Quickly

  • Andre the Giant’s final American TV appearance came just four months before he died. He needed two canes to support himself on the red carpet.
  • Recapping everything that’s happened in WWE since WrestleMania.
  • Matt Riddle and Shane Strickland battle this Thursday in Orlando for the MLW title.
  • Plus much more.
By Justin Barrasso
April 11, 2018

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

Andre the Giant’s farewell in WCW

Andre the Giant’s last U.S. television appearance did not take place on a WWE show.

His farewell to American audiences came at a Clash of the Champions event for WWE’s rival company, World Championship Wrestling.

Had something of this magnitude taken place five years later, it would have been forever championed as an indispensable moment in the “Monday Night Wars”. Instead, the six-second interview with the superstar that Vince McMahon billed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” is largely forgotten.

Yet the lingering story behind the event is that Vince McMahon forever regretted allowing Andre on WCW television, which is why he paid for his funeral.

Bruce Prichard, who worked directly for Vince McMahon for 22 years, added some insight from the WWE point of view.

“It was a big deal for Bill Watts at WCW and a big deal for Andre,” said Prichard. “Would Vince have preferred it not happened? Of course, but what was he going to do? It was Andre. Out of his love and respect for Andre, in the end, Vince knew how much it meant to him.”

The Clash took place in Atlanta on September 2, 1992, only four months before Andre succumbed to congestive heart failure at 46 years old.

“Andre looked in such bad shape that night,” recalled Jim Ross, who called Clash of Champions XX alongside Jesse “The Body” Ventura. “I could feel his pain he looked so uncomfortable.”

HBO’s extremely compelling “Andre The Giant” documentary premiered last night and detailed the constant pain that the late Andre Roussimoff battled, especially as his life was coming to an end.

“There were two different Andres,” said Ross. “There was the one from the ‘70s and the early ‘80s, then there was the one with the immobility. He was in massive pain during the match with Hogan at WrestleMania III. The pain in his body, his bad back, and knowing his death sentence, all that became more paramount to him the older he got.”

Despite McMahon’s initial objections, Andre made a brief appearance on the Clash of Champions pre-show that honored the 20-year anniversary of professional wrestling airing on TBS, a run that had dated back to Mid-Atlantic Wrestling in 1972.

Andre’s visit to WCW was a call back to the days when a wrestler regularly visited different promotions and cities all across the country.

“That’s the way it used to be for Andre,” said Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, who first met Andre in 1977 when the two worked for Jim Crockett Promotions, which was eventually sold to TBS and became World Championship Wrestling. “He would spend a week or two in each territory as the special attraction.”

“That WCW appearance was out of Andre’s love for the business,” added Ross. “He was influential for a lot of the guys who had migrated to WCW. Plus, his buddies, like Bill Watts and Gordon Solie, were there.”

The list of wrestling luminaries at the Clash of Champions included the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, WWE legend Bruno Sammartino, “Cowboy” Bill Watts, Magnum T.A., legendary promoter Jim Barnett, and even Major League Baseball icon Hank Aaron.

“I recall Andre stepping out of the car as he arrived,” said Tony Schiavone, who co-hosted the opening red carpet segment. “Missy Hyatt and I were doing the arrivals of all the dignitaries of that show, and Andre stood to the side with Gordon Solie.”

The sight of Andre, gripping a cane in each hand in his tuxedo shirt, tan vest, and double chain vest extender, was a sight to behold. Even with his health failing, his appearance still commanded a second—or third—look.

“He wasn’t well, but Andre the Giant was Andre the Giant,” added Schiavone. “You didn’t think about what he was wearing or how he was feeling. He was just so big, that was his way of life.”

The world of wrestling is so interconnected that it should come as no surprise that Ross, who later provided the soundtrack to WWE’s “Attitude Era,” once served as the go-between for Watts and Andre back in Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling promotion.

“I was the gofer,” said Ross. “I got the beer, I got the chicken, I got the wine, whatever was needed to make Andre’s stay more comfortable whenever he wrestled in the Mid-South territory. When Andre came, oftentimes he’d be flown around in Watts’ plane. That way, they could do double shots, like Alexandria and Baton Rouge or New Orleans and Lafayette. So it was Watts flying his plane, Andre, and me.

“Andre would come in and draw such big houses. He would get color in a match to get heat on the heels. Since Andre was leaving the territory and the heel was staying, he could brag up about bloodying up Andre the Giant. Andre was very generous about the business, which is why seeing some old friends that night at the Clash was very important to him.”

Steamboat’s match with “Stunning” Steve Austin opened that Clash of the Champions card, and he won the United States championship from that talented long-haired blond who was managed by a young Paul Heyman. Steamboat and Andre also shared an unforgettable night at WrestleMania III, as Andre battled Hulk Hogan in the main event and Steamboat defeated the “Macho Man” Randy Savage for the Intercontinental title.

