Matt and Nick Jackson’s likely final ROH match will feature the promotion’s most recognizable stipulation. 

By Justin Barrasso
December 12, 2018

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

Ladder War could be the Young Bucks’ farewell to Ring of Honor

Ring of Honor’s Final Battle pay per view is set to take place this Friday at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City.

The card features a number of fascinating matchups, but none more compelling than the Ladder War between the Young Bucks, the Briscoe Brothers, and ROH tag team champions SCU’s Frankie Kazarian and Scorpio Sky.

The Bucks’ Matt and Nick Jackson are rumored to leave ROH once their contracts expire at the end of the year and start their own promotion in 2019. If it is their farewell, they are planning a masterpiece.

“Is it our final big match at ROH?” asked Matt Jackson. “We treat every match like it’s our final one, so just imagine what we’d be willing to do if it actually were our last?”

This is only the seventh Ladder War in company history, with the most recent taking place in September 2016 when the Bucks defeated The Addiction and the Motor City Machine Guns.

Those three teams met the night before Ladder War VI to study the classic TLC matches from WWE with the Dudleys, Edge and Christian, and the Hardys. Following the match, the Bucks stayed with The Addiction in a hospital emergency room as Christopher Daniels needed stitches on the top of his head and Kazarian needed staples in the back of his head in addition to stitches on his forehead. The Bucks, Kazarian, and Daniels then watched the match on a phone in the ER at 3 a.m.

“We have to be willing to sacrifice just a little more than the Young Bucks and the Briscoes,” said Kazarian, whose excellence in ladder matches is one of his calling cards. “All four of those guys are borderline crazy and will do whatever it takes. I’m ready to go.”

The absence of Christopher Daniels (who is facing Marty Scurll in a singles match) could be glaring, given his brilliant work and the psychology he had behind it at Ladder War VI, but Scorpio Sky is embracing the opportunity despite the inherent dangers of the match.

“There is no way to replace Christopher Daniels or what he brings to the table in terms of experience and expertise, but the only thing I can do is try to add what I do best,” said Sky. “I’m willing to do whatever it takes, including damage to myself. I know I’m not going to come out unscathed. That goes along with the territory.”

Carnage and psychology both play critical roles in the match, and the danger factor is very real for all the men involved, as this match cannot be successful without sacrifice.

“The story is the violence,” said Mark Briscoe, who, along with his brother Jay, is a nine-time ROH tag champ. “The match is called Ladder War for a reason. War is what we do. The fact that next-level violence is totally legal in this particular match means that the future doesn’t look good for the other two teams.”

The Briscoes defeated Kevin Steen and El Generico, now known as Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, in the original Ladder War in 2007. They lost to the All Night Express of Rhett Titus and Kenny King four years later, and Jay Briscoe also had a Ladder War with Adam Cole in the main event of Supercard of Honor VIII in 2014.

“I feel slightly offended that we haven’t had a Ladder War in so long,” said Jay Briscoe. “This company invented this match to showcase what we can do. Other Ladder Wars have been great performances, but we are bringing a true war.

“The story of every match we do is violence. SCU and the Young Bucks have no idea what they’re getting into. We were built for this kind of match.”

With this the seventh incarnation of Ladder War, coupled with the business of professional wrestling approaching its 25th year of ladder matches, the blueprint for this match already exists. But Matt Jackson believes that viewers are in for a shock on Friday.

“Nobody does these types of matches like us,” said Jackson. “We’ll make it a thrill-ride spectacle. A nonstop party. Lots of these types of matches go with the ‘less is more’ approach. Nope. More is more. And they want a firework show.”

Legacies are also on the line, with each team seeking to enhance their standing in the business.

The Briscoes are nine-time champions but have wrestled in the shadow of the wildly popular Bucks over the past three years, and this match serves as a chance to show anyone watching that tag team wrestling in Ring of Honor is synonymous with the Briscoes.

“Everything is on the line,” said Mark Briscoe. “Tag team titles, pride and glory, all of it. This is going to be just the start—2019 is our year.”

“This will mark the beginning of our tenth tag title reign,” continued Jay Briscoe. “We’re masters of this sh--.”

For SCU, this match serves as a chance at redemption for Kazarian, along with a long-awaited opportunity for Sky.

“I’m my own worst critic and I put unnecessary pressure on myself in every match,” said Kazarian. “The pressure on me is topping what I’ve done in the past, and that’s Ladder War VI. That match left a lot of scars, physically and mentally. Christopher Daniels and I were in the hospital after the match until 4 a.m., but pain and scars come and go.

“Damage is going to take place, but that is what you do at this level. The task at hand is keeping the titles and not losing them again in a ladder match. This is an incredibly important match for me, and this is a perfect way to end the year.”

