SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Blame for WWE’s Saudi Arabia Mess Should Lay With Vince McMahon
Vince McMahon is a salesman, and a damn good one. You want attitude? Or over-the-top content? He’ll have something in store for you. When the time calls for a spectacle with oversized characters and storylines, he has a solution. McMahon knows how to produce and create lasting moments. When it comes to creative content, McMahon will deliver.
But even Willy Loman wouldn’t confuse a salesman with a saint.
McMahon’s decision to keep the Nov. 2 “Crown Jewel” in Saudi Arabia—after the kingdom’s Attorney General conceded that the murder of a Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was premeditated—stands as a reminder that the WWE CEO is only interested in making a sale.
When asked to elaborate on his decision to keep the show in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during this past Thursday’s quarterly financial investor call, McMahon explained, “It’s a sensitive subject, and our statement said all we want to say about that subject today.”
Not much of a fight from the man with such a history of self-proclaimed intestinal fortitude.
McMahon is far from evil, but his obsession with the company’s bottom line and money from the Saudi Arabia agreement has not reflected well upon the company. He chose money over morals, but refused to own up to his decision on the conference call. WWE is making tremendous revenue internationally, especially from Saudi Arabia, and McMahon is willing to accept that his decision is not popular.
But McMahon’s mistakes do not discredit all of the legitimately good work WWE produces.
Last Friday, WWE announced a new multi-year initiative with Girl Up to create the “Sports for Purpose” program, which is designed to help girls across the world be more active in sports. The partnership was announced a day after McMahon’s “Crown Jewel” comment, which makes the timing suspicious, but that should not undermine the amount of work people in that company have contributed to make a positive impact in society.
No matter how it is spun, the decision to hold “Crown Jewel” this Friday in Saudi Arabia is a bad look for WWE. The company will recover, of course, well before its 2019 debut on the FOX network. But the Saudi Arabia disaster undermines the efforts of everyone in that company fighting to build a respectable mainstream entity in sports and entertainment.
More than a bad week for WWE, it was a poor reflection on Vince McMahon.
Support for Roman Reigns Intensifies
The wrestling community has already started to rally around Roman Reigns, with Baltimore’s Jimmy’s Seafood owner John Minadakis helping lead the charge.
“Finding out that Roman has leukemia was like a punch to the gut,” said Minadakis. “He’s an incredible friend, so I was shocked when I heard.
“He helped me fight through my depression. When I blew out my knee, he would always check on me and tell me about the mental aspect of recovery. Now I believe that Roman will be the face of someone who can defeat cancer.”
Minadakis took action as soon as he heard the news of Reigns’ announcement on Raw, raising money at Jimmy’s Seafood’s Bowling Classic event this past weekend, as well as raising the spirits of his friend.
“Roman is in for one hell of a fight, and he needs his soul to be at 100% to fight the disease,” said Minadakis, who proudly calls himself one of Reigns’ friends. “We’ve been in contact, and you can tell he appreciates the support and it helps him battle. He’s eager to defeat this and really make a difference.
“From now on, until he defeats it, we’re going to put all our muscle and community efforts behind leukemia research.”
The Bowling Classic event raised over $12,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, including $7,500 this past weekend, which was donated to the Mid-Atlantic chapter.
“Roman also surprised one of the kids from Baltimore with a trip to WrestleMania,” said Minadakis. “That’s something he set up himself with WWE.”
Minadakis is having bracelets made to champion Reigns’ fight, as well as an upcoming golf tournament with shirts that will have Reigns’ ribbon on the sleeve.
“There are so many people behind him,” said Minadakis. “I want to show the power of the community behind him, and I want him to see that. It means a lot to him, he needs it, and it’s our turn to step up and do something for him.”
In other news…
• As Barstool’s Robbie Fox reported last week, the upcoming “Crown Jewel” show will take place without John Cena and Daniel Bryan. Cena’s absence was mentioned on Raw, while Bryan was written off the show due to a storyline injury following his magnificent match with AJ Styles on SmackDown.
The “Crown Jewel” show is still overflowing with talent, and features the in-ring return of Shawn Michaels. But with the loss of formerly advertised stars in Cena and Bryant, a potential addition to the card is Hulk Hogan. Sources close to WWE have confirmed discussion with Hogan regarding a “Crown Jewel” appearance.
Indeed, WWE is quietly advertising Hogan for the show. His name appears at the very bottom of the “featured superstars” section of the Crown Jewel event page on WWE.com.
In addition to making the internet explode, an appearance from Hogan would certainly generate attention for the show.
UPDATE: WWE confirmed to Pro Wrestling Sheet that Hogan will appear at Crown Jewel as the “host” of the event.
• It is no secret that Raw constantly needs a shot in the arm.
Consistently compelling content is wildly difficult to produce for a weekly three-hour television series, and a key to delivering solid programming each week is giving television time to entertaining characters.
And there are few characters more entertaining than Matt Hardy.
Hardy’s “House Hardy Halloween” special on the WWE Network this past Sunday was tremendous.
All of the familiar “Broken Universe” characters returned, including Brother Nero, Queen Rebecca, King Maxel, Senor Benjamin, and Vanguard1. For those missing Hardy pronouncing the word “premonition” and his trademark “I knew you’d come!” catchphrase, you were in for a treat.
