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January 4, 2016 Wrestling Observer Newsletter: Business year in review, Rock at Wrestlemania 32, tons more

Wrestling Observer Newsletter

PO Box 1228, Campbell, CA 95009-1228 ISSN10839593 January 4, 2016

 

2015 BUSINESS YEAR IN REVIEW

 

BIGGEST EVENTS AND TOP DRAWS

 

Period covered based on our awards balloting year of December 1, 2014 to November 30, 2015

 

LARGEST ATTENDANCE

67,000 - 3/29 WWE WrestleMania 31 Santa Clara Levi’s Stadium (Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns)

56,214** - 11/15 UFC 193 Melbourne, Australia Etihad Stadium (Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm)

42,287*** - 11/14 NCAA wrestling Iowa City Kinnick Stadium Iowa vs. Oklahoma State

36,000 1/4 New Japan Wrestle Kingdom 9 Tokyo Dome (Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada)

30,000**** 1/24 UFC on FOX Stockholm Tele 2 Arena (Alexander Gustafsson vs. Anthony Rumble Johnson)

21,036* - 6/13 UFC 188 Mexico City Arena Ciudad (Cain Velasquez vs. Fabricio Werdum)

19,715***** - 3/21 NCAA Division I tournament finals St. Louis Savvis Center (Logan Steiber vs. Mitchell Port)

18,761* - 3/21 NCAA Division I tournament top eight playoffs/consolation rounds St. Louis Savvis Center

18,486* - 3/20 NCAA Division I tournament evening session St. Louis Savvis Center

18,486* - 3/20 NCAA Division I tournament afternoon session St. Louis Savvis Center

18,414* - 3/19 NCAA Division I tournament evening session St. Louis Savvis Center

18,383* - 3/19 NCAA Division I tournament afternoon session St. Louis Savvis Center

17,654****** - 2/28 UFC 184 Los Angeles Staples Center (Ronda Rousey vs. Cat Zingano)

17,160 - 3/14 UFC 185 Dallas American Airlines Center (Anthony Pettis vs. Rafael dos Anjos)

17,000* - 8/9 AAA TripleMania Mexico City Arena Ciudad (Rey Mysterio Jr. vs. Myzteziz; Alberto Del Rio vs. Brian Cage hair vs. hair)

16,500* - 12/5/14 ONE Pasay Philippines Mall of Asia Arena (Brandon Vera vs. Igor Subora)

16,000* - 10/3 WWE New York Madison Square Garden (Brock Lesnar vs. Big Show; John Cena vs. Seth Rollins cage match)

15,314* - 7/11 UFC 189 (Conor McGregor vs. Chad Mendes; Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald)

15,300 - 12/13/14 UFC on FOX Phoenix U.S. Airways Arena (Junior Dos Santos vs. Stipe Miocic)

15,227* - 11/6 WWE London O2 Arena (Kevin Owens vs. Dean Ambrose)

15,000 - 2/8 LLE Mexico City Arena Mexico (Dr. Wagner Jr. & La Sombra vs. L.A. Park & Volador Jr.)

15,000* - 8/7 WWE Melbourne, Australia Rod Laver Arena (Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose)

15,000* - 11/7 WWE Madrid, Spain (Roman Reigns vs. Bray Wyatt)

*Denotes sellout crowd

**All-time UFC attendance record. All-time record for combat sports event with a women’s fight as the singular main event.

***All-time attendance record for legitimate wrestling match in the U.S.. All-time attendance record for collegiate wrestling match.

****All-time record for European MMA match

*****All-time record for collegiate wrestling match (since broken). All-time record for NCAA wrestling tournament event.

******All-time U.S. and North American combat sports record for event headlined by a woman’s fight. Also set UFC record for any event in California.

 

MOST MAIN EVENTS DRAWING MORE THAN 10,000 FANS

18 - Seth Rollins

12 - John Cena, Roman Reigns

10 - Bray Wyatt

9 - Dean Ambrose

5 - Brock Lesnar

4 - La Sombra, Randy Orton, Myzteziz, Alberto El Patron, Kevin Owens

3 - Daniel Bryan, Ronda Rousey, Big Show, Rey Mysterio Jr.

 

With so few companies able to draw 10,000 on a regular basis, this category is dominated by the WWE performers who have gotten the most big market main events during the year. Rollins at No. 1 breaks the streak of John Cena who had been No. 1 since 2009.

Cena’s 10th year in the top ten overall moves him ahead of Gene Kiniski, The Sheik, Ray Stevens and HHH, who were all top ten in nine different years.

He’s now tied with Yvon Robert and The Crusher with ten years in the top ten draws of the year. Those still ahead of him are Jim Londos (21), Lou Thesz (21), Bruno Sammartino (19), Strangler Lewis (18), Ric Flair (18), Hulk Hogan (18), Joe Stecher (14), Dick the Bruiser (14), Andre the Giant (14), Argentina Rocca (13), Killer Kowalski (13), Bill Longson (12), Buddy Rogers (12) and Whipper Billy Watson (11).

It should be noted that it’s a lot easier being top ten now because there are so many fewer shows that do 10,000, and the way the business is now, the top person will always be from WWE. Unlike a period when there were tons of flourishing companies all over the world, there really is WWE & UFC, and nothing else in their leagues, and UFC top fighters are generally only fighting two or three times a year. It means the top positions are going to always be the guys WWE pushes the most, and long-term longevity will be based specifically on tenure as a main eventer in WWE going forward.

In the past, with multiple promotions drawing big numbers all over the world, being top ten was a lot more difficult. In addition, the WWE shows aren’t drawn by big matches as much as if a PPV is coming, it usually does well, and if Raw is coming it also usually does well, while for other shows, it’s harder. The depth of stars who actually draw is tiny compared to the past, and the actual drawing power of those stars as difference makers is a ton in UFC, but really in pro wrestling it’s more the idea of a big show and if the company is a hot ticket as much as who is on top.

So probably until a decade or so ago, this stat was super significant. Now it just tells us more who had the most big show main events in WWE during the year.

That isn’t to say Cena doesn’t deserve mention along the same lines as Kiniski, Sheik and Stevens, because he’s a bigger worldwide star than any of them were and far better known on a national basis. As an individual mover on shows, he’s probably not as big, but they wouldn’t be either if they came along today. Plus, he’s was No. 1 in seven years (2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014) and of the full-timers, he really was a better ticket seller than Rollins if you look at what each man did in the same months on top. So really he is still the top draw today on a worldwide basis, which does put him in even more select company than a Kiniski, Sheik or Stevens, who were huge stars in their day, but very different.

The only other wrestlers who have been No. 1 historically in seven different years have been Londos, with 13 years, Sammartino and Hogan, with eight, and Cena, Longson and Thesz with seven.

Overall Cena would rank No. 11 of all-time for biggest draws based on long-term longevity at the top (as opposed to a huge peak, as based on a huge peak, Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan and The Rock far outdistance the field) behind Londos, Sammartino, Thesz, Longson, Hogan, Lewis, Rocca, Flair, Rogers and Stecher. Orton would move up from No. 34 to No. 29, making he and Dick Shikat as the only top 30 guys not in the Hall of fame. Brock Lesnar would move from No. 74 to No. 50.

Only shows advertised around the person in the specific main event are figured in. A show advertised as “Raw” or “Smackdown” with a number of names listed is not figured in.

 

ESTIMATED NORTH AMERICAN PPV BUYS

 

4,600,000* - 5/2 Showtime/HBO/Mayweather Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Manny Pacquiao

1,090,000** - 11/14 UFC Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm

910,000*** - 8/1 UFC Ronda Rousey vs. Bethe Correia

900,000 11/21 Golden Boy Canelo Alvarez vs. Miguel Cotto

820,000 - 1/3 UFC Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier

800,000**** - 7/11 UFC Conor McGregor vs. Chad Mendes/Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald

550,000***** - 2/28 UFC Ronda Rousey vs. Cat Zingano

540,000 - 1/31 UFC Anderson Silva vs. Nick Diaz

500,000 - 9/12 Showtime/Mayweather Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Andre Berto

375,000 - 12/6 UFC Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler

375,000 - 5/23 UFC Chris Weidman vs. Vitor Belfort/Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson

310,000 - 6/13 UFC Cain Velasquez vs. Fabricio Werdum

285,000 - 3/14 UFC Anthony Pettis vs. Rafael dos Anjos

250,000 - 10/3 UFC Daniel Cormier vs. Alexander Gustafsson

150,000 - 10/17 HBO Gennady Golovkin vs. David Lemieux

147,000 - 3/29 WWE WrestleMania Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns

110,000 - 4/25 UFC Demetrious Johnson vs. Kyoji Horiguchi

100,000 - 9/5 UFC Demetrious Johnson vs. John Dodson

61,000 - 1/25 WWE Royal Rumble Royal Rumble/Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins vs. John Cena

36,000 - 8/23 WWE SummerSlam Brock Lesnar vs. Undertaker

32,000 - 2/22 WWE Fast Lane Roman Reigns vs. Daniel Bryan

31,000 - 9/20 WWE Night of Champions Seth Rollins vs. Sting

25,000 - 4/26 WWE Extreme Rules Seth Rollins vs. Randy Orton

25,000 - 7/19 WWE Battleground John Cena vs. Kevin Owens

24,000 - 6/14 WWE Money in the Bank Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose

23,000 - 10/25 WWE Hell in a Cell Brock Lesnar vs. Undertaker

22,000 - 5/17 WWE Payback Seth Rollins vs. Randy Orton vs. Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose

21,000 - WWE TLC John Cena vs. Seth Rollins

17,000 - WWE Survivor Series tournament for world title with Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Kevin Owens and Alberto Del Rio

15,000 - 1/4 GFW/New Japan Wrestle Kingdom 9 Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada

*All-time PPV record

**All-time PPV record for event headlined by a woman’s fight. UFC record for PPV event emanating outside North America

***All-time PPV record for event headlined by a woman’s fight. UFC record for PPV event emanating outside North America. Both records since broken

****All-time record for UFC PPV headlined by lighter men’s weight division fight. Record since broken.

*****All-time PPV record for event headlined by a woman’s fight. Record since broken

 

CROWDS OF MORE THAN 15,000

2015 2014 2013 2012 2011

WWE 5 3 4 10 10

CMLL 0 1 2 0 1

AAA 1 1 1 1 0

UFC 7 3 4 12 5

New Japan 1 2 1 1 1

NCAA 7 3 6 6 --

 

Because of the large staging they use, WWE only topped the 15,000 mark on overseas tours, and for WrestleMania at Levi’s Stadium and the 10/3 show in Madison Square Garden which was a network special where they used a much smaller stage.

Because UFC runs its biggest events at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, the biggest ones fall short of 15,000 attendance, although they actually managed to put more than that in for UFC 189 by using every seat possible. But they had a number of larger arena shows both domestically and aborad this year. In 2009, WWE had 20 events that drew more than 15,000.

 

UFC PPV BUYS BASED ON DECEMBER TO NOVEMBER

Shows Buys Average

2007 10 4,660,000 466,000

2008 13 6,885,000 530,000

2009 13 7,755,000 595,000

2010 15 8,970,000 598,000

2011 15 5,950,000 397,000

2012 13 6,025,000 463,000

2013 13 5,470,000 420,770

2014 12 3,825,000 318,800

2015 13 6,515,000 501,154

 

By doing December to November, the 12/12 show isn’t figured in. If you figure that one in, this year will probably end up at 7,200,000 buys and a 554,000 average. Because of higher prices, a greater percentage of buys being HD and a huge increase in iPPV buys, which the company keeps almost the entire $60 instead of splitting with the cable company, the total revenue from PPV is likely the largest this year of any year in company history.

The 2014 number for the year was more like 3,180,000 on 12 shows for a 265,000, average, so the actual year-to-year PPV increase is 126 percent in total buys and 109 percent in average buys per show.

The four million added buys would be worth somewhere between $100 million and $120 million in added revenue.

 

UFC AVERAGE GATE OF NORTH AMERICAN PPV SHOWS

Shows Total Gate Average

2007 10 $26,700,350 $2,670,035

2008 10 $32,857,231 $3,285,723

2009 11 $34,005,156 $3,091,378

2010 14 $40,841,459 $2,917,247

2011 14 $43,838,517 $3,131,394

2012 9 $31,125,774 $3,458,419

2013 12 $35,386,997 $2,948,916

2014 10 $24,416,991 $2,441,699

2015 10 $31,483,113 $3,148,311

 

If you figure in the December show and the reported $10,123,000 and remove the December 2014 show, you have a total gross of $39,118,113, which would still not be a record (because some key shows this year were outside North America), but it would be a record average of $3,911,811, and that’s figuring in two Demetrious Johnson shows that bombed and not including two Ronda Rousey shows (Rio de Janeiro and Melbourne), the latter of which did $6,760,000. Including everything, the 13 PPV shows this year grossed in the range of $50 million.

 

$2 MILLION GATES

 

$12,600,000 - 3/29 WWE WrestleMania Levi’s Stadium Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns*

$7,201,648 - 7/11 Las Vegas MGM Grand Garden Arena Conor McGregor vs. Chad Mendes; Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald****

$6,760,000 - 11/14 Melbourne Etihad Stadium Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm*****

$5,189,167 - 5/23 Las Vegas MGM Grand Garden Arena Chris Weidman vs. Vitor Belfort; Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson

$4,553,473 - 1/31 Las Vegas MGM Grand Garden Arena Anderson Silva vs. Nick Diaz

$3,674,692 - 1/3 Las Vegas MGM Grand Garden Arena Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier

$3,100,000 1/24 Stockholm Tele 2 Arena Alexander Gustafsson vs. Anthony Rumble Johnson**

$2,675,560 - 2/28 Los Angeles Staples Center (Ronda Rousey vs. Cat Zingano)***

$2,488,000 - 12/6/14 Las Vegas Mandalay Bay Events Center Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler

$2,155,000 - 3/14 Dallas American Airlines Center Anthony Pettis vs. Rafael dos Anjos

*Denotes all-time pro wrestling gate record.

**Denotes all-time European MMA gate record

***Sets all-time record for combat sports event singularly headlined by a woman’s fight.

****Set all-time North American MMA gate record

*****Broke all-time combat sports gate record for Australia. Broke UFC record for largest gate outside North America. Set all-time world record for combat sports gate singularly headlined by a woman’s fight


Dwayne Johnson announced on 12/28 that he will be part of WrestleMania at AT&T Stadium in Dallas this year.

Johnson was originally scheduled to face HHH in one of the top matches on the show, but that ended up being changed when there was an insurance issue with a movie he was working on because the insurance carrier was balking at covering the risk of an injury to Johnson delaying production, since it had happened previously after his second match with John Cena and he had several muscle tears. At the time, it was thought he would be appearing on the show in some form, as would Steve Austin, but not wrestling.

Later, because he signed on to film “Baywatch” during that period, we were told it would be difficult, but not impossible, for him to appear on the show. The announcement indicates he got clearance. He did not say he would be wrestling on the show. At the time, it was never said 100 percent he wouldn’t be wrestling on the show, only that they had to work through that issue. At that point, the HHH match at WrestleMania had changed to Seth Rollins.

At this point it’s not clear what role he will take in the show. Johnson is cousins with Roman Reigns and came to the Royal Rumble in 2015 to endorse him and try to aid him in getting a huge pop for winning, although the crowd wasn’t receptive to that. But I would be surprised with them making an announcement so far in advance if he wasn’t figured into a significant role on the show. He’s used terms such as “it’s gonna be big” and “next level shit” planned regarding the appearance, which sounds like a tease for a major match. Johnson had planned to headline WrestleMania 30 in New Orleans with Brock Lesnar, and in fact an angle to start that program was scheduled for the day after WrestleMania 29, but due to a hernia and some muscle tears in the second Cena match, it never happened.

Another idea from the past that would have been huge was for New Orleans, where they would have the HHH & Stephanie vs. Vince angle for control of the company, and if Vince is back, that is a natural angle and if Vince is the face, then Rock would make sense as the guy he uses as his guy to save the company, but that’s just fantasy booking and we’ve heard no hints of that.

The fact Stephanie McMahon has been slapping people around would theoretically lead to her being put in a match, and obviously the biggest money match by far would be with Ronda Rousey. It could also be done as a mixed tag with less risk. Rousey had similar issues, a movie being filmed in Indonesia at the time of Mania, that made Mania unlikely, and a second issue of UFC having to approve of it.

Johnson, 43, hasn’t wrestled since facing Cena at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, at WrestleMania, which broke the all-time pro wrestling gate record with an $11.3 million gross on April 7, 2013. His first match with Cena a year earlier did 1,217,000 buys on PPV, the second biggest of all-time (behind only 2007) and set the gate record of $8.29 million at Sun Life Stadium. It is still overall the largest grossing pro wrestling event of all-time.

Because of his background in the old wrestling business and now the movie business, Johnson is very much into records, noting that he’s coming to set the all-time WWE attendance record (and likely the all-time pro wrestling paid attendance record), which the show on 4/3 is expected to break by well over 10,000 fans. Local press in Dallas covering the show noted they are expecting 90,000 fans at this year’s WrestleMania, which will likely then be announced as more than 100,000.

“It’s official. People’s champ is coming home to do three things with The People: Set an all-time attendance record. Electrify Dallas like never before and make all-time WrestleMania history. And have fun. Okay, that’s four things, but you know, what the hell. The Rock’s sayin’ `Thank you WWE Universe.’ It’s always an honor coming home and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Because of the filming of the movie, his availability for Raw and promotional work for the show could be limited.


On 1/4, in what is in some ways the second biggest pro wrestling live event annually, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s tradition becomes a quarter of a century old.

New Japan booked the first pro wrestling event at the Tokyo Dome on April 24, 1989. The show was built around the first real Russian athletes competing as professionals. The story got worldwide attention. The show itself was a mixture of a number of stories. A number of decorated Russian wrestlers and judokas were on the show, although the big ones hoped for, David Gobejishvili, who had won the gold medal the year before as a super heavyweight in freestyle wrestling in Seoul, South Korea, and Greco-Roman champion Alexander “the Experiment” Karelin, were not part of the crew.

Ironically, both did do pro wrestling in Japan later, Gobejishvili losing to Minoru Suzuki on a 1992 show at the Tokyo Dome for the Pro Wrestling Fujiwara Gumi promotion, and Karelin beating Akira Maeda in a 1999 show for RINGS.

The first show was headlined by Antonio Inoki, the era’s biggest superstar, facing Shota Chochishvili, who captured the gold medal at 209 pounds in judo in 1972 and bronze in the open division in 1976, for Inoki’s world martial arts championship. Dating back to 1976 and his win over 1972 Olympic super heavyweight judo gold medalist Willem Ruska, Inoki had done worked matches against stars from a number of fighting disciplines, always winning, making him a superhero. He also did one or two shoot matches during that period, most notable being the 1976 fight with Muhammad Ali. Many consider these fights the birth of MMA in Japan. The reality is they were all pro wrestling matches, except the Ali fight, which was supposed to be a pro wrestling match, but turned into a weird shoot to save the show because Ali at the last minute refused to do the job, and the whole idea of the fight was to get Inoki over, so he wasn’t going to lose either.

Chochishvili won the match with a series of uranages leaving a shocked audience as Inoki was unable to continue. That match created the uranage as a big finisher in Japan, best remembered by Hiroshi Hase, and a trademark move in the U.S. years later.

When the night was over, Lou Thesz, one of Inoki’s idols, came up to him, after the show drew 43,800 fans and Inoki put somebody over clean in the main event and said, “Antonio, tonight you became a businessman.”

In actuality, Inoki’s pick to be the guy he would lose his world martial arts title that he’d held for 13 years to was a bad one. The match didn’t get over. Inoki beat him back for the title a month later in Osaka. Rather than make a new superstar foreigner, Chochishvili only had one more pro wrestling match, on a New Year’s Eve show at the end of 1989 in Moscow, where 15,000 fans saw him team with Inoki to beat the team of an American and Japanese wrestling Olympian, Brad Rheingans & Masa Saito.

But the show had a lot of other elements to it. Salman Hashimikov, another Russian who had won world championships in freestyle wrestling in 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1983, debuted and beat Bam Bam Bigelow, one of the company’s top foreign stars. Hashimikov one month later defeated Big Van Vader to win the IWGP title and remains one of the few foreigners ever to hold that title. Another Russian, Victor Zangiev, who ended up as the most impressive of the group, became the prototype of a legendary character, Zangief, in the Street Fighter video game series.

