SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Hulk Hogan Was Rooting for All In’s Success
All In had over 11,000 fans watching from the Sears Centre this past Saturday, with many thousands more watching on pay per view. One of those watching from the comfort of home was Hulk Hogan, who was pulling for the event to succeed.
“They have my support, I’m a huge fan of their work and I’m rooting for them,” Hogan said from his home in Florida. “WWE is the mainstay, they’re here forever, but whenever there is competition in the marketplace, especially with a group of guys like Cody Rhodes, the Young Bucks, and Kenny Omega, it just raises the bar with the level of shows and content.”
Competition has always brought out the best in professional wrestling. Few know competition better than Hogan, who did the unthinkable by leading WCW over WWE during an unforgettable run atop the ratings in the famed “Monday Night War” of the 1990s. But Hogan also led the World Wrestling Federation surge in the 1980s that wiped out Jim Crockett Promotions, the NWA, the AWA, Mid-South, the Universal Wrestling Federation, and any other so-called rival.
“I’ve been keeping an eye on the Bullet Club for the last couple years,” said Hogan. “Cody has talked to me about maybe doing something with Bullet Club, but those guys are on fire on their own.”
Hogan’s schedule has been full, as he is overseeing the NWO reunion’s “Too Sweet” event on October 27 at Mango’s Tropical Cafe in Orlando.
“First off, this whole NWO thing has Vince McMahon’s blessing,” said Hogan. “I’ve heard people say otherwise, but I have a great rapport with Vince, we talked about this, and we’re acting under his blessing.”
The Q&A portion of the “Too Sweet” show is limited to only 100 people, and those tickets are being sold auction-style. Details for autograph sessions and photo ops will be announced soon, as Hogan’s team was caught off guard by the overwhelming response to the event.
“The response is incredible, much greater than we expected, especially from people in the U.K.,” said Hogan. “We had over 100,000 responses to the announcement.”
Hogan was reinstated into the WWE Hall of Fame this summer, three years after he was removed over racist comments made on a sex tape, and he expressed his gratitude to wrestling fans for welcoming him back. He admitted he has made mistakes, but remains humbled that people remain so invested and supportive of him.
“The fans are just so loyal,” said Hogan. “We’re all human, we all make mistakes, and I’ve made crazy, boneheaded mistakes. I’m not perfect, but I am trying to make a positive impact every day.
“People have stood by me and stuck with me. I’ll never forget that. They know me, they know who I am, and they know how much I love this business—this business is my life. I’ve got nothing but love in my heart for the fans, I’m forever grateful.”
Is Pentagon Headed to WWE?
Last week, I wrote a longform piece on Kenny Omega’s brilliance and a look into his future. I spoke with legends in Hulk Hogan, Chris Jericho, Jim Ross, and Rob Van Dam—and even current stars in WWE’s Kofi Kingston and New Japan’s Hiroshi Tanahashi and Matt Jackson—for their insight on Omega’s future.
Omega wrestled Pentagon at All In. Though it is possible that Omega one day adds a WWE chapter to his career, it is extremely likely that Pentagon arrives there first.
Pentagon to WWE was a major discussion point amongst insiders during All In weekend, with sources close to WWE confirming interest in both Pentagon and his brother Fenix. The company has been rumored to be interested in the lucha pair for more than a month now.
There are multiple reasons why WWE is interested. Foremost, they are two compelling, captivating performers. WWE certainly misses the ability to merchandise luchador masks, which did not work with Kalisto. Pentagon can work on a higher level and have more serious matches, and can add to the buzz of the NXT roster. His addition would also help WWE by taking away a superb talent from AAA, Major League Wrestling, All In, and Impact Wrestling. WWE would also give considerable raises to both Pentagon and Fenix, as well as raise their profiles on a global level.
Sports Illustrated will continue to seek information on any news directly connecting Pentagon to WWE, but one thing is certain: his presence would generate a significant amount of buzz for NXT’s WrestleMania weekend show at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn that runs directly against New Japan and Ring of Honor’s historic show at Madison Square Garden.
In other news...
• Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker delivered arguably Raw’s most compelling moment this entire year.
The segment was designed to highlight the upcoming Undertaker-Triple H match on October 6 at the Super Show-Down pay per view in Melbourne, Australia, which was achieved. But their interaction, which made this longtime Raw viewer feel like it was 1998 all over again as the brash-talking “Heartbreak Kid” was forced to eat his words by The Undertaker, also planted what appeared to be a seed for next year’s WrestleMania.
Although both Michaels and ‘Taker are 53 years old, I would be extremely invested in a WrestleMania rematch between the two. The backstory is rich, considering Michaels has not wrestled since losing to The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVI in 2010.
