SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath-the-surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Chris Jericho: “This is going to be remembered for a long time, and it will be a spectacle, but the key is the story behind it”
Chris Jericho is ready to unveil the first “Blood & Guts” match.
Set for Wednesday night’s edition of Dynamite, Jericho teams with The Inner Circle against MJF and The Pinnacle in a WarGames-style match that is a play on Vince McMahon’s comment on an investor call in the summer of 2019 that WWE is “not going to do blood and guts.” That sparked an idea for heightened brutality in a match that AEW can claim as its own.
Jericho and MJF first wrestled at Full Gear in November, a match that MJF won, allowing him and Wardlow to join The Inner Circle. The past six months have been full of highs and lows for Jericho and MJF, including a road trip to Las Vegas, a musical duet inspired by “Me and My Shadow” and, eventually, a vicious split. Their story was layered and intricate, with MJF attempting to sow seeds of doubt within The Inner Circle, then putting together his own group in The Pinnacle. The promos have been gripping, the brawls have been physical and the wrestlers now have the chance to leave their mark on the industry with the first “Blood & Guts” match.
“This is going to be remembered for a long time, and it will be a spectacle, but the key is the story behind it,” Jericho says. “We’ve heard a lot about it, but we’ve never seen this before, even though it’s been advertised since last year. It’s like a lost album.”
The Inner Circle had been slated to face The Elite in a “Blood & Guts” match last March, but that was postponed indefinitely during the height of the pandemic. Instead, there was a rather seamless pivot to the Stadium Stampede match at last spring’s Double or Nothing, which was equal parts spectacle and athleticism. But “Blood & Guts” is designed as an old-school fight, simulated violence showcasing the marvelous nature of pro wrestling.
“It made me think of what Hell in a Cell or Elimination Chamber or Money in the Bank used to be,” Jericho says. “Now you see matches just get thrown in there. It’s like, F---, there’s no reason for it other than the name of the pay-per-view. This only works when the story demands it, and with what we have done here, the story here demands it. It wasn’t right for us to wait until Dynamite was touring again to have this match. You don’t book this match and have an angle follow it—you have the angle that leads to this match. That’s the only way to do it, and that’s why the time to do this is right now.”
Jericho’s banner week continues on Thursday, as he begins a new role as narrator of VICE TV’s Dark Side of The Ring series. The third season of the show has a slate of captivating subjects in store, with episodes detailing the behind-the-scenes stories of the Ultimate Warrior, McMahon and the steroid trials of the 1990s, WCW’s Collision in Korea show from 1995 in North Korea and WWE’s infamous 2002 “plane ride from hell.”
The season premiere focuses on the life and career of the late Brian Pillman, who died in ’97 at the age of only 35.
“This all started last year when I did an interview for the Chris Benoit two-parter [of Dark Side],” Jericho says. “I had no interest in doing it until Chavo Guerrero reached out and said we needed to be the ones to do it properly. [Show creators] Evan Husney and Jason Eisener do a great job, and that’s when they asked me to do the narration for the whole series. There are so many tales in wrestling; some are tragedies like Benoit and Owen [Hart], and there are more contemporary ones, too, that are really interesting stories.
“We’re covering Brian Pillman, Dynamite Kid, the Ultimate Warrior. It was a different time in the ’80s and ’90s. Those guys were on the road 300 days a year, and as we show, the business was very different back then.”
With over 30 years in the industry, Jericho adds authenticity to the Dark Side series.
“I’ve seen all sides of the coin, so from an experience standpoint, it’s very beneficial to have me involved,” Jericho says. “I’m narrating from the point of view of someone that’s seen a lot of this, and I’m also in a handful of the episodes providing insight. Dynamite is one of my all-time favorites. He’s a very complex guy who had two separate sides to him. There is also an episode about Johnny K-9, and I lived with Johnny K-9. When people are saying, ‘I can’t believe that he bombed a police station,’ I can believe it. There was something off about this guy.
“All of these stories are very interesting, and it is the dark side of the ring in a lot of ways, but there is also a lot of enlightenment and understanding when you watch this show. It’s legit, it’s passionate and that’s why the show is as good as it is.”
