Alexa Bliss has two goals at SummerSlam: Beating Ronda Rousey and advancing WWE’s Women’s Revolution.
SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Alexa Bliss says Ronda Rousey will be in her realm at SummerSlam
Alexis Bliss is ready to accomplish two goals this Sunday at SummerSlam: defend her Raw women’s title against Ronda Rousey, and further advance the women’s revolution in WWE.
“My job is to help elevate the women’s revolution,” said Bliss. “It’s very humbling to see what our women’s division has done. WWE puts our women in the forefront, and I’m very grateful for that.”
Bliss has made herself an indispensable part of the women’s division. Only 27, she is already a five-time WWE women’s champion. But she has never faced anyone with the credentials or legitimacy of UFC legend Ronda Rousey.
“Ronda has found a passion in what we do,” said Bliss. “Having someone who is so established and has such a name for herself now learning to do what we do only legitimizes our work ethic. It’s a really unique challenge and a cool opportunity. I’m excited to see how she develops and how her skillset changes and adapts. It’s going to be my most challenging match because we’ve never had someone in the WWE like Ronda.”
A challenge for the 5’1” Bliss will be presenting herself as a legitimate threat to Rousey in the ring.
“It’s never just one person who makes a match, it takes two people in WWE and both their efforts,” said Bliss. “I’m really excited to be the counterpart in this match. This will help Ronda learn our style, and also help me adapt to hers, which will make me a better all-around performer. When you can learn another style and adapt to it, it just makes you a better performer. Ronda will be in my realm, but I’m excited to broaden my skillset and see how it all ends up.”
WWE creates such an abundance of original content that it can be difficult to have a single moment truly resonate with such a diverse audience, but Bliss made magic when she cashed in her briefcase at Money in the Bank, costing Ronda Rousey the women’s title and winning it herself from Nia Jax.
“I was hiding under the ring at Money in the Bank for the whole match, and I was wondering about the reaction,” said Bliss. “I’m always nervous before I walk through the curtain. I either psych myself up or psych myself out, but it’s usually a very good nervous because I care and want to do the best I can possibly do.
“But no matter how big the scenario, how big the situation, or how big the crowd, the ring is always the same size. Once I was in the ring, I was home. That’s my opportunity, and if you don’t deliver on those opportunities, sometimes they don’t come back.”
Bliss is also looking ahead to another opportunity. WWE’s first all-women’s pay per view, Evolution, takes place on October 28.
“This is something our ‘Women’s Revolution’ deserves,” said Bliss. “The women on our roster and our legends have proven that it’s about time that women have the main focus. I was holding a title at the Royal Rumble, so I wasn’t able to compete in the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble. I’m very excited to get in the ring at Evolution, whether it’s against someone from NXT or someone coming back from the past. It’s the perfect addition to our evolution.
“It’s hard to step back while you’re doing it, but I was actually able to do that during the women’s Royal Rumble. I couldn’t step back at WrestleMania until after the match, but I was able to watch that women’s Royal Rumble from a fan’s perspective. It was really cool to think, ‘Wow, we’re in this amazing movement in WWE.’”
Whether Bliss retains the title at SummerSlam or Rousey tastes her first piece of WWE gold, it is unlikely to see a rematch between the two competitors at Evolution.
“I would love to have a focused match at Evolution where I get to be in the ring with someone who I’ve never been in the ring with before,” said Bliss. “Career-wise, my goal is to keep the revolution going. We should have our own pay per views, and maybe one day we’ll headline WrestleMania.”
Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling combine to sell out Madison Square Garden
Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling have already sold out their upcoming show this April during WrestleMania weekend at Madison Square Garden. Tickets went on sale to the general public last Friday and sold out in under 20 minutes. Fans had already purchased 60% of the available seats in pre-sale available to ROH HonorClub members.
The Young Bucks and “The Villain” Marty Scurll, all key pieces in the success of both ROH and New Japan, were thrilled to hear the news of the sellout.
“I wasn’t surprised,” said the Bucks’ Nick Jackson. “When two companies join together and work out a great relationship, great things happen.”
Matt Jackson noted that a critical part of the sellout are the opportunities that it provides for wrestlers in a world still largely dominated by WWE.
“It’s so good for the business,” said Matt Jackson. “We just need an alternative. When everybody’s doing good and making money, then everybody in the business is making more money. It’s a trickle-down effect.”
The business is changing. Buckle up.— The Young Bucks (@MattJackson13) August 10, 2018
Along with Cody Rhodes, the Bucks are running their own independent show on September 1—All In—that has sold over 10,000 tickets.
“I feel like the ‘All In’ movement is starting to show,” said Matt Jackson. “They would have never had the ambition to do a show like this before, and more power to them. This isn’t the only one, there will be more to come.
“I’m thrilled about MSG. I sent [ROH COO Joe] Koff and [ROH General Manager] Greg [Gilleland] a text last night to congratulate them. I think it’s amazing.”
The MSG show in April is even beneficial for WWE as it gives the potential to draw even more fans to WrestleMania. The same cannot be said for the NXT show, which will compete directly against ROH and NJPW.