Keiichi Yamada, a 5-foot-4 ½ bodybuilder type who emulated the Dynamite Kid, was given a cartoon costume to become the next Tiger Mask, called Jushin “Thunder” Liger. One can make a strong case, given his longevity, that Liger, who quickly became one of the world’s elite wrestlers, ended up being the greatest junior heavyweight in pro wrestling history. Thesz, as an ode to the past, was the referee for an IWGP tag team title match. Vader won a one-night tournament to capture the IWGP heavyweight title. And there was even a match with Benny “the Jet” Urquidez, a kickboxing legend of the 70s.

New Japan promoted annually at the Dome from that point on, but on no specific day. On January 4, 1992, a show called “Super Warriors in Tokyo Dome,” drew 50,000 fans paying $3,700,000, the latter figure breaking the all-time gate record at the time set by the Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior match at Sky Dome in Toronto.

It was a loaded show, which was broadcast on PPV, on a tape delay, into the U.S. by WCW, which was New Japan’s business partner at the time. Riki Choshu pinned Tatsumi Fujinami to win the IWGP title in the main event, while Lex Luger pinned Masahiro Chono to retain the WCW title, Sting & Great Muta beat Rick & Scott Steiner and Inoki beat Hase.

Very quickly, January 4th became “Wrestling Day” in Japan. The week after New Year’s was always big. Culturally, New Year’s in Japan is bigger than Christmas when it comes to presents, so all the promotions used to load up on big shows that week long before it became the Dome tradition.

While in the promotion’s heyday, they sometimes had as many as three Tokyo Dome shows in a year, the 1/4 show was always the primary show, and for years after New Japan had fallen from its peak, the 1/4 show continued to either sell out, or come close to it.

The decline of New Japan can probably be traced to 1999 and 2000, coinciding with the rise of Pride. The key is that when Choshu had his retirement show on January 4, 1998, drawing a sellout of 55,000 fans, he made it clear that it was his real retirement, although it probably never was going to be given that isn’t now 18 years later, and he’s 64, and still wrestling. But when he retired, he said he would only come back if business got bad and it was necessary. While Choshu did a gimmick coming out of retirement match with Atsushi Onita in 2000, he came back on the January 4, 2001 show at the Tokyo Dome, which was a public key that things weren’t doing well.

It’s notable that from the 1992 show through the 2002 show, only one event, the 1994 show, failed to sell out, but it was only a few thousand shy, so it was like several of the WrestleManias in recent years. And that had a loaded lineup, headlined by Inoki vs. Genichiro Tenryu in a battle of legends, plus Hashimoto vs. Chono, Choshu vs. Yoshiaki Fujiwara (an 80s feud revisited), Hulk Hogan vs. Fujinami, the Steiner Brothers vs. Keiji Muto & Hase, The Hell Raisers (Road Warrior Hawk & Kensuke Sasaki as Power Warrior) vs. The Jurassic Powers (Scott Norton & Hercules Hernandez) and Liger vs. Tiger Mask (this time played by Koji Kanemoto).

Other years, the company was on fire. In 1996, they had just come off an October Muto vs. Nobuhiko Takada match which was the biggest match in company history, as New Japan’s champion (Muto) faced the top star of the rival UWFI, setting the pro wrestling record at the time with a $6.1 million gate. The rematch, where Takada won the IWGP title (setting up a third Dome sellout in April with Hashimoto going after the title) was also an easy sellout with a Dome show that only included one American, Big Van Vader, who lost to Inoki in what was Inoki’s last true classic match.

The show continued to sell out the next few years simply based on it being the biggest show of the year, with the big IWGP title match of the year, Hashimoto vs. Choshu in 1997, Sasaki vs. Muto in 1998, Muto vs. Norton in 1999 and Sasaki vs. Tenryu in 2000.

In 2001, it was a big one. Pro Wrestling NOAH had formed in 2000, with almost every star from All Japan leaving. Toshiaki Kawada was the only All Japan star who stayed, and to stay in business, Motoko Baba went to New Japan for help, creating a joint promotional rivalry that boosted business for both sides. On October 9, 2000, a special Dome show was booked where Kawada beat IWGP champion Sasaki. In losing to an outsider, Sasaki vacated his title.

So the Dome show was built around a tournament with Sasaki, Satoshi Kojima, Yuji Nagata, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Chono and Kawada, where Sasaki (who had earlier beaten Kojima and Chono) defeated Kawada in the finals, a result that could be very much questioned.

The success of the Dome show has had its ups and downs, largely based on the health of the company. Until the 2002 show, where a dream match of Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Chono going to a 30:00 draw drew 47,000 fans, every show was either sold out or almost packed. But things got bad from there, with papered crowds that sometimes only did 10,000 paid. One year, things got so bad that fans protested by throwing away their papered tickets and not coming.

It’s only in recent years that there has been a turnaround, notably when the 2013 show, headlined by IWGP champion Hiroshi Tanahashi and top rival Kazuchika Okada, drew 29,000 fans.

Little has been said about the advance for this year’s show. Last year at this time there was talk that with a little luck, they were going to nearly fill the building for the first time in 13 years. They didn’t have the luck, although Wrestle Kingdom 9 drew 36,000 fans and the best gate since that period, featuring the same main event, where Tanahashi once again retained the IWGP title over Okada.

This year, there has just been vague words that sales are good and that the floor (7,000 seats) sold out quickly. Aside from the expensive tickets, only one other price range, the $47 tickets, had sold out as of a week ago.

Things were going down in New Japan by 2002. But the Dome staved off the problems by booking the Misawa vs. Chono match and getting one more nearly full house. An interesting generational battle was third from the top, as the Steiners, top foreign stars from a decade earlier, faced Sasaki and a partner in his first important Dome match, Hiroshi Tanahashi, who would be the guy to lead the revival a decade later, with Joanie Laurer (Chyna) as referee.

By 2003, they went with IWGP champion Nagata against Josh Barnett on top. Barnett had been the UFC heavyweight champion, beating Randy Couture the previous year, but was stripped of his title for testing positive for steroids and then left the promotion after a financial dispute. A huge fan of Japanese wrestling and culture growing up, Barnett was willing to lose in exchange for being taught pro wrestling. By 2004, even with a 17-match show, Bob Sapp in his heyday and the retirement of Fujinami (who is also still wrestling now, more than a decade later), it was the heavy papering period, which continued for years.

While the 2005 show is listed as drawing 46,000 fans, headlined by a main event of young stars, Tanahashi losing to Shinsuke Nakamura, the reality was nowhere close and for the next several years the real paid attendance was in the 10,000 to 12,000 range. By 2007, the first show called “Wrestle Kingdom,” where Muto & Chono were brought back as a tag team to beat Kojima & Tenzan, while Tanahashi beat All Japan’s Taiyo Kea, things were so bad that they were considering dropping the Dome show from the schedule.

Wrestle Kingdom III, where Tanahashi regained the IWGP title from “outsider” Muto of All Japan, and Nakamura & Hirooki Goto beat Misawa & Takashi Sugiura, got the crowd up to 27,500. But in 2010, a double main event with Nakamura keeping the IWGP title over Yoshihiro Takayama and Sugiura keeping the GHC title over Goto, plus bringing in Terry Funk and Abdullah the Butcher, All Japan legends of the 70s and 80s, saw the crowd fall to 20,000.

The next year it was down to 18,000 with Tanahashi beating “outsider” Kojima to win back the IWGP title, and plenty of outsiders from NOAH (Go Shiozaki, Takashi Sugiura), Zero-One (Masato Tanaka), TNA (Jeff Hardy, Rob Van Dam, James Storm and Bobby Roode) and CMLL (La Sombra, Mascara Dorada and Hector Garza). That show also featured a singles match where Prince Devitt (Finn Balor) regained his IWGP jr. title over Ibushi.

A Tanahashi vs. Suzuki IWGP title match in 2012 got the crowd to 23,000, and it started a year where business doubled overall.

By 2013, an absolutely incredible show featuring the first Tanahashi vs. Okada match, an incredible Nakamura vs. Sakuraba match, plus Makabe vs. Shibata, Tenzan & Kojima vs. Muto & Shinjiro Otani (former New Japan star who was a top star in Zero-One), Devitt vs. Low Ki vs. Ibushi for the jr. title, Nagata vs. Suzuki and even an opener where Sapp and Akebono were on opposite sides of an eight-man did 29,000. The last two years have gotten the crowds up to 35,000 and 36,000.

Last year’s show also had the most worldwide interest perhaps ever, but certainly since the glory days of the promotion, due to it airing live on PPV in North America in a partnership with Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling. The show, heavily pushed as having the best action you would see all year, and with the return of Jim Ross as the announcer, did 15,000 buys on North American PPV, a number that beat every ROH and TNA show. And while the circumstances are very different given the streaming network, it wasn’t that far off several WWE shows. That’s with the show being available for streaming off the New Japan World site, although unlike with WWE, that wasn’t much of a factor as there were probably only 2,000 to 3,000 New Japan World subscribers outside of Japan by that time.

Even with that, there is no PPV for the show this year. In some ways it would be more difficult, given the show is late Sunday night/Monday morning (3 a.m. Eastern; midnight Pacific, likely for close to five hours is the listed start time but it will probably start 45 minutes earlier with the Rumble match as the equivalent of the pre-show match) instead of Saturday night/Sunday morning, which also allowed for a prime time Sunday night replay in the traditional wrestling time slot. But last year was also hampered. Many companies didn’t air it live, instead opting to replay the much bigger UFC event. Others didn’t air the replay on Sunday night, when the expectation was you’d get the bulk of the viewers.

On the flip side, New Japan is significantly more popular in the U.S. than a year ago due to World Pro Wrestling Returns airing on Friday nights on AXS, as well as several appearances of New Japan stars on ROH programming. A promotional partnership with ROH pushing the show on its TV’s after Final Battle in exchange for being partners, and working out a deal with AXS for promotion, would have led to more interest, probably enough to offset the less fortunate time slot. Jim Ross had also made it clear he was more than up to do it again.

But New Japan, as it often does, is copying the WWE’s business plan and pushing its streaming service as the only way to watch the show. New Japan World is, with the current exchange rates, only $8.30 per month. The negative is that unless you are bound and determined to order it, navigation through a Japanese sign-up page isn’t the easiest. I know of many people who decided they had to get the channel and signed up. I know far more who wanted to get it and felt it wasn’t worth the hassle. The bottom line is that, while this may change in five years, right now the potential audience for a show on iPPV in the U.S. and regular PPV is substantially lower, as is the price point. At a time when interest is the highest, New Japan is largely squandering the vast majority of revenue it could derive from the U.S. market. Still, New Japan is flying in Kevin Kelly and Matt Striker to do the broadcast as well as of the Korakuen Hall show the next day, and hiring Yoshi Tatsu to work with them.

A plus to this year’s show is that last year they had a very specific time limit of four hours because of the U.S. PPV, which meant a lot of the undercard matches were kept short. It wasn’t a big negative, because the last seven matches were as good a last seven matches as you’ll ever see, and they still had 31:00 for Tanahashi and Okada and ended the show with plenty of time to spare.

The show is strong on paper, even if the third Tanahashi vs. Okada Dome main event in four years (although their first singles match since last year’s show) is hardly fresh. The only change from the original lineup is that due to Kota Ibushi’s neck issues, he’s out. It appeared they were grooming him for Kazushi Sakuraba, who is not advertised for the show at all. Originally he was going to do the 12/29 Rizin main event and the Dome show, and it’s still possible he’ll do the Rumble match.

*New Japan Rumble. This will be a combination of the regulars not booked on the main card, such as Jushin Liger, Tiger Mask, Jay White, Ryusuke Taguchi, Evil, Bushi, Mascara Dorada, David Finlay, Yohei Komatsu, Sho Tanaka, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Juice Robinson, Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi and Captain New Japan, perhaps the new rookies that debut the night before (Kanemitsu Teruaki and Kawato Hirai), and surprises and legends from the past.

*Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly defend the IWGP jr. tag titles against The Young Bucks, Matt Sydal & Ricochet and Rocky Romero & Trent Baretta. This is the third straight year the main show will open with the high spot match with the Young Bucks and Romero being in all three. From a talent standpoint, due to adding Sydal & Ricochet to the already strong mix, on paper this is the strongest thus far. It’s often a tough crowd for early matches at the Dome due to casual fans who come to see the biggest stars. But this is also the biggest match, in terms of being on such a huge event, for all eight of these wrestlers in 2016.

*Mark & Jay Briscoe & Toru Yano vs. Bad Luck Fale & Tama Tonga & Yujiro Takahashi for the creation of the Never trios championships. Given the promotion already has too many titles, this is both needless and something of a filler. Plus, even if the title gets defended on big shows in 2016, it becomes an undercard championship. The Bullet Club team are the regulars and thus, the favorites here. But it’s possible that New Japan booker Gedo wants to get the Briscoes over since they are a unique act, in which case the result could be different.

*Jay Lethal vs. Michael Elgin for the ROH title. Lethal is making his New Japan debut here. Elgin has in a short period of time become an established favorite in this promotion. As far as who goes over, that’s going to be determined by what is best for ROH. There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to the ROH title picture in 2016 based on who is staying and who is going. The match technically will probably be very good, and would probably kill at Korakuen Hall. The question is with a mass audience, how much they will care about a match with two Americans, one of which they don’t really even know, battling for an American championship. There is something to be said for the idea of changing the ROH title before 35,000 fans in Tokyo as far as making the title feel more major league.

*Kenny Omega vs. Kushida for the IWGP jr. heavyweight title. Omega first won the title last year at the Dome. He then lost it and regained it in matches with Kushida. Omega is an incredible talent, but is sometimes prone to overacting. Kushida is one of the best wrestlers in the world. The match should be great. The two have bounced the title around this year and it seems like the time and place to bounce it to Kushida.

*Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows vs. Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma for the IWGP tag team titles. Anderson & Gallows first won the title two years ago at the Dome over Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. They held the belts for the entire year, dropping them at the Dome to Katsuyori Shibata & Hirooki Goto. This year, they regained the belts from Shibata & Goto, traded them with Michael Bennett & Matt Taven, and ended the year as champions again. Honma has the ability to really get a crowd going. The tag titles here aren’t as big as they’ve been in the past.

*Hirooki Goto vs. Tetsuya Naito. This is a grudge match from some incidents that have taken place on recent shows. The winner of this match is likely getting the next IWGP title match with Naito the one most likely as he’s the one on the rise with the heel turn. Outside interference from Evil and Bushi is likely here.

*Tomohiro Ishii vs. Katsuyori Shibata for the Never Open weight title. These two bring a style and intensity made for each other. It could easily end up as the best match on the show, and will almost surely be the hardest hitting. Shibata hasn’t won a singles title in a long New Japan career and he’s long overdue. It feels like this is both the time and place.

*Shinsuke Nakamura vs. A.J. Styles for the IC title. Nakamura has been on every 1/4 Dome show since his rookie year of 2003 and has one of the widest range of unique opponents from different eras and worlds in his singles matches, from MMA fighter and kickboxer Jan “The Giant” Nortje, twice with Yoshihiro Takayama, former giant celebrity Bob Sapp, three main events with Tanahashi, Brock Lesnar, 90s legend Toshiaki Kawada, Go Shiozaki, Kazushi Sakuraba and Kota Ibushi. This is Styles’ third Tokyo Dome match, and the first time he’s been this high on the show. It’s a virtual lock that they are going to have a good match as these are two of the best big match wrestlers of the past decade. Styles obviously has his physical issues, and is also likely to overcome them on such a big show. If he can’t, it would be a sign things are a lot worse than is being let on. When the match was first booked, I was expecting a Styles title win since that’s the right thing for business. But that now depends how his health and how the injuries affect his wrestling.

*Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP heavyweight title. The match is almost a lock to be great. These two had one of this year’s best matches at the Dome. The question if this is going to the well too often. Even the greatest in-ring feuds in history passed their peak and went down as far as public interest is concerned. Tanahashi will set the all-time record with his 10th Tokyo Dome main event, something no wrestler or other combat sports athlete has ever done. Tanahashi has had a singles match on every Wrestle Kingdom show and has won the last seven years, six being title matches. Tanahashi pinned Okada in their previous Dome matches, a 33:34 title retention in 2013 and a 30:57 retention last year. But this time Tanahashi, the G-1 Climax winner, comes in as challenger. When he’s on a big show on top, Tanahashi may still be the best wrestler in the business. Even if he’s not due to his neck, knees and back injuries, Okada is very clearly on that short list. But they have to compete with themselves, and a series of match of the year candidates, as well as follow people in the prior matches looking to steal the show. This had already established itself going into last year’s show as one of the great rivalries in pro wrestling history, and now they have to live up to that categorization.

BIG FOUR TOKYO DOME RECORDS

 

TANAHASHI

10/8/01: w/Kenzo Suzuki & Yutaka Yoshie & Wataru Inoue lost a four-on-two handicap match to Giant Singh (Great Khail) & Giant Silva in second match

1/4/02: w/Kenzo Suzuki lost to Kazunari Murakami & Yuki Ishikawa in third match

5/2/02: w/Kensuke Sasaki lost to Rick & Scott Steiner third from the top

10/14/02: w/Kenzo Suzuki def. Shinya (Togi) Makabe & Minoru Fujita in 31 seconds but had an immediate rematch that Makabe & Fujita won midcard

10/13/03: w/Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi & Seiji Sakaguchi lost to Yoshihiro Takayama & Kazuyuki Fujita & Minoru Suzuki & Shinsuke Nakamura main event

1/4/04: def. Yutaka Yoshie to retain the Under-30 championship mid card match

5/3/04: def. Sean O’Haire third from the top

1/4/05: lost to Shinsuke Nakamura to lose Under-30 championship main event

5/14/05: w/Shinsuke Nakamura def. Manabu Nakanishi & Kendo Ka Shin to retain IWGP tag titles third from the top

10/8/05: w/Shinsuke Nakamura def. Toshiaki Kawada & Yoji Anjo second from the top

1/4/06: lost to Katsuyori Shibata fourth from the top

1/4/07: def. Taiyo Kea to retain IWGP title second from the top

1/4/08: lost IWGP title to Shinsuke Nakamura main event

1/4/09: def. Keiji Muto to win IWGP title main event

1/4/10: def. Go Shiozaki third from the top

1/4/11: def. Satoshi Kojima to win IWGP title main event

1/4/12: def. Minoru Suzuki to retain IWGP title main event

1/4/13: def. Kazuchika Okada to retain IWGP title main event

1/4/14: def. Shinsuke Nakamura to win IC title main event

1/5/15: def. Kazuchika Okada to retain IWGP title main event

 

OKADA

1/4/11: w/Hirooki Goto lost to Takashi Sugiura & Yoshihiro Takayama fifth from top

1/4/12: def. Yoshi-Hashi mid card

1/4/13: lost to Hiroshi Tanahashi in IWGP title match main event

1/4/14: def. Tetsuya Naito win retain IWGP title second from the top

1/4/15: lost to Hiroshi Tanahashi in IWGP title match main event

 

NAKAMURA

1/4/03: w/Michiyoshi Ohara def. Tadao Yasuda & Kazunari Murakami fourth from the top

5/2/03: def. Jan “The Giant” Nortje in MMA rules legitimate shoot match midcard

10/13/03: w/Yoshihiro Takayama & Kazuyuki Fujita & Minoru Suzuki & Bob Sapp def. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi & Hiroshi Tanahashi & Seiji Sakaguchi in elimination match main event

1/4/04: def. Yoshihiro Takayama to unify the IWGP and NWF world titles in main event

5/3/04: lost to Bob Sapp in IWGP title match main event

1/4/05: def. Hiroshi Tanahashi to win Under-30 title main event

5/14/05: w/Hiroshi Tanahashi def. Manabu Nakanishi & Kendo Ka Shin to retain IWGP tag titles third from the top

10/8/05: w/Hiroshi Tanahashi def. Toshiaki Kawada & Yoji Anjo second from the top

1/4/06: lost to IWGP champion Brock Lesnar main event

1/4/07: lost to Toshiaki Kawada fourth from the top

1/4/08: def. Hiroshi Tanahashi to win IWGP title main event

1/4/09: w/Hirooki Goto def. Mitsuharu Misawa & Takashi Sugiura second from the top

1/4/10: def. Yoshihiro Takayama to retain IWGP title main event

1/4/11: def. Go Shiozaki third from top

1/4/12: w/Toru Yano lost to Go Shiozaki & Naomichi Marufuji third from top

1/4/13: def. Kazushi Sakuraba to retain IC title second from the top

1/4/14: lost IC title to Hiroshi Tanahashi main event

1/4/15: def. Kota Ibushi to retain IC title second from the top

 

STYLES

1/4/08: w/Christian Cage & Petey Williams def. Milano Collection A.T. & Minoru (Tanaka) & Prince Devitt (Finn Balor) opening match

1/4/15: def. Tetsuya Naito third from the top


The Al Jazeera news story that implicated NFL star Peyton Manning with packages of HGH being sent to his home led to some interesting revelations by ESPN anchor Jonathan Coachman, who said use of the drug was significant while he was in WWE.

