Alpha Club vs. Bullet Club Set to Headline Chris Jericho’s Cruise
Chris Jericho’s “Rock ‘N’ Wrestling Rager at Sea” has announced its main event.
The cruise, which sets sail this October, will deliver a never-before-seen match of Jericho and the Young Bucks against Kenny Omega, Cody Rhodes, and “The Villain” Marty Scurll.
“Our official name of the team is, ‘The Bucks of Jericho… or is it Y2Jackson,’” said Jericho. “I needed a main event and I’d been talking with the Bucks about doing something with them, and Nick Jackson was the one who said, ‘Why don’t the three of us team up and face Kenny, Marty, and Cody?’”
Jericho is the main source funding the cruise, so he is personally invested in its success. Only 94 days from the maiden voyage, he is steadily moving toward his goal of selling out the cruise.
“We were all in Osaka back in June and I inducted the Bucks into the Alpha Club,” said Jericho. “So now we can do Alpha Club vs. Bullet Club as the main event on the cruise.”
The six-man will mark the first time Jericho has ever tagged with the Young Bucks, as well as the first time he has stepped in the ring against Omega since their classic at the Tokyo Dome this past January at Wrestle Kingdom.
The tagline, fittingly, is Alpha Club vs. Bullet Club.
“Coming from the world I come from, which is WWE and Vince McMahon, the tagline sells tickets even more than the match,” said Jericho. “The only way to see it is to come on board.”
Jericho, who is the reigning IWGP Intercontinental champion, defeated Tetsuya Naito for the belt this past June at the Dominion show in Osaka.
Jericho’s character in New Japan is unique, far different from the one who carries around the “List of Jericho” in WWE.
“The New Japan Jericho is not WWE’s Jericho,” said Jericho. “This, once again, distances those two characters from each other, which is exactly the way I want it.
“I’m always about reinventing myself, evolving and changing. That helps you stay current, helps build your brand, and gives you longevity.”
New Japan’s business has spiked with Jericho’s presence, both in New Japan subscription services and ticket sales from this past January’s Wrestle Kingdom 12, which is a key reason why he returned to feud with Naito.
“It’s very cool to go back to Japan, where I started, and be part of this worldwide growth of New Japan,” said Jericho. “There are no real restrictions on what I can do in New Japan.
“We did the original beatdown with Kenny and got some blood going, which you never see in the WWE nowadays, and we did the press conference where I was swearing and attacking reporters. You can’t do that in WWE, but you can in Japan. Just to have those shackles released, it just felt like all of these things led to more of a Bruiser Brody character than a Shawn Michaels-type vibe.”
Jericho unveiled his new, darker look when he returned to New Japan at their Wrestling Dontaku show in May. He blindsided Naito after jumping out of the crowd wearing the mask of Bushi, who is one of Naito’s partners in Los Ingobernables de Japon.
“I was sitting in the crowd so I wanted to look as much like Bushi as I could,” said Jericho. “Bushi wears black lipstick, so I put the black lipstick on and darkened my eyes with dark eyeliner. When I took the mask off, I had a very gothic look. People are saying this has a vibe from Clockwork Orange or Alice Cooper, and it’s kind of a combination of both of those, but it was inspired by neither. It feels like more of a serial killer, lunatic character.”
Before the Dominion show in June, Jericho received a piece of fan art where someone drew him as The Joker.
“I showed that to [New Japan booker] Gedo, and he said, ‘Do you want a hat?’” said Jericho. “He gave me a fedora, which really fit the vibe of the crazy, wacky, out-of-his f---ing mind character.
“And when it came time for the Naito match, I knew I needed something different. The lighted jacket and the sparkly trunks didn’t fit anymore.”
Jericho is tapping into his New Japan connections to bring IWGP heavyweight champion Kenny Omega aboard his cruise, which will also include inter-promotional matches pitting Ring of Honor talent against Impact Wrestling, including “The Villain” Marty Scurll vs. Sami Callihan, as well as ROH’s 16-man Sea of Honor tournament that includes world champ Jay Lethal.
