SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
How Roman Reigns Is Inspired by Becky Lynch
Roman Reigns and Becky Lynch are the cover stars for WWE 2K20, an accolade only bestowed upon the most elite stars in the business. The honor is not lost on Reigns, particularly after the year he battled through, and he takes additional satisfaction in his cover co-star.
“To share this with Becky makes it even more special,” said Reigns. “To be able to share this past year with her, breaking barriers, I’m pretty proud of that.”
Currently in the midst of a storyline with Daniel Bryan, Reigns also just signed a contract extension with WWE. He is a homegrown, WWE-created star, and his list of accomplishments—including replacing John Cena as the face of the company—is remarkable. He endured a harrowing stretch in the fall of 2018, learning that he needed to go through chemotherapy for a second bout with leukemia. But just like his character in the ring, Reigns—34-year-old Joe Anoa’i—persevered and found a way to defeat a ruthless opponent.
Reigns rejoiced with his family when he learned that his cancer was in remission, and then celebrated the moment with a return at WrestleMania 35. Now he achieves another milestone by gracing the cover of WWE 2K20.
“This means a lot, and it’s something I’ve been chasing,” said Reigns, who refuses to hide his hunger for competition. “When I saw Seth [Rollins] on the cover and the commercial that he did, I’m not going to lie—I was so happy for him—but it was so cool that it did make me envious. To be a part of this process and see this one come to life, it’s pretty neat. This is one of those things as a WWE superstar, you want to have this opportunity, you want to be on the cover.”
Sharing the cover with Lynch helps showcase two of WWE's brightest stars. Reigns, who had closed out the prior four WrestleManias, watched in awe as Lynch made her WrestleMania main event debut in April.
“I thought Becky was phenomenal,” said Reigns. “But that goes a lot deeper than just her main event with Ronda and Charlotte. I’m talking about her whole career. She busted her ass to get to that position. Trying new stuff, evolving, troubleshooting, so to see that type of dedication organically and then to see it organically work out was a total Cinderella story.
“Becky has created this larger-than-life character, and that’s pretty motivating for me as a young father trying to help my young daughter to become a strong woman.”
Reigns gently laughed when asked if there was any way to prepare for a WrestleMania main event, explaining that experience is needed in order to know.
“You have those nerves, you have those doubts and insecurities, all until you get through it,” explained Reigns. “Then you’re never the same again. You’re a main-eventer for the rest of your life.
“If you’re in that position, you’re going to fight for everything. At the end of the day, you’re doing the same thing in the same ring that you do every single week, but that moment and experience can’t be replaced. The responsibility is yours to close it out and send them home happy, and it’s the magnitude that makes it so different.”
While not known for his video game prowess, Reigns believes he matches up favorably against most of the WWE roster. And he is looking forward to the new elements in 2K20, which include mixed tag matches, the storyline-driven “2K Showcase,” and a “WWE Towers” storyline centered around him.
“They’ve done such a good job with the detail,” said Reigns. “It feels realistic and there is so much reality in the game. Everybody seems to be so interested in our backstage life, so that story mode and the customizations give you that backstage feel.”
Reigns’ legacy in wrestling will be forever linked to his time with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose in The Shield. Following a breathtaking performance with Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam, Rollins is the reigning Universal champion, while Ambrose is setting the wrestling world aflame in AEW, New Japan, and the indies as Jon Moxley. Despite their current success, Reigns has no doubt that he would wreck either of them in any video game.
“I’ll whoop both of them,” said Reigns. “Absolutely Dean. Seth can get it, too.”
NXT Moves to USA Network Next Month
WWE announced on Tuesday that NXT will begin airing live for two hours each week on the USA Network, beginning Wednesday, Sept. 18.
The show will take place every week from Full Sail University in Orlando, Florida, which is where the show is already filmed. Multiple sources close to WWE stressed that the NXT product will remain unchanged, no different than what currently runs on the WWE Network streaming service.
Paul “Triple H” Levesque will continue to run NXT, but any WWE product on live television has to be vetted by Vince McMahon—and NXT will be no different. That does not mean the show will have any drastic changes, but McMahon’s influence opens up additional resources for NXT.
With McMahon’s influence, NXT will be able to have Raw and SmackDown stars make occasional appearances on the show. Ratings will significantly increase if Daniel Bryan, Roman Reigns, or AJ Styles appear for a match on NXT. This is not a luxury that All Elite Wrestling will enjoy.
With AEW set to premiere its new show on TNT on Wednesday, Oct. 2, a Wednesday night wrestling ratings battle is looming.
WWE is smart to debut NXT three weeks ahead of AEW. NXT now has the chance to hook viewers with two outstanding shows before AEW hits the air. The September 25th NXT show, one week before AEW’s debut, would be smart to end on a cliffhanger, giving wrestling fans another reason to choose NXT on the night of AEW’s debut.
AEW is now also forced to revisit its booking philosophy. Unfortunately, it will be exceedingly difficult to employ a patient slow build in its stories while going against NXT.