Coachman and Will Cain were hosting an ESPN radio show when Cain noted that Coachman had a very different opinion than most on the story. Coachman agreed it was true, saying HGH was prevalent and widely used today, and compared it to how marijuana was viewed years ago, when it comes to societal acceptance and legislation.

There were people who listened and believed when he said about how all his buddies were using it that he was including himself–particularly him saying how he and his buddies knew in all the different cities the places to go to get it. He also said many of those places have been closed down. At no point did he indicate that he used it, only that he strongly considered it. He said he was going to send his information to a doctor for a prescription, saying at one point he had his stuff in a Fed Ex ready to send to a doctor that his buddies were using. But he said that at the last minute he decided against it, saying he was a wrestler, but wasn’t wrestling all the time and wasn’t going to do it for the length of time needed so decided against using it. He also said he knew his future was probably at ESPN or somewhere else (as a sports reporter) and didn’t want his name tied to usage because people wouldn’t understand. He said that’s the issue with Peyton Manning and others who are using HGH. It should be noted that noted that Manning has denied usage.

Coachman said his buddies knew which clinics they could go to and get a prescription for HGH and used it so they could get in the ring and perform and drive 800 miles a week. And while that may help, guys have been in the ring performing at a high level and driving far more than 800 miles a week long before there was HGH, and plenty of men and women around the world currently perform at a high level and don’t use HGH.

It’s always been known that many of the “rich guys” or guys with connections, were using HGH because of its ability to beat the drug tests that the company had implemented in early 2006 after the heart attack death, with long-term use of steroids listed by the corner on the autopsy as a contributing cause, of Eddy Guerrero, in late 2005. Because enlarged organs contributed to Guerrero’s death, the enlarged organs needed more blood and his narrower arteries made the enlarged heart have to work extra hard to pump the extra blood, I had believed from the medical examiner’s report and an interview with the medical examiner that HGH, and not steroids, could have been the contributing cause, although it could have been either or both. Chris Benoit had similar issues found in his body at the time of his suicide.

Growth Hormone doesn’t build muscle in most as rapidly as steroids, but it does accelerate the growth when used with steroids. It also hardens up bodies, burns body fat, creating the ripped look, and has some anti-aging properties in regard to skin and hair. It also helps heal injuries. Usage is prevalent in sports and in Hollywood, particularly in drug tested sports. It’s also used by models and strippers, both male and female, because it can leave one with a tighter body than dieting and exercise alone can.

As far as performance enhancing in sports goes, HGH is not considered on its own as effective as testosterone or anabolic steroids, but when used in combination with steroids, the effect is considered greater than the steroids alone. Those who use large amounts often have their heads grow larger, and sometimes their hands, and the heaviest users are noted by ridges in the forehead above the eyes. The belief that using a lot of HGH would turn people into Andre the Giant’s or Bigfoot Silva’s who got the way they are due to over secretion of Growth Hormone, is clearly not the case. It is very clearly a PED when it comes to a sport like MMA, or football, and while not necessarily performance enhancing for pro wrestling, is competitive enhancing. Even today, physiques are a lot of what competitors are judged on and HGH has great competitive advantages for both male and female pro wrestlers, arguably more for women, who, unless they have a specialized “big woman” role, are harshly judged on being able to avoid the natural fat deposits that even dieting and hard training often can’t completely eliminate.

Large heads are likely beneficial for being able to withstand the effects of a punch. WWE bans use of the drugs but doesn’t test for them, so the basic rule is don’t get arrested with them or get tied to them in a public way, because otherwise there is no proof of usage. Even though there is a test, as we’ve noted many times, almost nobody ever gets caught (in 2015, not one athlete failed a USADA HGH test, and not one NFL player failed an HGH test) so athletes for the most part believe that unless a test is taken within a few hours of a shot, and the rule of thumb is to take the shot at around 11 p.m. or so every day, knowing you aren’t being tested until the morning, the feeling is you are safe taking it. The WWE has it on its banned substance list and did suspend several wrestlers named in the 2007 Signature Pharmacy raid that were receiving packages of it.

There have been three UFC fighters whose names were publicly linked to HGH, Chael Sonnen, Cung Le and Mirko Cro Cop. Sonnen was suspended by the Nevada commission under weird circumstances because my impression is that he actually didn’t fail a test, but somehow it was known he was using and he did admit to using. Cro Cop told USADA officials and UFC officials after a surprise drug test that he had been using HGH to heal a bad shoulder, and was suspended for that admission. USADA has never reported that Cro Cop actually failed the test. Le was reported as failing a test in a Hong Kong lab on the day of his last fight, with Michael Bisping, but due to issues with the nature of the test and the lab, the result was thrown out and his suspension was dropped. However, he never fought again, and he was upset that UFC never apologized to him for naming him and suspending him at first. Le is currently one the lead participants in an antitrust lawsuit against UFC.

There are questions regarding side effects, including a higher risk of diabetes, but the reality is, not enough long-term studies have been done, let alone on athletes, particularly when a lot of the use of Growth Hormone is done in conjunction with testosterone.


The traditional biggest U.S. house of the year is the Madison Square Garden show over Christmas week in Madison Square Garden.

But this year’s show was somewhat secondary because Raw was held two days later just 25 miles away at the Barclays Center. While to a degree the shows draw from different audiences, it was Raw that was the priority event in the market, and it sold out a few days in advance.

The Madison Square Garden show on 12/26 drew 13,000 fans, packed for its setup, although apparently the public demand wasn’t as high as expected. Ticket brokers took a major beating at the end, expecting a sellout and late demand. We heard reports of tickets the day of the show being available for as little as $2 on the secondary market. In recent years, the similar show has done about 14,000 fans but that was with it being the major show in the market, which this week it wasn’t.

Aside from it being Madison Square Garden, and it being John Cena’s official return after the filming of the “American Grit” reality show in Boston, as well as an appearance of Ric Flair, this wasn’t much different from the rest of the touring shows in the Northeast over Christmas week.

A return date was announced for 3/25.

1. Neville pinned The Miz with the red arrow in a good opener.

2. Ryback beat Rusev with the shell shock in a so-so match.

3. Charlotte won over Becky Lynch and Paige in a three-way to retain the Divas title. Ric Flair was in her corner. Ric only got involved in one spot, the same spot as the PPV where Paige had Charlotte pinned and Ric put her foot under the ropes. The finish saw Lynch give Paige in the disarmer, but Charlotte broke it up and then stole the pin.

4. Titus O’Neil pinned Stardust in his first match back after some neck problems. O’Neil used his Clash of the Titus for the pin.

5. Dean Ambrose retained the IC title over Kevin Owens in a very good match. Hot match from start-to-finish. Ambrose twice got out of the pop up power bomb, and the second time, immediately hit the Dirty Deeds for the pin.

6. R-Truth pinned Adam Rose. As you can imagine, nobody cared about this one. The finish saw R-Truth selling like he was injured. Rose and the ref looked concerned for him. Then he got right up and hit the downward spiral for the pin.

7. Big Show pinned Mark Henry with the knockout punch. Usually the faces go over and presumably Show was the heel here, but Henry has made it clear he’s retiring soon and thus isn’t going to be put over much, especially with a guy like Show who they pay a lot to and always try to protect.

8. Dudleys & Tommy Dreamer won a tables match over Erick Rowan & Luke Harper & Braun Strowman. The Dudleys won by putting Harper through a table with a 3-D. This seemed a special favor for the New York market since the Wyatt Family beat the ECW team the rest of the week, as they’ve done constantly since this program has started.

9. John Cena beat Alberto Del Rio via DQ in a U.S. title match. Good match with a basic ending where Del Rio used a low blow in front of the ref for the title-saving DQ. Del Rio had most of the offense. Cena had the match won with the Attitude Adjustment but there was a ref bump. Rusev then interfered and gave Cena a superkick, and put Del Rio on top, but Cena kicked out as the ref recovered. Cena came back on both until the low blow. After the match, Del Rio went to hit Cena with a chair, but he ducked and Del Rio instead hit Rusev. Cena then cleaned house on both of them.


Ben Askren, the ONE welterweight champion, talked this past week for the first time regarding the first step ever at removing massive weight cutting from MMA by his promotion.

Askren said with the new regulations banning cutting weight by dehydration, by ONE, and constant weigh-ins, that he would be moving to 185 pounds. He said that he expects most of the previous welterweights to also have to do that, and that he’d still be fighting the same guys he was, just they’d all be 15 pounds heavier. He said that some fighters, noting Luis Santos, who walked around at closer to 200, probably can’t even make 185 as a walk-around weight so didn’t expect to be fighting him again.

ONE FC really needs to change the weight classes, or at least the championships. Rather than have Askren vacate the title by leaving the class, all ONE champions should be moved up as champion one weight class, and whether you change welterweight to 185, or change the name of the title to middleweight, it makes no sense to vacate titles and start from scratch because it’s unlikely many, if any, of the existing champions could make their former weight.

Askren said he’s going to 185, which is about what he usually weighs during the year. He said he had gotten as small as 175 pounds walking around when his Olympic wrestling weight class was 163 pounds, in 2008. He said his ideal weight class would be 177 to 180, so 185 is a little bigger than he’d like but he can make it work. He said he has been walking around usually between 183 to 185 the last few years.

Askren said he had to pass hydration tests like ONE will be implementing during his days as a college wrestler, and said he doesn’t know how people can cheat those tests.

Askren, who is one of those guys who is going to say what he thinks under any circumstance, which may be part of the reason he’s not in UFC right now, said this is a huge step forward for MMA because he’s still going to be fighting guys the same size.

Askren said he’s accepted dehydration as part of life sine he was 11 years old and cut from 123 pounds to 111 pounds to make a tournament weight. He said it’s a miserable 24 hours, it sucks, and that dieting before (which is likely to still exist) wasn’t fun. He said taking away the weight-cutting is great for the safety and longevity of athletes.

“Sometimes people hate change even if change is good,” he said.

He said it doesn’t bother him. “I’m changing weight classes but I’m literally not.”

He said a lot of UFC guys who fight at 170 will struggle to make 185. He said his next match will be against another former welterweight who would also make 185. Askren said you’re still going to be fighting people your own size and weight, but that people haven’t been able to wrap their heads around this.

UFC and every major organization should closely watch and monitor ONE for what does and doesn’t work when it comes to this new policy. If there are flaws, and every change will have them, they can be learned from. But there is at least a chance, and maybe a good chance, that this new method is far superior to the existing method.

The existing method, in place since the beginning of time, is largely there because everyone does it and without it, you are at a significant competitive disadvantage, even more in a short time limit physical power sport like wrestling. Dehydration and rehydration before fights has never been healthy, but with knowledge of concussions and brains rattling around in skulls that aren’t fully hydrated, the dangers of fighting not fully hydrated are far more significant than what was previously known.

Even though deaths from weight cutting are rare, as there are only two known in MMA history, if California State Athletic Commission Executive Director Andy Foster’s numbers are correct, that 39 percent of fighters are going into fights dehydrated, that’s a lot of people putting their brains at significantly more risk than the inherent risks of being in a striking sport.

A lot of people on the outside like it because the reality is you’d get better fights if guys didn’t spend the last week dehydrating themselves of 10 to 20 pounds, sometimes more, to make weight. For fighters, this goes against everything they’ve been taught, from the beginning of their careers, or if they came from a boxing or wrestling background, their whole competitive lives.

For UFC, the idea that fighters need to be within six percent of fighting weight eight weeks out is an interesting proposal. Where UFC has an edge on ONE and other promotions is it already has USADA random unannounced testing, and they could expand that to having unannounced weigh-ins when they do those testing to see what weight guys are and if they are off weight when USADA comes during camp, they’re moving to another weight class, although that’s a nightmare since bouts are made so far in advance.

I sense this new ONE program could be a logistical nightmare, and if it doesn’t work, at least we learn, but if it does, or there are things about it that do, UFC can sit back and wait and work with the commissions to implement the best aspects of it in a year or so when we’ve got a lot more knowledge.

This will never happen, but my idea is still that UFC just tells every fighter on the roster that whatever weight class you are in today, you are automatically moving up one division, just as all your opponents are, so you’re still fighting the same guys, only at 10-20 pounds heavier.

Maybe light heavyweight moves from 205 to 220 or even 225. All fighters coming into the organization also move up. All champions are champions of the weight class above. If you are more than a certain percentage over weight during random weigh-ins, you’re off the card.

The feeling is if bantamweights are fighting at 135, they would now fight at 145 (and really, most bantamweights are walking around closer to 155 or 160 than 145), so perhaps in many if most cases there would be two weight class jumps. That would affect some people psychologically, but the reality is they’d still be fighting guys their own size. Me while in camp they have to be 155 or less, and have to arrive at 150 (maybe even 145) on the Monday before the fight. They can’t cut from more than 150 during a weigh-in during the week nor above it going into the cage. If you can’t walk around healthy and hydrated at 150, you shouldn’t have been fighting at 135 to begin with.

There would also be hydration tests given during the week so if you have cut weight to make 150 when you show up, then you’re moving up a weight class if you fight on the show, and if that can’t be arranged, you’re off the show and next time you’re fighting up another class. Some people who aren’t fighters consider it cheating when you’re going into the cage at 160 to fight at 135. But the sport shouldn’t have a reward for people who are willing to tax their kidneys to the breaking point the week of the fight to get what may be as much a psychological edge as a physical edge over their opponent, whether it’s within the rules or not. It is within the rules now, but given what we know now, they are stupid rules, because they pervert the very reason there are weight classes--so people face guys who are the same weight as they are. That’s same weight inside competition, not some weight a day earlier while dehydrated and at a fake weight. With all the talk of guys learning how to game the system with these new regulations, and while big time weight cutting is perfectly acceptable within the sport based on its traditions and mindsets, to the outside world, the massive weight cutters are the guys gaming the system to begin with.


The 12/29 debut of the Rizin Fighting Federation, an attempt by former Pride President Nobuyuki Sakakibara to revive MMA mainstream in Japan, used a lot of the trappings of nostalgia and feeling good about the old times.

Like during the heyday of Pride, the show opened with Nobuhiko Takada, the pro wrestling legend from the 90s whose match with Rickson Gracie in 1997 both created Pride and destroyed his mythical legacy as being a legit fighter, in the same samurai costume he’d wear if it was years ago, pounding the same oversized drum. The next voice was that of Lenny Hardt, the screaming banshee woman from that era whose booming voice would slowly enunciate the stars of that era–say this super slow, Antonio, Rodrigo, Nogueira, screaming the last name. Hardt introduced all the fighters on the show. Takada continued pounding the drum in sumo wear. For all of its ridiculousness as compared to the current sport of MMA, and backstage shenanigans, and sometimes ring brutality, people remember Pride as fun. It had its own theme, one that some UFC fighters have asked to come out to, and that played in the arena that night. The Pride theme, like the UWF theme of years earlier, are like hearing Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage or Bret Hart’s entrance music today in the U.S. Pride combined elements of fighting, but more brutal with stomps and soccer kicks and lack of steroid testing, with far more one-sided mismatches and manipulation, which resulted in creating more mythical stars. It was both the best of pro wrestling and MMA on one stage. And the worst. MMA as a sport has greatly evolved and changed since Pride went down. Most of that evolution was positive. But with Rizin, the attempt was to pretend the last eight years had never happened, and that Kazushi Sakuraba, Fedor Emelianenko, Jerome LeBanner and the freak show guys like Bob Sapp and Akebono were all still in the limelight.

The night ended, like it often did ten or 15 years ago, with Kazushi Sakuraba, a college wrestling star turned pro wrestler and a legend from another era, entering to his familiar ring music.

Unfortunately, time marched on. Sakuraba is 46, hadn’t won a fight since 2009, and had no business fighting. But his name was very important in selling of the show to the Fuji Network. Sakuraba faced Shinya Aoki, the ONE lightweight champion, with both agreeing to fight at welterweight. This was the same Sakuraba that used to beat up some of the biggest and baddest light heavyweights through wrestling and submission skills, before their size and his small frame did him in. Then he started taking cruel beatings.

This was no different. Sakuraba was taken down immediately, and Aoki went from mount to back position several times over the 5:56 the fight lasted (like Pride, the fights were fought with three rounds of ten, five and five minutes). Aoki threw a lot of punches, and Sakuraba spent most of the fight covering up, and some of the fight unsuccessfully trying to buck Aoki off of him. It was as if time stood still, and the referee, like in the old days when Japanese favorites would be given chance after chance to come back, sometimes resulting in them taking unspeakable beatings. Luckily for Sakuraba, Aoki is not a heavy hitter, and Sakuraba was never knocked out, and was still blocking a lot of the punches thrown from mount and back position. At one point, after throwing something like 65 punches in a row, Aoki seemed to get tired, but Sakuraba couldn’t get out of the position. Aoki clearly looked at the ref to stop it as he didn’t want to keep hitting Sakuraba, but when the ref wouldn’t react, he went back to punching. A few punches later, long after the call should have been made, it was stopped. It’s hard to say how this affects Sakuraba with New Japan, since the mentality from a dozen years ago, where this would have been very bad for him, has changed. But still, Sakuraba is only there as a shooter and legend, and he was completely destroyed by a fighter who is very good, but also usually fights at 145 or 155.

One major fight fan friend of mine called it the modern version of the Muhammad Ali vs. Larry Holmes fight, where Ali clearly had no business fighting and took a terrible beating while not being able to put up any kind of resistance.

The key footage was after the match where Sakuraba raised Aoki’s hand and Aoki broke down in tears. Aoki then challenged Takanori Gomi, but that fight can’t happen right now because Gomi is under a UFC contract.

It was at least a passing of the torch that made sense, Japan’s original submission master losing to its next generation submission master, although far too late to have major impact.

Most reports had the Rizin debut as a fun mix of nostalgia and devastation, albeit with the sad ending. It was said to be a great night of fighting action with awesome show production.

At press time, no attendance was available for the debut. We were told the upper part of the arena was closed off, but 80 percent of the rest of the arena was full, so it sounded like around 12,000. Given the “real” show was the one two days later, it sounded about as what could be expected. Reports were that the big show was close to being sold out. Still, the live attendance is a non-issue both for this show and 12/31, and it is the ratings of the prime time show, part of the theme being Sakuraba’s farewell, that is the key. It was noted that the television was being produced by the Entertainment Division, not the Sports Division of the Fuji Network, one of Japan’s major networks, and the idea was about appealing to mainstream Japanese curiosity fans, not the small MMA fan base.

The show opened with the return of Tsuyoshi Kosaka, a judo star who became a pro wrestling star and then had some success as a fighter in the early days, most notably a fluke win over Fedor Emelianenko. At 45, he hadn’t fought in nine-and-a-half years. His opponent, James Thompson, showed up at 291 pounds, but Kosaka dominated him and finished him by strikes in the second round. It was nice for older fans to see the show open like this, but there’s no future in this promotion for Kosaka.