There will also be four live Talk is Jericho podcasts, with Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, an Eddie Guerrero memorial edition with Konnan and Rey Mysterio, as well as a show featuring Omega, Rhodes, Scurll, Hangman Page, and the Bucks.
“There are a lot of really cool things that are happening once you come aboard this cruise,” said Jericho. “I just want to make this a great experience for people. My goal is to make this an annual destination vacation. I want to grow and build it every year.”
Due to complications of competing promotions, none of the matches will be streamed.
“If you want to be part of it, you have to be there,” said Jericho. “I want it to be a very exclusive club.”
WWE fans that miss watching Jericho every week on Raw or SmackDown have the chance to catch up on all his passions in the ring, on stage, and on the mic while aboard the cruise.
“That’s good that people miss me, because you’re going to be sick of Chris Jericho by the time the cruise is done,” said a joking Jericho. “There are four live podcasts, three Fozzy shows, the main event of Alpha Club vs. Bullet Club, and I’m even marrying someone on the cruise.
“It’s the only place you’re going to see Alpha Club vs. Bullet Club, and, as of now, I don’t have any other matches booked this year. So if you want to see Chris Jericho wrestle, or if you want to see the ipso facto rematch with Kenny Omega, or the one-and-only time the Bucks of Jericho—or is it Y2Jackson—will team together, all these things will happen on the Rock ‘N’ Wrestling Rager at Sea. My goal is to make sure everybody has the vacation of a lifetime, and I hope to continue to do this for many years to come.”
WWE’s All-Women Pay Per View Comes at the Perfect Time
Stephanie McMahon announced this past Monday on Raw that WWE’s first-ever all-women pay per view, Evolution, will take place on Sunday, October 28. The event will stream live on the WWE Network and include talent from Raw, SmackDown and NXT, as well as the finals of the 2018 Mae Young Classic.
The timing is serendipitous, with women’s fighting trailblazer Ronda Rousey set to headline the pay per view.
Rousey’s relationship with WWE continues to mutually benefit both parties. Like Brock Lesnar, Rousey has mainstream appeal and her mixed martial arts background with the UFC adds a legitimacy to her work in pro wrestling. There is no person in WWE better suited to headline Evolution than Rousey.
Rousey challenges Alexa Bliss for the Raw women’s championship in August at SummerSlam, and a win would allow her to defend the title in the Evolution main event in October. Potential opponents for Rousey include Bliss, Nia Jax, and Nattie Neidhart, who is likely to soon turn on Rousey and end their storyline friendship.
The decision by WWE to air an all-women pay per view is brilliant.
In addition to listening to its fan base, which has been especially vocal in its desire for more from the women’s division for the better part of the past decade, the show is also a perfect use of the WWE Network.
Before, WWE was judged by pay per view buy rates. That model is irrelevant in the age of the Network, which allows for creativity and new opportunities, and the women’s roster is the recipient of that good fortune on October 28.
In Other News...
• Barstool Sports founder Dave “El Pres” Portnoy is not afraid to admit it: he constantly channels WWE CEO Vince McMahon.
“Everyone at Barstool has their own persona, their own wrestling persona, and I’m the boss figure, the one who people love or hate, and the most fair comparison is Vince McMahon,” said Portnoy, whose Barstool Sports ranked fourth—only trailing Turner (which includes Bleacher Report and the Turner Sports Network), ESPN, and Whistle Sports—for a U.S. sports media entity in total actions across social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram per a report from social analytic provider Shareablee. “When people are mad at things I do, I think of when Vince said, ‘I don’t give a damn what the fans think ‘cause, quite frankly, I know what the fans want better than they do.’ So when people are upset with me, I post the gif of Vince strutting into the ring.”
Just like McMahon had his “stooges” in Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco, Portnoy has his own set of loyal lieutenants.
