Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler are giving fans the chance to pick their brains on all things Attitude Era. 

By Justin Barrasso
August 22, 2018

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

JR and The King Set for Chicago Show

Following a successful show last week in Nashville, Tennessee, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler will reunite this Thursday for “Live with JR & The King” at Zanies Rosemont in Rosemont, Illinois, outside Chicago.

“Ever since I started with the WWE in ’93, Chicago has been maybe the top wrestling city, even more so than New York and Madison Square Garden,” said Lawler. “Chicago has always supported the WWE and wrestling so well. The reception, whether it’s a WrestleMania, Raw, or SmackDown, is just so great, and people have been especially good to JR and me. There is something a little different about Chicago with such great fans. We’re looking forward to really having a good time reminiscing about some of the great shows in Chicago, especially the ones from the ‘Attitude Era.’

“People are calling the ‘Attitude Era’ the ‘good ol’ days’, though it doesn’t feel like that long ago. Trust me, JR and I constantly hear, ‘You two were the voice of my childhood every Monday night.’ We have a lot of good stories, and some you couldn’t tell on the air. I’m really looking forward to Thursday.”

Lawler is still grieving the loss of his son, former WWE star Brian Christopher Lawler, who was found hanging in a prison cell at the Hardeman County Jail in Tennessee on July 29 and later died at a hospital. He was in prison following a July 7 arrest on DUI charges, evading arrest, and driving with a revoked license.

“This whole time has been a nightmare,” said Lawler. “I wake up every morning and hope this was a bad dream. No parent should ever have to bury their child, and to have go through that, it’s just the worst thing you can imagine.”

The tragedy is further complicated by emerging details of the case, with the Memphis Commercial Appeal reporting another inmate was charged with stealing Lawler’s identity. Throughout the ordeal, Lawler said that he has found solace from the wrestling community.

“The people in the business and the fans themselves have really stepped up. I’ve heard from so many people out there,” said Lawler. “I was just at SummerSlam and Stephanie McMahon hugged me and started crying, Mark Henry and R-Truth, who was really close with Brian, were crying. It’s meant so much to me to know how much he was thought of. I got a phone call from The Rock. He and Brian started out together. Brian was so proud of his friendship with The Rock, and that call meant a lot. I feel bad for everyone who comes up to me, because they’re hurting too, and there is nothing we can do to bring Brian back. But I do really appreciate everyone’s thoughts and their concerns during this time.”

Jim Ross noted that the past two years have changed life drastically for himself and Lawler.

“Jerry and I both agree that we need to enjoy life a little more,” said Ross, who also suffered the sudden loss of a loved one when his wife died in March 2017. “We both agree that we should take full advantage of every day and spend each day around people who we like and like us.”

Like Lawler, Ross is also eager to get lost in the memories of the “Attitude Era” at Thursday’s show.

“WrestleMania 13 was there, and that was Austin-Bret, and Jerry and I sat through that whole ‘Attitude Era,’” said Ross. “I still believe it’s the most pivotal time in the history of WWE. WWE was having financial concerns because the revenues were so bad, and the ‘Attitude Era’ roster was so talented. Hopefully Jerry and I were able to help a little bit with our storytelling, calling a sensational, once-in-a-lifetime talent roster.

“We were also in Chicago in 2007 when it was announced that I would be joining Jerry in the WWE Hall of Fame, so a lot of significant moments have happened in my career in Chicago, both good and bad. The bad includes the abysmal athletic display Jonathan Coachman and I displayed in a ‘Country whipping match’. I’m sure that had a sellout at the TV monitors in the back, but I was like a cow on ice. But Chicago will always be home for Jerry and me.”

Still paying close attention to the current product, Ross is willing to discuss The Shield reunion from Raw as well as his years working alongside Vince McMahon, in addition to Lawler’s feud with Andy Kaufman that included a story arc on Late Night with David Letterman.

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHo_K0-1bP4]

“There is no topic off-limit,” said Ross. “When the emcee, Nick Hausman from WrestleZone, goes to you with a wireless mic, that’s the first time we’ll hear your question. If you pay your hard-earned money to come see us, you should be able to express whatever is on your mind.”

The opportunity to connect with Ross and Lawler will be on display this Thursday in a very interactive setting.

“Our experiences in Chicago are so unique,” said Ross. “And they were significant in the annals of wrestling history, and we were very lucky and blessed to be there. We can’t wait to have conversations with all of the people. This show is not what people expect, it’s very down-to-earth. There will be some Southern hospitality on display this Thursday, without a doubt.”

The Shield Reunites on Raw

The end of Monday’s Raw, with The Shield reuniting to stop Braun Strowman from cashing in his Money in the Bank contract on Roman Reigns after a fantastic main event with Finn Balor, was exceptional.

