SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
NWA Kicks It Old School With Studio Show
The NWA has returned to a weekly broadcast and brings a familiar voice with it.
With Jim Cornette on color commentary, NWA Powerrr aired its second episode on Tuesday night, serving as a stark reminder that what was old is new again in the pro wrestling business.
The studio show is a throwback, invoking the spirit and manner in which pro wrestling was produced for decades. Yet the business evolved and studio shows were viewed as antiquated by the late ’90s. But like a quality antique, studio wrestling remains a valuable commodity, which the NWA has done a tremendous job producing the past two weeks.
“A major wrestling personality who shall not be named who works for a national wrestling company that shall not be named told me that it’s just not fun to go to work anymore,” said Cornette, who calls NWA Powerrr with Joe Galli. “They’ve run the passion and emotion out of everything. It’s so overly produced and manipulated and choreographed and timed. It’s not fun anymore for a lot of the performers, and I thought that was the exact opposite of the NWA Powerrr studio show. That’s not just for the fans watching, but also for the wrestlers. They weren’t told every move to make or every word to say. The audience wasn’t conditioned to react in a certain fashion. It was fun, and the wrestling fans were able to tell.”
The 58-year-old Cornette remains one of wrestling’s more controversial personalities, but his beliefs are rooted in more than four decades of wrestling experience. Proudly associated with the business since July 1976, Cornette was first hired by Louisville promoter Christine Jarrett as her ring announcer, photographer, and overall coadjutor.
In the ensuing 43 years, Cornette has run promotions, served as a member of Vince McMahon’s counsel in WWE and managed some of the business’s most transcendent stars. The NWA brain trust, consisting of President Billy Corgan and Vice President Dave Lagana, is gambling on Cornette to add his unique blend of wit, intelligence, and passion to their brand.
“The NWA you’re seeing on Tuesday nights, this is what wrestling was,” said Cornette. “It was easy to watch, easy to understand, and credible as a contest, rather than video game wrestling.
“Every wrestling show is now designed to be the greatest show ever. In contrast, the NWA show is different. It didn’t tire people out to watch, something was allowed to register. It is the exact antithesis of planned, big budget, choreographed, scripted sports entertainment, and that is what makes the show so different.”
In a business where everyone follows the WWE’s lead, Corgan is taking a different course. The NWA’s flagship show airs once every Tuesday on YouTube, and the entire premise of the one-hour show is centered around wrestling.
“It’s pro wrestling presented in a fashion from 30 years ago, done by guys that weren’t born 30 years ago,” said Cornette. “Cowboy James Storm and Eli Drake, those guys can talk and rile the people up. Those Dawsons, those big fat f---s from North Carolina, may look like big fat f---s but they’re also tough as bikers and I wouldn’t call them big fat f---s to their faces at the bar. They are out to beat some people. And there is Nick Aldis, the world champ. What else do you need in one hour? And there aren’t people getting brain damage from taking reckless bumps over and over again.”
Nostalgia is the basis of the NWA brand, whether wrestling fans watched the show or only saw clips throughout the years. The presentation of NWA Powerrr is so old that it feels new again. Its first two episodes have been widely praised, with NXT’s WALTER and WWE’s Corey Graves complimenting the show.
The NWA’s return even caught the attention of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
“The Rock had seen a tweet where I’d answered a person’s question about something related to studio wrestling, and Rocky took that opportunity to say he’d checked out the show and it was cool,” said Cornette. “Rock loves wrestling in general, but this also has a nostalgic feel for him because of his family.
“Not only did The Rock start in the Memphis studio in the last year the Memphis studio was a program back in the ‘90s, but he also went with his father so many times. I have tapes of his father doing studio wrestling from the ’70s. He likes that intimate atmosphere and that old fashioned, territory style of the business.”
The tweet from The Rock has given the impression that Cornette is the creative mind behind the program, but he is quick to credit Corgan and Lagana.
“I’ve got so much of the credit for the show, and people have been reaching out thanking me,” said Cornette. “I’m merely an employee, though an opinionated employee. Billy Corgan has done a tremendous job, and Dave Lagana has produced everything. They have resurrected not only the brand, but the championship and the Crockett Cup, and now this series.”
Cornette is known to share his political views on Twitter, and he is an ardent critic of U.S. President Donald Trump. When asked if The Rock would do a better job in the Oval Office, Cornette did not hesitate with his reply.
