Week in Wrestling: Nakamura draws Vince McMahon’s ire, Terry Funk returns to the ring
News of the Week
Sports Illustrated has learned that Vince McMahon was reportedly furious with Shinsuke Nakamura after last Tuesday’s SmackDown.
Nakamura dropped John Cena on his head during a reverse “xploder” maneuver near the end of the match. Despite the inherent danger, Cena luckily escaped any serious injury.
Yet Nakamura did not escape the wrath of McMahon, who has come to depend on Cena as the face of his company for the past decade.
Despite McMahon’s anger, which was more in defense of Cena than it was an indictment of Nakamura, he has not lost faith in the Japanese star.
However, if Nakamura makes another mistake on a grand stage, Sports Illustrated learned through channels close to WWE, then McMahon will have an entirely different opinion of Nakamura.
WWE’s creative team did a phenomenal job of casting doubt this past Raw that Brock Lesnar will lose the Universal championship at SummerSlam.
Right at the start of Raw, The Miz detailed on Miz TV that Lesnar is the overwhelming favorite to leave SummerSlam as the former champion. The odds are certainly working against Lesnar, especially since a consistent presence as champion on Raw would be best for the show. Unlike Lesnar–whose appearances are intermittent at best–Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns, and Samoa Joe would all add credibility to the Universal title on a weekly basis.
But what if Lesnar wins?
With Jinder Mahal likely to retain the WWE championship until after the WWE goes on a tour of India, WWE needs a powerful way to end the SummerSlam pay per view.
It is possible that Baron Corbin cashes in his Money in the Bank contract, and it would be a major surprise if Corbin cashes in for the Universal title and moves to Raw (which would also allow John Cena a reason to follow him), but ending the second most important PPV with Corbin as the last man standing is a risk.
Lesnar winning the match and keeping the Universal title would be a genuine surprise, as well as allow the WWE to have its world champion in one of the most relevant headlines of the summer as UFC teases a Lesnar-Jon Jones fight.
In other news…
• At the age of 73, Terry Funk is returning to the wrestling ring.
Fans will never be able to see baseball legend Ted Williams take another swing or Wayne Gretzky score a meaningful goal, yet they can witness Funk climb inside the ropes again this September.
“I’m back doing what I love,” said Funk, who will be wrestling in two “Rock, Funk, and Roll” six-man tag matches with the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express against Jerry “The King” Lawler, Brian Christopher, and Doug Gilbert for the Big Time Wrestling promotion on Friday, September 22 at the Dorton Arena in Raeleigh, North Carolina, as well as on Saturday, September 23 at the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium in Spartanburg, South Carolina. “I’m really honest about this, I don’t need the money.”
Funk, who was raised by the legendary Dory Funk, admitted that wrestling still runs in his blood supply.
“My father, who was 54 at the time, beat him. He sat down beside me and said, ‘Wasn’t bad for an old man, was it?’ Then he got up and left the room and went out the front door. About 15 minutes later, my wife came to me and said, ‘Your father is out on the front porch and thinks he’s having a heart attack.’ Sure enough, he was, and he passed away. He passed away doing what he loved. I certainly don’t want to pass away, but I’m doing what I love. And so what if I’m doing it in my 70s? I know this is hard for some people to understand, but I still think I can kick ass. This love of wrestling has been in my family with my dad, my brother, and myself. To this day, it’s what I love.”
Funk reiterated that he is not re-entering a wrestling ring to die, but rather to live.
“I don’t want to die,” said Funk. “The last thing I want to do is go in a wrestling ring with a bunch of people watching. I’d rather it be somewhere high up on a mountain. I don’t need any fans there for that.”
Wrestling, Funk explained, is unlike any other professional sport or form of pastime.
“It’s very special and different from every other form of entertainment,” said Funk. “I’m blessed from being around my father and his knowledge, and blessed from being around a bunch of wonderful guys for many, many years.”
