SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
The story behind Roman Reigns' promo on Brock Lesnar
The plans for WrestleMania 34 have become far clearer over the past three days.
But it is worthwhile to first explore what happened in Nevada while WWE was delivering the Elimination Chamber pay per view in Las Vegas.
Heyman helps manage Lesnar’s booking and negotiates his deals. The two are extremely loyal to each other, and Lesnar advocating for Heyman is the reason that Heyman is back in WWE despite friction with the likes of Vince McMahon and Stephanie McMahon. Lesnar is not a champion in social media leveraging strategies, but Heyman is well-schooled in modern-day marketing.
This all went down in Las Vegas, the stomping ground of former UFC megastar Ronda Rousey, who was “officially” signing her WWE contract at Elimination Chamber. The meeting with Lesnar was no doubt a power play by White, who did not want to lose Rousey from the UFC.
The PWInsider report from Mike Johnson that Lesnar was scheduled to be at Raw are accurate, but the Universal champion is already over on his contractual dates. Lesnar is also well aware that he is losing the title to Roman Reigns at WrestleMania, and Lesnar is far more interested in discussing his next contract than being a team player on his prior deal.
These events led to Reigns’ worked-shoot promo on Raw, where he called Lesnar out and received a rare approval from the crowd. Lesnar does hide behind his contract, and it is accurate that Lesnar wants to get the most money for the least amount of days possible. But he has the leverage to do so because the UFC needs Lesnar.
Heyman is still a possibility to work as Rousey’s on-screen advocate, depending on her ability to resonate with the fanbase.
As for the rest of the card, the Intercontinental title match is now scheduled to be a five-way, with The Miz defending against Elias, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and Braun Strowman.
The Ross Report is returning
For those missing the “Ross Report” podcast, fear not: Jim Ross confirmed he is on the precipice of completing a deal for the show to return.
“I have come to verbal terms with a major podcast company and we are waiting for the contracts to be finalized,” said Ross. “It’s a big company that is offering me multiple opportunities, even outside of the podcast. We’re near the finish line."
The 66-year-old Ross knows no peer in wrestling. He is currently in the thick of some of wrestling’s most compelling storylines, having recently called WWE’s Raw 25 anniversary from New York’s Manhattan Center and is set to call New Japan Pro Wrestling’s “Strong Style Evolved” show in Long Beach, California on March 25 for AXS TV.
Ross also endured the worst year of his life, having lost his wife, Jan, last March after she was killed in a vehicle accident.
“My family of two daughters and two granddaughters has expanded immensely since my wife got killed,” said Ross. “I’ve almost been adopted by a number of different wresting families, and I find that to be as heartwarming and emotional as anything I could experience.
Wrestling fans from a multitude of generations have remained devoted to Ross, and their dedication to him over the past 12 months has given him a life vest through some choppy waters.
“You don’t realize how down you are until something devastating like this happens,” said Ross. “I knew people were in my corner, but then I have a tragedy and I didn’t realize how broken up I was until I was around wrestling fans who had genuine remorse for my situation.
“I had to look away from fans at WrestleMania last year when I was introduced because I didn’t want to start crying. I had no idea it would be that emotional.”
The foundation of Ross’ success, well beyond his skill on the headset, has always been his willingness to genuinely connect with wrestling fans.
After a test run at a show in Philadelphia, Ross created a new format for his “Slobberknocker Sessions” show.
The setting will be intimate, as Ross pushed to make his show smaller to spend more time with those in attendance. His New Orleans show, which will take place on the Friday before WrestleMania, is capped at 100 people.
“Interacting with the fans is what I enjoy, and this is going to have a real personal feel to it,” said Ross. “I like to be able to give more value to the consumer than they invested. The book sells for $25, and people get that for free with admission. They get the Q&A and the photo op, too. We’ll only have 100 people, so I’ll have the ability to chat a little, one on one, with each person.”
Ross re-signed with WWE before last year’s WrestleMania and returned to Raw to reunite with Jerry “The King” Lawler on the Raw 25 show last month. Unlike past WWE shows, such as WrestleMania 15 where Ross called Steve Austin vs. The Rock and elevated himself into a rare category of all-world announcer, he admitted that he was not overly nervous at Raw.
