Everything you need to know from the week in pro wrestling.
SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
This edition of the super-column includes: “The Villain” Marty Scurll on why he joined Bullet Club; Lucha Underground’s The Mack shares his top three talents in wrestling; The Shoot with The Blue Meanie; The Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff; and Five Questions with Alberto Del Rio.
Ripple effects reverberated across the wrestling world this past Friday at Ring of Honor’s War of the Worlds pay per view in New York City when “The Villain” Marty Scurll joined the vaunted Bullet Club.
“I am Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks’ chosen villain,” said Scurll, who attacked Adam Cole after his loss to Hiroshi Tanahashi. “The truth is Adam Cole couldn’t cut the mustard anymore, and we replaced him in the most spectacular fashion. You can see the events leading to this on the YouTube series ‘Being The Elite.’ It’s absolutely awesome.
“We’re badasses and we have a vision for wrestling that we express every chance we get. We don’t play by ‘the rules of wrestling’. We rewrite them and revolutionize the business.”
Scurll revealed that the notion of joining Bullet Club first entered his mind while wrestling at indie shows in Europe.
“Half the crowd would be wearing my Villain shirts, with the other half wearing Bullet Club, Bucks, or Omega shirts,” said Scurll. I gathered that together we could literally rule the wrestling world together. The Bucks are the best shirt-selling Americans on the indies, Kenny Omega is the best-selling Canadian, and ‘The Villain’ is the best-selling for the British. We have all corners covered, and Japan will be much of the same.”
Scurll is coming off an extremely compelling 175-day run as ROH’s World Television champion. New Japan’s Kushida upset Scurll for the belt this past Sunday at the ROH television tapings in Philadelphia, and Scurll was asked if he has plans to regain the title or if his next preferred destination will be attained by pursuing Christopher Daniels’ ROH world championship.
“I made that belt mean more than it ever has,” said Scurll, who would become only the third two-time ROH Television champion in company history if he is able to regain the title. “I took it everywhere around the world, and I always represented the company and the fact that I was champion wherever I was. In my opinion, I made that the number one belt in ROH. I’ll have my rematch with Kushida, I’ll get my belt back, and I look forward to that moment.
“Obviously, my eyes are also on the ROH world title. The fans want it. I want it more than anyone. Trust me. It’s only a matter of time.”
Scurll is set to break new ground in New Japan’s 25th annual Best of the Super Juniors tournament, which begins on May 17. He noted that his goals include retiring the legendary Jushin Liger, defeating the talented Ricochet, and winning the tournament in his debut.
“New Japan should rename this year’s BOSJ to ‘Better than the Best of Super Juniors’, because never has the tournament had someone like me,” noted Scurll. “Sure, some great names have competed in this very prestigious tournament—Jushin Liger, Kushida, and Y2J—and they have all earned the right to be called a Super Junior, but this tournament marks the debut of the very first genuine superstar in ‘The Villain’. Those guys all had or have incredible talents, but never has one man had it all. I am the brightest star and biggest talent. This tournament is a showcase so the country of Japan can see what the rest of the world has been raving about.”
Junior heavyweight wrestling, as seen in the BOSJ, is genuinely breathtaking to watch. Scurll was asked, despite its talented roster, why WWE’s presentation of 205 Live has struggled.
“I have not seen it so I cannot comment,” said Scurll, “but I did really enjoy the Cruiserweight Classic.”
Rumors swirled that Scurll was considering opting out of his ROH contract this June, but he is unlikely to leave after the move to Bullet Club. When asked whether he will work with ROH for the remainder of the year, Scurll succinctly stated, “I will work wherever I please and see fit.”
Scurll admitted that he has extra incentive to win the tournament, as last year’s winner—fellow British star Will Ospreay—ranks highly among his least favorite people on earth.
“Having to watch Will Ospreay run around Japan like a freaking idiot representing my country has been an embarrassment,” said Scurll. “I am Ospreay’s kryptonite. I have beaten him in Rev Pro, Progress, all over Europe, PWG, ROH. This will be no different. Ospreay won last year, but that was before ‘The Villain’ arrived. It all changes in BOSJ 24.”
Scurll has an ally in his war with Ospreay in WWE champion Randy Orton, who recently knocked the wrestling style of many on the indies, Ospreay included.
