With Roman Reigns out of action, all signs point to Braun Strowman being WWE’s new leading man.
SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Roman Reigns Announcement Forces WWE to Change Direction
Roman Reigns broke character this Monday on Raw to reveal that he is fighting a battle against leukemia. Reigns also acknowledged that this is not his first battle against leukemia, as the disease had been in remission since late 2008.
The devastating news caused WWE to shift its storytelling on Raw, leading to a phenomenal finish that saw Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose win the tag team titles before Ambrose turned on Rollins.
The Ambrose turn is a receipt for Rollins originally breaking up The Shield in 2014, and should propel Ambrose back into the world title picture for the first time since 2016. The pair is also tag team champions, and tag champs that hate one another has been a Vince McMahon staple since the “Attitude Era” when Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels won the belts in May of 1997.
McMahon thrives under pressure, so it is hardly a surprise that Monday’s Raw delivered a tense feel. Next on his agenda is crowning a new Universal champion, which will take place at the controversial “Crown Jewel” show on Nov. 2 in Saudi Arabia as Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman will fight for the vacant title.
There are few sure bets when Lesnar is involved, but every piece of information available shared from sources close to WWE noted that the plan is for Braun Strowman to win the title and start a program with fellow monster Drew McIntyre.
Women Take Centerstage at Evolution on Sunday
The women of WWE have been presented with a major opportunity at the all-women’s Evolution pay per view this Sunday.
Led by Ronda Rousey, the entire women’s roster has a unique chance to show the world that they are some of the best wrestlers, regardless of gender, in the world.
WWE is not the first to have an all-women’s pay per view, but this is the first time it has happened on their platform, which is the worldwide leader in pro wrestling. The show is a chance for Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair to solidify their status as two of the most compelling stars in the world. There are few wrestlers in the world more mesmerizing at the current moment than Lynch, and her program with Flair is high enough in quality that it could (and should) main event one of WWE’s monthly pay per views.
There are also returning stars in Trish Stratus and Lita, one of whom should take the fall to Alexa Bliss in her tag team match with Mickie James. Evolution is a showcase for all of the women who have performed on the WWE canvas, and while the former stars should receive some spotlight, it is the current roster who are the ones that benefit most from the showcase. Unless Stratus or Lita are returning to a part-time schedule, then Bliss–who is full-time and helps carry the division year round–should take the victory.
Also give credit to Ronda Rousey and Nikki Bella, who have turned a fairly bland matchup on paper into a must-see attraction. Though the match could have benefitted from a handicap, two-on-one stipulation, possibly adding an aspect of legitimacy to the match, there will no doubt be outside interference throughout from Brie Bella.
Following the show, the top takeaways from Evolution will be posted on SI.com.
No Truth to Rumors of a New Chris Jericho-Led Promotion
All In served as a chance to prove that there is a rabid audience looking for a product that is different from WWE. Led by Kenny Omega, the Young Bucks, and Cody Rhodes—and with a surprise appearance from Chris Jericho—it succeeded.
There are now rumors that it could lead to a new wrestling promotion financed by the affluent Khan family and possibly feature the likes of Omega, the Bucks, Rhodes, and Jericho.
As of the current moment, the story is primarily about leverage.
Brad Davis wrote the report for SEScoops this past Friday. While the idea of Tony Khan financing a new wrestling promotion has floated in some circles since August, there remains no substance—at least not yet—to the story.
The promotion has no headquarters, no television deal, and no guaranteed financial backing.
There is also no truth to NWA owner Billy Corgan and top adviser Dave Lagana wanting to attach themselves to the Khan promotion. They are rebuilding the NWA brand into a commodity, and they would bring significant value to any promotion, but reports of involvement with a Khan wrestling project are false.
Still, the report potentially drives up the price on free agents, especially for Jericho and a possible return to WWE, even if the promotion never materializes. The Bucks and Omega, whose contracts expire, respectively, in December and January, could also use news of this new promotion to increase their price tag, especially with WWE.
It also would not be shocking for talents like Omega and the Bucks to want to start their own promotion, as they have brilliant minds seemingly designed for wrestling. But for now, the Bucks are under contract with Ring of Honor and remain in talks about the potential for a new deal with the company, and Omega is under contract to New Japan Pro Wrestling and remains in negotiations for a new deal of his own.
The best-case scenario for Vince McMahon is to lure Omega and the Bucks to WWE, which would be one of the biggest arrivals of outside talent since The Radicalz—Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, and Chris Benoit—left WCW in 2001.
As for the Khan story, it is far more likely that Khan finances a show in 2019 before he invests in an entire promotion.
In other news...
• Not only is WWE continuing with its “Crown Jewel” show in Saudi Arabia, the card has major significance with the crowning of a new Universal champion.
Shawn Michaels also returns to action, in a match that features The Undertaker, and, at the current moment, the show is loaded with WWE’s brightest stars. The World Cup tournament features matches with Kurt Angle and Rey Mysterio; this lineup is better than some WrestleMania cards, with WrestleMania 32 quickly coming to mind.
