Raw struggles without a world champion
This week’s Raw highlighted a critical weakness that reveals itself nearly every week: WWE has no world champion on Monday nights.
With Universal champion Brock Lesnar enjoying the spoils of a part-time schedule, WWE does not have the ability to keep the world title at the epicenter of their Raw brand.
The world title is one goal that every wrestler wants, and losing that desire has put WWE, especially on large volume episodic television, in a very precarious position.
Does Lesnar need to drop the title? Not necessarily, but if not, he needs to make more televised appearances. According to sources close to WWE, Lesnar is widely expected to drop the belt, at the latest, by SummerSlam. Because Lesnar’s new contrac pays him by the fight, dropping the belt could signal the end of his time in WWE.
If Lesnar is, in fact, finished with WWE following SummerSlam, then Paul Heyman would also be finished with the company as there are no current plans for Heyman outside of his role as Lesnar’s on-screen advocate. SummerSlam takes place on Sunday, August 19, which would make Heyman a free agent by the end of the month. Just as fun h, with the All In show on September 1 in Chicago, wouldn’t a CM Punk/Heyman pairing at the show drive pay per view sales?
Even if Lesnar drops the belt in August, there is an opportunity right now to branch out with talent that would be first-time champions. Although Bray Wyatt floundered as world champ, two candidates who could carry the Raw brand as champion are Braun Strowman, who is more than deserving of a run with the title, and Sami Zayn, who has excelled as a villain despite some difficult material (most recently in his segments with Bobby Lashley).
Raw needs an infusion of excitement, and that means more than appointing Baron Corbin as the show’s new constable. World title matches would make Raw far more of a must-see program for those who are already investing three hours a week watching every Monday.
It’s not as though Lesnar’s title reign is without historical precedent, though. Hulk Hogan would go long stretches without defending the title in the 1980s, but WWE was a once-a-week 48-minute show (commercial breaks excluded) back then. That is roughly the equivalent to the first hour of Raw in 2018.
Television is an entirely different landscape in 2018, and the absence of the world title belt has diminished Raw.
Raw desperately needs a champion, preferably a heel for the babyfaces to chase, with the irony rich as Lesnar and Paul Heyman combine to make the best heel duo in the entire business.
Whether or not Lesnar returns to fill the role, Raw needs a champion.
One Last Chance for Flip Gordon
Cody Rhodes has granted Flip Gordon one last chance to be booked on the All In card on September 1.
Rhodes is providing a “Golden Ticket” of an opportunity to be at All In for winner of this Friday’s tag team match pitting Gordon and Brandi Rhodes against Maxwell J. Friedman and Madison Rayne this Friday at the WrestlePro show in Rahway, New Jersey will automatically be added to the card at All In.
This storyline is one of the more entertaining in the pro wrestling, as Gordon has constantly sought—and failed—in his bids to have a match at All In.
Gordon lost to Rhodes at Ring of Honor’s Manhattan Mayhem show in March in a match that would have granted Gordon a spot at All In, as well as came up just short in a Twitter poll against Rhodes’ dog, Pharaoh, for another chance to be on the show.
Rhodes has been criticized for poor treatment in the past toward Flip Gordon, but like a good deed shining in a weary world, he continues to offer opportunities for Gordon to be part of the historic All In show.
“I’m obviously fair, this is his like bazillionth chance,” said Rhodes, who is playing the role of Willy Wonka in this scenario. “My wife Brandi talked me into it. They’re doing a ‘Team Friend Zone’ thing, they even have new music.”
Despite suffering a significant injury to her collarbone last month while wrestling in Japan, Gordon chose Brandi Rhodes as his tag partner for the “Golden Ticket” match.
“I’m very grateful because I get to tag with Brandi,” said Gordon. “I chose Brandi because she’s been very helpful and she really is my bestie. I’m very confident that she’ll be ready and able to compete because she loves proving people wrong, and now she’s bionic. “
Gordon’s opponent Friedman—who goes by MJF—shares similar confidence in the outcome of the match.
“Flip Gordon is a fluke, he’s been put in a spotlight for which he is not ready,” said the 22-year-old Friedman. “If I was in some of the positions he’s been in, I can assure you I would be far superior in every single promotion he’s worked for. So this match is the biggest opportunity of my career.”
Gordon just returned to the States earlier this week after a sparkling debut in New Japan Pro Wrestling’s esteemed Best of the Super Juniors tournament.
