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’s Seven Day Whirlwind
Nia Jax, Kevin Owens, Roman Reigns, Bray Wyatt, AJ Styles, Triple H, and Kurt Angle were all key players in a week WWE will not soon forget.
The reason behind Nia Jax’s much-discussed “leave of absence” has been uncovered, as Sports Illustrated learned that Jax balked at the idea of losing clean to Sasha Banks at TLC. She called her cousin, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, to ask for his advice, and Johnson encouraged her to walk away if she was unhappy.
The history of the business is rife with examples of top talent–including Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and The Rock–refusing to accept certain finishes. All of those talents held leverage over WWE due to their star power, while Jax’s main source of leverage is the relation to her cousin, who is one of the biggest box office attractions in the world.
How different would the career arcs look for Dolph Ziggler or Zack Ryder, two extraordinarily talented performers continually put in difficult situations, if they had ever made a similar decision? Ultimately, Jax has to be the primary person to look out for her own best interests.
Instead of tweeting about her unhappiness with the creative, Jax was willing to walk out to voice her displeasure.
Another major event this past week occurred when Kurt Angle took the place of Roman Reigns during the three-on-five “Tables, Ladders, and Chairs” match at Sunday’s TLC due to a viral infection that is affecting Reigns.
Bray Wyatt was also infected, so AJ Styles flew home from the overseas tour and replaced Wyatt in his match against Finn Balor. WWE chose to have Balor cleanly defeat Styles after a tremendous match, which showed the superiority of a Raw mid-carder over a SmackDown main-eventer. Balor then lost in embarrassing fashion the following night on Raw to Kane. SmackDown putting Raw “under siege” would have been even more realistic if Styles won the match over Balor on Sunday.
Kevin Owens flew home for a family-related reason, which is why Triple H flew to Argentina to take Owens’ place for the remainder of the tour. There was speculation over the weekend if Owens would have issues with WWE for his early exit, but there is no internal heat on Owens for leaving the tour.
The tumultuous week continued even outside of the WWE Universe, as Anthem’s Impact Wrestling terminated its relationship with Jeff Jarrett and Global Force Wrestling.
Sports Illustrated reported on Sep. 6 the financial issues at Anthem, which is the parent company of Impact Wrestling, and Impact tweeted yesterday that they have completely cut ties with Jeff Jarrett and Global Force Wrestling. Although the story broke on Monday, Jarrett was actually informed of the decision last week, but the tweet was designed to distance Anthem and Impact from Jarrett’s controversial weekend at a Canadian independent show.
SI also detailed how Anthem was losing money on Impact, which Jarrett also addressed. SI will take a deeper look into the issues plaguing the Anthem/Impact relationship next week in the Week in Wrestling.
In other news…
• After his first WWE match in over 11 years on Sunday, Kurt Angle returned to his role as GM the following night on Raw. Angle did a solid job building the storyline rift between Raw and SmackDown as he stood shell-shocked in an empty ring as Raw went off the air on Monday.
Angle recently spoke with Sports Illustrated and reflected on the night he was named Raw GM, which took place the night after WrestleMania 33, when he was so nervous beforehand that he sweated through his suit jacket on live television:
“Vince wanted to swerve the fans,” said Angle, referring to the segment where Vince McMahon first planned for Teddy Long to act as the new GM. “A lot of people were guessing it might be me, but then Teddy came out. Vince doesn’t come back on air very often, but he did that for me. I thought that was a true honor. Vince wanted to show people how important Kurt Angle was to WWE, and not only to the fans, but also to him. It meant a lot.”
• Despite WWE’s insistence to the contrary, AJ Styles did not become a star in Japan. Styles, who was defeated in a brilliant match at Sunday’s TLC by Finn Balor, delivered a memorable run from April of 2014 to January of 2017 in New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Yet Styles’ work in New Japan was the result of his work at TNA/Impact Wrestling, where he wrestled from 2002 to 2013, and elevated himself from the X-division into a main event talent.
