- Chris Jericho previews WrestleMania and Fozzy fans getting a special treat for Sunday's show.
- WrestleMania predictions: Will The Rock make an appearance, Who's Braun Strowman's partner?
- Tenille Dashwood on her experience in WWE and the upcoming Women of Honor tournament.
- EVOLVE's Matt Riddle is in for the fight of his life against Zack Sabre Jr. this weekend.
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: Chris Jericho plans to rock out during WrestleMania
Chris Jericho is a six-time WWE world champion, New York Times bestselling author, former Dancing with the Stars contestant, lead singer of the heavy metal rock band Fozzy, and future member of the WWE Hall of Fame.
And even he is excited to watch AJ Styles wrestle Shinsuke Nakamura this Sunday at WrestleMania.
“AJ is one of those guys who always wants to steal the show,” said Jericho, who defeated the current WWE champion two years ago in his WrestleMania debut. “It’s amazing that Nakamura hasn’t had many outstanding, great matches in WWE, but there’s a certain acclimation period you need and AJ knows that and knows how to get the best out of Nakamura.
“AJ is working with Nakamura, who we’ve seen AJ have a great match with in the past. I expect that match to be great.”
Jericho, who is now 47, breathed new life into WWE during his last run with the company that wrapped up in May. Although he will not be competing at this year’s WrestleMania, Jericho is offering fans the chance to watch the show with him at a club in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire after he and his Fozzy bandmates play another stop on their “Judas Rising” tour.
“Originally, the show wasn’t moving very well,” explained Jericho. “I knew it was the same day as WrestleMania, and our booking agent said, ‘Well, you have a lot of fans who aren’t wrestling fans.’ That’s true, but we have a lot of fans that like both and we’re asking them to choose, and that’s not fair. So I asked to do a matinee show and we’ll end just as WrestleMania begins, then we’ll stay and watch WrestleMania with everybody who wants to watch it, which is a win-win situation.”
Jericho has particularly enjoyed this run with his band, and Fozzy will continue its tour with overseas dates this summer in Hungary, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain.
“Ever since our Judas record came out, it’s been a totally different vibe for us,” said Jericho. “Everything has gotten so much bigger – crowds, radio presence, prestige level, and the buzz about the band – so it’s been a great tour since we started back in May.
“A continuation of what I do in the WWE is what I do in Fozzy. If you can connect with people, they’ll always come back.”
The opportunity to watch WrestleMania with Jericho will be a memorable experience, as the self-proclaimed “Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla” has no shortage of insight on the biggest wrestling show of the year.
“Cena-Undertaker is going to be great,” said Jericho. “We’ve been waiting for that for a long time. They’re both great big match players. Roman and Brock is going to be a lot of fun, too. They’re going to beat the sh-- out of each other. And the return of Daniel Bryan? That’s going to blow the roof off the place. That is a match that doesn’t need to be a five-star classic, Bryan could go out there and tap dance and sing Camptown Races and people would still love it.”
The excitement in Jericho’s voice grew as he discussed the card, providing reason to think that Y2J will be an active presence next year at WrestleMania 35.
“Triple H and Stephanie against Ronda Rousey and Angle might have more focus than any other match,” said Jericho. “Is that going to be a five-star match? Of course it’s not, it doesn’t have to be and it’s not meant to be. Whereas a match like Reigns-Lesnar is going to have a better spotlight and chance to be the match of the night.”
Jericho noted that the vibe of the show is so special, and it feels that way – albeit, sometimes to their own detriment – for performers.
“Everybody will be going out there putting their best foot forward,” said Jericho. “When I look at a WrestleMania card, and I feel bad for some of the guys because they haven’t figured this out yet, there’s certain matches on the show that are there to be the standouts and the show-stealers. There are other ones there as attractions, as spectacles. And there are other matches just so people get on the show, and that’s OK, all the places are good. If you’re in a 10-minute multi-tag team match, don’t feel like you have to go out there with the intent of stealing the show. You’re not going to, there just isn’t the time for it or the focus on it.