“Great stuff, Randy Orton,” complimented Scurll. “Bashing Ospreay is one of my favorite things to do. In fact, Orton might be one of the few people in the world who can hang villainy with the Villain. We could team up and he could hit the RKO to set up the Chicken Wing. Two super-over finishers there, it’d be money.”
As for goals for the remainder of 2017, Scurll promised to redefine Bullet Club, and even teased the match that he wants more than any other.
“I am goal driven, but a lot of them are things you may not suspect,” said Scurll. “I’d like to bring CM Punk out of retirement and wrestle him, that would be pretty cool, wouldn’t it? That’s a ‘dream match’ of mine.
“Bullet Club is now complete. We have all countries represented. We are Bullet Club worldwide. We will continue to push boundaries and rewrite the rules of pro wrestling—not what pro wrestling ‘should be’, but what it ‘can be’—and, most importantly, continue to be the most entertaining acts in pro wrestling. We’ll hit the mainstream, and you can watch us along the whole way on ‘Being The Elite’. It’s an amazing time to be a wrestler and a fan of wrestling. Wrestling is cool again.”
Scurll shared that his most important responsibility as a professional wrestler is to create a product that allows fans to proudly tell the world that they are wrestling fans.
“Make moments that create genuine excitement and emotions, to make those fans feel the same way I felt when I first watched this business as a five-year-old and fell in love with it when it changed my life forever,” said Scurll. “To create a legacy which will mean ‘The Villain’ will live forever. Long live ‘The Villain.’”
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.
Alberto Del Rio is now known as Alberto El Patron, and he is the Global Force Wrestling champion in Impact Wrestling. Del Rio has wrestled all over the world, but first rose to notoriety in his homeland of Mexico. He also enjoyed two different runs as a WWE main eventer, and his highlights included winning the WWE championship and world heavyweight championship each on two separate occasions. Del Rio left WWE on poor terms, and he is now working for Impact Wrestling. Del Rio and his fiancée, Paige, are planning their wedding for this summer.
SI.com: You made an immediate impact upon your arrival to Impact Wrestling with a series of matches with Bobby Lashley. You are now the new Global Force world champion. Are you happy with your decision to sign with Impact?
Del Rio: I am so happy to work with Impact Wrestling. I have nothing but respect for them. Unlike another company, who I don’t watch, I don’t follow, and I don’t even look at their tweets. I have some real beef with some of the people in that company.
It’s rare to find someone with Bobby’s size and athleticism. He’s a fantastic performer and he is such a huge guy. He has a great psychology in the ring, the chemistry was there the moment the bell ring rang, and it was a great experience working with him. I am very happy to work with Impact and talent like Bobby.
SI.com: What was your deciding factor in signing with Impact?
Del Rio: I am excited to be with Impact Wrestling because I get to work with talents like EC3 again. I had the opportunity to be with him in FCW when we were in developmental in that other company. We worked together once when they were trying to make him a part of the main roster in WWE, then he went to Impact Wrestling and made a name for himself. He’s a good guy with a lot of talent, and he’s fantastic on the microphone. The entire office went crazy for our promos, and then it was easy in the ring. I’m happy to see the young talent is taking the torch to continue doing good stuff in the business.
I will stay in Impact as long as the fans want me there. They were so happy to have me there and treated me with a lot of respect. The office, talent, and staff are treated with respect by everyone, regardless of your position in the business.
SI.com: You have wrestled across the world. Is it healthy for the professional wrestling business to have one company in WWE so much stronger than the others?
Del Rio: It’s horrible for the business, but you cannot blame that company. That company is doing what a company is supposed to do—monopolize, get the best talent from everywhere, and try to destroy the competition. They’re smart, you cannot blame them. The problem is with the talent. Just going there to be there with the promise of being on TV, but not even charging good money for your work, is not good business. We as wrestlers need to remember that this is a business. We started because we love the business and we stay in it because we have a lot of passion for it, but you have to be rewarded for your work. I was there and saw some of the main guys, new top heels and new top babyfaces, get paid nothing for their matches. The new talent joining NXT is taking pay cuts to work there, sometimes even 80 percent less. You need to be rewarded for your work in a business.
SI.com: Professional wrestling companies are always searching for a new wave of superstars to carry the business into the next generation. You had a very entertaining program in WWE with Kalisto. Despite his talent, he has not found genuine chemistry with a partner in WWE quite like he had when working with you. What made working with Kalisto so appealing to you, and how critical is it as a veteran to look out for the younger talent?
