SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Pentagon Jr.’s reach extends across the wrestling universe
Impact Wrestling made headlines when Pentagon Jr. departed its last pay per view with the world title.
Pentagon dethroned Austin Aries in a triple threat match that also featured Rey Fenix at Redemption on April 22 after hitting an arm-breaker on Aries, then finishing him with his patented Pentagon Driver.
“I am very, very happy to win the Impact title,” said Pentagon. “Austin Aries is an innovator, he’s very strong, and he demonstrates how to act as a champion. Rey Fenix is, to me, the best high-flyer in wrestling. It’s an honor to be in the ring with him. It’s harder to beat someone like Fenix because he knows me so well. Sometimes, he knows my moves before I even think of them, and I know him very well, so it is very difficult for us to beat one another.
“They were strong rivals, but I demonstrated that Aries is not the champion any more, I am.”
The bloodthirsty 33-year-old is relentless in his pursuit of pain in the ring, and his style has elicited genuine interest from wrestling fans across North America.
Outsiders constantly deride the phoniness of pro wrestling, but Pentagon’s roots in the business are very real. A traditional luchador in the sense that he is unwilling to share his identity or take off his mask in public, the star from Mexico has captivated audiences in AAA, Lucha Underground, and independent promotions throughout the world. In addition to his status as Impact champ, he is also currently champion in Lucha Underground and California-based PCW Ultra, as well as a major piece of Court Bauer’s Major League Wrestling, star-studded indie PWG, AAW out of Illinois, and Mexican-based promotion The Crash. He offers a uniquely compelling style that is not currently found in WWE. Pentagon may be the first Mexican wrestler more famous outside of Mexico than in the country, and he has a presence unlike any other star–luchador, cruiserweight, or heavyweight–in the way he compels fear from the audience.
Despite a reputation built on intimidation and pandemonium, Pentagon showed a far more human side to his character when he spoke over the phone with Sports Illustrated before his match in Tijuana this past weekend with The Crash.
Pentagon shifted between English and Spanish throughout the interview, even making sense of this reporter’s attempt at asking questions in his native tongue.
“I am the champion of Impact, PCW Ultra, and Lucha Underground,” said Pentagon, citing his desire to be a worldwide wrestling entity. “I’m champion in Chile, I’m champion in Ecuador, and I’m champion in Chicago in AAW. I need to be number one in the world.”
One of Pentagon’s strengths is his ambition, which he helps draw from three of his strongest influences: Konnan, Rey Mysterio, and Alberto El Patron, who wrestled in WWE as Alberto Del Rio.
“Those three men are very, very important, especially Konnan,” said Pentagon. “He’s always been with me, he is my guide and a friend. Rey Mysterio has also had a major influence on me. He is one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time, a great person. Before, he was my idol. Now, he is my friend. Alberto is another person I admire and he is someone who believed in me. I am grateful to have support from my idols.”
As Impact builds toward a May 31 rematch between Pentagon and Austin Aries on Pop TV, Pentagon is well-aware of his standing in the company, Impact’s history, and its former champions. He is humbled to represent the same company that saw the likes of Sting, Kurt Angle, and AJ Styles all wear the world title.
“It is a big responsibility to carry the Impact title,” said Pentagon. “The people who wore that belt are some of the most important people in the world of wrestling. Carrying the company is my responsibility while I am champion.”
One of Mexico’s brightest stars, Pentagon is quickly attaining a worldwide presence in pro wrestling. He is also a part of the upcoming All In show this September, and paid close attention as the show sold a reported 10,000 tickets in under 30 minutes.
“I am grateful to represent Mexico and all Latinos at the event,” said Pentagon. “I am very proud I can do that at All In, especially with my brother, Rey Fenix.”
Pentagon is dark, dangerous, and insane in the ring, proudly proclaiming he has zero fear, and parallels can be drawn to his favorite wrestlers as a child.
“Eddie Guerrero, Ultimate Warrior, Shawn Michaels, and Stone Cold,” said Pentagon. “Those were my favorites.”
As Pentagon continues to attain wrestling notoriety, he admitted that his goal—even more than the gore and the titles—is to become known across the wrestling world.
