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Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking At The Wrestler Of The Year . . . Next Year, That Is

First off, all of us here at the Pro Wrestling Illustrated family of magazines wish all of you and your families a happy and healthy New Year. We’d also like to express our deep appreciation to our readers for another year of your loyalty. We’re committed to continuing to deliver to you the highest quality pro wrestling journalism in 2011 and beyond.

If you’ve checked out our official web site, or Stu Saks’ blog item below, you know by now that Randy Orton has been voted PWI’s 2010 Wrestler of the Year. I can’t argue with the fans, as “The Viper” had another banner year that included a two-month reign as WWE heavyweight champion, and a surprising transformation from one of WWE’s most reviled villains to one of its most popular heroes.

It may be a bit early for you to start sending in those ballots, but here on the last day of 2010, it’s worth looking 12 months ahead and wondering who may be in the prestigious slot of Wrestler of the Year for 2011.

For five years now, the award has been dominated by WWE’s three perennial top acts—Orton (who won it last year), Triple-H (who won it in 2008) and John Cena (who won it in 2006 and 2007.) It remains very likely that one of those three men will earn himself another Wrestler of the Year plaque next year.

At just 30 years old, it’s entirely possible that Orton has not yet reached his peak. Maybe he will do so in 2011. As good as he was in 2010, it’s clear that he still has a ways to go in developing a personality that fans will want to cheer. Orton is likely to be in the top mix at WrestleMania XXVI, maybe even defending the heavyweight title if he can defeat The Miz for it before then.

Triple-H is expected back in the ring following his lengthy hiatus soon, and it’s almost a lock that he’ll win his 14th world title before 2011 is through. However, now in his 40s and dedicating more of his time to his corporate responsibilities in WWE and to his family, it could be that Triple-H plays a smaller role in WWE’s on air product than in recent years. (I wouldn’t count on it.)

Cena is always a top candidate for any award recognizing achievement in wrestling. He remains, by far, wrestling’s top attraction. And while many fans will never give him credit for it, he’s also one of the sport’s most talented performers. If he doesn’t get injured, it’s a given that he will remain the centerpiece of WWE for another year, headline another WrestleMania, and add at least another world title reign to his resume.

But that could be a very big “if.” Earlier this week, Cena reportedly suffered a leg injury during a live event in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. WWE still has not released any official information about the severity of the injury, although Jim Ross has indicated that it may be less serious than initially feared. Even if he does make it back to the ring fairly soon, at the rate that Cena’s extending himself, it’s not unlikely that he’ll suffer another injury that could sideline him in 2011.

It’s possible that someone else could sneak in and take Wrestler of the Year honors for the first time in 2011. The Miz is only weeks into his first full-fledged run as a main eventer, and has impressed many with his confidence, speaking ability, and wrestling prowess. If he stays on this track, he’ll certainly be a top vote-getter come next year. CM Punk has shown new depth to his personality since returning to the Raw brand, initially as a commentator and most recently as the new head of The Nexus. He could have a very big year in 2011. Sheamus remains one of the most ambitious wrestlers to grace a WWE ring in years, and won’t be denied his opportunity to break through to most elite level of WWE stardom in 2011.

Let’s not forget TNA. Kurt Angle is primed to return to the ring in January, and reclaim his throne as the very best wrestler in all of the sport. If TNA world champ Jeff Hardy could square away his legal and personal problems and focus on his job, maybe he could return to the heights he reached in WWE in 2009, and help elevate TNA along the way. After becoming the first ever TNA wrestler to top the PWI 500, AJ Styles’ stock has dropped considerably. But with a few breaks, and lots of hustle, Styles could make his biggest impact so far in 2011. And then there’s Rob Van Dam, who is yet to try to reclaim the world title that was stripped from him in August. If he does so, he could be on the minds of voters come next fall.

How about a real dark horse? Might Daniel Bryan convince voters he really is “the best in the world”? Could Alberto Del Rio put his money where his big mouth is and dominate the Smackdown brand in 2011? Is it even possible that John Morrison defeats his former tag team partner to win the WWE heavyweight title this Monday, and holds onto it through much of next year?

There are plenty of reasons to be excited about following wrestling in the New Year. We hope you’ll follow along with us.

-Al Castle
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Senior Writer

Thursday, December 30, 2010

PWI Achievement Awards


If you have visited our website, www.pwi-online.com, over the past few days, you no doubt saw the cover of the March 2011 edition of PWI, and you know that our readers voted Randy Orton Wrestler of the Year for the second straight year.

Beginning after the new year, we will post the name of one Achievement Award winner a day, leading up to the official on-sale date of the issue, January 18.

You can pre-order the issue at our website right now.

Have a happy and healthy New Year, folks.

Stu Saks
Publisher

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

WWE Shows "Snow" Concern For Safety

Last night the Minnesota Vikings defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in a rare Tuesday night NFL game. The game was postponed from Sunday night because officials were concerned over the safety of fans and players, as less than a foot of snow fell in Philly.

Concern over fans and talent? What a foreign concept.

The NFL’s decision stands in stark contrast to those made earlier this week by WWE. On Sunday night, WWE went ahead with a non-televised live event at Madison Square Garden, despite ample warning of an impending blizzard that promised to wallop the New York City region.

For those of you who have never been to MSG, let me give you a quick layout of the “World’s Most Famous Arena.” The Garden sits right on top of Penn Station, Manhattan’s terminal for the Long Island Rail Road—the oldest and largest commuter railroad in the nation, and one of the primary sources of transportation for fans heading into and out of MSG.

I’ve been using the LIRR to get to WWE shows at the Garden for 20 years, and it’s always a fun experience to ride in and out with hundreds of fellow wrestling fans, eagerly anticipating the action before the show, and after the show reveling in the fun they had the whole way home.
And WWE, which has called MSG its “home” arena for half a century, is well aware of the vital role the LIRR plays in getting its fans to and from its shows in the venue.

It’s worth noting that earlier this year, the LIRR enacted a policy of suspending all train service during a particularly harsh snowfall. And throughout the entire weekend, the LIRR warned customers that it might just have to do that on Sunday night.

Ultimately, the storm dumped nearly two feet of snow in some parts of the region and had sustained hurricane force winds in some locations. It went down as the sixth-worst snowstorm in New York City in recorded history. And it came as a surprise to nobody.

Nevertheless, WWE, as it has done so many times in the past under questionable circumstances, decided that the show must go on, despite the fact that even some talent was unable to get to the Garden.

And, sure enough, just after John Cena defeated Wade Barrett in the cage match main event of the show, thousands of fans made their way down to Penn Station to discover that no trains were running.

Well, that shouldn’t be that big a deal, right? So they wait a couple of hours before service is restored, right? Try 22 hours.

It was Monday evening before some WWE fans were able to finally get home. Until then, hundreds of them—including very young children—slept on idling trains, wandered the train terminal, and even tackled jigsaw puzzles on the station floor.

For its part, WWE defended its decision to run the show. In a comment to Newsday, a spokesman said the company “tries its best not to let down our fans due to the weather,” and made the decision in conjunction with the Garden. They figured some public transportation was working, and many fans lived in the area anyway.

The most shocking part of the spokesman’s comment was when he actually boasted of the show’s attendance of 13,600, “which was more than those that attended the respective Islanders and Devils games” that same night.

WWE may think it had its fans in mind when it decided not to let to disappoint them. And for certain many fans were glad that the show went ahead as planned (some no doubt even enjoyed the experience of spending the night in a New York City train terminal.)

But something far more important than the entertainment of some wrestling fans was at stake here.

By not postponing the event, WWE jeopardized the safety of thousands of fans, as well as its own talent (who had to make the perilous drive to Albany right after the MSG show for Raw the next night).

Imagine what would have happened if a family with young children ventured out in the severe weather to get to the show and got into a nasty car accident? Or if a fan with medical issues was unable to get help for hours because he was trapped in a train station?

WWE did its fans no favors by running a show on Sunday. The right and responsible thing to do would have been to cancel the show with plenty of notice, reach out to ticket-holders by e-mail if possible and post a message online, and reschedule the show for a future date. Some fans may have been inconvenienced and upset, but at least they would have been safe.

WWE officials shouldn’t be bragging about how many fans came out during a dangerous blizzard to attend one of its shows. They should be apologizing to them.

-Al Castle
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Senior Writer

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lennon ... Bruno ... Cosell

Where were you the day John Lennon was assassinated? If you were born and have any memory of December 8, 1980, you probably received the tragic news from Howard Cosell, who broke the story during a telecast of Monday Night Football.

