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
SummerSlam is only two days away from its 30th anniversary, which will be celebrated at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
The two most anticipated matches at this year’s SummerSlam are the WWE title match between champion Jinder Mahal and former three-time IWGP heavyweight champion Shinsuke Nakamura, as well as the Fatal 4-Way for the WWE Universal title featuring champion Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Brain Strowman, and Samoa Joe. In addition to the title on the line, there is the added caveat that Lesnar and his advocate Paul Heyman have promised to vanish from WWE programming if Lesnar loses his title without being pinned or forced to submit.
And the champions are favored to retain.
Professional oddsmaker Jim Murphy of sportsbettingexperts.com has released the latest prop bets and odds for SummerSlam, which has Mahal (-130) and Lesnar (-170) as favorites in their matches.
“Odds for pro wrestling is different than a sporting event, as you’re not handicapping the event itself so much as you are the behind-the-scenes mechanisms,” said Murphy. “We look at the contract situations, injuries, and who’s taking time off for movies.”
The narrative on WWE programming has continued to repeat that Lesnar is unlikely to walk away from the match as champion. Yet the Barclays Center advertised on Wednesday that Lesnar would be appearing Raw as the Universal champion, which actually swung the betting odds in Lesnar’s favor.
“With the main event, specifically, there has been a lot of talk about Brock Lesnar going back to the UFC for one more fight, but the Barclays Center advertised Lesnar as the being the Universal champion and appearing on Monday Night Raw, and then they deleted it,” said Murphy. “That may have been an honest mistake, so I’m not so sure that is a spoiler, but I do think he retains the title.”
WWE needs a more sustained presence from its world champion, beginning with weekly television appearances and actual title defenses, so the question is who of Reigns, Strowman, and Joe best fits the current vision of WWE’s Vince McMahon. From everything I have heard from WWE contacts close to the situation, Strowman is the favorite to leave SummerSlam with the title.
Additional storylines to monitor include Baron Corbin’s response after failing to successfully cash in his “Money in the Bank” contract, as well as whether John Cena will interject himself into the Universal title match as he prepares to transition from SmackDown Live back to Raw.
Mahal is likely to hold onto his world title for two reasons. First, Nakamura has not gained enough momentum with the overall WWE audience since his post-WrestleMania 33 debut, and secondly, the company is intent on building Mahal as a major face of its company abroad.
Life for a champion in pro wrestling is akin to sand passing through an hourglass. All eyes are on the champion, but the moment is fleeting as soon as the title is lost. With that said, Jinder Mahal’s hourglass as champion will still have plenty of sand to spill by the time SummerSlam concludes. WWE has built Mahal as a conquering hero to audiences outside of the United States, and will continue to build around him as an integral component of their global expansion into India.
Ric Flair Q&A
Editor's note: This interview took place on Wed. Aug 9, before Flair's recent health scare. A source close to the Flair family provided us with this heath update earlier this week.
SI: A key part of your career was longevity. You were always able to vary your style and evolve. Your daughter, Charlotte, is extremely talented, but how does she continue to move forward as one of the top wrestlers in the world?
Flair: Ashley [Charlotte] needs to continue to work hard, continue to give the best performance she can every night, and just know–with no doubt in her mind–that she is the best already. Sometimes, I can’t believe she is my own daughter. She is so much better than me.
SI: Wrestling is often a cutthroat and insensitive business, and your daughter overcame significant obstacles on her way to becoming a star in WWE.
Flair: Well, her story is incredible, because she had so many things working against her. Number one, she is Ric Flair’s daughter. Number two, she went to college and got an education. She was a Division-One athlete and played a Division-One sport in volleyball, and she was already making money with her own business before she got in the business. But it’s all worked out for her. She found her passion. I have no problem saying this, she is their anchor, she’s the best.
SI: The original SummerSlam in 1988 featured a tag team main event with Hulk Hogan and WWF champion “Macho Man” Randy Savage at Madison Square Garden in New York. Was the original plan was to have Savage defend his championship against the newly-acquired “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, who was the five-time and reigning NWA world heavyweight champion?
Flair: It’s true. I was on my way to work for Vince and wrestle Savage at the Garden. My contract was up and Vince McMahon had been in touch with me. But I decided my best move was to remain in the NWA because I was so attached to my friends in the Four Horsemen. I thanked McMahon for the offer. I just couldn’t get myself to leave,” said Flair. “I was too attached to my friends down there and too loyal to the NWA. Ultimately, it worked out, and I ended up working for Vince later. I respected Vince so much for asking me, but at that point, I just could not find a way to leave.
