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  • How 'Ultimate Deletion' won over critics in the WWE front office.
  • Will Rey Mysterio be Braun Strowman's mystery WrestleMania partner?
  • Zack Sabre Jr. is becoming New Japan Pro Wrestling’s breakout star of 2018.
  • Chael Sonnen on Vince McMahon-Dana White; his near-cameo at WrestleMania 32.
By Justin Barrasso
March 28, 2018

“Woken” Matt Hardy’s “Ultimate Deletion” aired on last week’s Raw, and was a fantastic piece of theater despite an uneasy opening.

Raw play-by-play man Michael Cole offered a disclaimer before the Hardy-Bray Wyatt match aired, apologizing to fans for the content they were about to witness.

“What we are about to show you is so different, obnoxious, surreal,” said Cole, before being cut off by an enthusiastic Corey Graves eager to explain the significance of the segment. Cole then stated, “I’m sorry for what you’re about to watch.”

Cole’s comments make this reporter believe that there was a certain executive in WWE (Vince McMahon) holding his nose before this aired, failing to realize that the ridiculousness nature of the character is precisely the reason people have embraced Hardy’s eclectic vision.

Although there are certainly lots of aspects Hardy would have done differently to enhance the production if he had full say, which he did not, the segment was strong enough to win people over–and featured entertaining cameos from Senor Benjamin and a returning Jeff “Brother Nero” Hardy.

The “Ultimate Deletion” ultimately served as a solid introduction of the “Woken Universe”. But, in addition to Cole’s comments, which clearly were a directive from Vince McMahon, the WWE opted not to include the cutting-edge segment on the WWE Hulu version of Raw.

WWE shows a 90-minute version on Raw on to Hulu, and the main event is usually a prerequisite for that content.

So why would WWE decide against shining a light on this encounter? That Monday’s Raw was eventful, with a Ronda Rousey video package and the world title story with Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar. Still, for a match that included Jeff Hardy’s return and Michael Hayes as the booking agent to not make the cut is a very curious decision.

As for what comes next, there is a future for Hardy’s “Woken” world in WWE.

Hardy fought hard to make this a reality on WWE programming, and there is no doubt within the company that he will continue to fight for it. The #UltimateDELETION hashtag trended on Twitter as number one worldwide for three hours, which blew people away inside WWE, including McMahon.

There was a massive response from fans, with the large majority being positive, and the event became viewed as a big success within the office.

****

In other news…

• Shane McMahon confirmed on SmackDown that he will be wrestling at WrestleMania 34 in a tag team match with Daniel Bryan against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn.

The outcome would normally be a formality, but the caveat is that Owens and Zayn are fired if they lose. WrestleMania stipulations, however, are far from ironclad (see Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker at WrestleMania 32).

WWE reported that McMahon is currently recovering from “acute diverticulitis and an umbilical hernia in a New York-area medical facility.”

Since this is the world of professional wrestling, the question that immediately comes to mind is, is the story legitimate?

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I reached out to five different people, each of whom considers himself a friend of McMahon, and all believe the injury is legit–but every single one admitted they would not be shocked if McMahon was turning up the volume on the extent of his condition.

On the subject of injuries, Rey Mysterio did not wrestle at this past Sunday’s New Japan show due to his bicep injury. If Mysterio is healthy, he is expected to work WrestleMania.

Permitting Mysterio can work, two sources close to WWE confirmed that Vince McMahon is strongly considering using Mysterio as Braun Strowman’s tag team partner against Cesaro and Sheamus.

The idea of the biggest and smallest working together is right in McMahon’s wheelhouse. If Mysterio only works a short-term deal, the partnership also works as he can take the pinfall instead of Strowman.

If Mysterio returns to WWE for WrestleMania, it is currently expected to be a short-term deal.

As for other WWE news, the company just announced that their upcoming Saudi Arabia show on April 27 will feature a WrestleMania 22 rematch between John Cena and Triple H at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium.

Triple H and Stephanie McMahon did some of their best promo work in some time this past Raw in their build toward the mixed tag against Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey.

• New Japan’s “Strong Style Evolved” show was a success this past Sunday, and the night was punctuated with a phenomenal main event that saw the Young Bucks come up just short against Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi.

