wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Are Bad Bunny and Logan Paul the Future of Wrestling?

June 30, 2023 | Posted by Ryan Byers
WWE Smackdown Bad Bunny Image Credit: WWE

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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Mladen is punching above his weight:

Many people are amazed how well Logan Paul and Bad Bunny have done in the ring, despite their limited in-ring training. Some even claimed they’re better than most of professional wrestlers today. Kurt Angle is another example of someone coming in with no experience and becoming one of the greatest of all time.

Do you think this trend of influencers/celebrities/athletes joining professional wrestling will continue, and if so, do you think they are the next generation of main event talent?

First off, let me just correct the record a bit, because there’s a big distinction between what Logan Paul and Bad Bunny have done and what Kurt Angle did in the late 1990s. When Angle wrestled his first match that most WWF fans saw at the 1999 Survivor Series, he wasn’t coming in cold with limited training. He signed a contract with the company in August 1998, and they sent him for training with with Dory Funk Jr. While doing that, he also had numerous matches for independent promotions that the Fed had a working relationship with, including the WWA in New England and Power Pro Wrestling in Memphis, which was sort of the prototype for the developmental system that would eventually be solidified in Ohio Valley Wrestling. In April 1999, while continuing to wrestle in PPW as the schedule allowed, he also started wrestling dark matches before two or three WWF television tapings per month, getting adjusted somewhat to life on the road with the company.

So, by the time Survivor Series ’99 rolled around, Angle had over a year of behind the scenes training and wrestling matches in front of a live audience. Don’t get me wrong, he still became one of the great in-ring performers of his era and did it shockingly quickly, but that’s not the same thing as making your in-right debut when they only thing to have done is train and rehearse specifically for that match.

What Logan Paul and Bad Bunny have done is less like what Angle did and more like what Mr. T did in 1985 and what Lawrence Taylor did in 1995 for Wrestlemanias I and XI, respectively, or what Dennis Rodman and Karl Malone did in WCW. Admittedly, Paul and Bunny are doing things in the ring that are significantly more athletic than anything T, Taylor, Rodman, or Malone did, but that also has a lot to do with the fact that WWE as a whole has a significantly more athletic style now than it did in the 1980s and 1990s.

All that background brings us to the meat of Mladen’s question: Are entertainers like Logan Paul and Bad Bunny the next generation of main event wrestlers?

I would say they are probably not and that most main event stars we will see in the future will be individuals who came up through the professional wrestling pipeline itself. I say that for a couple of different reasons. First off, as noted above, this sort of high level celebrity crossover into wrestling isn’t quite as new a phenomenon as the question seems to assume. It’s been happening for decades, and if outside celebrities filling the main events of wrestling shows was going to be something we saw with regularity, that likely would have happened by now since celebrities have been getting between the ropes for almost half a century (longer, if you expand your definition of “celebrity” to include athletes from other sports). Second, Paul and Bunny are people who seem to have been big wrestling fans even before getting wooed by WWE. They have a passion to do this and do it well that many other celebrities will not have.

Though it has happened occasionally, it seems most likely to remain the exception and not the rule – having Bunny and Paul doing essentially the same thing at the same time is probably just a fluke and not an indication of a larger trend.

I feel like Dagwood Fabuloso Jr. shouldn’t be making fun of anybody’s name:

You’re watching the clock at the registrar’s office. The proud parents of a baby boy arrive to fill in a birth certificate. They wish to name their child (Mr.) Kyu Kyu Naoki Tanizaki Toyonaka Dolphin. You roll your eyes, sigh wearily, and ask them or a rationale. What is their response?

There’s quite a bit to unpack here, and it takes us to a promotion that we don’t cover much here in Ask 411 Wrestling:

Dragon Gate

In 2011, there was a heel stable in Dragon Gate called the Blood Warriors, and two of the members were Tomahawk T.T. (the wrestler currently known as simply T-Hawk) and Naoki Tanizaki. A threesome of the Blood Warriors which included Tanizaki, Naruki Doi, and Kzy won the company’s trios championship, called the Open the Triangle Gate Titles, on September 2, 2011.

The Tanizaki/Doi/Kzy trio had four successful defenses of their belts, but then Tanizaki suffered a shoulder injury. This meant that, in a title defense against K-ness, Kenichiro Arai, and Taku Iwasa on January 19, 2012, somebody had to step up and replace the disabled wrestler. The Blood Warrior who took Tanizaki’s spot was Tomahawk T.T.

In the match, the Blood Warriors were intentionally disqualified and that fact, combined with Tanizaki’s injury, lead to the promotion stripping the Warriors of the Triangle Gate Championship.

