“Right now, none of the men are red hot,” Jim Ross says. “You can’t say that about the women.”

By Justin Barrasso
December 05, 2018

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

Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler reunite for show in Cleveland

WrestleMania 35 is still over four months away, but Jim Ross and Jerry “The King” Lawler both have an opinion on how the show should close.

“I would be very comfortable in booking Becky Lynch vs. Ronda Rousey in the main event at WrestleMania,” said Ross. “I wouldn’t be offended if they added Charlotte to that match, but right now, Becky and Ronda would be my match on top. That’s the hottest thing they have going right now.”

The SmackDown 1000 show from October featured an Evolution reunion, which gave Lawler—who has over five decades in the business—the feeling that the segment was a set-up for another potential WrestleMania match.

“It looked to me like they were setting up something between Batista and Triple H, but now with that pectoral injury to Triple H, I don’t know if he’ll be back and ready to go by WrestleMania.”

Ross noted that a Lynch-Rousey headline would appeal to Vince McMahon because of all the notoriety it would create inside and out of the wrestling world.

“Right now, none of the men are red hot,” said Ross. “You can’t say that about the women. They have captivated the attention of the fans. There is no male red hot enough to make me want to supersede putting them above Rousey or Lynch in the main event at WrestleMania.

“WWE can also market to the outside world that this is the first time in history that women are going to close the show. That is an amazing opportunity, and these women would be pioneers for the company.”

Ross and Lawler are set to reunite for a two-man show this Saturday at Hilarities 4th Street Theatre in Cleveland.

“I’ve been looking forward to this one for months,” said Lawler, who is a diehard Browns fan. “Every show with Jim is special, and we’ve done shows in Chicago and Nashville. It’s so much fun to sit and reminisce with a guy I was so close with for 20 years, especially since I grew up just outside Cleveland.”

The trip mixes business and pleasure for the pair of WWE Hall of Famers, as they will also stay in the city for Sunday’s Browns-Panthers game.

“I saw every college game [Browns quarterback] Baker Mayfield ever played,” said Ross, who will make an appearance on the Browns radio network pre-game show this Sunday. “He’s my boy from Oklahoma, so I wanted to make sure we were in Cleveland on a weekend when the Browns were home.”

Lawler grew up 25 miles west of Cleveland in the small town of Amherst, Ohio, and the trip represents a homecoming for him.

“I’ll go out a couple days early and visit my old school,” said Lawler, who just celebrated his 69th birthday. “I’ll watch the Browns practice session on Friday morning, and then we’re going to stay over after the show Saturday night and go to the Browns game on Sunday.”

Through tragedy and loss—Lawler recently lost his son and Ross’s wife was killed nearly two years ago—the bond between the longtime, iconic Raw broadcast team is as strong as it has been in decades.

“I’m excited we are still in a position mentally and physically to go out and do these shows with people who are excited to be there,” said Ross. “We’re excited too, especially to meet such dedicated and devoted wrestling fans.”

Ross and Lawler offer a vast knowledge of the business, beginning with their time in the territories, with Lawler running his own promotion in Memphis and Ross sharpening his teeth while working for Bill Watts’s Mid-South Wrestling. They can share stories of battling against the McMahon empire, and then joining forces in WWE.

“Nothing is off the table in these shows, going back to the territory days,” added Lawler. “We both moved on up to the WWE at about the same time, and we have about 20 years of stories from our time there, and then we have the question-and-answer session from the fans, which is always fun.”

This only marks their third show together, but Ross is optimistic that there will be more in 2019.

“We decided we’d try a couple of these shows and see if we liked them,” said Ross. “I was used to doing them myself and Jerry would much prefer to be booked to go wrestle. But we really enjoyed the first two shows, and it’s been such a pleasure to meet so many people who tell us we were the voice of their youth, which is a great compliment.

“This is our last show of the year, and hopefully we’ll go out with a win.”

