SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Darby Allin: ‘I paint my face because 50 percent of me is dead inside’
It is impossible to look at Darby Allin without seeing his face paint.
After learning why he wears the face paint, it is hard to think of anything else when you see Allin. The black-and-white paint covers half of his face, with the other half untouched.
“I paint my face because 50 percent of me is dead inside,” says Allin. “When I was five, my uncle was driving drunk. I was in the car with him. We crashed and he passed away.”
Despite taking place 22 years ago, the event has forever shaped Allin.
“That’s why I have this ‘Nothing’s over ’til you’re underground’ tattoo on my chest,” says Allin, who proudly carries the shadows and ghosts of those in his life that left the world too soon. “A lot of people think that’s why I’m straight edge, and to a degree it is. And it’s from watching close friends, some who were very talented in the world of skateboarding, blow their opportunities because of drugs or alcohol. I made a commitment to myself that, when I set out to do everything I wanted to do, I couldn’t blame it on drugs or alcohol.”
Allin meets Sammy Guevara on Wednesday night on Dynamite in the quarterfinals of AEW’s inaugural TNT championship tournament. This a rematch of their brilliant encounter from February’s Revolution pay-per-view, a match that saw Allin emerge victorious after weeks of punishment from Guevara and the Inner Circle.
A win against Guevara would lead to another match with Cody Rhodes, who awaits the winner for a date in the semifinals. Allin wrestled Rhodes to a 20-minute draw at Fyter Fest in June, then lost the rematch on the January 1 edition of Dynamite. Though it appears this tournament is destined to lead to a Rhodes–Lance Archer match at the Double or Nothing pay-per-view in May, it wouldn’t be wise to bet against Allin.
Allin looked to emerge as one of AEW’s newest stars, especially after his match against Chris Jericho in October on the third week of Dynamite, but he lost momentum and was left off the card for the Full Gear pay-per-view in November.
“I sat in the crowd, and that ate me alive,” says Allin. “I sat there and watched the show, and I said to myself, ‘I’m going to put in as much work as I ever have, whether it’s video or matches, to be on the next pay-per-view.’
“There were people that probably expected me to be off the pay-per-view. I’m here to prove people wrong. I’m not here to make friends and treat this as a clubhouse. People here are super supportive, and I appreciate that, but this isn’t friendship hour. For me, this is about proving people wrong and putting AEW on the map.”
Allin vowed he would never again be deemed unnecessary for a major AEW show—so far, he has lived up to his word.
“Proving people wrong, that’s what drives me,” says the 27-year-old Allin. “I’ve always believed I belonged in this spot. Others may have not—[due to my] size, [or lack of] years. This is my fifth year in wrestling, and a lot of people say, ‘Your time will come, your time will come.’ No mother------, my time’s now. I feel it and I know it.”
The 5' 8" Allin does not fit the mold of a traditional main-eventer. His work in the ring is superb—he takes incredible risks in the air, lays his stuff in with a very realistic wrestling style, and has a tremendous finisher in the Coffin Drop—but with a shorter size and smaller build, promoters haven’t immediately envisioned him on the top of the card.
“I knew I had what it took,” says Allin. “I saw a lot of people handed the ball when they didn’t have what it takes. If it’s a size thing, I ain’t going to f------ take steroids. If it’s a years thing, I just don’t think that should matter. I’ve seen people wrestling in their first year better than some people I’ve seen who’ve wrestled for 10 years.
“When I started, my first week in wrestling, I was told I needed to be a character. Someone said I should be a gas station attendant. I was like, ‘What? No.’ There are so many different directions you can go in wrestling, but the one way you should is to follow your heart.”
One of Allin’s biggest moments in his AEW run has been main-eventing the October 16 edition of Dynamite against then-champ Chris Jericho, and that match gave Allin a chance to show he is ready for the spotlight on TNT. He did not allow such a big moment to swallow him up, nor did he psyche himself out, instead harnessing his energy perfectly and looking like Jericho’s equal.