“The King and I had an Undertaker interview, which we just laid out, which is what we should do, then we had that Matt Hardy-Bray Wyatt match and a makeshift tag where The Revival took everyone’s finish,” said Ross. “In the three-hours plus we were there, we called two matches, so I didn’t feel any nerves.
“I felt a little apprehension that I’d like to be busier, but I didn’t feel nervous. And that’s the nice thing about doing work on a regular basis for AXS TV in LA. I get my reps in. I’m going out this week to voiceover four New Japan shows, and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into it.”
Alongside Josh Barnett, Ross is the lead announcer for New Japan’s “Strong Style Evolved” show in Long Beach, California that is set to air on Sunday, March 25 on AXS TV.
“New Japan has a really good product,” said Ross. “I like the physicality. New Japan does not let a show go by without the talent beating the hell out of each other.”
Ross has served as a key cog in introducing New Japan to a broader audience in the United States.
“I’m a fan,” said Ross. “Mark Cuban also has a great company that is very professional in AXS, and I’m there to call the matches. I’m not there to talk about what’s happening next week or what’s trending on social media. AXS wants it to be an athletic-oriented presentation that is clearly discernible from most of today’s other pro wrestling and sports entertainment. We are different, mainly because we serve one master: the fans that want to watch a fight.”
Ross calls the action every Friday night for the New Japan show on AXS. He was asked his opinion of the three most underrated talents in NJPW.
“Will Ospreay is must-see,” said Ross of the current IWGP junior heavyweight champion. “He’s very innovative and always adding new things. He doesn’t try a proliferation of moves he can’t execute well, so when he swings, he hits.
“Kushida is really good and I like his work, but another favorite is Tomohiro Ishii. He’s a Rick Steiner-type of guy, and he’s thick. He has such a great presence.”
Despite a great deal of respect for IWGP heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada, Ross contends that the most compelling wrestler in all of New Japan may instead be Tetsuya Naito.
“The MVP has been Naito,” said Ross. “He’s such a great psychologist, and he’s so good at being a heel that the fans have even started supporting him, which you know once you hear his merchandise numbers.
“Naito is so good that he and Okada followed, admirably and respectfully, the much ballyhooed Jericho-Omega match at Wrestle Kingdom, and that’s hard to do. That was kind of like following The Rock and Hogan at WrestleMania 18. That’s tough as hell, but Naito made it work.”
Ross said he has WrestleMania weekend circled on his calendar, and he cannot wait to reconnect with the heartbeat of the industry: the fans.
“It’s humbling when people tell me I have had some impact on their life,” said Ross. “It allows me to feel that I still have worth and that I can make people happy. Happy is the great medicine, and I’m focusing on the things in my life that make me happy and other people, too. That’s why I want to be with wrestling fans at WrestleMania weekend.”
Can the hardest-working man in comics win over the hardest worker in the room?
Michael Kingston, who created the critically-acclaimed do-it-yourself Headlocked comic series and has worked with WWE on AJ Styles and Samoa Joe comics, used Twitter to pitch his comic to The Rock this past October.
As a result, Kingston was given an invitation to pitch Headlocked to The Rock’s Seven Bucks Production team just days after their interaction on Twitter to see if there is any interest in developing a television series for the coming of age drama.
“Seven Bucks has always been the goal,” said Kingston. “When I saw that he was appearing at the Stan Lee Comic Con, my plan was just to try and hand him some books. It felt like a once in a lifetime chance to get on his radar.”
Naturally, there were complicating factors. The day of the comic con doubled as Kingston’s 16th wedding anniversary and was four days before his wife was scheduled for major surgery. With his wife’s support, he booked the cross-country flight.
“But as it turned out, no one in my circle had a direct line to him,” said Kingston. “At this point, I had too much invested to not come away with something, so I made my Twitter appeal. When I saw that he actually responded, my phone just started lighting up.”
Kingston, who is often referred to as “the hardest working man in comics,” started selling Headlocked out of his backpack at wrestling shows. This month, he will be a guest at conventions in Seattle, Albany, Anaheim, and Washington, D.C. leading into WrestleMania weekend in New Orleans, with announced stops at Ring of Honor, EVOLVE, and WrestleCon.