Even more drama took place following the finish, as Cody Rhodes appeared and unleashed his frustration onto the Bucks, particularly Nick Jackson, for losing to Omega.

Rhodes followed up with a tweet the following day explaining his actions, which he claimed were entirely misinterpreted.


I have enjoyed the build to WrestleMania between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns, but even with all of WWE’s horses and all of WWE’s men (and creative team), there is far more ingenuity and considerably less predictability on “Being The Elite”.

• ​Eric Bischoff is returning to the world of podcasting.

The former president of WCW is teaming up with Conrad Thompson in a new podcast – 83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff – that is expected to premiere this April.


• ​All signs point to Zack Sabre Jr. becoming New Japan Pro Wrestling’s breakout star of 2018.

Sabre just won the New Japan Cup in dominating fashion, and he was booked to look like a star in his tag match during this past Sunday’s “Strong Style Evolved” live special on AXS TV as he and Minoru Suzuki were victorious in a tag match against IWGP champion Kazuchika Okada and Tomohiro Ishii. Sabre now has the opportunity to challenge Okada for the title on April 1 at the Sakura Genesis show, which airs live on New Japan World.

The 30-year-old Sabre is also the EVOLVE champion and is set to defend his title on April 5 just outside of New Orleans against the indie wrestling wrecking machine, Matt Riddle.

Gabe Sapolsky, who oversees EVOLVE and is World Wrestling Network’s Vice President of Talent Relations and Creative, was asked for his insight on the pros and cons of having your promotion’s champion also shine for other companies.

“Zack Sabre Jr. has been an amazing EVOLVE champion since defeating Timothy Thatcher in February, 2017,” said Sapolsky. “He was known as one of the best technical wrestlers anywhere when he won the title, but over the past 13 months he’s put EVOLVE on his back and carried the brand with how he’s represented the company, our wrestling style, and his high match quality. He’s completely grown into that role. However, it is important he also wrestles in other places.

“EVOLVE is just one weekend a month. Where he takes his talents and what platforms he appears on really depends on his goals. Zack is an independent pro wrestler, and every independent pro wrestler has different goals. I personally like Zack as a person and support him in his goals. I focus on what we do in EVOLVE, and Zack is heading into his biggest EVOLVE Championship Match yet, which is against Matt Riddle at EVOLVE 102 on April 5 in New Orleans at the WWNLive Experience. This is going to be an epic match that could be the best match anywhere during WrestleMania week. It’s an extremely important match for shaping EVOLVE’s future.

“So far, Zack has done a great job balancing his New Japan commitments with EVOLVE. I respect what he did in the New Japan Cup tournament, and the fans of New Japan got to see what Zack has been doing for the past 13 months as EVOLVE champion. I think 2018 will see him reach new heights in his career.”

• For those looking to learn, Robbie E is teaching a weekly seminar of how to succeed as a pro wrestler.

Better known away from the ring as Rob Strauss, the 34-year-old father of two, who worked for seven years with TNA, is not currently signed to one promotion, but he remains extremely active in order to make a living and provide for his family.

His weekly schedule includes the “Dad Bod Destroyer” video for Muscle & Fitness on Monday, he releases his “Real Robbie E” video every Tuesday on FITE TV, an MLW podcast released on Wednesday, and Men’s Fitness on Thursdays for “Back to the Basics” workout videos before returning to the road to wrestle each weekend.

Strauss’ newest project is a podcast for Court Bauer’s MLW Network.

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“I’m still a full-time wrestler, so at first, I was against the idea of starting a podcast because I didn’t want people to think my in-ring career was done,” said Strauss. “But I hooked up with Court Bauer and I ended up telling him the idea that I had, he loved it, and that gave me enough of a push to try it.”

The show, “Why It Ended”, is centered around once-popular wrestlers who are no longer in the mainstream.

“We’ll be talking to the guys that have vanished,” said Strauss. “The ones that aren’t on the independent scene or have podcasts or hit the convention center. We don’t know their story, so this will give fans something different.”

The first two shows included former WWE talent Muhammed Hassan and infamous WCW character Glacier. Strauss’ 18 years in the wrestling industry have widened his perspective, and he offers so much insight on his show, including his take on the resurgence of TNA stars in WWE.

