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Will Ospreay: “I feel like Rollins has respect for me and I’ve got respect for Rollins, and I’d love to have a match with him one day, but right now, that’s not my vision”
The match won’t take place anytime soon, but the biggest story of the week in wrestling has been the sparring between WWE Universal champion Seth Rollins and New Japan Pro Wrestling’s IWGP junior heavyweight champion Will Ospreay.
The situation started fairly innocuously, with Rollins tweeting out that WWE offers the “best pro wrestling on the planet.” He also stated, “Find anyone else alive who does what I do as well as I do it as often as I do. Ya can’t.”
Ospreay, who is in his third reign as Junior heavyweight champion and one of the industry’s most innovative, talented wrestlers, responded to Rollins by tweeting, “I’m alive.”
Rollins and Ospreay went back-and-forth, with the responses growing more personal by the tweet.
Speaking with Sports Illustrated, Ospreay stood his ground.
“My championship is a little bit more prestigious than your championship,” said Ospreay. “More power to him, good luck, but my string of matches from this year alone has a lot of people talking about what I can do, and I’ll focus on that instead of what Seth Rollins is doing on social media.”
Ospreay even noted the absurdity of the Twitter exchange, which feels as though, in an endearing-yet-maddening way, it could only happen in the realm of pro wrestling.
“The whole thing makes me laugh,” said Ospreay. “He put out there, ‘Find me anyone alive that does the same schedule that I do and performs at the same quality.’ I just said, ‘I’m alive.’
“Yeah, you’re on the road for 300 days a year, sorry I’m not–I’m doing 250. His response was to say, ‘Little guy.’ I’m the same bloody height as you. Then he said he has Ricochet, a better version of me. Why is he involving someone else? Ricochet is the man, and he’s one of the best at this style. But why get him involved? This is between me and you. I feel like Rollins has respect for me and I’ve got respect for Rollins, and I’d love to have a match with him one day, but right now, that’s not my vision.”
The 26-year-old Ospreay has the potential to become one of the top wrestlers to ever emerge from England. He is coming to Dallas, Texas on Saturday, July 6 for the opening night of the G1 Climax, which is broadcast live on AXS TV.
Ospreay will wrestle Lance Archer in Dallas, making history in the process.
“I’m blessed to be the first guy ever to do the Cup, Super Juniors, and G1 in the same calendar year,” said Ospreay, referring to the New Japan Cup, the prestigious Best of the Super Juniors tournament, which he just won for a second time, and now the G1 Climax. “I grew up watching the Super Juniors, but the G1 was always a wild dream.
“I thought I’d maybe get there in five years. I’m in my prime right now, in the best shape I’ve ever been in. The company is putting their trust in me to perform at a high level. I have an opportunity to really shine and bring some attention to New Japan, and that is my mission.”
The man known as the “Aerial Assassin” has subtlety changed his style to a more mat-based offense to balance out his unparalleled air attack.
“My body was worn down,” said Ospreay. “On the independents, I worked, max, four times a week. But here I’m working four, five, or six times a week. I started lifting about ten months ago, and I got stronger. I realized I could pick up these big boys and ground them. That’s what they’d do to me, so now I plan on matching them on the ground.”
The junior heavyweight/cruiserweight status is often the kiss of death for wrestlers in the United States, but the distinction holds an entirely different meaning in Japan.
“The junior heavyweights are the ones who inspired so many of our guys,” said Ospreay. “Look at all the names that’ve been printed on the Junior championship, guys like Owen Hart, El Samurai, Ultimo Dragon, [Jushin Thunder] Liger, Tiger Mask, Kenny Omega, Finn Balor. How is that association a disservice? I hate this idea that the junior heavyweights are ‘less than.’”
Ospreay now looks to make more history by winning the A-Block and then competing in the G1 finals, which will take place in Tokyo on August 12.
“Imagine if the junior heavyweight champion wins the G1, a tournament full of heavyweights?” said Ospreay. “This tournament is the biggest test of my entire life, and I’ve never been more motivated. My dream is to hold the heavyweight title and the junior heavyweight title at the same time as a double champion.”
New Japan’s last visit to the United States took place this past April at its famed Madison Square Garden show, and Ospreay wants every wrestling fan in the world to watch their return.
“Our company produces the best pro wrestlers in the world,” said Ospreay. “I understand the alternative–if you like WWE, that’s fine–you like the stories. If you like All Elite, you want something different. But New Japan Pro Wrestling is the pinnacle of what pro wrestling should be, and the pro wrestling fans should come and watch because this is the best. I’m not saying that on Twitter to Seth Rollins, I’m literally saying that because I truly believe it in my heart of heart.
