SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Killer Kross Builds His Own Success
With the desert sun as his backdrop, Kevin Kesar contemplated his next move in wrestling.
It was last May, and as his run in Impact Wrestling was coming to an end. He could not shake the belief that there was more he could offer, that what he showed with his former employer would serve merely as his opening act. So Kesar—better known as Killer Kross—sat in his Las Vegas house and made a career-defining decision.
Kross decided to gamble on himself.
Surveying the wrestling landscape, Kross knew that the hottest star in the business was Jon Moxley, who had just defected from WWE a month prior to make an industry-jolting surprise appearance at AEW’s premiere pay-per-view.
So it was time for Kross to call out Jon Moxley, cut the promo of his life, and seize control of everyone’s attention.
A couple of complicating factors still stood in the way. First, Kross had no relationship whatsoever with Moxley. And second, he would need to write, finance, and publish the video himself—all challenges he embraced.
“I independently went out and basically filmed a trailer promo calling out Moxley,” said Kross. “I was very determined to showcase that I could do this, independently, on my own. Without any machine, without any company.”
The timing was sublime. Kross’ video hit the Internet in June, when speculation about Moxley’s future was running rampant. It made headlines, introduced Kross to a wider segment of wrestling fans and even got Moxley’s attention.
“Moxley saw it, he dug it, and he reached out to me,” said Kross. “We brawled at an FSW show in July, and we beat the living hell out of each other in our match in August. We had a blast, and it’s absolutely not going to be the last time that happens with the two of us.”
Kross became an unrestricted free agent in December, and he is expanding his reach this Saturday by making a highly anticipated debut in Philadelphia for Major League Wrestling.
MLW’s “Fightland” show takes place at the old ECW Arena, which is now known as 2300 Arena, and Kross is wrestling “Filthy” Tom Lawlor, a former UFC star who also had a memorable run as MLW champ.
“This is one of the most important cards in the history of MLW,” said Kross. “They’re constantly trying to outdo themselves every single time they have a show. It’s a great privilege to be part of this, and I’ll be bringing my very best game possible.”
WWE, and not MLW, had been widely assumed to be Kross’ next landing spot. But Kross denied a report that stated he met with Paul “Triple H” Levesque regarding a contract with WWE.
“I know that any sort of publicity is good publicity in the entertainment industry, but I have to be honest, it’s not true,” said Kross. “I wasn’t going to address it on the Internet—if you yell at every single dog barking, you’re going to lose your voice—but it’s not true, I never met with Paul Levesque. I would love to meet with him, but that didn’t happen. I don’t know where it came from, but there is crazy stuff all over the Internet.”
As for Kross’ immediate future, he is considering all options, both in the United States and abroad.
“I haven’t signed anything, anywhere,” said Kross. “New Japan Pro Wrestling is hotter than ever right now. If the conditions were sensible, I’d definitely be open to working with New Japan. I’d also be interested in working with Ring of Honor and AEW, as well as WWE. Those companies have an enormous amount of distribution globally. People can watch them all over the place.
“I don’t think there is a wrong choice in the matter. It’s really going to come down to what‘s offered to me, business-wise and creatively. I have to see what’s presented to make a confident choice, and I’m getting there.”
There were additional reports this past weekend following Kross’ AAW appearance that he is WWE-bound, but offered a firm denial, stating that he has yet to sign with any company. Kross did confirm that he is no longer taking independent bookings after February.
“I’m talking to different companies, which is something I’m not denying,” said Kross. “I am working on deciding my next destination. I’m looking to go in a larger direction soon, and it would be irresponsible to continue taking bookings in the event that I commit to one of these companies.”
Even with options readily available, Kross is not looking beyond this weekend, which begins this Saturday as he takes his talents to Major League Wrestling.
“Anyone really serious about this business should want to work with companies with a mindset like MLW,” said Kross. “I’ve been keeping an eye on MLW since the early stages of their development, and I’ve been extremely impressed by the amount of traction they’ve been able to garner through a lot of hard work to advance their brand forward.”
Working for MLW diversifies Kross’ wrestling portfolio, especially in a match against Tom Lawlor.
“There is so much authenticity and legitimacy in a match against Tom,” said Kross, who shared that Lawlor was among the first people he met upon breaking into wrestling. “That’s very difficult to come by in this era of pro wrestling, and the audience has really smartened up to what is and is not effective based on the rise of mixed martial arts. When people get in the ring with Tom, or if they’re watching him, they immediately see he’s legit.”
