The Week in Wrestling: Adam Cole on his RoH title, Road Warrior Animal on tag teams
SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling. This edition includes Adam Cole discussing his record-setting third reign as Ring of Honor world champion; the state of tag team wrestling with Road Warrior Animal; a top ten with Kayfabe News; and Five Questions with WWE’s Curt Hawkins.
The Wrestlers’ Tribune: Adam Cole
Adam Cole is the first-ever three-time Ring of Honor world champion. He defeated Kyle O’Reilly last week at New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 11 to reclaim the ROH world championship, and the charismatic Bullet Club member is set to pick up where he left off in Ring of Honor.
The 27-year-old Cole is Ring of Honor’s brightest star, and it is fitting that he is, once again, the face of the company. After winning the title in Tokyo, Cole now shares what the honor of serving as world champion means to him.
What makes a pro wrestling world championship special?
Previous champions, length of reigns, and exciting defenses all play a role, but what it means to the individual extends far deeper and means so much more.
I am the Ring of Honor World Champion, and that means everything to me. A championship is the culmination of all your hard work being recognized by the company itself, which is filled with some of the very best wrestlers in the entire world, and by the fans, who have developed an attachment to your work that warrants a championship role.
It’s an honor to win the championship once. It’s unbelievable to win it twice. But to win it three times? I’ll try my best to explain how that feels.
Wrestle Kingdom is New Japan Pro Wrestling’s biggest show of the year. I’ve been over to Japan a handful of times, and the fans there are some of the best. So supportive, so appreciative, genuinely excited to meet the wrestlers they watch. When it’s Wrestle Kingdom week, it’s more of the same—only A LOT more people. It still amazes me how many truly great wrestling fans we have all over the world. I know this is cliché, but I really do believe we have some of the best fans in the world. They were excited for Wrestle Kingdom, and so was I.
This was my very first Wrestle Kingdom, and it was beyond cool to be a part of such a big show. I’ve been a fan of NJPW since I was in high school, so getting to perform on their biggest stage was another absolute privilege. As unfamiliar as Wrestle Kingdom was for me—it being my first time—the task at hand was very familiar. It was wrestling Kyle O’Reilly. It was wrestling for the ROH World Championship… again.
It’s no secret that Kyle and I have known each other since pretty much the start of our careers. I think I’ve been in the ring with O’Reilly more times than anyone else, either as a tag team partner or an opponent. Regardless of how Kyle and I feel about each other, there is no question Kyle is a brother to me. He’s a brother who I go to war with, but a brother nonetheless. There is no question that Kyle brings out the absolute best in me, and to be quite honest, there’s no one else in the world I’d rather have been in the ring with on such a big night.
I’m not going to talk in detail about the match itself, or even the show. For those who have seen it, they know how special this event was. Many people are calling it the best event they’ve seen in a long time. Specifically, the main event between Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada was off the charts. If you haven’t watched, New Japan World is something you most certainly want to look into. What I’m going to attempt to do is talk about how much I appreciate you, the fans.
The truth is, becoming the Ring of Honor World Champion for a record breaking third time happened for a number of reasons. Yes, I do work incredibly hard. I eat, sleep, and breathe pro wrestling with all of my heart, and I’m always committed to giving this my all.
Yes, Ring of Honor itself has given me the ball for a third time. Without Ring of Honor, I wouldn’t be the wrestler I am or have the confidence needed to continue to grow in this ever-challenging sport. I owe ROH more than I can put into words, but I absolutely 100 percent cannot forget the most important reason I’ve become Champion again.
It’s because of all of you.
It’s really hard to put into words how appreciative I am. When I was nine years old and dreamed of being a pro wrestler, the thing I was most fascinated by was how much love the wrestlers got.
Good guy or bad guy, the energy in an arena was something only pro wrestling could create. Whether it was real joy, or loving to hate, there’s something incredibly special about pro wrestling that you can’t put your finger on. You can’t measure it. All of you have given me that same love. Whether it’s support since 2008 when I started, or when you have a great time booing me out of the building, if you are enjoying yourself, I can feel that. You’ve all let me feel your energy, and it’s pushed me to achieve all these things that the nine-year-old me only dreamed of accomplishing.
I’ve been very lucky to accomplish many goals I set out for myself since I started wrestling. I’ve never lost sight of how fortunate I am to be in the position I am, and that makes moments like becoming the first ever three-time Ring of Honor World Champion even more special. At the end of the day, I was able to travel to Japan, wrestle at Wrestle Kingdom, become a three-time Champion… and all of you played a huge part in that.
Wrestling is filled with uncertainty. You can never predict where you will end up in the next five years. There’s one promise, though, that I will make. I will continue to do my absolute best to entertain you. After all, you’re the reason my nine-year-old dream came true.
