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: Daniel Bryan planning on returning to the ring
When, and not if, Daniel Bryan returns to wrestling, he will decide the opponent for his first match back.
“It depends on whether WWE clears me to wrestle,” said Bryan. “That will change my opponent.”
Speaking at the Play Fair toy convention in New York City, Bryan was asked about the significance of the upcoming Chris Jericho-Kenny Omega match and whether he would ever consider making the jump to New Japan Pro Wrestling to face off against current IWGP champion Kazuchika Okada.
“No comment,” Bryan said with a smile.
Although Bryan has released certain percentages about his return to active competition, he is confident in his health and that doctors will clear him to re-enter the ring. There are a plethora of must-see matches that interest Bryan, especially in the WWE, where the top two stars are John Cena and AJ Styles. Bryan has already envisioned an encounter with the “Phenomenal One”.
“One of my favorite guys to watch at WWE is AJ Styles,” said Bryan. “So, on the WWE stage, I would like to wrestle AJ Styles, only because I wrestled John Cena before.”
Bryan is realistic that a doctor’s prognosis regarding his health could change, and he claims he is unwilling to put himself in a position where his brain could suffer any more punishment. Bryan is well-versed in disappointment, constantly fighting uphill battles in wrestling, even missing out on his dream match.
“I was really disappointed I never got to wrestle Shawn Michaels,” said Bryan. “He trained me and that was the one match I never got to have.”
The 36-year-old Bryan started wrestling in Oct. 1999, and has spent more than half his life in a wrestling ring. He remains as introspective as ever, admitting he still remains in doubt as to whether he has truly accomplished his goals in wrestling or even believes that he was ever at the top in the industry.
“I don’t know if I ever accepted it,” said Bryan. “It’s just one of those things where your life evolves, everything changes, and you take steps toward your goal.
“Nobody even came up to me when I was a kid and said, ‘Hey! You look like you’re going to be a pro wrestler!’ Someone came up to me in a store not too long ago and said, ‘Wow, are you Daniel Bryan?’ I said yes, and he said, ‘Oh, I thought you’d be bigger.’”
Bryan’s road to superstardom featured a pivotal stop in New Orleans’ Superdome, where he captured the WWE championship in a triple-threat match over Randy Orton and Batista at WrestleMania 30.
"I spent ten years honing my craft all around the world, then WWE hired me, they fired me, and hired me again,” said Bryan. “The climb to the top of being champion for me was very long, but it was rewarding. I loved being champion, I thought it was the coolest thing.
“The only thing that wasn’t cool was traveling with the championship title through TSA. Once they see the belt, it’s the same kind of thing as before when they’ll say, ‘You’re a wrestling champion?’ At least I had the title to prove it, that part was very validating.”
Bryan’s love for the business still seeps through in every interview, every comment on wrestling, and even in his work as GM on SmackDown. His Paul Heyman-esque interview to build up AJ Styles on the SmackDown before the Survivor Series was brilliantly done, but Bryan knows that he is supposed to be the one in the ring against Brock Lesnar, not serving as Styles’ hype man.
“I loved wrestling at all times,” said Bryan. “Even when I was sleeping on floors, it honestly didn’t seem like work. It was fun. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without those experiences.”
Bryan also touched on a variety of topics during his question and answer session in New York, including his choice if ever given the opportunity to have a superhuman power.
“I would like to eradicate poverty,” said Bryan, who undoubtedly befuddled the child who asked him this question. “People think that flying is a super power, but I fly everywhere. We already have robots that are super-strong. Do you want to be invisible and look at people? Well, yup, that’s the internet. We can already do what people consider superhuman. The real superpowers are healing and eradicating poverty.”
Bryan admitted that he would like to be a farmer if he had to pick an entirely different profession, and also noted his passion for the Seattle Seahawks.
“I love Russell Wilson because of the class he exudes,” said Bryan, who is a native of Seattle, Washington. “As for a player, I love watching Kam Chancellor just to see him level people.”
Inevitably, every conversation with Bryan eventually returns to wrestling, who was asked to name the best main roster prospect from NXT.
“It’s hard to pick one person, but I really like Drew Galloway,” said Bryan. “Drew was let go by WWE, but he went out on his own and made a name for himself by wrestling his butt off all over the world.”
As for his favorite wrestlers as a child, Bryan admitted that he did not prefer the technicians, high-flyers, or even Hulk Hogan. Bryan’s entry into wrestling fandom was spent supporting anyone who brought an animal to the ring.
“I loved anybody that had an animal,” said Bryan. “I liked Jake the Snake, Koko B. Ware, the British Bulldogs. When the Russians stole [the British Bulldogs’ bulldog] Matilda, I was heartbroken.”
