January 11, 2016 Wrestling Observer Newsletter: Cena out with shoulder injury, New Japan stars to WWE, tons more

Wrestling Observer Newsletter

PO Box 1228, Campbell, CA 95009-1228 ISSN10839593 January 11, 2016

NEW JAPAN WRESTLE KINGDOM 10

Thumbs up 242 (99.6% )

Thumbs down 0 (00.0%)

In the middle 1 (00.4%)

BEST MATCH POLL

Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi 165

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. A.J. Styles 68

Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tomohiro Ishii 21

WORST MATCH POLL

New Japan Rumble 118

Briscoes & Yano vs. Bullet Club 63

UFC 195 POLL RESULTS

Thumbs up 178 (100.0%)

Thumbs down 0 (00.0%)

In the middle 0 (00.0%)

BEST MATCH POLL

Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit 178

*This is one of the very rare occasions when every single person responding listed the same match for best match.

WORST MATCH POLL

Justine Kish vs. Nina Ansaroff 20

Drew Dober vs. Scott Holtzman 11

Alex Morono vs. Kyle Noke 10

Based on e-mails and phone calls to the Observer as of Tuesday, 1/5.

At press time, John Cena confirmed that he will be undergoing shoulder surgery on 1/7.

The injury is believed to be either a torn labrum or a torn rotator cuff. We’ve been told both from those within the company. This comes shortly after frequent training partner Cesaro had recent surgery for a torn rotator cuff. It continues the large number of shoulder injuries and surgeries in WWE over the past year.

No other details are available past that the normal recuperation period from that surgery is in excess of six months, so whatever plans there were regarding Cena, the Royal Rumble, and WrestleMania, are now out the window. When Seth Rollins went down with knee surgery, the WrestleMania plan was for Roman Reigns defending the WWE title against Cena. We do know that plan had changed and a new card had been made with different matches for both men, although because the company is so sensitive, nobody would confirm anything past that.

The only other details we have is that Cena wanted the surgery done as soon as possible. He had been having nagging shoudler problems and it had gotten worse while training. Cena has been known to make remarkable and what are almost thought to be physically impossible comebacks from surgeries in the past.

The change in training methods, focusing on heavy power lifts and heavy Olympic lifting by WWE performers has resulted in a huge increase in shoulder injuries, with Randy Orton and Dustin Runnels the key ones not participating in those kinds of workouts, like Cena, Cesaro, Hideo Itami, Mojo Rawley, Clayton Jack and Sami Zayn among others.

Cena, who is almost 39, has been going for personal records on lifts like the bench press, squat (which is almost surely not a factor in this) and snatch lifts over the past year. There is a strong belief in heavy training using the complete body today as opposed to the lighter isolation movements that most older wrestlers had done historically, except the ones who still competed in power lifts. But the training methods that are supposed to guard against injury seem to be increasing the injury rate significantly, particularly shoulder injuries. It is likely a combination of that and the bumping.

It does remind me of more than 30 years ago at Cauliflower Alley of Lou Thesz and Seymour Koenig, who were pioneers of athletes lifting weights long before the sports community approved of it.

Up until probably the 70s, most in sports thought weight training slowed you down and decreased performance in sports–Henry Wittenberg, for example, America’s best wrestler of the 40s, was an avid lifter and refused to stop, even with coaches pleading with him. The other wrestlers at the Olympic level were dissuaded from lifting, but pro wrestling got a lot of athletes in the first half of the 20th century out of weightlifting and even then it was a cosmetic business.

Koenig was a famous bodybuilder who was on all kinds of magazine covers in the 50s and did some acting (and who is still alive today as he came from a different era when it came to drugs) who became a pro wrestling star. By this time, both men were older and said that no matter what you do, don’t ever lift more than 150 pounds overhead. Of course I didn’t listen at the age I was at the time. And of course, at the age I’m at now, I realize there was a good reason they told me that.


As New Japan Pro Wrestling was about to start its biggest show of the year, four major stars--IC champion Shinsuke Nakamura, 36, top foreigner A.J. Styles (Allan Jones, 38), and tag team champions Karl Anderson (Chad Allegra, 35) & Doc Gallows (Andrew Hankinson, 32)--all gave notice.

All four are expected to head to WWE. WWE was hoping and planning to debut Styles as one of the surprise entrants in the Royal Rumble on 1/24 in Orlando, figuring he’d get a huge reaction from that audience. That could change, given the word is out. WWE was hoping it could pull off a surprise like it did when Alberto Del Rio, the champion from AAA, showed up to face John Cena on 10/25 in Los Angeles, and obviously that’s not happening.

After we had reported the story, it grew so big that WWE even acknowledged it on 1/5, doing a story on the rumors and stating that HHH declined to comment on the story, as opposed to denying it.

Booker Gedo was said to be blindsided by the move and given he’s notorious for long-term planning, they likely have to get ready to make a lot of changes. With the big program that has carried the company over four years, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada, clearly past its drawing power peak (even if their last match was a classic), Okada vs. Nakamura seemed like the long-term future hot program. When you look at the 2017 Tokyo Dome, taking Styles and Nakamura out of the picture, there’s no main event. Okada vs. Tanahashi may be the best draw, but it would struggle to do the business it did this year. Okada against Tetsuya Naito, Togi Makabe or Kenny Omega is not a Dome main event. They need to strap the rocket on Kota Ibushi when he returns, but coming off surgery for a herniated disc in his neck, it’s hard to know if he can perform at the same level.

It should be noted that at press time, all four are still working for New Japan, although unless things change and the WWE deal falls through, Styles finished up with an angle where the rest of the Bullet Club turned on him on 1/5 at Korakuen Hall. Omega was groomed to take Styles’ position as the top foreign star of the promotion.

Anderson, whose contract with New Japan expires on 1/31, along with Gallows, lost the tag team titles to Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma, which had been planned even if they were staying. But they will are expected to be getting a rematch in February at one of the New Beginnings shows.

Nakamura defeated Styles to retain the IC title in a classic match that lived up to, and even exceeded its high expectations.

Styles & Omega beat Nakamura & Yoshi-Hashi in a tag team match when Omega pinned Nakamura with his one-winged angel finisher, which shocked the live crowd and immediately established Omega as the next contender for the IC title. Omega then attacked Styles and gave him the one-winged angel. The Young Bucks then both superkicked Styles and Omega stated that Styles was fired from the Bullet Club. Omega then said he was tired of pretending to be a junior heavyweight, and is going after Nakamura’s title.

Styles has no more dates left with New Japan or ROH at this point in time. According to those very close to the situation, while no comments are allowed to be made regarding going to WWE, past the point it was noted that no actual contract has been signed at this moment. Styles did not have a New Japan contract, but had committed to shows through this week.

Styles is still doing his U.K. dates, with shows for Five Star Wrestling on 1/13 in Newcastle, 1/14 in Sheffield (for a first-time ever singles match with Rey Mysterio Jr.) and 1/15 in Liverpool.

He is also still scheduledfor his 1/16 Revolution Pro date at York Hall at Bethnel Green in London, where he will defend his Revolution Pro championship against Zack Sabre Jr., in what I believe is another first-time-ever match, and a 2/5 match for Deep South Championship Wrestling.

While not specifically stated, whether he does other dates would be dependent upon the nature of the WWE contract, whether he signs and what they have planned. Styles had said all along he was going to go wherever the best offer was, and it was always just a question as to whether WWE would offer a number that would make it worth it for him to give up his New Japan and indies deals, which made him, along with possibly Rey Mysterio Jr., as one of the two highest paid U.S. wrestlers not with WWE.

Another factor in all this is his back injury. Styles apparently said that doing DDP Yoga has helped his herniated discs out. Still, given his age and the nature of the injury changes the game for him. As an independent contractor, the upside is you make your own schedule, but you have to hustle like crazy. But if you can’t work, you don’t get paid. A WWE schedule is far more difficult, but if you’re under contract, you can afford to rest while injured and at least have a regular paycheck coming in. Of course, WWE does very thorough exams of talent before actually signing them and guys expected to be signed have gotten flagged due to injured body parts. But the injury could change his perspective if WWE were to offer a multi-year contract.

Anderson had been negotiating with TNA. The hold up had been that he was looking to continue to work for New Japan, a tricky political move since New Japan works with ROH in North America and ROH and TNA are considered rivals.

But WWE must have made a serious offer to him at the last minute, likely aware that he would be just about ready to ink a new one-year deal. The belief is WWE is interested in marketing “Balor Club” T-shirts after the worldwide success of the “Bullet Club” T-shirts (New Japan had a worldwide trademark for Bullet Club). WWE is doing teases already now that the word is out, as Balor had a photo of himself wearing a Bullet Club shirt posted with the idea he was waiting for his buddies to come saying, “They should have been here by now.”

Between medical and other testing, it can be several months between when a performer is given word they are looking to ink him to a deal, before the actual contract is offered, and usually the talent continues with the promotion they are working for until a date WWE gives them to report, such as the several month period between Kevin Steen, as an example, agreeing to come to WWE, and still finishing out his programs with ROH, and there was even time after that before all the medical reports were back and he was actually offered and signed his contract. But it was months earlier when he was given the original offer and agreed to come.

In the case of Styles, because they were looking at debuting him rather soon as a surprise (an idea that is out the window now because the story got out), like with Del Rio, the situation can be different.

On 1/5, they shot an angle for Nakamura to defend his IC title against Kenny Omega at one of the two February PPV shows. But Tokyo Sports and Yahoo Japan both reported Nakamura finishing at the end of January when his contract expires and Nakamura did an interview confirming his departure. That looks to necessitate putting the Omega vs. Nakamura title match on the 1/30 show at Korakuen Hall.

“The world, the world, that’s it,” Nakamura said. “I want to live a life where I keep aiming for an ever bigger stage.”

The belief is he will drop his IC title on the way out, unlike Del Rio, who never dropped the AAA belt. If he doesn’t, that would be a clear sign WWE is really trying to screw with New Japan for fun, like they did with AAA with Del Rio. When Fergal Devitt (Finn Balor) decided to leave New Japan for WWE, his contract expired in January and it was generally known before that time he was probably leaving. But he stayed through April and didn’t report to Orlando until May.

Nakamura was a surprise because no Japanese wrestler at his level has ever left the home company to sign with a U.S. promotion. Even when WCW was paying out huge money, Keiji Muto and Masahiro Chono stuck with New Japan (although they were making huge money in Japan at the time). WWE had been after Nakamura for months. While KENTA was NOAH’s top star and left, NOAH at the time was a dying company and KENTA (now Hideo Itami) had always had the goal to make it in WWE and was running out of time due to age. Nakamura would be similar except New Japan, while past its peak, is still a vibrant, healthy company and he was a genuine superstar past the small promotion level. Nakamura was also working for a major corporation, Bushiroad, the parent company of New Japan, with an owner, Takaaki Kidani, who had publicly said their competition was WWE & UFC and their goal was to become a worldwide power. Kidani had also in the past talked about how it was inevitable that they may have to pay up to $1 million per year for their top three guys to keep them from inevitably going to WWE. However, Nakamura wasn’t making anywhere close to that.

WWE would have had to have made a significant financial commitment to get him. It’s not just offering more money than he is currently earning, but Nakamura would have tremendous long-term job security provided New Japan stays healthy as a company. New Japan continues to use wrestlers like Manabu Nakanishi and Hiroyoshi Tenzan, who can’t do much anymore, because the company does have more loyalty to talent than most companies. When his body gives out, he probably, with his charisma, could continue in a toned down lower card role in multiple person matches for more than a decade, and on occasion, get some nostalgia runs. But in leaving, that company loyalty situation changes. Still, if it doesn’t work out, he would be accepted back and it would be a big return. But there is the writing on the wall. New Japan had a great comeback, tripling business over a few year period. But they peaked with last year’s Tokyo Dome and Dominion shows, and look to be starting a period where they’ll be paying for the lack of developing new stars. WWE is the opposite, as they’ve been aggressive in building talent for their future, even if most of it was talent really created elsewhere.

There are two key lessons in this. New Japan has attempted to copy the WWE business in many ways, such as making the Tokyo Dome week like WrestleMania, giving up on PPV and iPPV in favor of a streaming service and just all kinds of business and promotional changes.

The first lesson is that they need to sign their top guys to longer than one-year deals. The top WWE talent that they rely on is signed up for eight to ten years, and renegotiated with and given new deals long before the current ones expire. Even the minor guys and developmental guys are usually signed up for three years minimum. This prevents a rich billionaire wanting to start out from being able to execute a raid. New Japan’s one-year deals that expire in January left them as sitting ducks for this.

The second is, instead of a system where they just create their own stars from scratch, they should be open to poaching good young talent from other promotions. There is a ton of great young talent in Japan, or even great talent in smaller promotions that could work out great in New Japan. It’s not the Japanese way of doing things. But WWE, whether in 1984, 1994 or 2014, has always been built more on taking talent that worked in other promotions and was already good. Sure, there are Kurt Angles and Dwayne Johnsons who they started on their own, and Roman Reigns fits into that category as well. But in New Japan, virtually everyone (Kazuchika Okada ironically being the exception as he was trained originally by Ultimo Dragon) came from their dojo. Kota Ibushi, when he returns, needs to become a “big four” guy, which is tricky since he’s under a dual contract and doesn’t work the spot shows.

With Nakamura and Styles, WWE will pick up two of the best wrestlers in the world today, some would argue the two best. Both are geared for the main roster, not NXT, although either or both spending time in NXT wouldn’t be a surprise. After Luis Urive (Mistico/original Sin Cara) went straight from CMLL to the main roster, the doctrine has been to send foreign stars, no matter how talented, to NXT to have them study English and the way WWE presents wrestling as well as the ring style.

This also hurts ROH. It doesn’t appear that Nakamura will be coming to ROH in February, although he did tell at least one person in ROH he would see him there on 1/5 and nothing has been confirmed on the ROH side. The New Japan/ROH relationship was a huge deal in ROH having its biggest year ever this past year, and the relationship between the sides had gotten stronger after working things out when Jushin Liger worked an NXT date head-to-head in Brooklyn against an ROH show where much of New Japan’s top talent worked. With Liger working the NXT date (interestingly Liger has not worked any other NXT dates even though indie promoters in the U.S. that went to book Liger were told WWE has first priority on dates for him and he hasn’t worked in the U.S. since), Nakamura was the most popular of the New Japan wrestlers with the ROH fan base. After Nakamura gave notice, he did indicate to at least one person he was still coming for the ROH tour. ROH booker Hunter Johnston (Delirious) was in Japan this week for the Tokyo Dome and booking Japanese talent in ROH this year was a key part of discussions.

Nothing is known regarding how Anderson & Gallows would be used, past the Balor Club speculation. Anderson had turned down several WWE offers over the past few years. He showed up for the Dome leaner than he had ever been, more muscular and more tanned. He looked like someone getting ready for WWE. He’s a technically talented guy and has some comedic ability as shown in the Maria storyline, which was really more of a WWE type program than a New Japan program. Since WWE very rarely takes back guys that they themselves made the decision to cut, Gallows was very lucky to be partnered with Anderson at a time when WWE was clearly looking to do a 1984 Gagne on them.

What’s notable in the U.S. is that while the AXS show had a limited audience, it was a hit on the station, and like with the 1984 Gagne raid, they took the key announcer, the tag team champions, the IC champion and the former IWGP champion. To the America audience, Nakamura, with his charisma, and Styles because he’s American and a super wrestler, and had TNA recognition, were probably the two biggest stars on that show.

Other names floated around from New Japan as far as coming to WWE included Rocky Romero, Bad Luck Fale and Tama Tonga. The only thing known is that as of this week, none of the three had given notice.

Romero had recent discussions with WWE, with the belief being it involved a player/coach type of job at NXT. Balor is believed to have suggested and recruited Fale and Tonga. Because of his size, Fale had offers of sorts in the past but he lives in New Zealand, has family there, and in the past hadn’t been interested in relocating to Orlando.

Fale has had some success high on cards in New Japan. But even though the wrestling standard is a lot better in main events and he’s done okay, it’s been with guys who are really great and can carry him. He’s effective to a degree in New Japan because he’s 6-foot-4 and probably 340 pounds, and no other regular is that heavy so he can play big powerhouse. His rugby background works since he was a star in that sport in Japan, so he has the legit tough guy thing going for him. He gets over because everyone sold his Bad Luck Fall like it was a killer move that nobody gets up from, and he could do big man power spots because all his regular opponents are a lot smaller. The only two guys of similar size were Bullet Club members Cody Hall and Gallows, and he’s much heavier and thicker than both of them.

In WWE, even though the promoter himself historically favors size, once you have guys like Big Show, Mark Henry and Braun Strowman, a guy like Fale isn’t going to stand out just on size and power spots. WWE recruits guys his size all the time and most don’t make it, and aside from the size, he doesn’t have anything special going for him.

Ironically, Tonga lives in Orlando. But Tonga, due to the departures, is in line for his first major push in New Japan.

The word from New Japan was that the Bullet Club would remain, and that Omega would be the top heavyweight star, and that Fale & Tonga would move up to be the top foreign tag team. In a sense, that’s a tough one. Omega, Tonga and Fale are not new talent to the Japanese fans, only lesser talent taking spots from better talent. This is exactly what really hurt the regionals in the U.S., when what people saw as top stars were leaving and being replaced in the same spots not by new stars with similar charisma, but by people they already knew and were just lesser stars moving up. Some have compared this to 1990 All Japan, a strong promotion that was thought to be hurt badly when Genichiro Tenryu, Great Kabuki, Yoshiaki Yatsu and others all left together to start SWS. But All Japan had Toshiaki Kawada, Mitsuharu Misawa and Kenta Kobashi who had everything needed to be great main eventers and business boomed with the new talent on top.

Omega has great ability but will have to tone down his overacting if he’s going to be the top foreign star.

I think at this point they should just merge the junior heavyweight and heavyweight division when it comes to tag teams, and use the top junior teams like The Young Bucks, Ricochet & Matt Sydal and Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly as the guys fighting over the IWGP tag team titles, working them whatever makeshift teams or regular Japanese teams they have. It’s tough, because they would be smaller than the Japanese teams, but also have the ability to work around them and have better matches than the tag team title matches have been over the past year.

If not, they should just move one of those three teams, with Ricochet & Sydal being the best bets, into the heavyweight division and have them battle the top Japanese teams over the titles. It would allow the talented guys more opportunities at working higher on big shows. Ricochet is also tough because he’s not their guy, as he’s under contract to Lucha Underground and can only work here when Lucha Underground isn’t taping. Sydal is also not under contract. But there is the junior tag team talent that is underutilized because there is so much of it and they somewhat blend together in early matches on the big shows, that can be used to revitalize the heavyweight tag team division. That division has taken hits with losses of foreign stars like Anderson & Gallows, Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr., and Matt Taven & Michael Bennett.

They also have the ability to mix in some of the NOAH talent, as New Japan did lose an element when Minoru Suzuki left, since he was so different from all the native stars they protected. He’s gotten a little stale, but after a year as a main eventer on big NOAH shows, he, Smith and Archer can fit in, and Chris Hero & Colt Cabana were shockingly over as an American babyface team in a program with them. But they want to keep NOAH as a separate entity.


In looking at the year that’s past and the one that’s starting, the big thing from last year was the major business growth of UFC, which had its biggest year for PPV since 2010 and third biggest in its history.

Or maybe the lesson of the growth, just reinforcing that when it comes to being a major league promotion, is that it’s still all about the right superstars and the right matches.

UFC grew across the board, most notably in PPV where the year, carried by Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor, had a 109 percent increase in buys per event.

McGregor, going into 2015, was all theoretical. An exceptional talker and a very good fighter, there were major question marks regarding just how good a fighter he was. It was clear he was very good, but he was untested against wrestlers and top tier talent. And as good a talker as he was, it was still unproven going into this year whether he could draw outside Ireland. The company pushed the hell out of him, focusing on him strongly on shows in Boston and Las Vegas, and headlining him in Dublin, over recent years.

UFC went balls to the wall with him, pushing him first on a January television show in his second Boston appearance that, on a football night, did record setting ratings for UFC on FS 1. Then they spent more money on promoting UFC 189, built around McGregor and Jose Aldo for the featherweight title. While the fight ended up falling apart due to Aldo’s rib injury, McGregor answered the PPV drawing power question with 800,000 buys against Chad Mendes. Three months earlier, or for that matter, three weeks earlier, the idea that McGregor vs. Mendes would do 800,000 buys would have been unthinkable.

Most figured the jig would be up because if he faced a wrestler, he’d have trouble, and the feeling was UFC was keeping him from wrestlers. And the idea UFC was keeping him from wrestlers wasn’t untrue. But he faced Mendes, a top wrestler, and finished him in the second round. Then he faced Aldo, who had gone undefeated for ten years and was considered as good as any fighter, regardless of weight, on the roster, and at 29, was still in his prime. McGregor knocked him out in 13 seconds in a year where there was a lot of changing of the guard, most notably because of the company’s first very legitimate attempt to rid itself of steroids.

Use was always prevalent, although how prevalent was anyone’s guess. Clearly a large percentage of the roster was clean, and very vehement about it. Just as much, it was clear that a large percentage wasn’t, with everyone fingering the more muscular types who had their battles and stories when it came to testing. A controversy regarding an Aldo surprise drug test and the tester being apprehended for not having working papers led a lot to suspect which category Aldo was in, and then in his first fight, one of the most dominant fighters in history went down immediately.

Aldo’s loss finished a year where the only champions who started and ended the year on top were welterweight champion Robbie Lawler, bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw and flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson.

Several of the losses were huge surprises, with the biggest upset being Holly Holm beating the company’s biggest star, Rousey, on 11/14 in Melbourne, Australia in a fight that was supposed to be a tune-up to lead for the long-awaited Rousey vs. Cris Cyborg fight.

Cyborg ended up being the big loser in the scenario, because Holm’s win rendered her irrelevant, at least until Rousey and Holm finish their business in 2016 or 2017.

But it was hardly the only surprise. Cain Velasquez, the heavyweight champion with the freaky gas tank, saw for the first time in his career, his tank run past empty in the thin Mexico City altitude. The question of whether he beat himself by not coming to Mexico City soon enough–Werdum came seven weeks early, or he lost to a better fighter–will be answered in their rematch.

While there is a question if Velasquez beat himself, there is no question that Jon Jones did.

Jones, the most talented fighter in the sport, came off the highest profile win of his career against Daniel Cormier, a fighter who had never previously even lost a round. But his outside warning signs weren’t heeded. There was at least one DUI. There was a heavily publicized middle of the night car crash. There was a positive cocaine test which he couldn’t be suspended for because cocaine is only banned in competition and this was taken about a month before the fight. There were questionable, but not provable, other strange test results. And then he was involved in a hit-and-run, which UFC officials said was the last straw. He was stripped of his title.

Cormier, on short notice, defeated Anthony Rumble Johnson, whom Jones was to face, and became new champion, and then won a war with Alexander Gustafsson in one of the year’s best bouts. But even though Cormier had plenty of exposure and wasn’t shy about talking, the public didn’t buy him as champion because he lost solidly to Jones.

Chris Weidman was thought to be the king, but lost to Luke Rockhold. On paper, this looked to be one of the most interesting title fights of the year, and it was. But neither fighter was at their best. Weidman had injury issues he kept quiet about, which is one of the reasons he kept his weight down. Rockhold was battling cellulitis in his legs. Rockhold got the better of it and became one of four champions (with Werdum, Cormier and Lawler) who came from the ghost of Strikeforce.

Rousey had gotten the big promotion push from UFC since 2013. Without question, there was no push that was more polarizing and never were people so vocal about wanting to see a direction fail. Rousey’s debut show with Liz Carmouche ended up being a huge success, but some tried to write it up as the historical first and it would have no legs. Some tried to credit it to Dan Henderson vs. Lyoto Machida (the No. 2 fight on that card), but those people were clearly beyond delusional. Still, it wasn’t all a giant instant success. UFC lowered PPV ticket prices to get their sellout on the first show, and at first people weren’t buying tickets in great numbers to see a women’s title fight. The first Rousey fight’s success can be credited to the three week UFC Prime Time special where both fighters came off as such compelling personalities. While history will credit this all to Rousey, and she does deserve the lion’s share, the role of Carmouche and promotion of her as the opponent was a strong part of the overall game, and groundbreaking in many ways.

Carmouche’s background as a former Marine who spent time in the Middle East was noted, as was her being gay. It wasn’t flaunted, or exploited. It was put out there as simply part of her story. Carmouche wasn’t the original plan for the first Rousey fight. That was Cris Cyborg, who refused to sign with UFC because they insisted on an eight-fight contract. Miesha Tate and Sara McMann were also obvious choices ahead of Carmouche, but McMann’s camp didn’t want it early, and Tate had made a statement about wanting time off and was never called, even though had she been, she’d have taken the fight.

A lot of the Rousey rise was luck. It’s very possible that, had Cyborg taken the fight, the entire women’s division would have never gotten past being a championship that couldn’t headline and UFC would have cooled off on it. Instead, they added another weight class and got aggressive in marketing more women fighters.

With McMann, the fight wouldn’t have been nearly as big because McMann wouldn’t have promoted it like Carmouche, nor been as interesting. And had it been Tate, it probably would have been a Rousey win, but Rousey vs. Tate would have been done for good, robbing the great build up at the end of 2013 when they finally fought.

Still, Rousey’s second fight was put in a can’t lose situation, underneath a Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva rematch that was one of the biggest UFC fights of all-time. A huge gate and buy rate were guaranteed, although given Weidman and Rousey’s track records, it is pretty clear that Rousey vs. Tate didn’t get the credit it deserved for the circa 1 million buy number.

But Rousey vs. McMann did just okay and Rousey vs. Alexis Davis was on a big show underneath Weidman vs. Machida.

On 2/28, UFC put Rousey vs. Cat Zingano with a co-headliner of Holly Holm vs. Raquel Pennington. The risk was huge. It was one thing to put Rousey underneath a strong male championship fight, or even headline with Rousey in a grudge match with a male undercard. Rousey and Zingano came out with no animosity. They had no undercard support. Holm had never fought in UFC before and Pennington was a .500 fighter booked to be entertaining with Holm before getting obliterated by her better skill, essentially, showcasing Holm for a fight with Rousey.

While they didn’t quite sell out the Staples Center, it was still UFC’s biggest crowd ever for a fight in California, topping even the Matt Hughes vs. Royce Gracie fight in 2006, and came only a few hundred shy of the long-lasting Frank Shamrock vs. Cesar Gracie state record. There was significant fear that PPV wouldn’t do 300,000 buys, and it nearly doubled expectations. Her ridiculous14 second submission, coming off a 16 second knockout, led to Sports Illustrated touting her as the most dominant athlete, male or female, in the world. Rousey’s next fights with Bethe Correia and Holm were gigantic.

But the idea that UFC is this brand that is on fire is ignoring that UFC was at its lowest point from a public standpoint just one year ago, when an injury plagued year saw numbers plummet.

UFC, like boxing, will have its ups and downs depending upon the mainstream drawing power of its top one to four fighters. When they have stars like they do now, they’ll lead the company to great years, like last year was, and like next year will almost surely be. When you don’t have those stars, UFC will be a regular part of the sports scene, but just another tier two sport, much like boxing may be next year.

UFC television ratings for prime time fight nights were up 19 percent this past year, and prelims were up 29 percent. PPV prelims were up 47 percent, but those numbers are tied in with the PPV’s themselves increasing. The FOX shows, on the other hand, were only up three percent.

This year was essentially carried by seven fights: Rousey’s fights with Holm, Correia and Zingano; McGregor’s with Aldo and Mendes; along with a gigantic grudge match with Jones vs. Cormier, and the returns of Anderson Silva vs. Nick Diaz, both after lengthy absences.