“That’s ‘Sales Guy’ Paul Gulczynski, who is my number one, and Frankie Borrelli, who is my number two,” said Portnoy. “Those are my dirty work guys.”
Before transforming WWE into a billion-dollar corporation, McMahon sold cups and Sweetheart ice cream cones in the early 1970s for the Maryland Cup Corp. Portnoy’s start in the media industry began with a free bi-weekly newspaper. He has now expanded into the fighting industry and presents Rough N’ Rowdy 4 on Sunday, August 5 at 7pm ET from Youngstown, Ohio.
Rough N’ Rowdy is designed to appeal to the wrestling audience. The pay per view, which will run just over four hours and includes 30 fights, relies heavily on its fighters’ ability to cut entertaining, WWE-like promos.
“It’s about the stories and the characters and the bigger-than-life personalities, which we have for Rough N’ Rowdy,” said Portnoy. “What attracted me to Rough N’ Rowdy in the first place was how the actual fighters were cutting WWE-type promos, calling out their opponents with over-the-top bravado. The promos, which is a key piece of wrestling, helps build the storylines, and then they go out and people get to see a fight.”
Comedian Bill Burr and “Big Cat” Dan Katz will join Portnoy in the broadcast booth, with former NFL player—and current NXT analyst—Pat McAfee serving as the ring announcer.
“Part of the allure of WWE is the announcers,” said Portnoy. “For me that goes all the way back to Jesse ‘The Body.’ The announcing is what makes wrestling, for me, wrestling. That is a very similar business model for us. Without our commentary on Rough N’ Rowdy, it loses a bit of that allure.”
Portnoy’s fondness for wrestling also shows through in his signature pizza reviews, which have included guest spots with John Cena, Chris Jericho, and Mick Foley.
“I grew up watching wrestling,” said Portnoy. “When Vince was heavily involved [on-screen], those were some of my favorite memories. Intentionally or unintentionally, there are a lot of things we’ve gleaned from me watching.”
When Portnoy is not making headlines or stirring controversy on the Internet, he is involved in fundraising for charitable causes. Barstool’s latest goal has been to raise $100,000 for the family of the late Officer Michael Chesna from Weymouth, Massachusetts, who was killed in the line of duty and left behind a wife and two children under 10 years old.
“That was horrible and put life in perspective,” said Portnoy, whose readers at Barstool have raised over $130,000 to donate to the family, with a charity comedy show hosted by Jerry Thornton on August 9 set to increase that total. “Our readers, who we call ‘Stoolies,’ always rise to the occasion. A good thing about Barstool is we know when to be serious and when not to be, and this is clearly a sad, serious case. Not that this does anything to ease the pain, but at least we’re able to give a tiny bit.”
With the wrestling world devoid of a WWE pay per view on Sunday night, Portnoy recommended that people instead take a taste of Rough N’ Rowdy 4.
“For me, Rough N’ Rowdy is the best thing we do,” said Portnoy. “There is nothing else like it. We combine the WWE’s feel of the theatrics and characters with a real fistfight. These guys are putting their balls on the line here by stepping into the ring, and you’re just out there with your fists.
“It’s the combination of comedy and combat. It’s real fights, and it can be funny, but it’s real. For the $15 price we charge, it’s the most value you can have. It’s four hours of entertainment, and you can buy it for a variety of reasons: you want a Bill Burr standup, you want to hear me and Big Cat just cracking jokes, or for the crazy fights, Rough N’ Rowdy has it all.”
• In addition to Stephanie McMahon’s announcement that WWE will be presenting its first-ever all-women’s pay per view event, the other highlight of Raw was the main event between Roman Reigns and Bobby Lashley to decide the challenger for Brock Lesnar and the Universal championship at SummerSlam,
Reigns defeated Lashley in an extremely compelling match, setting himself up for (another) rematch with Lesnar.
