- Cesaro remains patient as he waits for a main-event singles push.
- Joey Ryan finally purchased his first home, due to the success on the Indys.
- Why WWE inked Dolph Ziggler to a $1.5 million yearly contract.
- Why Triple H is to thank for Jeff Jarrett's return to WWE.
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: Cesaro’s career not complete without WWE world title
Cesaro will team up with Sheamus at the Elimination Chamber on Sunday as the duo defend their Raw tag team titles against Titus Worldwide. But not all of his supporters are happy about it.
There is a growing section of fans that believe Cesaro instead belongs in the Elimination Chamber main event, which is the match that will decide the opponent of WWE Universal champion Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 34.
“Of course, to be WWE world champion is definitely on my list,” said Cesaro. “Anybody who is not reaching for that proverbial brass ring is doing something wrong if they’re in the WWE.”
Fans believe in Cesaro because of the way he believes in himself as a pro wrestler, and his pursuit of the WWE championship would be one of the company’s most organic storylines in years.
“For some people, that doesn’t happen overnight,” said Cesaro. “Nothing has ever happened for me overnight, and I’m fine with that. I am willing to put in the work.”
The 37-year-old Claudio Castagnoli is widely believed among his peers to be one of the most talented pro wrestlers in the world. The “Swiss Superman” has wrestled across the world, but so many promotions–from WWE to Ring of Honor to RevPro to Chikara–have utilized Cesaro as part of a tag team instead of highlighting him as a singles star.
“I’m extremely competitive, extremely ambitious, and always looking for ways to improve and move up, to do things better,” said Cesaro. “Hard work doesn’t guarantee success, but it does enhance its chances. That’s what I do, go into the ring and deliver every single time.”
Cesaro is one of the most prominent tag team wrestlers in the world, having won the Raw tag titles on five separate occasions, as well multiple tag team title reigns in Ring of Honor, Germany’s Westside Xtreme Wrestling, the Swiss Wrestling Federation, Revolution Pro Wrestling, and Chikara.
“Sometimes you get in a frustrated mindset,” said Cesaro. “Working with Sheamus reminded me to enjoy the moment. Sometimes, you have to let things take the natural course. As long as you work hard, good things will come. I firmly believe that.”
The technical wrestling of Cesaro often draws comparisons to the legendary “Hitman” Bret Hart (“Minus the hair,” cautioned Cesaro). Both Hart and Cesaro first truly established themselves in WWE as tag team champions, and each spent a considerable amount of time tagging–Hart was part of the Hart Foundation for his first six years in the company, while Cesaro has worked the majority of the past five years in tag teams with Sheamus, Jack Swagger, and Tyson Kidd.
Cesaro even employs Hart’s signature sharpshooter submission hold, though there is a slight difference in technique.
“My sharpshooter, that’s a Tyson Kidd shout-out and tribute,” said Cesaro. “I started doing the move after he got hurt. You may notice that I do the move, like Tyson did and like Owen Hart did, with the right leg, while Bret Hart and Nattie do it with the left.”
Despite initial frustration from fans over the pairing of Cesaro and Sheamus, the pair has made The Bar an integral part of Raw each Monday.
“I would like to think there is something special about Cesaro no matter what I do,” said Cesaro. “I just try to make the best of every single opportunity. I’m always trying to push forward and push the envelope.
“That’s why Sheamus and I click so well, even as opponents. We never take it easy, we never take a night off, we always want to go out and deliver. That’s what we do as a team.”
The story arch of Cesaro and Sheamus is especially satisfying for wrestling fans because it is a story that people have been able to follow since its beginning in August of 2016.
“Sheamus and I started with the best-of-seven series, and the way we became a team was documented on television,” said Cesaro. “That’s truly how it happened. Our bar fight on Raw was so much fun. We were not close friends when this started. Now we’re the best of friends, and we constantly push each other, with workouts and in the ring, and that’s why we’ve been so successful.”
