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January 9, 2017 Wrestling Observer Newsletter: Ronda Rousey loses potential final fight, NJPW Wrestlekingdom 11 review

Wrestling Observer Newsletter

PO Box 1228, Campbell, CA 95009-1228

ISSN10839593

January 9, 2017

 

UFC 207 PPV POLL RESULTS

Thumbs up 119 (81.5%)

Thumbs down 5 (03.4%)

In the middle 22 (15.1%)

 

BEST MATCH POLL

Cody Garbrandt vs. Dominic Cruz 135

 

WORST MATCH POLL

Dong Hyun Kim vs. Tarec Saffiedine 67

Neil Magny vs. Johny Hendricks 19

Amanda Nunes vs. Ronda Rousey 16

Antonio Carlos Jr. vs. Marvin Vettori 12

Based on emails and phone calls to the Observer as of Tuesday, 1/3.

 

The legacy of Ronda Rousey, the woman who in many ways changed the course of MMA and combat sports and entertainment history, took another unique turn on 12/30.

In her return 13 months after suffering her first career loss, she was beaten in just 48 seconds when challenging bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes.

Nunes, the hardest puncher in the division, came out landing punches. Rousey showed no head movement or punch defense as she just took one punch after another to the head until the fight was stopped.

Rousey, who did no promotional work for the fight, then left the cage without doing an interview, and left the T Mobile Center doing no interviews. Dana White said that she wasn’t in as bad a shape mentally after the loss as she was after the loss to Holly Holm.

According to Dana White, he and Rousey made the deal ahead of time where she would do no media other than come to Madison Square Garden on 11/11 at the weigh-ins for UFC 205 and do a square off with Nunes. When Joe Rogan tried to interview her, she walked off, which came off as embarrassing.

She was shown in one episode of Embedded, doing an interview for someone, although it wasn’t clear who, where she kept saying in a joking manner, “Friday, Friday, Friday,” since the show wasn’t on Saturday, and the belief based on the previous Friday night show with Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem doing 540,000 buys, is that the change in days would make a 30 percent negative difference in buys. Plus the DirecTV ad for the show listed it as taking place on “Saturday, December 30.” The lack of promotion from the headliners, as well as the loss of the Cain Velasquez vs. Fabricio Werdum fight, also couldn’t have helped.

Because of that, there was no press conference nor public workouts. She did not appear on the UFC’s hype show, UFC Tonight, but they did film clips of her video interview for the show open where she appeared, without make-up or being made up, saying that she didn’t care what she looked like and didn’t care how much money she made, and was only interested in winning the fight. There were even questions if she would come to the public weigh-in (the real weigh-in took place that morning and Rousey was there immediately, weighed in at 135 pounds, and left without saying a word). She did appear, got a huge positive ovation, multiple times that of anyone else on the show, and walked off again without doing the traditional interview with Rogan.

Even though social media and even regular media was not kind to her for her attitude, the way she took losing and her not talking to anyone before the fight, at least to the public who came to the show, there was no negativity toward her.

There were no boos at all at weigh-ins, and weigh-ins draw the hardcore fan base. She got the expected gigantic positive reaction at the show, but that was to be expected since most of the tickets were sold to see her. Merchandise sales were well above usual levels, based on huge sales of her merchandise. And the reaction to the loss was unique, with a lot of women in the audience crying, a scene that I can never recall happening previously at a UFC show.

As for the fight itself, there are a million different ways to look at it, but 48 seconds really doesn’t tell you a lot past there was lack of head movement and punch defense, and her attempts to grab a clinch so she could do a judo throw were pretty easily avoided by Nunes.

Rousey was said to be in the best condition of her career, and she was leaner and far more muscular than ever before, particularly in the upper back and shoulders. She was about ten pounds lighter in camp, and actually was 135 pounds a few days before the weigh-in. But because of that, when standing next to Nunes, she was considerably smaller and when the fight started, looked to be one weight class smaller (if Rousey was 135, or slightly more in the cage, Nunes was probably 150 or slightly more). The game plan was obviously to have Nunes go all out early, and get tired in round two, where her superior conditioning would then take over. Miesha Tate had the same strategy, and also got finished quickly. But there is a reason few fighters actually walk around and train within a few pounds of their weigh-in weight and why attempts by fighters to fight at their real weight often see them much smaller and lose. For every Frankie Edgar there is, there are many who go in light, say they feel great in training, and have more endurance in everything they test themselves on. But when the fight comes, they get muscled around and can’t muscle their opponents around like they used to.

