SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Jim Ross: I’m ‘Proud’ of Brutal Moxley-Omega Match
Saturday’s “Full Gear” main event pitting Jon Moxley against Kenny Omega polarized the wrestling audience. For some, it was far too gory. For others, the perfect blend of violence.
Moxley and Omega battled for nearly 40 minutes in an unsanctioned “Lights Out” match, incorporating barbed wire, broken glass, and mousetraps into an unforgettable encounter that some of the wrestling audience loved and others hated.
Jim Ross was on play-by-play for the match, and he was among those in awe by the lengths that Moxley and Omega took to deliver a memorable main event.
“It was a different match to call,” said Ross, who is also a senior advisor for AEW. “They weren’t working the arm. It didn’t have the standard route that a match takes. Based on the amount of legitimate physical punishment that Moxley and Kenny incurred, it may have gone a little too long—but I haven’t seen two guys work any harder to get something over in years. The passion in that match was a breath of fresh air for our business.”
The match featured a blend of violence not seen in WWE. It is highly unlikely that a match like Omega-Moxley would ever close out a Vince McMahon pay-per-view, which Ross believes should be viewed as a strength for AEW.
“It’s been years since I was this proud of two guys in a match like I am with Moxley and Kenny,” said Ross. “I’ve never seen a main event like that. They should be congratulated. The effort they put forth was absolutely amazing.
“This match was a great indication of the in-ring spirit of AEW. We want to be about innovation and delivering a great effort. The match gave us stunts, it gave us wrestling, it gave us drama, it gave us uniqueness. This was about two guys that were given a chance to lay out their own game plan and execute their match, and that’s what they did.”
Ross, who has over four decades in the pro wrestling industry, added a lot to Saturday’s pay-per-view. He added his touch to a classic world title match between Chris Jericho and Cody Rhodes, but his best work was in the opening match of the card when Ross helped present Santana and Ortiz as bona fide stars in their win against the Young Bucks.
The story behind the Full Gear main event began in May when Moxley debuted at “Double or Nothing” and attacked Omega. They were scheduled to wrestle at “All Out” in August, but a Moxley staph infection delayed the match until the November pay-per-view—and added even more intensity to the story between Moxley and Omega.
“I loved that the Mox-Kenny match challenged me as a broadcaster,” said Ross. “People kept telling me, ‘JR, this match isn’t for you.’ How do you know that? I wasn’t with ECW; that was Joey Styles’ gig. I never got to call a lot of the hardcore stuff.
“I don’t find it distasteful, I don’t find it bad. We’re supposed to have something for everybody, and AEW offers a variety of styles and presentations that fans are going to like. This is not a one-dimensional company.”
AEW decided to go the non-traditional route and not close the show with its world title match, instead offering a death match-inspired affair that, upon viewing it, needed to air last.
“They challenged themselves as performers to create something, structured it a certain way, and kicked ass with it,” said Ross, who promised to discuss the match even further on his “Grilling JR” podcast. “My job was to line up my passion with their passion, get my discomfort lined up with their discomfort, and narrate that sumbit--. It may not be for everyone, but they made some great music.”
Traditionally, a match as drastic and severe as Moxley-Omega would serve as the payoff to a feud. But that is not the case here.
Since the match was unsanctioned, it did not count toward AEW’s win-loss records. If Moxley goes on to win the world title, the likelihood of a rematch, this time under more traditional rules, is a near certainty.
“AEW is an adventure every Wednesday night,” said Ross. “I love working with these guys, I love being around this youth, and I can’t wait for this week’s Dynamite from Nashville, Tennessee.”
CM Punk Makes His Return on FS1’s ‘WWE Backstage’
Hell has frozen over.
CM Punk made his return to a live WWE show last night for the first time since 2014, appearing at the end of FS1’s WWE Backstage program. Punk arrived at the end of the show, cut a brief but memorable promo, and promised to be back next week.
This is significant on multiple levels.
Punk was a top-tier star for WWE. If he ever returned to the ring, even in a reduced role, it would instantly be a significant upgrade to the product. If Punk is back in a non-wrestling role, it is still a big signing as it keeps him away from AEW. Punk would undoubtedly boost ratings if he were to appear on SmackDown, which is a major priority for WWE on Fox.
It is also hard to believe, after such a messy exit from the company—one that ultimately finished in the court room—that Punk’s return, which is massive, would take place on, of all places, WWE Backstage. But his return shows WWE’s commitment to Fox, as well as the current climate in the battle between WWE and AEW.
