Sunday, 30 April 2017

Josh Mathews Interview (Impact Wrestling)

Earlier this week, ATPW got the chance to throw some questions the way of the self-proclaimed "Greatest Play-by-play announcer" Josh Mathews. Here's our chat with the "GOAT" about THAT call and why he believes it to be true, Impact Wrestling's new home in the UK, "go-away" heat v legitimate heat, the new faces he's been impressed by, working for "the other company", digital originals and so, so much more. 

ATPW - Let's kick off by addressing the thing that got tongues wagging over the last few months and that is your call of proclaiming yourself today's "Greatest Play-by-play announcer". How did that line come about? When was your "character shift" first suggested? 

Josh Mathews - It wasn't a character shift. It's something that I truly believe. It was a video that was done on and people took what I said..."I've been saying I'm "the Greatest play-by-play announcer of all time" since I got here and I think I've proven that over the last three years. I also said in that video that I want to do things here in Impact, like videos games and action figures and stuffed animals, bigger venues, more touring, but people ran with that (call) and that's fine. It's something I stand by, that's something that I believe. In 2017 I don't think there's anybody that can do what I do, at the level that I do it. 

With your persona on TV at the moment, how do you deal with treading the line between viewers saying "I'd like to punch that guy in the face" and "I'm going going to change the channel"? 

It's "go-away" heat vs. legitimate heat and look, I've had people in the Impact Zone spit on me and be thrown out because of it. I've had people scream at me, I've had children give me the middle finger, I've had grandmothers yell at me. All of these things are happening while I'm out there just trying to do my job. I'm just out there to call the show, to give people factual information and to let people know that they are hearing, the best possible wrestling play-by-play announcing that they can have. Sometimes I talk a little about myself, but that's to be expected when you have someone the calibre that I am out there calling these shows. 

With the recent changes in Impact, what's the vibe like backstage at the moment? 

The vibe is great, it's a lot of fun. I kinda live in my own world, when the show starts I'm out there at ringside. During the day, I'm always having fun, we have a lot of meetings, we work really hard. We get there, we work hard, we got to meetings and then we do great content and then everyone goes about their business.

What do you think makes this version of Impact Wrestling different or better to previous incarnations? 

I think that everyone seemed to get caught up in the saga of what was transpiring in Nashville...more so than what they were watching on TV and that's the problem. People wanted to know what was going on behind the scenes, more than watching what was transpiring on the TV. We did some amazing shows in New York, about two January's ago. The World title series wasn't critically acclaimed, but I thought it was pretty good, it was innovative, it was different, it was a lot of wrestling. Where we are right now, where we started in March and as we move towards Slammiversary, we've got new regime, new owners. But I think, if I got to the movies, I don't wonder "Oh man, did this movie go over budget?" or "Oh man, did this movie almost not make it?" or "Oh man, this actor did this to this actor backstage"...I just want to see a quality movie. I think wrestling fans feel that their entitled to more in 2017 and that's probably a result of social media, because they're so close. Just watch the show and enjoy it and then come back the following week and watch it again. 

There's plenty of fans that have fallen out of love or drifted away from the Impact product over the last five or six years, what reasons would you give them to tune back into the product in 2017? 

I'm not gonna be a corporate shill and beg people. "Oh please come back and watch". If you're a wrestling fan and you're paying attention to what's going on in the world and especially if you're paying attention to what's going on in the United Kingdom and the amazing talent that are over there and now you've got Impact on Spike TV UK, every Friday at 9, it's right there at your finger tips and you can watch it. If you're a wrestling fan, you should watch it and you should see what's going on. You shouldn't worry about the bullshit that transpires behind the scenes, because what you're seeing on the show is the hardest working individuals in professional wrestling doing what they can to entertain you for two hours.

With Impact returning to UK television screens with Spike UK, how important do you think it is to have a free television presence in the UK, at the moment? 

I think it's very important. Obviously, Challenge decided to not air Impact anymore. Then we went with the app, so our fans in the UK weren't missing Impact and you could see Impact the same time it premiered here in the States. You had to do it on a mobile device and some people aren't used to that yet, but now we're on Spike UK, every Friday, you know it's going to be there at 9pm. It's just super important. You now have destination, you know where you're going and you know where your guys are going to be. That's all I need to know as a fan. I watch a lot of TV shows and maybe if I hear a show's getting cancelled, maybe I don't watch the last few episodes. But this is brand new, we've landed and it's going to be a lot of fun going forward on Spike. 

Impact also has the relationship with ITV's WOS Wrestling, how do you see that developing as a professional wrestling and perhaps, also as a broadcaster? 

I would love to be apart of that, I don't know if I'm going to be able to be, but I think it's really cool. I've got a chance to speak to some of the talent that's going to be competing over there, guys like Rampage and a few of the others. I think it's going to be a lot of fun when that gets going on WOS Wrestling on ITV. It's just another thing, like AAA or Pro Wrestling NOAH, another place for us to be. I always call it like "Hey, can we be friends with all these people? Is this really gonna work?" but right now it seems to be working.

