Week in Wrestling: Bayley's plan to headline WrestleMania 35; GFW moves to Canada
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
WWE superstar Bayley is currently recovering from a separated right shoulder, but she has designs on re-entering the Raw women’s title picture as soon as she is cleared to compete. Yet she has grander plans than simply retaining the women’s championship.
“I plan on headlining WrestleMania by WrestleMania 35,” said Bayley. “I want a one-on-one match with Sasha Banks. A Fatal Four-Way with Sasha, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte would also be great some day at a WrestleMania.”
Bayley is 28-year-old Pamela Martinez and is a California native. She was extremely popular in NXT, with the NXT TakeOver: Brookyln match in 2015 against Banks standing out as the brightest moment of her nine-year career. She has encountered roadblocks throughout her WWE run, and has yet to reach anywhere near the level of popularity that recent female stars like Trish Status and Lita enjoyed. Bayley remains confident in her ability, and she is undeterred in her unwavering belief that she will cement herself as an unforgettable character in WWE history.
“For me, the only way I know how to do this is to be myself,” said Bayley. “I actually learned that from ‘The Dream’ Dusty Rhodes. I was trying to be this wrestler and I was trying to be cool, and Dusty literally told me, ‘You’ve got to be yourself.’ That’s really how Bayley started, and that is what brought me this far.”
Bayley was also thrilled to share that she will be a character in the WWE 2K18 video game, which will be available for purchase on Oct. 17.
“It’s really special for me because I’m really close with Seth Rollins, and he is on the cover,” said Bayley. “I was part of the game last year, and that was a huge accomplishment for me. I got a sneak preview of the game, and it’s so amazing.”
As for her shoulder, which was injured during a match against Nia Jax on the July 31 edition of Raw, Bayley noted that Rollins turned her onto CrossFit, which is helping her conditioning, core, and strength training.
“I started CrossFit before WrestleMania 33, and it’s helped my body get a lot stronger,” said Bayley. “Trying to take care of my separated shoulder is very painful. Going through the pain now is going to help me get in the ring faster, so it’s all worth it. This is what I love to do.”
In an update to last week’s story on Global Force Wrestling, the president of GFW–and Executive Vice President of Anthem Sports and Entertainment–Ed Nordholm spoke in an interview last Friday to Dave Meltzer and Bryan Alvarez of the Wrestling Observer.
During the interview, Nordholm explained that he has the most experience in helping failing businesses, which is why Anthem placed him in charge of GFW. The decision makes sense, as his background is in corporate restructuring, as well as mergers and acquisitions.
Nordholm also revealed that Anthem did not have a concrete business plan upon purchasing the company, and that different avenues are still being explored to generate more revenue. He also confirmed that the company is struggling to break even. Although Nordholm did not touch on this in the interview, GFW/Impact moved to Skyway Studios last summer and split production with their warehouse in Nashville, Tennessee. The warehouse in Nashville is now closed and all operations are based out of Canada in another cost-cutting measure.
SI also verified there were talks between Anthem and WWE regarding a sale of the tape library.
“I know full well how the WWE Network would monetize the content and what they could pay for the library,” Nordholm said to Meltzer and Alvarez. “It makes no sense for me to sell it for that kind of price. I’d rather keep it, put it up on the app, and monetize it myself.”
Global Force delivered a press release last week after the news broke that Jeff Jarrett was placed on indefinite leave from the company. SI reached out to Anthem for a statement, but was offered no comment.
The most noteworthy piece of the release announced the company’s plans to launch the Global Wrestling Network streaming service. The launch of the service, which will be available on web platforms as well as IOS and Android devices, is set for this Thursday, Sept. 14.
Sports Illustrated will continue to pursue the story as further details emerge.
In other news…
• John Cena and Roman Reigns continued their verbal jousting last night on Raw. In typical fashion, Cena pandered to the crowd to knock Reigns for all of his faults, both perceived and legitimate, to intensify the build to their match at No Mercy in two weeks.
Yet does anyone else feel the promos are far too forced and scripted?
• Jim Ross will be holding a virtual book signing of his autobiography “SlobberKnocker: My Life in Wrestling” on Thursday at 3pm ET. The signing will take place from Jim’s home in Norman, Oklahoma, as well as streamed to Jim’s Facebook account and available to view through FB Live. Readers may purchase a copy of the book at www.SlobberknockerBook.com and ask questions to be answered during the live event.