Nunes herself blamed Rousey’s coaching, saying she knew the fight would go the way it would because Rousey’s coaches had convinced her she was a great boxer, so she would come out and try to box with Nunes and would meet a quick downfall, because she wasn’t a great boxer.

The truth is that in several of Rousey’s quick wins, she’d take several punches at first, but get inside and either throw her opponent and finish them, or knock them out. In her knockouts, it was not outboxing her opponent but both women swinging wildly and Rousey would connect hard first, either with a knee like Sara McMann or with punches like with Bethe Correia.

But Nunes is the hardest hitter in the division, and Rousey was hurt by punches she’d previously walked through. Perhaps being lighter also played a part in that and perhaps Nunes hits so hard that wouldn’t have made a difference. Perhaps Nunes’ style and punching power was such that she’d beat Rousey no matter what the coaching strategy was. Still, Rousey showed a complete lack of head movement and punching defense, although perhaps that was just because she was rocked so badly right away and never fully recovered. Perhaps the Holm fight destroyed her mentally and she’ll never be the same, no matter how hard she trains.

The feeling going in was if Rousey lost, she would retire. Since the fight, she’s said nothing, nor has anyone else close to her.

You never know, because her fan base is very different from others, but this second loss probably put her in a position where she couldn’t draw at the level she did on PPV. Now, if she was to fight again, and it was on television, the ratings would likely be record setting, but is that worth what she’s being paid, given that the minimum she made for this show was $4 million and depending on PPV numbers figures like $6 million to $7 million are possible. There would be enough curiosity in another fight that it could still strongly help a PPV to above normal numbers, but not the biggest numbers.

The question also asked is what impact this will have on outside endeavors. I would think it hurts her Hollywood career greatly. The reality is that in late 2015, everyone wanted her attached to projects, and since the Holm loss, the demand for her went down and even the projects she was supposed to do and be built around her in 2016 all got delayed. Had she regained the title, she’d have likely been rehabbed completely from the Holm loss when it came to Hollywood opportunities and commercial endorsements, like her new Pantene deal. Not only did she lose, but she lost badly and the reaction by many is that she was mentally broken.

As far as WWE is concerned, Rousey would never do it full-time, but she is a pro wrestling fan and would likely do a one-off for something like a WrestleMania. Plus, she’s friends with many of the women on the roster, and has trained with some of them, and they’d all welcome her. She would be a lightning rod for media attention and would bring a significant mainstream spotlight onto whomever she would do an angle with. There’s such an obvious angle of her working within the women’s division in one match where it would help elevate the stardom of the existing women because of the mainstream pub they’d get. Realistically, with this loss, and with the number of outsiders already committed to the show, this may not be the right year because in a year people will be more interested, but for the WWE women’s division and the key players, and this isn’t going to happen because the plans they have in place are different, but it’s the right time because a hook up with Bayley could take her from just someone some wrestling fans like to a far wider level. Those thinking she’s now worthless in that type of venue because of the loss must have slept through the success of Mike Tyson (who had a far more negative image when he helped turn the wrestling war around for WWF in 1998) and how he helped blow up Steve Austin, or Brock Lesnar (who lost two high profile fights in a row in the first round and got the superstar reaction of all superstar reactions for his return and has been the company’s biggest or second biggest star ever since).

If she does retire, she does so as one of the most pivotal fighters in the sport’s history. Women are now a huge part of UFC, to the point they regularly headline television shows, frequently the highest rated fights on shows are women’s fights. Going forward, like on 2/11, there will be a women’s PPV main event that doesn’t involve Rousey (Nunes vs. Tate was billed as the UFC 200 main event but that’s only because Jon Jones was pulled from the show and even then, everyone knew that it was at best the third most anticipated fight on that show). Without Rousey, it’s possible women wouldn’t even be in UFC. I think it would have happened without her, but not as quickly, and certainly not as successfully. Her success as a draw was nothing short of amazing. Her influence was such that the plight and mentality of women in pro wrestling is altogether different than it was just a few years ago, and even those in WWE will credit Rousey as a key part of the change.

It’s hard to believe that there will be a woman fighter who puts up the numbers Rousey did, but in time, people come along. I expected Rousey to be a success as a draw, but didn’t at first think she’d be as big a mover as Gina Carano was, but she blew past her on her first UFC main event.

