- Everything you need to know from the world of pro wrestling this week.
Beginning on Saturday, there are three different world title matches occurring in a nine-day span. This will only reinforce the notion that the presentation of the world title in professional wrestling is treated far differently by the top promotions in the business.
“New Japan doesn’t hot potato its world title,” said Cody Rhodes, the former WWE prodigy who is set to main-event Saturday’s New Japan Pro Wrestling show live on AXS TV against IWGP heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada. “It’s very prestigious, and the idea that it’s not been hot potato’d around [helps that prestige]. The champion has had real sporting challenges, and New Japan Pro Wrestling skews heavily toward the sports. That’s what gives it its aura.”
In addition to Saturday’s Rhodes-Okada affair, WWE delivers Brock Lesnar vs. Samoa Joe on July 9 at Great Balls of Fire, and Impact Wrestling returns to pay per view on July 2 with Slammiversary and a world title unification match pitting Bobby Lashley against Alberto El Patron. Both Lashley and Patron have already promised they will have the better match, noting that company politics in WWE will hinder Lesnar and Joe.
“I’m not in the habit of burying other talent or matches,” said Rhodes. “But if we’re being honest, an Okada main event blows them all away.”
The longstanding tradition is that the champion is “The Man” in the company, yet the belt is often a prop in wrestling designed to help enhance a talent. WWE has two world champions, which muddies the world title field, but the one company to genuinely highlight their world championship above anything else is New Japan Pro Wrestling.
The first world title match to take place in this upcoming nine-day span is between Rhodes, who is the current Ring of Honor world champion, and IWGP champ Okada. The ROH title also has a strong lineage, but was hurt recently when former champ Christopher Daniels took the fall in a six-man tag to Kenny Omega at a recent house show. Rhodes can restore a great deal of meaning to the ROH title if he is able to also put the IWGP belt around his waist.
The stakes Rhodes faces this weekend are similar to those Samoa Joe will see when he meets Lesnar. Both are facing uphill battles as massive underdogs. Rhodes is out to prove that he is a genuine star capable of leading two companies—both Ring of Honor and New Japan—as their top man. Joe, however, does not need to win the match against Lesnar to accomplish what he is setting out to do; Joe needs to build a match that is compelling, including an exciting open, a middle that keeps viewers’ attention, and a finish that truly captures the imagination. If the audience is only receiving a trip to Suplex City, then it is going to be a short, unfulfilling ride.
The impact of the crowd will also play a factor in all three main events. Patron and Lashley are in the Impact Zone in Orlando, Florida, which will be the weakest of the three crowds. Rhodes-Okada will be in front of a few passionate fans in Long Beach, California, while the greatest advantage goes to WWE, who will have a rabid audience in Dallas, Texas.
The most pertinent question to ask is if there will be any massive repercussions for the entire industry of wrestling as a result of any of the three main events. This Saturday’s AXS show is an opportunity to see where New Japan Pro Wrestling fits in North American wrestling, and Great Balls of Fire provides Samoa Joe the opportunity to prove, once and for all, that he truly belongs on the largest wrestling platform in the world.
The second-ever women’s Money in the Bank match saw Carmella win for a second straight time.
The objective of the match was not to make history, but rather to present Carmella as a legitimate title contender.
Carmella’s emergence into the women’s title picture is a welcome addition on SmackDown. Her corner man is James Ellsworth, who is able to garner genuine dislike from crowds. Ellsworth is phenomenal in his role, and his role in both of the Money in the Bank matches allowed Carmella to shine.
WWE is actively seeking its next champion, as Naomi’s run has been dry since she regained the belt at WrestleMania 33. With Charlotte and Becky Lynch eventually working a series against one another, WWE has found its next heel champion in Carmella.
In other news…
• Mauro Ranallo shocked the wrestling world by accepting a new agreement to become the lead voice of NXT. Ranallo and WWE avoided a major PR blemish with the deal, and Paul “Triple H” Levesque was the driving force behind this deal. Ranallo will be away from Vince McMahon’s pranks, as well as a healthy distance removed from John Bradshaw Layfield.
The move is also significant because Ranallo was likely to return to AXS TV this fall to broadcast New Japan Pro Wrestling. Jim Ross is unlikely to remain with both AXS and WWE, so the re-signing of Ranallo was also a strategic move to hurt the competition.
• For those interested, Daniel Bryan is currently reading Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari.