“The whole tournament was a highlight for me,” said Gordon, where he wrestled the likes of IWGP junior heavyweight champion Will Ospreay, 2018 runner-up Taiji Ishimori, and Tiger Mask IV. “I got to wrestle a legend like Tiger Mask and the IWGP junior heavyweight champ Will Ospreay, which I think were some of my best matches I’ve ever had. I learned so much from being involved in this year’s Best of the Super Juniors and I’m looking forward to bringing everything I learned over in Japan into Cody’s ‘Golden Ticket’ match.”
MJF, who described himself as the fastest rising star in professional wrestling, was unimpressed by Gordon’s accomplishments overseas.
“All In is going to be the biggest, most important show ever in the history of independent professional wrestling,” said Friedman. “The stakes have never been higher than this, and I can assure you, when the stakes are high, MJF does not lose. But you know who does? Flip Gordon.”
Cody Rhodes is preparing for a Ring of Honor world title match at the upcoming June 29 Best in the World pay per view, while also planning out All In, a show where he is wrestling NWA world’s heavyweight champion Nick Aldis.
“To be on the card at All In, it requires three thumbs up. [The Young Bucks] Matt and Nick want him,” said Rhodes. “I’m trying to be fair but also not be pressured.”
MJF and Gordon have met before in singles competition on two separate occasions, with Gordon victorious in each match.
“I’ve had the pleasure of wrestling MJF on two different continents and I’ve beaten him both times,” said Gordon. “He’s an amazing wrestler and has grown a lot since the last time we’ve shared a ring, but so have I. I just need to stay focused and not let him get into my head.”
Undaunted by the challenge, MJF promised he will be the one walking away from WrestlePro this Friday with a golden ticket in hand.
“Cody’s Golden Ticket idea is a phenomenal concept, possibly the greatest concept in the history of professional wrestling,” said Friedman. “And when you read the history books 30 years from now, you’re going to read that MJF and Madison Rayne won at WrestlePro and got to be a part of the most historic event in the history of professional wrestling.
“We’ll be at All In, and Flip Gordon will finally be all out.”
In other news…
• Jake Hager is the artist formerly known as WWE’s Jack Swagger, and he has arrived in Major League Wrestling to reintroduce himself to the wrestling world and remind people that, although he was underutilized in WWE, he can still be the best in the world.
“I definitely have something to prove,” said Hager. “Look at this roster from top to bottom, it’s five-star matches and main event talent. So, at 36 years old, I have a lot to prove, in pro wrestling and at pro fighting.”
Hager made his MLW television debut last Friday on Major League Wrestling FUSION TV on beIN Sports. He defeated Jeff Cobb, and he was paired with Col. Robert Parker—yes, the same Col. Parker from WCW—to serve as his manager.
“Col. Parker is definitely a throwback to those vintage managerial types,” said Hager, who runs RealJackSwagger.com., which lists all of his upcoming matches. “I think the pairing is very cool, his promos even crack me up, and he is actually the cousin of Jimmy [“Bunkhouse Bunk”] Golden, who had the honor of playing ‘Papa’ Jack Swagger way back when on [WWE] television in 2010. I got Jimmy’s neck hurt, put him in a wheelchair, and used him as a human shield, so it didn’t work out too well with his cousin, but hopefully it goes much better for Col. Parker.”
MLW’s upcoming June 7 television taping in Orlando features Hager battling UFC star “Filthy” Tom Lawlor, which is a match between two multi-sport athletes. Hager is a former amateur wrestler and recently signed a deal with Bellator MMA, meaning both he and Lawlor straddle the Octagon and MLW ring.
“I’ve had Tom Lawlor’s name written on a notepad since I left [the WWE],” said Hager. “I wanted to see what he felt like in the ring, I wanted to see what he hit like and I wanted to see his counters and the speed at which he counters. I got to watch him wrestle for the first time at the last MLW taping, and he was very impressive, so that match and that kind of competition is going to bring out the best in me.”
An aspect that makes Major League Wrestling uniquely compelling is the tremendous amount of mixed martial arts DNA in their weekly television show. MLW CEO Court Bauer was an executive producer for the UFC Fight Pass, which helps illustrate why there is so much MMA-type fighting on the show as well as explains how it is so well-produced.
The MLW roster is filled with fighters, including Hager, who is tentatively scheduled to fight for Bellator before the end of 2018, as well as the UFC’s Lawlor and Bellator’s Seth Petruzelli. Pro wrestling is a slightly different beast than MMA, but the ability to display a killer instinct and fighting spirit are critical pieces to both sport and entertainment.
