SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Dixie Carter on Kurt Angle, WWE
Former TNA Impact Wrestling chairman Dixie Carter spoke with Sports Illustrated and detailed how she and Kurt Angle built such a strong bond.
“Kurt and I both took a chance on each other,” said Carter, who appeared on the WWE Network following Raw for the network-produced Kurt Angle Homecoming special. “The results were some of the best matches in the history of the business. From the beginning, I felt a big responsibility to help Kurt on a personal level and on a professional level. Professionally, there has never been a more complete wrestler, ever. Kurt is also a great talker and so charismatic, and maybe he’s the best in-ring talent, ever. He also made sure that everyone he wrestled had their best match. He can look back on his work with Sting, EC3, Jeff Hardy, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and so many others, and the common denominator in those matches is Kurt. He only has one gear, and it’s all out, but that’s also been his biggest challenge.”
Carter also touched on Angle’s heart and humanity, which are not always visible to the blind eye when he is in the ring.
“Kurt has a huge heart that he wears on his sleeve,” said Carter. “He’s an emotional guy, and we really connected on that part. He needed some help, and I love to help; I love a challenge, especially when it has a personal side to it. It’s been so fulfilling to watch Kurt Angle, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Sting, and others just become whole and fire on all cylinders. You can’t fire on all cylinders if you’re not really happy personally, and that’s always important to me. When you get that, it’s just magic.”
The opportunity for Carter to appear on a WWE show was not surreal to her, as she was simply grateful to share her memories of working with Angle.
“I was just so focused on Kurt,” said Carter. “That was my entire focus.”
The fact that a multitude of the highlights on Raw, SmackDown, and NXT are performed by TNA alums like Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, and Bobby Roode has not been lost on Carter.
“The fact that these incredible talents are having the kind of success they are having is a great compliment to the hard work of the men and women who built TNA,” said Carter. “I’m proud to have been a part of it.”
Angle closed out Raw with a storyline of a mystery character who will appear next Monday, which, fittingly, will take place nearby Carter’s home in Nashville, Tennessee. Carter was asked if she will be on next week’s Raw:
“I did hear Raw will be in Nashville, which is very interesting,” said Carter. “But I wouldn’t tell you either way.”
News of the Week
This past Sunday’s Great Balls of Fire pay-per-view marked back-to back July 9 victories for Brock Lesnar, and the 2017 win will not be overturned.
For the first time since WrestleMania 33, Brock Lesnar wrestled in a WWE ring. Unlike his July 9, 2016 fight against Mark Hunt, where his victory in the UFC octagon was overturned, Lesnar successfully defended the Universal championship in WWE’s squared circle. The match was physical and kept a solid pace for just over six minutes.
Lesnar is still searching for a signature match. Despite his win over The Undertaker at WrestleMania 30, the match was a disaster after ‘Taker suffered a concussion. Lesnar’s encounters with Bill Goldberg were memorable for their brevity. Lesnar shared little to no chemistry with Triple H, defeated John Cena in a squash match at the SummerSlam 2014, disappointed with Randy Orton, but his finest work remains a classic with CM Punk at the 2013 SummerSlam.
Hard as it is to believe, Lesnar and Punk wrestled for over 25 minutes. That is roughly the amount of time we see Lesnar every month on WWE programming. The only other match that genuinely resonates from Lesnar’s second act in WWE is his WrestleMania 31 match against Roman Reigns. Lesnar and Reigns were physical from the moment the bell sounded, and the affair never met a resolution after Seth Rollins interfered and cashed in his Money in the Bank contract.
WWE is gambling on Lesnar-Reigns II to headline this year’s SummerSlam. And while the smart money would be on finding a way to pair AJ Styles against Lesnar–as Lesnar clearly works better with someone who can sell his powerful offense–Vince McMahon and WWE are clearly all in on Reigns.
In order to win when gambling, you have to lay it down to pick it up. WWE continues to lay down its chips on Roman Reigns, but only time will tell if that gamble pays off.
In other news…
• Chad Gable and Jason Jordan–better known in WWE as American Alpha–flourished in NXT. During TakeOver: Dallas during the WrestleMania 32 weekend in 2016, American Alpha received arguably the loudest response from the crowd, even rivaling the ovation for the newly-debuted Shinsuke Nakamura. Despite a run with the SmackDown tag titles, American Alpha has yet to find any steady momentum on the main roster.
