SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
The road to WrestleMania 35 is officially paved
The picture for WrestleMania 35 is far clearer today than it was a week ago.
With only 67 days until the event, sources close to WWE have told Sports Illustrated that the current plan is to close WrestleMania 35 with the Ronda Rousey-Becky Lynch match as the main event.
Lynch dropped an electrifying promo on Rousey this past Monday on Raw, and the boos from the crowd in Phoenix clearly had Rousey rattled.
WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross, who has helped book WrestleManias and called the play-by-play, sees Rousey-Lynch as the only match on the card capable of closing the show.
“To me, it’s the right thing to do,” said Ross, who also provided a thorough analysis of the Royal Rumble on his Ross Report Podcast. “It would be a damn shame to miss this opportunity. It’s time to let Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey go out and make history.”
Seth Rollins will challenge Brock Lesnar for the Universal championship, pitting WWE’s workhorse against its part-time champ. But that matchup does not contain the excitement or suspense of the first-time meeting between Rousey and Lynch.
“By the time the main event rolls around, that audience will have been at WrestleMania for hours,” said Ross. “But they will still have more of an emotional investment than they would in any other match, and that is including Lesnar and Rollins, who will no doubt have a great match.
“Lesnar and Rollins can’t go right before them, that would be a mistake. They should go at the end of the first part of the show. The main event is the perfect scenario to close with Becky and Ronda.”
The authentic feel of the Rousey-Lynch feud, which has been building since November, now allows WWE to place an even greater spotlight on their women’s division.
“As much as WWE has done in the evolution of the female division of their sports entertainers in terms of bringing them a spotlight, you’d be hard-pressed to ever have a more organic connection that the audience has in this matchup between Lynch and Rousey,” said Ross. “WWE should get all the props in the world for what they’ve done. They’ve evolved women’s wrestling. Now they can take that next step and cultivate the journey to make women’s wrestling even more prominent than it already is today.”
Dean Ambrose set to leave WWE
One person not likely to play much of a factor into WrestleMania plans is Dean Ambrose.
In the world of pro wrestling, the confirmation by WWE sends signals that this is all a work. But if he does depart the company, Ambrose is unlikely to sign an exclusive deal right after leaving WWE, even with All Elite Wrestling.
There are options to succeed outside of WWE in pro wrestling, and Ambrose would benefit greatly from working across the globe. He is extremely well known due to his Shield run in WWE, and he could further solidify himself by main-eventing AAA’s TripleMania and Ring of Honor’s Final Battle, as well as working a major match at New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom, before making his debut at AEW.
As for the rest of the WrestleMania 35 card, the current plan is for Shane McMahon to work against The Miz.
Triple H’s status is still in the air as he rehabs from his recent pectoral tear. The possibility remains that he will return for ’Mania, but the likelihood of a match against a returning Batista decreases by the day.
David Portnoy Bringing ‘WrestleMania Feel’ to Super Bowl Weekend
Barstool Sports’ David Portnoy is looking to bring the electricity of WrestleMania weekend to the Super Bowl. So far, he’s off to a memorable start.
A disguised Portnoy snuck into Super Bowl Media Day in Atlanta on Monday, circumventing a ban he received for excessive tormenting of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“People hate Goodell,” said Portnoy. “Goodell is the bad guy. This is me fighting ‘The Man.’”
Whether people like, love, or hate Portnoy—and please excuse him for referring to Goodell as “The Man” instead of Becky Lynch—his approach is indisputable: he harnessed a wrestling-like persona to stand out in the world of entertainment. Portnoy is known as “El Pres”, a mystifying blend of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase.
This Friday night, at the Rough N’ Rowdy “Super Brawl” boxing card in Atlanta, Portnoy will wear his tux, put a live microphone in his hand, and slip into the “El Pres” character that was built from watching the one McMahon played for years on WWE programming.
“Wrestling helped define this, 100 percent,” said Portnoy. “I wasn’t purposely gleaning it from Vince McMahon, but he’s for sure a role model. I never intended to play a character at Barstool Sports, but you’ve got to keep it interesting and that’s what people have gravitated toward. It is just a part of my personality, as I have the ability to rub people the wrong way, but I’m not a total villain. There are people who identify with it and there are those who completely hate it.”
