Week in Wrestling: Harley Race Gives Health Update; SmackDown Struggling and MLW One-Shot Main Event Announced
Harley Race has not fought for a world title since the summer of 1990, but the wrestling legend continues to conduct himself like a champion.
“Being world’s champion is what I set out in life to do,” said Race. “I’m one of the few people on earth that can say they completed, in every aspect, what they wanted to do with their life.”
The 74-year-old Race, who wore the NWA world heavyweight championship on seven times, is recovering from two broken legs suffered in a fall in his Troy, Missouri home. Race assured the wrestling community that he will make a full recovery.
“Right now, it’s the legs that are bothering me,” said Race. “I’m sitting here now with two legs that aren’t very good. They’re in route to recovery, and I’m right along with them. In a little amount of time, I’ll be up walking again.”
Known for his toughness, Race has inspired multiple generations of pro wrestlers, from Ric Flair to Bret Hart to Steve Austin, all the way to CM Punk.
“I love that,” shared Race. “And it’s all true. I was the guy who would go out and do whatever he needed to do, no matter what.”
A common critique in pro wrestling is that there is not enough emphasis on the world title. Race, however, made the NWA world title the single most meaningful title in all of wrestling by conducting himself like a champion in and out of the ring.
“I was world’s champion in every aspect of the life,” said Race. “Whether it was sitting in a steak house eating a steak or getting onto the edge of the ring with two or three people standing there, it was all the same to me. I was world’s champion and for that reason, I was world’s champion.”
Race expressed gratitude for the overwhelming support of fans over the past 50 years, and vowed that he is not finished with the wrestling world.
“That means so much to me, it sure does,” said Race. “I’d like to thank each and every one of them for their support, and I promise them I will be back when I can stand and talk to people face-to-face. I will be back.”
WWE’s Raw is three hours a week, while SmackDown Live is only two.
Simple math should explain that a two-hour wrestling show should be considerably more exciting than one that has to draw out storylines for an extra 60 minutes every week.
Yet the world of fact and fiction often intertwines in pro wrestling, and, somehow, Raw–and its monthly pay per views–has been more compelling than SmackDown since WrestleMania 34 this past April. This was on display three days ago during the SmackDown PPV Battleground, which was riddled with curious booking decisions and fell into the category of cursed July WWE pay per views.
Rusev returned for his first prominent match being obliterated by The Big Show at Fastlane in March, and was promptly defeated by John Cena in a Flag Match that pitted the red, white, and blue of the American flag against its red, white, and green counterpart from Bulgaria. Wins and losses are not the end-all, be-all in pro wrestling, but perception does become reality. The decision to have Rusev return in a program with Cena, who is destined for a match with WWE champion Jinder Mahal at SummerSlam, has to be questioned.
The Usos, who were finally building momentum as heels, lost the tag team titles to The New Day. That move could have also led to a far bigger moment if it had instead taken place at SummerSlam. Mike Kanellis also lost his pay per view debut to Sami Zayn, and WWE decided to pass on a women’s title match featuring Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch. Even the finish to Kevin Owens-AJ Styles was perplexing, as Styles had plenty of time to kick out of a seemingly basic roll-up.
Thankfully, the Philadelphia crowd was treated to the return of The Great Khali, who helped Mahal defeat Randy Orton in the chamber of horrors known as the Punjabi Prison. Mahal desperately needs a new dance partner, as he and Orton simply do not share the chemistry necessary to make their feud memorable.
Conspicuous by his absence on the post-Battleground edition of Talking Smack was Daniel Bryan, who was replaced by Jerry “The King” Lawler. Bryan is able to irritate Vince McMahon with his willingness to speak whatever is on his mind, but that was a moot point with Lawler in that role instead.
In other news…
• Court Bauer has announced that Ricochet vs. Shane Strickland will main-event the October 5 One-Shot show for MLW in Orlando, Florida.
Ricochet, who was just featured in a story by Sports Illustrated, is one of the most talented wrestlers in the world, and has excelled in both Lucha Underground and New Japan Pro Wrestling.
