FROM THE VAULT: Baba and Vince Open the Forbidden Door (updated 11/19/21)
VINCE MCMAHON. GIANT Baba. Together in the same ring. The 2,350 FANS in attendance at Korakuen Hall on January 28, 1990, were in for a big surprise. As recently as the early-1980s, McMahon’s WWF had enjoyed a solid relationship with All Japan’s biggest competitor, New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Suffice to say, no one was expecting Vince McMahon and Giant Baba to show up on the final day of AJPW’s New Year Giant series.
But that’s exactly what happened. On a show that saw All Japan Pro Wrestling founder Giant Baba defeat American journeyman Rip Rogers in a singles bout—along with the swan song of The British Bulldogs—no less than Vincent Kennedy McMahon made his way to the ring to address the crowd.
The above photo, along with the forthcoming photos in this entry, was sent to the Pro Wrestling Illustrated offices by a Japanese freelance photographer who asked us not to name them. This person specifically cited the fact that McMahon appeared in the photographs as the reason for their anonymity. Regardless, the veteran photographer seemed excited to share the photos in question.
As one might guess, Vince wasn’t simply in town as a tourist, opting to take in a show at one of Japan’s most historic combat sports venues. He was there on business. McMahon took the microphone and announced to the crowd that the WWF would be teaming up with not just AJPW, but NJPW, as well. The three promotions would come together to present the WWF/AJPW/NJPW Wrestling Summit.
The event, which emanated from the Tokyo Dome on April 13, 1990, was attended by more than 53,000 people. Despite not being released officially in the U.S., it was voted Best Major Wrestling Show in that year’s Wrestling Observer Awards. With an undercard that included a bout between Bret Hart and Tiger Mask, the show featured Andre The Giant and Giant Baba teaming up to take on Demolition, and the main event pitting Hulk Hogan against Stan Hansen.
In 2021, promotions are increasingly working together for the greater good. From the contemporary IWGP Conception, which saw NJPW copromote with Ring of Honor and CMLL, to the current, extensive interplay between AEW, IMPACT, the NWA, and other companies, cooperation is arguably one of the most exciting things about today’s wrestling landscape. Given WWE’s history of partnering with promotions overseas—and, later, giving visibility to upstarts like ECW and EVOLVE—is it really so hard to imagine the industry leader doing so once again?
Putting Wrestling Comics In A Headlock—An Interview With Writer/Creator Michael Kingston
LARGER-THAN-LIFE CHARACTERS? CHECK! A fantasy world where anything can happen? Check! Large men in spandex? Check and check! I could, of course, be talking about professional wrestling, but just as easily also be talking about certain genres of comic books. Quite frankly, these two worlds have so much in common that it’s amazing there hasn’t been more extensive overlap between the two.
Enter Michael Kingston, creator of Headlocked: the comic meshing these two worlds together so well that your favorite wrestling stars are lining up to get involved. With Headlocked and its spinoff series, Tales From The Road, Michael has collaborated with over 40 wrestlers who share his passion for telling stories through this unique art form. PWI recently caught up with Mike to discuss all things wrestling and comics.
PWI: Where did the idea for Headlocked come from?
MK: I was a wrestling fan since the very first Saturday Night’s Main Event. George “The Animal” Steele hooked me as I was flipping through the channels, and I had never seen anything like it. That was my entry point, and I’ve watched wrestling every day since. [Growing up] I loved wrestling, loved comics, and I’d buy all the wrestling comics but … I just felt that they weren’t written for wrestling fans. So, I always thought there would be a market for a book like Headlocked. I took my idea to comic book companies, and I got laughed out of every room I went into. Literally! One guy actually laughed in my face. So, I decided to make the book myself. I worked two jobs for a year to make enough money for my first print run. And then I took it on the road, selling it out of a backpack at wrestling shows. As I started going to bigger conventions, I would meet wrestlers who liked what I was doing, and they helped support it. From there, I hooked up with Jerry Lawler, who does the covers for my books, and it just sort of spiraled from there.
PWI: Do you think there are similarities between trying to make it in the wrestling business and trying to make it in the comic book business?
