Week in Wrestling: UFC Champ Stipe Miocic On Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey; WrestleMania 34 Update
SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
News of the Week: Micocic on Lesnar & a focusing lens on WrestleMania
Despite currently operating in different universes, UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic is keeping a watchful eye on WWE Universal champion Brock Lesnar.
“Brock is a former champ and he knows how to bring it,” said Miocic. “He’s tough, he’s very strong and beaten a lot of good guys, but I am a bad match-up for him.”
Despite the fact that Daniel Cormier is Miocic’s next scheduled opponent, the match-up with Lesnar looms large because it would be a massive draw for the UFC.
On paper, the 40-year-old Lesnar matches up poorly with the 35-year-old Miocic. Unlike Miocic, who just set the record this past January at UFC 220 for consecutive heavyweight title defenses at three, Lesnar last fought in July of 2016 after nearly five years away from the Octagon. Lesnar defeated Mark Hunt by decision in his 2016 fight, a result subsequently overturned after Lesnar twice tested positive for having the banned substance clomifene in his system during a United States Anti-Doping Agency sample collected 11 days before the fight.
Yet for all Lesnar’s perceived faults as a fighter – i.e. advanced age, a below-average standup striking offense, and an inability to recover after taking one on the chin – the former NCAA champion and UFC heavyweight champ relishes a challenge. Lesnar’s size, strength, and skill on the mat present problems for any fighter, Miocic included.
Miocic was asked if Lesnar belongs competing against him in the Octagon or if he is better suited in a WWE ring.
“I match up well with anyone,” said Miocic. “That has a lot to do with my coaches, teammates, and my training. I always have a good game plan walking in on the day of a fight. With Brock, I’d win, there’s no question. But right now, all I care about is fighting DC. That’s all I’m worried about.”
“DC” is Daniel Cormier, and Miocic is set to enter the Octagon against Cormier ( who is a close friend of Lesnar) on July 7 at UFC 226.
Until training camp for the Cormier fight begins, Miocic is keeping busy. In terms of his backstory, fighting, and willingness to give back to the community, there are few fighters who have represented mixed martial arts better than Miocic. He is proud to now be associated with Modelo, and noted that their message – how it matters far less where a person comes from compared to what they are made of – particularly resonates with him as the son of immigrants who emigrated from Croatia.
“The ‘American Dream’ is to love what you do,” said Miocic. “Why do something you don’t like? Do what you love. That’s what I love about the connection between me and Modelo. We both believe in working hard, keep getting better, and getting to your goal. Plus, the beer tastes great.”
While Miocic has no interest in a move to WWE, he has been impressed by Ronda Rousey’s transition to the world of sports entertainment.
“Ronda is an amazing talent,” said Miocic, who agreed that Rousey put a brighter spotlight on women fighters than anyone in the history of MMA. “The women’s division wouldn’t be as big [in UFC] without her. Her going to WWE is amazing, too. She transitioned from one thing to the other. She’ll be good at it, just because of her persona.”
Rousey’s on-air WWE signing took place at the Elimination Chamber pay per view in Las Vegas, the unofficial home of the UFC, and multiple fighters – including Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez, and Rousey’s husband Travis Browne – were in attendance for the WWE show.
“That’s awesome for Ronda, plus it brings more spotlight to the UFC,” said Miocic. “Fans from WWE see her, and they have such a huge fan base and have been around for so long, it definitely helps out UFC, which is the fastest growing sport in the world. It’s a new thing for Ronda, and I wish her nothing but the best.”
Miocic admitted he never envisioned living the life he currently leads, as the reigning, defending heavyweight champion, back when he was a firefighter.
“I’m grateful,” said Miocic. “I’m not going to take anything for granted, and I’m going to keep doing what I do. My mother really ingrained in me that you work hard at everything you do, and my wife is the same way. My core base of fans all have that same mentality: surround yourself with hard-working people.”
The card for WrestleMania 34 is quickly taking shape, with eight matches already set, a cruiserweight title match that will be finalized next week on 205 Live, and one looming question mark regarding the status of Daniel Bryan.
After Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn laid out Shane McMahon last night on SmackDown, it would be appear that WWE is building toward a tag match between Owens and Zayn vs. McMahon and a returning Bryan. But that either assumes that Bryan will be fully cleared to return to the ring or that Bryan will be in spots where there are little to no bumps. If that’s the case, WWE officials need to be careful, because the crowd in New Orleans will not be thrilled to see Bryan stand on the apron while Shane McMahon spends the majority of the match wrestling.