It's been a while since we've seen Impact physically over here in the UK, do you know if there's anything in the works for a return? 

I don't want to say, for sure, one way or the other. I think that that's in the works and a huge possibility, but I don't want to say "Yeah, for sure" because I don't want to speak out of school.

Slammiversary is coming up on 2nd July (US), can you let us in on any of the current plans for the event? 

I hate to spoil the end of the movie! We've just got back from filming a bunch of great TV and we've still got some filming coming up in India before we get to Slammiversary. When someone had told me what some of the ideas were for Slammiversary my eyes got super-wide and I said "Man, this is gonna be an incredible show". I know everyone saw on YouTube, it did almost a 100k views in less than a few days, Scott Steiner returned, I know he'll have something to do with Slammiversary. It's gonna be a lot of fun. We need to have that big summer bash, big summer show, a big party on July 2nd at Universal Studios in Orlando. 

Do you think there is space to perhaps do more PPV content? 

PPVs, to me, are, kind of, antiquated. We do the monthly One Night Only series and you have the big Bound For Glory and Slammiversary, I think those book mark PPVs are good, but monthly PPVs...I don't know. I guess it depends on the price point and that's a whole different conversation. 

We've seen a lot of new faces in the Impact Zone recently, which of the recent signings have impressed you most? 

Source - Instagram/dezmondxavier

Almost all of them. Garza Jr. and Laredo Kid, I think they're great. I love Reno Scum, it's unfortunate that Adam Thornstowe went down with an injury recently, but I know he'll be back and better than ever. I think those guys are really good. Dezmond Xavier, he was in the Six Man match on the live show, the first show on Spike UK, he's awesome. Low Ki's back, Sonjay Dutt is back, so I just think it benefits us, it's feel good and if you turn on the TV you're going to see people you don't know, but if you stick around you're going to see people who impress you. Dezmond Xavier, I never say "Hello" to anybody and I went out of my way to talk to him after he competed in that match. 

When it comes to the taping blocks in Orlando, what's an average week like and what's your role in putting the show together? 

I'm involved in every aspect of this company, except for the creative process. Digital and all sorts of other things, but the creative process, those guys know what they're doing, so I'm not involved in that. So, when I get to TV it's a lot of work as it relates to generating content for digital, because we're only with these guys for a short amount of time and some of these people we won't get to see until Slammiversary. It was just grinding work, but it's really worth it in the end. The good thing in that other company, they're together every week, so if you miss something on Tuesday, you're going to be with them again on Monday. We don't have that luxury, we're with our guys until we're not and then we don't see them for a while. So it's a chore, but it's plan, plan, plan, but we're going to have success when we get there. 

You mentioned the "other company", what's the difference between announcing for them and announcing for Impact? 

Just freedom. Not being worried. My biggest thing up there was worrying that I was going to saying something that I was going to get yelled at for. I didn't mind getting yelled at, it was the deal that you didn't know what you were going to get yelled at for. One day it's blue, the next day it's red. It was like just an unknown. I remember everything that Vince McMahon ever told me, as it relates to commentary, everything, Kevin Dunn as well. I never forgot those lessons that they gave me. But sometimes those lessons, not from Kevin, but from Vince, they would change. It got, not frustrating, because you want to make them happy because you work for them and that's how I felt when I was there. I felt that I delivered, but whatever transpired there, it is what it is. 

The real difference is freedom. Down here, if I get a talent over, I get over. If get a talent to the next level, I get to the next level. That's the way I look at all of this stuff. If I'm going about it a different way than you're used to as a fan and you think that I'm being selfish and you think that I'm making it about me, then you're not seeing the big picture...which is fine. 

You've worked with a variety of partners of the years, if you could work with anyone, whether that be inside or outside of the business, who would you like to work with? 

You guys probably don't know him, his name is Kirk Herbstreit, he works for ESPN. I think he's the most phenomenal colour analyst in sports today, I think he's really really good. 

Where do you see yourself in five years time, professionally? 

I'm a forward thinker, I have a lot of things going on, in and outside of the wrestling business, in the entertainment industry...I keep those things close to the vest. I love where our entertainment field is going, in the sense of social media and digital media and what can you do for me outside of the TV shows. That's where my brain goes. Five years from now, I don't know where I'm going to be five minutes from now. 

Can we expect even more digital content from Impact going forward? 

I'm looking at our calendar right now. On Tuesday we do The Question Mark, on Wednesday's you have Around the Ring, Thursday - Impact in 60 with all the clips, Friday - the new show with my wife, Madison Rayne and I, called With This Ring. I'm sitting here waiting to click send on something called Allie's World, where Allie has her YouTube channel, she's going to have her first look on her channel and we're going to have an Allie's World playlist and in a few minutes you'll see a tweet that's going to talk about that. Maybe that will be get more talent to create their own content and you're really going to get an inside look at the lives of our amazing roster. It's opportunity to have these guys, they all go home and they all have iphones and they have a lot of down time to get in front of the camera. They're the stars, they're the ones who are driving this vehicle. So we'll see what can happen with these people who are all super talented.