There were the freak shows and the exciting fights. It was really a prelude to the 12/31 show. Fights from that show and some fights from this show air on 12/31 on Spike in a 10 a.m. Eastern and Pacific time slot, for a show subtitled, “Breakfast with Fedor.” On a Thursday morning in the U.S., the audience will be limited. The key for the promotion is how well it does against the top New Year’s Eve television competition in Japan. It’s the legends from the past, Fedor, Akebono, Sapp and Sakuraba, as well as Baruto’s debut, that will either capture the attention of mainstream TV viewers or not. Without them, there is no prime time network television in Japan. But whether mainstream viewers are up for that nostalgia is a different story. And even if they are, there are still questions as to how big this can be, given in the heyday of Pride and K-1, most of the perceived best fighters in the world were there. Today, that can’t be the case.

In the heavyweight tournament, all four winners, Jiri Prochazka, Vadim Nemkov, Teodoras Aukstuolis and King Mo Lawal scored first round wins via strikes. Prochazka finished local favorite Satoshi Ishii in 1:36, which was a bad result for the promotion, even though most who had seen Prochazka was expecting it. For Japan, interest in the tournament was largely based around Ishii, and with the exception of Mo, the rest were all unknowns to the Japanese fans. The semifinals and finals will be on the 12/31, with Lawal vs. Aukstuolis and Nemkov vs. Prochazka. Lawal had the hardest first round fight while Prochazka had the shortest and took the least damage. The winner gets a first place check for $300,000.

There were a few bits of news going forward. Jerome LeBanner never came to Japan for his fight with Baruto Kaido, a 6-foot-6 ½ former sumo superstar who competed in that sport at 425 pounds and weighed in here at 403.5 pounds. There were stories going around regarding it being a money issue. LeBanner, one of the most famous stars of the K-1 era, will be replaced by an even more famous K-1 legend, Peter Aerts. There were a few problems with this. For the obvious one, Aerts hadn’t trained to fight at all, although this wouldn’t be the first time Aerts has done this, because he once came to a show to be an announcer, and when Bob Sapp dropped out of a fight at the last minute, he borrowed Semmy Schiltt’s trunks and went in there and fought Ernesto Hoost. For another, Aerts had been training Baruto to fight LeBanner. For another, Aerts, 45, with 141 kickboxing fights between 1987 and 2014, and no serious wins in that sport since 2010, should no longer be fighting. Aerts has only fought twice in MMA, and Kaido is a debuting fighter.

On TV pushing the New Year’s Eve special, the biggest push was for Aerts vs. Baruto, and there were those who seemed to think this would be the highest rated match. Gabi Garcia, who weighed 216 pounds to 201 pounds for Lei’d Tapa, was also pushed with the idea of women’s MMA, which was never mainstream during the heyday, would draw viewers as a novelty. Also pushed hard was Asen Yamamoto vs. Kron Gracie, with the idea of the next generation Yamamoto family vs. next generation Gracie family. Rickson Gracie was at the 12/29 show, so he’ll likely be in his son’s corner. They were also pushing Bob Sapp (330.5 pounds) vs. Akebono (419 pounds) hard, because everyone knows those two. While Fedor Emelianenko is the biggest draw to the hardcore fans and probably means the most for live ticket sales, and he’s the reason the show is on TV in the U.S., on Spike, and Russia, his opponent is a no-name and there is a feeling that several of the matches on such a competitive night will beat Fedor’s in the ratings.

Originally, the top matches from this show were going to air as part of the New Year’s Eve show on Fuji, but Fuji ended up airing much of the show in edited form on 12/29.

A lot of attention was put on the Hideo Tokoro fight with Kizaemon Saiga, who was a star in the K-1 Max (154 pound weight class kickboxing that got really popular in Japan after Masato became a big star with the mainstream, particularly women, with his fight with Kid Yamamoto on a New Year’s Eve show). Saiga was put on the card because his wife is a famous model and actress and the gimmick was that they mic’d her up, and she played her part well, screaming for him the entire fight. Even though he lost, that story was a big part of the show for the Japanese so the feeling is Saiga would be pushed going forward.

They announced at the start that because James Thompson was contracted to come in at 264 pounds, but weighed in at 291 pounds, that he was given two yellow cards before the match even started. Neither fighter looked good to hardcore fans, but it came across well for the casual audience that the much smaller Japanese fighter who was 45 years old showed no fear. Kosaka is now working as an assistant coach for the Japanese Rugby team, focusing on teaching them wrestling and judo. Members of the Japanese Rugby team were shown at ringside cheering him on.

Eiko Koike, another famous model and actress who played the pretty girl commentator during the Pride heyday was back for more Pride nostalgia.

Also announced is that the third Rizin show would be 4/17 in Nagoya.

1. Tsuyoshi Kosaka (27-18) beat James Thompson (20-16) at 1:58 of the second round via strikes from back position. Thompson showed up out of shape while Kosaka was in great shape and basically threw Thompson around and out struck him the entire fight.

2. Kiril Sidelnikov (8-4), once known as “Baby Fedor,” beat Carlos Toyota (6-8-1) via strikes at 2:32. Sidelnikov was Emelianenko’s main training partner and his being on the show was likely a favor.

3. Felipe Efrain (9-2, 1 no contest) beat Yuki Motoya (15-4, 1 no contest) via punches in the first round after Motoya had controlled him on the ground and threatened him with submissions. Great action. However, based on Rizin rules, because Efrain missed weight, the official result is a no contest.

4. Hiroya Kawabe, a former high school K-1 star that was being groomed for greatness, just known in those days as Hiroyo, beat fellow kickboxer Akiyo “Wicky” Nishiura via third round ref stoppage under K-1 (kickboxing) rules. Hiroya was far better technically. There was a great double knockdown spot in the third round. Even though Hiroya was pushed big when K-1 was on TBS with the idea of him being the next Masato, this fight didn’t air on television.

5. Hinata Watanabe, another former high-school K-1 star just known as Hinata when he first broke in, beat former 2000 Olympic wrestler Kazuyuki Miyata, a so-so MMA fighter who was a big favorite because he would frequently use German suplexes in his fights. The rules here were they would alternate rounds between K-1 and MMA rules. But with the first round as kickboxing, Hinata took the 39-year-old Miyata apart, knocking him down three times, when it was stopped based on the three knockdown rule that K-1 rules had. This only aired on TV with clips of the three knockdowns.

6. Anatoly Tokov (22-1) beat Bellator’s A.J. Matthews (8-4) via knockout in :55.

7. Hideo Tokoro (33-28) of Bellator, a Japanese favorite from Dream and Hero’s as the janitor turned protégé of Akira Maeda who fights like a pro wrestling submission whiz, beat kickboxer Kizaemon Saiga (2-1) in 5:15 via armbar.

8. Hiroyuki Takaya (21-11) won a three-round decision of DJ Taiki (17-10-7) in what was said to be a really exciting fight, which went back-and-forth and was considered by many as among the best fights this year. Taiki has that name because his real job is as a DJ. Even though this was the show-stealer live, it didn’t air on television.

9. In a heavyweight tournament reserve fight, Valentina Moldavsky (2-0) beat Yuta Uchida (0-1) in 2:20 using a camel clutch submission. Really.

10. In the heavyweight tournament, King Mo Lawal (17-4) beat Brett McDermott (5-3) via ref stoppage in 9:10. Lawal outclassed him, but apparently McDermott was physically much bigger since Lawal is a small light heavyweight fighting at heavyweight. While not a great fighter, McDermott had a ridiculous chin and pretty much wore Lawal out by taking shots that would have finished almost anyone else a lot sooner. Lawal destroyed him for seven minutes, and then both were out there just exhausted and throwing bombs. Lawal was quicker and landed the big punch and ref John McCarthy stopped it. Lawal came out wearing wrestling shoes, meaning he couldn’t kick, but allowing him great stability on his feet, and slammed McDermott overhead and down early. McDermott survived the ground and pound and lasted almost until the end of the round when Lawal started landing big punches and it was stopped.

11. In the heavyweight tournament, Teodoras Aukstuolis (8-2) beat Bruno Cappelozza (7-4) via punches at 3:32, countering a high kick with an overhand right that face planted him and punches on the ground.

12. In the heavyweight tournament, Vadim Nemkov (5-0) beat Goran Reljic (15-6) via strikes in 2:58, with a knockdown, a soccer kick and punches on the ground. The promotion of this fight was built around Russia vs. Croatia, with the idea it was continuing the rivalry started by Fedor vs. Cro Cop, one of the biggest MMA heavyweight fights in history and a high point in Pride history.

13. In the heavyweight tournament, Jiri Prochazka (15-2-1) beat Satoshi Ishii (14-5-1) via strikes in 1:36. Prochazka overwhelmed Ishii from the start using his five inch height advantage and quickness. Once Ishii failed on his early takedown attempt, Prochazka took him apart, with a high kick starting Ishii’s demise, followed by hard knees. When Ishii left, the announcers outright said that Japan needed to find a new star heavyweight.

14. Shinya Aoki (39-6) beat Kazushi Sakuraba (26-17-1) via ref stoppage from strikes in 5:56.


The record low ratings for Raw and Smackdown in the U.S. have become an almost weekly story. But unlike in previous periods where declining television ratings have corresponded with declining house show business (the last year of Mid South Wrestling, the end of Jim Crockett Promotions, the mid-90s for WWF & WCW, the end of WCW), house show business has had its ups and downs but for the most part is steady.

Now that can also be explained by, with the exception of the New York market where they run a lot of different arenas, they perform only a few times a year in major markets and can go years without shows in secondary markets. The concept of coming once or twice a year and having to draw is very different from places where they would run monthly, and even weekly, where people not watching television would mean they’d miss the angles and interviews designed to get them to buy tickets. It’s no longer matches and even stars, but just seeing a night of a touring entertainment company, whether it be a PPV (biggest draw), Raw (second biggest draw), or Smackdown or house shows (lower priority no matter who is booked).

The No. 2 market for WWE right now is the United Kingdom, and WWE just finished a strong tour there. The twice a year tour has worked forever, and while it’s not every show sold out before the tour left, which has happened, most of the shows were at or near capacity and the expensive tickets are the ones to go first, so the grosses are all strong.

However, an article in the U.K. based Fighting Spirit Magazine indicated the decline in television viewers in the U.S. and Canada is the same in the U.K.

Raw is different in the U.K. It airs at 1 a.m. on late Monday on Sky and is repeated three times during the week, but the live show, which airs in the middle of the night, is more matches than replays in prime time. The number of people who watch Raw live isn’t that high, largely due to the time slot, but repeats don’t draw much of an audience. Right now the first run episode of Impact airs in prime time on Challenge TV, which is a station far more viewers get than Sky, is actually larger than the initial airing of Raw. Challenge airs Impact several days after it airs in North America, and doesn’t replay it. But Impact has declined greatly in ratings over the past year, not at the level it has in the U.S.

The live Raw show from January through October of 2014 averaged 135,707 viewers. Keep in mind that WWE PPV shows frequently did 50,000 buys in the U.K., and the big shows did far more than that, and they also air in the middle of the night. If WWE could get 37 percent of its domestic viewers to buy PPVs, that would be about 1.2 million viewers per month and nobody would have even dreamed of cannibalizing PPV for a network.

From January through October this year the show averaged 98,190 viewers, which is a 27.6 percent year-over-year-decline, significantly more of a decline than in the U.S. That’s surprising because, just given the time slot alone, WWE’s U.K. viewership audience is going to be far more loyal because casual fans simply wouldn’t have been watching the first-run show to begin with due to the time slot. It was noted that in early 2014, ten episodes had more than 150,000 viewers, while in 2015, no show, not even the show after WrestleMania, hit that number. The most watched Raw of 2015 would have been in 13th place in 2014 according to numbers compiled by Will Cooling.

However, there is a good sign in the sense in the U.K., numbers in September and October were up from the prior year, with October up 9.5 percent, after the first eight months of the year varied from being down 25 percent (May) to 38 percent (January and June). Monday Night Football is not an institution in the U.K., so while that always takes a chunk out of the U.S. viewership, it does not do the same in the U.K. And Raw in the middle of the night remains one of the strongest shows on Sky Sports 3 or Sky Sports 4, sometimes its highest rated show of the week, and usually top two.

But in the late 90s and through the early 00s, Raw would be one of Sky’s strongest overall properties, which is no longer the case.


Dragon Gate finished its year on 12/27 with Final Gate, before a crowd announced at 7,600 (6,500 is probably a more accurate number) at the Fukuoka International Center Arena.

The negative is that it was really cold in the building, so it was one of those Japanese shows in a cold building where the crowd doesn’t react much. Fukuoka traditionally is one of the tougher cities to get a reaction even though it draws better than all but a few cities in the country.

It was described as a solid good show but not at the level of the company’s other PPV shows this year, but the lineup also didn’t look as strong as most on paper.

There ended up being no title changes, with the main event having Shingo Takagi retain the Open the Dream Gate championship, beating Cima.

1. Lindaman & Takehiro Yamamura & Kaito Ishida beat Don Fujii & Yosuke Santa Maria & Nosawa in 8:02 when Lindaman pinned Santa Maria with the locomotion Tiger suplex, which is really quite the finisher.

2. Jimmy K-Ness & Jimmy Kanda beat Kzy & U-T in 7:36 when Kanda pinned U-T after an elbow off the top rope.

3. In what was billed as a Colosseum rules match, the same rules as the 2000 Rickson Gracie vs. Masakatsu Funaki match at the Tokyo Dome with unlimited ten minute rounds, Funaki beat his mystery opponent who ended up being Hollywood Stalker Ichikawa, who was dressed up like Rickson Gracie. Ichikawa had dressed up like Gracie in the past where he’d come out in the old Gracie train ring entrance, and as a spoof on Gracie’s made up record, he’d claim he was 0-400. Funaki won in :54 with an armbar. Ichikawa wanted a rematch. Masaaki Mochizuki then said that everyone knows Ichikawa had no chance to beat Funaki under MMA rules, so he needed to ask for a pro wrestling match.

4. Funaki beat Ichikawa in 6:22. This was a spoof on the Royce Gracie vs. Sakuraba finish from 2000, as Funaki was about to use the Hybrid blaster on him when the “Gracie” corner threw in the towel.

5. Kotoka beat Eita in 13:24 to retain the Open the Brave Gate title. Kotoka is working on a bad knee and Eita had a bad match. The finish was messed up. Kotoka used his finisher after outside interference from the Verserk group. Kotoka gave him the finisher a second time and Eita appeared to be knocked out. When Eita couldn’t get up, they stopped the match even though there had been no pin.

6. Yamato & Naruki Doi retained the Open the Twin Gate titles over Gamma & Punch Tominaga in 18:23 when Yamato pinned Tominaga after Galleria. Doi & Yamato are heels but they are the most popular team, plus people don’t see Tominaga at their level, which he isn’t.

7. Masato Yoshino & Akira Tozawa & T-Hawk captured the vacant Open the Triangle Gate tournament in a four-team elimination match over Masaaki Mochizuki & Dragon Kid & Big R Shimizu, Naoki Tanizaki & Cyber Kong & Mondai Ryu, and Jimmy Susumu & Ryo Saito & Genki Horiguchi. Susumu pinned Shimizu, to eliminate his team. Saito then pinned Ryu, to eliminate his team. It came down to Yoshino’s team facing Saito’s team. Tozawa pinned Saito in 26:25 with a package piledriver. Fast paced match with lots of big moves. The new champions looked strong here.

8. Shingo Takagi pinned Cima in 28:00 to retain the Open the Dream Gate title with the Last falconry. The crowd came expecting to see a title change, so were very surprised when Takagi won and left deflated. Cima did a great job in his role of the beaten up former star who was perhaps getting his last major title shot. Takagi’s gimmick has been saying all the old timers should retire and after the match, said that the veterans were all garbage and he was doing the spring cleaning. In an interview before the match, Takagi said it was the first time he had faced Cima in a Dream Gate title match. He said he had great admiration for Cima, and he’s the man who wrote the history of Dragon Gate, But Takagi said he had no choice but to end that history. Jimmy Susumu came out after the match, so Takagi vs. Susumu will headline the 2/14 show in Fukuoka. Susumu said it had been ten years since he has held the championship.


2015 WRESTLING OBSERVER AWARDS

 

The voting period for the 2015 awards will remain open until midnight on January 13, 2016, and the 2015 awards issue will come out most likely on January 27, 2016. If you are going to mail in a ballot, I'd suggest doing so immediately. You can also e-mail or fax in a ballot until midnight Pacific time 1/13. Every year we get dozens of ballots that come in after deadline that end up not being counted, and in some cases, it has made a difference in a close final result. Most people who do these awards work extremely hard on them, and it's a shame if the votes aren't counted.

Remember, the time frame for the awards is December 1, 2014 through November 30, 2015 for matches or wrestling. For books and DVDs, they are based on a release date of November 1, 2014 to October 30, 2015. Anything before or after those dates should not be considered. A more detailed look at the categories is in the 12/7 issue.

 

"CATEGORY A" AWARDS - PICK A FIRST, SECOND AND THIRD PLACE FINISHER IN EACH CATEGORY. POINTS WILL BE AWARDED ON A 5-3-2 BASIS. THE WINNER OF THE AWARD IS DETERMINED BY TOTAL POINTS.

 

1. LOU THESZ/RIC FLAIR AWARD FOR WRESTLER OF THE YEAR

2. MMA MOST VALUABLE FIGHTER

3. MOST OUTSTANDING WRESTLER

4. MOST OUTSTANDING FIGHTER

5. BEST BOX OFFICE DRAW

6. FEUD OF THE YEAR

7. TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR

8. MOST IMPROVED

9. BEST ON INTERVIEWS

10. MOST CHARISMATIC

11. BEST TECHNICAL WRESTLER

12. BRUISER BRODY MEMORIAL AWARD FOR BEST BRAWLER

13. BEST FLYING WRESTLER

14. MOST OVERRATED

15. MOST UNDERRATED

16. PROMOTION OF THE YEAR

17. BEST WEEKLY TV SHOW

18. PRO WRESTLING MATCH OF THE YEAR

19. MMA MATCH OF THE YEAR

20. ROOKIE OF THE YEAR (Top contenders are Chad Gable, Jay White, Dana Brooke, Takehiro Yamamura, Kaito Ishida, Cody Hall, Yuma Aoyagi, Kumagoro, Shotaro Ashino, Hugo Knox, Riddick Moss, Josh Woods, Braun Strowman, Nia Jax, Jon Webb and Shiro Tomoyose).

21. BEST NON-WRESTLER PERFORMER

22. BEST TELEVISION ANNOUNCER

23. WORST TELEVISION ANNOUNCER

24. BEST MAJOR SHOW OF THE YEAR

 

"CATEGORY B" AWARDS - PICK ONE IN EACH CATEGORY. WINNER CHOSEN ON THE BASIS OF FIRST PLACE VOTES.

 

1. WORST MAJOR SHOW OF THE YEAR

2. BEST WRESTLING MANEUVER

3. MOST DISGUSTING PROMOTIONAL TACTIC

4. WORST TELEVISION SHOW

5. WORST MATCH OF THE YEAR

6. WORST FEUD OF THE YEAR

7. WORST PROMOTION OF THE YEAR

8. BEST BOOKER

9. PROMOTER OF THE YEAR

10. BEST GIMMICK

11. WORST GIMMICK

12. BEST WRESTLING BOOK

13. BEST WRESTLING DVD


WWE attendance remained up from last year, while ratings hit all-time lows in November, with both double digit increases and decreases in the different categories.

For the month, WWE averaged 4,880 in paid attendance for domestic house shows, up 31.5 percent from the 3,710 average last year. That number was way down from the norm and this year was more in line, as the 2013 average was 4,957 and the 2012 average was 4,786.

For house shows, Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt & Braun Strowman averaged 2,000 and Reigns vs. Sheamus averaged 6,100. But the numbers don’t mean a lot here because there were so few regular house shows domestically with the European tour.

But because of larger venues, particularly major sellouts in Spain, where the company is back on fire, the European tour was the biggest in history, with 20 shows averaging 8,400 paid, up 36.1 percent from last year. The 2014 tour was 21 shows averaging 6,171 paid. The 2013 tour was 26 shows averaging 5,300 paid and the 2012 tour was 23 shows averaging 5,600 paid.

Raw in November averaged a 2.23 rating and 3.16 million viewers. The rating was down 21.4 percent from last year. The viewership numbers were down 20.8 percent from last year, meaning there was an increase year-over-year in viewers per home, enough to make the difference because slightly less homes get the USA Network.

