Sting on his lost chance with The Undertaker, Mauro Ranallo's next move and more.
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 Sting discussing his run in WWE and a missed opportunity with The Undertaker; The Shoot with Impact Wrestling’s Robbie E; The Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff; Insight from New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Hirooki Goto; and Five Questions with John Cena.
Sting: I wanted The Undertaker
Given the chance to turn back the hands of time, Sting knows exactly where he would travel: the destination would be WrestleMania 31 in Santa Clara, California to battle The Undertaker.
“There was a worldwide desire to see that match,” said Sting. “It was a dream match for me, too.”
Sting’s lone WrestleMania appearance featured him in a singles match against Triple H that evolved into a WWE versus WCW storyline. The match included run-ins from DX and the New World Order, and Triple H won after drilling Sting with his sledgehammer. Considering Sting was willing to accept defeat in his debut match, questions immediately arose as to why Sting was not instead booked in a heavily rumored match against The Undertaker.
“I regret not being able to get in the ring with him one time,” said Sting. “It would have been great, but I’m OK with the way it turned out.”
Sting’s career ended in the fall of 2015 at Night of Champions in a WWE title match against Seth Rollins. Sting was power-bombed into the turnbuckle, severely injuring his neck, and was ultimately forced to retire from professional wrestling. Given the opportunity, Sting admitted, he would have relished the opportunity to finally face off against The Undertaker.
“Of course, if I had a chance, I’d do it,” said Sting. “But look at ‘Taker’s career; did he miss out on anything? Look at my career. I don’t think I really missed out on anything, either.”
Sting was asked if there are any wrestlers he enjoys watching on weekly WWE programming.
“I’m always interested in what ‘Taker’s doing, and Seth, of course,” said Sting. “I have some bragging rights because my career ended with him – so Seth, ‘Taker, I’m always paying attention to those two.”
Sting joked that he finally began to enjoy pro wrestling at the age of 47 while he was starring in TNA, but then used the opportunity to share his early memories of entering the business.
“I grew up without pro wrestling on the TV in my house,” explained Sting. “I didn’t even know what it was until a big guy with blond hair walked into the Gold’s Gym I managed in Southern California. I didn’t know who he was, but that was Hulk Hogan. A year later, I ended up going into a wrestling camp and getting into wrestling. I was 26 years old, and I wasn’t sure I liked wrestling at the time. I went to the Sports Arena in Los Angeles and saw Hogan, Andre the Giant, the British Bulldogs, Adrian Adonis, and all these names from the past. It was at that moment I thought, ‘I really want to do this.’ A couple years later, when I got in the ring with Ric Flair, life changed for me dramatically in the pro wrestling world.”
Sting eventually went on to have successful programs with nearly every major star in WCW and TNA, including setting the wrestling world aflame with the buildup to his match with “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan at Starrcade ‘98. He revealed that his favorite match was with the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair at Great American Bash in 1991.
“Ric had a choice to make or break my career,” said Sting. “Thank god he decided to help me out. That’s when I really started to love pro wrestling, after being in the ring with Ric.”
Sting was a main event act in four different decades, and paid particularly close attention to the way crowds responded to babyfaces and heels after witnessing the scorching popularity of the NWO in WCW.
“Back in the kayfabe days, it was really cut and dry with heels and babyfaces,” said Sting. “There was no gray. That’s the way I learned this business, but you can’t say the gray doesn’t work. People have their favorites, no matter if it’s gray or black or white. I came from a black and white era with guys like Ric. Sometimes I wish it would come back, but it’s working the way it is.”
“Ravishing” Rick Rude, who was a fierce rival in WCW, just joined Sting as a member of the WWE Hall of Fame. Rude’s character, explained Sting, made him the perfect opponent.
“Rick Rude was, through and through, a heel,” said Sting. “When things started to change [in wrestling] is when heels started looking for that babyface reaction, but Rick had the ability to really piss you off. He was very, very good at it. He made life for a babyface like me so much easier. Rick was very underrated, he was one of the best.”
The headline inductee of this year’s WWE Hall of Fame was Kurt Angle, who grew close with Sting during their time together in TNA.