“It’s pretty cool that MLW chose us to represent the first main event,” said Ricochet. “Wale knows wrestling, and he knows what he wants, so it’s cool that he chose us.”
The match will have larger implications as Ricochet helped train Strickland, but the student is now seeking to surpass the teacher.
“I’m grateful to be in the main event with Ricochet, but I don’t want to make it easy for him,” said Strickland, who also wrestles in Lucha Underground as Killshot. “As much as he’s taught and groomed me, I’ve gained a lot more experience and studied a lot on my own. I know this won’t be easy, but Ricochet is in top shape and he’s so seasoned, but I can’t wait for October 5.”
Strickland continues to pay his dues in pro wrestling, and he is thankful for the opportunity to perform in an MLW ring.
“It’s been an eight-year journey from when I started, so it’s a huge honor for this opportunity and a big step in my career,” said Strickland. “The trail that Ricochet has blazed in his career is amazing. I’m just starting to make my own category in wrestling, so it’s cool to be considered on the same level as Ricochet.”
Ricochet noted that he relishes the opportunity to wrestle on a large scale against Strickland.
“We’re not going to take it easy on each other,” promised Ricochet. “I’m a competitor, and even though he’s trying to do the same thing, I am going to go out there and win in Orlando.”
• The SummerSlam main event is officially a Fatal 4-Way for Brock Lesnar’s WWE Universal championship as he will defend against Roman Reigns, Samoa Joe, and Braun Strowman. This is an opportune way to highlight all four of the competitors, as well as have Lesnar drop the belt without being pinned or having to submit. WWE has done a tremendous job building all four men as monsters, and this is the perfect match to close out SummerSlam. A title reign from Joe or Strowman would add a lot of excitement every week to Raw.
• The latest Lesnar rumors include the possibility of a return to UFC when his WWE contract expires after WrestleMania 34 next April.
Mixed martial arts reporter Ariel Helwani, who is the reigning seven-time World MMA Award Journalist of the Year, noted that it is not unusual for Lesnar to entertain the idea of a UFC return when his WWE contract is nearing its completion:
“I have not been told there are any significant talks underway, but Lesnar has a history of flirting with the UFC when his WWE contract is coming up, so I fully expect the talk of him coming back to linger for a bit,” said Helwani, whose work can be viewed on MMAfighting.com and heard live every Monday at 1pm ET on The MMA Hour podcast. “He’s very smart when it comes to negotiations.”
Although a Lesnar return to the Octagon would be major news in the fight world, Helwani is not of the belief that a potential match-up of Lesnar vs. current UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic–in the event that the 40-year-old Lesnar were to return–would be the biggest fight of 2018:
“No, I don’t think so,” said Helwani. “Conor McGregor is a much bigger draw than Lesnar.”
• I’ll admit it: I cannot wait to see where WWE creative goes with its story arch involving Kurt Angle and Jason Jordan. Although Renee Young’s backstage interviews on Raw with Angle and Jordan were worth watching, I would much prefer to see Angle and Jordan interact with one another. Jordan was impressive in a quick squash match against Curt Hawkins, but Angle’s role will be even more compelling as the story builds.
• Justin Roberts’ book, Best Seat in the House, is now available as an audio book through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. Roberts connected with SI.com to discuss his journey:
“My sixth grade teacher used to wonder why I had tornadoes, dollar signs and squiggly swirls on all of my notebooks,” said Roberts. “The Texas Tornado, Million Dollar Man and Mr. Perfect did not exist in her world, but my world revolved around them and pro wrestling.
“At 37 years old, I can sit down and analyze how big of a fan I was. I had to be home to watch every wrestling show as a kid, picked up every magazine, rented every tape, found every action figure, tried to meet wrestlers in the arena parking lot or at nearby hotels. To take that and compare it to everything I was able to do as a WWE announcer: every superhero of mine that I was able to introduce to the ring, every TV show, live event and pay per view I was able to announce, on every continent, in each country, state and city I was able to announce, everything consumed in my childhood came full circle into my early adult life.
