Courtesy of WWE

Savio Vega brings a wealth of experience to MLW. 

By Justin Barrasso
July 24, 2019’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.

Savio Vega Brings Wealth of Experience to MLW

A familiar face will make his debut for Major League Wrestling when Savio Vega comes to New York this Thursday for MLW’s “Never Say Never ’19” show.

Vega—54-year-old Juan Rivera—is best known for his time in WWE, but has over three decades of experience in the ring. A product of Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, he is excited to challenge reigning MLW National Openweight champ Alex Hammerstone at the Melrose Ballroom in Queens.

“I’m excited to jump in the ring for Major League Wrestling and I am thankful for this opportunity to wrestle a great young talent in Alex Hammerstone on July 25,” said Vega. “That’s a great day for me—it’s the day my third child was born, and I get to celebrate this year with MLW.”

After signing with WWE in 1993, he wore a mask and wrestled as Kwang, but the character failed to generate much traction. Vince McMahon changed course and introduced Vega to the WWE audience as a childhood friend of Razor Ramon in May 1995 during the inaugural “In Your House” pay per view.

“I jumped the guardrail to back up Razor, was escorted out by the police, and then I was on Raw the next night,” said Vega. “That’s how Savio Vega was introduced. The story behind that is the Puerto Rican Day Parade was coming up, and someone made a request to Vince McMahon for a Puerto Rican wrestler to be at the parade. I was the guy but I was under a mask working as Kwang, so that’s when it was decided to have a Puerto Rican character.”

Vega was an important babyface on the card, seemingly only inches away from the Intercontinental championship on several different occasions—even winning the title from Goldust in April 1996 only to have it immediately vacated. Vega lost the rematch and never won the title, but he did a tremendous job of enhancing the Goldust character and made an art of making the heel shine.

“If you stepped in the ring with me, I was going to make you look good,” said Vega. “I learned a lot of that from Mr. Fuji, may he rest in peace. He taught me how to work in WWE. The memories of those matches make me very happy.”

Dustin Rhodes remains adamant that Vega is one of the unsung heroes for the success of Goldust.

“I initially didn’t want to do the androgynous and the mannerisms that made the Goldust character,” Rhodes told Sports Illustrated. “I was just wrestling as Dustin Rhodes in paint. But Savio Vega was the difference.

“We had been working together, and he wanted me to try some new things to separate myself as a heel. He talked me into going behind and rubbing his chest, which we first tried at Madison Square Garden, and Vince was there for it, and the place erupted with hate towards me. That’s when I realized we’d found the character.”

Another memorable WWE storyline for Vega was with Steve Austin.

In their first-ever WrestleMania match, Vega wrestled Austin at WrestleMania XII, which was only a year before Austin wrestled Bret Hart in the famed submission match at WrestleMania 13. Vega lost the match at ’Mania, but got the better of Austin in a “Caribbean Strap Match” two months later, winning the match and forcing “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, who was Austin’s manager, out of the company.

“Steve Austin and I didn’t know each other, but we worked together like a Swiss watch,” said Vega. “Everything was perfect, and he had such great timing. We worked together for almost a year, and we had some great matches. We learned so much from each other, and he had a similar style to the one I learned in Puerto Rico. When we were together, it was magic.”

After runs in the Nation of Domination and as the leader of Los Boricuas, Vega’s time with WWE ended in 1999. Since then, he has wrestled for various promotions throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.

“I still work in the local arena in Puerto Rico and we opened IWA, the International Wrestling Association,” said Vega, who is the president of the promotion. “Every Saturday at 1 p.m., we have an IWA show on YouTube.”

Vega has remained a staple of the Puerto Rican wrestling scene for over three decades, and that is where he got his start working under the name of TNT. He was even present the night Bruiser Brody was killed by fellow wrestler Jose Gonzalez in a shower stall before a show Puerto Rico in July of 1988 during a World Wrestling Council show, which was the promotion run by WWE Hall of Famer Carlos Colon.

“That’s an incident that marked me for life,” said Vega. “It was hard. I helped Frank [Brody] out of the showers. I liked Frank. I traveled with him many times in Puerto Rico and Japan. The people loved the Bruiser Brody character.

“I remember one night he said, ‘You have a good talent and character, don’t stay here in Puerto Rico—go to the States.’ I know so many people have stories as to why his death happened, but I think we still only know half the story.”

