “Face of Evil” into the face of the entire company.

“We’re going in that direction,” confirmed Wyatt. “When you walk into an arena and you hear the connection I have with people, it’s one thing. If people decide to turn on me, that’s up to them. I do not cater to any fans and I do not cater to anyone. I can only be Bray Wyatt. As evil as I am, there can be good in everyone.”

News of the Week

Courtesy of NJPW

The New Japan Cup concluded this past Monday as Katsuyori Shibayta claimed his first-ever victory of the 16-man tournament by defeating Bad Luck Fale in the finals.

Shibata now challenges Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP heavyweight championship on April 9 at Ryogoku Sumo Arena at Sakura Genesis.

“The champion is the icon, a symbol, and the face of New Japan,” said Shibata, speaking through a translator in an exclusive interview with Sports Illustrated.

The single-elimination tournament, which dates back to 2005, grants the winner a choice of challenging for the IWGP heavyweight championship, the IWGP Intercontinental title, or the NEVER Openweight belt. Over the past 13 years, the New Japan Cup winner has always received a title shot at the IWGP heavyweight champion, with the lone exception being in 2014 when Shinsuke Nakamura successfully challenged for the Intercontinental title.

Shibata followed the course of history and immediately chose a shot at Okada’s IWGP heavyweight championship.

“Last year I held the NEVER belt, that was only the third belt in my career,” said Shibata. “I had the British belt and wrestled for that. Up to that point, I didn’t really feel that belts were all that important. But now I realize that they are important. You are the focus, you can make things happen.”

The 6’4”, 330-pound Bad Luck Fale advanced to the New Japan Cup finals for the second time in four years, but was unsuccessful in his attempt to overpower Shibata.

“Shibata is one tough brother,” said Fale. “You can tell that his martial arts background has a lot to do with his strong and brutal style. That is a dangerous skill to have when he knows when to strike at the right time. He will give Okada a good run for his money.”

The final four of the tournament included Shibata, Tomohiro Ishii, Fale, and Evil. Noticeably absent from that group are Kenny Omega, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Michael Elgin, as all three were eliminated in the opening round. Omega lost a match of the year candidate to Ishii, Evil upset Tanahashi, and Elgin dropped his bout to Fale.

Bullet Club and Los Ingobernables de Japon—the “Ungovernables”—continued to have problems throughout the New Japan Cup. Fale was asked why Naito, Evil, and the rest of LIJ insist of interfering with Bullet Club business.

“They see us as their biggest obstacle,” said Fale. “Hence the interference in our matches, but we’ve been around longer. All their little tricks we’ve done before, so it wasn’t hard to read.”

As the longest tenured member of the Bullet Club, Fale put extra responsibility on his shoulders to win the New Japan Cup.

“Of course I felt I that responsibility,” confirmed Fale. “I was not going to let the Bullet Club get eliminated. I also had to let everybody know that this old dog was still around and an OG BC member can always step up.”

#NJCUP FINALIST #BadLuckFALE !! #Bulletclub #NJPW

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The semi-finals saw Shibata defeat Ishii in a hard-hitting affair and Fale overcome Evil, which only ignites the feud between the Bullet Club and Los Ingnoberables of Japon, who are led by Tetsuya Naito. Omega, who is the leader of the Bullet Club, and Naito still have a feud brewing from last year’s G1 Climax tournament, which saw Omega defeat Naito and go on to win the G1.

New Japan is working feverishly to build new stars, as Nakamura’s departure for NXT left a major hole in their main event. If New Japan can successfully add Shibata into the main event, then the result is two-fold as that adds both a new and fresh face to the top of the card. Shibata confirmed that he is ready to dethrone Okada and have his own run atop New Japan Pro Wrestling.

“Of course I respect Okada,” said Shibata. “He has the belt now. That’s amazing, and it’s something I couldn’t do. But I’ve changed over the last three years, too. Last year I fought over the NEVER title, I went abroad, went to the UK, learned a lot. I think in Japan too, I had more singles matches last year than at any other time in my career. I took every challenger and every fight. That mindset, that’s something that New Japan instills in you, that the Lion Mark instills in you.

“It’s a vital thing you can’t change or replace, and it is what has led me to challenge and fight for the very symbol of what New Japan Pro Wrestling represents.”

***

In other news…

Jim Ross tweeted early Tuesday morning that his wife, Jan, suffered multiple skull fractures after being struck by a car while riding her Vespa. All our best wishes are extended to the Ross family.