• On paper, the Survivor Series match-up pitting WWE Universal champion Brock Lesnar against WWE champion Jinder Mahal does not appear to be the type of champion vs. champion showdown that can headline a show.
How does WWE make this affair more enticing to its fans? Can you somehow fit AJ Styles, Braun Strowman, or Kevin Owens into the match? Or just eschew the match and allow Paul Heyman to cut an eight-minute promo?
• John Cena’s father, John Cena Sr. checked in with the Week in Wrestling, and noted that he was particularly impressed by his son’s recent work with Roman Reigns.
“Both John and Roman did a great job,” said Cena Sr. “It took two performers to make that work.”
• Keith Lee defeated Matt Riddle to win the WWN championship two weeks ago in a “Last Man Standing” match, and EVOLVE owner and head of creative Gabe Sapolsky is looking forward to Lee’s title reign.
“Over the years, from my time with Ring of Honor and working with Daniel Bryan or Samoa Joe, to Dragon Gate USA with Johnny Gargano, to EVOLVE with Drew McIntyre, I have always been a fan of having a new champion be a guy that can grow with the title,” said Sapolsky. “I want that guy to be on the cusp of hitting an elite level, and he grows that championship and that championship grows him. I believe Keith Lee is right in that mold.”
Lee is overflowing with charisma, natural ability, and a natural connection with the fans.
“He’s also real and unique in the ring, and those are qualities of a champion,” said Sapolsky. “Now, it’s a matter of Lee fine-tuning his abilities, and elevating them to the role of a champion.
“A lot of being a champion is also done outside the ring. When we need media done, we’ll depend on him to do that. Johnny Gargano and Drew McIntyre were huge with that for us. Keith is setting the entire tone for our promotion, and he’s a true heavyweight who can change the face and vibe of EVOLVE.”
• The Young Bucks recently conducted an interview with Sports Illustrated where both Matt and Nick mentioned they would love to include Hulk Hogan in their Bullet Club entrance at New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom next January, but “The Villain” Marty Scurll respectfully disagreed with his Bullet Club brethren.
“I actually have a different wrestling legend in mind for my Wrestle Kingdom entrance,” said Scurll. “One that I have met on a podcast. One who likes to drink a little beer, raise a little hell. Put up the middle finger. But I don’t want to ruin any surprises. My lips are sealed.”
As for Scurll’s next major goal to conquer in 2017, he shared that he would like to headline ROH’s Final Battle pay per view this December.
“More important than headlining the show is shocking the world,” said Scurll. “Giving the people something they would never forget. There’s always talk about Conor McGregor getting involved in wrestling, so why not ROH? Put him in the ring against ‘The Villain’ at Final Battle. Maybe have my pal ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin in my corner. These are the kind of things I want to do for this business. The possibilities for the future captivate me. There’s so much good stuff to come.”
• Am I the only one who finds the Twitter war between Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega a slow build to a main event on the Jericho Cruise next year?
Chris Jericho’s Rock ‘N’ Wrestling Rager at Sea sets its sails on Oct. 27 and will travel from Miami, Florida to the Bahamas. Jericho first spoke with WWE about hosting an NXT tournament on the cruise, but was turned down, so he reached out to Ring of Honor.
The ROH tournament will be hosted by the iconic duo of Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler, and a main event of Jericho and Omega–who are both proud sons of Winnipeg–would add a must-see, first-of-its-kind attraction to the cruise.
• Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard is back this Friday with a new podcast, which will be a detailed look at The Rock’s run in WWE in 1997 and ‘98.
“People haven’t heard how The Rock was brought in from Bruce’s perspective,” said Thompson. “He’s Rocky Johnson’s son, goes down to work in Memphis as Flex Kavana and has a couple of tag title runs down there, but he’s still trying to figure out what and who he is.”
The Rock debuted on WWE programming at the 1996 Survivor Series as Rocky Maivia, who failed to connect with the crowds at home or in-person.
