Week In Wrestling: The Real Reason Behind Emma’s WWE Release; What’s the Future for Rockstar Spud? – Sports Illustrated
SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
News of the Week: Emma, Darren Young, and Summer Rae released
A WWE corporate release delivered some of the coldest words in wrestling this past Sunday, offering Emma, Darren Young, and Summer Rae “the best in all of their future endeavors.”
The release of Emma was the most peculiar, considering she was just featured 10 days ago on the TLC pay per view in Asuka’s debut match on the main roster. Darren Young appeared Saturday night in Los Angeles for the Clippers’ “WWE Night” at the Staples Center.
Emma’s release struck a nerve with fans, as she is talented and WWE is in dire need of depth in the women’s division. Yet the writing on the wall for her departure has been in place for some time, as she had considerable heat within the company.
Emma created just enough enemies on the writing staff, which she exacerbated from the way she voiced her opinion on Twitter. The doors remain open for a return, but her exit from the company is viewed by some as addition by subtraction in the locker room.
Emma carried as much respect as an in-ring wrestler as any single woman in the WWE locker room, but her release sends a message to the entire locker room after the departures of Jimmy Jacobs and Neville, and the successful walkout from Nia Jax, who used her leverage to take a brief hiatus and return to Raw this past Monday with a renewed, strengthened storyline from the creative team. Emma is on the outside looking in, and talent will take note of the company’s decision to cut her.
The decision was made on Friday to release Emma, Darren Young, and Summer Rae during Vince McMahon’s routine budget meeting. The three talents were informed on Sunday before they had to fly out for TV on Monday.
Neville also inadvertently impacted the payroll, as his release will be drawn out. McMahon is still a firm believer in a philosophy that dates back to Vince McMahon Sr. in the 1960s that decreed, “We’ll be done with you when we’re done with you.”
Darren Young never hit a creative stride as a singles wrestler in WWE. His pairing with Bob Backlund was never indicative of anything more than a short-term plan with no longevity.
Summer Rae also never hit her stride in the ring, but she had an incredible presence and could have flourished as a modern day Missy Hyatt, yet WWE never allowed her to be a true valet, as that role is not currently featured in the company.
Rockstar Spud parted ways with Impact Wrestling, and the reason behind the split is numbingly straightforward: mismanagement.
In an issue all too familiar for those who have followed Impact, company management–which occurred during the Dixie Carter regime and included the still-employed Bob Ryder–failed to properly fill out the paperwork for Spud’s visa.
Spud is 34-year-old James Curtin, and Impact’s failure to properly submit his visa paperwork eventually led to an inability to re-enter the United States. Spud had bookings lined up, but despite building a name and a brand, he could not enter the U.S. Since he could not work the Impact shows, Impact did not pay him.
The charismatic product of Birmingham, England is a star on the mic and presents very well in the ring. His diminutive size (5-foot-4) actually adds to his presence, as that only enhances those towering over him.
The issue did not involve the current ownership in Anthem Sports and Entertainment, except for the fact that the current ownership is cutting costs and Spud decided it was in his best interests to request his release.
Spud would be a tremendous addition for either NXT, Ring of Honor, or Billy Corgan’s NWA.
In other news…
• Why didn’t Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair happen at WrestleMania VIII?
ESPN debuted its world premiere of Flair’s upcoming “Nature Boy” 30-for-30 documentary this past Wednesday in New York City, and there was a post-film question-and-answer session with Triple H, Charlotte Flair, and Mick Foley.
Triple H was asked for any insight as to why Vince McMahon did not deliver the iconic main event of Hogan-Flair for the WWF championship at WrestleMania VIII in 1992.
“I’ve heard a lot of different stories,” said Triple H. “To be honest, I’ve never sat down and asked. I’ve heard different reasons why and different theories, but I’ve never got a solid answer on that. There was definitely a missed moment there.”
