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’s future coming into focus
Mark your 2018 calendars: Daniel Bryan will know his WWE future by WrestleMania.
“I assume that if I don’t wrestle by WrestleMania, I probably won’t be wrestling with WWE at all,” said Bryan. “That’s my assumption.”
Bryan accepts that his potential return to a WWE ring is a complicated process.
“It’s not a black and white answer,” said Bryan. “There are a lot of issues with me getting cleared by WWE. They have a very strict protocol, which is a good thing, but the timeline of all that happening was not the best for me. It’s an interesting situation that will develop.”
Bryan was a guest of the Springfield Thunderbirds hockey team this past Friday night for “Yes! Night”. Thunderbirds president Nathan Costa was thrilled to help organize the event, which saw Bryan drop the puck at center ice before the start of the game.
Costa and Senior Vice President Chris Thompson came up with the idea to have Bryan appear at a Thunderbirds game. The team, which has hosted David Ortiz and Ric Flair in the past, worked with WWE to co-promote the event.
“WWE said that Daniel Bryan would love to do it, so it really worked out,” said Costa. “It was great to see him interact with all of our fans.”
The Thunderbirds are the AHL affiliate of the Florida Panthers, as well as a charter member of the NHL’s primary developmental league, with roots deeply entrenched in the community.
“A lot of my success also has to do with a grassroots fan base, coming up from the independents and having people behind me because of what I did outside WWE, where, at first, I would lose a lot,” said Bryan. “Places like Springfield, Massachusetts, where we don’t necessarily do TV, but going there and performing and having people say, ‘Whoa, we really like this guy,’ and then seeing them go to the shows in Boston or Providence, where we do TV, and they cheer for me. That was a big part of my success.”
Bryan signed nearly 500 autographs at the Thunderbirds game, which included a private meet and greet session as well as a public session with a line that extended around the Mass Mutual Center concourse.
“This is one of my favorite things to do,” said Bryan, still smiling after the event. “They’ve had me do a lot of autograph signings since I’ve retired, and it’s really nice to interact with our fans on a personal level. We interact with them on a macro level in the arena, but we don’t get to interact with them on a personal level like this.”
In other news…
• Low Ki will forever be remembered in wrestling lore as the inaugural Ring of Honor champion, but he is still enhancing his legacy as wrestling enters 2018.
The 38-year-old starts off his year by challenging MVP at MLW’s Zero Hour show in Orlando, Florida on January 11 at the Gilt Nightclub.
“My presence brings a level of efficiency, effectiveness, and professionalism that is not common any longer in the realm of professional wrestling,” said Low Ki, who is Brooklyn, New York native Brandon Silvestry. “I’m bringing precision at a different level and a different style to Zero Hour.”
Low Ki astutely noted how the term “professional wrestling” is very misleading.
“It’s as deceptive as the term ‘federal reserve’, which is not a federal entity,” said Low Ki. “Pro wrestling has an existing culture, which stems from its starting point in the carnival days, has a culture that exists in its methodology. When I came into the business in the beginning of 1998, and I’d been training for a year-and-a-half prior to being officially licensed by the New York State Athletic Commission, I was intent on surviving in a manner that was based on respect. That is old-fashioned hard work.”
Low Ki has worked everywhere in the industry, including WWE and New Japan Pro Wrestling, yet he remains his own entity. Although he would certainly enhance the card at either Wrestle Kingdom or the Royal Rumble, he chose a long time ago to pave his own path in pro wrestling.
“Become the master of your own destiny,” said Low Ki. “It doesn’t really matter what anyone else says. They don’t make the decisions. Many people have an opinion, but it’s an outside perspective. They’re missing a whole bunch of information that goes into the decision-making. If it doesn’t fare well with their personal interests, of course they’re going to have something unfavorable to say.
“The bottom line, whether good or bad of what people think about me, the one thing they will do is respect me. Everything I’ve done has purpose. Everything I decided had a perfectly good reason behind it. The majority of the time, if people were to find out the truth behind the decisions that were made, they’d probably think differently. I’m confident in my decisions and ability.”
A military upbringing from a father in the United States Coast Guard and strong training physically and mentally from Homicide helped shape Low Ki–who stands only 5-foot-8, which is far more accepted now but viewed drastically different upon his arrival into wrestling in 1998–into his own entity.
“I’m born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, so that mentality is part of my upbringing,” said Low Ki. “Growing up in one of the biggest cities in the world, I learned that you need a thick skin to survive. It’s not for the weak. I began there, and there was no room for emotional weakness. If you wanted to survive, it was black and white.”
Low Ki is also a lifelong martial artist who adheres strictly to the “perfection of the self” philosophy, which directly correlates to his success in wrestling.
“I’m always attempting to improve myself,” said Low Ki. “Learning is something I’ve always done and strongly advocate. Because of that, I’m not complacent. I’m not the same athlete I was ten years ago, but I’m way more efficient and I’m highly effective at what I do, and my presence separates me from everyone else because it’s pretty well-known what I bring to the table without even having to utter a word.”
Low Ki also confirmed he is back in full training after an injury two months ago while wrestling in Germany.