The joy Jericho infuses into his performances is a staple of his success in wrestling. That is again on display in Dark Side—like it will be in “Blood & Guts”—as Jericho adds more excitement, understanding and empathy to the industry he loves.
“It’s like watching Behind the Music,” Jericho says. “The show that WCW did in front of over 175,000 people in the middle of communist North Korea, that blows my mind that it actually happened. The whole business of pro wrestling is so interesting. People will tell you it’s not real, but TV shows and movies aren’t real, either. This shows how there is so much more to this business. It’s a fascinating look into the inner workings of the pro wrestling business and the individuals involved.”
Five Questions with J.D. Drake
J.D. Drake will challenge Daniel Garcia at Limitless Wrestling’s The Games We Play show on Friday.
This is a clash of styles pitting the young, versatile Garcia against Drake, an 18-year veteran. Drake’s work has been amplified with his recent appearances in AEW, where he has joined The Pretty Picture faction alongside Peter Avalon, Cezar Bononi and Ryan Nemeth.
Ahead of the Limitless match, which airs on IWTV, Drake spoke with Sports Illustrated about his career progression.
Sports Illustrated: You have worked incredibly hard to reach a platform like AEW. What does the opportunity mean to you? And what are you seeking to prove?
J.D. Drake: This opportunity has meant the world to me. I thought my career was done right after the pandemic hit when the world shut down in 2020. I thought for sure that was the end of it. Then I got the opportunity I have now, and there is just no way I’m going to let it fly by. Every time I step into a wrestling ring in AEW, I’ve made sure to make myself as memorable as possible.
I’ve got plenty of haters out there. There’s also all kinds of love, but this one goes to the haters. Y’all are just going to have to put up with me for a very long time. I’m not going away anytime soon.
SI: Is there a possibility you will sign full-time with AEW?
JD: Right now, my future with AEW is day-to-day. But they continue to bring me down. I’m part of a fantastic faction with Ryan Nemeth, Cezar Bononi and Peter Avalon, and it’s been a blessing every time that they’ve said to come down. Until they tell me not to, I’m going to Jacksonville.
SI: Your story wouldn’t be complete without the indies. Even with the recent momentum in AEW, you have made a point to continue to put forth your full energy toward the indies. What does the indie scene mean to you?
JD: Without the indies, you don’t have anything else. Every large company in the world started because of independent wrestling.
Without independent professional wrestling, there is no big time. That’s why it means so much to me. The independents are the grassroots of professional wrestling. It’s where everybody gets their start, it’s where talent is found and it’s where you hone your craft to become as good as you possibly can be. Even the homegrown talent in big promotions, they’re still going to run across independent talent that will shape them and mold them into the superstars they’re going to become. Indie wrestling makes all of this exist.
SI: Winning the Limitless title from Daniel Garcia, a belt that is gaining considerable traction in the indies, is a chance to grow your profile. Will the title help further elevate your status?
JD: The Limitless Wrestling championship is a belt I’ve had my eye on for a very long time. Even when I was in a tag team in Limitless with Anthony Henry, I always had the thought in the back of my mind that I could be the top guy there. Now that I have the opportunity. This is a very sought-after championship, and it would be a great one to add to the collection.
SI: You have always gone out of your way to express your gratitude for the dedication of indie wrestling fans. What does it mean that people will make it a point to watch Limitless on Friday?
JD: Real professional wrestling fans add so much to this entire industry. The ones that can appreciate art in all forms, the ones that go out of their way and spend their hard-earned money and their time just to watch, they give us the best feeling in the world. To them, my deepest gratitude and thank you.
If you’re going to [watch] IWTV this Friday to watch me beat the hell out of Daniel Garcia, or watch Lee Moriarty win his match, it’s hard to express the level of thanks I have to the people that support independent pro wrestling. Without them, we wouldn’t have this platform, so thank you.
The (online) week in wrestling
- Friday’s Roman Reigns–Daniel Bryan match was phenomenal. It had a story, a build and fantastic execution by two extremely talented performers. I cannot think of the last time Raw had this much emotion or intensity. SmackDown is clearly WWE’s top performing show, and the result here showed, once again, why Roman Reigns is currently the top act in the company.
- Speaking with Robbie Fox of Barstool Sports, Daniel Bryan provided insight on what makes Kenny Omega such a special presence in the world of pro wrestling.