Raw will miss the weekly presence of Mick Foley. The former Raw GM enhanced the three-hour show every Monday, serving as a tremendous foil to Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, and Braun Strowman. Foley challenged Sami Zayn, as well as consistently provided an opposing voice of authority to Stephanie McMahon. Even years after his retirement from the ring, Foley’s depth of character and genuine love for wrestling have helped him remain as one of the most entertaining personalities in all of the business, and Raw will miss him in his absence.

• Prepare for Shane McMahon to deliver a lot of offense on AJ Styles at WrestleMania 33. McMahon dropped a flying elbow on Styles last night on Smackdown, and considering he went 50/50 in terms of offense with The Undertaker—arguably the most iconic WWE star of all time—there is no doubt that Styles is in for the same fate.

• New Japan star Rocky Romero has just released his newest album, and the seven-time IWGP junior heavyweight tag team champion connected with Sports Illustrated to discuss the project:

“Beat making and writing music is a hobby I picked up while living in Mexico working for AAA in 2010,” said Romero. “When the idea of RPG Vice was born, the opportunity to write, produce, and record our theme was available. So I took it. And fans really responded to it and still do. Many folks asked if I would be doing an album. I responded by announcing ‘Six Trees Vice’ the mixtape/album by RPG Vice. Again the response was very positive, which led to fans asked if there would be sequel. So here it is: ‘Six Trees Vice 2’.

“This is a very quirky, fun, crazy wrestling hip-hop album. We basically continue where we left off in making fun of ourselves and the wrestling world. Stuff like Chuck Taylor becoming a zombie and trying to kill me for breaking up his and Trent’s ‘Best Friends’ tag team. It also includes some awesome guests in Marco Corleone, Japanese rapper Mr. Bee and Italian rapper Mano.”

Matt Riddle has officially threatened to impart bodily harm upon Dan “The Beast” Severn. Riddle matches up with Severn in a battle of two former UFC fighters on Thursday, March 30 at Joey Janela’s Spring Break in Orlando.

“I grew up in an era where MMA wasn’t as prevalent as it is today,” said the 31-year-old Riddle. “I had a VHS tape that just happened to be the one where Dan Severn won the UFC Ultimate Fighting Tournament. Now, 20 years later, I’m going to be fighting Dan Severn, who is a UFC Hall of Famer and legend, during WrestleMania weekend.

“Severn’s time is up, and this is the passing of the torch. I’m going to give him the match of his life, and then that will be it for him. I’m going to have f--- up Dan Severn, and I think he knows that.”

• Dipping into the emails, here is a question from the WrestleMania Mailbag, answered by Marty Jannetty:

“The WrestleMania VIII match between Shawn Michaels and Tito Santana still grinds my gears. Why wasn’t it Michaels versus Marty Jannetty? And how would you have booked that match?”

~ John Curley, @notjohncurley

Here is the answer, straight from Marty Jannetty:

“The barbershop window segment was actually setting up a match at WrestleMania VIII between Shawn and I,” said Jannetty. “A few things didn’t go the way someone wanted, so they ended up completely scrapping that idea, but that was the whole idea of the barbershop.”

Michaels instead fought Tito Santana at WrestleMania VIII, and Jannetty still feels he and his former Rockers partner could have stolen the show.

“We’d have needed 20-25 minutes with a jump-start to get the people on their feet,” said Jannetty. “We had a match with a pace that was blistering in Denver a few months before WrestleMania VIII, and we could have had a match at WrestleMania that people would still be talking about. When it was over in Denver, the crowd cheered both of us in appreciation of what they saw.”

Jannetty noted that Michaels would have been the winner.

“We were building Shawn up at the time, so that’s the direction we would have gone.”

Jannetty will be discussing his career in an upcoming edition of the Week in Wrestling on SI.com, and he noted that he will be appearing at WrestleCon during WrestleMania weekend as well as upcoming bookings in Europe. Jannetty is also looking to add acting to his resume, though he just turned down a recent offer.

“I was just offered a three-movie deal for $150,000, but I had to turn it down,” explained Jannetty. “It was for porno, and I decided I’m not going to do that.”

• Last week marked the fifteen-year anniversary of the WrestleMania XVIII classic between “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan and The Rock. Hogan made news last week when he tweeted that he would not be at WrestleMania 33, which only served to fuel rumors that he will be present in Orlando. Both Hogan and the WWE would be better served to wait two more years until WrestleMania 35, as the interest in a Hogan return will only grow by the year.

•; If you haven’t already watched, Southpaw Regional Wrestling—WWE’s mockumentary of a regional 1980s wrestling territory—is worth the view.

• Jim Cornette is returning to the WWE to induct the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express into the WWE Hall of Fame. With the exception of Kurt Angle’s speech, there is no greater intrigue for a particular speaker.