“Andre was in wrestling’s ‘golden circle,’” said Steamboat. “He was special to our business, well-recognized, and did a lot for those of us in the business.”

Steamboat recalled a rare tag match he had with Andre that main-evented a show at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan.

“I can only recollect less than a handful of times that we were tagged up together, and this was Andre and me teaming together against Don Muraco and Mr. Fuji,” said Steamboat. “We met to put together the match, and back then, that talk lasted only a couple of minutes. The plan was to get the heat on me, then I’d tag Andre, and both Fuji and Muraco would feed and bump around, selling for Andre.”

The plan for the finish was to have Andre slam both Muraco and Fuji atop of one another, then he would hit the ropes and hit a big splash to pin both of them.

“So we have the match and get the heat on me,” said Steamboat. “I get the hot tag to Andre, he stacks one on top of the other, but he didn’t do the splash. Andre turned around and gave me the tag. I looked up at him and said, ‘What the heck Andre?’ He looked down at me and said, ‘Climb the top rope.’”

So Steamboat climbed to the top turnbuckle, grabbed each of the giant’s big catcher mitt hands, stepped gently on Andre’s shoulders, and heard Andre bellow, “Do your dive.”

“You should have seen the eyeballs of Fuji and Muraco,” said Steamboat. “They got as big as half-dollars. I jumped off his shoulders, got the 1-2-3, and I’ll always remember that moment he gave me. Andre was a prince of a guy.”

Prichard was aware of the rumors that McMahon and Andre had a falling out over the WCW appearance, but shared that it simply was not the case.

“There’s so much jealousy and bitterness toward Vince,” said Prichard. “It’s so much easier to go with rumor, innuendo, and gossip. When people are fired, they like to point blame. No one says they f----- up.

“I’ve spent 22 years next to him, and I’ve even been fired twice. Vince does so many things you never hear about or read about, but the stuff you hear about Vince is mostly what people want to think. No one wants to deal with the reality, but Vince wanted what was best for Andre.”

THE WRESTLEMANIA AFTERMATH

WrestleMania was three hours too long.

The highlights of the show were overshadowed by the low points, and those were magnified by the length of the card.

The exchange with John Cena and Elias only served to eat up time, and The Undertaker’s return greatly diminishes his supposed farewell only one year ago.

The best moments on the card were Charlotte ending Asuka’s streak, Daniel Bryan’s triumphant return, Shinsuke Nakamura turning on AJ Styles, and the mixed tag with Ronda Rousey.

Rousey still has a lot left to prove, but she and Charlotte planted a seed on Sunday that they could be in the discussion to main event WrestleMania 35. The loss of Charlotte’s SmackDown title allows her to feud with both The Iconics and Carmella, and the babyface is normally always best suited in the role of the chase.

One of the more puzzling decisions of the night was Braun Strowman tagging with a child to win the tag titles. Although the WWE is in a position where it needs to appeal to a variety of different audiences, the moment lacked any sense of realism and was completely out of place for the biggest show of the year.

Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar delivered a physical match, and I enjoyed most of the battle despite the majority of the crowd disapproving.

My biggest frustration with the match was the ridiculous notion that it took Lesnar five separate F5’s to beat Reigns. The rest of the roster, including Samoa Joe and Braun Strowman in recent main events, was knocked out after only one. The attempt to make Reigns superhuman continues, with or without the belt.

Then, a night later, with Brock Lesnar nowhere in sight, Paige retired on the same night as Paul Ellering appeared on Raw. The wild space odyssey of professional wrestling then continued as Ember Moon made her debut, along with appearances from Jeff Hardy, No Way Jose, Bobby Lashley, and Samoa Joe. More surprises on SmackDown, including an incredibly compelling finish with Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, and Daniel Bryan wrapped up a memorable weekend.

Next week’s “Superstar Shakeup” came at an appropriate time, as the main roster is overflowing with talent. Sports Illustrated has reached out to WWE in order to learn if next week’s shakeup will be a draft, and an update will be provided as soon as there is a reply.

In other news…

• Season three of Total Bellas begins on May 20, and Nikki and Brie Bella spoke at WWE’s AXXESS fan fest about the return of the show.

“For some reason, reality TV brings in a lot of drama,” said Nikki. “This season gets beyond real. You truly see the ups and downs of John and my relationship. Everyone thinks it’s all peaches and cream, but wedding planning is really tough.”

Nikki Bella is, of course, engaged to John Cena, while twin sister Brie is married to Daniel Bryan. Nikki’s engagement occurred after she and Cena defeated The Miz and Maryse at WrestleMania 33.

“I can’t believe it was a year ago,” said Nikki. “I was in shock, I felt like I didn’t know how to breathe in that moment. I couldn’t listen to one word he was saying. I didn’t believe he was getting down on one knee. But it’s honestly been the best feeling so far of my life.

