News of the Week: Damien Sandow on complexity of Money in the Bank; Big Cass' lackluster heel turn and much more

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Wednesday June 21st, 2017

Baron Corbin became Mr. Money in the Bank this past Sunday.

The match was extremely well-done, and amplified WWE’s ability to tell and execute a story at the highest level. There were multiple compelling facets to the match, including the ongoing, never-ending battle between Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, as well as a thrilling showdown –and potential WrestleMania 34 preview–between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura.

Former Money in the Bank contract winner Damien Sandow was consulted on the making of a Money in the Bank ladder match. Sandow, who is known outside of the WWE as Aron Stevens, competed in the 2012 match, then actually captured the briefcase at the 2013 Money in the Bank pay per view in Philadelphia.

Courtesy of WWE

“There was a real collaboration to make the match work,” said Stevens. “That is because of the agents and the talent in the match, and I was very lucky to be in there with such pros both times I was in a Money in the Bank match.

“I don’t want to name specific agents because I don’t want to leave anyone out. Being an agent is a very thankless job, but every single agent I ever worked with was constructive and awesome. As for talent, Dolph and Cesaro are the names that come to mind as awesome.”

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Multi-man matches are set up for injury, and the Money in the Bank match is widely regarded as one of the hardest to design.

“That all depends on who is in the ring,” cautioned Stevens. “The creative process for me was enjoyable and fairly easy. On the other end, I’ve had some singles matches with people that were like pulling teeth. Given the opponent, a singles match could be more difficult and draining than a Money in the Bank match. It really all depends on the talent in the ring.”

The SmackDown women also put together the first-ever women’s Money in the Bank ladder match, which Carmella won in a surprising yet criticized finish when James Ellsworth climbed the ladder and dropped the briefcase with the championship contract into her hands.

Stevens fondly recalled his time in WWE as Sandow, and his Money in the Bank matches consisted of a total of seven competitors in 2013 and eight competitors in 2012. The men’s MITB match this past Sunday featured six different wrestlers, while the women’s match had five, and the increased number of competitors only heightens ring awareness.

“You have to have your ring awareness at an all-time high in a Money in the Bank match,” said Stevens. “Believe it or not, there were no injuries in my two Money in the Bank ladder matches. That speaks to the caliber of the men in that match. Once you start over-thinking during a Money in the Bank match, that can really hurt you. I can’t remember ever second-guessing myself atop the ladder, which is why I’ve been fairly injury-free, knock on wood.”

Stevens is on a temporary hiatus from the business, and he also shared that he has dealt with some difficult times recently after losing his 14-year-old yellow lab.

“That was Chase, and he was my best buddy,” said Stevens. “Unfortunately he passed away a month-and-a-half ago. He had a great life, but I really miss him.”

Stevens noted that he misses working his friends in WWE, yet he is growing and evolving.

“WWE was such a great part of my life, but I’m also looking forward now to my forward movement,” said Stevens. “I’m grateful for my time there, and I’m excited about my life moving forward. I miss the fans and hope they’re doing great.”

Regarding the layout of the Money in the Bank match, Stevens explained that there was a strong emphasis on following the structure that was set up prior to the start of the match by the agents.

“We always had a game plan and I did my best to stick to it,” said Stevens. “Variables always occur, whether that was changing something in the match and getting it where it needed it to be or changing based off the crowd. That comes with proper training, and there are a lot of guys up there who are properly trained.”

Sandow failed in his attempt to cash in his contract and win the WWE title, but losing actually adds legitimacy to the stipulation as a victory should not be a certainty. Corbin’s run as “Mr. Money in the Bank” started promising on SmackDown but will take time to develop. The initial litmus test of success is seeing how the crowd responds to the finish of the match.

“You listen for crowd reaction at the end of the match,” said Stevens, which was met with a resounding approval at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis this past Sunday. “What’s the crowd doing at the end of the match? This business is about the paying customer, watching in the arena and at home. When they’re happy, you’re doing your job.”

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In other news…

• Big Cass turned on Enzo Amore this past Monday on Raw, but the highly anticipated moment was marred by its strange sequence. The segment began with Enzo and Cass in the ring, along with The Revival and Big Show as GM Kurt Angle deliberated over who has been attacking Enzo and Cass. Although no real evidence was presented, Show and The Revival were deemed innocent. Corey Graves then introduced video footage proving that Cass faked his injury, but I was perplexed as to why the footage of Cass attacking Enzo never aired. Cass then launched into a soliloquy focusing on how no one likes Enzo before he knocked him out with a big boot to the face.

The lingering question is Corey Graves’ role in the ordeal. Will Graves be making a play for Kurt Angle’s position as GM, which would then allow Angle to make his return to the ring? As for the actual heel turn by Cass, I much preferred the way Tommaso Ciampa turned on longtime best friend Johnny Gargano at the NXT TakeOver this past May in Chicago. Unlike Cass, who explained his actions beforehand, Ciampa blindsided his partner in a far more gripping scene. Cass also buried Enzo, so it will be interesting if and how WWE will attempt to resuscitate Enzo’s character.