The ingrained danger of Ladder War VII pales in comparison to the opportunity bestowed upon Sky, especially after years of frustration in the independent scene with no offers from national brands, to prove he belongs.

“Everything in my career has built to this moment, and I’m prepared for it,” said Sky. “I’m treating it like it is the biggest night of my career, and my inspiration is to top every performance I’ve ever had in the past–and walking out victorious.”

And for the Bucks, in a potential farewell to ROH, this match stands for more than just the right to be tag team champions.

“Our legacy is already made,” said Jackson. “As journeymen. As pioneers. As businessmen. And lastly, as in-ring performers. We just want to be the greatest showmen ever.

“We’ve got nothing to lose here, and everything to gain. Another tag title win? Check. Another great match for the storybook career we’ve had? Check. Getting to dazzle the electrifying Hammerstein Ballroom one more time? Check. We’d like to tie up this loose end, bring home another set of titles for Christmas, and seal the deal on another ‘Tag Team of The Year Award’ from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.”

Jeopardy! contestants grapple with wrestling clues

The answer: a pro wrestling category.

And the question: what was featured on an episode of Jeopardy! last week?

Pro wrestling had its own category on the hit game show Jeopardy! this past Friday. In a nod to pro wrestling, there were also “Heels” and “Faces” categories. While those were unrelated to anything to do with the squared circle, the “Pro Wrestling” category featured five questions all about wrestling.

Head writer Billy Wisse, who has been with Jeopardy! for 28 years, explained that the popularity of pro wrestling made for an easy decision to include it as a category on the show.

“It’s something that is part of Americana, something that so many people are aware of and produced such great personalities and great stories,” said Wisse. “It’s worth a category on that basis.”

Jeopardy! makes an effort to cover as much ground as possible with its categories.

“That is what’s most entertaining for our audience and produces the most competitive games with the widest variety of material,” said Wisse. “And this is something a lot of people care about.”

Before writing for Jeopardy!, Wisse grew up in awe of wrestling superstars such as Killer Kowalski and Andre The Giant. Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek also has history with pro wrestling, as he was one of the special guests at WrestleMania VII in 1991. The $800 Jeopardy! answer in the pro wrestling category read, “In 1991 Regis & I handled announcing duties for WrestleMania VII, working with her, Donald Trump’s second wife,” which connected the dots to both Trebek and WWE Hall of Famer and 45th U.S. President Donald Trump.

“Alex Trebek first sees the categories when we go over the game in the morning,” said Wisse, who noted that this episode was taped back in October. “Alex was the one who wanted to add the clue about having participated in WrestleMania VII. He remembered that Regis [Philbin] was there. We ended up writing that clue going for Marla Maples, and that was Alex’s idea.”

The world of wrestling continues to expand into the mainstream, perhaps no greater over the course of 2018 than with a category on this institute of American television.

In other news...

• If the only WWE content you watched this week was Daniel Bryan on SmackDown, you would have caught the best their product had to offer.

The WWE champion’s creativity is on full display in his current work as the villainous “new” Daniel Bryan.

Instead of playing the greatest hits from his “Yes!” album, which he had been doing since he won the WWE championship at WrestleMania 30, Bryan has added some new wrinkles to his “new” Daniel Bryan character, including referring to fans as “fickle” and displaying a blind cockiness never on display when he was a babyface.

Regardless of his on-screen persona, Bryan still insists upon elevating young talent. Following their SmackDown promo and match, Mustafa Ali is far more of a commodity in WWE than ever before.

To WWE’s credit, Bryan has been given the opportunity to show a new side of his character, which also manifests itself in the ring.

Bryan is also a wrestling commodity with years of goodwill with the fan base, so while it is not surprising that WWE gave him a chance to explore his creativity, this should also serve as a reminder that the newer talent need the same opportunities to succeed or fail with their characters.

The TLC pay per view this Sunday should close out with Bryan defending his WWE championship against AJ Styles. That would be meaningful on a couple of different levels, as Styles was never placed in that position on dual-brand pay per views, and this would mark Bryan’s second straight main event as champ.

Bryan also needs to be moved onto Raw, since WWE’s flagship show is currently in dire need of a boost that few else on the roster can provide.

• Major League Wrestling is going live this Friday.

MLW Fusion will air live from Miami at 8 p.m. ET on beIN Sports, allowing the promotion a chance to show fans that its product can compete on a national level.

A familiar voice will also be part of the broadcast, as longtime WCW commentator Tony Schiavone helps call the action for MLW.

“There is something about live wrestling that brings out the best in people, particularly at the beginning,” said Schiavone. “I remember the first Nitro and I remember how pumped up everyone was, especially Brian Pillman and Jushin Thunder Liger, who had a great match. A live show just has a different edge to it.”

