SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Diamond Dallas Page signs deal to work with NFL Alumni
One of the biggest moments during Super Bowl week took place off the field, and it was quarterbacked by WWE Hall of Famer “Diamond” Dallas Page.
Page arrived late to the world of pro wrestling, debuting at age 35, but forced himself into the main event scene in WCW in the late 1990s through his work ethic and tenacious pursuit. His intrepid, entrepreneurial spirit was on display again this past week when he announced a partnership between his DDP Yoga fitness program and the NFL Alumni Association.
“This is only the beginning of what we’re going to do and where we’re going to go,” said Page. “We want to grow this within the community.”
Page has dedicated the past 20 years of his life to building DDPY, his yoga-based workout designed to heal and strengthen the body, and the new partnership with the NFL Alumni will allow current and former pro football players access to the DDPY fitness program.
Former Ravens legend Ed Reed, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer, is one of the proponents of the program.
“Ed texted me and said he wants to help build this in the NFL community,” said Page. “If the younger players see Ed doing this, and he’s a Hall of Famer and one of the warlords of the gridiron, we’re going to start to grow and guys will see I can really help.
“DDPY strengthens and stretches the muscles, ligaments, and tendons, which breaks up scar tissue, relieves the pain, and gets the strength back. That’s what I want to do for these guys. I’m honored for the opportunity, and I can’t wait to see where we are at this point next year.”
Page will be available for one-on-one and group sessions at his DDP Performance Center in Smyrna, Georgia.
“I already work with a lot of NFL alumni players,” said Page. “No one knows their name because they played on the practice squad for three years. But you know what that means? They got hit on every single down. They leave a piece of their body every time they get hit on the field. We are going to track these players with the DDP Yoga Now app so we can track them in real-time and they can see the benefit.”
Page noted that his goal is to accomplish for NFL veterans exactly what he did for Chris Jericho.
“Jericho blew his back out at the age of 41 after wrestling for 24 years,” said Page. “After only three months of DDPY, he was headlining WrestleMania. He just helped headline the Tokyo Dome the past two Januarys, and he just signed a lucrative three-year deal with the Khan family in All Elite Wrestling at the age of 48 years young. That is what I want to do for the guys in the NFL.”
The chance to help people heal from injuries and strengthen their muscles is a passion for Page, but he also noted that this particular project is an opportunity for him to say thanks after decades of watching pro football.
“A lot of these alumni didn’t make anywhere near the money the players make today,” said Page. “But they put their body on the line again and again, taking real punishment to give us some entertainment. This is my way of giving back and making a difference in their community.”
All Elite Wrestling Ready to Gamble in Las Vegas
All Elite Wrestling’s “Double or Nothing” ticket party will stream live this Thursday at 9 p.m. ET from the Splash Pool at MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
There are three specific areas to watch during the press conference:
1.) Will AEW unveil the signing of a new star, and will that be Kenny Omega?
Omega would instantly give AEW a headliner that few other wrestling promotions possess. He is tremendously talented in the ring, compelling on the microphone, and has the cachet of never having worked on WWE’s main roster. His addition to an already talented roster in AEW would elevate the company even more, and this is all without a match ever taking place.
2.) The “Double or Nothing” pay per view is still three months away, but it is the company’s inaugural show and needs to be a massive hit. Will the main event of the show be announced this Thursday?
Chris Jericho closed out AEW’s debut rally in Jacksonville, and it is likely he will be a headliner for “Double or Nothing”, but so much success in pro wrestling is based on the chemistry between the two opponents at the top of the card.
3.) As executive vice presidents of AEW, how will Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks be presented at the “Double or Nothing” pay per view? Will their matches be booked at Thursday’s rally?
The Bucks battling newly signed Pentagon and Fenix would make complete sense, and would have the potential to redefine tag team wrestling. But a dance partner for Rhodes is less obvious, at least when scanning the current list of free agents.
AEW is quickly establishing itself as the number two wrestling promotion in the United States, and Thursday’s event will provide more details in its build to “Double or Nothing”.
NXT Brings the Heat at Halftime
Maroon 5’s Super Bowl performance was a flop, but not all of halftime was a bust.
WWE’s Halftime Heat, which returned for the first time in 20 years, was a massive hit. Paul “Triple H” Levesque made the right call to highlight the NXT talent, and the six-man tag match of the Velveteen Dream, Aleister Black and Ricochet against Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano and Adam Cole showcased six talents who are all capable of headlining a future WrestleMania.
The decision to bring back Halftime Heat was a low-risk, high-reward proposition. There was far more to gain at stake, especially with a rabid audience craving more of the NXT stars. Including Shawn Michaels on color commentary was also a smart touch, as most wrestling fans recognized the voice of “The Heartbreak Kid.”
The first Halftime Heat, which aired in 1999, delivered an “Empty Arena” match between The Rock and Mick Foley for the WWE title.
Levesque spoke with Sports Illustrated before Sunday’s Halftime Heat, recalling the original event.
“Mick posted the link to the first Halftime Heat ‘Empty Arena’ match against The Rock, which I was there for,” said Levesque. “We shot it in the afternoon before TV that day, and it was amazing to watch then and even now.