Those waiting anxiously for Reigns’ heel turn were in for a surprise when Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose helped him jump Strowman and Shield Bomb the “Monster Among Men” through the ringside commentary table.

Speaking of the commentary, the Raw announcing trio of Michael Cole, Corey Graves, and Jonathan Coachman played an integral role in The Shield’s reunion.

Cole referred to The Shield as “Brothers in arms”; Graves exclaimed, “The Hounds have returned!”; and Coach noted, “What a time for the brothers to come to the aid of Roman Reigns.”

wrestling
Seth Rollins Not a Fan of a Possible Roman Reigns-The Rock WrestleMania Match

The narrative was painted: this was the heroic return of one of WWE’s most iconic trios, not a heel turn.

The story was about The Shield having each other’s backs, and the timing of it—right as Strowman was about to cash in on a vulnerable Reigns—made this the most exciting moment on Raw in 2018.

In other news...

• Sasha Banks is a four-time Raw women’s champion and one of the most popular wrestlers in the world, but still seeking a title reign longer than a month. She has headlined Raw and even a Hell in a Cell pay per view, but the 26-year-old still has a lengthy run with the belt as a major objective.

“When you are champion, it’s letting the world know you are the very best,” said Banks, who took the loss in Monday’s six-man tag match on Raw to Ruby Riott but would make an ideal opponent for new champ Ronda Rousey. “For me, the goal is to still prove I am the very best without holding a championship. I want people to know, ‘OK, yeah, she’s not champion, but when I think of WWE, I think of Sasha Banks.’ I just want to show the world I am going to go out there and give 110% no matter what, no matter what title’s around my waist or the pay per view or whether I’m the opening match, middle of the card, or main event.”

Banks will be a featured part of the Evolution pay per view in October. A number of fans were disappointed that it is Alexa Bliss facing the returning Trish Stratus, but Banks still has the potential to meet a returning star like Amy “Lita” Dumas or even a member of the NXT roster such as Shayna Baszler, which could spark a feud between WWE’s Four Horsewomen of Banks, Charlotte, Bayley, and Becky Lynch against the Four Horsewomen of MMA in Rousey, Baszler, Jessamyn Duke, and Marina Shafir.

“I want people to keep talking about me and keep talking about women’s wrestling,” said Banks. “We’ve come such a long way and it’s so beautiful to be a part of this company right now given all these ‘first-time ever’ moments that we’re accomplishing. We’re letting the fans know, being women in the sport, that we can accomplish anything.”

• There were multiple highlights of SmackDown Live. The Miz opened the show with a strong promo on Daniel Bryan that ultimately led to the announcement of a mixed tag match between Miz and Maryse against Bryan and Brie Bella at the September 16 Hell in a Cell pay per view, Becky Lynch cut a promo that perfectly explained her heel turn on Charlotte Flair, Jeff Hardy delivered a swantom bomb off production boxes onto Randy Orton, and Samoa Joe seemingly took another step closer to his first-ever run with the WWE championship with another beatdown of AJ Styles.

The show concluded with a no-disqualification match for the SmackDown tag titles between the Bludgeon Brothers, who have held the titles since WrestleMania 34, and the New Day’s Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods.

PWInsider’s report that the Bludgeons’ Erick Rowan is scheduled later this week for surgery on a bicep tear all but confirmed the fact that the titles were switching hands, but the two teams still executed a hard-fought match with a good deal of suspense. The New Day are now five-time WWE tag champs, and it will be worth watching to see if Vince McMahon has any imminent plans to move a part of the trio—perhaps Big E, who was not in last night’s match—into singles action.

• Tomohiro Ishii has his sights set on Kenny Omega’s IWGP heavyweight championship.

Ishii will challenge Omega on September 15 at New Japan’s “Destruction in Hiroshima” card.

“Kenny, you should know this,” Ishii told SI.com through a translator. “Your next challenge is me.”

The 42-year-old Ishii has 22 years of experience in the ring, but his resume is not overflowing with gold. He wore Ring of Honor’s Television title, and had a recent run as U.K.-based Revolution Pro Wrestling’s British heavyweight champ, but his only singles title in New Japan is four different runs with the IWGP NEVER Openweight championship. A victory over Omega, who he has defeated before—including earlier this August in the G1 Climax tournament—and a run with the IWGP heavyweight title would completely change Ishii’s legacy.

Ishii is a throwback. Only 5’7”, and weighing in at a bulky 220 pounds, his in-ring work is incredibly exciting. Ishii is also part of the New Japan stable Chaos, which started under the leadership of Shinsuke Nakamura in 2009.

“Don’t think that Bullet Club is superior than Chaos,” said Ishii. “No one is better than Chaos.”