Legitimacy and authenticity are also part of Kross’ core values. He is a throwback, willing to put in the miles to enhance his name. His hard-hat mentality and eagerness to grind has served him well thus far in pro wrestling, as has devotion to a variety of elements—such as studying tape, learning the intricacies of diet science, and intense training and conditioning—that are turning him into a star.
“The more I put into what I love, the more I get out of it,” said Kross. “I applied that same philosophy to being a pro wrestler.
“And there is a great sense of urgency I have to be as successful as possible at this in expedited fashion. However, I don’t want to skip any of the steps. When you do that, you realize you missed a lot. I just take it day by day, and I get the most out of each day that I possibly can.”
Born and raised in New York, the 34-year-old Kross has lived a nomadic life, intertwining flawlessly with his choice to become a wrestler. He lived all across Canada for 20 years before moving to Nevada with the intention of becoming a pro wrestler. He learned the trade at Future Stars of Wrestling in Las Vegas, benefitting greatly from his background in mixed martial arts.
The Killer Kross character is also well defined, portraying a no-nonsense ass-kicker void of fear. That is a role that is familiar, as Kross made a living prior to wrestling as a private bodyguard, offering executive protection all over North America. The expectations in that field call for strength and intimidation, two qualities that have served him well in his transition to wrestling.
“I’m here in the sincerest manner possible,” said Kross. “What I’ve created is nothing anyone can steal. It is an individual presence. That is the most important element I’ll ever contribute to a pro wrestling company.
“I’ve always tried to work very hard to create an element that gives off a Coliseum vibe in my matches. I don’t have a playbook for it, but I’ve been very obsessed with recreating the nature of spectacle and sincerity.
Kross’ future is overflowing with possibility. He is grateful to have moved beyond his frustrations with Impact, which also extended to his girlfriend, Scarlett Bordeaux. Kross and Bordeaux each separately received their releases from the company.
“Respectfully, I am ready to turn the page on that chapter in my life,” said Kross, when asked why it was the right choice to exit Impact. “That’s the best way I can put it.”
Following her release from Impact, Bordeaux signed with WWE, leading to speculation that will be Kross’s next destination, too. Kross was asked why Impact—which, like any other pro wrestling company, is only one star away from bigger ratings and greater revenue—would release someone as dynamic as Bordeaux, a move that seems mystifying given her talent and presence.
“It’s not something I can comment on,” said Kross. “I will say this—she still has one of the highest viewed YouTube videos in AAA history. She’s going to be an asset anywhere she goes. She’s a natural performer, and everything happens for a reason. The reasons, I’d rather not get into.”
Kross can spit fire in his promos and work magic in the ring, two skills he promises will be self-evident to those who watch him work. And he is accomplishing success on his own, without the marketing machine of a top promotion behind him.
“I couldn’t wait for a company to put me on the map,” said Kross. “I knew I needed to be in control of my presentation, and find creative and authentic ways to engage people. Then, when a company wants to get behind me and put me on blast, they can put my entire brand and my fans into their machine. That’s how I can be an asset to a company, rather than building me from scratch.
“I’m very grateful for the people who got on board with me and stayed the course. What comes next is going to be something that everybody enjoys.”
Acquiring attention in pro wrestling is wildly difficult, but even more challenging is maintaining that attention. Kross is fortunate to have found a line of work that fulfills him, and it is even more fortuitous that his character reverberates throughout the industry’s fan base.
“Pro wrestling is an amazing creative output for me, and I get to share that with people,” said Kross. “I can’t wait to do it in Philly this Saturday against Tom Lawlor for MLW.”
AEW’s Jericho Cruise Move Pays Off
AEW filmed last week’s episode of Dynamite aboard Chris Jericho’s cruise, which was successful for a second consecutive year.
Jericho’s “Rock ‘N’ Wrestling Rager at Sea” has created a space in wrestling that otherwise did not exist, and it is not surprising that the ingenuity sprang from the mind of Jericho, who just announced that the cruise will be setting sail for a third time in February 2021.
“I’m not afraid to take a chance,” Jericho told Sports Illustrated earlier this month. “Trying something that doesn’t work is OK.”
His willingness to create comes from a combination of confidence, fearlessness, and success.
“It’s an interesting analogy, but I was hanging out with Bill Murray, and after everything he said, people laughed,” said Jericho. ”He’s got such a funny way of saying things that make people laugh. It’s like me with catchphrases.
