SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Roman Reigns: “Vince said to me, ‘Be present.’”
Following his second bout with cancer, Roman Reigns remains the face of WWE.
Leukemia forced Reigns to relinquish the Universal Championship and step away from WWE in October. Fortunately, doctors found the disease early enough to save his life and prolong his career.
Reigns, who is 33-year-old Joe Anoa’i, knows he is extraordinarily fortunate that his six-month absence from work was only temporary.
“Now that I’m back, I’m enjoying every moment,” said Reigns, who was a featured part of both this week’s Raw and SmackDown. “That goes back to what Vince McMahon told me.”
Vince McMahon is equally beloved and hated by the masses, but no one will argue that the WWE CEO is not dedicated to his job. The one constant in WWE’s rise into a global juggernaut is McMahon’s unremitting work ethic.
But, after he was diagnosed again with leukemia, it was the notoriously driven McMahon who told Reigns to slow down and enjoy each and every moment.
“Vince said to me, ‘Be present,’” said Reigns. “He said, ‘Be there with your family and friends, and absorb everything you can. Maximize all that you can.’”
Those words have been prescient for Reigns. His return to WWE, which he revealed happened quicker than he imagined, provided a chance to spend extra time with close friend Dean Ambrose before he exited the company, see Seth Rollins win the Universal championship over Brock Lesnar, and enjoy WrestleMania from an entirely different perspective.
“After these past few months, I just want to be a part of the process,” said Reigns, who had closed out the four WrestleManias prior to the WrestleMania 35 main event of Ronda Rousey, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte Flair. “And it’s great to see the women trailblaze and break new ground.”
In addition to WWE, Reigns is also the powerful new face for fighting against leukemia.
“That’s a terrifying word,” admitted Reigns. “Just the sound of leukemia strikes fear in people’s hearts. But knowledge is power, and that’s the biggest difference now from my first diagnosis. I have the WWE to help spread more knowledge and awareness about leukemia.
“The first time, I was only 22, it felt like a death sentence. This time around, it was nerve-wracking to let people know so much of my personal life, but the response and the support has given me a whole new perspective. My character can be polarizing, but everyone has dropped their opinion on Roman Reigns and supported Joe during this rough patch. That’s been a key part of my comeback.”
During Reigns’ time away from WWE, his spirit felt a renewed energy when asked by his cousin, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, to play a role in the upcoming “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” film.
“Creating with Dwayne, who is starring and producing the film, and going all-in with him felt good on so many levels,” said Reigns. “Hopefully everyone takes to it, enjoys it, and gets lost in it.”
Reigns shared that the late night conversations with Johnson were moments that he cherished, as The Rock fantasy-booked Reigns’ comeback to the ring.
“DJ still lights up when we talk about my career and different bookings,” said Reigns. “There was a light in his eyes every time he was talking about my future.”
The chance to share his story is allowing Reigns to connect with people within and beyond the WWE’s universe.
“I’ve been able to visit so many different pediatric children’s hospitals, build relationships with the children, and spread that message,” said Reigns. “They’re the superstars, they’re my biggest heroes, and it’s not just me giving to them—it’s those kids giving to me.
“The toughest tasks are for the toughest soldiers. Someone is going through a battle, but someone is out there connecting with you, even if you don’t realize it. That’s what this whole struggle has taught me, it’s the struggle that brings us all together.”
Making sense of WWE’s new “Wild Card” rule
WWE unveiled a new “Wild Card” rule this past Monday on Raw, allowing at least four (and that number is certainly subject to change) talents to move between Raw and SmackDown without consequences.
In case you weren’t listening to the broadcast, the concept was repeatedly referred to as genius.
But was it?
The paint from the “Superstar Shakeup” is barely dry, and here we are, already moving onto a new shakeup for the Shakeup. Yet this all makes sense when looking at the recent ratings slump for Raw.
The current age is the social media era, so television ratings mean far less for WWE in 2019 than they did in 1997. But perception is even more meaningful for the public company.
With Raw suffering some of its worst ratings in the past twenty years, this immediately becomes an issue that needs to be addressed. WWE cannot allow its product to be perceived as subpar, which can be as damaging as the reality of airing a substandard product.
Adding star power to each show makes sense, but the storytelling needs to be engaging in order for this to make a difference. Otherwise, perhaps we will see John Cena and Brock Lesnar back on WWE programming sooner than expected.
Dave Lagana on the NWA’s newest “Ten Pounds of Gold”
The newest “Ten Pounds of Gold” episode details a behind-the-scenes look from the NWA’s Crockett Cup, which was held on April 27 in North Carolina.
NWA vice president Dave Lagana is the mastermind behind the series, and he puts in an immense amount of time to ensure that every episode is worth people’s time.
“The Crockett Cup was the closest realization to what Billy [Corgan] and I have wanted to accomplish from Day One with the NWA,” said Lagana. “We’re not a cover band, we’re not a nostalgia act, but we bought the NWA. So why not make it as close to what people remember?”