“That’s what I’m doing in Impact,” said Pentagon. “I have grown a great deal in my career as a wrestler and fighter, and I am grateful for the opportunities. I am thankful for the chance at Impact, and the opportunity to be champion means a lot to my career. Whoever I wrestle, they will know I am the best and most dangerous wrestler in the world.”
WWE Cashes in With New SmackDown Deal
WWE’s PG rating has finally paid dividends: the wrestling juggernaut is widely reported to have reached a five-year, $1 billion deal with Fox to air SmackDown Live.
There is a reason that WWE markets to children and families, and it is evident in the company’s monumental move to Fox. A Friday night timeslot is not ideal for a core audience of 18-to-35-year-olds, but it fits perfectly for younger viewers. The shift of SmackDown to Friday, which is expected to occur in October 2019, allows WWE a later night in the week to promote their pay per views and Network specials. The current schedule, with Tuesday being its last weeknight of cable programming, leaves the company slightly hamstrung when it comes to promoting events on Sundays. WWE will also bring content and viewers to Fox on Fridays, making it a perfect marriage for the two.
How does this affect wrestling fans? For starters, a heavy dose of pay per view caliber matches will be expected to air on Fox to deliver significant ratings.
Also, the brand split cannot last if the new television contracts are held by different broadcasters. If NBC Universal and Fox win the rights, respectively, for Raw and SmackDown, both networks will want full access to the roster.
But bear in mind: WWE’s financial state directly impacts its programming.
And if you are a wrestling fan, odds are high that you have critiqued WWE programming recently.
Wasn’t WrestleMania 34 three hours too long? Shouldn’t Roman Reigns finally be turned heel? Does Ronda Rousey deserve her title shot at Money in the Bank against Raw women’s champion Nia Jax? And where does the “Lashley Sisters” segment from Raw rank in the all-time worst skits in WWE programming history?
Vince McMahon may hear these complaints, but he does not need to listen. WWE stock just surpassed $50 a share last week, closing at a 15 percent jump this past Thursday. How do you tell McMahon that he is doing something wrong?
Until the ratings plummet or the television deal goes awry, McMahon will not change the current style of the product.
In other news…
• Ronda Rousey will not have Triple H selling and bumping for her like she did at WrestleMania, but expect her Raw women’s title match against Nia Jax at Money in the Bank to be dynamic.
Wrestling is a business that takes two, but Rousey’s ability to work a compelling style will leave viewers amazed after the June 17 show in Rosemont, Illinois. She is being placed in this spot for a reason; not because she has earned the right in pro wrestling, but because her in-ring work makes her one of the most captivating wrestlers in the world. Outside of Charlotte, who is more talented in the ring, Rousey has no peers, and a large part of that is the fact that she is not overexposed like the vast majority of the WWE roster.
Also, the main events on Raw and SmackDown, which saw Braun Strowman defeat Finn Balor on Raw and then Daniel Bryan tap out Jeff Hardy on SmackDown, highlighted how WWE’s programming should be built around its wrestling.
• Beyond Wrestling returns to live action this weekend, with a “Solid Gold” show on Saturday at the Varnum Memorial Armory in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, and then on Sunday at Electric Haze in Worcester, Massachusetts, for an aptly named “All Day” show that begins at 2pm and continues into the evening with a Women’s Wrestling Revolution show at 6pm.
A match that stands out on Saturday is a tag team encounter pitting Ringkampf vs. EYFBO.
Ringkampf features two stars-in-the-making in former EVOLVE champion Timothy Thatcher and Austrian beast WALTER, who were both backstage at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans this past WrestleMania weekend. EYFBO are the highly talented Mike Draztik and Angel Ortiz, who are two-time Impact tag champs as the Latin American Xchange in Impact Wrestling and go by, respectively, Santana and Ortiz.
Draztik and Ortiz are native New Yorkers, having first met in backyard wrestling circles in NYC. They relish the chance to perform throughout the indies as EYFBO, which stands for Entertaining Your F—— Balls Off, as well as in Impact as LAX.