• Michael Rapaport is an actor, director, comedian, and self-proclaimed trash-talking New Yorker. His new book, This Book Has Balls: Sports Rants from the MVP of Talking Trash, breaks down a plethora of major issues and arguments in sports.
Rapaport also knows his pro wrestling, and he weighed in on the age-old debate of who meant more to the wrestling business: Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair?
“Flair could handle the streets and be good to go in New York City,” said Rapaport. “Plus, it didn’t hurt that Flair had such nice hair and the ladies loved him.”
Given the chance to ever enter the squared circle, Rapaport articulated that he would be at ease playing a heel.
“Wrestling is a forum where trash talk is celebrated,” said Rapaport. “So if I were a wrestler, I would be a villain, there is no doubt.”
Rapaport also hosts his own podcast, I Am Rapaport under the Barstool Sports banner, and noted that Barstool founder Dave “El Pres” Portnoy would make for an ideal wrestling manager.
“Dave Portnoy is a hustler and he knows how to get things done,” said Rapaport, who noted that Portnoy would not hesitate to hand him a pair of brass knuckles when the referee’s back was turned.
“He could be known as ‘Devious’ Dave Portnoy. He is accomplished as a businessman and a thinker, and he’d help me get things done.”
Both Rapaport’s book and his podcast detail sports in a manner that perfectly captures the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
“If you’re a sports fan, then 99.9 percent of the time you learned about it when you were a kid,” said Rapaport. “That childlike mentality of loving sports, just from a gut reaction and not from stats, that’s what my show and my book are all about.”
• Nostalgia remains an integral part of the wrestling business.
To the delight of the WWE Universe, Kurt Angle is returning to the ring at the Survivor Series to captain Team Raw.
Tony Schiavone also generated interest by his “return” to the Starrcade control center.
podcast, which aired this past Monday with a look at Halloween Havoc 1995.
Also, WWE announced that the 25th anniversary of Monday Night Raw will take place from both the Barclays Center and the Manhattan Center in New York City on Monday, Jan. 22. WWE Superstars from Raw and SmackDown will be at the Barclays Center, while the event at Manhattan Center, which was the site of the very first episode of Raw, will feature cross-brand matches and special appearances by WWE legends such as Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, and The Undertaker.
• Recent WWE signee Lio Rush received a torrent of backlash on Sunday after posting a joke on Twitter over Emma’s release. The now-deleted tweet read, “I guess these are the things that happen when you’re not TRULY ready for @WWEAsuka”, which was followed by a smiley face emoji.
The wrestling community, including several WWE talents, publicly responded to the 22-year-old Rush.
You aint gonna make it here with the wolves, kid.
— Bray Wyatt (@WWEBrayWyatt) October 29, 2017
Reading that made my brain melt. Good luck. You’re going to need it.
— Kevin Owens (@FightOwensFight) October 29, 2017
Rush issued an apology for making light of Emma’s release, but his original statement and lack of tact on the ensuing apology did not shock his colleagues as much as it did infuriate them.
Rush is extremely talented. He already made an impression during his short stint with Ring of Honor. Barring any more unnecessary mistakes, he will be a welcomed addition to the 205 Live show, yet conduct issues have followed him at every stop.
WWE is giving Rush a chance to straighten out and be a success, but the office–and, clearly, the rest of the roster–is going to test him.
Ultimately, the question with Rush is whether his maturity will catch up to his talent.
• Sean Mooney has returned to the wrestling airwaves with his new podcast, Prime Time with Sean Mooney.
“I really want to hear from the stars of the WWF who people haven’t heard a lot from,” explained Mooney, whose podcast drops every Wednesday morning at 7am ET. “I’ve got a pretty good lineup of people, and I really look forward to speaking this week with the ‘Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase.”
Now 58-years-old and a father of three, Mooney will forever be ingrained in the minds of old-school wrestling fans as the fresh face opposite “Mean” Gene Okerlund at the WWF Event Center.
