All you need to know from the week in pro wrestling.
There is no show on the air quite like SiriusXM’s Busted Open.
The show is a daily two-hour discussion of the professional wrestling business through the eyes of hosts Dave LeGreca, Larry Dallas, and wrestling superstar Bully Ray.
Busted Open airs on SiriusXM’s RUSH 93 every week day from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. ET and has been championed by the likes of Chris Jericho and Ric Flair, yet its story began in 2009 when LeGreca—who worked for SiriusXM as a producer for the morning NFL show for thirteen years—pushed to bring pro wrestling to the satellite airwaves.
“Busted Open just celebrated its eighth anniversary on April 28,” said LaGreca. “It’s been one hell of a ride, and it’s worth the fight. When you grow up a fan, wrestling is in your blood. As much as the product, creatively, can frustrate you at times, we’re always going to be wrestling fans.”
Originally broadcast once a week, the show evolved into two broadcasts per week, and then three, behind the support of Busted Open Nation. Busted Open officially became a five-day staple of SiriusXM this past February.
“It definitely took some time to pitch the show,” admitted LaGreca. “When I worked for the NFL morning show as a producer, I would always be in the office of [SiriusXM senior vice president of sports programming] Steve Cohen, who is my boss, and he was an advocate for the show. My original broadcast partner, Doug Mortman, who is now a VP with the company, was always in our corner. Our persistence allowed for a small opportunity, and the popularity of the show has kept growing and growing.”
LaGreca is a 45-year-old from New Jersey who grew up in love with pro wrestling.
“I always tried to bring an element of pro wrestling to the NFL channel,” said LaGreca. “Derrick Brooks, the Hall of Fame linebacker from the Bucs, is a huge Nation member. But I’m a fan first. When it comes to pro wrestling, watching brings me back to when I was a fan as a kid and my dad would take me to the matches. I’ll always be a fan first.”
Busted Open is not a podcast, but rather a live, two-way talk radio show.
“I want to hear from the Nation,” said LaGreca. “Callers will disagree with me, Larry Dallas has a unique opinion, and Bully Ray has actually been in the ring and gives us an entirely different perspective. Still, I argue with Larry and Bully all the time on the air. Bully thinks of wrestling as a performer, but I think of wrestling as a fan, so we butt heads. We respect each other, but I’m looking at this from the fan’s perspective, but Bully looks at this as a performer.
The show, LaGreca noted, allows fans the opportunity to voice their feelings after, for example, frustrating European episodes of Raw.
“We’re the voice of the people, so we have to be critical,” said LaGreca. “If there is something the WWE does that I don’t like, I’m going to speak up about it. The WWE has been great to us, but I am going to voice my opinion.”
This week, the show has already spent a considerable amount of time previewing Sunday’s Backlash, as well as discussing the backlash from Randy Orton’s beef with Bully Ray on Twitter.
“That’s why the show is five days a week. There’s Raw, SmackDown, NXT, New Japan, Ring of Honor, and even Impact Wrestling. Wrestling outside of the WWE is very popular.
“Ring of Honor just sold out the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, and New Japan is coming to the states in July, and we’re going to be covering that, as well. WWE is a big element of Busted Open, but there is so much going on in the world of professional wrestling in 2017.”
Is it possible that the most entertaining segment on Raw was delivered by Titus O’Neal?
Granted, these current editions of Raw are not exactly setting the world on fire, but O’Neal added a spark during his segment with Enzo, Cass, and Apollo Crews. While Enzo and Cass were busy shouting catchphrases, O’Neal continued to help Crews become relevant. Crews’ kick to Enzo’s head at the end of the O’Neal-Cass match was one of the more compelling aspects of the show.
O’Neal also continues his “Titus Brand” this Saturday by presenting a TEDx talk at UCLA on the domino effect of advocacy. TED is a media organization which posts talks online for free consumption, and a TEDx event provides an opportunity for live TED-like talks and videos previously recorded are shared.