Operating with a wealth of experience, Vega appearing in MLW is a big catch for the promotion. Only time will tell if his magic touch will rub off on an emerging talent in Hammerstone.

“Alex Hammerstone is one of the guys I’ve been watching, and we’re going to try to have the best match of the night,” said Vega. “Hammerstone is the champ and he looks good, he looks like a million dollars—but let’s see what he has in his pocket against Savio Vega, the Caribbean Kid.

“Hammerstone is going to learn that it’s my way or the highway, or as I say here in Puerto Rico, mi manera o pa’ la calle.”

Shawn Michaels Gives His Endorsement to Dolph Ziggler

Shawn Michaels and Dolph Ziggler combined for a brilliant segment during Miz TV on this week’s SmackDown.

The Miz was in the middle of interviewing Michaels when Ziggler interrupted, hitting “The Heartbreak Kid” with a barrage of insults. The most impactful part of that verbal assault was when Ziggler told Michaels he embarrassed himself and tainted his legacy by returning to the ring this November in Saudi Arabia.

Michaels, who was originally slated to do color commentary on the show, advocated for Ziggler to use the line slamming his 2018 return, Sports Illustrated has learned. A long-time supporter of Ziggler’s work, Michaels even took a superkick to end the segment.

There was also some long-term storyline continuity, as Michaels worked with Ziggler back in his Spirit Squad days. Ziggler’s final match in the Spirit Squad before being sent back to WWE’s developmental program in 2006 took place against Ric Flair, Triple H, and Michaels—with Triple H and Michaels stuffing the Spirit Squad into a crate destined for Louisville, the home of the OVW developmental territory.

Will Ospreay Paying Close Attention to WWE’s Ricochet

Earlier this month, Seth Rollins and Will Ospreay reconciled from their Twitter exchange. Falling prey to arguments on social media is a rabbit hole, and both men fell victim to that before resolving the issue in a mature manner.

During the back-and-forth exchange on social media, Rollins noted that WWE has a better version of Ospreay in Ricochet.

“Ricochet is the man,” Ospreay told Sports Illustrated. “He’s one of the best athletes in the world.”

There is no doubt that Ricochet—who was not on this week’s Raw, missing the show due to an elbow infection, according to The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer—is an incredible talent and emerging star for WWE, but outright saying he is better than Ospreay, who has been incredible in this summer’s G1, is debatable.

They are each tremendous in the ring, with little doubt that Ricochet (30) and Ospreay (26) will be two of the industry’s biggest stars over the next five-to-ten years. Ricochet’s style may lead to more longevity, but Ospreay is also evolving, bulking up and adding a new dynamic of mat-based wrestling.

Ospreay’s run in this summer’s G1 Climax has been magnificent, though his record (1-3) does not reflect that. His matches against Kazuchika Okada, Kota Ibushi, Sanada, and in the opening round against Lance Archer in Dallas have all been outstanding.

Ospreay and Ricochet have combined for a number of transcendent matches, including a memorable bout in New Japan’s 2016 Best of the Super Juniors tournament, but perhaps none more memorable than their meeting during a What Culture Pro Wrestling iPPV in February of 2017.

This was the match when the ropes snapped almost immediately after the start of the match. Ospreay and Ricochet, two of the most elite high flyers in the business, wrestled that match without a top rope.

“That was the first time I heard the ‘Botchamania’ chant when I was in the ring,” said Ospreay. “For me, that match shocked a lot of people that thought we were just two flippy guys. Yeah, we can do the flippy stuff, but when it comes right down to it, we just performed. We showed everyone we’re not just one specific type of wrestler. We can surpass anyone in the high-flying division, but give us a chance and we’ll show you we can work. He’s getting a chance now.”

“Filthy” Tom Lawlor Challenges for MLW Title Thursday in New York

Major League Wrestling has had four different champions since its return in 2017. Shane Strickland, Low Ki, and Tom Lawlor paved the way for current champ Jacob Fatu, who is a beast in the ring and overflowing with potential. 

But no one added an identity to MLW quite like Lawlor did in his 154-day reign as champion.

“Filthy” Tom Lawlor is a name familiar to UFC fans, and the mixed martial artist showcased an entirely different arsenal as MLW champion. His run came to an end earlier this month at the hands of Fatu, but Lawlor’s time as champion succeeded. Because of his work, the promotion is that much more recognizable among wrestling fans.

Courtesy of MLW

Lawlor’s run was unquestionably a success, unless, of course, you ask him for his opinion.