“I’m excited to invite fans for the first time into my home this Thursday,” said Ross, who just added an incredible soundtrack to last night’s Mae Young Class finale won by Kairi Sane. “It was there that my late wife Jan and I spent hours discussing our autobiography and the unlikely, albeit amazing, journey we’ve had in the most unique of careers.
“Join me Thursday afternoon for a special Facebook Live Signing, the official kickoff event for ‘SlobberKnocker’.”
• NXT champion Drew McIntyre shared with Sports Illustrated that he was present for Jinder Mahal’s WWE championship win in May at Backlash in Rosemont, Illinois.
“We had an NXT TakeOver the night before, so I was there the night he won the title,” said McIntyre. “Jinder is one of my best friends and was one of the groomsmen in my wedding.”
McIntyre, who worked with Mahal and Heath Slater in the comedic 3MB, refused to allow himself to hear the planned finish of the Randy Orton-Mahal match at Backlash for the WWE championship.
• AJ Styles made a surprise appearance this past Saturday at the NWA Wildside reunion show in Cornelia, Georgia.
Styles was a star with NWA Wildside from 1999-2005, which was, at one point, a developmental group for World Championship Wrestling.
Former NWA Wildside tag team champion Tank broke into the business with Styles, and articulated how the “Phenomenal One” was turning heads back at the turn of the century.
“The first time I saw him at NWA Wildside in October 20000, I watched him do a shooting star press from the top rope to the floor,” said Tank, who is Georgia native Warren Hullender. “I can usually spot talent, and the first time I saw AJ, I thought, ‘There is something special about this guy.’ I guess I was right.”
Tank, who just wrestled his retirement match three weeks ago against Matt Riddle, was impressed that Styles returned home to Georgia for the Wildside reunion show.
“AJ never forgot where he came from,” said Tank. “We thought there would be an AJ video package, but when I saw him walk into the office, I thought it was so cool. I marked out to it. My wife saw him walk in, so she knew he was there before I did, and she said, ‘Those people out there are going to go crazy.’ AJ came back for those people who supported Wildside for all those years. He was saying thank you to all the people who showed up that night.”
The 250 people in attendance at the Landmark Arena, formerly known as the Wildside Arena, which is an old elementary school gym, were electrified by the returning star.
“The building looks like a dump,” said Tank. “But when you get inside, it’s pure magic.”
• Perhaps you may not immediately recognize Eli Drake, but that is soon to change.
The 34-year-old is a 14-year veteran of the wrestling business, and he is also the newest Global Force Wrestling world champion after winning the title on the August 24 edition of Impact Wrestling in a 20-man gauntlet match.
Drake appears comfortable and confident as champion, and the secret to his success is straightforward: he has worked extremely hard to push himself to the top, and refuses to allow this opportunity to slip away.
“Once I heard the decision was made [to win the world title], I put a lot of extra pressure on myself to not relax or be complacent,” said Drake. “I actually started doubling up my workouts and I was in the ring two or three times a week extra just because I wanted my work in the ring, on the mic, and my conditioning to be second to none. If I’m going to be the face of the company, then I’m going to make sure I can go like nobody else.”
GFW/Impact is still working to rebrand its image, yet its list of former world champions, even recently with Kurt Angle and Drew Galloway, is quite distinguished. Drake plans to set a new tone for the company as world champ.
“I absolutely want to be seen as the tops in the business,” said Drake. “There is a level of competition, but I’m not looking specifically to compete with champions of other promotions. My focus is here, on me and my company. That is a giant uphill battle competing against the big dogs, but that is a challenge I like and a challenge I want.”
The GFW numbers have taken a hit with the return of the NFL, yet the shows have delivered some interesting content, including Drake’s feud with Johnny “Impact” Morrison, each Thursday on Pop TV.
“I don’t like to use that as an excuse,” offered Drake. “If we’re putting out a compelling product, then we should still have the eyeballs on our product. If you rewind about 20 years, and look at WWE in 1997, they were putting on a great product but nobody knew because WCW made such a loud noise via the NWO. It took WWE another year-and-a-half to make that big comeback, even though they were producing some great stuff with [Steve] Austin and DX.
“We just had the regime change months ago. There is the stuff we didn’t expect with Jeff [Jarrett] and Anthem, but growing pains are to be expected. I hold a lot of that burden on myself. I am the guy at the forefront of the company, and I want to make sure eyes are on us.”