Going into 2016, we look to have a few big fights already locked. McGregor has Rafael dos Anjos and Frankie Edgar, as well as possibly Jose Aldo. Just because of McGregor, all those fights should do well. While none of the opponents on paper are big draws, Aldo and Mendes weren’t a year ago either.

Jones vs. Cormier is a lock. There is no way they will be able to recapture exactly what they had coming off the brawl in Las Vegas and going into the first match. That was a series of things that couldn’t be scripted, most notably the insanity of the brawl itself, and the satellite media interview where both were going back-and-forth when they had no idea the cameras were on.

But the match did not go well for Cormier. It wasn’t just that Jones won the decision, but that Jones beat Cormier at the wrestling game, the one place Cormier figured to have the edge. Plus, from an age standpoint, Jones was just entering his prime and Cormier was really long past his, although Cormier mitigated age by being far more serious about training and, in particular, diet, over the past year. But a huge part of the rematch interest is unpredictability regarding the first fight and what would happen next.

The Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen rematch was gigantic, because Sonnen dominated Silva for four-and-a-half rounds and was really on the verge of a lopsided upset victory when the late submission was pulled off. Silva vs. Weidman’s rematch was huge because everyone thought Weidman’s knockout punch was a fluke because of Silva’s clowning. Even with McGregor vs. Aldo, because the fight ended so quickly there is still the question of what would happen in a real fight between them. But Jones vs. Cormier went 25 minutes and there was enough of a gap there that it seems hard for Cormier to close it, especially when he’s the one who will be 37 by the day of the fight. Plus, the craziest part of Jones is that he’s so talented he beat Cormier while likely partying through camp. And now, Jones has turned into powerlifter Jones, doing a reverse of the physical changes seen throughout the rest of the UFC.

Still, the rematch is still big for a number of reasons. First, Jones hasn’t fought since that fight, so it’s his return. He’s going for a title that he never lost. The two will talk up the fight. If the fight takes place in Madison Square Garden, a big if, that fact alone will garner a ton of publicity the week of the fight.

As for Rousey, if she fights Holm next, that’s a lock to do 1.5 million buys.

Depending upon if Rousey wins and then fights again next year, if McGregor keeps winning, and if some big matches emerge or someone else gets super hot, they could easily beat this year’s numbers. Still, 2017 could just as easily not be anywhere close to as strong. They don’t appear to have people on the horizon, and while UFC has tried to push Sage Northcutt and Paige VanZant, based on looks, both are far away from being in a big position. C.M. Punk’s debut will garner some interest, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that reality is hitting on that one. UFC is not a place to walk into at the age of 36 with no extensive high level athletic background.

WWE had an interesting year. While some will view it negatively, and a lot of it was, as a business, it was a year that affirmed they are in good shape for the long haul. They are more dominant than ever before, between TNA’s failure, AAA’s hopes of expansion being dashed and New Japan dropping from its peak. Not only that, but WWE created a sister brand, NXT, that was the biggest growth promotion of the year.

While the network isn’t even close to where they projected it, nor are profits anywhere close, the network is a success. The company is not going to be losing money going forward unless they get really stupid, or collapse in popularity.

Ratings are at record lows, but there has been no decline in major show interest. The PPVs usually sell out, and the big shows sell out instantly. WrestleMania will be big this year, even with nothing organically in the air that would be special.

Really, this year was about building up the network, which is well up from a year earlier, and transitioning from John Cena to Roman Reigns as the flagship star. It was a rough transition, but since they figured out Reigns isn’t Cena and instead booked him like he was Dusty Rhodes, things seem to be working better.

But Reigns is not that guy. Nor is anyone else. But keeping attendance steady and interest at a decent level doesn’t need that guy. WWE as a brand is the draw, and while Cena, Brock Lesnar and Vince McMahon in the right situation (and even Sting at Night of Champions) can make a difference, they don’t need any of them.

The decline this year is based on a lot of things, and much of it is the erosion that overexposure has caused. Now, UFC has shown you can survive and even flourish with overexposure, with five hour television shows almost every week, when you have the right stars and build the big matches well. There is erosion of the base, as some of the bad PPV numbers have shown, but the big stars also have put more interest overall in the product, and to their credit, they build matches really well. WWE doesn’t have those two superstars, and really hasn’t had them in more than a decade.

WWE is relying on a super strong core audience spending more money than ever on a product that has less casual interest than at any time except the dark ages (1992 to 1996) in modern history. But even so, they are doing okay. It’s not the optimum. They are two huge stars away from the optimum, but in creating the brand as the draw, they’ve sacrificed the days of selling out shows on a regular basis and creating major difference making stars, the likes the business was built on.

The company seems to have two unique paying fan bases. They have the 3,000 to 7,000 fans in the small and semi-major markets who like to see live wrestling. They buy merchandise, cheer who they are supposed to and have a good time. It’s a good base, and it’s enough to exist on and make money.

They have the second audience that comes to big shows. That audienc is sometimes is into protesting. When it comes to those shows, they make all the difference in the world as to whether the shows come across well. They can also create an illusion of sorts, sometimes based in reality, oftentimes not, of who should and shouldn’t be featured and who is really popular and should be on top. Sometimes they are listened to. Sometimes they are given the push back by a promotion that doesn’t want to be dictated to. This past year was a unique battle between the promotion and the audience over who is in charge. At the end of the day, while the audience is told they are in charge, they clearly aren’t. In fact, much of this year, with Reigns as the pawn, has been about that battle.

Still, whether satisfied or dissatisfied, the vast majority of that fan base is not going to support another pro wrestling product, and wrestling has strong enough cultural roots that the dominant group having no competition is going to do okay. Wrestling has always been big on television, but now television pays significant money for wrestling, giving it a cushion it never had in the past. The entire history of wrestling would be very different if the current economics of television were around 30 years ago, or even 15 years ago.

In many ways, WWE’s biggest success this year was with the NXT brand. They’ve managed to control the market of the underground fan, essentially reviving the concept that failed in 2006 with the ECW launch, of running smaller buildings with a lower paid talent crew.

The difference is that ECW was still a talent crew built from the McMahon mentality of what a wrestler should be, with a few odes to the old ECW. NXT has been about taking people who were proven talents elsewhere-- Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Apollo Crews-- mixing them with trainees, essentially what ECW was to be, and adding the element of making women a significant part of the package.

ECW had to compete with the legend of the original ECW, and with fans, based on those initials, wanting it to be something it no longer could be. With NXT, there is nothing to compare it to, and it’s become the hit show on the WWE Network. From a momentum standpoint, they are booking 1,500 seat buildings instead of 5,000 seat buildings, with the idea that it makes it so much hotter selling out than having more people but in a half full building. Paul Heyman had that mentality, but his problem was that he couldn’t make money with it. The beauty of NXT is that it doesn’t have to make money, because it’s listed as developmental. Now, if the touring was to lose significant amounts of money, it would end, but the advantage is they don’t have to pay the high salaries that ECW or TNA had to pay to keep talent to keep them from going to WWE, since all their talent already is in WWE.

NXT is only going to get bigger. The formula is simple. And there is a world of indie talent to bring in that other groups are cultivating. That pipeline won’t end. For every talent NXT loses and makes it in WWE, or gets squandered and flops in WWE, there are five wrestlers who are just as talented working outside WWE who can take their place.

WWE is still being aggressive at finding athletes in other sports and training them to be wrestlers. Some of them are going to find success as well, although that aspect has clearly not been as successful as it was a generation back with OVW.

The big negative is with that group of people. Essentially, NXT mixes first graders with guys, because of their worldwide travels and abilities, who are like college level. If you put first graders in the same classes as college kids, even if they were mentally advanced first graders, a lot will get frustrated with being so far behind, and the track record of great athletes being started out and turning into great pro wrestlers is far less at NXT than in most places historically. But as long as NXT takes credit for Sami Zayn, Apollo Crews and Finn Balor, it looks like it’s churning out super talent.

New Japan has had a string of good years, and is the closest thing to a major league group besides WWE, but still far from the WWE or UFC level, which owner Takaaki Kidani said was their goal.

New Japan’s issues have been gone into. There has been a decline, starting early in the year when some Korakuen Hall shows stopped selling out, and more recently crowds across the board are down. They are the perfect example of a product exploding in popularity due to a number of people hitting their stride at the same time, but not being able to get enough replacements to mix in.

The company had gone about as far as it could have gone with the current “big four,” but now faces more problems with losing two of the big four and with the plans of taking Tanahashi out of the singles main event picture, although that’s likely to change with him being pushed into the IC title picture out of necessity. Tanahashi, has to pick his spots due to all of his injuries.

They need some new people in the mix. Hopes that La Sombra would be a key player this year fell through with his signing with WWE. Tetsuya Naito freshened up his character, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll have drawing power on top. Ditto whether Evil can rise to the level needed to make a difference.

Ultimately, New Japan has severe disadvantages in trying to compete with UFC and WWE. Being in Japan is by far the biggest, as Japanese entertainment and stars, no matter how talented, never export as well as Americans. I remember in the early 90s when executives from WCW would come to the Tokyo Dome and see that their stars were actually bigger stars in Japan than in the U.S., while remarking how the Japanese stars were complete unknowns in the U.S.

Plus, New Japan has failed in a business sense to take advantage of its television exposure. They didn’t follow up on the success of the Tokyo Dome on PPV. In many ways, New Japan, CMLL and AAA are the last remaining regional promotions that survive the WWE expansion, but all are way down in their local markets as compared with the past.

A lot of the Japanese groups have great wrestling, and very loyal hardcore fan bases, no different from many U.S. indie groups. The main difference is, a lot of the Japanese groups run far more often. But aside from Dragon Gate, which is clearly the consistent No. 2 group in the market, they all have low ceilings. With New Japan’s help, NOAH ran an interesting storyline all year and if you watched their big shows, Minoru Suzuki came across as one of the greatest heel world champions in years, and it came across like the promotion is hot. But like a lot of secondary groups, heating up crowds and heating up numbers are two different things, and NOAH is still very much a struggling group.

CMLL showed flashes of excitement in 2015, with the rise of Los Ingobernables and returns of people like Dr. Wagner Jr. and L.A. Park, but the latter were gone quickly and the former were hurt by the loss of La Sombra.

With ownership of its arenas and a long tradition, CMLL will continue to produce more events than almost any company in the world, but there is no real sign of growth.

On the flip side, almost nobody came into 2015 looking more like it was going to be able to grow to a new level than AAA, largely based on having a top mix of Rey Mysterio Jr., Alberto El Patron and Myzteziz, and top heel Perro Aguayo Jr.

While there was growth early, the year turned into a disaster on so many levels. Alberto, Myzteziz and Cibernetico all left, and Aguayo Jr. passed away. Even their biggest show of the year, TripleMania, was a match quality and technological disaster with its first live PPV into the U.S.

The year ended with a disastrous co-promotional tour, a canceled final major show of the year, and word that the one star left, Mysterio Jr., is likely to be working a lesser schedule.

In many ways, when it comes to the long-term, AAA and Lucha Underground may be tied up. If Lucha Underground takes off as a television show and gets strong Mexican television, it makes no sense to run AAA and Lucha Underground as separate since they use many of the same stars. If it doesn’t, both will end up badly weakened since much of AAA’s top talent is there because of the Lucha Underground contracts.

The other company that looked to have major growth this year was Bellator. There was tremendous momentum coming off setting records for a Tito Ortiz vs. Stephan Bonnar match with a complete pro wrestling buildup. Television ratings had risen with Scott Coker at the helm, and Viacom was helping to grow the company in other ways, including international.

But aside from a huge success with the Kimbo Slice vs. Ken Shamrock match when it came to ratings, the big turnaround wasn’t there. Overall, things were mostly steady. Bellator’s viewership average increased by six percent, from 702,000 to 746,000. It had its biggest live event, Dynamite, in San Jose, but the show only did 800,000 viewers on Spike as Ortiz didn’t draw with Liam McGeary in chasing the light heavyweight title like he did in a contrived grudge match with Bonnar.

Bellator is now going to feature 49-year-old Royce Gracie vs. 52-year-old Ken Shamrock as its first major bout of the year. It’s the rematch that people really wanted in 1996, happening in 2016.

The whole idea of trading on the name value of the older fighters is they bring you to the television set, and then strong younger fighters are put on the show that you find out about.

As a theory, it’s a great idea. But it hasn’t worked yet. Bellator has yet to really find a breakthrough guy. Joe Warren talked a lot, but never put up numbers. Michael Chandler had great fights, but unless he was matched with Eddie Alvarez (now in UFC), he hasn’t done so either. Rampage Jackson is in limbo. Whether they can find Ortiz an opponent to draw against, or even if Shamrock vs. Gracie does draw, that’s just one night and the key is the future.

Bellator has building blocks in place. They have strong ownership in Viacom, a viable channel, regular prime time fights and loads of international deals. But to take the next step, it’s clear they are going to need to bid for UFC talent whose deals are expiring and build using them as new stars. But ratings are key. Spike already dropped its kickboxing franchise due to low ratings, and it boxing numbers of late are hovering near where kickboxing was. Bellator is still doing slightly below its network prime time average, although that’s not bad, considering it’s a Friday night. But it’s imperative to keep numbers at least around the current levels.

ROH had its most successful year. Some of the success came through Styles, who was a difference maker in many markets. A huge plus was the New Japan crew, which drew sellouts in most markets they appeared. If anything, ROH showed just how badly TNA squandered a similar business deal years ago. TNA got nothing out of the New Japan crew, and most of the current top stars were in TNA at one point and TNA promoted them to mean nothing. Plus, ROH has kept a lot of its talent and gained new talent over the lure of being able to work for New Japan, which has now become the “place to be” for anyone who can’t get into WWE.

There are questions regarding some talent contracts, but the reality is, ROH always has, and always will be a revolving door. They lost Samoa Joe, C.M. Punk, Bryan Danielson, A.J. Styles, Kevin Steen, El Generico and Tyler Black and are far stronger than they ever were with all of those names. ROH has always been about taking talented guys and building them from the bottom to the top.

But the year wasn’t a total success. With a combination of Sinclair Broadcasting and Destination America, ROH had its strongest television penetration in its history. But it lost Destination America after doing significantly lower ratings than TNA because they aired the same show that aired in much of the country in syndication days earlier.

While they are absolutely threatened in many ways by NXT, their short and long-term all depends on the same thing, the willingness of Sinclair Broadcasting to believe they are valuable enough to fund to give them first run low-cost weekend programming. It’s clear Sinclair doesn’t see this as a big growth business, because they aren’t funding expansion or the badly needed production improvements to compete with NXT, nor to keep talent for the most part from leaving if they do get a solid WWE offer.

As long as they constantly bring in fresh talent and build that talent rising, keep the New Japan affiliation, and don’t book stupidly, they’ll be fine as long as the wrong person doesn’t get in the key decision making power at Sinclair.

TNA is in a completely different situation. The long-time No. 2 group is a very distant No. 4, and could end up being No. 5, depending on the plight of Lucha Underground.

But they still have the best television exposure, Tuesday nights with two hours in prime time on a station that reaches about 63 percent of the country’s homes. But they have no momentum and have lost much of their key talent, and will almost surely be losing Kurt Angle, and there are questions about Matt & Jeff Hardy, whose contracts expire shortly.

They are increasing exposure, but have far less momentum and talent, as well as revenue, as compared to a year ago.

Lucha Underground has the funding for another season. They have a following and may have had the consistently best television in the country, even though its penetration and viewership was very limited.

They have a different approach, but they are attempting to create new stars. As much as Rey Mysterio is a bigger star than Alberto El Patron, the loss of Alberto is significant because he was a well-known name who came across as a huge star on their television.

GFW is still searching for a television deal. As much as WWE is in great shape because NBC Universal is willing to pay them nine figures per year which keeps them profitable, right now television does not deem anyone else to be worth paying big money for wrestling. And for that matter, the same goes for UFC.

At the end of the day, WWE & UFC will maintain their positions, perhaps grow some or decline some based on star mix.

As for the others, they can make all the right moves and have the best booking and eye for talent, but in all cases, it’s down to this. Bellator survives as long as Viacom deems the idea that paying for secondary MMA is worth it–essentially they need to draw acceptable ratings. The same goes with ROH as Sinclair. The same goes with Lucha Underground and El Rey. Being owned by either the TV station, or in the case of Lucha Underground, partially owned by the same person who owns the TV station, is what keeps them afloat. Their long-term is mostly based on ratings and people at the station wanting it, and not things like creative mix.

TNA may have the exposure but they don’t have that. They are surviving because of deficit spending and without the paying TV deal, are bucking the odds. Their long-term depends on the Carter family keeping it alive to give Dixie a business to run.

CMLL is an institution in Mexico and isn’t going anywhere, either up or down to any major degree. AAA, more than any company except TNA, has its prospects for 2016 looking far weaker than a year ago.

The Japanese scene has rebounded from rock bottom, but nobody is flourishing and any changes will come with television and technology changes in that culture that there are no current signs of.


As its top star, Hiroshi Tanahashi was the driving force in bringing New Japan Pro Wrestling from near total collapse a few years ago, to tripling business,

In 2012, Kazuchika Okada, fresh off a run in TNA where he was used as a masked character out of someone’s childhood in watching the Green Hornet television show, was brought back to Gedo to eventually be the top star of the promotion.

Before Okada came back to Japan on the January 4, 2012, show at the Tokyo Dome, he was already groomed to win the IWGP heavyweight title from Tanahashi on February 12, 2012, in Osaka. The decision was controversial since Okada did not get over strong in a quick prelim win over Yoshi-Hashi at the Dome show. He and Tanahashi tore the house down in Osaka, but at the time, Tanahashi was the best wrestler in the world, and always tearing the house down. But it was in a title defense the next month at Korakuen Hall over Tetsuya Naito, an even better match than his title win, where it was clear that Okada, then just 24, was at some point going to be the guy to carry the company.

Over the next four years, the Tanahashi vs. Okada program became the standard of what fans of a generation in Japan will look back at as the legendary rival of the era, like Mitsuharu Misawa against Toshiaki Kawada, Jumbo Tsuruta against Genichiro Tenryu, Tatsumi Fujinami against Riki Choshu, Antonio Inoki against Stan Hansen, Jack Brisco against Dory Funk Jr., Giant Baba against Gene Kiniski and Rikidozan against The Destroyer were remembered in previous generations.

The two elevated the business outside the ring, and the standard of a main event championship match inside the ring. But nothing lasts forever.

Going into Wrestle Kingdom 10, it was clear that even though there had not been a singles match between the two in one year, this was like the closing stretch of Brisco-Funk or Austin-Rock, where they went out there, no doubt still very good, but the peak was over. Most feuds are only strong for a few months, and this was four years as the two top guys in the promotion.

Wrestle Kingdom 9 ended with Tanahashi retaining his title and Okada in tears, outside the ring. With their third Dome main event in four years, with Tanahashi winning the previous ones, the story of this was the changing of the eras. Okada winning would put the stamp on the inevitable, that time had moved on and it was Okada’s time to carry the promotion. While Okada could not match Tanahashi’s overall appeal or charisma, Tanahashi’s body was breaking down, and he had just turned 39. The long hair and body that teenage girls and young kids loved role was running its course.

He could, and did put on great main events when he was put in that position on big shows, having incredible classics with A.J. Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura on the last two nights of the G-1 tournament as well as with Kota Ibushi earlier in the tournament. But you only have to look at the New Japan mid-card, and see people like Satoshi Kojima, Yuji Nagata and Hiroyoshi Tenzan, all capable of incredible matches when they were champions in Japan, and know the shelf-life of a wrestlers’ body, that things change in their 40s. They can be brought back and put in main events, but their days of carrying the promotion are over.

In many ways, although New Japan doesn’t have the mainstream exposure to be quite at the same level as the past, the Tanahashi era is very much like the Hogan era in the late 80s WWF and the Flair era in the 80s WCW. And while completely different, Okada is very much in the position of Ultimate Warrior and Sting, who were thought for years to be the successors. But in both cases, business wasn’t the same.

Even without the upcoming departures, Okada, like Sting and Warrior, is getting to be the face of the company, but without the right rival to do top-tier business. With Nakamura and Styles leaving, Okada has people that have had their shots in the past and are clearly not cut out for the big title, like next contender Hirooki Goto, Tetsuya Naito, Togi Makabe or cult favorite Tomohiro Ishii. He’s left with Kota Ibushi, whose future is in jeopardy due to needing serious neck surgery, and Tanahashi comebacks.

Okada defeated Tanahashi in 36:01 in one of the two bouts on the weekend where both pro wrestling and MMA, just four days into 2016, may have both produced their matches of the year. Finally, on the biggest stage, it was Tanahashi, clearly defeated after three rainmaker clotheslines, being helped out while Okada had the center stage win that Tanahashi had six of the last seven years.

New Japan had been a company in decline since around 1999, and the sold out Tokyo Dome tradition ended a few years later. The 1/4 show, the company’s annual showcase, had gone down for the most part for more than a decade, with a blip in 2009 when Tanahashi beat outsider legend Keiji Muto to win the belt back for New Japan in 2009.

But the declines continued. In 2011, when they repeated the same angle from 2009, this time with outsider Satoshi Kojima holding the IWGP title, setting up Tanahashi to once again win it back for New Japan, the show only drew 18,000 fans.

From that point on, every year increased, doubling to 36,000 in 2015 for the Tanahashi vs. Okada main event. But the declines in business slightly noticeable after the Dome, and more noticeable during the G-1 tournament, the company’s other showcase event, showed that the constant increase in popularity had ended.

Tanahashi vs. Okada drew 25,204 fans for their latest battle on 1/4 at the Tokyo Dome. It should be noted that there have been changes in how attendance is reported, and this is a paid number. The actual number in the crowd, while down from the last two years, was actually more than the 29,000 for the 2013 show, also headlined by Tanahashi vs. Okada. So the number itself wasn’t as bad as some thought, given the comparison to 36,000 last year, but you also can no longer ignore nor pretend that the peak hasn’t passed, and that even this level will be very tough to maintain.

That has nothing to do with match quality and show quality. While I didn’t think this year’s Dome show could match last year’s Wrestle Kingdom 9, it was still a fantastic show, particularly the last three matches. I think Nakamura vs. Ibushi last year in some ways was better than Tanahashi vs. Okada, but when it came to drama and significance, Tanahashi vs. Okada this year felt bigger than any matches last year. Athletically, last year’s Tanahashi vs. Okada match was better, but it was going to be because of all the mileage on Tanahashi. A.J. Styles vs. Nakamura was a very legitimate match of the year contender, and very different. The other big one, Tomohiro Ishii vs. Katsuyori Shibata, was exactly what you’d expect. It was not their best match against each other, but it was still a fantastic match.

But this year ended up more newsworthy, as the departures necessitated booking changes. New Year’s Dash, the next day, was filled with major angles.

The big angle for the week was The Bullet Club turning on A.J. Styles. If something with WWE were to go wrong, the angle is a tremendous setup for his return. The crowd reacted great, with Styles coming out of it as a super babyface.

While Tanahashi and Nakamura both retained their titles at the Dome, there were changes in five championships on a card that had eight championship matches.

The Young Bucks captured the IWGP jr. tag titles in the four-way over previous champs Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish, as well as tournament winners Ricochet & Matt Sydal, and Rocky Romero & Trent Baretta.

Mark & Jay Briscoe, in their New Japan debut, teamed with Toru Yano to become the first NEVER trios champions beating The Bullet Club group of Bad Luck Fale & Tama Tonga & Yujiro Takahashi.

Kushida captured the IWGP jr. title from Kenny Omega, which ended up weird because that was the plan, but Omega does the Chael Sonnen in losing at a lighter weight, talking big and getting the heavyweight shot.

Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma beat Doc Gallows & Karl Anderson to win the IWGP heavyweight tag titles, which got a big reaction given it was Honma’s first title win in New Japan.

And Shibata beat Ishii to win the Never title.

Aside from Tanahashi and Nakamura, the only champion to retain was ROH champion Jay Lethal, who beat Michael Elgin.

They are doing two PPV shows in February, the 2/11 New Beginnings in Osaka at the Edion Arena, and a 2/14 show called New Beginnings in Niigata. The title matches will be split between the two shows.

Based on New Year’s Dash, the title matches look to be Okada vs. Hirooki Goto (which is almost a lock for the Osaka main event) for the IWGP title, Nakamura vs. Omega for the IC title would have been the probable Niigata main event, but timing-wise, they look to not be able to do it there, which may leave them going with a Shibata vs. Ishii main event for the Never belt. The other title matches set up are Honma & Makabe defending against Anderson & Gallows for the IWGP heavyweight tag titles, Kushida vs. Bushi for the IWGP jr. title and Young Bucks vs. Ricochet & Sydal for the IWGP jr. tag titles.

However, the advances in both Osaka and Niigata started off weak, which was very concerning for Osaka. Osaka has been a super hot market during the growth period, but fell off for both the G-1 and tag team tournament shows this year.

As is tradition at the Tokyo Dome, New Japan announced its key events between now and the end of the G-1 Climax tournament. Besides the New Beginnings shows and Fantastica Mania, they will have ROH and New Japan joint shows at Korakuen Hall on 2/19 and 2/20. That will be followed by joint shows on 2/26 and 2/27 at Sam’s Town in Las Vegas, the former being the ROH Anniversary PPV and latter being a TV taping.

In March, they will have the New Japan Cup with big shows on 3/3 and the finals on 3/12, which will be that month’s major show. The big April show will be Invasion Attack on 4/10 at Sumo Hall. Wrestling Dontaku will be 5/3 at the Fukuoka International Center Arena. The Best of the Super Juniors tournament finals will be 6/6 at Sun Plaza Hall in Sendai. The biggest PPV between now and the G-1 Climax tournament will be Dominion on 6/19 at Osaka Jo Hall. The G-1 Climax tournament will start on 7/18 in Sapporo, so it will once again be like last year and a four week tournament. Also like last year, it will conclude with three straight nights at Sumo Hall, with shows on 8/12, which will likely be the A block finals, 8/13, which will likely be the B block finals, and the championship match will be on 8/14.

The company also announced a partnership with Amuse, the biggest talent agency in Asia, which not only books talent but also produces prime time network television shows. The partnership was announced on 1/5 with New Japan head Takaaki Kidani, Amuse CEO Nobuyuki Soma, and Tanahashi. The goal is to increase the star power of New Japan wrestlers by getting them more mainstream visibility in television shows, movies and televison commercials.’

There are also plans for a longer-term relationship with Momoka Arayasu, the pop singing star who came out with Jado at the Tokyo Dome at the end of the New Japan Rumble.

Next on the agenda for New Japan is Fantastica Mania, which runs from 1/17 to 1/24. The final three shows, on 1/22, 1/23 and 1/24, all at Korakuen Hall, will air live on New Japan World at 5:30 a.m. Eastern time all three days. The other show this month on New Japan World will be another 5:30 a.m. show from Korakuen Hall on 1/30.

These are the Fantastica Mania cards:

*1/17 in Kochi: Kushida & Stuka Jr. vs. Sho Tanaka & Yohei Komatsu; The Panther & Guerrero Maya Jr. vs. Bobby Z & Okumura; Fuego & Titan vs. Yoshi-Hashi & Barbaro Cavernario; Jay White & Dragon Lee vs. Virus & Hechicero; Juice Robinson & Mascara Dorada & Atlantis vs. Bushi & Evil & Tetsuya Naito; Ryusuke Taguchi & Volador Jr. vs. Nakamura & Mephisto; and Jushin Liger & Tanahashi & Mistico vs. Gedo & Okada & Ultimo Guerrero.

*1/19 in Kyoto: Taguchi & Fuego vs. Tanaka & Komatsu; Panther vs. Okumura; Maya Jr. vs. Z (rematch of this year’s Busca en un Idolo finals), Liger & David Finlay & Lee & Titan vs. Yoshi-Hashi & Virus & Hechicero & Barbaro; Stuka Jr. & Dorada & Atlantis vs. Naito & Evil & Bushi; Mistico & Kushida vs. Gedo & Ultimo Guerrero; Volador Jr. & Tanahashi & Robinson vs. Nakamura & Okada & Mephisto.

