SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath-the-surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Lita: “Everybody is so concerned with protecting the business, but sometimes to their own detriment”
Pro wrestling continues to evolve, as does the lens through which the industry is viewed.
A project with the potential to alter the perception of the entire business is the new KAYfABE project that launched Monday on Kickstarter.
Amy Dumas, Gail Kim and Christy Hemme are the creators of KAYfABE. They have set out to create a new kind of wrestling show, told from a female perspective and inspired by true events. Their campaign seeks to raise $400,000, with the goal of producing a first season of the KAYfABE show.
Dumas, best known as WWE Hall of Famer Lita, made numerous sacrifices, including the pain and anguish her body suffered throughout her career, to attain stardom in wrestling. Along with Kim and Hemme, she now aims to highlight a different side of the business.
“Women have been getting so many more opportunities in the ring, and that’s been beautiful to see,” said Dumas. “But it’s still all run by men, and we want to present our world and our journey through the lens of women. We want to give a realistic approach of what it’s like through our eyes.”
Unlike GLOW, which has been a hit for Netflix, this show will feature the cinematic quality of a drama while also delivering first-rate pro wrestling.
“This is a wrestling show,” said Dumas. “We’re going to have a live crowd with live wrestling with real wrestlers and real matches, not a camera person saying, ‘Do that again.’ And we’re very proud of the stories we’re going to be telling.”
The inspiration for KAYfABE was not an epiphany that took place overnight, but rather the result of years of experience, heartache, triumph, and frustration that occurred in the memorable careers of Dumas, Kim and Hemme.
“We’ve had really difficult journeys in wrestling, but ones we wouldn’t change,” said Dumas. “It made us who we are. But seeing conversations come out of the Me Too movement and #TimesUp, and throughout all these different entities in the world, we did not see that in wrestling.
“Everybody is so concerned with protecting the business, but sometimes to their own detriment. We want to open up the conversation in other parts of society to the wrestling world, and be able to grow and progress from a real place.”
No stranger to taking risks, Dumas wore a “#TimesUp” hashtag on her ring gear when she took part in the WWE’s first-ever women’s Royal Rumble match in 2018. She never received permission to wear that on her gear, nor did she ask for it.
“To be fair, I was never told not to wear it,” said Dumas. “It was actually Chris Jericho who told me, ‘Always ask for forgiveness instead of permission.’ I wanted my shirt to be a support of any woman mistreated in any way, no matter where they are in the journey. People are in different places with whatever their journey entails. Some choose to stay quiet; some people want to come out. None of those scenarios are wrong.
“Women have been so brave to speak up. We want to build on that courage. We want to put it out there in this racy, edgy way that is fun to watch. You don’t have to agree with us, but you’re going to love the wrestling, and hopefully you’re enthralled with the stories, as well.”
Dumas was asked whether she is worried that the raw topics set to be captured in KAYfABE could sever her relationship with WWE.
“Our goal is to actually make progress and make this business better,” said Dumas. “I would like to think they’re business-minded and can see that. This project means so much to me, so whatever it takes, I want to make this project work. I can’t spend time worrying about making someone mad. We’re making decisions for the purity of this project and to make it happen. These are conversations that need to happen in wrestling in order for us to move forward. While they could not like it, I’m hoping they are proud of us as business people.”
A blend of athleticism and entertainment, wrestling stands out as a remarkably unique entity because decisions are not always based alone on ability. Multiple factors go into deciding the talent who reside on the top of the card, which was on display in last week’s WWE show in Saudi Arabia when Bill Goldberg returned to capture the Universal Championship from Bray Wyatt.
And with promoters and booking in control of the fate of the talent, the possibility of an abuse of power always exists.
“The office holds the cards, and wrestling is so subjective,” said Dumas. “This is not a gender-based issued at all. And since the brass holds the cards, you’re at their mercy. They make or break you. Them knowing that you know they have your career in their hands is an unbalanced power situation.”