Bryan prefers to look forward instead of reflecting back, but he could not help but reminisce about his favorite match–which is one when he was not a participant.
“It was when my wife wrestled Stephanie McMahon at SummerSlam,” said Bryan, referring to Brie Bella’s match against McMahon in 2015. “Seeing someone you love accomplish something so awesome really made me proud for her and warmed my heart.”
Roman Reigns defeated The Miz during the main event of Monday’s Raw, winning the Intercontinental title in the process, which is an odd creative decision for someone on a direct path to wrestle Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 34 in April.
The most likely rationale is that WWE will put titles on all members of The Shield, and the company can even present Reigns as its fighting champion since he can defend the IC title every week on Raw while Lesnar rarely appears on Raw and it is even rarer to see him defend the Universal championship.
Also, contrary to reports that Finn Balor was pulled from a potential Royal Rumble Universal title match against Lesnar, Sports Illustrated has learned that Balor was never even in the mix for the match. Balor is slowly transitioning into a newer version of Dolph Ziggler as a performer with a great series of matches but no reward atop the card or faith from the office.
A source close to WWE creative relayed that McMahon sees Balor as bland when he is not portraying “The Demon” character. WWE desperately needs to give some life to Balor’s character. He carried NXT as its champion, but WWE is a far different beast. Balor is not an exceptional promo, considered small by even the newer WWE size standards, has visibly lost some of his confidence, and is not connecting at the moment with the audience.
WWE is adverse to the idea, but the best way to add life to Balor’s character is to reunite him with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson as The Club. They could feud with The Shield on Raw or The New Day on SmackDown, and provide plenty of other compelling match-ups. A return bout between AJ Styles and Balor, as the new leader of The Club, would have significantly more meaning and could even be a featured match at WrestleMania.
Another question that looms is how many more opponents are there for Brock Lesnar? WWE will be sure to evaluate whether Lesnar is worth his contract before renewing his deal in 2018.
In other news…
• “All Ego” Ethan Page is ready to make an indelible mark on the pro wrestling business.
Page, an indie wrestling star, has a future brimming with potential, and part of the reason for his success is courtesy of knowing the importance of fastening his seat belt.
The 28-year-old, who is expecting his first child in the next two-and-a-half months, defended his Southside world title against Space Monkey at the Nov. 11 CZW show in Philadelphia. Page and Monkey made the eight-hour trek back to Ontario together after the show, and were halfway home when they crashed into a deer.
“The passenger side of the car hit the deer, and I was asleep in the passenger seat, but I didn’t wake up until Space Monkey started yelling at the top of lungs,” said Page. “The car was totaled, so we had to take it to the junk yard in the middle of the night.”
Still four hours from his home in Hamilton, Ontario, with a baby shower for his pregnant wife in the morning, Page found himself contemplating his life’s decisions as he sat idly in a 24-hour gas station.
“Wrestling owes me nothing, so I do not take any opportunity for granted,” said Page. “Even in that tough spot, I was grateful to have worked in front of a great crowd for CZW. And, 20 hours later, I finally made it home just in time for my wife’s baby shower.”
In addition to fighting off close encounters with death, Page just exited EVOLVE after a very successful run with the company, remains a stalwart with Limitless Wrestling in Maine, and is now flooded with indie dates throughout the United States and Canada. He was also part of Impact’s recent slate of television tapings in Ottawa, playing a new character as the cousin to Joseph Park.
“I haven’t signed any contract with Impact, so we’ll wait and see, but it was such a friendly, accepting workplace when it came to sharing ideas and collaborating,” said Page. “My episode airs November 30, and I play a complete character. There is not an ounce of Ethan Page in what I am doing in my character at Impact. Things with Impact went well, but for those wondering, I am still the hottest free agent in wrestling.”
Page’s ultimate goal remains one day working for the WWE.
“The reach they have is incredible,” said Page. “Their superstars have the opportunity to captivate the largest audience in professional wrestling and actually affect the audience in a positive way. That’s my goal: affect people’s lives in a positive ways.”
Page is fully committed to his place in professional wrestling, playing an egomaniac in front of the curtain who can brawl as well as outwit opponents on the microphone.
“You’ll always get 110 percent from me,” promised Page, who has an upcoming match, with Cody Rhodes as the special guest referee, against Josh Alexander on Sunday in Hamilton, Ontario for Alpha-1 Wrestling. “There will always be something I do that will stick with you. Whether that is on your iPad screen or in-person, on your ride home or while you’re watching, I will be the thing you will talk about after you see me wrestle.”
• Fact or fiction: Weird Al Yankovic once worked on a pro wrestling parody album?
“That’s an urban legend,” Yankovic confirmed to Sports Illustrated. “The closest I can relate to wrestling is through Rick Derringer, who produced my first six albums, because he produced a wrestling album.”