The Nunes fight also brings up how so much of what happened could have never happened. Even though the narrative some tried to play is that Rousey was never that good, that UFC protected her and fed her easy opponents, and in particular hid her from Cyborg, the reality is different. The plan for the first women’s main event was Rousey vs. Cyborg, and only after Cyborg (and a few others) turned down the fight (and in 2013, it wasn’t over weight, it was because she was mad Rousey was getting a better contract than she was) did they go with Liz Carmouche. When UFC signed Cyborg a few years ago, the agreement was she’d fight in Invicta while dropping weight, and then face Rousey. She didn’t drop the weight. Had Cyborg taken the fight in 2013, given the way the styles match up, she probably would have won. Then they’d have to deal with all her weight issues and her popping would have been even worse. I don’t know that a super muscular woman who had already failed a steroid test beating up on much smaller women and was only fooling the naive would get women’s fighting over as anything past the freak show level that it is in Japan and the entire vibe as far as public acceptance would be different.

Rousey’s quick wins were extremely fortunate in building the sport for all the women. And there is the reality that her looks were a huge part of it, as Nunes won’t be the star Rousey was no matter how many big wins she gets. The ratings drawn by Paige VanZant and Michelle Waterson two weeks earlier sent a message to everyone regarding what the public will tune in to see.

But, things happened the way they did, both her 11 first round finishes and her two recent knockouts. Women’s MMA is established whether she fights or not. But its days of doing 1 million buys on PPV in a headline spot are over for now unless she is headlining or someone like her comes along, and nobody on the roster fits that category.

Rousey broke through the ceiling of what anyone could have expected women’s fights to do, and established where women can viably headline major events, whether in MMA, kickboxing or pro wrestling. And we never did see the peak, because the peak would have been the Rousey vs. Holm rematch provided Rousey won this fight and Holm won the 145 pound title in February.

As far as business is concerned, all early indications are strong. Even through doing almost no promotional work, the story of Rousey fighting after 13 months seemed to intrigue people in the end. Ticket sales started off slow. Usually UFC sells most of its tickets right off the bat. Yet, a few weeks out sales picked up big and we were told they were going to legitimately sell out. They ended up with a Las Vegas record, a sellout reported as 18,533 for $4.75 million. Tickets were priced much cheaper than McGregor fights or UFC 200, and the gate was nowhere close to those shows.

Early PPV reports, sketchy at this point because of the holiday, were very strong. Reports from sports bars were that they were largely packed, perhaps not at the peak of Rousey’s fights with Bethe Correia or Holm, but at or ahead of McGregor levels outside of McGregor strongholds like strong Irish areas. And the audience was different, with a far higher percentage of women. Google searches regarding the show itself were slightly ahead of UFC 205. Google searches relating to everything UFC (which are traditionally not a great PPV indicator, as only individual show searches correlate well with PPV numbers) over the weekend were ahead of everything except the Rousey-Holm fight, as Rousey alone had 10 million searches on Thursday and Friday.

Based on very early estimates the thing is looking at 1.1 million, but this year those numbers have usually ended up being 20 percent high on the big shows. However, unlike with McGregor, where early estimates are high, especially those done of iPPV, Rousey buyers by not being as likely to order on the internet, her last three fights did pretty much identical numbers to what we had midweek after the fight.

The scary part is this was a Friday and that was going to hurt. With Brock Lesnar vs. Alistair Overeem, the Google search metric that is usually accurate had that fight at what would have been nearly 800,000 when it did 540,000, and other trends also showed just how far off being on Friday hurt. The same thing happened here, as this was 19 percent ahead of McGregor vs. Diaz II, which is the all-time record holder and 27 percent ahead of UFC 205 and 23 percent ahead of the first McGregor vs. Diaz. It was far ahead of Rousey vs. Holm (which ended up doing 1,090,000) for a Rousey vs. Rousey comparison so you can’t say well it’s just Rousey fights being better than McGregor in a metric that wouldn’t translate to a buy number, when actually it’s a great predictor. If it was on a normal Saturday without huge college football competition, this probably would have broken the record. If she and Amanda Nunes had promoted it at all, even on a Friday against the Orange Bowl, the number would have been considerably higher. But neither did, Rousey because she refused and Nunes because Rousey didn’t.

