THIS WEEK: Is WWE's Billion Dollar SmackDown Deal Bad For Fans? Also: Enzo Amore Launches Publicity Campaign, Bret Hart Gets A Degree, and I Hosted A Wrestling Match at an NLL Final Game
1. Thoughts on WWE and Fox's Billion Dollar Deal: Bad for Wrestling Fans?
There's a LOT of chatter coming off of WWE and Fox announcing their five-year deal worth over $1Billion US last week. Several people have chimed in, and many have the same opinion: this could be bad for wrestling fans.
They have fair arguments. With that much revenue coming in from one show, and presumably similar money going to be coming in from Monday Night Raw in the future, ticket sales are no longer the lifeblood of keeping WWE going. With the WWE Network taking revenue of of cable and satellite providers' hands and streamlining a steady flow of income from monthly subscriptions, Pay-Per-View revenue is also no longer a concern.
So the question then becomes "what motivates WWE to produce top stars?" If there is no need to build top stars and simply produce content, then why worry about drawing ticket sales and establishing lasting feuds?
The answer is simple: it's still wrestling.
Maybe I'm oversimplifying it, but one thing WWE has always been able to do is produce stars. Now, it's safe to say that the brand is established enough to be on the marquee, but I still don't see many fans wearing WWE logo'd shirts in the crowd. They are wearing Roman Reigns shirts. They are wearing Kevin Owens shirts. They are wearing Charlotte Flair shirts, Becky Lynch glasses, New Day Unicorn Horns, and whatever else they feel represents their favorite performers. The arenas are still full of "Yes" chants, and an swell of "Get These Hands".
WWE is becoming the NFL, and the Superstars are becoming the teams.
Some hypothesize that with so much on the line, and the fact that Smackdown is on FOX gives WWE more reach than ever, the brand split could be even more important prominent than ever. So, it could be AL v. NL, West v. East, Raw v. Smackdown in a true battle among WWE "teams".
Some doomsdayers even think this will be the end of Wrestlemania. Uh... no. Even if for some strange reason, WWE were to collapse tomorrow, with events like All In, WrestleCon, and the global interest in pro-wrestling/sports-entertainment on the rise,it's easy to say that there will always be a Wrestlemania - even if not by name.
2. Bret Hart To Receive Honorary Degree From Mount Royal University
It was revealed this week that Bret "Hitman" Hart would be receiving an honorary Bachelor of Physical Literacy degree from Mount Royal University.
The story of Bret's desire to work in film and television is well known by many, but it was when his father's Stampede Wrestling was short referees and talent that he was talked into becoming a professional wrestler.
It's hard to imagine a pro-wrestling world without Bret these days, but one also wonders what kind of film career he would have had as a director.
3. "Real1" (Enzo Amore) Launches Publicity Campaign, Says He Was Notified of Investigation Same Day He Was Fired
Eric Arndt, aka "real1", fka Enzo Amore has launched which at best can be called a publicity campaign, and at worst can be called an attempt at pretending like nothing happened.
For those not familiar, Arndt was accused on social media of sexual assault by a woman in Phoenix, Arizona last year. During the initial investigation, it was speculatively reported that he didn't notify WWE of the accusations, and was dismissed. Other superstars have faced and been exonerated of such incidents, but the company they worked for was notified, and some of those performers still hold positions in the company today. In recent tweets, Arndt claims he hadn't heard from police until January 22, the day his contract was terminated.
I'm choosing not to comment on the accusations any further, as I wasn't there, and to comment about something to which I have no knowledge of would be irresponsible, even as opinion.
Arndt's approach for a comeback is interesting though. Releasing a rap single called "Phoenix", and saying some harsh things, seemingly to his accuser, seems like a questionable PR campaign at best. I've never been a fan of false celebrity, or even celebrity based on inciting negativity - but given the nature of all the events, I can't help but wonder if this is the best long-term plan - not as a performer, but as a person for Mr. Arndt.
I was a fan of "Enzo Amore". The character was fun and the right level of controversial to be entertaining. I think I'll sit out on "real1".
