- Pat Patterson reflects on Shawn Michaels, favorite WrestleMania moments.
- WWE changes tune on women's battle royal, WrestleMania news and notes.
- Kota Ibushi on Bullet Club, upcoming Young Bucks vs. Golden Lovers match.
- WWN's Gabe Sapolsky on EVOLVE 102, working with Daniel Bryan in ROH.
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: Daniel Bryan cleared for return, Pat Patterson on WrestleMania
Daniel Bryan has been medically cleared to return to in-ring competition in WWE.
While there will be time to examine Bryan’s contract status and explore the timing behind the announcement, the universal feeling among wrestling fans was euphoria. There are endless possibilities with Bryan back in the ring, including a grudge match against The Miz, dream matches against AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, and a rematch with Roman Reigns. The sight of Bryan making Brock Lesnar tap at SummerSlam this August would be music to the sound of Bryan’s fans ears.
Bryan has served admirably as the GM of SmackDown since July of 2016, but he has been missing a part of his creative soul away from the ring. The New Day’s Kofi Kingston noted that Bryan’s return lifted the spirits of everyone in the SmackDown locker room.
“When it comes to wrestling, Daniel Bryan is just so passionate about being here,” said Kingston, who will be featured in a story next week on SI.com detailing his new project, The Book of Booty. “This is great news. Him being around as the GM and backstage, I know he loved that, but you can just see it in his eyes and you can feel how he wants to be in the ring.”
A rep from WWE confirmed that “Bryan underwent a full review of his medical history and received comprehensive neurological and physical evaluations independent of WWE. He was cleared by each doctor as well as WWE’s Medical Director, Dr. Joseph Maroon.”
Bryan’s return to the ring will take place at WrestleMania 34, with all evidence pointing to a tag team match with Shane McMahon against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn.
“The fact that he can now safely compete is awesome for him,” said Kingston. “I’m really, really happy for him.”
One of WWE’s greatest unsung heroes will forever remain Pat Patterson and his work behind the scenes.
The 77-year-old Patterson enjoyed a successful career in the ring, then made an eternal mark on the business through his work as Vince McMahon’s top creative mind for nearly two decades in WWE.
His journey perfectly fit the ethos of old-school pro wrestling. His fictional Rio de Janeiro tournament win to become the first-ever Intercontinental champion is all myth, but he also was content to stay in the background when his ideas were successful. WWE is a company that creates memories through moments, and Patterson is a major source of multiple memorable moments, including the Survivor Series elimination concept and the creation of the Royal Rumble match, which remains a must-see event every year.
“I just wanted to do it one time,” Patterson said in an exclusive with Sports Illustrated. “That first time was fun, and people liked it, but I never thought it would last this long.”
Patterson still reappears from time to time at a pay per view, and he was present backstage at this past January’s Royal Rumble. He expressed gratitude for the respect from the current talent roster, which treats Patterson in a reverential tone.
Although Patterson has mostly avoided interviews, he just appeared in a shoot interview from RF Video with his longtime friend and associate Bruce Prichard, who also brought Patterson in as a special guest this past weekend during a live “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” show in Florida. Patterson also wrote a book, Accepted: How the First Gay Superstar Changed WWE, which discussed his career, detailed his relationship with partner Louie Dondero of 40 years, touched on controversies, and gave a glimpse into the life of one of WWE’s first power brokers.
Even in a short discussion, Patterson’s much-famed vernacular was on full display. The way Patterson, who is from Montreal and speaks fluent French, said “buying shoes” was “buying shoe”; when he mentioned he had heard of someone for a long time before meeting him, Patterson said, “I’d heard of him a long time of year”; “That’s just the way it is” morphed into “That’s the way it to be”; and, of course, “going bananas” simply becomes “going banana.”
“When Rey Mysterio won the Royal Rumble in 2006, I went banana,” said Patterson. “And the people went crazy. There are some other matches I’ll never forget, like Shawn vs. Ric Flair.”
The Michaels-Flair retirement match took place 10 years ago at WrestleMania 24, and the “Heartbreak Kid” sent the “Nature Boy” into WWE retirement after an emotional battle.
Patterson was a major proponent of Michaels, who he calls “Shawn Michael,” long before “Mr. WrestleMania” ever had a singles match in WWE.
“Shawn was a good talent, but he could be hard to get along with,” said Patterson. “Eventually, he was fired. But he had so much talent, it was unbelievable. Then some time went by, and I said, ‘Vince, give him a chance’ enough times that Vince said, ‘God damn it!’ Shawn had the talent, he just needed to slow down a little bit.”