“AJ Styles’ success in WWE is the least surprising,” said Strauss. “Even before he started at TNA, I thought that AJ was, hands down, one of the best wrestlers in the world. Wrestling him, I just knew there was something special about him. It’s crazy to say this, but he’s even a better human than he is a wrestler. Everything he’s getting in WWE is all deserved for a great person.”

Strauss is also looking forward to Bobby Roode’s three-way match at WrestleMania 34 against Randy Orton and Jinder Mahal.

“If you watched Bobby in TNA, you could see how great he was,” said Strauss. “It was only a matter of time before he got the chance in WWE.”

Strauss was also involved in the TNA-aired version of the “Broken Universe” as he was one of the earliest opponents of “Broken” Matt Hardy.

“I had to watch ‘The Ultimate Deletion’ on Raw, I was so curious to see it,” said Strauss. “It was a weird feeling to have seen it elsewhere, but it was so cool to see something that Matt created on his own now on such a bigger platform. Nowadays in wrestling, you don’t get to create–you’re handed things and you make the best of them. But Matt and a small crew created this, so to see it on Raw was super cool.”

The early reviews for “Why It Ended” were so overwhelmingly positive that Strauss asked to extend his gratitude to listeners.

“MLW is such a big platform, and I’m very thankful for the positive feedback and the downloads,” said Strauss. “A big thank you to everyone who is listening.”

• MMA great Chael Sonnen does not hold punches in the cage or on his podcast, so naturally he tossed diplomacy when asked for the better promoter between Vince McMahon and Dana White.

“Dana White,” said Sonnen. “I think he’s a better promoter. I think he also has more passion and he works harder, and that’s saying a lot, because Vince works hard.”

Sonnen, who was an NCAA Division I All-American at the University of Oregon and holds a 31-15-1 record in MMA, nearly appeared in a Vince McMahon-owned wrestling ring two years ago at WrestleMania 32 in Dallas, Texas during the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.

“They asked me to be part of that battle royal,” said Sonnen. “I couldn’t do the date. They thought I was blowing them off, which I wasn’t, and put Shaquille O’Neal in instead.”

His podcast, “You’re Welcome with Chael Sonnen”, discusses a variety of topics, including the potential return to UFC for WWE Universal champion Brock Lesnar.

If Lesnar were to return to the Octagon, Sonnen believes that Lesnar would accept the challenge of battling an elite fighter like UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, who is at the top of his game and would likely highlight Lesnar’s flaws.

“Brock knows he can’t beat Stipe, but he’s a true competitor,” said the 40-year-old Sonnen. “You can say anything you want about Lesnar, but you cannot say he’s a coward. His first fight was against a two-time champion in Frank Mir, and he’d never even done the sport.

“He is a true competitor and that’s what he wants to do. Brock doesn’t want to be in a WWE ring and jump around like a fool. Brock would have quit and walked away he hates it so much, but he’s a not guy with a great resume or great intelligence, and there’s only so many things he can do so he had to go back.”

Sonnen once flirted with the idea of pro wrestling, even training in WCW’s Power Plant training center in 1998, and his time performing in big-time mixed martial arts has taught him all about the economics of fighting.

“There were only two boxers that could sell a fight without a dance partner, which were Mike Tyson and Oscar De La Hoya, and that may have changed a little bit with Floyd Mayweather, but otherwise, it takes two guys in combat sports to make a compelling match,” said Sonnen. “Another exception to that is Brock Lesnar.”

Sonnen was asked whether people from MMA are supporting former UFC great Ronda Rousey’s work in WWE.

“It’s an honor for Ronda to do what she’s doing in WWE, so you’ll mainly hear negativity from fighters because of jealousy,” said Sonnen. “A lot of fighters would love to do that and not get hit, and what she’s doing is rare.”

A talented conversationalist on his podcast, Sonnen is still a competitor in the cage. He is part of Bellator’s World Grand Prix Championship tournament for the heavyweight title, and he defeated Quinton “Rampage” Jackson this past January via unanimous decision to advance.

“I’m going to fight as long as I can,” said Sonnen. “I’m not going to leave anything on the table. Getting world championship opportunities is a rare thing, and I’m going to see it through.”