4. Independent Wrestling Meets Professional Lacrosse
This is a total vanity piece, so bare with me.
I have a great gig as the in-game announcer for the National Lacrosse League's Saskatchewan Rush, who as of today, are in line to win their third league championship this weekend in Rochester, NY.
The Rush are big on fan entertainment and making sure their crowd has a great experience before, during and after the game. This past Saturday was game one in their best of three series, and I was offered the chance to bring independent wrestling to the pre-game festivities.
Saskatchewan's wrestling scene has been growing over the past year. With more companies active and touring in the region than ever, as well as Saskatchewan-started talent getting opportunities out of the territory, it's nice to be a part of the upswing.
Wrestlers from HIW Wildside Wrestling, based in Saskatoon, participated in a "Team Rush v. Team Rochester" Tag Team Match. Each team was captained by Saskatchewan veteran Dixie Dragon with newcomer "Tommy Rush" and current HIW Central Canadian Heavyweight Champion, El Asesino with Tony Novak respectively. Naturally, team Rush won, but the crowd took quite quickly to these indie wrestlers, most of which had not witnessed live pro-wrestling until that match.
5. Thank You's
I wanted to thank a few sites, including 411mania.com, PostWrestling.com, and NoDQ.com among others who shared last week's interview with Cody Rhodes. This blog is a bit of a time filler for me, while at the same time letting me talk about something I love.
Until next Wednesday, thanks for reading!
THIS WEEK: A one-on-one interview with one of the people behind the biggest show in independent wrestling, Cody Rhodes dishes on All In!
THIS WEEK: ALL-IN is SOLD OUT, Rousey's First Title Opportunity, Chris Jericho Returns to New Japan, Cool Gear in Indy Wrestling and more!
1. ALL IN is SOLD OUT
Big congratulations to Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks, and all involved in promoting September 1's "ALL IN" event - slated to be a 10,000+ seat event in Chicago.
The amount of buzz around this show put the onus on wrestling fans - if a group of accomplished wrestlers were to announce a lofty goal, without the backing of ANY of the major promotions, would the fans buy in and spend their money.
The answer? Yes - at a rather frenetic pace.
Wrestling has always been a niche attraction. However, with online marketing and fans maturing and being able to travel more, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that this event did so well. Will this lead to promotions like Ring of Honor and New Japan trying for bigger venues in the US? Time will tell.
Former ECW Head of State, Paul Heyman summed it up nicely:
2. Jericho's New Japan Return - Is He Chasing A Title?
It didn't get AS much buzz on this side of the world as his first challenge to fellow Winnipeg-raised star Kenny Omega did, but Chris Jericho made another return to New Japan Pro Wrestling, this time during the Wrestling Dontaku event which happened nearly two weeks ago in Fukoka, Japan. (Caveat: I'm really trying to stick to the "5 topics a week thing).
If you don't follow New Japan that closely, Jericho's presence is a great reason to tune in. Now that he is challenging a Japanese star, it's also a great chance to learn more about the stars of that promotion. Long before Shinsuke Nakamura was the "Rock Star" of SmackDown Live, he literally ruled NJPW. Other Gaijin (foreign) wrestlers of note to work there in the last decade include Kurt Angle, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, Prince Devitt (Finn Balor), and of course, AJ Styles.
Jericho hasn't been seen in NJPW since after his loss to Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom. The following show, he did a run-in attack on Tetsuya Naito, but it has been over four months since that first strike. After competing in WWE's Greatest Royal Rumble, Jericho once again flew to Japan to kick the new feud into gear, as Naito, the current IWGP Intercontinental Champion, was leaving the ring.
Could Jericho be vying for a "championship opportunity"? Time will tell. Perhaps the match will be set should Jericho find a way to cost Naito his title... exciting stuff!
3. Cool Gear on the Indies
Speaking of IWGP Intercontinental Champions, the first to ever hold the title, MVP revealed some cool new gear, while at the same time making it know that he is going to be approaching his final days as an active wrestler.