My only concern is that the match will take place somewhere other than WrestleMania.
WWE is a worldwide brand, but certain matches belong at WrestleMania. There is no other place that this showdown should take place.
For what it’s worth, I see The Undertaker walking away victorious in his Super Show-Down match against Triple H.
• All In had many stars, but few shined as brightly as Jordynne Grace.
The 22-year-old already has eight years of experience in the business, but her first major breakthrough took place during All In’s Zero Hour pre-show this Saturday on WGN America.
Grace was the only woman in the “Over The Budget Battle Royale”, which included significant star power in Billy Gunn, Bully Ray, Tommy Dreamer, Shane Helms, in addition to Impact’s Moose, New Japan’s Rocky Romero, and crossover Impact-Lucha Underground star Brian Cage. Yet Grace held her own, dazzling the Sears Centre crowd with a powerbomb on the massive Cage.
Opportunities are granted often in pro wrestling, but seldom does anyone seize the moment in a manner quite like Grace did on Saturday.
“It was a huge opportunity to advance intergender wrestling and spotlight it on national TV,” said Grace. “I felt a ton of pressure, I knew I had to absolutely nail it and cement intergender wrestling as part of the future of professional wrestling.”
Grace’s work left a lasting impression. Her willingness to embrace intergender wrestling, especially for the New England-based Beyond Wrestling promotion—which continues to serve as a launchpad for wrestlers—played a decisive factor in her success on Saturday.
“One-hundred-thousand percent,” said Grace, who is set to wrestle Cage one-on-one at Beyond’s “Somebody’s Farewell, Probably…” show on September 16 in Rhode Island. “I know guys hit harder and are typically stronger. I was prepared to take and do anything.”
A spectacular moment in the match was when Grace teamed with Colt Cabana to hit the Dudleys’ famed “Wazzup Headbutt” on Bully Ray, who is Bubba Dudley.
“There were a few moments where I was like, ‘Wow, this is real?’” admitted Grace, who finished the match in the final four of Cabana, Bully Ray, and Flip Gordon. “One time after Ethan Page kicked my head off, I was pulling myself up on the apron and Dreamer stepped on my fingers hard. That was fun. Another point in the match Bully Ray threw a trashcan at someone, it ricocheted off that person, and hit me directly in the face. I’ve been sporting a lovely bump from that for about four days now. The whole event was very surreal for me.”
Grace embodied so much of what All In stood for: a supremely talented wrestler looking for an opportunity. She watched and studied the rest of the card, alternating between learning and finding inspiration from the matches, including the four-way between Tessa Blanchard, Britt Baker, Chelsea Green, and Madison Rayne.
“The women killed it,” said Grace. “Like, they wrestled as if women’s wrestling depended on it. My favorite match on the main card was either Cody-Aldis or the main event. That NWA title match was a traditional NWA match. The pacing, storytelling, everything about it. I felt like I was back in Texas seeing Tim Storm defend that same belt. I’ve watched a lot of NWA title matches, and it was textbook. The crowd was going crazy for it.
“The other match I was seriously in awe of was the main event. Obviously, they had some time constraints, but they knocked it out of the park. I am so impressed by every single one of those guys.”
Taking the All In experience and elevating her presence and profile in pro wrestling is now Grace’s objective.
“My goal for the rest of 2018 is to ride whatever wave this is and attempt to push my name out there more,” said Grace. “This event really helped get my name into mouths and brains, but I need to gain even more notoriety and hopefully someone will take notice of me.”
• New Japan Pro Wrestling’s newest video game, Fire Pro Wrestling World, is now available on PlayStation 4.
The game was designed by Spike Chunsoft, a Japan-based developer and publisher of video games. Tomoyuki Matsumoto, the director of Fire Pro Wrestling World, explained that, by design, the game is very different from WWE’s 2K series.
“The game has a 30-year history, so we wanted to make sure that this modern iteration was approachable for new players,” said Matsumoto, speaking through a translator. “But we also made it a priority to leave the core game plan as the old-school gamers expect it to be.”
The game is not a button-masher, but far more nuanced as players need to use skill in order to win matches.
“The timing mechanic is a core game play of the series,” said Matsumoto. “When the first title came out in 1989, a lot of wrestling games were button-mashers but Fire Pro was the first to introduce this timing system.”
Fire Pro is a long, running series in Japan with a history of almost 30 years, but there’s been almost a 10-year hiatus since the previous wrestling title.
Spike Chunsoft community manager David Kracker explained that the game gained momentum through self-publishing on Steam, where the PC user base was very supportive.
“Fire Pro has a very strong customization option where users can create custom wrestlers with over 1,000 moves to select as part of your arsenal,” said Kracker. “There is ‘story mode’, which is when you join New Japan as a Young Lion and build your way up the ranks. After each match, you gain experience points to use for your training regimen, and the goal is to become the new IWGP heavyweight champion.”