“Kurt is a lot like Shawn Michaels,” said Sting. “It didn’t matter who his opponent was, he could tear it up every single night. Some of the matches that I had with Kurt were the best matches I had, ever.
“Kurt Angle pushed me to my limit. He pushed me physically harder than any other wrestler ever pushed me. He is a machine, he can go all night.”
As for the state of wrestling in 2017, Sting noted that the art of selling–i.e. receiving a beating and showing its effects throughout the course of the match–is largely absent from the current day product.
“I’m guilty of it all and I’ve done it all,” said Sting. “There is a time not to sell, but there is a time when you definitely most need to sell. You need to tell the story in the right way, and that’s sometimes missed now.”
As for keys to success, Sting reflected back on his own journey from WCW to TNA that eventually brought him to WWE at a memorable Survivor Series debut in 2014.
“What does it take to succeed?” repeated Sting. “For me, it took almost 30 years. You’ve got to have your game face on, 24-7, that’s for sure, and be totally and completely committed in every possible way.
“You have to understand how to deal with the public and how to speak to the public. You have to work on your physique. You’ve got to have longevity, so you’ve got to be able to work through injuries. You’ve got to do all those things, otherwise you’re not going to be WWE-caliber. It takes a lot of effort.”
If the time comes when Sting’s health ever grants him one more match, there will be no second-guessing as he knows exactly who he would like to wrestle.
“Oh, Taker, no question,” said Sting. “I always wanted it to happen. It would have been really good.”
News of the Week
There is no question that AJ Styles is more talented than Jinder Mahal.
Styles has an unmatched ability in the ring, and with the exception of potentially only Cesaro, knows how to enhance his opponent’s stock in a match.
Yet, with Smackdown Live in dire need of a villain to challenge Randy Orton for the WWE championship, audiences are instead being force-fed Jinder Mahal into the main event picture.
The 30-year-old Mahal is an imposing figure, but he has been used merely as enhancement talent for the majority of his WWE career. Mahal was elevated into the world title program with Orton only a week after mid-carder Mojo Rawley soundly defeated him. WWE is looking to boost their market in India, which provides even more reason to have built up Mahal’s push instead of creating it overnight. The suddenness of Mahal’s push is manufactured, which is the fatal flow of WWE booking’s philosophy.
After his world title run that began in 2016 exceeded all expectations, Styles is now slated to feud with Kevin Owens for the United States championship. Despite the fact that Styles is clearly better suited to be a heel, he will be playing the babyface in the feud with Owens.
Only in the WWE does a main event talent play the role of a supporting actor. LeBron James does not come off the bench for the Cleveland Cavaliers, nor does Leonardo DiCaprio accept ancillary roles. Styles is a star, and should remain in the main event.
The most significant development from the Superstar Shake-Up is the return of all three former Shield members to Raw.
Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns are all currently involved in separate programs, but the three can finally have their triple threat match–perhaps even for the right to become the number one contender to Brock Lesnar’s Universal championship–this August at SummerSlam.
Reigns is going to need a reprieve from his feud with Braun Strowman, who is likely to finally receive his Universal title match against Lesnar at SummerSlam, and there is no better feud to protect Reigns than working with Ambrose and Rollins. The triple threat match could also provide an opportunity for Rollins to once again turn heel, and would provide a WrestleMania-type of atmosphere to SummerSlam that WWE works to deliver every summer.
In other news…
• Sources close to the situation have informed me that, by potentially as soon as September, Mauro Ranallo will return to calling New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV. That was his position until he left for the opportunity to call Smackdown, when he was replaced by Ross, who is expected to mutually agree on an early opt-out of his contract with AXS TV so he may focus on his WWE-related projects.