• Coming attractions: SI.com’s feature with Paul “Triple H” Levesque will run on Monday, March 27.

TK O’Ryan: Thank you for the support

Courtesy of TK O’Ryan

TK O’Ryan is one-third of The Kingdom, who were the first-ever Six Man Tag champions in Ring of Honor history. The 27-year-old O’Ryan was building momentum in both ROH and on the independent scene as Northeast Wrestling champion but is currently sidelined indefinitely after breaking his leg during ROH’s 15th Anniversary pay per view on March 10. O’Ryan overshot an Asai moonsault outside the ring and his left leg took the brunt of the impact on the guardrail outside the ring. He spoke with SI.com about his injury, the recovery process, and his new store on Pro Wrestling Tees.

TK O’Ryan will forever remember the Ring of Honor 15th Anniversary pay per view.

O’Ryan was making only his second appearance on an ROH pay per view, as he, Matt Taven, and Vinny Marseglia – better known as The Kingdom – were defending their six-man tag team titles against Dalton Castle and The Boys.

Just after the six-minute mark in the match, O’Ryan broke his left tibia and fibula when he overextended on an Asai moonsault onto the guardrails outside the ring.

“I was supposed to hit that moonsault and it was going to be beautiful, but what ended up happening instead was I smashed into the guardrail,” said O’Ryan. “For the record, Vinny and The Boys caught me perfectly, and the guardrail wasn’t too close.

“The only thing that went wrong was I jumped too far. I was fired up to be on pay per view, and it was nobody’s fault but my own. I was absolutely positive right away that I broke my leg when it happened, and that’s when I rolled onto my back. As soon as that happened, Vinny picked up one of The Boys and threw him in the ring, and Vinny and Taven hit our finish on him immediately. The match ended almost instantly after the injury.”

(Editor’s note: The video is fairly graphic.)

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQs4NIpw1JQ]

The original plan for the match included an offensive comeback by Castle and The Boys, and O’Ryan said that letting down his fellow wrestlers was even more devastating than breaking his leg.

“I really wanted The Boys to turn into a legitimate tag team that night, and their best stuff was coming but it was all cut out,” said O’Ryan. “I felt really bad for them and I kept apologizing after the match, but they were just focused on my leg. I’m thankful to team with Vinny and Matt, and they handled the injury during the match very professionally and in a way that respected pro wrestling.”

O’Ryan has begun the rehab process, and he will receive a timetable on his return from the doctors at the Boston Medical Center later this week.

“The amount of time I’m out may shock people. I didn’t break a joint. I broke the main frame of my leg, so I’m not going to require extensive rehab,” said O’Ryan. “I’m walking now. It’s very painful and labored, but it’s really the swelling and bruising that is the problem. There is a metal rod in my leg that is replacing the bone that was broken, and over time it will fuse and the bones will grow stronger. As horrific as it may have looked, and I was expecting the X-ray to look like a bag of Skittles, the force of the impact caused a clean break.

“I don’t have a timetable yet, but I have a follow-up appointment this week and I’m hoping to hear some good news that I won’t be out as long as I thought I would be. The doctors at the Boston Medical Center were the best, and I can’t say enough about those people. They’re real life heroes.”

Until his return, O’Ryan is grateful to connect with people on social media.

“I want everyone to see everything going on, the good and the bad,” said O’Ryan. “I shared a story the other day about going to the bathroom and spent twenty minutes crying hysterically in pain as a result. At the end, I tweeted a picture of the toilet paper with the word, ‘Success!’ I’ve always played the bad guy, so it’s really cool to go on the other side of the fence and just connect with people. It’s been amazing. My life has been turned upside down, but people keep reaching out to help.”

The Nitro Files: The Shadow of WrestleMania

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—also 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.

Although Eric Bischoff has never run a WrestleMania, he has come close.

WrestleMania remains WWE’s signature show, while Starrcade was WCW’s flagship event. Starrcade ’97 represented the peak of WCW’s success, delivering a “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan versus Sting main event and a guest appearance from former WWE champion Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Yet the annual show, which was held on 18 different occasions and led on five of those occasions by the creative vision of Bischoff, never consistently succeeded like WrestleMania.

“It wasn’t my WrestleMania,” said Bischoff. “I think it was marginally successful. I never got quite to the level of success or refinement of the architecture of the model quite to the extent that I hoped.”

“I could have done a better job of establishing Starrcade as that one big event,” said Bischoff. “If you look back, Halloween Havoc—at least in terms of attention—really competed with Starrcade. If I’m being really honest about it, I don’t think I did as good a job or should have done making Starrcade our really big event.”