“At one point, I asked WWE Magazine about telling my story. I figured their audience is wrestling fans and they would enjoy it. When that was shot down, I realized I’d have to tell it myself. Because I wanted to tell my story honestly, I did not know how it would be accepted by the general public.
“I talked about the good (there was so much of that and so many good people on my journey), the bad, the funny, and the ugly. I talked about life on the road and the things myself and the wrestlers would do to entertain ourselves and the fans. I talked about the travel that the wrestlers and I went through to make it from town to town. I talked about how and why the wrestlers truly are real-life superheroes. I did not take any creative liberties to make stories more entertaining for the readers. I told stories as they happened, simply to inform the readers. I hoped talking about the good would encourage more people to appreciate wrestling and by talking about the bad, maybe things could change for the better.
• The Week in Wrestling welcomes Eric Bischoff back to the “Nitro Files”, where a rare July 22, 1997 Tuesday edition of WCW’s Nitro was broken down and analyzed.
• AJ Styles was a guest of Edge and Christian on the latest edition of their podcast, E&C’s Podcast of Awesomeness. Styles shared that his one-on-one moment in the ring at Money in the Bank with Shinsuke Nakamura was his idea to prove to Vince McMahon that wrestling fans desperately want to see Styles vs. Nakamura in a WWE ring.
“That was my idea,” Styles explained to Edge and Christian. “I wanted to show Vince that there’s something special here. It’s something people want to see, so let’s wait before we give it to them and make it something bigger than just a TV match. It worked out pretty good… standing in the ring, looking through the ladder at Nakamura, I was like, ‘Oh man, this is good.’”
Although Nakamura-Styles is highly unlikely to headline WrestleMania 34, the match should be saved and highlighted on the biggest stage possible in wrestling.
• Conrad Thompson will discuss SummerSlam 2000 on Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard in this week’s podcast, which breaks at noon this Friday.
“I’m surprised it won the poll, but 2000 was a huge year for WWE,” said Thompson. “That’s the year that crippled WCW and put them out of business, and the WWE was doing really well.
“It’s a strange card. There is Right to Censor against Too Cool, and we haven’t spent too much time talking about them, as well as Chyna working with Eddie Guerrero. Also, well before there was Jerry Lawler vs. Michael Cole, there was Lawler vs. Taz. I’m also looking forward to talking about the hardcore match between Shane McMahon and Steve Blackman, and we’ll even have the chance to about Chris Benoit.”
SummerSlam 2000 has a triple threat main event between The Rock, Triple H, and Kurt Angle, but the show will forever be remembered for the “Tables, Ladders, and Chairs” match between the Hardys, Edge and Christian, and the Dudleys.
“This is the match that made a lot of players,” said Thompson. “They turned it up another level, and it’s one of my favorite matches ever. The pay per view is also in WCW’s back yard in Raleigh, North Carolina, and it’s not often that you see WWE run pay per views in North or South Carolina these days, but this show had 17,000 people. The business was just so hot.”
Another fascinating discussion point will be the cut-aways from SummerSlam to WWE New York, which highlighted Vince McMahon’s attempt at a WWE-themed restaurant in New York City.
“Those little obscure things, the kind of which we don’t see any more, are the ones I gravitate to,” said Thompson. “The WWE restaurant will be discussed in detail; why was Vince McMahon looking to be in the restaurant business? They used pay per view time to promote a restaurant, and we’ll sidebar on that and delve more into 2000, which was a very interesting year.”
• The Writer’s Corner: Lucha Underground head writer Chris “DJ” DeJoseph shared that his favorite facet of this week’s newest episode is the main event between Rey Mysterio against PJ Black, who was known as Justin Gabriel in WWE.
“This week, especially, has a great main event,” said Thompson. “PJ and Rey just go, and to watch those two go at it was incredible. It’s one of my favorite matches in Lucha Underground.”
Thompson was asked if Mysterio taking time away from the grind of the WWE schedule has allowed him to succeed in such a significant way with Lucha Underground.