The 2014 numbers were an average 2.84 rating and 3.99 million viewers. The 2013 numbers were an average 2.79 rating and 3.89 million viewers. The 2012 numbers were an average 2.78 rating and 4.00 million viewers.

Smackdown in November averaged a 1.48 rating and 2.07 million viewers, but that’s misleading due to the low rated Thanksgiving episode. When comparing with last year, where there was no Thanksgiving night episode, a fairer comparison would be to throw out the final week and you get a 1.59 rating and 2.21 million viewers. So that would be down 20.5 percent in ratings and 20.2 percent in viewers from last year.

The 2014 numbers were a 1.98 average rating and 2.81 million viewers. The 2013 numbers were a 1.80 rating and 2.58 million viewers.

The Survivor Series was down 57.5 percent (40,000 to 17,000) on domestic PPV and 61.2 percent internationally (85,000 to 33,000). At the same time network numbers were probably 30 percent or so higher than at the same time last year. A lot of people had a free November on the network besides the regular subscribers. But even so, more have it now, so the big drop in PPV makes sense.

During November, the company shipped 150,000 DVDs, down 41.2 percent from the 255,000 last year. The drop is even more scary when you see the 2013 numbers for DVDs shipped was 314,000 and the 2012 number was 556,000, so they are down 73 percent in this category from three years ago. Some of that is tied to the marketplace and a lot is tied to the network.

Over the past nine months, the most shipped DVDs have been WrestleMania with 115,000 units, Rock vs. Cena Once in a Lifetime (a re-release at bargain bin prices) with 73,000, Royal Rumble with 59,000, Ultimate Warrior: Always Believe with 53,000, Greatest Stars of the 90s with 50,000 and Payback with 38,000.

Web merchandise continues to boom with the November average of 2,133 orders per day, up 39.1 percent from 1,533 last year. The 2013 number was 867 and the 2012 number was 1,267.

TNA Impact for November averaged 244,000 viewers for the 9 p.m. show and 84,000 viewers for the midnight show. Spike in November last year averaged 960,000 viewers, so it was down 74.6 percent for one show, and down 65.8 percent when you add in this year’s number that combines two airings vs. one airing last year on Spike.


The Christmas Eve rerun of Smackdown in one of the last two episodes on Syfy drew a 0.92 rating and 1,228,000 viewers. Both are all-time lows on Syfy, but it’s rather meaningless since the show had already aired on Tuesday on USA and it was Christmas Eve, a terrible day for ratings. It’s notable that the NFL Network game with the San Diego Chargers vs. Oakland Raiders did 7,075,000, so Christmas Eve did not hurt football numbers.

Tribute to the Troops on 12/23 did 1,802,000 viewers, putting it fourth for the night on cable. That’s down 19 percent from the 2.23 million the show did in 2014 on USA. The show did a 0.46 among teenagers, 0.43 in 18-34, 0.73 in 35-49 and 0.69 in 50+, with a 61% male skew.

Smackdown on 12/22, did a 1.53 rating and 2,264,000 viewers (1.55 viewers per home, a far larger number than all but a few pro wrestling TV shows in a long time) for its live special on the USA Network. The show was up 12 percent from live Smackdown last year on WWE week, which goes against the grain for this year, where most shows have decreased significantly. The show was the third highest rated show on cable for the night.

The show did a 0.71 in 18-49, (0.92 among men, 0.50 among women). More precisely, the show did a 0.60 with teenagers, 0.60 in 18-34, 0.82 in 35-49, and 0.90 in 50+, with the average viewer being 46 years old and a 65-35 male skew, which is back to normal range after the strangely higher female skew for Smackdown the week before. The only significant sports competition was a Toledo vs. Temple college football bowl game on ESPN that did 1,962,000 viewers.

TNA Impact’s debut on Pop TV on 12/22 did 111,000 viewers for a “Best of” show that was only promoted off the Internet and social media, which went head-to-head with the live Smackdown. The bad part of the number is that you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and for those at Pop TV, while the 1/5 number is the important one since that’s the show they are promoting (including taking out ads on Raw), and will be significantly higher, it does give ammunition to those at the station who didn’t think wrestling was a good fit. The show only drew half of what its lead in, “Days of our Lives” (211,000 viewers) did. Unless you were someone watching “Days of our Lives” and didn’t flip the channel, or were a hardcore wrestling fan that also makes it a point to watch Impact, you wouldn’t have known the show was even on. The show did a 60% male skew, much lower than Destination America, because Pop is a heavily women-skewing channel and its lead-in show had primarily women viewers. That also makes wrestling not such a great fit on the station. The average viewer age was 54, not much different from Destination America.


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12/25 Mexico City Arena Mexico (CMLL - 13,000): Estrellita & Lluvia & Vaquerita b Dallys & Seductora & Tiffany, Blue Panther & Brazo de Plata & Stuka Jr. b Kraneo & Polvora & Vangellys, Maximo Sexy & Super Parka & Valiente b Barbaro Cavernario & Kamaitachi & Negro Casas-DQ, Volador Jr.& Cibernetico & Ultimo Guerrero b Caristico & Mistico & Rush, Cage of death, last man left in loses their mask: Super Comando lost and was revealed as Gustavo Torres in a match that included Esfinge, Puma, Pegasso, Cancerbero, Triton, Tiger, Blue Panther Jr., Sangre Azteca, Fuego, Raziel and The Panther

12/26 Detroit Joe Louis Arena (WWE - 9,500): Dolph Ziggler b Tyler Breeze, Goldust b Bo Dallas, Jack Swagger b Bo Dallas, Darren Young & Damien Sandow & Curtis Axel & Fandango & Zack Ryder b Los Matadores & Heath Slater & The Ascension, Kane b Bray Wyatt, Alicia Fox & Brie Bella b Naomi & Sasha Banks, Three-way for tag titles: Big E & Kofi Kingston won over Sin Cara & Kalisto and Usos, No DQ: Roman Reigns b Sheamus

12/27 Chicago (WWE - 11,700): Dolph Ziggler b Tyler Breeze, Jack Swagger b Bo Dallas, Goldust b Bo Dallas, Zack Ryder & Curtis Axel & Damien Sandow & Fandango & Darren Young b The Ascension & Los Matadores & Heath Slater, Kane b Bray Wyatt, Naomi & Sasha Banks b Brie Bella & Alicia Fox, Three-way for tag titles: Big E & Xavier Woods won three-way over Sin Cara & Kalisto and Usos, Street fight for WWE title: Roman Reigns b Sheamus

12/27 Hartford (WWE - 10,000): Neville b The Miz, Titus O’Neil b Stardust, Three-way for Divas title: Charlotte won over Paige and Becky Lynch, Ryback b Rusev, IC title: Dean Ambrose b Kevin Owens, R-Truth b Adam Rose, Big Show b Mark Henry, Luke Harper & Erick Rowan & Braun Strowman b Dudleys & Tommy Dreamer, U.S. title: John Cena b Alberto Del Rio-DQ

12/28 Brooklyn (WWE Raw/Superstars TV report - 13,000 sellout): Darren Young b Adam Rose, Jack Swagger & Mark Henry b The Ascension, Neville b Kevin Owens, Sasha Banks b Becky Lynch, Kalisto b Kofi Kingston, Big E b Sin Cara, Ryback b Big Show-COR, Rusev & Sheamus & King Barrett b Usos & Dean Ambrose, U.S. title: John Cena b Alberto Del Rio-DQ

12/28 Allentown, PA (WWE - 5,000): Dolph Ziggler b Tyler Breeze, Curtis Axel & Damien Sandow b Los Matadores, Erick Rowan & Luke Harper & Braun Strowman b Dudleys & Tommy Dreamer, Divas title: Charlotte b Paige, No DQ: Kane b Bray Wyatt

12/29 Washington, DC (WWE Smackdown/Main Event TV tapings): Darren Young b Curtis Axel, R-Truth b Heath Slater, Titus O’Neil b Adam Rose, Jack Swagger b Stardust, Dudleys & Kalisto b Big E & Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods, Tyler Breeze b Goldust, Luke Harper & Braun Strowman b Usos, Brie Bella & Alicia Fox b Tamina & Naomi, Dolph Ziggler b Bo Dallas, Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose b Sheamus & Kevin Owens-DQ

12/29 Providence, RI (WWE - 7,000): Neville b The Miz, Mojo Rawley & Zack Ryder b The Ascension, Kane b Bray Wyatt, Ryback b Rusev, Big Show b Mark Henry, Three-way for Divas title: Charlotte won over Paige and Becky Lynch, U.S. title: John Cena b Alberto Del Rio-DQ

CMLL: Arena Mexico drew 13,000 fans on 12/25, once again pointing out how Christmas is a great day to have a big show. That was one of the company’s biggest crowds of the year and the same show wouldn’t be expected to draw 5,000 if it was a regular Friday night. Amazing that Mexico City is the last place left doing Christmas shows when Christmas shows used to be a staple, and as this shows, any major promotion that ran would probably still draw today. As far as why, the reason is simple. WWE was the one promotion in the 80s that didn’t do the holiday spectaculars as a tradition, and they ended up as the last man standing, and Vince wasn’t much on copying from the success of the guys he had disdain for. There is a positive in the sense the talent gets to spend the holidays with their families. The card wasn’t really anything special, a normal show headlined by a bunch of mid-carders in a multiple-person mask match. But they did lower ticket prices and lots of families came, with far more kids than usual, to the point that Mistico (who is almost always booed by the regulars at Arena Mexico who see him as a copy of a guy who they also regularly booed) was actually getting tons of cheers. Super Comando, who most expected to lose his mask, did, when he was left in last with The Panther. You had both families cheering on at ringside, with Blue Panther and Blue Panther Jr. cheering on their son, as Principle Odin, a former wrestler (whose sons Artillero, Super Comando’s longtime tag team partner, and Bengala also work for the promotion). Comando announced his name as Gustavo Torres, 34 years old, from Nezahualcoyotl, with 17 years pro experience. It was an escape the cage match until the last two were left in. In order of escaping, those who saved their masks were Esfinge, Puma, Pegasso, Cancerbero, Triton, Tiger, Blue Panther Jr., Sangre Azteca, Fuego and Raziel. Panther made Comando submit with the Nudo Lagunero in 23:00. The match was nothing special, although Pegasso did a plancha from off the top of the cage to start the match off. The other top match saw Ultimo Guerrero & Volador Jr. & Cibernetico (first match ever in CMLL) beat Rush & Caristico & Mistico in 10:00 when Guerrero gave Rush a low blow and pinned him after ref Tirantes was knocked down. Very heated with the focus being on Guerrero vs. Rush. Rush wasn’t getting along with his partners, including Mistico, who people know is his real life brother. Caristico & Mistico did a double stage plancha. The big angle was third from the top where Super Parka & Maximo & Valiente beat Negro Casas & Kamaitachi & Cavernario via DQ when Kamaitachi was caught using a low blow on Maximo. After, they brought in a podium and after challenges, did contract signings for Casas vs. Parka and Maximo vs. Kamaitachi in hair vs. hair bouts

The bad news for CMLL is the iPPV didn’t work. A few people who ordered it through a Chrome browser got it. After the third match, CMLL got tired of all the complaints they were getting and issued a statement that the problem was not their’s but Cleeng’s (the distributor), and thus, were giving the show away for free on a YouTube link. With the wrestlers all going home from Orlando for the holidays, La Sombra was backstage at this show. The show had a 5 p.m. local start time because a lot of the talent worked on one of the two dozen or so other shows in the Mexico City metro area alone

At last word, they were going to give iPPV a try again on 1/1 with another 5 p.m. local (6 p.m. Eastern) start time show (so many of the wrestlers can work another show, or perhaps even two in some cases, later that night). The lineup has Estrellita & Princesa Sugei & Vaquerita vs. Amapola & Dallys & Zeuxis, Blue Panther Jr. & Esfinge & The Panther vs. Cancerbero & Raziel & Virus, Atlantis & Marco Corleone & Valiente vs. Dragon Rojo & Polvora & Thunder, Maximo Sexy vs. Kamaitachi in a hair vs. hair match, Mistico & Caristico & Rush vs. Volador Jr. & Cibernetico & Ultimo Guerrero, and a main event of Casas vs. Super Parka in a hair vs. hair match

The craziness is Thunder working the show, since the originally announced main event was Ultimo Guerrero vs. Thunder with Guerrero’s hair against Thunder’s mask. They had been doing the feud on-and-off for months, and at one point it looked to be on the anniversary show in September, until being dropped when they suddenly announced the Atlantis vs. La Sombra mask match. Then one story after another surfaced and even within the company they had made public statements that Thunder had left, even though he was still making dates. On CMLL’s web site, Alexis Salazar finally said that Thunder is definitely still with the promotion after others had said he wasn’t. Thunder, on his Facebook page, ripped the promotion, saying they didn’t want him doing the match. That could be that they didn’t trust him with it because he’s really bad, and has nothing going for him but that he’s tall with a great physique. He said he wanted to do the match, and the promotion’s saying he wanted more time wasn’t true and that somebody in the promotion doesn’t want him doing the match. He said he thinks Guerrero also wanted the match and isn’t blaming him, and he apologized to the fans for the match not happening after it was advertised. He said he wasn’t leaving CMLL, but he was very critical of them

The LLE show on 12/27 at Arena Mexico saw Casas & Cavernario beat Mistico & Caristico, giving them their first loss as a team, when Casas unmasked Caristico, who took the pin to save his identity. The other top match saw Black Warrior & La Mascara & Rush go to a double count out with Cibernetico & Mephisto & Sharly Rockstar

The Lucha Memes promotion sold out on Christmas with more than 2,000 fans at Arena Neza for Atlantis beating Caifan in a match where Caifan bled and Atlantis had his mask torn up. Negro Navarro, at the age of 58, did a 20:00 match with Virus, with fans throwing money in, and later replaced Dandy (who no-showed, claiming he was sick) and teamed with Black Terry (who is 63-years-old and I remember him from the LeBell promotion in California) in a match against Los Traumas (Navarro’s real-life sons) and fans again threw money in. Marcela retained the CMLL women’s title against Dallys (who had worked earlier in the day at Arena Mexico), going to a draw in a finish the crowd booed. There were full buildings all over Mexico City for wrestling on Christmas day. Maximo worked three matches in a three hour period in three different arenas

In the Lizmark bio, the much told story of Lizmark’s fascination with the ship Bismarck because when he was a kid it had docked in Acapulco couldn’t be correct as the German battleship in World War II was sunk in 1941, which was years before Juan Banos was born.

AAA: While Rey Mysterio’s AAA contract is expiring soon, he has a two year deal with Lucha Underground which the feeling is ties him to this promotion. At least the feeling is he’ll continue to work here while he’s working Lucha Underground

There is a tremendous article in the new issue of Playboy magazine (January/February issue) on the death of Perro Aguayo Jr. The story noted that Aguayo had turned down WWE offers. I don’t know that it’s true, but do know that during the hot period that Aguayo was earning well above $500,000 per year working in Mexico. Most of the key people were interviewed for the story, including Konnan remembering that he told Perro Aguayo Sr. that he’d look out for his son, and saying, “Those words haunt me sometimes.” Konnan also, noting that Aguayo had earned so much money from his T-shirt business, said, “He didn’t have to wrestle. I’ll put it that way. He wrestled because he loved it.” The autopsy showed a fractured C-1, C-2, and C-3 vertebrae. He had no pre-existing neck issues. Mysterio said, “I had doubt in my mind if I had done something, that I could have caused it. I probably went over it a hundred times trying to find what I could have done different, if anything. Apparently not.” “It has affected me to this day. My preparation for matches, sometimes I feel blocked. Sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t be doing this. Sometimes I think I should throw in the towel. Being around my wife and kids, I think that’s my biggest fear, is for my kids not to have a father, that really scares me.”

WRESTLE-1: They held a Korakuen Hall show on Christmas Eve before 828 fans, with Manabu Soya retaining the Wrestle-1 title beating Masayuki Kono with a lariat. After the match, Yuji Hino attacked Soya which sets up a 1/10 Korakuen Hall title match. Andy Wu retained the cruiserweight title over Seiki Yoshioka. Hiroshi Yamato will get the next title shot. Keiji Muto will also return on that show in a six-man tag that also includes the return of Seiya Sanada and Akebono. Muto also announced the company is going to build toward an 8/11 major show in Yokohama.

ALL JAPAN: There have been teases of New Japan sending Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi, Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan here. Like with NOAH, All Japan is in a rough way and all four of those guys are working underneath in New Japan with no real purpose of storyline. Jun Akiyama last month teased something about that on Twitter.

PRO WRESTLING NOAH: A lot of people are raving about the 12/23 show at the Ota Ward Gym, where Naomichi Marufuji won the GHC title from Minoru Suzuki, as a potential show of the year candidate. I’ve only seen the top two matches and both were excellent. The title change was pretty much what you’d expect from a long Suzuki vs. Marufuji title match, and the post-match angle was as good as it read. It was a big spot when Marufuji hit Suzuki with the Gotch piledriver after Suzuki was killing guys all year with that move. The tag title match with Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. vs. Chris Hero & Colt Cabana had so much more heat than you’d expect from four foreign guys battling. The crowd was heavily into Hero & Cabana at the start and the match was solid and hard hitting. Hero probably does 80 percent kicks and elbows but they look so good, are timed so well, and sound even better that they give the aura of reality to his matches at a level few can reach. It’s the perfect kind of foe for Smith. The story here is that Hero kept surviving the Killer bomb and other finishers like the Hart attack and sharpshooter, but finally fell to a combination power bomb (by Smith) with a Doomsday device off the top (by Archer). .. Yoshinobu Kanemaru, 39, who has held the GHC jr. title a record six times, returns to the promotion on the 1/9 show at Korakuen Hall. Kanemaru left All Japan when his contract expired on 12/15 (although he has worked shows since then on a per-show deal). He had been with NOAH from the start of the promotion in 2000 and left in early 2013 when the company was having major financial problems, along with Jun Akiyama, Kotaro Suzuki, Atsushi Aoki and Go Shiozaki, to join All Japan. Now that All Japan is having problems and NOAH is being backed by New Japan, he’s returned. He was the first GHC jr. champion, beating Juventud Guerrera on June 24, 2001, in Nagoya, in the tournament final. During his first run in the promotion he had regular notable programs with the likes of Bryan Danielson, KENTA, Jushin Liger, Takashi Sugiura, Marufuji and Katsuhiko Nakajima just to name a few

As part of the angle where Sugiura left NOAH for Suzuki-gun, President Akira Taue said Sugiura has been fired as the Chairman of Talent Relations for NOAH and they are looking for a new wrestler for the spot. He also talked about how Nakajima has now joined NOAH

The 1/9 show is headlined by Suzuki & Sugiura teaming up for the first time since the Sugiura move to Suzuki-gun, to face Marufuji & Maybach Taniguchi, while Kanemaru & Shiozaki face Shelton Benjamin & Desperado

This is builds to the first major show of the year on 1/31 at the Yokohama Bunka Gym with Marufuji vs. Sugiura for the GHC heavyweight title, Suzuki vs. Shiozaki, Archer & Smith Jr. defending the GHC tag titles against Nakajima & Mohammed Yone, Taiji Ishimori makes his first GHC jr. title defense against Kenou, and Atsushi Kotoge & Daisuke Harada defend the GHC tag titles against Taichi & Taka Michinoku.