Even though Tanizaki wasn’t in the match and even though he was still out of action, Tomahawk T.T. started blaming Tanizaki for the stable losing their titles. This in turn lead to T.T. dressing up like Tanazaki, adopting his moveset, and changing his ring name to Naoki Tanisaki. Yes, that’s “Tanisaki” with an “s,” not “Tanizaki” with a “z.” There was also a similar slight difference when the name was spelled in Japanese characters, but I’m not even going to try to figure out how to key in on that.

The rest of the heel Blood Warriors stable also went along with the gimmick, treating Tanisaki as though he was Tanizaki.

I should probably also note that, in early 2012, the Blood Warriors were taken over by Akira Tozawa – yes, former WWE 24/7 Champion Akira Tozawa – who renamed the group Mad Blankey. That doesn’t have much to do with the Tanizaki/Tanisaki storyline, but somebody would probably yell at me in the comments if I didn’t bring it up.

That summer, over six months after he was injured, the original Naoki Tanizaki made his return, and he immediately threw down the gauntlet with Mad Blankey. Of course, he was going to need some backup against the stable, so he aligned himself with the Jimmyz, a stable whose gimmick was that every member was named Jimmy. (Part of me feels like I should explain that as well, but we need to stay focused.)

This built to a match on September 23, 2012 in which the Mad Blankey trio of Akira Tozawa, BxB Hulk, and Naoki Tanisaki wrestled the Jimmyz trio of Genki Horiguchi, Ryo Saito, and Naoki Tanizaki. Mad Blankey put their Open the Triangle Gate Championship on the line and, in exchange, the original Naoki Tanizaki put his name on the line.

You might assume that the babyface would make a triumphant return here and vanquish the guy who has been impersonating him for months on end, but . . . nope. Instead, the fake Naoki Tanisaki pinned the real Naoki Tanizaki, causing the genuine article to lose the rights to his name. To add further insult to injury, Tanisaki/T-Hawk got to choose the new name for his rival, and with that, we finally get to the point of our question. The new name selected for Tanizaki was:

Mr. Kyu Kyu Toyonaka Dolphin

How did he arrive at that name? According to Tanisaki, when Tanizaki was crying after his losses, it sounded like a dolphin, and “kyu kyu” is the noise that a Japanese schoolchild will tell you that a dolphin makes, similar to an American schoolchild telling you that a dog goes “woof woof.” Where does Toyonaka come from? That is the name of the city that Tanizaki hails from, and it just makes the whole thing sound all the more ridiculous.

Despite this setback, the feud between Naoki Tanisaki and Mr. Kyu Kyu Toyonaka Dolphin continued for several more months, with the two being booked for a rare one-on-one encounter (most of DG’s matches are tags) in the main event of a show held on January 27, 2013. The stipulation was that the original Naoki would receive his name back if he won and that he would leave the promotion if he didn’t. In that match, it originally looked like the fake Tanisaki was going to prevail when he pinned the Dolphin with a cradle, but then the match was restarted due to some heel shenanigans that lead to the fall. After the restart, Dolphin pinned Tanisaki clean in the middle to recapture his moniker.

Also, though this wasn’t one of the pre-match stipulations as near as I could tell, the original Tanizaki not only got his own name back, but he also got to rename the fake Naoki Tanisaki/T.T. Hawk, who then had to be known as Mr. Pii Pii Tomakomai Penguin, obviously following the same basic framework as the dolphin name.

Also also, even though the original Naoki Tanizaki was allowed to start using his real name again, he decided not to . . . or at least he decided not to JUST use his real name. Instead, he incorporated it into his ridiculous ring name and, instead of being known as Mr. Kyu Kyu Toyonaka Dolphin, he was instead known as Mr. Kyu Kyu Naoki Tanizaki Toyonaka Dolphin.

There are people who probably think that I’m making this up, but I am 100% not.

Again, you would probably guess that this was the end of the feud, but it wasn’t. Instead, it continued on as part of the larger Jimmyz vs. Mad Blankey rivalry, which culminated in a ten-man tag team captain’s fall elimination match on February 11, 2013 with the stipulation being that the captain of the losing team would have to leave Dragon Gate. The bout came down to Tanizaki and Penguin, and, at the end of the day, Tanizaki stood tall once again.

In an odd twist, after the bell Mad Blankey turned on Mr. Pii Pii Tomakomai Penguin, which looked like it might be a way to further write him out of the promotion, but then somebody came to his rescue. Who was it?

That’s right . . . it was Mr. Kyu Kyu Naoki Tanizaki Toyonaka Dolphin, who had apparently earned a measure of respect for his old rival. Though the Penguin was banished from the promotion per the pre-match stipulation, Dragon Gate did allow him to have one last match before he went, as we got the absurd tag team of Mr. Kyu Kyu Naoki Tanizaki Toyonaka Dolphin and Mr. Pii Pii Tomakomai Penguin, who unfortunately lost their one and only bout as a unit. The Penguin did honor the stipulation for a bit, heading off to work in Mexico, while the Dolphin turned heel and once again became plain old Naoki Tanizaki.