“I can’t comment for Rey, but as someone who is a fan and works on the show, Rey looks like he’s in his 20s again. It might be that he just hasn’t lost a step and that’s how great of a performer he is, and he keeps amazing me every time I watch him.
“Rey also mentored a lot of the guys in Lucha Underground. Rey is almost like a jedi. He goes around and gives out his pieces of information and advice, and guys are going to Rey asking how to be better.”
Mysterio’s opponent is PJ Black, who, DeJoseph noted, is as fearless inside in the ring as he is outside of it.
“Working with PJ Black is an experience,” said DeJoseph. “He is one of the most interesting, creative, and fun people to work with, and he has a great grasp on the show. PJ always has ideas to explore his personality, the ‘Dare Wolf’, in the ring. He’s pretty fearless in both life and wrestling, and he’s willing to take risks all the time and make the most of life. He’s one of a kind.”
• The story of Alberto Del Rio and Paige continues. Pro Wrestling Sheet reported that Del Rio is no longer under investigation by law enforcement for battery, but it is, per the Orlando Police Department, Paige who should be charged with domestic violence. There are wrestling questions, regarding if and when Paige will return to WWE and whether Del Rio will be reinstated as GFW/Impact champion, but the far more important issue is whether Paige and Del Rio will receive the help and support needed to avoid tragedy.
• Al Snow connected with SI.com for his advice column, Inside Al's Head, sharing the best way to seek out the subtleties and nuances to enhance the viewing experience of an AJ Styles match.
“Everybody appreciates AJ for the obvious: his incredible physical aptitude and ability,” said Snow. “Quite honestly, he is phenomenal and athletically-blessed. What a lot of people don’t focus on with AJ is his ability to be a character to where you can see his distinct motivations during the match.
“The two most important things that an audience wants to believe in, even if they don’t realize it, are who the performer is and why they do what they do in the context of trying to win and trying not to lose. AJ Styles and Frankie Kazarian combined for one of the most enjoyable matches I ever saw at Impact Wrestling. Ric Flair was at ringside, and AJ Styles and Kazarian were competing for Flair, almost like two sons competing for the attention of their father. The clarity of what each character was during that match, and the motivation and the reason behind their actions were so crystal clear that it made the match so much fun to watch. That was a testament to defined characters, and you could see it in their actions and their reactions.”
Snow stressed that a well-defined character is integral to success in wrestling, which has allowed Styles to succeed at the age of 40 in WWE.
“When I was in Smoky Mountain Wrestling, I could do everything–springboard moonsaults, springboard dropkicks –you see people do now,” said Snow. “It wasn’t until years later, when I was in ECW for the second time and was on loan by WWE, that I learned shaking a head and running around with a head and acting like I was insane drew me much more money than any physical movements I could do. It takes those years of experience to learn that voice of your own.
“Look at Steve Austin. The most important thing for a professional wrestler and a professional wrestling fan is when you can describe a wrestler in a sentence or less. If you can turn and say, ‘There’s this guy on TV, and he’s a beer-drinking, ass-kicking redneck,’ then you know I’m talking about Steve Austin. And Steve Austin was a beer-drinking, ass-kicking redneck backstage, and when Steve Austin walked down the aisle, he was a beer-drinking, ass-kicking redneck. When the bell rang, he was a beer-drinking, ass-kicking redneck; when he was kicking somebody’s ass, he was a beer-drinking, ass-kicking redneck; when he was getting his ass kicked, he was a beer-drinking, ass-kicking redneck; when he won he was a beer-drinking, ass-kicking redneck, and he was a beer-drinking, ass-kicking redneck when he lost, then he was a beer-drinking, ass-kicking redneck on the way out of the ring. There was no disconnect, and that is what the wrestling audience wants. They want to believe, like AJ Styles does, in who you are and why you do what you do.”
Tweet of the Week
Thought it was interesting that, after people were championing the United States title as more prestigious than the WWE championship, that WWE promptly played hot potato with the U.S. title.