Moving forward, will we see three weeks of interchangeable matches between O’Neal, Enzo, Cass, and Crews? Does WWE creative—more specifically, Vince McMahon—allow O’Neal more freedom on the microphone? The next three weeks of the O’Neal/Crews storyline will be critical to its success.
In other news…
• The Young Bucks were asked how Kenny Omega can finally defeat IWGP heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada in their highly-anticipated rematch on June 11 at New Japan’s Dominion show.
“Kenny has to do one thing to beat Okada and win the title,” said Matt Jackson. “Hit the One-Winged Angel. That’s the weapon he didn’t hit in their last six-star match in January. If he hits that, it’s a wrap. Homeboy won’t kick out of that.”
Nick Jackson agreed that Omega’s One-Winged Angel will spell doom for Okada, and added that “ultimate finishers”—moves that effectively end a match—are rare in wrestling.
“That’s what is cool about an ultimate finisher,” said Nick Jackson. “No one has ever kicked out of our Meltzer Driver, and there is a reason for that. That’s our version of the One-Winged Angel. If we hit the Meltzer Driver, the match is over or someone needs to come in for the save, and it’s the same with Kenny’s One-Winged Angel.”
When asked if the Bucks will be ringside in Osaka for Okada-Omega II, both Jackson brothers noted that they plan to be there to support their fellow Bullet Club and Elite member:
“Kenny says he needs us there,” said Matt. “We all have a natural chemistry ringside.”
“We bring an energy boost,” added Nick. “We were there for the first one, and we want to have the best view for the second one.”
• SmackDown’s opening match between Jinder Mahal and AJ Styles allowed Mahal to shine in victory, but also benefited the build of the growing feud between Styles and Kevin Owens. Mahal has the chance to win the WWE championship on Sunday at Backlash in his first-ever pay per view main event.
• Monday’s Raw offered more highlights this week than last, although I am amazed at the endless variations WWE is continuing to give us featuring the Hardys against Cesaro and Sheamus. Roman Reigns and Finn Balor put together a very solid rematch of their original encounter from Raw last summer. Unlike their first meeting, when Balor cleanly pinned Reigns, there is no doubt now that Reigns is being groomed to eventually dethrone Brock Lesnar for the Universal title. Also, after we suffer through this feud between Goldust and R-Truth, I genuinely hope Goldust is given a chance to redefine his character and work a program for the Intercontinental title with Dean Ambrose.
• Vampiro spoke with SI.com and discussed whether Lucha Underground’s mid-season break will hurt the show’s momentum once it returns from hiatus on Wednesday, May 31:
“It was hard to explain to the other talent, but when you analyze the decision to have a mid-season break, it makes sense,” explained Vampiro, who is very involved in Lucha Underground as part of the creative team, as well as a producer, agent, broadcaster, and wrestler. “We’re not off the air, we had a mid-season break with repeats every week.
“If you’re a wrestling fan and you’re not watching Lucha Underground, you’re missing innovation. This is a unique opportunity in wrestling to be part of something still developing and growing. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to grow with Lucha Underground. We refuse to take no for an answer. If you come to me, and you have fire and passion and faith in yourself, I will give you the freedom. It’s rock and roll. If you believe in yourself, then f------ go for it. If you let people dictate your career, you’ll be in a personal jail. Just go for it.”
Vampiro, who is also the head of talent relations for AAA, detailed how the talent-exchange will work between AAA and Impact Wrestling:
“Impact has an exclusive deal with AAA,” said Vampiro. “This is a distribution deal to bring Impact to Latin America, and it’s a great opportunity for wrestlers who are in AAA but aren’t going to Lucha Underground who want to work in the United States to be seen on television with Impact Wrestling.”
