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
The Young Bucks were hit with a superkick to the jaw when lawyers for the WWE sent a cease and desist order to the popular tag team.
Matt and Nick Massie, better known by the Jackson surname in pro wrestling, reported that Vince McMahon’s legal department informed them nine days ago that they were illegally using WWE intellectual property, most notably the “Too Sweet” hand gesture made famous by the NWO.
WWE claimed a trademark on the “Kliq hand gesture” in 2015, which the Bucks have been using since 2013, and the situation is rife with complications.
The original trademark was made by North Carolina State University, whose fans use the “Wolfie” hand gesture while cheering on their sports teams, known as the Wolfpack.
The Week in Wrestling turned to Sports Illustrated legal expert Michael McCann, who was asked to explain the legalities behind the cease and desist.
“It’s hard to give a declaratory answer without reading the letter,” said McCann. “As I understand it, NC State trademarked the hand signal, but the issue could be copyright.
“I assume the response by the lawyer to the cease and desist letter will be, ‘The appropriate party to raise this claim is NC State, not you, WWE. I also assume WWE has a response to that, because they wouldn’t have written that letter otherwise.”
McCann explained that if WWE has copyright interest in the gesture, they can then argue that the hand gesture is their intellectual property.
“The most important aspect of a trademark infringement is consumer confusion and the degree to which consumers are confused,” explained McCann. “If it is a trademark claim, then generally under trademark law, the key test is whether it causes consumer confusion. Consumer confusion takes into consideration whether the consumers of the different products are similar. Are they too similar and causing consumers to be confused? Also, was the intent to infringe? Those are the key interests.”
Even though the Bucks have a legitimate legal rationale to defend their case, WWE has the capability to spend freely in a court battle, a major deterrent for any party considering going to court.
There is also a wildcard at play.
The Bucks are under contract to Ring of Honor, which is owned by a media conglomerate in the Sinclair Broadcast Group. If Sinclair is willing to defend the Bucks with their attorneys, effectively standing up to WWE, then that would be a fight worth watching.
One could even say it would be too sweet.
Gabe Sapolsky is leading EVOLVE into New York and Connecticut for shows on Oct. 14 and 15.
Sapolsky and his parent company, WWN, are no longer streaming live on FloSlam due to an ongoing legal dispute. Yet the shows in Queens, New York and East Haven, Connecticut will be available to wrestling fans.
“We’re going back to our model on WWNLive.com,” said Sapolsky. “That’s where we will stream the events on October 14th and 15th, but we have a lot of possibilities on the table for after that. We just finished a new WWNLive.com, which is something we really haven’t fully explored. After these two shows, we’ll look at our options and do what we feel gives the fans the best value for their money while, at the same time, supporting our business model.”
Another recent issue for EVOLVE was an email from Sapolsky to his roster, which was leaked to the public and disclosed the principles of the promotion regarding style of matches, lockups, and making every move count.
“I feel like the locker room is a team, and I felt betrayed that I was hurt by someone in the locker room,” said Sapolsky. “Without getting into the specifics, that wasn’t the case, so I feel better about it now. The part that I’m really disappointed about was that these rules that were in the email, many of which were in place for the last two years and no one noticed, now have a spotlight on them, which work against everything we try to do with EVOLVE to make ourselves different.
“I want the promotion to be based on a certain style of wrestling. We’re going to switch things up again going into the future, and maybe we can turn that leaked email into a positive by creating something new.”
EVOLVE stalwart Ethan Page also announced he will be leaving the company, and Sapolsky publicly thanked him for his work.
“Ethan Page has been on the EVOLVE roster for over three years, and he has accomplished everything he wanted to accomplish here,” said Sapolsky. “His work is some of the best stuff in EVOLVE history, with the Darby Allin feud coming to mind. Ethan made Darby, and I want to see more feuds like that in EVOLVE. His mark in the company will always remain.”
Page’s departure also represents new opportunities for those hungry to work their way into the main event.
“It is time to start focusing on some new talent in EVOLVE and promoting from within,” said Sapolsky. “Guys like Darby Allin, Austin Theory with Priscilla Kelly, Jaka, Jason Kincaid, and Chris Dickinson are guys who are ready to take that next step. We’ll see some of those new faces on October 14 in Queens and October 15 in East Haven, and we’ll see who makes an impact.”