“The process of re-establishing ourselves was new to us,” admitted the 31-year-old Gable. “We started in Orlando at the Performance Center, and the local crowd saw us even before we were on NXT. When we got to SmackDown Live, we had to assume that no one had ever seen us before. That’s what we did, and it’s very hard to start over, but Jason and I were ready for this. We told ourselves ahead of time that we were going to prepare extra hard because not everyone watches NXT, and we’re working to attain our goals.”
Gable and Jordan were amateur wrestlers in college, while Gable and Raw GM Angle both have background with the Olympics, as Angle won a gold medal in the 1996 Olympics and Gable was a U.S. Olympic Trials champion in 2012. Gable said that he and Jordan are willing and able to work a program with Kurt Angle:
“I saw Kurt at the hotel during WrestleMania weekend, and he still trains really hard,” said Gable. “I figure there will be sometime when he is going to stop, but after watching him train, it doesn’t look like it. Jason and I are both very excited to sit and chat with him, and hopefully pick his brain. He carved the path that we’re following, he set the example for what we want to do, and he’s the best in the world at it.”
Despite the recent flurry of singles matches, including standout performances against Kevin Owens and AJ Styles, Gable reasserted that his long-term goal is to reclaim the tag titles with Jason Jordan.
“In amateur wrestling, my goal was always to get to the Olympics,” said Gable. “My goal in WWE is to make it to WrestleMania 34 with my partner and win the tag team titles. I’d love to be in a spot where we are defending the titles at next year’s ‘Mania, and hopefully that is in a marquee match in a prime place on the card. We can show people that tag team wrestling is, in my opinion, the greatest form of pro wrestling.”
• Conrad Thompson will discuss Ax and Smash’s run as Demolition on Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard in this week’s podcast, which breaks at noon this Friday.
“We’ll talk about where the Demolition idea came from, how the original team with Ax and one of the Moondogs as Smash did not work out, and then we’ll talk about how Bill Eadie and Barry Darsow were put together as Ax and Smash,” said Thompson. “I know Darsow is from Minnesota, but he was cutting his teeth in the south in North Carolina as Krusher Khruschev and Bill Eadie was the Masked Superstar, who was a staple of the south.
“We’ll also look, specifically, at the parallel Vince McMahon had in mind for the gimmick and if there was a correlation to the Legion of Doom. Bruce has always contended that the Powers of Pain were the rip-off of the Road Warriors, so we’ll talk about that, discuss why a third member was added, as well as how the relationship has changed between the WWE, Bill Eadie, and Barry Darsow.”
Demolition went out with a thud after a tremendously successful four-year run, unofficially ending with a loss to visiting Japanese wrestlers Tenryu and Kitao at WrestleMania VII. The opportunity for a highly-anticipated program with the Legion of Doom was never explored by Vince and Co.:
“A lot of people are curious as to why Demolition vs. LOD never happened on a big stage,” said Thompson. “We had the same situation with Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. Isn’t putting the two of them against one another in a high-profile match a no-brainer? Isn’t that also the case with Demolition versus the Legion of Doom? I’m curious as to what Bruce’s stance on that will be, and I’m sure it’s going to be nonsensical and I’m going to get frustrated, but I’m looking forward to it any way.”
Thompson and Prichard also return to the road, as the pair continues their live tour in Philadelphia before Battleground on July 23 at the Theatre of Living Arts.
“We already have an extreme guest planned for Philadelphia,” said Thompson. “There is a fun surprise, which is a stunt that people will be talking about and no one will forget. I am a huge ECW fan, so it’s going to be really cool to be in the City of Brotherly Love. Tickets are available at livenation.com when you search for Bruce Prichard, and we’ll make fun of the Punjabi Prison match before it ever happens on July 23.”
• Austin Aries was granted his release from WWE. There is no salacious backstory, and reports of Aries wearing a bad attitude during his run with the company are erroneous. Ultimately, Aries thought he was worth far more to the company than the role he was given, while Vince McMahon did not see a long-term future for a 39-year-old who stands under 5’10” and weighs less than 205 pounds. Here’s hoping Aries proves them wrong.
• The birth of the NWO celebrated its 21st birthday last week, and that occasion overshadowed the 19th anniversary of DX mocking the Nation of Domination in the “Do you smell what The Crock is cookin’?” parody. Former WWE star and Nation member D’Lo Brown reflected back on the promo, which took place on July 6, 1998.
“It’s amazing it’s been 19 years,” said Brown. “I remember being the youngest guy in the locker room, and you blink and it is 19 years later.”
The segment in question still resonates with Brown.