- Omega also replied to Andrade, who challenged him to a title match for the mega championship at AAA’s Triplemanía this summer.
- New Japan’s NEVER openweight belt changed hands during the first night of Wrestling Dontaku when Jay White defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi. The result is especially meaningful as it continues the story that, time and again, Tanahashi cannot beat White.
- New Japan’s two-night Wrestling Dontaku show also included a world title match on the second night, with Will Ospreay retaining the belt in a 44-minute affair with Shingo Takagi. Although there are many, myself certainly included, eager to see Takagi have a run with the top IWGP title, Ospreay needs more time to establish himself as champion.
- On the subject of wrestling-related projects on television, I was very excited to watch Randy Savage’s A&E episode this past Sunday. Unlike prior episodes, which covered parts of the life and career of Steve Austin and Roddy Piper, the Savage episode served as an opportunity to highlight his flaws, mistakes and weaknesses. I would have thought A&E and WWE would have focused more on his iconic wrestling career, yet they instead took many liberties with the way his story was told, which was very inconsistent with the way the past two weeks’ episodes were presented. A&E also has an episode later this spring on the Ultimate Warrior, and it will be very interesting to see if his out-of-ring transgressions are covered as in depth as they were with Savage.
- This piece about luchadores that ran in The New York Times was especially well done.
- Baron Von Raschke also has a new documentary that is soon to be released.
- Isaiah “Swerve” Scott has the talent and charisma to become NXT champion. His new faction is full of potential.
- Congrats to Candice LeRae and Indi Hartwell, the new women’s tag champs in NXT.
- Such a well-deserved honor for Titus O'Neil.
Io Shirai on home away from home: I love New York and Los Angeles
Io Shirai just finished a breathtaking run as NXT women’s champion. She added further prestige to the title, and there is plenty of potential for her to do it again in a second reign with the belt.
Shirai grew up in Japan just outside of Tokyo. Although she is now living more than 7,000 miles away from home, she always feels at ease in the ring while speaking the universal language of pro wrestling. While there have been many changes in her life since moving to the United States, especially being so far removed from family, she shared that uncovering those occasional reminders of Japan means the world to her.
“That’s why I love Los Angeles,” says Shirai, who dropped her title to Raquel González in the main event of the first night of last month’s TakeOver: Stand & Deliver. “It’s because I can get so much Japanese stuff there.”
Shirai’s mother grew up in New York, which also makes her feel connected to her family.
“I had the chance to visit New York City in 2019 during WrestleMania 35 and I loved it,” Shirai says. “After living in Tokyo, a big city like New York is one of my favorite places.”
The Miz on the Cleveland Browns: “We have everything we need to be a Super Bowl–caliber team”
It’s a great time to be The Miz.
Mike “The Miz” Mizanin just finished a short eight-day run as WWE champ, yet his résumé now reads two-time WWE champion. He has a reality television show, Miz & Mrs, airing on the USA Network, and he received considerable praise—and loads of attention—for his WrestleMania 37 tag match that included music sensation Bad Bunny. A proud father of two, Miz is also thrilled that his football team is on the cusp of making magic in the NFL.
“I am so excited about this team,” Mizanin says. “We have everything we need to be a Super Bowl–caliber team.”
The Browns, who had a draft pick last week announced during the NFL draft by a man in full Macho Man regalia, are coming off a successful season, which ended in defeat to the eventual AFC champion Chiefs in the divisional round of the playoffs. The game ended in a 22–17 victory for the Chiefs but was not decided until the very last play, as Cleveland put a legitimate scare into Kansas City.
“We made the playoffs, and more than that, we beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs,” Mizanin says. “[Coach] Kevin Stefanski has brought a winning mentality to the Browns. It reminds me of the Los Angeles Chargers. They were always really close but just couldn’t find a way to win those close games. This year, the Browns figured out how to come out on top.
“This team has a winning mentality, and we covered up all our holes. I can’t wait for next season to get started.”
Tweet of the Week
Liv Morgan is the future of WWE, but it is heartbreaking to see someone of her talent not featured on weekly television. Hopefully that frustration only further fuels her motivation to redefine greatness in pro wrestling.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.