A big thanks to Josh for taking the time to speak with us and we wish him all the best going forward. You can find him online here

Twitter - @RealJoshMathews
Instagram - JoshMathews

Hear Josh announce alongside Jeremy Borash and Da Pope on Impact Wrestling on Spike TV (UK) Friday's at 9pm (Freeview/TalkTalk/BT TV - 31, Sky - 160, Freesat - 141, Virgin Media - 154) In the US you'll find him on Pop TV, Thursdays at 8/7c. 

Thanks to Impact Wrestling, as well as Si Rothstein and Lauren Soar, for allowing this interview to take place.

Twitter - @ATPWrestling Facebook - /acrossthepondwrestling Instagram - @ATPWrestling


Thursday, 27 April 2017

WWE NXT #245 Review (Aired 26/04/2017)

On the 26th April, WWE aired the 245th episode of NXT, taped at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida on 5th April. Now that we've tied up all the loose ends of the previous era, we can move into a new one for NXT one with more than one women's story happening! This week's main event saw the two-time Futureshock Champion Jack Gallagher get his shot at Tyler Bate's United Kingdom Championship. The show also featured, Andrade Almas, Drew McIntyre, Ruby Riot, Nicky Cross, Aleister Black and the first part of the answer to the question 'Who is Roderick Strong?' Let's see what delights NXT had for us this week. 

Cross & Riot Throw Down

We open on a wild segment when Nikki Cross calls out Ruby Riot, Ruby doesn't back down, so they try to beat the piss out of each other. What follows is a brawl outside of the ring where the two of them beat quite a lot of the piss out of each other. This segment did more to showcase Nikki Cross as a competitor than any number of squash matches have with special notice being given given to her jumping off the ringsteps onto Riot to deliver a Sleeper Hold. After a sufficient amount of piss had been beaten the two women were separated. Good stuff that made Cross look insane and dangerous and held up Riot's never-say-die Babyface attitude.
  • Kayla Braxton is talked to Bobby Roode about him going to sleep in the ring last week. He says that if Hideo Itami wants a shot at the title, in his NXT you have to earn it.

McIntyre def. Almas

This wasn't great. I'm not sure if they've started turning down the crowds or if they just weren't into the show tonight on the whole but there was a subdued feeling to the whole affair. Almas seemed at first like he was a man setting out to cause an upset by hitting strikes on McIntyre all over the place but then McIntyre remembered he was a big lad and doesn't need to sell for Con Hilo Midgets, he got up, hit a powerslam and a big boot (now called The Claymore?) for the win. Almas seems to be partially sleep-walking through his role as new Jobber-in-chief and McIntyre was if anything less engaged. At most I will say that McIntyre is begin made to look like a threat so that's good. McIntyre ends the match atop the ropes pec-pumping, what a treat.
  • William Regal confirms Ruby Riot vs Nicky Cross for later tonight. Looking forward to those two wrestling a nice, clean match with no shenanigans.

Who Is Strong - Part1

It tells you something about wrestling that in few other media would you have a segment months after the first appearance of a character having to outright explain 'Who is Roderick Strong?' The package itself (or at least pt.1) was surprisingly powerful work, as someone who new nothing of Strong's story, to find out about his parent's substance issues and that his Mom shot his Dad, well, yeah, powerful stuff. It's a welcome return to the style of packages like those about Finn Balor & Apollo Crews that did more to confirm there is a person behind the character than just attempting to sell the threat of the person.

Black def. Reeves

Black's entrance is longer than the match. Quick squash mate. Black looked like a murderer. Good stuff.
  • Christy St. Cloud interviews Ruby Riot backstage. She says that she doesn't like the enforced doctrine of ideals of SaNItY and is going to show Nicki her way of doing things. Agreement on being an opposition but disagreement on quite how that opposition should be formed, I never expected this story to become a metaphor for divisions in the Labour Party.
  • Kayla something tries to interview Almas about getting kicked in the head by McIntyre but he wants to go party with some lady-friends. He offers for Kayla to come to. Lad.

Riot v Cross Never Officially Started

Shenanigans happen, Nicki attacks Ruby during her entrance and yet more piss is beaten out of the two of them. This time round, it was Riot's chance to be the controlling aggressor. It's worth saying that these two quite cleverly kept their previous fight to ringside allowing this one to spill out onto the ramp and further with lots of lovely moments like a brutal Suplex on the ramp and later a Crossbody off the stage by Riot. Cross continued to showcase her no nonsense character by doing nothing flashy but showcasing some nasty, vindictive striking. Somehow in these two segments, these two have done more to sell their feud than pretty much any non-title women's story in recent memory. The final image of this as the two women are literally carried a man to a limb apart was oddly humourous but very appropriate.

  • William Regal tells Asuka that next week there is to be a Number One Contender's Battle Royal for her title because Ruby and Nicky couldn't even make it to the ring to settle their differences. Asuka has a confident snort. Pride before a fall per'aps...