Fans looking to add a new show to their podcast rotation will appreciate Sonnen’s humor, insight, and pride in his work.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Sonnen. “The show is going to be there and it’s going to be number one with or without you, so come along for the ride and you can thank me when you’re done.”

• Limitless Wrestling returns to live action this Friday night with its “Only Fools are Satisfied” show in Westbrook, Maine.

The card includes the Limitless debut of West Coast sensation Brody King, who is scheduled to wrestle Christian Casanova, as well as Brian Cage vs. David Starr and Jimmy Jacobs vs. DangerKid.

Another standout on the card should be the six-man tag featuring AR Fox, Shane Strickland, and Teddy Hart against JT Dunn, Ace Romero, and Josh Briggs.

“There are going to be a lot of eyes on that match,” said Briggs. “I’m very lucky and very humbled to be involved with three of the best in the independent scene in AR, Teddy, and Shane.”

, and Matt Bloom early in all of their development.

“I’m working to become a success,” said Briggs, who is frightening inside the ring but humble behind the curtain. “When you’re playing football, you’re wearing your helmet and jersey. No one really sees you. But you’re exposed in the ring, so you need to be perfect.

“I really enjoy wrestling, and my ultimate goal is Japan and WWE. Right now, I just want to conquer every step in front of me.”

Briggs, who name in the ring is similar to his real name of Josh Bruns, hails from Bullhead City, which is right on the tip of the iceberg in Arizona, and he is only 24 years old. Briggs has studied a lot of Batista, Kevin Nash, and The Undertaker, taking pride in improving his craft every day. In addition to Limitless, he primarily wrestles on the East Coast with Beyond Wrestling, Northeast Wrestling, Chaotic Wrestling, and CZW, but he also just returned from a trip to Canada working for Alpha-1 and C4 Wrestling.

Briggs is looking forward to displaying his unique combination of size and skill this Friday in his six man tag at Limitless.

“I need to pull out all the stops to impress everyone I can, and this will also be a hell of a learning experience for me,” said Briggs. “Teddy, AR, and Shane have been around the world and know everything there is to know about pro wrestling.”

• Bruce Prichard and Conrad Thompson return this Friday with a new episode of Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard,detailing a seminal point in WWE history with the coronation of the “Macho Man” Randy Savage at WrestleMania IV and the missteps the company made before the show that took place in Atlantic City.

“There was record revenue across the board for this pay per view, but the WWF Magazine created the ultimate snafu by releasing a magazine that proclaimed the Macho Man had won the tournament and become world champion that hit newsstands before WrestleMania ever happened,” said Thompson. “That ruined the intrigue.”

WrestleMania IV also marked the first signature pay per view without Hulk Hogan in the main event.

“The crowd was full of high rollers instead of diehard wrestling fans, and that did not help two new characters in the Macho Man and Million Dollar Man get over in the main event,” said Thompson. “The stars of the night were Hulk Hogan and Miss Elizabeth. They became the story of the main event, and that undercut Savage.”

WrestleMania IV showcased a 14-man bracket to crown a new champion, and Thompson noted that he will seek clarification from Prichard as to why the bracket changed and how it was originally constructed.

“I’ll ask Bruce why the bracket was changed, but we’ll also explore how the decision was made to exclude Hulk Hogan from the main event,” said Thompson. “It didn’t feel like WrestleMania without Hulk Hogan as champion at the end of the show.”

Another important aspect of WrestleMania IV is the wrestling war of the 1980s between Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation and Jim Crockett Promotions.

“Crockett had nothing to lose, so he created the Clash of Champions and put it head-to-head on TBS against WrestleMania IV with a main event of Ric Flair against a young upstart named Sting,” said Thompson. “In a weird way, Crockett won the night. Now Bruce is going to argue that Vince won the night because he made more money off WrestleMania IV, but Vince’s was long, predictable, and lacked any heat.

“We’re going to break all that down, and we’ll see who was more of the made man by the end of the night: the Macho Man by beating Ted DiBiase or Sting, who almost beat Ric Flair? We’ll also discuss the most fascinating parts of the show–the tournament concept with no clear main event, the decision by Jim Crockett to go head-to-head with Vince McMahon, and holding the event as a high-end casino event affected the enjoyability-factor of the show.”

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

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)