“Even though it was 20 years ago, it feels like it was yesterday.”
Levesque noted he was open to the idea of Halftime Heat returning during next year’s Super Bowl.
The Year in Wrestling, in Photos
Hybrid Shoot, a combat sports publishing company, announced earlier this week that photographer Ryan Loco will travel the United States throughout 2019 to document the year in wrestling, and the end result will be a book with his finest photos.
“I have been a wrestling fan since as long as I can remember,” said Loco. “I never planned to be a photographer, but through various jobs in MMA, a camera ended up in my hand.”
Photography still plays a valuable role in today’s digital society, especially in pro wrestling, and Loco’s affinity toward wrestling photography was developed through a close look at his shots from within the ring.
“I’d say 2009 is when I first started taking photos and before I knew it, I was in Florida taking photos of the Blackzilians who at the time were a who’s who of MMA,” said Loco. “From there, I met someone from the WWE who invited me up to the Performance Center to shoot their tryouts. After shooting their tryout matches, I realized how much I loved photographing it. The wrestlers give you all the action and emotion on purpose that I am just hoping to capture when photographing an MMA fight. After photographing the athletes, I form a bond with them. I then become invested in their careers and love seeing them succeed.
“I think photography plays a big role in pro wrestling. Whenever I look at WWE, I find myself drawn to the backstage photos they sometimes post. To me, it’s always the moments we can’t see that are the ones we want to see. They have such beautiful backstage and event imagery, but they only release it in small doses. With the smaller organizations, a great photo can make the rounds quick on social media, and hopefully help bring more eyes to the promotion. Every little bit helps. While a video clip is now the preferred media—at least that’s what they tell us—I still always fall back to a beautiful photo that can tell a story.”
Hybrid Shoot’s Jonathan Snowden, who had worked previously with Loco at Bleacher Report, reached out to him for the project.
“Hybrid Shoot is a publishing company for and by hardcore fans, and Jon knew my love of pro wrestling, plus how I’m always willing to jump on a plane at the drop of a hat,” said Loco. “In every project, Jon has given me free rein to photograph the way I want and how I want. He trusts me to capture the essence of the story he is trying to write. It’s a refreshing thing. Jon has always been about highlighting the art of both combat sports and pro wrestling. So far the support from the wrestlers we have met as well as fans has been great. I think they all appreciate when pro wrestling is treated with sincerity and respect. Too often the F word, fake, is thrown around, usually by the same people glued to the TV to watch a show about dragons. You watch your dragons, I’ll watch my luchadors. There’s plenty of room for everyone to enjoy what makes them happy.”
Loco will be equipped with two Canon 1dx cameras, in addition to a Contax T3 film camera.
“I like the way film portraits look,” said Loco, opening up on the technical side of shooting wrestling. “Plus it’s a fun bonus to go home and get a roll developed without knowing what is really on it. I get pleasant surprises every time.”
This project will narrow its focus more on the independent scene than WWE, with a very specific goal in mind to accomplish.
“It’s nice to be able to roam around and photograph whatever I see fit,” said Loco. “The indies give us that opportunity. So while we won’t be at WrestleMania—unless you’re reading this, Triple H—we should be there for the events going on in the city at the same time. Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport is an event that really jumped out at us. Absolutely stacked card and it will be a hybrid MMA X Pro Wrestling style event.
“We hope to find various events across the country that allow us to tell the story of pro wrestling in 2019. Our goal is to tell the story of these artists, from backstage shooting portraits to ringside capturing moonsaults. It’s lovely to see everyone work together from the first bell to the last to put on a great show for the crowd. We were just in a small venue in Atlanta and everyone there worked as hard as if 50,000 were in attendance. It’s a beautiful thing. Just as I like to create with a camera, they create with their bodies. We want to show everyone that there are all types of styles and characters out there, and that everyone can find someone they can relate to.”
Spike Dudley Appearing This Weekend in Massachusetts
Spike Dudley will forever have a place in wrestling history.
The “little runt” of the Dudley family put together an incredible career, catapulting himself from Extreme Championship Wrestling to a spot in Vince McMahon’s WWE.
Dudley, who is 48-year-old Matt Hyson, retired from wrestling, but he will make a rare appearance at Top Rope Promotions’ “Pro Wrestling Supershow” this Friday in Brockton, Massachusetts as a special guest referee.
“I’m done with the business, but the Top Rope guys are people who are dear to my heart,” said Hyson, who was once the head trainer for TRP. “They’re guys I’ve worked with and trained, and this is a chance to have some fun, see the guys, and entertain for one night.”
Years before the creation of Spike Dudley, Hyson was working as a teacher’s aide in a California public school system, looking to catch a break in the world of pro wrestling.
“I was training out on the west coast, and I put together a resume and some videos, and sent them out to every promotion out there. ECW responded in ’95, and it was Taz that initiated the contact. I was living in San Francisco, but they needed me on the east coast, so I packed my car and left.”