The buildup for Reigns and Lashley never felt forced and the anticipation for the match grew as Raw progressed. Although the match could not compare with the Dolph Ziggler/Drew McIntyre tag match against Seth Rollins and Finn Balor, Lashley-Reigns delivered an intensity otherwise missing from Raw.
The caveat to all of this, of course, is that Lashley just defeated Reigns a couple of weeks ago at Extreme Rules.
Why does Reigns’ win on Raw mean more than Lashley’s victory at Extreme Rules? I still expect WWE to turn the SummerSlam main event into a triple-threat match, which, based on his line of matches over the past three years, is clearly Lesnar’s preference.
• Another interesting development on Raw was the stipulation for the upcoming Kevin Owens-Braun Strowman match at SummerSlam, which will give Owens possession of the Money in the Bank contract if he can defeat Strowman by pinfall, submission, count-out, or disqualification.
Strowman is one of WWE’s most exciting stars, but the Money in the Bank briefcase is an awkward fit for him. The briefcase is designed for a villain to backdoor his way into a title match by taking advantage of a vulnerable champion, while Strowman projects the complete opposite of that character.
Owens has also earned another run with the Universal title. He has been a team player, putting over Bill Goldberg for the belt, and working entertaining programs with Shane McMahon, Roman Reigns, AJ Styles, and now Strowman. World champions in wrestling are best suited to be heels, as that allows the babyfaces to chase the title. Owens plays the heel role perfectly.
• SmackDown Live also delivered some high points, including an entertaining match between Rusev and Andrade Cien Almas that will hopefully lead to Rusev’s face turn, as well as a tremendous promo from Randy Orton explaining his recent actions. The show also made it official that Samoa Joe will challenge AJ Styles for the WWE championship at SummerSlam.
Although it is unlikely to end the show, Styles-Joe has the possibility of being the match to steal the show. It places the WWE title in an enviable position, with two of the top wrestlers in the world battling for the company’s most prestigious prize.
The SmackDown finish was incredible, with The Miz getting the upper hand on Daniel Bryan en route to their inevitable clash at SummerSlam.
• Major League Wrestling’s first network special on beIN Sports takes place this Friday, July 27 at 8pm ET.
The show, which is a two-hour special, contains an old-school WWE feel combined with compelling elements of modern-day pro wrestling.
Friday’s special includes Myron Reed vs. Kotto Brazil, a match between MJF and Joey Ryan to crown the new MLW world middleweight champion, and features the Battle Riot, which is a 40-man Royal Rumble match where eliminations occur by throwing an opponent over the top rope as well as by pinfall or submission.
I traveled to the Melrose Ballroom in Queens, New York, and here are some exclusive notes from the show:
MLW sold out with 947 fans in attendance. MLW founder/CEO Court Bauer confirmed he is considering adding more seats for their return to New York, which will be for a television taping on October 4 that will feature the return of LA Park, who was a regular in MLW from 2002-2004.
Bruce Prichard, Low Ki, and Mister Saint Laurent worked the ‘gorilla position’ behind the curtain while Bauer manned the central nervous system in the television truck and gave his direction from there.
Representatives from Live Nation and EA Sports were present at the show.
Former UFC fighter Tom Lawlor is being groomed as MLW’s top babyface. His babyface chase will not occur overnight, but Bauer has displayed in his booking that he is willing to be patient.
In addition to Lawlor, the Battle Riot also included legitimate stars in Pentagon, Jake Hager (who was Jack Swagger in WWE), Rich Swann, and John Morrison, as well as Joey Ryan, Progress’s Jimmy Havoc, and PCO, who is former Quebecer Pierre Carl Ouellet and is seeing his popularity on the indies surge.
“The Battle Riot is going to be more exciting than that Royal Rumble the WWE did in Saudi Arabia,” said Hager. “The roster that MLW has put together is one of the most intriguing rosters on the planet, and it’s on display in the Battle Riot. I’ll put it up against Japan or New York. There are so many guys who could be the next big star, and this is a Royal Rumble match full of guys who could be the next star.