• Questions immediately arose when Impact Wrestling announced its new talent exchange program with AAA, which is the major wrestling promotion in Mexico. I asked Dorian Roldan Pena, the Vice President of AAA, to clarify the new working agreement:
“This isn’t about Lucha Underground, this is about AAA,” said Dorian, who is also the General Manager of Lucha Underground. “This agreement is between AAA and Impact, but it’s not going to involve the intellectual property of Lucha Underground. The AAA talent we have signed to exclusive contracts are going to be available for Impact Wrestling, and the same will be true for the talent at Impact Wrestling. We are having discussions to send our talent to Slammiversary in July for Impact, and for them to send talent to AAA in August for our 25th anniversary of TripleMania.”
• Braun Strowman should have pinned the Big Show after the ring collapsed during their main event match two weeks ago on Raw. The visual of Strowman towering over Show, with the tip of his boot on Show’s chest, would have been an undeniably robust moment for Strowman and given him even more momentum as a top-of-the-card monster heel.
• While everyone may not agree, I liked how Bray Wyatt added his touch of unpredictability to the end of Raw on Monday. Wyatt is supposed to be focused on introducing anarchy, upsetting the established order, and creating chaos. In order to do this effectively, the “Eater of Worlds” needs a convincing victory–and not one through hocus pocus or outside interference–over Randy Orton at Payback on Sunday.
• The build between Shinsuke Nakamura and Dolph Ziggler is very similar to AJ Styles’ first WWE feud with The Miz. If you recall, Miz interviewed Styles and interrupted him before he speak, which is how the promo started last night to open Smackdown. Their match in May at Backlash should be given at least 15 minutes.
• Tommy Dreamer made his annual Major League Baseball predictions, using his clairvoyance to state that the Cleveland Indians will win the World Series in 2017. Despite Cleveland’s tepid start, Dreamer has no reservations over his choice:
“I saw how close they came last season,” explained Dreamer. “History often repeats itself in sports. You look at the Kansas City Royals and when they lost the 2014 World Series in seven games, then rallied to win the next year. I’m a little leery of Cleveland’s starting pitching, but I think it’s time for Cleveland to win the World Series.”
Dreamer, who also works closely with Edge and Christian on the WWE Network’s “Edge and Christian Show That Totally Reeks of Awesomeness”, explained that Edge and Christian were tailor-made to be pro baseball players:
“They would definitely be Toronto Blue Jays, without a doubt,” said Dreamer. “Edge would be Jayson Werth, who is a really tall, lanky outfielder. Christian would be a great utility guy, like a great Rance Mulliniks for all you early ‘80s guys. He’d be a really great platoon player and be a star for a half of a second, then complain throughout his entire career that he wasn’t starting.”
• Matt Striker, who happened to be standing alongside Dreamer during our discussion at an XWA show in West Warwick, Rhode Island, also shared his MLB predictions:
“I like the Mariners and what they did in the off-season, though the beginning of the season hasn’t helped them,” said Striker. “I don’t think the Cubs are going to repeat. It’s time for the American League to win the World Series.”
Striker also made a baseball-to-wrestling parallel with his Lucha Underground broadcast partner Vampiro:
“I would liken Vampiro to Kendrys Morales,” said Striker. “He’s one of those guys who is going to do what he’s going to do, independent of everything else.”
Dreamer then tagged into the discussion for the finisher, explaining that Vampiro shares far more connective tissue with Fernando Valenzuela, who turned Major League Baseball upside-down with his unique talents in 1981:
“I would say Vampiro is more of a Fernando Valenzuela,” noted Dreamer. “Just like Fernando shocked the nation like he did with the Dodgers, Vampiro did the same thing when he came into WCW. Fernando was different, he was unique, and that is just like Vampiro.”
• WWE’s four-day talent tryout in Dubai begins today and takes place at the newly constructed Dubai Opera House. Rezar, who is one-half of the NXT tag team champions Authors of Pain, was discovered at the most recent WWE Dubai tryout in 2014.
Paul “Triple H” Levesque, who is the WWE Executive Vice President, Talent, Live Events and Creative, stated: “Not only are the Middle East and India important markets to grow our business and reach new fans, but they are also key regions from which to recruit premier athletes who want to pursue the dream of becoming a WWE Superstar.”
