Week in Wrestling: Examining the Mayweather-McGregor ‘work’ & Bobby Roode’s future in WWE
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
In Feb. 1989, Vince McMahon stood in front of the New Jersey State Senate and stated that professional wrestling was “an activity in which participants struggle hand-in-hand primarily for the purpose of providing entertainment to spectators rather than conducting a bona fide athletic contest.”
In other words, pro wrestling is fixed. The outcomes are pre-determined because the matches are all a work.
Now can the same be said for the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight from this past weekend?
The fight delivered. Mayweather defeated McGregor in the tenth round, avoiding the potential nightmare of a quick affair. Unlike Mayweather’s fight in May of 2015 against Manny Pacquiao which went 12 rounds but offered scarce action, this past Saturday’s fight was full of action. McGregor somehow landed more punches against Mayweather, with 111, than Pacquiao did at 81 in their May ‘15 fight.
On the surface, the fight appeared to protect McGregor, who was never knocked off his feet and went 10 rounds with an undefeated world-class boxer, as well as allowed Mayweather to move his record to a remarkable 50-0.
This is not to question that the fight was fixed or that the punches were not authentic, but an abundance of questions remain unanswered after the fight.
For starters, how many professional boxing fights ever take place without the boxers throwing any body shots?
A boxer always wants his opponent to drop his hands, and that is best accomplished by punching someone in the ribs. Mike Tyson was famous for his right hook to the body, followed by an uppercut to bring up the chin, then a knockout shot to his opponent with a left hook to the head. McGregor was a novice in comparison to Mayweather, but this sport was far from an unknown to him; boxing is part of his MMA fight camp training. Mayweather, of course, is one of the greatest ever. So why would neither McGregor or Mayweather throw any shots to the body?
The fight also included the rare sight of Mayweather actually turning his back on McGregor during the eighth round, which never happens in pro boxing. There was almost no foot movement for Mayweather, who continually stayed in the pocket despite the fact that his skilled foot movement helped make him one of the greatest boxers of all-time. McGregor even threw multiple hammer fists to the back of Mayweather’s head, which are illegal in pro boxing. Mayweather backed up and moved sideways in round three, which is absurd for a boxer of his talent, and he even admitted that he fought a style that he rarely ever has in terms of attacking. Was Mayweather confident that, no matter how he fought, he would win the fight?
Mayweather guaranteed that the fight would not go the distance. He personally ensured with an onslaught of punches in the ninth and tenth rounds that caused a referee stoppage to end the fight. If you truly are a conspiracy theorist, it is also interesting to note that the fight before Mayweather-McGregor ended in a referee stoppage. Is it possible that was done in an effort to “smarten up” the crowd before the referee would also stop the Mayweather-McGregor fight?
Boxing has its share of issues, particularly in attracting mainstream sports fans. Yet this fight was action-packed, featuring a constant stream of excitement. McGregor was also the perfect foil for Mayweather, as Mayweather–who was a part of WrestleMania 24 in a match against the Big Show–is a natural heel who had many people hoping that McGregor would knock him out. How did this fight deliver on all levels?
“Stealing money” is a wrestling term for a fight that looks like a shoot when it is actually a work, and it is also used when wrestlers do not put themselves at a physical risk or taking a ridiculous number of bumps. In wrestling, “stealing money” is far more of a compliment than an insult. Did Mayweather and McGregor “steal money” this past Saturday? Is that why Mayweather wore a ski mask to the ring and called this fight “easy money”?
After all, this encounter was proudly boasted as the “Money Fight”.
In the end for this particular fight, there were far more questions than answers.
An interesting development last week on SmackDown was the arrival of Bobby Roode to the SmackDown Live roster.
Roode is a major wild card for WWE.
Yes, his ring robes are flashy, and his “Glorious” entrance music will propel him to an elevated status with live audiences impatiently waiting for Roode to burst through the curtain.
Yet Roode is not AJ Styles in the ring or Kevin Owens on the mic. The key for Roode’s success is to figure out who Bobby Roode actually is. What is his voice? Who is he in the ring? The presentation is fantastic, but when the bell rings, can you describe Bobby Roode in a sentence or less?
If you cannot, then that is a major problem.
The key to a pro wrestler’s success is the ability to be their character from Point A to Point Z. Wrestling is all about selling a product, which is the wrestler, and the audience needs to know what it bought.
A few weeks ago, Al Snow described Steve Austin as a “beer-drinking, ass-kicking, redneck.” Austin was always the person who he sold to the audience. Roode does not yet have a recognizable, translatable character.