“As far as our characters, we’ve just gotten a lot more aggressive and in-your-face when performing as LAX,” said Ortiz. “It’s allowed us to tap into how we came up and where we come from.”
“Being EYFBO on the indies allows us to have fun while showing a different side of our personality,” continued Draztik. “We also use those opportunities to experiment and continue to grow as performers. We’ve kept a lot of our in-ring dynamic the same. Everything we do is as a unit and we feel it’s what separates us from a lot of tag teams, because we move as one.”
The match has added significance as Thatcher and WALTER are rumored to be headed to NXT, while Draztik and Ortiz have helped give meaning to the Impact tag titles over the past year. This encounter, which happened once before this past October in Germany, stands as a chance to highlight indie wrestling while showing off the best at the craft of tag team wrestling.
“We’ve had the chance to wrestle them over in Germany, for WXW’s World Tag League, and all we can say is that it was a straight up fight,” said the 26-year-old Draztik. “So we truly hope WALTER and Thatcher get the opportunity to shine up there. They have tons to offer and are two great guys. We try to treat every match as important because it’s another chance to highlight pro wrestling and continue showing why we’re one of the best tag teams in the game today.”
Ortiz touched on the qualities that make Thatcher and WALTER such a dynamic match-up.
“Firstly, they’re both world class athletes with tons of experience behind them,” said the 30-year-old Ortiz. “We know what they bring to the table. We pride ourselves on being able to adapt to any style and situation that’s presented to us, but they’re definitely one of the very few teams out there who take us to another state of mind when stepping in there with them. We’ll leave it at that.”
Draztik and Ortiz have only scratched the surface of what they can accomplish in Impact, and they plan on making their pursuit of a third title run even more memorable than the first two reigns.
“We feel like this is still the start,” said Ortiz. “There’s still so much to do and learn, that’s the beauty of things. The first two runs were pretty memorable with the stuff that we did with Decay and OvE. It challenged us to be much more creative and psychological when putting together our matches.”
Before the Beyond match against Thatcher and WALTER this weekend, LAX can be viewed on Pop TV this Thursday against the Cult of Lee’s Trevor Lee and Caleb Konley.
“We feel like we need to continue showing what separates us from everyone else and put on some of the best tag team matches in wrestling today,” said Draztik. “We’re hoping that Impact continues to bring in more tag teams for us to work with. Things are only going to get better and better.”
• Wrestlers looking to make something of themselves in the difficult business of professional wrestling would be well-served to look at the recent accomplishment of Ring of Honor’s Cheeseburger.
Cheeseburger just wrapped up his seventh and final year on the ROH ring crew, which included some long and hard nights when he had to rush into his gear to wrestle and other nights when he was not on the card but waited for the show to end to break down.
“The ring crew, we got through it together,” said Cheeseburger, who is leaving the ring crew to focus more on his wrestling. “I didn’t mind, I love watching the shows.”
Cheeseburger is in the middle of a feud with Bully Ray, who is WWE Hall of Famer Bubba Ray Dudley. The former ECW icon has taken some liberties—and low blows—in the ring against the beloved ’Burger.
“He is someone I looked up to as a mentor, he’s a legend,” said Cheeseburger. “But he obviously looked at me as someone who doesn’t belong in this industry. I’m looking to change that.
“I’m doing things my way. I’m looking to be one of the forerunners of this next generation.”
Cheeseburger started training in October of 2010 and is rapidly approaching his 8-year anniversary with ROH. Despite the experience, the matchup with Bully is not a favorable one.
“I need the crowd to help beat him,” said Cheeseburger. “If they’re behind me, I’ll use their energy to keep going after him and get the victory.
Cheeseburger’s authentic nature is an integral part of his success, and he is grateful for continued support from his fan base.
“Thank you to everyone for their support,” said Cheeseburger. “It’s a blessing to have so many people supportive of me during my career and with me throughout my journey.”
• The Dungeon of Doom is coming to Boston.
The Barbarian and Haku will be appearing with “The Taskmaster” Kevin Sullivan, along with WWE Hall of Famer Teddy Long, for a signing this Sunday at Sportsworld in Saugus, Massachusetts.
