Bruce Prichard Is the Ultimate WWE Survivor

Bruce Prichard

Bruce Prichard has come home. The exiled former WWE executive has returned to a prominent role in WWE creative and the pro wrestling community could not be more divided on the return of WWE’s prodigal creative son.

Prichard has proven to be the ultimate pro wrestling survivor. While not consistently, Prichard has made a good-great living in the industry as a non-performer for over 40 years. Think about that one for a second. How many folks outside of maybe Vince McMahon can make that claim? How many people in any industry can make that claim?

Bruce is a highly polarizing figure in the industry and has been for the last 30+ years. A narrative has been written, mainly by some of the popular newsletter writers in the 1990s. Prichard was generally characterized as being this narcissistic, lying, arrogant, out-of-touch, yes-man, painted as the enemy to those “hardcore” fans that wanted to see more traditional wrestling and less “entertainment” in the WWE. Yet somehow or another this “bumbling idiot” managed to work for the WWE throughout three decades of highs and lows in company history.

Then something interesting happened. Thanks to the world of social media and the new podcast medium, Prichard was able to create his own narrative. For the first time in his career, he found an avenue to communicate directly with the wrestling public. Prichard brilliantly grabbed a hold of those same narratives and discussed them head-on. Going back 40 years, Prichard would address personal and professional criticisms, leveraging those same newsletters into arguably the most successful podcast in a saturated genre.

Prichard experienced a renaissance in his career through this podcast. I am an avid listener, and I think reasonably objective, Prichard has brilliantly turned the tables on those critics and exposed their bad reporting and misinformed hyperbole. Candidly, the biggest takeaway I have had is just how bad we have been worked by some of these newsletters over the last several decades. I will give kudos to them for pulling it off but shame on me for being so naïve.

Those writers have since called Prichard a liar among other names for the things he has said on his podcast. However, if you look past the name calling you won’t find any hard defense with evidence of these writers defending anything Prichard has debunked. It’s interesting when you hear Prichard’s partner Conrad Thompson read back a lot of these reports because hearing them read back it sounds more like speculation than the actual reporting I thought I was getting when I first read that sheet. There are levels of detail that Prichard will reveal that go further and completely debunk some of these misreported stories. I’d say the narcissism lies with some of these writers who either a) fail to even see the possibility they were being worked by their contact or b) fail to acknowledge they got something completely wrong…even after someone will tweet them their exact report!

These writers are continuing to paint Bruce with that same narrative at a time where it just doesn’t hold water. As an avid listener of Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard I heard a guy who went to bat for guys like Mick Foley, Eddie Guerrero, CM Punk, and Steve Austin and crapping on many of the bad ideas that he mistakenly gets blamed for and putting some context behind some of his bigger misses. If you changed the name to say Paul Heyman and he was coming back to work closely with Vince McMahon, those same critics of Prichard would be throwing a parade for Heyman. Prichard certainly deserves criticism for some his own misdeeds but let’s also give him the objective credit he deserves.

I don’t know Bruce personally but I do know people who have done business with him over the last few years. I can tell you that everyone I know who has worked with him has nothing but great things to say about him. They love working with the guy. Again, a bit of a different narrative than those you read from his critics who have probably never even taken the time to speak to the man for any great length of time.

I think Prichard’s return to the WWE creative team could be arguably the most impactful story of 2019. Prichard has been very candid about struggles in the past working with current WWE executives. Knowing he can make a decent living outside of the WWE without half of the stress, it will be really interesting to see how long this new relationship plays out and what Bruce’s new threshold of stress is I 2019.

Then again, I’ll never a count a guy out who has survived 40 years in this crazy business. Welcome home, Bruce.

 

Roman Reigns Returns to WWE RAW on His Terms

Roman Reigns WrestleMania 31 Interview

Roman Reigns returns to WWE RAW tonight to make a big announcement. Roman is back. He has beaten leukemia and will be resuming his place as the world’s most hated babyface. While he will be given a hero’s welcome on RAW, not everyone was happy about the way he announced his return.

Roman Reigns abruptly walked away from the WWE in 2018 after being diagnosed with leukemia. Reigns walked away as WWE Universal Champion, relinquishing the title he had won after a long chase. The hope by even his most vocal critics was that he’d be back for WrestleMania. He’s back, yet some in social media have hijacked the narrative, robbing Reigns of what should have been a celebration.

The narrative quickly shifted away from Reigns returning to the disgusting attempt by the WWE and Vince McMahon to use Roman’s health update as a tactic to pop a rating. Perhaps one of the loudest critics was veteran Wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer who seemed to make it some kind of a personal crusade to rain on Roman’s parade.

