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 Latest on Neville & WWE
Nine days ago, 31-year-old Benjamin Satterley—better known to the wrestling world as Neville—reached an epiphany and made a bold, emphatic statement.
Frustrated by the dizzying direction of his character and the lack of pay-offs, as well as the notorious WWE grind on the road, Neville walked out of Raw last Monday after balking at the idea of losing to Enzo Amore.
But Neville has been miserable in WWE since January, and his walkout occurred nine months later than many people expected.
Neville’s decision to walk out remains complex. On one end, life after WWE will undoubtedly be better for his health and immediately gives him time off from the road to be with his wife.
In a move that meant far more than pay, Neville has been disheartened ever since his title match with Austin Aries at WrestleMania 33 was moved to the pre-show and even removed from the official DVD. In addition to costing one of their most valuable talents arguably his biggest check of the year, Neville was infuriated that his company—for which he would wrestle hurt, tired, and with minimal complaint—would disregard his service and value.
Aries, who worked closely with Neville in WWE, left the company on amicable terms. He has started to book himself on the independents, and Neville learned that Aries will make more in the next six weeks—which includes considerably less travel—than he will make in that same timespan on the WWE payroll.
Neville has wrestled for WWE since 2012, and dealt with the stresses and strains that come along with the main roster since 2015. He has an incredible look and, though it appeared WWE was building to something significant with him, Neville felt that he was viewed as nothing more than a very talented “get-over guy” used to enhance other talent.
The decision last Monday to walk out is a gamble. Neville is betting on himself to succeed in Ring of Honor or New Japan, but he also drew the ire of Vince McMahon with his departure.
In McMahon’s eyes, walking out of his company is the kiss of death. CM Punk is an obvious example of someone who walked out, but Steve Austin is another. Austin, who literally carried the company on its back during a time when it desperately needed a star, is on record stating that his decision to walk out in 2002 remains his most significant regret. Austin and Neville are two men in very different situations, but just like with Austin in 2002, McMahon holds the key to Neville’s future in 2017.
Will WWE allow Neville to walk away from his deal? Explore a breach of contract? Or make him wait until the deal officially expires?
Neville is gambling on himself, but he is going to need some help from the dealer—in this case, Vince McMahon—to cash out.
The Bullet Club Steps Up Its Feud With WWE
The battle between WWE and the Bullet Club is far from over.
This past Sunday during Ring of Honor’s iPPV in Chicago, ROH world champion Cody Rhodes opened the show by mocking Roman Reigns’ signature vest, saying it is there to “hide that potbelly”.
Reigns responded to a tweet that same weekend about Rhodes’ drawing power, stating, “He’s just talking silly.”
Rhodes also noted during the ROH show on Sunday that Reigns was unlikely to reply, as he is too busy “failing drug tests”.
The trigger point in this entire WWE vs. Bullet Club battle occurred during the Being The Elite takeover of Raw in California. The Young Bucks were interviewing fans who said they received tickets to the show for free.
Exposing that the company was “papering”—in other words, giving out tickets for free—is a sin WWE will not soon forgive. Vince McMahon is infuriated when people try to devalue his product. Perception becomes reality, so, to McMahon, those were fighting words. Soon after that incident, WWE sent a cease and desist to the Young Bucks over their use of the “Too Sweet” hand gesture.
Roman Reigns is the leader of the WWE locker room, and has taken it upon himself to respond to both Rhodes and the Young Bucks. WWE talent is clearly limited in the depth of its responses, so it will be very interesting to see if the Bucks, Kenny Omega, or anyone else from ROH or New Japan further attacks WWE.
In other news…
• Nia Jax will return to WWE from her company-granted leave of absence, but make no mistake: Jax holds more leverage than many people believe.
Jax is unhappy with her current creative and pay scale. Her relation to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson—the two are cousins—provides her with leverage that many others would simply not have in this situation. Jax is 33-year-old Savelina Fanene, who flourished as a plus-sized model prior to her career in pro wrestling. Jax also has a very unique look, and could combine independent dates with a return to modeling. But the safe bet is that she will return to WWE, this time with a larger paycheck.
• The “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s documentary, The Price of Fame, will be released on November 7 in theaters nationwide. The film shares the story of DiBiase’s career, his personal downfall, and ultimate redemption.
“I was drinking poison,” said DiBiase. “That was my price of fame. None of us choose the circumstances of our life. Some of us get a good hand, and some of us don’t. I’ve seen people with a great hand blow it, and I’ve seen people with nothing go all the way. So it’s all about your choices, and I made some bad choices.”