*1/20 in Osaka at the second Edion Arena: Liger & Stuka Jr. vs. Tanaka & Komatsu; Panther vs. Z; Maya Jr. vs. Okumura; White & Taguchi & Kushida & Titan vs. Barbaro & Hechicero & Yoshi-Hashi & Gedo; Atlantis & Dorada & Fuego vs. Naito & Bushi & Evil; Mistico & Volador Jr. & Robinson vs. Nakamura & Mephisto & Ultimo Guerrero; Tanahashi & Lee vs. Okada & Virus.

*1/22 at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo: Stuka Jr. & Fuego vs. Tanaka & Komatsu; Liger & Finlay & Kushida & Maya Jr. & Panther vs. Gedo & Yoshi-Hashi & Z & Okumura & Hechicero; Naito & Evil vs. Atlantis & Robinson; Barbaro defends the Mexican national welterweight title against Titan; Bushi defends the CMLL welterweight title against Dorada; Tanahashi & Taguchi & Lee vs. Nakamura & Okada & Virus; Mistico & Volador Jr. vs. Mephisto & Ultimo Guerrero.

1/23 at Korakuen Hall: Titan & Dorada vs. Tanaka & Komatsu; Robinson & Kushida & Fuego vs. Hechicero & Yoshi-Hashi & Gedo; Panther & Maya Jr. defend the Arena Coliseo tag team titles against Z & Okumura; Taguchi & Stuka Jr. vs. Nakamura & Barbaro; Tiger Mask & Liger & Atlantis vs. Naito & Evil & Bushi; Lee vs. Virus for the CMLL lightweight title (these two have had killer matches in Mexico); Tanahashi & Volador Jr. & Mistico vs. Okada & Ultimo Guerrero & Mephisto.

*1/24 at Korakuen Hall: Panther & Maya Jr. vs. Tanaka & Komatsu; Tiger Mask & Kushida & Fuego & Stuka Jr. & Titan vs. Hechicero & Okumura & Z & Yoshi-Hashi & Gedo; Liger vs. Virus; Atlantis & Dorada & Taguchi vs. Naito & Bushi & Evil; Tanahashi & Lee & Robinson vs. Nakamura & Okada & Barbaro; Mistico vs. Ultimo Guerrero; Volador Jr. defends NWA welterweight title against Mephisto (traditionally the final match of the tour is a title match which is a high flying extravaganza).

This is the farewell tour for Tanaka, Komatsu and Dorada, who will all start with CMLL at the end of the month.

The tour is doing much better in ticket sales than a year ago, with most of the arenas sold out even before the cards were announced. The quality of the talent seems higher this year. Panther, the son of Blue Panther, is one of the best young wrestlers in CMLL. Fuego got over really well a couple of years ago. Hechicero is also one of the more underrated guys in CMLL. Lee is tremendous. Barbaro did well during the Best of the Super Juniors tournament. Volador Jr. is a featured star on these tours. Titan is spectacular. Stuka Jr. also did well in the past here, and Ultimo Guerrero and Mephisto are solid rudos, while Atlantis is CMLL’s legend.

For the Tokyo Dome show:

1. Jado won the 18 man New Japan Rumble in 31:51. This match was terrible, but it was easy to watch because it was just all about who was going to enter. It was notable that a ton of regular roster guys like Yohei Komatsu, Jay White, Sho Tanaka, Juice Robinson, David Finlay and others you’d expect in this match just were at ringside and didn’t wrestle on the show. This was more about comedy and nostalgia pops. The cameras would follow the guys as they did the long walk to the ring, so lots of guys were eliminated and it was never acknowledged by the announcers or you didn’t see it. It opened with Jushin Liger against Yoshiaki Fujiwara, who, at 66, has one of the greatest faces. The one thing about Fujiwara is he only did a few things when he was young, and he can still do all of them now and make the mean faces and get over as a badass shooter. Tiger Mask was next in. After that came Cheeseburger. Nobody knew who he was, but by the next night in Korakuen Hall, everyone loved him. The guys in the match started playing tug-of-war with him. He would work with Fujiwara and really everyone worked with him like if he was Hollywood Stalker Ichikawa in Dragon Gate, in that they no show all his stuff and then pound on him and he would sell big. Hiro Saito (54) made a one-night return. Everyone was waiting for him to hit someone with a senton (he popularized that move in Japan in the early 80s), so he did it right away. Yoshi-Hashi was next in. After that came Mascara Dorada and Captain New Japan. Everyone jumped on Fujiwara and pinned him so he was the first guy eliminated. Manabu Nakanishi and Yuji Nagata were the next two in. Saito did a senton off the middle rope on Tiger Mask, and everyone jumped on Tiger Mask and pinned him. Saito picked up Cheeseburger, but everyone pushed Cheeseburger who fell on Saito and everyone else jumped on the pile to pin Saito. Satoshi Kojima was next in. Liger and Nakanishi both went over the top rope together. Cheeseburger started doing the fast Kojima chops on Yoshi-Hashi. Hiroyoshi Tenzan was in. Tenzan clotheslined partner Kojima when Yoshi-Hashi moved and Kojima shoved Tenzan. They started trading chops. Then Kojima & Tenzan shook hands and attacked Yoshi-Hashi. Ryusuke Taguchi came in and started hip attacking. Nagata then started kicking Taguchi hard in the ass. Next in was Shiro Koshinaka (57), who was the first IWGP jr. heavyweight champion and was the guy whose trademark was the hip attack. Crowd popped big for him as a surprise. They didn’t play his music on the PPV but his music was super over on the Tenryu show in November. Yoshi Tatsu, who was announcing, talked about how much he loved Koshinaka’s music as a kid. He and Taguchi were hip attacking everyone. Next in was King Haku (56), to Bullet Club music (his son is Tama Tonga of the Bullet Club, and in a trivia note, when Haku first started in All Japan and Texas, his ring name was Tama Tonga). Haku actually started as a sumo in Japan while a teenager and has always been popular in Japan. Haku then eliminated Nagata and Kojima. Next in was the Great Kabuki (67), whose music and coming out doing the nunchakus got a great reaction. It also took him forever to get to the ring, and I think half the guys were eliminated by the time the cameras were back on the ring. Tenzan put Haku in the Anaconda Vise and Haku submitted. This came literally seconds after Tenzan put him in the hold and Matt Striker said how there’s no way Haku would ever submit. Well, Gorilla Monsoon killing submissions on babyfaces was part of his childhood. Yoshi-Hashi & Taguchi then pinned Tenzan. Next in was Kazushi Sakuraba. He got the biggest reaction of anyone in the match. I think this reaction was all about his match with Shinya Aoki. I think fans knew that could kill him, because his whole gimmick in pro wrestling is as a shooter and he couldn’t do a thing with a lightweight, so it was a combination of career appreciation and trying to show he was still over. Sakuraba and Kabuki squared off and the place went crazy. Kabuki immediately blew mist in Sakuraba’s eyes and was disqualified. I didn’t know there were DQ’s in a Rumble. Taguchi then immediately pinned Sakuraba, who was only in the ring very briefly. Yoshi-hashi pinned Cheeseburger with a swanton, so he lasted 25 minutes in the match. The final entrant was Jado, who came out with pop star Momoka Arayasu of the band Momoiro Clover Z. She teased entering the match herself. A bunch of guys were gone and it came down to Taguchi, Koshinaka and Jado. Taguchi & Koshinaka double hip attacked Jado but Koshinaka for some reason wouldn’t let Taguchi pin him, which made no sense. Then Koshinaka hip attacked Jado and went for the pin, but Taguchi broke it up. Taguchi used the hip attack on Koshinaka and Jado threw out Koshinaka. Taguchi was going crazy on Jado, but Jado pulled down the top rope as Taguchi charged and Taguchi flew over the top. Jado & Arayasu celebrated. Jado has a connection with her as they appear on some TV shows together, so his winning, which makes no sense because it builds nothing for New Japan (Nagata winning last year set up a Nakamura vs. Nagata IC title match), was really to get pub for Arayasu celebrating at the end. She then plugged the release of her new album in February. *

2. The Young Bucks regained the IWGP jr. tag titles beating champions Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly, Matt Sydal & Ricochet and Rocky Romero & Trent Baretta in 16:42. The negative on this is this match got very little crowd reaction. It was a lot of casual fans and it was too many Americans in a match so they had no emotional attachment. This was made this way to get everyone on the show because they are all so talented, but it would have been better to just do a tag match. Cody Hall came out with the Bucks. Matt came out, looked right at the camera and said “Four time junior champions” (they had held the title three times coming into this match) and winked. Hall and the Bucks attacked everyone before the match, starting a trend where this happened too often on the show. As for action itself, it was great, but this kind of match with guys in-and-out ends up just being spots. Baretta did a running flip dive over the top. Baretta did a ridiculously great DDT on Nick. Ricochet & Sydal did a double standing moonsault on Nick. Fish dove on everyone. O’Reilly had the armbar on someone on the ropes and Nick dove over both of them onto everyone on the floor and then superkicked O’Reilly to break it up. Romero used a plancha. Sydal did a moonsault off the top rope to the floor on everyone. Ricochet teased a dive but Hall tripped him. Matt distracted the ref and Hall picked up Ricochet and gave him the Razor’s edge over the top rope onto everyone. Notable Hall was using the Bad Luck Fall, which is Fale’s big move. Ricochet used a springboard shooting star on Hall and a springboard 450 on Nick. Ricochet & Sydal set up a double shooting star press on the Bucks, but Fish & O’Reilly broke it up. They started running wild. There was a four-on-four suplex spot where Romero & Baretta & Fish & O’Reilly all suplexed the Bucks & Sydal & Ricochet. Romero started clotheslining everyone. Romero did a tope on Fish & O’Reilly. Sydal used the infrared off the ropes on Baretta. Ricochet did the Benadryller on Baretta. Ricochet & Sydal went to the top for simultaneous shooting star presses on Romero & Baretta. The Bucks then pulled Ricochet & Sydal out of the ring. Matt tried to steal the pin on Romero, but he kicked out. The Bucks did More Bang for Your Buck on Romero for the pin. After the match, Nick gave a shout out to Kevin Owens, Neville and all their friends “at the fed.” If this match was in ROH or in the U.S., it would probably have been considered a match of the year, but it missed something here with the big crowd not that familiar with the personalities. ***3/4

3. Mark & Jay Briscoe & Toru Yano became the first Never open weight 6 man tag champions beating Bad Luck Fale & Tama Tonga & Yujiro Takahashi in 11:34. It started with a brawl and Fale hitting Yano with a belt shot. Mark was the star of this match. He did the Mick Foley elbow flying off the apron on Takahashi, who came out with one of his strippers. Yano did a lot of comedy. Fale looked heavier than ever. Yano undid the turnbuckles and Fale ran into the exposed metal. Mark also used a blockbuster off the apron. Jay gave Tonga a Death Valley bomb for a near fall. Jay then put Tonga on his shoulders. Tonga was holding the top rope for dear life to avoid being thrown off. Yano then hit Tonga’s hands with a chair from outside the ring, causing him to let go. Mark climbed to the top and they gave Tonga the Doomsday device and Jay pinned him. **

4. Jay Lethal pinned Michael Elgin to retain the ROH title in 12:00. This is another match that would have gotten over a lot better in ROH, but was still good here. Elgin did the long vertical suplex where he put Lethal almost all the way down, then picked him back up, and at the end held Lethal up with one arm. Elgin also did a press overhead, and then pulled one of his arms so he was holding Lethal up with one arm. Truth Martini went for a book shot but Elgin knocked him down. Lethal then used a tope, and actually overshot Elgin and nearly impaled on the guard rail. Lethal then hit a second tope. Lethal then posed with Martini to shoot a photo. Elgin used power moves like an overhead suplex, a hard slam, a press into a powerslam and a deadlift German suplex. Lethal used the Lethal combination and the Randy Savage elbow. He went for the Lethal injection but Elgin sidestepped him. He hit two German suplexes and a lariat and Lethal took a spin bump. Elgin used a power superplex into a falcon arrow for a near fall, followed by a power bomb into the turnbuckles. Martini came in to save. Elgin hit Martini with a spinning backfist and he dropped the book of truth. Lethal got it and as Elgin went to power bomb him, Lethal hit him with a book shot to the head and followed with the Lethal injection for the pin. ***1/4

5. Kushida beat Kenny Omega in 12:48 to win the IWGP jr. title. The Young Bucks came out with Omega with garbage cans and mops, because Omega is “The Cleaner.” Kushida came out with Taguchi, who was dressed up as Doc Brown from “Back to the Future,” which is part of Kushida & Alex Shelley’s gimmick as the Time Splitters. The Bucks double superkicked Doc Brown and Omega spit on him. Kushida cleaned house until Omega sprayed stuff in Kushida’s face. Omega then sprayed the stuff down his trunks and started selling. Nick hit Kushida with a garbage can. Omega then did a moonsault off the guard rail while holding a garbage can onto Kushida. The Bucks started playing on a garbage can the theme from “Back to the Future.” Omega did a fantastic running flip dive over the top on Kushida and started choking him with tape. Kushida used a springboard elbow and went for the hoverboard lock but Omega made the ropes. Kushida used a somersault kick and a flip dive off the top rope to the floor. Kushida did a moonsault and went for an armbar but Omega slipped out. Kushida worked on the left arm. Omega hit a German suplex but Kushida went back to the hoverboard lock. The Bucks were trying to pull Omega to the ropes. Taguchi at this point revived, and as Doc Brown, he hit both Bucks with garbage can shots. Omega used a one arm power bomb for a near fall. Omega did a jumping knee and a running knee to the side of the head. He had Kushida up for the one winged angel, but Kushida used a front rolling cradle and got the pin. Excellent match. ****

6. Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma beat Doc Gallows & Karl Anderson to win the IWGP tag titles in 12:49. Amber Gallows came out with her husband. They noted she was the new NWA women’s champion. Great match. The crowd was into it because Makabe & Honma are two of the best known mainstream guys in the promotion because they do talk shows as comedy figures. Gallows was bleeding from the mouth. Honma of course got worked over for several minutes. They set up the Magic killer, but Makabe broke it up to save Honma. Honma did a head-butt spear and went to the top. Gallows pushed him off. Anderson used a running power bomb on Honma for a near fall. Honma twice blocked the gun stun and used a head-butt to the chin. Makabe hot tagged in. Gallows used the Gallows pole (tree slam) for a near fall. Makabe started clotheslining them. Makabe & Honma did the kokeshi impact, which is Makabe with Anderson on his shoulders and Honma coming off the top rope with a head-butt spear. Honma then slammed Gallows, did a diving head-butt on him and Makabe followed with the King Kong kneedrop for the pin. Well timed great match. ***3/4

7. Hirooki Goto pinned Tetsuya Naito in 12:16. Evil and Bushi came out with Naito. They all attacked Goto before the bell. Evil whipped Goto into the barricade. Bushi attacked Captain New Japan at ringside. Evil put a chair around Goto’s neck and hit the chair with another chair. Naito gave Goto a neckbreaker off the apron through a table on the floor. Lots of good fast action. Naito used an infrared off the top rope for a near fall. He also used a Frankensteiner off the top for a near fall. There was a ref bump. Naito went for a low blow but Goto blocked it. Goto clotheslined the hell out of Naito. He set up the shouten kai, but Evil and Bushi interfered. Bushi went to blow mist at Goto, who moved and the mist hit Evil. Goto then gave Bushi a neckbreaker over the knee. Naito then hit Goto with a low blow and running cradle for a great near fall. Goto kicked out, hit a head-butt and got the pin clean with the shouten kai, which was clearly done to set him up for an IWGP title match. The interference was getting old by this point, but this was a really good match. ***3/4

8. Katsuyori Shibata pinned Tomohiro Ishii in 17:19 to win the Never Open weight title. This was Shibata and Ishii just beating the hell out of each other. They were getting out of the way of each others’ big moves early. There was a spot where Ishii kicked Shibata in the back. Then Ishii sat down and dared Shibata to kick him as hard as he could in the back. This went back and forth. It was worse on Ishii because Shibata kicks a lot harder. Then they traded chops. Then they traded elbows. Shibata was killing him with elbows and a running kick, then went for a submission with an abdominal stretch and then an octopus. Shibata went for an armbar, a triangle, another armbar and a belly down armbar, but Ishii made the ropes. They traded clotheslines and kicks until both were wobbly. They traded German suplexes. There was a spot where both collapsed. Ishii used a missile dropkick to the back. Ishii started hitting sick clotheslines. Shibata went for a guillotine but Ishii powered out. Ishii tried a penalty kick but Shibata clotheslined him. Shibata used a Death Valley bomb for a near fall. Shibata used a choke. He went for a penalty kick, but Ishii caught the leg and head-butted him. Then they did a spot where they did these klunking absolutely sick and completely stupid head-butts to each other. There was no need to risk that kind of concussion for what was already an incredible match. Shibata hit a dropkick out of nowhere. Ishii did a sick clothesline for a near fall and another one. Shibata used a spinning back chop, but Ishii did an enzuigiri. But Shibata came back with a penalty kick and got the three count. Aside from the spots where they sat down and let the other guy kick them as hard as they could, this felt like an intense fight from start to finish. ****½

9. Shinsuke Nakamura pinned A.J. Styles in 24:18 to retain the IC title. The place popped big when this match was put on the video wall. Can’t say enough about this match, as it’ll be one of the best of this year. Styles faked a back injury, then got up and nailed Nakamura as he’d backed off. Styles used the Mutalock and Stinger splash. Nakamura drove Styles back into the guard rail and used kicks to the body and an enzuigiri, and a face first suplex. Nakamura did a running knee to the back. Styles used a springboard elbow. He went for a suplex, but sold like his back was out. Styles then suplexed him on the turnbuckles and went for the calf killer. Nakamura countered into an armbar, which was great. Styles got out of that with an elbow to the mouth. Nakamura hit a bom a ye off the middle rope. The two traded hard elbows and Styles used a pancake for a near fall. Styles used the KENTA series. They went back and forth with strikes until Styles barely hit the Pele kick. Nakamura came back with a bom a ye for a near fall. Styles hit Nakamura with a bom a ye and followed with a 450 splash, but Nakamura kicked out. Styles went for a spinning back chop but Nakamura jumped in the air and grabbed a flying armbar. He followed with a triangle. Styles used a one arm Styles clash but Nakamura kicked out. Styles hit the Bloody Sunday DDT and went for the Styles clash, but Nakamura blocked it. Styles kicked him in the head and set up a Styles clash off the top rope, but Nakamura escaped and kicked him in the head. Nakamura used a falcon arrow off the top rope for a near fall. Nakamura used a bom a ye to the back of the head, followed by another bom a ye, and got the pin. Styles probably wasn’t close to 100 percent, but he wrestled like he was for the most part. He was a lot healthier here, or at least moved like it, compared with the Jay Lethal match a few weeks ago. After the match, Nakamura offered his fist and Styles gave him a fist bump back. ****3/4

10. Kazuchika Okada pinned Hiroshi Tanahashi in 36:01 to win the IWGP heavyweight title. This was a classic on par with the Tanahashi vs. Nakamura G-1 final match. The first big spot was Tanahashi doing a chop block on Okada’s right knee. Usually you work the left knee, but Tanahashi was working on both knees. They did a lot of stuff early where they’d evade the others’ trademark spot with the idea they each knew the others’ big moves ahead of time. Tanahashi did a high fly flow but Okada rolled through and picked him up for a tombstone piledriver, but Tanahashi escaped. Tanahashi tried to put Okada into the turnbuckles, but Okada blocked it and dropkicked Tanahashi off the apron and Tanahashi flipped and landed on his back. Okada kicked him over the barricade and then did a running crossbody over the barricade onto Tanahashi. That’s the move Tanahashi did to Okada in previous matches. Tanahashi missed a middle rope senton and Okada DDT’d him on his head. Okada sidestepped a dropkick to the knee while Tanahashi moved out of the way of a senton. Tanahashi escaped a flapjack, so this was more escaping the big moves. Tanahashi went back to working both legs. He did a dragon screw on the right leg around the ropes and a sling blade on the apron. Tanahashi followed with a high fly flow off the top rope to the floor. Okada barely beat the 20 count. It was a great spot, as he teased getting in, and then suddenly collapsed like his legs gave out, and struggled to get in at 19. Tanahashi did a high fly flow off the middle rope to both of Okada’s knees. He went for a Texas cloverleaf but Okada struggled to the ropes. Okada came back and used the neckbreaker over the knee, but injured his knee again in the process. Okada did four low dropkicks and then a missile dropkick two-thirds of the way across the ring. He followed with the Randy Savage elbow halfway across the ring. He set up the rainmaker, but Tanahashi ducked. Okada went for a tombstone but Tanahashi turned it into a front rolling cradle for a near fall. Tanahashi went back to working the knees. Okada went for a dropkick but Tanahashi caught his legs, used another dragon screw and went back to the Texas cloverleaf. Okada again got to the ropes. Tanahashi hit the sling blade but missed the high fly flow. Okada tried a tombstone but again Tanahashi escaped. Tanahashi tried a neckbreaker but Okada blocked it and finally hit the tombstone, and hit the rainmaker, and Tanahashi kicked out. Matt Striker then said how this match is not going to end with somebody doing their trademark move. Not sure that it’s smart to take heat off the future big moves, not to mention it did end with a trademark move. Okada then did a high fly flow halfway across the ring for a near fall. Okada went for the rainmaker, but Tanahashi ducked and hit Okada with a rainmaker for a near fall. Tanahashi went back to kicking the right knee and thigh. Okada tried a tombstone, but Tanahashi got out and hit the sling blade, followed by a dragon suplex for a near fall. Tanahashi did a high fly flow to the back, and another high fly flow to the chest, but Okada kicked out. Tanahashi went back up for another high fly flow, but Okada got up and dropkicked Tanahashi as he came off the top rope. Okada went for a German suplex but Tanahashi slapped him. Okada then hit a dropkick. Okada used a German suplex and went for the rainmaker. Tanahashi ducked and slapped him in the face. But Okada maintained wrist control and hit the rainmaker, held onto Tanahashi’s wrist and hit a second rainmaker, and still held on and hit a third one for the pin. Tanahashi was helped to the back, completely beaten, while Okada and Gedo cut a promo to close the show as Okada finally was the end of the show star at the biggest event of the year. *****

This led to New Year’s Dash on 1/5 at Korakuen Hall, which was the show where all the big angles and changes took place. The show drew a sellout of 1,726 paid. None of the matches were announced ahead of time. Right as the show started, the ring announcer gave the lineup. This was a super booked show, particularly since things had to change, as everything seemed to have a future purpose and there was no wasted stuff. Given how everything went down, this was really one of Gedo’s finest hours of work.

1. Shiro Koshinaka & Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi & Ryusuke Taguchi & Sho Tanaka beat Yoshiaki Fujiwara & Jushin Liger & Tiger Mask & Cheeseburger & Yohei Komatsu in 10:13. Fujiwara has the rep as Karl Gotch’s best student and the best submission guy in New Japan history. People still buy him as the submission expert even at his age. It’s even more impressive because the guy beat stomach cancer. Fans really got behind Cheeseburger as Fujiwara tortured him. Taguchi & Koshinaka did more hip attacks, and then everyone on the team did. Koshinaka & Taguchi did a double hip attack on Komatsu and Taguchi pinned him after a Dodon. When it was over, everyone raised each other’s hand. Then Fujiwara went over and gave Cheeseburger a head-butt. **

2. Ricochet & Matt Sydal beat Jay White & David Finlay in 6:46. Great while it lasted. Finlay & White can be a really good team if they’re just given time, which they never are. It was meant as a showcase for Ricochet & Sydal, ending when Ricochet & Sydal each came off the top rope with shooting star presses at the time same, and Ricochet pinned Finlay while Sydal covered White. Ricochet & Sydal then challenged the Bucks for the jr. tag title. These guys with 12:00 would have stolen the show. ***½

3. Jay Lethal pinned Juice Robinson in 7:11. The story here is that Truth Martini was Robinson’s original teacher. This was the best Robinson has looked since coming to Japan. Another match that would have been great in ROH, but the people here don’t see Lethal as that big of a star even though he looked great. Robinson used an airplane spin on Lethal, and when Martini interfered, he used it on him. Martini fell out of the ring, but Lethal used a diamond cutter off the top rope and the Lethal injection for the pin. ***

4. Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows & Yujiro Takahashi & King Haku & Tama Tonga beat Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe & Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima & Kushida in 11:10. Haku worked in sweat pants and a Bullet Club T-shirt. The crowd enjoyed seeing him. Makabe was bleeding from the forehead. It picked up when Kushida was in. Haku picked his spots, and was in and out quick, but looked good even though he looks to be 300 pounds. The finish saw Anderson pin Honma after the Magic killer, which sets Anderson & Gallows up for their title rematch. ***

5. Tetsuya Naito & Evil & Bushi beat Hiroshi Tanahashi & Mascara Dorada & Michael Elgin in 11:57. The crowd was really into Tanahashi. Elgin was the star here doing power moves. He worked real well with Evil. Kevin Kelly noted that Elgin and Evil had a great match last year in ROH. Dorada and Bushi did cool spots. Bushi pinned Dorada clean with the MX, which is coming off the top rope into a codebreaker. After the match, Naito laid out Elgin with a low blow and Evil laid out Tanahashi with an STO, so you can see they are going to likely go to Tanahashi & Elgin vs. Naito & Evil as Tanahashi and Naito’s next PPV program. Bushi then unmasked Dorada. Kushida ran in to make the save but Bushi blew green mist in Kushida’s eyes and put the boots to him. He came off the top rope with a codebreaker, the MX, on Kushida and then challenged him to a title match. ***½

6. A.J. Styles & Kenny Omega beat Shinsuke Nakamura & Yoshi-Hashi in 12:01. This was to set up Omega vs. Nakamura, and they do have great chemistry together. Nakamura went for the bom a ye on Omega, but Styles hit Nakamura with a springboard elbow. Styles hit Nakamura with the Pele kick, and Omega gave Nakamura a reverse huracanrana and pinned him after the One winged angel, which shocked the crowd. But the real story was the post-match angle. Styles & Omega were celebrating. Omega stopped celebrating, pulled Styles off the ropes and gave him the One winged angel and put the boots to him. The Young Bucks ran in and tried to stop him. But then the Bucks and Omega gave Styles a triple superkick. Anderson, Gallows and Cody Hall came out and started arguing with Omega and The Bucks. But then they all did the too sweet and all attacked Styles. Anderson and Gallows did a number on Styles with punches on the ground and left him laying. Omega then grabbed the mic and said that they gave “you” the big matches and the big PPV main events while I had to starve myself to be a junior heavyweight. This actually made sense if you think about it because Omega was the one guy who as a single was able to rival Styles in actual talent. Omega said that everyone said you were the leader and the boss, but if you were the boss, you’re fired and this was your severance package. Omega said he wasn’t a junior, and he doesn’t want a match with Kushida, he wants Nakamura. Then Omega said the Bullet Club is for life, except A.J. Styles. Omega did a great job on this promo and it was a super angle. Styles sold the beating for a long time, but refused to let anyone help him up. He pulled himself up by the ropes and got a huge hand. The crowd was cheering him and chanting for him like crazy. It’s ironic that he’s easily the most over he’s been but now he’s leaving. ***½

7. Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata & Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly beat Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii & Rocky Romero & Trent Baretta in 13:19. Excellent match, with the focal point on making Goto look strong against Okada and Ishii and Shibata killing each other. Fish & O’Reilly looked great. Goto nailed Baretta with a lariat, used a neckbreaker over the knee and a combination Kimura with the legs on the left arm and armbar on the right arm for the submission. After the match, he challenged Okada for the title. This is real long-term booking as Goto pinned Okada last summer during the G-1 Climax tournament and they haven’t done a singles match since. ****

8. Mark & Jay Briscoe & Toru Yano retained the Never Open weight six man titles over The Young Bucks & Bad Luck Fale in 11:02. It was really good with the Briscoes vs. Bucks. Yano did mostly comedy. There was a spot where Mark came off the apron with a blockbuster on Nick, and Nick landed on the groin of Cody Hall so both were selling it. Lots of near falls. The Bucks set up the Meltzer driver on Jay, but Yano pulled Nick off the apron. Jay then hit the Jay driller on Matt, and Mark followed with an elbow off the top rope on Matt for the pin. Jay then did a promo thanking the Japanese fans. ***½


In an angle on the 1/4 Raw show from San Antonio, after Roman Reigns retained his WWE title by pinning Sheamus, Vince McMahon announced that Reigns would have to defend the title next against 29 other men in the Royal Rumble.