The meeting is a reunion for the Barbarian and Haku, who have known each other for the past 53 years and grew up in nearby Tongan villages in Nuku’alofa.
“Myself and Haku are not related, but we grew up together and knew each other since we were six years old,” said the 59-year-old Sioni Vailahi, who is better known as the Barbarian. “He entered the business first, about five years before I did.”
“We went to primary school and high school together,” said Tonga Fifita, more famously known as Haku, who is also 59. “Barbarian was a hell of a rugby player. When I left Tonga for sumo in Japan, he was chosen, too. I went to Japan in October of 1974, then Barbarian came in March of ’75.”
The Barbarian and Haku teamed together in the WWF, even opening WrestleMania VII against the Rockers in 1991. The duo also had a lengthy run together in WCW under Sullivan’s managerial helm as the Faces of Fear.
Barbarian believed that Haku was a real-life Samurai in the way he presented himself in and out of the ring.
“In his prime, Haku was the toughest,” said Barbarian. “The only way to beat him was to kill him.”
The humble Haku is not entirely ready to admit that he was once the most feared man in wrestling.
“We are all tough in this business,” said Haku. “I didn’t grow up with much, so my goal was to work hard and provide for my family. In my heart were my parents and siblings back home. They were waiting for me to provide for them. That’s where the toughness shows, when you struggle and work hard to take care of your loved ones.”
As for the unfortunate souls who have criticized Haku’s chosen profession and derided pro wrestling as fake, the proud native of Tonga always stood his ground to protect the business that fed his family.
“We believed what we believed, and that was that wrestling was for real,” said Haku. “Even if you think wrestling is fake, I believed in what I was doing and I wanted to make people believe in what we were doing in the ring.”
Haku even had a run as WWE tag team champion in the Colossal Connection with Andre the Giant.
“It was an honor to have Andre in my life,” said Haku. “He chose me to be his partner and we traveled together. When we were champs, I remember asking him, with respect, ‘Boss, I know how heavy it is to carry the belt, will you give yours to me?’ And he said, ‘No, Boss, I carry it.’ We used to sit at the bar and have a few drinks, but I could not drink like him, no one could.”
A year later, Vince McMahon entertained the idea of feuding Andre with Earthquake. But Haku confirmed that there were no plans, presumably due to Andre’s health, to ever wrestle each other after their WrestleMania VI split following an extremely compelling loss to Demolition in what remains one of Andre’s most enduring moments that saw Haku shoulder the work load yet still allowed a limited Giant to have a memorable face turn.
“I did what WWF wanted, and I was told that was it for Andre and me,” said Haku, who used the match at WrestleMania to propel his career back into singles competition. “WrestleMania VI is something I really treasure. This is the first time I’ve ever said this, but it was all Andre’s idea. He said to me, ‘Boss, go out there and make yourself look strong.’ He couldn’t work, so his philosophy was to make me look good because it was our last time together. He wanted people to know that I could go, that I could work without him.”
Haku and Barbarian still work indies and make appearances, and Haku will be appearing at the upcoming PCW Ultra show on June 8 with UFC Hall of Famer Stephan Bonnar.
“Bonnar is a great new guy, he’s strong and smart and fast,” said Haku. “This is a chance for me to give back. Wrestling is my life, it’s what is in my heart. [PCW Ultra booker] Joe Cabibbo has great ideas for PCW Ultra, and I love to work for him.”
Barbarian noted he misses the old camaraderie of the locker rooms where he spent the vast majority of his adult life.
“I miss the locker room a lot,” said Barbarian. “I miss the boys. I still do independents, but it’s not the same. Maybe I’ll see the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express or the Steiners at a signing. Once, I saw the boys more than I saw my family. We had so much respect for each other and always looked out for one another. If someone got in trouble, we made it our problem to help. That’s what I miss the most, the boys and the locker room. But life moves on, time only moves forward.”
One man both Barbarian and Haku grew close with was the late Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, who managed both men.
“Bobby Heenan, bless his heart, was special to me,” said Barbarian. “He was something else, and he was so funny and down-to-earth. I was really close to him, and I miss him dearly.”