Hafthor Bjornsson Not Eyeing One-on-One Encounter With Braun Strowman

Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images

Hafthor Bjornsson is, literally, the “World’s Strongest Man”.

The 6’9”, 429-pounder won the World’s Strongest Man contest in the Philippines this past May, as well as captured the 2018 Arnold Strongman Classic in March and Europe’s Strongest Man in April.

In the process, the massive Bjornsson set a new deadlift world record, lifting 1,041 pounds. He is also one of the few men in the world to make WWE’s Braun Strowman appear relatively small in comparison.

Would he ever consider stepping into the squared circle with Strowman?

“I already considered it,” said the 30-year-old Bjornsson, who toured the WWE Performance Center in 2015 with Paul “Triple H” Levesque and Stephanie McMahon. “They did come to me. I saw the facility and I met the people there, but at that time, I was already acting in Game of Thrones. I was already successful in strongman competitions and doing different jobs.

“I wanted to finish my goal and become the world’s strongest man. That’s the same reason I haven’t been taking more acting roles. Right now, I want to do at least one more year of strong man to show the world that I am the strongest man in the world.”

Bjornsson has many goals once he retires from strong man competitions, but as of right now, WWE is not part of his future.

“I am keeping my options open,” said Bjornsson. “But I want to do some more movies, challenging myself in that area, and try to be the best actor I can possibly be.”

His next project takes place later tonight in New York City, as Bjornsson has teamed up with Krazy Glue in the “Man vs. Glue Challenge”.

Bjornsson will be lifting items voted on by viewers that will weigh up to a half a ton and are suspended from a barbell using only Krazy Glue.

“It’s great to work on this challenge,” said Bjornsson. “Krazy Glue is super strong, but I am the strongest man in the world, so I think it’s going to be a good challenge. I’m looking forward to it.”

Those interested in watching—and imagining what Bjornsson could have been in WWE—can follow the live stream of the competition on Krazy Glue’s Facebook page tonight at 6:45 p.m. ET.

“I’m very excited for the ‘Man vs. Glue’ challenge, because this is what I love,” said Bjornsson. “As a young man, I was fascinated by strength. At a young age, I fell in love with lifting, getting stronger, and challenging my body. I tried to see how far I could push my body. I know this is not what most people do, but I have a huge passion for it.

“Any person that wants to be successful, remember this: every successful person has failed many times before. It took me many, many years to be the man I am today. So, if you have a dream, don’t give up. Chase it. Improve your weaknesses and get better every day.”

In other news...

• Why has Raw lacked any semblance of excitement over the past few weeks?

This past Monday was an improvement over the prior weeks, but the lack of development for characters and storylines is glaring, specifically the lack of new stories and characters.

Kurt Angle is a good example. I care about Angle every time he appears on screen, but I’m interested because of his body of work from over the past two decades. This is an issue for the roster on top as well as those on the middle of the card.

We see a lot of Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose, but why isn’t Finn Balor given more time on the microphone? What reason do people have to care about Apollo Crews, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, or Heath Slater? Slater had a match this week with former tag team partner Rhyno on Raw that lasted 75 seconds. By no means am I advocating for the match to have been treated like Kenny Omega-Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom, but how are those two supposed to craft a meaningful story that evokes any kind of response in 75 seconds?

A roster shake-up would help, but only temporarily. Raw needs to return to its basic core tenets, which is a strong story enhanced by colorful characters. Until then, there will continue to be more frustrating Monday nights.

• Two well-developed characters in wrestling are Ring of Honor’s Dalton Castle and Matt Taven.

ROH’s Final Battle pay per view takes place on Friday, December 14, and the card is quickly lining up to be must-see with a Ladder Wars match featuring the Young Bucks, as well as Jay Lethal vs. Cody Rhodes for the world title, and Jonathan Gresham battling New Japan star Zack Sabre Jr.

Another match that also stands out is the former ROH champ Castle against Taven, who is claiming he is the real Ring of Honor world champion.