“A good wrestling show is like a good hockey team: you have your stars, your grinders, and specialty players. It’s just like that at WrestleMania. I may be one of the only guys to open one WrestleMania and close the next one. Both are very important, as is everything in-between, but don’t feel bad if you’re in a 10-man tag and you get 12 minutes with entrances. That’s just how it works sometimes.
“If you continue to work hard and strike a chord, you’re going to have your spotlight match, like a Cena-Undertaker or a Styles-Nakamura.”
Jericho combines his love of wrestling and rock this Sunday, and he gets to share it all with a captive audience.
“People are going to have a good time, and that’s what is most important to me,” said Jericho. “If you’re a Fozzy fan, you get to see a great rock and roll show, and if you’re a WWE fan, you get to watch WrestleMania with me.”
WrestleMania is a mere four days away, but multiple questions still exist for the WWE creative team and talent.
Will The Rock make an appearance? How will Shane McMahon perform after being hospitalized with diverticulitis? Who will Braun Strowman unveil as his mystery tag team partner? And can The Undertaker, who looked well past his prime in the ring a year ago, produce an entertaining match with John Cena?
The show is expected to exceed the length of the average school day and run for seven hours, and the crowd could riot if Daniel Bryan turns heel.
I do expect there to be a heel turn in the Bryan/McMahon tag against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, but the swerve has to be McMahon turning heel. In addition to completely rejuvenating McMahon’s character, this also allows the company to re-insert Bryan as the ultimate underdog trying to overcome the authority. That served as the formula for success, and there is no need to stray from such a lucrative storyline.
As for The Rock, Sports Illustrated can confirm that one of the original ideas discussed for WrestleMania was a musical segment with Elias that would have included Jeff Jarrett and a few others, with The Rock and his “Rock Concert” concept as the centerpiece of the segment. WWE was not able to get a firm commitment from The Rock, so that segment was scrapped. Unless there were renewed discussions, The Rock is not planned to be a part of WrestleMania.
Rey Mysterio, if healthy, would be a tremendous surprise as Braun Strowman’s mystery tag team partner. The surprise would have lost considerable luster had the announcement been made beforehand, so if Mysterio is signed up for the spot, then he would have strict instructions, like the Hardys last year, to not let anyone know. The Hardys’ return was a genuinely memorable moment, which is what WWE is looking to recreate this year.
Charlotte vs. Asuka could only be enhanced if this match pitted Charlotte’s undefeated pay per view streak against Asuka’s undefeated streak. Yet Charlotte’s streak was broken by Bayley in March of 2017 at Fastlane, which was a terribly missed opportunity at prolonging a compelling storyline.
As for my WrestleMania predictions, I predict: AJ Styles will retain his title over Shinsuke Nakamura; Finn Balor will get a taste of IC gold; Nia Jax and Asuka will become the new women’s title holders; Ronda Rousey will make Stephanie McMahon tap; Bobby Roode will regain the U.S. championship; Cedric Alexander will become the new cruiserweight champion; McMahon turning on Bryan, leading to an Owens/Zayn win; Braun Strowman and his mystery partner will win the Raw tag titles, with the Usos retaining their SmackDown belts; a win for the returning “American Badass” Undertaker as Cena continues his underdog story arc; and Roman Reigns will pull off a massive upset against Brock Lesnar.
In other news…
• Tenille Dashwood was known in WWE as Emma, but her presence alone has made her a star in Ring of Honor.
“It’s really refreshing being on my own and in control,” said the 29-year-old Dashwood. “I’m taking the part I was in with the women’s revolution and bringing that with me to companies around the world and to Ring of Honor.”
In addition to working for independents in the United States and abroad, Dashwood is in the semi-finals for ROH’s inaugural Women of Honor championship tournament. She will wrestle Sumie Sakie on Saturday’s Supercard of Honor preshow, which airs for free on ROH’s Facebook Live, with the winner moving on to the tourney finals later that night at Supercard of Honor.
