SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Mandy Rose surprised Otis story line resonated so strongly
WrestleMania 36 will forever be remembered for its setting in an empty WWE Performance Center.
But there were some memorable wrestling moments, as well. Drew McIntyre finally captured the WWE championship and Charlotte Flair delivered a flawless performance that served as a reminder of her brilliance in the ring. And, of course, Mandy Rose and Otis united, exposing Sonya Deville and defeating Dolph Ziggler.
Had the match taken place as intended at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, the crowd would have exploded when Otis and Mandy finally had their moment together.
“That was such a big moment for us,” says Mandy Rose. “We would have loved to hear the crowd erupt, so that’s just more reason to have an even bigger moment next year.”
Rose is WWE star-entrepreneur Mandy Saccomanno, and she has been linked her entire WWE career to Sonya Deville, who is the talented Daria Berenato. The two met during WWE’s Tough Enough series in 2015 and have remained close ever since, teaming together on camera and working together off-screen on their Damandyz Donutz business.
But wrestling is not known for long-term partnerships, and the two officially split on-screen during the Otis–Dolph Ziggler match at WrestleMania. As difficult as it has been to work against Deville, instead of with her, Saccomanno was grateful for the chance to help write the latest chapter of their story.
“It’s hard to get in Vince’s office, but I finally got in and I pitched this story,” says Saccomanno. “He loved it, he had some ideas, and then Sonya and I had a lot of say in the creative, which was really cool. We were able to write a lot of it. We all worked together, and that’s one of the reasons it’s worked so well. Everyone’s been really passionate about it.”
The most compelling moment in the program came two weeks ago on SmackDown when Deville pleaded with Rose to keep the friendship alive, until revealing that she was finished with her former friend. The promo showcased Deville’s range, and the versatility from both talents has grabbed people’s attention.
“That’s the biggest piece of feedback we’ve received,” says Saccomanno. “We have such a real connection, and I think that’s a big reason why this has come off so real.”
Saccomanno now has a new partner in Otis, one of WWE’s most lovable characters. A former amateur wrestler, Otis is Niko Bogojevic, a dynamo out of Minnesota, a state known for producing some of the most captivating pro wrestlers.
Working together has been enormously popular, and the story line is a genuine portrayal, perhaps turned up a few notches, of their real-life friendship.
“Ever since we met in NXT, we’d always joke around together,” says Saccomanno. “He’d call me ‘Mandy Candy’ and cut different promos, and it was really cute. He’s just so charismatic, even when he’s not on camera. He makes us laugh the same amount when he’s off camera. He’s funny and super sweet, and he’s so kind, which is one of the best qualities.
“This was something we thought was really funny, and we both thought it could be a great story, though I never thought it would resonate with people this much. But it’s relatable, and it’s really cool that we’ve been able to involve so many people.”
The story line at WrestleMania led to extended camera time. If there were any doubts regarding people’s interest, their backstage WrestleMania interview generated more than three million views on YouTube.
“That was just us, off-script, being ourselves,” says Saccomanno. “I was shocked it got so many views. We’re really thankful that people are enjoying this.”
Saccomanno’s WrestleMania attire also caught the eye of her fans. Originally, that was ring gear intended to be worn at the Royal Rumble.
“My designer, Paola Estefania, is out in L.A., and she reached out to me a couple weeks before WrestleMania to say her studio had shut down,” says Saccomanno. “She couldn’t finish the gear she’d planned for me to wear at WrestleMania. The gear I wore was one of the two she made me for the Royal Rumble. I’d never tried it on, but once I did, and I loved it and thought it was perfect for WrestleMania.”
Saccomanno is looking to capitalize on her momentum, with another great opportunity to highlight her value to the company in a match this Friday on SmackDown against Carmella. It takes trust and reliability for wrestlers to prove to producers backstage that they are ready to represent the company as one of their champions, and Saccomanno plans on standing out in her match, which is a Money in the Bank ladder match qualifier.
In addition to wrestling and the Damandyz Donutz line, Saccomanno is constantly looking for ways to engage her fan base. Fitness is also a deep passion, which is why she created the Fit with Mandy app, and she is thrilled to share the finished product.
“It’s a 12-week at-home program, designed for all different skill levels and ages,” says Saccomanno. “I love training and I want to share that, which is why this is a program anyone can do. You don’t need any equipment, and you can do it in your living room or your garage or outside.”
As Saccomanno looks to bring the Mandy Rose character to new heights, she wants to strengthen her brand outside of wrestling. She also has a skincare line, Amarose, that is set to launch soon.
“The reason I fell in love with fitness was because of the way I felt after a workout, even looking in the mirror afterward and feeling good about myself,” says Saccomanno. “I’m so passionate about health and beauty, so these projects are near and dear to my heart. I want people to feel that, too, so I’m really hoping people try Fit with Mandy.”
Amanda Nunes open to a future in WWE
Amanda Nunes is one of the most elite MMA fighters in the world.
Currently covered in gold as UFC’s reigning bantamweight champion and featherweight champion, she brings a 10-fight win streak into her next bout, which is likely to take place this spring against Felicia Spencer.