“Like when I said ‘Casa grande’ on Dynamite. I heard from tons of people saying they wanted a ‘Casa grande’ shirt. Like, what? Some people are expecting everything I say to be a catchphrase and a t-shirt, even when it’s not supposed to be. I heard, ‘Casa grande! That’s a good one, Jericho! You’re a genius!’ It’s like, well, OK. People think I’m extra smart even when I’m not trying to be. It takes a while to get to that point, but once you get to that point, it’s pretty easy now because everyone knows what Jericho is all about. It’s like the ‘I got a ticket!’ shirt being a top seller for a week after I said it on Dynamite. I joke that everything I touch turns to gold, and that’s because I’m not afraid to take a chance.”
Jericho’s is working hard for his touch to rub off on AEW’s emerging talent, especially Jungle Boy, who Jericho believes is dripping with charisma.
“I know that I can get anything or anyone over, and that’s because I have the confidence/arrogance and know exactly how to do it,” said Jericho. “That comes from years of experience. It’s like a Robin Williams routine. Even if it falls flat, people are going to laugh because it’s Robin Williams. It’s the same with Chris Jericho with all these things I’m doing on Dynamite on a weekly basis.”
The (Online) Week in Wrestling
- The Royal Rumble was full of highlights and surprises, but none more emotional than the return of Adam “Edge” Copeland–and his encounter with Randy Orton was an extremely compelling, memorable finish to Raw.
- PWInsider’s Mike Johnson did a tremendous job over the past few months reporting Edge’s return, showing again why Mike has few peers in his line of work.
- Roman Reigns offered his perspective on the deaths of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and seven others who tragically lost their lives in a helicopter accident.
- Even without his custom-made title, Daniel Bryan remains “The Planet’s Champion.”
- WWE’s suspension of Andrade for violating the company wellness policy will last for 30 days, so he is still a possibility to work WrestleMania.
- “The Fiend” broke character with this kind tweet, which made me think: Is there a more interesting subject in all of wrestling than Bray Wyatt? He is the grandson of Blackjack Mulligan and son of Mike Rotunda, seemingly primed for this business from an early age, enjoyed a wildly successful rise to prominence as the leader of The Wyatt Family, endured a painful divorce; and he now, once again, sits atop the WWE.
- The video on John Morrison’s return, captured by WWE Chronicle, was outstanding–a major question for 2020 is whether WWE can capitalize upon his return.
- Cody Rhodes shared a tremendous anecdote from the 2008 Royal Rumble involving CM Punk and The Undertaker.
- As entertaining a show as the Royal Rumble was on Sunday, there was more going on behind the curtain.
- The Briscoes have re-upped with Ring of Honor, which is an important signing for ROH—and a blow to AEW, which could have used the pair to bolster its tag division.
- AEW won last week’s ratings battle against NXT despite airing a taped show, as the intrigue to watch Dynamite on Jericho’s cruise was too strong for NXT, even with a fantastic main event that saw Keith Lee take the North American title from Roderick Strong. AEW delivered its first-ever title change, as Kenny Omega and Hangman Page won the tag titles from SCU, wisely building toward their split for the Revolution pay-per-view in February.
- Kylie Rae wrote a profound post touching on her inner-battles.
- A rematch between Marty Scurll and Nick Aldis at April’s Crockett Cup would make for a fantastic main event, as well as the right spot to put the NWA world title on Scurl. Scurll made more waves on Monday with a New Japan appearance, challenging Jay White.
- Charlotte Flair won the women’s Rumble this past Sunday, but has yet to choose her opponent for WrestleMania 36… the last time a Flair won the Royal Rumble, it was her father, Ric, in 1992, and there was also debate about who he would face at ‘Mania.
Josh Briggs Main-Events Stellar Beyond Wrestling Show
Josh Briggs closed out Beyond Wrestling’s Please Come Back show Saturday in Foxborough, Mass., falling to Jake Something in the main event.
Briggs is a Beyond staple, but the “Please Come Back” concept—bringing in someone from outside of the company for a chance to showcase their abilities—meant a lot for him.
“I wrestled one of my closest friends in Curt Stallion at the last Please Come Back show, and it was really special to bring in Jake and see him get his first Beyond match,” said Briggs, who also stars for EVOLVE. Jake is another close buddy, so to get to main event was really cool.”
The 26-year-old Briggs is a versatile heavyweight, and his match with Something was a battle of two bigs with similarly powerful styles.
