SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque: ‘NXT is the place where people come when they have something to prove, and that’s been embedded in the women’s division since its creation’
There is no shortage of championships in professional wrestling. But over the past seven years, few titles have stood out like the NXT Women’s Championship.
Since its creation in 2013, there have only been nine different champions. And, in a throwback manner, the title has largely remained with the champ for a considerable chunk of time. Unlike other major belts, there is no hot potato with the NXT Women’s Championship, with only two title reigns lasting fewer than 100 days.
After years of women solely being used in a confined, restrictive manner in WWE, the NXT women’s division provides unlimited opportunity. Former champions include Asuka, Sasha Banks, Bayley and Paige, who was the inaugural winner, and each champ has added her own flair to the title, especially during Asuka’s 16-month title run. One of the best wrestling matches of this century was the Bayley-Banks classic from NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn in August 2015, which raised the division’s standard of excellence even higher.
Currently featuring Io Shirai, Candice LaRae, Dakota Kai, Tegan Nox, Chelsea Green and Mia Yim, just to name a few, the division is overflowing with depth, to the point where a secondary title would benefit NXT.
After defeating Rhea Ripley at WrestleMania 36, Charlotte Flair is the current champ. She defends the title in a triple threat match this Sunday at NXT TakeOver: In Your House, placing Flair in a position to put a bright spotlight on whomever defeats her.
Paul “Triple H” Levesque, who oversees the NXT brand, was asked if the NXT Women’s Championship is the most prestigious title in all of WWE.
“The NXT women’s title is one of the most meaningful ones in the business,” said Levesque. “That is a testament to all the women who played a role in that. The women in NXT, they’ve got something to prove. They’re really going out of their way to make a name for themselves.”
Women in wrestling have often been restricted and limited in terms of television time and roster size, but currently enjoy unparalleled freedom and opportunity in NXT.
“NXT is the place where people come when they have something to prove,” said Levesque. “That’s been embedded in the women’s division since its creation. The floodgates opened with Charlotte, Becky, Sasha, Bayley, Paige and that entire crew, they took it to another level. Ever since, it’s moved up the line.
“There was a period of time a few years ago when those women all got called up to Raw and SmackDown, and it started over. The women in NXT have been hell bent on proving they belong.”
Shawn Michaels is one of the lead coaches at the WWE Performance Center, and he believes that the NXT Women’s Championship stands out in a business flooded with titles.
“There are no definites in this business, but I’d argue it’s pretty close,” said Michaels. “The women of the past helped develop this division, and it still operates at the highest level. I can still remember visiting NXT before I was working in the Performance Center, and I watched Sasha and Charlotte. I can remember watching a match and thinking, ‘My goodness, these two are incredible. If I were going to Monday Night Raw, I would want to steal all of that.’ I was just so impressed by what they were doing in the ring.”
This Sunday’s TakeOver marks the perfect time to elevate a new star, pushing the division to new heights. Ripley and Flair combined for a phenomenal match at WrestleMania, and Shirai makes a convincing argument for the best pound-for-pound talent in all of wrestling. The timing is right to crown a new champion, especially with Shirai, who is seeking her first run with the belt, and the match should be the show’s main event.
Levesque believes the women in NXT have redefined the threshold level for compelling wrestling matches, helping the way women are seen as stars across the business.
“This isn’t to negate the effort from our men because the guys work hard, but more often than not in the past few months at the Performance Center, the people I would see grinding, whether it was in the gym or the ring, were the women,” said Levesque. “I don’t mean sometimes, I mean always. The way the women work in NXT, it’s awe-inspiring to me.
“That work ethic, that desire to take it to a whole other level, they have something more to prove. There are big shoes to follow, so there is even more to prove now.”
WWE wrestlers react to killing of George Floyd
George Floyd’s death is a terrifying reminder of racism in the world. It makes me mad, sad, and frustrated.
And since this is an issue of human rights, pro wrestling is certainly affected.
Even a cursory glance at Instagram and Twitter shows how the women and men in wrestling have been impacted by Floyd’s tragic death. There have been many incredibly powerful messages, but I found these tweets by Ettore Ewen—who we know as Big E—as ones that particular struck me.
He also had a thoughtful thread about racism throughout America’s history.
Big E’s words hit hard. It is sickening that racism is still as real as ever. Hatred is taught, and it is stomach-churning that people continue to infect society with bigotry.