When I first started being allowed to work Independent wrestling shows - mostly as ring crew and a photographer, the thought of an independent worker investing a ton of money into gear was something that was only done if they had a tryout with WWE, WCW, or ECW. They wanted to get noticed, and look like stars. The rest of the time, gear would be... well... Indy.
Occasionally, you'd see a once big name on TV show up in the same gear he wore 10 years prior... looking like the gear was 20 years older.
Seeing the level of investment that talent still put into their gear today should be considered not only a reflection of their own success, but the success of wrestling in general. Not every wrestler out there is making huge paydays, but it seems this generation - even the established veterans - still take the time to keep their look fresh. In addition to investing in themselves, this is also clearly a salute to fans, who get to see the stars of their favorite promotion, LOOK like stars.
4. ROUSEY'S TITLE OPPORTUNITY IS A SMART MOVE
Chicago has once again made itself a combat sport and sports-entertainment hotbed. Between CM Punk's imminent UFC Return and ALL-IN selling out, WWE has upped the draw for their June Pay-Per-View, by having current WWE Raw Women's Champion, Nia Jax, challenge Ronda Rousey for the red brand's title.
With no Universal Championship match slated, we could be watching a Women's Division main event match. No disrespect to AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, or Seth Rollins and whoever his opponent for the rising Intercontinental Championship could be, this could be one of the most interesting matches of the year. Jax has evolved into a powerful fan favourite, but Rousey's "instant hit" of a debut could be opening the door for even more mainstream attention to be drawn to the biggest brand in the world. Who's your pick to win it? Will it take the Main Event slot in the show?
5. CLASSIC MATCH OF THE WEEK
With Money in the Bank ladder matches coming our way, it's hard not to look back at ladder matches of the past. WWE seems to have had the magic formula to making these matches memorable. While it was Bret Hart who first brought the match to WWE in a match that is a little hard to find - if you don't have WWE Network at least, one of the most memorable ladder matches NOT to be at a Pay-Per-View happened between then Undisputed WWE Champion The Undertaker, vs. today's United States Champion, Jeff Hardy. I remember watching this match on Raw when it aired CONVINCED we would have a new champion.
As for podcasts you should check out, I'm going to take things in a slightly different direction. While this show doesn't focus directly on wrestling, they have covered different wrestlers of the past, and researcher/lead host James Pietragallo drops a lot of subtle wrestling references into every episode.
"Crime in Sports" is a True Crime vs. crass comedy podcast that while lengthy, is painstakingly researched and delivered in a brilliantly ruthless way which while not making light of the crimes, finds a unique way of telling the stories. Along with Jimmy Whisman's hilarious jabs, the podcast reveals some of the weirdest stories in sports and sports-entertainment. It's not for everybody, but if you're looking for something different, it's worth checking out - if for no other reason than to see how James fits in some random reference to a wrestler.
That's it for this week! Thanks for reading! As always, comments are welcome below!
THIS WEEK: Giving Impact ANOTHER Chance Pays Off, PWG Announces The Tournament Worth Travelling For, Yes - I REALLY Watched Impact and Liked It, 'Mella May Be Money, but MITB Qualifying Matches Don't Seem To Be, AJ Styles LOVES Spaghetti, and This Week's Podcast/Classic Match Of The Week!
1). PWG Announces BOLA Dates
The Battle of Los Angeles is one of the most famous annual tournaments in independent wrestling. If you're the type of fan that travels for big shows, but are craving something a little different, this should be something on your must-see list. Since 2005, the event grew from a one night to a three night event, and has been a launching point for many big names.
This year's tournament will take place September 14, 15 and 16 at the Globe Theatre in Los Angeles.
Past tournament winners include Kenny Omega, Joey Ryan, El Generico (Sami Zayn), Adam Cole, Kyle O'Reilly, Zack Sabre Jr., Marty Scurll, and two-time winner Ricochet. Those aren't the only names that have passed through Pro Wrestling Guerilla for the event. Names like AJ Styles, Kevin (Owens) Steen, Roderick Strong, Claudio Castagnoli (Cesaro), Austin Aries, Daniel Bryan, Chris Hero, Pac (Neville), Bryan Kendrick, Drew Galloway (McIntyre) and many many more have competed only to move on to even bigger stops in their career.