“It was one of the most iconic segments of the ‘Attitude Era’, in my opinion, and it’s right up there with anything Steve Austin and Vince did,” said Brown. “DX, as babyfaces, were getting under the skin of the heels. It connected on so many levels, and it’s my favorite segment of all time. People think it was a ‘gotcha’ type of segment where they took a piss on us without us even knowing, but we were as much a part of that as they were. To this day, I still tell Road Dogg that I owe him royalties. He played D’Lo better than I played D’Lo.”
The segment nearly crossed a fine line of distaste and disrespect, but Brown reiterated that the only subject on the minds of every member of DX and the Nation was business.
“We were only focused on what could ignite the feud between the two factions,” explained Brown. “This worked, and the people loved it. Plus, it gave us, as heels, something to fire back on and a reason to get more aggressive and get back at DX. Trust me, it was never personal.”
Brown was also asked if he is surprised that WWE has shifted away from factions, especially considering groups were such a pivotal piece of WWE’s success during the ‘Attitude Era’:
“Factions are a thread of wrestling,” said Brown. “Heels are better in numbers, and you can look at how the Four Horsemen did it. They come at you as singles or a tag and can go after any title they want. Factions are an essential part of wrestling, and I really wish they would come back because they add so much to storylines.”
Brown is now stationed in Las Vegas, Nevada, working for a fantasy camp called Fantasy Slam.
“I’m working with Sinn Bodhi, who is a real good friend of mine, on a project called Fantasy Slam,” said Brown. “It’s an interesting concept and gives the wrestling fan the life of a pro wrestler. You can do interviews, have a match, and walk in the steps of your favorite star. You train with guys like Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat, Al Snow, and Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, and they mentor you throughout the process. It’s a unique process and I want the world to know about it.”
• The Alberto Del Rio situation is becoming very problematic for GFW/Impact Wrestling. Del Rio–known now as Alberto Patron–is Impact’s world champion, and he is also currently under investigation for alleged domestic violence toward his fiancée, Paige.
Details from the case are still emerging, and Paige has publicly supported Del Rio. Yet the fact that Del Rio is the source of controversy cannot come as any surprise for those in positions of power, like Jeff Jarrett, at Impact. Del Rio was hired–and won the title over Bobby Lashley–for his ability to stir controversy and, in turn, hopefully bring viewers to Impact. Now the company is in a major quandary, as the next two months of television have been taped and prominently feature Del Rio as champion.
The people in Impact would be wise to detach themselves from this situation. A logical solution is to search the free agent pool, find a uniquely talented wrestler on the indie scene (Donovan Dijak, Ricochet, or Matt Riddle would all fit), and rebrand their product by making him their world champion.
• Did you know that there have only been four IWGP heavyweight champions over the past six-and-a-half years? The only men to hold the belt are current champion Kazuchika Okada (four reigns, 1,182 days), Hiroshi Tanahashi (three reigns, 820 days), AJ Styles (two reigns, 307 days) and Tetsuya Naito (one reign, 70 days). In comparison, the WWE has had four Universal champions in the past 11 months.
• Another promo that recently celebrated a milestone was the first anniversary of AJ Styles’ “Beat Up John Cena” promo. It would have been difficult to predict that, a year later, Styles and Cena would team up together, which they did last night on SmackDown.
Styles won the United States championship during Friday night’s house show at the world-renowned Madison Square Garden, which was a brilliant maneuver by WWE.
MSG, which was once considered WWE’s home turf, raised its rates and is now deemed too expensive by Vince McMahon to use for television or pay per view (which opened the door quite nicely for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to swoop in and claim three consecutive SummerSlam pay per views). WWE still runs occasional house shows out of MSG, but to the tune of considerably less buzz. Tickets were slow and this past Friday’s show was nowhere near a sell-out. In order to generate some excitement and return to an “anything can happen” type of environment, the decision was made to accelerate the program and have Styles capture the United States title at MSG instead of in a couple of weeks at Battleground.
• Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns are magic together, and Brock Lesnar remains the most (or only?) must-see attraction on the WWE roster, but Samoa Joe firmly inserted himself into the conversation of top tier performers with his work in the ring at Sunday’s Great Balls of Fire and then again on Monday with his mic work on Raw. There are no main event plans for Joe at SummerSlam, so what new challenge will WWE present to him instead? Hopefully, Joe works a program with Finn Balor that leads directly to a payoff match at SummerSlam.