Since Jon Moxley (aka Dean Ambrose) exited from WWE, only to appear at AEW’s premiere pay-per-view in May, Vince McMahon has ensured that top talents are locked up to contracts. Randy Orton’s recent WWE contract extension represents the loss of another potential star for AEW, and Punk would have been a huge signing for AEW.
Score this one in favor of Vince McMahon. Punk would have put an incredible amount of attention toward AEW, but his return to WWE—regardless of the capacity—adds excitement to their own product while hurting the competition.
Daniel Bryan and “The Fiend” Add to an Already Loaded Survivor Series Card
Unless Brock Lesnar and Rey Mysterio go 15 minutes at Survivor Series, which is unlikely, then the pay-per-view still needs another singles match to serve as its main event.
There are alternatives. The triple threat match between Becky Lynch, Bayley and Shayna Baszler is main-event worthy, as is the AJ Styles-Shinsuke Nakamura-Roderick Strong match (though that is highly unlikely to close the show). Lesnar actually headlined last year’s show, wrestling one of his best matches in the past decade against Daniel Bryan—and, at 18-plus minutes, it was a marathon for Lesnar.
Lesnar wrestled AJ Styles in the co-main event two years ago, as well as also closed out the 2016 Survivor Series against Bill Goldberg. So it is clear that Vince McMahon is comfortable with Lesnar in his go-home position.
But if WWE wants to deliver the best show possible, especially with not-so-distant memories of the “Hell in a Cell” debacle still lingering, then the show should close with Daniel Bryan challenging “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt for the Universal title.
After a five-year hiatus, the storyline between Bryan and Wyatt was reignited this past Friday on SmackDown. Wyatt attacked Bryan, then later posted an explanation for his actions on Twitter. It is a phenomenal call back to Bryan’s brief stint within the Wyatt Family, which came to a rapid end as WWE was forced to cede to their audience and put Bryan in the WrestleMania 30 main event. Wyatt also eliminated Bryan, without fanfare, from the following year’s Royal Rumble, and it would be a nice touch to include that detail in the feud.
Bryan is the perfect opponent for Wyatt. He’ll help deliver the best match possible, enhancing the frightening aura of “The Fiend,” and he will lose. Bryan is a rare, unselfish talent willing to do what is best for the brand, as evidenced by his recent defeat to NXT champion Adam Cole. An engaging match followed by a clean defeat will not hurt Bryan, but will certainly do wonders for Wyatt, who was not allowed to beat Seth Rollins in Saudi Arabia without a gimmicky finish.
The champ needs to look strong, and Bryan is the best person to help him do it.
Stephanie McMahon Reflects on WWE’s Worldwide Expansion
Stephanie McMahon is a fourth-generation promoter, following in the footsteps of her great-grandfather.
McMahon has served as WWE’s Chief Brand Officer for the past six years, overseeing the company’s image, customer experience, and promise. Now 43, and having grown up within the company, McMahon has a unique appreciation for what her family, particular her father Vince McMahon, has built.
“My father was the one who had the vision to take what was a regional business and turn it into a global, media, live events and consumer products enterprise currently valued at about $5 billion dollars,” said McMahon. “That’s a pretty remarkable story in and of itself, and whether it’s everyone’s cup of tea—not everyone’s going to like everything—but to me, it’s one of the greatest products with larger-than-life characters and deep storylines and incredible athleticism.
“The athleticism that is now in our product surpasses any sport or any film or any other entertainment or media enterprise. To me, it’s the most fun, compelling thing to be a part of in WWE.”
Corey Graves Remembers Two of His Favorite Matches to Call
Corey Graves did not hesitate when asked to recall the two most memorable matches he has ever called as a broadcaster, both of which took place when he was calling matches for NXT.
“My favorite calls are [Shinsuke] Nakamura-Sami Zayn [from NXT TakeOver: Dallas in 2016] and DIY against The Revival [from NXT TakeOver: Toronto in ‘16] in a two-out-of-three falls,” said Graves. “Those were the two matches I remember feeling, ‘OK, I’ve got this.’”
Nakamura’s debut took place at the TakeOver in Dallas, and there was considerable intrigue in seeing the former New Japan star step into a WWE ring.
“I’d been a Nakamura fan for years, following him throughout Japan,” said Graves, who wrestled for 15 years until injuries to his head forced him to retire. “I remember speaking with him that weekend and explaining how he was the one guy I wanted to work with. For years, I was silently hoping our paths would cross, so that was a cool moment.”
The DIY-Revival match on a card was headlined, fittingly, by a Nakamura-Samoa Joe match for the NXT title. DIY was comprised of Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano, and they put together a brilliant match with The Revival’s Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder.