“That style is one I don’t get to work too often,” said Briggs. “A lot of people want to do the really explosive things nowadays, especially a lot of the big guys. So our match was unique. Every move and strike could finish the match. That was a really cool match for me, and I liked it a lot.”
The match did not offer the same intrigue as Kris Statlander did, who kept the crowd in suspense during her bout with TJ Crawford, and it certainly did not generate the incredible response from the crowd that electrified the venue as Orange Cassidy defeated Dan Champion, but it was two heavyweights working a bruising, pounding style. The 30-year-old Something, who works out of the Detroit market, had his hand raised to end the match, and extending that courtesy to his friend meant a lot to Briggs.
“Jake was the most deserving of people I could think of that hadn’t wrestled at Beyond,” said Briggs. “He’s been doing it for so long but hadn’t had this opportunity. He’s someone I’ve always really wanted to have a serious match with. Up in Maine at Limitless, we had some connection in a multi-man match. We just grooved really well together, and this opportunity to bring someone and elevate his career meant a lot to me.
“I’ve gotten to share a locker room with him a bunch of times, and we’ve been able to build a genuine connection. That doesn’t happen very often in wrestling. To give him an opportunity to come out East and wrestle for, what is in my opinion, the most prominent independent wrestling company in the world, that’s special to me.”
As for Briggs, he has only one goal for his own career moving forward.
“I have one goal, it’s to be considered the best wrestler on the planet,” said Briggs. “It’s always been a goal of mine to be considered one of the best, if not the best in an area. But I’m tired of hearing, ‘One of the best’ or ‘One of the best in New England’ or ‘One of the best in the North.’
“I want to be considered by the masses as the best in the world. I don’t know if that will take a year or six years, but that’s my goal.”
Conrad Thompson Previews This Week’s Edition of Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard
This Friday’s “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” goes back to the show’s beginning.
Conrad Thompson and Bruce Prichard will discuss the WWE debut of The Radicalz, who were comprised of Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit and Perry Saturn. The story is especially noteworthy because they all defected from WCW, and Benoit had just won the world title. But it is also the topic that led to the Something to Wrestle podcast.
“The whole podcast was based around this story,” said Thompson. “I’ll never forget, we were sitting on my couch in Huntsville, and I said to Bruce, ‘Hey man, what happened when The Radicalz jumped from WCW to the WWF?’ Bruce starting telling me this story, and about an hour later I said, ‘This is a podcast.’
“Bruce didn’t understand what I meant. He said you needed to have a guest on a podcast. I said, ‘No—what you just did is what wrestling fans want to hear every week, these are the stories they grew up on and want to know more about.’ So that’s when I started to press him to do a podcast. I don’t know if our podcast ever would have happened if he hadn’t told me that story.”
Thompson and Prichard will revisit the clandestine nature of the arrival of The Radicalz in WWE, look at the way in which Shane Douglas and Konnan were left out, and dissect the original plan—with Perry Saturn originally primed to be the biggest star of the group in WWE.
“It’s a remarkable story,” said Thompson. “Shane Douglas still probably has hurt feelings about it to this day, and the original episode caused quite a bit of animosity from Konnan to Bruce that they didn’t squash for the better part of a year. Everybody thought that Benoit was going to be the big act, but it ended up being Eddie Guerrero. But based on size, the company thought Perry Saturn would be the biggest star of all.”
There are so many layers in this story, with The Radicalz sitting in the crowd for their debut, and inexplicably losing some early matches. And there is so much to unpack with Benoit.
“Benoit is a guy who looked up to the Dynamite Kid, and became of the best performers in the business,” said Thompson. “He got a great vote of confidence from WCW when they put him in the Four Horseman, then overcame the ‘vanilla midget’ label to get into the main event. Along the way, life imitates art and he gets intertwined with Kevin Sullivan, who was the booker. Sullivan had just blurred the lines of reality with the whole Pillman story, a lot of people didn’t believe the relationship between Benoit and Nancy Sullivan. But it was very real, and WCW was in a very weird spot, especially with all the turnover with Bischoff in and out, and with Russo. And the guy who opened the door for everyone to leave was Mike Graham, who created an HR nightmare by sharing his feelings on the Kevin Sullivan situation.”
The Radicalz are part of one of the more unique situations in wrestling history, as well an integral piece in the creation of “Something to Wrestle.”
“This is the most critical episode in the history of my podcasting career,” said Thompson. “It will be a great companion piece to the first episode, and I’m excited to revisit it.”
Tweet of the Week
Though neither won, the Rumble belonged to the Copelands.