Patterson served as the architect for many of WrestleMania’s greatest moments, including the sublime stretch of matches Hulk Hogan delivered at WrestleMania III, V, and VI, as well as worked with the “Macho Man” Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior in the blow off to their feud in a phenomenal retirement match at WrestleMania VII. But his own favorite ‘Mania moment happened in Anaheim, California when Shawn Michaels captured his boyhood dream and won his first-ever world title at WrestleMania 12 over Bret Hart in a 60-minute Iron Man match.
“That was a masterpiece,” said Patterson. “I loved it.”
An integral part of the match was Patterson’s unwavering belief that Michaels and Hart, who were originally thought to be solely tag team wrestlers, could be top singles stars.
“Shawn belonged in the business, so did Bret, and they were good for the business,” said Patterson. “I did a lot to help them because they had the talent.
“That match between Shawn and Bret, I was going crazy backstage. It was unbelievable. I love that match so much, even though there was a time when people didn’t want to hear about that match.”
Not all of Patterson’s ideas were originally met with favor from Vince McMahon, but another critical aspect of the Patterson story is his willingness to stand by his beliefs.
“I like to be creative for the fans,” said Patterson. “I want the fans to have a good time and then go home. Every time you create something, someone will say that it is no good. They’ll tell you it’s not going to work. But I never give up.”
Working on-screen as one of McMahon’s “stooges” with Jerry Brisco introduced fans of the “Attitude Era” to Patterson, as well as provided him a chance to work with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at the peak of his popularity.
As for the current generation, Patterson sees two bona fide stars in Kevin Owens and Dolph Ziggler, who would be his choice, he added, for a modern-day Iron Man match. Patterson still views the business with a different eye than most, adding that Owens has the potential to one day be a major babyface for WWE.
Patterson stands alone in the holy grail of most talented finish men in the history of the business.
“You try to have fun for the fans,” said Patterson. “Then you leave it to the guys to go out and do it.”
In other news…
• This past week in wrestling was certainly eventful for WWE.
After significant outcry from wrestling fans, Mars Wrigley Confectionery US, which is the parent company of Snickers, criticized WWE’s decision to name the women’s battle royal after the Fabulous Moolah due to allegations of her sexual and financial exploits. Shortly thereafter, the name of the battle royal was changed to the WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal.
The return of The Undertaker is imminent, though there has also been disappointment expressed over the World Wide Web that ‘Taker will return for another WrestleMania payday after last year’s memorable sendoff. The Undertaker’s coat and hat remained in the ring after last year’s defeat to Roman Reigns, signifying the end of an era.
Of course, the story never ends in pro wrestling. Kid Rock just so happens to be on the list of inductees for this year’s WWE Hall of Fame, and Kid Rock also performed The Undertaker’s “American Badass” theme song.
If The Undertaker returned to WrestleMania on his bike as the “American Badass,” leaving the Deadman gimmick back in Dallas, then he could pay homage to another part of his career in his rumored match against John Cena. And, despite some complaints, there is no one refusing to watch WrestleMania 34 because The Undertaker is coming back or refusing to buy a ticket, and his return will generate eyeballs and interest.
Following his injury at a Northeast Wrestling show in Connecticut, WWE did not agree on a contract with Rey Mysterio. Sports Illustrated will continue to pursue the story, which just developed further as The Tennessean reported this past weekend that Mysterio has joined Aro Lucha as a performer and part-owner of the company. Mysterio wrestles this Sunday for New Japan’s “Strong Style Evolved” special on AXS TV, which will provide a better look at his status following the bicep injury.
Somehow, WWE’s “Ultimate Deletion” – which was a phenomenal introduction for WWE fans to the Hardy compound – was not even the biggest story of the week. Jeff Hardy made a cameo as Brother Nero, and the scene where Senor Benjamin had the whole world in his hand was perfectly executed. The “Woken” character allows the chance for longevity, as well as multiple different storylines, for Matt Hardy. A return to the Hardy compound will have even more interest from viewers.
Finally, WWE announced more details regarding the upcoming Greatest Royal Rumble in Saudi Arabia on April 27.
The historic event will feature seven championship matches, as well as the first-ever 50-man Greatest Royal Rumble match.
• New Japan Pro Wrestling’s “Strong Style Evolved” show in the United States is set to air live this Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on AXS TV, and a match of considerable significance will see the Young Bucks against the Golden Lovers, who are Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi.
The match is especially meaningful for the Bucks’ Matt and Nick Jackson, who are looking to break away from junior heavyweight status in New Japan and wrestle as heavyweights. Both Omega and Ibushi fought a similar battle, and each has succeeded as a heavyweight, and the move would open up a new reservoir of opportunity for the Bucks in terms of a new title to chase and a variety of different opponents to wrestle.