I reported two weeks ago that Rey Mysterio is negotiating his return to WWE to wrestle at WrestleMania. I also reported that his rumored opponent was John Cena, as there was word throughout WWE that The Undertaker would be unable to perform at WrestleMania. It appears that is no longer the case, as Cena’s promo at Monday’s Raw all but confirmed that the Cena-Undertaker dream match will finally occur in April of 2018.
The Undertaker’s status was still unclear following Raw 25, but there is no doubt within the WWE that ‘Taker has earned the right to decide whether he can go for WrestleMania. If Undertaker says he can go, everything changes. From everything I have been told, there was legitimate doubt that the ‘Taker would work WrestleMania 34.
The Undertaker promo from Raw 25 said nothing about WrestleMania or a date with Cena. Despite the fact that Cena-Taker was the original plan, WWE thought about backup plans when they were no longer certain that The Undertaker would wrestle. Cena is only going to wrestle a top talent at WrestleMania. But, by that point, matches were already set for AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Brock Lesnar, and Roman Reigns – and the word I received is that McMahon did not want to do Cena-Strowman this year. Cena has stated that he does not request opponents or matches, an assertion that aligns perfectly with his “Hustle, Loyalty, and Respect” persona. Nonetheless, the report I was given from a trusted source is that Cena floated the idea of wrestling Mysterio. With Mysterio’s recent injury at an independent date and The Undertaker apparently giving the green light, the company has gone all-in on the original match.
Mysterio was scheduled to return and be part of WrestleMania, but his return to WWE will likely be held off until he commits his obligation to New Japan Pro Wrestling, which has a live stateside show in California on March 25 that will be televised on AXS TV, and will also depend on whether he can pass a WWE physical after suffering the left bicep injury at the indie date.
Both women’s title matches were reported here a month ago, with Charlotte-Asuka becoming official on Sunday at Fastlane and Alexa Bliss-Nia Jax developing on Raw, and the WWE also generated headlines with the creation of a women’s battle royal at WrestleMania named after the Fabulous Moolah. Moolah is the late Mary Ellison, and the controversy stems from allegations over her alleged sexual and financial exploitation from other female wrestlers.
Another soon-to-be returning star – this one from the IR – in Jeff Hardy also made news this week with his Saturday night DWI arrest.
WWE made a statement regarding the Hardy arrest this week: “Jeff Hardy is responsible for his own personal actions. We are investigating the matter and awaiting information from local law enforcement officials.”
The statement from WWE is nearly identical to the one released after Jey Uso was arrested for DWI in January. The Hardy case is more complicated, because he has battled prior substance abuse issues, but, like Uso, this should not affect his long-term standing in the company.
In other news…
• The Florida Panthers are set to hold their second annual Pro Wrestling Night this Saturday.
Before the start of the Panthers 2 p.m. home game at the BB&T Center against the Edmonton Oilers, there were will be wrestling matches courtesy of Coastal Championship Wrestling at 12:15 on the “JetBlue Tarmac” at the front plaza of the arena.
Following the game, ticket holders will be treated to a live show of “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” and co-host Conrad Thompson.
Robert Karpeles is a former member of the WWE team, as well as the current Associate Counsel for the Panthers. Karpeles also runs the extremely inventive WWE Creative Humor page on Twitter, and he helped create the link between the Panthers and wrestling. But Karpeles is not the only wrestling fan in Southern Florida.
Panthers’ defenseman Keith Yandle grew up watching wrestling in the thick of the “Monday Night Wars.”
The 31-year-old Yandle preferred WCW, primarily because of the black-and-white, cutting-edge nature of the New World Order.
“I loved DX,” said Yandle. “But I was an NWO guy.”
Yandle is a two-time NHL All Star whose actions on the ice speak far louder than his words, similar to Sting while battling the NWO.
“My all-time favorite was Sting,” said Yandle. I was a fan of guys like Hall, Nash, and X-Pac too.”
Fighting will forever be part of hockey’s DNA, and Yandle was asked if he has ever considered using a wrestling move on the ice.
“My favorite move is the Tombstone from The Undertaker, but it would be hard to do out there,” said Yandle. “My second favorite is the Stone Cold Stunner, and maybe you could do that on the ice.”
Hockey is the least commercial of the four major sports in the United States, so Yandle has a strong appreciation for the women and men who work in the wrestling industry.