In other news…
• The wrestling scene has welcomed back a familiar face in Teddy Hart.
The former prodigy, who is the nephew of Bret “The Hitman” Hart, wrestled his first match in a WWF ring at the age of 16 during a house show in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Hart’s two-plus decades in wrestling have seen him grapple with tragedy, success, and controversy, but wrestling remains a better place with a clear-minded Teddy Hart in the ring.
Hart still prides himself as one of wrestling’s most innovative performers, which he feels is his responsibility.
“I’m in the same family as Davey Boy Smith and Bret Hart, so that is my job as a third-generation wrestler,” said Hart. “I was a fan first, and I’ve seen too many guys try to last a long time by taking shortcuts, doing the same old stuff and never modifying or innovating. Guys used to give me sh-- about my style and tell me to do less, because ‘less is more’, but I’d never want to walk into McDonald’s and buy a Big Mac for $4, then only get half a burger. As a third generation guy in wrestling, I’ve always believed we need to do more for the fans.
“My brother’s death took a lot of steam out of our whole family,” said Hart. His WWF debut in 1996 was a tribute match to his brother that also included a young Harry Smith and Tyson Kidd. “Then Owen died, Davey Boy died, and we’ve lost so many of our heroes. I cried for a long time, but I can’t cry anymore. Life isn’t about getting knocked down, it’s about what you do after you get back up.”
Hart noted that his favorite two wrestlers currently active are Neville and his cousin, WWE SmackDown women’s champion Natalya Neidhart.
“Neville is phenomenal, and Natalya is the hardest working female wrestler in the entire world,” said Hart. “I’ve known [Natalya’s husband] Tyson Kidd since he was six years old. He’s one of the greatest human beings, as well as an incredible technical wrestler and one of the most talented innovators on the planet.
“Anyone in the WWE who gets to learn from Tyson Kidd is blessed, and anyone who gets in the ring with Natalya is definitely going to know why she’s the only female graduate from the Dungeon. She’s a ring general and a role model. I’m glad Tyson and Natalya are finally getting some of the credit they deserve.”
Hart has returned home to a wrestling ring, and his indie appearances are accumulating as he regains trust and credibility.
“Wrestling is the greatest sport on the planet,” said Hart. “When you walk away from wrestling, when it’s done right, and that feeling you feel is something you’ll never feel from any other sport in the world.
“All I do now is eat, sleep, and train. And take care of my cats.”
• The most anticipated question within the professional wrestling industry is whether Daniel Bryan will re-sign with WWE or test free agency.
Bryan, who is consistently discussing his desire to wrestle again, mentioned in a Facebook video with his wife Brie Bella that he is growing out his hair for a hair versus mask match in Mexico.
• The Shield reunion is occurring at an accelerated pace. WWE Creative, with Vince McMahon at the helm, is doing everything possible to keep Roman Reigns at the center of a positive storyline.
A reunion by The Shield will certainly be welcomed by wrestling fans, particularly in the fall, which is traditionally a slower part of the 12-month wrestling cycle. But will the positive vibes extend to January, and then onto Reigns’ path to headline WrestleMania 34 against Brock Lesnar?
WWE had a perfect opportunity to put the world title on Braun Strowman and freshen up their weekly format on Raw, but the decision was made to sacrifice Strowman for Lesnar, as well as John Cena for Reigns, to build up to the inevitable showdown at ‘Mania.
• How much more effective would The Miztourage be with Zack Ryder and DolphZiggler instead of the Bo Dallas/Curtis Axel tandem?
Dallas and Axel are both miscast in Miz’s entourage. WWE has placed them in main events and key programs alongside Miz on Raw, but it is difficult to suddenly treat their characters with any sense of legitimacy after years of futility on the roster.
Ziggler and Ryder are stars in their own right, have personalities that would mesh perfectly with Miz, and could even have challenged (and perhaps won) for the tag team titles, ultimately adding more credibility to The Miz while also keeping two other talents fresh.
• The Briscoe Brothers are perhaps the greatest tag team you have never seen in a WWE ring.
Jay and Mark Briscoe wrestle a physical, ferocious style that leaves an impression–and a mark–on crowds and wrestlers. The pair is headed to Germany to wrestle in Westside Xtreme Wrestling’s World Tag Team League, which is a round-robin, league format tournament. Their opponents in the star-studded tourney include Low Ki and Homicide, EYFBO (who also wrestle as Santana and Ortiz as part of LAX in Impact), and the Ring Kampf tandem of WALTER and Timothy Thatcher.
