Week in Wrestling: Bruce Prichard previews Lesnar vs. Joe; Alberto El Patron talks GFW
SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
News of the Week
Bruce Prichard is not surprised that WWE’s next pay per view is called Great Balls of Fire.
“Vince McMahon loves Jerry Lee Lewis,” said Prichard, referring to the popular 1950’s rock-and-roller. “So that name doesn’t surprise me at all. I can picture that scene; someone said the name as a joke, then Vince began to laugh and said, ‘I love it!’”
The 54-year-old Prichard served as McMahon’s right-hand man and confidant for nearly two decades, but is now busier than ever with his extremely popular “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” podcast as well as an on-air role with Global Force Wrestling, which was known as Impact Wrestling until this past weekend.
Prichard also has a live show in Dallas this Sunday with former WCW play-by-play man Tony Schiavone and podcast host extraordinaire Conrad Thompson. The trio will discuss old-school World Wrestling Federation memories, the Monday Night Wars, and even the Brock Lesnar-Samoa Joe match that is set to headline the Great Balls of Fire pay per view.
“The anticipation to see Brock and Joe is out of this world, and that’s the most important thing leading into the match,” said Prichard. “There aren’t two more evenly matched guys, perhaps with the exception of Bobby Lashley or Kurt Angle in his prime, but these are two guys who the audience really wants to see. If Brock and Joe are open to it, they’ll make it a fiercely competitive match.”
Since Prichard and Schiavone worked on opposite ends of the battle between WWE and WCW, Prichard also promised to remind Schiavone–and then remind him again–that WWE won the war.
“I like to remind Tony that winners write history,” said Prichard. “When you look back on that era, battling WCW during the ‘Monday Night Wars’, it was business. But, at the time, it was personal. That business affected your real life. WCW talked about putting WWE out of business, and that would have literally hurt people’s lives. So it certainly was personal to me.”
Prichard is also enjoying his work with the Jeff Jarrett-run Global Force Wrestling, though his best work occurs off-camera as an agent and producer. He just led a skeletal crew through successful television tapings in India, and Prichard has always felt most comfortable behind the camera with the spotlight on the wrestlers. As part of the storyline, his on-air character in GFW has gone missing, yet Prichard insists he is an easy man to find.
“Look, if they want to find me, it’s pretty simple,” said Prichard. “All you need to do is go to www.bruceprichard.com, buy a t-shirt, and I will call you right away to say thanks. The people who need to know where I am already know where I am. For anyone who wants to know, I will be in Dallas for a live show with Tony and Conrad this Sunday.”
Prichard shared that he prefers the live shows because the audiences have been so engaging.
“It’s such a great atmosphere,” said Prichard. “This is an open invitation for anyone who wants to come out, have a fun time, and laugh. I promise that I will get Tony out of his shell and confront him on everything WCW did wrong. We’ll finish up well before Great Balls of Fire, so it’s a chance to see us and then go to Great Balls of Fire. More than anything, it’s a chance to watch me put Tony and Conrad both in their place.”
I would not pull the trigger on a Samoa Joe title run at Great Balls of Fire, as Brock Lesnar should end the pay per view on Sunday with the championship still in hand.
With the exception of John Cena, Brock Lesnar is still WWE’s most marquee attraction. Part of Lesnar’s aura is the fact that he cannot be beat. Goldberg, of course, defeated Lesnar this past November, so conventional wisdom with WWE booking suggests Lesnar does not lose again on Sunday. WWE also needs Lesnar to help promote SummerSlam in August, which he can accomplish in a much more meaningful fashion as Universal champion.
A loss would not necessarily derail Samoa Joe. If Joe and Lesnar can put together a 15-minute affair that highlights their abilities as heavyweights, then the match will be a success. Lesnar’s best matches in his WWE return have been with CM Punk, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns, who are all very different performers from Joe, but we will see on Sunday if the “Samoan Submission Specialist” is up for the task of delivering in what is one of the more highly-anticipated main events so far in 2017.
In other news…
• The Uso’s turned heads during their rap battle on SmackDown against The New Day, as they referenced–on two separate occasions–Xavier Woods’ role in an X-rated adult video. I have confirmed with multiple sources in WWE that the line was pre-approved, so it did not catch anyone off guard. The scene certainly built animosity between the Uso’s and The New Day, yet it is mind-boggling that WWE–a company which prides itself on family fun-would ever allow this line to be uttered or even insinuated on live television.