The edit mode of Fire Pro Wrestling is extremely well-developed. Aside from creating the physical appearance of a custom wrestler, there is also the chance to set different conditions for how a wrestler will react in certain situations.
“For the New Japan wrestlers, that’s why, if you just let the computer go at it, they fight like their New Japan counterparts,” said Kracker. “This is very different from WWE’s game, and it’s cool to have such a different version for gamers.”
New Japan IWGP United States champion Juice Robinson admitted that he is especially excited to see his likeness for the first time in a video game.
“It’s huge, I’ve never been in a game before,” said Robinson. “I’m going to have to get a PlayStation. I can’t wait to play with myself in the game.”
• NXT’s Velveteen Dream will cause a stir this weekend in the independent wrestling scene.
The Dream wrestles Austin Theory this Friday at EVOLVE 112 in Joppa, Maryland, in an exclusive match for those attending the show. Dream is Patrick Clark, who cut his teeth wrestling for Maryland Championship Wrestling, so the show is a bit of a homecoming for him.
On Saturday, Velveteen Dream will wrestle Darby Allin in Queens, New York at EVOLVE 113 in another exclusive match for those in attendance. In addition to putting an even brighter spotlight on EVOLVE, the matches will provide an opportunity for Theory and Allin to show WWE how far they have progressed in the ring.
• Raheem Jarbo is a musician, DJ, and record producer, but in wrestling circles, he is better known as Mega Ran.
After creating Kenny Omega’s new Golden Lovers entrance music, Mega Ran’s newest creation is a song about “The Hitman” Bret Hart on his “Mat Mania: Battle Royale” album.
“It’s tough being a good guy in a bad guy’s world,” said Jarbo. “Much like Bret in the ’90s, good folks find themselves either having to become bad just to survive, which is what the song is about. No one wants to make the turn, but that turn might be all the audience understands at the moment.”
• “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” and co-host Conrad Thompson returns this Friday at noon ET with a “Love to Know” episode.
“We’re kicking it old-school with a ‘#LovetoKnow’ episode, and we’re encouraging fans to ask questions,” said Thompson. “There is so much for us to discuss, and fans from all over can tweet Bruce anything they want to know with #LovetoKnow.”
Thompson is still recovering from All In weekend. His Starrcast convention was a resounding success.
“I’m focused on what I can do better, but in the end, people were happy,” said Thompson. “I’m not a billion-dollar corporation, I’m just a fan and it was obviously a lot bigger than we expected. I needed a little more staff than what we had, but people felt like they got their money’s worth, which means a lot.”
Naturally, Thompson was asked if there will be a Starrcast II.
“I love the idea of doing it again, I’ll probably just tag in some more help,” said Thompson. “It wouldn’t have happened without the help of Dave Hancock, who helped with all my social media, as well as Kris McDonald, Dave Silva, Scott Hyatt, who were all amazing, the incredible staff at the Hyatt, and Jeff Jones, who was an administrator for Ring of Honor for a long time, he was a life-saver.
“On the flip side, there may or may not be an official ‘All Out’ list for the next one. This was supposed to be a weekend of fun experiences and celebrations, and if you were overwhelmingly negative, there is no room for you at the next one.”
Thompson’s newest “83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff” podcast also explores the very first episode of Nitro, which just celebrated its 23rd anniversary on September 4.
“My goal was to talk about how it all came to be,” said Thompson. “Why the Mall of America was the right choice for a venue, who was left off and why they were left off, who was featured, why Ric Flair wasn’t at the press conference, and what talents they were trying to bring in—like Al Snow and Sabu—to WCW.”
Bischoff premiered Nitro while Raw was off the air due to the USA Network’s airing of the Westminster Dog Show, capitalizing on a chance to steal away wrestling headlines on a Monday night.
“This was the first time WCW was presenting their product to this big of an audience, and Bischoff wanted lots of production value and a different, unique venue,” said Thompson. “At the time, it was a near-perfect hour of wrestling, which somehow gets glossed over.
“Pillman and Liger had just torn it down at SuperBrawl in one of the matches of the year, so Bischoff went back to it with that match on the first Nitro. He tried something new with the announcers, combining a big WWE star in Bobby Heenan with a former NFL player in Mongo [Steve McMichael] to generate some sports radio headlines. Plus, you had a rematch of one of the best matches of the year and a match with Ric Flair and Sting, plus the Leg Luger jump, and Hogan in the main event against a former top guy in the WWF in the Big Bossman, with ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage there, too.”
Tweet of the Week
Even The Rock took notice of Cody Rhodes’s performance at All In.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.