My buddy Ed and I were in a bar at Penn Station, two miles from The Dakota, where Mark David Chapman gunned down Lennon just hours after receiving an autograph from the former Beatle. Ed and I had just attended the WWF show at Madison Square Garden and had a great time watching Bruno Sammartino defeat Sgt. Slaughter in the main event.

Ed suggested we head over to The Dakota, but I couldn't. I am a huge fan of The Beatles and Lennon and I just wouldn't be able to handle it.

On the 30th anniversary of that horrible day, I think about John, Bruno, and Howard Cosell. I e-mailed Ed this morning to learn that he had the same thought.

Miss ya, John!

Stu Saks
Publisher

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"King Sheamus" Isn't The Future Of WWE ... He's The Present

Last night Sheamus became the 19th WWE wrestler to wear the King of the Ring crown. As Michael Cole reminded us time and time again, he joins the likes of such wrestling greats as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Bret “Hitman” Hart, and Triple-H.

And Billy Gunn. And Ken Shamrock. And Mabel.

Indeed, not all past WWE King of the Ring tournament winners have gone on to have great careers. For proof of that, you can look no further than William Regal, who just months after winning the crown in 2008 was relegated to the role of WWE Superstars jobber (Granted, Regal appeared in line for a big push after winning the tournament, but had his career derailed by a Wellness Policy violation.)

And so, the King of the Ring tournament is significant for a different reason than WWE might have you believe. While not every KOTR winner goes on to be a major star, they all were pegged by WWE as having the ability to do so.

Both Mabel and Gunn were groomed as future main-eventers soon after winning the tournament. Mabel challenged for the WWE championship in the main event of one 1995’s biggest pay-per-views, SummerSlam. Gunn got a co-headlining match against WWE megastar The Rock at SummerSlam 1999, and was rumored to be considered for a big run with Steve Austin that year. Ken Shamrock also got a couple of WWE pay-per-view main event paydays.

But, in the end, WWE clearly got it wrong when it came to predicting big things for each of those men, who went on to have respectable but unremarkable careers.

And so, it begs the question: Could WWE be wrong about Sheamus as well?

In some ways, the question doesn’t even really apply. Sheamus is the first wrestler to have won the WWE heavyweight championship before winning the King of the Ring tournament. (You may be thinking Bret Hart did it first, but he won his first KOTR tournament in 1991, a year before winning the WWE title.)

"The Celtic Warrior" has already worn the WWE championship on two occasions, headlined several pay-per-views, and remains in the top tier mix on the Raw brand. And so it's a bit peculiar to forecast big things for the new King of the Ring. Been there, done that.

That’s not to say that Sheamus’ peak years aren’t ahead of him, but still I can’t help but think that WWE missed out on an opportunity by not having an up-and-comer win the crown, and in doing so sending a message to fans that the new King of the Ring is one to watch.

To me, the best fit to win the tournament was Alberto Del Rio, the arrogant Smackdown antagonist who boasts of coming from Mexican royalty. Like past KOTR winners, including Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle, Del Rio has made a big splash in WWE in very little time, and seems likely to get a main-event run some time in the future. What’s more, Smackdown could have really used the boost it would have gotten from claiming the KOTR crown.

Of course, nothing is to say that Del Rio, or any other participant in last night’s tournament, won’t go on to have a big career that even eclipses that of Sheamus, regardless of whether or not they won the King of the Ring tournament. But it’s telling that WWE chose an already-established main eventer, rather than a potential future one, to wear the crown. Perhaps, after the Gunn, Mabel, and Shamrock disappointments, WWE wants out of the handicapping business.

-Al Castle
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Senior Writer

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Some New Lessons in "Old School" Raw

I had more fun watching Monday Night Raw last night than I have in a long, long time. Having followed WWE for nearly 30 years, last night’s “Old School” Raw was right up my alley, and, I suspect, the alley of a lot of wrestling fans around my age. From the retro show opening, to the red-white-and-blue roped ring, to the numerous appearances by WWE stars of yesteryear, the program allowed me to revisit some fun memories from my childhood.

But more than just deliver a one-time nostalgia fix, last night’s Raw actually offered a lot of lessons that remain relevant in the modern wrestling era.

Here’s some of what I took away last night:

With the right theme, a theme-show could work: With pay per view buy rates shrinking over the last several years, WWE took the questionable route in 2010 of rebranding many of their traditional PPV offerings to instead be “concept shows.” The flawed theory reasons that since the Royal Rumble is always good for a few extra buys, why not have every pay per view carry a specialty match theme? And so WWE came up with Fatal 4-Way, Money in the Bank, Hell in a Cell and TLC. None have done anything to drive up buys, and instead have served largely to water down once special stipulations. While I remain down on the idea of gimmick-match centered shows, I’d be all for an annual “Old School” show. It might even be a good idea to move the theme show to pay per view, rather than giving it away from free on Raw. Coincidentally, Survivor Series may be the ideal stage for a nostalgia show. The event, now in its 23rd year, reeks of old-school, so much so that WWE nearly canceled it, feeling its dated tag-team elimination format had become irrelevant. But such a format would be perfect for an annual legends match, where the old timers could “compete” without any one being called on to do all that much. Most importantly, it would allow WWE to brand a show with a “theme” without affecting its organically-developed main storylines and top matches. WCW experimented with just such a concept in the early 1990s with its first Slamboree events, which featured whatever big matches they had on top, and a couple legends matches on the mid-card.

Nostalgia has its place: As a longtime Yankee fan, one of the highlights each year for me is “old-timers day,” when retired Yankees from over the years return to the Stadium, don their old uniforms, and play a couple innings of ball. The key to maximizing the value of the retired players is to bill them as legends, honor their past contributions to the sport, and make their appearances feel special. As beloved as Reggie Jackson may be, no Yankee fan would argue that he should be playing right field today for the team. The money is in presenting Jackson as a superstar of an era gone by, and then presenting Derek Jeter as just as big a star for this era. That point appears lost on TNA, which believes that the fact that Hulk Hogan, Sting and Kevin Nash were effective headliners 15 years ago must mean they could still be effective headliners today. In fact, if Dixie Carter took over the job of general manager for the Yankees, I imagine Jackson would be batting cleanup today, perhaps behind Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield and Yogi Berra.

Some of what worked then would still work today: WWE may have intended to get no more than a few chuckles and smiles by bringing back some of the old staples of WWE’s programming from the 1980s, such as the interviews on the small stage, the “Update” segment with Gene Okerlund, and the small picture-in-picture promos that ran during a couple matches. But it struck me that all those ideas could work well today. One of my favorite features of the 1980s-1990s WWE programming was the “Update” segment, where Okerlund would recap storylines. The same format was used for special pay per view “Report” segments, in which Okerlund would run down the entire card for an upcoming pay per view. Those are both effective tools of promoting that, for some reason, have fallen by the wayside over the last 15 years. Similarly, the small insert promos could help several wrestlers get their personalities over without taking up any extra TV time. And conducting the occasional interview or angle on a ringside stage, rather than in the ring itself, would offer a refreshing and much-needed change of scenery.

WWE has an announcing crisis: Perhaps one of the most underestimated contributing factors to WWE’s recent drop in business has been its subpar announcing team—the worst crew of play-by-play and color commentators I can remember in WWE’s history. Michael Cole’s inconsistent heel persona has only confused fans and distracted from the matches and storylines he is supposed to get over. Jerry Lawler is professional, but unmotivated. Matt Striker is a cliché dispenser. And those are WWE’s three best announcers. But because mediocrity has become the standard, most WWE fans may not even notice how bad they are. All they know is that they are not particularly inclined to tune in to next week’s show, or buy the next pay per view. Indeed, WWE announcers' primary job is to sell the product, and clearly they not have not been effective in doing so. Enter Jim Ross, making a special one-night-only return to call a match last night. Instantly, we were reminded how good WWE announcing could be. Ross called the action with passion and zeal, got over the characters, and spoke as a voice of the fans. And he looked great. It’s absolutely insane that the greatest wrestling announcer in the history of the sport is at WWE’s disposal, and they don’t use him. Even if they never bring back Ross to the booth full time, WWE needs to do something to shake up its listless announce team.

WWE has a rich tradition: I don’t know the logistics of doing so, but I’d be all for WWE re-visiting legal settlement with the World Wildlife Fund, and making an attempt to bring back the WWF name, and the classic logo that was on display Monday night. Even eight years into its new name, WWE still does not easily roll off the tongue, and I still cringe every time the mention of the old letters is censored, or the “Attitude Era” logo is blurred out. Even if WWE can’t get back the WWF name, it should do everything it could to pay homage to its history. It’s taken some big steps toward doing that in recent years, with its historic compilation DVD releases and line of “Legends” action figures. Creating an actual WWE Hall of Fame building, as has been rumored, would be fantastic.