“Good god, Rocky could do a better job than our current president, but that’s faint praise—Howie the mailman could do a better job than our current president,” said Cornette. “But here’s the thing about Dwayne, he is not only driven maniacally to be a perfectionist and study and train and prepare, which is why he’s so successful, but he’s also reasonable. He’s reasonable enough to know what he doesn’t know, which we get none of from this current administration, and he would smell out the people who could tell him those things, which we haven’t had since Barack Obama was president.
“Maybe Rock and Elizabeth Warren could team up and shore up each other’s weaknesses. Elizabeth Warren has a plan for everything and all the experience, and The Rock could sell it to the people, ‘cause the people could smell what Rock is cooking.”
Politics aside, Cornette is eager to once again wear a headset, show off his trademark vernacular, and call a wrestling show.
The week’s episode included the NWA Powerrr debuts of Ken Anderson, Colt Cabana and Aron Stevens, better known from his time in WWE as Damien Sandow, and it all takes place in a start-of-the-art television studio in Atlanta.
“The reason to keep coming back for the show is because it’s going to be more of the same but completely different,” said Cornette. “We’re still in the studio, but you never really know what will happen. We’re also not in a ratings war with somebody. In a ratings race, you can only highlight the stars and there is pressure to win a time slot. We just want people to get to know the wrestlers and care about them.
“We’re just in a process to build our product. Things will constantly be different, a lot of wrestlers will want to get on the program, like the old days when the wrestlers wanted to get on TBS to get exposure around the country. This show gives exposure around the world. It’s only an hour, so it won’t take up your entire life, and you’ll know everything you need to know without any of those mind-numbing video game, pinball machine matches. It’s the perfect platform for people to care about.”
Bischoff and Prichard Remain on Conrad Thompson’s Podcasts Despite Shakeup
Conrad Thompson’s “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” podcast returns with a highly anticipated Q&A show set to be released this Friday at 12 p.m. ET.
WWE announced on Tuesday that Prichard has, effective immediately, replaced Eric Bischoff as Executive Director of SmackDown. Whether Prichard will discuss his new role is undetermined, but Thompson is ready to ask.
“People can ask Bruce anything, including me, and we’ll see how he responds,” said Thompson. “Given the news, this has to be one of the most interesting shows we’ve ever done.”
Thompson’s slate of podcasts this week include “83 Weeks” with Bischoff, which will discuss WCW’s Halloween Havoc in 1996, a new episode of “Grilling JR” with Jim Ross on Thursday examining the 2004 Taboo Tuesday pay per view, and Arn Anderson discussing his trilogy of matches against Ric Flair in WCW.
But the centerpiece of wrestling’s vast array of podcasts is Thompson and Prichard this Friday.
“There will be lots of questions about what happened to Eric, and I’m not sure what he’s going to answer, but there will also be questions about the draft and the XFL,” said Thompson. “I also expect some questions about Hell in a Cell. #AskBruceAnything is always fun, and I’m really looking forward to this week’s episode.”
AEW Wins Ratings Battle Again—But Is WWE the Real Winner?
All Elite Wrestling defeated NXT in the ratings for a second straight week last Wednesday, generating 1.018 million viewers for Dynamite on TNT compared to NXT’s audience of 790,000 viewers on the USA Network.
Even with an unblemished record over the past two weeks, it is worth asking: Who is really getting the upper hand in the ratings war?
Vince McMahon continues to throw road blocks in the way of AEW. Had McMahon not given the authorization to move NXT from the WWE Network to USA, then AEW would have had a far greater opportunity to build their product into a ratings powerhouse. Instead, NXT has kept viewers away from AEW.
Despite the ratings defeats for NXT, it is still a win for WWE.
Highlights of this past week’s shows included the resurrection of the career of Lio Rush, who won the Cruiserweight title on NXT, as well as the career renaissance for Dustin Rhodes on Dynamite.
Dustin Rhodes may be the biggest star in the company, and an extremely compelling storyline would be to see him shed the trademark face paint and reveal an even deeper side of his character.
This week’s NXT features the in-ring return of Tommaso Ciampa, Pete Dunne vs. Damian Priest, and Keith Lee battling Dominik Dijakovic. Those matches will have a hard time competing with Chris Jericho defending his AEW world title against Darby Allin in a “Philly Street Fight.” Even if Jericho is a lock to retain the title, it will be worth watching to see Jericho do everything possible to elevate Allin before walking away victorious. Dynamite will also feature a tag match pitting Jon Moxley and PAC against Kenny Omega and “Hangman” Adam Page.
Another fascinating aspect of AEW is its new AEW DARK that broadcasts online every Tuesday, showing dark matches from Dynamite.