On a recent episode of "Talk is Jericho", Chris Jericho spoke to the Young Bucks about their love of PWG. They say that the promotion is one they will always work for, no matter how big they make it elsewhere. Currently the hottest act going as far as tag teams in the independent scene, the Bucks lead the way in merchandising, and are a part of the "All In" show scheduled for Chicago later this year - a show which along with Cody Rhodes, they hope to sell out a 10,000 seat show at the Sears Centre. Tickets for that go on sale May 13.
2). IMPACT to Increase TV Tapings
Impact Wrestling (Formerly TNA) reportedly has plans to increase their TV taping schedule. Since being acquired by Anthem Sports last year, Impact has virtually been restarted from the ground up. After a string of talent releases, production woes, and scrambling for content from different sources, it seems as though the new regime of Scott D'Amore, Don Callis, Jimmy Jacobs and Sonjay Dutt along with Impact management have found a formula to make it through the lean times.
For all the years that Impact/TNA took a lot of flack from fans for one reason or another, if one goes back into the archives and watches some of the matches that came from the company, even in its worst-of-times, it's hard not to give it the credit it deserves for giving a platform for some of the most entertaining wrestlers in the world. With things on an apparent upswing, it could be an interesting time to give them ANOTHER chance.
3. SO I DID JUST THAT...
Admittedly, it's been a while since I sat down for a full episode of Anthem's flagship wrestling program, but I did like a lot of what I saw.
Impact does seem to be gaining some stability with their roster. It seems they are doing what TNA/Impact has always had to do to stay compelling - build their OWN stars. The former WWE stars are mostly gone, with the exception of those like Matt Sydal (Evan Bourne) who have reinvented themselves.
Storyline wise, there's an interesting power play brewing, as "The Belt Collector" Austin Aries recently lost the Impact World Championship to Pentagon Jr., but is now touting that the Impact Grand Championship should be the marquee title in the company. There are also a number of contenders lining up or the World title, which is refreshing to see. Other talents that caught my eye were oVe (Ohio Versus Everything), the Super-Heavyweight Fallah Bahh, and the heir apparent to the top spot, Moose.
The Knockout Division is quite strong as well, as BC's Taya Valkyrie is a force, and up until seeing Su Yung, Rosemary was the wildest character I've seen in a while. If you haven't had the chance to see either of these women yet, imagine Sensational Sherri, Papa Shango and that girl from The Grudge movies in one character.
4. MONEY IN THE BANK QUALIFYING MATCHES FAIL TO KEEP FANS
I'm a WWE guy. I love the big brand, and believe in being a fan that "likes liking things". This week's episodes of Raw and Smackdown were both full of great wrestling, but much like regular season sports rivalries, these episodes didn't have the usual buzz you feel after a Pay-Per-View happened.
Yes, in case you forgot, Backlash happened this past weekend. Let's face it - NOTHING happened. I thought maybe we would see both the Intercontinental and United States championships switch brands... maybe a cool run-in... SOMETHING. The wrestling was superb (Miz v. Rollins stole the show), but after a Pay-Per-View has nothing to hang off of, there isn't much to engage into the weekly TV for. Oh... unless you hadn't heard that Carmella beat Charlotte Flair...
The opening qualifying matches for the Money in the Bank Men's and Women's matches have no real stakes yet, so hopefully things pick up next week as the herd begins to thin. Also, WHY WOULDN'T YOU PUT ZACK RYDER ON A LONG ISLAND SHOW? I really thought he would end up in that main event, if for no other reason than to take the pin... but come on WWE - Give me hope! Even if it's false!!!
Reports said that Raw took a HUGE ratings dip this past week, and honestly, it's almost like they planned it that way. The numbers show that this week's past Raw is actually the least-watched of 2018.
5. AJ Styles Still Gives Me Hope
How good is AJ Styles? That's a pretty smarky statement to make - almost wrestling-fan-hipster or something like that when it comes to over-obvious statements... but while I was lamenting Raw and Smackdown, I decided to check out the latest episode of WWE Network's "Table For 3", and I wasn't disappointed.