“Harari talks about the human treatment of sentient beings,” said Bryan. “Humans have never treated animals worse than they do right now in terms of factory farming. We have the ability to treat even animals that we are raising for meat. My wife and I are vegetarians, but you can still give better standards of living for animals you prepare for meat. That makes healthier and happier animals, but it’s also healthier for us as people.”
• Braun Strowman is the most fascinating character currently active in all of pro wrestling. Strowman is a giant-sized throwback to the days of monster villains, and the weekly highlight of Raw occurs when the roar of his theme music plays, as well as when he ragdolls Roman Reigns into ambulances.
With Brock Lesnar expected to retain his Universal championship in a physical match over Samoa Joe, WWE needs to present Strowman as an even more credible threat to Lesnar by first defeating Roman Reigns at Great Balls of Fire.
• This past week’s Miz TV segment with LaVar Ball was destined to be a train wreck, and it lived up to the billing. Right from his entrance on Raw, Ball came exactly as advertised during Miz TV. The youngest Ball, LaMelo, dropped racial slurs on a live mic, and LaVar Ball, wearing his Big Baller Brand t-shirt, dropped the infamous line, “It’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of them.” The biggest take-away from the segment, however, is that even as we head into the month of July, the Miz and Dean Ambrose are still feuding.
• Scott Steiner revealed the motivation behind his return to Impact Wrestling, where he is scheduled to wrestle at Slammiversary when he teams with Josh Mathews against Joseph Park and Jeremy Borash:
“I’m in the beat-people-up business, and Jeff Jarrett called me and asked if he could pay me to punch someone in the face,” said Steiner. “I’m coming back from a shoulder injury, so I’m racing against time to get in the best shape possible, but you’ll still see the best Scott Steiner possible.”
Steiner also explained the origin of his “Big Poppa Pump” character, which forever left an indelible mark in pro wrestling.
“Big Poppa Pump came out of wrestling’s politics,” said Steiner. “That was the byproduct of the bulls--- and politics in professional wrestling. I was legitimately pissed off, and that showed in my interviews. People were upset that I told the truth in my interviews, but my job was to be a heel and have people hate me. The character also differentiated me from my work tagging with my brother Rick, and that’s what I did as Big Poppa Pump.”
Steiner is also close with University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh.
“We went to school and hung out together,” said Steiner. “Michigan football had been down for a couple years, so it was unbelievable to get the coach of the 49ers.”
Steiner laughed at the idea that Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was so thrilled that Harbaugh left the NFL, and the NFC West in particular, that he drove Harbaugh to the airport.
“Hey, I’m just glad he came back home to Michigan,” said Steiner. “That 49ers team took a nosedive without him. Harbaugh has made Michigan football exciting again.”
In addition to his return to Impact and a few select indie dates across the country, Steiner keeps busy as the owner of a Shoney’s restaurant in Acworth, Georgia.
“Once you get training and back on the road again, something clicks,” said Steiner. “It’s like you’re driving 85 miles an hour. And when you’re on the road, it’s hard to find a good place to eat, so owning a restaurant was a natural progression for me. I bought a Shoney’s franchise off Exit 277 on Highway 75 in Acworth. If you want a good meal, I invite you to come. It’s great American food, we also have a bar, and I’ll sit with you and watch a game.”
Lucha Underground head writer Chris “DJ” DeJoseph discussed writing for Joey Ryan and Taya, who engage in battle tonight during a first round matchup for the Cueto Cup.
“Taya and Joey both offer a great deal of depth to their characters,” said DeJoseph. “With Taya, it comes down to giving suggestions to her as we create this image of the perfect woman and the original character she has developed. As far as Joey, we have a different character with him on Lucha Underground as an undercover cop. He’s such a huge personality, and he is one of the most entertaining characters on the show.”
Ryan is best known for his ability to draw strength during wrestling matches from his primary male organ, as well as his sponsorship from YouPorn. DeJoseph rubber-stamped the notion that Ryan has mastered his character as the ‘King of Sleaze’.
“Joey is not only quiet and humble, but he is also really smart,” said DeJoseph. “When that red light turns on, Joey is already that character. He’s become that character and marketed that character around the world. When we were creating this cop storyline, we thought he looked just like Magnum PI. He’s been perfect for Lucha Underground as the bad cop.”
The Lucha universe provides a home for characters that do not necessarily fit inside the realm or walls of WWE, and Ryan is a perfect fit.