Bate def. Gallagher to retain WWE United Kingdom Championship

This was for the most part, a very pretty technical match with lots of different locks and holds being traded between the two men with Gallagher playing the controller for a large portion of the encounter. While a match like this could have encountered a lot of boredom from the audience, they seemed to actually get into it, popping for monkey-flip sustained Wristlocks, Jim Breaks Specials and trading Leverage Pins. The story of Gallagher as the underestimated 'comedy' wrestler trying to school the younger Bate allowed for some interesting development but sadly for these two, there was almost a feeling that the match didn't stop being 'gentlemanly' for the longest time. It never felt like Bate was treating Gallagher as a threat until a suicide dive was interrupted by a big Headbutt on the outside and then another inside the ring. The best moment of the match came late in it when Tyler would pick up Gallagher for a Stalling Suplex only for Jack to reverse into a Jim Breaks only for Tyler to finish off the Suplex. Eventually, Bate would hit a Rolling Heel Kick and the Tyler Driver '97 for the pin. Very crisp, technical work with an interesting narrative but undermined by a lack of animosity. If nothing else, worth watching for a bridging German Suplex where Tyler seems to hate his own spine. Wolfie, Mandrews, Peter and Trent were watching on, delivering me the photo I now want to end all articles with.


NXT continues to go strength-to-strength building up multiple contenders to both of their singles titles in the form of Itami, Strong, Black, McIntyre, Young & Dain for the Mens and Moon, Cross, Riot, Royce & Kay for the Womens, though it must be acknowledged that beyond #DIY, I can't see any real Contenders in the Tag Division and in an episode without any focus on said division, it seems neither do WWE. On a pure in-ring basis, the only match worth a watch is the Main Event but the episode more than justified itself between the Riot-Cross interactions and a fantastic video for Strong. Hopefully NXT can continue this positive build as it heads towards Takeover: Chicago.

ATPW Scale Rating: 5.5/10

Review: Jozef Raczka

Twitter - @ATPWrestling Facebook - /acrossthepondwrestling Instagram - @ATPWrestling

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Dead Man No More

Mark Calaway is going to be just fine but The Undertaker is no more. Rather than mourn a death, let’s celebrate a legacy like no other.

WrestleMania is best regarded as a collection of moments, snapshots of superstars that will last an eternity. Whilst the Cena proposal and the return of the Hardys were worthy entries into the canon of WWE history, no moment will linger in the mind longer than that which closed the night. After The Undertaker slowly laid his iconic hat and gloves on the mat, he kissed his wife at ringside before fading to black, bringing the curtain down on a legendary career. Rumours of one more match were quick to circulate but this really felt like Mark Calaway’s exit from the game, an old school ending for an old school performer. The match was unspectacular, at times sloppy, but sometimes star ratings and work-rate don’t really matter. This was history in the making, the Undertaker’s last stand, a passing of the torch, and it was the right way to call time on one of the greatest runs this business has ever known.

It is no exaggeration to say that the Undertaker has been a near constant presence in my life, a supernatural extra that I could depend on to be a welcome distraction from the realities of school and later, career. Even before my parents signed up to Sky TV, enabling me to throw myself head-first into the world of the WWF, I already knew who Taker was. I saw his image in sticker books and magazines that my friends brought into primary school; I heard all about his haunting entrance and the whispered possibilities that he was really dead (#kayfabe); so enamoured was my brother with this fantastic character that he poured his pocket money into the purchase of the Hasbro figure, a big commitment for a kid who had never even watched a wrestling match at this point of his life. So when I finally got to watch the WWF in 1994 and saw the Undertaker wrestle for the first time, it was a big deal for me. And to be able to watch him for the entire 23 years of my wrestling fandom has been a real privilege.

In terms of his legacy, he will be forever woven into the history of both the company and the sport: an icon that could not be defined by conventional metrics like box office and merchandise sales. In pure business terms, the Mount Rushmore of the WWF/E is Sammartino, Hogan, Austin, Rock and Cena. The Undertaker, like Andre the Giant, occupies a special sphere distinct from this group; if Bruno and company represent the Presidents and Popes of history, mighty men that hold positions of power and respect, Taker and Andre are more than mere men- they are Gods that command pure reverence. Their exploits are not road stories to be dished on a podcast; they are myths to be passed on to future generations.

The high points of Taker’s legacy are obvious: his WrestleMania streak will forever be one of the greatest ongoing stories in company history; his match with Shawn Michaels in 2009 was, for my money, the best match ever witnessed in the WWF/E ; he will be forever synonymous with the Hell in a Cell (bouts with Michaels, Foley and Triple H were classics for wildly contrasting reasons); his entrance, from the ominous theme song to the slow, measured walk will never be surpassed in terms of atmosphere and spectacle. But there are other moments that deserve recognition, matches, feuds and angles that have been afforded less attention yet demand repeat viewing as we accept his retirement and celebrate what was, without cliche, a once in a lifetime career. Thank you Taker.