Along with creating Headlocked and his hectic road schedule, Kingston handles his own PR, does freelance projects, and wrangles daily with artists, wrestlers, and comic retailers. He also works a full-time job where he logs 60 hours per week managing the shipping operation for a large food warehouse.
“It’s exhausting, but it’s the only way this was ever going to work,” said Kingston. “When I pitched Headlocked to comic book companies, I was literally laughed out of the room. If I didn’t do it myself, it was never going to get done.”
Kingston believes Headlocked would fit seamlessly as a property with Seven Bucks Productions, primarily because of the quality of story he is telling but also because of its versatility. The comic is an adult-oriented drama, but could be a PG-13 style show or even transformed into a dramatic cartoon with wrestlers hired as voice actors.
“We’re telling side stories in almost every genre right now,” said Kingston. “There is any number of things you could do with the universe we’re starting to build.”
With that in mind, he has accelerated the pace for his current projects, which includes volume four of Headlocked featuring collaborations with Ric Flair, Mick Foley, Jerry Lawler, Cody Rhodes, and Kenny Omega. Also in the works are a collaboration with Joey Janela for his “Spring Break” show over WrestleMania weekend, a Wondercon mini-comic with Jeff Cobb, and laying the groundwork for a Headlocked anthology featuring stories all co-created by female wrestlers.
Although Seven Bucks has yet to give an answer, Kingston remains optimistic.
“We’re still hanging in there,” said Kingston. “They have a million projects going on and if you follow him on social media, you can see the insane schedule that The Rock keeps. So all I can do is do my best to keep up.”
In other news…
• “Hangman” Adam Page is challenging Jay White for the IWGP United States championship at the New Japan’s “Strong Style Evolved” show on March 25, and the Bullet Club member plans to become the first-ever U.S. champion born in the United States.
“That’s a goal I’m looking forward to accomplishing,” said Page. “This is everything I’ve been working for. I’ve gotten to do a lot of cool stuff with the Bullet Club, Being The Elite, and the Hung Bucks, but this one is for me. I plan on making a statement to Jay about the United States championship.”
Along with Matt and Nick Jackson of the Young Bucks, Page is one-third of the Hung Bucks, who are Ring of Honor’s six-man tag team champions. Page believes that his Bullet Club experience has elevated his work to another level.
“I’ve never doubted I was at that kind of level,” said Page. “I’m now getting the opportunity to work with those guys, and it’s a hell of a jump for me, but it’s very gratifying.”
Page helped create headlines during the Bullet Club’s “invasion” of Raw this past September.
“The Raw invasion was the craziest thing we’ve done together,” said Page, who was outside Raw with the Bucks, Cody and Brandi Rhodes, and Marty Scurll. “It was so ridiculous and guerrilla, and under the radar until we did it, but there was an amazing amount of thinking that went into it beforehand.”
The Bullet Club took a page out of WWE’s handbook and “invaded” a rival territory, like DX did to WCW in 1998, and Page noted that there was meticulous planning behind the memorable moment.
“We had a big family dinner at Matt’s house the night before and talked it all out,” said Page. “Afterward was a massive low when Marty, me, and Cody had to head to LAX to get back home. We were having one of the biggest moments of our careers, and an hour-and-a-half later, it was see you later.”
There are constant reports of Bullet Club turmoil as the saga plays out on the Being The Elite show, but Page reminded those following the story not to underestimate the bond within the group.
“The Bullet Club is fine, man,” said Page. “We’ve got a lot more to focus on than the problems that we may or may not have with each other. When you have so many guys together that are so talented, you’re going to butt heads. We’ll get through this.
“We’ve got this All-In show that we’re self-financing, running, and planning ourselves. It’s coming up, and it’s getting less hypothetical and a lot more real. We’ve got a lot more on our plate, and our eyes are set on that.”
As for upcoming matches in Ring of Honor, Page and the Bucks are expected to defend their titles at the upcoming 16th Anniversary pay per view on March 9, though an official title defense has yet to be formally announced.
“We’d like to put an end to SoCal Uncensored, but I really want to spend more time with Bury the Drug Free Bear,” said Page, speaking of the Bullet Club’s new mascot. “I think he’s going to be really big.”