NEW JAPAN: The 1/3 show from Differ Ariake as part of the Fan Fest the day before the Tokyo Dome will air on New Japan World at 10 p.m. on Jan. 2 Eastern time. It’s similar to a show at WWE Axxess. The most interesting will be the two openers because of the debut of two new wrestlers. Kawato Hirai debuts against Yohei Komatsu and Kanemitsu Teruaki debuts against Sho Tanaka. The other matches are a six-man with Jushin Liger & Tiger Mask & Jay White vs. Ryusuke Taguchi & Mascara Dorada & David Finlay, and a main event of Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima & Juice Robinson vs. Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi & Captain New Japan. The fan fest only cost $16.50 to attend and all seats sold out immediately

Hiroshi Tanahashi on his podcast was talking about how New Japan and the Japanese industry’s biggest problem, which is obvious from an outsider perspective, which is the television situation. While cable and satellite exist in Japan, it’s nowhere close to as widespread as in most other countries, cable in particular. So while there are small stations that wrestling is on, and the hardcore fan who has those stations is served, with the exception of New Japan on TV-Asahi for 30 minutes at 2:30 a.m., it’s essentially like Lucha Underground on El Rey. There is no other promotion in Japan that’s even available on TV in as many homes as New Japan is in the U.S. on AXS. A lot of companies have small loyal audiences but that’s why, as good as they may be, the popularity is tiny compared to the 80s and 90s, let alone before that when everyone knew all the wrestling stars. He noted that it doesn’t matter how good you are, how good your matches are, how much work you do on social media, that you are not a star unless you are on television or performing before big crowds, and right now the key in Japan because wrestling itself has no exposure, is getting on national shows as a star and getting mainstream endorsements. He pointed out that to the mainstream in Japan, the biggest star right now is Togi Makabe (he is pretty famous because he’s on talk shows as the athlete who loves junk food) and noted that in public, everyone knows him, far more than anyone else in the company. He also noted that the 30 minutes of TV in a bad time slot is a hindrance and with 60 minutes they’d be able to get more exposure, particularly of the mid-card guys and junior heavyweights

Toru Yano’s injury is torn intercostal cartilage, which is why his body has been wrapped up in recent weeks

Momoka Ariyasu, 20, a Japanese female pop star from the band Momoiro Clover Z, will be a special guest at the Tokyo Dome show.

OTHER JAPAN NOTES: Kazuyuki Fujita vs. Atsushi Sawada was added to the IGF New Year’s Eve show at Sumo Hall. Ticket sales for the show are strong. They aren’t sold out, but everything but the highest part of the top tier is almost sold out

Saw the Io Shirai World of Stardom title win over Meiko Satomura from the 12/23 Korakuen Hall show and it was outstanding. It had the quiet studios crowd where you could see they were into it, but didn’t make a ton of noise until the closing minutes

Kayoko Haruyama, 36, a regular with the JWP women’s promotion since the beginning of 1998, had her retirement match on 12/27 at Korakuen Hall before 1,288 fans, beating Tsubasa Kuragaki, her long-time rival.

HERE AND THERE: The U.K. promotion 5 Star Wrestling has a huge series of shows on 1/13 in Newcastle at the Metro Arena (11,000 capacity), 1/14 in Sheffield at the Arena (13,500 capacity) and 1/15 in Liverpool at the Echo Arena (12,000 capacity), using Rey Mysterio, A.J. Styles, Colt Cabana, PJ Black, Johnny Mundo, Carilto, Jay Lethal, Magnus and Rockstar Spud as the top stars. Mysterio vs. Styles for the first time ever in a singles match is scheduled for Sheffield. This will be very interesting because, as noted, no U.K. group, even with imports, has ever been able to draw more than 4,000 fans to a show in decades

The World Wrestling Network officially announced an iPPV show on 4/2, the afternoon before WrestleMania, in Dallas, would be Terry Funk Appreciation Night and there will be a ceremony at the show honoring Funk

Chris Cruise, the former WCW television announcer who has also done some TV for a number of smaller groups, is now a news anchor for the Westwood One Radio Network. He is on as a top and bottom of the hour newscaster on Saturdays and/or Sundays, and occasionally during the week. Cruise has been working, and continues, to anchor the radio news and doing news features at The Voice of America

The movie “The Masked Saint,” which was Roddy Piper’s last movie, will be released on 1/8. It’s about a pastor who needs to raise money so he returns to his former job as a pro wrestler, but under a mask so nobody will know of who he is

Trish Stratus will be given the Iron Mike Mazurki award at the upcoming Cauliflower Alley Club banquet in April in Las Vegas, which is group’s biggest award, reserved only for all-time greats. It will mark the first time in the 51-year-history of the group that the award will be given to a woman

In various year-end listings of famous athlete and celebrity deaths, Sports Illustrated listed Dusty Rhodes (and as noted to us by many, much to his chagrin, he was wearing polka dots in the photo), but not Roddy Piper, Verne Gagne or Nick Bockwinkel. The New York Times in celebrities listed Piper, but not the other three. The Sporting News listed Piper, Bockwinkel and Rhodes but not Gagne

CBS didn’t list any of the four, but did list Annis “Big Red” Jensen, who was a Roller Derby star in the 50s and 60s. Nobody listed Charlie O’Connell, who was the biggest Roller Derby star of all-time, but his death got shockingly little coverage as compared to the deaths of the women stars of his era who weren’t nearly as big stars as he was. .. Emanuel Yarbrough was apparently working on being the focus of a reality show at the time of his death last week. Yarbrough’s death was listed as being due to a heart attack. A go fund me was established to pay for funeral costs for him which would total $18,000.

LUCHA UNDERGROUND: There is speculation that they may be running shows over WrestleMania weekend. Talent has been contacted about working two dates in Texas that weekend, and keeping their schedules free that weekend, but it wasn’t specifically stated where in Texas this would be. But talent has been told they are planning house shows

Angelico is out of action for the next six weeks due to an undisclosed injury, which means due to the way the tapings are scheduled, he’ll be missing a large chunk of the second season.

ROH: Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly’s contracts expire on 1/1, but they are back talking with ROH after negotiations were shut down by management a few weeks ago because they were far apart on money. There have been feelers sent to both of them from both WWE and TNA, although talks with ROH are now said to be progressing

Roderick Strong (real name Chris Lindsay, 32), got engaged this past week to girlfriend Marina Shafir, 27, who is Ronda Rousey’s best friend, and one of the Four Horsewomen. I believe the two of them started dating when the Four Horsewomen started going to PWG. She’s been at his matches, and he and Adam Cole were at her last fight. I was told that his popping the question shocked a lot of people

Add Kushida to the list last week of Japanese talent that will be on the anniversary weekend shows in Las Vegas. Of the names officially announced at press time, they are Gedo, Kushida, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tomohiro Ishii (ROH debut) and Shinsuke Nakamura. We’ve been told Kazuchika Okada will also be on both shows

The ROH tour of Japan already looks to be a business success. The second show on 2/20 sold out Korakuen Hall the instant tickets were put on sale. The 2/19 show sold out everything but ringside, believe it or not, also instantly

Lio Rush, Punisher Martinez, Colby Corino and Ben Ortiz are the first competitors announced for the Top Prospect tournament which starts at the 1/9 tapings in Concord, NC. The War Machine vs. All Night Express tag title match set up on the PPV will also be at this taping, as will Frankie Kazarian vs. Alex Shelley

IWGP tag champs Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows are scheduled for shows on 1/22 in Fletcher, NC and 1/23 in Duluth, GA (outside Atlanta).

TNA: It is confirmed that TNA will be doing a live PPV on 1/8 from Bethlehem, PA, just three days after what is the first show on Pop TV being promoted. Apparently due to the cancellation of the New Orleans show several months ago, followed by the cancellation of the India tour, that they needed product for the international special commitments in a hurry, and this was the date they were scheduled for a taped One Night Only show in the U.S. as well. With nothing taped (since a lot of the taped product with the tournament ended up being used to fill up months of Impact programming), they had to do a live show. The problem is that the TV taped on 1/6 and 1/7 will air after the PPV, meaning they either give away title changes ahead of time, avoid using belts on champions for a few days at the tapings, or do a PPV where no belts change hands and no major storylines that have to be followed up on take place

Kurt Angle has a role in an episode of “Duck Dynasty” this season. Angle said that he is not retiring at the end of January, but is not renewing his deal with TNA. He said he wants to take time off. Right now he’s saying he wants to take one year off from wrestling (although he has said there is an agreement for a singles match with Rey Mysterio in March) and then decide at that time what he wants to do next. He said he was happy to retire in the U.K. because of how great the crowds are there. He said that if he does return to wrestle in 2017, it would be on a very limited basis, and specifically talked about wanting to wrestle a singles match with Daniel Bryan. The idea is go work on making a name in Hollywood. He said he may be interested in returning to TNA in 2017. He also believed he would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. It should be a no-brainer from the WWE side, but it would be hilarious WWE talking about the guy and him having to do his speech pretending he stopped wrestling in 2006. Angle said that to him, the most important thing was going in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame which he is already in, but the WWE Hall of Fame “would be nice.” He said he has spoken with TNA about wrestling some in 2017.

UFC: Anderson Silva vs. Michael Bisping was announced as the new main event for the 2/27 Fight Pass show in London. It’s yet another major move by UFC to build up Fight Pass numbers by putting on what is by far the biggest fight ever live on the service. The fight ended up happening because UFC was having trouble putting together a Silva vs. Vitor Belfort fight. Bisping in the conference call promoting the fight, said that he got the fight because Belfort turned it down. Silva had knocked out Belfort with a front kick in their first fight. The thing is that most fighters look for revenge on guys who have beaten them, and for Belfort, it was hard to imagine a fight, if he could win it, more beneficial to him at this stage of his career except Luke Rockhold. It’s hard to see UFC rewarding Belfort for turning down this fight with a shot at Rockhold, even though he’d mean far more as an opponent right now than Yoel Romero. At one point Silva vs. Belfort was the idea as a main event for a 3/5 PPV show from Rio de Janeiro. However, the entire Rio show looks to have been canceled although that’s become a hot button issue. Anderson Silva in a UFC press call on 12/29 said the show was canceled, saying, “(It) was to have me fighting in Brazil against I don’t know who, but with this situation going on in Brazil, economically and everything, the UFC decided to abort this event for now.” Guilherme Cruz of MMA Fighting reported confirming it with sources close to the promotion. UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby on Twitter then wrote that the media is a joke and the show isn’t canceled. We were told an announcement regarding all this would be imminent and there were indications a PPV show is still scheduled for that date with various cities flying around regarding the potential location. Dana White on Twitter then went off on the media saying it was 100% B.S. and clickbait, even though the quote came from one of their fighters on their own media conference call. White responded to that by saying, “His opinion on may be why.

This is the first time they’ve given away a viable PPV main event on Fight Pass, as one would think with Silva’s name and Bisping’s hype ability, they may have been able to do 350,000 buys for a fight like that, which is more than anyone but the big three (Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey and Jon Jones) will likely be drawing. But with the hiring of Eric Winter to head Fight Pass, they are getting better fights and more live shows. They’ve got minor shows just about every week, which is great for a hardcore MMA fan, but there is a very limited market for off brand MMA given that UFC produces so many shows a year that it’s hard to keep up. Bisping vs. Gegard Mousasi had been announced as the main event of the show when tickets were put on sale (and there had even been talk of adding another main event at one point), and with Bisping fighting in the U.K. for the first time since 2010, tickets for that fight sold out instantly. That’s unique for a ticket buyer who buys tickets thinking they’re getting Mousasi and instead get Silva. The original plan was for Silva, whose one-year suspension for testing positive for steroids and anti-anxiety medications ends on 1/31, to fight the next week on a PPV from Rio de Janeiro against Vitor Belfort. But Belfort wasn’t exactly rushing to sign for that fight, so the decision was made to go with Silva vs. Bisping, a fight Bisping has always wanted. Mousasi will now face Thales Leites on the card. Also announced for the London show are Makwan Amirkhani vs. Mike Wilkinson and Norman Parke vs. Rustan Khabilov

There is at least some talk of Holly Holm vs. Miesha Tate early next year. In a perfect world, it would be Holm vs. Ronda Rousey at UFC 200, and that’s certainly what UFC is targeting. Whether Rousey would be ready enough, with two movies to film between now and then, for that date is another issue. Holm’s side has advocated her not waiting for Rousey and it makes sense from their perspective to strike while the iron is hot. From a UFC, perspective, you don’t want to risk the biggest fight in company history, but you also don’t want to rush Rousey into a fight for her to lose again, because that does more long-term damage. If Rousey believes she will be ready for UFC 200, then you wouldn’t want to do anything until then. If not, you should figure on the timing and decide from there. Besides, if Holm beats Tate, the fight is still there, and if Holm loses, Rousey has two big fights, one with Tate first and unless Tate beats her, Rousey vs. Holm becomes the natural fight and it’ll still do record numbers at that time

Lorenzo Fertitta was on CNN Money and said that UFC this year would top $600 million in revenue for the first time. That’s due to the huge PPV revenue. WWE, because of the WWE Network, will also top $600 million in revenue in 2015, although the UFC profit margin is considerably higher since WWE also spent $120 million on the network

Here are the official numbers for the Las Vegas shows courtesy of the Nevada Athletic Commission. The 12/10 show headlined by Rose Namajunas vs. Paige VanZant did 2,009 paid and 2,234 in the building (actually more than announced by UFC that night) for a gate of $228,425. The 12/11 show headlined by Frankie Edgar vs. Chad Mendes drew 1,809 paid and 2,087 in the building for a gate of $409,075. The 12/12 show did 15,648 paid with zero comps (that can’t be possible because it would mean UFC actually purchased the tickets for its own fighters and friends) and $10,006,249. There were another 2,515 paying $125,750 on closed circuit at the MGM Grand so the actual totals were 18,163 paid and $10,131,999. The attendance in the building itself broke the Nevada record set by UFC 189 and with closed-circuit, also broke the record for combination in the same hotel and the gate blew away the old record by almost $3 million

UFC had announced 16,516 and $10.1 million the night of the show, so they under reported the attendance, which almost never happens. For Edgar vs. Mendes, they didn’t announce the attendance but announced the gate at $450,000. For Namajunas vs. VanZant they announced 1,643 fans, so also under reported total attendance, and listed the gate at $234,725

Another issue facing UFC is that it was reported by the Irish Mirror that residents of Dublin that live near Croke Park are attempting to block UFC running a show from the 80,000 seat stadium. At first UFC decided against running the stadium, even with the belief that with McGregor on top they could sell out, because local ordinances that they couldn’t get a waiver on the law banning any activity at the stadium after a certain time frame, and thus the show would have to run in the afternoon in the U.S. UFC always books its PPVs for a 10 p.m. Eastern time slot. There was talk of, as a favor to McGregor, making the change, although no show had been announced. But the chair of the local residents association said locals could oppose those plans, just like they did to block a series Garth Brooks concerts at the stadium. Brooks had sold out five straight dates at the stadium last year, but the shows were canceled when the Dublin City Council refused to license the events due to how heavily the local residents objected to the shows. Pat Gates said, “I don’t think it would be something that we would be very keen to see coming to Croke Park. Personally speaking, I think the fights are very brutal and violent. I’d be surprised if the GAA would endorse that sport. I don’t know the type of people that follow him and what sort of atmosphere there is in terms of rowdiness, in terms of public order, they are all things that we would be seriously concerned about.

After previously saying he wouldn’t fight Jon Jones in New York state, Daniel Cormier on UFC Tonight said he was up for facing Jones on 4/13 in Madison Square Garden. He at first said that he knew Jones would be cheered over him at the Garden, but didn’t think that would happen anywhere else and didn’t want Jones to be rewarded. He also said that since he had already wrestled in Madison Square Garden, the idea of getting to compete there that almost every top star in UFC craves wasn’t something he felt he needed

The UFC reported a possible second drug test failure by Gleison Tibau, this time from a test taken on the day of his 11/7 fight with Abel Trujillo. The drug in question was not revealed. The UFC statement was that USADA had notified both Tibau and the UFC of a potential anti-doping policy violation related to a test taken the day of his fight in Sao Paulo. While not expressly said, the way the statement read sounded like Tibau’s A sample had come back positive and they were awaiting the result of the B sample. Tibau had failed a USADA out of competition drug test a few weeks earlier, the first fighter to actually fail a USADA test, but the results weren’t reported until after the fight, which Tibau won via choke and referee stoppage in the first round (Trujillo was upset because he wasn’t out at the time of the stoppage). The drug was never listed for the failure of that test either, although Tibau claimed that on the out-of-competition first failure it was for EPO, a drug that is very difficult to test for. The thing that concerns me is that this came out on 12/23, or more than six weeks after the fight. There is still not an official violation announced nor suspension announced for Tibau’s first failure. One of the big complaints from the Anderson Silva drug test failure was that he failed a few weeks before his fight with Nick Diaz and still fought. Everyone at the time agreed that was a major timing issue, including the Nevada commission which vowed to get test results of out-of-competition tests back quicker. With the new USADA program, commissions looking to save on money are likely to think that since UFC has its own out-of-competition program that just doing tests the day of the fight would be sufficient. But in this case, we’re talking six-and-a-half weeks before we even hear of a possible violation, and that’s way too long

In the Nick Diaz is Nick Diaz division, Diaz was on Chael Sonnen’s podcast last week and said that Georges St-Pierre was on steroids when he beat him in their 2013 fight. He also said that except for his brother, and Frankie Edgar (why he singled out Edgar I have no idea), he thinks just about everyone is on steroids. He also claimed he knew the drug testing for his fight with St-Pierre was bogus, because he said there was no way he, as in himself, not St-Pierre, would have passed the testing if it was legit because he was using pot up until the fight feeling that it was his last fight of his career so he saw no reason to stop and didn’t care if he failed the test, but, in fact, passed the test. This was a guy going for the championship. So there you go

Diaz also had his $50,000 road bike stolen that he used to compete in triathlons with. He said he wasn’t exactly sure when the bike was stolen, and that it could have been an inside job. He said it wasn’t the bike he uses for training but a specialized competition bike. He said he buys bikes like others buy cars, saying he’s brought four others priced at $7,000 to $10,000

This week’s show is UFC 195 PPV on Jan. 2 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. I don’t expect much from this show given the card and coming off the two monster shows. Ticket sales were weak as of last week coming off the big December with three straight nights of shows. The show starts at 6:30 p.m. with Fight Pass fights of Edgar Garcia vs. Sheldon Wescott, Joe Soto vs. Michinori Tanaka and the Fight Pass main event (which is a new thing) of Joe Duffy vs. Dustin Poirier, which is really the No. 3 fight on the entire show. The FS fights at 8 p.m. are Alex Morono vs. Kyle Noke, Drew Dober vs. Scott Holtzman, Nina Ansaroff vs. Justine Kish and Masanori Kanehara vs. Michael McDonald. The main card at 10 p.m. has Tony Sims vs. Abel Trujillo, Diego Brandao vs. Brian Ortega, Lorenz Larkin vs. Albert Tumenov (this is another sleeper of a fight, Tumenov is one of the most underrated guys on the roster), Andrei Arlovski vs. Stipe Miocic (winner is likely to get the next heavyweight title shot) and Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit for the welterweight title

UFC did a fan poll on who people would like to see Conor McGregor face next. Jose Aldo won, with 39%, to 37% for Frankie Edgar and 20% for Rafael dos Anjos. It does amuse me when I read people saying how stupid UFC is for booking rematches, when historically the rematches are what the masses would rather see because of the story involved and prior hype. In this case, I’d go with Edgar just because he’s waited too long for his shot, and there’s really no difference in the final number. While I would have put Junior Dos Santos against Fabricio Werdum and not Cain Velasquez, I also knew more people would have rather paid for the Velasquez fight than Dos Santos or Stipe Miocic. I guess with the benefit of hindsight seeing how Dos Santos just looked, he wouldn’t have made for a great opponent

The 12/19 UFC show with Rafael dos Anjos vs. Donald Cerrone did 179,000 viewers on TSN in Canada

Names listed as cut this past week include relatively well known names Fabio Maldonado, Chico Camus and Kevin Souza, as well as Ericka Almeida, Bubba Bush, Mickael Lebout, Vernon Ramos and Jumabieke Tuerxum. Maldonado is coming off a loss to Corey Anderson. Souza had a ten fight winning streak end with a loss to Chas Skelly via choke on 11/7 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He told MMA Fighting he hadn’t been told by UFC he was cut, but USADA told him that he doesn’t have to keep them informed on his whereabouts because he’s no longer on the roster. It seems unusual for a guy who won his first three in UFC, had one loss, to a solid fighter, and then got cut. Camus had lost to Kyoji Horiguchi and Henry Cejudo this year, but those are two of the best in the flyweight division

Smilin Sam Alvey suffered a broken jaw in training, from taking a kick to the face, and has had to pull out of his 2/21 fight in Pittsburgh against Daniel Sarafian

New fights added to 1/30 show in Newark, NJ are Iuri Alcantara vs. Jimmie Rivera, Kevin Casey vs. Rafael Natal, Olivier Aubin-Mercier vs. Diego Ferreira (Ferreria replaces an injured Joaquim Silva) and Damon Jackson vs. Levan Makashvili.