Thank you. This journey is just beginning.
News of the Week
The four-year anniversary of the epic Raw encounter between CM Punk and The Rock quietly took place this past weekend, and the face-off continues to serve as a key moment in WWE’s present, especially for The Rock.
Punk took off the gloves and directly attacked Rock, even telling him, “You’re playing little league with your little insults and your rhymes and your ‘millions and millions’ and your ‘finallys’, and I’m in the big leagues swinging for the fence.”
Punk, who left wrestling with a legacy of incredible promos—but perhaps none more real than this one—also told Rock, “You can make fun of the color of my t-shirt and you can talk about pie and you can sing songs and you can rhyme, and you can do your tired, lame-ass schtick.”
No one was listening closer to Punk’s words than The Rock.
Rock’s feud with Punk was his only non-John Cena feud of the past five years, and he was well aware of the cheers for Punk and the boos directed his own way. He has been careful to cherry-pick his opponents ever since—a steady stream of Rusev, the Wyatt Family, and, of course, Cena—and has not allowed himself to be put in a position where he’s wrestling with the crowd’s favorite.
As for the promo’s impact on the modern day WWE, this only took place four years ago – yet there is no one on the current roster with the vitriol or ruthlessness of Punk. He was, admittedly, bitter about being passed over again for the upcoming WrestleMania 29 main event, and this was his chance to let out some of his aggression.
Of course, this promo also led to Punk’s infamous line that, “Come Royal Rumble, understand, when you step in the ring, your arms are just too short to box with God.”
Rest assured, that type of emotion will not be on display at this year’s Rumble.
The art of the finisher and the meaning behind the move may be a lost art in North America, but clearly that is not the case in Asia.
New Japan brilliantly illustrated its philosophy of protecting finishers in the Kenny Omega-Kazuchika Okada main event at Wrestle Kingdom 11. The whole story of the match was centered around whether Omega would hit his devastating One-Winged Angel on Okada, which would spell instant doom for the champion.
Omega never, even in a match that lasted over 46 minutes, delivered his finisher. The move was teased numerous times but Omega never hit his finisher, which is a great storyline for the eventual rematch.
When Omega hits that One-Winged Angel on Okada, “The Cleaner” will finally take his spot on the list of IWGP heavyweight champions.
In other news…
• Behind play-by-play from Jim Ross, the Kenny Omega-Kazuchika Okada main event from Wrestle Kingdom 11 is set to air this Friday night on AXS TV at 8pm ET. For what it’s worth, the mutual interest between Omega and WWE is genuine.
• For those still frustrated about Omega losing to Okada: five titles had already changed hands before the main event, so clearly New Japan was tentative about a sixth and final title change. I’m still torn on the decision, but when Omega wins the title—and I do believe he returns to New Japan for at least the remainder of the year—that should be the only title change on the card.
• Born-again-Canadian Brock Lesnar brought his family to see the Winnipeg Jets this past Monday, though he committed a critical faux-pas by walking across the Jets’ logo in the middle of the locker room. Lesnar, who returns to Raw next Monday, still appears to be on pace to fight Bill Goldberg at WrestleMania 33.
• The Undertaker’s return to Raw—and his explanation to Stephanie McMahon (did anyone else have Ministry of Darkness flashbacks?) that he answers to no one—was perfectly executed. My only issue was that haunting shot of Braun Strowman watching ‘Taker on a backstage monitor. Those two are a recipe for disaster at WrestleMania 33. At his advanced age, The Undertaker needs an opponent who can allow him to shine, and for storyline purposes, the only two candidates are John Cena and AJ Styles.
• Bray Wyatt enjoyed his finest moment in the ring three years ago as he defeated—surprise, surprise—Daniel Bryan at the 2014 Royal Rumble. The match went over 20-minutes and the pair showed off incredible chemistry together. Although there were no plans for the two to have a feud after WrestleMania 30 when Bryan was champion—Kane was booked as Bryan’s first opponent, and the series was supposed to run until Brock Lesnar demolished Bryan at SummerSlam—the two would have put together a memorable storyline over the world title.
• Kyle O’Reilly dropped the Ring of Honor heavyweight championship in Tokyo last week at Wrestle Kingdom 11. ROH’s working relationship with New Japan allowed for the match to happen on such a big Japanese card, but the title change is head-scratching because O’Reilly had just won the title from Cole this past December at ROH’s Final Battle and it appeared the company was building around O’Reilly in 2016. O’Reilly, of course, entered free agency on December 31, 2016 and has yet to come to terms with ROH – and WWE has now entered the mix – so the decision was made to have Cole – who is a free agent-to-be this May – regain the title.
• For those searching for some great Royal Rumble moments, look no further than the stare down between The Rock and a bloodied “Stone Cold” Steve Austin from the 2001 Rumble.
