SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Roman Reigns on Jon Moxley: “I don’t think our working relationship is going to be what it used to be”
Roman Reigns is the face of WWE programming, but he is also the locker room leader behind the curtain.
Earning the respect of the locker room is an integral piece to WWE superstardom. The Undertaker proudly represented the locker room for nearly two decades, and John Cena carried the load up until the past few years. The role does not appeal to everyone, like Brock Lesnar, and others, like Randy Orton, take a quieter approach. But Reigns is one of WWE’s strongest voices backstage, as his performance and professionalism have earned him respect in the locker room, so it makes sense that he would answer so graciously when asked about Jon Moxley’s departure from the company.
“I don’t think our working relationship is going to be what it used to be, but I’ll always love that guy, he’ll always be my close friend, and I wish the best for him,” said Reigns. “I wish the best for him, his family, his wife, and we’ll always be friends for the rest of our lives.”
Reigns led by example during his time as a captain on the Georgia Tech football team, but he gained a deeper respect from his peers through his empathetic nature, which is also on display behind-the-scenes in WWE.
“We have a brotherhood, so I’m always cheering for him. I’ve shared so many great moments with Ambrose, or Mox,” said Reigns. “We have love for each other well beyond the wrestling, and it will always be that way.”
In addition to his work for WWE, Reigns is the new spokesperson for Brisk Iced Tea, starring in a new commercial for its “Can of Whup Ass.”
“The partnership connects to the big Hobbs & Shaw film,” said Reigns, referring to the newest Fast & Furious film that includes both Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Reigns. “I knew teaming up with Dwayne and Fast & Furious was going to be incredible, and so many great opportunities continue to unfold, like this new ad with Brisk.”
The “ice-cold can of whup ass” was one of The Rock’s lines in the Hobbs & Shaw film and inspiration for Brisk’s ad, but the idea of opening up “a can” was first made famous in WWE by “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
“Those are two icons, Austin and The Rock,” said Reigns. “They were just so good. When they were facing off against each other, Steve was at a different point in his career—he was an established babyface superstar and it seemed like everyone was rebelling with him, and then you also had a charismatic young talent like Dwayne come in as the bad guy.
“Everyone thrives from competition, and their art still thrives today. Their rivalry evolved over the years to unknown territory, and it still means something today, even when we hear a line about a can of whup ass.”
Reigns admitted that, as much as he admired Austin, the kinship with The Rock kept him rooting for “The People’s Champion.”
“From a family lineage, I was always supporting The Rock,” said Reigns. “Steve was such a compelling character, but family is family, so we were always cheering for Dwayne.”
The opportunity to include Reigns’ Samoan ancestry in the Brisk commercial also meant a lot to Reigns, and he is optimistic that his connection to the new iced tea product will connect with WWE fans.
“Dwayne wanted to show tidbits of our culture and our customs, and Brisk was really into that,” said Reigns. “Plus, I got to add my own intellectual touch. The cover of the book isn’t always what you’ll see, and that’s the part of me you see when I open the can.”
Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff take on new behind-the-scenes roles
Sports Illustrated reported last Thursday that Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff will now report directly to WWE CEO Vince McMahon as new executive directors.
Heyman is set to become Executive Director of Raw, with Bischoff filling the same role for SmackDown Live.
Heyman took an executive role within WWE this past February, Sports Illustrated has learned, while Bischoff had been in talks with the company about an executive position for the past six weeks.
Bischoff revealed on this week’s 83 Weeks podcast that he will be working out of the WWE headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut, and is even moving to the east coast as of July 11.
Both Heyman and Bischoff will report directly to WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon. Building a long-term story arc is critical to the success of this project, which cannot be accomplished with conflicting storylines on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Last night’s Raw had an edge to it, opening full of intensity with the Braun Strowman-Bobby Lashley match. Color commentator Corey Graves dropped a “holy sh--” on the air after Strowman speared Lashley through the Titantron, making the moment feel like even more of a surprise. The close of the show featured AJ Styles’ heel turn of Ricochet, as well as his long-awaited Club reunion with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson.
Many see McMahon impeding the creative process and consistency, but multiple sources have shared the belief that McMahon will be so immersed in his work with the XFL that this is a rare opportunity for Heyman and Bischoff to put their fingerprints on their respective shows.
The reshaping of Raw and SmackDown will not happen overnight. Expect changes to be more noticeable by October.
Moose prepares for massive opportunity at Impact’s Slammiversary
Impact Wrestling’s Slammiversary XVII takes place this Sunday in Dallas, featuring a fantastic card that includes Rich Swann vs. Johnny Impact, LAX putting their tag titles on the line against Dezmond Xavier and Trey Miguel, and a four-way Monster’s Ball match between champion Taya Valkyrie, Rosemary, Su Yung, and Jessica Havok for the Impact Knockouts title.
Another match that will be appointment-viewing is future WWE Hall of Famer Rob Van Dam against Moose.
Moose starred in Ring of Honor until his departure in 2016 for Impact. The former NFL lineman has tasted some success in Impact, but never had a match as high-profile match against a star like Van Dam.
“I’ve been a big fan of RVD’s since his ECW days,” said Moose. “He was a big reason why I wanted to become a wrestler. Now I get to step in the ring with him.”