Roode is an exceptional in-ring talent, yet he does not have that definable character. The best case for Roode is to work his way into the main event, while the worst case scenario is to fall into a similar situation as Fandango.
Fandango had initial success as a singles wrestler courtesy of his theme song, but his character did not carry through from beginning to end. Roode would be well-served to study the career trajectory of Bubba Dudley, who is now Bully Ray in Ring of Honor. Dudley was defined solely as a tag team wrestler until he created Bully Ray in TNA, but became the top guy in TNA by owning his character. Bully was a bully on the mic, a bully backstage, a bully when the bell rang, and people completely understood what he sold them.
Keep your eyes open as we look to pinpoint Roode’s definable character.
In other news…
• Football season is kicking off, and Barstool Sports’ Dave Portnoy–better known to worldwide audiences as “El Pres”–connected with SI.com to compare the leadership abilities and visionary skills of WWE CEO Vince McMahon to that of the National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“Vince McMahon is part of an act,” said Portnoy. “His persona helps him sell tickets. Roger Goodell is, deep down, an evil person with an evil personality and is bad to the core.”
Portnoy began to vocalize his feelings after Goodell sentenced New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to a suspension last season over the controversial “Deflategate” situation. McMahon, Portnoy reasoned, is a far superior leader than Goodell because his agenda is solely designed to benefit his company.
“Vince McMahon has a clear agenda and vision of how to consistently sell out WrestleMania, while Goodell is capable of anything,” said Portnoy. “If you turn your back on him when there are only two people in the room and no cameras, and you could end up with a knife between your spine.”
Portnoy is leading the charge to distribute 70,000 Roger Goodell clown towels before the start of the Patriots’ season opener on September 7, which is a major undertaking.
“We have a storage facility about a mile away from the Patriots’ territory, and we have thousands of volunteers to help hand out the towels,” said Portnoy. “It is absolutely a logistical nightmare, and I am sure there will be a lot of screaming and yelling, and it will not go smoothly. This won’t be easy, and things are going to happen that will give me high blood pressure, but we’ll do the best we can.”
Portnoy’s Barstool is often criticized, yet is very quietly an extremely charitable organization, with notable contributions to victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon attack and ongoing contributions for a cure for ALS. The group also runs a wrestling podcast, Off The Top Rope, and Portnoy made a parallel between five-time Super Bowl champion Brady and a certain gold medalist in pro wrestling.
“Brady has a little Kurt Angle in him,” said Portnoy. “Angle is an American hero who won an Olympic gold medal, yet he got booed going to the ring. Most people also root against Tom Brady. They’re both winners, and they are both guys you can’t beat with their golden-boy American images.”
• Bruno Sammartino made headlines last week for his meeting with Bruno Mars.
The popular musician shared that his father nicknamed him “Bruno” because of his affection for Sammartino, who is one of the most legendary wrestlers in the history of the business.
“His dad was a big fan of me, and nicknamed his chubby baby after me,” shared the 86-year-old Sammartino. “When I met him, he said, ‘I thought you were going to be a big, fat wrestler.’ I said, ‘Big, fat wrestler? I always trained so hard!’ He said that he looked me up on the internet and learned more about me, but I brought a picture of myself in my prime at 275 pounds just to show Bruno Mars that I was not a big fat wrestler.”
The two Brunos met before Mars’ concert in Sammartino’s hometown of Pittsburgh last Tuesday.
“When Bruno Mars was coming to Pittsburgh, his manager connected us through the general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers,” said Sammartino. “I was told he really wanted to meet me, and that’s how it all got started. So we arranged for a meeting, and I must tell you, even though he is a popular fellow, I am not really familiar with him. When we met in person, I was extremely impressed. He seemed so humble and was so very respectful. He called up his father, who was ecstatic that his son met Bruno Sammartino, and I brought a replica of my belt to give to his dad.”
Sammartino just returned from a trip to his hometown of Abruzzo, Italy, where a statue in his honor was unveiled.
“They honored me with a huge statute, and they also built a medical center with a special wing for my mother in honor of her heroics during World War II,” said Sammartino, whose mother, Emilia Sammartino, courageously snuck into German-occupied towns and bravely return to her family, who were living in the Italian mountains of Valla Rocca. “I know what my mom went through during World War II to keep us alive, so seeing her honored was the highlight for me. It was important for me to go back, and I was grateful to go with my wife and son.”
• Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard celebrated a major achievement last week, as co-hosts Bruce Prichard and Conrad Thompson won the Sports Podcast of the Year from the Academy of Podcasters.
“I’ve always looked at my body of work behind the camera as what I’m most proud of, and the fact that people support us, download and listen to our show religiously is really and truly humbling,” said Prichard. “People have been loyal, passionate, and I could not believe we won the award. When my name was called, I sat there for a minute thinking, ‘Wait, which show won?’ Then I said, ‘Holy sh--.’
“I didn’t expect to win, especially with the caliber of shows that were announced in the category, and I was extremely surprised when our show was announced.”
Prichard and Thompson have redefined the podcast genre and were honored for their work last Wednesday at the Anaheim Marriott Convention Center.
“Conrad and I wanted to be different, but I’m surprised that it has become so popular with people,” said Prichard. “This all started with Conrad’s fascination with the stories I was telling him that brought it all together. I remember telling him that, whenever I’d meet new people, they’d always ask me, ‘What happened when?’ And that became the format of the show.”
Prichard, whose impressions of Vince McMahon are an incredibly popular part of the podcast, was asked how McMahon would respond to the news of Prichard’s award-winning podcast.
“Vince would have told me, ‘God damn, pal!’” said Prichard, with a crystal clear imitation of his longtime mentor and friend. “‘Good job!’”
Prichard lives in Friendswood, Texas, which is only 25 miles from Houston. Due to the wreckage of the surrounding area from Hurricane Harvey, this week’s podcast will be “The Best of Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard”.
“We never do guests, but we’ll be littered with guests this week,” said Thompson. “We’ve got some ‘best of’ clips from shows that have aired, and even a couple of clips from shows–like a Hakushi story that didn’t make the cut from the Razor Ramon episode, as well as a few DX clips that no one has heard before– that never aired.
“There will be never before heard content, celebrity guests, ‘best of’ clips, and no commercials. It’s all out of love for LoveforHouston.com, which is a forwarding domain that goes directly to the American Red Cross and 100 percent of the proceeds go to the Hurricane Harvey victims.”
• John Cena eviscerated Roman Reigns during their promo together on Raw. Cena dropped lines such, “Congratulations, it took you five years to cut a half-decent promo”; “I can do this part-time better than you can ever full-time”; “You took the U.S. title as a demotion”; and the devastating “I’m still here because you can’t do your job.”
The segment was not a shoot. Cena often works off bullet points instead of a traditional script, and Reigns blatantly forgot his line at one point during the promo. Reigns is going to need to be substantially better in the one-on-one promos with Cena, who took a major step during his feud with The Rock that effectively ran from WrestleMania 27 to WrestleMania 29.
Also, did anyone else feel some remorse during the promo for Kurt Angle? Angle was in the ring for the segment, and is possibly still a better in-ring performer than both Reigns and Cena, as well as desperately seeking a chance to return to action, but was relegated to the sidelines in this particular scene.
• Eddie Edwards made history this weekend by becoming the first foreigner–or gaijin–in Pro Wrestling NOAH history to win the GHC Heavyweight Championship.
“In 2005, I went over with a chance to train as a young boy with no promise of actually wrestling,” said the 33-year-old Edwards. “I was a fan. I always loved Japanese wrestling and Pro Wrestling NOAH was top of the class. So, to win the NOAH title 12 years later, it means so much to me. I started at the bottom, so to get here where I am is still pretty crazy.”
Edwards ended Katsuhiko Nakajima’s 308-day title reign on Saturday in Tokyo, Japan at Korakuen Hall. The finish transpired when Edwards was able to kick out of Nakajima’s brain buster finisher, while Nakajima managed to kick out of two of Edwards’ “Boston Knee Parties”. Edwards then debuted his new finishing maneuver called “Die Hard Flowsion,” which is a combination of his 2K1 bomb “Die Hard” finisher combined with the late NOAH founder and star Mitsuharu Misawa’s “Emerald Flowsion”.
“I wanted to pay respect to Misawa,” said Edwards. “He is the man who gave an unknown kid from the states a chance.”
Edwards noted that the honor behind wearing the GHC Heavyweight Championship had yet to sink in or feel real.
“Look at the list of former GHC heavyweight champions,” said Edwards. “To be mentioned in the same breath as Kenta Kobashi, Mitsuharu Misawa, Jun Akiyama, Naomichi Marufuji, Kenta, and the rest of their champions? My name is now on that list, I am now in the history books, and that gives me chills.”
