SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Nick Aldis: “The NWA has proven that people wanted to take this world championship seriously again”
Nick Aldis is reviving the aura and mystique of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.
A title once worn by the likes of Harley Race, Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes is in good hands with Aldis as champ.
Aldis’s highlight reel includes victories against Cody Rhodes, Marty Scurll, Flip Gordon, Tommy Dreamer, James Storm and Jimmy Havok. He has wrestled around the world—in the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Australia and Puerto Rico—with a goal of reestablishing the meaning behind wrestling’s famed “Ten Pounds of Gold” title that dates back to 1948.
“The NWA has proven that people wanted to take this world championship seriously again,” said Aldis, who defeated Ricky Morton in an entertaining match in the main event of Tuesday night’s Powerrr. “The credibility was given to me by all the men who held the title before I did, and I represent the qualities and attributes that people identify with as world champion.”
The NWA returns to pay-per-view with its Hard Times show this Friday, headlined by Aldis defending the title against Ring of Honor’s Flip Gordon.
The NWA is once again working with ROH, a working relationship that was reignited when “The Villain” Marty Scurll crashed the NWA’s Into the Fire pay-per-view in December. Aldis repaid the favor, arriving to ROH shows in Atlanta and North Carolina to reinsert himself in ROH matters as well as attack Gordon to set up the match for Hard Times.
“I drove 12 hours for two minutes of action in Ring of Honor, and it was worth it,” said Aldis. “It’s no secret that Marty Scurll has been able to land himself an incredible deal, and it makes sense. Now you can feel the shift.”
The interpromotion Aldis-Gordon match will offer a completely new story with such different dynamics at play compared with their last meeting and shows the electricity that can be added to wrestling when promotions work together. Aldis is also optimistic that the NWA will eventually work with All Elite Wrestling.
“Working with AEW is brought up to me almost daily,” said Aldis, who says he was offered an AEW contract but chose to stay with the NWA. “The NWA is open to working with anyone. There are a number of wrestlers outside the WWE that are viewed as elite-level guys, so it’s only a matter of time before the audience starts demanding the main-event matches they want to see. We want to give the fans the matches they want to see, these super fights.
“If AEW wants to be involved in big, marquee matches, then they have two choices: go out and write some more big checks to some more guys, or they’re going to have to come to the table and work out some super fights with the NWA.”
William Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar that Caesar was “as constant as the Northern Star, of whose true fixed and resting quality there is no fellow in the firmament.” When it comes to the business of professional wrestling, Aldis believes that he is the constant standout figure—which he plans to prove, again, at Hard Times on Jan. 24.
“I want to keep having really meaningful moments, like All In with Cody and me, as well as some of our other milestone matches,” said Aldis. “I’ve been able to make my matches feel like the most important thing that day. We’re building anticipation to a big showdown against Flip, which has been lost in our business. Everything I do speaks to that philosophy.”
The chance for a second encounter with Gordon, with whom he shared the ring once before at Honor for All in July 2018, serves as another chance to showcase the intensity and physicality of NWA world title matches.
“We’re both so much better than we were two years ago, and that first one was great,” said Aldis. “This one should be even greater.
“My favorite match from my career is the one against Marty from the Crockett Cup last year, and now I think we can do so much better. It’s no different with Flip. We had a great underdog story two years ago in Nashville, but Flip was presented very much as an underling to Cody and the Bucks, portrayed as their kid brother trying to prove himself. He’s a lot different now.”
The match against Aldis helped present Gordon as more of a credible threat, and he now brings an entirely new persona into the NWA with his character as “The Mercenary.”
“Flip has reached another level, and I’ve changed, too,” said Aldis. “I was the cagey champion, not really a heel or a babyface, but more along the lines of a Dory Funk or a Lou Thesz. I was respected rather than loved or hated, but now I’m the guy they love to hate.”
The leading presence for the brand, Aldis takes pride in being able to tell a different story in the ring with each of his opponents. That will be on display this Friday in the NWA’s 18x18 ring, as Aldis looks to showcase Gordon’s abilities while still reminding people that he is the reason for the promotion’s renaissance.
“At some point, the constant becomes clear,” said Aldis. “People like to remember my match with Cody at All In as Cody’s moment. My match with Marty at the Crockett Cup was about Marty having a chance to win the big one. But the constant is always me. That, to me, is what being a world champion is about—consistently being the most important person in the room.”
Beyond Wrestling’s Please Come Back show set for Saturday
Beyond Wrestling returns to action this Saturday with its Please Come Back show that features a bevy of talent, including Kris Statlander, Josh Briggs, Orange Cassidy, Brian Pillman Jr., Chuck O’Neil and John Silver.
This will be the second Please Come Back show. The first took place in September 2018 and was highlighted by a breakout performance from Statlander. The concept of the show is unique: The best wrestlers on the Beyond roster get the chance to pick their opponent, as long as it is someone who has yet to wrestle for Beyond.