The Matches

Modern fans looking for Taker matches of old should scour the WWE Network for these forgotten beauties… a WWF title match with Bret Hart at SummerSlam 97 is firmly in the top 10 of both men’s careers and has a finish to die for. The heat seeps through the screen… In 2002, after a couple of rough years, Taker got his mojo back: his match with Lesnar at No Mercy 2002 is great, gimmicky fun, with blood aplenty. Even Heyman gets colour… In 2003, Taker had his only PPV match with John Cena at Vengeance: the bout is far from a classic but as it’s the only time we’ll ever see that combination, it has historic value… His World title match with Kurt Angle from No Way Out 2006 has to be seen to be believed… A last man standing match with The Big Show from Cyber Sunday 2008 generates an incredible amount of drama and is far more engaging than anyone would have thought possible.

The Definitive Feud

When debating Taker’s most iconic feuds, the names of Mick Foley, Shawn Michaels, Kane and Brock Lesnar are often raised. Surprisingly few fans instantly refer to the Deadman’s prolonged 1998/99 programme with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin: a conflict that is one of my own personal favourites. With Vince McMahon limiting his in-ring appearances, Taker was chosen to be the foil to Austin for large portions of the Attitude Era and their chemistry was fantastic as they told a tale based on whether the Rattlesnake could trust the possibly corrupt Phenom (spoiler: he couldn’t). This was one of the better drawing programmes of Taker’s career, with the SummerSlam 98 card that they headlined securing 700,000 PPV buys, making it the highest performing  SummerSlam of all time. The story lost momentum and became convoluted with the formation of the Corporate Ministry (although that theme song was one hell of a mash up) but the culmination of a first blood match at Fully Loaded July 1999 was brutal, gory entertainment.

The Bits Best Forgotten

Even legends have some moments that they would like to forget… It’s fair to say that the early years of the Undertaker didn’t throw up too many classics. Nothing was as bad as his 1993 brace of matches with Giant Gonzalez… well, at least until his 2006 feud with The Great Khali. Now admittedly, Khali’s selfie game is strong but he was such a limited performer that it’s astonishing that he wasn’t only booked to beat the Undertaker at Judgement Day- he was booked to absolutely squash him… His 1994 match with the imposter Undertaker at SummerSlam was an interesting idea but wasn’t executed brilliantly. Even Leslie Neilson couldn’t save it…On an episode of RAW in the summer of 1999, Taker told a story about having dumped The Big Show in the desert a few days prior. Fortunately, Show still made TV, walking to the arena with brand new snake skin boots. This was weird…A feud with DDP could have been something but Taker gave the Hall of Famer absolutely nothing in their brief series… The Undertaker once forced Jim Ross’ face into Vince McMahon’s bare naked arse.

 No wonder he felt like he owed JR a gig at this year’s Mania!

Twitter - @ATPWrestling 
Instagram - @ATPWrestling

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Greg Lambert Interview - Ropes and Glory: The Emotional Rise of British Wrestling

At the end of last month, ATPW had the pleasure of talking to Greg Lambert, known for his work as a manager, commentator, promoter and Master of Ceremonies across the UK for the likes of PCW, RQW, FWA, Southside, IPW:UK and others. With Greg's new book Ropes and Glory: The Emotional Rise of British Wrestling, a sequel to Holy Grail: The True Story of British Wrestling's Revival out now, there couldn't have been a better time to speak to the 15 year veteran of the Brit Wres scene. 

ATPW - Tell us a little bit about Ropes and Glory, what's it about and what can people learn from reading it? 

Greg Lambert - It's about the last ten years of British wrestling history, through my own eyes and my experiences. Things that I've been involved in as a promoter or a commentator or a manager on the UK wrestling scene and also things that I've experienced by going to shows and also watching on the telly. Things that I've been aware through studying the British scene. It's the journey from 2007 to where we are now. British wrestling has never, it's just never ever been as good as it is now. Even back in the glory days of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks, it's never had the attention and received the opportunities that we have now. So, it's the journey of where it was ten years ago, through the triumph and the tragedies along the way, to the return to British terrestrial TV with an episodic series.. It's amazing.  

When did you begin work on the sequel? 

Straight after the first book came out. Holy Grail: The True Story of British Wrestling's Revival was the first book and that was really picking up the story from the World of Sport era up to about 2007, but mainly focused on the FWA, which is the promotion even now that I'm most synonymous with. Straight after that came out in November 2012, I went on a book signing tour. Some of the material in this book is from when I was on that tour, that was the first time I went to an ICW show for example, going to PROGRESS Wrestling for the first time, as well. A lot of research spans from back then. 

How else did you go about collating the material and writing up the book in general? 

I think I'm blessed with a really good memory, I think that helps. I've got a pretty good memory for dates, but I've also got a book, which every show I've worked on I've kept a list of where the show was, the date of the show, matches on the show. So that's a good reference and some of it comes from the internet as well. There's a lot of interviews as well, with some of the top names in British wrestling. So you're getting their memories, their perceptions of what's happened over the last ten years. The likes of Rockstar Spud, Drew Galloway, Rampage Brown, Noam Dar... So it's not just my narrative, there's different opinions. 