“I was ready to show what I was capable of,” says Allin. “For them to have that faith in me early, that was Week 3 of TV. I was still unknown at that point to the global audience, and there were nerves, of course, because I had to hit it out of the park so those opportunities could come more often.”
Allin’s vision is starting to come into view. A win against Guevara will present another high-profile meeting with Rhodes—perhaps the third time will be the charm?—and another significant opportunity to showcase further layers of his character.
In spite of a brash style that constantly leaves his body aching, Allin relishes the chance to be in and around the ring, a place where he always comes alive.
“The way I act in the ring, I feel like that inside every day, even when I’m not wrestling,” says Allin. “In the ring, it’s like letting a caged animal be free. I was brought here to be myself and nothing else. Going in the ring, that’s my therapy.
“And if you want to see what I’m capable of next, just watch.”
Indie wrestling showcase: Matthew Justice on wrestling for Zona 23
Zona 23 is a hardcore wrestling promotion 45 minutes north of Mexico City. All of its shows take place in an open-air junkyard, as wrestlers jump off stacked trucks and battle beside wrecked cars.
In March, it was a proving ground for Matthew Justice.
“I’ve been wanting to go to Zona 23 for a long time,” says Justice. “I like being crazy, I like jumping off high s---, I like taking a risk. I knew I needed to live up to my own expectations and jump off the highest stack of crushed cards I could find.”
Justice, who is 32-year-old Matthew Hannan, got himself booked on a Zona 23 card on March 15. The trip was memorable for a few reasons. First, the timing of the event, right as North American began to issue stronger coronavirus restrictions, raised questions about whether it would even happen. Second, it was filmed as a mini-documentary for Independent Wrestling TV.
Learning about wrestling outside of its traditional sphere is exciting for fans, as well as for wrestlers. Justice, a 14-year wrestling veteran, was hungry for the chance to be on such a unique card.
The Zona 23 style of wrestling is certainly out of the ordinary, resonating with a fan base that prefers more hardcore wrestling. Justice wrestled against Demoleador in the Zona 23 main event on March 15, and the experience of the junkyard exceeded his expectations.
“I’d watch all their shows on IWTV, but it was even crazier to be there,” says Justice. “You don’t realize how many people are there until you’re in the junkyard, and they tailgate, too. They were hyped up before the show started, and they had the same energy once the show started. And even the technical wrestlers were taking insane, crazy risks.”
Just outside Mexico City, in the town of Buenavista, Justice delivered and received a beating. One spot that stuck out occurred when he was thrown off the top of a box truck and landed on the roof of a car below.
“That’s not how we planned it,” says a laughing Justice. “There was a language barrier, so I was not mentally prepared to get thrown the way I did. But I was prepared for the unknown.
“It’s an obscure niche, but the people that love it, love it. I definitely understand why a wrestling purist wouldn’t like it, but wrestling has always been a little bit of a stunt show. How many years in a row at WrestleMania did Shane McMahon jump off something high?”
Justice takes pride in his hardcore wrestling, but he possesses a versatile style that allows him to excel in a number of forums. He has worked at perfecting the craft of strong-style wrestling, which led to a three-month tour this spring with the German-based wXw promotion. He also worked a two-week tour of Japan in February before the rest of his trips were postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus.
When the wrestling world returns to its normal pace, Justice will have options to work for multiple companies. He will keep his options open, but looks forward to continuing his artistic passion throughout the independents.
“I was in WWE when I was 23,” says Justice. “I’ve done that. I was in FCW, and it wasn’t for me at the time. WWE is like pop music, it’s Britney Spears. Me, I’ve always been Slayer.
“I really love independent wrestling, just like I’ve always loved underground heavy metal. My favorite bands are all on independent record labels, and I like that. This is my spot in the world of wrestling, and I’m pretty happy with it.”
The (online) week in wrestling
Drew McIntyre channeled the old Shawn Michaels cover of Playgirl at the end of Raw … unlike he did in his infamous “Attitude Era” promo on Raw toward HBK, Bret Hart has yet to weigh in.
- The best match on Raw this Monday was Rey Mysterio vs. Buddy Murphy, and the win puts Mysterio in the men’s Money in the Bank ladder match at May’s pay-per-view.
