Week in Wrestling: How Conrad Thompson and Cody Rhodes Created Starrcast; Terry Funk Health Update
SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Starrcast offers unique experience to viewers
All In takes place this Saturday, but the festivities begin on Thursday with Starrcast.
Starrcast is the official convention partner for All In, offering an incredible lineup of events—including the “Monday Night War Debate” with Eric Bischoff and Bruce Prichard, a War Games retrospective, an interview with the NWO Wolfpac’s Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and Sean Waltman, and even “Story Time with the Young Bucks”—for those in-person and is also available to watch both live and on-demand on FITE TV.
The convention is the creation of Conrad Thompson, who pitched the idea this past January to Cody Rhodes.
“I am not a wrestling promoter, I’m a wrestling fan, and I felt like I had an idea of what wrestling fans wanted,” said Thompson, who is well-known for his podcasts with Bruce Prichard, Eric Bischoff, and Tony Schiavone. “I asked myself, what would I want to watch? What would I want to see? And I worked to put together a dream lineup.
“I swung for the fences, and tried to create what Cody calls the ‘Woodstock of Wrestling.’ Now it’s up to us to deliver, and I think we will.”
Thompson pitched a first-of-its-kind convention based around wrestling podcasts, and Rhodes was all in on the idea of building a home for such memorable experiences.
“I ran into Cody at the airport in Atlanta this past January when I was getting back from vacation and he was getting back from Wrestle Kingdom,” said Thompson. “I wasn’t sure it was him because he was sort of incognito, but I recognized Brandi. A few days went by, and he hit me with a DM saying, ‘Were you at international baggage claim?’ I told him I had an idea, and that’s when I started to pitch it.”
Thompson had wanted to have a wrestling podcast convention, and even thought he could make it work in 2017, but the dates never panned out. He was a longtime supporter of Greg Price’s NWA Legends Fanfest in Charlotte, and when that convention stopped running, Thompson saw an opportunity. When he learned of All In, the timing was right for Starrcast, fittingly named after Starrcade—an event created by Rhodes’ father, Dusty.
“Conrad is a fan and did not pretend to be a worker,” said Rhodes. “He wanted to service the fans and be our partner, versus just piggyback. I sat with him in person, and anybody who brings me Johnnie Walker Blue is a ‘Nightmare’ family guy. I have a genuinely good feeling about his future as a promoter and business partner in my world.”
Thompson, who is moderating the “Monday Night Wars Debate” on Thursday to kick off Starrcast, spared no expense in designing a series of events for fans that are both nostalgic and cutting edge.
“I always thought, ‘If I had a convention, here’s what I would do,’” said Thompson. “Now I actually have a convention, and I want to turn all of these ideas into reality. So we’ll have the ‘Eat and Greet’, you can call a match with a New Japan commentator, cut a promo with Sean Mooney, put on the Road Warriors’ spikes with Road Warrior Animal, and even put on a Ric Flair robe and have Tony Schiavone interview you on what looks like the old TBS set.”
Thompson even had fun with the wrestling-themed menu—a White Russian is called a Nikita, onion rings will transform into Onion Rings of Honor, crispy Omega Wings, and Joey Ryan’s Pulled Pork.
“We’ve put in a lot of attention to detail, which will really add to the overall experience,” said Thompson. “We’ve got Starrcast bottled water, Starrcast sharpies, Starrcast room keys, and the entire staff of the hotel will not be wearing Hyatt shirts, they’ll be wearing Starrcast shirts. Even our security is Atlas Security. If you’re a wrestling fan, you know those guys–they were in ECW, they were in TNA, and when the WWE relaunched ECW, they were there.
“It’s an immersive experience. When you walk through those doors, you’ll be entering the ultimate wrestling experience.”
Braun Strowman Set to Challenge Roman Reigns in Three Weeks at Hell in a Cell
Braun Strowman won’t be carrying the Money in the Bank briefcase around anymore.
Strowman decided on Raw this week to cash in his contract for a title shot against Universal champion Roman Reigns at Hell in a Cell in just three weeks on September 16.
Strowman wanted the match inside the ominous steel structure to avoid any interference from Reigns’ Shield partners in Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose (though a basic review of HIAC matches shows that outside interference is a fairly regular occurrence).
In an effort to ensure that Reigns is the match’s protagonist, Strowman teamed with Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre to beat down Reigns as Raw went off the air on Monday.
Every indicator I have received from WWE is that the company is looking to build a lengthy title reign for Reigns. It is highly unlikely that Strowman will win the title in September, so it will be especially interesting to see how the creative team pivots away from the Reigns-Strowman feud.
