Quickly

  • Edge talks Royal Rumble and WrestleMania dream match.
  • Raw 25 accomplished its goal, despite criticism from fans.
  • James Ellsworth has found his post-WWE niche.
  • Bill Maher on why pro wrestling is less fake than politics.
  • Preview of this week's 'Something to Wrestle with' podcast.
By Justin Barrasso
January 25, 2018

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: Edge on Nakamura vs. Styles at WrestleMania

Will Shinsuke Nakamura win the Royal Rumble and headline WrestleMania in a match against AJ Styles?

“I think it would be awesome,” said Edge. “Nakamura has that kind of Jeff Hardy intangible, and then you add in the history with him and AJ.”

Edge spoke while on-location in Ireland filming Vikings for the History channel, and noted that full-time talent should be able to headline WrestleMania, just like he did against The Undertaker at WrestleMania 24.

“I don’t think main-eventing WrestleMania is just for part-time talent, and I think AJ will prove that,” said Edge. “He is a guy who has caught fire and figured out what he needs to do in WWE, which isn’t far off from what he was already doing, but you can tell he made some tweaks. Now, he’s just firing on every cylinder you can fire on. So I think he can be one that shows you can be with WWE full-time and main-event.”

The 44-year-old Adam Copeland is in the midst of a role on Vikings as Kjetill Flatnose, and his addition to the series has been a revelation for passionate fans of the show.

“I like how this character is kind of a slow burn, and you see at the heart of it that Kjetill wants to be a good guy,” said Edge, who is dealing with constant questions of whether his role will turn heel. “People that watch the show have asked me, ‘He has to lose it at some point, right?’ He wants to stay the course, but who knows if it will stay that way. It’s been fun to play this guy who is looked at as the pillar of the community and always trying to do the right thing.”

Vikings aired its mid-season finale last night on History, and Edge remarked that he still laughs at the idea of breaks after a seemingly lifetime career in professional wrestling.

“It is funny, just as we’re getting this momentum, it’s like, ‘Alright, here’s the mid-season finale,’” said Edge. “Hopefully that just makes you want to watch even more, but it is much different from WWE.

“The clearest example of that difference is the night after WrestleMania. As soon as that show ends, you’re focused on Raw the next night. There is no break. I got put through a ladder by Jeff Hardy at WrestleMania 23, had bruises from the ladder rungs across my back, but I was back the next night. I did the hardcore match with Mick Foley at WrestleMania 22, went through a flaming table and had thumbtacks in my back, but I was out there the next night. That mentality does get ingrained in you. Wrestling is just a different beast. There is no off-season in WWE, it’s week in and week out.”

Edge is still heard weekly on E&C’s Pod of Awesomeness and his passion for the wrestling business remains strong. He was forced to retire seven years ago after suffering so much damage to his neck that doctors refused to clear him due to the risk of paralysis. His charisma has transitioned over to television, as he has fit seamlessly on the historical drama of Vikings.

“I like that our stories have a little more time to breathe,” said Edge. “One of the only things that bothered me with WWE and being on every week was blowing off so many great storylines so fast, just out of necessity. You go back to the days of Savage-Steamboat and that program lasted a year and change. I was very proud of the program I had with Undertaker because we were able to stretch it out almost a year-and-a-half. We’re able to do that with my character and a lot of the stories on Vikings.”

A member of the WWE’s Hall of Fame, Edge’s list of accomplishments is long and distinguished. He won the Royal Rumble in 2010, and he will be following this year’s event closely to see if Nakamura can deliver his first real memorable moment in WWE.

“The North American audience and, to an extent, the worldwide audience, has not seen what Nakamura brings to the table,” said Edge. “We’ve seen flashes of it in his matches against Sami Zayn and Randy Orton. As evidenced by his New Japan work, he can be a very special performer. It would be nice to see him at least given that shot. From there, it’s up to him whether he sinks or swims. Sometimes, not everyone adapts to the style. It’s a different company, it’s a different audience, it’s an entirely different hurricane. Sometimes styles don’t translate. Rey Mysterio was a master of doing that. No matter where he went, Rey could make his style adapt. But not everyone is Rey Mysterio.

“I love Nakamura, but it’s a transition for anybody who comes to WWE. You start him off with Sami at NXT, and talk about having the ultimate meal set for you: you get this amazing selling babyface and get to have this spectacular match. As I’ve talked about on the podcast, NXT is a different beast from WWE. But I think he and AJ can be one of the main events, and I also know the people want it. With the proper build, AJ-Nakamura could be the match on last.”

Edge added that Styles-Nakamura would be a nod to the yearlong wrestling fans who watch the product every week.