Two of those victories came at the expense of eventual WWE stars Ronda Rousey and Shayna Baszler.
Nunes just recently posted a highlight on Instagram of her destruction of Baszler, but it was not designed to mock her opponent.
“That was a huge moment in my career,” says Nunes. “It’s not about showing people that I hurt her, it’s a reminder to me about believing in my coach. My coach at the time wanted me to drop her with the leg kick, and that’s what happened.”
Nunes also defeated Rousey by TKO in December 2016, which remains Rousey’s last fight in the octagon.
“That fight against Ronda was a huge one,” said Nunes, who was victorious just 48 seconds into the opening round. “I had Ronda Rousey in the back of my mind for so long, and I was ready for that opportunity.”
Rousey transitioned to WWE for an incredibly successful run that culminated in a WrestleMania headlining match, and Nunes would be open to a post-MMA run in WWE.
“Not right now, but maybe later when I retire,” says the 31-year-old Nunes. “I’m open to it. Why not? I could try something new.”
Nunes’s current project is Iron Sharpens Iron, a new Quibi program where athletes are paired up with a pro from another sport, training and working to learn each other’s craft. Nunes was paired with soccer star Carli Lloyd, which was fitting, considering soccer was her first love growing up as a child in Brazil.
“I thought I was going to be a soccer player, but things change,” said Nunes. “MMA got me. But this was a perfect opportunity to have a lot of fun and learn from each other.”
Despite being stuck in quarantine like the rest of the world, Nunes and her partner, Nina Ansaroff, who is also a talented UFC fighter, are filled with anticipation, as they are expecting their first child this fall.
“I can’t wait to be a mother and raise a child,” says Nunes. “We are very, very excited.”
Along with waiting to meet the new addition to the family, Nunes is also keeping busy by preparing for her next fight.
“My schedule has slowed down, but I’m still staying in shape,” says Nunes. “I look at my belts every day. That’s keeping me motivated. I’m still running and sparring, and I’ll be ready for Felicia.”
New book provides incredible depth on Andre the Giant as a wrestler and a man
There is no shortage of wrestling to watch on television during the pandemic, and there is also plenty to read.
Pat Laprade and Bertrand Hebert have teamed up to cowrite The Eighth Wonder of the World, possibly the finest literary endeavor ever covering Andre the Giant.
Laprade also worked as a field producer for HBO’s outstanding Andre the Giant documentary in 2018. An extensive amount of writing has been produced on Andre’s life, but this book did a phenomenal job of replacing myth with fact.
“I was fortunate enough to be part of the documentary, that was an amazing team, but there is only so much you can tell in 86 minutes,” says Laprade. “In the book, we explore every aspect of Andre’s career.”
The book is in-depth and goes into detail on areas of Andre’s life that are not especially well known, like when he spent a year of his career in England in 1969, as well as when he traveled to Japan for the first time in 1970.
Wrestling fans will soak up that knowledge, but a fascinating element to the book is the deep dive into Andre as a person.
“It was really important for us to talk about the difference between Andre the Giant and Andre Rousimoff,” says Laprade. “Andre Rousimoff always lived in the shadow of Andre the Giant. He was never able to be himself, he always had to be Andre the Giant. We really wanted to shine some light on Andre Rousimoff, from his birth to his death. Over 400 pages, we had the ability to do that.”
Laprade conducted interviews with the Rousimoff family, which allowed for the authors to craft some fantastic chapters on Andre’s childhood and family lineage.
“They gave me hours of their time, which was pretty special,” says Laprade. “And Andre has a nephew that has lived in the province of Quebec for close to 30 years, and he was very instrumental in getting us the information he had researched on the whole Bulgaria and Serbia branch of the family. The book wouldn’t have been the same without the family.”
As a passionate wrestling fan since 1982, Laprade was determined that the book would explore Andre both as a wrestler and person. He has been involved in the profession for two decades, getting his start in the independent wrestling scene in Montreal in 2001. Laprade has worked as a timekeeper and manager and handled behind-the-scenes responsibilities, as well as served as a ring announcer. He even provides the play-by-play for WWE’s international distribution of Raw in Canada and owns a women’s wrestling company in Quebec, Femmes Fatales.
After over 40 years of treating pro wrestling with such respect and admiration, it makes complete sense that Laprade ensured the whole breadth of Andre’s life and career was covered in the book.
The book is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and has been released in English and French. Even Andre historians will unearth new pieces of information in the story, and readers will enjoy the backstory behind how Andre Rousimoff became “Andre the Giant,” his fruitful partnership with the elder Vincent J. McMahon, his hot-and-cold relationship with the younger Vince McMahon, and how the locker room was his sanctuary.
“Andre wrestled up until a few weeks before he passed away, but he didn’t need the money,” says Laprade. “Andre had money. The wrestling locker room was one of the only places where he could be himself. You’ll learn so much more than you already know. There are so many myths and tales about Andre. Did he really drink 105 beers in one sitting? Did he really eat 12 steaks in one sitting?
