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 a time and space far away from No Mercy, Terry Funk returned to the ring this past Friday and Saturday in six-man tag matches for Big Time Wrestling in Raleigh, North Carolina and Spartanburg, South Carolina.
“I felt very old, naturally, walking into that ring,” said Funk. “But how did I feel inside the ring? I felt elated.”
The 73-year-old Funk wrestled in six-man tag action over the weekend with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express against the “King’s Court” of Jerry “The King” Lawler, Brian Christopher, and Doug Gilbert.
“I was back in my family’s house,” said Funk. “That’s where I belong, at home.”
“Just to be back with the people that I love and in the profession I absolutely grew up in, that meant a great deal to me. I loved where I was very much.”
Funk noted that he felt no need to outperform 72-year-old WWE Chairman Vince McMahon, who was the recent recipient of a Kevin Owens headbutt on SmackDown.
“I could give a damn what Vince does, I’m focused on the fans,” said Funk. “Wrestling is all about the power of the individual. Who dictates the business? It’s not Vince, and it never has been. It’s not any of the other promoters, it’s not the independents. It’s the fans that dictate what wrestling is. That’s the one constant from 1917 to 2017.”
The possibility of one more match still lingers for Funk. For now, however, the “Hardcore Legend”, who is a 52-year veteran of the business, is content to be back home in Texas.
“Dahgum, I just got out of the ring in the Carolinas,” said a smiling Funk. “I just had two matches with Lawler, and you want to know if I’m going to come back? Come to think of it, next weekend, I’m going to have my real, real, real, real, real, real retirement.”
The opportunity to go ten rounds with John Cena at No Mercy this past Sunday allowed Roman Reigns another chance to cement himself as the face of the WWE.
This match wasn’t saved for WrestleMania 34 because Vince McMahon is trying to make Reigns main-event ready for ‘Mania against Brock Lesnar, and trying once again – which, for those keeping track, will mark four straight years–to have the fanbase buy Reigns as the company’s top headliner.
Reigns earned Cena’s respect, and Cena made a point after the show on Raw Talk that Reigns solidified his presence as “The Guy”. But did the match with Cena do anything to really help Reigns achieve that goal?
The answer is a resounding no.
Cena and Reigns put on an entertaining match, but students of the game have to be perplexed that AJ Styles is meddling in a United States championship feud with Baron Corbin and Tye Dillinger instead of elevating Reigns and Cena to another level in their matches. Both Corbin and Dillinger have bright futures, but the 40-year-old Styles–who, unfortunately, is still not viewed internally within the company as anywhere near the level of Cena or Reigns–should be in the main event.
The Reigns conundrum still lingers on for WWE.
Roman is more talented in the ring and on the mic than people credit him, but his cartoonish character does not resonate in its current form with an overwhelming number of WWE’s most important constituents: its audience.
In Other News
• The most anticipated question within the professional wrestling industry is whether Daniel Bryan will re-sign with WWE or test free agency. The countdown until free agent is now at 356 days.
• Led by Cody Rhodes, the Young Bucks, Marty Scurll, Adam “Hangman” Page, and Brandi Rhodes, the sextet–better known collectively for their work as part of New Japan’s Bullet Club–appeared on enemy soil during WWE’s Raw this past Monday in Ontario, California.
The moment elicited vivid memories of DX’s invasion of WCW’s Nitro in April 1998, when Triple H, “Road Dogg” Jesse James, “Bad Ass” Billy Gunn, X-Pac, and Chyna rode a tank into Norfolk, Virginia. Bullet Club created a viral moment for wrestling fans desperately seeking relief from the forced Roman Reigns narrative airing on the USA Network every Monday.
The move was unlikely to garner any significant interest from WWE. Cody Rhodes is now signed exclusively to Ring of Honor, as are the Young Bucks, so dream inter-promotion matches will remain nothing more than a fantasy. Nevertheless, the visit to WWE’s turf did allow for a very important accomplishment.
The “#BCInvasion” generated more organic appeal for every member in the group, especially The Bucks and Rhodes. Wrestling remains a highly manufactured business, so the opportunity to genuinely create a buzzworthy moment should never be taken lightly.
• Regardless of ratings and attendance, the WWE continues to stick with its plan to have Jinder Mahal as champion despite a sure entity in AJ Styles ready on the sideline. Wrestling is a commodities business, and AJ Styles is a proven commodity, but the company is setting its sights long-term on capturing a foothold in India with Mahal as their top spokesman.
As evident by the content on last night’s SmackDown, there is minimal interest in the Mahal-Shinsuke Nakamura program headed into Hell in a Cell.
• Was it necessary to neuter Braun Strowman in his loss to Brock Lesnar at No Mercy?
Strowman went in like a lion and out like a lamb at No Mercy, dominating the match before fizzling down the stretch and looking very ordinary in the end against Lesnar. Strowman regained some of his sizzle on Raw, powering through one-half of the tag team champions in Dean Ambrose, and it was announced during the show that a showdown with Seth Rollins is on tap for next Monday. Lesnar, of course, was not on the show.