I also sincerely hope promotions also take an active role in directly condemning racism and opening up productive dialogue. The largest companies need to take responsibility in promoting equality, beginning with WWE. Continued representation from a diverse group of stars is incredibly important. And there are so many other ways to contribute in a meaningful way.
Why can’t WWE feature videos on the WWE Network where members of the roster take a forceful stand against racism? Titus O’Neil’s Instagram Live conversation with Dave Bautista, Tampa Police Chief Brian Duggan, and Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister was insightful and informative; it isn’t hard to imagine the further exposure it would receive if this were highlighted on a platform as wide-reaching as the Network.
Mustafa Ali is a former police officer. Why not produce a video session with Ali, O’Neil and other members of the roster to discuss the George Floyd tragedy and share ideas on how to combat racism? These are discussions that are necessary.
There are countless innovative ways in which wrestling promotions can play a helpful and significant role as we take steps toward fighting racism. AEW has a massive following on social media and YouTube. Ring of Honor, Impact Wrestling and Major League Wrestling should all find their own way to consistently contribute. Sadly, far too many people have endured racism. Unequal treatment based on race should no longer be real, and wrestling’s most influential promotions have an opportunity to speak out loudly against racism.
Ring of Honor’s Ian Riccaboni helping raise awareness for Pride Month
A significant piece of wrestling’s beauty is its ability to connect with people from all over the world. Wrestling speaks a universal language, for both the performers and fans.
Ring of Honor play-by-play announcer Ian Riccaboni is pushing for even more inclusion in the business he loves.
“Pro wrestling is one of the most diverse locker rooms and fan bases in all sports, and it should be for everyone,” said Riccaboni. “Pride Month is celebrated every year in June, and it is important to celebrate our diversity and our athletes, staff, and fans that might identify as LGBTQ.”
Riccaboni is partnering with the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, Pa., to raise awareness and celebrate Pride Month. He worked with Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Tees to design his own Micro Brawler action figure wearing the Pride flag, and proceeds will benefit Bradbury-Sullivan.
“It is so important that pro wrestling is inclusive of all identities,” said Riccaboni. “Homophobia still exists, but this is a small step, an acknowledgment from Ring of Honor that we won’t stand for that.”
The Micro Brawler perfectly combines Riccaboni’s passion for pro wrestling and inclusion.
“That’s the goal with this Micro Brawler, to remind people that everyone is welcome,” said Riccaboni, who credited Colt Cabana with help giving life to the idea. “It’s a small gesture, but there always should be representation and accelerated efforts to welcome LGBTQ fans and wrestlers alike.”
Pro Wrestling Tees and Ring of Honor are selling 500 of the Riccaboni Micro Brawlers, with the proceeds going to Bradbury-Sullivan.
“In my community, the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center has been repeatedly lauded and admired as a place that conducts consistent outreach to LGBTQ residents as an ally,” said Riccaboni. “It was always an organization I’d heard about it, but being someone who identifies as straight, I hadn’t sought out the opportunity to learn more about the good the organization is doing. I started to learn more about the organization, and I wanted to do more.
“Last year, with the help of [ROH COO] Joe Koff and [General Manager] Greg Gilleland, we were able to release a limited-edition t-shirt that Colt Cabana designed with my ‘Happy Wrestling’ television sign-off with the colors of the Pride flag. But this year, we wanted to raise more awareness.”
Even though a Micro Brawler is small, Riccaboni’s message is much larger.
“Everyone should be welcome in wrestling,” said Riccaboni. “There is a lot of work still to do. But those of us involved in this project want to bring awareness to Pride Month, and I hope we celebrate Pride Month every year in Ring of Honor.”
Lead producer from The King of Fighters Allstar discusses the collaboration with WWE
The King of Fighters Allstar lead producer Travis Marshall spoke with Sports Illustrated to share additional information regarding the crossover between WWE and The King of Fighters mobile game.
“We worked very closely with WWE and their brand team to create something more than a quick little feature,” said Marshall. “We created an entire storyline and replicated the signature moves of all the superstars we featured, and we put together an immersive experience for King of Fighters fans and WWE fans to enjoy.”
The Rock, Becky Lynch, Kofi Kingston, The Undertaker, and Seth Rollins all appear in the game, with an attention to detail placed upon the storyline connecting the two separate, distinct worlds.