BARRASSO: Everything You Need to Know About Dalton Castle

There are significant stakes in play in the match, as both Castle and Taven want to resonate strongly with the crowd and show that they are worthy of main-eventing the ROH/New Japan show at Madison Square Garden this April in New York City.

“Final Battle is going to shape Madison Square Garden’s SuperCard,” said Taven. “And this match is a launching pad into 2019. I would be lying to say that people in this company aren’t already thinking about Madison Square Garden, and for me personally, I want to be on top.”

Taven and Castle have known each other for the past decade and traveled together while working the Northeast indies.

“For the two of us, we’ve been in Ring of Honor together for so long and going up and down the roads together, so it’s an easy dynamic to play with because we’re so familiar with one another,” said Taven. “We both are pretty comfortable in who we are as people and who we are as characters. We know each other’s characters pretty well, too. We bring out the best in each other.”

Even with the pomp of pro wrestling, this match has an authentic feel to it. Both men want to prove they are better than their longtime colleague, which will add a layer of competitive fire to this encounter.

“Matt got into Ring of Honor way before me, and now that I’m here, I feel that I surpassed him when I became Ring of Honor world champ,” said Castle. “I feel like that lit a fire under his ass, so it excites me to know I’ll be in there with someone who looks at me as someone he has to defeat. I’m looking at him the same way. Neither one of us want to look like the lesser man.”

The matchup of the 33-year-old Taven against the 32-year-old Castle represents far more than just another match on the card. With so much upheaval on the Ring of Honor roster, with the rumored departures of Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks, the company will be looking for new headline acts in 2019.

Both men have also overcome major injuries, with Taven tearing his ACL at Final Battle in 2015 and Castle’s run as world champ cut short by a back injury.

“Physically I might never be back to the point I was,” said Taven. “I know my knee doesn’t recover the way it used to. But I feel more comfortable in my skin than I ever have.”

Castle’s back injury completely altered his way of life.

“It used to be wake up, watch wrestling, eat breakfast, go to the gym, come home, do yoga, train, and go to the wrestling school,” said Castle. “Suddenly, I found myself not being able to do everything. Wrestling is such a huge part of my life. I’ve been wrestling for two-thirds of my time on this planet. It was a huge mental blow to me, and it was something I had to figure out how to overcome to get back to being as happy as I am.

“Deep down, I believe I am the best. So working my ass off to get to the point where I was Ring of Honor world champion was the first goal, but not holding onto it for as long as I wanted to was disappointing. In retrospect, I hurt my back and suffered these injuries well before I was ever in the title picture. So I was able to not only overcome these injuries and work my way to the top, but I won the world title with these injuries and I held onto that title for over six months. Now that I’ve had the proper time off and my back is all better, just imagine what I’m capable of now.”

While Castle has been champ, Taven is eager for his opportunity as the face of ROH.

“I am looking for that opportunity,” said Taven. “Every time an obstacle was put in front of me, I’ve made the most of it. Matt Taven is just looking to get the respect he deserves. I truly believe I am the real Ring of Honor world champion, and I’ll walk into Madison Square Garden after a successful Final Battle as the real Ring of Honor world champion.”

“I’ve always wanted that spotlight, with the microphone in my hand, and give people the chance to really sink their teeth into who Matt Taven really is. I’ve got that opportunity to show who I am and what I want to translate through that screen, and it was just a matter of time before you saw the Matt Taven you see now.”

Castle has put together a string of memorable moments at the past two Final Battle shows, winning the world title last year in an upset victory over Cody Rhodes and turning heads with his chariot entrance in 2016.

“I look at pro wrestling as theater, and pro wrestling is another form of that,” said Castle. “I want to make sure everything I do is to the benefit of the audience. That’s why I do so much arts and crafts, I guess you could say, and put in the extra time and money to make sure my entrance is as big and important as the match itself. This year is no different.

“Final Battle, Ring of Honor’s marquee show, is such a big event and it closes out the year for us. I’ve got an entrance in mind. I don’t know if anything is going to beat my ‘Sweet Chariot Pulled by Boys’, but I do know it’s going to make people get out of their seats.”