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jQqOGuCSo0]

Bischoff did successfully move the image of WCW out of the south in an effort of global expansion, which included the Northeast and international venues.

“We definitely wanted to have a footprint around the Northeast, but we also wanted to have a footprint around the country,” explained Bischoff. “My goal was to be viewed as an international brand, not a regional brand. Our goal, and mine in particular, was to expand into as many markets as we possibly could throughout the United States, including the Pacific Northwest and Southwest, and certainly the Northeast was also important.”

Despite his success in introducing WCW into different markets, Bischoff never realized his goal of building Starrcade into an event that was unparalleled in wrestling.

“We spent all year building Starrcade ’97, and that was one of our biggest shows ever,” said Bischoff. “But in terms of branding and positioning, I don’t think I did as good a job as I could have.”

Exclusive Lucha Underground clip

Lucha Underground is on its mid-season break for season three, but seasons one and two have been added to Netflix and the current season is also available on iTunes.

The Main Event in Black and White

Courtesy of WWE

Former WWE referee Earl Hebner shared memories from working the final match at WrestleMania on a record twelve different occasions. Hebner and WWE parted ways in 2005, and he has worked for Impact Wrestling since 2006.

Earl Hebner has served as the referee for the final match at a WrestleMania on twelve separate occasions.

“When I was working for Vince, one of the agents asked, ‘Why do all these matches go to Earl?’” said Hebner. “Vince responded, ‘Why do the same officials referee the Super Bowl every year? Because they know what they’re doing and they’re the best, and Earl is the best.’”

Hebner enjoyed a tremendous run working with WWE, working for the company from 1988–2005. He explained that the key to refereeing a match, particularly on the grand scale of WrestleMania, is timing.

“You need to know where to be at the right time,” said Hebner. “When I refereed matches for Hulk Hogan or Stone Cold, and I was with those guys so much, I learned what they were going to do and when they were going to do it.”

Hebner refereed Hogan’s WrestleMania matches at WrestleMania V, WrestleMania VI, WrestleMania VII, WrestleMania VIII, and WrestleMania IX. He also bridged generations by refereeing the WrestleMania XII 60-minute “Iron Man” match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, as well as The Rock versus Steve Austin at WrestleMania XVII.

“I never needed to ask any questions, I just saw their move and I already knew where to be,” explained Hebner. “After you referee a guy’s match so often, you get comfortable with them, you read them, and you know what’s coming, even if you didn’t discuss it beforehand.”

Hebner noted that his most challenging moments at WrestleMania were with the “Macho Man” Randy Savage.

“Macho Man was one of the toughest guys to referee,” said Hebner, who also refereed the retirement match between Savage and the Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VII. “He was not happy unless everything was perfect. Nothing is perfect in this business, though you can get close. Things are always going to happen, and he was very picky. My brother refereed Steamboat-Macho Man at the Pontiac Silverdome. He was so precise, but a lot of the greats are like that.”

Hebner will be appearing at WrestleCon during WrestleMania weekend and is available for bookings. He has spent the last dozen years working alongside his son, Brian, for Impact Wrestling. The 67-year-old just signed a two-year extension, which he envisions as his final deal in wrestling.

“Impact is off to a great start and Jeff Jarrett is a mastermind,” said Hebner. “Jeff has hired the right people, and they are good people to work for. He knows what he’s doing.

“Working with my son is great. We’re both good, but he’s faster than me. I’m slowing up and not the spring chicken I used to. I just signed a two-year deal with Impact. After that, I think I’m going to call it quits and be home on my 70th birthday. How’s that sound?”

Something to Wrestle with Conrad Thompson

Courtesy of Conrad Thompson

Conrad Thompson and Bruce Prichard return to the MLW airwaves this Friday at noon for the “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” podcast discussing WrestleMania 13.

“There are so many twists and turns about what didn’t happen at WrestleMania 13,” said Thompson. “We’ll go over the original plans for Shawn and Bret, when they changed, the rumor and innuendo about Shawn’s knee injury – was he hurt? When was he hurt? When did they know? And, of course, we’ll cover how they were able to spin Bret Hart into a heel for the first time after a long period as a torch-bearing babyface. I consider this WrestleMania the jumping off point for the ‘Attitude Era.’ You see some of the seeds planted at Royal Rumble 1997, but it’s kicked into high gear here with the double-turn, which is the most important and well-done double-turn of all-time. It’s one of my favorite WrestleManias of all time, and I’m really looking forward to breaking it down.”

With WrestleMania 33 on the horizon, Thompson was asked what he is most looking forward to watching at this year’s “Showcase of Immortals”.