As for his upcoming opponents, Funk is thrilled to have the chance to wrestle Jerry “The King” Lawler again.
“Lawler sure is different,” said Funk. “I love sharing my moments with people that I made money with. I used to love to wrestle on the same card as him, and I’m back to doing what I love.”
Funk also expressed his gratitude for the wrestling fans that have supported him over the past five decades.
“The crowd is everything in my life,” said Funk. “I just love the fans, and I also have a lot of respect for them. They’ve given me everything I have in my life. They’ve given me my house. They gave me my ranch when I had a ranch; don’t have one now, I sold the damn thing, but I shouldn’t have because if went up in value.
“It’s the wrestling fans who’ve done that, and nobody else, and I understand that. I more than appreciate them, I love ‘em. I’ve got all the time in the world for them. I’ll be with them until midnight if they want; if they want an autograph, I’ll give them one.”
Funk momentarily paused and asked himself whether or not he could still compete in the ring.
“I don’t know if I can kick some ass or not, I don’t know if I can get my foot up that high,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll bet I can. I’ve been working out hard at it, and one more time is all I want.”
• EVOLVE owner and creator Gabe Sapolsky connected with Sports Illustrated on the precipice of EVOLVE 90 and 91. Sapolsky, who worked directly for Paul Heyman in ECW and was the creative genius behind the booking that helped Ring of Honor garner an international reputation, also handles the creative for EVOLVE. Sapolsky sees greatness, like he did with Daniel Bryan and Dean Ambrise, for 20-year-old Austin Theory.
“This will be a very interesting weekend for the duo of Austin Theory and Priscilla Kelly,” said Sapolsky. “It is their second weekend together as an act. They are both only 20-years-old and have the ‘It’ factor. That’s an intangible you can’t manufacture, but it’s a quality that you must develop to be a star. I don’t want to put too much pressure on them, because I want them to be able to make mistakes and grow, but the act is becoming an important part of EVOLVE. This Saturday at EVOLVE 91 in Queens, New York will be really interesting. It’s Theory vs. one of the U.K.’s best in Mark Haskins. I’m looking forward to how Theory does in there with the more experienced and accomplished international wrestler in Haskins.”
EVOLVE is also in Joppa, Maryland this Friday and features a match between Theory against Jason Kincaid.
“This is an important match for both of them,” said Sapolsky. “They are both EVOLVE regulars and I’m hoping they can climb the card against each other. One of my favorite parts of being involved in creative is watching talent grow and develop. The great thing about independent wrestling is that fans can watch these young prospects become main eventers. The journey is the best part. This weekend could be the start of it for Theory and Kelly.”
• Conrad Thompson will discuss SummerSlam 1996 on Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard in this week’s podcast, which breaks at noon this Friday. Thompson was asked if the summer of ’96 marked the period of time when Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation began to freefall in its battle against WCW.
“I don’t know if this is a freefall, but it is a time when the competition was about to pass Vince,” said Thompson. “This is the same month that Hulk Hogan would win the WCW world title as a heel and spray paint ‘NWO’ on the belt after the Giant dropped it to him. Then WCW had the whole Sting angle, which gave us ‘The Crow’, and they were off to the races. So the NWO was starting to get hot, and the WWE was trying to push the envelope with a bikini contest on the free-for-all before SummerSlam. ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin is coming off his King of the Ring win, and they’re hoping to program him with Bret Hart, but we won’t know until the fall if Hart will re-sign. There was also the issue of needing a big, nasty heel to battle Shawn Michaels, and they wanted it to be Vader. That seemed to go sideways, so they turned to Mick Foley, who gave us a main event at Mind Games with Shawn Michaels at the next pay per view that was one of the most underrated pay per views of all-time.”
A key moment at the ‘96 SummerSlam was Paul Bearer turning on The Undertaker during his Boiler Room Brawl against Foley, who was working as Mankind,
“This was a pretty eventful show,” said Thompson. “I can’t say it’s when the free fall starts, as ‘94 and ‘95 were down years, but it didn’t feel as down because they were still number one. Now, they’re no longer number one, their competitive juices started to flow, and we would have a great time watching for the next 24-36 months.”
