SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath-the-surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Jon Hamm: “I’ll always be an ’80s WWF guy”
In May 1986, Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik were still headlining house shows for the World Wrestling Federation.
“Macho Man” Randy Savage wore the intercontinental title, and the world was just beginning to learn about his outsized personality. Hulk Hogan led the charge as the WWF champion, and the British Bulldogs were tag champs. If you’re starting a promotion in 1986, it would be hard to find a better foundation than those four.
The names alone were iconic. There was “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “Mr. Wonderful ”Paul Orndorff, the Junkyard Dog and Big John Studd, not to mention Bret“ Hitman ”Hart and Jim“ The Anvil ”Neidhart. Even the broadcasters and managers — like Jesse “The Body” Ventura, “Mean” Gene Okerlund, Gorilla Monsoon, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart — were larger than life.
Vince McMahon’s traveling road show caught fire and eventually turned into the international conglomerate it is today. Back then, it also caught the attention of a young Jon Hamm, who went on to become a major star with his role in the television series Mad Men.
“That’s the golden age of professional wrestling,” says Hamm. “I’ll always be an ’80s WWF guy.”
Hamm brings even more star power to the upcoming movie Top Gun: Maverick. The film is the sequel to Top Gunwhich was a massive box-office hit when it was released in May 1986 during the WWF’s rise to prominence.
Looking at the newly released film with a pro wrestling lens, Hamm plays the heel opposite babyface Tom Cruise, who reprises his role as Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. Hamm adeptly makes connections between the big screen and squared circle, detailing how success is often dependent on the strength of your costar.
“In film acting, you’re only as good as the person you’re sharing that space with, and in this case, I had the opportunity to share it with one of Hollywood’s greatest movie stars,” says Hamm, who plays Admiral Beau. “Cyclone” Simpson. “It’s no different [in pro wrestling]; you need that [heel], that someone to play off of. And when you have a guy named Maverick, you know he’s the one who’s going to break the rules. You also need the guy who’s going to establish the rules; and that was my job. Through that relationship comes a lot of dramatic tension that builds up throughout the film. “
All these years after his wrestling fandom, Hamm found a real connection to the art form in his acting. He put a particularly strong emphasis on his facials, conveying emotion through a mere look on his face — just like one of his all-time favorites.
“I was a big Andre the Giant fan,” says Hamm. “He made everything he did so interesting. And Hogan slamming Andre, that’s a moment you never forget. I’ll always be in awe of that ’80s era. “
Hamm now has the opportunity to put his own indelible mark on an ’80s classic in Top Gun.
“I’ve been a fan of Tom Cruise as long as I’ve been a cognizant moviegoer,” says Hamm. “He’s only getting better with time, and he’s certainly getting crazier with time — he wants to shoot a movie in space, and I wouldn’t put it past him. It’s a tremendous honor to be asked to be part of a franchise that means so much and get a chance to contribute. “
Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi reflect on Okada’s first IWGP title victory
The top title in New Japan Pro-Wrestling does not often change hands. The scarcity of title changes makes the moment even more remarkable whenever there is a new champion, especially to a first-time champ.
A decade ago, in February 2012, Kazuchika Okada defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi to start his first run as IWGP heavyweight champion. That title has since been replaced by the IWGP world heavyweight title, which Okada currently holds. He is now well established as one of the premier talents in the world and set to play an integral role at next month’s AEWxNJPW: Forbidden Door pay-per-view. But 10 years ago, there was genuine doubt over whether the 24-year-old Okada would be the one to dethrone the company’s “Ace,” Tanahashi.
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“I was very nervous until I went up to the ring that day,” says Okada through a translator. “I didn’t even have an appetite.”
Despite the overwhelming nerves, Okada didn’t enter the single biggest match of his career with an empty stomach. He went to a restaurant in Osaka and ate a Japanese beef rice bowl known as gyūdon, then later that night took the belt off Tanahashi.
“Eating gyūdon before my matches, that became a title-match routine because I had such success,” Okada says, recalling the memory with joy. “When I won the title, it was amazing. I thought, ‘This is what it is like to be champion.’ “
That victory ended Tanahashi’s brilliant 11-defense title reign, and Okada began to erase any remaining doubt about his place atop NJPW. Even Tanahashi, who by then was already a force for more than a decade in New Japan, marveled at Okada’s charisma and ability to perform under the bright lights.
“It is more than even I expected,” says Tanahashi, also speaking through a translator. “He excels in a visual sense, with athletic ability, and through his strength. I think he is now the spiritual pillar of New Japan Pro-Wrestling. “
Only a few months after that title victory, Okada dropped the title back to Tanahashi that June at DominionShowwhich is the show next month when Okada will defend this year against “Switchblade” Jay White — before winning it back in April 2013. That title reign lasted for 391 days (until AJ Styles carved his name onto the list of IWGP champs), cementing his place in the company and across the industry.
“I was happy when I was crowned for the second time,” Okada says. “Now that I think about it, I think youth is also quite a weapon. I’ve been able to come here without injury for 10 years. I’ve overcome various things, and I will continue to overcome various difficulties moving forward. “
The (online) week in wrestling
- Yes, it is surprising that Stephanie McMahon — who for years has been the heir apparent to run the company — is taking a leave of absence from WWE. But after her husband, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, lost his power, and the company continues to practically print money in the Nick Khan era, it makes sense that McMahon would want to take some time away from her all-consuming work with WWE. and spend more time with her family.
- Along with Paul Heyman, the most dominant faction in wrestling is The Bloodline. It will be fascinating to see how Riddle is built into a main-event opponent for Roman Reigns, which is now the direction after The Usos became the unified tag champs.
- Vince McMahon and his team want to remind people that Sasha Banks and Naomi walked out. But using Michael Cole — who has become the company’s most trusted voice — to admonish them last week on SmackDown does more to hurt Cole’s credibility than it does to turn people against Banks and Naomi. It was also impossible to miss Pat McAfee, whose facial expressions appeared to cast his disbelief on the entire way this is being handled. Cole was following orders, but that blind loyalty comes with a cost of trust.
Rush: “I want to wrestle in AEW”
Rush hasn’t wrestled a singles match since July.
But that is about to change.
“I want to wrestle in AEW,” Rush says through a translator. “I want matches against CM Punk, Bryan Danielson and Kenny Omega. Everyone in AEW will learn, when you mess with the bull, you get the horns. “
Fully recovered from his knee injury, the 33-year-old revealed that he spent the past nine months rehabbing to return to peak condition. The two-time Ring of Honor champion and leader of La Facción Ingobernable is now hungry to return.
“I feel better than ever and I want to conquer the world, especially the USA,” says Rush. “I was away from the ring for a long time, but now it’s time to show everyone who is the No. 1 wrestler in the world. “
Rush’s younger brothers are Dragon Lee and Dralístico. Both are talented wrestlers, and Dragon Lee belongs on a short list of top performers in the world. Known together as Los Hermanos Lee, they will team up against The Hardys at AAA’s Triplemanía on June 18 in Tijuana.
“My brothers are showing that they are going to position themselves as the best tag team in the world,” says Rush. “The Hardys will be the first to find that out at Triplemanía. ”
Though AEW remains the goal, Rush also noted that he has plans for the more immediate future. He wouldn’t reveal them, other than to share his excitement over what is to come.
“Big things are going to happen,” Rush says. “Very soon, people will learn what I’m going to do next.”
Tweet of the Week
After working together for three years, MJF and Wardlow have the chance to create a very special moment Sunday at Double or Nothing.
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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on TwitterJustinBarrasso.