MLW’s first live show will feature a four-way ladder match to crown a new Middleweight champion between Andrew Everett, Dezmond Xavier, Kotto Brazil, and Hijo de LA Park. Featured matches also include Los Ingobernables leader Rush vs. Rich Swann, a Singapore cane match between Tommy Dreamer and Brian Pillman Jr., and a no disqualification match for the MLW world title between champion Low Ki and challenger Konnan, who is coming out of retirement to make his return in hometown Miami.

“We’ve got a lot of young kids who have never experienced anything like this,” said Schiavone, who will call the show alongside Rich Bocchini. “Everyone is going to be at their best.”

• Jonathan Gresham and Zack Sabre Jr. are hoping to steal the show this Friday at Ring of Honor’s Final Battle pay per view.

Sabre has starred over the past year for New Japan while Gresham just made waves throughout the business in his recent work with ROH world champion Jay Lethal. The two men share incredible chemistry together in the ring, which was on display during their three 2016 matches in Beyond Wrestling.

“It was easy to book them,” said Beyond Wrestling owner Drew Cordeiro. “They actually requested it.”

Beyond has its own show this Sunday, with the fantasy-booked “Extreme Warfare Revenge” pitting stars of Beyond against Chikara at Varnum Memorial Armory in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Cordeiro’s specialty is his creativity, which was on display when he booked a three-match series between Gresham and Sabre.

“Before we even did the first match, I wanted to build it out as a series of matches,” said Cordeiro. “My spin on it was to make it a little more unpredictable. So instead of trading wins, we made Gresham victorious two matches in a row, and then had a frustrated Sabre say, ‘You can’t beat me in two consecutive falls’ and challenged him to a two-out-of-three falls match. That was the idea to headline that year’s Americanrana, which was our biggest show ever at that point.”

Submission prowess is not widely seen across the business in 2018, but Sabre and Gresham are two of the best. So much of the wrestling world is familiar with the cutting-edge work of Sabre, but many are still learning about the brilliance of Gresham.

On paper, the match looks designed to highlight a New Japan star on a Ring of Honor pay per view. But underestimate Gresham at your own peril.

“Gresham has perfected a style,” said Cordeiro. “That’s all about his skill. He’s a wrestler that has built his reputation off his skillset.”

• The wrestling world lost two seminal figures this past week with the deaths of Larry “The Axe” Hennig and Tom “Dynamite Kid” Billington.

My only interaction with Hennig took place in June 2016. I was writing a tribute piece on his son, the late Curt Hennig, better known to the wrestling world as Mr. Perfect, and he was set to take my call from his home in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Although he was expecting my phone call, his wife Irene answered and, very politely, wanted to know who I was and why I was calling. Our conversation reminded me of the call I had years ago with Judy Poffo, who was the mother of the “Macho Man” Randy Savage, as the talk was a humbling reminder that, although I am covering the larger-than-life world of pro wrestling, the stars are still someone’s son, daughter, husband, or wife.

When we finally connected on the phone, Hennig took a few minutes to warm up. Wrestlers and reporters had a much different relationship when Hennig was a pro, but he started to open up when discussing his family.

“Curt was a natural,” Hennig told me. “He was one of those one-in-a-million athletes. He was a great family man and a great wrestler. He did the practical jokes on and off, but he took care of business.

“A lot of people respect him, like Bret Hart, and they had one of the greatest matches of their careers together. Bret was at the funeral, and so was the McMahon family. Not only was he my son, but he was a good friend. He was just a good boy, and we miss him.

“I remember when Vince McMahon took him on as a co-announcer, and I still have the tapes here. He was original, quick, and witty. He even looked good on TV. Vince liked that. Vince would have never put him on that show unless he had it all, and Curt had it all.”

The patriarch of the Hennig family was also proud to share that he had five children and 25 grandchildren.

“My daughter is a regional manager for Buffalo Wild Wings,” Hennig boasted. “She has eight stores. And you know about my grandson Joe [WWE’s Curtis Axel]. Joe and I talk at least once a week. He’s a good father. He flies home every chance he can to be with his boys, and he’s taking care of his family.”

Wrestling was in Hennig’s blood. He was an amateur wrestling state champion in Minnesota, later inducted into the Minnesota State Wrestling Hall of Fame, not to mention a pro wrestling star best known for his time in the AWA.

Hennig leaves behind a legacy that includes his dedication to wrestling, but also his devotion to his family. The wrestling community lost a key part of its past with his passing.

Tweet of the Week

Mick Foley’s poignant eulogy for the Dynamite Kid was heartfelt as well as informative. For anyone looking to read more on Dynamite, this is a good place to start.

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

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