While I no longer read the Wrestling Observer or listen to his podcasts, Dave’s tweets arguing his point relentlessly with even his biggest supporters on the topic is often retweeted by other wrestling journalists and wrestling personalities. A Twitter gem featured Dave arguing with former WWE superstar and current WWE producer Shane Helms on whether WWE should be promoting the health update of one of its superstars vs. just outright reporting on Reigns’ health without advertising it.

CagesideSeats.com does a great job capturing the entire transcript of this debate. You can read the story over at CagesideSeats.com to read the entire debate but here are a few highlights which capture the essence of the argument.

DM: “How about IF it was his choice and he wanted to do it on Raw, they didn’t spend a week advertising it as a ratings ploy, and he showed up unannounced? There’s a reason in all sports and entertainment you can’t find a similar example to this and they are all desperate for ratings.”

SH: “Okay, in the future if anyone in the WWE gets sick and returns to discuss it, it mustn’t be announced in advance. Also, the person must teleport to the ring. No music, no nothing. Hope that makes it easier for you to cope with how someone else deals with cancer.”

Meltzer is only one example of a minority of folks who weighed in on social media about this being a sleazy promotional act. However, naturally, Dave’s take has gotten more play based on his notoriety in the community. Point being, Reigns’ return is not being celebrated the way he has earned and rightly deserves.

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with the WWE advertising this a week out. For starters, savvy wrestling fans on social media have already seen plenty of tweets and posts confirming Reigns return to action. It’s been one of the worst-kept secrets I can remember and probably with good reason. Because it has less to do with a ratings pop than it does with celebrating a man beating cancer.

Comparing the way WWE handles the reporting of injuries to other professional sports is just a foolish argument. If not for sports betting, the reporting of injuries would look much different. The WWE is not beholden to sports betting and guess what? It’s a scripted show! With all due respect, it’s not a sport so why would anyone expect them to hold themselves to those same standards?

Finally, let’s look at this logically. How many people who are not watching RAW today are going to go out of their way to suddenly watch RAW tonight for a Roman Reigns’ health update? It’s 2019 and anyone that truly cares would either a) be watching already or b) probably already knows what the update thanks to social media. I could certainly be wrong, but I just don’t see this announcement having any kind of impact on the rating.

Let’s look at the other side of this. Maybe some folks are fighting their own battles with cancer or leukemia? Perhaps a loved one will latch onto this and make sure their loved one sees this as a source of inspiration? Those people aren’t necessarily Roman Reigns fans but are looking for any kind of hope they can find, even if it comes in the form of a pro wrestling promo. If it becomes “appointment-television” for them, getting the word out ahead of time is well worth the publicity whether it turns into some kind of a ratings bump or not.

As someone who lost two parents to cancer, I say it’s not mine or anyone else’s business to take offense with how he wants to share his news. Promote it, publicize it, pimp it all you want, because at the end of the day he can celebrate a brutal fight and help offer up some hope to people at the same time, there is nothing sleazy about that in my book.

 

Happy 30th Anniversary Hulk Hogan WWE Title Win

Hulk Hogan

35 years ago today a young Eric Gargiulo called the WWE hotline and listened to Howard Finkel run down the results of the big Madison Square Garden event. Little did I know that the result I heard would change the face of pro wrestling forever.

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the biggest championship win in the history of the WWE. An icon was born on this chilly night in New York City. Hulk Hogan dropped the big leg across the Iron Sheik and covered him for the 1-2-3 to win the WWE championship. An icon was born on this chilly night in New York City. The WWE I knew on January 22 was now officially a thing of the past.

The story behind this championship match is an interesting one itself. Bob Backlund had been a dominant champion since 1978. Backlund was champion when I began watching wrestling. The WWE was much different at this time. Sure it had its characters, but it was far removed from the glitzy circus it would become two years later.

It probably sounds ridiculous now but I didn’t expect a title change here. Bob Backlund was originally announced to wrestle the Iron Sheik in a rematch. Backlund was pulled not long before the match and the change was announced during the localized promos. The idea of a champion losing the title in one month was unheard of at this time. Yes today you could see the finish miles away but in 1984 I just didn’t see it coming.

The WWE was hot, even before Hogan arrived. Backlund sold out the Garden plenty and the WWE was coming off of one of the hottest feuds in the business between Jimmy Snuka and Don Muraco. What I didn’t know as a fan at the time was that Vince McMahon SR. had sold his interest in the company to that goofy-looking announcer I would watch ever Saturday morning. That is when things started to change.

