SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Brodie Lee: ‘Now the pressure is on me. There is no one left to blame—there are no writers, no Vince McMahon. It’s me versus Jon Moxley’
Brodie Lee enters unknown territory this Saturday at Double or Nothing, stepping into a featured match against AEW World Champion Jon Moxley.
Long a background dancer in WWE’s Wyatt Family as the artist formerly known as Luke Harper, Lee has finally received his opportunity to close out a show as one of its featured performers.
And it certainly beats the alternative.
Had Lee remained with WWE, where he had been offered a lucrative deal to re-up, it’s possible that he would have been part of the company-wide cuts that took place in April. Had that been the case, Lee would not be leading the Dark Order as its “Exalted One,” nor would he even be part of AEW. Instead, the 40-year-old Jonathan Huber would be seeking work, along with more than two dozen of his peers also released from WWE, operating in a competitive market place overloaded with free agents.
Ultimately, gambling on himself paid off. Lee left behind the promise of big money in WWE for a chance to attain wrestling notoriety in the ring with AEW.
“Taking the money and sitting in catering would have been taking the easy way out,” says Lee. “The opportunities might have come, nobody knows, and who knows if I would have been cut. But now I have the opportunity to be in the forefront of a huge, live TV broadcast every week.
“Now I’m in a position where it’s up to me to prove to everybody that they were wrong about me. There is a different pressure now, but it’s exactly what I asked for.”
Lee has learned a tremendous amount during the course of his 17-year career, especially during the last eight years in WWE. Working for Vince McMahon certainly left an impression, as evidenced by Lee’s work leading the cult known as the Dark Order. Lee touched on whether the character of “The Exalted One” was inspired by McMahon, as well as whether WWE is the real-life incarnation of the Dark Order.
“People can take it any way they want,” says Lee. “To me, it’s a culmination of a lot of things in life, mainly a corporate leader and a mob boss, and the results speak for themselves. There might be a nod here or there, but this is certainly not a direct take on anyone from WWE.”
Lee is thrilled to be back in the ring. For the 90-day stretch of time that satisfied his noncompete clause with WWE, the closest connection he had to wrestling were his daily tweets, stating the day of the week—and reminding people of the meaning behind that.
“Once I decided to leave WWE, I envisioned my tweets finally paying off with my debut in AEW,” says Lee, who set a new standard of consistency by posting the same message every day beginning in October 2016. “It became a daily affirmation, and it became part of me. I’m also happy it’s over now. Evil Uno does it now, which helps me, because that’s how I keep track of the days of the week.”
Had the coronavirus never impacted the wrestling industry, Lee would likely be in a different match at Double or Nothing. Moxley would likely be defending the title against MJF, who was red-hot coming off his win against Cody Rhodes at Revolution in February.
But this is now Lee’s opportunity to prove he belongs in the world title picture.
“I left the other company to come to a place where I can prove myself,” says Lee. “Now the pressure is on me. There is no one left to blame—there are no writers, no Vince McMahon. It’s me versus Jon Moxley.”
There is beauty in the simplicity of a Brodie Lee match. He hits hard and his work looks extremely snug. His discus lariat and big boot, just to name two examples, are authentic and believable.
It should come as no surprise that his two biggest influences in wrestling were Fit Finlay and William Regal, who both presented extremely realistic styles in the ring.
“Look at Fit Finlay,” says Lee. “He didn’t waste a moment of movement in that ring. Finlay and William Regal, those were my two biggest inspirations, and whether it’s grabbing a guy’s face to move him or the way they hit people in such distinct, beautiful motion, neither of those guys wasted a moment. So to me, if it doesn’t look right, it bothers me.”
Self-doubt can hamper ability in wrestling just like any other forum. But Lee now has the chance to better control his narrative with increased time on the microphone. With each new opportunity, his confidence continues to expand.
“Self-doubt played a huge role in my life for a long time in WWE,” says Lee. “It makes you doubt who you are and what you are. I knew that I was a great professional wrestler and I knew I was one of the better ones in the locker room, and I had coworkers telling me that. But that wasn’t the decision that was made. I knew I was better than that, and that’s why I needed to get out of that environment.”
Double or Nothing provides the opportunity Lee has long been seeking. His objective is to present himself in a manner that shows he has the size, look, ability and intangibles of a world champion.
Standing across from Lee will be Moxley, a pair of real-life friends and on-screen foes intimately familiar with one another.
“We’ve done this for going on 10 years, starting in 2010 in Evolve,” says Lee. “We wrestled in CZW, wrestled in WWE and now here we are in AEW. He’s going to punch me in the face and bring something else out of me.”
Lee is unlikely to emerge from this match with the world title. The goal for AEW should be to continue to build Moxley as its champion. But regardless of the finish, Lee needs to make a statement once the bells rings.
“I’ve been waiting for this for so long,” says Lee. “This is the opportunity I craved, and there is no way that I can live with myself if I leave some disappointment there. I know exactly what he’s going to bring, he knows what I’m going to bring and people are very much going to get their money’s worth during that match.”