“People bought tickets thinking they are going to see ‘Being The Elite’,” said Scurll. “They had me on the poster. With a poster boy like me, how can you not sell out?”
Jimmy Hart remembers “The Anvil”
The “Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart spoke with great sadness about the loss of his friend Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, who passed away this past Monday at the age of 63.
Hart managed “The Hitman” Bret Hart and Neidhart in WWE, forming the beginning of the iconic Hart Foundation.
“It’s such a horrible loss,” said Hart. “Neidhart was just so special and so different.”
Hart took a break from watching SmackDown at his bar, Jimmy Hart’s Hall of Fame Bar and Tiki Deck in Daytona, Florida, where he was telling patrons about his relationship with the goateed Neidhart and the way he delivered one of the most powerful dropkicks in all of wrestling.
“I managed him down in Memphis, too,” said Hart. “Jim was just so convincing as the ultimate tough guy character. He convinced everybody that what you saw was what you got, but he was really a sweetheart. A good man family, he’d always call home, he was just a great man. Bret got more of the attention than Jimmy did in the Hart Foundation, and sometimes he didn’t get the credit he deserved. That happens to most tag teams. If you think of the Road Warriors, Hawk got the attention; when you think of the Rougeau brothers, Jacques got it more than Raymond; the Nasty Boys, Knobbs more than Saggs. But Jimmy was great in the ring.”
Hart explained that what elevated the Hart Foundation was their work and chemistry with the British Bulldogs, producing some of the greatest moments in the history of WWE’s storied tag team division.
“The Bulldogs were so precise on everything they did, and that was such a great combination that it just elevated everybody,” said Hart. “Then you had Matilda on one side and me on the other, but you know what else mattered? If you look back at our era, everybody that was a tag team had the matching outfits.
“The Bulldogs dressed alike, the Hart Foundation was in the pink-and-black, the Rougeaus, Terry and Dory Funk, the Natural Disasters. That era has seemed to have come and gone, but there is something really visual about that.”
Hart had a deep appreciation for the manner in which Bret Hart and Neidhart teamed together and complemented one another.
“Bret was cool and this very scientific wrestler, and Jim was this rough guy,” said Hart. “Neidhart’s character was just tremendous, and everything he did in interviews was all ad-lib. He was special and different.”
The Hart Foundation were even closer out of the ring than they were inside of it.
“They were family, which was a great bond, since Anvil was married to Bret’s sister,” said Hart. “And both of them trained under Stu Hart, Bret’s dad, in the Dungeon in Calgary. They were very close and it just worked out great.”
Hart agreed that he has said farewell to too many friends, and the loss of Neidhart is going to take time to grieve.
“This is a real tough one,” said Hart. “Me, Jim, and Bret had a Hart Foundation reunion at a thing called WrestleCon last WrestleMania weekend. I’m so glad we were able to do that and have those memories, because this is really hard.”
In other news...
There is a lot of hype and anticipation surrounding SummerSlam, with this week’s Raw and SmackDown doing a tremendous job of building two particular matches: Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz.
Either match could serve as the main event (as could, for that matter, Ronda Rousey vs. Alexa Bliss for the Raw women’s title), but the match for the WWE Universal championship is extremely likely to end the show.
Will this be the last pay per view for Paul Heyman? Is there a chance of a swerve where Lesnar retains his title or Heyman switches allegiances to become the advocate for Reigns?
The answer to both, for now, is irrelevant. The truly important part is that those questions are being asked. There is genuine intrigue in Heyman’s role in the match. Whether that leads to cheers if and when Reigns finally dethrones Lesnar remains to be seen, but WWE has done an excellent job building interest in the fourth meeting between Lesnar and Reigns.
As for Miz and Bryan, I am interested in seeing if their chemistry can lead to a memorable match. Bryan is still looking for that first great match since his return in April at WrestleMania, and this is the perfect opportunity.
If Bryan wins, which is my expectation, it will be interesting to see if his next step is challenging for the world title.
• “The Bad Boy” Joey Janela’s sold out “Lost in New York” show this Friday at 8 p.m. at the Melrose Ballroom in Long Island City, Queens, and will be televised on FITE TV.
The card includes PCO battling Matt Riddle, Nick Gage vs. Haku, and a main event of Janela vs. Japanese legend Jinsei Shinzaki, also well-known from his time in WWE as Hakushi.
“The Great Sasuke enjoyed working with me so much during WrestleMania weekend’s Spring Break II show, and he’s been pushing my name to Hakushi,” said Janela. “We asked him to work Lost in New York, he sent us his passport, and he’s good to go. It’s going to be a huge show.”
Whether the wrestling world knows it or not—and word is spreading—Janela is needed more than ever for the growth of the business.
“Maybe these days, maybe they do,” said Janela, who is one of the last exclusively independent wrestlers in the business. “WWE is getting a lot of guys, New Japan is signing guys, and Ring of Honor has exclusive contracts. TNA is a little more lenient, MLW is just starting to come around and sign guys. A lot of guys are getting signed and the independent wrestler is dying. A lot of people say I’m the last of a dying breed. I compare it to Toy Story and the scene with the claw: everyone wants to get picked up and signed to a six-figure contract.”