This particular episode, entitled “Cup Runneth Over,” is filled with NWA star power. Behind-the-scenes moments with Jim Cornette, Nikita Koloff, Magnum T.A., and the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express all featured personal insight from the meaning of the show.
“The amount of positivity around the event was great,” said Lagana. “And, in terms of energy, this video was everything we wanted it to be.”
The episode highlighted the Crockett Cup, giving a thorough synopsis to those who have not watched the show while also enhancing the experience for those who enjoyed it.
“When I posted this video, I asked for 20 minutes and 55 seconds of your time because I wasn’t going to waste one second of it,” said Lagana. “There is a lot of wrestling content in the world, but in every episode of ‘Ten Pounds of Gold,’ there is not one wasted second. For us, it’s about your attention, not your money. It’s up to you to decide where you spend your money, but your attention is a much higher value currency for us.”
PWG returns for Mystery Vortex VI
The industry-renowned Pro Wrestling Guerrilla returns this Friday at the Globe Theatre in Los Angeles for its Mystery Vortex VI show.
Founded in 2003, the Southern California wrestling promotion has earned a reputation for delivering matches featuring the next crop of superstars in the business. PWG’s stars over the past 15 years, just to name a few, have included AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, Kenny Omega, the Young Bucks, Kevin Owens, Pentagon, Sami Zayn, and Cesaro.
At “NXT TakeOver: New York” last month, a majority of the competitors were PWG alums. Of the 14 talents performing on the show, nine had appeared for PWG (the exceptions being Velveteen Dream, Shayna Baszler, Io Shirai, Bianca Belair, and Kairi Sane).
PWG is unique, preferring to sell DVDs following the show instead of streaming the matches live online. This method has proved lucrative, partially because they prohibit those in attendance from recording any part of the show. Failure to adhere to that policy, which is far more common in Japan than the United States, is cause for immediate dismissal from the show.
The upcoming Mystery Vortex show is also unique because of the card. No matches will be announced until the start of the show, which is part of PWG’s tradition with the Mystery Vortex.
The lone promise is that a “Guerrilla Warfare” match will take place.
PWG champion Jeff Cobb (who is covered in gold these days, as he is also Ring of Honor Television champ and New Japan’s NEVER Openweight champ) is almost certain to be there, as well as PWG tag champs Zachary Wentz and Dezmond Xavier, but the rest of the Mystery Vortex card remains, fittingly, a mystery.
Mystery Vortex is an extremely entertaining concept. Being able to draw a huge invested crowd without the crowd even knowing who is on the card is a testament to the popularity of PWG. It usually has multiple debuts and it is always exciting.
Pay close attention to whom is on the card. Working for PWG gains instant respect among the wrestlers, so this Saturday night will certainly be worth following.
The (Online) Week in Wrestling
• The “Jobbing Out” podcast did a fantastic job in this interview with The Miz’s dad, who shared that Vince McMahon loved his WrestleMania moment.
• Our friends at Kayfabe News have a look at the rumors that the late Andre The Giant will be returning for WWE’s upcoming show in Saudi Arabia.
• This was not the highlight of Raw…
• Finn Balor’s parents got an up-close look at the IC title during his visit on WWE’s European tour.
• Daniel Bryan as tag team champion? That’s my definition of appointment-viewing.
Conrad Thompson on this week’s “Something to Wrestle” with WWE executive Bruce Prichard
Conrad Thompson returns this Friday to “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” for a watch-along for the 20th anniversary of the May 10, 1999 episode of Monday Night Raw, which had the highest TV rating in Raw history.
“The show did an 8.1 rating,” said Thompson. “That number is just ridiculous, and this is the height of the ‘Attitude Era.’ Here we are 20 years later, and the topic everyone is discussing is Raw’s falling ratings. Well, we are going to go back 20 years and look at it when they were never higher.”
That particular Raw was not necessarily the best ever episode, but it was littered with superstars. Commissioner Shawn Michaels was the on-screen authority, Gerald Brisco and Pat Patterson battled the Mean Street Posse in a “Loser Leaves WWF” match, and the show also included the Big Show, Cactus Jack, Chyna, Sable, Ken Shamrock, The Undertaker, Vince and Shane McMahon, Triple H, The Rock, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
“It’s not a great show, but surprises make the show,” said Thompson. “The crash-TV format, that Vince Russo gets credited with, pays off here with an 8.1 rating.
“Every segment had a star. Maybe that’s what is missing now. Maybe the WWE doesn’t quite build stars the way they used to, and maybe that’s not what Bruce will say. I’m interested in hearing Bruce’s take on why this is the most highly-rated show, and his assessment on how the business has changed.”
Thompson also joined forces with Jim Ross for the “Grilling JR” podcast, and their latest episode details the famed “Curtain Call.”
“We’ll discuss every part of that, all the way to the Fake Razor and Fake Diesel. We talk about the moment that Scott Hall and Kevin Nash put in their notices, and even JR’s new heel character. We’ll discuss how the terrible idea of the Fake Razor and Fake Diesel came to be, and why it lived a slow and painful death.”
Tweet of the Week
If you’re not reading this Vince McMahon thread on Twitter, you should.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.