WWE attorney Jerry McDevitt responds following Sports Illustrated article on Owen Hart
Following the piece on Owen Hart on Monday, attorney Jerry McDevitt, who works for WWE’s outside legal counsel K&L Gates, offered Sports Illustrated a response to the comments in the article from Owen’s widow, Dr. Martha Hart.
McDevitt did not agree with all of Hart’s statements in the article, including a point of contention regarding WWE’s decision to countersue Hart to hold the trial in Connecticut instead of Missouri, which was the site of Owen’s fall.
“With respect to the breach of contract, it wasn’t a breach of contract—it’s basically a standard technique where you enforce a forum selection clause,” says McDevitt. “If somebody signed the forum selection clause, if they bring a lawsuit that’s within the scope of the forum selection clause, in any jurisdiction other than the one they’ve contractually agreed to, what you do is bring an action to enforce it. And that’s what we did.”
The Dark Side of The Ring season finale, which aired Tuesday night, was focused on Owen’s final days and shared insight from his widow, their two children, Jim Ross, and Chris Jericho.
Instead of not issuing any statement at all, McDevitt was asked why it was necessary to refute some of Hart’s statements.
“It is kind of difficult because you do want to respect the grieving widow, but it’s 21 years later and it’s time to stop the lies,” says McDevitt. “It’s just not what happened here. Martha was her own worst enemy in that lawsuit. We were the ones that were trying to take care of her despite the stuff she kept doing to try to make it hard to get to what happened that night.
“She tries to make it look like she overcame these terrible people who were doing all these terrible things to her in the litigation. It’s exactly the opposite. You won’t find any wrongdoing by WWE by any judge in that lawsuit against her, ever.”
WWE undoubtedly does a tremendous amount of goodwill, but the decision to speak out against Hart is, simply put, not a good look. McDevitt is certainly entitled to a response to the original article, which he was granted, but his comments only heightened the awareness of the Dark Side episode on Owen.
Ultimately, the end result remains the same. Owen’s death will forever remain a tragedy, and that is a fact that can never be argued.
Jonathan Snowden’s new Ken Shamrock biography now available
Jonathan Snowden’s new book, Shamrock: The World’s Most Dangerous Man, is now available, and readers will encounter an entirely different side of Shamrock.
There is an incredible amount of new information unearthed in this biography, which details Shamrock’s time in MMA, pro wrestling and his foray into the quicksand of the drug world, offering a vulnerable piece of his soul not often on display in the world of mixed martial arts.
“I was shocked by some of the things I discovered on this journey,” says Snowden, who is a veteran of the United States Army. “And it started from Day One. I was at a restaurant with Ken’s manager, his trainer Guy Mezger and brother Frank Shamrock the night before Ken’s final MMA fight with Royce Gracie. They were telling stories I’d never heard and I realized, despite all the media he’s done over his career, there was a lot about Ken the general public was entirely unaware of. I had no idea just how deep that well was, but I was intrigued right away.
“Ken and his inner circle pulled no punches in their fighting days, and none were pulled as they look back at their lives either. I think a lot of us have regrets about mistakes we’ve made in the past. Ken’s willingness to admit to some of the things he’s done that hurt those closest to him will be very familiar to anyone who hasn’t always made the best choices in their lives.”
Shamrock was a perfect fit as a subject for Snowden, intertwining his passionate coverage of pro wrestling and MMA. Snowden first began his coverage of MMA in 2007 when he began to write Total MMA, a book published the following year. From that point forward, he became one of the sport’s most prolific writers, most notably with Bleacher Report. He also covers pro wrestling—his feature on “Stone Cold” Steve Austin still stands out—but narrowing his focus on Shamrock allowed the opportunity to cover memorable moments in the cage and the ring.
“Not only was he a top star when WWE was at its ‘Attitude Era’ peak, but the Ken Shamrock story is also the story of mixed martial arts,” says Snowden. “He was there from literally Day One in both America and Japan and helped lead the sport right into the modern era against Tito Ortiz. This is more than the story of one man. It’s the story of a martial arts revolution, which is kind of fascinating in its own right.”
Shamrock was part of some phenomenal moments in WWE history. His role in the Bret Hart–Steve Austin classic from WrestleMania 13 cannot be understated, though it is rarely mentioned by WWE. Snowden revealed that discussing Shamrock’s WWE years was the hardest part of the book.
“Ken’s memories of that time are clouded by a lot of recreational drug use, and he just doesn’t have the same kind of vivid recollections he had about some of his early fights in particular,” said Snowden. “When you add in wrestling people’s occasionally questionable relationship with the truth, it became a section I had to really carefully fact-check.
“Despite that, I think it is one of the starkest looks yet about what life was like on the road for a pro wrestler in that era. The excess was staggering—the drugs, the girls, the booze—but it doesn’t seem like it was always fun to be part of the business during those days.”