- WWE plans on continuing to operate during a global pandemic, a decision that is gaining more mainstream attention by the day.
- Former XFL commissioner Oliver Luck is suing Vince McMahon. McMahon’s attorney says Luck’s allegations will be disputed.
- Curt Hawkins’s Cameo video message to Mandy Rose, on behalf of Dolph Ziggler, is gold.
- I really enjoyed the Jon Moxley–Jake Hager main event last week on Dynamite. It had a really solid build, felt noteworthy, and the right man won—but at a half-hour in an empty arena, it just ran a little too long.
- Two of my favorite parts of this past Wednesday’s shows were the Keith Lee video that aired for NXT …
… and “The Bubbly Bunch” video, which was a creative way to highlight the Inner Circle.
- Forever the Revival is now … Fear the Revolt.
- From one WWE Hall of Famer to another, Mick Foley expressed his disappointment with President Donald Trump.
- On the subject of politics, Ethan Page made a perfect observation regarding this picture.
- The first part of Impact’s Rebellion ran Tuesday night, and the highlight was Willie Mack's winning the X Division championship.
- PromoMania is a fantastic way to spotlight independent wrestlers that are out of work due to the coronavirus … and I can’t be the only one waiting for the promo from Warhorse.
Conrad Thompson previews this week’s edition of ‘Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard’
A new episode of Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard is set for this Friday, as Prichard and cohost Conrad Thompson discuss the legendary career of “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan.
“We’re going to examine Duggan right from the start of his time in WWE,” said Thompson. “Duggan came in as a rough, tough, kick-ass performer from Bill Watts’s Mid-South, where he was the top babyface in the territory and had just put together a tremendous series of hard-hitting, heavy-handed style matches. It’s no wonder Vince wanted to snap him up.”
He signed with McMahon in January 1987, making his pay-per-view debut at the famed WrestleMania III that March. To this day, Duggan still claims he would have had a run with the world title had he not been arrested in May 1987, when he and the Iron Sheik were traveling together and pulled over in Middleton, New Jersey.
Duggan was charged with possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana and having an open container of alcohol in the car, while Sheik was also charged with possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana, as well as possession of cocaine. In addition to the arrest, which was a horrible look for the WWE stars, this was a blatant slap in the face to those who believed Duggan and Sheik were supposed to be fierce rivals.
“Vince was trying to make Duggan the symbol of America by carrying the American flag, which was a bit of departure from what we saw in Mid-South,” said Thompson. “He wasn’t asked to drag a snake in a bag, carry a bird, or come to the ring with a man-servant in a glittery suit. He carried the American flag.
“It felt like Duggan was primed and poised to be a big part of the main-event, top-of-the-card future for Vince. Then the arrest happened and everything changed. This happened right after Bruce started with the company, and he’ll touch on this, how Duggan was never to be brought back again. But he did, though it felt like Vince never trusted him again.”
Duggan was massively popular for WWE throughout the golden Hogan era, but his spot on the card rarely ever changed.
“That’s one of the things I enjoy talking about with Bruce—it feels like as fans, we’ve heard that when Vince makes up his mind on a wrestler, that’s where you stay. He may give speeches about breaking through that glass ceiling and grabbing that brass ring, but if he has mind made up, then that’s it. Hacksaw was an iconic part of the company, with a two-by-four and a USA chant, but he was never given a chance at the top.”
Four decades after his WWE debut, Duggan remains a beloved figure in wrestling. He also had a run in WCW in the ’90s after Hogan’s entrance into the company, famously defeating Steve Austin for the United States title, which will be discussed.
“I’m very interested in hearing more about this from Bruce,” said Thompson. “How did it affect Vince when guys that he made household stars get better deals elsewhere? Was there any negativity from Vince toward Duggan?
“People always ask me, ‘When are you going to do a show on Vince?’ And I say every Friday at noon. This will be another great example of that, covering a guy in Hacksaw that seemed to check all the boxes for Vince.”
Tweet of the Week
For those still mourning the loss of Howard Finkel, this tweet—and the message in the background—was especially touching.