Luke Harper : "Professional wrestling is a beautiful yet cruel mistress,”

By Justin Barrasso
March 09, 2018

SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.

News of the Week: Luke Harper makes film debut

Luke Harper is best known for his work in the Wyatt Family, but the current Bludgeon Brother is adding a compelling piece to his acting portfolio.

Harper, who is 38-year-old Jon Huber, makes his full-screen debut as Lachlan Allsopp in Mohawk.

The film delves deep into the type of Native American mysticism that should beguile even the likes of “Woken” Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt.

Directed by Ted Geoghegan, Mohawk depicts a scene set three years into the War of 1812 when a Mohawk woman, played in a sublime manner by Kaniehtiio Horn, and her two lovers wage war with a squad of American soldiers.

Just as the talented Luke Harper is a heel you cannot hate, Huber plays a villain in Mohawk that generates more sympathy than disdain.

“My goal was to not ruin Ted’s movie,” said Huber. “I think I did OK.”

The film is gory, with revenge through bloodshed an important theme. Impaled heads also appear at an unremitting rate.

“When I originally signed on, I just assumed they were looking for a big guy to be tough and look scary, and I knew I could be very good at that,” said Huber. “But when I read the script, I realized my character, Lachlan, was the moral compass for the bad guys. He has lots of dialogue later in the film after he starts to understand all the atrocities he’s seen, and maybe he’s not on board with that.

"It was very beneficial for me as a character worker, in WWE and moving forward. I was able to move outside the box of Luke Harper or a Bludgeon Brother, and to show emotion is hugely beneficial to me.”

With his 6-foot-5 frame, wide eyes, and frightening beard, Huber is a fit for horror. The role in Mohawk allowed him to show his depth as a performer

“It was refreshing to have a role that was deeper than just smashing somebody or looking tough,” said Huber. “That was good for me, mentally too, to show my bosses in another world. Whether they choose to see them, that’s up to them.”

Although unlikely to receive the full promotional consideration from WWE, the film would benefit greatly from even a reference during a Bludgeon Brothers match on SmackDown.

“Without WWE, this connection would have never happened,” said Huber. “I’m very thankful for it and happy where I’m at, it’s the best place in the world.”

Mohawk, which is available on iTunes, is playing in select theaters throughout the country and airs tonight and tomorrow in Winchester, VA at the Alamo Drafthouse, as well as tonight in Philadelphia at the PhilaMOCA with director Ted Geoghegan in attendance.

“We were really excited about the idea of casting someone large in stature to play the Lachlan character, and I’ve been a longtime fan of the WWE so we reached out to them to see which of the superstars were available,” said Geoghegan. “I got really excited when I saw Jon on that list, and we did a Skype call and a short audition. Right after that, we signed him right on; his passion and excitement for the project were quite clear, so we jumped at the opportunity.

“The first day of filming, Jon told me he was a bit nervous given that this was the first time he was acting and there were so many seasoned actors in the film. I politely reminded him that he performs in front of millions of people every week.”

Huber appears in almost every scene, creating a bond with the audience through his loyalty for his fellow soldiers and seemingly contradictory empathetic nature.

Unlike the Luke Harper character, Huber is given the opportunity for advanced dialogue in the film.

“This is a huge ambition of mine,” admitted Huber. “Being a background dancer in the Wyatt Family for so long, I was itching to get out. I did Damnation on USA, and hopefully I keep picking up smaller roles and learn the craft.”

Mohawk serves as a horrifying 90-minute look at historical drama that connects to today’s political climate by intertwining the idea of Darwinism’s survival of the fittest into the film from the perspective of the majority and minority.

“You could feel something special being made,” said Huber. “The cast was unbelievably close, and we had to in order to make it work.”

The movie was filmed two years ago when Huber had a rare break in his WWE schedule after he dislocated his patella, which included the removal of part of the kneecap, ligaments, and tendons. Yet Huber found the entire process invigorating, minus the first day of filming.

“On the first day on set, I sat in my trailer alone for seven hours and wondered what was going on until someone rushed me out for my first scene,” said Huber. “In that instance, I was yearning for Rowan.”

Erick Rowan is the second half of the Bludgeon Brothers, and Huber emphasized that he has set lofty ambitions for his future in tag team and singles wrestling.