Edwards, who is staying at a hotel near Tokyo in Suidobashi, celebrated the win with a big steak and ice cold Ebis beer.
“How else do you celebrate a big win?” asked Edwards, whose medium steak was through the middle with a perfect hint of red. “The whole thing has been surreal to me.”
Despite runs as world champ in both Ring of Honor and TNA, a constant throughout Edwards’ career is that wrestling promoters have always doubted his talent. Nevertheless, he refused to allow self-doubt to cripple his ability.
“I’ve just used it to push me,” said Edwards. “You just have to use the doubt, use that hate to push yourself to the next level. Getting to this point has been a long tough road but I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today if things went differently.”
Edwards’ first title defense has already been scheduled, and he will defend against three-time NOAH champ Naomichi Marufuji.
“I have extended my current stay through September 10,” reported Edwards. “And my next title defense will be happening October 1 in Yokohama against the one and only Marufuji.”
• Ring of Honor announced that the iconic Suzuki-gun leader Minoru Suzuki will face Cody Rhodes for the Ring of Honor championship in the main event of Death Before Dishonor XV in Las Vegas, Nevada on Friday, September 22.
Although ROH officials received criticism when Rhodes lost cleanly to IWGP champion Kazuchika Okada in July on New Japan’s television special on AXS TV, this match will mark Rhodes’ second opportunity–after already defeating Los Ingobernables de Japon stalwart Seiya Sanada in Liverpool, England during the War of the Worlds tour on August 19–to capture important wins over NJPW talent to help establish his run as champion.
For those wondering the result of last week’s Rhodes-Jerry “The King” Lawler match for the ROH title, Rhodes was victorious via a low blow and a roll-up.
• Tony Schiavone is returning to the wrestling broadcast booth at MLW’s One-Shot on October 5 in Orlando, Florida at Gilt Nightclub, and he will be calling the action with play-by-play man Rich Bocchini. Schiavone noted that he would be especially grateful if WWE Hall of Famer–and former Nitro broadcast partner–the “Living Legend” Larry Zbyszko joined in to call the action.
“Larry always entertained me,” said Schiavone. “He made me laugh, and I haven’t laughed in a long time. That’s a product of being married for so long; you just don’t laugh as much as you used to. Larry lives in Florida, we haven’t called a match together in so long, and I would love to see him.”
• Lucha Underground head writer Chris “DJ” DeJoseph shared some behind-the-scenes info before this week’s episode, which airs tonight on El Rey Network.
“We take another step in the development of the Son of Havoc-Son of Madness storyline,” said DeJoseph. “We’ll also further the story of Dario Cueto and Rey Mysterio, as well as the fall-out from Dario interfering in the Lucha Underground championship match this week.”
There are eight episodes remaining in season three, and DeJoseph assured wrestling fans that they will have the opportunity to witness the destruction of Matanza Cueto.
“Dario’s brother, Matanza, has been very concerned with Rey Mysterio,” noted DeJoseph. “Dario has told Matanza to calm his hunger for Mysterio, but it’s very possible that Dario has had a slight change of heart after what happened last week.”
• The international wrestling scene features stars largely unknown to the North American audience, with Vienna’s super heavyweight WALTER fitting perfectly in that description.
“Making it to WrestleMania has never been my dream,” said the 29-year-old Walter Hahn, who is 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds (or, as Walter will tell you, 146 kilograms). “My real dream in wrestling is teaming up with Stan Hansen and beating up Japanese babyfaces.”
The European big man does not have aspirations to work in the United States, though he has paid close attention to WWE’s working relationship with the United Kingdom-based Progress promotion.
“It’s amazing to think that WWE is working with the independents,” said Walter, who works dates throughout the year for Progress. “The indies are such a big part of the wrestling community, and Progress is a good fit for WWE because they are, by far, the best in the U.K. They are able to create a certain label and a certain feeling, which is very positive, when you watch them. WWE has been the boost to make Progress well-known everywhere.”
Walter was born in Austria but lived in Germany for the past ten years, and he is a coach and star with Westside Xtreme Wrestling in Germany.
“My main focus is with wXw,” said Walter. “We are building up that foundation for the future. I just wrestled in twelve different countries, which was also very exciting for me. I’m surprised that people in America know me. When I started up 10 years ago, the internet was such a small part of wrestling, but it grew into such a big community. wXw’s 16 Carat Gold Tournament had a really big buzz this year, and I am working with Progress, which is doing very well, so that has helped my exposure in different places around the world.”