“We’re an island of misfit toys, and these characters work so well in our world with their hybrid of styles,” said DeJoseph. “It has enabled us to make our own kind of art with these beautifully crazy colors.”
• Conrad Thompson and Bruce Prichard will discuss the rise of CM Punk in WWE on Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard, which hits the podcast waves this Friday at noon.
“I’m excited to discuss the stigma of ‘indie superstars’,” said Thompson. “John Cena, who we discussed on last week’s podcast, didn’t cut his teeth or make his name on the indies, nor did he become someone people were talking about until [WWE developmental] OVW. CM Punk came into WWE with a lot of fanfare from the indies, and coming in with that ‘indie superstar’ stigma was almost known as the scarlet letter.”
Thompson, who celebrated his 36th birthday yesterday, will question Prichard about the reactions of the WWE’s inner-circle to the Punk signing, especially since he was closely aligned with Paul Heyman.
“We’ll talk with Bruce about having Punk on the WWE radar, who was for him and who was against him, and whether Punk’s affiliation with Paul Heyman did more to help or hurt him,” said Thompson. “So many people in WWE, at this point in time, had a distaste for ‘Paul Heyman projects’, but Punk eventually gained some traction in [WWE-owned] ECW. He actually won the big gold world title nine years ago this Friday, so we can celebrate the nine-year anniversary on our show.
“This will be the complete CM Punk story, and we’ll hear about the rumor and innuendo of what Triple H thought of CM Punk. If you’re an indie superstar now, like Kevin Owens or Sami Zayn, then Triple H wants to put a rocket to your ass, but that wasn’t always the case. We’ll let Bruce discuss what is true and what is false regarding CM Punk.”
Thompson noted that the show will discuss Punk up to 2008, but he was asked his own opinion of whether Punk will ever return to WWE.
“Punk is eventually coming back,” said Thompson. “Whether it’s been the return of Hulk Hogan or the Ultimate Warrior or Mick Foley or Bret Hart, in the end, what’s best for business is best for business. If and when the time is right and Punk decides to hang up his UFC gloves, he will be persuaded to have that WrestleMania spot that he should have had years ago.”
As for his birthday, Thompson confirmed that his one wish came true.
“My deepest birthday wish was to have one day without Bruce Prichard, so I blocked him,” said Thompson. “I’ll wait until Bruce is good and lathered up to start up our Punk show.”
• Impact Wrestling has signed former SportsCenter anchor Robert Flores to be the lead announcer for the July 2 Slammiversary pay per view.
“I’ve been a wrestling fan since I was a little kid,” said Flores. “When I would stay at my grandparents’ house, my grandfather and I would watch Houston Wrestling on Saturday nights. He loved it and that was passed down to me. I’m fascinated by the storytelling elements both in and out of the ring, and how these performers can make it look so easy.”
Flores first met Impact president Jeff Jarrett nearly a half-decade ago through Ric Flair.
“Ric introduced me to Jeff Jarrett, and we have stayed in touch since,” said Flores. “Several weeks ago, Jeff asked me if I’d consider this opportunity and we ultimately worked it out.”
Wrestling fans are notoriously hard on perceived “outsiders”, but Flores is embracing the opportunity to call Slammiversary and prove that he is more than capable of the task.
“I would hope the fans know that I’m one of them,” said Flores. “I’m familiar with the product, I watch the product, and I care about the product. This isn’t going to be a Mike Adamle situation. I want to do a good job for myself, for the performers and the fans. I’m looking forward to see how the skills I normally use translate into this live storytelling situation. Also, I’m eager to try and flex some muscles I don’t normally use in traditional studio work.”
• I was grateful to make an appearance yesterday on SiriusXM’s Busted Open Radio with David LaGreca and Larry Dallas. I did note that I believe Cody Rhodes will walk away from the New Japan show this Saturday in Long Beach with both the Ring of Honor and IWGP heavyweight championships, and I’m sticking by it. The show needs to leave an impact, and a world title change on America soil, especially in the current storyline, will certainly serve that purpose and more.
• Chris Owens’ Andre the Giant YouTube channel just reached 10,000 subscribers and hit 6 million views. Owens is a noted Andre historian, and he will be uploading more matches and interviews from Andre in the late 1980s, which are my personal favorites, including this tag match with Haku against Hillbilly Jim and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan:
“When my father first showed me a photograph of Andre the Giant in 1981, even as a child, I knew he was someone special,” said Owens. “Andre’s life and career was truly fascinating, one of which we are unlikely to ever see again from a professional athlete. I take great pride in preserving the legacy of Andre and ensuring his memory lives on.”