• I spent some time last week with Gangrel, who reflected back on his marriage with the late Luna Vachon. In addition to her work in WWE, Luna was part of the legendary Vachon family, which includes her father, Butcher Vachon, and uncle, Mad Dog Vachon. Gangrel shared the story of how Mad Dog Vachon gave him a grave warning before his wedding to Luna:
“I was already scared of her uncle Mad Dog,” said Gangrel. “I was working a show with him when he found out I was marrying her, and a couple wrestlers told me, ‘Mad Dog is looking for you, don’t make him wait.’ I go to see him, and he’s in his wheelchair because he only has one leg, but I’m still terrified of him, and he said to me, ‘I will rip your head off if you’re bad to my brother’s daughter.’ I wanted to say, ‘Your niece is the one who can beat me up!’ but all I could say was, ‘Yes, sir.’ Luna was an awesome individual, and she never got enough credit for helping me out. She is truly missed all the time.”
• Kayfabe News never fails in its attempt to entertain, and the source of unreal news about an unreal sport has been particularly sharp over the past few months. This inside look back at how “Scooby Doo solves mystery of Katie Vick” was an intelligent yet comical look at one of the most absurd angles in the history of pro wrestling.
Something to Wrestle with 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 to discuss the 1996 “Beware of Dog” In Your House pay per view.
“I’m really looking forward to discussing Beware of Dog and hearing the stories of Vince McMahon’s meltdown, as well as what actually happened and the steps that were taken to ensure that it would never happen again.”
The Beware of Dog pay per view actually took place twice in three nights. The original show took place on Sunday, May 26 at the Florence Civic Center in Florence, South Carolina, but power was lost due to an unforgiving thunderstorm. Only the opening match of the PPV aired, but then all power was lost in the arena, the WWE satellite trucks, and on the pay per view feed. The power and feed were finally restored before the main event between Shawn Michaels and the “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith.
“We’ll discuss who was responsible, the financial impact, and what the boys thought about it,” said Thompson. ““It’s a fascinating deal that has not been explored in this type of format.”
The encore presentation took place two nights later in North Charleston, South Carolina at the North Charleston Coliseum. WWE has yet to return to South Carolina for a pay view.
“I don’t know if it will be our longest episode, but it will be one of our most interesting,” added Thompson. “We’ll also discuss that catchy ‘In Your House’ song. If you think I’m not going to make Bruce sing that song, well, then you’re wrong.”
Exclusive Lucha Underground clip
I had the opportunity to moderate a Lucha Underground panel this past Sunday at the C2E2 Chicago Comic Con, which included Rey Mysterio, Johnny Mundo, Taya, Melissa Santos, Vampiro, executive producer Eric Van Wagenen, head writer Chris DeJoseph, and AAA Vice President Dorian Roldan.
I enjoy spending a considerable chunk of my time each week watching professional wrestling, and I genuinely respect what Lucha Underground has built since 2014. A constant frustration in wrestling is watching countless companies attempt to emulate WWE despite the fact they fail to match the pyro, music, and overall production. Lucha Underground has carved out its own universe through unique storytelling and a far different format than we are familiar with watching on WWE programming, which has allowed the show to develop a core audience of viewers.
The wrestling world needs competition in order to thrive, and I sincerely hope that Lucha Underground returns for a fourth season and beyond.
New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Japan Pro Wrestling returns to AXS TV this Friday featuring a match between Katsuyori Shibata and Kyle O’Reilly, as well as Kenny Omega versus Hirooki Goto from last October’s King of Pro Wrestling.
Goto has been a steady force for New Japan Pro Wrestling over the past fourteen years, but, despite eight title shots throughout his career, has never captured the IWGP heavyweight championship. Goto and WWE’s Shinsuke Nakamura are childhood friends.
“Nakamura and I are the same age,” said Goto, who has captured the New Japan Cup on three separate occasions as well as won the IWGP Intercontinental championship twice. ”We grew up together. We’ve known each other since high school when we were on the same amateur wrestling team. We went to different colleges, but we’ve been competing together for a long time. We even became pro wrestlers at the same time.”
Goto explained that working with talents from Ring of Honor has helped him better grasp the North American psychology to wrestling.