“I have every intention of having two matches that night and winning that Women of Honor championship,” said Dashwood. “I was never a champion in the WWE, and I have so much to prove.”
Dashwood is grateful for her run in WWE, but excited for new opportunities.
“WWE gave me a platform to go forward, but it was almost the perfect timing,” said Dashwood. “I happened to be a free agent as Ring of Honor was starting its first-ever women’s championship tournament, and I got to be the last entrant in that tournament. Ring of Honor is really giving a showcase to women’s wrestling, so this is a great opportunity for me to do what I love and have more of a say in what I do.”
Dashwood has a lot more fight in her soul than her 5’5”, 135-pound body indicates.
“I’ve wrestled for over half my life,” said the Australian-born Dashwood. “I moved across from Australia to Canada to train with Lance Storm, and then moved to America to be with WWE. You don’t always have a lot of time on TV in WWE, and it’s difficult to show everything you want to at one time.”
There are examples of male wrestlers, with Cody Rhodes serving as the latest example, that have thrived away from WWE. There is a significantly smaller platform for women to succeed outside of WWE, but that challenge does not frighten Dashwood.
“If it’s rare, then just watch me,” said Dashwood. “I have every intention of staying in the spotlight and making sure people are paying attention to what I’m doing.”
Dashwood offers one of the more genuinely compelling stories in wrestling. The number one company in the business cut ties with her, but she is out to prove that she belongs in the discussion for most elite female performers in the world.
“Wrestling is my passion,” said Dashwood. When I’m not doing it, I feel like something is missing. I want to make a difference. Now is my opportunity to show what I can do.”
• Matt Riddle believes his time has arrived to become EVOLVE’s world champion.
“I’ve wanted that title since day one, but it’s one that has eluded me,” said Riddle. “The EVOLVE championship is a prestigious title that a lot of big names in WWE and NXT have worn, so that title would be a good fit around my waist.”
Riddle kicks off WrestleMania weekend with a title match this Thursday against EVOLVE champion Zack Sabre Jr., who has garnered attention across the world with his dominating performance in the New Japan Cup and the challenge he presented IWGP heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada this past weekend at the Sakura Genesis show in Tokyo.
“Sabre is really good and he knows when to turn it up at the right time, but so do I,” said Riddle. “You’ve got to elevate your game with Zack. He’s a technician, a mat wizard, so you need to pick it up. For me, being a world champion in jiu-jitsu and a national champion in wrestling, it’s good competition. He can move, I can move, and it usually turns out extremely well.”
The match marks the three-year anniversary of Riddle’s first encounter with Sabre, which also took place during WrestleMania weekend.
“I was basically unknown, I didn’t have even a t-shirt,” said Riddle, who formerly starred in the UFC Octagon. “After that WrestleMania weekend, my career kind of blew up from there. EVOLVE is my home base. I’ve been there since EVOLVE 49, so that’s over 50 EVOLVE shows. It’s a good company. They rep me well and I rep them well.
“I’m making money doing something I love, and I’m shocked because I’m not even on TV doing it. I’m an independent worker that works independent shows all around the world.”
Riddle promised he will celebrate his EVOLVE title victory in style.
“I can’t wait for the crawfish and the soup in New Orleans,” said Riddle. “I’m a big fan of that Cajun cuisine.”
• WrestleMania Axxess, which is WWE’s fan fest, is set to include multiple wrestling tournaments will be held in New Orleans at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
Starting on Thursday at Axxess, the tournaments include the WWE United Kingdom Championship Invitational, the NXT North American Invitational, the NXT Tag Team Invitational, and the NXT Women’s Invitational. The tournament winners will face their respective champions at Sunday’s Axxess, which is the day of WrestleMania.
Axxess will feature talent from NXT, 205 Live, the United Kingdom Championship Tournament, the Mae Young Classic, as well as PROGRESS and EVOLVE Wrestling.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for the EVOLVE brand and our wrestlers,” said Gabe Sapolsky, who is the WWN VP of Talent Relations and Creative. “It is a chance to get a new level of exposure, reach a new audience and strengthen the entire independent scene. We look at this as an opportunity to prove ourselves to the WWE Universe.”