Ishii and Omega have the type of chemistry that creates some of the most gripping matches in all of wrestling, and their encounter in Hiroshima should be memorable.

“I have my victory over Kenny from the tournament,” said Ishii. “Now I challenge for the title.”

• Just like SummerSlam, the upcoming All In show offers a card with 10 matches.

The main event is likely to be the six-man tag pitting the Young Bucks and Kota Ibushi against Rey Mysterio, Fenix, and Bandido, but the clash between Pentagon and Kenny Omega could easily serve as the headliner for the show.

Another match to keep a close eye on is Cody Rhodes challenging Nick Aldis for the NWA world heavyweight title.

Although Rhodes is still presenting himself as more of a villain in New Japan, especially with his latest challenge of Juice Robinson for the IWGP United States championship, Rhodes’ own backstory is too organic for him not to be the babyface in this match.

The NWA does not have its own spot on television, but has done a tremendous job generating interest through the “Ten Pounds of Gold” series on YouTube. But even with Aldis’ background in wrestling—he was also world champ in TNA—there is simply no fair comparison between Aldis and Rhodes.

Rhodes bet on himself after the death of his father, the legendary Dusty Rhodes. He took chances, appearing on both Ring of Honor television and Impact Wrestling before a run with the ROH world title and finding a home in New Japan. Rhodes’ blonde hair marked a new colorful streak in his personality that, for a number of reasons, we were never able to fully connect with during his time in WWE.

Even if WWE had Stardust re-emerge into the return of Cody Rhodes after the passing of Dusty, the renaissance would have been short-lived. The script was set for Rhodes in WWE.

All In, which is a card symbolic of change, represents another opportunity to reshape the future of Cody Rhodes. A lengthy and memorable run with the NWA title could potentially lead to an opportunity with the IWGP heavyweight title.

If that were to happen, the idea of Rhodes one day main-eventing a WrestleMania is not out of the question.

That is the beauty of pro wrestling. The results, of course, are all predetermined, but the journey to get there is very real.

And for Cody Rhodes, it all starts over again at All In.

• I wish Alexa Bliss had underestimated Ronda Rousey.

That could have explained why one of the most decorated women currently part of the entire WWE roster was completely dismantled by Rousey this Sunday at SummerSlam. Had Bliss cut a few weeks’ worth of promos undermining and belittling Rousey’s UFC career, with a particular emphasis on her losses, the one-sided loss at SummerSlam would have been far easier to watch.

Instead, Rousey destroyed Bliss in four minutes.

One of my favorite SummerSlam matches—the “Texas Tornado” Kerry Von Erich vs. “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig—clocks in at only 5:15.

Perfect defended his Intercontinental title against Von Erich—who had a far different background from Rousey but was a former NWA world heavyweight champion—on less than 10 days’ notice. The story of the match played out perfectly, as Perfect completely underrated the challenge presented by Von Erich, which ultimately cost him the match and the title. That match was 28 years ago, but the story still holds up.

On Sunday, Rousey’s coronation felt more manufactured and less organic, highlighting storytelling’s role in making a match memorable.

• “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” and co-host Conrad Thompson returns this Friday at noon ET with a new podcast on the first episode of SmackDown from August of 1999.

“This isn’t the pilot episode, which was in April, it’s the first episode of the show,” said Thompson. “Shawn Michaels came back as the special guest referee for The Rock-Triple H title match, Chris Jericho had just made his in-ring debut, and there are a lot of moving parts on that show that will make this really fun to discuss.”

The show had a loaded lineup, including Shane McMahon vs. Mankind and a triple threat match with the tag team titles on the line between the reigning champs in The Undertaker and the Big Show against the APA’s Bradshaw and Faarooq as well as Kane and X-Pac.

SmackDown’s creation had ripple effects for the entire industry.

“It is the reason Vince Russo left the company,” said Thompson. With the creation of a new show, Russo went to Vince McMahon and asked for a raise since he’d be writing twice as much TV with Raw and now SmackDown. Russo said he’d consider moving so he’d be closer and could spend more time with his family, and Vince McMahon famously said to him, ‘Why don’t you get a nanny? You can afford a nanny.’ That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and two months later, Vince Russo is running Nitro for WCW.”

Thompson and Prichard will look at the decision to originally air the show on UPN, as well as a thorough look at the business of pro wrestling in the summer of 1999.

“We’ll talk about how that deal came together with UPN, and we’ll also talk about the state of the business in 1999,” said Thompson. “WWE was white-hot at the time, and I can’t wait to dig into it.”

Tweet of the Week

Brock Lesnar will not be at All In, but he did remind the wrestling world this past Sunday at SummerSlam that he is one of the most exciting performers in the industry when he wants to be.

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

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