• Eddie Edwards successfully defended the TNA world title last week on Impact, and he’ll reunite with Davey Richards this week to fight the Hardys for the TNA tag titles. We’ll also see Bobby Lashley battle EC3 in a “Last Man Standing” match, as TNA renews its focus on wrestling in 2017. Count me in favor of those who agree that it is time to move back to a four-sided ring…
• Imagine your excitement: you’re spending the evening going to see the matches at the Israeli Wrestling League – yes, this exists – and you get to see a dinosaur compete in the battle royal? On a separate but related note, it’s very hard to explain wrestling to people who are not fans.
• Coming attractions: New Japan’s Tetsuya Naito discusses his Wrestle Kingdom victory over Hiroshi Tanahashi next Wednesday in the Week in Wrestling on SI.com.
Road Warrior Animal and the State of Tag Team Wrestling
Road Warrior Animal is a WWE Hall of Famer and one half of the Road Warriors, who were also known as the Legion of Doom. Animal spoke with Sports Illustrated to discuss the current state of tag team wrestling, as well as share some memories from his 30-year run in the business, which included 22 years teaming with Road Warrior Hawk.
Road Warrior Animal and Road Warrior Hawk were known to deliver their infamous Doomsday Device finishing maneuver anywhere, any place, any time. That was never more true than when it was unleashed on Vince McMahon at a gentlemen’s club in Texas.
“We were in San Antonio, and this was a great time in the business,” recalled Animal, whose name is Joe Laurinaitis. “This was a great time in the wrestling business.”
Most of the talent—which included Hulk Hogan, the Road Warriors, the Hart Foundation’s Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart, and the Warlord—were relaxing after a long stretch of shows, when Animal saw the cue from Hogan that McMahon needed to go up for the Doomsday Device, which saw Animal hoist a man up on his shoulders and then Hawk would leap from the top rope and clothesline him off.
“Hogan waved at me when Vince wasn’t looking and gave me the thumbs up,” said Animal. “I looked at Hawk and said, ‘Bro, let’s give Vince a Doomsday.’ So I got behind Vince and got him on my shoulders, and Hawk literally jumped on the stage at a male dance place—with female dancers, mind you—and the dancer moved aside, because she probably wasn’t used to seeing a 275-pound man with traps coming out of his ears. Then Hawk came running off the stage and clotheslined Vince off my shoulders.”
Hogan caught Vince so he did not have to take the flip from the clothesline.
“You can only imagine all of us doing this right in the middle of a dance club, but it was all done in fun. Shortly after, we were all escorted out.”
In addition to being part of the greatest tag team in the history of professional wrestling, the Laurinaitis bloodline is also on display in the NFL. Animal’s son is linebacker James Laurinaitis, who set the tackle record for the Rams in 2015, breaking the franchise record previously held by Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen.
“I would slow my bookings down during football season just to watch him,” said Animal. “His tenacity and knowledge of the game are outstanding, and you won’t find a bigger student of the game than James. He is the quarterback of the defense and knows 75 plays like the back of his hand, but he also has the biggest heart in the game.”
In addition to a Hall of Fame wrestling career, Animal was also a full-time father of four children—James, Joe, Jessica, and Lindsey.
“They all achieved the best they could possibly be no matter what sport they were playing,” said Animal, who is now a grandfather of five with a sixth on the way. “To me and my wife Kim, family is everything.”
Animal takes pride in the way the business used to operate, as he refused to ever go less than full speed for a paying customer.
“What you saw from Hawk and me was real,” said Animal. “We were two kids from the inner-city. What we got, we appreciated. That’s why the fans related to us. We never insulted the fans in an interview, and that’s where wrestling has gotten lost. Now you have scriptwriters, soap opera writers, writing out things for the guys to say. No one was going to tell us what to say, and you learn what to say pretty quickly if you want to get under their skin or get your point across when you live in the inner-city. We carried that kind of passion over to wrestling. When somebody told us what we did was fake, we’d defend the wrestling business until the end of the earth.
“We had The Great American Bash in Atlanta, Georgia, and Hawk had broken his leg two days before in Tokyo, Japan. He had a broken tibia, and I happened to take an ‘Athletics Injuries’ class in college, so I took his cast off and taped up his leg all the way to below his knee cap with about four rows of athletic tape. Like that was going to any good, but in my mind I thought it was going to be great. And we went and did a scaffold match thirty feet above the ring. That’s the kind of love and respect we had for the sport. We weren’t going to take time off—we were in the main event. That hard work and dedication carried over into the ring.”
The Road Warriors were stone cold babyfaces for the bulk of their career, and fans cheered so loud for the duo that the “Warrior Pop” term was created to explain the chaos in the crowd when Hawk and Animal hit the ring.