“For DIY-Revival, I was out of that color-by-numbers broadcasting and just having so much fun,” said Graves. “I was able to show some of my personality leaning toward my role as the heel commentator.
“Being a heel, it’s imprinted on my brain as a wrestling fan. Maybe sometimes I am doing my Bobby Heenan impression, but it’s coming from a place of alternate respect and adulation from being a fan all these years.”
There is some subtly and nuance in Graves’s call. Though he fills the traditional role of heel color commentator, Graves questions both the good and the bad, adding realism to the broadcast booth.
“It all leans back on the fact I’ve been a fan for so long, and I genuinely try to bring that to the table,” said Graves. “I take everything on a case by case basis, which is why I say that I like Tom Brady but hate the Patriots. Seth Rollins is a friend of mine, and all the way back to when I started doing commentary on the Raw preshow, he was my friend. So even though he was the smarmiest, most hated bad guy on the roster, I could find a million different ways to justify what he was doing. Now, he’s still a very close friend of mine, and I enjoy watching him work, so I’m not going full blown heel during his matches.”
Graves’ commentary is a critical part of SmackDown every Friday, and he makes every effort to infuse realism into each week’s show.
“The business is different and there is a lot more reality in the product,” said Rollins. “Our fan base has become a lot more educated to the realities of the situation, and we’ve injected that into our project to an extent. I would be doing a disservice if I were trying to play a character.”
The (Online) Week in Wrestling
- How cool was it to see WALTER on Raw?
- In retrospect, this quote MJF gave to Wrestle Zone means even more after turning on Rhodes two nights later: “I understand how much this match means to [Cody Rhodes] and that’s why this match means so much to me.”
- Steve Austin’s “Broken Skull Sessions” premiere with The Undertaker is set to be must-see viewing.
- It may have been overshadowed by the “Lights Out” main event, but Chris Jericho and Cody Rhodes put together a classic world title match at Full Gear.
- Kenny Omega offers a cryptic tweet about his recent trip to Japan.
- Sin Cara has requested his release from WWE, though that does not mean it will be granted.
- Warrior Wrestling announced that Will Ospreay will wrestle at their already loaded Warrior Wrestling 7 card on Dec. 13, which is also the night of Ring of Honor’s Final Battle pay-per-view.
- The matches were good on this week’s NWA Powerrr, but the promos—including ones from Nick Aldis, James Storm, and even a brief video from Billy Corgan—were better.
- Though this sounds more like a Kayfabe News headline, Eric Bischoff is headed to Qatar this week for a wrestling announcement
- I would’ve preferred to see a title change last night on Impact—Eddie Edwards’ sixth title reign, this time teaming with Naomichi Marufuji—would make their feud with The North even more meaningful.
- Who else misses the old Survivor Series promos?
Conrad Thompson Previews “Something to Wrestle”
Conrad Thompson is back this week with a new slate of podcasts, including an in-depth look at the 1999 Survivor Series on “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard.”
The ’99 Survivor Series saw a new WWE champion crowned as The Big Show dethroned Triple H in a triple threat match that also featured The Rock, and the card also included a memorable encounter between Chris Jericho and Chyna.
But the key takeaway from the show was the attack on “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who was laid out when he was hit by a car. That storyline put Austin out of commission, which was necessary because he needed spinal surgery that would require serious recovery time that lasted until the following spring. The Big Show replaced Austin, winning the title, which is a topic that Thompson will spend considerable time discussing with Prichard.
“The Big Show wins the belt here after he’d come into the company in February,” said Thompson. “WWE teased the idea of big stuff with him at WrestleMania, but it was almost like they didn’t know what to do with him. With Austin out, Vince makes the decision to go with Big Show, but the story here is the decision to hit Stone Cold with the car.
The storyline was open-ended and did not provide any kind of closure at the end of the show. It led to a prolonged, convoluted storyline that eventually saw Rikishi as the man who ran over Austin.
“This is the first pay-per-view since Vince Russo left the WWE, so there will be a lot of talk of the change in creative behind the scenes,” said Thompson. “After really monumental Survivor Series shows in ‘97 and ‘98, we saw something totally different in ‘99.
“A lot of fans are going to get a big kick out of the other ideas that were presented about Austin’s storyline, who it could have been, and the seeds that could have been planted but chose not to. So we’ll go back and fantasy book this week on ‘Something to Wrestle.’”
Tweet of the Week
In inspiring fashion, Becky Lynch summarizes what it means to be “The Man.”