While the North American fan base is growing in familiarity with Omega, the fourth member of this match – 35-year-old Kota Ibushi – remains more of a mystery. Ibushi did compete in WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic tournament in 2016, as well wrestle for Gabe Sapolsky’s EVOLVE during WrestleMania 32 weekend in Dallas, but his history in the ring as both a tag partner and rival with Omega is compelling and dates back nearly a decade.
With cracks beginning to show in the armor of Bullet Club, with Cody Rhodes claiming that he is the new face of the unit, Ibushi was asked if he ever considered joining Bullet Club instead of fighting the Young Bucks and feuding with Cody Rhodes.
“Right now, I am already at the side of Bullet Club,” explained Ibushi before his Friday match in Tokyo’s Korakuen Hall. “I’m considered a member, and I want to make Bullet Club anew.”
Sports Illustrated will have more detail and insight on the match in a feature this Friday, examining Ibushi’s proclamation that he is going to change the entire mindset of Bullet Club.
“Bullet Club is black, I want it to be white,” said Ibushi. “I am going to make a cleaner image for Bullet Club.”
• Jim Ross will be providing the soundtrack for this Sunday’s New Japan show, and the signature voice of professional wrestling relishes the chance to return to a live broadcast.
“I don’t know if I’m going to do anything at WrestleMania, but I have this event coming up in Long Beach,” said Ross. “I’m going to treat this like it is my WrestleMania.”
In spite of – or, perhaps, because of – Ross’ success, the 66-year-old from Oklahoma still believes he has a lot to prove while wearing a headset at ringside.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s really important for me to go out and do a good job,” said Ross. “I got blessed with a pretty good skill set in storytelling, but I put more pressure on myself than anyone else.”
Even with decades of experience in his broadcasting portfolio, the excitement and pressure of a live call still fills Ross with gravitational potential energy in the way he is able to make viewers respond to his calls.
“The New Japan product is so hot right now wrestling-wise that it’s reminiscent of the hot NWA years and the best of the Mid-South years, even the best of the UWF, which didn’t fully establish what it could be,” added Ross. “But as for pressure, it’s nothing new. I had a domineering father, domineering boss in Cowboy Bill Watts, and a domineering boss at WWE.”
One match Ross is particularly excited to call is a rematch of an encounter that WCW president Eric Bischoff first booked at Starrcade ‘96 in Rey Mysterio vs. Jushin Thunder Liger.
The 53-year-old Liger has only enhanced his legendary status since the Starrcade affair, while the star of Mysterio – who is now 43 but was only 22 at the time of the Starrcade match – has eclipsed all but a few of wrestling’s all-time greats.
“Without hyperbole, they are the two most famous light heavyweights of all-time performing,” said Ross. “When you talk about the greats in the game in this weight class and beyond, it just don’t get any better.”
Ross, whose one-man show in New Orleans during WrestleMania weekend is nearing a sell-out, shared that another unique aspect of this match is that it is potentially the last time Mysterio and Liger will ever lock up against each other.
“You’ve got to believe, for these two guys, no matter how well they’ve taken care of themselves, no matter their style, they only have so much left,” said Ross. “So this, for us to watch these two, is just so memorable.
“The match may never be replicated again. These two were inspirations for the Zack Sabres and Will Ospreays. Rey and Jushin Thunder Liger inspired a whole generation of talent. They’re not going to have this opportunity many more times, so let’s make it good.”
• Gabe Sapolsky, who is WWN Vice President of Talent Relations and Creative, has booked a must-see tag match between WALTER and Timothy Thatcher against Daisuke Sekimoto and Munenori Sawa at EVOLVE 102 just outside New Orleans on the Thursday before WrestleMania.
“I could give you some analytical answer as to why I booked the match and act like I’m some kind of matchmaking expert, but it really comes down to the fact that I want to see it as a fan,” said Sapolsky. “I would buy a ticket to see this match. You have WALTER and Timothy Thatcher, who I consider the most badass tag team in the world. Then you have Sekimoto and Sawa, who are the perfect rivals for them.
“Sekimoto has had some tremendous singles matches with WALTER. I wanted to get that rivalry in, but in a different format with the tag team match. WALTER and Thatcher are so great together, they bring out the best in each other, so it just made sense for Sekimoto to oppose them.”
Sawa retired in November, 2011, right at the peak of his career, and this marks his first match back. Sawa made it clear this is not a comeback tour, but rather a one-time only return for shows in the United States, allowing wrestling fans across the world to witness this pioneer of the BattlArts style back at work in the ring.