“He was referred to as ‘The Blue Chipper’, and before you knew it, he was the Intercontinental champion,” said Thompson, who also delivered a fantastic podcast this week on Halloween Havoc ‘97 with Tony Schiavone. “They tried to strap the rocket to him as a sugary white meat babyface, but this is at the same time that Stone Cold is flipping people off and DX is crotch-chopping. At the other end of the aisle, the NWO is running roughshod all over everyone in WCW. Rocky wasn’t cool, and the crowd started booing. WWE got cold feet, and then put the IC belt back on Hunter.”
Thompson and Prichard will discuss, at length, the early dynamic, and friction, between Triple H and The Rock.
“People forget that Shawn Michaels was still there and had a lot of stroke,” said Thompson. “That politicking from Shawn managed to get the IC belt off Rocky very quickly. That was happening in February and March of ‘97, and then he was in that match with The Sultan at WrestleMania. He eventually joins the Nation of Domination, and very quickly, with one phrase or two, manages to get over. Then he’s giving the portrait to Farooq, and he’s in a feud with Stone Cold where he had the beeper with ‘3-16’ on it and all the craziness that happens in ‘97. Then, ‘98 is like a whole new world.”
The Rock’s character becomes a genuine star in 1998, winning the world title and headlining the final two pay per views.
• Lucha Underground head writer Chris “DJ” DeJoseph helped produce a memorable conclusion to the third season last week, which saw Pentagon Dark claim the title by defeating Prince Puma.
“It was pretty obvious for a while that Pentagon should be the man,” said DeJoseph. “The route we took was longer than some people wanted, but sometimes you need to make fans want it a little bit more. Pentagon deserves it, and it is now the ‘Pentagon Era’ in Lucha Underground.”
While Pentagon would appeal to crowds if he worked in WWE, Ring of Honor, or any other promotion, he fits perfectly into the Lucha Underground orbit.
“Pentagon is dark, dangerous, and insane,” said DeJoseph. “He is the perfect fit with Lucha Underground.”
DeJoseph also wrote for WWE from 2004-2010, with two years on Raw and the last four years on SmackDown. He was asked whether he was surprised that Finn Balor would defeat AJ Styles on pay per view this past Sunday, then be put in a creative spot on Monday where he lost to Kane.
“Balor screams money,” said DeJoseph. “I’m sure a lot of the people on creative feel the same, but I don’t know if Vince or the agents see it that way. You never know. WWE is so political, and things change. You just never know what is the right answer or the wrong answer.
“At least from my experience and perspective, we would always say, ‘It’s chocolate ice cream one day, and vanilla ice cream the next.’ You never know what Vince is going to want, so it can be chaotic.
• Robbie E no longer wrestles for Impact, but he is doing weekly fitness videos for men on Muscle and Fitness on Mondays at 10:30am, as well as Men’s Fitness on Thursdays at 10:30am called #backtothebasics, He is also making weekly videos that air every Tuesday at 10:30am for FITE TV called #realrobbiee, which will provide an update on his life and wrestling career.
“So to add to my insane schedule, not only am I doing weekly #dadboddestroyer videos with Muscle and Fitness every Monday, but now Tuesdays #realrobbie videos on FITE TV where I take you on the road with me and Thursdays #backtothebasics for men’s fitness,” said Robbie E.
“It’s insane how when one door closes, another one opens–or, in my case, three. So check out my videos and send me pics and videos of you working out so your workouts match mine.”
• Stat of the Week: Kurt Angle won his first WWF championship on October 22, 2000 when he defeated The Rock at No Mercy. Then, 17 years later, on October 22, 2017, Angle returned to a WWE ring after an 11-year hiatus to pin The Miz in a three-on-five main event at TLC.
• Al Snow’s weekly advice column, Inside Al’s Head, touched on the brilliance of Kurt Angle.
“When you train to be an amateur wrestler, you basically program your body to operate on instinctual memory,” explained Snow. “But you have to change that timing, distance, and footwork to adapt to pro wrestling to be able to perform with another person.”
Snow added that another layer of difficulty for a pro wrestler is the need to show and demonstrate to the audience that that intent is real even if the wins and losses are not.
Tweet of the Week
Did this tweet make anyone else miss WCW?