Final Battle puts a period on 2018, and starts 2019 with an exclamation point for Ring of Honor—potentially with Castle and Taven leading the way.

“2019 is going to be a year of change in Ring of Honor,” said Taven. “When that change happens and the dust settles, Matt Taven is going to be holding the real Ring of Honor world title and be exactly where he wants to be.”

• “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan is happy to report he is back home and in good health.

Duggan went through a frightening spell when he spent Thanksgiving in an intensive care unit after his heart when into atrial fibrillation just days before the holiday.

“At first, I thought my pec muscle was acting up,” said Duggan, who turns 65 in January. “Then I was so out of breath, and finally, one morning, I couldn’t catch my breath at all. My wife told me we were going to the hospital, and they took that first EKG, and six or eight people came in to treat me, which was pretty scary.”

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat that can lead to blood clots, a stroke, or even heart failure, and the matter was serious enough to keep Duggan in the ICU for four days.

“They took really good care of me,” said Duggan. “They tried to shock me out of AFib. Now the game plan is some medication for a few weeks, and then they’ll try to shock me again. The doctor was pretty optimistic.”

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The WWE Hall of Famer was grateful for all those who reached out with words of encouragement during his hospital visit.

“I got a message from a lot of the guys, including Hogan and Jerry Lawler,” said Duggan. “It was really good to hear from all the boys.

Duggan still gets in the ring and wrestles at independents throughout the country. His next appearance is still set for a Big Time Wrestling show on December 8 in Spartanburg, South Carolina, but Duggan noted he is unlikely to wrestle again this year, if at all.

“I’ll still get in the ring for the Big Time show, but I’m more likely to be a special guest referee,” said Duggan. “It’s funny, I was just telling Jake Roberts, ‘I’m not sure I can wrestle anymore.’ And Jake said, ‘You never could wrestle to begin with!’ And the Nasty Boys reached out and said, ‘We thought the only way we could contact you was through a Ouija board.’ So there’s a little wrestling for you.”

Grappling with his mortality reminded Duggan of how fortunate he is to have people in his life genuinely invested in his well-being.

“I’ve wrestled for almost 40 years,” said Duggan. “And it’s humbling to have so many folks care. I got messages from peers but also thousands of fans from all over the world from Facebook, Twitter, and over the phone. It means so much that people care how I’m doing.”

• Conrad Thompson returns for a new “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” this Friday at noon, detailing the 1997 D-Generation X: In Your House from December 1997.

The show was the first pay per view following the ’97 Survivor Series, which featured the infamous “Montreal Screwjob,” and saw Shawn Michaels defend the World Wrestling Federation title against the “World’s Most Dangerous Man” Ken Shamrock.

“This is only a month after the ‘Montreal Screwjob,’ and the whole business had changed,” said Thompson. “Vince McMahon’s the top heel, Bret Hart is now working for WCW, and as a result, Shawn Michaels has transformed into this anti-hero. But this is also a critical time in the development of the Mr. McMahon character.”

The show also featured “Stone Cold” Steve Austin against The Rock, as well as The Undertaker vs. Jeff Jarrett. There was even a “Toughman” match between Marc Mero and boxer Eric “Butterbean” Esch.

“We’re going to spend time focusing on Owen Hart’s standing in the company following the Survivor Series, and we’ll talk about what the plans would have been and how they changed following Bret Hart’s exit from the company.”

Thompson and Prichard are currently on an international tour, and the pair performed last night in Glasgow, Scotland. They will also be doing a series of shows next week in England, but are making sure to find time to record their weekly podcast.

“Somehow, everyone comes out of the Survivor Series and into the December pay per view in a much better position,” said Thompson. “Bret had the biggest contract of his life, and Vince McMahon finally came on screen as a character. So much fell into place, and we’ll break all of that down this week.”

Tweet of the Week

Make sure you circle this on your 2019 calendar.

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

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