“I don’t think what they do is fake,” said Yandle. “I’ve had a couple opportunities to hang out with some wrestlers, and you see what they go through and what we go through with travel and back-to-backs, so you can see some similarities in our jobs.”
Both the WWE and NHL have personalities that the crowd loves to hate. Yandle noted that, between John Cena and Roman Reigns, Cena most closely resembles NHL star Sidney Crosby.
“Sid’s more of the John Cena, he’s the face of the franchise,” said Yandle, who, like Cena, is a Cushing Academy alum. “They’re both really good and do everything the right way.”
Yandle laughed at the idea that the Boston Bruins’ Brad Marchand, who is a vastly talented yet a constant nuisance on the ice for opponents, is the NHL’s version of The Miz.
“I can see that,” said Yandle. “They’re both really good, and Marchand gets under people’s skin just like The Miz.”
• Dennis Miller rose to prominence as a member of Saturday Night Live in the 1980s, as well as continued his success with the Dennis Miller Live show on HBO that aired for over nine years.
Miller now hosts Red Circle Sports on PodcastOne’s Sports Net lineup. His recent guests include five-time NBA champion Derek Fisher, comedian Jeff Dye, and he has even touched on Ronda Rousey’s jump to the WWE.
Never afraid to take a chance, Miller also took some risks throughout his career, including a position as color commentator for the NFL’s Monday Night Football. He also hosted the WWE Slammy Awards in 2009, which was met with less-than-satisfactory reviews from fans.
Chris Jericho wrote in his The Best in the World: At What I Have No Idea book that, “Before the show, I saw Vince and Dennis talking at great length, and later on, Miller was wandering around the arena, hair tousled and eyes tired, so I asked him how he was doing.
‘I’m doing great, he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. ‘I spent all day getting comedy advice from Vince McMahon. My life is complete.’ Classic Vince. He would’ve told Wayne Gretzky how to score a goal.”
Miller looked back on the moment and couldn’t help but laugh.
“Whatever Vince was telling me, he was probably right,” said Miller. “It was a charity event for soldiers, and I flew down to Corpus Christi, Texas. I came out and made a cosmic miscalculation. [Politician Nancy] Pelosi did something to piss me off, and I violated a primal precept. Early on, I remember telling a joke about, ‘How would you like to go through life like you’re perpetually witnessing the docking on the Hindenburg?’ It just went flat, and I thought, ‘This is about arc, and what I did was stupid.’ But WWE did a lot of great work with the charity, so I was happy about that.”
Miller recalled meeting some of WWE’s larger-than-life stars backstage in situations that he did not necessarily expect.
“The Undertaker was sitting in the back reading Canterbury Tales,” said Miller. “They had such a nice sense of family there. I always think the great thing about wrestling is, if you’re not into a character when their intro starts, after they do the Gisele Bundchen-at-the-Olympics walk-across-the-field to get to the ring, they’ve got their characterization all together. Then they’d come back, plop down, and I’d ask, ‘How’d it go?’ And they’d tell me, ‘We’ve got another one tomorrow, man.’”
Miller’s podcast is an enjoyable look at the world of sports, whether the topic is the Super Bowl or a betting scandal, with a critical eye that loves to question.
“It’s eclectic,” said Miller. “I’m more than willing to push it. I know numbers pretty well, but there are some guys who know the numbers of pro sports and college sports more than I do. But I remember the fan’s arcadia, I remember what stuck out in my head, and I think they stand out in the heads of other people, too. It’s an eclectic bouillabaisse of some arcadia and some hard stats.”
• PCW Ultra returns to action this Friday night in Wilmington, California with its “Tuff Luck” show, which will air live on FITE TV at 11:30 p.m. ET, headlined by PCW world champion Penta El Zero M defending his title against Rob Van Dam.
Wrestling legend Kevin Sullivan, who will forever be known as “The Taskmaster” from his time in WCW, is working behind-the-scenes with the promotion as it continues to grow and expand its reach beyond the west coast. The promotion reminds Sullivan of his time running Florida Championship Wrestling.
“I’ve met a few guys in my four decades in the business, and Paul E. [Heyman] was one, who were a cut above the rest,” said Sullivan. “Paul E. came to work for me at Championship Wrestling from Florida in 1987, and the kid had balls. He asked if he could bring this guy down to work with him. So I agreed, sight unseen, and he brought Tombstone, who was huge a bodybuilder from Baltimore. We needed talent, we were getting raided at the time by Vince, so I said to bring him. I programed Scott Hall with Tombstone, and Heyman had somebody paint a tombstone on his back with Scott Hall’s birthday and death with a question mark. There was a point in their match where Paul E. would pop up, and I had Scott drill him. Scott hit so hard that it could make you want to leave the business. After 10 days of Paul getting knocked back into the third row by Scott, I said, ‘Paul E. deserves to be in this business.’”