This will mark the second time in the history of the event that dates back to 1988 as an annual January big show, that the title would be at stake in the Rumble match. The previous time was in 1992, when the title was held up after a match between champion Undertaker and Hulk Hogan and put up in the Rumble.

With only two television shows left before the Rumble, very little has been announced for the show. This week’s Smackdown seemed to hint at a stipulation match for the IC title with Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens, coming off a double count out. It also hinted at Alberto Del Rio vs. Kalisto, coming off Kalisto winning a non-title match, replacing the Del Rio vs. John Cena match, which explains Kalisto getting put in that position out of nowhere.

Names officially announced for the 30 man Rumble are Reigns, Chris Jericho, Bray Wyatt, Erick Rowan, Luke Harper, Braun Strowman, Dolph Ziggler, Ryback, Big Show and Curtis Axel (playing off the gag that he was never officially eliminated last year). A television commercial indicated Brock Lesnar, who is scheduled on the card, would be in the match. Aside from Sheamus, Rusev, Neville, the possibility of Undertaker and if Styles shows up as a surprise or they throw in some NXT talent, much of the rest would be filler guys, unless you also include Ambrose and Owens. The New Day could be in if they aren’t defending the tag titles (or even in both, as Kingston in the Rumble is kind of a tradition at this point for a crazy athletic spot). Looking at that last, the real possibilities of winning would be Lesnar (who would make more sense as a challenger than champion unless he becomes The Authority hit man to take out Reigns, although every indication I have is that is not the direction this is going), Reigns, HHH, Daniel Bryan (going with the idea he’s cleared, which we don’t know and certainly no WrestleMania hints involve him at this point), or Sheamus.

Reigns could overcome the odds and win, but given he’s constantly gotten the better of The Authority, the idea that he starts early, is there at the end, and gets screwed by them, would build up a direction. Having a heel champion, and that’s where the problem lies because they’ve yet to create a new top heel and Sheamus is weak in that position, defending against someone in February and with Reigns vs. HHH with Reigns having to win to get a title shot in February makes sense. Schedule permitting, if they go with The Rock vs. HHH for Mania, then Rock helping Reigns overcome the odds makes for a good Fast Lane set up show. However, the impression we have right now is Rock is not cleared to wrestle on the show for the same insurance reason we reported on months ago.

Obviously, there will be a HHH vs. Reigns match at some point, whether at the Rumble, Fast Lane in February, or WrestleMania, and Rumble looks out, and I just find it hard to believe that HHH would shoot that big of an angle for Fast Lane. It’s also hard to believe HHH would compromise what would be the key angle for Mania if it is he against Reigns by going on NXT and no selling it.

Jericho returned on Raw, seemingly as a babyface. A week earlier he had wrote that he wasn’t coming back, but whether he is or isn’t, every year around this time he says that. He came back and did a verbal exchange with The New Day, but there’s no real hint of a direction.


There was craziness, ugliness, and some memorable moments as Nobuyuki Sakakibara’s Rizin Fighting Federation and the Fuji TV Network attempted to revive the ghost of the Pride Fighting Championships and the Japanese New Year’s Eve tradition of mainstream MMA fights.

The show looked heavily to the past, and some to the future. What was very clear is that the nostalgia of seeing Bob Sapp’s rematch with Akebono meant very little as compared with the their first fight a dozen years ago that drew 54 million viewers in a country of 127 million. But it was still believed to be the highest rated match on the show.

In fact, the Fuji Network finished fourth among the six broadcast networks on the country’s biggest television night of the year. In the heyday, Pride and K-1 would battle for second place, behind the Red & White concert, a Super Bowl like event that has dominated New Year’s Eve ratings since the beginning of time.

But that wasn’t as bad as it sounds.

The show did a 5.6 rating from 7 to 8:45 p.m., showing one fight from 12/31 and some fights from 12/29, most notably Hideo Tokoro’s fight, as well as airing the Fedor Emelianenko vs. Hong-man Choi fight from December 31, 2007.

The big fights from 8:45 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. did a 7.3 rating, which is the key number everyone was looking at. That was built around Gabi Garcia vs. Lei’d Tapa, Baruto vs. Peter Aerts, Akebono vs. Bob Sapp (which is believed to have done the peak ratings for the show), Asen Yamamoto vs. Kron Gracie, and Fedor Emelianenko vs. Jaideep Singh.

They aired Andy Souwer, a former K-1 Max star, against Yuichiro Nagashima, the cross-dressing kickboxer who later went into Japanese pro wrestling, as well as quick highlights of the heavyweight Grand Prix semifinals, most of the finals and replayed highlights from some of the fights from that night, including the Baruto, Gracie and Emelianenko fights. Even though the belief was that Sapp vs. Akebono had the most casual viewer interest, they didn’t replay the Sapp fight in the final segment, probably because of how bad it was. The final segment, airing between 10:30 p.m. to 11:45 p.m., did a 3.7 rating, which was fifth among the six networks.

The key is during the prime time period, the Fuji Network, which did big numbers a decade ago with fighting, the past two years had drawn 2.0 and 4.0 ratings respectively. They were projecting a 6.0 during that prime period.

Within the industry in Japan heading into the show, the belief was that anything under a 5.0 in that slot would be death for MMA’s future mainstream, while a 5-6 rating would be questionable. Anything above a 6 was going to be considered a success.

The 7.3 was less than half of what the main prime time fights Pride used to do on New Year’s Eve would get. But that’s still 7 to 8 million people watching in a country barely one-third the size of the U.S. From a mainstream viewing and crossover standpoint, they drew more viewers in a country with one-third the population than the biggest UFC or WWE event could get on television in the U.S.

Rizin announced its next show for 4/17 from Nippon Gaisha Hall in Nagoya, the former Rainbow Hall, that used to house major pro wrestling and fighting shows. Rizin also announced shows in July and September. The idea they’ve talked about is to run July at the Tokyo Dome, but to do that, they’d need a killer lineup.

If Fuji airs the show, and the time slot it is put in, it will answer the question of what they really thought of the rating. It will also be interesting what type of lineup they can put on, both for a next show, and also if they really try to do a Tokyo Dome card. Most of the good fighters from the Pride days are either retired or in UFC. You can only go to the well at this point with Sapp and Akebono for so long. Fedor Emelianenko costs millions to get. Kazushi Sakuraba is clearly done, as is Peter Aerts, and it would be criminal for either of them to ever fight again. And while Asen Yamamoto got over great, him fighting regularly would be a bad idea for his fulfilling the family dream of winning a medal in wrestling at the 2020 Olympics in Japan.

The New Year’s Eve concert on NHK did a 34.8 rating from 7:15 to 9 p.m., and a 39.2 rating the key period from 9 to 11:45 p.m. NTV had strong counter programming that did a 17.6 from 6:30 to 9 p.m., and 15.3 from 9 p.m. on, good for second place. TV-Asahi had a big quiz show that opened at a 10 rating but faded to a 5.6 when the fights on Fuji, TBS and TV Tokyo started.

TBS had a show called Kyokugen, a series of sports events from around the country, paced by a rematch of the second most watched New Year’s Eve fight in history, a kickboxing match with Masato vs. UFC’s Kid Yamamoto. Masato retired years ago. Masato, now 36, was Japan’s most popular 154 pound kickboxer in the 00s, retiring in 2009. Yamamoto, 38, fights at 135 pounds in UFC, but has only fought once in nearly four years due to a series of injuries.

Masato vs. Kid on December 31, 2004, did a 30.6 rating and well over 30 million viewers, the second biggest audience for a New Year’s Eve fight in history. Masato won that fight via decision. But Yamamoto hardly came out the loser, scoring a knockdown while giving up 13 pounds at weigh-ins and probably considerably more come fight time, even though fighting under his opponent’s specialty rules.

The match made both men into mainstream stars, particularly younger women. Masato became Japan’s most popular kickboxer, and Yamamoto became the country’s most popular MMA fighter.

Billed as an exhibition, because of Yamamoto’s UFC contract (and UFC didn’t appear to be concerned about their fighter participating in this event), Masato took a three round decision and scored one knockdown in the fight. The fight show did a 9.0 rating, beating Rizin, although most expected Masato’s return and a return match of his most famous career bout to be the most watched fight of the night between the three different networks that aired fighting. It was the highest rated event of the all night sports show called Kyokugen, which otherwise ranged from a 4.6 to an 8.8 rating.

TV Tokyo aired “Boxing New Year’s Eve World Championship,” featuring Kazuto Ioka vs. Juan Carlos Reveco for the WBA Flyweight title from the Edion Arena in Osaka, which did a 3.7 rating head-to-head with Rizin’s strongest period, or about half the audience.

Highlights of both the 12/29 and 12/31 shows at the Saitama Super Arena aired on the Fuji Network as well as on Spike TV on 12/31 at 10 a.m. Eastern on a taped show called “Breakfast with Fedor.”

The show averaged 156,000 viewers over the approximately two hours and 45 minutes, peaking at 271,000 viewers for the Fedor Emelianenko vs. Jaideep Singh fight. Spike viewed it as a successful solid number, acknowledging that 10 a.m. on a Thursday is not exactly the best time to draw sports viewers.

While the Spike feed was the same as the Fuji feed, with the key crowd shots that were significant to the Japanese audience airing in the U.S., they aired different fights.

In the U.S., the Sapp vs. Akebono fight, which was awful, didn’t air. In Japan, even though it was pushed as the No. 2 fight, the 12/29 main event with Shinya Aoki vs. Kazushi Sakuraba, because it was so sad, didn’t air on the New Year’s Eve special (it had aired two nights earlier) in Japan, but did air in the U.S. The show featured, among other things, the return after a three-year retirement of Emelianenko, MMA’s best heavyweight of the Pride era. Now 39, Emelianenko was given a former K-1 kickboxer named Jaideep Singh from India, who hadn’t won a kickboxing rules match since 2011. Emelianenko took him down quickly and ground and pounded him into defeat as expected in 3:03. There was really nothing you could tell from this fight as to how much Emelianenko has left, as he was given an opponent that didn’t figure to be, and wasn’t, much competition.

Emelianenko didn’t look much different physically. He was a tad under 6-feet tall and a stocky barrel chested 236 pounds. He said he would fight at least one more fight at heavyweight and would be starting a new training camp in a few weeks, giving the impression he’ll fight on the 4/17 show. The Japanese commentators made up history saying that Emelianenko is always in the main event on the New Year’s Eve show, which is hardly the case.

The show also featured the semifinals and finals of a heavyweight tournament, which saw Bellator’s King Mo Lawal knock out Jiri Prozchazka at 5:09 in the finals after each had won a fight two days earlier, as well as their semifinal earlier in the show. While tournaments in MMA usually fall apart in some way, this one saw every winner advance without any significant injuries. Lawal was given a check for 40 million yen ($332,385) for his weekend. It also puts him in line for a shot at the winner of an upcoming Liam McGeary vs. Phil Davis Bellator light heavyweight title match.

But the freak show fights, Sapp vs. Akebono, Gabi Garcia vs. Lei’d Tapa and Baruto vs. Peter Aerts, were also heavily talked about before and after.

The Sapp fight was weird. Sapp, 42, ended up actually trying to win for once. This match was under shootboxing rules, which meant boxing, kickboxing and takedowns were legal, but after a takedown, both would be stood up. It ended up not mattering, as neither man tried a takedown.

Sapp was doing most of the punching, mostly to the back of the head, which was illegal. Akebono, 46, started bleeding from the back of his head and Sapp targeted the cut. They kept stopping the action to check the cut, which had a dual purpose of giving the 330.5 pound Sapp and 419 pound Akebono time to get their wind back, and also extended the time of what most expected would be the most watched fight on the show.

Shockingly, the fight made it out of the first round. Between rounds, Sapp was given a yellow card for punching to the back of the head. When the second round started, Sapp punches opened Akebono’s cut and he was bleeding heavily. The fight was stopped at :47 of round two. If this was the U.S., it would likely be a no contest, or even a disqualification of Sapp if the cut was caused by an illegal blow, which given where Akebono was bleeding from, it was. If the blow was legal, then Sapp should have won via cut stoppage. Instead, they went to the judges, and since Sapp had landed almost all the punches in the fight, he got the unanimous decision. The rules are different in Japan, as without regulation, Rizin can use whatever rules it wants.

They’ve since announced they are going to review the decision due to the cut and it may be overturned. If so, there is talking of setting up a third match.

Even more amateurish was the women’s fight, introducing Japan to Gabi Garcia, a world women’s champion in Jiu Jitsu who looks like the giant bodybuilder Nicole Bass did in the 90s. She was billed at 6-foot-1 and 216 pounds, but looked monstrous next to Tapa (Seini Draughn), billed at 5-foot-11 and 201 pounds. Tapa was a large woman who had a few months of training and was pretty much an amateur. Garcia, for all her BJJ credentials, was just out there swinging like someone who had never put on gloves. Tapa actually knocked Garcia down early on. Both were throwing like they’d never fought before, and it was each woman’s first sanctioned fight, and Tapa was doing a fight with only a short period of training at the American Top Team in Coconut Creek, FL. Garcia threw a backhand, that didn’t even look like a targeted punch as much as a reflex backswing that actually caught Tapa on the jaw and dropped her, and then finished her with hammer fists on the ground in 2:36.

The other big thing was the debut of Baruto, which is a story in itself. The Estonian former sumo star was to face Jerome LeBanner of K-1 fame. Two days before the show came word that LeBanner didn’t come to Japan, and Baruto would instead face his trainer, Aerts, another K-1 star, who had retired from fighting.

LeBanner then showed up on Antonio Inoki’s rival Inoki Bom Ba Ye card at Sumo Hall in Tokyo, congratulating Oli Thompson, after he defeated Fernando Rodrigues Jr. in the main event and finals of the IGF world heavyweight title tournament, which started as a pro wrestling championship which is now defended only in shoots.

Sakakibara quickly announced he was going to take legal action against LeBanner for showing up on the rival show. LeBanner then claimed that he never reached an agreement nor signed a contract for the Baruto fight. His representatives also claimed he had a left foot injury so couldn’t have fought even if they did come to terms.

Unlike most of the Rizin fights, which had ten minute first rounds, the Baruto vs. Aerts fight was three three-minute rounds.

Baruto, at 6-foot-6 ½ and 403.5 pounds was surprisingly athletic as he took Aerts down and started landing solid shots on the ground. While sumos usually don’t do well in MMA, he had a judo background before sumo.

Like with Sakuraba, the ref seemed determined not to stop the fight since Aerts was a legend. Baruto hit him with about 45 punches while Aerts ended up trapped under the ropes. He landed about 15 more before it was stopped and they were put in the center of the ring. But that reprieve saved Aerts. Baruto took Aerts down and pounded on him for three rounds to get a decision. I’m not sure what future Baruto has as a fighter, although he could probably draw big TV ratings against Sapp, Akebono, Satoshi Ishii or others. But the guy would have been tailor made as a main event heel in the 70s and 80s pro wrestling scene.

The other heavily talked about match in Japan was the battle of third generation stars, with Kron Gracie (grandson of Helio Gracie, son of Rickson) against 19-year-old Asen Yamamoto (grandson of former Japanese Olympian and Olympic wrestling coach Ikuei Yamamoto, son of former women’s world champion Miyu Yamamoto). While on a far smaller level, this was the equivalent of the first Masato vs. Kid Yamamoto fight. Like his uncle, Yamamoto was giving away considerable size. Gracie competes in Jiu Jitsu at 169 pounds and was a welterweight in his first MMA fight. But he cut to 145. Gracie showed impressive technique, but the fans got into Yamamoto showing heart. The TV show featured Yamamoto’s grandfather from ringside and mother from the stands (she was fairly popular in Japan about 20 years ago because she was a world champion in wrestling and very pretty), while he got out of numerous submission attempts. Finally Gracie locked on a triangle. Yamamoto gave him a hard power bomb, but Gracie held on and Yamamoto tapped out. Still, Yamamoto was named the MVP of the show.

Pro wrestling tie-ins included Nobuhiko Takada beating the drums. Takada, going shirtless, looked awfully fit at 53, looking in betting shape than most UFC heavyweights. Hiroshi Hase, another major stars of the 90s, now a Senator and member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet, was there giving a speech before Emelianenko’s fight, and also presented Emelianenko with a world championship belt after his victory. The belt was modeled after the Ric Flair WCW world heavyweight title belt, which Hase won briefly in 1994 when it was called the WCW International World title.

Takada interviewed Kanako Murata, 22, a woman wrestler who was Junior (teenage) world champion at 121 pounds in 2011 and 2012. She also competed in judo and said her goal was to transition to MMA.

Women never competed in Pride, but there were two women fights on the show, with Rena being pushed as a star, and having the best submission finish of the first two shows with a flying armbar.

The reaction by the Japanese public was positive, with Rena, Takeru, Baruto and Yamamoto getting over.

The 12/29 show drew 12,214 fans while the New Year’s Eve show drew a full house of 18,365 fans.

1. Rena (Rena Kubota) (1-0) beat Jleana Valentino (0-1) at 3:31 of the second round. These were women kickboxers making their debut. Rena did some nice judo takedowns and had the great flying armbar finish. Rena has star qualities, similar to UFC’s Michelle Waterson. She’s not that good an all-around fighter. The finish was great, but overall you could see her weaknesses. She has the right look to be a star, which is why she was on this show and pushed strong on television.

2. King Mo Lawal (18-4, 1 no contest) beat Teodoras Aukstuolis (8-3) in the semifinals of the tournament via unanimous decision. Because the winner fights again, they did two rounds, a ten minute first and five minute second. It was slow paced with Mo, who started his career in Japan and has a small name there, landing more. He easily won the first round. In the second round, Lawal picked Aukstuolis up over his head and slammed him. Lawal got two more second round takedowns landing ground and pound.

3. Jiri Prochazka (16-2-1) beat Vadim Nemkov (5-1) via stoppage after the end of the 10:00 first round due to exhaustion in the other semifinal. This was a great back-and-forth fight. Prochazka got a quick early knockdown. Nemkov used a high slam takedown. Nemkov went for a guillotine. Nemkov got another takedown and went for an armbar. Nemkov landed a lot of punches on the ground. Prochazka blocked a takedown and landed on top, and then got his back. Nemkov reversed to the top and used punches and kicks on the ground. Nemkov took him down into full mount and went for an armbar, but Prochazka escaped. Both were really tired late in the round. Nemkov got another takedown before the round ended. When the round ended, Nemkov stayed on the ground for a long time due to exhaustion and the fight was stopped.

4. Brennan Ward of Bellator (13-3) beat Ken Hasegawa (10-1-1) via choke at 1:54 of the second round. Ward used shoes to give him better footing. Ward got a knockdown but Hasegawa got a takedown. It went back-and-forth throughout the first round. Ward survived a high slam in the second round and came back with a belly-to-belly suplex right out of pro wrestling, landed a soccer kick to the head and got a choke for the submission.

5. Soo Chul Kim (12-5) beat Maike Linhares (9-1) via unanimous decision after three rounds. Boring fight as Kim took him down at will.

6. Takeru beat Yang Ming in a kickboxing match at 3:00 of the second round. Takeru won a one-sided fight and won with a barrage of punches.

7. Gabi Garcia (1-0) beat Lei’d Tapa (0-1) at 2:36. This fight visually, seeing Garcia compete against a woman, is why MMA with no drug testing at all is just a sideshow. Garcia looks too freaky and that does get over to the Japanese, but this was not a fair fight at all, even though Tapa did land a punch that put Garcia down. Garcia has just ridiculous looking shoulders and traps. Even though it was horrible from a technical standpoint, the crowd loved the two big women flailing away. Garcia just backhanded Tapa, which landed perfectly to the jaw and Tapa went down. Garcia threw some hammer fists on the ground and it was stopped.

8. Bob Sapp beat Akebono at :47 of the second round in a shoot boxing match. This was just Sapp connecting with cuffing punches mostly to the back of the head and Akebono doing little. This was a serious worst match of the year candidate, as was the prior match.

9. Baruto (1-0) beat Peter Aerts (1-2) via decision after three rounds. Aerts physically looked good for 45 years old. They did three three minute rounds of Baruto continually taking Aerts down and punching him.

10. Andy Souwer (1-0) beat Yuichiro Nagashima (4-3) in 5:19. Souwer was Masato’s big rival during the K-1 Max heyday. He’s now in MMA. Nagashima was the cross-dressing kickboxer who went into pro wrestling later. Souwer threw a knee and lost balance and Nagashima got on top. Souwer got back up and got aggressive. Nagashima took him down again and went for a leglock. But Nagashima lost him. Souwer started landing punches and knees on the ground, knocking out one of Nagashima’s teeth, which he spit out. Souwer started taking him apart with all kinds of shots until it was stopped.

11. Kron Gracie (2-0) beat Asen Yamamoto (0-1) in 4:57. Gracie was too big for Yamamoto to really implement his wrestling game. Gracie got an armbar but Yamamoto escaped and reversed to the top. Gracie went for a triangle from the bottom but Yamamoto pulled out of trouble. Gracie got a takedown, missed to side control, then mount, and went for a triangle and armbar. Yamamoto escaped a second time, but then had the triangle locked in. Yamamoto picked him up and power bombed Gracie, but Gracie just squeezed tighter and got the submission.

12. Fedor Emelianenko (35-4, 1 no contest) beat Jaideep Singh (2-1) in 3:03. Singh, at 6-foot-5, towered over Emelianenko. Emelianenko landed a few punches and took Singh down, moved to side control, then mount and landed punches until Singh tapped out.

13. King Mo Lawal (19-4, 1 no contest) beat Jiri Prochazka (16-3-1) in 5:09 to win the heavyweight tournament. Prochazka had a huge size and reach edge here and was landing all kinds of kicks. But he had the tougher first round match and Lawal was laying back. He continued to land all kinds of kicks until Lawal got the takedown. He cut Prochazka near the left eye, and landed a solid right to the jaw for the knockout. There was a big tournament winning in-ring ceremony.


The general rule of thumb is that when you have very close fights, it’s hard to complain about decisions.

And few shows had as many close fights as UFC 195, which was headlined by Robbie Lawler retaining his welterweight title on a very controversial split decision over Carlos Condit in a spectacular fight which is going to be tough to beat for match of the year. With this fight, Lawler has a shot at winning fight of the year three consecutive years, something unprecedented historically. Lawler vs. Johny Hendricks won most fight of the year awards in 2014, including in the Observer poll. Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald has already picked up a number of 2015 fight of the year awards.

This makes all four of Lawler’s UFC championship fights that ended up being decided in the fifth round. In his first title challenge with Hendricks, he lost in the fifth round. In the rematch, it was also even and he won it in the fifth round. With MacDonald, he was behind and needed a finish to retain, and got the finish in the fifth round. Here, while it seemed the majority had Condit up 39-37 going into the fifth, two of the three judges had it 38-38 and Lawler took the fifth and won the fight. The fifth round, with both going all out, somewhat similar to round two, except at maybe three or four times the speed and volume, saw Condit land more, but Lawler had the harder punches and kicks. It was already a match of the year candidate going into the fifth, but the climax was really special, and one of the best rounds in UFC history. When it was over, both stood, side by side, exhausted, leaning on the cage. Both did nothing but put over the other as far as being a warrior after the fight was over, with Condit saying he thought he won three of the five rounds, but had a matter-of-fact attitude about the decision not going his way.

Condit, on paper was not deserving of a title fight ahead of either Hendricks (who lost the title on a close decision and then won his first fight back, and has a win over Condit) or Tyron Woodley (who was ranked ahead of Condit and also has a win over him). Condit had lost three of his previous five fights. However, as far as booking to give fans an entertaining title fight, Lawler vs. Condit stylistically figured to be the most exciting title fight possible, and it more than delivered.

The deal is that most of the top fighters in the divisions are strong wrestlers, judokas or Jiu Jitsu guys, Hendricks, Woodley, Rory MacDonald, Demian Maia and Hector Lombard. Lawler has beaten Hendricks and MacDonald, and would be favored over Woodley, but Hendricks and Woodley have beaten Condit, and MacDonald probably would as well (Condit beat MacDonald when he was 20, but it was only because MacDonald was young and ran out of gas). But that’s because Lawler has the power in his hands and feet, and is a good enough wrestler to make it difficult to take him down. Condit can be taken down and controlled enough to lose decisions. But with Condit vs. Lawler, there figured to be no takedowns attempted. Condit is taller and is a more versatile and high-volume striker than Lawler. Lawler wouldn’t take him down to neutralize that, and in a straight striking battle, Condit is taller, quicker, with more reach, and has better technique, movement and angles. Lawler does have the knockout power.

And really, that was the story of the fight. Condit landed much more, but Lawler’s shots were harder.

Virtually everyone agreed that Lawler won rounds two and five, and Condit won one and four. The decision on all three judges cards came down to round three. Tony Weeks gave it to Condit, but Chris Lee and Derek Cleary scored it for Lawler.

But they were in the minority. We did a poll where about two-thirds felt Condit won. A media poll on MMADecisions.com had 15 saying Condit won, three saying Lawler won, and two had it a draw.

Condit had a 176-92 edge in significant strikes. No fighter in UFC history has ever landed 84 less strikes than their opponent and then lost the decision in a championship fight. Condit had the edge as far as volume in all five rounds. But pure strikes landed doesn’t factor in how hard the strikes were, and that gave Lawler two rounds solidly.

Round three, where Condit outlanded 22-11 in significant strikes, saw Condit in control most of the round, but Lawler landed the hardest shots of the round early on. While I had Condit winning, and on first viewing thought it was obvious, rewatching round three, it was clear it was close enough to where scoring the round for Lawler wasn’t a bad call.

Such a close call, where most people thought the title should have changed hands, it makes sense to book a rematch, particularly since at this point there will be far more interest in Lawler vs. Condit again than Lawler vs. Tyron Woodley, who would be the guy next.

Dana White on UFC Tonight said, “I don’t know. They were just in a five-round war. I’m not talking to them about fighting right now. It was a very close fight. It all depends on how you scored the third round.”

But Condit was also very matter-of-factly talking that he may retire. He had said it a few times leading up to the fight and said it again after. It was a surprise, because Condit is only 31, and has never been knocked out in a fight, and Condit is also coming off arguably the best performance of his career, even if he lost. He had said that had he won the title, he would have stayed to defend it.

The business once again showed the age old axiom was true that most people don’t attend fights based on the idea of seeing exciting fights. No fight, on paper, promised this kind of striking back-and-forth, or looked on paper to be a classic fight. But the show, held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on 1/3, didn’t sell out. The 10,300 paid $2,003,986.

The prelims on FS 1 did 1,032,000 viewers, which, while below the 2015 average, isn’t bad considering the average was swelled by big numbers for the major fights. It’s ten percent over the course of FS 1 history for PPV prelims shows.