The Briscoes, who are eight-time Ring of Honor tag team champions, are scheduled to wrestle EYFBO, who just dropped their Impact tag team championship, in the tournament.
“Tag team wrestling is tag team wrestling, and we do it at the highest level,” said Mark Briscoe. “EYFBO appears to have a lot of potential. When the bell rings, we’ll see what they got.”
Noticeable friction has existed between the two brothers on Ring of Honor programming, most recently at Death Before Dishonor. During the interview, however, the Briscoes, who both admitted to looking forward to drinking German beer during their trip abroad, appeared to have a renewed focus.
“The current mission is to dominate the wXw world tag league,” said Jay. “Being 100 percent on the same page is our goal.”
• MLW One-Shot is set to take place this Thursday in Orlando, Florida, and the card that Court Bauer has built is one worth watching.
Wrestling’s lifelines are creativity, energy, and realism. All three will be on display at One-Shot, and the card represents a legitimate opportunity to impress the wrestling community.
The brightest spotlight remains on Ricochet, who is wrestling Shane Strickland in the main event. Ricochet is one of the top talents in the world not currently employed by WWE, and he has the talent to one day wear one of their world titles. One-Shot is just as big a deal for Strickland, who is looking to build his name within the business, as well as Jeff Cobb and UFC fighter Tom Lawlor. MVP also returns to the ring in a match against Sami Callihan.
The card is available as a VOD on MLW.tv approximately 72 hours after the event, and the holiday weekend allows for a listen to the return of Tony Schiavone to the broadcast booth instead of going to work next Monday.
• Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard is back this Friday with a new podcast, which will be a memorial for Badd Blood: In Your House 1997.
“There is so much going on here,” said Thompson. “Badd Blood had Bret Hart’s last pay per view match before the ‘Montreal Screwjob’, and this is the second show in a row where Bret is the world champion yet not in the main event. The Patriot is actually working Bret for the world title, and this is all in the middle of some pretty heated drama between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, as well as Bret and the company.
“Bret had already been given the news that Vince couldn’t afford to keep him. In the middle of this, Brian Pillman actually passes away that same weekend. You’ve also got Marc Mero doing an interesting transition with Sable. I found this funny; he’s with Sable, of course, and his finisher is what Brock Lesnar uses now. I found it funny that Brock not only stole his girl, but he also stole his finish.”
The show also introduced the creation of the “Hell in a Cell” match, which debuted with Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker.
“The idea was that they couldn’t get out, but they, of course, got on top of it,” said Thompson. “Shawn takes what was, at the time, one of the most spectacular bumps in the history of the company going through a table, and we get the creation of Kane all in the same match. Somehow, time has forgotten this pay per view, but we’re going to highlight it in a big way.”
Badd Blood also marked the final call on commentary for Vince McMahon before his role changed entirely after the “Montreal Screwjob”, Owen Hart capturing the vacant IC title, and a match that included The Rock and the Road Warriors.
“Interestingly, Owen Hart was referring to himself as ‘The Real Hitman’, perhaps trying to transition into that role if Bret was truly leaving the company,” said Thompson. “WCW is also at the height of their business, just two months shy of the Sting-Hogan Starrcade, and the NWO is at a fever pitch. Vince McMahon is paddling as hard as he can to keep up, and creatively, it paid off in spades. I can’t wait to talk about this show, which is crucial and critical to the survival of the company.”
Something to Wrestle returns to its live circuit this weekend. Although Thompson will not be present in Detroit this Sunday, the show will be hosted by Bruce Prichard and Jim Cornette.
“I’m sure cheeseburgers will be on the menu,” said Thompson. “And these guys are never short on opinions. Jim Cornette is the greatest talker in the history of the business. People say that Bobby Heenan had the sharpest wit, and I don’t know that you can argue that, but when it comes to rants, I don’t know that anybody can hold a candle to Jim Cornette. Anyone who was disappointed that I wasn’t going to be there is going to get more than their money’s worth when Jim Cornette is there.”
• Known in wrestling circles as the “Bad Boy”, Joey Janela has continued to turn doubters into believers during the course of his 11-year career.