The show puts conscientious fans in a difficult dilemma. For those who are disgusted by the murder of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi and believe that WWE, like other American businesses have, should halt business with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, there is the debate of whether or not to watch the show.
Wrestling is an outlet for entertainment, an escape. It should not be the source of an ethical conundrum. But money has trumped all else in this agreement, and the show is still set to take place on November 2.
• “Mr. PEC-Tacular” Jessie Godderz has teamed up with 98 Degrees star Jeff Timmons for a new version of “The Girl is with Me”.
Godderz made his name with OVW and Impact Wrestling. He last appeared earlier this season for Lucha Underground and is now a wrestling free agent with designs toward another run in the business. But he also kept an active profile outside the business, appearing in roles in Amazon shows New Dogs, Old Tricks and Tainted Dreams.
“I don’t watch a lot of TV, and my children monopolize all of the media at our house, so I wasn’t familiar with Jesse’s work,” said Timmons, who is back on tour with 98 Degrees this November. “But I saw how prolific he was on social media. I thought, ‘Why don’t we make a song?’ I thought this was an opportunity to grow our fan bases and have fun, but when we got in the studio, I was pleasantly surprised. In addition to his charming personality and his incredible look, he’s also a multi-talented guy. It’s turned out to be a well-received song, as we’re finding out.”
Godderz was hesitant to accept the offer, considering he had no real background in music. But he embraced the opportunity, just like he did as a two-time tag champ in Impact and throughout his roles on television.
“Until you try, you don’t know what’s out there,” said Godderz. “Jeff helped ten-fold so I could come out with a better sound. All these years of experience were at my fingerprints, and the opportunity was a blessing. I put my heart into it, and even though this isn’t my forte, if you give me the ball, I’ll try to run with it as far as I can.”
Despite the success away from the ring, Godderz is still planning a return to wrestling.
“I hope to be a world champ for a major promotion,” said Godderz. “I plan on coming back. Wrestling is something I’ve been doing since 2009.
“I’ve sacrificed my body and a lot of relationships, and it’s part of my life. My sights are on becoming a world champion for a promotion, and that is my dream.”
• Nick Aldis defeated Cody Rhodes to regain the NWA world’s heavyweight title this past Sunday at the 70th Anniversary show in Nashville.
Willie Mack also captured the vacant NWA National Heavyweight title in the tournament that took place at the show.
Mack starred with Lucha Underground, and he is now a critical piece of the NWA’s future. His style is best described as a perpetual shock. It is a rare type of movement, and should help propel him to superstardom, especially with a mind like Dave Lagana leading the creative.
Wrestling relates to organic, authentic underdogs, and Mack fits that description. WWE opted that they would be better off without him, and he does not offer the prototypical bodybuilder look. But people related to Mack due to his talent, agility, and charisma.
If you ever wonder what the “It Factor” looks like in wrestling, then watch Willie Mack defend his NWA National Heavyweight title.
• Fresh off his honeymoon, Conrad Thompson returns for a new “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” this Friday at noon with a double-sided look at the on-screen marriage of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon from November of 1999, as well as the legitimate behind-the-scenes love affair between the two.
“We’ll look at this from two different perspectives, covering how the storyline came together, whose idea it was, and the creative decisions, as well as how life imitated art,” said Thompson. “We’re also going to discuss the role of Chyna, which a lot of people have been waiting for us to do. We’ll address the relationship from Stephanie and Hunter’s perspective, and then we’ll cover it from a different perspective with Chyna.”
Triple H was linked romantically to Chyna before his relationship, and subsequent marriage, to McMahon.
“We’ll look at the McMahon-Helmsley era,” said Thompson. “We’ll also cover the creative with Stephanie, Hunter, and Test, but it will also be fun to discuss what was going on off-camera instead of just what was going on on-camera.
“There is supposedly a love letter that Stephanie wrote to Hunter, and Chyna found it. Supposedly, when she tried to confront Stephanie after the show, Stephanie had already left the building with Triple H. This is all rumor and innuendo, and I’m looking forward to getting to the bottom of that with Bruce this Friday.”
Thompson is back after his wedding and honeymoon. He confirmed that Prichard sang a dirty limerick named “The Mailman” during the reception.
“That got some heat with my mother,” said Thompson. “I don’t think she loved it.”
Tweet of the Week
Thank you to everyone who’s reached out...I can’t put into words what it means to me.— Roman Reigns (@WWERomanReigns) October 23, 2018
Your energy and positivity motivate me to get better quickly to get back in the ring, but for now I’m going to spend time with my family and focus on health.
Thank you - Joe/Roman
I hope that Roman Reigns is healthy enough to receive a boost of energy from an outrageous pop as a guest entrant at the Royal Rumble.
Get well soon, Joe.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.