WWE: Lemmy (Ian Kilmiser), the founding member and lead singer of the legendary band “Motorhead,” passed away on 12/28 at the age of 70. Lemmy and Motorhead had a strong WWE connection having performed the entrance music that HHH has used for the majority of his career (both “The Game” and “King of Kings,” as well as “Line in the sand,” the theme for “Evolution,” when HHH, Flair, Orton and Batista formed the company’s top heel group. He was also good friends with HHH and known by a number of the other wrestlers, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see HHH induct him into the WWE Hall of Fame at some point. WWE paid tribute to him during Raw, moreso than many legendary wrestlers that have passed away. It was reported that Kilmiser had just learned two days earlier that he had been diagnosed with cancer, which was two days after his birthday. His health had gotten bad this year and while still touring, he had canceled several shows of late. He was still regularly touring, and well known for living a hard lifestyle. He had formed “Motorhead” back in 1975 and performed HHH’s ring entrance at WrestleManias 17 and 21, and also performed “Enter Sandman,” the Metallica song, on the “ECW: Extreme Music,” album

The company informed talent that they will start doing random checks with insurance providers listed to make sure that the talent has the medical insurance they claim to have. One of the provisions of being hired by WWE is that all talent needs to have medical insurance. WWE pays for all medical coverage regarding injuries that take place in the ring, any medical costs involved in that as well as rehab costs. If the company finds out that the talent does not have the insurance that they claim to have, they have told talent they won’t use them until the insurance is updated. The checks will begin on 2/21

Cena’s regular appearances on the Today Show, including being a guest host on both 12/28 and 12/29, is part of NBC Universal’s attempt to change the image of pro wrestling given they’ve got so much riding on it, since the USA Network, which has long been the most profitable station in the empire, starts this week with five of its 21 weekly prime time hours as WWE programming. So it’s very important to be able to sell those hours to better sponsors than what they have been able to in the past, particularly they need the perception of it being okay to sponsor to offset the audience decline

Cena got good reviews coming off of “Sisters,” where he plays a drug dealer. Three of the top ten movies this past weekend had WWE connections and none involved Johnson. “Daddy’s Home,” which opened at No. 2 with a $38,740,203 gross featured Cena in a cameo and also had Taryn Terrell in a brief cameo. My kids loved that movie. “Sisters,” was No. 4, in its second week out at $14,189,455 ($37,455,995 domestic after two weeks) and the debuting “Concession,” which features the character of WWE Head of Medical Dr. Joseph Maroon, was No. 7 at $10,500,000 in its weekend opening

Regarding Cena, his ability to do comedy is being noticed in Hollywood, along with his look, and he’s probably going to get more offers

Maroon didn’t come off well in the movie. Concussion was an easy movie to watch and Will Smith, played Dr. Bennet Omalu, who, along with Chris Nowinski, Dr. Julian Bailes and Dr. Ann McKee were the key players in publicizing long-term effects of concussions based on examining the brains of former NFL stars Mike Webster and Andre Waters, as well as Chris Benoit. The movie was made more simplistic, with Omalu portrayed as this Nigerian genius hero. There is a character for Bailes who was a key part in the movie, played by Alec Baldwin, but didn’t fairly represent his role, while Nowinski and McKee were erased from the history, as was Benoit. The movie is worth seeing and the big picture message is probably valid. If you were someone who had difficulty coming to grips with Benoit, as I did, this is a good movie to see. It may also make you look at what happened with Benoit very differently. It’s notable because in our 2008 Hall of Fame election, we put kicking Benoit out to a vote, and while the majority did want him out (a very slight majority), it was less than 60 percent and following the rules of other sports when something horrible involves somebody in, the threshold to get in is the threshold to be voted out. One very prominent wrestling personality was among those who wrote a long response to not voting him out saying it was a classic case of insanity due to CTE. I didn’t share that view, and also thought CTE was too convenient a package to dismiss everything else, because there are a number of factors involved. That said, there were also other factors in every football player incident and today most are willing to accept CTE as the main cause. Scott Williams, who wrote a book on the Benoit death, and studied the subject in depth, said he was convinced CTE was not only the prime reason, but the only reason that Benoit went on his dying rampage. Maroon in the movie was a guy who denied all of the CTE reports and treated Omalu like a quack. The insinuation is that he was in the NFL’s pocket. His name came up a few times as a doctor for the Steelers who died and then he appears in one scene, where he plays a doctor who stubbornly refused to listen to any evidence that football injuries could lead to brain issues. The biggest storyline hole is Cyril Wecht, who was Omalu’s boss in the forensic pathology office in Pittsburgh, is treated like a mentor who backed up Omalu as he worked and paid tens of thousands of his own money to investigate why Webster behaved the way he did before dying. Then, as Omalu discovered CTE, and the insinuation being that because it threatened the NFL, they trumped up fake charges against Wecht, and the government ordered Omalu to testify against his boss, which he refused, and was threatened with deportation. He was forced to leave Pittsburgh and ended up in Lodi, CA, as the San Joaquin County coroner. The true story is that the FBI raided Wecht’s office three months before any of Omalu’s work was published and the indictment had nothing to do with the NFL or CTE research. Wecht was acquitted (his attorney in the case was Jerry McDevitt and it was a high profile local case), but Omalu did testify against Wecht because of fear of deportation, and it is believe he left Pittsburgh for Lodi after the trial because his future in the city wasn’t going to be bright because of his testimony against his boss. What is true is that the NFL (and WWE at first as well) tried to discredit Omalu’s research for several years and the scene where the NFL first wanted to hear the research and then wouldn’t allow Omalu to speak did happen. It also should be noted that even though the movie portrays the NFL as a factory leading to cognitive issues leading to suicides of its players, noting Webster (who wasn’t actually a suicide), Andre Waters, Dave Duerson and Junior Seau (who all were suicides), NFL players are actually significantly less likely to commit suicide then men of the same age and race in the general public. However, NFL players are five times more likely to have cognitive issues as a group younger than average and are far more likely to die from neurodegenerative disease. While nobody has done studies, due to similarities when it comes to head blows and collisions, to at least an extent, one would think there could be similarities with pro wrestlers as well as combat sports athletes. Anyone who has been around older wrestlers notices that the frequency of men with memory issues and Alzheimer’s appears far higher than normal, but that is just empirical observations without any proof. The one thing that also has to be noted, and this is from talking to one of the experts in this field, that this is more like cigarette smoking and lung cancer than a definite thing. The vast majority of football players may have CTE when their brains are examined after their careers, but on a percentage basis, while more than the population at large, not many have cognitive issues and most from a mental standpoint do lead normal lives. But the ones that don’t often get it really bad. It’s notable because I know of people who think, because of Red Bastien or Nick Bockwinkel, that when a wrestler like Bruno Sammartino is 80 and has amazing recall, and he likely took more than his fair share of punishment during a long career, that it’s such a surprise. The reality is most people with concussions won’t be affected, but a higher percentage than average in the public, at least based on football stats, probably will. The movie gave the impression Webster died of a suicide when he actually died of a heart attack, but his life absolutely had spiraled downward. The family of Dave Duerson, a former player with the Chicago Bears, was furious because there was a scene of Duerson, a player rep, blowing off Andre Waters coldly and refusing to help him when he was crying, which was completely made up

It’s notable that Maroon was the guy in the movie portrayed as ignoring the concussion issue with Steelers players, and he’s the one who made the ruling with Daniel Bryan and hasn’t cleared him (or at least that was the last word on the subject). It’s been noted that Bryan’s personal physician has cleared him and noted that his reaction times and intelligence is well above average for his age, even with a high number of concussions. But above average intelligence at 34 is not a predictor one way or the other about whether concussions are going to lead to issues with him in the long run, and the more concussions, the higher the risk. It’s a subject that we are still in the embryonic stage of learning about. Just for a wrestling example, a 40-year-old Nick Bockwinkel was described to me by people who knew him as extremely intelligent, and I could say well into his 60s the limited amount of time I was around him or on the phone with him, he always came across as far above average intelligence, and it didn’t hit until later, which was really the heartbreak of Bockwinkel

As expected since they are loading up on the first Smackdown show on the USA Network on 1/7 (taped 1/5 in Laredo), is that Cena will be on that show

Nikki Bella on Twitter wrote in vague terms that she will know her future at the end of January, which has been reported is when she will get another MRI on her injured neck to determine if she will need surgery. Ryan Satin reported that on 12/22 she visited a neurologist where she was told that her bulging discs have not improved. From what we’ve been told, the doctor visit was legit, but that a lot of the injury news gets blurred because of the reality show storylines and that everyone in the cast has to sign confidentiality agreements about any subject matter that relates to future storylines until it airs, and they are filming this stuff. The reality show stuff sometimes has roots in reality, on occasion is actually real and sometimes is completely made up with no roots in reality. There is a real injury in this case. She is out of action. The late January finding out about her needing surgery or not is likely legit, but a lot of the details are vague

Dwayne Johnson purchased a truck for Uliuli Fifita, better known as Meng or Haku, who he always refers to as “Uncle Tonga.” His grandfather helped break Fifita into pro wrestling. When Johnson was told to go for a tryout, which was a live match at a TV taping in early 1996, he had no gear, so he borrowed Haku’s old trunks and had his first two matches in them. So on Christmas he came over with a new truck, asked his uncle what he thought of it, and when he said he liked it, Johnson said, “Good, cause it’s yours.

A second NXT show was scheduled as an afternoon show on 1/16 at the Portage Theater in Chicago, where the original evening show tickets at the 1,500-seat venue sold out instantly. Tickets for the second show also sold out instantly. .. The new issue of Forbes when talking about expensive homes on the New York/Connecticut border included Vince McMahon’s home, which is listed as being worth $7 million. It was actually listed as the lowest worth of the various homes listed in the photo

Lesnar’s next match is scheduled for 1/8 in Houston at a house show against Sheamus, as part of a double main with Del Rio vs. Cena for the U.S. title. The only other house show he’s advertised for is 2/6 in San Jose

John Layfield sort of invited Vince Russo on his WWE Network talk show. Russo did a rebuttal for Eric Bischoff’s comments on him, saying that the lawsuit Hogan did against Russo and WCW was settled for several million dollars while Russo claimed the suit was thrown out of court twice, which proves he was right and he never double-crossed Hogan in the Bash at the Beach angle. Russo didn’t listen closely, because he kept talking about how Jeff Jarrett laying down for Hogan in the angle couldn’t have been a double-cross because why didn’t Bischoff and Hogan say anything to him. Bischoff never claimed that was the double-cross and from day one privately always admitted it was agreed upon (publicly he didn’t because it would give away the angle), but that it was Russo’s comments after they left the building that they didn’t know about and that’s what Hogan sued over. Layfield, who is friends with Bischoff, said the entire idea of him interviewing Bischoff was his, that he wanted to put over how amazing it was that Bischoff took a company from losing $10 million a year to making $40 million (neglecting that two years later that company was losing even more than when it started and three years later it lost $62 million). Layfield said he doesn’t like Russo but would have him on his show, and said that he’s gotten older and has no animosity toward Russo. Russo’s whole card seems to be to claim that everyone hates him and that he made the WWE popular in the Austin/Rock era (of the WWE’s four biggest years of popularity, he was there for the set up year, as was Jim Cornette, the next two years, and not there the two years after that did even better, as the company’s peak business year was 2001, long after he was gone, and many believe the best creative year was 2000 when Chris Kreski was head writer. Still, you can’t deny the company grew in 1998 and 1999, that Steve Austin, who was already big, exploded with the Mike Tyson angle and that The Rock followed Austin as a huge draw as well, when Russo was there. But it’s 2015 and the last year of success was 1999. Layfield said that while Bischoff was paid for the interview, he did it for history and not for money. As noted, there were a lot of historical problems with Bischoff’s interview because, as people who have worked with him and been friends with him have noted, he really does have a terrible memory. But his perspective big picture on the Monday Night Wars is far more accurate than the very simplistic WWE storyline. Layfield said he’d be honored to have Russo on but then did the “I’m not asking for him to come on,” saying how it would take days away from working with at risk kids in Bermuda if he had to come to Connecticut to film it

The stock has been moving upwards of late, closing at press time at $18.71 per share, giving the company a market value of $1.42 billion

Satender Ved Pal, one of the two Indian wrestlers who will be making their debut on the 1/15 and 1/16 shows in New Delhi, claimed that his two matches on that tour would be with Cena and Show

Jim Ross said that he had heard WrestleMania wouldn’t be in Minneapolis in 2017 but made it clear that it could have been misdirection or BS

Jericho on Twitter said he would not be part of WrestleMania this year. Of course, he’s said that in years when he has come back and said that in years when he hasn’t, but it is notable he left with the tease of a heel turn with Ambrose & Reigns in a PPV match but nothing was ever followed up on. Right now Fozzy has no touring dates listed after the conclusion of the recent European tour

The 1/4 Raw in San Antonio will be headlined by Reigns vs. Sheamus for the title with Vince McMahon as referee. They’re putting a big match on and bringing Vince back, and I’m presuming will shoot an angle for HHH’s return as well and get the Rumble card put together. This should be a good test as far as what the ceiling will be since it’s the first week with no football. The 1/11 show will go head-to-head with the college football championship game and then it’s clear sailing from there. Since they are putting Reigns vs. Sheamus on TV, that would indicate a different match for the Rumble. Reigns vs. HHH would make sense, but whatever the match should be made clear next week. There was an off TV tease of Reigns vs. Cena, which was the Mania main event scheduled before Rollins got hurt, but that whole card has gone through tons of changes

Sin Cara suffered a dislocated left shoulder in his 12/28 Raw match with Big E. The spot where it happened, replayed over-and-over again during the show, was he on the ring apron and E swept his leg and he took a bump on the floor. Instead of landing on his back, he landed badly on his shoulder. The New Day stalled and played to the crowd while the trainer checked on him. Obviously he wanted to continue so they continued the match. It was clear the way he was moving that the left arm was hanging there useless. But he went through most of his planned spots. E protected him in the slam for the finish. WWE officials said that while full medical reports aren’t in, the belief is the injury wasn’t serious

Nothing at press time has been announced for the Rumble card, other than Show was announced as the first person to enter the Rumble. WWE has clarified this, because there was a lot of confusion on Raw, whether he was the first person to announce he is in, not that he is entering in the No.1 position. It appears they are building Ambrose vs. Owens pretty seriously but nothing else yet is that focused

Regarding the NXT show over WrestleMania weekend, I’m told they are going to have a smaller stage set up blocking fewer seats than usual and thus will have 9,156 people there instead of 7,000, which would be the case in a building of that size with regular staging

Dana Brooke hasn’t been wrestling due to an injury that has not been disclosed. They had shot a cover injury story on “Breaking Ground” involving her and Asuka, but that’s why she didn’t work on any of the European shows. There was some negativity in the reaction of doing a clearly worked angle on what is supposed to be a shoot show

In last week’s coverage of Raw we inadvertently left out the Lynch win over Brie Bella in 5:10. A few guys were singing the Bayley song and Charlotte was at ringside egging them on. The crowd died quickly. Team Bad was watching. Lynch won clean with the disarmer and Charlotte never got involved. Then, after the match, Charlotte got in the ring and posed with the belt like she had won, taking the stage from Lynch. It was a good slow advancement of the angle

On the Tribute to the Troops show, even though we had reported and almost every report we’d seen listed Rusev as beating Swagger in their match for the show, it was a Boot Camp match and they put Swagger over with the Patriot lock. The usual rule of Tribute to the Troops is all faces go over, and because it’s taped well in advance, nothing that happens on the show relates to storylines going forward

Edge & Christian will start filming a series of “Edge & Christian’s Show that Totally Reeks of Awesomeness” for the WWE Network starting in the next few weeks

Woods did an interview with the Detroit News regarding the background of the trombone. He played the trombone from middle school through college and one day the idea came to him and he proposed using it as a prop. “People don’t realize, it, but some of the best stuff comes from not having a plan.

Some items that have been major discussion points in NXT include Balor and Bayley specifically doing media indicating they’re happy staying in NXT, but others noting that they are relying so much on Balor in particular to have killer matches to headline, and at 34, with all the mileage from years in New Japan, there is a feeling that the more they tour this year that he’ll be breaking down his body carrying the main events before getting the perks (money) of the main roster and that NXT was supposed to get him ready to be able to make big money, not break him down before he gets there. With Bayley, the question has revolved around whether she’ll be the biggest female star in company history or that she’ll go nowhere on the main roster. The feeling is there is no in between. Some see her as a female Cena, in the sense she could do charity work, and bring in younger girl fans (and there are those who specifically credit Izzy and using Izzy on television with making her seem like that big sister role model that has not played out nationwide), an audience WWE has never been that strong with except in the big heyday periods when they were hot enough that they were strong everywhere. The Izzy thing was organic, and any attempt on the main roster to contrive it could lead to a backlash. Another huge aspect is that while Pamela Martinez is 26, dressed up the way she is, she can still easily play a high school senior and thus, be a fantasy big sister to the little girls, not to mention she’s got the perfect face for the role. There is an inherent shelf life in a character like that, not that she can’t originally be a superstar in one role and adapt to a changing roles after being established. But if they wait too long and she can’t pass for the older teenager big sister or older friend, and starts looking more like an “aunt,” or even just a college girl, the connection is very different and the window will have closed. Little girl favorites are usually short term, which is why All Japan women in their heyday moved out the top talent quickly to as not block the ascension of the next generation of younger babyface talent that their base audience, teenage girls, could relate to

Mikey Nicholls & Shane Haste, who were the top foreign tag team for Pro Wrestling NOAH for years, are being talked about as arriving soon. Haste blew out his knee early this year while wrestling in Japan and the team has been on the shelf since he had surgery. The delay in starting may have also been because they were under contract to NOAH until 12/31. NOAH made an announcement this week that their contracts had expired and wished them the best. Ever since their tryout, where they did well, it was expected they would be here when their NOAH deals expired

The Barclays Center will be getting the “go-home” Raw for WrestleMania on 3/28. The show will start at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time, as they are going to be taping the 3/31 “Go-home” Smackdown show prior to Raw