MK: There are so many similarities between both in terms of what they are as art forms and businesses. A lot of the support structure that surrounds wrestling and comic books comes from the fans. They’re both kind of dominated by a singular aesthetic. When you talk to people about wrestling, they tend to think of WWE. And, when they think of comics, it’s superheroes. Then, obviously, you have colorful characters, the battle between good and evil … the sort of joke is, comics are like 2-D wrestling, and that’s why I found it strange to meet so much resistance early on. But I think the themes of breaking into these businesses are there. The emotional rollercoaster I had breaking into the comic business is the same as an independent wrestler has breaking into wrestling. The physical part is different, is all. Hopefully, I don’t have to fall off a ladder to make a comic!
PWI: You have collaborated with a lot of wrestlers so far, and I think it’s clear this is what sets Headlocked apart from previous wrestling comics. How important was this element to the success of the series?
MK: It’s my favorite thing to do. And the stories we tell are entertaining, but they are also important to the talent. The story I did with The Hurricane for Volume 1 of Tales From The Road, [at the time] he was sitting in a doctor’s office waiting for an MRI on his neck, not knowing if his career was over. So, the story we ended up telling was very powerful, and it’s even more powerful when you understand the circumstances behind it. If you give people something they’re excited to work with, you can tell the difference. Everything we make is made with love and passion, and I want people to experience that.
PWI: Wrestlers are obviously creative people, but this is a different way for them to tell stories. What’s the creative process like for you putting a story together with them?
MK: It’s different for everybody. Mick Foley wrote me a prose story. The Iinspiration and I had a Zoom call, and we talked out the story and had an email chain providing input. But, once we get a concept and the story beats, I’ll write it and send it to the talent. And we’ll work on it until we have something we’re happy with. But it takes on many different forms.
PWI: Has anyone surprised you with their creativity?
MK: I keep talking about The Iinspiration story just because it’s fresh in my mind. But we had it a certain way, and they suggested a different type of character for the “Heavy” in the story. My initial thought was that it was never going to work, but then it did work, and it actually changed the story into something else entirely. There’s always that moment where everything clicks, and I never in a million years would have pushed it in that direction. But their suggestion was what made that story what it was. Wrestlers are all storytellers. It’s who they are at their core. The ones that really do surprise me are the artists. Obviously, Jerry Lawler does the covers, but we’ve had Fred Ottman, Sinn Bodhi, Ken Anderson. Tony Atlas did a piece of art for us. He does pointillism, which, to me, is amazing to imagine this giant dude hunched over a desk. It’s cool to me because Headlocked has always been about showcasing wrestling as an artform. So, to showcase wrestlers who are artists is the coolest thing to me.
PWI: Any dream collaborations?
MK: Xavier Woods, Paul Heyman, Carmella … I think Carmella is fascinating, creatively, because she makes every gimmick work but never loses sight of who she is. And that’s a real gift that she doesn’t get enough credit for. Zelina Vega … there’s so many. I always say that wherever there is a ring and a payday, there’s a story. I’d love to get to a point where we are big enough to tell stories from less well-known people, because some of the most famous people may not have as many interesting stories that people on the fringes might have to tell. The Boogeyman! I think he’s fascinating. He’s such a unique personality, and I’d love to collaborate with him.
PWI: What does the future hold for Headlocked?
MK: I’ve got Volume 5 of the main Headlocked series in production, and it’s the wildest one yet. I can’t wait for people to read it. Not one person is going to imagine [that it goes the way] it goes. We will still be putting out our Tales From The Road series. And, by June, I’ll have enough content for Volume 4. We are currently only on Volume 2, so we have a lot of stuff still to put out. I’m hoping to do more stuff with Brian Myers and Matt Cardona in the Fig Story vein. I have a million ideas for that. And, in the first volume of Tales From The Road, I collaborated with Gangrel on a story about a guy who trains Bigfoot to wrestle. We’d like to spin that out into a series. I don’t ever see a scenario where I will run out of things to write. So, as long as people keep supporting us, we’ll keep making stuff.
“I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.” – Dale Cooper, Twin Peaks
I KNOW BRIAN Johnson.
This isn’t Brian Johnson.
If you’ve ever bought a ticket to a show that he was on or ever watched him on television, then you, too, know Brian Johnson … and you know that this isn’t Brian Johnson.
Say what you will about him—and lord knows that many have—but the one thing you could never say about him is that Brian Johnson is a man who has nothing to say. That’s why all of this is more than a little unsettling. And why I had to dig a little deeper into finding out the answer to the question that has been bugging me for several days now: “Why has Brian Johnson gone quiet?”
