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Joey Janela: “It’s going to be the best of the best of independent wrestling”
One of pro wrestling’s most noteworthy tournaments is making its return.
GameChanger Wrestling and Jersey Championship Wrestling are running the Jersey J-Cup on Saturday. The event will take place at the White Eagle Hall in Jersey City, and it features a loaded tournament bracket that includes “Speedball” Mike Bailey, Jonathan Gresham, Alex Shelley, Lio Rush and Joey Janela. There are also multiple emerging stars on the card—Arez, Kommander and Alec Price, to name a few—and the winner will crown himself the new JCW champion.
“We’re mixing together some very established stars at the top of their game with people who aren’t as well-known–yet,” GCW founder and CEO Brett Lauderdale says. “The J-Cup’s history is not to be slept on. Twenty years ago, it was the J-Cup that gave Super Dragon, CM Punk and Samoa Joe their first big platform on the East Coast. This is something that has a legacy, and we hope to restore it to the position it once had.”
The return of the J-Cup brings even more excitement to the indies, which is part of the DNA of GCW. Lauderdale has consistently put on fresh, entertaining shows across the country, and is phenomenal at identifying the right talent to spotlight. His partner in this project is Adam Abdalla, who co-owns JCW with Lauderdale.
“It’s been a nine-year hiatus, but the J-Cup was the signature East Coast event for the original iteration of Jersey Championship Wrestling, which was the predecessor to GCW,” says Abdalla. “Brett and his partners at the time eventually purchased the company and changed that into GameChanger Wrestling. When Brett and I purchased the IP of JCW two years ago and brought back JCW to be the East Coast sister promotion to GCW, the first thing we said we would do is bring back this tournament. We want to give some of the tournaments around the world a run for their money.”
The show will air on FITE+, with the first round starting at 2 p.m. ET, followed by the quarters, semis and finals kicking off at 8 p.m. There will be seven first-round matchups, as well as a six-man scramble, which is a GCW staple. There is plenty of history attached to the opening-round matchups, particularly with Gresham and Bailey. Each has won a match in their GCW series, and that match will serve as the main event for the matinee.
“The J-Cup provides a lens into the present of professional wrestling, as well as into the future,” says Abdalla. “You’ll see Billie Starkz, who is only 18, and you’ll see Starboy Charlie against a mainstay in Joey Janela.”
Janela is even more recognizable after his run in AEW, yet no matter how much his stardom has grown, he has remained devoted to the indies. Carrying an undeniable passion and spirit, the 17-and-a-half-year veteran adds excitement whenever he is on the card. And his work is only better after three years in AEW.
“I’m 100% positive about my AEW run,” says Janela. “Before AEW, my work was all independent. It felt like when an ECW guy went to WWF and it just didn’t work out. Some guys thrived, some guys completely fell off. You’re going to see that with a lot of AEW guys when their contracts are up. Do they want this? Do they have the heart for it, the passion for it? Will they make an indie run? Or rely on their college degree to find a job in the real world? Who knows. For me, it’s professional wrestling, day in and day out.
“I’m definitely a better wrestler than I’ve ever been, psychology-wise, after AEW. I have the TV experience, I listened to the vets. Now I can share that knowledge on the indies.”
Janela made a lasting impression in AEW during his match against Kenny Omega on Dark in October 2019, a memorable encounter that remains one of the best to take place in the company.
“Outside of wrestling, me and Kenny, we’re as far apart as people can be,” says Janela. “Kenny likes his video games and anime, and I like drinking and partying. But for a long time, we both had mutual friends saying we were wired very similarly when it came to wrestling. I thought we’d eventually wrestle, just not that soon. So when we did, I wanted to make a statement.
“I approached Kenny in the back and said, ‘Let’s put Dark on the map. Let’s have a pay-per-view caliber match.’ I appreciate Kenny a lot for giving me that chance to tear down the house with him.”
Only 33, Janela still has designs on being a national presence. He will continue that process by injecting life into the indies, which is the heartbeat of the entire industry.
“Don’t write me off as a credible big name,” says Janela. “A lot of people will think I’m crazy, and I may not get credit until I’m in a box underground, but don’t write me off yet.”
Born in Hazlet, N.J., and billed from Asbury Park, Janela is ecstatic that the Jersey J-Cup is returning. He plans to deliver must-see moments whenever he steps in the ring, and he is thrilled to have the home field advantage.
“I’m probably the most New Jersey of Jersey wrestlers of the past chunk of years,” says Janela. “There’s Liv Morgan, and she is excellent and she rides with Jersey on her back, but I am Jersey through-in and throughout. You will see me on a Monday down in Point Pleasant at the Tiki Bar drinking frozen margaritas and having a good time. I am a Jersey guy, so it’s great to be part of the Jersey J-Cup.