“I snuck my way through the back door of the wrestling business,” said the 28-year-old Janela. “I set up a few rings and sold tickets for a promoter. That’s how I got into in the business in 2006. I basically started untrained; I knew how to lock up, bump, and hit the ropes. I winged the rest.”
Janela, who is from Monmouth County, New Jersey, is a product of Combat Zone Wrestling, which is known for its death matches, and Jersey All Pro Wrestling.
“If it weren’t for those companies, I wouldn’t have committed to wrestling,” said Janela. “I fell in love with Combat Zone, which basically ruined my life.”
The most infamous moment in Janela’s career was a bump off a roof during a CZW show in 2016 that saw him land on a burning board with light tubes atop a truck. Despite the inherent danger in the move, Janela believes it was necessary for his success.
“The roof bump, which got me 100 million views and is probably my craziest stunt of all-time, is a part of who I am,” said Janela. “I wouldn’t go back and change it. I’m very unpredictable, and it separates me from everyone else.”
Janela built momentum organically, and was asked to wrestle in the prestigious PWG Battle of Los Angeles this year.
“I’m shutting up a lot of the doubters,” said Janela. “People characterize my style as ‘garbage wrestling’ because of the roof bump, but Combat Zone Wrestling is what I grew up on and it’s what I loved in my teens. Why not live out my dreams?
“I have a lot of faith in my stunts, my opponents, and myself. My stuff looks crazier than it is. It’s controlled chaos.”
Using all his tools to scratch and claw to the top of the professional wrestling game, Janela remains one of the hardest working and innovative wrestlers on the indie scene.
“People have realized I can go 40 minutes and hold-for-hold with Zack Sabre Jr., but I’ll also put on a fun match with Marty Jannetty and Glacier,” said Janela. “I’ll do anything to have a good match. I wrestled the Invisible Man two weeks ago, and people were saying it was a f------ five-star match.”
Janela is planning his second “Spring Break” show, which was a massive hit last year in Orlando, this year in New Orleans on the Friday of ‘Mania weekend in a 4,000 seat arena.
“By ‘Mania, it will be the 10-year anniversary of The Wrestler,” said Janela, who wrestled Marty Jannetty on last year’s card. “We connected with Mickey Rourke’s sparring partner and Mickey was interested in it, but his manager wants nothing to do with wrestling.
“I hit Alundra Blayze up the other day, and she thought I was asking her on a f------ date. I wish, that’s my kind of woman. It’s going to be very tough to get Bull Nakano out of retirement. If I can make that happen, that’s a whole different level of headline at Spring Break.
“I would like to work with the Great Muta in a tag match or all-star six-man match. We’ve talked about it. Spring Break is all about creating moments, and that would be a moment. That’s the dream. Great Muta is the best of all-time, and we’d show him a good time during Spring Break. If I get the opportunity to go in the ring with the Great Muta, the opportunities are endless. I’ll be selling the mist for about three years.”
Janela revealed that his goal in wrestling is to make enough money to give back to his mom for all she did to support him.
“I do what I do, and I don’t give a sh-- about what people think,” said Janela. “I’m punk rock. That doesn’t appeal to everyone.”
• Stat of the Week: Kevin Owens has spent over half–559 of his 1,028 days, to be exact–employed by WWE as the NXT, United States, Intercontinental, or Universal champion.
• Al Snow’s weekly advice column, Inside Al's Head, discussed the tragic events from the Las Vegas shooting this past Sunday.
“It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” said Snow. “It’s so sad that there is nothing any of us can say or do to change this horrific event.”
Sadly, Snow noted, there is a connection to the wrestling world.
“I do see connective tissue to the wrestling world in the sense that pro wrestling runs large scale live events on a weekly basis,” said Snow. “WWE and every other company will make sure security is a major concern and consideration.”
Snow then addressed how to improve security without creating an environment of fear.
“You’re trying to persuade people to leave the safety and comfort of their own home, then drive to a building, pay to park, and subject themselves to some invasion of the privacy of their personal space to come in and watch your show. That is going to be a major concern going forward, as this tragedy will certainly leave its mark on the American psyche.”
Snow’s advice to wrestling fans at live events is to be aware.
“If something looks suspicious, don’t dismiss it,” said Snow. “Report it. Let it be investigated.
“It’s a terrible and tragic situation, and my heart goes out to everyone involved.”
Tweet of the Week
All eyes will be on Owens and McMahon this Sunday.