Sullivan believes that the idea of ECW percolated in Heyman’s head while working in the heat of Florida.
“Paul brought that style to ECW,” said Sullivan. “Now people will say, ‘ECW was blood and violence!’ And it was, but Florida was, too. But there was wrestling involved, too. Paul E. always delivered a great match with Shane Douglas, Taz, or Tommy Dreamer. Paul also got the most out of his talent. Remember 911? He was not an athlete, but Paul saw a monster and taught him how to chokeslam guys. I stole the idea from Paul with The Giant [Big Show] in WCW. I had an athlete who needed to be trained a little bit better, so we had him chokeslam everyone until then.”
Sullivan said he sees the next generation’s Heyman in PCW Ultra booker Joseph Cabibbo.
“At this junction in time, Joe is as smart as Paul E. was,” said Sullivan. “And this is no disrespect to Paul E., but he operated ECW out of a bad, bad part of Philly. I remember going to the ECW Arena when we found two dead bodies in the parking lot. Paul E. had a much harder venue to bring people to, and he did it by creating an ambiance that has yet to be duplicated. The audience was part of the show, it was The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
“Joe’s shows with PCW are even more elevated. And he has a roster that is incredible, and this show has Rob Van Dam and Penta. He also has Hammerstone, who is a kid that is headed to the big times and Brody King, plus all the Mexican stars. He has a fantastic lineup of stars in a great arena in a safe place, and I believe he’s put together better talent than Paul E. Joe sees talent so much better than anyone.”
Sullivan also served as a lead booker for WCW during the peak of the NWO in the late 1990s, helping brilliantly book Hulk Hogan’s heel turn and ensuing feud with Sting.
With the main event of WrestleMania 34 still up in the air, with some thinking the spot for last match will go to Roman Reigns-Brock Lesnar and others believing it will be the tag match between Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle vs. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, Sullivan offered his own take on how to close the show.
“The Rousey angle is brilliant,” said Sullivan. “Angle, Triple H, and Stephanie are going to be the generals in the ring, and they’re going to cover Rousey really well. People are saying Rousey isn’t going to get it, but that’s bullsh–. She is an exceptional athlete who already knows how to take bumps because of her jiu-jitsu and judo. That’s the same bump we take. This isn’t anything like trying to make Steve ‘Mongo’ McMichael take a bump; Rousey knows how to take a bump. But, in this day and age with so many haters, you don’t want to expose her and put her last.
“If I was booking, I’d close the show with The Undertaker, brother. The sun is setting, he’s the Lone Ranger. I have the utmost respect for Mark and his work ethic. He’s drawn more money than anybody in the history of our business, so let’s send him off in the way he should be. I know he’s an old timer that wants to put guys over on his way out, but f— that. This is his time, and people will be telling their grandkids they saw The Undertaker’s last win at WrestleMania.”
While WrestleMania is a larger-than-life spectacle, Sullivan noted that fans have the chance to experience PCW Ultra as it continues its rise to prominence.
“PCW has done an incredible job, and they give wrestling fans the past, the present, and the future,” said Sullivan. “This Friday night, you’ll see Rob Van Dam, Penta, and the future in guys like Hammerstone and Brody King.”
• Paul Crockett is the new voice of Beyond Wrestling.
Beyond owner Drew Cordeiro chose Crockett, who covers the indies for PWInsider in great detail and is extremely knowledgeable on the Japanese wrestling scene, for his intelligence and his passion.
“Paul’s been covering our shows for PWInsider for a number of years, and he follows what we produce closer than anybody else. He’d expressed interest a year-and-a-half ago about helping out with broadcasting, and he’s skilled, well-informed, and we have good chemistry.”
Cordeiro had called the live broadcasts with a rotating cast of wrestlers, but it could be disorienting for viewers if he were pulled away to handle any unforeseen incidents that may occur during a show.
“Paul will be our set broadcaster moving forward,” said Cordeiro. “This will lead to even more insight for the people tuning in to watch live.”
(warning: video contains foul language)
Beyond’s next show, “Hope,” takes places this Sunday in Rhode Island and will air live at 2 p.m. ET at the Varnum Memorial Armory in East Greenwich, and Crockett will make his official debut on Powerbomb.TV.