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZktj8xfcaY]

On the subject of mixed tag matches, Brie noted that she and Bryan would eagerly accept a match against Cena and Nikki.

“I remember four years ago in New Orleans when WrestleMania was here, and someone rack-attacked me,” said Brie. “So I guess there’ll be payback in the mixed match challenge.

Both of the Bellas have paid close attention to the women’s division, with Brie considering a return after giving birth to her first child, a daughter named Birdie.

“When I was at the Royal Rumble, I got a taste of really wanting to make a comeback even though it’s hard because I do have a 10-month old. But I did tell Bryan, now that he’s back, that I’d love to get in the ring with him for the mixed match challenge. Hopefully I can get activated with that, and Birdie can come along.

The Bellas last appeared in a WWE ring at the Royal Rumble, when they competed in the first-ever women’s Rumble.

“It was beyond an honor to share the ring with the past, the present, and the future,” said Nikki. “I remember taking a moment to think, ‘I am so lucky to be a female wrestler in this time.’ To be a part of it was truly amazing.

Nikki Bella holds the record for longest Divas title reign at 301 days, and she is setting her sights on Asuka, who eliminated her from the Royal Rumble.

“I would love to come back and face Asuka,” said Nikki. “Especially now, we have history after she took me out.

• Paige’s emotional retirement speech on Raw was a sobering reminder of the physical demands of pro wrestling, and her appearance as the new SmackDown GM on Tuesday provided an inch of hope that she will one day be back in the ring competing.

The 25-year-old Paige mentioned on commentary during the women’s battle royal at the WrestleMania 34 pre-show that she would like to compete at next year’s event. A night later, she retired from the ring.

Paige was honest on both Sunday and Monday, and she would like nothing more than a comeback, similar to Daniel Bryan. Her best chance at achieving that goal is getting off the road and rehabbing extensively, which the GM schedule allows. The story is heartbreaking, but here’s hoping that Paige somehow kicks out of her retirement right before the ref counts to three.

• Cody Rhodes and Kenny Omega wrestled at Ring of Honor’s Supercard of Honor in New Orleans on Saturday in an intense affair that reached its climax when the Young Bucks accidentally super kicked Omega. The Bucks appeared to be aiming for Rhodes, but he ducked and Omega was knocked out by the kicks. Rhodes then hit a Cross Rhodes and covered Omega for the win

The finish leaves more questions than answers, but it does create even more of a need to watch the Bucks’ “Being The Elite” YouTube. Cody Rhodes was simply outstanding in this past week’s episode, showing again that the “American Nightmare” is a natural antagonist

The “All In” show is just over four months away, which does seem like a long period of time to build to a rematch between Rhodes and Omega.

The Bullet Club strife will also be on display at New Japan’s Wrestling Dontaku show in May, which features a 10-man tag splitting the Bullet Club in half with Kenny Omega, Bad Luck Fale, the Guerrillas of Destiny, and Kota Ibushi against Cody Rhodes, the Young Bucks, Marty Scully, and Adam “Hangman” Page.

• A memorable meeting during WrestleMania weekend happened between Jerry “The King” Lawler and independent wrestling star Joey Ryan

Ryan, who is known for his infamous “Penis Plex” finisher, dressed up as Lawler’s old nemesis Andy Kaufman in their match this past Thursday at the WrestleCon Supershow in New Orleans

Ryan, known as the “King of Dong Style,” mocked Lawler, who had piledrived Andy Kauffman 35 years prior. Lawler retaliated to Ryan’s insults by shooting a fireball below Ryan’s waist.

• A major part of WrestleMania is the afterparty.

Last year, on an episode of Talk is Jericho, Luke Gallows shared an unforgettable moment from last year’s afterparty with the Honky Tonk Man.

“That’s one of my all-time favorite stories,” said Gallows. “The Honky Tonk Man is one of those great characters you meet as you come across this business. Anybody that hasn’t listened to that podcast, listen to it because I don’t want to say anything that is not in the realm of PG here in this interview.

“Honky Tonk Man certainly delivered a great response. A young Curt Hawkins, who was sitting with me at the time, and I still laugh about that to this day.”

Major League Wrestling will crown a world champion this Thursday in Orlando at the Gilt Nightclub, with the finale pitting Matt Riddle against Shane Strickland.

Riddle is one of the top independent wrestlers in the world, and is coming off a WrestleMania weekend that included a spectacular match with Will Ospreay and winning the EVOLVE title from Zack Sabre Jr.

Riddle looks to add to his collection of gold, but his path will be far from easy with an opponent like Shane Strickland.

“Shane is very unique,” said Riddle. “That’s what makes him so special.”

Strickland’s versatility, Riddle explained, is what makes him a difficult opponent between the ropes.