• Cody Rhodes is set to make history, beginning this Friday in Lowell, Massachusetts at Ring of Honor’s Best in the World pay per view as he battles ROH world champion Christopher Daniels.

“It’s been 31 years since a Rhodes was world champion,” said Rhodes, referring to his father, Dusty Rhodes, who last won the NWA world heavyweight championship at The Great American Bash in July of 1986 for his third and final run before losing the title back to Ric Flair only fourteen days later. “That’s the title reign where his name plate was ordered, but he didn’t have enough time to put it on the belt. That name plate is above my fireplace, and I’ll be bringing it to Lowell this Friday, and it’s up to me to change history.”

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Best in the World is available through ROHWrestling.com and the Fite app, as well as your local pay per view provider. Rhodes is looking to make history and become champion despite the fact that he is unwilling, for now, to sign an exclusive deal with Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling.

“I am one-hundred percent a free agent,” said Rhodes. “I work on a handshake basis.”

Rhodes is also set to challenge Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP heavyweight championship at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s live July 1 show on AXS TV. Rhodes feels that both Okada and Daniels are ripe for defeat, beginning this Friday night.

“Christopher Daniels’ title reign is 20 years too late,” said Rhodes. “I think he’s amazing and he’s the best at wrestling, but I like to think I’m the best at everything.”

If Rhodes is able to win both the Ring of Honor title and the IWGP championship, he will create a genuine moment that will forever be remembered in the history of professional wrestling.

“It’s the infinity gauntlet,” said Rhodes. “If I’m able to pull this off, I’m the absolute top wrestler in the world.”

• Jim Ross will be broadcasting the live New Japan show on AXS TV this July 1 when Rhodes challenges IWGP champion Kazuchika Okada. Okada has delivered a plethora of classics over the past calendar year but has yet to prove himself at a live event in the United States, and Ross believes this match is Okada’s opportunity to shine in front of a new audience:

“Okada’s body of work is nothing short of extraordinary, but the pressure is on him,” said Ross. “He has a huge reputation and a legacy that he is building to uphold. He can’t have a bad match in America on the debut in the maiden voyage on live TV. I don’t think it’s a proving ground, but it is another great opportunity to kick some ass and let the world see what he can do. I promise you, if he continues to write these symphonies, we’ll continue to give the appropriate lyrics.”

• Lucha Underground head writer Christopher DeJoseph was asked how he crafted the storyline regarding Marty the Moth’s obsession with Melisa Santos.

“The story started with the idea to put Marty behind Melissa in a creepy way, flapping his wings, when he would be introduced,” said DeJoseph. “Then Martin and Melissa ran with it, and it started to gain some traction among the fans, who started chanting how creepy it was–and I even noticed that people were getting upset and tweeting ‘Leave Melissa alone!’ at Marty on Twitter. We kept encouraging it, and then Martin ran with it as we let his character become crazier and crazier. Even a little piece of business like taking off his shirt and throwing it at her snowballed into a pretty heavily featured storyline in the second half of season three. We found a moment, heard the audiences’ reaction, and knew there was something there.”

• Jinder Mahal and Randy Orton share hardly any chemistry in the ring, which is the complete opposite on Raw with Brock Lesnar and Samoa Joe or even Roman Reigns and the newly returned Braun Strowman (though, unfortunately for WWE, Strowman may receive a larger ovation than Reigns). Mahal and Orton both need new dance partners, and John Cena would be a good fit for Mahal while Orton returns back to his villainous ways against AJ Styles.

• Hip hop artist and actor The Asoka has been working away on a wrestling-related single. The song is called Team Asoka, off his upcoming album The Asoka Hustle. The album features 15 new songs including the single he wrote and recorded with John Hennigan (known to WWE fans as John Morrison), MVP, JTG, Sonjay Dutt, Rocky Romero, and Disco Dave (who is a former WWE and TNA champion who wished to remain anonymous). The music video for this song also features Ring of Honor world champion Christopher Daniels in an engaging post-credits scene.

“I’ve been a huge fan of wrestling ever since I can remember,” said The Asoka, whose music video will premiere on VH1 starting next week. “As a teenager, I would tell myself that I would do a wrestling-themed music video one day. Surprisingly it ended up happening organically. I was nominated for best hip-hop act by VH1 overseas and around that time Sonjay Dutt had invited me to create a new theme for him. He introduced me to a few wrestlers and our bond of hip-hop and wrestling blossomed into really strong friendships.”

The Asoka Hustle will be available worldwide on Friday, and is currently up for pre-order with a discounted price of $5.99 on iTunes. 

• Maria Kanellis returned to the WWE, alongside husband Mike Bennett, this past Sunday at Money in the Bank. The pair is a welcome addition to SmackDown, and were most recently seen on Impact Wrestling. Bennett was close with Billy Corgan, and fell out of favor with former TNA president Dixie Carter for criticizing missed paychecks and poor storylines. Bennett, who will now be known as Mike Kanellis in WWE, put together his most memorable work with Matt Taven in Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling as part of The Kingdom. Taven believes that both Mike and Maria will succeed in WWE:

“I love it,” said Taven. “When Mike and I tagged together, we both found ourselves and our comfortableness in the wrestling ring. We’ve remained the closest of friends, and we opened a wrestling school together in Rhode Island. We watch all the shows together, so we got to watch his big debut, and I couldn’t be happier for Mike and Maria.”