UFC’s Daniel Cormier Still Sees a Future in WWE
Daniel Cormier lost the UFC heavyweight championship on Saturday to Stipe Miocic at UFC 241. The 40-year-old Cormier, who had back surgery in December, was clearly fatigued by the fourth round, where he was knocked out by Miocic.
The defeat could lead to Cormier’s retirement or even a third fight against Miocic. But his WWE dreams remain unchanged, as Cormier would one day like to step through the ropes for the worldwide leader in pro wrestling.
“It would be a dream of mine to do something with the WWE and represent such a great brand,” said Cormier, who was spotted speaking with Paul “Triple H” Levesque on the ESPY red carpet in July. “It would be awesome. We haven’t really spoken since one time before, but there are going to be moments after I’m done when we can try to get something done.”
Cormier was long rumored to fight Brock Lesnar, especially after they exchanged words last July in the Octagon following Cormier’s title win over Miocic.
Cormier was asked why the fight against Lesnar never materialized.
“I think Brock got a better deal [with WWE],” said Cormier. “A lot of times we look at these big guys and think they’re meatheads. Brock Lesnar is no meathead. Brock is a very, very smart businessman, and he made the right decision.
“Not many people are lucky enough to be in a situation where you get these offers like Brock does. He’s the guy that’s in there and he’s the guy who knows how to make deals for himself.”
The (Online) Week in Wrestling
• Ronda Rousey’s finger injury is gruesome.
• I didn’t envision Shinsuke Nakamura and Sami Zayn teaming together, but hopefully this leads to new opportunities for both.
• Buddy Murphy looked fantastic (again) in a match against Daniel Bryan. Despite the loss, Bryan still made SmackDown worth viewing with his backstage interrogation in the Reigns storyline.
• This was an interesting, behind-the-scenes look at the making of “The Fiend.”
• LAX, who are an extremely talented team known as EYFBO on the indies, are officially finished with Impact.
• Brandi Rhodes cut a tremendous promo in the build to Cody Rhodes-Sean Spears at All Out.
• Teal Piper, the daughter of the late Roddy Piper, is debuting for WOW this September—and she will also be a part of the 21-woman Casino Battle Royale at AEW’s All Out.
• A star returning to the Casino Battle Royale is Dr. Britt Baker, which is great news that she was cleared following her concussion in July.
• Rob Van Dam spoke with the Unsanctioned podcast, touching on concussions in pro wrestling: “Contrary to what John Oliver wants you to believe, I can never think of a time when I've been told to get in the ring when I was hurt in any kind of way.”
• I’m dying to see this, too.
Conrad Thompson Previews “Grilling JR” and “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard”
Conrad Thompson has new episodes of “Grilling JR” and “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” airing this Thursday, looking back, respectively, at SummerSlam 2009 and SummerSlam 1999.
SummerSlam arrived early this year for WWE, and the weekend ahead is often the date for WWE’s signature summer pay-per-view. The 2009 edition will be examined with Jim Ross on Thursday’s edition of “Grilling JR,” which is an interesting card because the vast majority of its performers—John Cena, Triple H, Randy Orton, Jeff Hardy, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, and Cody Rhodes—are even bigger stars a decade later.
“The main event is a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match for the world heavyweight championship between CM Punk and Jeff Hardy, which we’ll really look into, and another fun match to look at a decade later is Triple H and Shawn Michaels against Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase [Jr.],” said Thompson. “So it’s a timely show now, especially with Triple H on one side and Cody on the other.”
The Punk-Hardy main event closed the show over John Cena-Randy Orton, which is a topic that will be discussed with Ross, who was calling SmackDown in August 2009.
“This was the first time Jeff Hardy was the top guy, and this was Punk’s first big push, too,” said Thompson. “They thought Jeff Hardy was going to be the golden boy, and that showed in this match, as they got more time than any other match.”
Thompson will also connect with WWE executive Bruce Prichard to explore SummerSlam 1999, which featured Jesse “The Body” Ventura’s return to the main event, where the then-Minnesota governor served as the special guest referee in a triple threat world title match between Steve Austin, Mankind, and Triple H.
“This show is a weird glimpse into 1999, especially in the middle of the card with a ‘Lion’s Den Weapons’ match between Ken Shamrock and Steve Blackman, a ‘Greenwich Street Fight,’ and Vince’s push to put Billy Gunn near the top of the card,” said Thompson. “And Jesse Ventura is one of the most fascinating people in the history of wrestling.
“Jesse had this legitimate badass background, got over in wrestling, became a television star by wearing outlandish outfits on Saturday Night’s Main Event and parlayed all of that into a Hollywood career. He’s the original Miz, but Ventura had the military background. We’ll talk about what a unique character Jesse was, especially how he was a guy who dug his heels in against Vince. He’s one of the last cowboys of professional wrestling.”
Tweet of the Week
If you watch Beyond Wrestling, then you see the essential nature of the independents to professional wrestling.