The KAYfABE project will turn into a reality only if enough money is raised by Tuesday, April 7.
“We hope it’s a long-term progress for the business, all while people get a show that they will love,” said Dumas. “We can see the business change cinematically, and through its standards and practices.
“And we can’t do it without people’s support, and my favorite donations have been the $1 donations, which is someone saying they may not have a lot of money but they still want to support us. All three of us have had so many career highlights, but we were in tears launching this because it means so much to us.”
WrestleMania news and notes
WrestleMania is developing into a first-rate card.
Last Friday’s SmackDown added two pivotal matches to the card, beginning with the announcement that Bill Goldberg will defend the Universal title against Roman Reigns. Vince McMahon’s plan has been to get the title around Reigns’s waist at WrestleMania, and pairing him against Goldberg is a wise decision. While Reigns is immensely popular with the younger WWE audience, it is extraordinarily difficult for a babyface to connect with all of the older portion of the fan base. Reigns was likely to get booed in a title match against “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt, but he is far more likely to be cheered against Goldberg.
The other match set up on SmackDown is the rematch of Wyatt against John Cena. They met at WrestleMania 30, with Cena defeating the leader of the Wyatt Family.
Cena cut a tremendous promo in the middle of the ring, explaining that he did not belong at this year’s WrestleMania because, essentially, a part-timer should not take a full-time talent’s spot at the biggest show of the year. As the show was going off the air, he was then challenged by the Fiend. Although Cena was clearly returning for ’Mania, perception is reality—and it was solid storytelling by WWE that Cena did not want to “take someone’s spot” as a part-timer after that is exactly what he criticized the Rock for doing during their build to a match at WrestleMania 28. Wyatt is expected to win the match, which is the right call.
A match that will have a much more debated finish is the one pitting AJ Styles against the Undertaker.
The program started last week in Saudi Arabia during Super ShowDown. The Undertaker filled in for an “injured” Rey Mysterio to defeat Styles and win the gauntlet match for the Tuwaiq Trophy.
Despite his advanced age and inability to perform like he once did, an aura still surrounds the Undertaker. Multiple sources close to WWE have confirmed to Sports Illustrated that the plan is to book the Undertaker to win at WrestleMania. If presented in the right fashion, a win by ’Taker should not hurt Styles, though I would argue that a win could give him momentum to carry through the entire year. Wrestling fans travel from all over the world to see the Undertaker at WrestleMania, and those audiences are conditioned to seeing him win. But a Styles victory would be much more memorable and a standout moment at WrestleMania.
Another match that I have heard could be added to the card is Andrade defending his United States title against Aleister Black, which would be the perfect opportunity to cover Black in gold. Black meets Styles on Sunday at Elimination Chamber, the final pay-per-view before WrestleMania, and it will be interesting to see if and how WWE pivots into its ’Mania story lines.
Becky Lynch is also scheduled to defend her Raw championship against Shayna Baszler, and Charlotte Flair adds star power to the NXT by challenging Rhea Ripley for the title, but neither of those matches is expected to close the show.
The headlining act comes down to Goldberg vs. Reigns, Drew McIntyre vs. Brock Lesnar, or my personal choice, Edge vs. Randy Orton.
WWE is positioning McIntyre as a monster ready to dethrone Lesnar for the WWE title, and their segment from this past Monday’s Raw definitely added to the allure of that match. But there is no match as personal, emotional, or meaningful as Edge’s return to the ring against Randy Orton.
Orton blamed Beth Phoenix for allowing her husband to be a junkie for the roar of the crowd. After she slapped him, Orton shocked the crowd by hitting her with an RKO.
One of WWE’s most talented performers, Orton is not always fully engaged in his story lines. But he certainly is here. This program feels extremely special, offering history and a brilliantly told story, and would serve as a very unique, intriguing main event for WrestleMania 36.