“First and foremost, fans need to know they can depend on your brand,” said Hager. “And as I’ve got older, I have watched the evolution of the athlete, seeing opponents getting faster, stronger, and healthier. They’re better informed as far as training procedures and sports medicine, which allows you to accomplish more and more things that were thought un-doable. So I still have a lot to prove, and that’s starting in MLW.”
• Bobby Roode’s showing this past Monday on Raw—as he was demolished in under five minutes against Braun Strowman in a match that once again highlighted Strowman’s strength by breaking a ladder in half—further highlighted the need to turn Roode into a villain.
But there were positives this week. A highlight on SmackDown occurred with every interaction, in ring and out, between The Miz and The New Day. Programs between Kofi Kingston and The Miz, as well as Big E and The Miz, will be extremely fun, especially if the world title is eventually involved.
• The Young Bucks will not be in Kenny Omega’s corner at the June 9 Dominion show during his world title shot against IWGP champion Kazuchika Okada.
The Bucks have stood by Omega in his past three matches against Okada, which is a fascinating intersection of storyline and reality between Omega and the Bucks.
“For me, that’s not a character thing or a [Being the Elite] storyline,” Omega told Sports Illustrated last month. “The Bucks are pillars of my support. I don’t feel alone when they’re there, I don’t even feel pressure when they’re there. I’m staring at the most physically taxing match of my career, and they won’t be there. That’s very strange. Aside from the 2016 G1, when I had to go it alone, they’ve been there for everything. The idea of not having Matt and Nick has affected me. This time is going to be different.”
The Bucks will also be on the Dominion card, as they break even more ground by making the leap to the heavyweight tag team division as they battle IWGP tag team champions Sanada and Evil. Although they are seven-time junior heavyweight champs, a win at Dominion would mark their first reign with the IWGP tag titles.
For those interested in watching Dominion, the show is available exclusively on New Japan World.
• On the subject of New Japan Pro Wrestling, the promotion just concluded its Best of the Super Juniors tournament this past Monday at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo.
The finale saw Hiromu Takahashi defeat Taiji Ishimori in a thrilling 34-minute match.
The Best of the Super Juniors offered a plethora of great matches, but the final affair was, by far, the best combination of action, psychology, and execution. The right man also won, as the 28-year-old Takahashi—who is part of Tetsuya Naito’s wildly popular Los Ingobernables de Japon—will continue to play an integral role in keeping New Japan’s junior heavyweight division elevated as the top junior heavyweight division in the world.
Through a translator, I spoke with Hiromu Takahashi two years ago while he was working as Kamaitachi in Ring of Honor.
“My life changed when I started training in the New Japan Pro Wrestling Dojo,” said Takahashi, where he began in 2010. “I couldn’t contact anyone, no family or friends, as I trained to debut.”
Takahashi, who has worked in England, the United States, Mexico, and Japan, credited the legendary Masahiro Chono as his greatest influence in wrestling.
“He was a star, starting right with his entrance and the way he walked to the ring,” said Takahashi. “Chono had so much aura, and that is what I studied most about him. That is when I realized I do not need to be just a high-flyer, but I can instead work a lot of styles if I want to be the best junior heavyweight of all.”
Two years later, Takahashi is well on his way to accomplishing his goal.
• If anyone wrestling fan would like to know about the future of big men in the business, look no further than Brody King.
The 6’5” tattoo-covered beast wrestles Jeff Cobb at PCW Ultra’s “Opposites Attract” show this Friday in Wilmington, California, which will be broadcast live on FITE TV at 11:30 p.m. ET.
“Jeff Cobb is an international star in the independent wrestling scene, and I’m going to prove in this match that I can hang with the best of the best,” said the 31-year-old King, whose first name is a tribute to Bruiser Brody. “Cobb is credited as one of the best big men in independent wrestling right now, and I’m going to give him a run for his money.”
King met PCW Ultra owner Mike Scharnagl at a wrestling school showcase for the Santino Bros. Wrestling Academy, and Scharnagl notified him that he would one day be working for PCW.
“He hadn’t even seen me wrestle,” recalled King. “Eventually I worked [PCW booker] Joseph Cabbibo’s seminar even though I had a broken leg, and I think Joe took a liking to me because he saw I was willing to work, even with a broken leg.”