“Hawk died thirteen years ago, but people haven’t forgot him,” said Animal. “We were together for 22 years. We could wrestle with guys like the Rockers or the Midnight Express or the Four Horsemen, or we could wrestle Earthquake and Typhoon. Not a lot of teams can do that, but that was a product of how we learned. We learned from Harley Race, Stan Hansen, Bruiser Brody, Dusty Rhodes, and Ric Flair. Those are the best of all time—the Briscos, the Funks—and guys today don’t have that luxury to learn. That’s why when you see guys come out of Florida, they look like everything is cloned. They’re all taught how to wrestle the same way, and give the same interviews, and they’re not different personalities. Back in my day, everyone had a different personality.”
Animal was surprised that writers in the WWE would ever compare The Ascension to the Road Warriors.
“To take two guys out of NXT and try to emulate the Road Warriors was stupid,” said Animal. “It was set up to fail from the beginning. The fans see through everything, and they saw through that right away. They never should have even mentioned us in their promo, because it backfired and they were booed. The wrestling fans sniffed this right out.”
As for the current-day state of tag team wrestling, Animal admitted that he does not see enough personality for his taste—although the exception to that is The New Day.
“I’ll admit it, I love those guys,” said Animal. “I helped train Big E for a couple weeks in Tampa. I know those three and they’re all really good guys and very talented. People believe in them, and American Alpha is the only other team with a chance to be great. They just need to improve their interviews, but right now, so many other teams are not ready for that push nor are they utilized in the fashion they should be. Dolph Ziggler is a perfect example. He is the modern day Mr. Perfect, but all they do is build him up to beat him. They have a third generation star in Joe Hennig—who they call Curtis Axel—who is a superstar that is underutilized and one of the most talented wrestlers in the company. Why not use his heritage with the Hennig name? That’s a conversation I’ve had with many other legends.
“For tag teams, you can’t just throw two guys together and call them a team. Hawk and I knew each other for years, we bounced in bars together. People love chemistry. That’s why the Four Horsemen were so great, and The New Day has that and that is part of the reason why they are so phenomenal.”
Along with personality, Animal explained that chemistry is the other ingredient currently missing from tag team wrestling.
“The Nasty Boys had chemistry, as well as a notorious heel manager in ‘The Mouth of the South’ Jimmy Hart,” said Animal. “The Nasty’s had a couple teeth missing, they were kind of overweight, and they were nasty – but they were easy to hate. We wrestled them at Madison Square Garden for the WWF tag championships, and it meant so much when we beat them because the company let the Nasty Boys be the Nasty Boys. You didn’t have to teach the Nasty Boys how to be nasty. They also let the Legion of Doom be the Legion of Doom, and it worked.”
The Road Warriors enjoyed a world-class career in wrestling, though Animal did admit to a couple of regrets. Both occurred during his first run in the World Wrestling Federation, from 1990-92.
“First of all, we should have worked longer with the Hart Foundation,” said Animal, referring to a program between the Road Warriors and Hart Foundation that many believed should have been on the WrestleMania VII card. “Jim Neidhart is a great guy, and I always thought Bret Hart was the classiest. I was close with his parents, Stu and Helen, and Davey Boy [Smith] was one of my best friends in the business.
“We had a great match on Coliseum Home Video against the Hart Foundation. We were always known as NWA guys, and this was our first trip up to the WWF. I remember talking with Vince McMahon and he said, ‘We’re going to have to repackage you guys—no one up north knows who you are.’ I said, ‘Really? We’ve been on WTBS for five years.’
“Vince said, ‘Well, this is the USA Network.’ So we went along with it, and he called us the Legion of Doom, which was OK because we owned that, too. Then we found out we were booked against the Hart Foundation. The roof blew off when our music hit, and we had this match that was believable and great. It ended in a double DQ, but for whatever reason, the office didn’t want to run a program.”
A dream match-up in the 1980’s was always the Road Warriors versus Demolition.
“Now with Demolition, that was a travesty,” lamented Animal. “Wrestling fans were cheated that they didn’t get to see Demolition against the Road Warriors. That was the match-up that people had asked for all along. People always asked if we hated Demolition because they were a knockoff of the Road Warriors. We were street fighters, they were wrestlers. I’ve known Barry Darsow since we were sixteen years old, and he and Bill Eadie were great guys, great wrestlers, and great athletes. Hawk and I were very vocal that the people got cheated.”
Animal recently appeared on TNA’s Total Nonstop Deletion, though he did not actually make it to the Hardy compound in North Carolina for the “Tag Team Apocalypto.”
“Matt Hardy and I did that backstage, outside at an event,” said Animal. “Matt trusted me to say whatever I wanted, and I said to Ricky Morton, who was up in the sky, ‘Hey Orton—everybody knew you liked to get high!’