“When it comes to play-by-play announcing in 2018, it’s difficult to stand out without standing out, but that is what I want to do,” said Crockett, who is easily recognizable at shows, never too far from ringside, working away on his laptop and chatting with his Little Brother, 14-year-old Deon. “I’m hoping I can bring an extra level of credibility to the broadcast. The guy I grew up idolizing was Joey Styles, who was able to bring a level of credibility to such a chaotic landscape in ECW. He emphasized dates, names of towns and venues, official names of titles, and I hope I can bring that added element to Beyond Wrestling.”
“I appreciate the fact that Paul will call these shows unbiased,” added Cordeiro. “We should be critical. I truly believe we should be striving for perfection every time out, because that’s what we owe the paying fans.”
Beyond’s style has particularly resonated with Crockett, who covers indies all throughout New England.
“There are so many different flavors of ice cream when it comes to professional wrestling in New England,” said Crockett. “But when I walked into a Beyond show for the first time in January of ‘16, I got the sense right away that this was a different place. It spoke to my sense of punk rock in pro wrestling, and there is something about Beyond’s roster, the way they run their shows, and the way the crowd responds that touched my senses.”
The Beyond experience is unlike any other in wrestling. Cordeiro’s mother runs concessions and serves homemade food, and the promotion will unveil its new sponsor in Founder’s Brewing.
“We are super excited to bring their beer to our fans,” said Cordeiro. “Between craft beer and craft wrestling, it’s a match made in heaven.”
Beyond, which also has an upcoming show during WrestleMania weekend in New Orleans, continues to stand out as the launching pad for independent wrestling careers, and the “Hope” show features Joey Janela, MJF, Ohio Versus Everything, David Starr, EYFBO, Josh Briggs, Wheeler Yuta, Jonathan Gresham, as well as Colt Cabana.
“This Sunday’s ‘Hope’ show is a card that represents the ethos of Beyond Wrestling,” said Cordeiro. “It is going to have a uniquely Beyond vibe, especially since we’re going back to Rhode Island, which was our home for so long.”
• Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard returns this Friday at noon ET with a new podcast from Prichard and co-host Conrad Thompson, detailing WrestleMania 19.
WrestleMania 19 is one of WWE’s crown jewels, featuring the final match for “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, which was, fittingly, against The Rock, as well as an all-time classic between Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho. The card also included a highly underrated match between Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon, plus the main event between Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar.
“It felt like Kurt Angle was being held together by duct tape based on the rumor and innuendo at the time,” said Thompson. “The company wanted Kurt Angle to pass the torch to Brock Lesnar as WWE’s new ‘wrestling machine,’ but what they got was a botched shooting star press that took over the match.”
Thompson, who will record the show with Prichard tomorrow, wondered how the match would be remembered if that spot never took place.
“How would people talk about that match then?” asked Thompson. “I don’t think anyone remembers anything else but that, which isn’t fair to the match, but it’s obviously such a big moment.”
The opportunity to discuss egos is also an integral part of the show. This WrestleMania saw the final three matches include Hulk Hogan/Vince McMahon, The Rock/Steve Austin, and then Kurt Angle/Brock Lesnar to close the show.
“Those are the three matches everyone wants to hear about,” said Thompson. “I want to know how the card, with this much talent, was formatted, and who goes where. Specifically, I want to know about Hogan’s stroke in 2003 and discuss the politics behind the matches. How do you manage a roster full of guys who believe they should be in the main event, especially when they all have a legitimate argument?
“Also, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit are in a tag and not positioned as guys who would headline WrestleMania the next year. So we’ll discuss the reality of what the next year’s WrestleMania would look like, and if they were planning to headline again with Lesnar.”
Controversy surrounded the build to the feud between Triple H and Booker T, which dealt with many racial undertones from the heel, Triple H, who ultimately defeated Booker in a manner that almost made him look like the babyface.
“This feels like it’s thrown together, like the original plan was Scott Steiner going over Triple H and winning the belt, but this was the audible,” said Thompson. “If Bruce denies that, I’ll be asking him for what their plan was; this was a world title match, there must have been plans. It felt like they were going to make Booker T the guy as their champ, but somewhere along the way, that finish got changed. Those are the questions: who changed the finish, when, and why?”
Tweet of the Week
If CM Punk does re-enter the Octagon on June 9 at UFC 225 in Chicago, then would free him up on the first day of September for the All In event, also held in Chicago.