POST NEWS UPDATE: AJ Francis (Top Dolla) discusses Hit Row’s future post-WWE

AJ Francis speaks about Hit Row post-WWE, Melina wishes bout with Deonna Purrazzo was her last, Bandido/AAA update, Nyla Rose/Awesome Kong

Photo Courtesy: WWE

If any of the quotes from the following podcasts or video interviews are used, please credit those sources and provide an H/T and link back to POST Wrestling for the transcriptions.

** AJ Francis (Top Dolla) returned to the Jobbing Out podcast and he discussed the future of Hit Row post-WWE. He mentioned that he met up with Isaiah ‘Swerve’ Scott, Briana Brandy (B-FAB) and Tehuti Miles (Ashante Thee Adonis) and they do have plans to collaborate outside of WWE. They are all on the same page when it comes to reuniting when they can but also having their own respective goals that they want to chase in and outside of wrestling.

Absolutely [there is a plan to collaborate with Hit Row members outside of WWE]. I mean we have all — the funny thing is the reason why Hit Row worked so well is because you got four people who have completely different personalities as well as, you know, wrestling styles and characters coming together and it all felt really symbiotic between all of us. It was never hard for us to seem like we connected because we just connected and the thing is now, everybody kind of has their own plans but those plans entail all of us still working together every chance that we get an opportunity to. But we all have different ideas of what we wanna do next and we all have different ideas of where would be the best place for us to go. So, you know, it’s going to be an opportunity for everybody because anybody with eyes that watched what we did on television knows that we can bring a lot to any company that we go to, you know what I’m saying? So, we have all different ideas but the plan right now is for us to, you know, do everything we can together but still not be afraid to do our own thing which is what we were already doing to be honest. When we would do everything within our crew, because even if you look at [Isaiah] Swerve [Scott’s North American] title reign, the focal point was on Swerve but we were all — the point was for us to make sure that he got the best out of that-that he could and same thing when we came up to the main roster and they wanted to see me work as the solo guy. We all came together and recognized the potential of that and how well it could work, depending on where we ended up taking the stories that we did because at the end of the day, none of us came to WWE all together. We joined together when we got there so, to now have the opportunity to still work together but be our own people, I mean it’s exactly what we were looking for from the beginning.

He stated that their 90-day non-compete clauses are up around WrestleMania 38 which will be taking place in Arlington, Texas. Francis expects all members of the now-former Hit Row to be in Texas that week.

Yup [Hit Row could reunite at independent shows] and funny thing is honestly, we have to iron out a lot more details but — of how we’re gonna do it but, at the end of the day, our 90 days are up before WrestleMania so I would fully expect all of us to be in Dallas for WrestleMania week so there’s gonna be a lot of fun to be had that week for sure.

There was a conversation held about Francis’ confidence and how that might rub some people the wrong way. He said as a Black man in America, unless someone is vouching for you, you’re not allowed to express that type of confidence.

You know how it is. You’re not allowed — in these here United States, you’re not allowed to be Black and confident without a reason that someone else can justify, sadly. If there isn’t someone else that will vouch for you, you’re not allowed to be Black and confident, you’re not allowed to believe in yourself. I don’t live in the Kyle Rittenhouse-America. I live in The Central Park Five-America, you know what I’m saying? So like, I live in a different America than a lot of people and I’ve done that my whole life. That’s why I do things like my canned food drive because I see how quickly things can go south for people that didn’t have anything going for them in the first place.

Francis shared that Kevin Owens checked in with Hit Row to see how they were adjusting to the main roster and he contacted them after they were released from WWE as well. 

You know, Kevin Owens [reached out]. Kevin Owens was a — and you know me, I was a — I got a signed Kevin Owens picture hanging on my wall in my house right now. I was a fan of his for years before he got to WWE, before I got to WWE and he’s gone out of his way to — after we debuted, to be really cool and talk to me about what we’re doing and even after I was released, making sure to reach out so it’s like there’s really good people in this business and you know, Kevin Owens has also been somebody that people say is hard to work with as well [Francis was comparing that to the stories of him being difficult to work with]. 

** ROH World Champion Bandido is one of five talents competing for the vacant AAA Mega Championship at Triplemania Regia. ‘RÉCORD’ caught up with Bandido ahead of the match and he said he’s open to doing more with AAA after the 12/4 date once he finishes up with Ring of Honor at Final Battle. Bandido last competed for AAA in 2018.

We [Bandido & AAA] are still in talks, seeing what will be done after this date. I am open and willing to work. This opportunity comes as a ring to my finger. The situation with Ring of Honor is to meet a date and from there, I am 100 percent [a] free agent. AAA [arriving] with these opportunities for me is pure life.