“That’s why I’d like to see Nakamura win the Rumble,” said Edge. “He and AJ would have an amazing match, and that would give a different flavor to WrestleMania. You’d also have Brock-Roman and maybe Cena-Taker, as well as the women’s division, so then you’re pretty much set with a solid card.”

Before returning back to the set, Edge made sure to thank wrestling fans for their support of his work in Vikings.

“Wrestling fans are one of the most loyal fan bases,” said Edge. “You know when you find that band and you feel like they’re your band, and you stick with them no matter what they do? Wrestling fans are like that, and they’re proud of the idea that WWE performers can segue into other fields. It almost validates their love of the wrestling industry.

“I think the audience knows I wasn’t really given a choice in retiring. It’s not like I was tired of wrestling and walked away.  I was dealt a tough hand and couldn’t wrestle, and I’m always really appreciative of the fact that they’ll come along with me and give things–whether it’s a sketch comedy show on the WWE Network, or my podcast with Christian, or whether it’s being on Vikings­–a chance. I’ll always be grateful and I’ll never forget where I came from. If it wasn’t for WWE, I wouldn’t have the opportunities I have now.”

****

Despite some critical reviews, Raw 25 served its purpose this past Monday.

The show was not intended to be Wrestle Kingdom 12. WWE delivered a nostalgic, entertaining episode of Raw that paid homage to its past and progressed a handful of present storylines.

The Miz reclaimed the Intercontinental title, freeing up Roman Reigns for his pursuit of Brock Lesnar’s Universal championship, and the Matt Hardy-Bray Wyatt feud intensified with a fantastic backdrop in the Manhattan Center. Finn Balor received a significant on-camera endorsement from Triple H, The Undertaker inched closer to his in-ring return, AJ Styles paid tribute to Hulk Hogan, and the finale showed Brock Lesnar’s vulnerability with a beatdown from Braun Strowman.

I watched from the Manhattan Center, and thought the show in that lyric little bandbox would have been significantly upgraded with an additional match featuring Finn Balor. I also would have preferred Shawn Michaels, who starred on the original Raw 25 years ago, had his own moment to cut a promo in the ring. WWE’s issues with Jimmy Fallon at the Barclays forced much of Raw 25 to be rewritten only three hours before the show, and there was so much content to squeeze into less than three hours of TV time, but the show accomplished its goal.

wrestling
Jimmy Fallon's Cameo, Enzo Amore's Fallout and More Behind-the-Scenes Notes From Raw 25

WWE wants to attract more and more casual fans in its build to WrestleMania 34, which is why Fallon was supposed to be so heavily involved in the show. Raw 25 helped by drawing a genuine buzz (there is a reason Austin-McMahon took place in the opening segment) building toward the company’s biggest show of the year.

In other news…

• ​James Ellsworth is keeping a close eye on the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble.

Ellsworth infamously captured the inaugural women’s Money in the Bank briefcase this past June and handed the prize to Carmella for the win.

If he enters, Ellsworth is guaranteeing victory.

“I’d have to win, right?” said Ellsworth. “It created such a buzz the last time I got involved.”

The 33-year-old Ellsworth was released from WWE this past November, and some of his most unforgettable storylines were as a part of the women’s division.

“Those ladies in WWE are all extremely hard-working,” said Ellsworth. “They deserve to have a Money in the Bank match, they deserve to have a Royal Rumble. They earned everything they’re getting.”

Ellsworth had an epiphany after his WWE release. His final match on SmackDown was a devastating loss to Becky Lynch, and Ellsworth decided he would fully immerse himself into intergender wrestling. His upcoming run on the independents, which includes a stop just outside of Boston on February with Big Time Wrestling, will feature intergender matches with top women’s wrestlers from across the world.

“When Cody Rhodes was in his 90-day no-compete period from WWE, I liked how he made this list of all the guys he would like to face on the independents,” said Ellsworth. “I thought it would be funny to continue on what I was doing on TV and make a list of all the women I wanted to face on the independents. Inter-gender wrestling is real hot right now on the independents, with WWE’s Mixed Match challenge on Facebook, and Joey Ryan does an incredible job of it on the independents, too, so I really want to continue to do this.”

Although he made a surprise appearance for Destiny Wrestling–where he won the “Santino Cup” and interfered in the Pete Dunne-Austin Aries match–Ellsworth’s 90-day no-compete clause with WWE finishes on February 12. He plans to announce a full list of his upcoming dates on February 1, and is now in the process of creating his own world inter-gender title.

“I am proclaiming myself the intergender champion of the world,” said Ellsworth. “I plan on defending that title all over the world.”

Ellsworth also extended his gratitude to the fans who made his success in WWE a reality.

“I appreciate every fan I have,” said Ellsworth. “The fans made my run with WWE happen. WWE never would have asked me back after my match with Braun Strowman without all the support. The whole thing was overwhelming.”