And thus ends the odd tale of the Toyonaka Dolphin.

In case you’d like a “where are they now” update, Tanizaki left Dragon Gate in September 2016 and roamed a multitude of indies. Earlier this year, he got what is probably his highest profile role since DG, appearing in All Japan and wrestling in its Junior Tag Battle of Glory tournament with partner Naruki Doi, another man with much history in the Dragon System. In 2018, T-Hawk also left Dragon Gate, originally following one of its original stars, CIMA, in his formation of Oriental Wrestling Entertainment, a promotion that set its sights on China. A relationship between OWE and All Elite Wrestling actually got T-Hawk on some early AEW shows, though with OWE slowing down as a promotion more recently, he has found a new home in the company GLEAT.

Bryan might be overthinking this one:

When AOL Time Warner merged in 2001, WCW was no longer wanted, if that’s the case, how did AEW convince TBS to give them a time slot? If WCW was a revenue loss why would they agree to let another wrestling company on their channel 20 years later?

. . . the answer is, really, it was twenty years later. The media landscape was completely different in 2019 than it was in 2001, and the executives behind TNT and TBS were completely different as well. People weren’t nervous about AEW’s chances due to WCW because the people who had to deal with WCW’s mess at the end of its life were not the people green lighting the AEW deal.

You also have to consider the fact that Time Warner both owned WCW and had the promotion’s shows on television stations they also owned. Warner Brothers Discovery, which now owns TBS and TNT, have no ownership stake in AEW. Thus, the risk is different in having AEW on air than it is in having WCW on air. AEW can lose money hand over fist without it impacting WBD’s bottom line, whereas WCW losing money was effectively Time Warner losing money, since they all fell under the same umbrella.

Tyler from Winnipeg is asking a question about wrestling . . . maybe?

Are you a Johnny Knoxville fan?

Because I suspect people in the comments will ask, I do want to point out that this question was submitted in June 2023 and not closer in time to Knoxville’s Wrestlemania match with Sami Zayn.

In any event, the answer to the question is “no.”

I don’t have any reason to actively dislike Johnny Knoxville, but I just sort of missed out on the whole Jackass phenomenon. The show’s initial popularity was in the early 2000s when I was in college, and at that point in my life I largely checked out on watching television (except for wrestling) in lieu of studying and attempting to have a social life. So, I just sort of missed the whole Johnny Knoxville bandwagon.

Marcus from Mobile is looking out for number one:

There have been stories about pro wrestlers who were difficult to work with and would walk out if they didn’t get their way. Bruiser Brody comes to mind. But, what is the different between a wrestler who knows their worth and is trying to protect their career from shoddy booking verses someone just being an egomaniac?

It’s basically something that you have to analyze on a case-by-case basis taking into account all the circumstances surrounding the situation. If you hear a wrestler is refusing to participate on a show simply because they want more money than they originally agreed to in order to work, you can usually assume that person is being a jerk.

However, there can be nuances. Take, for example, Jeff Jarrett’s exit from the WWF in 1999. His contract expired shortly before he was scheduled to lose the Intercontinental Championship to Chyna on pay per view, and the story told for many years thereafter was he held the company up for an exorbitant amount of money in order to show up and wrestle. It took a while for Jarrett’s narrative to come out, but eventually he told the world at large that he had required an additional payment to work the show but that the payment consisted primarily of royalties and other fees that he had already earned from the company but that had not yet been paid. In other words, he wasn’t asking for boatloads of additional pay. He was asking for a guarantee that he would receive what had already been promised to him.

Then there are individuals who have disputes with promotions or creative issues as opposed to money. Have there been performers who have refused to do business just because they want to protect their own auras by not dropping a fall? Yes, absolutely.

There have been others, though, who have been able to offer more altruistic explanations. One example we’ve gone over in this column in the past is Steve Austin walking out on the WWF in lieu of losing to Brock Lesnar in the King of the Ring tournament. Though even Austin himself has since said that leaving the show may not have been the right move, I still maintain that refusing to lose was absolutely warranted, not because Lesnar beating Austin would have hurt Austin but because Lesnar beating Austin at that point would have hurt Lensar. It would have hurt him by costing him a moment that could have been built to be the culmination of a longer story that would’ve advanced his care significantly more than beating the legendary WWF Champion out of the blue in a match that hadn’t even been announced in advance.

In other words, look at the wrestler’s given justification for their actions. If it’s some variant of, “I didn’t want to” or “I wanted more money,” then roll your eyes at them and move on. If they have a deeper explanation, hear them out. They could still ultimately be wrong in the end, but you might also find some legitimate justification.

This answer has lead me to wish there was such a thing as a pro wrestling version of the subreddit “Am I the asshole?”

We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.