“I was injured during my time in wXw in Germany this past November, and I know the suspicion of my physical health may be something of concern, but that isn’t the case,” said Low Ki. “I’ve been back in full training and even a higher degree of training.”
There are strength in numbers for Low Ki in his upcoming Zero Hour match against MVP as he will be accompanied by Stokely Hathaway–possibly the best young manager in wrestling–
“In preparation for MVP, people have to understand I’m in the land of the giants. I’m fighting a super heavyweight; this is not someone who is easy to move around. This is far different than working against someone like Rey Mysterio. I’ve taken a lot of care toward strategies to get MVP on the defense. The approach is different, but the ferocity is still the same because I am what I say I am, and that is a professional.
“Stokely Hathaway brings old-school, collective management to building something that is quite different from the rest. People might not know his name as commonly as other names, but they will–and I’m going to be a catalyst for it.”
• Like Low Ki, Cody Rhodes is also a former Ring of Honor champion. Rhodes is preparing for the opportunity of a lifetime in his match against Kota Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom 12.
“Kota Ibushi is one of Kenny Omega’s lifelong greatest friends,” said Rhodes. “Kenny and I don’t always publicly see eye to eye, and stepping through this match could be a minefield of explosions, but hopefully fans will like it.”
Ibushi is a wrestling cult hero from a different continent. His battles with Omega in the DDT promotion led to a high-profile run in New Japan, where Ibushi battled with Finn Balor for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship.
Ibushi later competed in WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic tournament, a decision that Omega was critical of as he felt it was a step down for Ibushi. Although Omega and Ibushi appeared destined to battle at Wrestle Kingdom 12, Omega is set to defend his IWGP US title against Chris Jericho while Rhodes plans to turn the Tokyo Dome upside-down in his match against Ibushi.
“This is really a dream match that is taking place on a dream card,” said Rhodes. “It’s one that I’ve wanted for a long time. I’m incredible keyed up for the thought of wrestling Kota Ibushi. This match is incredibly important to me.
“I know that in Japan there were actually some people upset that my match with Ibushi was profiled like it was even though it’s not an IWGP championship match. You’re hearing a lot of Kenny-Jericho, Okada-Naito, and Cody-Ibushi, but there are a lot of New Japan legends and stars you’re not hearing about. That upset some of the New Japan diehard fans, but I love what New Japan is doing and that we’re bringing over some new fans. There are ramifications of what will happen in Long Beach this March with what happens in my match against Ibushi.”
• Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega is the caliber of match that would dazzle a worldwide audience at a WrestleMania, and New Japan has certainly garnered all kinds of attention for its signing of Jericho and decision to pair him with Omega.
Sean Grande, who is the longstanding radio voice of the 17-time NBA champion Boston Celtics, is also a noted wrestling historian with a focus on New Japan Pro Wrestling. Grande’s travels with the Celtics, who are an Eastern Conference-best 30-10, have allowed him some extra time to analyze the upcoming No-DQ affair between Jericho and Omega.
Here Grande’s analysis of Jericho-Omega:
“In some ways, it’s a ‘fantasy’ matchup you’d play in a video game,” said Grande, who was also brilliant in his work as the voice of Bellator MMA. “Except you’d probably go 2018 Kenny Omega vs. 2008 Chris Jericho.
“But the brilliance of Jericho is his relentless pursuit of originality, and reinvention. And don’t forget where he cut his teeth. In Calgary, yes. In Mexico, sure. But so much of the Jericho we first got to know 20 years ago was formed in Japan. He understands the fans, what they want, and how to deliver it.
“I also love it as a chance for Omega to expand his reach and his fan base, and that clearly Jericho wants that, too. Always remember, Jericho was one of the guys ‘held back’ in WCW. When he, and Benoit and Guerrero and that group was ready for more, they struggled to get top programs. It’s been clear the way he’s handled the second half of his career he was affected by that, and wants to do better for the next generation than was done for him.
“And for a generation of fans, it’s a ‘cross-promotional’ match. Like the ones fans of the Attitude Era would get when someone jumped, and the Territorial Era got when a new talent they’d read about in the magazines, would show up in their promotion.
“My only prediction is this: 2018 Jericho may not be Kazuchika Okada… and it may not be 6.25 stars… but it will be memorable. Neither one of those guys will allow it not to be.”
• There has been considerable talk among wrestling cognoscenti that New Japan is too focused on its double main event of Kazuchika Okada-Tetsuya and Kenny Omega-Chris Jericho, with the additional press seemingly given to the match between Cody Rhodes and Kota Ibushi.
“Switchblade” Jay White, who challenges the legendary Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental title at Wrestle Kingdom 12, certainly feels slighted by the lack of pre-match coverage.
“I’m not blind to it,” admitted White. “I understand why the other two matches have gotten more publicity. It’s the ‘G1 winner vs. The Rainmaker,’ as well as ‘Overrated vs Over the Hill.’
“I mean, I’m just a recently graduated ‘young boy’, right? What right do I have to be at the top of the card, let alone talked about? But as I said, I understand why, but we’ll just see what people are talking about at the end of the night.”