The 29-year-old Janela has been wrestling for almost 13 years, and he has made himself more authentic by never signing anywhere.
“I’m an independent wrestler,” said Janela. “I’ve busted my ass to get here, so maybe pro wrestling does need me.”
Janela will also work at All In on September 1 against Hangman Page, bringing his appetite for extreme moves to Chicago—as well as his manager and girlfriend, Penelope Ford.
“She’s very gorgeous, which anyone can see, but she’s also bringing it in wrestling,” said Janela. “She’s trained by Drew Gulak at the CZW Academy, and she’s just like me. She’s learning and picking up things as she travels.
“She wasn’t a wrestling fan growing up, but she’s getting greater and greater. She didn’t know who Ric Flair was before she dated me, which is kind of f---ed up, but it is what it is. She was a gymnast and got sucked into the wrestling business ’cause she’s hot, but she brings a lot to the ‘Bad Boy’ act. Promoters should start booking with me. She was just falling through barbed wire at a Beyond show. You don’t see many women who look like Playboy models do that.”
The All In opportunity is significant for Janela, as he will have the chance to showcase his work to an audience tuning in from around the world to see Kenny Omega, the Young Bucks, Rey Mysterio, and Cody Rhodes.
“Bullet Club and The Elite, that’s an entirely different camp on the opposite spectrum from Joey Janela,” said Janela. “They’re marketing themselves so well, they are millionaires with Hot Topic deals and Funko Pop dolls, and I’m just so gracious for the chance to be booked. They’ll have a WWE-type audience with over 12,000 people there.”
Janela is also the WWN champion, showcasing that he is a far more skilled wrestler than stunt artist.
“I’m proving that right now with the WWN audience,” said Janela. “I’m getting thrown off buildings, I’m having amazing matches. I am in my prime and not feeling any of my bumps. Maybe I’ll feel it when I’m 45, but right now, I’m feeling great.”
There is no arguing that Janela is one of the most unique performers in all of wrestling. His brand of authenticity—along with his insatiable thirst for chaos in and around the ring—will be on display this Friday night at Lost in New York.
“My goal is to be at WrestleMania against John Cena,” said Janela. “That’s one day, but before that, Lost in New York will be the greatest show to take place in New York since Seinfeld.”
• Renee Young did a tremendous job in her color commentary debut on Raw.
Commentary is extremely difficult, but Young was comfortable, prepared, and confident in the role. Her appearance even piqued more interest in the second Mae Young Classic, where she will also be part of the broadcast team.
With Corey Graves already pulling double duty working for the Raw and SmackDown Live broadcast teams, keeping Graves on one show and adding Young to either commentary team would add some excitement to WWE programming.
• Matt Riddle’s booking during his final days in EVOLVE was brilliant.
Despite news of Riddle’s departure to WWE—he is likely to be at Saturday’s NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn—he never stopped dominating his matches.
Riddle lost the EVOLVE title two weekends ago at the old ECW Arena to Shane Strickland at EVOLVE 108, then defeated Austin Theory at EVOLVE 109. Riddle then won his final two matches, beating Darby Allin this past Saturday at EVOLVE 110 and capped off a tremendous run with the company in a hard-hitting victory over JD Drake on Sunday at EVOLVE 110.
The reason the booking worked so well was because of its authenticity. Riddle was booked as a tough, dangerous, and legitimate fighter during his entire run with EVOLVE, and straying from that after news broke that he was likely headed to WWE—and having him lose his final stretch of matches—would have completely contradicted everything the promotion helped build.
Shane Strickland now has big shoes to fill. The past two EVOLVE champions are Riddle and New Japan star Zack Sabre Jr., who just scored a pinfall victory over Tetsuya Naito this past Saturday in Tokyo in the G1 Climax that eliminated Naito from the championship match of the tournament.
• “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” and co-host Conrad Thompson returns this Friday at noon ET with a new podcast on SummerSlam 1998.
“A lot of people call it the best SummerSlam ever, but Bruce and I don’t think it’s in the top five,” said Thompson. “The main event was a babyface Steve Austin, who was the hottest babyface in at least a decade, taking on the biggest and most important character in the history of the company, The Undertaker. We’ll talk about how it played out creatively.”
SummerSlam 98 was a memorable show, including an appearance from the Insane Clown Posse and a ladder match for the Intercontinental title between The Rock and Hunter Hearst Helmsley.
“There was a lot of political jockeying to be the top guy, and the guy who won the match didn’t end up being the top guy,” said Thompson. “But they did wind up being the head of the company and the biggest movie star in the world.”
Thompson and Prichard, who have a live show this Saturday in New York City, will also discuss Vince McMahon’s purchase of the Debbie Reynolds Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
“A year before, Vince was telling Bret Hart there was no money,” said Thompson. “This is the diary of a mad man, and we’re taking a look at it through the eyes of Bruce Prichard.”
Tweet of the Week
Welcome to the Woken Universe, Tiger.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.