“I’m a fan of the Hardys and I enjoyed being on Total Nonstop Deletion, but I missed being with Hawk. It’s not the same without Hawk. When he died, a part of me died, and a part of the Road Warriors died. I was married to Hawk for 22 years. No doubt in my mind, if he were still alive, we’d still be working together today. We always stayed in shape and took care of our gimmicks.
The appearance with the Hardys also served as a reminder that what goes around comes around in the wrestling business.
“I remember Matt and Jeff Hardy flipping off our shoulders taking the Doomsday Device when they were first starting out in the Carolinas,” recalled Animal. “Hawk and I beat them all the time. When he asked me to help him out, of course I’m going to help him out.”
The Road Warriors were also a key part of the popularity of Billy Gunn and Jesse James in the New Age Outlaws.
“They needed to beat us, and I suggested that,” said Animal. “They shaved Hawk’s head and powerbombed me through the table, and those were our suggestions. We only wanted to help the guys because they were so talented. If Hawk and I helped DX get over at all, then that is a pretty big compliment.”
Animal has dedicated his body to the wrestling business, which has led to fourteen surgeries. Although his brother, John Laurinaitis, worked for years as a high-ranking official for WWE, Animal has not appeared for the company since 2012, and he is currently involved in the concussion lawsuit against WWE.
“I am on that, but I’m not at liberty to discuss any of it,” said Animal. “There is a lot that goes into that, but I truly believe that anybody who has made the company hundreds of millions of dollars should have, at minimum, insurance coverage or have their insurance paid for or operations paid for by the company. That’s all I can say about that.”
Animal also shared that WWE never asks him to be part of WrestleMania weekends, which includes autograph sessions and meet-and-greets.
“They’ve never asked me to come sign autographs, not even once, for WrestleMania,” said Animal. “Why not use me? They call the Road Warriors the greatest tag team of all time on their website. Every year, and no offense to them, it’s the same guys—the Hillbilly Jims and Jim Duggans, who are a great asset to the company, but it seems like it’s the same guys. I’m a Hall of Famer but I’ve never been asked once. They even have my shoulders on a mannequin at their WrestleMania AXXESS, so why not have the Real McCoy? I’m not crying over spilled milk, but fans keep asking me—along with a lot of other Hall of Famers—‘Why aren’t you at AXXESS?’ But it’s not my call, and it’s their company, so that’s their choice.”
Despite the lack of interest from WWE, Animal still makes appearances, including an upcoming trip this February to Japan, as well as charitable appearances with Make-A-Wish and Wounded Warriors.
“Never forget where you come from and never forget where you’ve been, and the fans will always respect you,” said Animal. “I love seeing the people, and from the bottom of my heart, I thank every wrestling fan from the past thirty years that have been in Hawk’s and my corner.
“Wounded Warriors is near to my heart. My son, Joe, served in two different tours in Iraq for the U.S. Army.”
Animal recalled one final story about Hawk, who was known for his sense of humor but also had a tender side.
“This was back in the 1980s, and we just did a photoshoot for Pro Wrestling Illustrated,” said Animal. “We’re coming up from the subway on 54th street in New York City. We’d just finished the three-hour photo shoot, and we see this wino sitting on the corner. This guy is tanked out of his mind s—faced. You could see he was down and out. So Hawk turns to me—if he didn’t have his wallet, he was going to borrow money from me.
‘Animal, give me a hundred bucks, I’ll pay you back.’
“So he borrowed a hundred bucks from me, gave it to the man, and the man started crying. I’ve had relatives, family, and friends in that position, and so had Hawk. He had a heart bigger than himself, and he was like the Pied Piper in Japan. I can still picture Hawk looking around to see who had dip, and he’d also be the guy who would bring back fifteen rolls of it for the Japanese boys.”
Hawk’s unforgettable line that, “We’re the guys who snacked on danger and dined on death, and dead men don’t make money” lives on in the Road Warriors’ legacy.
“We’ve always been for the people, and fans knew that by the way they treated us,” said Animal. “They still treat me that way today. My heart and soul is with the people, and I’ve always respected the people. I’m a city kid who made it in life, and I say my thanks to every person who comes to my shows. I bring my shoulder pads and have the fans put them on, and that’s part of my thank you and appreciation for the fans. I’ve had a ton of great memories, and the one thing that always kept us going was the fans.”
Top Ten: Kayfabe News
Fact and fiction are often at odds in the business of professional wrestling, and the news sites that cover wrestling are no different.
But one wrestling news site is deliberately “unreal,” aiming not to inform, but to entertain with a wink.
This edition of “The Weekly Top Ten” is provided by Kayfabe News, a satirical news wrestling web site with the tagline: “Unreal News About an Unreal Sport.”