Some old timers still have something to offer: Perhaps with a straight face, Hulk Hogan would argue that his mission in TNA is to use his star power to “get over the young guys, brother.” Of course, many astute observers of TNA and the “Hulkster” would beg to differ. But, it remains true that, when used correctly, legends from past generations could be effective in helping establish today’s stars. I can think of no better recent example than Monday night’s show-closing “Piper’s Pit” segment. The “Rowdy Scot” may have done more to bring into focus John Cena’s moral dilemma heading into the Survivor Series than anybody else for the past month. Adding gravitas to the situation was the wisdom Piper could offer from his decades in the sport, and the respect that Cena said he had for Piper and his generation. Who would have thought that the MVP of the go-home angle heading into this Sunday’s pay per view would be a 56-year-old retiree? While WWE should be commended for its recent youth movement, there remains something to be said for the valuable roles of wise, experienced, grown men in a winning wrestling formula.

Some wrestling stories have happy endings: 2008’s Oscar-nominated film, “The Wrestler” told the tragic tale of a down-and-out former wrestling star spending forced to live in a trailer park and slice meat at a deli after his wrestling career was finished. It’s a story that resonates throughout the sport, but it’s not universal. Monday’s Raw illustrated that, in fact, many of the stars we grew up watching years ago are now well-adjusted, comfortable and happy in life after wrestling. Tito Santana is a successful business owner in New Jersey. Roddy Piper has been trying his hand at stand-up comedy, and is cheering his son on in his career as a mixed martial artist. Nikolai Volkoff has a municipal job and even ran for public office some years ago. And, of course, several WWE stars from the past remain employed with the company in backstage roles. It was nice to be reminded that not everyone ends up like Randy “The Ram.”

-Al Castle
Pro Wrestling Illustrated Senior Writer

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Memo to Mr. McMahon: You're killing your own gimmick!

Sunday is the 24th annual Survivor Series, and on a more historical note, the nine-year anniversary of the “official” death of WCW. Technically, it was nine years ago Thursday, Team WWE defeated Team Alliance at Survivor Series 2001 to kill the brand once and for all, but you know what I mean.

Since then, WWE has been called to task for numerous things that have “ruined” the business; you name the factor, and it’s been pegged as the reason wrestling is in a down cycle.

Changing from WWF to WWE? Death! Brand extension and brand-specific pay-per-views? Stupid! The Diva Search and Tough Enough? Expose the business why don’t ya? In recent times, it’s been anything from not making new stars to drawing out feuds too long to Linda McMahon’s senate campaign causing WWE to go PG being blamed as the eventual cause of death.

Yet, we’ve all kept watching—or have we?

Alas, I think I’ve figured it out, and while the above factors may play into it, the real culprit is … wait for it ... gimmicks. More specifically, the pay-per-views touting them specifically.

The latest Wrestling Observer printed a list of the 10 Worst Bought WWE PPVs of all-time. Naturally, the dismal December to Dismember PPV in 2006 was number 1 on the list (and believe me, even many of us backstage wondered why we were subjected to it). However, of the other nine, a whopping SEVEN of them have happened since SummerSlam 2009.

Trivia Time: When was it that WWE officially went away from their old PPV schedule and turned every non-Big 4 PPV into an official gimmick-filled event?

If you guessed September 2009, you win the booby prize.

Yes, it was just 14 short months (and 16 pay-per-views) ago that Unforgiven became Breaking Point, Armageddon became TLC, Money in the Bank got its own event, and so forth … which means that almost half of the pay-per-views in that time rank in the bottom 10 buy rates of all-time.

Think about that for a minute. In 25 years, WWE has held probably 200 pay-per-view: 26 WrestleManias, 23 Survivor Series’ (24 after next Sunday), 23 SummerSlams, and 22 Royal Rumbles account for roughly half of those, with maybe 100 more “lesser” events in a quarter-century … and seven of the last 16 are among the worst of all-time.

It has to be the gimmicks, right?

It can’t be the “not building new stars” thing, because Sheamus and Wade Barrett have been all over the un-magnificent seven. It can’t be the drawn-out feuds because that’s been going on for years. And it definitely can’t be the “kid-based” strategy, because while they can’t make purchasing decisions, they can sure convince their parents to shell out $45 once a month for their love.

It has to be the gimmicks, because after all, remember rule number 1 of why WWE almost failed in the mid-1990s: Gimmicks sell t-shirts, storylines sell tickets.

Night of Champions and Extreme Rules can get somewhat of a pass because they were already conceived, and Elimination Chamber gets a pass because it’s at least an innovative concept and that show can vitally shake up WrestleMania (and in the process prevent the full nine-week stretch after the Rumble from becoming stale).

The rest? Shoehorn city.

I loved the TLC matches of 2001-02 as much as anyone, but the stipulation loses its luster when I get to watch Degeneration-X vs. Legacy main event a PPV in one. Hell in a Cell was once a violent feud ender, but this fall it was a mere prop to drag out the thrilling Randy Orton vs. Sheamus blood feud.

Even Money in the Bank, which was an exciting addition to WrestleMania that made the card, has become just another useless idea. Don’t even get me started on Fatal Four Way, which in addition to being obvious could also just be called “slap together the top two singles matches from 'Mania into one mess.”

I will not be watching either of WWE’s remaining pay-per-view events. I love Survivor Series, but I have tickets to the Eagles/Giants game that night; I’d say I’m missing out, but we’re seven days away and we know all of three matches.

As for TLC, though, I’ll be far away from my TV. While adding three legal weapons may make Sheamus vs. John Morrison or Kofi Kingston vs. Dolph Ziggler that much more epic, I’ll pass.

Though, Vince, in 2011 you’ll get my money if you spend less time fitting the storylines around the stipulations, and more time doing the opposite.

-Louie Dee
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Angel Is The Devil


Dear Ms. Angel Orsini,

I write this letter to you as a matter of professional courtesy, which is something I’m sure you will need to look up in the dictionary, as after our recent encounter, I seriously doubt you have any idea you know what it means.

This past Saturday, I was asked to attend the WSU show in Union City, New Jersey, to honor the WSU champion, Mercedes Martinez. As you are very well aware, Mercedes has been atop of the WSU roster since she won the title back in May of 2008. Now whom did she beat for that belt? I just had the name on the tip of my tongue a moment ago. Oh, that’s right, she beat you. So you should be very familiar with that match indeed.

Back to the point, however. The night was supposed to be about Mercedes. PWI was asked to come and present WSU’s Woman of the Year award to Ms. Martinez, I was to say a few kind words, and all would be well. But that wasn’t okay with you, was it?

I had a feeling from the moment you entered the ring during Mercedes’ acceptance speech that things wouldn’t continue to go so smoothly. When you grabbed the mike and started directing your frustrations toward me, I was sure the evening would be ruined.

While I’m normally a very attentive, patient, and laidback person, hearing you yammer on and on about how your All Guts, No Glory title needed to be recognized by not only WSU, but by PWI as well, well that really struck a bad chord with me. Look, any kid who’s cut enough lawns can save up to buy a belt and start proclaiming him or herself a champion as well. Doesn’t mean we, or anyone, has to acknowledge it.

As you continued spouting off your career accomplishments, which I will be the first to admit are rather impressive, my frustration at your audacity to come in the ring and steal Mercedes’ spotlight, not to mention my time, continued to grow.

Sure, I may have turned my back on you a few times. Maybe I checked my phone to see the score of the TCU vs. Utah college football game. Certainly I stopped listening more than halfway through.

Regardless of what I did, it does not excuse your actions that followed.

When you placed your hands on me and began ranting and raving about how you were going to “drop me” and “rip me apart” until you got your way, I knew you were out of your mind.

When I heard head WSU official Ray Sager yell to you to stop, I thought, Finally, someone is taking control of this mad woman. As WSU conceded to your threats in fear of my safety (and, more likely, a possible lawsuit), I was very pleased to have you let go of me, and get as far away from me as possible. But when you came back in my face, taunting me, delivering a painful knee to my stomach, and throwing me to the ground, that is when you crossed a line that should never be crossed.

Let’s get something straight, Ms. Orsini, I’m not a trained fighter. Much like The Thomas Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress, “The Pen Is Mightier” has been firmly engraved in my foundation. What does picking on me prove? That you, a trained combatant, can take down a kid who hasn’t been in a fight since Dan Martin tried to steal my lunch money in 5th grade? Well, cheers to you.

The real travesty of this whole thing, Ms. Orsini, is that WSU officials did what they felt they had to for my safety (by the way, I do appreciate that) and now the AGNG title is officially recognized. But was that the right thing to do?