Cena is on the cover of the new issue of Muscle & Fitness

Lilian Garcia missed Raw due to losing her voice the night before

Notes from the Raw tapings in Brooklyn. They had a sellout crowd of 13,000, but except for the main event segment and Owens putting Ambrose through a table, it was a dead crowd. In this case the crowd really got bored during the longer matches. The show featured Vince McMahon in a show long angle where he got arrested, but made bail, and then announced next week’s main event. The idea of it was to use Vince skits to keep people from tuning out in the third hour and we’ll see how effective that was, but the third hour was also Cena’s return. For Superstars, Young pinned Rose with the gut buster and Henry & Swagger beat The Ascension when Henry got the pin using the worlds’ strongest slam. A “massive six man” was advertised for the dark match, although I suppose you could say the six man on Raw was sort of close. The show opened with Vince out, saying he was back to settle the score with Reigns. He said he would have settled it last week but he had to undergo dental surgery. He called out Reigns. Vince said that Reigns had incapacitated HHH, so I guess those of us who watched NXT Takeover and are on Twitter were supposed to turn our brains off. He told Reigns that one of these days HHH will be back to extract revenge and he’ll never see it coming. He then talked about how Reigns embarrassed Stephanie last week, saying that nobody turns their backs on a McMahon and nobody embarrasses a McMahon. Then he yelled at Reigns for kicking him off the apron saying that he owns this ring, he owns that belt (yes, he got mad and used the banned word b-word for the thing Reigns had on his shoulder) and “I own you.” Reigns said, “We,” referring to himself and the fans, own this (meaning the belt). There was a loud “Yes,” chant for Reigns, and that led to a Daniel Bryan chant. Vince told the fans to shut up, so they chanted louder for Bryan. The Bryan chants stopped when Reigns talked, but when Vince talked, then fans started chanting CM Punk. Vince talked about how Reigns is only one generation removed from having a bone through his nose. He talked about his uncle Afa, and Vince said how he made him wrestle every night of the week, made tons of money off him, until he had nothing left. He said Afa was the brains of the outfit. Then he talked about Sika, who is Reigns’ father. He said he used Sika up, lined his pockets with money Sika made for him while he paid Sika peanuts. Reigns then shoved Vince down. Vince started screaming about his neck hurting. Stephanie ran in with security and told them to arrest Reigns for attacking Vince. The officers refused to arrest Reigns and told Stephanie that “We’re here for security, not to be your personal police department.” Stephanie complained that Reigns had just assaulted a defenseless 70-year-old geriatric man. Vince gave her a dirty look at the word geriatric so that could be a hint if they are going to go into the Vince vs. Authority direction this year. I certainly sensed geriatric was the kind of word they wouldn’t say and the continued push of how old Vince is wouldn’t be done unless there was a big picture reason down the line. They still refused to arrest Reigns. She kept screaming at them and they threatened to take her to jail. Vince then grabbed an officer and started shaking him, then stopped and realized what he’d done and started getting apologetic. They arrested Vince, handcuffed him, read him his rights, with a funny line about how in the event you can’t afford an attorney one will be provided for you, and then said that wasn’t applicable here. They took Vince away while Stephanie screamed that she’s calling up Jerry McDevitt right now. Neville pinned Owens in :21 with a front rolling cradle out of a power bomb. Owens attacked Neville after, throwing him into the barricade. Owens then crotched Neville on the post. Lynch did a promo. Banks came out and said how anyone who thinks this is the greatest city has never been to Boston, and put on a Patriots hat for easy heat. Naomi then ripped Brooklyn, saying it was a dump. Banks pinned Lynch in 15:40. There was a light “NXT” chant early. Lynch got her in the figure four but Tamina pulled Banks to the ropes. There was botched spot where the two ran into each other when that wasn’t supposed to happen. Lynch did a plancha on all three heels. There was a light boring chant, but it was more the audience was totally quiet. There was a bad looking spot where Banks went for a running tackle into the ropes on Lynch, who moved, and Banks ended up flying out of the ring and basically hitting Tamina and Naomi with a tope. The problem was that Lynch moved way too early, so Banks looked like she was just giving her own partners a tope for no reason. The finishing sequence was good. Naomi hit Lynch with a high kick. Banks then used the back stabber and Bank statement, but Lynch reversed it into the disarmer. But Banks reversed it and grabbed a cradle and held the trunks to get the pin. Lynch was wearing this corset looking thing and it was never explained why. When a face is wearing something that you ask why, it’s pretty much imperative for the announcers to answer the obvious viewer question. They cut to Renee Young on location in the cold weather outside a police station. They showed Vince’s mug shot, which was hilarious because of the face he was making. Young said Stephanie was there with Jerry McDevitt. As it turned out in a later scene, we had a guy probably 30 years younger playing McDevitt. The New Day came out. They were going to sing, but then refused to do so because the fans didn’t vote for them for Tag Team of the Year. When the fans booed the fact they didn’t win the award, Woods explained to the fans that they were booing themselves. They said that both the Usos and Kalisto had won Slammy Awards and Kingston said that every time we talk it’s an OMG moment of the year. The fans cheered them. The segment, like a lot of the New Day talking stuff of late, started out good but went on too long. Kalisto pinned Kingston in 2:47. Kalisto did this cool springboard corkscrew off the middle rope into the ring. He messed up his short huracanrana. Woods distracted the ref. Sin Cara did a dive off the steps onto E and Woods and in the ring, Kalisto got the pin with a huracanrana. Woods said the only reason Kalisto won was because Sin Cara interfered. So he challenged Sin Cara to a match, but then said he challenged him to a match against Big E. This was the bout where Sin Cara dislocated his left shoulder. He continued to do high spots while his arm was just dangling there. He did a springboard crossbody, a lionsault and even a forward fireman’s carry off the middle rope all with the bad shoulder. Woods tried to interfere and Kalisto stopped him. In all the confusion, E used the Big Ending for the pin in 5:59. Next was Miz TV, which was one of those clumsy Royal Rumble hype segments that made the match seem low rent because they used mostly guys who never win. Miz started talking and Ryback came out. He belched loudly into the mic and said that 2016 would be the year of the big guy. Goldust came out. Ryder came out. Ryder got a big pop since they were in New York. Ryder said they were in New Zack City. R-Truth came out for a promo where he asked the fans to vote for him for Superstar of the Year because everyone is eligible. Miz reminded him the Slammys were last week and he even won an award. R-Truth said he remembered and got all excited about winning. Slater then came out. Show then came out. Show knocked out Slater, and threw Ryder out of the ring. R-Truth started begging off and then punched himself in the face and pretended to be knocked out, I guess figuring if he knocked himself out Show wouldn’t hit him. Show picked R-Truth up and choke slammed him anyway. Somewhere in here he threw out Goldust as well and it was down to Show and Ryback. Show then threw Ryback out of the ring. Fans started chanting “Please retire” at Show. Show then announced he was going to be the first guy to enter the Rumble. The crowd booed that announcement. He then said he’d win the Rumble, and then he’d win the title at Mania. Ryback beat Show via walk out count out in 2:57. Ryback set up for a clothesline and Show rolled out of the ring. He teased getting back in but just walked out. This finish came off so bad, because they do it far too often to where it’s “groan” hit on the promotion for being crappy and not heat on the guy. Rusev & Sheamus & Barrett beat Usos & Ambrose in 16:50. Sheamus cut a promo before the match telling the fans they should be ashamed of themselves for cheering when Vince McMahon was arrested. He said that McMahon has given people countless hours of entertainment, and that he’s a national treasure. Crowd was so dead. Then there was a “boring” chant. Layfield explained that by saying the crowd was trying to get on Sheamus but that Sheamus was anything but boring. Barrett, who still has the bad neck, never tagged in and never touched anyone. He did some distracting of people. They did an injury angle to Jimmy Uso as well, so it was mostly Jey & Ambrose vs. Rusev & Sheamus, with Barrett like a manager at ringside. Barrett distracted Jey while he was on the top rope. Jey came off the top with a splash, but Sheamus got his knees up. Sheamus then pinned Jey with a Brogue kick. The match felt like it would never end. After the match, with Ambrose laid out, Owens attacked him. Owens threw Ambrose into the ring steps and then power bombed him through the announcers table. That got the first big pop of the show. Owens blew a kiss to everyone as he left. Ambrose sold for a long time before being helped out by officials. We went back to the court house where Vince posted bail and was leaving. Cena came out. Fans were all over the place here. At first they booed Cena, but they ended up mostly cheering for him. Cena came out dancing and fans sang “John Cena sucks.” Cena talked about the good days of the weekly U.S. title challenge. He said how every week the kids were excited and the adults were not so excited. Well, some weeks they were. He said Del Rio wouldn’t put the title up tonight so the fans booed. Cena said that when he was champion he defended it every week, and Del Rio hasn’t defended it once on TV since he won it, which he thinks is a disgrace. The League of Nations came out. Del Rio cut a promo, really doing his best work since coming to WWE this time, saying how the fans in Brooklyn don’t deserve a title match. Cena said he was an idiot, talking about how the place is completely sold out. Del Rio called him Juan Cena, the name of the guy who shows up at the house shows to headline when they do a TV angle where Cena loses a loser leaves town type of match. Del Rio said he was a real fighter, but Cena isn’t getting a title shot. Cena said he can already predict what will happen, that Del Rio will get in trouble and the rest of the League of Nations will attack. He said Del Rio had no heart, no pride and won the title with a lucky kick and he’s a worthless, spineless, one hit wonder. The crowd popped big when Cena mentioned being in Brooklyn, where Notorious BIG and Jay-Zee came from. Del Rio agreed to put the title up against him. Cena beat Del Rio via DQ in 14:04 of a good match. Cena went for the Attitude Adjustment the first time but Del Rio countered into a backstabber. Cena came back with an STF, but Del Rio turned it into an armbar. Cena countered by doing the one arm power bomb spot. Fans were chanting “Let’s Go Cena,” much louder than the very light “Cena sucks” chant. Del Rio was in the air and kicked the referee out of the ring. Cena put on the STF again and Del Rio started tapping, but no ref. Sheamus and Rusev interfered. Because this spot would lead to heels taking punishment, Barrett never came out. Sheamus Brogue kicked Cena, but as the ref recovered, Cena kicked out. Rusev held Cena and Sheamus went for another Brogue kick, but Cena moved and Sheamus kicked Rusev out of the ring. Cena gave Sheamus an Attitude Adjustment, and Sheamus had a bad landing. But the distraction led to Del Rio hitting a superkick, but the ref was slow getting in and Cena kicked out again. Del Rio went for an armbar, but Cena ducked and hit the Attitude Adjustment. Before he could get the pin, Sheamus and Rusev interfered for the DQ. Sheamus laid out Cena with a Brogue kick after the match. The Usos tried to make the save, but they were just set up guys and they were thrown out of the ring. Reigns then did a run in, hitting a running spear on the floor to Rusev, and a Superman punch to Del Rio. Sheamus grabbed a chair but Reigns gave him a Superman punch to the chair, which hit Sheamus in the head. Then Vince came out and announced that next week it would be Reigns vs. Sheamus for the title and he would be the referee. Vince then started screaming “Happy New Year” over and over like a maniac. After Raw went off the air, Sheamus, Rusev and Del Rio attacked Cena. Reigns made the save for Cena and Cena laid out Del Rio with an Attitude Adjustment, and the two of them ran off Sheamus and Rusev. Cena and Reigns were left in the ring and teased going at it, but before it happened, the heels attacked and they joined forces to run them off

Notes from the 12/29 tapings in Washington, DC. Darren Young pinned Axel in a dark match. Main Event opened with R-Truth pinning Slater. O’Neil pinned Rose. Swagger beat Stardust in 10:00 in the top Main Event match with both working very hard. Smackdown opened with a video feature on the McMahon arrest angle and an announcement that the main event will be Reigns & Ambrose vs. Sheamus & Owens. The show is airing on New Year’s Eve and is likely to get killed in the ratings, with the combination of New Year’s Eve being a bad night for WWE television historically, not to mention the college football playoff games that night. The New Day came out and talked about it being New Year’s Eve. They said their New Year’s Resolution is nothing because they’re perfect. He said the people who need to change are all the people who didn’t vote for the New Day as tag team of the year. They read a list of New Year’s Resolutions for people who didn’t vote for them. The Lucha Dragons came out and an argument ensued to set up a six-man tag. But since Sin Cara was injured, they called out the Dudleys to be their partner. Dudleys & Kalisto beat Woods & Big E & Kingston when Kalisto pinned Kingston. After the match, the Dudleys put Woods through a table that had “Happy New Year” spray painted on it. Throughout the show there were New Year’s wishes from talent. Breeze pinned Goldust in a short match. Summer Rae then announced a huge New Year’s announcement. Breeze said that the two of them would be going their separate ways. Breeze said that before they did they would take one last gorgeous selfie together. Dallas was backstage with his New Year’s Re-bo-Lutions, including telling Axel to start wearing deodorant. Dallas and Ziggler ended up arguing backstage to build up a match. Harper & Strowman beat the Usos when Strowman used the head-and-arm choke on one of them after interference from Rowan. Brie Bella & Fox beat Tamina & Naomi when Brie pinned Naomi. Ziggler pinned Dallas with a superkick. Reigns & Ambrose beat Sheamus & Owens via DQ. Nobody booed Reigns, but Ambrose was still cheered as much or more than Reigns was. The finish came when Owens was DQ’d for crotching Reigns on the post in 10:00. The heels beat down the faces. Owens went to power bomb Ambrose through the announcers table again, but Reigns recovered and nailed Owens with a Superman punch, and hit Sheamus with a Superman punch

Notes from the 12/23 NXT TV show. This was the other hour from London and the final new show until 1/13 as the next two weeks will be Best of 2015 shows. The opening four-way tag was just tremendous, between the hot crowd and how ridiculously good Jason Jordan & Chad Gable were. The main event featured the return of Sami Zayn, which was built up throughout the show. It opened with Jordan & Gable winning the four-way to become top contenders for the tag titles over Blake & Murphy, Mojo Rawley & Zack Ryder and The Vaudevillains in 9:17. The Vaudevillains came out dressed like Sherlock Holmes. The fans booed the Hype Bros. No surprise as Rawley desperately needs out of that gimmick. The crowd was ridiculously hot for Gable. It’s something you’d almost have to see. Then the worst thing happened, Rawley tagged Gable to get in. The crowd was furious having to watch Rawley instead of Gable. Ryder tagged in and was doing big moves, but the crowd was chanting “We want Gable.” Gable tagged back in and was just fantastic. He’s got a style about him where he’s got the potential to be another Eddy Guerrero if they give him the chance. He made the hot tag to Jordan, who was suplexing guys all over the place. The crowd loved him and started chanting “Suplex city.” Rawley threw Ryder over the top in a dive over everyone. Jordan suplexed Murphy overhead onto everyone on the floor, and then speared Blake. Jordan & Gable did their double-team back suplex on Blake for the pin. I’d go **** for this one because it’s way worth going out of your way to see. This wasn’t better than Emma vs. Asuka or Samoa Joe vs. Finn Balor on the live special, but it was just as good in a every different way and the crowd was more into it than both of those matches. They did a segment with Emma being worked on by the trainer while Dana Brooke started yelling about how the plan didn’t work and if she saw Asuka what she’d do to her. Just then, Asuka came into the room and Brooke totally shut up. Asuka made fun of Emma and her dance and how they were checking on Emma’s jaw from Asuka’s kick. Then, after Asuka left, Brooke started talking big again saying that they have to get serious and playtime is over. Every time she says that it reminds me that the TNA Dollhouse girls were doing the exact same catch phrase and makes it feel so low rent here. Tye Dillinger did a promo about being the perfect 10. They promoted that Milwaukee, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Detroit were sold out, as well as the April show in Dallas. Baron Corbin did an interview saying he was the No. 1 contender and is coming after Balor and the title. Elias Sampson pinned Bull Dempsey in 1:34. The fans were all into chanting “Bull” and thought he was the star. It was clearly designed for him to be the job guy for Sampson, who won with a jumping knee and a Randy Savage style elbow off the top. Sampson does the move almost exactly like Savage and from far away, there is even a facial resemblance between the two of them. The crowd was shocked and seemed kind of down because the guy they thought was the star got beat like a job guy. Dash Wilder & Scott Dawson did a backstage promo. For all the talk of them as being like Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard, and that’s really an unfair comparison, it died once they did their promo. Their promo skills aren’t close to their work. Zayn pinned Dillinger in 9:45 in the main event. Zayn physically didn’t look close to the same after the shoulder operation. Usually WWE guys come back bigger and stronger because they are juicing up when off, even with a shoulder injury. Zayn mostly sold the left shoulder and he sold it like it was really hurting. He’s just got so much more of knack for selling than most. He came back with a running flip dive. He won with the exploder into the turnbuckles and a helluva kick. Crowd was of course very into him. He did a nice “Thank you” to the fans promo. He said in his career that whenever dreams seem to come true, it

becomes a nightmare. He said that happened when he first won the NXT title, and it happened when he got to wrestle Cena on Raw in his home town of Montreal, as he hurt his shoulder both times. He said tonight wrestling in front of 10,000 fans in London was a dream, and starting tonight the trend is broken

The 2/15 Raw in Anaheim has advance sales of 8,000 tickets

The Reigns tour opened on 12/26 in Detroit before 9,500 fans. 12/27 in Chicago drew a nearly full house of 11,700. After Madison Square Garden, the Cena tour drew 10,000 on 12/27 in Hartford. The 12/28 house show, going head-to-head with Raw, in Allentown headlined by Kane vs. Wyatt drew 5,000. The 12/29 show in Providence, going head-to-head with the Smackdown tapings, drew 7,000

Detroit opened with Ziggler pinning Breeze in 13:17. Summer Rae was booted out midway through the match. Same match they’ve been doing. Dallas came out and claimed he had a winning streak that would begin tonight. Goldust then came out and beat him in 2:20. He then demanded somebody else come out and he wasn’t going to leave until they did. Swagger came out and beat him in :50 with the Patriot lock. Young & Sandow & Axel & Fandango & Ryder beat Los Matadores & The Ascension & Slater in 11:11 when Fandango pinned Slater after a leg drop off the top rope. The face team all danced to Fandango’s music after winning. Even though he’s a forgotten man on TV, crowd was behind Sandow. Kane pinned Wyatt with a choke slam in 9:30. Fox & Brie Bella beat Naomi & Banks in 7:10 when Brie Bella pinned Naomi with the X-factor. There were “We Want Sasha” chants before she tagged in. The New Day, being E & Kingston, won a three-way over the Lucha Dragons and Usos when Kingston pinned Sin Cara in 10:48. Main event saw Reigns pin Sheamus in 21:30 to retain the title in a no DQ match. They used the usual assortment of WWE street fight weapons, chairs, weapons, and each went through a table before Reigns finally scored the pin after a spear through a table

Chicago was pretty much the same show. The only difference is that in the Dallas stuff, it was Swagger who came first, beating Dallas quickly with the Vader bomb. Dallas then challenged anyone and Goldust came out and pinned him in ten seconds. In the ten man tag, the crowd only cared about Slater, Sandow and Ryder. In the New Day three-way, it was Woods & Big E as the team, with Woods pinning one of the Usos due to interference from Kingston. Reigns vs. Sheamus was a very physical main event. They billed it as a street fight but that’s not much different than no DQ so it was largely the same match

Hartford opened with Neville pinning Miz in 8:54 with the red arrow. Miz opened the show doing a Rick Rude style promo about all the Hartford sweathogs. O’Neil pinned Stardust in 7:12 after the Clash of the Titus. Charlotte won a three-way over Lynch and Paige to keep the Divas title by pinning Paige in 10:46 after help from Ric Flair. The spot where Flair was supposed to put Charlotte’s leg on the ropes but she wasn’t close enough and he couldn’t reach it so she had to put her leg on the ropes herself. Ryback pinned Rusev in 11:41 with shell shock. Ambrose pinned Owens to retain the IC title by getting out of the power bomb and hitting Dirty Deeds in 9:30. Said to be disappointing. R-Truth pinned Rose in 3:34. Fans not into this. Show pinned Henry in 6:30 with the knockout punch. The only finish changed from Madison Square Garden the night before was Strowman & Harper & Rowan beat Dreamer & Dudleys in 9:06 when Harper pinned Dreamer after a clothesline. Cena beat Del Rio via DQ in a U.S. title match. Said to be the best match on the show. Finish came at 16:54 due to a low blow. It didn’t appear there was one person booing Cena at the show

Allentown opened with Ziggler pinning Breeze with a superkick. Axel & Sandow beat Los Matadores when Axel used the old Perfect plex to win. There were boring chants in this match. Fandango pinned Dallas with a suplex. Harper & Rowan & Strowman beat Dudleys & Dreamer when Harper pinned Dreamer after a spinning clothesline. O’Neil pinned Stardust with the Clash of the Titus. Charlotte retained the Divas title over Paige with the figure eight in a short match. Paige worked as the face. Kane pinned Wyatt in the no DQ main event which saw Harper, Rowan and Strowman interfere, but the Dudleys & Dreamer made the save and the finish was a choke slam through a table

Providence opened with Neville pinning Miz in a good opener. Ryder & Rawley beat The Ascension. The Ascension got very little reaction, even when they called the crowd losers. Rob Gronkowski was in the front row at the show, and he’s friends with Rawley (the two were football teammates) and fans got into the Hype Bros because of Gronkowski. Kane pinned Wyatt with a choke slam. Ryback pinned Rusev with the shell shock in a match that dragged. Show pinned Henry with the knockout punch. Short but very slow. Charlotte retained in a three-way over Lynch and Paige. Said to be pretty good. Cena beat Del Rio via DQ in the same U.S. title match with the title saving low blow finish. Similar match and finish as Raw. The ref was bumped and missed Cena having Del Rio beat. Rusev hit Cena with a chair and helped the ref in, but Cena kicked out. Cena came back but Del Rio hit him with the low blow in front of the ref. After the match, Rusev held Cena and Del Rio went for a chair shot but Cena moved, Del Rio hit Rusev, Cena gave Del Rio the Attitude Adjustment and that was a wrap.