The creator and sole writer of the site is Colin Hunter, a product of Kitchener, Ontario—home of wrestling’s Missing Link—who spends his days working at a theoretical physics research center, writing about quantum mechanics and black holes.
And he spends his nights writing about pro wrestling.
“I only do Kayfabe News because I want people to read and enjoy, I want to provide a diversion each day,” said Hunter. “There are no bylines, my name is nowhere on the site, and that’s all part of the façade. I like to pretend it’s a major international news outlets with many reporters, but it’s really just me.”
Kayfabe News is The Onion of professional wrestling, and it is celebrating its five-year anniversary. The “unreal news” site is arguably the funniest wrestling source on the entire web, and is set to deliver its 2,000th “news” article this February.
“To me, all of wrestling—the whole thing—is comedy,” explained Hunter. “I can get wrapped up in a great match or a great storyline, but underneath it all, I find it all super funny and super entertaining, and I think people take it far too seriously too much of the time. I see my little niche as nudging people to not take it so seriously and have a chuckle at how silly the whole thing can be.”
Hunter studied English and philosophy in college, and attended journalism school before working eight years at a daily newspaper, winning Canada’s National Newspaper Award for Sports Writing.
“Part of the reason I can give Kayfabe News an air of traditional journalism is because I’ve done it working for a newspaper,” said Hunter. “My background is in journalism and in writing, and my day job outside Kayfabe News is about as much the opposite as you can imagine about writing satirical wrestling news. It’s really refreshing to come home and switch gears and have some fun writing about wrestling.”
Hunter makes sure to poke fun at the characters of wrestling, not the people portraying them, which has allowed his site to become especially popular with wrestlers like Mick Foley, Colt Cabana, and The Blue Meanie.
“I wanted to be different and I didn’t see anyone else doing this,” said Hunter. “Like so many journalists, I’m a fan of The Onion, the satirical news of the world, and I saw this sort of niche that hadn’t been explored. I talked with Colt Cabana about wrestling comedy, and I’d talk to Mick Foley about it, and because I had a journalism background and I’d written for an ‘Apter mag’ in Pro Wrestling Illustrated, and I thought I could use my background as a journalist to write in that very journalistic, deadpan, serious style.”
All of the Kayfabe News stories are written in the serious tone readers might expect to find in CNN or The New York Times.
“When you pair that deadpan narrative style with anything as ludicrous as fake wrestling news, that becomes part of the joke,” said Hunter. “You deliver the punchline with a completely straight face as if it’s the most important news in the world. These stories are made up, but I never tilt my cards. Part of the joke is that wrestling is reported in this serious style.
“I didn’t know if anyone would be interested or not in the stories, but right off the bat, I got some nice social media support from Colt Cabana and Mick Foley, and it’s just grown and grown since then. A lot of what I do isn’t just making fun of wrestling or wrestlers, it’s making fun of the whole genre—the dirtsheets and their sometimes unreliable reporting—as well as the wrestling fans, and I am one, and some of our unique characteristics. Everything I do is out of love. I wouldn’t do this if I were not a wrestling fan. I certainly wouldn’t sit down and write satirical news if I didn’t inherently love pro wrestling, and I always have. I try to do this in a way that is insightful and satirical, but never at the expense of any person’s feelings. It’s about the stories about the characters on TV, not about the guys who play those characters. I’m having fun with wrestling, and it comes from a place of admiration.”
Here are ten of Kayfabe News’ top stories from the past five years:
Hunter’s story ideas come from watching wrestling, and trying to do so with an inquisitive mind.
“All my life I’ve latched onto the weird idiosyncrasies in wrestling,” he explained. “Why, when a referee gets gently nudged, is he down for ten minutes? Why do contract signings constantly devolve into a table getting flipped and someone getting punched? We accept these rules as part of the wrestling universe, but I’m trying to look at wrestling with a fresh set of eyes. So the ideas either came from the strange, surreal twisted reality of pro wrestling, or the ideas come from the real world.”
Some of Kayfabe News’ most comical stories bring a real world topic into a wrestling context.
“Donald Trump was a godsend for that because he happens to be a WWE Hall of Famer, and he clearly took a lot of his campaign tactics straight out of the Vince McMahon playbook of bombast and confrontation,” said Hunter. “I owe Trump a lot – he’s a walking satire.”
Even on a slow week, WWE produces six hours of live, brand new content, all but ensuring that Hunter will have nonstop material for Kayfabe News, and that includes three hours worth of Raw every Monday.
“I can’t really think of anything I want to watch for three hours straight every week,” admitted a laughing Hunter. “But despite DVR, I do watch Raw live because I like to live-tweet it. The story on the ‘Superfan Watching All Three Hours of Raw’ was actually an extension of how I think a lot of us fans sometimes feel during the second hour of watching Raw.”
Amazingly, sometimes people actually take the stories on Kayfabe News as real.