** K & S WrestleFest hosted a virtual signing with Nyla Rose. She shared that while Kia Stevens (Awesome Kong) was still with AEW, things were headed towards the two of them being involved on-screen together.

We were heading that way [Nyla Rose and Awesome Kong being involved on-screen in AEW] but you know, real life had some different options so, wishing all the best to Kong and…

Awesome Kong retired. That’s her business to share. If you would like to know what’s going on with her, reach out to her. Can’t promise she’ll answer that but that’s her business to share. All we’ll go with is Kong had to step away from the ring and unfortunately, we never got to see that match. But, it’s pro wrestling. Who knows what happens in the future? I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Nyla detailed how the on-screen partnership between herself and Vickie Guerrero came to be. Vickie expressed interest in wanting to work with Nyla and from there, Nyla pitched the idea to the powers that be in AEW.

It was me and Vickie [Guerrero’s] idea actually. Met her on the [Chris] Jericho cruise, she expressed interest in wanting to work with me at some point. Who says no to Vickie Guerrero? Vickie Guerrero says she wants to work with you, damn it, you work with Vickie Guerrero so it was right then and there and I went to the office and said, ‘Hey, I’d like to bring Vickie in,’ moved a few things around, the next thing you know, got the hire.

Rose discussed the in-ring chemistry between herself and Hikaru Shida. She feels that Shida gets more out of her when they wrestle.

[Hikaru] Shida is a fun opponent. She gets on my God damn nerves but she’s a fun opponent. She definitely pushes me to the limit, brings out a little bit more of me so I always have fun when I get in there with her.

** Melina was the featured guest for a recent Asylum Wrestling Store virtual signing. She reflected on her match against Deonna Purrazzo at NWA EmPowerrr. A part of Melina wishes that-that could have been her last match.

Oh my goodness, that meant so much to me [match with Deonna Purrazzo at NWA EmPowerrr]. I was so happy… part of me wishes that was like my last match ever. Just to, you know, pretty bow [on my career].

In 2011, Melina was released from WWE. She feels that she needed that to happen because if it didn’t, she would have continued to wrestle through injuries and not being 100 percent there mentally.

There’s nothing bad [about me being released from WWE]. Everybody’s always like, ‘Oh, she did something bad, something problematic’ or all this stuff everybody’s saying and I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, the conspiracy theories.’ No, it’s just like they made room for newer girls and you could tell it’s like the end. You can see that my heart wasn’t into as much and I do believe maybe they saw that, that I wasn’t as passionate as I was but I really believe that, like — have you ever had moments where if fate or life didn’t force you to do something that you needed for your life, that you would have continued to do it but then when it happened, it’s like, ‘Ah, good thing that happened because I would have kept going’ and I feel like that’s the way it was for wrestling. The universe was taking care of me by saying you have to take a break and get out because mental health and physical health was not going well because all I did was just work, work, work, work, work and the only time I ever had — I’m the only person that around that time — see, people don’t understand this is as the heel that I was, I worked every house show, every live event and the only time I had time off was when I was injured, so at that point in time, it’s like I needed to stop working because I would keep working until I broke, physically or emotionally broke down because I just — I was a workhorse. I just kept going, did everything I was told, work, work, work, work, work and when I got let go, it’s just like [sigh of relief], ‘Oh man, I needed that’ and they said, ‘You okay?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m fine. I’ll be fine. I just know people come and go and come back again. I’m fine.’ I just — I needed that weight off my shoulders so it was actually a blessing and then now, I can go back now and everybody’s so nice to me there so it’s just everything happens for a reason.

Melina’s on-screen feud with Beth Phoenix in WWE was discussed. While Melina was speaking about that, she mentioned that she was surprised Tamina was never pushed to that top level in the women’s division during that time.

Actually I’m surprised — Tamina was great to work with, because she’s way taller and way bigger than Beth Phoenix so I’m surprised they never pushed her to that level and everything. But she was great to work with too.

** Dustin Rhodes was the latest guest on ‘Way of the Blade’ and he dove into the match he had with Cody Rhodes at AEW Double or Nothing 2019 and the lead-up to it. Rhodes finished up with WWE two months prior to Double or Nothing and shared that there was concern on AEW’s part that WWE might try to hold Dustin so he wouldn’t be able to make the pay-per-view date.