“It’s going to be the best of the best of independent wrestling. It’s going to be grueling for whoever makes it to the end, but it’s going to be an awesome day of wrestling.”
The (online) week in wrestling
- Paul Heyman and Cody Rhodes were brilliant on Raw. As of right now, I think Rhodes will be booked to defeat Reigns at WrestleMania, but it is going to be a very interesting build—and match.
- Reigns-Rhodes still seems distant, which will remain the case until Reigns-Sami Zayn unfolds at Elimination Chamber.
- Darby Allin has a knack for bringing out the best of Samoa Joe, which we saw again last week on Dynamite.
- Becky Lynch overcame Bayley in a steel cage on Raw, with the assist going to a returning Lita. Will Lita stick around for a tag match at Elimination Chamber?
What if “The Million Dollar Man” had his run as world champion?
One of wrestling’s most memorable stories just celebrated another anniversary.
The Main Event aired live on Feb. 5, 1988 on NBC, generating a new record for Nielsen television ratings (15.2) and 33 million viewers. The enduring moment was the shocking end of Hulk Hogan’s four-year run as World Wrestling Federation champion, which reached its conclusion when Andre The Giant pinned Hogan.
The finish was complicated, as Hogan lost despite raising his shoulder on the winning pinfall—which was ignored by referee Earl Hebner, who had been paid off by “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase to replace twin brother Dave Hebner. Immediately after winning, Andre “surrendered the WWF tag team title” (Gene Okerlund was wise not to correct him) to DiBiase, and it appeared he started his first run with the belt.
DiBiase wore the belt the very next day, when he worked a double shot in Philadelphia at the Spectrum and Boston at the Garden, teaming with Andre against Hogan and Bam Bam Bigelow. He even successfully defended the belt against Bigelow that Monday at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles. But that was it.
DiBiase was stripped of the belt, and the vacant title would be awarded to the winner of a 14-man tournament at WrestleMania IV—where the “Macho Man” Randy Savage defeated him in the finals to win the belt. DiBiase would ultimately never become champion.
In the modern era, a champion DiBiase would have worked pay-per-view main events against Hogan and Savage. But this was a different time. From 1979–91, the longest title reign for a heel was Sgt. Slaughter’s 64-day run with the belt, which was designed to get the belt back onto Hogan. The company was driven by a babyface champion, and Vince McMahon was taking a chance—one that paid off—by making Savage champ at WrestleMania IV.
The tournament to crown a new champ at WrestleMania IV was anything but smooth. Fourteen was too big a number, especially with the amount of non-finishes involved. It is infinitely easier to make decisions in retrospect, but DiBiase as champ, especially considering he did not even win the title himself, would have been very cutting-edge content for the promotion. He could have held onto the title until WrestleMania, then dropped it to Savage—while Hogan and Andre still could have had their rematch. That may have complicated their double DQ finish, however, as the plan was to keep both Hogan and Andre as strong as possible. Still, a second loss to Hogan—especially after he unfairly lost the title—was the comeuppance Andre deserved.
Incredibly, Hogan and DiBiase never wrestled each other on pay-per-view in a singles match. They had a tag at SummerSlam in 1988, a multi-man match at Survivor Series a year later and eventually worked a tag title match at WrestleMania IX, but it is a shame it never happened because the two characters were such perfect rivals. And naturally, they shared a fascinating backstory.
“My story with the Hulkster goes all the way back to December of 1979,” DiBiase told Sports Illustrated in 2017. “This goes back to when Vince McMahon Sr. was still the boss in New York and I was only 24 years old. The last match I had during that run was in Madison Square Garden with this new guy, Hulk Hogan. He was the heel and I was the good guy. I remember asking Vince Sr., ‘I know you really want to get this guy over. How would you like me to do it?’
“Vince Sr. said, ‘Ted, do it the way you want to do it. I know you’ll do it right.’ After the match was over, Hulk thanked me and he said, ‘I owe you one.’”
Hogan and DiBiase would again cross paths in 1987, with DiBiase as the heel and Hogan as the babyface.
“He was big in that Rocky 3 movie, he slammed Andre the Giant, he was the star,” said DiBiase. “I didn’t actually see Hulk until we did our first TV [taping] together. He walked up to me, shook my hand, and said, ‘It’s payback time.’ Hulk remembered what I did for him, and he was ready to repay the favor and make me look good upon my arrival.”
DiBiase remains among the greatest ever in WWE history to have never been world champion. Even if, technically, he was.
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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.