“The creativity with pinfalls and submission is the key thing in this match. That really fueled the boys, and this Friday night you’ll see the fireworks.”
Su Yung and Zeda Zhang were going to do a spot in the Battle Riot but Yung went to the hospital with her husband, Rich Swann, after he suffered a concussion during a spot in the match. Bauer called an audible and canceled Yung’s spot, which was a tough moment in a show.
There were multiple surprises in the Battle Riot match, as well as returns to the ring from wrestling Hall of Famers like “The Taskmaster” Kevin Sullivan, Hornswoggle, and Konnan.
“This match is chaos, but it’s fun chaos,” said Hornswoggle, who is now known as Swoggle and most recently appeared in a WWE ring during the Greatest Royal Rumble this past April in Saudi Arabia. “The pinfalls and submission add a lot to Battle Riot. I’ve wanted to come to MLW since it restarted, and hopefully it won’t be the last time you see me in an MLW ring.”
Bauer laid out the Battle Riot match along with Prichard, who was especially helpful given his background laying out multiple Royal Rumble matches with Pat Patterson for the WWE.
“It’s rare in 2018 to see a new match,” said Bauer. “Every stipulation has been done but this Friday on beIN Sports you get that opportunity. Fans will see familiar faces, legends, luchadores, super heavyweights, surprises, and a breakout performance by one of the biggest stars on the horizon in the sport. Tony Schiavone and Matt Striker’s call of the action is great, plus you will see the crowning of the first world middleweight champion, and you get it all for free. No need to subscribe to a streaming service, pay a premium for it on pay per view—it’s free.”
• New Japan Pro Wrestling’s 28th annual G1 Climax continues to pick up steam.
The leaderboard in the A-block are “Switchblade” Jay White, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and EVIL all with six points. All three of those competitors have won three matches and lost one, with White having just lost to Minoru Suzuki.
The reigning IWGP champ, Kenny Omega, is the only wrestler still undefeated in the round-robin tournament, and he also leads the B-block with six points.
Kevin Kelly is providing English commentary on New Japan World throughout the entire G1 Climax and will continue to do so until the finals on August 12.
“The journey has been incredible so far,” said Kelly. “Certainly, filled with surprises and the tournament isn’t even half over. I think Switchblade has been outstanding so far. Wise beyond his years and a mainstay at the top for years to come, but how does he recover from his first loss of the tournament?”
Former IWGP heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada has split his first four matches in the G1.
“For all the talk about Okada and his new approach, he’s right in the mix with winnable matches up next,” said Kelly. “To me, he’s like Tiger Woods, who changed his swing and still won major after major. Don’t worry about Okada.”
Omega most recently defeated Tama Tonga by disqualification. Tonga and Bad Luck Fale, who are leading the Bullet Club civil war, have both been DQ’d from matches.
“The Tongans have been a menace in the G1 and that’s by their design,” said Kelly. “This next week will be pivotal for both Tama Tonga and Bad Luck Fale in terms of the standings.”
The major storyline for the remainder of the G1 is to see who can endure the grind of this grueling tournament and still come out on top.
“Tanahashi is amazing,” said Kelly. “He continues to win while dealing with all the punishment he takes. Can he go all the way? I think Kenny Omega could be unbeaten heading to Budokan. Will he beat Ibushi and make history? That’s the question. If he stumbles on the way, watch for Naito to be there for the finals.”
• David Starr is set to main event Beyond Wrestling’s signature show, Americanrana, this Sunday in Worcester, Massachusetts, against the “Bad Boy” Joey Janela.
The sold-out Americanrana ‘18 will be broadcast live on Powerbomb.TV at 7pm ET, and the main event—which will see Starr battle Janela in a no-rope barbed wire match—serves as an incredible platform for wrestlers looking to showcase their talents.
Beyond has served as a breeding ground for WWE and NXT, with past Americanrana matches including Kevin Owens, Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Kassius Ohno, Drew Gulak, Oney Lorcan, Chris Dijak, and Keith Lee.