• Konnan reprised his Latin American Xchange, which is known as LAX, in Impact Wrestling with Homicide, Ortiz, Santana, Angel Rose, and Diamente. The tag team champions are Ortiz and Santana, who are known throughout the indies as Mike Draztik and Angel Ortiz in a tag team called EYFBO.
“I picked them for a reason,” said Konnan. “Right now, wrestling is much different than it was in 2006. There is a new style of wrestling. I wanted two young guys that no one had ever seen, much like I did over a decade ago with Homicide, and they’re Latino, from New York and even knew Homicide. I always look at how wrestlers treat people. I know they’re going to treat me good, but how do they treat a waitress in a restaurant? How do they treat fans? Are they only trying to hook up with female fans and ignoring everyone else? I see all that, and these guys are legit. They have really freshened up LAX, we’re like a family, and they want to learn.”
LAX is set to defend their tag team titles this Sunday at Impact Wrestling’s Slammiversary. Their opponents are AAA stars El Hijo del Fantasma and Drago, capitalizing upon Impact’s talent-exchange program with Mexican-based AAA. Both the match and its backstory will be compelling, as AAA and Konnan share a long history.
“I started AAA 25 years ago with Antonio Pena,” said Konnan. “At that time, we used to work for CMLL, which is also known as Arena Mexico, and is the oldest wrestling company in the world. We left CMLL and started AAA with another wrestler named Octagon. Then I went to WCW and TNA, and when I came back to become AAA booker about ten years ago, Antonio Pena died and his sister took over. She put her son as head of creative, and I was very vocal. That’s why I have a lot of heat in the business, and I began to feel like an accomplice, so I left and started my own promotion called The Crash.”
Konnan noted that The Crash has been extremely well-received by fans, and that a television contract is the company’s next priority.
“I was tired of all the problems in wrestling, which happen over and over again,” said Konnan. “I don’t bulls---, I’m not trying to get a job with WWE, and I keep it 100, so I started my own promotion called The Crash in Tijuana. We’re the biggest indie company in Mexico with 5,000 people a month. We’re very close to signing a major TV deal, which will bring us to the next level.”
• Wrestling legend Al Snow offered advice to wrestlers, as well as wrestling fans, in the latest edition of his new advice column, Inside Al's Head:
“Wrestlers should not wait for a company to push them, they should make their own push,” said Snow. “Don’t wait for the promotion to give you a push, and don’t rely on anyone to do anything for you.”
The biggest handicap in today’s wrestling scene, explained Snow, is the guaranteed contract.
“When you are guaranteed to make any degree of money, wrestling becomes a job,” said Snow. “But therein lays the problem; being a professional wrestler is never a job, it's a business relationship between the wrestler and the promoter.
“The promoter provides a platform for the professional wrestler to perform, and the wrestler does everything possible to become a draw and make people want to leave their home and go watch them. Together, the wrestler and the promoter make money. The formula to make money, even today in WWE, is that a third of the money at a house show is divided up among the wrestlers. Back in the day, you were motivated and driven to be the thing that sold the most tickets, because that ensured you made the most money. No one is guaranteed a long run, so you always try to make as much as you can during your run, so you can end on your terms instead of someone else’s.”
Snow took a respite from honeymooning in Cancun to also offer advice for wrestling fans:
“If you want to know more about professional wrestling, don’t try to gather more information,” said Snow. “Try to get a better understanding of the very thing you love. There are so many misunderstandings. Wrestlers aren’t fired, for example, because wrestlers are not employees. WWE is not Walmart, it is not a job. WWE is always, and will always be, a business opportunity for a wrestler to make money together with Vince McMahon. The more successful you are as a wrestler, then the more money there is for Vince to make.
“Another misunderstanding is that Vince wants certain wrestlers to fail. Vince does not want anyone to fail. He genuinely wants every wrestler on his roster to succeed. It’s never an issue if he does not like someone. It is up to every wrestler to take the opportunity of being in the ring and not be scared of losing a non-existent job. So, the more informed you are on the show, the more you can hopefully enjoy it.”
Tweet of the Week
Shakespeare couldn’t have said it any better.