In the wake of last week’s news that Ring of Honor would be going on hiatus following the December 11 Final Battle PPV and releasing all contracted performers, an outpouring of love and support went out to those affected by the news. Many current ROH wrestlers took to social media to thank the promotion for giving them an opportunity, but to also discuss their future. While it was a sad occasion, there was also some hope. Surely Brian Johnson, perhaps ROH’s most outspoken performer would have much to say about this, right?
Instead of the usual vitriolic Johnson we have grown accustomed to, all we got was a retweet of ROH’s announcement regarding going on hiatus, coupled with a quote from the man himself that said:
“Sometimes you can’t put the emotions and the feelings into the right words. I’m going to need a few days to gather my thoughts. When I do, you’ll hear from The Mecca.”
Sensing something unusual was afoot, I took the above screenshot.
It’s now been more than a few days, and we have yet to hear from The Mecca. What’s more, his entire social media has gone dark, and even the above tweet has been deleted along with all pictures and posts. Johnson’s Instagram account is still active, but a tad unusual.
So, just what the hell is going on?
In short, I don’t know. I have exhausted all methods of trying to get hold of Johnson personally and have had no response from the man. One of the benefits of working with Pro Wrestling Illustrated is that you can normally be put in contact with almost anyone in the wrestling business, but absolutely no one I have spoken to has heard from or seen Johnson, either.
It’s not that anyone is being coy or secretive—they simply just don’t know what’s going on with “The Mecca.” Every person, however, has echoed similar sentiments to PWI Editor-In-Chief Kevin McElvaney, who said, “This guy never shuts up, so this is very unusual behavior.”
Brian Johnson is a loudmouth and a trash-talker. He’s angry and he’s opinionated. But he is also incredibly talented and has the chance to do big things in professional wrestling. So, you can be sure that whenever he does emerge, whatever he does next will be fascinating to watch. Until then, we wait with bated breath and wonder just what “The Mecca” has planned.
“I WILL NEVER RETIRE!” – After Shocking The Entire Chicago Indie Scene, Pat Monix Gives An Exclusive Interview To Pro Wrestling Illustrated About His Recent Faux-Curtain Call
“CARD SUBJECT TO change.”
It’s a common phrase in pro wrestling—one used to make fans aware, in advance, that matches advertised might not go on. While, in the past, it’s often been employed as a bait-and-switch tactic, nowadays, it’s more frequently evoked as a result of travel issues, scheduling conflicts, or injury.
Or, in the case of Project (Pat) MONIX, a “retirement” that wasn’t.
Monix, the focus of PWI’smost recent “On The Indies” column and Chicagoland indie mainstay, announced that his October 23 Freelance Underground match—initially scheduled to be against Kylie Rae—would be the last of his career. Kylie had to pull out of said bout to take care of her health and well-being, but that’s not the only thing that was “subject to change” about Monix’s alleged Final Phase.
Freelance Underground’s Final Phase event opened with then-champion GPA’s open challenge, answered by rising star Calvin Tankman. Tankman dispatched GPA quickly, winning the title, and issued a challenge of his own. Monix chose to answer it, leading to the night’s main event.
And, while Monix did not come out victorious, Freelance brass chose to honor him after the match by giving him the original Freelance Underground championship belt—a sort of gold-watch-gift-for-retirement nod to Monix’s contributions to the company and to Chicago indie wrestling. However, Monix played everyone—Freelance Underground, the crowd (who had showered him with streamers ahead of his bout with Tankman), and even PWI— and went on the attack, both physically and on the mic.
There would be no retirement, but, rather, a rebirth. The “Final Phase” was instead the first step into a new persona for Monix, who has now declared himself the “Freelance Undisputed Champion,” compared himself to God, and decided that “six years following the rules, 18 months of [injury] rehab, and one night” was all it took to create this shocking transformation.
In light of Monix (in his own words) “working” PWI, we have secured the supposedly final follow-up interview with the self-styled Freelance Undisputed champion. His comments follow and have only been edited for length and clarity.
On his decision to, essentially, play the long-con:
“In professional wrestling, the card is always subject to change. And this, quote, unquote, ‘closure tour,’ every single match that I was booked for, one way or another, was changed. This was a reminder that pro wrestling works this way. And, for a long time, I let pro wrestling work me. When I took a step away, and decided to take the step back in, I decided that I was going to work wrestling. So, when these changes took place, I was ready. I was prepared. And it didn’t faze me one bit.