“Chris Hero tells the story of being on a bus during a tour of Japan,” said Hunter. “Super Crazy came running up to him and said, ‘Chris, is this true?’ and it was a story about Donald Trump deporting Alberto Del Rio. Chris Hero explained it was a joke article, so the next day I wrote that Super Crazy was deported.”
Kayfabe News also reported that Hulk Hogan used the money he won from the Gawker lawsuit to purchase WWE, which made headlines all over the internet.
“Sometimes my stories come true,” said Hunter. “I once wrote that a match between Neville and Kofi Kingston ended during a commercial break—something that, oddly, never happens. Then a couple weeks later, it happened, with the same exact guys. So sometimes Kayfabe News stories come true.”
Hunter is grateful that people are enjoying the stories.
“When I started five years ago, I said I’d try writing one story a day for a year,” said Hunter. “After a year, the site did well and it’s been growing. As a lifelong fan of wrestling, this is my way to make a contribution to the wrestling world.”
Exclusive Lucha Underground clip
Something to Wrestle with Conrad Thompson
This week’s edition of the “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” podcast is set to be simply ravishing.
“We’re going to tape the show either tonight or Thursday evening, and there is so much to discuss,” said Thompson. “There are lots of questions of why Hogan wouldn’t work with Rude, what Rude thought about working with Warrior, and I know Rude didn’t always get along with and didn’t think he needed Bobby Heenan. We’ll also touch on the ‘Monday Night Wars,’ as Rude was famously—in a one-week period—on ECW programming, as well as Monday Night Raw with facial hair and Nitro without facial hair on the exact same night. I’m looking forward to hearing all those details.”
Thompson also revealed his prediction for the Royal Rumble.
“I’m going to make a crazy, unrealistic, please-be-true long shot, and I’m calling Shawn Michaels to win it,” said Thompson. “I’d like to see Shawn Michaels and AJ Styles in the main event of WrestleMania, and it would be awesome to win the Royal Rumble in San Antonio twenty years after winning the world title at the Royal Rumble in San Antonio. It would be the old dog versus the new dog, and we’d get be a 2017-version of the Ric Flair-Shawn Michaels retirement match. Ric was the old dog being put out to pasture and now, nine years later, maybe it’s Shawn Michaels’ turn and AJ is going to be the one to take him behind the barn.”
Five Questions with… Curt Hawkins
Curt Hawkins returned to WWE this past summer and is now seen every Tuesday on Smackdown Live. The company decided to air old-school vignettes to promote his return, and it was a fitting homecoming for Hawkins, 31, who first signed with WWE as a 20-year-old.
Before he re-signed with WWE, Hawkins spoke with Sports Illustrated about his prior run with the worldwide leader in pro wrestling, his character, and some of the memories that stand out most regarding his time in the business.
SI.com: Your friendship with Zack Ryder dates back thirteen years ago, and you even became the youngest tag team champions together in WWE when you won the titles in 2008 at The Great American Bash. How did you first meet Zack, and how has the friendship developed?
Hawkins: When I graduated from high school, all I wanted to do was be a pro wrestler, and I knew that and I took it very seriously. I watched every documentary, I read every book, and I had a good idea of what I was trying to pursue. Upon graduation, I was looking for a wrestling school, and there was a school located in Long Island.
My head wrestling trainer was Mikey Whipwreck, who was an ECW legend, and within a month or two of me joining, Zack joined. We’re like twenty days apart in age, and immediately we looked alike, even back then with our short hair, and people said, ‘These guys are a tag team,’ and it stuck. We literally were together from that point until the WWE Draft split us up in 2009. We’d never been apart – we’d always been a tag team since our earliest matches.
We were just really fortunate to have found each other and let fate play its part like that. Wrestling is hard enough as it is, so we didn’t have to go through it alone because we were each with our true-to-life brother. Zack is an inspiration for pro wrestlers all over the world. What you see with Zack is what you get. He is a lovable goofball in real life. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and there is a lot to love about him. It was a first-class education in wrestling and I’ll cherish it forever.
SI.com: You first rose to fame with Ryder as “La Familia,” which saw you two as the entourage and bullet-takers for Edge. What was the origin of that storyline, and how influential was Edge in your career?
Hawkins: Zack and I got called up to be part of ECW, which was still a WWE product on TV. We were called up as the Major Brothers, we were working in Deep South at the time, and we were supposed to work with another Deep South tag team called Team Elite, which was Mike Knox and Derek Neikirk, but they never pulled the trigger on those guys – so we were like the only tag team on ECW with no one to work with. We were left, almost in limbo, doing absolutely nothing. That went on and on and on, and, in wrestling, that’s not a good place to be. Zack and I became a little paranoid and self-aware of all that, so we started pitching ideas.