If you haven't checked out an episode yet, I recommend it. It's usually highly entertaining - a shoot-ish style show where 3 subjects reminisce about their careers over a meal. This episode, featuring AJ Styles, also featured Shane McMahon and Kurt Angle. Titled "Show Stealers", the episode features the 3 talking about their insane stunts with each other, and in their careers in general.
While the internet was ablaze about the fact that Anthem's GWN (Global Wrestling Network) licensed some footage from TNA of Angle and Styles performing some insane stunts of their own, something far more subtle caught my eye during this episode: AJ Styles eats spaghetti like I do!
Sure, this past weekend, AJ ate a chair to the face against Shinsuke Nakamura at Backlash, but even that wasn't with the passion and fury he attacked his plate of pasta during the show. The discussion is great to watch, but try not to be mezmerized at how much spaghetti AJ can fit onto a fork and into his facehole. It's... phenomenal.
CLASSIC MATCH/PODCAST OF THE WEEK
CLASSIC MATCH: SLAMMIVERSARY 2009 - KING OF THE MOUNTAIN
Since there's been so much talk about Impact this week, as well as matches with insane stunts and AJ Styles, I thought I'd take us back to one of the more complicated, but entertaining matches by a group of stars who make it bearable.
The "King of the Mountain" matches in TNA were a little hard to follow. Instead of a traditional ladder match, where one must grab the title off of a cable over the ring, participants in this match must score a pinfall on any of their opponents for the opportunity to try and climb a ladder and hang the title themselves.
To make things MORE convoluted, wrestlers could find themselves in a shark cage at ringside, known as a penalty box for two minutes if they were pinned or submitted.
Even with AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Jeff Jarrett, Kurt Angle and Mick Foley, this match was an example of some of TNA trying to be different. Some things worked, some things didn't, but the wrestlers still gave their all - even in the main event stage.
As for this week's Podcast, if you were like me and brought to the world of podcasts by this show, but wondered what happened to it, Colt Cabana's Art of Wrestling has re-emerged and is better than ever as the Art of Wrestling: Road Diaries.
The founding father of wrestling podcasts has shut down his weekly interview style of shows, in favor of a weekly audio journal. Multiple stars, multiple stories, and a true look at what life on the road is like for one of the most successful independent wrestlers in history. Every week, listeners are also offered the chance to ask Colt's Mom to watch something crazy and weird in wrestling, and get her views on it. It's shorter, faster moving, and a great listen for any fan.
THANKS FOR READING! Feel free to leave any and all opinions, arguments (keep it friendly) and ideas in the comments section!
THIS WEEK: THE OKAYEST ROYAL RUMBLE, TITUS' TUMBLE, THE BIG GUY IS HUMBLE, AND THE BIRTH OF HARDCORE WRESTLING
1). THE GREATEST... OKAYEST... IT WASN'T BADDEST ROYAL RUMBLE
Last Friday morning at 10am my time, WWE's "Greatest Royal Rumble" was broadcast live from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I can remember almost every non-North American broadcast WWE has put on in my lifetime. From the poorly lit but compelling Monday Night Raw in South Africa, to the first run of RAW episodes shot in the UK, last year's "Beast in the East" show from Japan, to now the first Pay-Per-View level event to be broadcast live from Saudi Arabia, these events have always had a unique feel. The wrestlers act a little differently, the broadcasts are always a tad different, but one thing that really stands out are the fans.
If you look at the current political climate in Saudi Arabia, there are a lot of values that are considered discriminatory and in some cases, archaic by many Western countries. Ignoring those differences is not a solution, but it didn't change the fact that the show happened.
While Saudi Arabia was clearly on a mission to flaunt a "more progressive" society in the works, the one thing I saw was that even with royalty at ringside in cushy chairs, and a clear divide between them and the rest of the fans in attendance, wrestling was what wrestling is - a universal form of entertainment.