Haku’s time with Heenan dates back to the late 1970s and he even worked as one-half of the Islanders in the WWF as Heenan with his manager starting in 1986.
“I met Bobby in Japan when he was still wrestling in All Japan,” said Haku. “The Heenan Family was family, we were family. He made those long trips fun. We lost a great man.”
• On the subject of Boston, the Red Sox will be having a “WWE Night” on July 11 that features a bobblehead of second baseman Dustin Pedroia with a WWE title wrapped around his shoulder.
Pedroia, a two-time World Series winner and former MVP, is a big fan of the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and has hosted Flair in the Sox clubhouse.
• Coming attractions: Mauro Ranallo connected with Sports Illustrated for a Q&A that will run this Friday on SI.com. (SI’s Greg Bishop also spoke with Ranallo for a piece about the recent documentary chronicling his mental health issues.)
Ranallo does not hold back, even clarifying the reported bullying issues from 2017 surrounding JBL and his status in the company:
“With WWE, the biggest issue was the weekly travel for SmackDown,” said Ranallo. “I also had a job with Showtime Championship Boxing, and now Bellator MMA, so I was busy almost every weekend and the fact that I had to be on the road with SmackDown Live, which was a dream job in live TV on the USA Network, was going to kill me. Literally. My close friends saw how it was affecting me, and it just came to a head.
“There were other issues, and they’ve been dealt with, and honestly, I’ve never had a better relationship with WWE, especially Paul [Triple H] Levesque and Michael Cole, two people who are instrumental in me being the voice of NXT.”
The Q&A will run in full this Friday.
• Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard and co-host Conrad Thompson returns this Friday at noon ET with a new podcast, with a “Love to Know” episode covering a myriad of topics.
“We’ll get to cover lots of things that will give me a chance to say, ‘I don’t know when we’ll have the chance to talk about this again,’” said Thompson. “Why did the briefcase move up at No Mercy? What was the real purpose behind GTV? What was the original plan for the Right to Censor? We’ll be able to talk about all those nuanced topics.”
The questions will be drawn from social media, and Thompson is excited to share some new information with his audience.
“Everybody comes away with five or six things they didn’t know,” said Thompson. “That’s the reason I love this format.”
Thompson’s “83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff” detailed the highly controversial Bash at the Beach from 2000, which was Hulk Hogan’s final appearance with WCW as well as Booker T’s first-ever world title win with the company during the Vince Russo-Bischoff era.
“This past episode was really the first time we saw, in my opinion, real emotion from Eric instead of standing on facts,” said Thompson. “I’m so fascinated by the end of the year in 2000. People don’t often talk about Bash at the Beach beyond the controversy, and it’s amazing to think that four years prior was when Hogan and WCW set the entire business on fire. Four years later, this is the end of an era.”
Only two years earlier, in 1998, WCW was considered the premiere wrestling company in the world.
“By 2000, they’re losing more money in a single month than any promotion has in history,” said Thompson. “And it all comes down to ego. Who is going to rule, who is going to win this thirst for power? That drowns the most successful wrestling company in the world, which it was just two years earlier.”
“Something Else to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” on the WWE Network keeps that synergy alive, examining Vince Russo’s creative run in WWE.
“Vince Russo was a big wrestling fan who managed to become one of the most influential people in the history of wrestling,” said Thompson. “People gloss over the fact that Linda McMahon helped him get rolling in WWE, and then Bill Watts was the person in the company who empowered him to start booking.”
Russo had success in WWE, helping the company reach new heights in ratings on Raw.
“Vince was responsible for a lot of success,” said Thompson. “But it was a successful partnership far more than a successful dictatorship.”
Tweet of the Week
Addiction is crippling, so a sincere congratulation is in order for such a fantastic accomplishment. I also enjoyed how Dustin Rhodes was dressed as Goldust in the photo, which is the character that helped lead to his highest success and most difficult falls.
If you have the chance, read some of the replies. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Brian “The Road Dogg” James, and Cedric Alexander are just a handful of past and present wrestling stars that reach out with some kind words.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.