In spite of the collective groan from a large portion of fans, WWE’s plan appears to be clear: keep Lesnar winning, albeit with the occasional struggle, until his WrestleMania 34 match with Roman Reigns.
• I had the chance to catch a live NXT show at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium this past Thursday. This was NXT’s first show in Lowell since Samoa Joe defeated Finn Balor for the NXT title in 2016, and only second visit for NXT since Joe wiped out Balor in front of a sold-out house.
NXT still offers tremendous talent–the top matches saw Roderick Strong defeat Hideo Itami, Lars Sullivan over Oney Lorcan, and Drew McIntyre successfully defending the title against Andrade Almas–but the brand is lacking the draw and “It Factor” present in its early years with Finn Balor and Shinsuke Nakamura. Clearly, the decision to overextend the stays of Balor, Nakamura, and Samoa Joe in NXT were for the betterment of the brand.
A pair of names that would instantly revitalize the entire NXT brand is Matt and Nick Jackson of the Young Bucks.
• The aforementioned Young Bucks retained their Six Man Tag Titles with the “returning” “Hangman” Adam Page on Friday at Ring of Honor’s Death Before Dishonor, but dropped their ROH tag team titles to Chris Sabin and Alex Shelley of the Motor City Machine Guns.
“The Motor City Machine Guns are probably our greatest rivals ever,” said Matt Jackson of the Bucks, who were also beat down during the show by Chris Daniels and Frankie Kazarian of The Addiction.
“The Addiction, they’re our wrestling dads,” continued Matt. “We’ve been through it all with them. Been on hundreds of red eye flights over the years, broken bread in every major city in America. If anyone knows us inside and out, it’s those guys.”
Wrestling fans are salivating at the idea of a rematch of Ladder Wars, which saw the Bucks defeat the Machine Guns and Addiction in September of 2016.
“If The Addiction is actively teaming you have to consider them always a threat for the titles,” said Nick Jackson. “Especially now, knowing Chris Daniels works in the office.”
The Young Bucks are international players in the world of pro wrestling, and are headed to Newcastle, England for a shot at War Machine and the WCPW tag titles at the Refuse to Lose iPPV on October 2.
“Wrestling those guys always makes us prepare differently because they’re so big and strong so we can’t do a lot of our normal offense on them,” added Nick. “They’re one of my favorite teams out there.”
“Every time we step into the ring with those monsters, we know we have to bring our A-game,” added Matt. “They’re probably the best team in the world behind us right now. Those dudes always want to work hard and steal the show. We look forward to tearing it up.”
• New Ring of Honor World Television champion Kenny King took the biggest step forward in his 15-year wrestling career this past Friday in Las Vegas at Ring of Honor’s Death Before Dishonor pay per view. ROH, hoping to capitalize on King after his newfound notoriety on The Bachelorette, had their faith rewarded as King dazzled in victory over New Japan star KUSHIDA, winning the TV title in a compelling 16-minute match.
“I’ve been learning and growing my entire career,” said King. “People are now going to get an opportunity to see me as we enter this new chapter in my career. Now is really going to be the time when people see the full effect of how I’ve evolved as a character and a wrestler.”
King noted that he is thankful for the chance to succeed as a singles star, which is all he has ever asked for in wrestling.
“All I’ve wanted was the damn ball,” said King. “Now, I finally feel like I have my opportunity. I’ve been preparing for this since I came back from The Bachelorette. I want to make this the best run I’ve ever had in wrestling. There is pressure that comes along with that, but I’m not focused on the pressure. I’m focused on the opportunity.
• In addition to stars like Ricochet and MVP, MLW’s One-Shot on October 5 is also highlighting wrestling’s future stars, including 21-year-old Maxwell J. Friedman. MJF wrestles Jimmy Yuta at One-Shot.
“Last week, Jimmy Yuta was compared to Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat,” said Friedman. “That’s high praise, and I cannot take that away from him. Yet I’m the guy people compare to Ric Flair.”
at One-Shot highlights two talents who are under 22-years-old.
“I won’t take anything away from Jimmy Yuta,” said Friedman. “He is a great competitor. But I’m the top guy, the guy who comes home with the most money, and the guy who comes home with the win.”
MLW president Court Bauer has built a card set to deliver a variety of different wrestling skillsets, and Friedman adds a new dimension as a young, cocky heel who can work.
“I didn’t reach out to MLW,” said Friedman. “They got in touch with me. That’s how it works with superstars. Court Bauer is incredibly talented and I’ve already learned a lot from him, but he’s also learned a thing or two from me. I’m a top-notch marketer. This is called One-Shot for a reason. This is a once-and-a-lifetime opportunity for the fans to see MJF at MLW. Now it’s the biggest deal, because MJF is on the bill.”
• Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard is back this Friday with a new podcast, which will be a memorial for Bobby “The Brain” Heenan.