The best-of-seven series was never resolved, ending in a three-to-three tie with a draw in the seventh match, opening the door for another series when the team decides to split.
“Our best-of-seven is still going on,” added Cesaro. “If you look at our tag matches, we still try to out-do each other. But we both agree that we’re having the best time in our careers right now. We’re having a blast being The Bar. Sheamus and I don’t try to set the bar, we are The Bar.”
Cesaro is so often mentioned as one of the top three wrestlers in the world by talent in and out of WWE. He was asked to list his top three.
“Sheamus, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns,” said Cesaro. “That is not including myself or Dean Ambrose, who is hurt right now.”
The current tag champ is poised to deliver again this Sunday at the Elimination Chamber. For those disappointed that Cesaro is not in the world title discussion, he recommended fans fully embrace his current work, which is the same mindset he is bringing every day to his work in WWE.
“I try not to think too far ahead, because then you forget to enjoy the moment,” said Cesaro. “Some people look forward, others live in the past, but they forget how awesome this moment is. It’s something to enjoy.”
Joey Ryan, who is known in wrestling circles as the master of the “Penis Plex,” has bought a house with his wife, fellow independent wrestler Laura James.
“Five years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible,” said Ryan. “The wrestling business has changed.”
The purchase is especially noteworthy because the money spent purchasing the $525,000 house in Los Angeles–complete with two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a pool–was earned through pro wrestling.
This is the first foray into home ownership for the couple, who are currently renting a home in LA.
“This is possible because of the support from the fans of independent wrestling,” said Ryan. “Without those fans, the whole independent wrestling scene wouldn’t be as prominent as it is.”
Wrestling is a canvas for Ryan’s creativity. The 38-year-old has been able to consistently elicit a buzz, through his own maneuvers, as well as through some other creative ideas.
Ryan brought Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin into Bar Wrestling in California this past December for a Christmas-themed match, as well as connected Dennis Haskins, who is better known for his role as Mr. Belding on Saved by the Bell, to this past week’s Lucha VaVOOM show.
“That goes back to the support of the fans,” said Ryan. “I have a lot more room to be creative, and that creativity does not have lids, limits, or ceilings. That is because of wrestling fans.”
Ryan is confirmed for season four of Lucha Underground, which will begin filming next week. He will be able to return home to his wife–in their new house–where the “King of Sleaze” can come alive. For now, however, Ryan is content with expressing his gratitude for those who continue to allow his dreams to come true.
“A lot of people like to disparage the internet, but the independent wrestling scene is thriving because of the fans on the internet,” said Ryan. “The fans have made professional wrestling a performance art, where we can try these ideas. Some of it falls flat, which is how art works. But if you don’t try the things that fall flat, you also wouldn’t find the ideas that catch on.”
In other news…
• As reported last week, Dolph Ziggler’s new two-year WWE contract is worth a $1.5 downside guarantee per year.
Misconceptions with wrestling contracts exist primarily because of the secretive nature of the business.
Ziggler is a 13-year WWE veteran, and the 37-year-old is clearly trying to prepare for post-WWE life with appearances on Fox Business Network and his stand-up comedy work. Despite rumors that Ziggler was destined to leave–and he would have fit in perfectly with the Bullet Club in Japan and his merchandise would adorn Hot Topic–he made the decision that his brand was best served by staying in WWE. The company decided to overpay Ziggler, who would deliver five-star matches with Kazuchika Okada in New Japan, indicating that he is considered a necessary piece of the WWE machine.
The digital revenue of WWE creates an exorbitant amount for the company. Ziggler’s prior contract contained a downside guarantee for $1 million per year. The extra half million dollars to keep him in the company, and happy, is money well spent for WWE.
• Hell has frozen over: Jeff Jarrett is going to the WWE Hall of Fame.
The man who famously held the Intercontinental title hostage in a backstage battle with Vince McMahon will pick up his Hall of Fame ring this April.