Derringer is best known throughout wrestling for singing “Real American”, which served as the perfect soundtrack to Hulk Hogan’s stardom.
“Rick Derringer worked with all those people in wrestling, but I never wrote a wrestling song or had any connection with that world.”
Much to the chagrin of Weird Al-loving wrestling fans, Yankovic would prefer to play the Super Bowl halftime show over WrestleMania.
“I’m almost positive I’ll never be on the NFL’s short list,” cautioned Yankovic. “So I wouldn’t hold your breath for that to happen.”
• Wrestling fans unfamiliar with Darby Allin would behoove themselves to watch his work in the no-disqualification tag team main event of MLW’s Never Say Never on Dec. 7 in Orlando, Florida.
This no-DQ encounter is the culmination of an MLW storyline that started in October when Shane Strickland and Sami Callihan were attacked outside a Florida nightclub by two hooded men, resulting in Callihan being put out of action in MLW until 2018. Those two hooded assailants were later revealed as Allin and Jimmy Havoc.
Never Say Never will be available within 72 hours after the event takes place on video on-demand at MLW.tv, and features Allin teaming with the maniacal Havoc, known throughout wrestling as the “King of the Death Match,” against John Hennigan and Strickland.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Allin is a former skateboarder, most notably of MTV Ridiculousness fame, and brings a very unique approach into pro wrestling.
“My style comes from my skateboarding past,” said the 24-year-old Allin. “The quickness on my feet developed from that. I’ve always been attracted to the grittier moments in life, and my influences are skaters like Geoff Rowley and Lizard King. I don’t want to recycle wrestling back into wrestling.”
The significance of working across from Hennigan is not lost on Allin. Hennigan, who starred in WWE as John Morrison and for Lucha Underground as Johnny Mundo, is one of the bigger stars for Allin to ever lock up against.
“This shows the world I can hang with top-tier talent and ones that have been in the game for a while,” said Allin. “Not only hang, but prove that when in a big match, nobody goes harder than Darby Allin.”
Teaming with a cult icon of violence in Havoc serves as motivation for Allin to hunt for even more bloodshed in his assault during the match.
“We’ll motivate each other, no doubt,” said Allin. “Get two minds that have a point to prove and we can make the world know that they’re watching a match they won’t see again. The level of danger and violence will be raised on December 7. I hope Shane and Johnny know what’s in store.”
Allin has dedicated himself entirely to the field of professional wrestling. He is a vagabond in its truest sense, living out of his car and finding a new home in parking lots outside venues where he is working.
“I grew up in Seattle and relocated when wrestling took off,” said Allin. “This isn’t a game, this isn’t for fun. This is my life. I moved into my car ‘cause I’m not waiting for a handout. I’ll go anywhere and train to grow as a wrestler. Nobody has my skate or filming for MTV past. I pride myself on not being generic.”
Allin has a savage style in the ring, yet offered an insightful, poignant reason for fans to watch Never Say Never.
“If nobody has heard of Darby Allin they should invest in watching MLW’s Never Say Never,” said Allin. “I guarantee they haven’t seen anything like me.”
• The “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase was at the peak of his stardom in November of 1989 at the Survivor Series.
DiBiase captained the “Million Dollar Team” against Hulk Hogan’s “Hulkamaniacs” in arguably the most star-studded match of the night. Although the program between DiBiase and Hogan was coming to a close, the connection between the two men dated back much further.
“My story with the Hulkster goes all the way back to December of 1979,” said DiBiase. “This goes back to back to when Vince McMahon Sr. was still the boss in New York and I was only 24 years old.”
DiBiase had entered the WWF in ‘79 with Tito Santana, but was finishing his stint with the promotion by December. Before he left, McMahon Sr. asked DiBiase to work one more match at an upcoming show in New York City.
“The last match I had during that run was in Madison Square Garden with this new guy, Hulk Hogan,” said DiBiase, whose new documentary, “The Price of Fame”, opened in select theaters two weeks ago to overwhelmingly positive reviews. “He was the heel and I was the good guy.
“I remember asking Vince Sr., ‘I know you really want to get this guy over. How would you like me to do it?’ Vince Sr. said, ‘Ted, do it the way you want to do it. I know you’ll do it right.’”
DiBiase was far more experienced in the ring at that point in their careers, and he made sure Hogan looked like a monster in the ring.
“After the match was over, Hulk thanked me and he said, ‘I owe you one.’”
Fast-forward eight years to DiBiase entering a vastly different landscape in the WWF upon his return in 1987, with Hogan perched atop all of wrestling as its brightest star and DiBiase debuting as the “Million Dollar Man”.