Mooney grew up in Tucson and relocated to New York City after graduating from the University of Arizona to work for Major League Baseball productions. He was a production assistant on “The Baseball Bunch” show with Johnny Bench, and reached his goal of becoming an on-air talent on the “Light Moments in Sports” show, which was hosted by Joe Namath.
“It was really one of the first blooper shows,” said Mooney. “I was a correspondent and did a story with the Monster Factory in New Jersey about myself as the idiot who goes through wrestling camp and gets his rear-end kicked. Somebody from the WWF saw it, and I had a friend who had worked at MLB Productions and gone up to work for WWF and help with their syndication. He called me and said, ‘They want you to send a tape up here.’
“This was right after WrestleMania III. I sent a tape up there, and two weeks later, I got an audition, did the whole ‘Sell me a broom’ audition that everyone has heard of, and, two weeks later, I had a job.”
Mooney was 28 when he was hired in 1988. Worlds were colliding in the World Wrestling Federation, as Vince McMahon had the foresight to bring people into the company who were knowledgeable in network-level television production. Yet that did not translate to a smooth transition for Mooney.
Mooney noted that McMahon’s instruction and insistence for perfection helped guide his career. His unique, detailed, and easy-to-listen-to style of interviewing is now back on display every week for wrestling fans.
“My approach with the WWF was to be this very straight sports announcer who was put into this crazy world and added every ounce of credibility that these guys were professionals, yet still added some shock to what I was seeing,” said Mooney. “My living is asking questions, and I feel like I ask them differently than other people. My focus is to find out who these guys really are, and I have a different perspective because I was there for a lot of it.”
• Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard is back this Friday with a new podcast, and Conrad Thompson noted that the show will offer a detailed look at the tag team of the “Badass” Billy Gunn and “Road Dogg” Jesse James as the New Age Outlaws.
“They played their real personalities turned up to 11,” said Thompson. “The way Road Dogg carried himself was the real Road Dogg, except with the volume all the way up.
Both Gunn and James played a handful of failed gimmicks, including The Roadie for James and the infamous Rockabilly for Gunn.
“The New Age Outlaws allowed them to be arrogant and cocky,” said Thompson. “It’s the best repackage in the history of the company, and certainly the best tag team version of that. There was never a tag team that was turned around like this. No one saw this coming, and it was one of the finest examples of what that creative team was able to put together at the time.”
The Outlaws also joined DX the night after WrestleMania 14, which was a reformed unit following Shawn Michaels departure that included Triple H, Chyna, Sean Waltman as X-Pac, Gunn, and James.
“It felt as though this version of DX felt a little more on equal footing,” said Thompson. “Had Shawn Michaels stuck around, would the New Age Outlaws have had the same opportunity to shine? It could have actually been a blessing in disguise that Shawn took a bow, which allowed the Outlaws to become the superstars they were.”
Thompson and Prichard will break down all of the booking for the Outlaws, as well as their singles runs and gimmicks before they were paired together.
“Specifically, we’re going to talk about who they were before they were these characters,” said Thompson. “We’ll cover the different incarnations they had to go through before they found this winning formula.”
• Lucha Underground head writer Chris “DJ” DeJoseph touched on his memories of working with WWE, including being one of the top writers on SmackDown from 2006-2010.
The SmackDown writing team would be present at Raw, and would drive out after the show.
“You’d always try to leave Raw as soon as possible to get to the next town,” recalled DeJoseph. “Then you’d get to the hotel, try to get some sleep, then wake up early the next morning to start the production meetings for SmackDown.”
The mode of transportation at the time was rental cars, and DeJoseph was the driver for himself and three other writers. His responsibilities were simple but important: do not get pulled over and do not fall asleep at the wheel.
“I was the wheel man, and I used to burn through towns,” said DeJoseph. “I actually started chewing tobacco because it gave me something to do so I wouldn’t fall asleep. When you have a little more seniority, you could sit in the back and nap. But I preferred when we all stayed up. It’s pretty tough when you’re driving in the middle of nowhere in the dark.”