• Ring of Honor’s parent company, Sinclair Broadcasting, agreed in principle last week to the $4 billion purchase of Tribune Media. The news has ripple effects for the wrestling world, as this development is likely to lead to a national cable show for Ring of Honor. Using history as our guide, Sinclair has put Ring of Honor on every station they have acquired. If the Tribune deal passes, it is a safe bet to see ROH on every major Tribune station.
Ring of Honor COO Joe Koff, while unable to discuss the Tribune deal, expressed his satisfaction with the growth of the ROH brand:
“I’m beyond proud,” said Koff. “This Ring of Honor brand is community. They’re not only wrestling for themselves, they’re wrestling for the fans and the brand, and they do it so well. We have a love for wrestling, and with that passion and feeling and sense of community, I’m excited as every fan in the building when I’m at the arena.”
• Following Jim Cornette’s words of wisdom last week, Ring of Honor’s Cheeseburger also weighed in on Bill Goldberg’s “Gold-Burger”. Set to debut this Saturday at the Sugar Factory in Las Vegas, Goldberg’s Gold-Burger is a gold-glazed bun with double angus beef patties and melted white and yellow cheddar, topped with onion rings and served with pickles, lettuce, tomato, Sugar Factory sauce, and hand-cut fries.
“It will take longer to eat this burger than it does to watch a Goldberg match,” joked Cheeseburger, who teased that he will be making an announcement soon on wrestling overseas. “Sugar Factory sauce sounds pretty extreme, maybe even too extreme for me. I’d have to see the Gold-Burger in person. If it’s one of those burgers where it’s so big you can’t even fit it in your mouth, then that’s too much. I would try it if it was the right size, but gold flake buns and burgers don’t match.”
• To answer a question from last Friday’s SI Facebook Live: New Japan Pro Wrestling was formed in January of 1972, but its first event did not take place until March 6, which is the date of its anniversary show. The next SI Wrestling Facebook Live will be this Saturday, May 20 at the Beyond Wrestling doubleheader in Somerville, Massachusetts. More information will be posted this Friday on my Twitter account.
• Paul “Triple H” Levesque was inducted last week into the Boys & Girls Club of America Hall of Fame, which earned praise on Twitter from Vince McMahon. Triple H was also the subject of a “Superstar” Billy Graham post on Facebook, as the former WWWF champion believes that Triple H will put Finn Balor over in a match at this year’s SummerSlam.
• On the subject of Triple H: Chris Jericho welcomed Dave Bautista onto the “Talk is Jericho” podcast, and the man known as Batista in WWE—who is also starring as Drax in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel—let it be known that he has offered to return to WWE to wrestle Triple H, but the response from Triple H and Vince McMahon was not what he expected:
“I’ve asked for what I want,” said Batista. “I said I would come back and run a whole program with Hunter. That’s the only thing I’m interested in and they’re just not interested in it… I’ve run it by them a few different times. They just say, ‘meh, we’ll think about it.’ Vince, every time I ask him, ‘meh, I’ll think about it.’
“I would do a whole program and I’d be done. But that’s how I’d want to go out because we have such a history together and there’s so much history built in. There’s an easy story to be told and I think people would get into it and they’d like it. And Hunter, he’s just awesome to work with… I’ve asked, but now it’s at a point where I’m tired of asking.”
• Coming attractions: Becky Lynch will be featured in next Wednesday’s Week in Wrestling.
Something to Wrestle with Conrad Thompson
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin won the ’96 King of the Ring, uttering the famous words, “Austin 3:16” in his post-victory interview with Dok Hendrix, better known to the WWE audience as Michael Hayes.
“A lot of people credit this show with being the genesis of the ‘Attitude Era,’” said Thompson. “Austin 3:16 kicked that off and made the WWE a little more edgy, and we’ll get into how much was calculated and how much was freestyle. We’ll discuss Vince Russo’s involvement, Michael Hayes’ involvement, Bruce’s memories, and how much was straight from the brain of Steve Austin.”
WWE was still at a crossroads in 1996, leaning heavily on stars of the past—like the newly returned Ultimate Warrior—to lead the company past rival WCW.