“Hulk was the man,” said DiBiase. “He was big in that Rocky 3 movie, he slammed Andre the Giant, he was the star. I didn’t actually see Hulk until we did our first TV [taping] together. He walked up to me, shook my hand, and said, ‘It’s payback time.’ Hulk remembered what I did for him, and he was ready to repay the favor and make me look good upon my arrival.”
DiBiase noted that he and Hogan still keep in touch.
“I’ve got a lot of time for him,” said DiBiase, who is now a minister. “He’s been through a whole lot. Spiritually, he’s a new person.”
• Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard returns this Friday at noon ET with a new podcast, and co-host Conrad Thompson noted that the show will detail every aspect of the inaugural 1987 Survivor Series.
In addition to examining the landscape of the World Wrestling Federation in the fall of 1987, the show will take a deep look at the creation of the Survivor Series, which directly competed with the Crockett Promotions’ NWA Starrcade.
The original Survivor Series embodies the ruthless business style of Vince McMahon, who balked at the idea of Crockett Promotions even considering promoting a wrestling pay per view, but nonetheless aired Starrcade on Thanksgiving Day in 1987.
• Beyond Wrestling owner Drew Cordeiro is an integral piece of the independent wrestling scene, and his all-women’s promotion, Women’s Wrestling Revolution, is holding its first-ever “Tournament for Tomorrow” at 2pm ET on Sunday, Nov. 26 at the Electric Haze venue in Worcester, Massachusetts.
“We do the ‘Tournament for Tomorrow’ for our Beyond Wrestling men’s division, and now we’re doing a one-night ‘Tournament for Tomorrow’ for the female division,” said Cordeiro. “It’s very important for me to present women’s wrestling in a serious fashion. That’s what we strive to do in Beyond Wrestling with the men, and that’s what we’re doing with Women’s Wrestling Revolution.”
Cordeiro is proud to champion women’s wrestling, and the tournament participants are Karen Q, Tasha Steelz, Davienne, Skylar, Willow Nightingale, Vanity, Jordynne Grace, and Terra Calaway.
“Women’s Wrestling Revolution is a gateway to enter the national women’s wrestling scene,” Cordeiro explained. “I try to spotlight wrestlers in Beyond Wrestling that may not be getting a fair shake or are overlooked, and it’s the same thing with the women’s wrestlers. This tournament allows us to spotlight eight women who are on the cusp of breaking out on a national level.”
The broadcast can be viewed live on Powerbomb.TV.
“Sign up using promo code ‘WWRpro’, which gives you a 20-day free trial and allows you to watch ‘Tournament for Tomorrow’ live,” said Cordeiro. “The energy is palpable and offers a different level of engagement, which improves the quality of the wrestling. A great crowd elevates a wrestling show. It’s a professional presentation for women looking to break out onto the national scene.”
In addition to the tourney, other matches include Deonna Purrazzo vs. Madison Rayne in singles action, as well as a four-match “Powerbomb Pregame” card presented by Beyond Wrestling that will be available for free on Beyond’s Youtube and Facebook pages with Nick Gage vs. David Starr just announced.
Women’s Wrestling Revolution serves as the launch-pad to bring wrestlers into the national spotlight, and Cordeiro expects fans to watch with interest and even a critical eye.
“Do not hold this show to the standard of what people think women’s wrestling will be,” advised Cordeiro. “Hold it to the standards of what wrestling will be. I’m not a men’s wrestling fan, I’m not a women’s wrestling fan, I am a wrestling fan. Wrestling is wrestling, there is always a good story to be told.”
• Coming attractions: The Week in Wrestling publishes its 100th edition next Wednesday, and will feature an interview with “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair.
• Al Snow’s weekly advice column, Inside Al’s Head, extended his gratitude and thanks for the professional wrestling business.
“I’m thankful that I’ve gotten to do what I love to do for as long as I’ve got to do it,” said Snow. “I’m really a blessed man to have had a passion for something, and then do it and actually live it, and live it for as long as I have. The older I get, the more grateful I am.”
Snow remains appreciative for his time in WWE working for Vince McMahon.
“The time I spent in WWE made it possible for me to continue to have a career and continue to travel all over the world,” said Snow, who will be part of the WrestleCade convention this weekend in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “I’m grateful to be part of wrestling. It’s been such a unique and interesting business, and provided me with experiences and stories that there is no way I could have ever had if I pursued anything else. The most ridiculous circumstances and absurd things occur with the most fascinating characters who, if not for pro wrestling, would not be able to function in society.”
Above all, Snow stressed, he is thankful for the fans.
“I’m really grateful for the fans,” said Snow. “They’re so passionate. The one thing we all share, wrestlers and wrestling fans, is that passion for the sport and for the art of professional wrestling. Sometimes that almost puts us at odds, but we the wrestlers couldn’t do what we love to do if it weren’t for the wrestling fans.”
Tweet of the Week
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.