Del Rio: Kalisto is very talented, and I just wanted to pass the torch. That’s what Eddie Guerrero did for Rey Mysterio, and Rey did that for me.
I’m here because Rey helped me since day number one. I’ll always be grateful to Rey, not only because of what he did for me in the ring but it’s also what he did-and keeps doing-outside the ring. We’re great friends. Now that we’re out of that company, we even help each other to get more bookings. So when I have the opportunity to repay what other wrestlers did for me, I always will.
SI.com: You have accomplished nearly every major goal in professional wrestling. What are your ambitions moving forward? And how active are you in business dealings outside of wrestling?
Del Rio: I’m planning on retiring in two years. I’m still good to go and I don’t have any major injuries, but I always promised myself I would leave on top. I started wrestling when I was eight years old with the amateur wrestling team in Mexico. I love the business with all my heart, but my body is getting tired. It’s all the travel. I’m going to do my last two years with Impact Wrestling.
I’ll continue to do some indie shows here and there, and I have a lot of projects outside the business. I am going to continue running Combate Americas, the MMA company that I work for, and I am going to start a soap opera in Mexico in two months. We also have a reality show produced by Combate Americas that was sold to Amazon. People should be able to see that in three more months.
I opened a restaurant and bar in San Antonio in November. We are the place to go on Fridays and Saturdays. God is blessing me. I’m getting married pretty soon. We changed the date twice, but we’re getting married in the last week of July, so I am keeping very busy outside the business.
My name is Brian Heffron, but I am better known to the world of professional wrestling as former ECW and WWE performer The Blue Meanie.
Right off the bat, I will tell you I’m from the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and unapologetically a homer when it comes to my city and our sports teams, which includes the Eagles, Sixers, Flyers, and the Phillies.
My fellow Philadelphia faithful are a passionate yet well-studied group of sports fans. Philadelphians are well steeped in our sports knowledge. We are passionate and sometimes our passion is mistaken as being loud and obnoxious.
If you’re not pulling your weight or holding up your end of bargain in the playing field, we will let you know about it. So it’s no surprise whatsoever that in 1992, when a small independent wrestling company founded by Tod Gordon called Eastern Championship Wrestling rose from the ashes of its predecessor Tri-State Wrestling Alliance, that the passion from Philly sports fans bled over into the world of professional wrestling.
After all, how could it not? Just like opposing teams tremored at the thought of facing the Flyers at the Spectrum or the Eagles at the Vet, professional wrestlers were often thrown off their game when wrestling at the Philadelphia Spectrum for the WWF or at the Civic Center for the National Wrestling Alliance because the fans were genuinely unpredictable.
Long before it was made cool, we cheered the villains and booed the good guys. Much like the tale of how Philadelphians booed Santa Claus or pelted the Cowboys with snowballs, our wrestling fans had a reputation. That reputation showed and, in some ways, was part of the charm of Eastern Championship Wrestling as it carried over to its relaunch as Extreme Championship Wrestling.
Essentially, ECW was Philadelphia’s fifth sports team in the eyes of its fans. When I reflect upon Extreme Champion Wrestling, I cannot help but be reminded of another treasured Philadelphia sports team. To me, in my mind, ECW was the wrestling equivalent of the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies. Much like ECW, the ‘93 Philadelphia Phillies were a ragtag bunch of misfits banded together that exceeded all expectations.
Neither ECW nor the ‘93 Phils were pretty, nor were they poster children for their chosen professions. Both could be considered the land of misfit toys, mixed in with a little bit of the Johnstown Chiefs from the movie Slap Shot. Both were filled with character… and a very infectious, lovable wild personnel of characters. Rosters full of bruisers, studs, beards, mullets, torn outfits, scrapes, and misfits. Just like the Phillies, ECW had its own share of bat swingers as well… just with barbed wire.
The ‘93 Phillies had finished in absolute LAST place in 1992. Most experts had predicted the same fate for 1993. They could have taken those words as gospel and packed it in. But they didn’t. ECW was full of local, upstart talent cast off from WWF and WCW because the belief was they weren’t aesthetically pleasing or up to snuff talent-wise. Those talents could have found comfort in just working independent promotions, but luckily for them, there was ECW.
Let’s look at those respective rosters. When I look at the Phillies’ mullet-haired first baseman and home run hitter John Kruk, I see Balls Mahoney. Those were two big bearded sluggers.
When I look at Jim Eisenreich, who was possibly the only sane man on the Phillies roster, I see Lance Storm. Despite their talent at their respective professions, both were also blessed with extreme intelligence.