Caving in to—well let’s call it what it was—your terroristic threats was a huge mistake on their part. They’ve set a horrible precedent that undermines every ethic the company stands for.

As for me, anytime I’m asked to appear at a ceremony, I’m going to have to request bodyguards at my side in case some wrestler feels they can have their way with the magazine’s editorial policy through me. Believe me, Ms. Orsini and anybody else who might have a similar idea, PWI cares more about its journalistic principles than they do me. And that’s not a joke.

I’ve already let the WSU front office know I have no interest in pressing legal action against you or the promotion itself. I don’t see any reason to put both our companies through the anguish of a drawn-out court battle. Besides, after taking one of your hits personally, I have no doubt it will only be a short matter of time before someone much tougher comes along to put you in your place.

With that all said, Ms. Orsini, congratulations on having WSU recognize your championship belt. I hope you had fun displaying it around backstage on Saturday night while I was being cared for by medical personnel. But I want you to know something: While I may not be the final word in recognizing titles, I certainly have a very big vote. And as long as I am here, I will do everything in my power to make sure that hunk of metal you call a championship belt never gets recognized by the PWI family of magazines.

To me, Ms. Orsini, you will always be the kid down the street who cut some lawns over the summer, saved up some cash, bought a belt, and started calling herself a champion. And believe me, that takes absolutely no guts, and even less honor.

Jeff Ruoss
Managing Editor
Pro Wrestling Illustrated

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Linda 2010: Wrestling's Biggest Botched Move

Forget Evan Bourne, John Morrison, or Tyson Kidd. This election season, the highest risk maneuver was executed by the McMahon family itself.

Indeed WWE attempted the biggest high spot of all—the equivalent of a shooting star press onto a ringside table from the top rung of a ladder while it was balanced on the ropes. They had their longtime CEO run for U.S. Senate.

And, like in wrestling, the wisdom of that maneuver was ultimately judged by its success. Hit that moonsault flush, and you look like a hero. Miss it, and you look like a fool. But, alas, Linda McMahon last night connected with nothing but an empty mat. And so the McMahon family’s decision to run for Senate can now officially be looked at as not much more than a colossal miscalculation.

And this is not a case of 20/20 hindsight. Most anybody who has closely followed Vince and Linda McMahon over the 30 years that they’ve run WWE realized how ludicrous it was to have Linda run for public office with a track record of doing not much more than being chief executive officer of a corporation that most Americans consider silly or sleazy or both.

And, yet, somehow the McMahons seem to be taken off-guard by how poorly their political gamble turned out. And what an expensive gamble it was. Linda McMahon reportedly spent $50-million of her own money—that is to say money the McMahon family has earned running WWE—to finance her election. For that huge sum, WWE bought itself some of the worst publicity it has ever received, and that’s saying a lot.

Fair or unfair, the mainstream media typically ignores the pro wrestling industry, unless a big celebrity makes a crossover appearance or a high-profile wrestler drops dead. And while the McMahons may have over the years resented the fact that the “elitist” media’s neglect has meant that some of WWE’s impressive accomplishments have gone ignored by the general public (dominant cable ratings, live attendance records, recognition from charitable groups), they should count their blessings that many of the negative stories coming from WWE have also gone under reported.

But that all changes when you have one of your top executives run for national office. As would be expected, Linda McMahon’s candidacy led to both reporters and political adversaries trying to turn over every stone to uncover the dirt on her. And they didn’t have to look too far.

Appalling WWE storylines involving misogyny, incest, and even necrophilia gained a national spotlight. New attention was drawn to the spate of premature deaths among ex-WWE wrestlers, and the drug abuse behind many of those deaths. Connecticut authorities even began looking into the questionable classification of WWE performers as independent contractors. Skeleton after skeleton after skeleton was unearthed from the McMahons' family closet.

The McMahons may have thought the kind of scrutiny they received was unfair—and maybe some of it was—but they should have expected it. The truth is that neither Richard Blumenthal’s operatives nor the mainstream media scratched the surface of the myriad bad calls that WWE made while Linda McMahon was at the helm. (I saw no mention anywhere of the single most tasteless WWE angle I ever witnessed—Muhammad Hassan’s simulated terrorist beheading of The Undertaker, which aired on TV on the same day as the 2005 London train bombings.)

But, instead, the McMahons appeared shocked—and even indignant—over the criticism they were receiving in the mainstream media. WWE responded by launching another potentially expensive media campaign, this one drawing attention to all the good work WWE does and casting anyone who questions WWE’s benevolence as a mean bully.

It’s worth noting that WWE really does do a lot of good things. Although I could do without all the self-aggrandizing, I’ve never doubted WWE’s motives in visiting American troops or granting the wishes of sick children. They are selfless and honorable deeds, and WWE won’t let you forget them. Beyond that, it’s true that WWE generally brings a lot of happiness to the lives of its fans, and that many a family comes together to enjoy WWE entertainment.

But as much as it has tried to reinvent itself and hide from that dirty “wrestling” label, in the end, WWE should be well aware of its bad reputation, and not put itself in a situation to make many more people aware of it.

Even while trying to discredit their detractors, the McMahons only gave them ammunition in recent weeks with some of the most embarrassing antics they’ve ever attempted: A heavy-handed “Stand Up For WWE” campaign. A lawsuit against the state for not allowing voters to wear John Cena T-Shirts. A vow to give away free WWE merchandise outside polling locations. A “fan appreciation night” in Connecticut four days before the election in which WWE deeply discounted tickets in a thinly veiled attempt to buy votes. Another WWE event in a Connecticut arena on Election Day itself.

And then there was that disgrace of a segment on this past Monday’s Raw featuring WWE Chairman Vince McMahon presumably moving his bowels on a Blumenthal campaign sign. How dare anyone question the tactfulness of WWE!

And so, after the last vote was counted, Linda and Vince McMahon's baby, World Wrestling Entertainment, is left with an even worse mainstream reputation than it had before the race. And Vince and Linda themselves are $50-million poorer.

And so maybe the McMahons are finally ready to return their focus to running the family business. With pay-per-view buy rates and TV ratings the lowest they’ve been in years, it couldn’t come too soon.

All that said, there is a silver lining in the fiasco that was “Linda 2010.” The fact is that WWE may have inadvertently benefited from McMahon’s campaign in ways it may not realize today.

Even while defending themselves from the various criticisms they have faced over the last several months, the previously oblivious McMahons must have had their eyes opened to their company’s perception outside the bubble of the WWE Universe. The reality is that the fun, fantasy world of WWE has a lot of real world problems to address.

Only good things can come from that kind of self-awareness—and some already have. The issue of whether WWE superstars should be classified as employees, and therefore receive benefits including health insurance, is being given more consideration than it ever has. During the campaign, WWE banned any use of the lethal prescription drug Soma, took further measures to protect performers from dangerous concussions—including by banning unprotected chair shots to the head—and toned down some of the needless gore and salaciousness in its TV product.

While the motives in making those moves may have been less than pure, they nevertheless got done.

And maybe, along the way, you even got some cheap WWE tickets as well.

Al Castle

Pro Wrestling Illustrated Senior Writer

Monday, November 1, 2010

TNA Knockouts: Monsters Of The Mid-Card

For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about the current state of women’s wrestling in WWE, it’s easy to overlook the fact that there are a number of smaller organizations who seem to have the right idea when it comes to the treatment and promotion of female grapplers. TNA, for one, still has a good thing going with its Knockouts Division. Despite the loss of top-notch performers like Awesome Kong and ODB, along with the backlash from Lacey Von Erich’s ill-timed and ill-conceived push, the organization makes ample use of its star-studded roster of lady gladiators.


The October 28 installment of Impact provided a terrific example of TNA’s commitment to women’s wrestling. A vicious brawl between old foes Tara and Mickie James set the stage for an explosive tag match in which Madison Rayne, Tara, and Sarita squared off against Angelina Love, Velvet Sky, and Mickie James. That’s a talented sextet, for sure. In fact, all of the aforementioned grapplers placed in the top half of this year’s PWI “Female 50.” Their ensuing contest was a mid-card bonanza of solid, hard-hitting action. Incorporating a broad range of talent and experience into a simple, quasi-coherent storyline seems challenging enough to those who call the shots for the WWE Divas, but TNA appears to be developing a multifaceted series of Knockout-related angles that will hopefully serve to hold the collective attention of those who appreciate women’s wrestling.