Hardy and Jeremy Borash produced the event, which adds a unique flavor of original content to the WWE Network. There are plans in place for another Hardy special.
The special was focused around an intruder attempting to infiltrate the Hardy Halloween party. There were some fantastic moments, like Hardy inviting his kangaroo, “Smoking” Joe Frazier to the party, as well as Hardy reminding Senor Benjamin they were celebrating Halloween and not Christmas. The special once again illustrated that Hardy can still be a valuable part of WWE programming even if he is not active in the ring. It was especially impressive when you consider that the entire thing was shot in two days.
Baron Corbin is the prototypical heel Raw GM, performing a cliché role that has been repeated too many times to recall. But a “Woken” Matt Hardy as Raw GM would add a reason to watch every week.
• Beyond Wrestling is running its “It’s Alive” show tonight on Halloween in Worcester, Massachusetts.
The card, which is available to watch live on Powerbomb.TV at 8 p.m. ET, features former WWE star PCO, whose career is alive again after a resurrection during this past WrestleMania weekend in an epic encounter against WALTER at Joey Janela’s “Spring Break 2” show in New Orleans.
PCO is promising the Beyond Wrestling crowd an unforgettable experience.
“I want to be dropped on my head, I want to show that I am not human,” said PCO, who is the same Carl Ouellet that starred in WWE in the 1990s as Pierre the Quebecer and Jean-Pierre Lafitte. “I want to take risks, and I want to be in the ring because I’m capable of doing a great promo and following that up with a great performance in the ring. I need that type of balance for the character to evolve.”
The 50-year-old PCO is wrestling MJF at the Beyond show, who is 28 years his junior.
“I don’t see the age difference,” said PCO. “Yes, I’m caught up between two generations. But with the way wrestling has evolved, I feel more comfortable with the style in 2018 than I did in 1998.”
The resurrection of PCO also includes his work in Major League Wrestling. He is set to wrestle Brody King in a no-disqualification match at the Nov. 8 tapings in suburban Chicago at Cicero Stadium.
“I have a really good feeling about MLW, they are very professional and well-run,” said PCO, who turned down a chance to work with Impact Wrestling. “Impact called me, but my bookings were already scheduled and I would have had to cancel dates to make it to their TV tapings. I didn’t feel they got the PCO character, with the revival and the resurrection. Don [Callis] is a good friend of mine and I respect him a lot, but I didn’t want to sign a contract with them. I really think that this character is a WWE character.”
While the ultimate goal is a WWE return, PCO gave his word that people will always get their money’s worth when watching his matches.
“I always played a chickens--- type of character in WWE, but that didn’t capture my personality,” said PCO. “This is much more of who I am. I’ve been busting my back to get back to this point, and the main image I have in my head that drives me is to be WWE champion. That’s why I’m treating every show like my last. My goal is to treat every match like WrestleMania, and that’s what I’m going to do tonight and every night.”
• The greatest women’s wrestling match of all-time under the WWE banner?
Since August 2015, I would have said Bayley-Sasha Banks from NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn. But this past Sunday’s “Last Woman Standing” classic between Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair may be my new all-time favorite.
Lynch is one of the most cutting-edge characters in WWE. Her upcoming match against Ronda Rousey at the Survivor Series will be Rousey’s toughest test, as the majority of the crowd is likely to back Lynch.
• Conrad Thompson returns for a new “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” this Friday at noon to discuss the origin of WWE’s Hardcore championship.
“It all happened as a happy accident and was never supposed to be an entire division,” said Thompson. “It happened organically, as a one-off funny bit turned into a series of matches that people are still talking about.”
The Hardcore title debuted in November 1998, and the creative “24/7” rule that saw the belt always in contention added another degree of interest in the belt. The belt was in constant motion, with 240 different reigns in just under four years of the title’s existence.
“In hindsight, was it a good idea or was it a bad idea?” said Thompson. “We’ll dig into that, all the rumor and innuendo, and where the belt really came from. The myth is that it was the world title that Hulk Hogan had that was smashed up with a hammer by Mr. Perfect on Saturday Night’s Main Event, but that is not the case. So we’ll talk about the belt’s creation, as well as why the division actually went away.”
Daniel Puder’s short-but-memorable WWE run will also be analyzed.
“Puder comes into WWE with a pretty spectacular spot with Kurt Angle, but the company never follows up on it and we never see the full pay-off,” said Thompson, referring to Puder successfully out-wrestling Angle in a non-scripted moment on SmackDown. “We’ll cover whether it was a case of missed opportunity, why it happened the way it did, and whether it was snake-bit from the start.”
Thompson’s “83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff” show will feature a Q&A next Monday where listeners get to ask the questions.
“I asked a question on Twitter before the NWO reunion, ‘If you could ask Eric Bischoff any one thing, what would it be?’” said Thompson, who will be doing a live show this Saturday in Baltimore at Jimmy’s Famous Seafood followed by another show this Sunday in Nashville. “We got hundreds of responses, so we’re going to dig into those.”
Tweet of the Week
Chris Jericho’s cruise is another example of why it is a great time to be a wrestling fan.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.