Jarrett does have allies in WWE. AJ Styles and Bobby Roode remain grateful for the opportunities Jarrett afforded them in TNA, and it is worth noting that some of Jarrett’s closest friends in wrestling are Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, who are both close with Triple H. Jarrett is obviously not close with Matt Hardy. Jarrett and Kurt Angle also share a long, sordid history over Karen Jarrett, who is Angle’s ex-wife and Jarrett’s current wife.
The decision to induct Jarrett was pushed for by Triple H. Following the hire of former longtime TNA employee Jeremy Borash, the question now exists whether Jarrett would fit into Triple H’s team for NXT and developmental.
• WWN Vice President of Talent Relations and Creative Gabe Sapolsky has announced that EVOLVE champion Zack Sabre Jr. will defend his title against Matt Riddle at EVOLVE 102 in New Orleans during WrestleMania weekend on Thursday, April 5.
Sabre is in another must-see match during ‘Mania weekend when he defends his undisputed British Heavyweight championship for Revolution Pro Wrestling against New Japan’s “Stone Pitbull” Tomohiro Ishii on Friday, April 6 in New Orleans.
Will Ospreay is also scheduled to wrestle for EVOLVE that same weekend, first against AR Fox on April 5 and then in another can’t-miss encounter with Riddle at the WWN Supershow on April 6.
Jim Ross also announced that he will be holding an uncensored “Slobberknocker Sessions” on April 6 at 10 a.m. exclusive to only 100 fans.
• Is New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski seriously considering retiring from the National Football League to pursue a career in the WWE?
“Rob Gronkowski should be in wrestling as much as Rey Mysterio should be catching footballs,” said football columnist Jerry Thornton, whose work is appointment-reading for football fans on Barstool Sports. “Gronkowski is playing at such a high level, and it is rare for anyone to say, ‘I am the best in the world at what I do.’ Rob Gronkowski can say that, and every impression I get from him is that he will be back with the Patriots next season.”
The rumors that Gronkowski is entertaining the idea of a career in the WWE alongside Mojo Rawley were kickstarted after Gronkowski did not fully commit to returning to the NFL after New England’s Super Bowl loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
“That comment was made right after an emotional loss,” said Thornton. “He said he was going to think about his future, and that’s the correct answer to give.”
The Gronkowski-to-WWE rumors, along with those of Gronkowski-to-Hollywood, boil down to leverage, as he is locked into a contract that has him signed through the 2019 season. Gronkowski is well-paid for a tight end, with a base salary of $8 million for the 2018 season, but underpaid when compared to a wide receiver like Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons, who is set to make a $10.5 million base next season.
“Gronkowski signed a deal that was very team-friendly when the team came to him early for a contract in 2012,” said Gronkowski. “He has far out-played that deal, but he had no leverage for a new deal. The Patriots then gave him a chance to make a lot more money than he would have with an incentive-laden deal. He’d just come off back surgery in 2016 and the team won a Super Bowl without him, so he really did not have much leverage. The incentives are not guaranteed.
“Gronkowski is the best tight end in football by a lot, but he is not making a lot more than other tight ends. That is an issue, but he’s had a lot of injury problems.”
Thornton, who wrote “From Darkness to Dynasty” on the Patriots and is just finishing his newest book, “Five Rings”, noted that pro wrestling is also a contact sport.
“Wrestling is not a way to protect your body,” said Thornton. “Those guys take punishment. WWE has a concussion protocol. I will say this, however: if Gronkowski goes to WWE, the officiating will be way better than it is in the NFL, and he’ll finally get to work with a commissioner with some integrity.”
• “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan is going to help headline a show this Friday just outside of Boston in Lynn, Massachusetts for Big Time Wrestling.
“My daughters are anxious for me to get out of the ring, but for me, it’s just a love of the business,” said Duggan, who will be joined by James Ellsworth, BTW champ Flex Armstrong, and ECW icon Sabu on the card. “That’s the old joke; people say, ‘Hacksaw, you still wrestle?’ I say I go to the ring, I don’t know if you call it wrestling anymore.”