Thompson and Prichard will arrive in New York for live shows on Saturday, August 19 and Sunday, August 20.
“The Saturday show is already sold-out, but the Sunday is must see,” said Thompson. “Sunday is going to sell out, so you should come check us out. We have our inbox filling up with people who want to make special guest appearances at the show, and we’re going to pull out all the gimmicks and talk a lot about the history of the WWF in New York, specifically the ‘88 and ‘98 SummerSlams. You’ll get a little bit of the ‘Golden Era’, a little of the ‘Attitude’, and some of the stories we can’t tell anywhere else, like which McMahon is the most fun to smoke weed with, and many more that we can’t talk about that on the real podcast. Tickets are on sale at www.boxofgimmicks.com.”
• WWE has its next great heel in Jason Jordan. The storyline with Jordan as Angle’s estranged son is generating only boos from audiences in North America. Yet the opportunity to have the beloved Angle forced to support his villainous son could potentially save the entire angle.
“I’ll share an exclusive,” said Cordeiro. “My goal was always to get to 100,000 subscribers on youtube.com/beyondwrestling, which is our free YouTube channel, and I wanted to get to the point where all of our shows were available for free. I’m still working out the details, but by next February’s Under Construction event, we’re going to be streaming all of our events.”
Cordeiro noted that, to the best of his knowledge, the only other independent wrestling channels with a larger subscriber base are Ring of Honor and WhatCulture Pro Wrestling, neither of which is a true indie like Beyond. Despite new restrictions that have affected pro wrestling companies, Cordeiro has no plans to take his content off YouTube.
“YouTube is the number one video platform in the world, and we’re going to stick with that for our paid channel and our free one,” he said. “We’re not going to abandon a free YouTube channel that we started in 2009 just because the ad money isn’t coming in any more, and we certainly urge people to subscribe to both as they will each have exclusive content.”
Beyond Wrestling stands alone on the indie scene because of Cordeiro’s ability to book talent on the precipice of superstardom.
“The reason we stay a step ahead of everyone else is because that has always been our entire purpose,” said Cordeio. “A lot of companies think they’ll be the next WWE or even the next Ring of Honor, but I am comfortable with our position in the world of professional wrestling as a launch pad. We’re here to identify those who are overlooked, underutilized, or on the verge of something very special.”
Beyond’s next show is this Sunday just outside of Boston in Somerville, Massachusetts, which is the first of a day-night doubleheader with Progress Wrestling out of the United Kingdom. Cordeiro has only one match announced going into the show, which is Donovan Dijak in his final Beyond match against Progress’ Walter, and the rest of the card will be a surprise.
“Wrestling, to me, is all about expectations,” said Cordeiro. “One of the reasons fans criticize the WWE so much is because a lot of the scenarios they can come up with at home are not only feasibly but also more interesting than what WWE comes up with. If there is no card announced, expectations can run wild, which could be a little dangerous, but we have earned a reputation where we deliver and fans have faith in us. I just want to surprise our fans.
“I was hesitant to even announce Dijak vs. Walter, but Dijak really wanted to let people know this was going to be his final match for Beyond Wrestling. I wanted to have people think Americanrana was going to be his final match, then surprise people in Somerville when Dijak came out. But Donovan doesn’t want people to miss his match with Walter, which is one he is really looking forward to having. The show is going to be full of surprises and will have one of our most stacked lineups.”
Cordeiro, who also runs the Championship Melt food truck in Providence, Rhode Island, is thrilled to bring a genuinely exciting brand of wrestling to a growing audience.
“We’re not just limited to New England, as we’re doing what we can to reach a worldwide audience,” said Cordeiro. “But I live in New England, and I love New England, and I’ve always wanted to bring the type of wrestling I love to New England on a consistent basis, but that doesn’t mean we can’t share it with the rest of the world.”