“It’s an opportunity for wrestlers to have a breakout performance, and our organization lends itself to this format better than anywhere else,” said Beyond founder Drew Cordeiro. “We’re going to seeing a lot of wrestlers making their debut for Beyond Wrestling that will likely become fixtures of our roster.”
Please Come Back takes place at 2 p.m. ET Saturday at Six String Grill & Stage in Foxborough, Mass., overlooking Gillette Stadium, and the show will be streamed live on IWTV. Featured matches include Josh Briggs vs. Jake Something, Chuck O’Neil vs. Brian Pillman Jr., Orange Cassidy vs. Dan Champion and Kris Statlander vs. TJ Crawford.
“I’m always intrigued by how to incorporate real competition and legitimate components of athletics into our events, and this is one of the stronger concepts that we’ve had,” said Cordeiro. “This is wrestling as real as it gets because people are fighting for a job.”
Beyond also announced this week that it will be filming a network pilot at its show in Melrose, Mass., on Sunday, March 1.
“We are extremely grateful for people’s support,” said Cordeiro. “When we first started Beyond Wrestling in 2009, we were wrestling in a garage in Elyria, Ohio, and our events were not open to fans. Now we have more than 2 million subscribers at YouTube.com/beyondwrestling, there’s thousands of people that signed up for IWTV using our promo codes and there is a lot that is going on behind the scenes with different opportunities.
“We’ve always been very careful not to put our eggs all in one basket, but I remember a quote from a Vince McMahon interview a couple years ago when he asked if WWE was for sale. He said, ‘We’re open for business,’ and I keep that in mind with a lot of the decisions that we make. Working with third parties last year afforded us a lot of really cool opportunities, such as a live event at Foxwoods, a live event at the beach, a live event at a brewery and a live event at Faneuil Hall. We’re always willing to see what may come our way, so I hope our fans will continue to trust the process.”
The (Online) week in wrestling
- The build to Becky Lynch–Asuka at the Royal Rumble has been extremely well executed; let’s hope these two get the 15-20 minutes they deserve for the match.
- The Rock wrote a touching tribute to his father, Rocky Johnson, following his sudden death last week.
- The ladder match between Rey Mysterio and Andrade belongs on a pay-per-view, ideally at WrestleMania, and the constant commercials from Raw on Monday hindered their outstanding performance.
- Cody Rhodes shined at last week’s “Bash at the Beach”–themed episode of Dynamite, proving, once again, that he belongs in the discussion of top stars in the business.
- What will AEW have in store on Wednesday night’s Dynamite, which was taped on Chris Jericho’s cruise ship? Jericho is following through on his plans to make the cruise a yearly event, announcing it will set sail again in 2021.
- Roman Reigns explained why he pounds his fist on a padded mat during his entrance, as opposed to hitting the ramp.
- Bray Wyatt posted on Instagram, encouraging people to be kinder on social media.
- Congratulations to Taz, who has signed with AEW.
- Rob Van Dam’s video with Katie Forbes and Jennifer Barlow last week that featured adult content quickly got Impact banned from Twitch, though it gave RVD the idea for a new T-shirt.
- Seth Rollins set a new record with his tag title win this past Monday on Raw.
- There are so many great moments in Royal Rumble history, with this standing out as the first unforgettable moment.
Larry Csonka delivers consistent, passionate coverage of pro wrestling for the past 16 Years
The entire wrestling landscape has changed on the internet over the past two decades, impacting the ways news is delivered, filtered and processed.
Over that time, a few constants have remained. And one of them is 411Mania’s Larry Csonka.
You may be familiar with the name. Csonka writes reviews for every major wrestling show, consuming 18 to 30 hours of wrestling per week, covering WWE, AEW, New Japan, Ring of Honor, CMLL, Impact, EVOLVE and the NWA, as well as myriad other shows. To date, he has written more than 4,500 reviews.
Csonka began covering pro wrestling in 2002, and he has been with 411 since 2004. His wrestling roots extend much deeper. The 42-year-old native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania became immersed with pro wrestling as a child while watching on Saturday mornings with his grandmother.
“I started watching with her when I was five, so it goes back pretty far,” said Csonka. “She and my grandfather were big studio wrestling fans in Pittsburgh during the Bruno Sammartino days. I would go to the drug store on Saturday mornings to get strawberry ice cream, and we’d sit there and watch wrestling.”
Csonka developed his passion for wrestling from his grandmother, which is still evident in his writing today.
“She thought Hulk Hogan was a piece of s---,” said Csonka. “I ended up getting into a fight at school when I was nine with a kid that told me Hulk Hogan was the champion. It was bulls--- because Ric Flair was the real world’s champion.”
Csonka and his wife have two children, and he works from home. Serendipity brought him to 411 in 2004, when he was frustrated by the lack of creativity in the site’s TNA pay-per-view reviews. He began posting his own on the fan forum. Before long, he was offered the gig.