Morrison is currently challenging Drake for the world title, yet the perfect foil for a long, compelling feud is destined to be the vastly talented EC3.
“As far as being able to duel on the microphone, carry a show in the ring, and being close in age [both are 34], it has to be EC3,” said Drake. “If I were to pick anybody out, it would be EC3.”
Drake was asked why wrestling fans should invest their time, energy, and money into GFW, and he shared that people who give the show a chance will not be disappointed.
“Eli Drake is a little bit of that old school flavor with a lot of the new school appeal,” said Drake. “You’re going to find a vast array of some very hard-hitting guys and girls in GFW, and with Eli Drake, you’re going to see a guy who can walk and talk, and it’s a very good time.”
• Jerry “The King” Lawler entered the wrestling podcast business with “Dinner with The King”, which is co-hosted by Cleveland sports personality Glenn Moore.
“Jerry and I have been friends for seven years,” said Moore, who is a former sports reporter for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and Cleveland.com. “I was doing a TV hit on the Cleveland Indians’ network before a Tribe game at the ballpark when I first met Jerry. We ended up chatting and hanging out, and before I knew it, Jerry was texting me every Monday that fall during Raw wanting updates on the Indians.”
Moore eventually traveled with Lawler to some of WWE’s pay per views, including the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania, and gradually persuaded Lawler to start his own podcast.
“Jerry was against doing a podcast, mainly because he doesn’t want to bother his friends by asking them to come on his show,” said Moore. “He’s actually warming up to having guests, though, because people are coming to us and asking to come on the show with Jerry.”
Last week’s show featured the legendary Bret Hart, who was a longtime rival of Lawler’s in the World Wrestling Federation in the mid-1990s.
“Jerry learned a lot from Bret about the behind-the-scenes part of that feud from Bret’s perspective,” said Moore. “Bret talked about his parents and their role handling the insults that Jerry threw at them. It was a pleasure to have Bret on the show.”
Moore noted that there are plans for more guests in the future, but their podcast, which is hosted by Moore’s podcast production company, Pod Avenue, is also unique because of Lawler’s Memphis wrestling tape library.
“We’re able to play that audio from Jerry’s feuds throughout the years in Memphis,” said Moore. “A lot of people think of Jerry as the guy who was shrieking about puppies, but he has a whole history in wrestling that we share.”
Today’s show, which was released at 8am ET, looks back at the five-year anniversary of Lawler’s cardiac arrest that happened during a live Raw.
“We’re going to have the doctor who kept Jerry alive, Dr. Michael Sampson, on the podcast,” said Moore. “Jerry had a lot of questions, because he didn’t remember a lot, so it’s going to be very interesting.”
• MLW president Court Bauer revealed last week’s on “The Steve Austin Show: Unleashed” podcast that women’s superstar Santana Garrett is the newest talent appearing at One-Shot, which takes place in Orlando on Oct. 5.
• Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard is back this Friday with a new podcast on “Double J” Jeff Jarrett.
“We’ll briefly touch on Jeff’s legacy in the business before we get into his WWE run,” said Thompson. “His dad and his grandmother were also in the business, and we’ll also discuss what Jeff did before WWE. We’ll look at his first run in WWE, but he was there for just a hiccup and then came back for his next run. Specifically, I want to focus on how Jeff Jarrett came into WWE with a lot of heat because of who his dad was. People who worked for his dad really weren’t happy with their payoffs, and then his dad was in the office, so people were looking at Jeff funny. He found himself in an interesting angle at the time, ripping off the Milli Vanilli story. Then, in the middle of the story, he just walks out and doesn’t come to work.”
Even after Jarrett’s walk-out, he was still welcomed back by Vince McMahon and WWE.
“That’s when Jarrett tried to talk his way into an angle with ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin,” explained Thompson. “That’s when Jarrett says Austin 3:16 is blasphemous, but Austin completely refused to work with him after that and buried him. Jarrett tried to go into business for himself and work his own angle, but Austin stunned him, mocked the strut, and down the card he goes.
“Jarrett never fully recovered. They tried to throw all these gimmicks at him: a light-up horse, the guitar smash, the Deborah and Owen teaming, even giving him the meaningless NWA title.”
One of the most famous stories that Thompson will dig into with Bruce Prichard is Jarrett’s alleged refusal to drop the Intercontinental championship on pay per view to Chyna unless Vince McMahon paid him more money before their October 1999 match at No Mercy. Jarrett’s contract expired the day before No Mercy, and Jarrett reportedly demanded $300,000 to wrestle.
