SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Jeanie Buss’s Women of Wrestling ready for showtime
Women of Wrestling (or WOW), the only all-women’s wrestling series in the United States, will premiere on AXS TV at 9 p.m. ET this Friday night.
The only all-women’s wrestling series in the United States is set to debut, as Women of Wrestling, better known as WOW, will premiere on AXS TV at 9 p.m. ET this Friday night.
Featuring a captivating assembly of talent headlined by Tessa Blanchard and Santana Garrett, the show is the creation of Lakers owner and team president Jeanie Buss.
“My background has been mentored by people like [tennis legend] Billie Jean King and [former Los Angeles Forum GM] Claire Rothman, and I’ve promoted events and been around women athletes for pretty much my entire life,” said Buss. “I really appreciate how our females on WOW are strong characters who fight their own battles and stand up, right or wrong, for what they believe in.”
The Buss name in the NBA is akin to the McMahon name in pro wrestling. Buss’s father, the late Jerry Buss, is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. He owned the franchise during its “Showtime” era in the 1980s and oversaw 10 NBA titles for the Lakers.
Buss has a unique connection to the WOW talent. She is a female executive in the male-driven world of sports, and pro wrestling, historically, has not always given equal footing to women.
“My dad empowered me and made me believe I could accomplish whatever I set my mind to,” said Buss. “The years of experience that I’ve had in the sports business have led me to the position I’m in today, and we’re finally at a place where women can take center stage and be the show. These are great female athletes who deserve a platform to display their talent, and that’s what WOW represents to me: female superheroes.”
Buss hopes storylines on WOW create drama on par with the Lakers’ longstanding rivalry with the Celtics. Buss worked with David McLane, who was the founder of the 1980s Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling promotion, to find the best talent for the show.
“Passion is driving WOW,” said McLane, who said 800 women competed for spots on the WOW roster. “The market is flooded with professional wrestling, but we are going to deliver what people want—and that is women’s wrestling. There is going to be a paradigm shift this Friday on AXS.”
AXS TV Fights CEO Andrew Simon has placed WOW in the timeslot this Friday immediately after New Japan Pro Wrestling. Simon is optimistic that NJPW and WOW will prove to be strong long-term tag team partners, even when WWE moves to Friday nights this October for SmackDown.
“We’re always looking at the landscape,” said Simon. “I have an idea what my friends at FOX are going to do with SmackDown on Friday nights, and I’m not sure we want to go head-to-head, but we are going to make sure this is in a primetime slot to be successful.”
Buss has lofty aspirations for WOW, including goals that reach well beyond 2019.
“I want this to be something generations of families will enjoy together,” said Buss. “I want to see this tour nationally as well as internationally. These performers are entitled to the biggest stage and audience we can provide them, and the exposure on AXS is a huge first step.
“These women don’t have to be the undercard or the ancillary match. They deserve to be center stage.”
Marty Jannetty reflects on the anniversary of a classic segment
A hallmark moment in wrestling history aired on television on January 12, 1992, when Brutus Beefcake interviewed The Rockers (Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty) at his “Barber Shop” television studio.
“I was hoping that moment would last six months,” said a laughing Jannetty. “Let alone 27 years.”
Michaels turned on his tag team partner Jannetty, threw him through a makeshift barbershop window, and superkicked his way into superstardom.
“I can’t believe it’s been so long,” said Jannetty, showing his old school roots as, nearly three decades later, he remains wary of revealing too much of the behind-the-scenes story. “I think one of the main reasons that the Barber Shop window moment has lasted 27 years is that it looked real enough to believe it was real. I wouldn’t want to change that.”
The 27th anniversary of the split of Michaels and Jannetty marked a seminal moment in wrestling history, as Michaels became one of the WWE’s top headliners for the next two decades. Despite battling substance abuse issues during his career, Jannetty had a few different runs in the company. He is a former Intercontinental titleholder, defeating Michaels in a memorable match on Monday Night Raw in 1993 for the belt, as well as a former tag team champion with Sean “1-2-3 Kid” Waltman.
Jannetty was the in-ring backbone for the Rockers, as well as a mentor for Michaels, who is five years younger, long before his time in The Kliq. The 58-year-old is keeping busy through personal appearances, personal training, and running seminars to teach the physical and psychological aspects of the business.
“Seeing the look on somebody’s face when they get it, especially when the kids really get the psychology part, is really special,” said Jannetty, who is available for bookings and training, while also heading his own company, Jannetty Sports Entertainment. “Anybody can do the moves, but it’s a lot harder to understand the psychology behind it. That’s a thrill for me.”
An opportunity Jannetty would relish is an induction into the WWE Hall of Fame. His work in the WWE alone merits the accomplishment.
“I would be grateful for that opportunity,” said Jannetty. “I would be honored. That makes a big difference in the wrestling world.
“I would also love to do some work as an agent. The young guys, they’re already great as it is, but you can never get too much experience or wisdom, especially on the psychology end.”
With a future that is still unwritten, Jannetty treasures the memories of his history in wrestling.
“And in 20 years, they’ll still be showing the clip of the Rockers breaking up,” said Jannetty. “What else will stand that kind of test of time?”
WWE Night Tonight on HQ Trivia
Later tonight, HQ Trivia is delivering its first-ever WWE Night.