The Foreword is written by Rockstar Spud, what do you feel was Spud's importance to the book and to the scene as a whole around this time? 

I'm extremely grateful to Spud for taking the time to write the foreword, because I really wanted him to do it, because he's one of my favourite people and favourite performers in British wrestling for the past ten years. The significance is I think Spud broke the mould for a lot of British wrestlers who aren't the stereotypical size, they aren't the stereotypical look, that you would associate with becoming an international star. There's been people like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and Randy Savage, who came before and broke the mould for lighterweight wrestlers, but when Spud started out in the FWA in 2004, he was a different level of not looking like a wrestler. He worked on the body, he worked on the performance skills, he working on everything to the point where he became a champion with my promotion, the XWA, as it was. How Spud became the champion and the story, how he evolved from then and how he did in the second coming of the FWA and then to get to British BootCamp and to end up with TNA. That's a great achievement, he basically knocked the door down for a lot of British wrestlers to become stars in America, because he wasn't supposed to do it. He was never supposed to do it. He was told "You'll never make it, you're too this, you're too that" and he just didn't take no for an answer. He preserved and through brains and talent and drive, he made it. I think he set a great example for others.

You mentioned earlier that about the numerous interviews that you conducted for the book, did you discover anything new from participating in these? 

Lots of things. Rampage's interview sticks in my head, as you read the book you'll discover a lot about Rampage Brown, his mentality as a professional wrestler and how it was for him going over to America as a young man and being a part of WWE developmental, before it became NXT. He was there with Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, but he struggled over there to make any kind of an impact and he talks very candidly about that. He also talks very candidly about his experience on British BootCamp 2, which surprised me, some of the things that he said about that. I think a lot of people that read Rampage's thoughts will find those quite eye-opening. 

Dave Rayne is interviewed for the book. People will know Dave as the former promoter of FutureShock Wrestling and his role in PCW, predominantly, but I think people will get a different opinion of Dave when they read the contributions that he makes to the book. What an intelligent and quite emotionally sensitive guy he is, but also very clued up on wrestling as a whole. That's how I know him, but I think a lot of people will see a side of Dave that they may not have seen before. 

Also, Alex Shane. With the Second Coming of the FWA, which in itself is a great story, which is written out in a lot of detail. I think people will be really interested to read what he has to say about that. I think that people's perception of Alex, who can be quite a polarising figure, people's perceptions might change, for the better.

Greg, you've had numerous roles in pro wrestling over the years, but what brings you the most enjoyment professionally? 

Good question! Still booking, I would say. I've just started again, doing some storyline writing for PCW and I think when things go to plan and seeing an audience react, the way you want them to react and you see performers execute your vision, I don't think there's anything greater. I've never experienced anything greater. 

Commentary I'm really enjoying at the moment, really really enjoying, the commentary side of things. I did the Five Star Wrestling show in January on Spike, which was an incredible moment, personally and professionally, because it was the first live broadcast by a British-based wrestling company on UK television in almost fifty years. To be able to work with an incredible television company, the production people too, because they were really top level people that I was working with. The director was a guy who worked on World Cup Football, World Cup Rugby and some big big fights. To work with that level of people was great. To work with some of the wrestlers as well, some of the biggest names in the industry today likes Rey Mysterio, Drew Galloway, that was just incredible. It's great to commentate for PCW as well, being doing that for five years now, PCW is still a great promotion to work for. Lots of exciting things coming up. 

Within the book, you reveal a list of instructions you try to stick by as a booker, why do you think they are so important when writing and booking pro wrestling? 

I think, they're more reminders really. It's very easy when you're booking to lose sight of the big picture, so it's quite handy to have these guidelines in the back of my mind. Which I can always go back to and refer to. They do work. I've got numerous example of them working, but the main one I think is what the book is all about, the book is an emotional rollercoaster and done right booking should be an emotional rollercoaster. The quote by Dusty Rhodes that I talk about in the book "Wrestling is built on emotion" that's my mantra for booking and I think that's very much the mantra of the book as well. 

As a viewer, I certainly prefer to watch pro wrestling that has a clear vision. 

Yeah, I think this year's WrestleMania, you can tell, that they've got a much clearer vision, than they did last year. Every match seems to have been built up over time, with a purpose and you can kind of see where they are going, but some of the results of the matches are in doubt as well, which I think is great. Despite the fact you've got that clear direction, there's still a bit of uncertainty about which way they're going, but everything's logical and makes sense and that's what wrestling should be, I think. 

You've worked with a variety of performers throughout your career, from big international stars to young kids getting their first break. Is there anyone in professional wrestling that you'd like to work with, that you haven't got the chance to just yet? 