A lucrative million-dollar contract with WWE, and heightened worldwide exposure, only further complicated Shamrock’s life.
“As the Notorious B.I.G. once said, ‘Mo money, mo problems,’” says Snowden. “For Shamrock, joining the WWE was like being released from prison or the Army. He had lived a relatively regimented life as a professional fighter. Suddenly he was on the road, with no rules, no shortage of cash, and seemingly no limits. And he just wasn’t prepared to handle the lifestyle. His relationship with his wife and kids was already kind of tenuous at best. Being on the road five days a week and partying the rest of the time certainly didn’t help.”
The fight world is so rich with colorful personalities, with each generation’s stars surpassing the ones that came before them. Yet Shamrock has remained an integral part of its landscape for parts of the past three decades.
“Numbers don’t lie,” says Snowden. “Everywhere Ken fought, he drew money and interest. Even his final bouts for Bellator, long after he was considered a serious fighter, drew serious ratings for Spike TV. There’s just something about him, a personal magnetism, that attracts the eye. When he walks into a room, he commands attention and respect. Heads turn to look at him. Most people shrink from that kind of attention. He seems to grow larger in the light. I can’t really say why, but the effect is undeniable if you’re with him.”
As the author of the definitive Shamrock biography, Snowden is grateful to share the finished product with readers.
“The first wrestling book I ever read was Have a Nice Day by Mick Foley,” says Snowden. “And, with due respect, nothing ever quite lived up to the standard Mick set. I’m not suggesting this book reaches those lofty heights. But my goal was to write a real book. Not a book that was ‘good enough’ for wrestling. A book that was worthy of someone who has lived the incredible life Ken has. I don’t know if I hit that target. But that was my aim.”
The (online) week in wrestling
- Authorities confirmed the devastating news that Shad Gaspard was found dead after being caught in a rip current at Marina del Rey beach in Venice Beach, California. At only 39, his life ended far too soon. Gaspard, who starred in WWE as part of the Cryme Tyme tag team, helped ensure his son’s rescue before disappearing in the rip tide. He made a lasting impact in wrestling, but an even greater one within his family.
- More sad news: The talented Larry Csonka from 411 Wrestling died earlier this week. Csonka, who was recently profiled in this column in January, provided outstanding coverage. Reading his show reviews were a staple for many wrestling fans, and he will be sorely missed. A GoFundMe has been set up for his children.
- It was good to see Roman Reigns, who was interviewed by Orlando’s Fox 35 and spoke about his fight against leukemia.
- Seth Rollins shared his joy about bringing a child into this world with Becky Lynch.
- If this was Drew Gulak’s farewell match in WWE, he left in memorable fashion. Gulak is a fantastic performer but has yet to even reach his prime. Whether it is back in WWE or elsewhere, he should have an incredibly bright future.
- The scenes from the Chicago Bulls’ Last Dance documentary that featured Dennis Rodman’s foray into World Championship Wrestling during the 1998 NBA Finals were phenomenal.
- Sean Waltman celebrated the anniversary of his breakout moment in wrestling, which occurred 27 years ago this month on Monday Night Raw. Watching the event as it unfolded, it was a genuine surprise—and the beginning of an incredible run for Waltman in WWE.
- Lance Storm with another fantastic idea—who wouldn’t be intrigued by this concept?
- Pro Wrestling Tees is now selling Owen Hart T-shirts, with all profits benefiting the Owen Hart Foundation.
- In the state we currently exist, where any new content is gold, how has this game not aired in its entirety?
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 take a close look at Judgment Day 2005.
The show was headlined by John Cena's wrestling John “Bradshaw” Layfield in an “I Quit” match for the WWE championship. This is one of the early Cena performances that established him as the definitive face of the company, and it is notable for its profuse use of blood.
“This match feels like it’s out of a horror movie,” says Thompson. “They go out there and bleed buckets. It’s one of the last bloodbaths we see in WWE. To me, Vince looks at blood as a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ type of situation. Vince starts to treat blood like a last resort, but it really worked here.
“WWE is looking for a new identity, and in the main event, they went back to what they knew. It’s a Million Dollar Man type of character with JBL, who was a big hulking heel, and a charismatic babyface that could sell like Ricky Morton.”
Thompson will also have Prichard explore the WWE landscape in May of 2005.
“Creative is all over the place,” says Thompson. “It feels like they don’t know exactly what they’re looking for, other than they’re looking for their next big thing. I mean, the U.S. title match is between Orlando Jordan and Heidenreich.
“It’s a scattered focus where they were, and they were blindsided by the news that SmackDown was moving from Thursdays to Fridays. For years and years in television, Friday was viewed as the death spot. WWE apparently didn’t know that move was coming. They were also only a few weeks away from One Night Stand, one of the most influential and important pay-per-views of the era, which is going to lead to a third brand.”
Tweet of the Week
Did anyone else watching The Last Dance doc catch Dennis Rodman give a DX chop to the crowd in Salt Lake City after the Bulls defeated the Jazz for the NBA title in ’98?