The next challenger for Reigns is likely to be McIntyre, who is a realistic opponent that can also deliver compelling matches. But what will WWE do to keep Strowman must-see, especially if he is a heel?
It will be interesting to see how Strowman is presented as a heel on next week’s Raw, as he will be teaming with Ziggler and McIntyre at WWE’s Super Show-Down show this October in Australia.
In other news...
• Terry Funk planned to be at both Starrcast and All In this weekend, but medical issues are preventing him from traveling.
“I was supposed to be on the All In show, but I can’t because of a problem with my abdominal hernia,” said Funk. “I’m not feeling too good. Am I going to feel better? I hope to hell I am. That’s a wish on my part.”
The 74-year-old wrestling legend has watched from afar with pride as Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks have created genuine interest—selling over 10,000 seats—for a non-WWE show.
Funk was close with Rhodes’ father, the late Dusty Rhodes, for over three decades.
“I think it’s wonderful that Cody is having success, and I was really looking forward to seeing him,” said Funk. “Cody and Dusty are similar in so many ways, but they’re different also. I’ve never met anyone like Dusty. He was loved by everyone and everybody. He was a phenomenal in-ring performer who understood the business, and that was passed on to Cody.
“Personally, I like to think I’m like my old man. I like to think I have the brains he did. I’d like to think Cody feels the same way, and he should because he does. Cody has evolved, he saw the light where no one else did.”
Wrestling is no longer the same territorial business that Funk once knew, but instead a global business led by a juggernaut in Vince McMahon’s WWE. Funk was always independent, and took pride in serving as one of wrestling’s final few mavericks. He believes that the Bucks and Cody are mavericks, like himself, but did encourage them—in his own way—to be safe about the decisions they make and the money they save after standing up to WWE with the All In show.
“Sometimes it’s great to have a backbone, but you’ve got to be careful,” said Funk. “Remember that sometimes, when you hurt your backbone, you can’t get it fixed because you don’t have enough money.”
Funk shared that, to him, the most fascinating aspect of the popularity surrounding All In is the people watching.
“Wrestling is eye-opening because it’s constantly changing,” said Funk. “What is it changing to? It’s changing to whatever turns that turnstile, and it’s evolving constantly. Who made wrestling what it is today? Not the wrestlers, they had no idea which way it was going to evolve. The fans themselves are the ones who direct the business. They decide. What you see at a wrestling show, what you’ll see at All In, is what the majority of the people want.”
All In is extremely significant, Funk added, because it signals that WWE is no longer the lone provider of sold-out shows with a great atmosphere.
“There is competition,” said Funk. “Let it be known. There is competition, and that’s what Cody is doing.”
• Raw and SmackDown both offered highlights, which featured Kevin Owens “quitting” and a memorable interaction and match between Daniel Bryan and Andrade Cien Almas.
Trish Stratus made her presence felt on Raw, Booker T also returned for a segment with the New Day on SmackDown, and Jeff Hardy made people catch their breath when he announced that he will be battling Randy Orton in the Hell in a Cell cage at the September pay per view.
The Bryan-Almas match served as a showcase for Almas, as Bryan was clearly willing to let the talented 28-year-old carry the match. The match was interrupted by The Miz (does anyone else find it infuriating when someone else’s entrance music plays in the middle of a match?), who caused the bout to end in a disqualification. All parties—Miz, Bryan, Brie Bella, Maryse, Zelina Vega, and The Miz—benefitted from the match, which was extremely well-executed, and the sight of Bella forced to watch Bryan is Miz’s Yes Lock was a very compelling moment.
As for Owens, the time could be perfect for a face turn. Owens working as a babyface would add a brand-new element to Raw, a show that sometimes feels as though we have already seen everything there is to see. Owens also plays a tremendous heel, which will be highlighted when he eventually returns to his villainous ways, but he generates emotion from the fanbase in a manner that would work as a protagonist.
• In the wrestling world outside of WWE, El Hijo del Fantasma lost his mask to L.A. Park at AAA’s TripleMania XXVI this past Saturday in Mexico City.
Fantasma lost in a four-way match that also included Pentagon Jr. and Psycho Clown. Also known as a “Luchas de Apuestas,” the loser was forced to unmask.
“The culture of the mask is very important in Mexico,” said Fantasma. “Losing my mask is hard to describe. It’s like losing a part of my body, like cutting off my hand or my leg.”
Fantasma’s seven-year-old son was also part of TripleMania, giving the throat slash sign to L.A. Park after his father lost his mask.