That's a good question! Yeah, loads of people actually I think. On the British wrestling scene, there's a young lad down south, who I really really rate, he's like the new Spud, a guy called Sid Scala. I love the character, I love his passion, he's a protege of Barry Charalambous, who was also a mentor to Spud and a lot other guys as well. You can see Barry's influence in Sid, because like Spud, he knows the value in cutting a promo, of making sure people remember him. It's not always about having the best wrestling match, it's about making sure that you're remembered and Sid does that. From a British perspective, I think he'd be a great person to work with.

I think if you read the book, you'll see the respect that I have for Mark Dallas as a promoter. I get on very well with Mark, I think he's great guy and I love his ethos for ICW. I love everything about ICW, in fact Scottish wrestling as a whole. It really does have a special place in my heart, the Scottish wrestling scene. I have a lot of respect for Mark. We're not the same in a lot of ways, but I think in terms of our theories of wrestling, there's a lot of parallels. It would be nice to do something with Mark at some point. 

I nearly had the opportunity to work with Kurt Angle, with Five Star Wrestling, but that fell through because he signed on to do WWE Hall of Fame. Which is great, absolutely great and well deserved. I didn't mind in the end, because I ended up commentating with Joe Hendry and Joe Hendry is a guy I really rate and respect and is thoroughly talented and enthusiastic. When you get the opportunity to work with a guy on Kurt Angle's level, it's a big deal and I still hope I get to work with Kurt in the future. 

In the first book, The Holy Grail, the Holy Grail was British wrestling returning to television, since then British wrestling has exploded and has indeed returned to television with WOS Wrestling, Five Star and WWE UK (depending on your definition of TV), what's that been like for you personally? To see British wrestling return to the big time? 

It's had me on the verge of tears, quite a few times, to be honest with you. Not miserable tears, the opposite. It's tremendous. I can't really put it into words. All I can really say about it is that when I started with FWA, when I worked closely with Alex Shane, that was always Alex's vision. Talk Wrestling, the TalkSport Radio show, it was always the vision. When you've worked closely with someone like him, bought into the vision and worked hard to bring the vision about...and in later years, there's other people who've taken up the baton and brought that vision forward and to the next level. I think when you've been involved for as long as I have and worked with the people that I have and seen them struggling and when you've done shows in front of 25 people and you've seen shows cancelled because you've not sold enough tickets and you've seen things go wrong and when you've seen terrible things happen...that when you get to this level, you're bound to be emotional about it. 

When the World of Sport special was on on New Year's Eve, it was quite something for me, as it was for everybody who has been involved in that struggle for years and years and years.

I think that's the real power of wrestling, that not only does it effect those outside the business, but it can have such a profound effect on someone like yourself. 

Yeah, it is. Done right, it's an incredible artform. It's so difficult to explain. One of the hardest things I find about wrestling is trying to explain it to non-fans, who just don't get it at all and in the end, it's not worth it. People are either going to get it or they're not. But those that do get it, there are a lot of us and it's really nice to share experiences like that. To share the same mentality with such a big group of people.

Do you have any future project lined up at the moment? What's next for Greg Lambert? 

I'll be at PCW, I'm still commentating for them, I'm doing the booking for the main shows and in regards to Five Star Wrestling, I'd expect an announcement soon. 

A special thanks to Greg Lambert for taking the time to speak to us. We'll have a full review of Ropes and Glory: The Emotional Rise of British Wrestling on soon. You can purchase your copy now, either in Paperback or on Kindle from Amazon and Lulu.

You can find more about Greg and Ropes and Glory here. 

Twitter - @RopesandGlory
Facebook - Greg Lambert - Wrestling

Interviewer - James Marston 

Twitter - @ATPWrestling 
Instagram - @ATPWrestling

Thursday, 20 April 2017

WWE SmackDown Live #922 Review (Aired - 18th April 2017)

For the first time in seven years, WWE aired an event for Louisville, Kentucky as the 922nd episode of SmackDown came from the KFC Yum! Center. The main event would see Dolph Ziggler, Sami Zayn, Luke Harper, Erick Rowan, Mojo Rawley and Jinder Mahal (supposedly chosen by a random draw of some kind) battle in a Six Pack Challenge for a shot at Randy Orton's WWE Championship at Backlash on 21st May. Elsewhere the show featured AJ Styles, United States Champion Kevin Owens, Charlotte Flair, Baron Corbin and SmackDown Women's Champion Naomi in major slots on the card, but was it any good? Lets take a look. 

- SmackDown kicked off with Charlotte Flair demanding a title shot, because she was "fastly getting furious" with Shane McMahon. After SmackDown Women's Champion Naomi came out and got into a bit of a scrap with Flair, McMahon booked a match for later on where if Flair got the victory she'd earn a title match next week. 

- Backstage, Natalya, Carmella (with James Ellsworth) and Tamina were upset with Shane McMahon for offering Flair an opportunity, when McMahon no sold their displeasure, Natalya said she had a plan. 