DARK is an incredible opportunity to showcase talent on a night where there isn’t as much of an overload of wrestling content, providing a chance to build interest in some of their wrestlers who aren’t as widely known as Cody Rhodes or Chris Jericho.
In order to help build DARK into a must-see program, the promotion turned to Kenny Omega—if not the best wrestler in the world, then certainly on a short, elite list—to make the show stand out, and he delivered.
Omega wrestled Joey Janela in a phenomenal contest, one that is better than any match that has aired thus far on Dynamite. Omega is able to work different styles, and he gave Janela a chance to shine in a match that was high on work rate, violence, and physicality.
Next week’s DARK will include guest commentary from Taz, which capitalizes on AEW’s show this week in Philadelphia—the proud home of ECW—as it broadcasts live from Temple University.
The (Online) Week in Wrestling
- Jon Moxley was stripped of the IWGP U.S. championship when he missed his schedule title defense this past weekend at New Japan’s King of Pro Wrestling show due to Typhoon Hagibis in Japan… and Kenny Omega poked fun at the idea of AEW forcing him to miss the show.
- Congratulations to Lance Archer, who New Japan crowned the new IWGP U.S. champ after he defeated Juice Robinson at King of Pro Wrestling… though it is a major disappointment for fans seeking the next round of fights between Juice and Mox.
- One more New Japan note: With Wrestle Kingdom 14 taking place over two nights this January, NJPW has announced that Kazuchika Okada will defend the IWGP Heavyweight title on both nights.
- Despite recently re-signing with the company, Mike Bennett took to Twitter to announce he has asked for his release from WWE.
- I was looking forward to watching the new WWE BACKSTAGE show on FS1, but the “blockbluster” trade that saw Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross move to SmackDown for future draft pick considerations was, like the rest of the draft, widely disappointing.
- It’s tweets like these that remind me I spend too much time on Twitter.
Alex Hammerstone Ready for MLW Pay-Per-View Debut
Alex Hammerstone defends his National Openweight Championship against Davey Boy Smith Jr. on Nov. 2 at Major League Wrestling’s “Saturday Night Super Fight” pay-per-view.
“If you want dives, then this isn’t your match,” said Hammerstone. “I’m planning on exceeding expectations. Davey’s bringing his best and I’m bringing my best, and we’re going to beat the hell out of each other.”
Hammerstone is one of MLW’s fastest-rising stars, working alongside MJF and Richard Holliday in The Dynasty. He has finally recovered from the jet lag from his flight home this summer after a five-week tour in Japan for Pro Wrestling NOAH’s annual N-1 Victory Tournament.
NOAH’s Kenoh won the tournament against Takashi Sugiura, who had emerged victorious from the A-Block that also included Hammerstone. Even without winning the tournament, Hammerstone did pick up a significant win in an entertaining match against longtime NOAH star Naomichi Marufuji.
“The trip to Japan was an incredible learning experience,” said Hammerstone. “I was in a tournament with all the top wrestlers in their company, where there was less emphasis on entertainment and more on the wrestling, and I loved that. I hung with the best in the world for five weeks, and I’m bringing that confidence home with me.”
MLW has endless confidence in the 27-year-old, who honed his craft working indies throughout Arizona and Nevada. He was placed in a high-profile match this past summer against former WWE star Savio Vega in New York, and, in addition to the trip to Japan, also represented MLW in a champion vs. champion match earlier this month in Tijuana, Mexico, against Rey Horus, who is the heavyweight champ for Tijuana promotion The Crash Lucha Libre.
“I’m doing everything I can to outwork the locker room,” said Hammerstone. “At the risk of sounding cocky, I expected to be sent to Japan. Whether it’s a 30-second promo or a 20-minute match, I take every piece of my work seriously. When people say MLW, I want them to immediately think of me.”
In addition to the build to the pay per view, another fascinating aspect of Hammerstone’s career is his place in The Dynasty.
Hammerstone, Holliday, and MJF form the faction. While each plays a role in the group’s success, it is undeniable that MJF is the star. But with MJF now transitioning to a full-time schedule with All Elite Wrestling, it will be worth watching to see how the story resolves itself in MLW.
“As of right now, The Dynasty is still stronger than ever,” said Hammerstone. “I’ve never looked at The Dynasty as having any one person as its leader. But if it crumbles, you’re going to want to see how it happens.”
Tweet of the Week
There are a number of talents in WWE, ECIII included, that desperately need a chance on television to show they can succeed.