Two weeks before that [releasing his post-WWE hype video], they had given me a call, Cody [Rhodes], right? And told me and they said, ‘Hey man, would you like to be in this Double or Nothing pay-per-view and wrestle your brother?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely.’ But to be honest with you, I thought my wrestling career was over and I questioned myself. I questioned myself big time. ‘Can I still go and give Cody the type of match that he deserves?’ And you know, ‘Is this gonna do anything for me?’ Because they billed it as ‘One Last Ride’ — and it was a little before two weeks, sorry. It was probably like a month before they had offered me that, right? And they were very scared that the 90-day, they [WWE] were gonna try and hold me and I wouldn’t be able to get into this pay-per-view but I agreed to this, not knowing what to expect because AEW is a different crowd base, a different fan base so they came out to my home, we shot a video. Just the little vignette because we did two vignettes.

Rhodes stated in past media appearances that the idea of himself versus Cody Rhodes at WrestleMania was denied and Vince McMahon once scoffed at the idea. Dustin added that Vince would often tell him that a match between the two of them was not good enough for WrestleMania.

But to go back, like five years before this [Cody Rhodes vs. Dustin Rhodes at Double or Nothing], I had fought so hard every single year to get — to work by brother at WrestleMania. You know, the show and point blank, Vince [McMahon] would always tell me, ‘This match is not good enough to be on WrestleMania.’ That pissed me off. That pissed me off bad and it was hurtful and it did something to me and it really depleted every ounce of passion that I had man. I fought for it every single year, Cody too. We both fought for it every year.

After the Double or Nothing 2019 bout, Dustin regained his passion for pro wrestling. He doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to top what was done in that match.

It was the most incredible feeling I have had yet in the wrestling business in my 33 years of being in the business [Double or Nothing 2019]. The most incredible night of my life and at the end of that promo that Cody [Rhodes] spit at me when he came back in the ring when I was about to say, ‘Hey, this was one last ride and I’m taking off my boots. I can’t do anything better than that,’ and he comes in and he offers me to be his partner for the next pay-per-view, and from that moment, I found my passion again and it was — I’m looking around at the crowd and I’ve lost probably three pints of blood, who knows? It was so excessive. It was abundantly excessive, right? And I’m dizzy and my stomach is hurting because I’m about to throw up because I’ve swallowed so much blood, I’ve lost so much blood and I’m looking at these people and I see them through the blood and it’s blurry but I can see their faces and you know, it’s like, I compare it to somebody who is a non-believer that’s just there with their children and they’re sitting in the front row, the children are happy to be there, the parents, the man or the woman, they hate it. They’re just there for the kids. But at the end, you worked them into a frenzy and they’re on their feet or they’re crying or they’re happy or they’re mad or whatever, you’re making them feel something and everybody in that building, everybody at home, they felt what Cody and I were going through. It was the most wonderful night of my life man and it’s like, there’s — I cannot top that. I can have some great moments left in the business but I thought I was done and I found my passion again and I found that, ‘Hey man, I can do this at 50-years-old. Maybe not on a full-time, every single night but I can do this’ and Tony [Khan] has really taken care of me and treats me like an attraction here and I really appreciate that. He makes me feel like I’m worth something and that is the one good thing that I’ve taken away about being with AEW is that it’s an incredible feeling to be here because he makes you feel worth. He makes you feel like a legend, right? And makes you feel like you are good enough to be in there with the world champion or whatever and you know, it’s a great feeling so I found my passion.

As Rhodes was talking about the ins and outs of the match, he recalled using a blade and accidentally hitting a vein.

It had been a long time [since I bladed], I had been out of practice. Let’s put it like that and I went deep, I hit a vein and it was excessive and I was actually scared at one point and Cody [Rhodes] looked at me and said, ‘Do we need to — are you okay? You want to go?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’ But I’m looking down and I look at some pictures from some of the photographers that took some shots and they’ve caught it in mid-stream where the thing is shooting out. It’s dripping out of my head and it’s constant. It did not stop and it would not stop and I’m like, ‘Holy sh*t.’ At one point when I gave Cody a top-rope superplex, we almost fell. We almost fell and it was because I’m dizzy and it’s slippery up there and it was like, ‘We gotta go now.’ If I would have waited another second, I would have superplexed him onto the rope, right? So we would have landed kind of diagonal on the rope and it wouldn’t have been good. It might have been — it might have created some problems.

** While speaking to Jim Varsallone of the Miami Herald, Jonathan Gresham shared his thoughts about Jay Lethal joining All Elite Wrestling. Gresham feels that Lethal owed it to himself to depart Ring of Honor after all he’s done with the company. Gresham added that he probably would not be where he is professionally had it not been for Lethal.