SI: As we discussed, longevity was an important piece to your career. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady just turned 40. What advice do you have for Brady?
Flair: First of all, I met Tom Brady a couple of years ago, and he was a respectful, phenomenal guy. I didn’t even expect him to know who I was, and he went out of his way to come over and introduce himself to me. The number one thing to his success is God looking out for him and keeping him healthy, but he trains hard and works hard. He takes care of his body and doesn’t party a lot. For those who want to be successful in sports, you have to put in the time at the gym. My whole life, even if I was out all night and no matter how much I drank, I always worked out before I did anything. That contributed to a lot of my success, and it kept me very healthy.
SI: You treated your career with the dignity and respect of any professional athlete, and you are now finally receiving mainstream sports coverage. Most notably, your ESPN ’30 for 30’ premieres on November 7. How much does this media coverage mean to you? Also, looking back on your career, do you have regret?
Flair: I’m thrilled about it, but yes, I had one vice. I’m not going to point my finger at anybody else. My vice was drinking. I didn’t have any pain issues, addiction problems, marijuana, cocaine, nothing like that. I dealt with the fact that I kept myself up all night and had a good time, but I never put a good time ahead of my personal loyalty to myself or working out. I never had a great body, but I was always in the best shape.
SI: Who is your favorite athlete?
Flair: Where do you want me to start? I’ve personally met LeBron James and Michael Jordan, and I’ve also become close with Julio Jones. I have so much respect for athletes today. I travel and spend so much time on the road, but the one guy I love to death and have never met is Tiger Woods. He’s going through a tough time right now, but somehow I feel Tiger will come back. He’s that great. With all due respect to these other greats, like Rory [McIlroy], there will only be one Tiger Woods. 14 Majors and a national championship at Stanford University? I’m predicting his comeback, and golf is hoping it happens. I’ve got to know so many other athletes, even more recently. I’m having a great time with all of it. It’s a mutual respect for each other, and I’m thankful they think of me as an athlete and even possibly someone to help motivate them.
In other news…
• Ring of Honor’s Jay Lethal threw out the ceremonial first pitch last Wednesday before the Tampa Bay Rays hosted the Boston Red Sox. Lethal is now one of the top wrestlers in the world, and he first gained notoriety with his incredibly accurate portrayal of Ric Flair.
“Flair would actually say, ‘The kid does me better than I do myself,’” Lethal told
Sports Illustrated. “That whole thing came about during a trip to the U.K. We all went out on one of the off days, and then I unleashed this Flair impression. It became the highlight of the U.K. trip. When we got back, [referee] Earl Hebner loved it the most since he knew Flair so well. Then, one day, Hebner said, ‘Guess who’s coming?’ It was Flair himself.
“Flair loved it. Sometimes he’d bring people to the show with him just to hear me do the impression. He’d call me out of the locker room just to hear me do the impression. He’d call me up on the phone just to hear me do the impression. He really did love it.”
• Today’s podcast of Something to Wrestle with Bruce Pricharddelves into the career of Scott Hall, and co-host Conrad Thompson noted that he and Prichard were excited to discuss the “Bad Guy”.
“A lot of people forget how long Scott Hall was around the business,” said Thompson. “He was in Jim Crockett Promotions for a while. Then he went to the AWA and finally landed in WCW, which is when Diamond Dallas Page helped him shape the Diamond Studd persona. A lot of the Razor Ramon character started with the Diamond Studd.”
An integral component of the podcast will be Hall’s success, beginning in 1992, in the World Wrestling Federation.
“We’ll go all the way to the end of his run as Razor Ramon, which is when we’ll see the bulk of our story,” said Thompson. “A lot of people credit Hall making his decision to leave for WCW as the catalyst for change in the way contracts were handled, as well as the jumping-off point for the biggest boom period in wrestling with the ‘Monday Night Wars’, NWO, and ‘Attitude Era’. That all started with Hall’s jump, and we’ll tell the full ‘Curtain Call’ story from that night, as well as the rumor and innuendo from the Goldust situation, specifically with the idea that Goldust was supposed to fight Hall at WrestleMania XII and not Roddy Piper. We’ll also get into all of the stories about the Kliq and holding people, like Shane Douglas, down. Scott Hall was the elder statesman of the Kliq, and we’ll discuss whether his bad reputation was deserved or an excuse from guys who didn’t achieve the success they were looking for.”