I consider the number good when you consider the show the same weekend last year, the prelims before the Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier fight, did 1,039,000 viewers (although that went against a huge NFL game). That speaks to a lack of correlation because I’d have considered it a success for this show on PPV to do one-third the numbers of that show. The show went head-to-head with the crazy triple overtime Alamo Bowl game with Oregon vs. Texas Christian that did 7,414,000 viewers. The pre-game show did 252,000 viewers, the post-game show did 152,000 viewers and the weigh-ins did 176,000 viewers. The weigh-in number was quite strong, probably because it aired in prime time and FS 1 was doing replays of PPVs all day sandwiched around the weigh-in which was smart programming. On New Year’s Day, they aired UFC 189, the Conor McGregor vs. Chad Mendes show, from 3-6 p.m. and did 242,000 viewers and aired UFC 181, the show where Lawler beat Hendricks to win the title in their rematch, from 8-11 p.m., and did 380,000 viewers.

The prelims peaked at 1,244,000 for the Kyle Noke vs. Alex Morono fight. Dana White announced at the press conference that the Dustin Poirier vs. Joe Duffy Fight Pass main event did big numbers in Europe, making it the most watched live fight ever on the service. One would expect, with Fight Pass numbers consistently trending upward, that a fight of that magnitude airing live would set a record, and that record would be destroyed at the end of February for the Anderson Silva vs. Michael Bisping fight.

No PPV numbers are available this early but all the usual tracking methods as far as things that would indicate a good or bad number had this at below average levels, and bar attendance was generally low.

Aside from the main event, the other two key stories were Stipe Miocic, and the judging.

Miocic stopped Andrei Arlovski in :54 with punches, and immediately moved to where Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta were sitting, and from the cage, yelled that he wanted a title shot. Later, White said he agreed with him, so Miocic looks to be facing the winner of the 2/6 Cain Velasquez vs. Fabricio Werdum fight.

The show featured five fights that were close enough that judging was a key issue. In four of those fights, the preponderance of media scores were the opposite of who the judges picked.

The only fight where the media and judges agreed was Albert Tumenov’s split decision win over Lorenz Larkin. Major media scores based on MMADecisions.com had 13 for Tumenov, five for Larkin and one had it a draw. Interestingly, I had it for Larkin. Larkin landed more, but his main offense was leg kicks. By the third round, Tumenov was having trouble standing. However, Tumenov landed more punches, including strong shots to the body and head. Larkin landed more blows in rounds one and three, and I scored both of those rounds for him, but felt both rounds were also close enough that even a 30-27 score for Tumenov wouldn’t have been that bad. During the fight, 68 percent of Larkin’s landed strikes were to the leg while 68 percent of Tumenov’s were to the head, and head strikes are going to outweigh leg strikes. But my feeling is the leg strikes led to Tumenov limping and were affecting him more as the fight went on. Tumenov would have had a lot of trouble continuing had the fight gone another round.

An Alex Morono split decision win over Kyle Noke was 16 of the 17 major media outlets feel Noke won (which I also thought). A unanimous decision win by Justine Kish over Nina Ansaroff saw 12 of 17 outlets go with Ansaroff (I went with Kish). And a split decision Michinori Tanaka win over Joe Soto saw 11 media outlets go with Soto, six with Tanaka and one had it a draw. I went with Soto, but the first round, which turned out to be the deciding round, was close. Tanaka, after the fight, said that he would have retired had he lost.

1. Sheldon Wescott (10-3-1) beat Edgar Garcia (14-5) in 3:12 of a welterweight fight. Wescott used a bodylock takedown, and got Garcia’s back. He was landing tons of punches from that position. The ref let this continue far too long with Garcia face down just getting hammered and doing nothing while the ref warned him to start improving his position. Wescott got $20,000 for the win and Garcia got $10,000 for the loss.

2. Michinori Tanaka (11-1) beat Joe Soto (15-5) on a split decision on scores of 29-28, 28-29 and 29-28 in a bantamweight fight. The first round was the one that decided the fight. Tanaka blocked the takedown and started landing punches. Tanaka landed some low kicks and took Soto down. But Soto from his back was working for a gogoplata and throwing elbows. It was Tanaka who was defending, even though he was the one on top, and two of the judges gave him the round because of it. Tanaka escaped and had a big smile on his face. Tanaka took over in the second round. But Soto damaged his left leg with low kicks. Tanaka used a judo hip toss to get the fight to the ground. Soto worked for a guillotine but Tanaka cleared it and landed punches and elbows. Tanaka kept on offense in the third round until taking Soto down. Soto went for a guillotine but Tanaka escaped. Soto came back with a lot of punches and Tanaka was bleeding from the nose and mouth. Soto got a takedown, got mount and then got Tanaka’s back and was working for the choke when time ran out. The crowd really liked this fight. Tanaka got $24,000 for a very lucky win while Soto got $20,000 for the loss.

3. Dustin Poirier (19-4) beat Joe Duffy (14-2) on scores of 30-26, 30-27 and 30-27 in a lightweight fight. The story of this fight is that Duffy, whose standup had looked excellent in his previous UFC fights, couldn’t stop Poirier from taking him down. Duffy was getting the better of the standup, but Poirier was hanging with him and the action in the first round was great. Poirier took him down. Duffy was bleeding fro the nose. After Duffy got up, both were landing. It was Poirier’s round close. In the second round, Poirier took him down. By this point Poirier was bleeding badly from the nose, which was broken in two places. Poirier was on top bleeding all over Duffy. Poirier landed a ton of elbows from the top and Duffy was bleeding badly from a number of different cuts. I had the second round as a 10-8 for Poirier. The third round was more of the same as Poirier got the takedown. Duffy went for a heel hook but Poirier escaped and got back on top. The ref ordered a standup, which made no sense at all as Poirier was busy from the top. The crowd booed it, knowing it was a bad call. Poirier started landing punches but Poirier took him down again. Duffy was working for a triangle just as the fight ended. Poirier got $84,000 for the win and Duffy got $20,000 for the loss.

4. Drew Dober (16-7, 1 no contest) beat Scott Holtzman (8-1) via straight 29-28 scores in a lightweight fight. Dober got two takedowns to win the first round. Holtzman got two takedowns in the second round and landed good punches from the top to even the score going into the third round. Dober got two takedowns in the third round early and landed an elbow that cut Holtzman badly. Dober took over and got two more takedowns in the round and had Holtzman’s back late in the round. Dober got $26,000 for the win and Holtzman got $12,000 for the loss.

5. Justine Kish (5-0) beat Nina Ansaroff (6-5) on scores of 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 in a women’s strawweight fight. All three rounds were close and either could have won. Kish’s left thumb went into Ansaroff’s eye to start the fight. But she was able to continue. Kish was landing more and then Ansaroff came back. Kish got a takedown but Ansaroff got up and landed more and I had her winning a close round. Both landed hard shots in the second round. Ansaroff hurt Kish with a left hook and a kick. Kish used a headlock takedown and I had her taking the round close. Ansaroff opened the third round with a takedown. Kish went for an armbar from the bottom but Ansaroff got out of trouble. Kish got a takedown and used punches from the top, moved to mount and got Ansaroff’s back. Ansaroff reversed to the top and she did enough from the top late to tighten up the third round as well. Kish got $20,000 for the win and Ansaroff got $10,000 for the loss.

6. Alex Morono (12-3) beat Kyle Noke (22-8-1) on a split decision on scores of 29-28, 27-30 and 29-28 in a welterweight fight. Morono was taking the fight on 11 days notice. Both landed in the first round with Noke seeming to have the edge. In the second round, Morono used a spin kick and Superman punch. Morono was landing more at this point but Noke jumped on his back. Morono shook him off and went for a heel hook. Noke got out and was on top and threw punches and knees to the body. In the third round, Noke told his corner that his nose was broken. Both landed punches. Morono landed a hard right and Noke landed a spinning elbow. Noke got a takedown but Morono worked for an armbar from the bottom. Noke escaped and was on top as the round ended. Morono got $24,000 for the win and Noke got $26,000 for the loss.

7. Michael McDonald (17-3) beat Masanori Kanehara (25-13-5) at 2:09 of the second round in a bantamweight fight. Kanehara controlled the entire fight until he got submitted. He got a takedown early. McDonald went for a guillotine but didn’t have it. Kanehara moved to mount by the end of the round. In the second round, Kanehara got another takedown off a kick. Kanehara moved to side control and threw knees to the body. Kanehara went for a head and arm choke and looked like he was about to win, when McDonald did this great escape, got Kanehara’s back and got the choke for the submission. McDonald got $90,000 for the win plus a performance bonus and Kanehara got $14,000 for the loss.

8. Abel Trujillo (13-7, 1 no contest) beat Tony Sims (12-4) in 3:18 in a lightweight fight. Sims was getting the better of the standup, and then took Trujillo down, but in doing so, Trujillo clamped on a guillotine that Sims had to tap to. Trujillo got $40,000 for the win and Sims got $12,000 for the loss.

9. Brian Ortega (10-0, 1 no contest) beat Diego Brandao (24-11) at 1:37 of the third round in a featherweight fight. This was somewhat like the McDonald fight. Brandao dominated the first two rounds. Brandao was winning every aspect of the first round, with a slam, low kicks, punches and a second takedown. Ortega had some offense late but Brandao landed the better punches. Ortega needed a finish in round three. Both came out swinging. Ortega went for a takedown but Brandao blocked and ended up on top. Brandao let him up, but then took Ortega down. Ortega then went to work, first going for an Anaconda choke, then moved to mount and went for a guillotine. He let that go and went for a triangle and got the submission. I’m quite surprised he didn’t get one of the performance bonuses for that finishing sequence. Ortega got $24,000 for the win and Brandao got $36,000 for the loss.

10. Albert Tumenov (17-2) beat Lorenz Larkin (16-5, 1 no contest) on scores of 29-28, 28-29 and 29-28 in a welterweight fight. Another close decision. It started slowly. Tumenov was landing better punches, but Larkin was landing hard low kicks. Larkin continued landing the low kicks in the second round and Tumenov was having a tough time standing. Tumenov came back with hard shots to the body, a head kick and a lot of punches. The only clear round win was Tumenov in the second. The third round saw Larkin take control with a lot more low kicks, including spinning low kicks like Andy Hug made famous in the 90s. Tumenov could barely stand by late in the round. Tumenov got $40,000 for the win and Larkin got $36,000 for the loss.

11. Stipe Miocic (14-2) beat Andrei Arlovski (25-11, 1 no contest) in :54 of a heavyweight fight. Arlovski came out kicking the knee like Jon Jones. Miocic landed a right that nailed Arlovski’s left ear, and that stunned him and a second right hit the jaw. Miocic then went over to Dana White and yelled that he deserved a title fight. Miocic got $170,000 for the win, including a performance bonus. Arlovski got $250,000 for the loss.

12. Robbie Lawler (27-10, 1 no contest) beat Carlos Condit (30-9) via split decision on scores of 47-48, 48-47 and 48-47 to retain the UFC welterweight title. Condit landed some kicks and Lawler landed good punches early. Condit landed a punch and basically pushed Lawler, who went down. Condit was hurting him with body kicks as well as knees, and then a head kick and won the fast-paced round strong. The second round was slower with Condit landing more and getting the better of it until Lawler knocked Condit down with a left and Condit was briefly in trouble. Condit tied him up on the ground until Lawler backed off and wanted Condit to stand. Lawler landed a hard left but missed throwing big punches trying to take Condit out. Very clear Lawler round due to the knockdown. The third round was the close one, with Condit landing more, but Lawler got the better of an exchange and also landed a hard elbow. In the fourth round, Condit dominated. Both threw big punches but Lawler went down from a low kick. Condit hurt him with punches and was working to try and get a finish. He used a spinning backfist, a knee and a flurry of punches. Lawler came out seemingly feeling he needed a knockout to win, which, as it turned out he didn’t. But even his corner going into the fourth round told him he needed to win both rounds, and he lost the fourth clearly. Lawler threw big punches but Condit was able to avoid most of them. Lawler landed hard punches and Condit came right back with a ton of punches and a head kick, and then more punches. Lawler landed a hard right and left. Condit came back but Lawler landed another hard left and right, followed by a knee and another hard left. Lawler landed a head kick. Then Condit came back with punches and then Lawler came back. Both were throwing with everything they had until time ran out. Lawler got $550,000 for the win, including a performance bonus, and this wouldn’t include any cut he got from the PPV (which may not have been big given there’s usually a bottom number before you get a contracted bonus and this show may not have done that bottom number). Condit got$365,000, including a performance bonus, for the loss.


Albert Einstein is often credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

Now, there is no evidence Einstein actually said this, but if he lived long enough to watch TNA wrestling, he probably would have.

Running on a clearly limited budget, TNA started its latest reboot, months after last taping television, with an almost live (the show was actually taped a few hours before it aired) show built around crowning a new world champion on 1/5 from Bethlehem, PA at the Sands Events Center.

Among other things, the show would also be a one show only promotion for a return to PPV on 1/8. The show hardly pushed the PPV, or much of anything going forward.

Ethan Carter III became the new champion, beating Bobby Lashley in the semifinals with help from Tyrus, and then pinning Matt Hardy clean, with no outside help, in the finals.

The bad news is that the debut show did 255,000 viewers, less than they were doing most weeks on Destination America, even though they had increased from 57 million to 72 million available homes. A replay airing did 90,000 viewers. In TNA’s last full month on Destination America, November, they were averaging 244,000 viewers for the first run show and 84,000 for the replay. But that was for matches taped months earlier on a station that had all but ceased promotion.

Pop TV and TNA had been pushing this 1/5 start date since late November, talking about a live show and it being the finals of the world title tournament.

TNA has always lost considerable viewership every time it switches days, and has taken a hit in moving from Friday to Wednesday to Tuesday all in the past year. The average viewer of the show was 54 years old, about the same as it was doing on Destination America and older than it was doing on Spike. Considering Pop TV President Brad Schwartz had talked about TNA bringing 1.3 million viewers weekly to the station within four to six months, this was a terrible debut. Given those expectations and the ratings the first three weeks, this is very bad news.

For the PPV, the only matches announced were a three-way with Drew Galloway & Kurt Angle against Eddie Edwards & Davey Richards and Eli Drake & Jessie Godderz, and a tag team match with the reunited Beer Money of Bobby Roode & James Storm vs. Eric Young & Bram. There was no compelling reason for the former, just that Angle had mentioned that before he leaves TNA, he wanted to wrestle Edwards & Richards and have a great match, and Galloway was the guy he expected to lead TNA going forward, so wanted to wrestle him, but also due to mutual respect, wanted to team with him. Drake & Godderz then showed up in a backstage segment. Minutes earlier Drake was cutting a promo on Godderz talking about his fan base being 13-year-old girls and living paycheck-to-paycheck off “Big Brother” fame (he appeared on two seasons of the show in 2008 and has made several return guest appearances since then). It was then announced, not on TV or in the interview, but on the TNA web site, the next day, that Edwards & Richards would be defending their tag team titles in the three-way. The latter was simply the reuniting of Beer Money, off an angle done on the show. The day after TV, instead of on TV, they added a women’s Gauntlet match, listing Awesome Kong, Jade, Marti Bell, Velvet Sky and others as participants, with the winner in line for a Knockouts title shot at Gail Kim, Mahabili Shera vs. Aiden O’Shea and Bobby Lashley vs. Tyrus.

The PPV live was because TNA has TV contracts in the U.K., India and several international markets to produce monthly three hour specials. Instead of doing monthly PPVs, which were losing money because fo the cost of going live, they changed it to mostly One Night Only PPVs that are really time fillers, taped well ahead of time. They are marketed as low cost PPV’s in the U.S. where they had contracts with PPV providers for monthly content. However, because of the company canceling a show in the all in New Orleans, as well as the India tour being canceled, they were behind on taping and needed a new show for 1/8, so it had to be done this week.

One would have thought that the show would end setting up a title match. But after Carter won the title, they just went off the air with him celebrating and Hardy being consoled by his wife, with his son there. Instead of the champion or challenger, the scene seemed was stolen by Reby Hardy, Matt’s wife, as they focused on her glaring at Carter. That would have made more sense if Matt had gotten screwed in the match. Instead, the entire show’s story was Matt as the babyface trying to win it for his family, and then Tyrus walking out on Carter. This meant he wasn’t going to get the outside help from Tyrus that he had needed to beat Bobby Lashley in the semifinals. But after all that, he still lost. There’s nothing wrong with Carter winning clean given that Hardy’s contract is coming due. It was just weird using that storyline the entire show to lead to a babyface failure since that’s usually the impetus for either a win or a screw job loss with heat for a rematch.

They also pushed that next week’s main event, probably taped on 1/6, will start Angle’s farewell tour as he’ll face Galloway in a singles match.

TNA has taped multiple days in Bethlehem before. There were no shots where you could get a good view of the size of the crowd, but it looked and sounded like several hundred. They were offering free tickets to the tapings through one of their sponsors.

They were able to do it more cheaply than in other places, but the flip side is the shows looked more minor league. A positive was the first night drew a crowd that was really into seeing TNA’s return. At the show, during breaks, both Jeremy Borash and Christy Hemme referred to The Sands as “the new Impact Zone,” and Hemme made a reference that Orlando used to be the home of Impact and now it’s here in Pennsylvania. Visually this is a major step down from Orlando if this becomes the permanent taping site. Plus, it’s going to be far harder to draw a crowd for several days in a row, because in Orlando you always had the tourist crowd at Universal to draw from and it’s easier to draw as free entertainment. While it wasn’t difficult to get free tickets to these tapings, they weren’t advertised as a free show.

When Dixie Carter came out for the opening interview, they chanted “Thank you Dixie.”

Later in the show, during a match with Gail Kim & Madison Rayne & Velvet Sky vs. Jade & Marti Bell & Rebel, there was a chant, well, okay it sounded like maybe three guys, who were chanting “this is awesome,” making this quite possibly the worst match in wrestling history to get such a chant.

TNA no longer felt like a No. 2 promotion, but more like some people who scrounged money together and a few stars, and taped television or a channel that nobody watches.

It’s not that the storylines were good or bad. The wrestling was below the usual TNA standards. The attempts at bringing in new additions for the first show ended up with Storm, the debut of The Miracle, Mike Bennett, and his sidekick, Maria Kanellis.

If you were a regular weekly viewer of TNA, it would have appeared Storm was never gone. Because they taped so far in advance, he was regularly appearing as part of the title tournament on television until they got to the single elimination phase, months after he already left.

His being there was notable because he had done two NXT tapings, and got a great response at both of them, and did a couple of television interviews talking about how he had come to the promotion. It was very much unlike WWE to put someone on television and give them a push that they didn’t have under contract, particularly when there were stories that Storm was still talking to TNA. Even after those stories, WWE put him on television a second time. It’s so opposite of WWE philosophy and pretty much considered a major flub by Paul Levesque in putting the guy on television a second time without signing him to a deal, and then he ended up in TNA. In the big picture, TNA is so far behind that it doesn’t matter, but it’s still exactly what every television company tries to avoid, which is their talent that they push then going to another company on national TV without a several month window of time in between.

Storm signed two-year contract with TNA to return.

They at least attempted to make an instant new star in Bennett. They did bumpers through the show promising the debut of “The Miracle,” and had promoted his debut big in social media. He got a big intro and the announcers tried to put him over as one of the biggest stars in the world and a game changer. He did an interview. There was nothing particularly wrong with it but he didn’t come across as a superstar either. But it’s early. It may be a reach but in the position TNA is in, those are the kinds of risks they have to take.

It appeared Miracle Mike was being groomed for a top of the card title run. And guys like him, Carter and Galloway are the keys to maintaining as much of the fan base as possible, or growing, if that’s even possible.

Angle is going to be gone in a few weeks unless he changes his mind. Both Hardys are up in the air, and Jeff may not be able to wrestle until late in the year if he does stay. Jeff, at least when he’s healthy, probably could return to WWE. Matt does have a name and they took the Dudleys back, but Matt left in a worse way, and he himself has said that his body probably can’t take the WWE schedule after all the punishment he’s taken over the years. TNA is actually a good fit for him.

But overall, it was as if they learned nothing. Josh Matthews in week one of the reboot on the new station went out there to destroy his credibility as lead announcer. A credible voice putting over the younger talent and storylines is desperately needed for a promotion like this. When I watch Kevin Kelly, for example, he comes across as a nice guy who likes wrestling and he’s not out there lying and being full of it when he’s selling the talent or the angles. I don’t have that same feeling at all listening to Matthews. He comes across fake, there’s no conviction or feeling of realism in his voice, and instead, he comes across as a guy totally full of it, which is exactly what you wouldn’t want from a lead announcer. There’s no connection at all with him and the listening audience. The full of it part is likely the fault of TNA, and he’s just doing his marching orders

If anything, the last thing you’d want in starting up again on a new station is listeners instantly thinking the lead commentator is totally full of shit. He was out there with his imaginary trending of Twitter statements, and going on and on about how an average at best final match with Carter vs. Matt Hardy was an early candidate for 2016 match of the year. None of that helped. It only hurts. You have to save those platitudes for matches that at least approximate that level. Saying it for anything less than a great match makes the promotion look bush league and insults viewers’ intelligence.

As far as other changes, The Doll House lost Taryn Terrell as its leader. She was replaced by Awesome Kong.

Terrell, 30, has left the company. She announced it in a video on 1/4, the day before TNA restarted tapings. Terrell was married on 10/13 to Joseph Dreyden, a motorcycle stunt man on the Monster Jam Freestyle Mania tour. It would be her second marriage, with her first being to TNA wrestler Drew Galloway when both worked for WWE. At about the time of her wedding, she also put up a video about finding religion and saying that she had done a lot of bad things in her life and had to greatly change who she was.

She called leaving wrestling a personal decision and that for the path her life is on now, she said that TNA was not the right fit for her anymore.

“I just want to say that they’ve been such an amazing company, and I have made some incredible friends who are talented wrestlers and I do hope you guys continue to tune in.”

Storm & Roode reformed Beer Money, with Storm doing a promo about how he left because he didn’t like how he was being portrayed because that wasn’t him. In other words, he came across saying that he was told to play a fake character, he didn’t like it, his granny didn’t like it, so he left the company. But now he’s back and being who he is. Does anyone think what that says about a promotion and all its characters when you put a promo like that during the body of your show?

He did a babyface promo, going back to his prior character as a Southern cowboy babyface, with the creek swimming, deer skinning and Johnny Cash listening line. He said that for the last 13 years, he put everything he had into the company, and that this company didn’t make James Storm, but that James Storm was one of the people who made this company. He’s a good addition because this company isn’t filled with guys who are major league promo guys, and Storm is, whether as a face or a heel.

Kanellis, wearing far more clothes than she did in ROH or New Japan, introduced Bennett to some cheers. Matthews tried to put him over like he was a big deal and a major star. If Matthews had a smidgen of credibility, it still would have been tough to pull off. He told people to Google Bennett to see how great he is. The problem with that is you’re getting clips of him in ROH, where he was just one of many stars, and not a standout.

Bennett played almost a modern Shane Douglas type role, saying how wrestling used to be great and used to be popular and now it’s filled with washed up regurgitated throw aways who call themselves pro wrestlers. He used the nickname “The Miracle,” saying that pro wrestling needs a miracle to save it. They seemed to tease a Bennett vs. Matt Hardy program, since Bennett mentioned Hardy when talking about washed up talent.

The plan was to tape several more weeks of Impact on shows on 1/6 and 1/7, do the live PPV on 1/8, and then tape another PPV show on 1/9 for the “One Night Only” series.


The Vince McMahon-fueled boost of Raw ratings ended after two shows, as the 1/4 Raw was the lowest rated episode of Raw outside of holidays or football season.

The show did a 2.48 rating and 3,572,000 viewers (1.51 viewers per home) even with no football competition. It was the third lowest watched non-holiday edition of the show that didn’t oppose football since 1997.

The all-time non-football competition and non-holiday low was set on 6/29, with a 2.51 rating and 3,463,000 viewers. The only other show lower than Monday as far as total viewers outside of football season and holidays was the 7/13 show, which did a 2.53 rating and 3,531,000 viewers.

Raw was still the highest rated show on cable for the night, barely beating the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News. ESPN ran college basketball (Kansas vs. Oklahoma) which did 2,753,000 viewers.

As a comparison, in August, going against NFL preseason games (that usually don’t hurt Raw much), the show averaged 3,785,000 viewers. For a show that heavily advertised Roman Reigns vs. Sheamus with Vince McMahon as referee for a week, and no football, it should have significantly beaten that figure. The prior week, going against the most-watched Monday night game of the season, they did almost identical numbers, with 3,531,000 viewers.

For football season, Raw averaged 3.31 million viewers, meaning the football season decline this year was 12.5 percent, significantly greater than the usual 9 to 10 percent. However, the bounce back, which is usually greater than the drop by a very slight margin because January through March are usually Raw’s strongest months, was only eight percent with a world title match and Vince McMahon.

The show did a 1.11 with teenagers, 1.11 with 18-34s, 1.33 with 35-49s and 1.37 with 50+. The male vs. female skew was 64/36.

The three hours were 3,707,000 in the first hour, 3,516,000 in the second hour and 3,503,000 in the third hour. Without football siphoning viewers away in hours two and three, the drops were more significant than they appear in comparison with the past four months. While the drop wasn’t as bad as most weeks during football season, without it, and with that main event, the drop shouldn’t have been much. Next week’s number can pretty well be thrown out because of the football competition, but a good test of the real erosion of the last four months would be 1/18, and how close it was to the level Raw was doing before football.

Smackdown on 12/31 did a 1.15 rating and 1,658,000 viewers (1.54 viewers per home, actually well up from usual so for the homes that watched the show, they had more viewers than usual), close to the lowest number for a first-run show in its history on Syfy. The Thanksgiving show did almost identical numbers, a 1.15 rating and 1,652,000 viewers. This was expected with going against the Michigan State vs. Alabama game college football semifinals (18,552,000 viewers, which was considered a huge flop as the semifinals usually do about 25 million, but putting the semifinals on New Year’s Eve, which is actually a regular plan going forward, is not a good idea) as well as just being New Year’s Eve.

Still, it’s not just the day, because Smackdown was in 14th place on cable for the day, and it’s usually top three. But aside from news shows, almost everything that beat it was related to the College semifinals and the Peach Bowl game, or New Year’s Eve Countdown shows on the major cable stations.

Football totally killed them with the male audience, because the usual 65 to 70 percent male skew was only 52 percent, and also skewed far older than usual, which also makes sense since younger people were the ones going out more than older people. The show did a 0.42 among teenagers, 0.36 in 18-34, 0.56 in 35-49 and 0.73 in 50+.

Impact on 12/29 did 136,000 viewers for another “Best of Show” before the 1/5 date of the advertised launch, with the average viewer being 53 years old.

Even going against the strongest NFL game of the season, Raw did well above its usual levels on 12/28 for a show built around Vince McMahon and featuring the return of John Cena. Given that Raw numbers have fluctuated based on NFL numbers all season, had they not been on the show, it is likely the show would have been at record low levels.

Raw did a 2.47 rating and 3,531,000 viewers (1.49 viewers per home), about 200,000 above the fall average. Football did siphon larger percentage of men away as the breakdown in the 18-49 age group was 63% males, lower than usual. By age group, the show did a 1.10 in 12-17, 1.02 in 18-34, 1.40 in 35-49 and 1.32 in 50+. The show also did 453,000 via DVR or an 88.6%/11.4% split between live and DVR viewership.

The Cincinnati Bengals vs. Denver Broncos game did 15,806,000 viewers, with a 2.84 in 12-17, 3.84 in 18-34, 5.78 in 35-49 and 8.00 in 50+.

The 8 p.m. hour of Raw did 3,695,000 viewers, while the 9 p.m. hour did 3,488,000 viewers and the 10 p.m. hour did 3,425,000 viewers, so the hourly drop was also less than the fall average.