Walter shared that he fell in love with wrestling as a boy when his father brought him to wrestling tournaments in Vienna.
“Later, I was playing goalkeeper in soccer and did well, but I had to make a decision and I turned futbol down,” he explained. “I saw a sticker on the street for a pro wrestling school, and did that instead.
“When I was watching a lot of All Japan, I loved the mix of drama and sports competition. I loved watching Stan Hansen and Kenta Kobashi, and they became my idols. When I began to watch matches, they helped me develop a certain style. But, really, you never stop learning. Wrestling Timothy Thatcher opened the door for me to do more technical stuff in matches, and helped bring more grappling into my wrestling. Everyone does the chain wrestling, but we do more of the straightforward grappling.”
For fans who want to see more of Walter, he is a part of PWG’s vaunted Battle of Los Angeles, beginning on September 1 in Reseda, California, and opens the tourney with a match against fellow heavyweight Keith Lee.
“For the future, my focus in on being at home, and WWE is a long way from home,” said Walter. “You never know which kind of opportunity will come up or the type of money you’ll be offered, but I love coming to the States and challenging myself with the best in the world and forcing myself to leave my comfort zone as a wrestler. To be fair, I also enjoy working town shows in Germany and entertaining people watching wrestling for the first time. I love all aspects of wrestling.”
• From the Territories: Longtime Japanese star Dick Togo, who worked for WWE, ECW, and Ring of Honor, spoke with SI.com and reflected back on his time with the Blue World Order, which mocked the New World Order, in ECW.
“I learned a lot in ECW,” said Togo, who debuted at the Barely Legal pay per view in April of 1997. “Mostly that the people were crazy.”
Togo worked with the bWo’s Stevie Richards, Super Nova, and Blue Meanie as one of the members of bWo Japan.
“I learned a lot from Paul Heyman,” said Togo. “I learned that there was no difference between wrestling in Japan and the U.S. I have a lot of memories of ECW, and I learned quickly that ECW was very exciting.”
Richards, Nova, and Meanie did an incredibly funny job of capturing the mannerisms of “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, and Kevin Nash, to the point where they won over hard-to-please crowds in the heart of Philadelphia. The bWo, Togo noted, has had fans in Japan.
“bWo was such a good team,” said Togo. “We started as the bWo in Japan with Taka Michinoku and Terry Boy, and the company was big into the act. They were very, very talented.”
• Stat of the week: The Miz just passed Razor Ramon to elevate himself to fifth on the list of most combined days spent as Intercontinental Champion. If Miz can hold onto the title next week, which is no easy task, considering he wrestles former four-time IC champ Jeff Hardy in a match that is appointment viewing next Monday on Raw–he will also pass Tito Santana to slip into the top four, trailing only Pedro Morales, Don Muraco, and the Honky Tonk Man.
• Al Snow’s weekly advice column, Inside Al's Head, discusses the recent controversy out of TripleMania this past Saturday when Sexy Star purposefully injured her opponent, GFW wrestler Rosemary, during their four-way match in Mexico City along with Ayako Hamada and Lady Shani.
“Sexy Star did not ‘shoot’ on Rosemary, she took advantage of her,” said Snow. “It’s happened plenty of times before, and even happened numerous times to me when I first started. But there is a reason why, in wrestling, we all shake each other’s hands and we all say thank to you each other: we need one another to make a living.
“Wrestling is a physical activity and tempers occasionally flare, and guys will get stiff in the ring and throw ‘potatoes’, which are punches with a little more intent, but you never go out of your way to injure somebody, especially in front of the audience.”
Sexy Star was hit with a stiff chair shot during her match, which was a four-way, then retaliated by releasing her aggression on Rosemary with a cross-arm breaker that dislocated her shoulder for the finish of the match.
“When another person willingly gives you their body, they are trusting you to not injure them,” said Snow. “Breaking that is the worst kind of sin. It doesn’t make you tough, it doesn’t you make a badass, it makes you an unprofessional coward. The number one rule in wrestling is you never violate that rule in the ring.”
Snow, who is also busy with his new Collar x Elbow clothing line, noted that true professionals handle their issues backstage.
“Sexy Star violated the very trust that every wrestler holds,” said Snow. “Everything we do is quite real; all the holds, all the bumps, everything has the potential to hurt you. The only thing that is fake is the intent behind what is done. When that intention changes without being communicating to the other person, you are violating that trust and acting in a cowardly fashion.”
Tweet of the Week
It’s difficult to imagine a Punjabi Prison match in any setting but our beloved pro wrestling.