“Mexican Lucha Libre is in our blood, it’s in our veins,” said Fantasma. “After I lost, my son wanted me to wear a new mask.
“Some guys in Mexico wear a mask because they’re told to, but it means more when it is passed down from the generation before you. Myself, like Rey Mysterio before me, I wear a mask because of my heritage. Rey Mysterio Sr. gave Rey Mysterio Jr. the mask, the name, and the legacy, and that is what happened with me.”
Fantasma’s father is El Fantasma, who has wrestled in Mexico for over 40 years. The father and son are set to team up for the first time in over a decade at this Saturday’s Expo Lucha in Las Vegas.
“My father is a god to me,” said Fantasma. “He almost died last September of a heart attack, so to work with him a year later means so much to me.”
The match, which is part of the Expo’s Legends of Lucha Libre event, is a six-man tag as the father and son team with Pirata Morgan against Tinieblas Jr., Ultimo Dragon and El Mesias Ricky Banderas.
Produced by Masked Republic, Expo Lucha is the first Lucha Libre convention and expo to take place outside of Mexico City. Later on Saturday night, during the Expo’s AAA show, Hijo del Fantasma will wrestle in the main event with El Texano against L.A. Park and Psycho Clown in a match that will mark their first meeting since TripleMania.
The events will all stream live and free on LuchaCentral.com, and also include a main event with Rey Mysterio on Friday.
“The Lucha movement has had an impact in the United States,” said Fantasma, who also worked in Impact and was King Cuerno in Lucha Underground. “But we could do a better job of letting fans in America know what the mask means. We need to let the American audience know what the mask means, because they already dig Lucha Libre. So we’re still in that process, which is a cultural part of Mexico City. It’s more than a sport, it’s a culture. Lucha Libre is in almost every house in Mexico all over the country.”
The talented Fantasma is only 34, and the loss of his mask may make him more marketable in the United States.
“WWE offered me a contract a few years ago,” said Fantasma. “At the time, I was already signed by AAA and Lucha Underground, so I couldn’t go with them. Now, who knows what is going to happen next.”
Even with a bright future, Fantasma is focused on the present–which is embarking on a career without a mask, and, naturally, extracting revenge upon the man who took it from him.
“This is the first time I’ll see L.A. Park in a match after him taking my mask,” said Fantasma. “He is so strong–every time he puts his hands on you, you feel it throughout your entire bones. But I will be going guns blazing at him this Saturday night to get my revenge.”
• Christopher Daniels is promising to add an extra layer to All In by making it a wrestling show where the celebrities lose.
Daniels is set to meet Arrow star Stephen Amell, who wrestled in a tag match at SummerSlam in 2015 but will be making his singles match debut this Saturday.
“I am going to prove to Stephen this is a lot harder than it looks,” said Daniels. “I plan to show him how hard it can be in a professional wrestling ring.”
Daniels is the perfect opponent for Amell. The former Ring of Honor champion is one of the most skilled, safe, and talented wrestlers in the entire industry. He is admired throughout the ROH locker room, so it does not come as a major surprise that Cody Rhodes and the Bucks asked Daniels to be part of All In.
“To know that Cody and the Bucks believe so highly of this match means a lot to me,” said the 47-year-old Daniels. “When people look back on the history of this event, I’ll have a very unique chapter. It’s a challenge I’ll be up to on September 1.”
The Bucks’ “Being The Elite” YouTube series perfectly meshes professional and entertainment, and has provided an electric feel to the organic build of All In.
“I hope WWE wrestling fans give this show an opportunity so they see what professional wrestling can be,” said Daniels, encouraging fans unfamiliar with the world outside WWE to expand their wrestling palate. “You’ll feel the energy from every wrestler in every match. It’s going to make you wish you were there. It’s the first-ever All In.”
Once the bell rings, Daniels believes that Amell—who has made great strides wrestling in only a short amount of time—will simply be out of his league.
“I don’t expect him to be Lou Thesz, but the Stephen Amell you’ll see at All In is going to blow away the expectations,” said Daniels. “Still, the idea of winning at the first All In means a lot to me. I’ve always prided myself on being a great pro wrestler. That’s my game, that’s my music, and no one plays it better than me. You’re going to see Stephen Amell learn a crash course in Christopher Daniels 101 at All In.”
• Coming attractions: I’ll have a longform feature looking at the future of IWGP heavyweight champion Kenny Omega Thursday on SI.com.
Tweet of the Week
Someone edited the footage of Dodger Stadium losing power, and it reminds us of an important lesson: everything is better with a little pro wrestling involved.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.