The articulate King is all about grit and violence in the ring, though he works a versatile style for someone his size.
The paradigm has shifted where a large majority of the fan base is harder on the bigger men, but King makes up for that through his violent style of matches.
“Every time I step in the ring, it’s strictly business,” said King. “The person across from me could be my best friend, but it’s him versus me at that point. In the ring, it’s all violence and whatever it takes to win. Even if I don’t win, you’ll remember that you had a match with Brody King.”
Outside of wrestling, King sings in a hardcore band called God’s Hate and is an expert on the art of tattoos.
“I started when I was 19 by tattooing my entire rib cage,” said King, who recently tried to count his number of tattoos but lost count somewhere in the 40s. “I’m just one big tattoo now. I’ve always been a big fan of tattoos, that look, and that culture.”
King has also started to branch out nationally with Major League Wrestling, overseas with Defy and on the East Coast in Maine-based Limitless Wrestling, but his home base remains PCW Ultra.
“My goal in PCW Ultra has always been the continuation of War Beast,” said King, which consists of himself, the “Taskmaster” Kevin Sullivan, Josef, and Fatu. “We stay as a unit and conquer as a unit.”
While bigger dreams lie ahead, King is focused right now on making sure fans anticipate and remember his match this Friday with Cobb.
“We’re going to give you something that no other match on the card has,” said King. “It’s going to be two hosses, hard-hitting, and with unreal strength. It’s the match where anything can happen, with our power, high-flying, and lucha.”
• Demolition will make an appearance at this Friday’s WrestlePro show in Rahway, New Jersey, on a loaded card that includes the “Bad Boy” Joey Janela vs. Ultimo Dragon and an appearance from Rob Van Dam.
Comprised of Ax and Smash, Demolition was the premiere tag team in the World Wrestling Federation during the golden era of the 1980s. Regardless of where they were positioned on the card, Demolition was the top team, either as heels or babyfaces, from late 1987 to early 1990.
“The WWE Network brought a whole new meaning to our career,” said Bill Eadie, who donned the silver and red face paint and became legendary as Demolition Ax. “We’ve had a lot of younger fans catch onto the nostalgia kick, and it’s really humbling and pleasing to go to these events, like the one at WrestlePro, and interact with the fans.”
Demolition were three-time tag champs and put together memorable feuds with Strike Force, the Hart Foundation, the Powers of Pain, the Brain Busters, and even memorable matches with the Rockers. Every team seemed to mesh well with Ax and Smash.
“Everybody wanted to work with us because Barry [Smash] Darsow and me wanted to have the best possible match of the night,” said Eadie. “We strove to do the best we could do that night, and guys realized that if they were going to work with us, they were going to make money and have an exciting match.”
Although longtime wrestling fans would take pride in seeing Demolition inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, that day is unlikely to come any time soon. Eadie and Darsow were both a part of a class action lawsuit filed against WWE in 2016 that alleged wrestlers endured traumatic brain injuries during their time with the company and that the risks of those injuries were concealed by the company.
“I’m almost certain it’s because of the lawsuit,” said Eadie, explaining why Demolition is not in the WWE Hall of Fame. “It could happen, it might not happen, but Barry and I know that the fans know that Demolition should be in the Hall of Fame. We have the satisfaction of knowing we should be in there, and the fans tell us that every time we go out to sign.”
Demolition held the record for the longest run as WWE tag team champions from 1989 until the New Day broke their 478-day reign in 2016.
“That was done to try to eliminate Demolition,” said Eadie. “But we have no control over that or the Hall of Fame. Perhaps they’ll ask, perhaps they won’t, but we’re not going to lose sleep over it.”
Vince McMahon paired Demolition with the great Mr. Fuji as their manager at the beginning and end of their tenure, and Eadie credits Fuji for a lot of the team’s success.
“Fuji was a prankster, but we were off-limits because he must have thought we would retaliate,” said Eadie, who was extremely well-respected amongst his peers and even had close friend Andre the Giant serve as the godfather to both of his daughters. “When Fuji was with us, he was almost like our real manager. He would critique all of our matches, and we always listened. He was an integral party in our team, and the people associated Fuji as our manager, mentor, and trainer, and when he jumped to the Powers of Pain, that really made the people think he was a real vindictive person.”
Regardless of any Hall of Fame induction, Eadie noted he is just excited to be back with the fans this weekend.