When you look into the eyes of veteran pitcher Larry Andersen, you see hardcore legend Terry Funk. Both were veterans and colorful characters that commanded respect from their locker rooms.
When I see Curt Schilling, I see “The Franchise” Shane Douglas. Those are two blonde-haired technicians who were, naturally, the franchise players.
Phillies’ catcher Darren Daulton reminds me of The Sandman. Those were two mainstays who were extremely popular with their fans bases, and both of those men could also enlighten you on UFO’s and Bigfoot.
When I see Lenny Dykstra, I see Chris Candido. Dependable and you knew you were going to a solid performance. For comic relief, I’d put myself as the renowned team mascot, the Phillie Phanatic. The Phanatic is a large, furry green creature, and I am the Blue Meanie. You could bring me out to lighten the mood depending on the situation. I could go on and on in casting this straight-to-the-WWE Network production. Both rosters were each the underdog who caught lightning in a bottle and took their respective fields by surprise.
Ultimately, the Phillies shocked the baseball world by beating the mighty Atlanta Braves to win the National League pennant in 1993 to advance to the World Series. ECW took a huge step into the world of pay per view with their debut event of Barely Legal. That pay per view was the equivalent to the ‘93 Phillies game six victory over those powerhouse Braves. The feeling was electric. Many, including myself, shed a tear at the accomplishment.
But there was more to be accomplished. The Phillies had to battle with the defending Major League Baseball world champion in the Toronto Blue Jays. The Jays had the experience and were a well-oiled machine built through free agency. ECW took its “World Series” jump when it set foot in the world of pay per view, which was only supposed to be for the heavyweights like WWF and WCW, during wrestling’s hottest period that would be the “Monday Night Wars” era.
The Jays were a lot like WCW. Both offered tremendous rosters that were signed up as free agents. Since ECW had already successfully gambled on the risk of going on pay per view, they then had to risk going national with a new television deal. ECW made a deal with The Nashville Network, which would become The National Network and then finally settle as Spike TV.
The ‘93 Phillies held their own against Toronto. They fell slightly behind in the series, trailing three games to two, and they played game six at the Sky Dome in Toronto with the hope of winning and forcing a decisive game seven.
In game six, the Phillies had a one run lead, 6-5, after eight innings. Phillies manager Jim Fergosi pulled the pitcher, Roger Mason, to go deeper into his bullpen, and he opened the ninth inning with closer Mitch Williams.
Fergosi did what he thought should be done to secure a Phillies win and move forward to the next game. You should be able to trust your closer, right? Even though Mitch Williams’ nickname was “Wild Thing” and he was known to be unpredictable, he was who the Phillies skipper thought was the best choice.
Going national is what the ECW skipper Paul Heyman thought was best for ECW. He eventually decided, instead of sticking to syndicated television and pay per view, to signal to the bullpen and call in TNN. After all, national television would help ECW advance to the next level. Right? Seemed the logical choice, just like Fergosi going to Mitch Williams in the ninth.
But it was not to be. The TNN television deal turned out to be poison. What should have brought ECW to the promised land wound up draining the company financially and led to its demise. As for the Phillies, Mitch Williams took the ball with a one run lead, but with two on and one out in the ninth, the “Wild Thing” threw Joe Carter a pitch that was crushed for a three-run homer and buried the ’93 Phillies’ Cinderella run.
Of course, a notorious ECW tag team, the Public Enemy, wore Toronto Blue Jays hats and jerseys to the ring at the next show at the ECW Arena. Years later, I received the chance to work for the WWE at the Toronto Sky dome twice. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I spent most of my time in the stadium staring at the spot Joe Carter’s ball escaped the park, wondering what could have been if Fergosi had left Mason in the game. Just like I wonder what would have happened had ECW stayed in business.
The end of ECW didn’t seem real, and it didn’t seem right. The company was still drawing and had overcome so many obstacles. ECW was the little engine that nearly did, much like the Phillies had gone from dogs in the standings to the darling in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia definitely felt the hurt of losing both the ‘93 World Series and the death of ECW. Though both never made it to the promised land, they remain loved and adored to this date. Fans wax poetic of that magical time and how you’d never see something like that in this or any lifetime. The Phillies eventually won the World Series in 2008, and independent wrestling eventually made a strong return to Philly.
Yet nothing can properly replicate those awesome eras.