Now there are some different versions of what happened around this time depending upon who you ask. Dusty Rhodes wrote in his book that he was approached by the WWE to be the national star in Hogan’s spot. Nobody has ever confirmed that to my knowledge. Hogan at this point had been out of the WWE for a few years but was becoming a big star in his own right. Rocky III and appearances on talk shows helped put Hogan’s name out there long before he stepped back into the WWE. Hogan was drawing big crowds for the AWA and was a big star in New Japan Pro Wrestling. While the WWE certainly helped expand the Hulkamania machine, Hogan had already given them a head start.

What boggles my mind to this day is why Verne Gagne never put the AWA world championship on Hogan. Hogan drew big houses as a challenger to Bockwinkel. I remember being drawn to their feud by the Apter magazines at the time. Hogan split time in Japan but Verne wound up putting the belt on Stan Hansen who did the same thing. Now according to Hogan’s Wikipedia page, Gagne wanted Hogan to marry his daughter before he put the belt on him. I have never heard that before. Hogan’s no-showed his final dates with the AWA at the end of December after sending Verne his resignation from Japan.

Speaking of Verne, if he would have had it his way there would be no anniversary to celebrate today. According to the Iron Sheik, Verne offered the Sheik $100,000 to break Hogan’s back and go into business for himself. How true is this story? Sheik has stuck to it yet many in Verne’s camp have denied it. I think it’s true. Verne trained the Sheik, had a personal grudge against Hogan and Vince McMahon, and was old school enough to think this kind of thing could have worked. Luckily for the millions of Hulkamaniacs that night the Sheik did business the right way.

How different would the WWE have been without Hogan? Could they have pulled off WrestleMania? It is hard to say. The top babyfaces at the time were Bob Backlund, Andre the Giant, Rocky Johnson, Fand Jimmy Snuka. None of these guys had the charisma that Hogan had. None of these guys would have fit into the rock and wrestling role, although it would have been funny to watch them try. None of these guys had the personalities to engage the media like Hogan did. None of these guys were larger than life like Hogan, with the exception of maybe Andre. The WWE would have been fine in its current state at the time but there was nobody who would have had the crossover appeal that Hogan had.

I was there for Hogan’s WWE championship debut at the Philadelphia Spectrum against the Masked Superstar on February 18, 1984. I had attended many shows at the Spectrum and one at the Nassau Coliseum pre-Hogan. This was just different. It wasn’t a crowd full of adults or fathers and sons. My whole family came along this show as did many others. When Hogan came out it was absolutely electric. Backlund, Andre, and not even Snuka got monster pops like this one. It was just completely different. It was like watching your home sports team win a championship at home. I had never seen anything like it.

I also experienced the phenomenon of Hulkamania away from the wrestling ring. I begged my dad to take to a Hogan autograph signing immediately after he won the WWE championship. I stood in line with dad (who was not very happy) for hours at a local Kiddie City for the chance to meet the Hulkster. Once I got to the front of the line the Hulk couldn’t have been more a nicer guy to this young fan. I will say this about the Hulk. I have met him several times over the last few decades and he was always an extremely nice guy. On top of that I heard from many locals during my trips to Clearwater over the years about how great of a guy he was. Fan or not you have to respect the way the man treats his fans and just people in general.

Hulkamania took the country by storm. The WWE sold t-shirts before Hogan arrived but I never saw anyone wearing one. Once Hogan got there I saw a Hulkamania t-shirt almost daily whether it was in school, a mall, a supermarket, etc. Not only was it okay to admit you were a wrestling fan, it was actually don the swag and admit it.

The rest is history of course. I won’t say Hogan turned the company around because I don’t think it was ever in trouble at that point. I will say that Hogan took the company in new directions and helped grow the business like nobody else could have at the time. He remains the most recognizable professional wrestler in history.

Happy Anniversary Hulkamania!

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Top 5 Potential Shawn Michaels WWE WrestleMania 35 Matches

Brock Lesnar vs. Shawn Michaels

The Heartbreak Kid is back…well sort of. Shawn Michaels returned to the ring for the first time since WrestleMania XXVI, ending an 8 ½ year retirement. With his retirement now officially put on hold, I think it’s safe to start looking ahead to the WrestleMania XXXV return of Mr. WrestleMania.