Madison Rayne (who, incidentally, garnered my vote for the number-one slot in the “Female 50) continues to grow into her role as TNA’s dictatorial über-villainess, as she leads a tentatively allied faction of like-minded ladies into battle against her former “BFFs,” The Beautiful People. Rayne’s “frenemy” Tara, having recently surrendered the KO strap to Rayne in fulfillment of a personal debt of sorts, is embroiled in a new phase of her longstanding feud with Mickie James that is set to culminate in a battle at Turning Point. James won’t back down from that challenge, or any other, and she’s made it eminently clear that her ultimate goal is to capture the TNA Knockouts title. When the dust settles, James might well realize her dream of becoming the most decorated women’s champion in pro wrestling history.

The drama of TNA’s Knockouts division isn’t limited to rivalries and cliques. TNA continues to develop a fledgling women’s tag division and the belts are currently held by Japanese superstar Hamada and former Knockout champion Taylor Wilde. Granted, the women’s roster could benefit from a few more tag pairings to make the chase for the KO tag belts a bit more intriguing, but the sustained effort to keep a diverse range of women’s action in the front and center of TNA programming is noteworthy.

Despite the fact that WWE remains the biggest of big leagues in the world of pro wrestling, there is an apparent gender gap when it comes to how the company presents its female talent. For today’s women of WWE, they might well consider themselves lucky to land in the lower-card, cast in a handful of one-dimensional feuds and rivalries before relegation to a supporting role as arm candy for a rising male star or a guest host.

This is not to say that there is an absence of top-quality female talent in the ranks of WWE. Michelle McCool, Melina, and Natalya are prime examples of women who strive to make the most of their time in WWE. In many respects, though, WWE appears to have given up on presenting a women’s division based on work ethic and physicality. In a post on this blog several weeks ago, PWI Editor-in-Chief Frank Krewda used the phrase “looks vs. ability” in his discussion of WWE’s ongoing identity crisis vis-à-vis women’s wrestling. Time and again, “looks” wins the day.

TNA effectively bucks this trend by nurturing developing talent and providing new opportunities to seasoned veterans. The Knockouts aren’t afraid to incorporate a smattering of gratuitous “cheesecake” moments into their respective repertoires now and again, but it’s clear from week to week that the women of TNA have greater purpose and potential than simple sex appeal.

Indeed, the profound difference between the Knockouts and the Divas lies in TNA’s willingness to let their talent work, both on the mike and in the ring.  

Mike Bessler
PWI Contributing Writer


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hang In There, Kane

As journalists, we're not supposed to take sides nor have a rooting interest in any way. I have to admit something right here, however. We at PWI have been rooting seriously for Kane lately. No, we haven't lost our moral compass; it's all about business.

You see, Kane is featured on the cover of our annual "PWI Presents: The Greats Of The Game" issue, which works out great for us as long as he's still in possession of the World title. If he loses, well, he's no less interesting to read about, but, truth be told, the issue will sell better if he's still on top.

So ... Go Kane!

By the way, the issue also features Jeff Hardy, Jeff Jarrett, Rob Van Dam, Bret Hart, and Christian. There are 24 pages devoted to each star, including a look at their current careers as well as an all-inclusive career bio that includes color pinups of their entire careers. Finally, we've selected from our archives what the editors believe to be each wrestler's career-defining story and reproduced it in this issue.

I urge you to pick one up at the newsstand beginning November 9 or pre-order below.

Stu Saks
Publisher







Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The End Of An Era

As the dust settled and the smoke cleared in the wake of Night of Champions and Bound for Glory, an unfortunate scenario was unfolding in Ring of Honor, as ROH original and two-time former champion Austin Aries parted ways with the company.

There haven’t been any press releases or emotionally charged statements from either “A-Double” or ROH management since the fracture. Rather, Aries' sudden departure from the company occurred in a strangely quiet way. It seems the relationship and communication between Aries and some members of the ROH brass had dwindled to a point where he had started seeking answers about his future with the promotion. According to Aries, those answers were hard to get until a few days after his last ROH On HDNet taping, when the company got word to Aries that it would be best if he took some time off.

Losing a two-time champion who is as identifiable with the brand as anybody and who draws such intense heat from fans obviously isn't a situation ROH can’t be happy about … and Aries can’t be happy about the manner in which his departure was handled … or mishandled … or not handled at all.

Unlike former ROH stalwarts Bryan Danielson and Nigel McGuinness, who were afforded farewell tours and matches (even Tyler Black was given a ballyhooed send-off on September 11 before joining WWE), Aries was simply left to fade away. He wasn’t even written out the Ring Of Honor On HDNet script.

Without intimate knowledge of ROH’s fiscal condition or long-term plans, I can’t and won’t criticize ROH for letting Aries slip through the cracks, but I will criticize them for not doing anything to honor his substantial contribution to the company.
—Frank Krewda
Editor-In-Chief



Friday, October 15, 2010

We're Not Just About Wrestling

As the Philadelphia Phillies make their annual drive to the World Series, your friends at PWI are gearing up to produce a World Series commemorative magazine--to be published only if the Phillies go all the way.

Last year, we simultaneously put together both Yankees and Phillies specials and printed only one (the Yankees, of course). This year we're going to take it a little easier, producing only one. Of course, the Phillies have to do their part or we'll end up doing a lot of work for nothing.

By the way, if any of you would like to order last year's Yankees special, drop me a note at pwi@kappapublishing.com and I'll tell you how you can order one. We also might have some copies left of the Red Sox (2004) and White Sox (2005).

Stu Saks
Wrestling & Baseball Publisher

BTW: Here are my ALCS and NLCS predictions: Rangers over the Yankees in 7, Phillies over the Giants in 6.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Adam Pearce: The Unedited Q&A

What follows is the full transcript of the Q&A Senior Writer Al Castle conducted with Adam Pearce two weeks after he was fired as Ring of Honor booker. The print version appears in the current issue of Inside Wrestling/The Wrestler (Volume 36, 2010).


Over the past several years, Adam Pearce has gone from losing opening-card matches in Ring of Honor to becoming one of the most influential and respected personalities in the sport of wrestling. And, yet, many wrestling fans may never have heard of him.
After longtime ROH booker Gabe Sapolsky was fired in 2008, “Scrap Iron” took over as the creative head of the nation’s third-largest wrestling company. Under Pearce’s leadership, ROH has developed a new following on national television, pioneered a new Internet pay-per-view market, and helped craft some of the most compelling storylines in all of wrestling.
But that all came to an end in August when news surfaced that Pearce had been fired as ROH’s booker.
Even without that job, Pearce still holds one of the most historically prestigious posts in the sport—National Wrestling Alliance heavyweight champion. The three-time NWA champ has been especially busy as of late, defending the title against the likes of Bryan Danielson and Charlie Haas and being featured on the new NWA Championship Wrestling From Hollywood program on KDOC-TV in Los Angeles.
In this interview—Pearce’s first following his departure from ROH—the 15-year wrestling veteran spoke with Senior Writer Al Castle about his falling-out with ROH, his thoughts on ROH’s future, and the NWA’s place in the sport in 2010.

AC: You’ve been in the news as of late, largely because of your parting of ways with Ring of Honor. You’ve said a little bit about what happened, but can you tell me more about how that came about?

AP: I think basically what it boils down, and I’ve said this to practically everyone I’ve talked to, is that it’s a different ideology having literally nothing to do with the wrestling side of the operation. I’ve thought, and I’ve been adamant from the beginning, that if and when Ring of Honor finally closes its doors, the wrestling side of it—the in-ring, the creative—is never going to be the reason why. I really mean this: It doesn’t matter who the booker is. Whether it’s Gabe Sapolsky, me, Delirious, or somebody you pull off the street, it really doesn’t matter because the in-ring is going to be so strong and what Ring of Honor is going to be remembered for. It’s those other things that are equally important and often forgotten and those things away from the public eye that are going to be the things that drag the company down. And those ultimately turned out to be what the main difference of opinion was between myself and some of the other guys in Ring of Honor.

AC: Is that to say that you think there are some bad business decisions being made in Ring of Honor?

AP: I think that there are opportunities that Ring of Honor has had over the last two years, that I’ve seen with my own eyes, and doors that have gone unopened and things that are left on the table that I think the company could have really taken advantage of and have been better for business in the long term and certainly better for the wrestlers in the long term. And it’s unfortunate.

AC: What’s kept those things from happening? Is it just a disagreement about whether those things would, in fact, help the company? I imagine if those in power thought these were good things, they would do them.