“People remember us fondly, and it’s great to interact with them,” said Eadie. “A few say, ‘You scared us to death,’ but I always tell them that we were just doing our job.”
• Coming attractions: CM Punk connected with Sports Illustrated to discuss his upcoming fight this Saturday at UFC 225 against Mike Jackson, as well as his legal battle against WWE, in a story that will run Thursday on SI.com.
• Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard and co-host Conrad Thompson returns this Friday at noon ET with a new podcast, with a detailed look at the 1993 King of the Ring pay per view.
Thompson also broke major news by revealing that the topic for next week’s show on the WWE Network will be AJ Styles’ run in TNA Impact Wrestling.
“We’re going to cover from October 2010, which is right when Bruce came into the company, and we’ll carry it right to July of 2013,” said Thompson, who is covering the WWE-owned version of ECW on this week’s Network episode. “AJ was a TNA original, so when he parted ways with TNA in 2013, history changed forever. That exodus, with AJ leaving, started an immediate sharp decline in TNA.”
The show will look deeper into Styles’ TNA tenure, including his 2013 TNA world title victory, the infamous storyline with Dixie Carter and Claire Lynch, as well as his work with Ric Flair in Fortune—and Thompson hopes to include TNA footage from Impact’s Global Wrestling Network.
“That’s the plan,” said Thompson. “I know that WWE is trying to make a deal to license some of that footage, so we’ve got our fingers crossed. I think that deal would be good for everyone if such a deal were put together, but we’ll see.”
Thompson’s Friday podcast with Prichard will examine the WWE landscape in the spring of 1993, when Vince McMahon was in an uncertain territory with Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, and Lex Luger all as potential cornerstones of the company.
“It was a changing of a guard,” said Thompson. “Vince clearly tried to embrace the ‘New Generation’ with putting the belt on Bret Hart [after defeating Ric Flair in October of 1992], then he had a change of heart at WrestleMania IX and went back with what he knew with Hulk Hogan as champ, but that experiment only lasted a few months, and this was the point where Vince needed to change things around again.”
Thompson will discuss with Prichard the potential that Hogan would return at SummerSlam ’93 to work a title match with Hart.
“Hogan sees the writing on the wall,” said Thompson. “Business is down, payoffs are down, there is a steroid investigation looming, the ring boy scandal has just started to rear its ugly head, and there is a lot of weird stuff going on in the background, and that’s when Hogan believed it was time to capitalize on the success of Baywatch and do Thunder in Paradise so he could become David Hasselhoff 2.0.”
Bret Hart captured the King of Ring in ’93, defeating Razor Ramon, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, and Bam Bam Bigelow along the way.
“Bret won in a really interesting fashion by not getting over his finishing move,” said Thompson. “Bret tells such a great story, because the thread starts when Razor ‘breaks’ Bret’s fingers in the opening match and then Perfect bent those ‘broken’ fingers back, dropping Bret to his knees, which made him unable to apply the Sharpshooter.
“Politically, Vince was also trying to hedge his bets. They weren’t calling Lex Luger ‘The Narcissist’, they were calling him Lex Luger. I mention that because, less than one month later, Luger slammed Yokozuna on the U.S.S. Intrepid. And during that King of the Ring, commentary mentioned over and over and over again that no one could slam Yokozuna. So either Vince was setting up Hogan to slam Yokozuna, or if he couldn’t patch things up with Hulk, for Luger to do it. And this all happens while Vince is in the fight of his life, and it’s the first pay per view that he is no longer the president and CEO of the entire Titan organization with the impending federal investigation.”
Thompson’s “83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff” next Monday will cover Dusty Rhodes’ backstage role in World Championship Wrestling.
“I want to know from Eric about Dusty the man, as well as how big of a resource Dusty was and the way Eric perceived him,” said Thompson. “You’ve got to remember, the highest points that the NWA, specifically Jim Crockett Promotions, ever reached were when Dusty had the book. Dusty did phenomenal business in ’85 and ’86, but business tapered in ’87 and they were deep in the red by ’88.
“Dusty is a guy who was a real resource to Eric, and it’s so interesting that he took the NWA to new heights without worry too much about how he was spending. That is a direct parallel to Eric Bischoff in WCW, and the story of Dusty losing his job with Crockett Promotions and Turner Broadcasting is the exact same thing that happened with Eric. Now Eric is likely to dispute that, so we’ll dig into it.”
Tweet of the Week
CM Punk has two fights this week, and he just emerged victorious in the first.