The (online) week in wrestling
- The Jon Moxley era starts Wednesday night on Dynamite, with a tag match that is likely to include a visit from the newly signed Lance Archer.
- Renee Young celebrated her husband’s win with a victory post on Instagram.
- Matt Hardy is a master of social media, and he will quickly amass a huge following wherever he lands—whether that is AEW, WWE or even NXT.
- The Young Bucks' appearing on Hardy’s YouTube series will only fuel the speculation about a potential move to AEW.
- The tag match between the Young Bucks and Hangman Page–Kenny Omega from Saturday’s Revolution was a breathtaking display of professional wrestling, but as much as I enjoyed it, I still rank the Bucks-Omega–Kota Ibushi match slightly higher … and there was a tribute to Kota in the match when the Bucks’ delivered the Golden Trigger.
- Two keys to success for this week’s Dynamite: MJF needs to deliver the promo of his life, and more airtime for Orange Cassidy.
- Here is a look at Cody Rhodes’s new tattoo, which has sparked debate from those for and against the ink ever since he displayed the new artwork on Saturday night at Revolution.
- Cody posted a message on Instagram addressing the significant spotlight on the new ink.
- Ring of Honor crowned a new champion on Saturday, as Rush reclaimed the belt during the Gateway to Honor show that ran opposite AEW’s Revolution pay-per-view.
- At 78 days, PCO’s reign as Ring of Honor champ was short. I am very surprised that ROH did not book a venue with him as champ in Montreal, where his following is still massive. Perhaps the feud with NWA champ Nick Aldis will continue beyond April and a marquee match will eventually take place on Canadian soil.
- Vice’s Dark Side of the Ring returns for a second season later this month, offering an incredibly compelling array of topics.
- It is nice to see the Undertaker defend his wife, but I just have a hard time envisioning him on Twitter.
Conrad Thompson previews this week’s Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard
Something to Wrestle With Bruce Prichard returns with a new episode this Friday, and this week’s podcast topic is the WWE career of Val Venis.
Venis (whose real name is Sean Morley) made unflattering headlines recently for criticizing AEW Women’s Champion Nyla Rose, stating that since Rose is a transgender wrestler, she should not be able to win the women’s title. He was widely criticized for his comments, but cohost Conrad Thompson noted that will not be the focus of the episode.
“We announced this episode before that ever happened,” said Thompson. “I wish he wouldn’t have done that, but he did.”
Venis’s career is a period in time worth exploring, as his character was a protagonist during his era, while he likely would have been cast as a villain at any other point in wrestling history.
“In any other era, a porn star character would have been viewed as a heel,” said Thompson. “Somehow, someway, they introduced a character that was a dirty, seedy character, and he got cheered wildly. We’ll dig into the dynamics of pop culture, what Vince McMahon knew of the genre, and why Morley was the right guy for the role.
“This feels like the second coming of the ‘Box of Gimmicks’ era, where this guy will be the Red Rooster, this guy will be the Big Boss Man, this guy will be the Blue Blazer, this guy will be Mr. Perfect. I don’t know if there was ever a crazier character than a ‘porn star’ character. It’s a moment in time, but that character couldn’t have worked before or after.”
The decision to present Morley as the Val Venis character is an area that Thompson wants Prichard to discuss at length.
“Who else was considered for this character?” asked Thompson. “Or was Val Venis born once Vince saw what Sean Morley could do? We’ll have the chicken-and-egg conversation, and we’ll have to talk about a mid-card gimmick. What makes a mid-card gimmick? What keeps it from being a top-of-the-card gimmick? And does Vince know some of the gimmicks are self-limiting, or is the hope there that the talent can break through that glass ceiling? Was that possible with this persona? We’ll break all that down, but I don’t think we’ll necessarily comment on much of his more recent controversial comments, simply because Bruce doesn’t know him now.”
Tweet of the Week
Congratulations to those who guessed 2020 as the year that the Bill Goldberg–Macaulay Culkin feud would take place.