AP: You would think that would make sense. You know you have good people that you work with. Ring of Honor over the last two years has come into partnerships with some strong businesses people—HDNet, obviously owned by Mark Cuban, who is a billionaire. And, from the outside looking in, you’d take it as a given to want to get in bed with a billionaire who obviously is a fan of wrestling, who has put himself in the ring in WWE several times and fronted the money to put Ring of Honor on a national platform on his television network. You’d think you’d want to expand that relationship and try to get away from a business model that has proven to not be successful—the DVD market. I don’t think it takes a lot to realize that if WWE is having problems selling WrestleMania on DVD the last couple of years, what makes anyone think that you’re going to be able to sell any other wrestling DVD, especially from a company with a percentage of the notoriety, a percentage of the familiarity of WWE? And expect to sell them at a volume to where you’d not only break even, but draw enough of a profit to sustain your business going forward? I think that Ring of Honor needs to take a look at how it’s operating and what it’s expecting. I just think there have been doors that have been knocked on and just haven’t been answered.

AC: Can you give any specific example of an opportunity that you think they didn’t take?

AP: I think the number one thing that should have been done in Ring of Honor is expand its deal with HDNet. And I know that there are opportunities to do that that were declined… Stronger help on the television side of things. Ring of Honor has been off of cable pay per view for a couple of years. And there are opportunities there to sit down with HDNet and talk about that. There’s the continued use of the DVDs that Ring of Honor has been putting out that are not in high definition format – basically just not keeping up with the technology of the day. These are all things that could have been mitigated – and in my opinion should have been mitigated – if the company is going to stay on the winning path and is going to move toward becoming solvent and well off. These are things that need to be done. People are complaining about the quality of the DVDs – that’s it’s not shot in widescreen format and it’s not in HD.

Basically, Ring of Honor, I think, on the business side of things, is stuck in 1998. They’re a generation behind of where they should be. And on one side of the coin, your wrestling is supposed to be this revolutionary product, but everything else isn’t. I was championing those things, which is why I was happy that we took a step forward with the Internet pay-per-views and the online, on-demand portal. You’re going to see that over the next five years, that’s going to be how people rent things. I don’t think there’s going to be DVDs coming off of shelves at the Blockbuster. We’re going to be looking more toward the Netflix download system. WWE’s got their online portal, and so does TNA. And they’re drawing strong revenues from that. And I think that it’s totally natural that as technology advances, you have to keep up with it. And I don’t see that happening at Ring of Honor.

AC: Was it a situation where you couldn’t remain silent and felt you needed to speak up about these problems you were seeing?

AP: I’ve always been that guy. I’m outspoken and when I see something that I see as a deficiency or something that needs to be corrected, I’m on it. The good side of that is that that’s why I’m always looked to as a leader in practically everything I do. The bad side of that is that my voice is always a little bit louder. Sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the grease. This time I didn’t get the grease I was looking for.

Anytime you’ve got two strong personalities in the same office on opposite ends of the spectrum as it pertains to an issue, there’s automatically division. If I say black and someone else says white, that puts the owner, Cary Silkin, in the middle. And if that argument continues for months and months, and there’s bitterness on both sides that has been festering, then a change is coming. And Cary Silkin was, unfortunately, in a position where he felt that he needed to make a change he thought was easiest for the company. I don’t like it, but I understand it.

AC: So you’re butting of heads wasn’t with Cary.

AP: Not at all. Cary Silkin is the most generous man I’ve ever met in my life. I consider him a tremendous friend and probably the best boss I will ever have. I can’t say enough good things about Cary. But, again, to have himself in the position that he’s got one person chirping in his ear constantly about one thing and someone else chirping in his ear about the opposite—I think there’s some hard feelings both ways, and I certainly accept the part of the turmoil that I created. But he knows. I’ve had conversations with Cary since I was let go and he knows that where I was coming from was a place of bettering Ring of Honor and taking care of the people who we have under contract on the creative side who deserve, in my opinion, more than they’re getting.

AC: I’ve got to ask who the person was that you were clashing with. Is it Syd (Eick, ROH vice president)? Jim Cornette?

AP: Absolutely not Jim Cornette. It’s not hard to figure it out.

AC: You said something a little while ago that some people would find alarming. You said “if and when” Ring of Honor shuts down. I think for realists who watch this company surviving on DVD sales and few hundred people at live shows, that’s been in the back of their heads for a long time. But I know I’ve gotten assurances from Cary over the years of, “No, we’re fine. We’re not shutting down anytime soon.” Maybe you could offer some insider perspective. Is that a realistic possibility?
AP: I think anytime you’re dealing with a small business—and I still consider Ring of Honor to be a small business and I think Cary would—in the economy we have and in the entertainment field, whose existence is based solely on selling one item, I don’t really consider the people in the area buying the tickets. That’s almost second to the DVD sales. That’s the driving force of the company. Because by the time we walk into the building and the people show up, their money is already spent. So it’s on the back end that you’re trying to make a profit. So I think when you limit yourself to saying, “We’re going to rely on “X” and “X” is your bread and butter, and if you haven’t turned a profit in “X” since 2005, then I think you have to take a look in the mirror and ask, “Why are we in business? And if we’re not making any money, why are we in business? And if we’re not turning a profit at these shows, why are we running these shows?”

To Cary’s credit, the schedule was cut quite a bit from two or three years ago to where it is now. And the TV tapings are subsidized by HDNet, so that’s not a huge expense out of Cary’s pocket. I think, at the end of the day—and this is just me, personally—Ring of Honor will continue to operate as long as Cary Silkin wants it to. But what that entails is him pulling his private funds out of his own wallet to make that happen. And the thing that I fear, and I’ve said this to him a hundred times, is that he’s going to continue pulling from his own kitty, and one day he’s going to reach in and there’s not going to be anything left. And then it’s going to be reflection time. “Oh, no. What did I do? What could I have done differently? Where did all the money go?” I would hate for that to happen for him, because I don’t think he deserves it.

Like I said, this is the most generous man that I’ve ever met in my life, who’s taken care of so many people. He’s so generous, I think to a fault. He’s primed to be taken advantage of. And I think in some situations he has been. And I think he needs the right set of people around him on the business end of things to make sure that at the end of the day not only is it bigger, it’s profitable, but also that he’s not depleting his own personal funds. At the end of the day, he’s really the one who’s going to be worse off than anyone else. The wrestlers could always go and work. I’m going to find another job. People in the office can go and find another job. If his business fails, what does Cary do next? And that’s a scary question.

AC: I think it’s fair to say it will be a very sad day for the wrestling landscape when Ring of Honor isn’t around. Inasmuch as people think of a “Big Three”—even though I know Ring of Honor’s fan base is far smaller than even TNA’s—Ring of Honor has really been carrying the weight of athleticism and wrestling as a sport on its shoulders. And I think that’s something that would be sorely missed if Ring of Honor weren’t around.

AP: Yeah, and I’ve said that to the guys in the locker room. Before every show I do a little rah-rah speech or something like that and address issues. No one will ever be able to take Ring of Honor out of the wrestling history books. And that’s good. On some level, we’ve all forged a little niche on the totem pole of wrestling through the years that will never be erased. And that feels good. But at the same time, you want it to mean something. You don’t want it to be an afterthought, like “Hey, Ring of Honor was this great wrestling company that had so many great talents, and good bookers, and legends that came through. But at the end of the day, man, they just couldn’t get it together, and they’re gone.” You don’t want that epitaph to be more bitter than sweet.

I’m not saying that Ring of Honor is going to end up being a multimillion-dollar company. I don’t think anybody would love anything more than to be able to make a good living in the wrestling business working for Cary, because we all love Cary, but I just don’t know what the future holds.

AC: Lets backtrack a bit. I’m interested in how you got involved in the creative side of things. I guess it was about two years ago that the bombshell comes out that Gabe’s been fired. And Gabe was a pretty popular booker among fans and among the wrestlers. They hear Adam Pearce is the new booker, and I think for a lot of people it was a real head-scratcher. Adam Pearce—the guy who’s wrestling in opening-card matches? What does he know about booking? Can you talk about what you brought to the table that made you a viable option?