DiBiase followed in the footsteps of his wrestler father, “Iron” Mike DiBiase, and became a professional wrestler in the summer of 1975. The biggest break in his 25-year career came in the spring of 1987 when he became the “Million Dollar Man.”
“God has a sense of humor,” said DiBiase. “That’s why God showed me what I wasn’t supposed to be in the ‘Million Dollar Man’, and God is now transforming me into who I can be as a person.”
DiBiase, who is now a full-time evangelist and motivational speaker, literally paid the price of fame.
“It was a thrill to walk into a coliseum and have everyone know my name, but when that show was over, I went back to my hotel room, alone,” said DiBiase, who had six days off a month during his years with the WWF during 1988 and 1989. “Then I sauntered down to the hotel lobby and it had a bar, and that’s where it all began.”
An unsung hero in DiBiase’s journey is his wife, Melanie, who he has been married to for the past 31 years. DiBiase was unfaithful to his wife and caused her grief and years of humiliation.
“After I confessed my life to her in 1992, I came forward to the front of our pastor and his youth group at this big rally in Chicago with 15,000 people,” said DiBiase. “When the invitation was given to come forward and get right with God, I dropped to my knees, put my face in the ground, and wept. I didn’t care that there were 15,000 people in the room, and I haven’t cared since. It was a moment of genuine surrender.
“My wife witnessed all this, and she said, ‘I’m not going to make you a promise you can’t keep. And I want you to know you don’t deserve this. But I am going to be obedient to the voice in my heart telling me to give you another chance.’ It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t a fairytale, but I was on the receiving end of grace from my wife.”
A father of three and proud grandfather of two, DiBiase is hoping viewers are able to connect with his story.
“I want people to watch this film and know there is hope. I want people to realize that genuine happiness is when you have love and commitment.
“That’s what I want people to take from this. There is hope. When I die, and my sons stand over my grave and eulogize me, I don’t want to just be remembered as a wrestling star. I want to leave a legacy, and be remembered as a man who was appreciative of all he’d be given; that I served my family and went out of my way to serve others and give back. That is all more valuable than money.”
• Am I the only one not totally enamored with the reunion of The Shield?
From this perspective, the most compelling reunion in WWE would be that of The Club with AJ Styles, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. The first feud could be with Finn Balor, who desperately needs to separate himself from Bray Wyatt.
• Jinder Mahal spoke to Sports Illustrated about “forcing the result” in his WWE career.
“There was originally no plan in place for me to become WWE champion,” explained Mahal. “It felt like I became the number one contender out of nowhere. I call what I did forcing the results. I wasn’t happy with my position. I was putting in the work, but I wasn’t getting the results. I was going to force the result no matter what the cost.”
Could Mahal be making the same attempt to prolong his title reign?
Mahal mentioned outlasting CM Punk’s 435-day title reign, but he is expected to lose the belt by January. Mahal’s reign, which currently stands at 151 days, is far from reaching Punk, who held the belt from November of 2011 to January of 2013. Mahal, who is slated to wrestle Brock Lesnar at November’s Survivor Series, also discussed wrestling John Cena at WrestleMania 34 in a title match, so regardless of WWE’s creative plans, he clearly has designs on holding onto the title for as long as possible.
• Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore promotion has entered into an exclusive multi-year streaming partnership with social video service Twitch.
This is beneficial to wrestling fans as House of Hardcore will begin streaming all matches on Twitch, starting with House of Hardcore 35 on November 18 in, fittingly, Philadelphia, which was Dreamer’s home during his iconic run in ECW.
“I have been waiting for the right deal to take House of Hardcore to the next level,” said Dreamer. “I signed the deal with Twitch on the fifth year, to the day, of my first show. I only had the intention of doing one show, but just like the industry, we are evolving and changing. The deal with Twitch is everything I’ve wanted: we have a network behind us, they’re partners with Amazon, you can watch for free on your computer or television, and I’m entrusted with the wrestling.”
The November 18 House of Hardcore show will feature Austin Aries, MVP, Petey Williams, and Joey Mercury. The HOH channel will also host weekly content between matches including pre and post-match content and interviews.
“My company’s motto is, ‘No politics. No BS. Just wrestling,’” said Dreamer. “When the House of Hardcore show happens on November 18, I want you to forget about what is going on in the real world, sit back, and enjoy the greatest form of entertainment, which is professional wrestling.
“I’ve never lied to the fans and I will never let the fans down. I am going to continue to show my vision of pro wrestling. I have so many surprises for this show. I want to deliver for a whole new audience, and I’m going to have new weekly content with packages and profiles that build to the show on November 18. After that, we’ll build our storylines to the show on December 2.”