“Sawa’s been training and is in incredible shape,” said Sapolsky. “I will admit that we wanted to start him in a tag match, since he’s coming out of retirement and it is his first match in years, so that was part of the reasoning, but really this is a match I want to see. It’s going to be a battle.”
• Rachael Ellering is a featured part of this Sunday’s “From the Pinnacle to the Pit” Women’s Wrestling Revolution show at the Electric Haze in Worcester, Massachusetts that kicks off with a 3:30pm ET bell time on Powerbomb.TV.
Ellering is the daughter of famed Road Warriors manager Paul Ellering, who now works with the Authors of Pain in NXT. Yet the 25-year-old Ellering, who has already had a cup of coffee in NXT, most notably competing as Rachel Evers in the Mae Young Classic, is quickly becoming recognized more for her wrestling ability than her famed father.
“I’m very proud of the legacy my dad continues to lead, but I’m always up for a challenge,” said Ellering. “I’ve always wanted to create my own path. I’m so incredibly proud of my dad and to be his daughter, but I am also proud to forge my own path.”
A three-sport athlete in high school and power lifter in college at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, Ellering won a bronze medal in 2014 for the World Powerlifting Federation.
Ellering is the middle of three siblings, and her parents did not allow the children to watch wrestling when she was a child. That changed when she became a teenager, and her destiny called her when she witnessed Trish Stratus battle Lita in the main event on Raw in 2004.
“That’s when I fell in love with wrestling, watching Trish and Lita in the main event on Monday Night Raw,” said Ellering. I fell in love, and since then, I’ve been all-in. It’s all I watch and all I think about.”
Ellering has a precious opportunity this Sunday at the WWR show in Worcester when she takes on Skylar. The main event of the show features Tenille Dashwood, who starred in WWE as Emma.
“There is a ton of talented women’s on this card, and there is something special about an all-women’s card,” said Ellering. “We’re all coming with an added motivation to show how athletic and tough we are, as well as how great a story we can tell.”
In addition to wrestling all over the world, including Japan, the opportunity to wrestle in this past summer’s Mae Young Classic has presented Ellering with an entirely new outlook on the business.
“WWE is a production and they’re the best in the world at it,” said Ellering. “It was special to be part of the Mae Young Classic, and meet so many of the girls. I became very close with Kairi, who won the whole thing and is killing it right now in NXT. The final product turned out to be incredible.”
Ellering has a natural athletic ability and the versatility to adjust to whomever stands across the ring from her. She is able to find a means to an end, and her knowledge separates her from many of the other female talent around the world.
“I can use any style, whether that’s on the mat, striking, brawling, or in the air,” said Ellering. “That will all be on display this Sunday.”
Fans who watch the show on Powerbomb.TV will naturally think of Paul Ellering the moment she is introduced, but by the end of the match, they’ll leave thinking about Rachael.
“You’ll feel how much I love pro wrestling,” said Ellering. “This is everything, it’s perfect, and I’m sharing that love. My ultimate goal in professional wrestling, no matter what level I reach, is to leave wrestling better than when I started. Every locker room should be better, every show. That’s my goal.”
This particular episode should provide a unique lens into the mindset of Vince McMahon, who was the mastermind behind the draft and ultimately decided which personnel were sent to either Raw or SmackDown.
“It’s the diary of a mad man,” said Thompson. “Vince is trying to create his own competition.”
The 2002 draft marks the end of an era, as The Rock was transitioning to Hollywood, Hulk Hogan would soon finish with WWE, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin had a seemingly constant uncertain status regarding his future with the company. WWE then ushered in the Brock Lesnar era, and decided to re-ignite the business by splitting its roster into two brands.
“We’ll break down how the talent reacted, especially the Raw with the draft,” said Thompson. “And Bruce will talk a lot about how quickly the idea was abandoned.”
Another aspect that will be explored is the relationship among the wrestlers and whether McMahon purposely alienated certain wrestlers or made a specific demand to split people apart.
“That’s exactly what I want to hear from Bruce: who was Vince trying to split up and why,” said Thompson. “I’m fascinated when Vince tries to play God and runs these social experiments.
“Who in their right mind thought it was a good idea to split up Bubba and V-Von Dudley? Did Vince really, in his heart of hearts, think either one of them were going to be big singles stars? Or did he split them up to push them down? This is as much of a Vince show as we’ve ever done.”
Tweet of the Week
True story: Mark Henry offered to fly to Calgary and answer the door when my daughter brought boys home for the first time.— Lance Storm (@LanceStorm) March 20, 2018
Congratulations to Mark Henry, an extremely worthy inductee for the WWE Hall of Fame.