It's clear why names like John Cena, The Undertaker, Rey Mysterio, The Great Khali, Hornswoggle, and many others made their faces shown at this event. These are global superstars. Yes, all of them. When names like Goldust, Mark Henry, and other established names came out, they were known, and cheered for. As a regular fan, who is still in a bit of a hangover from WrestleMania mode, the "Greatest Royal Rumble" wasn't a shocker, but I still enjoyed it. Did YOU watch the GRR? If so, leave your thoughts in the comments section!
2. TITUS' TUMBLE BREAKS THE INTERNET AND HAS ITS OWN T-SHIRT
In all honesty, a 5 hour show starts becoming background noise after a while. I think at the exact moment Titus O'Neil was coming to the ring, I may have been folding laundry or something, but when I heard the entire commentary team losing their minds laughing, I knew I had to pay closer attention to what was happening.
Hearing the commentary team take a break during the live show to have some fun was tremendously refreshing and gave the match some new life.
Not since Bret Hart and Lex Luger went over the top rope at the same time in 1994 has a single incident at a Royal Rumble been replayed as many times as Titus' misstep. Nevertheless, it did make a memorable moment, which isnow available to commemorate for about $38 Canadian...
3. RYBACK DELIVERS
It's always interesting when a "name" talent comes to work an independent show. The internet usually takes sides as to whether a talent is worth hiring or not, and is quick to judge before seeing them in action. There have been times where established stars have under-delivered, but these days, there are fewer stories like that.
When CM Punk appeared on Colt Cabana's "The Art of Wrestling" Podcast, he left no gray area, implying that one of the things that caused a series of injuries for him was working with Ryback. A year down the road, and Ryback himself would decide to leave WWE, at first citing a desire for "equal pay".
Since that time, Ryback himself has appeared on Cabana's Podcast, and told his story about his passion for wrestling, as well as acknowledging the type of heat a guy who looks like him can get from fans.
This past Friday here in Regina, "The Big Guy" was a guest performer at Saskatchewan's High Impact Wrestling Spring Meltdown. After putting on an entertaining match with HIW's Mike McSugar, Ryback spoke of his love for wrestling, as well as how he has been able to take care of a major back injury due to his lighter schedule. He was quite gracious to the fans, as well as to the HIW crew. I'll have video of the entire match soon, but this was a perfect example of something I would love to see more of in wrestling - forming an opinion of someone from your own experience, rather than relying on "The internet's opinion".
4).CLASSIC MATCH/PODCAST OF THE WEEK
This week, for the Classic Match, it's actually a post-match brawl which became the template towards a technique which is still used today. Many also consider this the birth of "Hardcore" wrestling, using everything but the kitchen sink as a weapon. According to Jim Cornette, the only thing that didn't get used during the match was the popcorn machine, as the workers were all told to stay away from it. The "Tupelo Concession Stand Brawl" from 1979 happened in Memphis Wrestling. The Blonde Bombers, Larry Latham (later 'Moondog Spot') and Wayne Ferris (the man who most remember most as 'The Honky Tonk Man') took on Bill Dundee and Jerry "The King" Lawler in a brutal match. Lawler and Dundee lost the Tag Team championships that night, but the aftermath is still amazing to watch today.
More notably, word of this incident helped revive the Memphis Wrestling territory, which had lost a large amount of talent and saw business dropping. This would kick off a rivalry that would last for months, and keep the territory going.
"Mustard everywhere!" - Lance Russell
As for this week's Podcast, I love wrestling podcasts that can talk about wrestling, but make me laugh as well. I mentioned it last week in the mention of a Bruno Sammartino story which came from it, butE and C's Pod of Awesomeness has to be one of the funniest yet informative podcasts going.
Adam "Edge" Copeland and Jay "Christian" Reso, along with Producer Matt delve into weekly wrestling, but also offer great conversation to listen in on. The weekly cameos from my favorite superstar, Paul Smackage, the Master of the Small Package will have you in stitches, and the insight from two of the premiere performers of their generation makes you appreciate wrestling in a new way. Recently, they had Bret "Hitman" Hart and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin joined E&C to tell stories from their iconic WrestleMania 13 Submission Match. It's a longer podcast, but once you get into it, you'll be hooked.