Keith Lee will defend his WWN championship at Axxess in a WWE ring against NXT’s Kassius Ohno, who is the superbly talented Chris Hero.
“It’s an opportunity,” said Keith Lee, whose versatility–he is a bruiser that is extremely agile–will one day serve him well in WWE. “And just like other opportunities, I intend to make the absolute most of the opportunity in front of me within the parameters set forth.”
Lee is one of the rarest types in wrestling, with a style unlike anyone else.
“It is no requirement to invest in me, it is merely an invitation to do so,” said Lee. “An invitation to come, and ‘Bask In My Glory.’ I offer nothing more than myself. But that, in and of itself, is unlike anyone else. Consider me a spectacle. Something abnormal. I am an event.”
• EVOLVE’s Jason Kincaid will compete in the NXT North American Invitational, opening on Thursday in a match against Fabian Aichner.
“I offer creativity pulled from a pool the depths of which may never be fully explored,” said Kincaid. “That is to say, something you’ve never seen before. I hope they will invest the rare commodity of their undivided attention into the archetype that I represent; the visionary.”
Kincaid noted that the chance to work at WWE Axxess is a significant opportunity to showcase his talents.
“It means that allowing yourself to dance to the rhythmic winds of heartfelt-whim can create unexpected, unmistakably sublime footprints on the unfathomable-solid cement of spacetime,” said Kincaid. “In other words: I didn’t seem like I was supposed to be here, but damnit, I’m here.”
Sapolsky, who is an NXT consultant, shared that a great deal of hard work by multiple people led for this to happen, including Paul “Triple H” Levesque.
“The bottom line is that Paul Levesque has been such a great supporter of quality independent wrestling and he recognizes how important it is to the future of our industry,” said Sapolsky. “He is a visionary about the future. None of this happens without his vision. It’s a great time to be involved in pro wrestling or a fan with so much amazing stuff going on this week.”
• Punishment Martinez is set to battle New Japan Pro Wrestling’s “Stone Pitbull” Tomohiro Ishii at Saturday’s Supercard of Honor in New Orleans.
The match is a chance for Martinez to shine against the accomplished Ishii, who is a former Ring of Honor Television champ.
“The only challenge is that he can take a hell of a beating and give it back,” said Martinez, whose match with Ishii is available on ROH’s Honor Club streaming service. “But just the same, that might be my favorite aspect of the match.”
At 6’7”, Martinez stands a foot taller than Ishii, but the match will not be a clash of styles. Martinez’s athleticism allows him to work a hybrid of styles, and he is far from a generic big man in the business.
“There was a time when the big guy in wrestling was generic and robotic,” said Martinez. “I pride myself on studying and trying to adapt to every single style of what we do. The fans see a big guy and automatically think it’s not going to be good, so I’ve had to work really hard to be accepted in the new world of professional wrestling.
The 35-year-old Martinez was born in New York City and raised in Puerto Rico, but did not learn how to speak, read, or write English until he was 11. His first match took place over a decade ago in 2004, and he revealed that he learned the hard way that a career in wrestling is not to be taken lightly.
“I didn’t do this the right way for many years,” said Martinez. “I wasn’t in shape and didn’t work as hard as I should have, I just coasted on the fact that people would look at my size and say, ‘You’re going to be a star.’ Finally, I went all-in and started training. I lost over 100 pounds, then I started getting new opportunities. “
Covered in skulls and tattoos, Martinez is also planning to be wearing gold by the end of the year.
“That’s my goal to achieve by the end of 2018,” said Martinez. “And being world champion is the ultimate goal. That’s what I’m striving toward and why I am working so hard. I don’t want it to be handed out, but I believe I can accomplish it.”
The Bullet Club and Los Ingobernables de Japon are the two most powerful factions in Ring of Honor and New Japan, but Martinez has no interest in joining either.