“I wasn’t happy with it,” said Lawlor, whose status as a perfectionist remains unchanged. “There is a lot more I could have done, like defend the title around the world as a real-world champion. But I wasn’t going to be happy, regardless. I could have had a four-year title reign and I’d still be pissed off. There is always more that needs to be done, and that’s what drives me.”

A highlight for Lawlor was constant feedback about his work from people who followed him from the UFC.

“I’ve had a number of people reach out to me and say that they found MLW because they were familiar with me, so it was pretty cool to bring people in and help them enjoy the product,” said Lawlor. “Hopefully they stick around even though my first title reign is finished.”

Lawlor challenges Jacob Fatu for the world heavyweight title at MLW’s “Never Say Never ’19” show this Thursday in New York, looking to reclaim what was once his—and show that, with or without a title, he is the company’s top attraction.

“You have to be absolutely blind not to see the immense talent in Jacob Fatu, both as a character and a wrestler,” said Lawlor. “He’s phenomenal. I’m not happy with our last match, and there is a lot more we can do, beginning with this match.

“I’ve done some of my best work in the Melrose Ballroom. That’s the building where I won the Battle Riot [in July of 2018]. You’re going to see a different Tom Lawlor than you’ve seen in the past. The intensity is going to be ramped up, and I’m really looking forward to this fight.”

The (Online) Week in Wrestling

All Elite Wrestling and TNT have announced that AEW’s weekly TV show will air on Wednesdays, beginning Oct. 2 from Washington, D.C.

• The G1 match between Jon Moxley and Tomohiro Ishii proved, once again, the brilliance of Ishii. (Mox was outstanding, too.)

• Moxley keeps making news… a match at Bloodsport will put an incredible amount of new eyes on GCW. 

• Imagine if internet booking leads us to Randy Orton vs. Will Ospreay?

• Orton also cut a fantastic promo last night on SmackDown, adding a lot of intrigue to his WWE title match against Kofi Kingston at SummerSlam

• Those family get-togethers over the holidays should be memorable. 

• Congratulations to the Briscoe Brothers, one of the greatest tag teams of all time.

• Tommaso Ciampa captured the significance of the work of Colt Cabana, who announced that he will no longer be running his industry-changing podcast

• There are a lot of talented young stars in wrestling, but count me among those who see nothing but superstardom for Jungle Boy Jack Perry, who pays tribute to his father, the late Luke Perry, in this video. 

Conrad Thompson Previews This Week’s “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard”

Conrad Thompson returns alongside Bruce Prichard for a new episode of “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” this Friday, delivering a Q&A episode with questions from their listeners.

“We’re putting the fans in control,” said Thompson. “This is going to be interesting because it’s one of the first times we’ve done this since Bruce was rehired by WWE and we’ve seen some of the stuff he’s produced. I’m going to have to be selective about some of the stuff we touch on because we make it a rule not to talk about the current stuff, but I’m sure there will be some correlations we can draw between what is happening now and what happened in the past. And I’m going to slip something in there about whether or not there was a softball game this past Monday that caused Sid to miss the reunion on Raw.”

Thompson’s “Grilling JR” podcast with Jim Ross also drops a new episode this Thursday with a deep dive into the 1989 Great American Bash pay per view.

The show was headlined by Ric Flair defending his NWA world heavyweight championship against Terry Funk, and featured a card overflowing with stars. Sting wrestled the Great Muta for the Television title, and Lex Luger defended his U.S. title in a match against Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. There was even a War Games match featuring the Road Warriors, in addition to a tuxedo match pitting Paul E. Dangerously—whom we now know as Paul Heyman—against Jim Cornette.

“It’s one of the best WCW pay per views ever and the main event is outstanding,” said Thompson. “This is Ric Flair’s first match after taking a piledriver on a table months earlier at WrestleWar, and he had his second longest absence from professional wrestling with that ‘injury.’”

Flair had just finished working with Steamboat, and this match served as an opportunity for both Flair and Funk to show off their versatility.

“This match really shows you what Flair was capable of, and Terry Funk is working a much more brawling style,” said Thompson. “Plus, the aftermath with Sting and Muta and all the violence outside of the ring helped the show go off the air with a fever pitch. This show went off the air and we were ready for more, building to “Halloween Havoc” and “Clash of the Champions.” We’re going to explore the card in great detail for its 30th anniversary.”

Tweet of the Week

Sami Zayn needs more air time on next week’s Raw.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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