Taven wrestles in a tag match with Vinny Marseglia against CMLL’s Ultimo Guerrero and El Terrible at Ring of Honor’s Best in the World pay per view this Friday, which is perhaps the most unheralded match of the night but has a chance to steal the show:

“I’ve had the chance to go wrestle in Mexico, and that was one of the crowning achievements in my career,” said Taven. “That is because of what wrestling means in Mexico. To be as big of a star as Ultimo Guerrero and El Terrible are in Mexico is an incredible accomplishment on its own, and now they get to show the world why they are such big stars in such a big market.

“For me personally, and for Vinny, with both of us coming back home to Massachusetts, we’re looking forward to being back in front of the home crowd. Both of us made our names on the independents in the area, and I’ve literally seen kids who were our fans grow up into men. We’re going to show everyone that The Kingdom is still going strong in Ring of Honor.”

• Conrad Thompson’s Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard will examine the rise of John Cena in this week’s podcast, which is set to be released at 12pm ET this Friday.

“Bruce’s career consisted of two bookends,” said Thompson. “He started his career with Hulk Hogan and ended his WWE run with John Cena. You can argue those are two of the biggest icons of all time, and right in the middle, there was The Undertaker, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and The Rock. Bruce was there for all of it, and we will hear about how John became a bona fide superstar.”

Courtesy of Conrad Thompson

Thompson is preparing his research for Cena’s rise in WWE, right from the time he was first found.

“How did they find him?” asked Thompson. “How did he do with bodybuilding? What was Cena like in OVW? Who was for him? Who was against him? What did Vince think the first time he saw him? How did the Ruthless Aggression thing with Kurt Angle come together? Then, ultimately, how did the rap gimmick catch everyone’s attention? We’ll finish our episode with his United States championship victory and status as one of the most over characters on the show, so we’ll cover everything through WrestleMania XX this Friday.”

Thompson and Prichard delved into Vince Russo’s WWE run last week, and Thompson and Russo have sparred throughout the week on social media.

“This past week went exactly as I suspected,” said Thompson. “I do believe Vince Russo was a major part of a very significant era in the history of wrestling. It’s unfortunate, through his own antics, that he’s turned some people off. He won’t get the acknowledgment he deserves, but he had a lot of positives. I presented the facts from his own words [from Russo’s book, Forgiven], but in typical Russo fashion, he thinks we screwed him around. Conrad didn’t screw Russo, because Russo screwed Russo, and that should be a t-shirt at bruceprichard.com.”

Thompson was also grateful for those who attended the live “Something to Wrestle” show this past Sunday in St. Louis before Money in the Bank.

“I’m super excited that so many people were able to join us this past Sunday in St. Louis, especially on Father’s Day,” said Thompson. “We had some superdads who brought their children, but I have no idea why they’d subject their children to Bruce and me. Everybody had a good time and we did the wake for George the Rat, and Bruce even did a karate demonstration to show Vince Russo why and how he became a three-time black belt karate hall of famer. It was great to have the show before the pay per view, and the people who went to both said we were the better of the two shows.”

• After watching the legends segment of WWE’s Money in the Bank pay per view this past Sunday, I felt compelled to reach out to Al Snow, who, at different points of his career, has worked with Greg Gagne, Larry Hennig, Baron Von Raschke, Sgt. Slaughter, Cowboy Bob Orton, and Ric Flair.

I have met Snow a handful of times at different events throughout the past five years, and though I have always been impressed with his fountain of knowledge regarding pro wrestling, it is the respect he extends to both veterans and beginners that has resonated with me. So, it is my pleasure to offer to the Week in Wrestling faithful the newest wrestling advice column, Inside Al’s Head:

“The take-away from that front row of legends is that we need to honor and respect those who have come before us,” said Snow. “When they introduced each of those men, I remembered specific moments. More than the moments, I remembered the emotions I felt while those guys performed. Those are moments I still use to try to illustrate to the younger wrestlers today of what it is that we’re really trying to do. They captured my imagination and my emotions. It’s a known fact in human psychology that you are going to remember more when you make a strong emotional connection, so for me to be able to retain a moment that happened 35, 40, or 45 years ago and impart that moment to someone else means that that performer did exactly what a pro wrestler is supposed to do–create an emotional reaction that allows the audience to connect and never forget.”

Snow also offered his piece of advice for the week:

“This advice is for the wrestling fan,” said Snow. “As much as you enjoy and love wrestling, try not to become so learned and informed that you become contemptuous of the very thing you love. Familiarity breeds contempt. So many wrestling fans these days, thanks to the wealth of information and access to it, are becoming contemptuous and are no longer able to enjoy the thing they once loved to enjoy.”

Tweet of the Week

 

He has very different approach, but James Ellsworth is my favorite heater in wrestling since Chyna.

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

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