“It’s not necessarily the bigger the moves or the more moves you do or the crazier moves, it’s how you put the whole package together,” said Riddle. “Strickland can do it all. He can go strong-style, he can work Lucha, and he also brings the death match element, as well.

MLW just inked a television deal with beIN Sports, and the promotion is one of the fastest growing in the entire industry. Strickland is also coming off a memorable WrestleMania weekend. His six-man tag for the U.K.-based RevPro with Kota Ibushi and Flip Gordon against Will Ospreay, Chuck Taylor, and Rocky Romero.

The 29-year-old, who has starred on Lucha Underground as Killshot, believes he is ready to take on the challenge of serving as the face of Major League Wrestling.

“I’ve never been seen in that light as someone to be the leader or face of a company, so I have a lot of pressure on me to prove that I can,” said Strickland. “It’s more important to my culture as a person of color to be in this position, as well, and the opportunity to wrestle in that match means the world to me.

Standing in Strickland’s path is Riddle, who is quite possibly the most impressive independent wrestler in the world.

“Matt Riddle presents the challenge of being in a great rhythm at the moment with the wins he’s getting,” said Strickland. “He’s on a hot streak and that’s carrying through all around the world as well. When you’re in a groove and confident about your abilities, that almost makes you unstoppable. Almost.

Strickland’s nine-year journey has built to this moment, running down his wrestling dream in MLW

“Any one of us in that locker room can be beaten,” said Strickland. “We are all human, made of flesh and blood and bone. Matt Riddle can be beaten, but the challenge now is to figure out how.

Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard and co-host Conrad Thompson returns this Friday at noon ET with a new podcast, examining the 20-year anniversary of the Monday Night Raw that aired on April 13, 1998 and finally ended the 83-week winning streak for WCW’s Nitro.

“It’s a pretty historic night, so this show will be a watch-along,” said Thompson. “We’ll examine how Vince McMahon finally figured out a way to beat Nitro, and the right piece of business to take down Nitro was himself. Vince emerged as arguably the greatest heel in the history of the business against ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin in a feud that was the man vs. the system.”

The feud connected reality with the storyline, as McMahon was already hated by a large portion of wrestlers and promoters throughout the business.

“Everyone wishes they could beat up their boss,” said Thompson. “And we saw it on Raw 20 years ago on April 13, 1998.”

The show features Mick Foley’s Dude Love character turning heel as he attacked Austin, who was already at a disadvantage with a hand tied behind his back in his match against McMahon

“They had to practice that beforehand,” said Thompson. “It’s an old cliché, but how exactly do you tie someone’s hand behind their back?”

“It’s the first time in almost two years that WWE proved Nitro wasn’t bulletproof,” Thompson added. “And Vince was the guy to do it.”

Thompson and Prichard held a live show this past Saturday in New Orleans that delivered an incredible array of live guests, which included Pat Patterson, Gerald Brisco, John Bradshaw Layfield, Jonathan Coachman, “The Hurricane” Shane Helms, Road Warrior Animal, Hornswoggle, Jeff Jarrett, and Eric Bischoff

The weekend also included the news that “Something Else to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” will be appearing on the WWE Network later this month, which was detailed in a Sports Illustrated report.

“We’ll address all the rumor and innuendo on our deal with the WWE Network,” said Thompson. “We’ll answer some questions and calm some fears.”

• Andy Gray is a name familiar to readers of the Week in Wrestling.

Andy was a senior editor for Sports Illustrated, which hardly captures the multitude of roles he filled. He also championed pro wrestling coverage at SI, seeking to provide a different look. Andy wanted more than just WWE coverage; he sought and pushed for a report of the business as a whole, including the independents.

Andy’s departure from SI for a job outside the sports realm is a great opportunity for him, but he will be sorely missed. On a personal level, he was a constant source of guidance, advice, and knowledge. Andy wasn’t afraid to ask difficult questions or stubbornly push in a certain direction in pursuit of a story, which are qualities all journalists should seek to have.

We’re in good hands, as Dan Gartland will take Andy’s role in this column. Sports Illustrated also launched a Twitter account—@SI_Wrestling—which is where you can find regular updates on the entire industry of professional wrestling. Jimmy Traina, who interviewed Roman Reigns on his podcast last week, also provides some of the sharpest wrestling critiques on the internet, and SI is filled with creative editors who are equally demanding and supportive to ensure the job is done right.

So we beat on, boats against the current. Yet I’d still like to take a moment to thank Andy Gray, who believed in an unknown commodity. I always referred to the weekly column as “our” story, as Andy was the driving force in its creation. Andy believed there were readers who wanted a different look at wrestling, and he entrusted me with that vision.

Thank you for believing in us.

Tweet of the Week

And the Young Bucks are supposedly killing the business? That couldn’t be further from the truth.

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

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