Moose headlined last year’s Slammiversary against Austin Aries in a match for the world title, but was unable to walk away with the belt. A year later, Moose believes he is ready to take the next step and become Impact Wrestling world champ.
“Since I’ve been with Impact, it’s been my goal to be world champion,” said Moose. “I had one opportunity against Austin Aries at last year’s Slammiversary. I’ll be honest, I don’t think I was ready to carry the company on my shoulder.
“I’ve made a lot of growth over the past year, and I’m definitely ready to be the world champion and carry the company. If Sunday goes as planned, then I’m ready to go after the world title.”
Van Dam is a household name in pro wrestling, which is exactly what Moose is building to as he continues to enhance his value in the business with a rare blend of power, athleticism, and compelling promos.
“People won’t only remember Rob Van Dam after our match. I’ve wrestled some of the best wrestlers in the world, and I get to add another legend to that list this Sunday at Slammiversary. But I want people saying, ‘Damn, Moose is going to be a legend.’ That’s my game plan, that’s my motivation. I want to show people that I can be a legend in this business.”
The (Online) Week in Wrestling
• All Elite Wrestling’s Fyter Fest took place this weekend, and featured three exceptionally strong matches in Cody Rhodes-Darby Allin, The Elite against the Lucha Bros. and the Laredo Kid, and the unsanctioned main event between Jon Moxley and Joey Janela. But the unprotected chair shot to Rhodes wasn’t fun to watch, and all hopes are that Rhodes is, as reported by AEW’s Tony Khan, concussion-free.
Rhodes also needed 12 staples to close the gash in his head.
• Another outrageous spot in the Rhodes-Allin match was from Allin, who took to the air for his Coffin Drop maneuver, which was a backdrop from the top rope that ended on the side of the ring apron.
Allin is willing to put his body on the line to reach his meet his goal of superstardom, which is his right, though I feel far more inclined to agree with the Blue Meanie.
• The highlight of Ring of Honor’s Best in the World pay per view from this past Friday was the heel turn of Flip Gordon.
• Big Cass offered a heartfelt look into his battle with depression and anxiety.
• WWE just returned from a tour of Japan, which included some amazing cosplay by WWE fans—and a fun pairing of Shinsuke Nakamura and Triple H.
• Before its trip this week to Dallas, New Japan was on tour in Australia. IWGP junior heavyweight champion Will Ospreay and Robbie Eagles delivered a phenomenal bout, and Eagles even turned on Bullet Club leader “Switchblade” Jay White following the match, joining rival CHAOS in the process—and ensuring himself a spot on the list of infamous Bullet Club betrayals.
Conrad Thompson previews this week’s “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard”
Conrad Thompson and Bruce Prichard have a highly anticipated episode of “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” dropping this Friday, and it is all about WCW.
Prichard will offer the WWE’s perspective of the famed July 6, 1998 edition of Nitro that ended with Goldberg defeating Hollywood Hogan to win the WCW title in front of a packed house at the Georgia Dome.
“This was the biggest Nitro ever,” said Thompson. “I’m curious when Bruce will be honest and fair, and when will he just toe the company line. He’s going to be in such a close, working relationship now with Eric Bischoff, so how many shots will he be willing to take at Eric’s creation?”
The Goldberg phenomenon had captivated the wrestling industry, and this match was unforgettable because he defeated the biggest name in the history of wrestling in a must-see match on live television, not pay per view.
“We’ll juxtapose what Vince McMahon was doing on the USA Network, which was a taped Raw,” said Thompson. “It felt like they were still finding their footing in the number one, but they didn’t have it that night. This was a Goldberg night.”
In an effort to hear from both sides, next week’s episode of 83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff show will review that July 6 Raw.
“We’ll have heard from Bruce on the WWE’s opinion on the WCW product, and now we’ll hear Bischoff give his take on WWE,” said Thompson. “WCW was clearly superior, so we’ll see what he will have to say.”
The role of referee Charles Robinson will also be explored, as he was front-and-center for the match between Hogan and Goldberg.
“Charles Robinson was the referee for so many big moments in wrestling, and that includes Ric Flair’s retirement match, Shawn Michaels’ retirement match, and Edge’s retirement match,” said Thompson. “Robinson was right in the thick of all those moments, and he’s the unsung hero of the Hogan-Goldberg match, too, and we’re going to spend some time examining his role.”
Thompson’s “Grilling JR” podcast with Jim Ross drops this Thursday and explores the Great American Bash from 1990, headlined by “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair defending his NWA world heavyweight title against Sting, who was seeking his first-ever run with the belt.
“This was Sting’s crowning moment,” said Thompson. “He finally beat Ric Flair to become world champ, and we’ll hear the perspective of Jim Ross, who called the show.”
Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane of the Midnight Express also defended their NWA United States tag team titles against the Southern Boys, Steve Armstrong and Tracy Smothers, in a match that still resonates with Thompson.
“That’s my favorite tag match, ever,” said Thompson. “It was very fast-paced and super competitive. The Midnight Express wasn’t positioned quite like the Steiners or Doom at this point, so when they got in there with Smothers and Armstrong, I assumed it would be an enhancement match–but it wasn’t. It was fast-paced action, lots of tag team maneuvers and false finishers, and the match still holds up, even now.”
Tweet of the Week
Happy 30th birthday to Joey Janela, one of wrestling’s most captivating, self-made success stories.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.