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RESULTS

12/29 Mexico City Arena Mexico (CMLL - 3,000): Akuma & Camorra b Flyer & Leono, Astral & Mini Fantasy & Ultimo Dragoncito b Demus 3:16 & Pequeno Olimpico & Pierrothito, Starman b Arkangel de la Muerte, Cuatrero & Okumura & Sanson b Hombre Bala Jr. & Oro Jr. & Stigma, Gran Guerrero & Bobby Z & Pierroth b Guerrero Maya Jr. & Rey Cometa & Triton, Kraneo & Mephisto & Ripper b La Mascara & Maximo Sexy & Stuka Jr.

12/30 Toronto (WWE - 9,000 sellout): Neville b The Miz, Mojo Rawley & Zack Ryder & Titus O’Neil b The Ascension & Stardust, Big Show b Mark Henry, IC title: Dean Ambrose b Kevin Owens, Divas title: Charlotte b Becky Lynch, Usos & Goldust b Luke Harper & Erick Rowan & Braun Strowman, U.S. title: John Cena b Alberto Del Rio-DQ

12/30 Baltimore (WWE 8,000): Dolph Ziggler b Tyler Breeze, Sin Cara & Kalisto & Damien Sandow & Curtis Axel & Fandango & R-Truth b Big E & Kofi Kingston & Los Matadores & Heath Slater & Adam Rose, Jack Swagger b Bo Dallas, Kane b Bray Wyatt, Brie Bella & Alicia Fox b Naomi & Tamina, Ryback b Rusev, Street fight for WWE title: Roman Reigns b Sheamus

12/31 Tokyo Sumo Hall (IGF - 6,239): Masato Shibata b Kotaro Nasu, Wang Bin b Shogun Okamoto, Yuki Yamamoto b Keisuke Okuda, Chris Barnatt b Shinichi Suzukawa, Shinya Aoki b Montanha Silva, Naoya Ogawa b Daichi Hashimoto, Kazuyuki Fujita b Atsushi Sawada, IGF title: Oli Thompson b Fernandes Rodriguez Jr. To win vacant title

1/1 Mexico City Arena Mexico (CMLL Sin Piedad PPV - 7,500): Amapola & Dallys & Zeuxis b Estrellita & Princesa Sugei & Vaquerita, Cancerbero & Raziel & Virus b Blue Panther Jr. & Esfinge & the Panther, Dragon Rojo & Polvora & Thunder b Atlantis & Marco Corleone & Valiente, Hair vs. hair: Maximo Sexy b Kamaitachi, Volador Jr. & Cibernetico & Ultimo Guerrero b Caristico & Mistico & Rush, Hair vs. hair: Negro Casas b Super Parka

1/1 Tokyo Korakuen Hall (Zero-One): Yasshi & Buffa b Sean Guinness & D-Man, Yoshikazu Yokoyama & Toshiki Itakura b Ryoji Sai & Kenso, Three-way for UN title: Masakado won over Takuya Sugawara and Kamikaze, Minoru Tanaka b Mineo Fujita, Shinjiro Otani & Koji Kanemoto & Tatsuhito Takaiwa b Ikuto Hidaka & Yuko Miyamoto & Isami Kodaka, Kohei Sato & Daisuke Sekimoto b Ryoji Sai & Yuji Okabayashi, World title: Hideki Suzuki b Masato Tanaka

1/02 Reseda, CA (PWG - 400 sellout): Brian Cage b Chris Dickinson, Timothy Thatcher b Drew Gulak, Sami Callihan b Trevor Lee, Drew Galloway b Jack Evans, Adam Cole b Speedball Mike Bailey, Zack Sabre Jr. b Akira Tozawa, PWG title: Roderick Strong b Chris Hero

1/02 Tokyo Korakuen Hall (All Japan - 1,288): Ultimo Dragon & Osamu Nishimura & Ryuji Hijikata b Masa Fuchi & Sushi & Sushi Kozou, Shuji Ishikawa b Hikaru Sato, Isami Kodaka & Yuko Miyamoto & Kazuhiro Tamura b Yohei Nakajima & Yuma Aoyagi & Keiichi Sato, Atsushi Aoki & Naoya Nomura b Kento Miyahara & Jake Lee, Yuji Okabayashi & Daisuke Sekimoto b Takao Omori & Zeus, Yuma Aoyagi won Battle Royal, Triple Crown: Suwama b Jun Akiyama to win title

1/3 Hidalgo, TX (WWE - 4,600): Dolph Ziggler b Tyler Breeze, Titus O’Neil b Stardust, Damien Sandow & Curtis Axel b Heath Slater & Adam Rose, U.S. title: Alberto Del Rio b Jack Swagger, Kalisto b Viktor, Divas title: Charlotte b Becky Lynch, Street fight for WWE title: Roman Reigns b Sheamus

1/3 Corpus Christi (WWE): Tag titles: New Day b Usos, Neville b The Miz, Braun Strowman b Fandango, Street fight: Kane b Bray Wyatt, Bayley b Naomi, Ryback b Rusev, IC title: Dean Ambrose b Kevin Owens

1/3 Tokyo Korakuen Hall (All Japan): Ultimo Dragon b Keiichi Sato, Hoshitango & Hiroshi Fukuda b Takao Omori & Yuma Aoyagi, Shigehiro Irie & Keisuke Ishii & Soma Takao b Masa Fuchi & Sushi & Sushi Kozou, Jun Akiyama b Jake Lee, Yoshiaki Fujiwara d Atsushi Aoki, TV title: Yohei Nakajima b Naoya Nomura, Kento Miyahara & Zeus & Shuji Ishikawa b Suwama & Hikaru Sato & Codename G

1/3 Tokyo Differ Ariake (New Japan - 1,500 sellout): Yohei Komatsu b Hirai Kawato, Sho Tanaka b Teruaki Kanemitsu, Ryusuke Taguchi & Mascara Dorada & David Finlay b Jushin Liger & Tiger Mask & Jay White, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima & Juice Robinson b Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi & Captain New Japan

1/3 Mexico City Arena Mexico (Lucha Libre Elite - 4,000): Principe Diamante & Ultimo Dragoncito b Mercurio & Pequeno Violencia, Flyer & Kamaitachi b Argos & Karonte Jr., Dave the Clown & Rotten Clown b Guerrero Maya Jr. & Rey Cometa-DQ, Los Traumas I & II b Cavernario & Felino, Cibernetico & Mephisto & Sharly Rockstar b Black Warrior & Rush & La Mascara-DQ, Negro Casas b Caristico

1/4 San Antonio (WWE Raw/Superstars TV tapings - 8,500): Tyler Breeze b Jack Swagger, Goldust & R-Truth b The Ascension, Kevin Owens b Neville, Titus O’Neil b Stardust, Non-title: Becky Lynch b Charlotte, Ryback NC Big Show, Alberto Del Rio & Rusev b Usos, Heath Slater b Dolph Ziggler, Big E & Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods b Dudleys & Kalisto, WWE title/Vince McMahon referee: Roman Reigns b Sheamus

1/5 Laredo (WWE Smackdown/Main Event TV tapings): Fandango b Viktor, Titus O’Neil b Stardust, Tyler Breeze b Zack Ryder, Usos b Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel, Non-title: Kalisto b Alberto Del Rio, Dolph Ziggler & Goldust & R-Truth & Neville b Big E & Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods & The Miz, Divas title: Charlotte b Becky Lynch, IC title: Dean Ambrose DCOR Kevin Owens

1/5 Bethlehem, PA (TNA Impact/Superstars TV tapings - 500/papered): Ethan Carter III b Bobby Lashley, Matt Hardy b Eric Young, King of the Mountain title: Bobby Roode b Bram, Gail Kim & Velvet Sky & Madison Rayne b Jade & Marti Bell & Rebel, TNA title: Ethan Carter III b Matt Hardy to win tournament for vacant title, Eddie Edwards b Davey Richards, X title: Tiger Uno b Rockstar Spud, Eli Drake b Robbie E, Mahabili Shera b Jessie Godderz, Jade b Madison Rayne

CMLL

Yohei Komatsu and Sho Tanaka from New Japan were due for a foreign excursion and the belief was that one of them would end up here. It looks like it’ll end up being both starting here, as a tag team, with Komatsu using the name Fujin and Tanaka using the name Rajin. Kamaitachi wrote that he can’t wait to see them here. Not sure what that means. Kamaitachi was supposed to return to New Japan imminently and lost his hair to Maximo on 1/1 which was supposed to be his big blow-off. But maybe he’s going to stay a little longer.

Christmas week continued to be big here as they did 5,000 fans in Puebla on 12/28 for a cage of death match and another strong crowd for the 12/29 Arena Mexico show even with nothing at all special on the show. The main event cage of death, a similar match to what they did on 12/25 at Arena Mexico, saw Policeman as the last guy left and he got his head shaved. The order of elimination was Okumura, Disturbio, Rey Cometa, Canelo Casas, Fuego, Espiritu Maligno, King Jaguar, Escandalo and Stigma. The 12/29 Arena Mexico crowd was normal. Cuatrero & Sanson, the sons of Cien Caras, made their Arena Mexico debuts teaming with Okumura to beat Stigma & Hombre Bala Jr. & Super Halcon Jr. They were brought in because CMLL is doing the Copa Juniors, a tournament with second generation wrestlers.

The 1/1 show, called Sin Piedad, an iPPV (with no problems with transmission this week), drew 7,500 fans, which is less than I would have expected given two hair matches and it being promoted as a special show on a holiday. Negro Casas beat Super Parka in the main event hair match that was said to be pretty bad. Super Parka is pretty immobile at this point and was brought back more because his son (Volador Jr.) is a top star and he was willing to lose his hair. The first two falls went less than 3:00 and in the third fall, there was ref distraction and Casas used a low blow. The crowd cheered Casas since everybody likes him and nobody bought Parka winning. The best thing was after with a brawl between Volador Jr. and Puma, who is the nephew of Casas, and Volador Jr. said he would be going for revenge on the entire Casas family. Cibernetico & Volador Jr. & Ultimo Guerrero beat Caristico & Mistico & Rush in the latest Parejas increibles match. Rush and Caristico carried things. Caristico couldn’t see when Volador yanked on his mask and gave Rush, his partner, a low blow. Rush then pulled off Caristico’s mask and Volador pinned one and Cibernetico pinned the other. Cibernetico, Volador and Rush were all issuing challenges against each other. Rush told Caristico that he never should have returned because Arena Mexico is now his house. The other big match saw Maximo beat Kamaitachi in a hair vs. hair match, which was clearly the best thing on the show, and went about 25 minutes. Maximo had been working with a bad knee, which he injured worse on the 12/292 show at Arena Mexico. His knee was all taped up and they worked the match story around the knee injury, including teases where the commissioner came out and teased stopping it due to the injury. Very good match with lots of near falls in the third. Maximo kissed ref Babe Richard when Kamaitachi moved. Kamaitachi got a close near fall with a roll-up. Kamaitachi faked a low blow but Richard didn’t want to count because he hadn’t seen the low blow. Maximo then faked a low blow as well. Kamaitachi started begging off saying he hadn’t delivered the low blow, and Maximo rolled him up for a near fall. But Maximo then delivered a power bomb and got the three count. They shaved Kamaitachi’s head and he was crying in the ring, perhaps partially because his time in Mexico is just about over where he was in big angles, and in New Japan, in the jr. division, there isn’t as much focus right now. The 1/8 card has another incredible partners match with Caristico & Rush vs. Volador Jr. & Cibernetico and Ultimo Guerrero & Gran Guerrero & Euforia vs. Thunder & Rey Escorpion & Dragon Rojo.

The 1/3 Lucha Libre Elite show was headlined by Casas pinning Caristico by unmasking him and Caristico giving up the pin to protect his identity. The show drew 4,000, or slightly above average. It’s been noted that Caristico of late has been very nice about putting people over who helped him out when he first got popular like Casas, Volador Jr., and Ultimo Guerrero. Cibernetico & Mephisto & Sharly Rockstar beat Black Warrior & Rush & La Mascara via DQ when Rush hit Cibernetico with a low blow. Warrior was acting like a member of Los Ingobernables, but he’s out of shape and nothing compared to what older fans remember him as. The tag team of Dave the Clown & Rotten Clown debuted at Arena Mexico, and looked terrible, to the point opponents Rey Cometa & Guerrero Maya stopped cooperating in the third fall and Cometa went home early by pulling Rotten’s mask off.

The 1/10 show features the return of Canek to Arena Mexico for the first time since 2006. Unlike with the Dinamitas, who drew big two weeks ago on their return, the Dinamitas rarely work in Mexico City while Canek works constantly on small shows in the area. They are pushing it as a special show called Heroes y Leyendas, with Canek & Octagon & Caristico vs. Cibernetico & Fuerza Guerrera & Volador Jr., and Super Crazy & Angel de Oro & Golden Magic vs. Felino & Puma & Tiger.

Mistico & Caristico team up for the first time in Monterrey on a 2/21 show.

Mistico & Volador Jr. & Valiente retained their CMLL trios titles over Kraneo & Ripper & Mephisto on 1/4 at Arena Puebla before 3,000 fans.

Prelim wrestler Super Comando announced he’s left the promotion and leaving the business for a while. He said he has to reassess his future after losing his mask on 12/25 in the cage of death match. He said losing his mask was the hardest thing in his career, and that while he knows that some guys lose their mask, and then just come back with a new masked identity, but he’d never disrespect the sport by doing that.

AAA

There have been meetings of late with the company attempting to get back on U.S. television. AAA did some strong business in the early 90s in the U.S. when they had strong local television in Los Angeles and national coverage of Galavision, but they haven’t had U.S. television in several years.

They announced company awards, voted on Twitter, with Pentagon Jr., in a big upset in the twitter poll, being awarded Wrestler of the Year over Rey Mysterio Jr., El Texano Jr. and Psycho Clown. Garza Jr. won newcomer of the year (even though Taurus got a huge push as a newcomer but Garza Jr., the nephew of Hector Garza and who looks like him, is super popular among teenage girls), Taya won Woman Wrestler of the Year, Rey Mysterio Jr. won best tecnico while Pentagon Jr. won best rudo.

The Crash promotions announced a 2/12 show in Tijuana with Blue Demon Jr. & Fenix & Rey Horus vs. Teddy Hart & John Morrison (listed with that name, not as Johnny Mundo) & Pentagon Jr.

Even though no matches have been announced the 1/22 Guerra de Titanes show at Juan de la Barrera Gym in Mexico City has a strong advance. It’s going to be tough because as of now they haven’t gotten a new deal with Mysterio Jr., so at this point he won’t be on that card, plus Angelico is hurt, and Pentagon Jr., who is the hottest guy in the promotion besides Mysterio Jr., is booked that weekend in the U.K. with Drago.

DRAGON GATE

They open up the New Year on 1/9, with a series of shows built around group vs. group main events with various combinations of the Champions of Verserk (Shingo Takagi & Naruki Doi & Yamato & Kotoka), Monster Express (Masato Yoshino & Akira Tozawa & T-Hawk & Shachihoko Boy), Dia Hearts (Masaaki Mochizuki & Dragon Kid & Kzy & Big R Shimizu) and Jimmyz (Jimmy Susumu & Ryo Saito & Genki Horiguchi & Jimmy Kanda). The first major show is 1/13 at Korakuen Hall with a ten man match picked at random with Don Fujii & Tozawa & Yamato & Cyber Kong vs. Hollywood Stalker Ichikawa vs. Takagi & Cima & Gamma & Mochizuki & Kanda.

ALL JAPAN

Suwama captured the Triple Crown from Jun Akiyama on the first show of the year on Jan. 2 at Korakuen Hall, before 1,288 fans. Suwama pinned Akiyama him with the Lou Thesz back suplex in 24:19. Kento Miyahara, Zeus and Shuji Ishikawa all came out to issue challenges for a title shot. Miyahara then pinned Suwama in a trios match on 1/3 at Korakuen Hall, so he’ll be the one getting the title shot on 2/12 at Korakuen Hall. The win ties Suwama with Mitsuharu Misawa and Toshiaki Kawada in holding this title five times, the most in history, although nobody is trying to compare the magnitude of Suwama’s win with their win when many considered the Triple Crown the most valuable belt in pro wrestling. Suwama celebrated by wrestling a second time that day on the evening show promoted by Big Japan.

They announced they would be peaking this year with an 11/27 show at Sumo Hall. Amazing to announce a date that far in advance. It’s also hard to come up with what kind of an idea they would have for that. It’s not like a significant anniversary year since that would be 44 years since the company was formed by Giant Baba.

The annual Junior Battle of Glory tournament takes place from 2/12 at Korakuen Hall to 2/21 with the finals at the Edion Arena in Osaka. The A block has Atsushi Aoki, Sushi, Takeshi Minamino and Soma Takao. The B block has Hikaru Sato, Ryuji Hijikata, Kazuhiko Hashimoto (Big Japan) and Atsushi Maruyama. The winner of each block goes to the finals.

The Jan. 2 show also included the annual first card of the year Battle Royal, which came down to rookie Yuma Aoyagi, Ultimo Dragon and Shigehiro Irie. All Japan Battle Royals are pinfall eliminations so Dragon pinned Irie with La Magistral and then Aoyagi immediately cradled Dragon, and then announced he wanted a shot at the TV title.

As far as the tag title goes, Suwama & Naoya Nomura face Miyahara & Jake Lee on 2/13, and the winners face Zeus & The Bodyguard for the titles on 2/21 in Osaka.

NEW JAPAN

Probably the biggest move in a couple of years when it comes to new talent was the announcement on 1/3 that Katsuya Kitamura and Noriyuki Oka are both starting at the dojo and will debut later this year. Oka had been expected since he had been sponsored by Bushiroad, the parent company of New Japan, as an amateur wrestler. He’s 24, 6-foot-1 and 253 pounds, was a national champion in freestyle wrestling in the 264 pound weight class and has a background in grappling and submissions. The feeling is with his size and background, they’ll push him faster than others who start out. Kitamura is a blow up bodybuilder, looking almost cartoonish like a 6-foot-tall version of Mason Ryan, but he was also a top amateur wrestler in Japan and was known as the “Wrestling Monster,” because he was the Brock Lesnar of the Japanese amateur wrestling world.

Hirai Kawato and Teruaki Kanemitsu both debuted on the 1/3 show at Differ Ariake, which was a sold out fan fast, losing respectively by submission, both to Boston crabs, against Yohei Komatsu and Sho Tanaka respectively. New Japan has been lax in cultivation of new talent and it’s kind of showing now, and they realize it but guys signed today really aren’t going to start paying dividends for about five years or more most likely, when things could be very different.

They announced a 2/25 show at Shinjuku Face called Lionsgate, which has nothing to do with a movie studio, but is their attempting to copy NXT by running a few hundred seat venue using mostly their rookies and younger talent, plus the top younger talent from smaller promotions.

OTHER JAPAN NOTES

The Inoki Genome Federation drew 6,239 fans to Sumo Hall for the New Year’s Eve show, which was a mix of shoot and worked matches. The belief is there were three shoot matches and five worked matches on the show. Shinya Aoki, two days after working for Rizin, did a pro wrestling match with Montanha Silva who is probably about 6-foot-10 and 325 pounds. Aoki won quickly via choke. Another pro wrestling match saw Naoya Ogawa, 47, in his first match since May, return to beat Daichi Hashimoto in 3:14, the son of Ogawa’s big rival, Shinya Hashimoto. There had been talk from Japan that the IGF would be cutting back, and a sign of that is that Hashimoto is leaving for Big Japan Pro Wrestling. They also had the finals of their heavyweight tournament for the vacant title, won by Oli Thompson, who beat Fernando Rodriguez Jr. In 2:09 via knockout. The championship started out as a pro wrestling world title, but ever since Satoshi Ishii won it from Kazuyuki Fujita in a shoot, most, if not all of the title matches have been shoots.

Big Japan, DDT and K-Dojo worked together for a joint show on 12/31 at Korakuen Hall before 1,424 fans. It was built around a one-night tag team tournament where Big Japan’s Daisuke Sekimoto teamed with DDT’s Konosuke Takeshita to win over Harashima of DDT and Yuko Miyamoto of the 666 promotion. They gave out the 2015 indie awards during intermission, with Yuji Okabayashi winning Independent MVP and Okabayashi vs. Daisuke Sekimoto on the Big Japan Sumo Hall show won match of the year over the Harashima & Ken Ohka recent win over Hiroshi Tanahashi & Yohei Komatsu of New Japan.

Zero-One opened up the year with a 1/1 show at Korakuen Hall headlined by Hideki Suzuki retaining their world title over Masato Tanaka with a double-arm suplex in what I was told was a ***3/4 match. IC tag champs Kohei Sato & Daisuke Sekimoto beat Ryoji Sai & Yuji Okabayashi in what I was told was a must-see ****1/4 match. James Raideen of Zero-One missed the show because he got booked in a nationally televised celebrity sumo event.

Big Japan opened on 1/02 at Korakuen Hall with Ryuji Ito beating Masato Inaba for the Death match title with a splash through fluorescent light tubes. Hashimoto’s match with Big Japan was a tag match teaming with Kazuki Hashimoto (no relation) against former TNA star Seiya Sanada & Atsushi Maruyama, with Sanada pinning Kazuki Hashimoto.

Neko Nitta, 37, a former six-time champion of the women’s Ice Ribbon promotion, retired after a 12/31 show at Korakuen Hall, which drew 1,097 fans. Nitta was the current champion, having held it for nearly months (winning on December 7, 2014), before retiring.

DDT turned them away on 1/3 at Korakuen Hall with 1,750 for a Fan Appreciation show with all tickets $17. Joey Ryan and Candice LaRae as the world’s cutest tag team are on tour with that group.

HERE AND THERE

John Dwayne Peal, who from about 1970 on was best known as Buddy Wayne, mostly in Tennessee and Alabama, passed away on 12/31 at the age of 81. His son Ken reported that his father had a long battle with pulmonary fibrosis and had spent a week in the hospital. On 12/29, when he knew he would be passing away, he asked to leave the hospital to go home to hospice care. He passed away at about 1:30 a.m. late Wednesday night. Peal worked from 1959 to 1969 under the name Dwayne Peale, and in the early 70s as Buddy Wayne Peale (as well as Dwayne Peale and Buddy Wayne) and from about 1997 on, as just Buddy Wayne. He was a good talker, but never a long-time major headliner with either the Nick Gulas or Jerry Jarrett promotion and never as best we can tell held a major championship. He was promoting by the 60s, with Jonesboro, AR, as his town and he had his own TV show in the market where he’d announce. Eddie Marlin took over promoting Jonesboro in 1970. His best known program being a late 70s father-and-son feud in which he and his son, Ken Wayne (Kenneth Peal, the same Ken Wayne who teamed with Danny Davis as The Nightmares and The Galaxians) against Tommy & Eddie Gilbert in the Jarrett circuit. He wrestled somewhat regularly through 1985 and did occasional matches after that point. He promoted smaller town shows in the Memphis area for Nick Gulas, and later Jerry Jarrett and sometimes wrestled, usually low on the card, putting people over. By the 80s, he would be in the dressing room talking about how much he hated how the style of wrestling had changed. Virtually his entire career was working for Gulas, until 1977 when Gulas started running out of steam. He booked in 1972 and 1973 in Alabama for Billy Golden’s (Jimmy Golden’s father) Tri-States Wrestling where he performed just about every role possible, from top heel to television announcer. When he was younger, he had a big barrel chest and small waist, and was a star early in his career. He was best known as a storyteller in the Tennessee dressing rooms, with a delivery similar to the old-time comedian Jerry Clower, who was a big star in the South at the time. “He had hilarious stories and great one-liners,” remembered Jim Cornette about the period when he first started in wrestling. He was, to the younger wrestlers who wanted to learn, a walking history lesson on Memphis wrestling from the 50s through the present. During the 70s and 80s he promoted spot shows in the Memphis area and also owned and transported rings, as well as worked in the office.

Regarding 5 Star Wrestling, the promotion that we reported on last week running major arenas in the U.K. with a loaded tour featuring A.J. Styles, Rey Mysterio , Jay Lethal, Magnus, Colt Cabana, Rockstar Spud, Carlito, PJ Black, and Johnny Mundo next week, the company has only run one show before this tour, a show in Edinburgh that drew less than 1,000 with a Mundo vs. Ricochet main event. He’s booked three 10,000 plus seat arenas on 1/13 in Newcastle, 1/14 in Sheffield (built around the first Styles vs. Mysterio match) and 1/15 in Liverpool. The feeling is that with the exception of Insane Championship Wrestling from Glasgow, no other U.K. based company is going to draw more than 1,500 or so and a lot of people are predicting huge money losses out of the tour. It is very ambitious considering the names involved.

Pro Wrestling Guerrilla ran on Jan. 2 before the usual 400 fans in Reseda. They announced that the show was a tribute to Lemmy. A lot of the regulars like The Young Bucks, Kyle O’Reilly, Joey Ryan & Candice La Rae were in Japan. The main event saw Roderick Strong retain the PWG title over Chris Hero after two belt shots and a sick kick. Sabre Jr., who beat Akira Tozawa in a great match that had “Match of the Year” chants, came out after the main event to challenge Strong. They had already started teasing another Strong vs. Sabre title match last month. Sabre Jr. won with a dragon suplex and sick kick. Adam Cole pinned Speedball Mike Bailey in a good match with a Canadian Destroyer and brainbuster onto the knee. Drew Galloway of TNA beat Jack Evans of Lucha Underground via pin with a double-arm DDT. Sami Callihan returned and beat Trevor Lee with a power bomb and the stretch muffler. Timothy Thatcher beat Drew Gulak via submission using a Kimura in a good technical match and Brian Cage beat Chris Dickinson in the opener with the Steiner screwdriver. There were a lot of missed spots but the crowd was forgiving and Dickinson got over big in his debut with “Please come back” chants. Tyson Kidd and Natalya were backstage at the show and met with Evans. All three started wrestling together about 14 years ago.

It was announced that I will be receiving the Jim Melby Award at the National Hall of Fame and Dan Gable Museum, which takes place 7/14 to 7/16 in Waterloo, IA. There will be two inductees into the Tragos/Thesz Hall of Fame, as of yet not named, which is based on people with legitimate wrestling backgrounds who also were pro wrestlers, as well as the annual Lou Thesz, Frank Gotch and George Tragos awards. Chael Sonnen will be getting the Tragos award which is for a former wrestler who has used his wrestling ability for success in the MMA world. If anyone is either in the area, or would like to attend, I’d love to meet you there. The award means a lot to me, both because of the attachment to Thesz and Melby. Thesz, as Kit Bauman actually wrote in the revised Thesz autobiography, had personally asked me to write his autobiography in the 90s because of how much he thought of me, and I ended up being the conduit putting Thesz together with Bauman, who was a great reporter with a strong interest in wrestling history. When I was ten years old, I typed up a newsletter with news from California and sent it to Melby, who did the fan club column for Wrestling Monthly magazine. He not only wrote about it in his column, but wrote me a personal letter saying how much he enjoyed it. I ended up getting a handful of subscribers based on his plug, and the California Wrestling Report started from there. The reality is that my life and life experiences would have been nothing like they ended up being without that plug and that note. I had great respect for Melby, who was a reader of this publication and was one of the first group of Observer Hall of Fame voters, and remained a voter until his death in 2007.

Nick Aldis, 29, and Mickie James, 36, who have been together for a few years and have a son and did an angle with the son in TNA, were married on New Year’s Eve.