“When you’re someone who gives their all to this, and you’re someone who does all the right things, and you’re someone who plays the game, it constantly plays you. There’s a breaking point. And I hit that breaking point mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally. And I didn’t love wrestling anymore. And it was hard. It was a hard pill to swallow. Because it wasn’t my fault. I did everything right. I showed up. I worked hard, I followed the rules. And that’s just not how wrestling works. Wrestling will take from everyone over and over and over again. And I simply made a decision in my mind that I was never going to let that happen again. I’m doing this how I want to do it. I’m doing it on my own terms.”
On Monix’s match against Calvin Tankman and its aftermath:
“As far as wrestling Calvin Tankman in the main event, you know, going into a match like that, that this is a tall task. This is one of the most dominant wrestlers on the independent scene. So, going into that match, yeah, I had every intention to upset him, and beat him, and go out on top with that championship. But I had a feeling that even if I came up short, fans were going to react the way they did. I had a feeling the fans would react that way if I won, as well.
“So I already knew, win, lose, draw, going into that match, what it meant for me, and what I was going to do going forward when I was in the ring. And I was handed a token of appreciation, the original Freelance Underground championship belt. And the crowd reacting as if it was a gift and award and not what it actually was—a consolation prize—that was just the cherry on top. That was the validation of my own thinking that these fans don’t understand what it’s like to be in my shoes. They’ve never laced my boots up. And most of the people in wrestling hadn’t walked a day in my life.
“Someone in the tier of wrestlers that I’m in, if you’re an elite talent, and you have an elite work ethic, and you fully commit yourself to this industry, you’re in a very, very small group of people. And that doesn’t always get rewarded. So, when this crowd looks at a situation like that. Getting streamers, and getting applause, and seeing that people emotionally care about you—seeing people literally crying in the crowd, lots of people literally crying in the crowd—and then you get a consolation prize, you get a token of appreciation. All these people think that’s something that you’re going to be happy about. That was the moment I realized that I was right about, ‘I understand how wrestling works.’ “
Monix, on who he is, where he’s at, and moving forward:
“I feel mentally, at a point in wrestling, where I’m a mastermind, I feel physically at a point in wrestling, where I’m gonna have the best match on any show. And I feel emotionally about wrestling, that wrestling can’t touch me. And I feel spiritually about wrestling, completely ascended.
“So, when I had the microphone, and I had the championship over my shoulder, the crowd was cheering, crying, smacking, banging on the mat, I had every single person in there doing all the moves that I had intended. It was a checkmate. In that moment, I knew everything going forward is mine, it’s on my terms. And no one can touch me. And, when said the things I said, after all that, they proved me right. Again, because then these people decided to cheer me.
“When I look at wrestling, and I look at the people that I was trying to appease, I was never going to win them over by playing fair, playing clean, following the rules. Everything you’re going to see going forward is going to be on a whole different level. The Final Phase, that wasn’t a show, that wasn’t a match. The Final Phase is infinite, the Final Phase is forever; The Final Phase every single day going forward for Project MONIX is that mentality of living on your own terms. Being at the top will never end. And that is what the Final Phase was, is, and always will be—as long as Project MONIX wrestles, which will be forever.”
As far as that original Freelance Underground title belt, which Monix initially referred to as a “consolation prize,” it appears he now has a new perspective. After all, he is calling himself the “Undisputed” Freelance champion.
“I’m the Freelance Undisputed champion, because I did something that no one in Freelance Wrestling would ever be able to do, has ever done, or will ever do. I am the Freelance Undisputed champion; I was gifted a championship because I performed and existed on a level that, in Chicago wrestling, has not been touched, has not been matched, has not been seen.
“That championship being handed to me in the moment may have been perceived as something different by the people in the building, and may have been perceived a certain way by myself, and then perceived a certain way by the management handing it to me going forward. It represents the best wrestler in Chicago. It represents anything I want it to be, whether it’s Freelance Wrestling, whether it’s Freelance Underground. Anyone who wants to wrestle me, that title is going to be on the line. But it’s my title, it’s my championship. And I’m never going to lose it.
“Project MONIX is the Freelance Undisputed champion. The booker, the promoter, the people in charge, they don’t get to pick who the champion is anymore. Because I picked, I made a decision that I was going to do something special in a world where nothing special is happening. Anyone who was there that night knows that it’s fact. Anyone who watched the stream knows that it’s fact. Anyone who reads this PWI article knows this as fact. Anyone who is in professional wrestling, right now, whether they want to admit it, whether they’re on the independent circuit, or AEW, or WWE. They know it, too.”
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