Hyson rode his Toyota Tercel on a highway of hell across the country, pulling up on Long Island two-and-a-half days later to meet Mark LoMonaco—best known as Bubba Dudley or Bully Ray—who then brought him to meet the ECW brain trust at the House of Hardcore.
“That was my initial introduction,” said Hyson. “I was single, I was young, and I was pursuing the dream.”
Hyson worked an office job during the week, then put on his gear and got in the ring every weekend.
“That’s what I did and that’s what I loved,” said Hyson. “I’d seen a couple of clips of ECW, but I didn’t know what it was when I went there. I only knew this was a bigger promotion than what I had access to in California at the time, and I was going for the experience.”
Hyson noted that Paul Heyman, Raven, Tommy Dreamer, and Taz were the creative minds behind the creation of the Dudleys, and that Heyman was the one to sign off on him becoming “Little” Spike Dudley. But he also admitted he was not impressed with the long-term prospects of wrestling’s stuttering, bespectacled, dysfunctional family adorned in tie dye.
“I’ll be honest, when I got there, I thought the whole Dudley thing was idiotic,” said Hyson. “This was the infant stage, and there were still like eight different Dudleys. As I got to know Bubba and D-Von, I could see the potential and the talent.”
Nearly two-and-a-half decades later, the Dudley name is iconic in pro wrestling, and Spike played a big part in making that happen with his work in ECW as well as spots during the iconic ladder matches between the Dudleys, Edge and Christian, and the Hardys.
Reflecting on his career, Hyson recalls less of the moments in the ring, instead recalling far more vividly the people with whom he shared the ring.
“It’s all about the relationships I’ve made,” said Hyson. “Bubba and D-Von, Tommy Dreamer, Teddy Goodz, Ryan Waters, Steve Ricard, these are guys I was with full-time. You sweat, you cry and you travel together, and those bonds are so deep they can’t be broken. So it’s nice to go back and see everyone.”
Hyson is married—he credits his wife as the person who inspired him to leave wrestling and start a new career—and is also the proud father of a seven-year-old daughter and a five-year-old son.
“We’ve got a tremendous life,” said Hyson. “I’m so domesticated now, but because of that abnormal, rock-and-roll lifestyle for 20 years, my domesticated life is an adventure for me.
“I could never go back to the business, I want to be here with my kids. But it’s cool for me to go back once in a while and have a night.”
Scenic City Takes Chattanooga Again
This Saturday marks an important day in the U.S. indie scene, as the Scenic City Rumble will take place in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The card is headlined by a 30-person over-the-top Rumble match. The winner automatically earns a spot in the 2019 Scenic City Invitational, which is a two-night, 16-man tournament to take place later this summer.
In addition to the Rumble, the card features seven matches. Last year’s Scenic City Invitational winner, Joey Lynch, is ready to deliver in his singles match against EVOLVE’s Anthony Henry.
For wrestling fans still learning about the pro scene in Chattanooga, Lynch explained that the Scenic City shows are so significant due to the opportunity presented on the card.
“Scenic City is a platform that showcases local talent like myself to be seen nationwide,” said Lynch. “The show brings in talents that here locally wouldn’t be seen otherwise.
“Last year’s Scenic City Invitational was a 16-man tournament, and the tournament win was definitely one of my bigger achievements of my career thus far. I had to advance through a stacked bracket for my final win. That moment that they announced me as the 2018 Scenic City Invitational winner was indescribable, having my family there made that win for me that much greater.”
Lynch has 16 years of experience, breaking into the business in March of 2003.
“I was still in high school,” said Lynch. “I traveled to Kentucky for a local wrestling show. But my love for the business started with the Ultimate Warrior, the colorful, larger than life attitude definitely sparked something within me.”
Proudly carrying the Scenic City flag, Lynch will also be representing the heartbeat of indie wrestling this Saturday.
“Expect Scenic City to entertain you from the matches, to the people you meet,” said Lynch. “The show has something to offer for all ages.”
Something to Wrestle With Preview
Conrad Thompson returns this Friday to “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” to look at 1999’s “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” which saw the WWE debut of the Big Show.
“Big Show felt like he was worth more than what WCW could offer him, and Vince McMahon has always been enamored with big guys, so his signing made complete sense,” said Thompson. “I really want to examine why they debuted Big Show during the main event of this pay per view, because it felt like this was something they’d normally do during Raw, especially going against Nitro.”
Big Show’s debut was memorable, bursting through the ring during the “Stone Cold” Steve Austin-Vince McMahon steel cage match.
“Even though Vince had been involved in some physicality, this was really the first time he did something like a cage match,” said Thompson. “And the finish was really creative, with Big Show coming up through the ring. We’ll talk about how the deal with Big Show came together, what the original plan was for Steve Austin and Vince, and the logistics of sneaking a seven-foot, 400-pound giant under the ring at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1999.”
Tweet of the Week
This video of WWE’s Hideo Itami—well known throughout Japan as KENTA—did a wonderful job of capturing the less glamorous sides of pro wrestling. WWE has yet to announce his official release, but all signs point to Itami’s run with the company coming to a close.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.