“The Legion, those are my followers,” said Martinez. “I had the possibility to join LIJ, and I turned that down last year at Honor Rising because Naito and I obviously didn’t get along. It’s the same thing with the Bullet Club–I want to start my own faction, not join someone else’s.”
Beginning with his high-profile match against Ishii, the “Creeper of Violence” is ready to unleash his enhanced brand of violence on the wrestling world.
“People have doubted me for a long time,” said Martinez. “But if you really think I don’t belong here, you’ve got another thing coming.”
• New Orleans is loaded with wrestling this weekend, with nearly every major indie and promotion on display.
In addition to WWE’s shows, which even include the Axxess tournaments with talents from NXT, EVOLVE, and Progress, standout shows include Beyond Wrestling on Thursday morning just after midnight with a returning Kimber Lee; The Crash (including former WWE cruiserweight champion Rich Swann) on Friday at noon; a loaded Friday afternoon RevPro show with Hiroshi Tanahashi, Zack Sabre Jr., Kota Ibushi, and Minoru Suzuki; Impact vs. Lucha Underground on Friday evening; and Joey Janela’s Spring Break II just before midnight on Friday (which doesn’t even account for the shows, including NXT Takeover and Supercard of Honor, on Saturday).
There is just so much going on during WrestleMania season, and the stars of WrestleMania have their work cut out for them to ensure their show offers the best wrestling of the weekend.
After last Friday’s WWE house show in Boston, I recorded an episode of the Unsanctioned podcast at Fenway Park. The recording ran to close to 2am, but I really enjoyed my time breaking down WrestleMania with the Unsanctioned crew.
• I’ll be on Danny Picard’s podcast later tonight, and I will be tweeting from every show I attend this weekend in New Orleans.
• Coming attractions: Sports Illustrated will publish its annual 34 Notes, Quotes, and Anecdotes feature on WrestleMania 34 this Friday on SI.com.
• Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard and co-host Conrad Thompson return this Friday at noon ET with a new podcast, examining the first WWE run of Bill Goldberg in 2003.
“We are going to dig in to all the rumor and innuendo,” said Thompson. “Did WWE want him there? When did they give up on him? It certainly felt like there were big intentions, especially with a featured program right away with The Rock, but there was a lot of stop-and-start booking. Goldberg arrived and looked different; he was a bald guy in a leather jacket in his arrival on Raw instead of in his black boots, trunks, and gloves. Then, in only Goldberg’s second week, he gets into the scuffle with Chris Jericho and the week after that WWE had him in a Goldust wig. There are just so many questions about the Goldberg run.”
Despite the questions in booking, Goldberg is booked strong in a WWE ring, rarely losing.
“The decision to make Goldberg more than just the killing machine he was while he was at the height of his popularity in WCW is really what we will dig into, ” said Thompson. “Goldberg’s two WWE runs have two entirely different approaches as to how you book him. The first one in WWE tried to separate from the character he played in WCW. The second go-around, he was booked like the early Goldberg in WCW. That is what we’ll examine, and we will talk about Triple H, Goldberg’s backstage fight with Jericho, and we will finish up with the silliness of the WrestleMania 20 match with Goldberg and Brock Lesnar.”
The Lesnar/Goldberg affair from WrestleMania 20 was a disaster, with the live crowd at Madison Square Garden ripping it apart.
“You had both of those guys leaving the company," said Thompson. “And that crowd wanted nothing to do with it.”
Thompson will also press Prichard on whether Vince McMahon wanted Goldberg, who was a star in WCW, to fail in WWE because the character was not his creation.
“Do you pay a guy millions of dollars to fail?” asked Thompson. “I do believe Bruce when he says that no one invests millions of dollars to see something fail, but we will discuss Vince being so stubborn that he would not stray from his vision of the way Goldberg should be presented, which was ultimately not as successful as the version from WCW.”
Tweet of the Week
taker should buy the seat in front of cena and hold up a big sign all night— Boss Moribund (@BossMoz) April 3, 2018
Something tells me Cena won’t be sitting in the nosebleeds.