In a Where Are They Now, Barri Griffiths, 33, who wrestled for WWE as Mason Ryan from 2009 to 2014, has just joined Cirque de Soliel as the chief archer for the shows that take place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Griffiths was a huge bodybuilder from Wales who started pro wrestling under Orig Williams, a legend in that country, in 2006. Interestingly, one of the names he used was the Celtic Warrior, which became Sheamus’ nickname in WWE. He performed as Goliath on the U.K. Gladiators show in 2009 (Magnus performed at around the same time on the same show as Oblivion) and then signed a five-year deal with WWE. He was brought to the main roster in 2011, as part of a new version of Nexus under C.M. Punk, and was brought up to be in a significant role as Punk’s back-up. He was huge, muscular and super green and was one of the string of guys from Ezekiel Jackson to Jackson Andrews that Vince McMahon would see and give big pushes to, wouldn’t get over and then pretty much be forgotten. The role ended quickly when he was injured at the wrong time. He came back, but was never given much of a push. He had an undercard babyface run that went nowhere and then was forgotten. He ended up back in NXT in 2013, where he dropped weight and got better, but never stood out past his physique, and was cut in 2014. He’s worked indies here and there since then but never on a high level.

Mick Foley is talking about cutting way back on his talk shows. He said he is only doing ten to 12 dates in 2016, and none after the end of March. He also said he’s not sure he’ll do any dates in 2017. He said he enjoyed it, but the travel has gotten very difficult on him physically.

Michael Landsberg of the recently canceled TSN “Off the Record” television show, did an interview noting that an interview that he did early on with Bret Hart put the show on the map. This was TSN’s main sports talk show and Hart was an early guest and drew big numbers, and then they had Hart on just before the 1997 Survivor Series where Hart wouldn’t say it, but Landsberg broke the story nationally that Hart would be leaving the promotion for WCW. Over the next few years, he had a ton of WWE guests on, including virtually every big star, as well as Vince McMahon and Eric Bischoff. The wrestling shows drew amazing numbers, particularly the post-Survivor Series shows with Hart and McMahon. There is a scene in the movie “Wrestling with Shadows,” from that show as well. He credited the early success with being able to get WWF stars on the show out of character, including McMahon and Steve Austin and had at many times noted it was wrestling that put his show on the map. Landsberg, 58, noted that people always think he’s a big wrestling fan, but he was never actually a fan, didn’t even know who Austin was the first time he had him as a guest, and that he credited Jeff Marek (a sports broadcaster who started his career as the host of Live Audio Wrestling in Toronto) and Bob Mackowycz for getting him ready for his wrestling shows. Landsberg also noted that during his entire run on the show he was constantly battling depression, coming out publicly similar to Mauro Ranallo, saying that he has tried to get off medication and when he does, it’s a bad thing.

The Classic Wrestling Revolution group (Shane Douglas group out of Las Vegas) that we’ve written about that has been calling talent, is calling both veterans to work television but not in the ring, and younger talent. At first they were talking about a January start, but with January being right now, they are talking about April. The idea is to run shows several times per week as a stage show at one of the major casinos in Las Vegas and tape it for television. Obviously, everyone has been finding out that getting television that will pay for wrestling right now isn’t the easiest thing, and running anything but a local promotion or a PWG like group that runs a few shows a year and doesn’t employ a lot of people simply can’t produce sustainable revenue without paying television, and really substantially paying television.

There is a homage to the AWA day on 2/20 at the Croatian Hall Ballroom in South St. Paul from Noon to 10 p.m. The show is called “AWA Stories from Behind the Lens.” It will feature a Q&A with the two producers of the promotion, Al DeRusha, who produced the television from 1961 to 1984 (when he was raided by Vince McMahon), and Joe Ciupik, who produced from 1985 to the closing of the promotion in 1991. Admission is free. The event will have a three hour Q&A with the producers and then seven hours of watching old AWA videos.

The New York Daily News reported that Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees may be back together with former WWE/WCW performer Torrie Wilson, 40, as they had photos of them together on vacation in Cabo taken this past week. However, the public story is that they just both happened to be there with their respective families.

LUCHA UNDERGROUND

They return to taping with shows on 1/9 and 1/10.

ROH

Although they will be based in Mexico City starting 1/31, both Yohei Komatsu and Sho Tanaka are expected to start appearing here starting later this year.

The next show is a TV taping on 1/9 in Concord, NC which feature the start of the Top Prospect tournament that will include Ben Ortiz, Lio Rush, Punisher Martinez, Colby Corino and Brian Fury, plus the Ray Rowe & Hanson tag title defense against Kenny King & Rhett Titus, Matt Sydal & ACH vs. Young Bucks and Alex Shelley vs. Frankie Kazarian.

TNA

Kurt Angle will be on the season premiere of “Duck Dynasty” that airs on A&E on 1/13. The show is one of the most popular reality TV shows in cable history.

Jeff Hardy was going to do his first match since breaking his leg at the 1/6 tapings. He still needs major knee surgery.

At the tapings on 1/5, they taped several matches for future use that weren’t on Impact, after the Impact matches were taped. The show drew 500 fans, although they were heavily papering. They taped two matches for PPV. They are doing two or three One Night Only tapings this week along with four or five weeks of Impact. The 1/8 PPV will be live as advertised. But on 1/5, they taped for a future PPV a match where Eddie Edwards pinned Davey Richards . There was nothing explained why the tag team partners would be wrestling each other. It wasn’t worked like it was a grudge match. They just came to the ring and had a very good match. Tiger Uno pinned Rockstar Spud to retain the X title. Also taped were future Xplosion matches with Eli Drake over Robbie E using a low blow; Mahabili Shera pinned Jessie Godderz in a match said to be really bad due to Shera and the crowd crapped on it; and Jade pinned Madison Rayne in a weak match. The crowd didn’t have much interest after Edwards vs. Richards as the show went four hours live.

DJ Zema Ion did a interview with KDKA in Pittsburgh saying how he hopes to become more of a major player and has been going to Lucha Libre classes twice a week. He’s worked some in Mexico and is very well liked there. In the interview he said this could be his last year with the promotion, noting his contract expires in July.

Notes from the 1/5 tapings for the first major show on Pop TV. The show opened with Dixie Carter in the ring. She claimed that “we” chose Pop TV for many reasons, the biggest being that they built this network to be about you the fans. Fans were given these “Pop TV” signs to hold up that were so obviously planted. She didn’t say much before Ethan Carter III and Tyrus came out. Fans at first cheered him and chanted his name. He said it upsets her that he beat Kurt Angle for the title and that she robbed him of the title at Bound for Glory when she stacked the deck against him by making Jeff Hardy the referee. He noted that he’s unpinned and unsubmitted in TNA. Dixie said that most people think he robbed Matt Hardy of the title. Hardy came out and said, “Spoiler alert,” and that he’s was going to win the title. You’re only supposed to say that when you’re actually winning. Eric Young attacked Matt and Young, Tyrus and EC 3 were beating him down. Bobby Lashley made the save and he and Hardy cleaned house at first, including Hardy doing a plancha off the post onto EC 3 and Tyrus. But Young then laid out Hardy with a chair shot.

It ended EC 3 pinned Lashley in the first semifinal in 9:25. Lashley looked the smallest I’ve ever seen of him. He’s still more muscular than almost everyone in the sports world, but didn’t look like a freak. Josh said that Lashley was 276 pounds when he looked maybe 235. Given that in his last fight, he was 238, and that a lot more people watched that than saw this, pushing him as 276 is just silly and ridiculous. There was one spot where Lashley was supposed to run into the corner and EC 3 would get both feet up, where the air between the boot and Lashley’s face made it look silly when he took a bump from feet that missed him so obviously. Lashley hit a powerslam and set up the spear. Tyrus grabbed his leg. Lashley knocked Tyrus off the apron. He went for a spear on EC 3, who tripped Lashley and then EC 3 used a schoolboy holding the trunks for the pin. It was all action but it wasn’t too good. They didn’t gel well.

Bobby Roode said he’d defend his King of the Mountain title against anyone who wants a shot, from any promotion. Kurt Angle talked about coming out.

Angle came out and was announced as the only Olympic gold medalist in pro wrestling history. Whatever. Fans were chanting “Thank you Angle.” He did a thanking the crowd promo and acted like he was about to retire and this was his last run. He thanked the fans for letting him live his dream. Fans were chanting “One more match.” I think the idea is about a half dozen or more. He talked about how he got to wrestle Steve Austin, The Rock, HHH, Undertaker, Hulk Hogan, A.J. Styles, Samoa Joe, Roode, Young and EC 3 during his career. Thank God he mentioned the last three because it was starting to get silly him putting over on TNA his biggest matches against guys from another company, or guys who left TNA. He promised high caliber matches for his farewell tour, and mentioned he was interested in matches against both Davey Richards and Eddie Edwards. He then said he was picking his opponent for next week’s main event, the future leader of Impact, Drew Galloway. Galloway came out and said he was honored Angle chose him. Jessie Godderz and Eli Drake came out. Drake said that Angle was a dinosaur, and Anglesaurus, and said Angle was talking about the future and never mentioned Drake. Drake then asked Godderz to be his partner against Edwards & Richards. Angle challenged the two to get in the ring. They did, but Angle & Galloway got the better of them and ran them off.

Jeff Hardy did an interview and said that Matt would win the title by the end of the night.

Young came out for a promo. He said that Matt wasn’t beaten up in the brawl and wouldn’t be coming out, so he was going to the finals. Matt came out and was selling the idea of taking a beating earlier. Matt was moving like he was really old and stiff, but some of that was selling. His punches looked bad. Young then piledrove Hardy on the floor after removing the mats. Jeff Hardy came out to cheer Matt on. Young gave Jeff a kick knocking him into the barricade. But Matt won with a twist of fate off the top rope in 8:04. They did have the crowd late in the match.

Young was freaking out backstage. He blamed his loss on it being two-on-one and that everyone was against him.

EC 3 and Tyrus came out to confront Jeff Hardy. EC 3 said how Matt has had to live his life in Jeff’s shadow. Jeff said that Matt never lived in his shadow and tonight all of EC 3's excuses run out and he can no longer blame him or Dixie Carter for his losing the title.

Roode came to the ring and challenged anyone. Bram came out. Bram said that 2006 was going to be his year. He quickly corrected himself and said 2016. Roode won in 4:39 with a Roode bomb. Young attacked Roode from behind after the match. He tried a piledriver but Roode backdropped him. Roode had Young on his shoulders for the Roode bomb, but Bram came from behind and gave Roode a low blow. James Storm ran in. He spit beer in Young’s face and then clotheslined Bram, and then superkicked Young. Storm then did a face promo, talking about how he left TNA because he was playing a character that wasn’t himself and he didn’t like where he was going. He went to Roode and said how the two of them drank a lot of beer together and made a lot of money together. Storm offered Roode a beer and they drank beer together while the old Beer Money entrance music played.

Velvet Sky, Angelina Love and Madison Rayne were backstage. Love noted that she was seven-and-a-half months pregnant but came here to support her girls. She said she picked a new partner for Sky & Rayne. Sky said they were going to face the Dog House.

Roode & Storm did a promo about reforming Beer Money and facing Bram & Young on the PPV on Friday night.

Rayne & Kim & Sky beat Jade & Marti Bell & Rebel of the Doll house in 4:09. The match was terrible. Kim pinned Jade with the Japanese rolling crotch cradle. The Doll House attacked them after the match. Awesome Kong came out and the Doll House backed off. But then Kong instead attacked the Beautiful People and Kim, laying Kim out with an implant buster.

Maria Kanellis introduced Michael Bennett, who said he was the Internet darling who was going to save TNA, and called himself Pro Wrestling Jesus.

They showed Matt Hardy backstage with his wife and son, vowing to win the title for them.

Galloway & Angle were backstage with Edwards & Richards. Angle said he wanted to do a tag team match with them because he respects both of them so much and because he’s never wrestled them, and wanted it on PPV on Friday night. Drake & Godderz showed up and started mouthing off to both until Edwards & Richards said that they could be added to the match if they wanted and Angle & Galloway agreed.

EC 3 pinned Matt Hardy in 10:20 in the title decider. Jeff Hardy and Tyrus were out as seconds. Jeff then said to Tyrus that he believes in his brother so much that he’s willing to go back to the dressing room and asked Tyrus if he believed in EC 3 enough to do the same. Tyrus, who it had been teased months ago was going to turn heel and challenge EC 3 for the title when everything went into a holding pattern, nonchalantly just walked out of the ring. EC 3 looked shocked by this. The match itself was Hardy doing his signature moves for near falls. Hardy still wasn’t moving well, some of which may have been a sell. Still, he was nailed in the angle and took a piledriver on the floor already and the announcers didn’t sell the idea he was coming in hurt, Jeff didn’t, and it never felt like it was part of the match. Matt did a side effect outside the ring that looked to be planned to be on the ring steps, but EC 3 ended up taking it on the floor. It looked awkward and Josh Matthews even called it like it looked weird. Hardy did a moonsault for a near fall. He did three more side effects for near falls. He went for the twist of fate, but EC 3 held the ropes. EC 3 did a TKO for a near fall, and then a second one. EC 3 kicked out of the twist of fate and Matt kicked out of the one percenter. EC 3 finally hit a one percenter (the old headlock DDT that was Ambrose’s original Dirty Deeds move) off the top rope for the pin.

UFC

Dana White on UFC Tonight said he was agreeable to Conor McGregor keeping the featherweight title and going after the lightweight title. “Conor has said he’d like to win the 155 belt, fight four times a year, and defend both belts. If anyone can, he could. He’s done everything he’s said he would. I’m interested. Normally, I’d say if you move up in weight, you have to give up the belt. He wants to fight. He really likes money. If anyone can do it, it’s him.”

NBC announced that Ronda Rousey would be hosting Saturday Night Live on 1/23 on a show that will also include Selena Gomez as a guest. She would be the third fighter in history, the others being George Foreman and Marvin Hagler, to host the show (well, Tony Danza did box). The only wrestlers to host the show were Hulk Hogan in 1985 and Dwayne Johnson, who did it once while still a regular in WWE as well as doing it a few times after he had become a major movie star. Alex Karras was a pro wrestler in the 60s and also hosted the show once in 1985. Rousey was part of Johnson’s entourage when he hosted the show in late March, the night before WrestleMania. We had first been told of a tentative 1/16 hosting date for the show before the public announcement was made.

Rousey will also be a model for the second year in a row in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. There was a tease showing her from behind wearing nothing but body paint with the tease that the person in the photo, which one could tell was Rousey based on her tattoos on her wrist, would be in only body paint in the new issue. The story itself teased that it was Rousey, saying, “We can neither confirm nor deny these rumors, but isn’t the idea of Ronda donning nothing but paint enough to tie you over until the issue comes out in February?” Rousey was used as a model in the 2015 swimsuit issue as well.

An announcement is expected this week regarding UFC 197, which will take place on 3/5. That’s the show that was originally set for Rio de Janeiro. There has been a lot of talk of a Holly Holm vs. Miesha Tate main event, and that’s even more likely since Dana White was on UFC Tonight and said that Holm is going to fight before she faces Rousey. The only thing we know is that a week ago, there were talks going on in that direction and that both fighters were interested in it. It was just up to UFC whether to go with that fight and risk Holm vs. Rousey. Even if Tate were to win, and she would not be the favorite in that fight, you would still have Rousey vs. Tate next. If Rousey were to win, you’d then have Rousey vs. Holm. In both cases, they would do huge numbers. The only thing that would get in the way is an injury, or if Holm loses to Tate and then lost a second time after that. For that reason, should Tate win, I wouldn’t even allow Holm to fight again until the Rousey fight. If Tate were to also beat Rousey, you’d still go Rousey vs. Holm, unless Rousey were to retire if Tate beats her. Las Vegas, Seattle (which would make sense for Holm vs. Tate, but Key Arena is booked that night) and Dallas have been mentioned rumored as possible locations for 3/5. Next would come the 4/23 PPV date which would be Madison Square Garden if the New York legislature passes the legalization early enough this year. If not, they’d run 4/23 elsewhere, perhaps at the Honda Center in Anaheim. In looking at the title picture, light heavyweight (Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones) would likely headline April, particularly if it’s Madison Square Garden. Conor McGregor has talked of doing a fight around March and then coming back in July for UFC 200. That could be with either Frankie Edgar or Rafael dos Anjos. Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo should be ready for either March or April, and that would be fine as long as it’s not a PPV main event. They also have a FOX show in April and you could slot it there. Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Claudia Gadelha from a timing standpoint for the strawweight title would be likely for March or April.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael reported that talks are on for Gennady Golovkin to defend his IBF (International Boxing Federation) title against Tureano Johnson on HBO on 4/23 in Madison Square Garden. Apparently K2 promotions has a back-up on that date if UFC can’t run the show in New York, although if UFC can run in MSG, the boxing match would have to move to California or Texas.

Cerrone vs. Tim Means will headline the 2/21 show in Pittsburgh on FS 1. This is Cerrone moving to 170 after losing in the first round to Rafael dos Anjos at lightweight. Cerrone is like Nick Diaz and Benson Henderson who are small compared to welterweights and may get thrown around by the top ones, but have to cut a lot to make 155. This move may be tough for Cerrone.

The company announced the promotion of Nakisa Bidarian to Chief Financial Officer. Bidarian had been Executive Vice President of Strategy and Business Ventures. He was formerly responsible for group strategy which included Corporate Development, Strategic Planning, Research, Analytics and joint ventures including the UFC Gym franchise.

UFC announced this lineup for the 2/6 UFC 196 show in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand, with Fabricio Werdum vs. Cain Velasquez for the heavyweight title, Johny Hendricks vs. Stephen Wonderboy Thompson, Roy Nelson vs. Jared Rosholt, Ovince Saint Preux vs. Rafael Feijao Cavalcante, Derrick Lewis vs Damian Grabowski, Josh Burkman vs. K.J. Noons, Sean Spencer vs. Mike Pyle and Alex Nicholson vs. Misha Cirkunov.

The UFC is expected to announce its debut in Holland later this week. The plan is for a Fight Night on 5/8 in Rotterdam at Sportpaleis Ahoy (11,000 seats). WWE has run three shows in that venue in 1992, 2013 and 2014.

There is a lot of talk that C.M. Punk’s first opponent in UFC will be Mickey Gall, a fighter out of New Brunswick, NJ, who trains out of Jim Miller’s gym. The second episode of “Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight,” a reality show with White, Matt Serra and Nick the Tooth, which will air on YouTube on 1/11, was teased around the company’s new attempt to find an “unknown” fighter and promote his debut and hopefully he comes in with some hype. Sage Northcutt was the guy they picked on the first episode. There has been a lot of talk that the episode, which sees them scout fighters on shows in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, was for White to “find” the first opponent for Punk for a show expected to take place around mid-year. During the episode, White, Nick and Serra were hanging around in Philadelphia, eating cheesesteaks and went to a show that took place on 11/21 for a promotion called Deadly Serious MMA. In one of the fights, Gall, who made his pro debut (he was 3-0 as an amateur), choked out Ron Templeton in 2:53 and then got on the mic and said, in a complete “shocker,” “Hey Dana White, I don’t know if C.M. Punk has an opponent, but I would love to fight that man.” White acted shocked somebody would do that and said “I like where your head is at.”

Martin Kampmann officially announced his retirement. This was more of a formality as it has been more than two years since his last fight, a loss to Carlos Condit on August 28, 2013 in Indianapolis. Kampmann spent about a year in Sacramento as the head coach at Team Alpha Male, taking the spot shortly after the fallout between Urijah Faber and Duane Ludwig. Kampmann insisted there was no problem with the team when he left in August, saying he was still affiliated with them but wanted to move back home to his native Denmark with his family. Kampmann, 33, had a 20-7 record, and had been a top tier welterweight who logged consecutive wins over Rick Story, Thiago Alves (great come from behind submission win) and Jake Ellenberger, before his title hopes were crushed in 46 seconds when he was knocked out by Johny Hendricks on November 17, 2012 in Montreal. After being stopped in the fourth round by Condit, he said he was going to take time off, but said it was not a retirement. He started as head coach for Team Alpha Male in September, 2014.

There is no show this coming week with the return on 1/17 with the Boston show on FS 1 featuring T.J. Dillashaw vs. Dominick Cruz, which to me, is the biggest bantamweight fight in history, plus Eddie Alvarez vs. Anthony Pettis where the winner would be in the mix for a title shot and Travis Browne vs. Matt Mitrione. Browne is notable because it’s well known he took Rousey on a vacation after her loss in mid-November, which means he wasn’t training hard at that time.

Max Holloway will be out for two months for surgery to repair torn ligaments in one of his thumbs.

On the report last week of Kevin Souza being cut, what apparently happened is that Souza’s contract expired, so USADA was informed he was no longer under contract. USADA then informed him he no longer had to let them know his whereabouts since he was no longer under contract. So he took that as being cut. But it wasn’t a decision to cut him as much as he just doesn’t have a contract right now.

Some interesting notes on odds for fights that haven’t been announced, is that Ronda Rousey is a slight favorite over Holly Holm in a rematch (although the odds have closed greatly since Rousey was originally a heavy favorite which I can’t put my head around), Conor McGregor ranges from -175 to -220 against Frankie Edgar and -165 to -190 over Jose Aldo, but Rafael dos Anjos is a slight favorite over McGregor. Jon Jones ranges from -265 to -350 over Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez ranges from -145 to -165 over Fabricio Werdum and TJ Dillashaw ranges from -147 to -160 over Dominick Cruz.

Holm has reportedly signed a multi-year contract extension.

UFC attempted to put together a Lyoto Machida vs. Tim Kennedy fight for February. Kennedy said on MMA Junkie radio that he had to turn it down to having a defense workshop and teaching gigs for a military combat course he’d agreed to do that month.

C.M. Punk is a character in the new UFC Video game that EA Sports is putting out. That could get interesting because Punk is used to pretty significant royalties for being a character in the video game that WWE puts out, while UFC doesn’t pay any royalties out to talent for the video game. EA Sports would pay talent if they were involved in the commercials for the game or are like Ronda Rousey or Conor McGregor and in the cover art.

Jimi Manuwa was injured and pulled out of his fight with Nikita Kyrlov on 2/27 in London.

Bryan Barberena vs. Jonavin Webb has been announced for the 2/21 show in Pittsburgh.

Joey Gomez will debut with a 6-0 record in a fight with Rob Font on the 1/17 show in Boston. Gomez replaces Patrick Williams, who pulled out due to an injury.

Artem Lobov, who just lost to Ryan Hall in the TUF championship finale on 12/11, returns to face Alex White on the 2/6 show in Las Vegas.

Oluwale Bamgbose faces Daniel Sarafian on the 2/21 show in Pittsburgh. Bamgbose is a replacement for the injured Smilin Sam Alvey.

BELLATOR

The main card for the next major show, which is the 2/19 card in Houston, was finalized and it’s kind of strange. The big fights are Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock and Kimbo Slice vs. DaDa 5000. One would think with the idea that the main event and Kimbo would draw big TV ratings and you’d want to showcase your best prospects underneath or have some strong contender fights. But the rest of the TV show will have Linton Vassell vs. Emanuel Newton, a battle of light heavyweights, but one would think King Mo Lawal would be getting the next title shot; Daniel Pineda vs. Emmanuel Sanchez and Melvin Guillard vs. Mike Bronzoulis. In a funny story, DaDa 5000's people have contacted Seth Petruzelli to help train him for the Kimbo fight. Petruzelli knocked out Kimbo in 14 seconds as a replacement for Ken Shamrock on CBS which was the blow that pretty much killed the Elite XC promotion. CBS was about to buy the promotion and after Kimbo lost and there was all kinds of media controversy over the idea there was a fixed fight (and the fight wasn’t fixed, because if it was, Petruzelli would have been the one to lose in 14 seconds) and some of the most ridiculous talk show coverage, CBS decided it was something they didn’t want to own.

Josh Koscheck was injured in training for his 1/29 fight with Matt Secor in Fresno that was to headline the next Bellator event. The company announced that Paul Daley vs. Andy Uhrich, the scheduled No. 2 fight, would be moved to the main event position.

OTHER MMA

With all the talk in recent weeks regarding ONE banning dehydration, they announced this week that Bibiano Fernandes would be defending his bantamweight title against Kevin Belingon on 1/23 in China. This is where they are making a mistake unless they change bantamweight’s weight, because if Fernandes has to get to 135 to defend the title, he won’t be able to do that without significant weight cutting.

WWE

The company announced a 3/12 live network special from the Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto with a Road to WrestleMania theme.

The WWE Network was legally made available in Germany and Japan on 1/5. WWE Network had a ton of German subscribers listed as being domestic from very early on, but now it’s officially offered and will be promoted there. The company going after Shinsuke Nakamura hard is not coincidental with the network launch in Japan. While it’s not as high a priority as the Latin American superstar, the company does want to have superstars on the main roster in key European countries, Latin America, Japan and India.

Cena was asked about Peyton Manning on The Today Show and really didn’t say anything. It was made clear in the Al Jezeera report that the packages sent at different times, if there even were packages since the original source has tried to claim foul and changed his story, were sent by a clinic that Manning went to for his neck injury, to Ashley Manning, Peyton’s wife at their home and there is no proof he used it. However, those familiar with the drug’s use among athletes, particularly injured athletes, will come to the conclusion he did and Cena basically said that Manning has tried to be a role model and his performance speaks for itself. He claimed that people suggest he’s used PEDs because he’s so big but that he looks the way he does because he’s been lifting weights since the age of 12 and is now 38 years old.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has been pushing the idea of doing WrestleMania at the Michigan Stadium, saying that they could break the all-time attendance record. The stadium holds 107,601 for football, so with the stage set up, they could probably put somewhere around a real 102,000 in, which would break anything they will legitimately do this year.

Regarding the movie “Concussion,” Dr. Julian Bailes, who was played by Alec Baldwin in the movie, did an interview talking about Dr. Joseph Maroon, the head of medical for WWE who came out badly in the movie. Maroon came across as a team physician controlled by the NFL who tried to discredit the work of the movie’s focal point, Dr. Bennett Omalu. There’s a scene in the movie where Omalu and Maroon talk and Maroon, who had called Omalu’s work garbage, wouldn’t listen to his pleading about what he’s discovered. Omalu then told him, “If you continue to deny my work, the world will deny my work. But men, your men, will continue to die.” Bailes did an interview on the KDKA News in Pittsburgh and said that he admires most of the movie, but said the portrayal of Maroon wasn’t fair. He said there were actually a series of meetings with he, Maroon and Omalu and that eventually, although not right away, it was Maroon who was the first doctor to bring Omalu’s work to the league. There were NFL doctors who very publicly were discrediting Omalu’s work and Maroon, like WWE, were on a different side than him at first, such as in 2007 after CTE was discovered in the brain of Chris Benoit.

In a funny thing on Smackdown, the New Day did the promo talking about how they had no New Year’s Resolutions, while later in the show in a taped promo, they said that their New Year’s Resolution was for Kingston to win the WWE title.

Dallas had a funny line on the New Year’s Eve Smackdown show, in building up his match with Ziggler, said something to the effect of that it always sounds like you’re telling a joke, but you never actually say anything funny.

Official numbers for the Survivor Series on 11/22 in Atlanta at Phillips Arena were 11,836 in attendance and a $858,831 gate. The Smackdown on 11/24 in Indianapolis drew 4,309 paying $226,348.

Dwayne Johnson announced a new television project called “Boost Unit,” for FOX. The description of the new series is Fast and the Furious meets Rescue Me, based on a real life Los Angeles Police Department unit that focuses on car crimes, including thefts, narcotics trafficking, car chases, terrorism and bomb threats. Johnson wrote, “I’ve had a lot of bad ass fun in the Fast & Furious franchise and this show will capture that kind of intense and entertaining action based off of the real life individuals who make up one of the most bad ass (and underground) street units of the LAPD. The show follows the newest recruit of the LAPD Auto Theft Task Force, a former getaway driver with a hidden past. Johnson’s 7 Bucks Productions will partner with FOX on the project and Johnson and business manager Dany Garcia will be among the executive producers. At this point the announcement is only about developmental of the show, and a pilot has not been greenlit, nor has the series been ordered. At this point there is just a script and no production commitment, but Johnson has talked of doing a cameo if it moves forward.