• ​Daniel Cormier completely dominated Volkan Oezdemir at this past Saturday’s UFC 220 at the TD Garden in Boston.

Cormier, who is the reigning UFC Light Heavyweight champion and one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all-time, credited WWE Universal champion Brock Lesnar with some help behind-the-scenes in UFC.

“Brock is a good friend of mine,” said Cormier. “He’s even helped me in my contract negotiations with the UFC. Brock gave me some pointers on how to approach the negotiations.”

A passionate wrestling fan, Cormier said he will accept the decision if Lesnar loses the belt this Sunday to Braun Strowman, permitting that neither Strowman nor Kane pin Lesnar.

“I don’t think anybody should ever beat Brock,” said Cormier. “He’s so much better than anybody else.”

• ​Could Braun Strowman win Brock Lesnar’s Universal championship at the Royal Rumble?

If the Big Show has his way, Strowman will be the new champion.

“I’m very proud of what Braun Strowman has accomplished in the past year,” said Show. “I feel really good about knowing the legacy of the ‘Big Man’ and ‘Monster’ that I used to carry for a long time is being carried on by the right person, and he would learn a lot as champion.”

A fantasy matchup for the Big Show, he noted, would be himself while he was The Giant during his time in WCW vs. Strowman.

“Braun is big, he’s powerful, he’s athletic,” said Show. “Braun is everything our industry needs for that position. I have nothing but respect for his athletic ability and intensity. I would love to see Braun against the 25-year-old Giant from WCW and see if he could keep up.”

• ​Political satirist Bill Maher hosts Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO. He formerly hosted Politically Incorrect, where he welcomed a throng of wrestling superstars, including Sting, Roddy Piper and Bobby Heenan, on an episode that aired in 2000.

Given his knowledge on both subjects, Maher was asked which is more of a spectacle: modern-day politics or pro wrestling?

“Pro wrestling is definitely a lot less fake than politics,” said Maher, whose Real Time just started its sixteenth season on HBO. “It’s a good analogy, and I’ve actually seen [President Donald] Trump in a clip, where he’s in his f------ blue suit, in a wrestling ring. Obviously this is a president that totally understands wrestling and that mentality and why it is so popular.”

One of the strengths of pro wrestling is its ability to present a villain. Maher believes that President Trump, who is a WWE Hall of Famer, uses the same methods in his politics.

“Wrestling has good guys and bad guys,” said Maher. “You play your role and I’ll play mine. Trump is just playing a role. He has no fixed political beliefs. We all saw the video from the immigration meeting. This is his signature issue, the thing that his fans care the most about: The Wall, this Ming dynasty solution to a non-existent 21st century problem. It’s supposedly what matters most to him, and he doesn’t have any f------ clue. [United States Senator] Dianne Feinstein says, ‘Can we just have the Dreamers stay? And Trump says, ‘Yeah, I think so.’ Then the other guy in the room, the republican, has to go, ‘No, Mr. President, that’s against your core belief.’ That’s right, his core belief. He doesn’t care, he’s just playing the part, and he loves to create a villain. ‘Crooked Hillary’ and ‘Sloppy Steve’, there is always somebody who he labels and brands. They’re the villain and he goes into battle with them, and his fans love it.”

• ​Accused steroid distributor Richard Rodriguez claims that Roman Reigns was part of his portfolio of clients. Reigns, in a statement released last week, denied any connection to Rodriguez.

Rodriguez also named actor Mark Wahlberg as a client, which Wahlberg quickly denied. The Drug Enforcement Administration arrested Rodriguez in February of 2017 for his illegal steroid ring.

Regarding Reigns, is this legitimate or a non-story? His involvement in a high-profile case regarding steroid distribution from Rodriguez and his Wellness Fitness Nutrition company would be devastating so close to WrestleMania 34, which Reigns is reportedly slated to headline, but there is currently no concrete evidence that links Reigns to the case.

The story remains under investigation.

• Who will be this year’s surprises in the Royal Rumble?

Some of the Rumble’s most memorable moments are its surprise entries. You may struggle to remember who won the Rumble in 2011, but Kevin Nash’s return as Diesel still resonates. AJ Styles appeared as the third entry in 2016, which is particularly memorable as it jump-started Styles’ historic run in WWE.

• EC3 canceled an indie date on the day of this year’s Rumble, and the former Impact star would be a perfect fit for SmackDown as a challenger to Bobby Roode’s United States championship. Batista and Bobby Lashley would both add sizzle and considerable size to the Rumble as surprises.

• Ricochet also signed with WWE and just reported to the Performance Center. He is talented enough to elevate the cruiserweight division to another level, especially in the wake of the Enzo Amore departure, but it would be great to see him also defeat some established stars (not Bo Dallas or Curtis Axel) after a strong showing at the Rumble.