“I’m ready to bleed and go through hell in this match,” said Starr. “I am ‘Mr. Americanrana.’ I am the true ‘Ace’ of Beyond Wrestling, and to main event the biggest event in Beyond against Janela shows that we are the top guys here.”
The card also includes Pierre Carl Ouellet vs. Brian Cage, as well as Matt Riddle, Tom Lawlor, Brody King, Josh Briggs, Maxwell J. Friedman, and Jonathan Gresham.
But the fact that Starr is willing to put everything on the line against Janela—who is infamous for a willingness to risk his body in matches—should both tantalize and frighten viewers.
“Being a no-rope barbed wire match means that this will definitely get extreme,” said Starr. “Expect two dudes that don’t like each other that are competing to be seen as the ‘Ace’ of the promotion, which means you’re the ace of the independent circuit, beating each other to a pulp.
“Joey is a wild man. We all know that. He’s also one of the most recognizable independent wrestlers. I’ve beaten him before when it’s gotten bloody, and I’ll do it again on July 29 in Worcester at Americanrana ’18.”
• EVOLVE is teaming up for a second straight year with UK-based PROGRESS Wrestling.
The two promotions stand out for their wrestling and the fact that WWE has partnered with both more than any other promotion in the world.
EVOLVE and PROGRESS have four upcoming doubleheaders, beginning on August 4 in Philadelphia at the old ECW Arena.
The shows will include WWE United Kingdom champion Pete Dunne, as well as Trent Seven, Tyler Bate, Austin Theory, Jimmy Havoc, WALTER, and EVOLVE champ Matt Riddle, who industry sources have indicated to Sports Illustrated is negotiating with WWE to join NXT and work out of the Performance Center.
• Coming attractions: Larry King spoke with Sports Illustrated about his willingness to give pro wrestling a mainstream media platform long before other major networks and hosts, and that story will run this Friday on SI.com.
• “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” and co-host Conrad Thompson returns this Friday at noon ET with a look at WWE’s Vengeance pay per view from 2003.
The show was headlined by a triple-threat match for the WWE title between champion Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, and the Big Show, but Thompson plans to spend a great deal of time exploring the encounter between Vince McMahon and Zach Gowen.
Gowen was WWE’s one-legged wrestler, having had his left leg amputated when he was only eight.
“Vince McMahon saw money in Gowen’s disability, and Vince wanted to be involved in the match,” said Thompson. “Zach Gowen is often thought of as a one-off, but he worked with an incredible level of superstars, including Vince and Brock Lesnar, in a relatively short amount of time.”
The show will also look at the brief 2003 return of Brother Love to WWE programming, as well as the storyline between Sable and Stephanie McMahon that led to a match at Vengeance.
“Before we got to see their husbands wrestle, we saw the wives wrestle,” said Thompson. “It’s surreal, because it feels like a piece of the ‘Attitude Era’ against a piece of the ‘Ruthless Aggression’ throughout this entire pay per view, including in John Cena vs. The Undertaker.”
Thompson’s “83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff” will look next Monday at the controversial July 29, 1996 episode of Nitro that saw WCW lose its once-strong relationship with Disney.
“WCW finally took it too far for Disney,” said Thompson. “There were ambulances, police, and Kevin Nash lawndarted Rey Mysterio into the side of the television, just creating chaos at the park. It made for great television, but it did cost them the Disney relationship.”
That Nitro took place at Disney’s MGM Studios in Orlando, Florida, and the NWO segment had a legitimate fallout for the company.
“This is our first time doing a real deep dive on a Nitro, and we’ll go segment-by-segment with the show, look at the challenges of shooting outside, and examine the WCW relationship with Disney before and after.”
Tweet of the Week
If you haven’t read the New Day’s statement on Hulk Hogan’s reinstatement to the WWE Hall of Fame, it is certainly worth your time. (Titus O’Neil also weighed in.)
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.