I think it comes a time when everybody has to move on. Jay [Lethal] has accomplished everything. He’s a Grand Slam Champion, he’s won the World Championship, the TV Championship, the Pure Championship and the Tag Championships. All the core championships in Ring of Honor when it originated, he’s held it, he’s done everything. There’s nothing else for him to do. I think he’s around 36. He owes it to himself to leave Ring of Honor. I think Jay Lethal is literally the best wrestler in the world and I don’t say that because of his in-ring ability. I say that because of the man that he is. He helps so many people and that stuff doesn’t get spoken about outside of Ring of Honor. He did wonders for my career. I wouldn’t be talking to you right now probably if it wasn’t for Jay Lethal. He did so much to make sure that, you know, I could be seen as the pro wrestler that he saw that I could be. He made sure that I had the matches — like literally, the whole me and him tagging thing was his idea. We had that match — the first match that Jay Lethal and I had was because he saw something in me. He said, ‘Hey man, I want to wrestle you.’ It didn’t come from the office. He came to me and was like, ‘I want to wrestle you’ and when he walked away, I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s going to happen, whatever.’ Next thing I knew, it got booked and we had that match and then after that, Hunter [Delirious] came to me and was like, ‘We gotta do that again.’ Because of him, I got my push in Ring of Honor. It wasn’t — the upper management didn’t see me as somebody to invest in. Jay Lethal saw something in me and he invested time in me to help me get to that point and he’s done that with several guys and he just doesn’t get enough credit for it and he’s done that with guys in Ring of Honor, he’s done that with guys outside of Ring of Honor. I mean all the way down to in-ring, promos, just getting booked simply for the company. He’s just a tremendous person and because of that, I believe he is the best wrestler in the world. Not just in-ring but everything else included.

At Final Battle, Gresham is challenging Bandido for the ROH World Championship. Although Ring of Honor is going on hiatus after Final Battle, Gresham plans to stay loyal to the company. He feels obligated to see this situation through.

It has gone through my mind [I might be in ROH’s last live match for the foreseeable future] but I try to stay optimistic. I grew up as a pessimist but in recent years, I’ve grown to be a little bit more optimistic about things and I feel like — I really truly believe Ring of Honor will come back. In what capacity? I’m not sure but I wanna stay loyal to the company and give it time to — give Ring of Honor time to just figure things out so whether I win the Ring of Honor World Championship or not, I’m going to stay loyal to the company until they make their final decision in April because Ring of Honor has changed my life, it’s given me new meaning, it’s saved me from a lot of stuff I could have gotten into at a younger age so, I feel obligated to stay. But it’s a good obligation. I wanna do it, definitely.

** Kevin Owens versus WWE Champion Big E in a non-title match is set for the 11/29 Monday Night Raw.

** NJPW World Tag League Results (11/28/21) Togane, Japan
– Kosei Fujita vs. Yuto Nakashima – Time Limit Draw (10:00)
World Tag League Tournament Match: Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima [4] def. Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma [0]
World Tag League Tournament Match: Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA & Tetsuya Naito) [10] def. Bad Luck Fale & Chase Owens [6]
World Tag League Tournament Match: Hiroshi Tanahashi & Toru Yano [8] def. Aaron Henare & Great-O-Khan [6]
World Tag League Tournament Match: EVIL & Yujiro Takahashi [4] def. Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI [6]
World Tag League Tournament Match: Dangerous Tekkers (Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr.) [8] def. Guerrillas Of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) [6]
World Tag League Tournament Match: Tiger Mask & Yuji Nagata [2] def. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & TAKA Michinoku) [0]

** AJPW Real World Tag League Results (11/28/21) Odawara, Japan
– Koji Iwamoto & Ryuki Honda def. Rei Saito & Rising HAYATO
– Black Menso-re, Kabuto Mitomi, Super Crazy & Takao Omori def. Dan Tamura, Hikaru Sato, Seigo Tachibana & Yoshitatsu
– TOTAL ECLIPSE (Koji Doi & Kuma Arashi) def. Jun Saito & Zeus
MLW World Middleweight Championship: TAJIRI (c) def. Atsuki Aoyagi
Real World Tag League Block B: NEXTREAM (Kento Miyahara & Yuma Aoyagi) [5] def. Devil Murasaki & Izanagi [0]
Real World Tag League Block C: KAZMA SAKAMOTO & Kengo Mashimo [6] def. Kohei Sato & Shuji Ishikawa [4]
Real World Tag League Block D: Shotaro Ashino & Suwama [6] def. TOTAL ECLIPSE (Hokuto Omori & Jake Lee) [2]

** IMPACT World Champion Moose is scheduled for Jonathan Gresham and Baron Black’s ‘TERMINUS’ debut show on 1/16.

** Frank Mandolini of the Last Minute Wrestling Podcast has an interview with Joe Lando.

If any of the quotes from the following podcasts or video interviews are used, please credit those sources and provide an H/T and link back to POST Wrestling for the transcriptions.