• In The Writer’s Corner: Lucha Underground head writer, Chris “DJ” DeJoseph, discussed a fascinating development on this week’s episode on El Rey Network, but first touched on the emergence of Dante Fox–best known as AR Fox on the indie scene–in the Temple:
“I could always tell, just from his performance in the ring and the faces he would make, that Fox had the capability to be a great performer in vignette form,” said DeJoseph. “Did I think he could pull it off? Yes, but he has been absolutely great in his performance. Fox and Killshot [Shane Strickland] were both invested in their story together; they were both hungry to go out and prove what they could do. To watch it unfold and see those two guys inspire each other to work harder to make each other better, that helped the performance from all sides.”
DeJoseph touched on this week’s episode, which first airs tonight and is also available on iTunes, and did so without dropping any spoilers:
“There are lots of great parts of tonight’s episode, including some really great wrestling, but I am most interested to see people’s reaction to the end of the show,” said DeJoseph. “It will definitely shock some people.”
• Cesaro’s performance in the 30-minute Iron Man tag team match this past Sunday at Great Balls of Fire served as a reminder of his place as one of the greatest tag team specialists of all-time. Cesaro has now starred in WWE as tag partners with Jack Swagger, Tyson Kidd, and Sheamus, and each team has been more successful than anticipated. Cesaro also teamed with Chris Hero as The Kings of Wrestling before entering WWE. His creativity, which included the opening sequence on Sunday as he slid through the ring and distracted Matt Hardy–which led to a Brogue Kick from Sheamus and a quick pinfall–is just another subtle part of Cesaro’s greatness. Hopefully, Cesaro will one day be able to receive company support for a meaningful singles run. Matches against Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Brock Lesnar, and Braun Strowman would all be appointment viewing.
• In his new advice column, Inside Al's Head, Al Snow touched on the delicate situation of separating the artist from the art pertaining to when pro wrestlers misbehave, break the law, or act in a way unbecoming of a public figure.
“The last thing you want to do as a performer, as a public figure, is ever be tried in the court of public opinion,” said Snow. “It doesn’t matter what you have done or what you have not done. Once it gets into the realm of public opinion, you’re damned whether you did or didn’t. You may even be proven innocent, but there will always be those who condemn you based on a judgment they passed based off the information they have from the court of public opinion.
“The greatest threat to your public image is being tried in such a court. I would ask–or beg–the fans to not follow their natural human precept, as it is human nature to cheer performers as they climb and then cannot wait to see them suffer a scandal and fall. You can’t just take one side of the coin that’s thrown out there in a public situation and assume you know the whole history.”
Snow was clear that he is not defending anyone in any manner, but he did add that he personally went through a situation that was misinterpreted by the public.
“Just recently, I was arrested for, of all things, a broken headlight,” said Snow. “Years ago, police pulled me over and gave me a citation that I needed to take down to the court house to show a receipt that I had repaired the headlight, which I had done, but due to a clerical error, that was not recorded. I apparently had a warrant for my arrest for years, and I didn’t even know until my car broke down, the police ran my license plate, and summarily, arrested me.”
Snow was brought to jail, and a thought that crossed his mind was that his mug shot would find its way to the internet, which happened almost instantaneously.
“The next morning, my mug shot was everywhere and the headline read, ‘Former WWE superstar arrested,’” explained Snow. “People immediately jumped to conclusions, so I had to go out and make a public statement. It seemed scandalous that I was arrested, but it was for a broken headlight that happened years ago and I wasn’t even aware there was a warrant. It wasn’t spousal abuse or drug abuse or murder, it was a broken headlight, but to watch the suppositions swing to the most ridiculous, negative situations taught me that you never want to be tried in the court of public opinion. As a fan, you should be willing to wait until you have all sides of information before you pass judgment or form an opinion about a performer.”
Snow stressed that there is added responsibility for the wrestlers to conduct themselves in a respectful manner outside of the ring at all times.
“As a public figure, you do not have the freedoms of the average person,” said Snow. “It’s so tantamount to try to keep your name out of any negative publicity. The smallest thing–a broken headlight, even–can extrapolate into a ridiculous scenario. Then people won’t want to do business with you. As a public figure–or even a potential public figure–you don’t have the same freedoms another person has in regards to making a mistake. If you want to live the life that other people don’t live, then you’re going to have to do the things other people won’t do to live the life other people won’t live.”
Tweet of the Week
Curt Hawkins and Heath Slater are now forever joined with Diamond Dallas Page and Bill Goldberg, as both of their matches–Hawkins/Slater from Great Balls of Fire–and DDP-Goldberg from Halloween Havoc ‘98–in infamy as matches that started on pay per view, yet finished off-camera.