“Jarrett held up Vince for more money, and, according to the rumor and innuendo, JR gets the blame for that. Then Jarrett immediately showed up on WCW,” said Thompson. “That’s just fascinating to me that one guy was able to fool Vince McMahon twice. You very rarely hear about it once, much less twice. When Vince did buy WCW, he announced on the simulcast that, ‘J-E-Double F J-A-Double R-E-Double T is now G-O-N-E gone, he’s fired!’ I thought that was such a cool legacy in wrestling. Vince never forgot who got over on him, and made sure he could make the most public firing possible.
“Even though this show says ‘Jeff Jarrett’, this is as much of a Vince McMahon podcast as we’ll ever do.”
Thompson and Prichard also return for a live show on Sept. 23 at the Regent Theater in Los Angeles on the same weekend as No Mercy.
“We are going to have some very interesting personalities in the building that night,” said Thompson. “I feel confident we’re going to have a homerun show.”
• Perhaps the most explosive talent on the independent wrestling scene–and quickest learner–is Matt Riddle.
The former UFC fighter, who is currently an independent wrestling sensation, brings a very unique style and legitimacy to his work in pro wrestling.
“I’m very happy with what I do,” said Riddle. “People always ask me to critique their wrestling matches, and it’s hard for me because I don’t work a pro wrestling style. I work an MMA style. That works very well for me because I’ve been doing it for years with my fighting and training. I think what I do is the most realistic feeling you’ll get in pro wrestling.”
Riddle brings an authentic feeling to pro wrestling, and he enjoyed success in the octagon before issues over his use of marijuana cost him fines and suspensions, and also overturned two of his victories. Even with two victories removed from his record, Riddle still has an impressive 8-3 mark in MMA.
Fortunately for Riddle, who was fired from the UFC on a four-fight win streak due to his use of marijuana, there are no such marijuana bans within the indie wrestling circuit, which he has mastered in only three years.
“Thankfully, there aren’t,” said Riddle. “That’s been working out pretty well for me. I’ve been staying healthy, I feel great, and I am staying busy wrestling every weekend.”
MMA and wrestling are two careers where longevity is crucial, and Riddle noted the similarities between the two fields.
“When you’re in your prime, you’re in your prime,” said Riddle. “Granted, a pro wrestling prime can extended much longer than in MMA, but the same standards apply.”
Riddle’s easygoing personality makes it appear that he lives a carefree life, but the 31-year-old is quite busy at home with a wife and three children.
“People think I’m a kid, that I’m 25,” said Riddle. “But I’ve been around the world. I fought in the UFC for half a decade, I wrestled in college, and I’m here to work.”
Riddle, who works with EVOLVE and is the WWN champion as well as the first-ever two-time Atlas champion for the U.K.-based Progress Wrestling, will also be part of the New Japan Pro Wrestling tag team tournament in December, teaming with Jeff Cobb, and is working toward having a permanent residence in either New Japan or WWE.
“I’m not going to mention names, but I get hit by all the top promotions all the time for either a deal or a match,” said Riddle. “Right now, I’m in a great position. My schedule is packed, the sky’s the limit, and, honestly, I’m making great money. I should go to a bigger company eventually, but at the same time, let’s keep the buzz on the indies.
“I’m happy where I’m at right now, but I would like to hit up New Japan. Not just because it’s a huge promotion, but because of the styles. I feel my hard-hitting style meshes very well with their culture and style of pro wrestling.”
• Head writer Chris “DJ” DeJoseph touched on the behind-the-scenes features of tonight’s 100th episode of Lucha Underground.
“100 episodes is a huge milestone for everyone involved at Lucha Underground,” said DeJoseph. “This card is super-stacked for the episode, with the Worldwide Underground against Prince Puma and his partners, as well as Pentagon vs. El Dragon Azteca Jr.
“They’ve had a rivalry, and that match will be for an Aztec medallion to enter the Gift of the Gods match. In addition to that is Rey Mysterio vs. Matanza, which is super-personal and represents the Cuetos vs. the Mysterios.”
Lucha Underground’s storytelling will be on full display in its 100th episode, and the show will deliver the next chapter of Matanza–who was formerly trapped in a cell–finally culminating in a match against the world’s greatest luchador in Rey Mysterio.
“This is super-personal,” said DeJoseph. “It’s the Cuetos vs. the Mysterios. Dario Cueto’s brother, Matanza, is ready for his big match.”