“Every person that is a star in WWE or All Elite Wrestling came from this company. This is where they got good, this is where they applied their trade to make themselves the stars that they are. No one’s leaving anytime soon, we’re all sticking together. Now is the time for us to take center stage and show the world that we are the best professional wrestling company in the world. And right now, I feel like I’m untouchable in the ring. I feel like I can get in there with anyone and bring out their best game. I’m more than ready.”
The Undertaker returns to Raw
The Undertaker made his return this past Monday on Raw, coming to the aid of Roman Reigns as he was under siege from an attack by Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre.
And the wrestling world is about to receive another reminder of the brilliance of McIntyre.
Sports Illustrated learned that McIntyre was on the short list of Undertaker’s requested opponents following his debacle in Saudi Arabia against Bill Goldberg at the Super ShowDown.
There are few in this business more powerful than McIntyre, and he is also widely underrated for his ring psychology. Another overlooked quality is McIntyre’s ability to sell for his opponent, and there is no doubt that he will put The Undertaker in a position to shine in their tag team match at Extreme Rules on July 14.
Unfortunately for McIntyre, he is looking at another defeat. He lost to Reigns this past Sunday at Stomping Grounds, which was a massive mistake. Why can McMahon defeat Reigns, yet the monstrous McIntyre cannot?
McIntyre has now lost to Reigns at both WrestleMania 35 and Stomping Grounds. Remarkably, McIntyre and McMahon couldn’t even defeat Reigns in a two-on-one affair this past Monday on Raw, unable to secure the victory before The Undertaker emerged.
There are a lot of fascinating stories that can be told in the ensuing weeks, as The Undertaker has had WrestleMania matches with Reigns and McMahon. He does not speak often, so an explanation of why he chose to team with Reigns would be meaningful to hear. It also opens up an opportunity for Vince McMahon to return to WWE programming.
The Undertaker will look significantly better at Extreme Rules than he did at Super ShowDown. Ideally, the program with McIntyre will extend to SummerSlam, with the “Scottish Psychopath” getting a monumental win over The Undertaker.
The (Online) Week in Wrestling
• The best story in wrestling is the continued recovery of Noah Palzet.
• WWE should bring Mick Foley back just so he can receive a proper welcome from the crowd, as the 24/7 title he introduced has given a boost, largely thanks to the brilliance of R-Truth, to WWE’s weekly product.
• The softer side of Samoa Joe, who challenges Kofi Kingston for the WWE title at Extreme Rules in July, was on display this week on social media.
•A highlight of last night’s SmackDown was the return of Shinsuke Nakamura, who is the next challenger for Finn Balor’s Intercontinental title.
• Wrestling lost an integral piece of its soul last week with the death of “Lionheart” Adrian McCallum.
Conrad Thompson previews this week’s “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard”
Conrad Thompson is releasing two new episodes of his podcasts this week, both of which highlight memorable moments in the history of pro wrestling.
Thompson and Jim Ross will detail WWE’s 2008 draft on this Thursday’s “Grilling JR” show, which is infamous for the camera shot of a perturbed Ross learning he was moving from Raw to SmackDown.
“JR was drafted to SmackDown and didn’t know it was coming,” said Thompson. “He’s been pretty vocal about how pissed off it made him. This show will be a peek into the mind of Vince McMahon, which is going to make this show so fascinating.”
Thompson will explore McMahon’s penchant for having fun at the expense of his employees, while contrasting that with creating memorable moments on television.
“We’ve heard enough stories to know that Vince likes to mess with people,” said Thompson. “JBL has told stories about having Vince in his ear telling him to go after a guy and stay on him, so we know that Vince likes to entertain himself. So it’s going to be a fun moment to re-live, though maybe not for him.
“And we’ll discuss who knew what and when they knew, and the creative behind switching someone to another roster. Why was Matt Hardy as U.S. champ moved to ECW? Why was that the right move? It will be interesting to hear Vince’s rationale.”
On Friday, the “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” show will look at the 1999 King of the Ring pay per view, best known for the main event of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in a ladder match against both Vince and Shane McMahon for control of the company.
“We’ll look at the plan and the payoff, and we’ll dig into the big reveal that was never revealed,” said Thompson, whose 1994 King of the Ring episode from last week was postponed until this week due to emergency dental work for Prichard. “We also posted the 1994 King of the Ring episode this week, which included one little footnote I didn’t know–this was the first pay per view the company ever did without Vince McMahon because he was fresh off back surgery and couldn’t make the trip.
“And if you saw what I saw, which were some production snafus, maybe not the best way to open with America the Beautiful, and then the whole scene with Art Donovan, then Vince McMahon had to be having a complete meltdown at home. We discuss all that on a double-header week for ‘Something to Wrestle.’”
Tweet of the Week
Seth Rollins’ podcast with Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina is the Universal champion’s response to Jon Moxley’s appearance on Chris Jericho’s podcast.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.