• In addition to working as Global Force Wrestling’s tag team champions as part of LAX, EYFBO’s Mike Draztik and Angel Ortiz, are still performing on the indies and delivering some of the best tag team matches in the country.
“The learning never ends in professional wrestling,” said the 26-year-old Draztik. “There is always so much new to learn, and it’s a true blessing that we are able to also work the indies against top guys across the world. The way you get better is working better people and different styles.”
The pair has worked for the past decade, including the past six as EYFBO, which stands for Entertaining Your F------ Balls Off.
“We used to do backyard wrestling together in New York City,” said Ortiz, 30. “We became cool with each other through that. We each separately decided to take wrestling seriously and go to wrestling school; I went to school in Long Island and he went to school in Staten Island. Four years in, we met back up and started tagging, and here we are.
“We’re on the quest to be the best. We’re in a unique position where we get to work on TV and still get to work the indie side, so it’s dope to build a television presence while working toward becoming elite on the indie scene.”
Draztik and Ortiz are pursuing wrestling superstardom as a tag team, and both shared that they would be grateful to one day work for California-based independent PWG (“They haven’t knocked on our door yet,” said Ortiz, “but we’d love it.”).
“We want to be part of everything,” said Draztik. “That’s the main thing in professional wrestling; we want to learn from everyone and take the good from the good. We want to be one of those tag teams that you think of when you think of tag team wrestling.”
• “The Machine” Brian Cage just returned from a tour of Japan, and the powerhouse took Pro Wrestling Noah’s Katsuhiko Nakajima to the limit in a match for the Global Honored championship.
“My title match with Nakajima was the match of my career,” said Cage, who wrestled Ring of Honor’s Jonathan Greshman at a Beyond Wrestling show in Worcester, Massachusetts last weekend. “I’m actually going on a cruise with [girlfriend] Melissa [Santos, from Lucha Underground], and it’s a little vacation for us. I’ve been training hard, but I’m going to eat like a fat kid during the cruise. After that, the diet goes back into effect. Then I debut in Germany vs. Trevor Lee on August 12, and I’ll also have a first-time match-up with Scorpio Sky.”
Cage is one of the most unique talents in wrestling, as his muscular look is juxtaposed with his versatile skill-set in the ring.
“One of my idols in wrestling, Chris Kanyon, who later became a good friend, had such an innovative offense,” said Cage. “That is also my goal in wrestling. Adding new moves adds spice to a match. When I walk out of the curtain, my look separates me, but I also want to differentiate myself with my moves. I don’t want to be another technical guy or another powerhouse. I want people to say, ‘Holy sh--, Brian Cage is a machine! The sh-- he does is inhuman.’”
Cage will be featured on the remaining Lucha Underground episodes for season three, and he is also waiting on an announcement for season four. He has more goals in mind for the next calendar year.
“There are avenues I want to cross in 2018,” said Cage. “New Japan is a major goal on my list, and Ring of Honor is the only company I’ve never worked with in the United States. TNA has this loose agreement with AAA–John Morrison and Taya are worked the [GFW] house shows – so new possibilities exist.
“I’ve never worked with JT Dunn, so that’s someone I’d like to wrestle, but my all-time dream match is against AJ Styles. Obviously he’s in The Fed right now, so it will be a little more complicated to have that match now, but I think he’s one of the best in the world.”
• This week's Lucha Underground preview features Pentagon Dark taking on El Texano in the Cuerto Cup.
New Japan’s Bullet Club also generated some attention this past week on social media, as Astrid Wuehr, of Munich, Germany, posted photos of her custom-made Bullet Club legos.
“I love the challenge to make them look as much as the real wrestlers despite the size and the proportions,” said Wuehr. “A few months ago I stopped using Lego hair pieces and instead started to sculpt all hair pieces/beards with polymer clay to make them look more accurate.”
Wuehr has even heard back from many of Bullet Club on social media.