“The Ultimate Warrior and Jerry Lawler were two stalwarts from the late 80s and early 90s, and that was a featured match on the card,” said Thompson. “We’re only a year removed from the debut of the controversial Goldust character, and he is on the card, as well as a babyface champion Shawn Michaels—who hadn’t yet hit his stride, and most agree that he did his best work as a heel—main-eventing against the British Bulldog, but no one talks about either one of those matches. Everybody talks about ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin.”
Triple H was originally scheduled to win the tournament, but he was serving a punishment for his role in the infamous “Curtain Call” that saw Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall break character and embrace in front of the fans. With Vince McMahon suddenly unwilling to give the award to Triple H, the decision was made to go with Austin.
“It’s interesting to ask if the biggest explosion in the history of the business—‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin versus Mr. McMahon during the Attitude Era—would have even happened if the ‘Curtain Call’ wouldn’t have happened? If Triple H won the King of the Ring that year, would DX have ever existed? Would Steve Austin exist in the way we know him and love him? It’s one of those things that we wouldn’t know how the story would play out until we turn the page.”
An underrated player in the success of the King of the Ring was Jake Roberts’ pivotal role as a born-again and underdog.
“Austin wouldn’t have quoted scripture against anyone else,” said Thompson. “It wouldn’t have made any sense. A lot of people view that run of Jake the Snake as a flop—wrestling with the shirt, born again, and carrying the yellow snake—but without him, do we get Austin 3:16? All of these things aligned just so and, as a result, wrestling experienced its hottest period in the history of the business. It is the genesis of the Attitude Era, and that’s what we’ll be covering this Friday with King of the Ring ‘96.”
Fittingly, the name of Jake Roberts’ run during this period of time was Revelations. Austin’s interview at King of the Ring was a genuine revelation to Michael Hayes, who introduced Austin.
“Michael Hayes’ reaction was also important, and he’s a big part of our show,” said Thompson. “He was known as Dok Hendrix there, of course, but everyone on our show knows him as Doot Doot Doot. Obviously, Bruce takes great pride in his Vince McMahon, in his Vince Russo, his Steve Austin, and Michael P.S. Hayes impressions, so I’m sure we’re going to have some fun.
“A lot of people have heard the Austin 3:16 story, but there are lots of little nuggets about things leading up to this and coming out of it, as well as the undercard that often gets overlooked, and that’s what you can always expect from the Prichard show—more than meets the eye.”
Exclusive Lucha Underground Clip
The show returns with an “All Night Long” match on May 31 between The Mack with Johnny Mundo.
“I’m just glad I could keep up with Mundo,” said The Mack, who is 30-year-old Willie McClinton, Jr. “He’s been everywhere and held titles everywhere. Just to be in the same ring with him speaks volumes to me, and that shows me that these guys here at Lucha Underground trust me to have a great match with him. I’m in the ring with this world-class dude and I'm keeping up with him.”
The Mack was grateful for the main event spot, and he acknowledged that the remainder of the season is going to be memorable.
“I hope people are ready for what they’re in store for when we get back,” said The Mack. “The roster, the storyline, and the production are all incredible.”
The Mack admitted that he always wanted to wrestle from the time he saw Hulk Hogan on his television.
“I was four years old watching Hulk Hogan, wearing a big old belt with him, screaming about saying your prayers and eating your vitamins,” said The Mack. “That looked like a lot of fun, so I decided I wanted to do that. My backup plan is to become a ninja. I know some people who know some people, so it’s still my plan if wrestling doesn’t work out.”
As for the top three performers in the business, The Mack went with three choices from WWE.
“My top three are John Cena, of course, Randy Orton and AJ Styles,” he said. “But you could add in Roman Reigns, too.”
To The Mack, the revolutionary Lucha Underground even shares traits with Paul Heyman’s ECW.