Portnoy is an old school heel, beloved within his own territory but hated everywhere else.
“The worst thing anybody can have to my brand is apathy,” said Portnoy. “We don’t want to be boring, and we want people to have an opinion on us, one way or the other, good or bad. We just don’t want indifference.”
All of Portnoy’s bluster will be on display this Friday in Atlanta at Rough N’ Rowdy, and he is capitalizing on lessons from the business of professional wrestling. For years, McMahon boldly boasted that he knew how to better entertain the masses than they did themselves, which is the same approach Portnoy’s “El Pres” character uses for Barstool.
His goal is to bring a WrestleMania feel to the Super Bowl with Rough N’ Rowdy’s pay per view this Friday. Doing so requires tapping into all of the elements that make pro wrestling so compelling, including fighters seeking to gain momentum through social media promos and introducing a bevy of celebrities in the stands, along with Portnoy himself donning a headset, just as McMahon did for years on WWE pay per views.
No, Rough N’ Rowdy is not pro wrestling, although it’s produced in a similar fashion. And it is being led by a captivating character, one largely inspired by his love of pro wrestling.
“Rough N’ Rowdy has that WWE flair to it,” said Portnoy. “I love everything about it, and I love calling the fights. Rough N’ Rowdy has been around for a long time and we’re trying to make it a lot bigger than it was before.”
Like McMahon, Portnoy is no stranger to controversy. His antics and those of his employees bring detractors out of the woodwork with some regularity. But he appears to relish the chance to overstep the current standards and practices of 2019. Though the complaints can be valid, Portnoy refuses to back away and always protects his brand and fan base.
“I’ll take a lot of the blame if Rough N’ Rowdy isn’t successful,” said Portnoy. “But if it is successful, Barstool deserves a lion’s share of the credit. This will be the most star-studded event of Super Bowl week and by far the hardest ticket to get.
“There will be nothing else like it. All the other parties are the same, you have a DJ, music, and hors d’oeuvres. But this is going to be real fights. General admission and open bar with tons of celebrities getting on the mic and calling a fight. Without a doubt, this will be the best event we’ve ever done.”
Portnoy’s fighting spirit is captured in his work with Rough N’ Rowdy. Investing in the show, he promised, is more than just buying a fight, as it also justifies his unrelenting spirit.
“This is the best four hours anyone can buy,” said Portnoy. “It encompasses the pro wrestling feel with the promos and videos, and it is a very raw, very real fight.”
In other news...
• As of February 1, Kenny Omega will no longer be under contract to New Japan Pro Wrestling.
All Elite Wrestling’s upcoming “Double or Nothing” ticket announcement party from Las Vegas on February 7 will feature the introduction of new talent, as well as start to provide some definition to their May per pay view.
And there is no bigger talent they can add than Omega.
Omega’s presence within AEW cannot be understated. If he signs with the company, AEW has a main-eventer on par with any other promotion in the world.
• Ken Shamrock returns to the pro wrestling ring this Thursday in a match against fellow mixed martial artist “Filthy” Tom Lawlor.
“There are lots of different chapters I’ve gone through in my life, and I’m going through another one right now with the itch to get back in there and wrestle again,” said Shamrock, who was billed as “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” during his time in WWE. “I put my toe in the water when I wrestled in Melbourne, Australia this past November, and I did the things I wanted to do and felt good doing it. That’s when I realized this is the right time to achieve the goals in wrestling that I wasn’t able to achieve early on.”
Despite his status as a UFC legend, Shamrock’s profile has not aged nearly as well as it should have in pro wrestling, primarily due to WWE’s reluctance to mention him.
“You’d have to ask them why,” said Shamrock. “Looking back, consider the struggles that WWE was having at the time with WCW taking over and taking away a lot of their established stars. Vince McMahon created new stars from different venues, and I was a major part of changing that atmosphere. So it’s disappointing not to be one of the guys they highlighted during those times.”
Shamrock was a major star when WWE landed him in 1997, first serving as the guest referee in the classic Bret Hart-Steve Austin match at WrestleMania 13. He enjoyed a solid if not spectacular run with the company, never attaining the lofty status he reached in the Octagon but still made an indelible mark on WWE’s “Attitude Era.”