“Acting is a big ambition, but I still have a professional wrestling world to conquer,” said Huber. “I don’t think I’ve even dipped my toes in the water compared to what I’d like to do by the end of my career.  They might be high ambitions but they’re my goals, and if I don’t accomplish them, then it’s on me.”

Huber is not seeking to leave the wrestling business, but rather diversify his performance portfolio with his acting.

“Professional wrestling is a beautiful yet cruel mistress,” explained Huber. “She will treat you well and treat you horribly, but outside of my family, it is my one true love. I’m an addict for it and I’ll never go away from it, it’s my life. This is a buttress for pro wrestling, and it can only make me better at professional wrestling.”

Wrestling fans can be hard to please, and Huber noted he has overheard some complaints over the Bludgeon Brothers characters, including their matching apparel.

“I’m exactly where I want to be,” said Huber. “There came a time where I wasn’t so sure about that, but I know now this is where I want to be. The Bludgeon Brothers are the Bludgeon Brothers. We don’t care if people think we look like Kane. We are impactful and get the job done.”

The Luke Harper character is purposely silent in words and loud in actions. Jon Huber, however, is a bright, ambitious, and articulate man optimistic that the WWE audience will watch his new film.

“All I’m asking is for wrestling fans to give this film a chance,” said Huber. “It’s deeper than it appears on the surface, it’s not just a horror film. It has political ramifications and touches on subjects that are very relevant today. I think people will take something from it that they don’t take from most movies.”

****

The news of the week in wrestling was dominated by the WWE, which announced its upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia for a show on April 27 in the beginning of a 10-year partnership with the Saudi General Sports Authority.

The show will include appearances from Roman Reigns, John Cena, Triple H, AJ Styles, and the New Day. The crowd will be treated to a “Greatest Royal Rumble” match, which will be a 50-man Rumble.

All the superstars listed in the press release for the Saudi Arabia “Greatest Royal Rumble” will not necessarily be in the actual 50-man Rumble match. The talent listed will all be part of the event, but a WWE rep confirmed there are no guarantees they will be in the Rumble match.

Another development of note was The Big Show’s contract expiring this past February. Show, who is 46-year-old Paul Wight, had hoped for one last significant WrestleMania moment at this past year’s ‘Mania in Orlando in a high-profile match with Shaquille O’Neal, but the encounter failed to materialize.

The Big Show was placed onto an agent’s deal by WWE. This prevents him from working independent shows, where he would have certainly been a draw, or even for working with Ring of Honor or New Japan.

The next WWE talent to possibly fill seats on the indies is Kane, who is still employed by the company. The 50-year-old is running for the mayoral seat of Knox County in Tennessee, which is also taking up a significant portion of his time. Kane is considered unlikely to ever work for another major promotion, but depending on the result of the election, he could draw on indies across the U.S.

As for WrestleMania 34, Rey Mysterio is still expected to be part of the show. The rumored opponent for Mysterio was John Cena. While Cena would not go into detail with Sports Illustrated over the report, sources close to WWE still maintain that Mysterio will wrestle on the card.

Kurt Angle will team with Ronda Rousey, which was reported here in February, as the plan if WWE was unable to land The Rock for WrestleMania, in a tag match against Stephanie McMahon and Triple H. The plan for the women's title is for Charlotte and Asuka to face off for the SmackDown championship while Nia Jax challenges Alexa Bliss for the Raw title. WWE made the three-way Intercontinental title match official between The Miz, Seth Rollins, and Finn Balor, and sources close to WWE report that Braun Strowman and Elias will be added to the match. The Universal title match between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns is still expected to close the show.

In other news…

• This May will mark the 45th anniversary of Harley Race’s first world title win in the National Wrestling Alliance.

Harley Race won the NWA world heavyweight championship from Dory Funk, Jr. on May 24, 1973 at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Missouri, ending Funk’s four-year reign as champion.

“I was nervous all before and all through it,” said the 74-year-old Race from his home during a phone call on Thursday. “I knew that 90 percent of my relations–my mother and father, brothers and sisters–would be there, and it was the first time it was ever like that for me. I’d never had them all there to see it.

“Once I got in the ring and got my head back on straight, I remembered there was a wrestling match that I had to win. Luckily, I was able to go through with it.”