Wrestling and rock share many similarities, and the Bullet Club certainly has a punk rock feel to it. Page was asked if the Bullet Club reminds him of any particular acts in music.
“We’re the Backstreet Boys, no question,” said Page. “All you need to do is hear Marty sing.”
• Domestic and sexual violence are extremely ugly parts of society, and the same is said for its existence in professional wrestling.
Former WWE cruiserweight champion Rich Swann learned last week that he was fired on his birthday, as WWE announced that the two sides have “mutually agreed to part ways.”
Swann was traveling with his wife, fellow pro wrestler Vannarah Riggs, on Dec. 10 when witnesses reported that Riggs left their car while in traffic. Witnesses also reported that Swann chased after her, grabbed her by the arm and put her in a headlock to forcefully bring her back to the car while she screamed. Witnesses told police that Swann never put the car in park, and it rolled until hitting a telephone poll.
Prosecutors in Gainesville, Florida ultimately dropped the charges of domestic battery and false imprisonment due to insufficient evidence, but Swann was finished with WWE the moment the arrest occurred.
Swann has upcoming bookings with Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore and Mexican-based promotion The Crash.
• Another complex story in pro wrestling centers around Michael Elgin.
Elgin is a former Ring of Honor champion and one of New Japan’s stars. He founded the Glory Pro wrestling promotion, and just filed suit against a female fan of the company.
The woman involved requested her anonymity, but she did state in an interview with Sports Illustrated that she goes by the name Moses Malone. She is the defendant in Elgin’s lawsuit, in which he is suing Malone for defamation and invasion of privacy in a false light as well as invasion of privacy with a public disclosure of private facts.
Malone alleges that Glory Pro wrestler Sean Orleans sexually assaulted her, and that she then went to Elgin–who had a relationship with Malone–to state what had occurred. Elgin claims that Malone wanted Orleans removed from Glory Pro and that he advised Malone to go to the police. Malone asserts that Elgin created an abusive relationship and that he covered up a sexual assault.
Sports Illustrated reached out to both sides for comment on why Elgin filed suit and how each side would like the matter to be resolved.
In a direct message on Twitter, Malone stated:
“He filed this to silence me. He knows I don’t have the resources to fight. He knows the claims in his suit are false. And he knows I have the evidence to prove as such. But he’s got the money to drag me through court, hoping I'll give up.
“I want this to be resolved by him dropping the suit. Acknowledging the behavior that was so detrimental and abusive and doing something to change that behavior.”
Steven Kratky of Pleban and Petruska Law answered on behalf of Elgin:
“Mike filed suit because he felt he had no choice. The individual known as Moses Malone made very specific allegations against Mike that are simply false: he did not have an ‘abusive’ relationship with her, and he did not cover up a sexual assault. She knows these statements are not true. They are falsehoods calculated to injure Mike’s career and reputation. These defamatory statements damaged–and continue to damage–his career and reputation. This suit is the only truly effective means to conclusively establish the truth and clear his name. The invasion of privacy counts address other conduct Ms. Malone undertook in an effort to damage Mike.
“How I would like it to be resolved does not matter. Mike is hurt by the false allegations against him. His primary goal is simply to establish the truth. Twitter, social media, and the court of public opinion are not the best means to ascertain and establish the truth. In fact, this case demonstrates that they can be used to do the opposite. There are people around the world who have never met any of the individuals involved, and do not actually know any of the facts, state matter-of-factly that Mike covered up a ‘rape’, based on Ms. Malone’s tweets alone. It’s insane. Some people state that just trying to clear his name through the proper channels is tantamount to ‘bullying’, which, again, reflects an unfortunate and regrettable mentality formed by a culture that rewards inflammatory innuendo over simple facts. Mike, however, trusts the judicial process, and we will patiently anticipate being vindicated through that process.
“I would only add that Mike condemns any personal attacks against Ms. Malone, and demands that people stop. Mike chose the high road for a reason, and we will fight in court.”
• WrestleZone executive editor Nick Hausman added some exclusive content to his site, as WZ just came to terms with the renowned Monster Factory Pro Wrestling school.