Mahal def. Zayn, Ziggler, Harper, Rowan and Rawley in a Six Pack Challenge to become #1 Contender to WWE Championship 

Okay, so Jinder Mahal is Number One contender to the WWE Championship. He pinned Sami Zayn to earn himself his first title match since he challenged Seth Rollins for the NXT Championship in 2012, with a little help from the Bollywood Boyz. Wrestling in 2017 feels like we've shunted onto some weird alternative timeline and there's no way of getting off. Whilst the match appeared to be completely randomly chucked together, with their only being arguments for Rawley or Zayn to be included (at least based of recent results), as a spectacle the match was a damn entertaining affair. There was plenty of big spots that made the most of the bodies in the bout, including multiple suicide dives from Harper, Rowan powerbombing Ziggler to the outside as well as Zayn hitting a tope conhilo on Harper and following up with an Arabian Press to Rowan. In isolation, there wasn't much wrong with this other than awkward slam thing by Rawley, but I can't help but mark it down for having no explanation why any of these lads were given the opportunity to fight for a title shot. It's something different, but could have been propped up with some more logical booking. 

- Following Mahal's big win, he cut a little promo about how he was going to prove himself, before WWE Champion Randy Orton slowly walked to the ring to confront his new challenger. The segment concluded with another Bray Wyatt promo on the screen, going over similar ground as his one on RAW and still not cluing us up to what a House of Horrors match actually is. 

- A short vignette on Shinsuke Nakamura aired, with a couple of former NXT superstars putting him over. 

- Baron Corbin crashed a Renee Young interview with AJ Styles, leading to a match between the two being booked as the main event. 

- It turned out that Natayla's plan was to bump in Charlotte Flair as she walked past her in the hallway, great work Natty. 

Flair def. Naomi 

A feel with a little build, Flair v Naomi could have been electric on a PPV, considering how both have been presented on RAW and SmackDown since the Draft last summer and whilst we still got a pretty good match between the two here, it was a shame to see it thrown out there. With the two having a title match next week, I worry that WWE is already overexposing Flair in a similar way to how she ended up having WAY to many TV matches with Sasha Banks and Bayley on Monday nights. Inside the ring the two mesh together nicely, being able to match each other athletically and both bringing the fight and building the intensity when necessary. The back and forth chop and kick battle was very cool, as was Naomi's fire-up sequence and whilst some of the ideas didn't always come out looking as good as they could have (rana to the outside, Naomi's stunner thing) the two always seemed capable of recovering. The finish with Charlotte blocking the Rear View with a big boot to the back, before hitting Natural Selection, was nicely done, even if it felt a little more like a near fall than the actual ending. Naomi and Charlotte have a lot of potential together and once they're more familiar and cripsen up in the ring I'd expect an outing a few notches above this. Whether we see that next week or not, I'm not sure. 

- More awkwardness between Charlotte Flair and the odd group of rivals, Natalya, Carmella and Tamina. 

- The Colons (formerly known as The Shining Stars) won a quick match over American Alpha with a distraction finish. The bout did more for Epico & Primo than their entire run on RAW, but having them beat Gable & Jordan so quickly was a little disappointing.

- A vignette of Lana dancing around a chair on the entrance ramp aired, she's coming soon.

- The jumpy Dasha Fuentes spoke with Tye Dillinger, who introduce a video package about himself, which was nice of him. 

- Kevin Owens cuts a promo about being the Face of America, ahead of the first Face of America Open Challenge.

- Kevin Owens def. Gary Gandy in thirty seconds, with Gandy almost completely botching a Pop-Up Powerbomb. 

- Kevin Owens cut another promo about being the Face of America and joined the commentary team for the main event. 

Austin Aries welcomed viewers to watch 205 Live after SmackDown on the WWE Network. 

Styles def. Corbin via countout

Completing a trio of top quality TV matches, AJ Styles and Baron Corbin closed the show off with a physical battle, that saw The Lone Wolf more than hold his own alongside the company's 2016 MVP. The two worked a classic power v speed, brawler v wrestler, type contest with Corbin initially being able to keep up with Styles' pace and absolutely dominating the former WWE Champion, dropping Styles on the apron from a Fireman's carry position as well throwing AJ under the bottom rope and into the big thick ringpost. Just as Corbin showed he could match Styles for pace, we later saw that Styles could brawl like Corbin, as The Phenomenal threw a series of big strikes that resulted in a near fall. The presentation of both men as equally proficient at mixing it up in different styles could have really came into it's own later on in a longer match. After Styles found himself back body dropped onto Kevin Owens on commentary, the finish was a signal to just how high WWE are on Baron Corbin right now as Styles won by countout after sending The Lone Wolf over the barricade with a Phenomenal Forearm. Corbin really wouldn't have been hurt by losing to Styles by pinfall, even falling clean to a Styles Clash or Phenomenal Forearm, so the fact that WWE decided to have Corbin lose by countout goes a long way in showing just how big a star they feel big Baron could be. 

Finally...ATPW Scale Rating - 5.09/10

Three good TV matches and Jinder Mahal is #1 Contender to the WWE Championship. Is there much else I need to say here? 

Review - James Marston 

Twitter - @ATPWrestling 
Instagram - @ATPWrestling