• For those who enjoyed Court Bauer’s MLW One-Shot show, there is more good news emanating out of MLW headquarters in Orlando, Florida.
MLW is exploring the possibility of expanding their return to presenting monthly events starting with the December 7 Never Say Never show. In addition to a solid foundation from Bauer, the central location of Florida is pivotal to the group’s success.
Many of today’s top talents live in Florida, including Ricochet, who headlined One-Shot, and there were multiple members of the WWE roster at the show this past October 5.
• Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard is back this Friday with a new podcast, which will be a detailed look at Vince McMahon’s creation of Doink the Clown.
“Our show is a Vince McMahon story,” said Thompson. “It’s a look inside the WWE machine, and we’ll hear the insight from the inside. I’m fascinated to find out what Vince thought people would like about Doink. There is rumor and innuendo that he is based on Krusty the Clown from The Simpsons, and he began as an evil clown.”
The Doink character was originally designed for Matt Borne, and the episode will also delve into the development of the character and touch on the characteristics that allowed Borne to play the role.
“Doink is believable,” said Thompson. “A lot of wrestlers positioned themselves as carnies, and they positioned themselves one way when they were really something else. Doink is very much that, so Doink is more real to me than Kane or The Undertaker. We can go find real life Doinks in America today, and the character played on a natural fear of clowns, which is based in reality. What if that clown didn’t just look scary, but he was also a bad guy?”
Thompson is also eager to discuss the plan for the original incarnation of Doink in 1992.
“What was the original vision? What was the original idea? Who pitched it? How did the character evolve before it ever debuted? We’ll also talk about Crush doing the Hawaiian thing, and get into some of the silly Doink-Lawler stuff. We’ll get into all of that stuff; this show is about more than Doink. It’s about the creation of Doink and the company trying something new, as well as how the company was evolving. It’s a fascinating time in the era of WWE.”
A fascinating part of last week’s No Mercy ‘99 podcast was when Prichard noted that Vince Russo’s departure from WWE hurt Vince McMahon’s feelings.
“We also discussed the ramifications,” said Thompson. “Vince McMahon realized he put all of his eggs in one basket, and he made the decision to never put himself in that position ever again. He now has a team of writers. Because Russo walked out, now there is a staff of 30 writers, and they can fire Jimmy Jacobs because he took a picture with the Bullet Club and they don’t miss a beat. That wouldn’t have happened without Vince Russo walking out, which is a story you wouldn’t hear unless you listen to No Mercy ‘99. So listen to Doink, as the majority of the story will be about Vince McMahon and Pat Patterson.”
• The end of Lucha Underground’s third season is set to air tonight, and head writer Chris “DJ” DeJoseph, who starts writing each season at the end and moving backwards, is excited for people to watch the finale.
“We have some definite ideas on how to finish the ending, and there were some changes, but we finished strong,” said DeJoseph. “The action in the ring was on another level in Ultima Lucha. Not to mention some big surprises and some major twists and turns in the universe of Lucha Underground.”
Lucha Underground earned the status of becoming the first U.S. television series to screen in the immersive 4DX format, as Ultima Lucha Tres screened at a private event for media and fans last night in the 4DX auditorium in Los Angeles. The finale includes a steel cage match, three-way match, and career versus title match.
“Stay tuned for the end,” said DeJoseph, who is optimistic that there will be a fourth season of Lucha Underground. “In my opinion, this is one of the most revolutionary wrestling products ever, and it would be a shame if it didn’t continue. I’m a ‘Believer’ that there will be a fourth season.”
• New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV airs the third installment of the Kazuchika Okada-Kenny Omega matches this Friday night, with Jim Ross and Josh Barnett providing the commentary.
“There is less desperation from Kenny,” said Barnett, referring to the match that took place between Okada and Omega during the G1 this past July. “Okada was reeling some from his most recent title defenses, and that shows in the match in terms of his fatigue.”
• In addition to the upcoming ESPN 30 for 30 on Ric Flair and the Ted DiBiase documentary, there is also a new film on the life of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
The project, Roddy Piper: In His Own Words, is directed by David Sinnott, and digs deep into Piper’s four-decade career that included the occasional foray into Hollywood, including a starring role in They Live.
“This project meant a lot to me to put together,” said Sinnott. “I have fond memories of working with Piper on another project and it didn’t sit well with me that so much great footage was locked away in a vault.”
Sinnott worked with Piper’s widow, Kitty Toombs, on the project.
“It’s not a story of his life, but rather like sitting at the table across from Roddy having a chat,” said Toombs. “He lets us into his mind and thoughts that guided some of his decisions.”