Johnson also has an HBO documentary coming out in May called “Rock and a Hard Place,” where he goes into a prison that has been hugely successful at reforming criminals (a nine percent rate of released prisoners who later get arrested, far below the usual 70 percent career criminals that most prisons turn out) and talks with the inmates about turning their lives around. He noted that as a teenager, really before football and weightlifting turned his life around, he was arrested several times.

Lesnar will be on the next three PPVs at least. He was always a lock for Rumble and Mania, and is now being advertised locally in Cleveland for Fast Lane on 2/21.

Chris Siggia examined the 2015 WWE records and noted that as one would think there was more 50/50 booking this year than any year in company history. World champions did 12 jobs on television this year, including nine of those 12 by Rollins. The IC champs did 14 jobs on television, including eight by Barrett and three by Owens. The U.S. champ did eight jobs this year, three by Rollins. The tag champs did 21 tag team jobs, ten of which were by New Day. The Divas champ did nine TV jobs, seven of which were by Nikki Bella and two by Charlotte.

The 1/13 NXT TV show, which will be taped on 1/7, will be the first annual Awards show. They are doing Internet voting this week for Competitor of the Year, Male Competitor of the Year, Female Competitor of the Year, Tag Team of the Year, Match of the Year and TakeOver special of the year.

It’s been an interesting reaction to HHH being injured on Raw and not being able to be there but appearing on the NXT Takeover show, as well as posting his training footage during the same week on social media. There is pretty much an overwhelming consensus that had anyone else done a major injury angle and then posted themselves training hard and being out and about and fine, it would be looked upon negatively by management, but also everyone knows that for stars and the McMahons, the normal rules don’t apply. What I thought was interesting was, as far as different people we’ve heard from, how the perspective is completely different from those in NXT and WWE who have to do with creative. On the NXT side, they were mad at Reigns, or the scripting of the promos for Reigns, where he said how nobody has seen HHH since he beat him up. They felt it sent the message that Reigns has no idea what happened on the NXT special and said it sent the message that the main roster not only doesn’t bother to watch NXT, but doesn’t even pay attention to it, thus making it come across as second-rate. There was the acknowledgment that HHH probably shouldn’t have been on the NXT special while barely selling his injury, but that he wasn’t going to avoid taking his victory bow for the sold out crowd in London. From a WWE perspective, the feeling is the more obvious one, that they did an injury angle and had already taped a Smackdown where Reigns talked about how nobody had seen HHH, which was taped before the NXT show but set to air after, and that for that reason he shouldn’t have gone on the show. However, whatever mix-ups there were regarding Smackdown, there is no argument that on the 12/28 Raw, after HHH had already appeared on the NXT show, that WWE creative should have respected the viewers of NXT enough to not act like nobody had seen HHH since Reigns beat him up, nor given the impression he was still too beat up to appear. But the problem is it played into a long-term angle plan that evidently Vince wanted to continue. Creative can think what they want, and blaming Reigns makes no sense, because it’s pretty clear Vince feels NXT is like house shows, and in the sense that what happens there isn’t seen by enough people to acknowledge it in main roster storyline. But given how much they value social media, the idea they continued a storyline and had the top face talk about something that contradicted what was out for the world to see on social media doesn’t make any sense.

The company announced the February NXT touring schedule outside of Florida. The shows announced, with tickets going on sale this week, are 2/4 in Memphis at Minglewood Hall (about 800 capacity for NXT set-up); 2/5 in Nashville at the War Memorial Auditorium (about 1,400 capacity); 2/6 in Indianapolis at the Old National Center Egyptian Room (about 1,800 capacity); 2/18 at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, just outside of Philadelphia (2,200 or so capacity); 2/19 in Asbury Park at Boardwalk Hall (about 2,500 capacity for NXT) and 2/20 in Albany, NY at the National Guard Armory (which has different setups, but likely it’ll be about a 2,500 seat setup). Given the relatively small capacities, most of the shows would be expected to sell out rather quickly, just like all but one of the January shows already has.

Axxess before WrestleMania will take place at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, the same building that the NXT show takes place in. The arena and the part of the building that Axxess will be in are two different places, however because of the time scheduled for Axxess, they are delaying the start of the NXT Takeover show on 4/1 until after Axxess is over. The Takeover show is scheduled for the card to start at 9 p.m. local time right now and with it being Central time, the show is set for a 10 p.m. start time on the network until after midnight.

The Axxess times are 3/31 (Thursday) from 6-10 p.m.; Friday from 5-9 p.m.; Saturday from 8 a.m. to Noon; 1-5 p.m. and 6-10 p.m. (head-to-head with the Hall of Fame) and on the morning of WrestleMania from 8 a.m. to Noon.

I don’t know that anything will transpire from this, because stuff gets pitched all the time that doesn’t happen, but breaking up the Dudleys with Bubba doing a character more similar to Bully Ray has at least been discussed.

Add Jericho to the list of talent talking about how the scripted interview style isn’t for the best. In an interview with Maria Menounos, Jericho said, “You don’t have that freedom to try and much anymore because it has really gotten into, `Here’s your script,’ like a TV show, but it’s not a TV show. No other entertainment entity is like it, so you have to have that element of giving girls and guys a chance to fail. If it doesn’t work, at least you tried. At least you went outside the box. And I think there is a little bit of that missing where it can still come back, but the opportunities to try stuff are becoming less and less. It’s more of , `This has been approved, read this, memorize these lines and say it.’ I can memorize a Shakespearian play, but it doesn’t mean I can say it with any conviction whatsoever. You have to believe in it and you have to commit.”

Kevin Eck, a former WWE writer, on his blog reported after the Vince mugshot appeared on Raw, that in the 2014 angle with Stephanie and Brie Bella, where Stephanie was arrested, the idea was for her to have a mug shot taken the same way, but Paul Levesque nixed the idea. Eck wrote, “Vince loved it. In fact, I think I may have gotten one of his, `that’s good thinking,’ figurative pats on the back. However, when the creative team ran the angle by HHH, he didn’t care for any of it, and he especially hated the mug shot idea. His reasoning was that the faux mug shot of his wife would exist forever in cyberspace, and therefore, if someone did a Google search on Stephanie and the photo popped up, people might think she had actually been arrested, which could be detrimental to her career of WWE’s Chief Brand Officer.”

The Reigns title win was the first time that a babyface had won the WWE title in a one-on-one match on Raw since June 28, 1999, the night Steve Austin beat Undertaker on Raw, which was also the match that did a 9.5 rating for the match itself (part of which went head-to-head with Nitro although Raw ended that night later than Nitro), the highest rated match in modern cable history (the TV specials with Fabulous Moolah vs. Wendi Richter in 1984 and Hulk Hogan vs. Roddy Piper in 1985 on MTV did 9.0 and 9.1 ratings. The actual match breakdown would likely be well above a 9.5).

WWE is going to scout mainland China looking to find prospective talent to train. That’s the same thing UFC did a few years ago with the idea the NBA made tons of money and established their brand big in China when they had Yao Ming as a top star.

The Dusty Rhodes tag team tournament is planned as being an annual NXT event. There is talk now of having the finals annually on a show in conjunction with SummerSlam.

Matt Rehwoldt, 28, who is Aiden English in NXT, was married on 1/3 to Shaul Guerrero, 25, the daughter of Vickie & Eddy Guerrero. The two met in developmental when Guerrero was there as Raquel Diaz a few years ago.

A new WWE couple that has gone public is Ryder, 30, with Emma, 26. Ryder posted a photo of them going out for New Year’s Eve and labeled her “my woman.”

The Nikki Bella injury is, among other possible injuries, a bulging disc in her lower back. She had also talked about a neck injury that may require surgery. She had an epidural shot done this past week for the back problems. She said that she will continue rehabbing the neck for the next few weeks but thus far it hasn’t responded well. She’ll be getting an MRI at the end of the month to determine whether she’ll need neck surgery, which would put her out of action for a long time. As noted, she is definitely legitimately injured, but since the injury is part of the Total Divas storyline, the storyline version of the injury may not be exactly the real injury and she can’t contradict the storyline or talk too much about it before the shows air.

Natalya returned from a broken ankle on the 1/3 show in Corpus Christi, doing a run-in. She broke it in November, but apparently for most of the past two months, she wasn’t even aware of it. She hurt it, I believe while in the U.K. She thought it was a sprain and was walking around on it and figured she’d need maybe a week off. But it didn’t get better. Eventually she had it examined and found out it was broken. She wasn’t used at TV this week but should be back wrestling imminently.

Banks is also out of action with an undisclosed injury.

Konnor of The Ascension has what is believed to be a dislocated jaw, which is why Viktor did some singles matches this past week.

A correction from last week’s issue. We had written that Madison Square Garden was 25 miles from the Barclays Center, when it was actually about a 25 minute drive. The actual distance between the two arenas is only six miles.

The third season of Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge started airing on 1/3 on CMT and is on weekly in the Sunday at 8 p.m. time slot.

WWE filed a trademark for the term “American Alpha.” They also dropped filing for a trademark on the “too sweet” hand gesture that the Young Bucks and the rest of the Bullet Club had been using for years, obviously taken from the NWO in the 90s.

The stock took a few steps back this week, closing at $16.67 per share and leaving the company with a $1.27 billion market value.

Cena was in two of the top four movies this past weekend, as Daddy’s Home was No. 2, doing $20,205,583 domestic ($94 million over its three week run) and Sisters was No. 4, doing $12,760,730 ($63 million over its three weeks).

NXT will start with a new show on 1/13, with tapings on 1/7, after two weeks of Best of shows.

Notes from the 1/4 Raw show. The show was all about the main event angle to set up the Rumble being for the title. Aside from that they did angles to set up the Ambrose vs. Owens and Charlotte vs. Lynch matches for Smackdown. The show drew 8,500 fans, who were hot for Owens vs. Neville and the angle with Ambrose, but not much else until the main event. They promoted Lesnar’s return a few times during the show. From 1/18 on, it’s Mania season and ratings should be the highest of the year, whatever that means at this point.

For Superstars, Breeze pinned Swagger while Goldust & R-Truth formed a tag team and beat The Ascension.

The show opened with Stephanie McMahon out. Reigns came out immediately. Reigns was booked tremendously on this show, as noted, booking him like Dusty Rhodes would book himself against authority is the way to go. Reigns, unlike the rest, is allowed to tell off Stephanie at times as opposed to everyone either not standing up to her, or worse, cowering. Reigns told Stephanie that “We don’t need you here. It’s not about you. It’s about your dad.” Then he called Vince out and told him to come out right now. Stephanie said Vince hadn’t arrived yet, but would be there in time to referee the title match. Reigns said that if he lost this match, he won’t have a job and can’t provide for his family. He said this match was his life. I’ve never liked the portrayal as the top guys being guys who have nowhere else to go if they lose their jobs. In real sports or entertainment, while the producers or coaches have super leverage against the rank and file guys, the few true superstars, because they are superstars, have alternatives. Plus, previously Reigns had dared them to fire him and acted like he didn’t care at all. Now it’s his life. Stephanie said that nobody competes with Vince McMahon and wins at the end. Not sure if that line was an inside rib at New Japan. Stephanie noted that all the charges against Vince from last week had been dropped. She told Reigns that she’s the boss and he’s the help, and that’s something that all the fans understand. She told Reigns she wasn’t going to fire him, but that after he loses the title, he’ll never get another shot at it. She said she was going to use him, book him in matches every single night until his body breaks down and he can’t go anymore. She told him that all of these fans who act like they care about him will forget about him and move on to the next arrogant superstar. That hit too close to home. She said she would do to him what her father did to his father. Reigns got the last word in, saying that she should worry about her father, because if he screws me tonight, she won’t be picking her dad up from jail, she’ll be picking him up from the hospital.

Owens pinned Neville in 9:12 of a very good match. This was a rematch of the Neville “fluke” win from last week. Neville had his ribs all wrapped up with the idea Owens hurt him and he was gutting it out. Neville still worked the same, doing a Fosbury flop dive over the top, a flip dive off the steps, and a shooting star press off the top rope to the floor. He also did a 450 off the apron onto the floor. Ambrose was on commentary since they were building up Ambrose vs. Owens. JBL was talking about the great high flyers in recent decades and mentioned Too Cold Scorpio. Ambrose popped at the Scorpio reference. Owens won clean with a cannonball into the corner and a power bomb. After the match, Owens set up a second power bomb, this time on the floor. Ambrose hit the ring and did a tope onto Owens. Ambrose flew by Owens, barely grazing him and crashing. Owens first acted like he was going to bail out, but then side kicked Ambrose. Ambrose and threw Owens into the steps and put him on the announcers table. Ambrose then came off the barricades with an elbow and put Owens through the table. He then told Owens, “You want a shot. You know where to find it.” This was also good stuff.

Vince arrived and reiterated that all the charges against him were dropped. He said that’s what happens when someone like him can afford a good attorney. He said, “The irony is that last week, I broke the law, and this week, I am the law.”

O’Neil pinned Stardust with the Clash of the Titus in 4:14. Crowd was dead.

Lynch was backstage and Charlotte came up to her, almost confronting her, asking if she had asked for another match after she had asked for a rematch last time. She denied asking for it. Charlotte said she wasn’t excited about wrestling Lynch. Lynch said that the last time we had a match, it was great. Lynch asked Charlotte if she was worried that she might lose. Charlotte accepted a friendly rematch and they agreed to it. Ric Flair then showed up, just to be Flair.

Lynch pinned Charlotte in a non-title match in 10:45. They had a nice match, better than most of the longer women’s matches of late. The crowd was into it, at least early, although not as much when they came back from the commercial break. Because the fans don’t take the Divas division seriously as important, they usually are fine with them for a few minutes on Raw, but then want to move on. It’s a catch-22. They need the long matches to get the people to believe they are serious and the long matches are what got them over in NXT. But the Raw crowd most of the time isn’t even into long matches with men that are pushed. Charlotte worked as the heel, using hard chops and ground and pound. Ric Flair grabbed Lynch’s leg from the outside. Charlotte went for a schoolgirl, but Lynch reversed into a cradle holding the trunks, the same way Charlotte beat her. Good finish given the story, since Lynch had been played up as this naive girl, but here outsmarted Charlotte at her own game. Charlotte then attacked her after the match, used ground and pound, and then hit a spear, and then kept giving kneedrops. Some fans booed Charlotte but for a turn, it didn’t get a lot of heat. Just felt like the crowd had seen them for long enough after a somewhat long match.

Vince McMahon was with some guy who he told to just do his job. Sheamus showed up. Vince gave him the instructions backstage for the match, no outside interference, no foreign objects, no biting, no gouging and no low blows, and “you will obey my commands.” Vince then gave him a smile like he was going to make sure he wins.

Ryback vs. Show ended with no decision in 1:22. Show choke slammed him right away and then threw him over the top rope. The idea was to show that a big guy like Show can dominate the Rumble. While Ryback was on the floor, The Wyatt Family came out. They surrounded Ryback. Show was in the ring doing nothing. Ryback finally attacked Harper, but the other three Wyatt Family members attacked him and the match was over. Strowman laid out Ryback with a head-and-arm choke. Then they jumped on the apron and basically surrounded Show. Just because of the odds, this came across like the 54th turn in Show’s WWE career. Show then came out swinging, knocking down Harper and Rowan. Show went face-to-face with Strowman. They must have put some lifts in Strowman’s boots because he looked almost the same height as Show, and Show is every bit of 6-foot-10 or 6-foot-11, while Strowman legit is closer to 6-foot-7, and that would have been a far more noticeable difference. Wyatt then attacked Show from behind and they all beat him down.

They plugged the house show on 1/8 in Houston with Lesnar wrestling.

Del Rio & Rusev beat the Usos in 13:21. It dragged. JBL tried to compare the League of Nations with other great factions, mentioning the Four Horsemen. Even though your job is to promote the current guys, even JBL made it clear that you can’t call the League of Nations at the level of the Horsemen who he called maybe the greatest faction ever. He then compared them to the Freebirds, and talked about how The Freebirds used to wrestle in San Antonio for Joe Blanchard. Actually, when The Freebirds got hot in Texas, Blanchard and World Class were on the outs and battling over San Antonio. Crowd was dead early. There was a light “We Want Lana” chant, since she wasn’t there. The crowd did get into the Usos comeback. Del Rio went for his first double foot stomp, but Jey moved himself and Del Rio landed both feet on the mat. Jimmy gave Del Rio a splash off the top rope but Rusev saved. Jimmy went for a dive over the top but Rusev kicked him. Jey then hit a tope on Rusev. Del Rio gave Jey a running enzuigiri, threw his shoulder into the post and draped Jimmy over the ropes. Del Rio came off the top rope with a double foot stomp again and got the pin.

Ziggler came out first and they showed an inset promo by Ziggler that never should have been allowed to make the air. Slater was his opponent. Slater came out with Axel, Dallas and Rose to form a new group. Slater actually pinned Ziggler in 4:33 in a real surprise finish. Even so, they’ll probably wind up like 3MB. Crowd was dead for this match. Ziggler set up giving Slater the superkick, but Rose got on the apron. Ziggler went after him, allowing Slater to sneak up from behind him with a rolling reverse cradle. But after a two count, Ziggler kept rolling for a near fall of his own. Dallas was next on the apron and Ziggler went after him. This time, that allowed Slater to again get Ziggler from behind and got the pin with a distraction schoolboy. Slater, Dallas, Axel and Rose were then announced as a new group, called “Social Outcasts.” They were doing nothing with them.

Vince was backstage giving Reigns his rules of the fight.

The New Day was scheduled against Kalisto & Dudleys in a rematch of the Smackdown match, and in usual 50/50 booking, this time the New Day won. Before the match started, the New Day was cutting a long promo that was dying. People weren’t laughing. They weren’t booing. The New Day made fun of Mike Tyson falling off the hoverboard, and either people had no clue what they were talking about, or just didn’t want to see it. Suddenly, Jericho’s music played and he got the big return reaction. He said he’s once again coming back to save the WWE, saying that the network subscriber number, the ratings and the live gates all need a boost and need some Y2J. Jericho made fun of the New Day’s wearing the unicorn horns, calling them unicorn horn wearing jackasses. Fans were chanting for him. He called them Green Day instead of New Day, which is the name of the punk rock band from Berkeley that was really big in the 90s. He called New Day “rooty tooty booty” which is completely ridiculous sounding, but the fans chanted it. Jericho mentioned he was returning to be in the Rumble and going to win it and be in the main event at WrestleMania for the second time. Technically the 2002 main event was Jericho vs. HHH even though Hogan vs. Rock was the real main event.

Big E & Woods & Kingston beat Dudleys & Kalisto in 16:42. There was a second “rooty tooty booty” chant during this match. Hopefully that doesn’t catch on for very long. Bubba at one point pressed Kalisto over head and threw him onto all three New Day members. Kalisto came off Bully’s shoulders as Bully was on the middle ropes and took out Kingston. E splashed Kalisto on the apron. Kalisto did a crazy dive onto E, who caught him and drove him into the barricade. The Dudleys set up the Wazzup spot but Woods shoved Devon off the top rope and E & Kingston did a double team big ending on Devon for the pin.

Vince came out as a referee with a super tight sleeveless shirt. You’d think long before 70 you’d come to the conclusion that risking your health to have muscular arms leads people to no longer think it’s cool and instead think it’s so sad. This match was well done as far as Vince playing the classic heel ref, counting fast when Sheamus was on top and then slow when Reigns had pin attempts. Reigns started losing his cool. At one point Sheamus told Vince to turn around so Vince did, and he grabbed the ring steps and threw them at Reigns and suplexed Reigns on the announcers table. This was a second one since Ambrose had put Owens through the original one. Reigns used the Samoan drop and Vince counted super slow. He did a one arm power bomb and Vince counted slow, and then held up at two and acted like something got in his eye. Reigns argued with Vince and Sheamus schoolboyed him and Vince fast counted but Reigns kicked out. Reigns hit the Superman punch on Sheamus and Vince wouldn’t even count and started smirking. Reigns then hit the Superman punch on Vince. He then speared Sheamus but there was no ref to count the pin. Reigns started yelling for a ref to come out. Reigns used the drive by and came off the steps with another Superman punch on Sheamus and threw Sheamus over the table. Reigns then picked up Vince. Stephanie ran out. Reigns threw Vince into the ropes where Stephanie was and he knocked into her and she flew over the ropes into the ring. Reigns set up giving Vince a spear, but Sheamus hit a Brogue kick on him and then hit a second one. Vince still hadn’t recovered enough to count. Scott Armstrong ran in and they ID’d him as Scott Armstrong the biased ref from his last angle. But Reigns kicked out. Armstrong held Reigns for Sheamus but Reigns broke free after Sheamus nailed Armstrong. Reigns hit a Superman punch on Armstrong and a spear on Sheamus. Ref John Cone ran in and counted the pin at 17:59. Vince then threw one of the worst looking punches of all-time on Cone. Vince then announced that Reigns would have to defend the title next at the Royal Rumble, and it would be against 29 other men in the Rumble itself.

Notes from the 1/5 tapings in Laredo. This was for the first Smackdown with the move to the USA Network. After all the talk for months about changes, I was very much underwhelmed. On Raw, they did angles and built up two title matches for the show, which is more promotional than usual, but it wasn’t hit as hard as expected and there was no cliffhanger angle. If anything, Vince could have said at the end of Raw that he’ll have a major announcement on Smackdown on Thursday and then announce the Rumble is for the title. Of course we don’t know about the finished product but reports from the tapings is that it felt like just another Smackdown taping. Cena had been pushed for the show for a few weeks, but on Raw, a show Cena wasn’t even on, they never pushed Cena for Smackdown. And he didn’t do much on the show, just an interview at the start of the show, due to his injury. The only change was the announcing team which is now Mauro Ranallo, Jerry Lawler and Byron Saxton. Not sure if Saxton will be taken off Raw or do both shows. Ranallo replaces Rich Brennan and Saxton replaces Booker T.

The show opened with a dark match as Fandango pinned Viktor.

Main Event saw O’Neil once again pin Stardust. Breeze, without Summer Rae, pinned Ryder. They split the two of them up on Smackdown week with no angle, and Summer wasn’t even seen or acknowledged. Hopefully they did it for a reason because they’ve got a role for her, as opposed to just doing it to do it like that no reason split of the Wyatt Family that led to that great Rowan face turn. Usos beat Dallas & Axel.

Smackdown opened with Cena out. He came out and wanted his rematch against Del Rio due to how the 12/28 Raw match ended with interference. But Del Rio told Cena he already gave him his return match and refused to face him. Instead, Del Rio faced Kalisto in a non-title match. Said to be a good match and Kalisto scored an upset win, so I guess this week they want to make him the new Mysterio. This would be Del Rio’s first pin loss since his return. I guess we’ll see how this plays out. If Cena is in the Rumble, and they haven’t specifically said that, then they made need Del Rio out of the Rumble to face someone and Kalisto will get the call.

Next was Miz TV. He was interviewing the New Day. They went off on Jericho, making fun of him. Ziggler, Goldust, R-Truth and Neville ended up coming out. This led to an eight-man where Ziggler & Goldust & R-Truth & Neville beat Big E & Kingston & Woods & Miz.

Charlotte retained the Divas title over Lynch due to outside help from her father.

The main event saw Ambrose retain the IC title going to a double count out with Owens as both men brawled around the ring and to the back.

The Cena tour finished for Christmas week with a sellout of 9,000 fans on 12/30 in Toronto at the Ricoh Coliseum. The Reigns tour on 12/30 in Baltimore drew 8,000. The holiday week gains were back down by 1/3 in Hidalgo, as WWE always sells out in that city, its best medium-sized market in the country, but they did 4,600, well below usual.

Toronto opened with Neville pinning Miz with the red arrow. Miz once again opened the show doing a Rick Rude “What I’d like to have right now is for you all, fat, out of shape Toronto sweat hogs,” promo. Rawley & Ryder & O’Neil beat The Ascension & Stardust when O’Neil pinned Viktor with Clash of the Titus. Show pinned Henry with a knockout punch in a slow match that had some boring chants. Ambrose pinned Owens in the IC title match with Dirty Deeds. Since they were in Canada, Owens got a lot of cheers, but he tried to turn the crowd by saying that Quebec was better than Ontario. Good match. Charlotte pinned Lynch with Natural Selection in a Divas title match. Charlotte worked as the heel but the crowd wasn’t that into it. Usos & Goldust beat Harper & Rowan & Strowman when one of the Usos pinned Harper. Fans chanted “Take a shower” whenever Harper tagged in and “You still got it” when Goldust was in. Main event saw Cena beat Del Rio via DQ in the U.S. title match with a low blow. Del Rio once again wore the long silver pants he’s worn at some house shows. Since none of the other League of Nations guys worked this show, there was no outside interference. There was the ref bump and Del Rio used a chair shot for the near fall. After the match, Cena laid Del Rio out with the Attitude Adjustment.

Baltimore opened with Ziggler pinning Breeze with the Zig Zag. Since the Breeze/Summer Rae split up hadn’t aired on TV yet, Summer Rae was with Breeze. The ref kicked her out due to interference midway through the match. Strong opener. Lucha Dragons & Axel & Sandow & Fandango & R-Truth won a 12-man over Big E & Kingston & Los Matadores & Rose & Slater. Sin Cara came out to do the match but his role ended up being to steal Woods’ trombone and chase him backstage. Dallas came out and said tonight starts his winning streak, a gag he’s been doing regularly at the house shows. Swagger then came out and beat him with the ankle lock. Kane pinned Wyatt with a choke slam. Brie Bella & Fox beat Naomi & Tamina when Brie pinned Snuka with the X factor. Ryback pinned Rusev. Lana is still in Rusev’s corner even though she hasn’t been used much on television. Ryback won with shell shock. Main event was a street fight for the WWE title with Reigns pinning Sheamus with a spear through a table in a good match.

They came back in Hidalgo with Ziggler pinning Breeze after a superkick. Even though Breeze and Summer split up on Smackdown, they came out together and announced it was a “One Night Only Farewell tour.” Hope it works out better than those TNA PPVs with the same name. O’Neil pinned Stardust with Clash of the Titus. Sandow & Axel beat Slater & Rose. The crowd didn’t care about this match and it was mostly comedy. Del Rio pinned Swagger to retain the U.S. title. Since Hidalgo draws a very Mexican audience, Del Rio played babyface, shaking hands and doing his Lucha Underground character. The crowd went nuts for him and he won with the double foot stomp. Kalisto pinned Viktor with the Salida del Sol. With Sin Cara injured, he wasn’t there and Konnor was in Viktor’s corner. Match was nothing special. Charlotte pinned Lynch to retain the Divas title. The crowd cheered both women. It was advertised a three-way with Paige, but Paige wasn’t there and they made no announcement as to why. They ended up having the best match on the show. Very good technical wrestling with great heat. Charlotte used a heel finish, a roll-up holding the tights. Main was a street fight with Reigns keeping the title over Sheamus. Sheamus put Reigns through a table. Reigns came back and speared Sheamus through a table for the win.

We didn’t get an attendance figure for the 1/3 show in Corpus Christi. The New Day beat The Usos to retain the tag title in the opener. Neville pinned Miz. Strowman pinned Fandango in a short match. Kane pinned Wyatt in a street fight. Harper and Rowan were there but didn’t wrestle on the show and they attacked Kane. The Usos made the save. The finish saw Wyatt set up Sister Abigail, but Kane reversed and choke slammed him through a table. Bayley pinned Naomi. After the match, Tamina hit the ring and attacked Bayley and then Natalya made the save and put Tamina in the sharpshooter. Ryback pinned Rusev with the shell shock. Lana still accompanies Ryback at the house shows. Main event saw Ambrose retain the IC title over Owens by getting out of the pop up power bomb and hitting Dirty Deeds.