“It’s got something for everybody,” said The Mack. “It’s a revolution, and it makes me think back to when people first found out about ECW Give it a chance and you’ll end up liking it.”
The Nitro Files: May 19, 1997
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 has also created the IRW Network, which is currently highlighting over 1,500 hours of independent wrestling, and officially launches on June 1. Bischoff plans to prove every week in the Nitro Files that the truth is out there.
The May 19, 1997, Nitro was live from Asheville, North Carolina, and took place the night after Ric Flair, Roddy Piper, and Kevin Greene defeated the Wolfpac at Slamboree.
The pay per view did not feature “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan or Sting. The direction of the storyline shifted to Ric Flair as Slamboree originated from the “Nature Boy’s” hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina.
“I’ve always believed that the audience and the energy that the audience creates is sometimes just as important as the action inside of the ring,” said Bischoff. “I won’t deny that there were times when I allowed what I anticipated to be a local market’s reaction and how I could co-op that to influence the national and international perception of the event itself.”
WWE continues a peculiar creative pattern where hometown talent is booked to lose in their hometown, but Bischoff did not adhere to that policy.
“I can’t speak to the psychology of what WWE did or does with talent in their hometown,” said Bischoff. “It seems like a pretty rigid pattern there, so it’s hard to deny, but it didn’t factor into my thought-process. Rather than fight it, I tended to embrace it, and that was an underlying factor in some of the creative decisions we made.”
Nitro was still only an hour due to the NBA playoffs on TNT, though it would return to its full two-hour format the following week. Bischoff explained that the decision to focus on Flair and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper against the NWO was a decision made to vary the main event, and not because of any pressure from Piper or Flair.
“I know it seems like it might have been difficult, but we had such a great overall storyline and a great cast of characters that it was really quite easy, at that point, to continue the story arch by putting the focus on two different characters,” said Bischoff. “It spread the responsibility and added depth to the story and allowed the focus to be shifted.”
WCW was overflowing with star power, and another recent addition—and newest NWO member—was New Japan Pro Wrestling legend Masahiro Chono. Bischoff was asked the level of difficulty regarding introducing an international star to the American audience, which is the same issue WWE is currently addressing with Shinsuke Nakamura.
“It was easier for me then than it is now,” noted Bischoff. “Sometimes, being first makes it easy. I was showing you something that you’d never seen before, so there are some distinct advantages in planting the flag and being first. I was able to do that. Whether it was the vision or the instinct, I always wanted to create something that had never been done before.”
Bischoff made many landmark decisions for Nitro, such as place the luchadores in the spotlight in front of an American audience, as well as focused on the cruiserweights, the importance of live television, giving away finishers, and using the backstage as part of the show.
“All of those things were part and parcel of my goal of being different from everything and anything else people had seen to that point,” said Bischoff. “That’s why international talent, like Chono, and the relationship with New Japan was so important to me at that time. It had been done before, and Bill Watts did it in WCW, but I wanted to bring that international talent and make it a regular part of my programming. That had never been done before, but we’ve been seeing that now for 20 years now. I had it easy.”
Nitro ended with Bischoff taking a Scorpion Death Drop from Sting, who delivered a fantastic visual by cutting through the bottom of the ring to blindside Bischoff.
“We talked last week about how important it was for talent not to get their hands on me,” noted Bischoff. “I had an immense amount of fragile heat, but people were dying to see me get my ass kicked. We knew that would be a great moment.
“I remember the anticipation and I remember feeling what was going on behind me as Sting was coming up through the ring. I remember trying to ignore that so my reaction could be as real as it could possibly be, and I also remember taking that bump because he and I never rehearsed it. It’s an awkward kind of a bump to take, and it requires completely letting go. Bumps often require giving yourself completely to the talent you’re in the ring with, and that’s what makes wrestling such a performance art that is different from every other. Since I’d never done it before, it was a really strange moment.”
Tweet of the Week
Randy Orton was born to play a heel.