• Will the abundance of returning stars that appeared on Raw help anyone’s odds of appearing at the Rumble? Or does that hinder the surprise?

• As for winners, I think Ronda Rousey, much to the dismay of the crowd in Philly, wins the first-ever women’s Rumble, and despite all signs pointing toward Roman Reigns winning the men’s Rumble, I’m sticking (hoping?) with Shinsuke Nakamura as the winner.

• And, for those still wondering, Alberto Del Rio won the 40-man Rumble in 2011.

• Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard and co-host Conrad Thompson return this Friday at noon ET with a new podcast, detailing the inaugural 1988 Royal Rumble.

“We’re going back to the beginning,” said Thompson. “The Royal Rumble is almost everyone’s second favorite pay per view of the year behind WrestleMania, and we’re exploring the story before the story. We’ll visit this idea from Pat Patterson and how it all came together.”

The Royal Rumble is a creation of Pat Patterson, but Thompson noted that it was Dusty Rhodes who forced Vince McMahon and Co. to create the event.

“Even though Pat Patterson gets the credit, I think you also have to give a lot of credit to Dusty Rhodes,” explained Thompson. “This show was put together to counterprogram the NWA’s Bunkhouse Stampede pay per view in January of 1988. So, in a weird way, Dusty is responsible for the creation of the Survivor Series, which was created to counter Starrcade on pay per view, and then Vince McMahon wanted to create a free show to mess with another one of the NWA’s pay per views. Ultimately, that led to the creation of the second most memorable pay per view in WWE history in the Royal Rumble.”

After a successful live show at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York this past Friday, Thompson and Prichard continue their “Something to Wrestle” tour this Saturday night at the Icons of Wrestling Convention and Fan Fest, which is held at the original ECW arena in Philadelphia.

“As a senior in high school, all my friends were going on vacation to Mexico but I wanted my senior trip to be to Philadelphia,” shared Thompson. “I wanted to see ECW’s CyberSlam ‘99. So, instead of my parents sending me to Cancun to drink beer, they sent me to Philadelphia with a buddy. Now, all these years later, I’m doing a show in that same building–and someone who was on that CyberSlam show is going to be helping us welcome the crowd on Saturday.

“Tickets are still available at pronounspal.com, and one ticket gets you into both the Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts’ show and then the show with Bruce and me. You can still make Saturday’s NXT show if you see us, and if you aren’t going to NXT, just come drink with us. Jake won’t be drinking, but Bruce and I will. This is going to have a fun, ECW party feel.”

• WrestleZone executive editor Nick Hausman is hosting an official Royal Rumble viewing party this Sunday night in Chicago with special guest Sean “X-Pac” Waltman.

“I love throwing big, fun parties for wrestling fans, and it’s no secret that Chicago has the best wrestling fans in the world,” said Hausman. “So I wanted to take our wrestling parties to the next level and bring in a big name that people can watch these shows with, and Sean Waltman is the perfect guy for this party.”

Hausman has brought incredible passion and creativity to his new role at WrestleZone, and he is working to bring viewers a unique experience with every visit to the site.

“WrestleZone is not only the most trafficked wrestling web site on planet earth for wrestling news, but it’s also one of the original wrestling news websites,” said Hausman. “It’s always been so reliable for wrestling fans. I’ve tried to carry that torch and move forward with it. We bring the best of the best from all of the news sources in wrestling, and we’re starting to roll out more exclusives, original content, and features with names you know.”

The newest addition to WrestleZone are Booker T’s Reality of Wrestling seminars, which air every Thursday and allow viewers to see Booker T’s training center and even ask questions to Booker.

Hausman also shared his predictions for this Sunday’s Royal Rumble, and both would generate a great deal of excitement in WWE.

“I don’t think it’s a given that Ronda Rousey will win the women’s Rumble,” said Hausman. “Someone can eliminate her earlier in the match to set off a secondary feud. We no longer have only one female program at a time. Imagine Asuka eliminating Ronda Rousey mid-way through the bout, then you can have those two feud and still reserve the Rumble win for someone who needs it more. My pick for the women’s Royal Rumble is a returning Alundra Blayze.

“As for the men, I really want to see Rusev win. You can feel the organic chemistry and hear the reaction he’s getting from the crowd. People would go nuts for his surprise win. Can you imagine Rusev marching into RusevMania? That would be so fun and different.”

Tweet of the Week

Hulk Hogan was not present at Raw 25 this past Monday, but all is not lost for Hogan fans. Hulkamania will forever be associated with WrestleMania, and Hogan’s return needs to take place at a WrestleMania.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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