“I’m most looking forward to the surprises,” said Thompson. “I enjoyed last year’s WrestleMania a great deal. I was there, it was my daughter’s first WrestleMania, and seeing her excitement was fun. The women’s three-way was enjoyable; it was cool to see AJ Styles make his WrestleMania debut; it was fun to watch Shane jump off the top of the cage, but the most fun I had last year was the surprise of the glass breaking and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, Mick Foley, and Shawn Michaels. Those surprises made the show for me, and I have a feeling we’re going to get more of that this year.”

Five Questions with… Kyle O’Reilly

Wikimedia Commons

Kyle O’Reilly is the premiere free agent in professional wrestling. The 30-year-old is a former Ring of Honor world champion, having won the title at Final Battle last December over Adam Cole. Due to contract negotiations stalling, and then coming to a halt, O’Reilly suddenly dropped the title back to Cole at Wrestle Kingdom 11 on January 4 in Tokyo. “The Violent Artist” is also one-half of reDRagon with Bobby Fish, and the pair is arguably the most talented tag team in the entire business. O’Reilly is rumored to be headed to WWE to work at NXT, and he spoke with SI.com about his career, decision to leave Ring of Honor, and his future.

SI.com: You won the Ring of Honor world title on December 2 at Final Battle in an incredibly compelling main event with Adam Cole. Without any title defenses—or much fanfare—you dropped the title at Wrestle Kingdom 11 on January 4 back to Cole. What did you think of those two matches with Cole? Is the world title win any less special because of the quick run with the belt?

O’Reilly: Any time you are sharing the ring with Adam Cole, it is guaranteed to be something special. He’s such an incredible talent and the paths of our careers have been intertwined since arriving in Ring of Honor. Final Battle at the Hammerstein and Wrestle Kingdom at the Tokyo Dome were no different, as they were both special moments in my career with a professional rival and a personal friend.

When you look at the lineage of who’s been ROH World Champion over the last 15 years, you find some of pro wrestling’s most significant names. To have held that title even for one day was a huge moment for my career and for the sake of wrestling history, I can be proud looking back knowing that I was once ROH World Champion.

SI.com: Why is Kyle O’Reilly no longer working for Ring of Honor? And is there ever a chance that we will see you in WWE or NXT?

O’Reilly: As a professional, I am always looking for new experiences and challenges. Ring of Honor was a place where I grew and found myself as a performer. However, in order to develop myself further as an artist, it was time to move on. After seven years with the company, their platform was no longer conducive to my artistic growth and my creativity.

For me to fully experience this industry I would certainly hope there’s a chance for me at WWE. I am open to all opportunities should they come my way and a chance to prove myself as a world-class athlete. There are many talented performers within that company I would be excited to work with and many proficient minds I would be grateful to learn from should the opportunity ever arise.

SI.com: People are invested in Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish as singles talent, but also extremely invested in the two of you together as reDRagon. What has Bobby meant to you in your career? And will reDRagon ever team together again?

O’Reilly: Bobby is an extremely close friend, mentor, and a tremendous tag-team partner. We’ve set such a high standard for ourselves and for the quality of reDRagon’s matches that we’ve always pushed each other to be better all-around pro wrestlers. I don’t think anyone has seen the last reDRagon match and there is always the chance we will pop up again somewhere. I can almost guarantee it…

SI.com: What is so appealing to you about the New Japan “strong style” of wrestling? Are you considering working there full-time?

O’Reilly: The New Japan “strong style” is what made me fall in love with the sport all over again. It is the use of legitimate technique in a setting that is conducive to making what we do believable and realistic. A sports-like presentation and background coupled with believable wrestlers has allowed me to put forth a body of work of which I’m very proud. Wrestling for New Japan has given me a platform to truly show what Kyle O’Reilly is all about and it provides the greatest visual representation of my style. The knowledge I gained from the legends there is invaluable and the respect shown from the fans is humbling. I would absolutely consider working there full-time and hope to eventually end up back there. Whether that is in six months or six years remains to be seen, however I definitely have unfinished business in NJPW.

SI.com: What are your goals for the remainder of 2017? Where will we see you next?

O’Reilly: My goals for 2017 include continuing my personal growth as a performer and seeking out new opportunities and platforms to display my abilities. I just want to keep being and becoming the best version of myself and the best professional wrestler I can possibly be. There are a lot of questions about where I might end up next and hopefully those questions will be answered sooner than later. Wherever Kyle O’Reilly does end up, expect “The Violent Artist” to remain one of the best wrestlers in the world.

Tweet of the Week

CM Punk is a fan of the Young Bucks, who will be featured in next week’s edition of the Week in Wrestling.

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

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