Thompson and Prichard will be in New York City for live shows on Saturday and Sunday from the Gramercy Theatre.
“I’m looking forward to talking about SummerSlam ’88 and SummerSlam 98,” said Thompson. “Austin and Undertaker, two of the hottest stars in the business, didn’t have as much heat in ’98 as the ladder match between The Rock and Triple H. It was certainly a different style ladder match than what we’d see from the Hardys, and this was a match that elevated both guys.
“We’re going to hit on a lot of SummerSlam memories, and we’re going to hit on SummerSlam in New York. There is so much history between the McMahons and New York, with so many big moments, including The Undertaker tombstone-piledriving Triple H down the escalator at Penn Station. The first time Austin gave McMahon a stunner was in New York, too. New York was McMahon’s measuring stick, and we have more material for these New York shows than we’ve had for any other show so far.”
• SummerSlam is WWE’s signature event of the summer, but for many wrestling fans, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Climax is the highlight of July and August.
New Japan’s Tetsuya Naito defeated Kenny Omega in the finals of the 27th G1 Climax this past weekend, and AXS TV will air the top matches for the most grueling tournament in all of professional wrestling. Jim Ross will call the action beginning tonight at 8pm ET, which includes Kota Ibushi vs. Tetsuya Naito, as well as Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
• Lucha Underground head writer Chris “DJ” DeJoseph shared his excitement regarding this week’s episode on El Rey Network, as well as discussed the backstory behind the Hulk Hogan-Shawn Michaels match from SummerSlam 2005, which took place during his time on the WWE creative team.
“There are big things in store for tonight,” said DeJoseph. “We have the two semi-final matchups as we head into the finals of the Cueto Cup, which are Mil Muertes vs. Pentagon Dark and Prince Puma vs. Phoenix. Those matches definitely bring it, and there will be continuation in the gauntlet storyline with Catrina. Also, the end of the show involves Rey Mysterio and Johnny Mundo, and it is something you don’t want to miss.”
DeJoseph also wrote for the WWE, and noted that his favorite SummerSlam moment came from his time on the creative team during the build to Hulk Hogan vs. Shawn Michaels at SummerSlam 2005.
“I have really fond memories of the summer with Hogan and Michaels,” said DeJoseph. “That was such a huge, epic match. I have great memories about the storyline and the behind-the-scenes of why certain things happened.”
Hogan defeated Michaels, but the “Heartbreak Kid” created a lasting image in the match by dramatically overselling and mocking Hogan’s offense.
“Shawn overselling bumps was amazing,” said DeJoseph. “It was such great entertainment, and that really came down to the fact that Hogan was not originally supposed to win that match. So Shawn thought it would be a little bit of fun, since Hogan was going to go over, to show just how powerful the Hulkster was.”
• Drew McIntyre main-events this Saturday’s NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn at the Barclays as he challenges Bobby Roode for the NXT championship.
McIntyre was released by WWE in 2014, then rejuvenated his career under his real name of Drew Galloway on independents across the globe, as well as TNA. Former WWE and TNA writer David Lagana shot exclusive footage, including a noteworthy phone call from Paul “Triple H” Levesque, in this Galloway documentary.
“Hulk Hogan sucked me in to the world of professional wrestling,” said Karpeles. “He was a gateway drug between superheroes and the WWF. In my early childhood, I was content to cheer on the Hulkster as he took on the monster of the week. That all changed after SummerSlam 1991 when I watched Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect. This match was the first time I fully understood wrestling as a competitive art form, and it ensured I would be a fan for life. If you haven’t seen Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect then you haven’t seen Shakespeare the way it was meant to be played.”
Paul Heyman mentioned during his promo on Raw that he does not offer predictions, only spoilers. Gillberg, however, was willing to share his prediction for this Sunday’s Fatal 4-Way Universal championship match between Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, and Samoa Joe:
“Brock will lose the Universal title,” said Gillberg. “My prediction is that Roman Reigns will win by pinning Braun, while Joe and Brock will be fighting on the outside. Personally, I want Brock to smash them all.”
Tweet of the Week
Am I the only one who cannot believe that the President of the United States is a WWE Hall of Famer?
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.