• John Cena returned to SmackDown and was immediately re-inserted into a feud with Rusev, who also returned to WWE programming for the first time since April. Rusev was originally in line to feud with Randy Orton for the WWE championship, but the sudden rise of Jinder Mahal forced plans to change. Cena and Rusev are now scheduled to have a flag match at Battleground on July 23, which creates a booking conundrum for WWE as neither man should lose his return match. The smart play is to have outside interference, perhaps from Mahal, cost Cena the match and allow Rusev the chance to build some much-needed momentum.
• Impact Wrestling transformed into Global Force Wrestling this past Sunday as GFW champion Alberto El Patron defeated Impact champ Bobby Lashley at Slammiversary 15 to unify the belts.
“I know I made the right decision coming to work here for Global Force Wrestling,” said Patron. “I can finally say that I have found my home. Everyone is working every day to make this product bigger and better, and everyone knows what I am going to bring to the ring.
“I will die in the ring to entertain the crowd. The pro wrestling fans are happy with me, the company is happy with me, and finally, I’m happy.”
Patron also noted that he will be present in Mexico City for AAA’s Triple Mania 26 pay per view this August.
“We’re already in conversations with AAA,” said Patron. “I’m not 100 percent sure if I’ll be defending the title that night, but I will be there. This will be my third straight TripleMania, and every time I go to Mexico, I have a lot of fun. This time, I have the opportunity to go with my new casa, my new home, and my new title.”
• Conrad Thompson will discuss the July 6, 1997 In Your House: Canadian Stampede on Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard in this week’s podcast, which breaks at noon this Friday.
“That is quite possibly the hottest crowd in the history of WWE,” said Thompson, referring to the boisterous crowd of 12,151 at the Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. “It’s one of the top five crowds in the history of wrestling. We sometimes underestimate how much a crowd can help or hurt a show, and they were hot for everything. As a result, the guys gave better performances, and everything meant more. The crowd was also really hot during that Undertaker-Vader match. The crowd was so into it during Undertaker’s comeback that the hard camera was shaking. That’s not like the current WWE when they jerk the camera during every big move; no, this camera was moving because the crowd was so into that show. The crowd is what made the pay per view for me.”
“Historically, a main event should be a hot issue between two guys, but this was an exception to the rule,” said Thompson. “But if this show happened in Cleveland, I don’t think we would remember it the same way. The crowd enhanced the storylines and the storytelling, and there was an interesting dynamic where the Hart Foundation were heels in the United States yet loved across the border. That’s the best home field advantage we’ve ever seen in wrestling, with a close second to John Cena vs. CM Punk in Punk’s hometown of Chicago in 2011.”
Thompson also noted the evolution of Bret Hart, who was cutting edge in his role as an anti-American. Hart did not play a cartoonish heel that disliked the U.S. because it was foreign territory; he unleashed all his frustrations with the country, including weaknesses in health care and even gun laws:
“Bret’s 13-month run from October of ’96 to November of ’97 was his best work,” said Thompson. “I couldn’t tell you one promo he did before that or one Bret Hart promo after that, but this was his defining moment–his homecoming, if you will–and he is one of the greatest performers of all-time, and is central to our show this Friday.”
• Cody Rhodes and Kazuchika Okada delivered a fantastic main event this past Friday on AXS TV, which saw Okada retain the IWGP heavyweight championship. While I was surprised to see Rhodes, who is Ring of Honor’s world champion, lose cleanly, Rhodes was distracted by the presence of Kenny Omega. The show represented New Japan’s maiden voyage into the United States, but I do expect Rhodes–while carrying the ROH banner–to eventually score a major victory over one of New Japan’s stars after doing the job this past Friday night.
AXS TV will air a special, encore presentation of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Special in the USA this Friday, July 7 at 4:20pm ET, which leads directly into the network premiere of the Night 2 special–which includes nine matches and commentary from Jim Ross–at 8pm ET.
• New Japan Pro Wrestling chairman Naoki Sugabasyashi discussed the importance of this past weekend’s shows in Long Beach, California
“It’s more important than our big matches in Japan,” said Sugabayashi. “We created the IWGP United States championship, which is something we have wanted to do for a long time. We created this belt for the United States audience. Those fans want to see title matches, so we created this very important new title.”