The 25-year-old, New Zealand-born White started in New Japan as one of the company’s “young boys”–or rookies as the term is known in North America–and just returned from his sabbatical in Ring of Honor. Now, the 6’1”, 200-pounder now has his sights set on Tanahashi, who is a former seven-time IWGP heavyweight champion.
“Tanahashi is one of the biggest stars ever and has carried New Japan Pro Wrestling through to the modern day,” said White. “There’s a question mark over him as to whether he is still ‘The Ace.’ He’s been falling apart this year, and I’m going to take his title and his throne.”
White returned to New Japan in November with his new ruthless “Switchblade” persona, immediately attacking Tanahashi.
“I went down to the ring when I wanted, got in his face, and left Tanahashi laying,” said White. “I’ve showed twice now that I’m more than prepared. Plus I watched every match of his from ringside for a year-and-a-half, I know what he has to offer.
“I’m going to beat Tanahashi in his house, his way, and I’m not going to allow him to have any excuses after the match for why he lost that belt. I’m going to leave no doubt in his mind that I beat him.”
• If you are looking to add more wrestling into your everyday in 2018, you’re in luck.
EVOLVE’s Gabe Sapolsky has announced the launch of Club WWN, which serves as the WWN subscription service and provides unlimited access to all WWN shows.
“We had a very rocky 2017 in how our product was delivered to the consumer,” said Sapolsky, who is WWN Vice President of Talent Relations and Creative. “This is a game-changer because, for the first time, it puts the entre WWN Family of promotions available at a very competitive market price in a very easy to digest format.
“We are putting everything into this. We are filling it with perks like our loyalty program. We are also giving it away–if you sign up for Club WWN before January 31, you will get your first month for free and there is no risk because you can cancel anytime. There will be over 360 events from eight different brands, including EVOLVE, that you can watch right now for free. We are betting that the free aspect will bring a lot of eyeballs to the WWN brands, and then you’ll enjoy what we are delivering at just $9.99 a month with all the perks and we will earn your support.”
EVOLVE returns to action with stops in New York on January 13 in Queens and January 14 in Brooklyn, starting with an EVOLVE championship match on Saturday that will see Zack Sabre Jr. defend against Darby Allin.
“I’m personally really looking forward to this one. Darby was discovered in our WWN Seminar/Tryout during WrestleMania week in 2016. A year later he main evented one of our EVOLVE shows during WrestleMania week. Now he will finally get his title shot. He also has a special connection to the fans who come to our shows at La Boom in Queens, New York, so this should be an electric atmosphere.
“Darby is a special talent and I believe that in 2018 he will rise as a top star on the independents. Zack Sabre Jr. is already established as the best technical wrestler in the world and he has had an amazing 11-month run as EVOLVE champion. When you combine these two talents in a first-time-ever match for the EVOLVE championship it is sure to produce the elements that make us all love pro wrestling.”
• Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard and co-host Conrad Thompson return this Friday at noon ET with a new podcast, examining the creation of Monday Night Raw.
“This is one topic we’ve wanted to discuss for a long time, and it’s fitting that we’re covering it as WWE approaches the 25th anniversary show of Monday Night Raw later this month. We’ll start by taking a look at the transition from Prime Time Wrestling to Raw, and we’ll explore whether Raw was an idea from the USA Network or a response to low ratings. We’ll really look at the original concept and we’ll revisit pieces like the Macho Man and Rob Bartlett as commentators, look at whether Howard Stern was ever considered for color commentary, and we will even cover the decision behind the name of Monday Night Raw and the other locations looked at before deciding on the Manhattan Center in New York.”
Thompson and Prichard will also analyze the early episodes of Raw, which even included a “Loser Leaves Town” match between Mr. Perfect and Ric Flair that took place in January of 1993, as well as the WWE return of Hulk Hogan on Monday Night Raw in February of ‘93.
“We’ll get you in the mood for the 25th anniversary by talking about the very creation of Raw,” said Thompson. “The main event of the first Raw was The Undertaker vs. Damien Demento, and we touch on some of those over-the-top, silly gimmicks that existed at the time and I don’t know when we’ll ever discuss them again.”
Prichard is a gateway to McMahon, and Thompson noted that there will be a great deal of insight into the psychology of Vince McMahon regarding his new creation.
“The whole creation of Raw was very ready, shoot, aim,” said Thompson. “This episode gives you a peak into the mind of the mad man, including what he wanted, how the show was named, why he wanted certain commentators there, and why there was no storyline continuity between Raw and other shows. We’ll look at his entire vision behind Monday Night Raw.”
• Wrestling is overflowing with talented performers and promoters, but there is only one Billy Corgan.
Corgan’s NWA has the opportunity to grow exponentially in 2018, and the early videos are honest and compelling.
• Wrestle Kingdom predictions: Kazuchika Okada successfully defends the IWGP heavyweight championship and continues his record-setting reign; Chris Jericho bloodies and beats Kenny Omega for the IWGP US title; Kota Ibushi defeats Cody Rhodes; and Jay White pulls off the upset of the night to become the new IWGP Intercontinental champion.
Tweet of the Week
President (and WWE Hall of Famer) Donald Trump is the gift that keeps on giving on social media.