We were watching a lot of Entourage at the time, and the idea that we came up with was to be Edge’s entourage. We were legit big fans and admirers of the guy, and we kind of looked like him at the time, so we thought it would be a good fit. The writers were into the idea, but just because they say they like something doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. We knew if we had Edge on board then it would really get some steam. He didn’t know us at all beside the ‘hello-how are you-handshake’ type stuff,’ so I just stopped him one day. I figured the worst that could happen was he’d say no, and mentioned I had this idea I’d love for him to check out. I asked for his email, he gave it to me, and I sent it to him. He got on board, and that literally changed our whole careers.
I had the most first-class education in pro wrestling from Edge. I got to watch who I believed, at that time, was the absolute best wrestler in the whole world be the WWE champion and watch, first-hand, at what went into being a champion—how a champion conducts himself, puts matches together, and does promos—it was just incredible. Zack and I got to sit there and experience it all and learn. It was almost like a real-life apprenticeship with the world champion. Even beyond that run, Edge was my go-to guy for advice or even just to pick his brain. I really do think, in 2008 and 2009, Edge was the best wrestler in the world. He was kicking ass on all cylinders—promos, in-ring work, everything. I still try to use what he’s taught me in my own work, I still think he’s the best.
SI.com: In addition to winning the tag titles at the ’08 Great American Bash, there were a couple of other memorable moments before and during that pay per view. Do you recall any memories of the talent meeting with Vince McMahon where he announced that the WWE product was moving to PG, and wasn’t there a laugh-out-loud moment later that night backstage with Mark Henry?
Hawkins: We were at the Great American Bash pay per view in 2008 in a talent meeting, and Vince explained it everybody. I don’t think anyone thought too much about it at the time or knew what it would entail. So Vince McMahon is speaking and everyone is listening. No one would interrupt him. It would have to be really worth speaking if you had something to say. Michael Tarver, who wasn’t even on the roster at the time and was just doing dark matches, raised his hand and said something. Vince responded by saying, ‘Excellent question, Shelton!’ [Author’s note: Shelton Benjamin] and the place just erupted in laughter. That’s really the only thing I remember about the whole meeting.
During the John Cena and JBL match, I remember sitting at the monitor watching, and it was a pretty violent match in some kind of street fight [a New YorkCity Parking Lot Brawl]. They were fighting backstage and by the cars, and squished each other’s heads in a car, and it was very violent. And all you could hear was Mark Henry say, ‘So murder is PG?’ and that comment cracked us up.
SI.com: What is something that stood out about your first nine years in WWE?
Hawkins: I love the camaraderie of the locker room and seeing those guys every week. Getting on the road and riding the roads and telling stories. I get satisfaction out of being in the ring and having great matches, but some of the fondest memories of my whole career also come from the WWE camaraderie. It’s one of the perks of the job. My wife will always say that I love bro-ing out, and I do. Santino is pretty hilarious, and Luke Gallows is legit the funniest human being I’ve ever met in my life. You wouldn’t realize that from his tough, kick-ass character, but if you polled the boys, they’d all agree. He’s just hilarious. For the majority of my career, I rode with CM Punk and then, the other half of it, I rode with Hornswoggle and Kofi [Kingston].
My favorite moments with Hornswoggle and Kofi were every time we’d go out to eat after a show. The hostess would ask, ‘Three?’ And I’d say, ‘No, two and a half.’ And the poor hostess would no-sell the joke, say OK, and it would be super strange. Finally, after two years of doing this same joke every weekend, this one lady at a Cracker Barrel completely lost it. She was laughing so hard she almost fell to the ground. It was finally the pay-off after two years of using that joke.
SI.com: You also worked in NXT during parts of 2014. What were your highlights from that experience, and were you able to develop a relationship with the late, great Dusty Rhodes?
Hawkins: When I was at the Performance Center and NXT, I got to have some awesome matches with Sami Zayn and Neville where we could really put in some time. I was in FCW so I also worked with Dusty Rhodes every week for a year. He was a vital part and he, along with Edge, were the two people who saved my career. I’d already been on TV, had the tag titles, then I went back down to FCW. Dusty saw in me that I was a star, and he gave me confidence in cutting promos and helped me out immensely. I’ll forever be grateful to him.
It’s a little known fact, but I actually had his last match ever. He wanted to tag with Dustin and Cody. So in the summer of 2010, me, Trent Barreta, and Caylen Croft as the Dude Busters main-evented an FCW show against the Rhodes. It was the only time the Rhodes boys ever tagged, and it was Dusty’s last match ever. The match ended with me taking an elbow from Dusty. It was very, very cool, and I was very, very honored.
Tweet of the Week
— Randy Orton (@RandyOrton) January 10, 2017
“Until then, 205 Live, bro” is now my favorite insult.