AP: I think you hit the perception right on the head. People who were watching Ring of Honor went from one day having Gabe Sapolsky, who has this awesome knack to take people who are on the Internet and suck them into whatever idea he’s got or whatever idea he’s working with people on, and he turns them into this cult, ravenous following. It’s like him and Paul E. are the only people able to do that. And then, like you said, here’s this first, second, or third match heel putting babyfaces over, which just happened to be what my job in Ring of Honor was. I was the lower-to-mid-card heel gatekeeper for these babyfaces who were going to be moving up to the upper card or even higher than that. And the reason that job was mine was because I was experienced enough to get in the ring with guys who hadn’t been wrestling as long as I was and kind of teach them how and what to do to get on to that next level. I think if you look at your card, every spot on the card is important. You need to have your skilled and your tenured people in the right positions to mold guys going forward. And Ring of Honor has always been about the young talent ready to break out and take the next step and make themselves stars. And I think when you have that young talent doing so many moves and so many spots—these awesome things visually—you kind of lose sight of what working really is. These days, practically every locker room I go to I am the veteran. That was my job, to kind of reel people in and say, “Okay, You can do 10 flips, but we’re going to do two of them tonight and here’s where we’re going to do them and here’s why.” I don’t want to say “teach people how to work,” but just polish them. That was my job. And for three years I loved that job. I didn’t have to be the top guy. I didn’t have to be the main event …

Moving into the creative side of things, like you said the bombshell was dropped and Gabe was let go. That was a shock to everyone in the locker room, including myself. I didn’t know what was going on until actually my last date in-ring. It was September of 2008 in Philadelphia. I wrestled Brent Albright in Philadelphia and took the NWA title back from him, and I was being cut from the roster. It was a cost-cutting thing. I live in San Diego, so I’m flying everywhere. It wasn’t a drive to any of the towns. So that took a toll, and just operating expenses were being reduced. I wasn’t being featured, necessarily, in the main event. For me to be kept on for three years in the role that I was given at the expense that was incurred, I think says a lot.

And along the way I would be asked about things I might change. As a wrestler, I think it’s second nature to always question the booker—just like it is for any line of work for a subordinate to question their boss. But the guys would always come to people like me or some of the other tenured members of the locker room for ideas on how to put their match together or, “We’re stuck on a finish,” or just looking for someone else’s perspective on how to do something. I was always one of those guys as a veteran guy who they would come to. I was never shy on ideas on finishes, or angle ideas. When Gabe would say, “I want some kind of angle here,” I was always one of the first guys to wrap his head around it and we’d all knock our heads to figure out what we’re doing.

So over the last 15 years, I’ve always stuck my nose in creative, for good or bad. There have been people who appreciated and people who it’s pissed off. For Gabe it was his baby. Gabe had this thing where it was his show and he’d write everything. And I think that’s somewhat misleading. From that standpoint, it wasn’t hard for the boys to get on board with me captaining ship, because I was kind of doing that in the locker room anyway and giving young guys ideas anyway. So from that standpoint, it wasn’t a difficult transition, I would say.

AC: I talked to Chris Hero, who said that one of the things you brought to the table was that you were one of the boys, so to speak. And that goes a long way when you’re asking guys to do certain things. They know that you would and you are doing them yourself. Do you agree with that?

AP: Absolutely. People ask me what the biggest difference between me and Gabe Sapolsky was, and it comes down to being as simple as anything I ever asked anybody to do, I had already done it. Period. I had been in there, and these guys knew they weren’t going to be put in a situation that I hadn’t put myself fin or been put in before. There’s a camaraderie and respect that’s inherent when you’re one of the boys. I think the guys knew that they weren’t going to be asked to do something outlandish or something that I thought was stupid.

At the same time, I could push the envelope a bit with guys who may not have been comfortable, necessarily, with things that I wanted them to do. They trusted me because they knew Pearce had been there, done that. But they all understood that my style and the things that I was looking for weren’t going to be insane anyway. They weren’t going to be diving off the top of steel cages or going through flaming tables. That’s just not my bag.

From that standpoint, it made it for the boys profoundly easier to relate. A wrestler relates to a wrestler. And if your booker isn’t a wrestler, there’s a gap that needs to bridged. And some people are really good about bridging that gap and some people aren’t … If respect is a cup that you could fill up to 10, if you’re not a wrestler, you could never fill that cup to 10. You might fill it to nine, but you’re never going to fill it to 10.

AC: Was it a delicate balance that you had to try to reach? Because on one hand, you had your own style and your own ideas, but on the other hand, Ring of Honor came into its popularity and grew its cult following under Gabe’s booking and Gabe’s style of wrestling. So, I guess you had to be careful not to completely turn that upside down, because then you’re alienating your fans.

AP: I think what people need to realize, too, is that, if a change in Ring of Honor in style and in creative wasn’t wanted, there wouldn’t have been a need to change the booker. It’s like you said, you’re walking that delicate, fine line where you’ve got your fan base that’s already built up and they’re accustomed to being catered to and they’re accustomed to seeing certain things. But at the end of the day, if the person writing the checks wants something different in the ring, then that’s what you do. And I knew that I would be the one taking the bullets for that. And, frankly, I don’t think it mattered who the successor to Gabe Sapolsky was going to be. I think the fact that it was me, a heel who had always been a lower-card guy in Ring of Honor, it’s not as if it went from Gabe Sapolsky to Jim Cornette. It was Gabe Sapolsky to a lower-card heel who wasn’t particularly Internet-friendly to begin with. I wasn’t out there giving interviews and making myself accessible the way that Gabe did. So I think in a certain respect that kind of hindered my cause more than it would have hindered someone else.

At the same time, one of the issues that the wrestlers always had with Ring of Honor was that it seemed like Gabe Sapolsky got more credit for Ring of Honor than anyone else. This goes back to wrestlers and filling that cup of respect. Gabe wasn’t in the ring doing it. That chapped a few hides along the way. And I wanted to make sure that I, as the head of creative, took myself as far out of the spotlight as I could. I didn’t do an interview at all for three years nearly. I took myself out of the ring in Ring of Honor nearly completely for two years. I think it was important for me that the honor and the attention in Ring of Honor was on the wrestlers and not the booking.

AC: Obviously, a pitfall that a lot of wrestler/bookers have fallen into over the years has been pushing themselves and making themselves the centerpiece of big angles. Once you started booking, we hardly saw you in the ring—at least in Ring of Honor. Was there any temptation along the way of, “You know, I have this opportunity here to really get myself over”?

AP: Absolutely not. And I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I think that speaks volumes of what I thought about the product. It would have been easy. And nobody ever told me that I couldn’t wrestle. Cary Silkin never came to me and said, “Hey Adam, now that you’re going to lead things, maybe it’s a good idea to get out of the ring.” In fact, he would ask me, “Hey, do you want to bring the NWA title into Ring of Honor?” or “Hey, do you want to work tonight?” And the answer was always, “No. The focus is going to be on this locker room and these guys because they deserve it.” I didn’t want to be that guy and follow in the same steps, as you said, of so many wrestler/bookers who took the opportunity when they had it to make themselves the champion or to be at the top of the card or to get the TV time.

I mean, think about it from this standpoint: Ring of Honor gets a national television deal … Hell, I could have put myself on the TV show every week, and benefited myself personally.  I would have the greatest tape ever on myself. I never appeared once. I thought to myself, If I don’t have the respect of my locker room now, which I did, I don’t think they could help but respect me by doing that. And that’s why I did it.

AC: What are you most proud of from your time heading creative? Is there an angle or a storyline that you look at and really feel was kind of a testament of what you brought?

AP: To be honest with you, being the head of creative with Ring of Honor was my dream job. I loved it. I have a family and child and the schedule didn’t require me to be on the road 200 days a year, but at the same time I was writing a television show that was airing nationally. And we were playing houses and doing reasonably well. In fact, numbers started to creep up during the last year or so, and I was really proud of that.

I think at the end of the day what I’m going to love most about what I did was solidifying the locker room in 2008. Up until the end of Gabe Sapolsky’s run, it was really fractured and really insecure—just really unnerved in not knowing what was going to go on, and really unhappy. And I was a part of that. I hated that feeling. No one wants to go to work when they hate their job. I’m not saying that the boys hated working for Ring of Honor, but that unknown, the uncertainty of the future, cast a dark cloud over what we would have been doing. It took some time when I came in because people thought that was the bottom—the beginning of the end of Ring of Honor, when Gabe Sapolsky left. It was his baby. It took some time to rebuild the confidence of these guys that, “Now we’re going to continue. We’re going to fight a different fight. We’re going to continue to fight the good fight. And at the end of the day, if we play our cards right and we get the right people on our side, we’re going to stay in business and it’s going to be better than it was before.”

I think on one hand there are some things about Ring of Honor that wouldn’t have been possible pre-2008. And there’s some really positive things to take from it. The television show I’ll put up against any wrestling television show on the air. If you’re a wrestling purist, if you like wrestling and you like athletic wrestling, and you want a little bit of sizzle with your steak, instead of a little steak with your sizzle, I don’t think you get a better hour of wrestling on television anywhere.

When I couldn’t get to the television, that was tough. Because, like the Ring of Honor’s DVD storylines from 2002 to 2008 were Gabe’s, the television show was my baby. And that was really hard.