• From the Territories: Championship Wrestling from Arizona will celebrate its first year on the air with this Saturday’s Cavalcade of Champions.
Championship Wrestling from Arizona debuted in September of 2016, and is part of the David Marquez-founded United Wrestling Network. The Cavalcade of Champions show will bring nine promotions, and their champions, together from the United Wrestling Network at the Nile Theater in Mesa, Arizona.
The main event features Hollywood Heritage champion Bad Dude Tito defending his title against Evan Daniels.
“Bad Dude Tito is a street kid who raised himself, and that’s me,” said 33-year-old Tito Escondido. “I’ve been on my own since I was 15, and I learned the hard way.”
• Stat of the week: WWE champion Jinder Mahal has spent the past 113 days with the title, already placing him atop some wrestling legends.
Mahal passed Chris Jericho for days spent as WWE champ, as his reign was only 98 days, and has already passed the cumulative total of Mick Foley’s title runs (a combined 76 days).
If Mahal is able to hold onto the title until Hell in a Cell on October 8, which he is expected to do, that would put him at 138 days as champ. The “Modern Day Maharaja” will have then passed Ric Flair and Eddie Guerrero for days spent as champ, and he will have even had a longer individual reign than The Undertaker, whose longest stretch as champ was 133 days.
• Al Snow’s weekly advice column, Inside Al's Head, used this week’s edition to discuss the epidemic of injuries suffered in the pro wrestling industry.
“They were just doing an unsanctioned wrestling show in Oklahoma, and they gave this one guy a spine buster,” said Snow. “He got a head injury from the spine buster, was put in intensive care in the hospital for a week, then passed away.”
Snow is referring to the tragic death of 25-year-old William Ogletree, who suffered the injury on August 27 in an unlicensed wrestling match in Oklahoma.
“I promise you, sh-- like has been happening more and more over the past few years,” said Snow. “There have been kids who have died, and there have been kids who suffered serious life-changing injuries in wrestling rings around the country in these ridiculous shows.”
The Oklahoma State Athletic Commission has an ongoing investigation into the injury, and there will also be a criminal investigation by the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s office.
“Back in the day, we, the wrestlers ourselves, policed ourselves and protected the business,” said Snow. “We as the wrestlers ensured that people had to earn their way into a wrestling ring, and it’s because of situations like this. These days, anybody, regardless of experience, can buy a ring, rent a building, and open up a wrestling school. If people in wrestling want to continue to f--- around and lower the standards, and allow anyone to come in, then we’ll get to the point that we’ll have federal or state government step in and try to regulate the wrestling business in a way that could have been easily avoided if we as the wrestlers held up our standards to our own profession.”
Snow noted that wrestling is an often-misunderstood business because of the inherent relationship between sport and theater,
“The outcomes, clearly, are predetermined in wrestling,” said Snow. “But that’s the only aspect that is fake. So you’re trying to create an allusion. You don’t want the crowd to go home horrified because they witnessed someone paralyzed. We had a situation here in Kentucky where a certain promoter had ridiculous death-type matches where fans brought weapons, and it finally devolved into an angle–yes, an angle–where he went back into the dressing room, grabbed a 22-caliber pistol, and chased another wrestler out in the parking lot and shot him in the leg. He’s now banned from the state of Kentucky.”
Snow noted that, in prior years, breaking into wrestling was an extremely difficult task.
“It used to be easier to become a made man in the mafia than it was to become a professional wrestler,” said Snow. “If you trained a guy, you were held personally responsible and accountable for every single thing that guy did in the wrestling business. Not many guys were willing to risk their livelihood and their income, so that’s why it was so difficult. Now, no one is held accountable.
“The bar has been so lowered. I just saw a clip of someone from a high school climb a wall, dive off top to hit a guy with an elbow, and missed the guy and the entire table, and landed on the floor. Where does it end and when does it stop? We’re going to get to the point, I promise you, where government-control on the federal level is the only way to stop it. Then you’re going to have bureaucrats managing a business that is unique unto itself, and if you’ve never been in it or experienced it, you don’t understand what you’re trying to do. Then you’re going to end up strangling off the very pipeline where we can develop, create, and acquire new talent, which is the very lifeblood and product of our business.”
Tweet of the Week
Donald Trump just pardoned Kevin Owens.— Brian Gewirtz (@bfg728) September 13, 2017
Always a treat to have Vince McMahon return to WWE programming.