Even at the age of 64, Duggan works a style that is very easy for fans to understand by telling a story in the ring of good versus evil.
“I try to convey to the young guys that this business is a lot more than just going out there and taking bump after bump,” said Duggan, who made his in-ring debut 39 years ago in 1979. “You’ve got to go out there and have a ring presence, you’ve got to be able to tell a story, and you have to be able to connect with the fans. That’s what has allowed for my longevity.”
Duggan’s connection with the fans is genuine, and those present at the Big Time Wrestling show this Friday will witness that kindred spirit first-hand.
“I’m not a guy like Lex Luger chanting ‘U-S-A,’” said Duggan. “When I’m out there chanting, it’s coming from my whole heart. The travel can be horrible in this line of work. Sometimes, I’m in the back lacing up my boots and I’m tired, but it’s like a shot of adrenaline when you come through that curtain. I have a good time in the ring, and I hope fans have a good time watching, too.”
• Mattel perfectly captured the “milk” moment between Kurt Angle and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in its newest line, and the action figures were on display this past weekend at the New York Toy Convention.
The NDP Group, which is a market research company with an action figure subclass, released last week that WWE had the number one selling action figure in the United States in 2017.
Those who have enjoyed WWE’s action figures, from the LJN brand to Hasbro to Mattel, should know the toy line was originally created by Linda McMahon.
McMahon spoke with Sports Illustrated in 2016 and explained, “I called Hasbro because Shane played with G.I. Joe. We did the first licensing deal for our articulated action figures, as they were later known. Then all the other licensed products grew from there.”
• Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard returns this Friday at noon ET with a new podcast from Prichard and Conrad Thompson, and the pair detail WWE’s 2003 No Way Out pay per view that helped build to WrestleMania XIX.
“Most people think wrestling was better during the ‘Monday Night Wars’ in 1998 and it wasn’t as compelling when Vince lost his competition in WCW, but when I go back and watch a show like this, I wonder, was that really the case?” asked Thompson. “Or did we as viewers have the freedom of choice in 1998? This No Way Out is underrated, and the card is loaded.”
The No Way Out card is overflowing with talent, opening with a match between Chris Jericho and Jeff Hardy.
“Jericho was in the main event of WrestleMania the prior year, and now he’s in the opening match, but it’s not even a negative,” said Thompson. “It just shows you how stacked this card is. In ‘98, an Undertaker-Big Show match would have been a main event dream match, and here, it’s the fifth match on the show.”
Thompson and Prichard have famously discussed Jim Cornette on the show. Cornette’s quote that “Anybody who comes out of a box is instantly over” resurfaces on this show.
“This is when Paul Heyman was sending the big boxes to The Undertaker, and Brother Love was inside of one in his return to TV,” said Thompson. “This No Way Out show is one of the most underrated times in the company.”
The show will touch on the Scott Steiner/Triple H debacle, as well as the main event, which was Rock/Hogan II.
“I freestyled last week and asked, what if Vince went with Bret Hart instead of Shawn Michaels and had a rematch of the best WrestleMania match of all-time with Austin and Bret at WrestleMania 14?” said Thompson. “The same thing could be said here. Wouldn’t it have more sense to build to Hogan/Austin at WrestleMania XIX? Those are the two biggest names of the two biggest eras. That’s the equivalent of Hogan versus Bruno Sammartino at WrestleMania II.”
In addition to the podcast, Thompson and Prichard are back on the road for a live show this Saturday at the House of Blues in Las Vegas.
“I’m excited about this show, not just because it’s Vegas, but it’s because we have the biggest guest we’ve ever had,” said Thompson. “That will be the highlight, and I’ll be surprised if the IWC isn’t talking about this show within 24 hours.”
Tweet of the Week
The announcement of Jarrett’s induction into WWE is another example that the best stories in the business happen backstage.