“Actually I heard back from the majority of the wrestlers I made in Lego form,” said Wuehr. “They either liked, retweeted, or even commented in a positive way. Some even follow me on Twitter and Instagram which is still kind of surreal to me. It’s amazing and a huge motivation to continue.”
• In honor of the upcoming 30th anniversary of SummerSlam, the Week in Wrestling will be recounting some of the pay per view’s most memorable moments. In a prior interview with SI.com, Kurt Angle recounted his experience from his concussion-filled SummerSlam 2000:
“Triple H led me through that match,” said Angle, who was in a triple threat match with Triple H and The Rock. “As far as being a wrestler, he’s up there in the top ten. His working capability is phenomenal, and he has the ability – and very few can do this – to adapt to any situation. The only ones I’ve known that could do that are Austin, Undertaker, and Triple H. If something tragic happened, they adapted so fast.
“When I got my concussion at SummerSlam , Triple H did so much for me in that match. When I went through that table, I was out. Stephanie [McMahon] brought me back out. When we got back to the ring, I asked her, ‘What do I do?’ And she said, ‘When Rock’s foot hits the rope, pull him out.’ So I grabbed him by the foot out the ring, and then looked at Stephanie. And she said, ‘Throw him into the steps!’ So I throw him into the steps, and then she said, ‘Get the hell in the ring!’ There was a spot where he was going to hit me with his sledgehammer, but I had the concussion and, at the point, didn’t even know I was out there. My mind was blank. I came to two hours after the pay-per-view.
“There was a spot where Triple H was going to hit me with the sledgehammer, and he put his hand on my head and made sure I ducked so he could hit Rock with the sledgehammer. If you watch it over, you’ll see that I was clueless, but he was looking out for me the whole match. They literally had to walk me through every step of the match to make sure I was safe. I don’t remember any of it, but for them it must have been a nightmare. Triple H is one of the best I’ve ever seen.”
• Al Snow connected with SI.com for his weekly advice column, Inside Al's Head, and discussed the reasons that Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar work so well together.
“Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar work so well together as a team for the same reasons that the Grand Wizard and ‘Superstar’ Billy Graham worked so well together,” said Snow, who just launched his new clothing brand, Collar x Elbow. “Graham was the muscle and could talk on his own, but the Wizard was there to add that extra piece. It’s very similar to Brock and Paul, who grew up a fan of the Grand Wizard. Brock is such a physically impressive wrestler, and then you’ve got Paul Heyman, who is so adept in his ability to talk people into the building and into the seats to watch Brock Lesnar. Honestly, both could do it on their own, but they’re stronger together than they are apart. They make for an incredible act. Paul is the heat and Brock is the heater; it works perfectly.”
Snow also worked as a manager in TNA, and he shared that managing excited him due to the ability to help tell a story in a different way.
“A manager is a supporting role,” said Snow. “You’re not the star and you’re not supposed to be the star. You’re there to highlight and to elevate the in-ring talent. In a lot of cases, the manager is also the mouthpiece. Managing was a different role for me, and I did something off a knockoff of John Tolos, who played The Coach in WWE and managed ‘Mr. Perfect’ Curt Hennig, by using the whistle. But there is no such thing as a brand new idea. John Tolos took that idea from Norvell Austin, who used to come out with the whistle, and he was part of the original Midnight Express, which was Dennis Condrey, Randy Rose, and Austin.
“I’ve always appreciated Bobby Heenan, Paul Heyman, Jim Cornette, Freddie Blassie, and the Grand Wizard. They all played an integral role, and managing made me appreciate them even more. It’s challenging to be in that spot. You don’t do anything to overshadow the in-ring talent; you always do everything you can to accentuate the in-ring talent while, at the same time, remaining a demonstrative character but never putting the spotlight where it doesn’t belong.”
Tweet of the Week
Orton makes a good point… and it has been a very eventful year for Orton following his main event last year at SummerSlam with Lesnar.