The popular trivia app offers cash prizes in excess of $1,000 to players who correctly answer questions during its live games, and HQ host Lauren Gambino is promising a challenging array of questions, as well as a surprise appearance from a WWE Hall of Famer.
“I was a huge fan of the ‘Attitude Era,’” said Gambino. “I can’t hear broken glass without thinking of the ‘Stone Cold’ entrance, and Monday Night Raw was just as big for me as Sunday football is for me. I really loved that whole era, so being able to do this game and highlighting moments from that time is really special for me.”
HQ Sports started in June, and has dedicated different theme nights to the World Cup, NFL, and Major League Baseball. Its World Series trivia game this past October was filled with approximately 220,000 players, and it will be interesting to see how its wrestling-themed game competes with that number.
“We think that this is a going to be a challenging bunch of questions,” said Gambino. “I don’t know if it’s going to be as easy as some of the WWE fans think it’s going to be.”
The game consists of twelve rounds, advancing with correct answers for a chance to win a cash prize. Unlike a count-out in wrestling, where it sometimes feels like the referee is counting in slow motion, players only have ten seconds to answer each multiple-choice question.
“Ten seconds makes it really challenging,” said Gambino. “You really have to know your stuff in order to win.”
Gambino refused to reveal the surprise guest who will be making an appearance, but did hint that it will be noteworthy.
“I will tell you that he is a legend, a Hall of Famer, and you will not want to miss him being there,” said Gambino. “That’s all I can say until tonight.”
In other news…
• The Royal Rumble, which takes place on January 27, should stand as a reminder that WWE has assembled the most talented roster in the world.
This past week’s Raw, which was the best in recent memory, helped shape the upcoming pay per view.
Vince McMahon’s removal of Braun Strowman from his title match against Brock Lesnar appears far more temporary than long-term. Strowman is now an instant favorite to win the men’s Rumble match, which will place him in a main-event caliber match against Lesnar for the Universal title at WrestleMania.
Lesnar now defends his title against Finn Balor, who defeated Jinder Mahal and then came away victorious in a fantastic four-way main event against John Cena, Drew McIntyre, and Baron Corbin. Even with a couple of glaring tells—Balor called out Vince McMahon during a promo in the ring about never believing in him earlier in the show, and then, later in the show, Paul Heyman was cut off before he could cut his promo on Balor, because he will instead be delivering that promo next week to build to the Rumble match—the four-way match was believable, tense, and provided a fantastic main event.
Although the timing is suspicious, sources close to WWE stated there was no connection between Cena taking the loss and his recent decision to withdraw from the controversial “Crown Jewel” show in Saudi Arabia this past November. In fact, I was told Cena offered to take the fall in an effort to make Balor an even bigger star.
Balor closed out the match by scoring a clean pin fall victory over Cena. The decision shows WWE’s readiness to listen to its fanbase after promising changes on Raw, as well as Cena’s willingness to put over deserving talent.
• Sasha Banks and Ronda Rousey also built to their Royal Rumble women’s title match this past Monday on Raw as the two combined to defeat Tamina and Nia Jax.
There were a number of highlights on Raw and SmackDown, largely due to their realism. John Cena and Drew McIntyre cut intense, passionate promos, while Paul Heyman was must-see viewing during his Alexa Bliss interview. Braun Strowman had an up and down night, as WWE clearly has yet to define his character. Is he a larger-than-life cartoon character that encourages the crowd to chant hackneyed phrases, or a monster willing to stand up to Vince McMahon? Rey Mysterio and Andrade (don’t even get me started on the name change) also delivered an absurdly entertaining match on SmackDown.
On the flip side, the post-match interaction, and subsequent scene backstage, behind Rousey and Banks felt forced and contrived.
Why wouldn’t WWE choose to set up this match more like a UFC fight? Why was Rousey so insistent on remaining friends with Banks as the two approach a major title match at the Rumble?
There is still time to tighten up the storyline, but this past Monday was a missed opportunity.
• Conrad Thompson returns this Friday to “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” to discuss the 2004 Royal Rumble.
The ’04 Rumble, which was won by Chris Benoit, also included Evolution’s Batista and Ric Flair defending their tag titles in a tables match against the Dudleys, as well as Brock Lesnar—who will also be working the 2019 Rumble—defending the WWE title in a singles match against Hardcore Holly.
“Looking back, this show feels like a changing of the guard,” said Thompson. “But this is the show nobody talks about because Chris Benoit won it.”
Benoit was never known in WWE for his charisma, so the decision to book him to win the Rumble and go on to headline the ensuing WrestleMania, where he defeated Triple H and Shawn Michaels in the main event, signaled the WWE’s willingness to spotlight its best wrestlers.
“The best workers, like Benoit, got an opportunity to shine,” said Thompson. “I want to find out from Bruce why McMahon made that shift.”
Thompson is also excited to announce that he is running Starrcast II, the fan convention that will coincide with All Elite Wrestling’s “Double or Nothing” pay per view on May 25 in Las Vegas.
“Man, I’m excited,” said Thompson. “I’m trying to figure out how we can top what we did at Starrcast during All In.”
Tweet of the Week
Ring of Honor has done a tremendous job of revamping its roster, which only improves with the addition of Rush. Hopefully we will see Rush work with Tetsuya Naito at the Madison Square Garden show in April.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.