Race’s World League Wrestling holds its Night of Champions III show this Saturday in Moscow Mills, Missouri at the Tri-County Sports Center. In addition to Race, the afternoon autograph session will include fellow wrestling legends in Arn Anderson, “Cowboy” Bob Orton, the “Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart, and Scott Steiner.

“This will be my first show since I moved out to this area,” said Race. “Right now, I feel great. It’s going to be great to see so many people I haven’t been able to see or been around in quite some time.”

Race suffered two broken bones in his legs from a fall this past summer, but the former NWA champion and WWE Hall of Famer wanted fans to know that he is battling back. Race is now able to walk in short bursts.

“If I know I’m going to be at home, I can handle that,” said Race. “There are a lot of things I can’t do, but I did that to myself with the 50 years of wrestling.”


“That is something that makes me still believe in the way I wrestled and the way things were,” said Race. “So I must have been as good as the way they talk about it.”

Race continues to be humble about his successful run in wrestling, but that does not mean he has lost any of his fire. Race was successful because he genuinely believed in his work and the business, so let this serve as a warning: question the authenticity of pro wrestling to Race at your own peril.

“If someone would come and say something else, I’ll say, ‘Well, there’s one way you can find out for sure,’” said Race. “I’m still that person to this day. I still believe in what I done and how I done it.”

For those who are unable to shake Race’s hand at Saturday’s meet-and-greet before Saturday’s World League Wrestling show, “The King” of pro wrestling sent out a message to wrestling fans across the world.

“To any of you who can’t make it, hopefully there will be a time when I can talk to you,” said Race. “Since I’ve retired, I have been talking to people about how I wrestled and where I wrestled. To me, being able to talk to people about that makes me remember back. I don’t know exactly how to say it, but that takes me back to where I was and I get the chance to think about that all over again.”

I sat down with John Cena on Tuesday before his Upfront 2018 event with Nickelodeon. During the interview Cena shared his insight on the evolution of WWE from a business perspective over the past 15 years:

“The WWE has become so immensely globally popular and globally accepted,” said Cena. “Networks like Nickelodeon are now in business with us, we’re now creating these decade-long global partnerships, and we just launched a major one in Saudi Arabia.

“It is globally accepted for business to do business with us, and that’s why athletes–like Ronda Rousey and Rob Gronkowski–begin to understand what we can create.”

• Although the match will be a major part of this Sunday’s Fastlane, an encounter between The Usos and The New Day should be on the card for WrestleMania 34.

The feud between the two teams was the second most compelling for the year of 2017 in WWE, only trailing Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman. Remarkably, Jimmy and Jey Uso have never wrestled a traditional tag team match at a WrestleMania.

The Usos are allegedly a major part of the WWE heartbeat, but have wrestled on the pre-show at the past four WrestleManias. Including entrances and exits, setting aside 25 minutes for the Usos and New Day at WrestleMania 34 would be a perfect opportunity for the company to reward their talent and fan base.

• For those interested, there will be a “25 Takeaways” piece from Fastlane that posts on SI.com after the pay per view on Sunday night.

• ​The latest episode of Being The Elite revealed that the All-In show on Sept. 1 will be held in Chicago at the Sears Centre Arena.

• Ring of Honor returns to pay per view this Friday night with its 16th annual Anniversary show.

Despite a litany of different talent on the roster, Jay Lethal–who challenges ROH champion Dalton Castle for the world title in the main event–has dominated the event with his performances over the past six years.

Lethal defeated Bobby Fish at last year’s Anniversary show in a very underrated match, and quite possibly his finest moment in the business took place at the 2016 show when he defeated Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly in a triple threat to successfully defend his world title. Lethal also defeated Alberto Del Rio in 2015, but lost the two years prior against AJ Styles in 2014 and Kevin Owens in the 2013 main event. He also wrestled Tommaso Ciampa, who now stars in NXT, to a 15-minute time limit draw in 2012.

While it is unlikely that Lethal defends Castle, the match is worth watching to see if the established challenger can help elevate the champion’s status in the company.

• Despite some extremely compelling moments in Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling, Rocky Romero has enjoyed a largely unheralded career. Romero’s work in the ring so often puts the spotlight on his opponent, and some of most valuable work has occurred behind the curtain in talent relations.

Romero’s newest project is, fittingly, about a masked wrestling superstar. The Chico El Luchador mini documentary is a mockumentary that accentuates the ridiculous but enjoyable nature of pro wrestling from the perspective of both the fans and the wrestlers.