Storylines include interaction between The Rock and King of Fighters favorite Orochi, as well as scenes with John Cena and Terry Bogard. Another key story in the game is The Undertaker’s urn being stolen by Choi Bounge, and Michael Cole also recorded voiceovers for the game.
“We put a lot of care into the storyline so there is an interesting, in-character way for WWE to interact with our beloved King of Fighters characters,” said Marshall. “The audience has expressed that the fine attention has made the collaboration very special.”
The (online) week in wrestling
- Chad Lail, who is part of WWE’s Forgotten Sons tag team as Jaxson Ryker, sparked tension with his tweet in support of President Trump.
- There were many replies to Ryker, but personally, I preferred this tweet.
- I’ll keep an open mind as the story progresses, but I would have much preferred that the opening angle of last Friday’s SmackDown was not based around Jeff Hardy and his real-life addiction.
- Although overshadowed by the Chris Jericho-Mike Tyson closing segment, Cody Rhodes’ promo on last week’s Dynamite was outstanding. His open challenge for the TNT Championship, beginning tonight with a match against Jungle Boy, has potential to be one of the most compelling parts of weekly television in wrestling.
Even out of the ring, Dr. Britt Baker continues to be a must-see part of Dynamite.
- The debuting Revival—now known as FTR—add further depth to AEW. Their program with the Young Bucks will be another exciting element to Dynamite, hopefully creating a memorable series of matches so intense the tag titles aren’t even necessary.
- On the subject of tag teams, the Kenny Omega and Hangman Page pairing, and specifically the trust they have built even with the threat of a split always looming, has been a pleasure to watch develop.
- Wednesdays are such a wonderful night for wrestling, and that was on display again last night when Matt Riddle battled Timothy Thatcher in a Fight Pit, which is a great new concept for WWE.
For those interested, I will be back this Thursday with Raj Giri and Jesse Collins for a watch-along of Saturday Night’s Main Event from November of 1987, which includes a match pitting “Macho Man” Randy Savage against “The Hitman” Bret Hart.
- Heartbreaking news from GCW.
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 co-host Conrad Thompson take a close look at ECW One Night Stand from 2005.
Vince McMahon and his advisers believed ECW to be a dead brand, but wrestling fans stated otherwise. This stands out as a unique time in WWE, an instant where the will of the fan base inspired a pay per view.
“In Vince’s eyes, ECW worked for a thousand people, but it didn’t work for the mainstream,” said Thompson. “WWE needed another DVD for DVD sales, so they did one on ECW, and it set all kinds of records and surprised a lot of people.
“The stars really aligned. here Paul Heyman was already part of the company, and this show wouldn’t have worked without him. Rob Van Dam pitched an idea about an ECW show at an opportune time, right when McMahon was seeing a bright future for him in WWE.”
The card was brilliant, featuring matches that included Chris Jericho-Lance Storm, Rey Mysterio-Psicocis, Chris Benoit-Eddie Guerrero and a main event of The Dudleys against Tommy Dreamer and The Sandman.
“It’s a special show, and it feels like Vince understood that he didn’t understand,” said Thompson. “And the result is the most perfect in the history of wrestling. I’m sure a lot of people will argue that, but I was lucky enough to count myself as one of the people in the building that night, and it was a wrestling experience unlike any other. I’m so excited to cover the 15-year anniversary with Bruce, who, frankly, couldn’t care less.”
McMahon later put his fingerprints all over the ECW television, completely changing the essence of the product. But that wasn’t the case with One Night Stand, which was an incredible night for wrestling fans.
“There was the back-and-forth with Eric Bischoff and Edge, and ending the show with the Steve Austin beer bash was perfect,” said Thompson. “Sandman’s entrance was unbelievable, and it was so important that WWE licensed his music. That show needed ‘Enter Sandman’ to be completely authentic. And it wouldn’t be a real ECW show without a little bit of controversy, which we had with JBL and Blue Meanie.
“We’re going to look at the way it came to be and the pricing model for seats that were priced so hard, even more than a lot of WWE shows. The only thing I can compare this to is All In, though that was a totally different animal. But both were willed by the fans, which is what they shared in common. We wanted something great to start with All In, but we wanted our farewell with ECW. For a one-off, this is about as great a show as you can do.”
Tweet of the Week
A powerful message from Mustafa Ali.