“WrestleZone is partnering with the Monster Factory, which is a 30-year-old pro wrestling training institution in New Jersey and has produced some of the biggest names in pro wrestling,” said Hausman. “The Big Show, Bam Bam Bigelow, and Sheamus all came from the Monster Factory.”
WrestleZone will now present “MF’ing Tuesdays” every Tuesday following SmackDown Live on the WrestleZone Facebook Live page.
“You’ll see a live stream on the Monster Factory training center in motion,” said Hausman. “You’ll see the trainers, the students, the owner Danny Cage, and you’ll see how the future superstars of tomorrow are getting trained today.”
WrestleZone also airs Booker T’s “Reality of Wrestling” seminars every Thursday night, which allows viewers to directly communicate with Booker T.
“People really liked the content because it’s a behind-the-scenes look at how pro wrestlers are getting trained,” said Hausman. “These are two of the top training centers in North America, and people that come to WrestleZone crave to know what is going on behind the curtain in wrestling. We’re lighting that curtain on fire.
“You could be looking at someone in these training classes who could be on Raw or SmackDown. I credit Booker T, and I will say this is not an experiment that is done expanding. There may be more to come, I’ll leave it at that.”
Hausman is also organizing a WrestleMania 34 official viewing party with special guest Mick Foley at Duffy’s Bar and Grille in Chicago.
“We are going to have the biggest WrestleMania party with WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley hosting,” said Hausman. “There is a two-hour open bar, photos, autographs, and you get to hang out with Mick.”
Hausman ran a Royal Rumble viewing party hosted by Sean “X-Pac” Waltman, which was a success.
“I still get compliments from the Sean Waltman party, but we’re going to try to top it with Mick,” said Hausman. “Hanging out with Sean really made some wrestling fans’ day, but I cannot wait for our viewing party with Mick at WrestleMania.”
• Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard returns this Friday at noon ET with a new podcast from Prichard and Conrad Thompson, detailing Shawn Michaels’ career in 1993, ‘94, and ‘95.
“We’re actually going to break up the show,” said Thompson. “This would be a marathon show and we couldn’t do justice to it with one show. You’ve got Shawn winning the Rumble in 1995, which saw him escalate to the WrestleMania main event, plus the spot with Owen Hart where Shawn collapses on Raw, the backstory behind that where Shawn got beat up by a bunch of marines, and the timeline where he inherits a bunch of cash–but doesn’t really want to talk about it–from an anonymous allegedly-homosexual fan that Shawn never met.”
Thompson and Prichard will also detail Michaels’ influence with the Kliq, his problems with Shane Douglas, and his phenomenal in-ring encounters with Razor Ramon, including the WrestleMania X ladder match.
“There is so much going on here, and as Edge and Christian say, the rocket was strapped,” said Thompson. “So we’ll cover Shawn Michaels on this Friday’s show, then do part two next week, along with a bonus Saturday Night’s Main Event show.”
Thompson was asked if Vince McMahon’s headaches with Shawn Michaels, as well as difficulties with champions prior to the “Heartbreak Kid”, helped shift the business to a modern-day place where John Cena goes out of his way to positively represent WWE.
“That was the culture of the business then,” said Thompson. “Shawn was a petulant child at different times throughout his career, but that was not that uncommon for the champion. Bret Hart wanted to do things his way, the Ultimate Warrior held up Vince for more money, but guys like Triple H, John Cena, and even Roman Reigns have done everything that Vince McMahon asks and expects.”
For those who appreciate the career of Michaels and WWE history, the episode is appointment-listening.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime era of the WWE, transitioning from the ‘Golden Era’ into the ‘New Generation,’ and they’re not doing it seamlessly,” said Thompson. “There are a lot of bumps and bruises along the way, but you’ve got the rise of a guy who went from the mid-card to the Intercontinental title, and now he’s on his way to being world champion.
“But Shawn did this his own way. He was much smaller than prior champions, he was much more problematic, and pretty routinely creating havoc with his band of brothers. There is so much you can pick up from his relationship with Vince McMahon and the dynamic in the locker room.”
Tweet of the Week
Rusev’s popularity has surged with fans over the past two months. But as of right now, WWE does not have plans for a singles match for Rusev at WrestleMania 34.