• ​Lavie Margolin’s new book, TrumpMania: Vince McMahon, WWE, and the making of America’s 45th President, is now available.

Margolin began writing the book in April 2017, starting a process of meticulous research on the intersection between McMahon and Trump. One of the highlights of writing the book was uncovering some of the fascinating revelations about the Trump/McMahon relationship, particularly referring to what he called the “in-between moments.”

“We are all so familiar with the ‘Battle of the Billionaires,’ Trump as owner of Raw and hosting WrestleMania IV and V, but what was really fascinating was how they stayed connected in ways that hadn’t been as publicized,” said Margolin. “For example, Trump hosting a World Bodybuilding Federation press conference at a hotel he owned, The Plaza, and sitting in the front row for the WBF at his hotel in Atlantic City.”

Margolin’s research revealed a diligence from both McMahon and Trump in their friendship, strengthened by the many similarities that they share.

“When people are similar it can lead to conflict but, in this case, they complement each other,” said Margolin. “At times both have struggled for respect in the public’s eye. Each always has a good deal of praise for each other. As I wrote in the book, ‘They are also wonderful at promotion. They don’t mind inflating attendance numbers that are already good to make an event seem even bigger than it already is, simply because they were involved. They are the original Hype Bros.’

Wrestling fans searching for McMahon-related reading will learn a great deal about politics and pro wrestling in Margolin’s book.

“It is not only the history of Trump and McMahon,” said Margolin. “It unearths so many under reported or long forgotten elements of the wrestling business over the last 30 years. For example, did you know a Trump hotel hosted a GLOW event in-between WrestleMania 4 and 5? As a wrestling fan, I’ve enjoyed re-reading it several times myself.”

• Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard returns today at noon ET with a new podcast from Prichard and co-host Conrad Thompson, which is the second installment of a detailed look at Shawn Michaels’ WWE run in 1994 and ‘95.

“Wrestling fans think of Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and Sean Waltman one way, but I really wanted to understand why we think of Shawn Michaels in a different sub-set of the Kliq,” said Thompson. “I’ve always been fascinated by that dynamic, and I really worked to understand with Bruce who was the real sh**-disturber of the bunch.”

This episode also covers the Kliq in great detail, including the infamous story when Kevin Nash “buried” Carl “Pierre” Ouellet of the Quebecers during a title match in Quebec.

 “Carl had been heavily involved in the promotion of the show, and we hear every week from Bruce that Quebec was treated differently by Vince McMahon,” explained Thompson. “So Carl was in the main event, and there was a debate over the finish. We explore the way the Kliq handled it, which was fascinating, and we also breakdown the infamous Kliq meeting with Vince in Indianapolis.”

In a move that firmly established the influence of the Kliq, McMahon flew to Indianapolis and allegedly made a list of the entire roster with the Kliq members, listing out who could help the company and who did not carry their weight as a performer.

 “Bruce tries to defend it, but that’s exactly what happened,” said Thompson. “The Kliq put over guys they didn’t like, like Bam Bam Bigelow and Chris Candido, because thought they could work.

 “That’s fascinating to me because I don’t think that could ever happen again today. It would have to be John Cena, right? But it makes you re-examine Shawn’s relationship with Vince, and there are others, like Kevin, Scott, and Triple H there also.”

The show also takes a deep look into Michaels’ incident where he was beaten by an unknown number of Marines in Syracuse, New York in 1995, unearthing an interesting nugget of information.

“Vince turned it into an angle on Raw where Shawn was hurt and had to go to the hospital, but they sent Shawn to the hospital and he was actually working doctors and nurses. Meanwhile, there were other patients in the ER in legitimate need of services, so we’ll discuss how silly the wrestling business could be at times. Someone could have had a real medical emergency while Shawn was putting on a show.”

Thompson and Prichard also break down Michaels’ ladder matches with Scott Hall, which took place at WrestleMania X in 1994 and their rematch at SummerSlam 1995.

“Had Shawn not failed a steroid test in ‘93, would we have got a ladder match at WrestleMania X?” asked Thompson. “We’ll look at the career trajectory that makes Shawn into Vince’s top guy, because that SummerSlam match is just months before Shawn wins the world title.”

Tweet of the Week

Randy Orton’s work on Twitter is extremely underrated.

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

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