“It’s never something I thought would end up as a career,” said Csonka, who also hosts his own podcast, The 411 on Wrestling with Larry Csonka. “It just happened that way.”
“And there is a lot to cover. I’m always looking forward to Wednesdays with AEW and NXT, and I look forward to New Japan. I’m a big fan of no-nonsense, great wrestling. Anybody that can put on really great tag team wrestling will always win me over, too. I was hyped the other day when I found out they’re doing Moustache Mountain–DIY at Worlds Collide, and ROH is doing Mexiblood vs. the Briscoes, so anytime I see great tag team wrestling, you’re going to get my attention.”
The wrestling platform appeals so much to Csonka because of its versatility and ability to connect with a multitude of different people’s interests within the realm of one genre.
“Wrestling is really cool, and it can be done so many ways, and it can all be great,” said Csonka. “Depending on your mileage and what you like, there is something out there for everyone. I love Wrestle Kingdom and I think it’s awesome, but there is also somebody out there that thinks famous ‘d--- wrestler’ Joey Ryan is the greatest in the world. That’s such a vast disparity, so wide, and it’s so cool that so many people can enjoy so many different things.”
Csonka experienced health issues throughout 2019, when his left leg was amputated due to a blood infection that was magnified because he is diabetic.
“I was about two months away from having another ACL surgery,” said Csonka. “So the good news, as my wife always says, is that I didn’t need to have another ACL surgery.”
But he refused to stop writing—or, for that matter, stop watching wrestling. Before he was admitted into the hospital, Csonka made sure he found time to watch and review Wrestle Kingdom 13. Then, after five weeks in the hospital followed by two weeks of therapy, Csonka resumed writing.
“Reviewing wrestling can be a very thankless job, but it’s also not an easy job,” said Csonka. “You can’t love everything, but at the same time, you can’t hate everything. If you try to love everything, you come across as disingenuous. If you try to hate everything, you’re looking for cheap clicks. You have to be as unbiased as possible, and you have to let people know when things are bad, but also when things are worth your time.”
One of Csonka’s greatest attributes is his honesty, and he is always willing to report which matches to watch, as well as those to avoid.
“I’m not going to waste your time,” said Csonka. “I try to only recommend the very best stuff. Every month, I do a match-of-the-month column that has anywhere between 12 to 70 matches from around the world.
“I watch more wrestling a week than anybody, I guarantee you, when it comes to writing reviews about it. I’m going to tell you everything that’s worth your time so you don’t waste your time.”
Csonka extended his gratitude toward those who read his work and listen to his podcast.
“I greatly appreciate anyone reading or listening,” said Csonka. “If you’re choosing to hear my opinion, I really appreciate it.”
Conrad Thompson previews this week’s edition of Something to Wrestle With Bruce Prichard
This Friday’s Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard will examine the 1995 Royal Rumble, a pay-per-view that Conrad Thompson believes did not age particularly well.
“This is the epitome of a down time in the company,” said Thompson. “And there are some names in this Rumble that will shock some people, and they definitely shocked me. I didn’t remember Dick Murdoch, but there he is. This is the era we famously heard from Bruce that ‘Vince just needs a hit.’ That was the word around the office, so Vince was trying new things here to get that hit.”
The card is very Kliq-centric, with Scott Hall entering the show as Intercontinental champ, Kevin Nash defending the world title against Bret Hart, Sean Waltman teaming with Bob Holly to win the vacant tag titles, and Shawn Michaels winning the Rumble.
“The match with Bret is one of the best matches Diesel ever had,” said Thompson. “But this is a very strange and unusual time in the World Wrestling Federation. It’s as down as down gets, and we’ll talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
Thompson also examines the 2000 Royal Rumble on Grilling JR with Jim Ross, which includes Taz’s debut, the Rock winning the Rumble match, a tag team tables match pitting the Hardys against the Dudleys, and Triple H's defending the WWE title against Cactus Jack in a Street Fight.
“That was a really hardcore match, and I think it’s Triple H’s best match ever,” said Thompson. “We’ll look at how much has changed in WWE, as well as what is still the same—look at Matt Hardy, he’s still there.”
Thompson’s Arn podcast with Arn Anderson also delivered an outstanding episode this week, with Anderson voicing his criticisms of the 2015 Royal Rumble that saw Roman Reigns win, much to the frustration of the crowd in Philadelphia. The Rock was even brought in to celebrate with Reigns, but he was booed, too.
“We look at the decision to press forward with Roman Reigns and not have Daniel Bryan win the Royal Rumble, and the crowd in Philadelphia wanted nothing to do with it,” said Thompson. “To hear an agent’s perspective echo what we fans were thinking, it really was remarkable. In the row of nostalgia I crank out every week, this one stands out.”
Tweet of the week
WWE’s decision to book Matt Hardy as glorified enhancement talent appears to be signaling the end of his run in the company—but the indies and AEW will soon beckon Hardy’s name.