“Bruce is going to Bobby’s funeral this week, so that’s thrown off our normal taping schedule, but it’s important to Bruce to be there,” said Thompson. “It’s going to be quite the emotional episode, possibly our most emotional episode. We’ve talked about guys on the show that have passed away, but we haven’t had the situation where the show occurred so close to their death. Bobby is one of the most beloved figures of all time, and he played a big role in Bruce’s life.”
Prichard was once slated to bleach his hair blonde and portray Bobby Heenan, Jr. on WWE programming. Thompson noted that the character and idea will be discussed in-depth.
“I would love to hear more about the pitch, what Bruce worked on, if he had any costumes prepared, details about his cadence and voice, because we’d all love to hear what Bobby Heenan Jr. sounded like.”
The next stop on the live tour of “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” will be in Detroit, Michigan on Sunday, October 8 before Hell in a Cell. Jim Cornette will be filling in for Thompson on this trip.
“I’m sure there will be lots of discussion over the proper way to order a cheeseburger,” said Thompson. “The only place to get your tickets is boxofgimmicks.com.”
• Ultima Lucha is upon us.
Ultima Lucha Tres begins tonight on El Rey Network, highlighted by a two-out-of-three falls match between Dante Fox and Killshot.
• From The Territories: Limitless Wrestling founder Randy Carver is delivering on his promise to bring a unique brand of wrestling to the state of Maine.
“I was really motivated to change the wrestling scene in Maine and bring something different and something new,” said Carver. “There was that independent wrestling interest, but there wasn’t anything feeding it.”
Carver is a native of Lagrange, Maine, and at only 18 years old, decided to eschew his college education and first start a wrestling promotion.
“I started jumping on ring crew and ring announcing when I was 15, and I got some good opportunities very early and made some connections,” said Carver, who is now 20. “I was fortunate to have my parents help supporting my decision to start a wrestling promotion.
“The ‘Limitless’ moniker certainly fits. Our first show was 130 people in the back of a pizza hall. Now we’re doing 500 people in an armory, so we continue to build.”
Carver’s show this past Friday saw a varied card with an array of talent, including Jack Swagger, “Bad Boy” Joey Janela, AR Fox, “Pro Wrestling Savior” JT Dunn, Joey Ryan, and Teddy Hart, as well as younger talent like John Silver, Ace Romero, and Anthony Greene.
“Building a card is a combination of mainstream guys, who are former WWE talents or from Lucha Underground or some of the most popular guys from the independents, and we mix that with some of the up-and-comers from New England,” explained Carver. “Our main event from this past Friday’s show was Ace Romero vs. Anthony Greene, who were two guys on our very first show with no name recognition, but now they’re both pretty big mainstays in New England.”
Limitless returns to action on November 3 at the Westbrook Armory in Westbrook, Maine with a loaded card featuring Lucha Underground’s Matt Cross , Impact’s Petey Williams, Ethan Page, Sami Callihan, JT Dunn, Ace Romero, Anthony Greene.
“We’ve been very successful blending that mix of stars and younger talent into something that people enjoy,” said Carver. “People have become invested in Limitless, and we can’t wait for the next show on November 3.”
• Stat of the Week: WWE Universal champion Brock Lesnar extended his undefeated record at No Mercy to 3-0 this past Sunday with a victory over Braun Strowman, yet the win was his first at No Mercy in over a decade.
Lesnar’s prior victories at No Mercy occurred in 2002 in a “Hell in a Cell” match, as well as a win the following year in 2003 over ‘Taker in a “Biker Chain” match.
• Al Snow’s weekly advice column, Inside Al's Head, compared the DX “invasion” of WCW’s Nitro in 1998 with the Bullet Club invasion this past Monday at Raw.
“I commend the guys in Bullet Club, because they’re getting people to talk about them,” said Snow. “That was the purpose in ‘98, too. Take the attention off of WCW, who was kicking ass at the time, and steal the spotlight from somebody else’s show.”
Snow also noted it was a gutsy move, as there were fears in 1998 that the WCW locker room would retaliate physically to the ploy.
“It was only five people in DX, and they would have been up against an entire locker room of guys,” explained Snow. “That was a direct knock against the WCW locker room. I commend the guys today for doing it, and it’s got a lot of people talking, but I don’t think it has near the impact the original one in ‘98 did. That has a lot to do with timing and the platform they’re on.
“The biggest difference between the two situations is that, in ‘98, WWF talent brought a national and international stage to distract, detract, and interrupt a WCW show that was a national and international platform on network television. In ‘98, it was like competitor versus like competitor, so it had a greater impact.”
Snow’s piece of weekly advice was to watch the 1998 “Invasion” to compare the moment with the 2017 version.
“Go back and watch that Nitro and that Raw the night of the ‘invasion’ from April 27, 1998 at the Norfolk Scope in Norfolk, Virginia,” said Snow. “They were in a tank and were on a mega phone, and they had WWF money behind them. They were on a blowhorn, and you knew throughout the entire town they were there.”
Tweet of the Week
Bryan would boost the New Japan brand in North America like no other talent in wrestling. His next contract is the biggest story in the business.