“The wrestling fan is going to find so much information. It’s the story of a man that grew up with a disorder that made him an attraction all around the world, but that disorder cost him his life. It’s a tragic story–what made Andre so special is the reason he didn’t live to 50. We tried to humanize Andre. This isn’t just a book about Andre the Giant, it’s about the kind, generous Andre Rousimoff.”
The (online) week in wrestling
- Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer broke the news that Cain Velasquez was among WWE’s released talent, which marks an incredible fall from grace for Velasquez in pro wrestling. After generating steam following appearances in AAA, Velasquez was quickly signed by WWE, preventing AEW from acquiring the former UFC heavyweight champion, who had an unblemished record against Brock Lesnar. Velasquez came into WWE, lost an absurdly quick match by submission to Lesnar last fall in Saudi Arabia, and now, apparently, is gone from WWE, with his stock as a performer much lower than when he arrived.
- Drew McIntyre’s quest to become the face of WWE is certainly being helped by Seth Rollins, who is a legitimate foil for the champ as the Money in the Bank pay-per-view approaches.
- For those desperately seeking dirt from the Undertaker’s “Boneyard” match at WrestleMania, you’re in luck.
- Apollo Crews has shined in his past few appearances on Raw. Though the story line now has him nursing an injury that prevents him from competing in the Money in the Bank ladder match, hopefully it leads to a run with the United States title.
- Even in 2020, the NWO is still creating headlines.
- Roman Reigns delivered some heartfelt words about fighting cancer in a discussion with John Minadakis from Jimmy’s Famous Seafood, which just raised $9,200 in only eight days for four different charities.
- Chris Jericho shared some words of praise for Triple H, who is celebrating 25 years in WWE. I would have liked to have seen WWE air some of these videos, especially considering they could have been filmed from home.
- Wednesday night’s appointment viewing in AEW includes Lance Archer against Dustin Rhodes, which needs to be a standout moment for Archer, as well as a pay-per-view-caliber match pitting Cody Rhodes against Darby Allin. On NXT, Charlotte Flair defends the women’s championship against Mia Yim, and Keith Lee defends the North American title against Damian Priest. But only one show has Chris Jericho on commentary.
- The late Chris Candido is still remembered fondly for his brilliance in the wrestling ring.
- Dressed as the Ultimate Warrior, Moose won the main event of Impact’s second night of Rebellion, and he’s now wearing the old TNA world title, adding a new element to the main event.
- Ring of Honor has launched its own podcast. Hosted by the talented Kevin Eck, the first guest is “The Villain” Marty Scurll.
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 Backlash pay-per-view from 2005.
“This marks a point in time where WWE is trying to find a new identity,” said Thompson. “Vince is on a hunt for his next Rock and Austin, and he seems like he’s settled on John Cena and Batista. But Triple H and Shawn Michaels are still on top of the card, so he can’t go let go of the ‘Attitude Era.’”
The show is headlined by Batista defending the World Heavyweight Championship against Triple H, but the match that really sticks out is Hulk Hogan teaming with Shawn Michaels against Daivari and Muhammed Hassan.
“I know it’s building to their singles match at SummerSlam, but how many times did you ever think you’d see Hogan in a tag team with Shawn?” asked Thompson. “This feels like a fever dream, but it happened.”
The relationship between Vince McMahon, Hogan and Michaels will be explored at length.
“These are two of Vince’s favorite children, if you will, but they’ve both given him a fair amount of heartburn over the years,” said Thompson. “It’s a weird dynamic. These are two guys who feel like they have a relationship with Vince like nobody else has, but we’ve heard that Hogan is not thrilled with his payoffs, and Shawn isn’t thrilled about the creative, so they’re both unhappy here.
“For a long time we’ve known Bruce was the talent liaison, so how much were he and Jim Ross involved? Or was Vince working with Triple H on this? Here are two top guys, and they’re both vying for Vince’s attention. It’s just not sustainable.”
The card opens with Shelton Benjamin defending the Intercontinental title against Chris Jericho, which appeared to be an indicator that McMahon had lost faith in Jericho as a headline performer.
“I expect Bruce to argue that, but hear me out,” said Thompson. “Once they’d become world champs, how many times did we see Triple H or Shawn in the opening match? Once he’d become world champ, how many times did we see Hulk in the opening match? It also didn’t happen with Rock, Austin, or Cena, but it was different with Jericho. I want Bruce to examine the reason why.”
Backlash also included a “Last Man Standing” match pitting Edge against Chris Benoit, which is topical considering Edge just wrestled in a similar match at WrestleMania 36, as well as a very forgettable match between Kane and Viscera.
“Kane-Viscera, that should have never been on a pay-per-view,” said Thompson. “That’s a TV match at best. And a lot of people are uncomfortable talking about Chris Benoit having good matches, but him and Edge had great matches. Edge just had a ‘Last Man Standing’ match at WrestleMania, but the one from Backlash was received a lot better and took place in half the time.
“And we’re going to take a look The Hurricane and Rosey against La Resistance, which feels like an idea from [WWE writer] Brian Gewirtz. It was all about trying something new, exactly what WWE was doing in this era.”
Tweet of the Week
Mick Foley is right. Samoa Joe brings a lot of energy to the Raw broadcast, all rooted in his passion for pro wrestling.