Candidly, I don’t watch or follow the WWE or pro wrestling much anymore. Life, family, and other interests have taken precedent over my former hobby. However, when I heard that Shawn Michaels was returning to the ring at WWE Crown Jewel I became intrigued. You want to get me back WWE, bring back the Heartbreak Kid! Now, I’m listening.

We have all seen the blogs that come out every year around February pontificating on potential WrestleMania opponents for Shawn Michaels. Whether these blogs were inspired by false hopes or cheap click-bait, there was never a shortage of WrestleMania card predictions that included Shawn Michaels. Yet while HBK seemed to speak sincerely in his annual denials, for the first time in over 8 years, there is some real excitement over what looks like could be the return of the WWE Hall of Fame superstar.

Let’s look at the situation logically. Other than getting a real tune-up for a return to WrestleMania, what other logical reason did Shawn Michaels have to wrestle at Crown Jewel? Why would any smart businessman opt to end an 8 ½ year retirement at what was essentially a “B” show outside of the country other than a tune-up match on a low profile event? If you expect me to believe that Michaels would turn down arguably the biggest payday of his career and yet comeback on a WWE Network event in Saudi Arabia that aired in a sub-optimal timeslot for anything other than a test or a tune-up, you are insulting my intelligence.

Now that said, maybe there is an off-chance that Michaels came away from the event confirming his desire to stay retired. Whether it was experiencing the physical demands for the first-time at 53 or disappointment in his capabilities, maybe the experience wasn’t positive for Michaels. However, as an active trainer in NXT, I have to think that he knew very well what his capabilities and those physical demands would be.

So let’s assume as logic dictates that Michaels is gearing up for the biggest WrestleMania comeback since Hulk Hogan returned to wrestle The Rock at WrestleMania 18. Who will be the lucky WWE superstar to draw the Heartbreak Kid (and an enormous payday)? Here’s a look at five WWE superstars, all for different reasons, that are leading candidates to draw Mr. WrestleMania at MetLife Stadium.

Shawn Michaels vs. Brock Lesnar – Before you laugh and vow to never read my blog again, let’s talk about this at a very high level. If you are the WWE and you have Michaels for one more WrestleMania, how do you maximize that opportunity? What name on the roster would resonate with that casual wrestling audience like me who follows the business from afar? If you drop anyone’s name you are kidding yourself.

For starters, you have a storyline that started several years ago. Lesnar attacked Michaels back in 2012, an attack which was never avenged. Inside the ring, Michaels’ limitations (if he has any at 53) would be hidden by the excitement around a Lesnar vs. Michaels match. I can’t imagine any more drama than Michaels battling the beast on the biggest stage in the game. If you are looking at this truly as a money play, look no further than Lesnar.

Shawn Michaels vs. Daniel Bryan – Continuing along the theme of unfinished business and history, you can’t pack much more than into a Bryan vs. Michaels WrestleMania showdown. Bryan’s former trainer betrayed him in a Hell in a Cell match back in 2013 against Randy Orton. At the time, the angle led to widespread speculation that it was the start of a Bryan vs. Michaels WrestleMania showdown. Unfortunately that never materialized.

Fast-forward six years later and a lot would have changed between this potential match and 2013. Again following WWE from afar, while it doesn’t appear that Bryan has that same momentum today that he had back in 2013 he is still a top guy and a world champion. Could Bryan’s recent heel turn be the start of a long road to HBK at WrestleMania? It’d be a great match and a fun storyline but I tend to think that massive interest has softened on that battle.

Shawn Michaels vs. AJ Styles – Now let’s start talking about the “Dream Match” opponents for Michaels. To those that have watched Michaels in his prime and Styles today, it is easy to draw comparisons. I would even argue that Styles’ road to the top is similar to Michaels’ in that neither guy was “hand-picked” yet the company and the fans could not deny either man’s talent. Yet through a lot of hard work and opportunity Styles, like Michaels has found himself as arguably the number two guy in the company behind Brock Lesnar.

So will it happen? There have been reports that this match is already confirmed for WrestleMania 35. However, I always question as to whether those reports are based on fact or prediction. That said, next to Brock vs. Michaels, I think this has the best chance of getting booked at Mania. The time is now for Styles and if the WWE is going to take the approach of using Michaels to help elevate someone, there is nobody as deserving or qualified as Styles. I’d argue that one of the biggest reasons this match may not happen is Michaels himself. As a perfectionist, if Michaels has any doubts that he can live up to the demands of a fast-paced thriller like this one, he isn’t going there. No amount of money is worth sacrificing his legacy. I am not saying he can’t hang, but nobody truly knows the answer to that question other than Michaels himself.

Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H – Go ahead and groan all you want, but the possibilities of this match going down at MetLife Stadium are real high. I am certainly not advocating it, although their series of matches are highly underrated. However, it’s an easy angle and Michaels doesn’t have to worry about trusting anyone other than his best friend. It’s nothing to get excited about on paper but I guarantee you if that was the path chosen for Michaels’ return, the match would very likely challenge all others at WrestleMania for Match of the Night.

Shawn Michaels vs. Seth Rollins – Other than Seth Rollins there really isn’t anyone else on the roster not previously mentioned who could logically fill this spot. Again not following the WWE closely, it does appear that the company has moved on from Rollins as a building block for the future. Yet with all due respect to the United States title, Rollins seems far removed from the top spot he held securely from March of 2015 through June of 2016.

With that said, what better way to give Rollins a shot in the arm than booking him in the most high-profile match of WrestleMania? I don’t think anyone has a doubt that this match would be anything short of great. Both men’s styles could really complement each other in this environment. Rollins is probably more of a SummerSlam or Royal Rumble opponent for Michaels but if you’re looking to elevate someone and give Michaels a great opportunity to steal the show, Rollins could be your guy.

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Nia Jax-Ronda Rousey Was Doomed From The Start

Rock and Ronda Rousey

I see where Kevin Berge of Bleacher Report is going with his story about this being a defining moment for both Nia Jax and Ronda Rousey, but I am of the opinion WWE dropped the ball on this one.

So much is being made about a confrontation that should never take place, that the resistance to such a confrontation – pitting a Raw Women’s Champion who is decidedly viewed as a heel – and a rookie sensation – who is only being promoted as such based on her UFC success, is doomed to fail. And it’s not a stretch to say it could be as bad as any pay-per-view title match fans have seen in the past decade.

Oh, WWE. You once again break my heart with your cash grabs and hopes of something more prolific. Unless Stephanie McMahon walks out and makes sure Jax wins, taking down Rousey in a Triple H-Kevin Owens type of move, then please make this one of the opening matches at the pay-per-view next Sunday night.

“WWE Money in the Bank 2018 will be a major event for WWE, with the classic ladder matches crowning new stars and Shinsuke Nakamura getting one last shot at WWE champion AJ Styles. However, no match could have a greater impact on the future of the company than Nia Jax vs. Ronda Rousey,” Berge writes.

He is correct. This is impactful for two neophytes. It could mean we see a shockingly good match. It means Natalya somehow gets involved in the match, possibly costing her BFF Rousey the title. It means this could be slow and plodding and could be booed out of the arena like the last Brock Lesnar-Roman Reigns confrontation.

Even Berge has his doubts, like me, over how this will all go down.

“This dynamic has led to one of the most unnecessarily tumultuous situations in WWE, with two women putting their futures at risk,” he writes.  “If this match does not go well, both could face serious consequences that would change their careers.”

Because of the magnitude of the event and the circumstances behind the push for Rousey to reach the zenith so quickly, it appears she has more to lose. She has been less than exciting in commentary during Jax’s matches. Her confrontations with her opponent have looked too staged and she certainly has no one to protect her in the ring like there was at WrestleMania 34 in her mixed tag team match.

This is the setup of failure like we may never have seen before.

WWE has a history of worrying about the cash grab more than making sure their performers are ready for the big stage. Some stars have it and gravitate toward the top of the mountain quickly, like Kurt Angle, like The Rock. Others take time and development – where someone like Reigns is still trying to find his footing with the fans and replacing John Cena as the centerpiece of the red brand.

Somewhere, between now and next Sunday, WWE must find a common ground that makes fans want to see such a match. The company did such a great job of building Jax as the hero for the masses, the woman who defied odds of being bullied and put down throughout her struggles toward the women’s title. Now, it is almost a given she will become the bully Alexa Bliss portrayed her to be.

Rousey needs no introduction, she needs no shot of adrenaline. Her name recognition alone is enough o drive tickets sales. But for now, she falls short on all accounts. It almost feels like the roles should be reversed and the former UFC champion should play the role of the heel in this match.

That’s not going to happen. Watching a solid match between these two is not going to happen. What is going to happen is WWE will do what it can to salvage a bad plot and an even worse storyline. Let’s just hope it does not damage either Rousey or Jax for the long haul. It’s a gamble WWE has taken and is about to lose mightily at its worst possible time before SummerSlam becomes the hot topic of conversation.

WWE Unreleased: 1986-1995

WWE: Best of 2000’s

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