Sugabasyashi, who sat down with Sports Illustrated for a feature interview that will run at a later date, also marveled at the excitement for the New Japan product from the North American fan base:
“Tickets sold out in two hours, and we were very surprised by that,” said Sugabayashi. “Our show was designed as a ‘Thank you’ to our fans. We want to bring the action that we see in Japan to the United States.”
• Cody Rhodes played the villain–and did so very convincingly–against Kazuchika Okada this past Friday. One person he did not sway, however, was Diamond Dallas Page:
“I’ve known Cody since he was seven,” said Page, who will be featured in next Wednesday’s Week in Wrestling on SI.com. “He was doing what he needed to do in WWE, but he left and I’ve been watching him since he left. He’s following in his dad’s footsteps. I’m really interested to see him take on the challenge of coming back to WWE someday. The kid can talk, and he can work, but he’s not a heel. Cody is a babyface. People want to cheer him, and he knows how to sell.”
• In The Writer’s Corner: This week’s Lucha Underground began the final first round match-ups in the Cueto Cup, which is a 32-person tournament that will guarantee a title shot to the winner at Ultima Lucha 3 at the end of season three. The show’s head writer, Chris “DJ” DeJoseph, discussed the process of mapping out the tourney.
“You have to write backwards,” said DeJoseph. “I know where I want to go and where I want to end up, and I fill the puzzle in that way. A tournament for us in Lucha Underground is a storytelling device. We tried our best to put certain people in certain stories, especially in certain brackets of the tournament, and then we worked on the complex puzzle of intertwining all of the stories we’re trying to tell to eventually bring us to the end of the third season.’
The title match will also be held at the end of the season, which is a very dynamic match-up between champion Johnny Mundo and Rey Mysterio.
“They are the two biggest players and the top stars in our world,” said DeJoseph. “We wanted to make their match very special, not just another match. Our goal is to create this big fight atmosphere with these two, plus you have everyone else competing in the Cueto Cup, and we want people asking who they’ll see fighting the champion at Ultima Lucha 3, so it’s an interesting story and will be even more fun to watch play out.”
DeJoseph also noted that writing scenes for Mysterio and Mundo is incredibly rewarding, as the two have some well-defined characters yet are also willing to evolve.
“Johnny and Rey have two very different stories,” explained DeJoseph. “Rey is a man of the people. He’s the underdog, and he understands where he came from. Johnny’s story is far more industrialized, far more corporate, and this is a match of two different worlds colliding. Johnny represents industry, and Rey represents the people.
The one element that Mundo has and Mysterio does not is Taya Valkyrie. Taya is in Mundo’s corner yet also wrestles, and off-camera, she and Mundo were recently engaged to be married.
“We knew Johnny and Taya would have a natural chemistry, and they did,” said DeJoseph. “The two characters mirrored one another and were perfect for each other. Taya is just an amazing performer and an amazing athlete, and she even challenges my team to come up with new, innovative parts for her character. She’s always pushing Johnny to be better, and they have fun being together as that unit.”
• Eric Bischoff’s Nitro Files can be devoured this week in audio form. The talented Nick Hausman, who co-hosts the weekly Bischoff on Wrestling, invited me to be part of this week’s show and conduct my interview on the air. During our session, Bischoff discussed the relationship between Randy Savage and Dallas Page, as well as touched on Hulk Hogan’s role in preparing Dennis Rodman for his match at the 1997 Bash at the Beach:
• Wrestling legend Al Snow, fresh off a honeymoon from his wedding ceremony, shared advice with wrestling fans, as they prepare to watch Brock Lesnar versus Samoa Joe at Great Balls of Fire, in the latest edition of his new advice column, Inside Al's Head:
“Going into that match, I would advise the fan to simply forget and just watch the match,” said Snow. “Let the characters evolve and allow what’s happening to dictate the actions and let the emotional reactions of the performers dictate who will be the heel and the babyface in the match based off the story they’re trying to tell. There always will be one guy that will be the knight in shining armor, and let him be that. Let the other wrestler be the black wrestler.
“For the fans, don’t try to dictate or hijack the show. Don’t try to become more important than the show itself. There is no one wrestler who is more important than the show itself or bigger than the wrestling business. That’s our fault as wrestlers and promoters for allowing the crowd to dictate to us what is right and wrong. I am afraid that if we continue to allow this then, at some point, the wrestling business is going to go away. And then what’s that wrestling fan going to have? He’s going to destroy the very thing he loves.”
Tweet of the Week
Had Twitter existed, I assume Eisenhower would have posted the same tweet in 1955.