DeJoseph noted that, if he and the SmackDown team were lucky, they could run the show by Vince McMahon.
“Then you could get a bunch of things cleared,” said DeJoseph. “So that could be a good thing, but Vince could also say, ‘I don’t like this or this or this,’ or, ‘This looks like a fourth grader wrote this,’ and then you’d be rewriting all night. If you did not have too much to do at Raw, you might be able to start rewriting SmackDown on Monday.”
Tuesday morning would consist of a production meeting where the lead SmackDown writer presents that night’s show to McMahon and Executive Vice President of Television Production Kevin Dunn.
“You sit at a table and talk through the show,” explained DeJoseph. “It’s detailed, but if you don’t do a good job delivering the show, you can almost be booed off the table. Vince will start rolling his eyes and people will start making comments, so you need some confidence and a willingness to take some risks.
“So you pitch the show. I always had a few back-up ideas as options because I knew Vince wouldn’t go for everything. You wouldn’t just pitch random ideas. I always tried to do something that stuck within the story, and we focused on what the top guys were doing, whether that was for John Cena, Rey Mysterio, Triple H, or The Undertaker.”
The next step is the rewriting process, which can sometimes be a process ongoing during the live show.
“You have to run each piece by Vince, and that can take time,” said DeJoseph. “During the show, you’re producing backstage vignettes, or, as they call them, ‘pre-tapes’, or you’re assigned a specific in-ring promo segment. You have to write it, rehearse it, and present it to Vince.”
For those curious, the writers know McMahon is pleased after a show when he does not ask anyone on the writing team to sit and speak with him in the ‘Gorilla’ position.
“Then you’d go back to the hotel room, try to have some kind of enjoyment and get some drinks even though you have a really early flight the next morning, and then you have to be back in Stamford at the office at 10am on Wednesday. And the cycle repeats, there is no off-switch.”
• Stat of the Week: New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Kazuchika Okada is now the longest-ever reigning IWGP heavyweight champion. Okada hit his 500th day today, well past Shinya Hasimoto’s 489-day reign that ended in August of 1997.
To put that in perspective, Okada’s time as IWGP champion on this single run is longer than the combined reigns of several WWE champions, including The Undertaker (four reigns, 238 days), The Rock (eight reigns, 367 days), Shawn Michaels (three reigns, 396 days), and CM Punk (two reigns, 462 days).
• Al Snow’s weekly advice column, Inside Al’s Head, shares advice for Emma, Darren Young, and Summer Rae, who were released this past Sunday by WWE.
“The biggest misunderstanding is that these talents were fired,” explained Snow. “To clear that up, you can’t fire a professional wrestler. They’ve never been hired, they’re not employees. It is a true business relationship between the promoter and the wrestler, but ending your tenure with WWE puts you in a very tough, unenviable spot.”
Snow noted that these talents have lost a consistent source of income, which is hard to come by in wrestling, as well as a worldwide platform.
“It’s hard to make that adjustment, but there is an upside,” said Snow. “If you used your time properly in WWE, then you’ll still have opportunities. The only guarantee in wrestling is that your run will come to an end. You are, after all, a product. But if you’ve been able to market yourself, you can sell your brand on other platforms.”
Darren Young is an interesting candidate for Ring of Honor, and he could work a compelling feud with Cody Rhodes or Dalton Castle. He could also explore Lucha Underground if the show returns for a fourth season. Emma would be a great addition for the women’s division in Impact, or to add even more legitimacy to the women’s division in Ring of Honor.
“Then, if you have the chance to come back to WWE, you’ll come back to a better spot,” said Snow. “You’ll use whatever you made in WWE to gain new opportunities, then you use that opportunity to recreate yourself and make the people who let you go see you as a star again. You need to make them see you as something they need to have back and capitalize once more.”
Tweet of the Week
Not exactly the “Boyhood Dream” that WWE and Shawn Michaels championed leading up to WrestleMania XII.