“Movement and technique are very important, but nothing is more important than the fighting spirit,” said Goto. “That’s what shows the emotion behind each move. My only goal is to get better at that each day. The more insight I have into the psychology, the better I can be through emotion.”
Tweet of the Week
If I remember it well, I have not eaten bread today.— 小島 聡【SATOSHI KOJIMA】 (@cozy_lariat) April 21, 2017
I am a BreadClub.
But, I do not have any bread right now. sad.
You know Balor Club, Bullet Club, The Club, and now… Bread Club.
John Cena generated headlines at WrestleMania 33 when he proposed to Nikki Bella after their mixed tag victory over The Miz and Maryse. Cena has been off-camera ever since to work on his upcoming films – most notably, The Wall, which co-stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson – but has plans to return to Smackdown Live. Cena, who has granted more wishes than any celebrity or athlete in Make-A-Wish history, spoke with SI at his annual Make-A-Wish luncheon in Orlando where WWE hosted 39 wish kids whose wish was to attend WrestleMania and inducted those children into WWE’s Circle of Champions.
SI.com: So many people have asked you to turn heel. You just visited children at a Make-A-Wish luncheon in Orlando during WrestleMania weekend and the children were ecstatic to see you. Does that provide you with more justification to remain your current character?
Cena: I don’t think everyone wants me to turn. There is a group of people that don’t like what they see, but the most important message I send is you can’t please everybody, never be ashamed to be who you are, and know that what you do affects people. I look at it as a way to provide hope for families that don’t go through what we consider a normal day by providing a smile and happiness. I look at WWE as a vehicle to provide an escape and happiness. That’s why I’m here every year, I believe in what we do.
SI.com: You last headlined a WrestleMania in 2013. As a competitor, is part of your drive to headline WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans?
Cena: I look at any time I step on that ramp as the headline.
SI.com: The promos with The Miz, Maryse, and Nikki Bella leading up to WrestleMania 33 were appointment viewing. Were you happy with the way the program played out? Or was it too real to enjoy?
Cena: I can’t believe I have hair left. At times, it’s trying to have someone throw your real life out there. Everybody comes at me, so I’m used to it, but it’s a first for Nicole. They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and I can attest to that. I’ve had to be on the receiving end of some upset nights, but I cannot stress to you enough how it shows her character and resolve. I tell everyone who will listen, Nicole is the strongest, most inspiring person I’ve ever met. That’s why I love her. I’ve headlined with The Rock and I’ve been a part of a lot of WrestleMania moments, but this moment with Nicole is the one most important of all because I get to stand alongside her in a WrestleMania ring. All of that is because of her story. She drives me, she inspires me. We learn from each other every day. On top of that, I’m head over heels for her. And she loves this business just as much as I do, so it’s special.
SI.com: Celebrities and pro athletes, like Rob Gronkowski, are constantly rumored to be or are actually a part of WrestleMania. Is there anyone from outside of wrestling that you would like to work with in the ring? And what is the key to a successful transition into WWE?
Cena: The best celebrities or pro athletes are the ones who show up embracing everything. I distinctly remember when Hugh Jackman showed up and he was awesome because he viewed it as awesome. His lasting impression on what he did and how enthusiastic he was, that was great. Anyone like that. When a person shows up to WWE and says, ‘I want to be part of this crazy thing that’s about to happen,’ it always leads to memorable moments. If anyone shows up too cool for school, well, then all right. We have a world watching us, and it is such a wonderful world to be a part of.
SI.com: WWE has allowed you so many opportunities, including current movie roles that have taken you away from Smackdown Live. How grateful are you for those opportunities? And what are your goals outside of the ring?
Cena: That’s all really good stuff, but it doesn’t happen without this. I’m at the point where I wouldn’t do anything that I’m not interested or invested in. I really think it’s awesome that WWE has someone who can host a morning show by day and be on Smackdown Live at night. There are a lot of folks in WWE that are tremendously talented, and hopefully I can be one of the few vehicles that gets more opportunities for some of those superstars other than myself. It’s really cool to be able to do, but I’m not doing anything because I have to, I’m doing it because I want to.