A percentage of all sales will be donated to the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, a hospital which resonated with Piper, who passed away in July of 2015.
“Roddy saw, first-hand during his decades in Portland, Oregon, the groundbreaking, good work being done at the Doernbecher Children Hospital,” said Toombs. “Throughout the years, he loved giving time volunteering as a celebrity during fundraisers but even more so, just stopping by to roam the halls and chat with the children. He shared with his family how those kids were the real heroes and what they gave him was far more than they ever realized.”
• Stat of the Week: Eighteen years ago, on October 17, 1999, Chyna defeated Jeff Jarrett for the Intercontinental title, becoming the first woman to ever claim the title.
• Al Snow’s weekly advice column, Inside Al's Head, explored the idea that some talent—namely, Neville and Nia Jax—are unhappy with the nonstop grind of the WWE.
“Everybody cites the travel as the biggest stress when you’re working for WWE,” said Snow, who worked an astounding 23 days a month for WWE when he was hired in 1995. “Without a question or a doubt, it’s hard. You give up a lot of your personal life because you’re on the road, and it’s certainly not easy, but that’s not the real issue.”
The most significant issues, Snow explained, are the physical and emotional stresses.
“Let’s say you’re on the road for five days, but you get to go home for a day-and-a-half,” explained Snow. “But you’ve got to go right back out for another four-and-a-half days. Then you’ll be home for a day-and-a-half. Then you’ll be gone for seven days. Then you’ll be home for four days, and then you’ve got to go back out. So it’s basically ‘Groundhog Day’.
“You wake up early in the morning, because after 9/11, you have to catch every flight as early as possible in the event you miss that one or it’s delayed. You’ve got to go to the airport early, stand in line to check in. You have to stand in line to go through security, then stand in line to get on the plane, which makes no sense because no one gets a prize for getting on the plane first. When you land, as soon as that ding goes off, everyone is in line to run off the plane. You go down to the carousel for the baggage, and people are surrounding the carousel as if they are gazelles at a watering hole. Then go stand in line to get yourself a rental car, then go get something to eat, check into your hotel, workout, get something to eat, drive to the building, wait for hours, then get to do the very thing you love to do for 10, 15 minutes and feel alive. Then you shower, get in the car, grab something to eat, and get back to the hotel where you are on the phone with your significant other who is complaining that they haven’t seen you and aren’t going to see you for even more days, then, when you do get home, you’ll be turning right around and leaving again. Then you get to bed at 2:30, get up at 6, and start the whole process again. Mentally and emotionally, it’s very hard.”
Snow stated that the hardest part is the internal pressure that comes inherently attached to being a star in WWE.
“Pressure is the one thing nobody anticipates,” said Snow. “In professional wrestling, unlike any other entertainment business, you are one of two things: you are the thing that sells tickets or you are the thing that helps sell tickets. There is no third option. Now every time you perform, every single time you perform, you’re only as good as the last time you’ve performed. So, every night, you have to re-earn your spot. You never to get to rest, or glide, or take it all in.”
While professional wrestling is not a competition in the ring, it is very much a competition backstage.
“There is an entire roster that wonders why you got 30 seconds of air time on Raw and why they didn’t get it, and what they can do so you don’t get it next time and they do. So you are constantly competing with every one of those people, and it’s a nonstop game of poker. Always evaluating, assessing, wondering the angle. You’re looking out for yourself as much as they’re looking out for themselves. That’s the nature of the beast. All it takes is you to go out there in front of thousands of people live, and millions upon millions all over the world on Raw, to not get that double, triple, or home run. Then, all your time at home, you’re always wondering, thinking, stressing if someone is taking your spot. It gets worse the higher you go.”
The more a wrestler has to gain, the more there is to lose. The more there is to lose, then the more the pressure intensifies.
“The pressure never lets up,” said Snow. “There is always someone waiting to take your place, undermine you, and benefit themselves. No matter what you think, you’re only as good as the last time you perform.”
Snow never implied that he did not enjoy his career choice. He is a 35-year veteran of pro wrestling who never once regretted his career choice. Yet his advice for fans is to appreciate the performance of the wrestlers now that they understand the immense pressure that these guys and girls live under to perform every night.
“It’s not a team sport,” said Snow. “If you buy a ticket, you don’t care John Cena has been on the road or has the flu or that he’s getting beaten up by his opponent. All you care is that you see the John Cena you saw on TV. That pressure plays a big role, and these guys and girls will do everything they can so you remember them.”
Tweet of the Week
Have I mentioned that I believe Daniel Bryan will re-sign with WWE?
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.