AC: Any thoughts about where Ring of Honor goes now under Hunter Johnston (a.k.a. Delirious, ROH’s new booker)? Does he share some of your ideals? Do you expect him to go in a radically different direction?

AP: I don’t think so. From what I understand from talking to Cary Silkin and Hunter myself, I don’t think he’s going to do anything really different than what we were already doing. I think it’s more about having a different personality in that position that might be easier to work with on the other side of the business. Fortunately for the locker room, everyone knows Delirious. He has an extremely good reputation as being one of the boys with a sound mind, and a good mind. I can say unequivocally that he and I agree on nine out of 10 issues and came to same conclusion as far as wrestling goes. We see things much the same. And probably over the years I’ve spent more time in the ring with Delirious than with any other guy. He’s earned my respect tenfold.

So in that respect, you’re not going to see any radical shifts in what’s going on creatively. He’ll also have Jim Cornette to lean on. As great a mentor as Jim was for me in allowing me to be the boss and allowing me to succeed on my own merit, I hope he’ll do the same for Hunter going forward. And at least with Jim and (ROH producer) Dave Lagana on the television side going forward, you don’t lose that continuity. You still have two-thirds of the three-headed monster. And Hunter I think from a temperament standpoint, if my fuse burns at a thousand degrees, he’s a much calm, cooler guy than I am. I don’t want to say he’s less passionate, because I don’t think that’s accurate. But he’s kind of an easy, laidback kind of a guy. And maybe that is what Cary was looking for.

AC: So do you think your career on the creative side of wrestling is now over and do you want to just go back to concentrating on your own wrestling career? Obviously, there’s been talk of you maybe having a role in TNA. I think a lot of people would say your creative skills could really be used there.

AP: There have been conversations with people in TNA. I think some of the things that have been reported have been a bit overblown. I have a lot of friends that work in TNA, and a lot of them came from Ring of Honor. D-Lo Brown, who is in a good position there now, worked for me and Cary Silkin in 2009 for a stretch. And I’ve known Terry Taylor for more than 10 years, and obviously he’s head of talent relations there. There have been talks, but I talk to those guys all the time. But there’s been nothing set in stone about me going over there to try out. But you never know.

I don’t know what the future holds. I have obligations to the National Wrestling Alliance. Today we’re taping television in Hollywood that will later broadcast on KDOC TV—real Los Angeles television, finally, for David Marquez, who I’m excited for. And for the talent here in the Los Angeles and the Southern California area, this is an opportunity to really do something that hasn’t been done in Southern California since the days of the Olympic Auditorium. This is kind of the dawn of a new era in a part of the country that in the Internet doesn’t get a whole lot of play outside of PWG. We’ll see what happens. I’m sure I’ll be involved on the creative side of that in some way. Beyond that, who knows?

AC: Let’s talk a little bit about the NWA. Some people would say that the NWA is a shell of what it was 20 years ago. How do you think the NWA fits into the wrestling landscape today?

AP: The only difference between the NWA of today and the NWA of its heyday is money. It’s that simple. When Jim Crockett closed his doors, some would think that was the end of the NWA. It depends on what your perspective is. At that time, when Jim Crockett closed his doors, there were still 29 members who said, “This ain’t over yet.” But in the entertainment business, everything comes down to dollars and cents. So if you’re going to find the right kind of exposure, you’re either going to find a partner with a lot of money who could buy it for you, or you’re going to have to have a lot of money so you could buy it. And the NWA hasn’t had that. I think you could count on one or two fingers the people who have that money. Vince McMahon and the Carter family. I think for any wrestling company, Ring of Honor, PWG, any of these entities to try to take on and be a direct competitor to those two is foolish. People can say what they want about TNA, but TNA is on Spike TV every week. And even if they’re drawing a 1.0, I think people need to understand what that is. I would kill to draw a 1.0. We never got numbers from HDNet, so I don’t know what our television ever did.

The NWA I think has, obviously, a place in wrestling history. The unfortunate thing for people involved in the NWA is that without the visibility that they had in the late-’80s, today’s wrestling fan has no idea what the NWA is. Vince McMahon has done a great favor to the people involved in the NWA by putting out these DVDs about The Four Horsemen and Ricky Steamboat featuring all this great action from early in their careers that happened in the NWA. If used right, they can kind of re-light a candle that’s been smoldering for almost 30 years. I don’t blame that on the NWA board of directors. You play the hand you’re dealt. And if you simply don’t have the operating capital to go out and make a splash, then you do what they’ve done and keep a low profile and you keep it grass roots and you keep it local and you keep it alive. From that standpoint, I’m 100 percent behind the NWA because as a governing body, they could have folded up shop and left people without a proverbial pot to piss in 30 years ago. And for good or bad, these people have been struggling to keep something alive because it has a place in history.

It’s a matter of finding the right partner with the right television exposure and the right money to do something else. And David Marquez, I think, has been the one champion of the NWA, certainly in my time in the last three or four years, who has always been on the cusp and the cutting edge of seeking out and finding people. He was on Dish Network for a year. David Marquez’ NWA Pro Wrestling in 2007 and 2008 was running arenas throughout the desert Southwest. We drew 4,000 people in Las Vegas, nearly 4,000 people in El Paso, Texas. We had over 5,000 in Houston. But the Internet doesn’t follow these events, so it doesn’t get the notoriety.

But when the economy really took a dump, the first thing that goes is your entertainment dollar. And shows that David Marquez was able to sell in 2007 and 2008 for $24,000, the same buyers were only offering eight or twelve thousand. And in any economic climate, you get what you pay for. So, if you can’t afford the big name lucha libre stars and go into Phoenix and draw two or three thousand, maybe you just bring one or two stars and you draw a thousand. He was never going to put his own money in, and that’s a smart thing. And the mindset of most NWA promoters is, if you’re going to run wrestling, rule number one is don’t spend your own money.

AC: The same way that Harley Race was the definitive NWA champion of one era and Ric Flair later of his era, I think it’s fair to say you’re the definitive NWA champion of the last several years—the post-TNA era. Obviously, it’s a different era for the NWA, but what does that mean to you, to be the flag-bearer of this company that has so much history? And what do you think you bring to the table as a performer that’s given you this opportunity?

AP: I’m always going to be honored that the people in charge of the NWA, the board of directors, found that my skills were worthy enough to put a championship around. I’ve been wrestling 15 years and three of those 15 years were spent in Ring of Honor. When I started in 1995, the Internet was in its infancy. There was no Youtube. People got along by sending VHS tapes to promoters and then calling them and bugging the hell out of them until they gave you a tryout. And it wasn’t uncommon for David Prazak and I to drive 20 hours for 20 bucks, and then get shorted when we got there. The NWA has given me an opportunity to keep my in-ring dreams alive, as cliché as that may sound.

I had opportunities in the late-’90s and early-2000s with WCW to take the next step and go to a big time promotion, which obviously was on its last legs at that point. And I made a decision, personally, not to do that. And I’ve kept myself on the periphery of always taking that next step. Colt Cabana likes to say I’m the one guy who’s had every opportunity and turned them all down. And in a way he’s right. And the NWA has allowed me to live out some of the things that may have been had I made different decisions and allowed me to be in a position to be a focal point and showcase the skills that I have. I consider myself a humble person and I don’t like to put myself over, but to me drawing is talking. I think history has shown that you don’t necessarily wrestle them into the seats. You talk them into the seats. And I would put my skills on the microphone up against anybody in the world, truthfully. I think that’s the alluring part of me. That’s the entertaining part of “Scrap Iron” Adam Pearce.

Beyond that, I’m good to do business with. I do my business with the guys I’m in the ring with. My role as NWA champion, especially in this third reign, is much like it was in the ’70s in that I go to an NWA promoter in a given part of the country, let’s say it’s Kansas, and I face his top babyface. And my job is to go in there and make that wrestler look as good as I can and leave him a step higher on the pecking order than he was before I got there. And that’s what I do. And that’s what Harley Race did, and that’s what Ric Flair did all those years. And, granted, we’re not on the same level of exposure and we’re not on the same level of notoriety and we all understand that. But the job is the same. The job hasn’t changed.

And from that standpoint, it’s extremely gratifying to go into a town and work with somebody I’ve never worked before and, in the end, having him say to me, “Man, that was the best match I ever had.” And as ridiculous as that may sound to some people on the Internet, that happens to me all the time. And that means more to me than getting paid huge money or having a great amount of notoriety. And I’ll always be grateful for that opportunity.

I love professional wrestling, and I always have since I was a little boy. And for the last 15 years—we’re talking nearly half my life—it’s allowed me to be one of the guys who’s not in WWE or TNA and is making a living off of this thing. And that’s all I ever wanted to do.