The 54-year-old Shamrock will wrestle Lawlor this Thursday in Atlanta, Georgia during the Ultimate Bar Brawl. The match is no count-out and no disqualification, and it should be wild because there is also no ring for the show.
“I’m picking up right where I left off,” said Shamrock. “Not only do I still have it, I still have a lot to give. It’s great to be able to go against a guy in Tom Lawlor that I know is going to be able to take it. I won’t have to worry if I’m going too hard, and we’ll be aggressive and put on a great match.”
Shamrock promised that this weekend is not the last that will be seen of him in pro wrestling in 2019.
“I’ve booked to go back to Melbourne and I’m booked for a few shows on the east coast,” said Shamrock. “It’s very important for me that people know they’re getting the best of everything I have. I’m fit, I’m ready to go, and I’ll get in the ring with anybody.”
• Wrestling fans, get your popcorn ready.
The 80’s Wrestling Con is coming to Freehold, New Jersey on April 27.
New Jersey native—and proud 1980s wrestling fan—Tommy Fierro has organized a convention dedicated to preserving the memories from the golden era of the World Wrestling Federation.
Guests will include Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Wendi Richter, Slick, the Nasty Boys, the Wild Samoans, and former WrestleMania headliner King Kong Bundy.
“Everyone was larger than life back then,” said the 41-year-old Fierro, who also runs the wildly entertaining 80’s Wrestling Pics account on social media. “Everyone was a character. Everyone was a star. It was such magic. From the talk show segments to having enhancement talent appearing every week and putting over all the ‘stars’ and making them bigger stars, Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling, Saturday Night’s Main Event, to all the wrestling magazines, LJN figures, and posters. Everything was just magic.”
The 80’s Wrestling Convention will also feature some unique attractions. In addition to the question-and-answer sessions and autograph signings, there will be a figure four leg lock competition judged by Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, as well as Koko B. Ware singing the 1987 classic (at least among wrestling fans) “Piledriver” in front of the crowd.
“I want to make this an event that a wrestling fan can’t miss,” said Fierro. “We have the Ultimate 80’s Wrestling Auction, Pro Wrestling Illustrated is going to reveal their three greatest 80’s covers, and the original GLOW Girls will be doing a Q&A panel called ‘The Glamour, Gilt, and Greed.’”
Over 20 stars from the 80’s will be present for the convention, with Fierro promising more surprises to be announced soon.
“80’s wrestling contained that element of surprise,” said Fierro. “There wasn’t any Internet back then and no dirt sheets spoiling what was going to happen. There weren’t any people judging a wrestling match by a star system, there were just fans. We would sit down and cheer on the good guy to defeat the bad guy. We weren’t worried about backstage dirt. We weren’t worried about when someone’s contract expired. We didn’t want to know in advance who was going to win. We just wanted to enjoy the show.
“I feel bad for today’s generation of fans that didn’t get to live through that era. There was nothing like it. It’s important for wrestling fans to take advantage of having all of these greats together and come out and celebrate them and the time period.”
• Conrad Thompson returns this Friday to “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” to discuss the career of the legendary Gorilla Monsoon.
Monsoon was once a feared monster in the business in the 1960s and delivered some memorable moments as a babyface in the 70s, but he is best remembered as the play-by-play man for the World Wrestling Federation in the 1980s and early 90s.
“We’re going to touch on Gorilla’s relationship with the McMahons, first with Vince Senior then with Junior,” said Thompson. “There is lots of discussion that he was one of the original stockholders in WWE. Allegedly, he was working for Vince, but he could get his points back if the company went belly-up. So we’ll discuss the whole relationship with the McMahon family, and the relationship he had with Bruce when Bruce was not everybody’s favorite, to say the least.”
Monsoon later became an on-screen character, which will be discussed, as will his relationship with his son, Joey Marella, who also worked for the WWE until he died in a 1994 car crash.
“This will be a fun way to celebrate one of the iconic voices of our childhood,” said Thompson. “We’ll talk about him as a family man, a person, and as a gambler. And we’ll also spend time focusing on the friendship between Monsoon and Bobby Heenan, because you can’t have a conversation about Gorilla and not talk about Heenan.”
Tweet of the Week
No one does it better than Paul Heyman.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.