The prelims drew 1,511,000 viewers going head-to-head with the Orange Bowl game (Michigan vs. Florida State), which did 11,461,000 viewers. The peak was 1,848,000 viewers for the Johny Hendricks vs. Neil Magny television main event.

As compared with the big shows this year, the first McGregor-Diaz prelims did 1,843,000 viewers; the UFC 200 prelims did 1,786,000 viewers, the second McGregor-Diaz prelims did 1,300,000 viewers and the UFC 205 prelims did 1,801,000 viewers. All four of those shows topped 1 million PPV buys. They were all on the regular Saturday night with lesser competition, so if anything, that’s an even better sign.

The pre-fight show did 572,000 viewers, the fifth best in history. The post-fight show did 404,000 viewers, the fourth best in history. The weigh-ins live did 216,000 viewers and a replay of the weigh-ins did 222,000 viewers. In addition, the night before, a replay of the Rousey vs. Miesha Tate fight did 268,000 viewers. For comparisons with 8/20, which was the second McGregor-Diaz fight that did the all-time PPV record for the company, this show beat it in prelims, beat the pre-show number (523,000), beat the post-show number (320,000) and beat the weigh-in numbers (173,000) twice.

For the Rousey-Holm show on November 15, 2015, the prelims did 1,394,000 viewers, pre-fight show did 576,000, post-fight show did 490,000 and weigh-ins did 161,000.

If this show tops 1 million buys, it would make the fifth UFC show this year to do so. No sport in history has ever had more than three 1 million buy shows in a year. Boxing did three twice, in 1996, for three Mike Tyson fights, and 2011, for a year that had two Manny Pacquiao and one Floyd Mayweather fight. This would be three Conor McGregor’s, UFC 200 which was built around a deep show with Brock Lesnar as the big attraction, and potentially this show.

The other major story on the show was Cody Garbrandt upsetting Dominick Cruz to win the men’s bantamweight title. In the pre-match hype, it seemed that Cruz was totally getting under Garbrandt’s skin and in his head. But Garbrandt was calm throughout the fight, and was faster than Cruz, and hit harder. Cruz made no excuses and said he was as fast as ever, just congratulated Garbrandt and saying anyone can lose and you learn from losses. Still, it appeared Cruz was slightly slower.

Cruz’s interviews and reaction to losing after going unbeaten since 2007 was the exact opposite of how Rousey reacted after her two losses. As far as star power goes, Cruz lost nothing when dropping the title and the division only got more interesting.

The fight was a strong competitive fight. I had Garbrandt winning rounds one, three and four, with round two close and Cruz only winning round five clearly. Round four was a 10-8 since Garbrandt knocked Cruz down four times.

It was tremendous from a storyline standpoint. Just two weeks after the retirement of Urijah Faber, Cruz’s greatest career rival, Faber’s protégé beat Cruz. Cruz had nicknamed the team, “Team Alpha Fail” because of their continuing to lose championship fights.

One of the most heartwarming moments of the year took place after Garbrandt got the decision. Garbrandt noted that he wanted to be a UFC fighter since the age of 12, and beating Cruz had been his goal since being in high school. He then put the belt around the waist of 10-year-old Maddux Maple, who was in his corner, a child leukemia survivor who he has been close to for years and credited for his motivation and turning his life around.

Earlier in the night, former champion T.J. Dillashaw beat John Lineker and said that if he didn’t get the next title shot, “We know this thing is rigged.”

Garbrandt said that he’d like to give the first shot to Cruz. Dana White felt Dillashaw should get the next shot. Cruz did have a long tenure as champion, and generally, the company gives immediate rematches to people like that. But Cruz, to me, lost decisively. Cruz actually landed more strikes than Garbrandt in every round, but Garbrandt’s punches did more damage. Dillashaw’s title loss to Cruz was a much closer fight.

While Cruz has a bigger name than Dillashaw, and that is always a factor, Garbrandt vs. Dillashaw is a fresher match with a better story. The two were training partners for years, and Dillashaw was the star fighter and Garbrandt was a green newer fighter for much of that period. There was bitterness from Garbrandt after Dillashaw won the title, and then left the team to train in Colorado.

The direction I’d go is Garbrandt vs. Dillashaw, and put Cruz against Jimmie Rivera, and put both fights on the same show in the spring. That way, if either main eventer gets hurt, Cruz is already booked on the show as the sub. And if nobody gets hurt, you’ve got a show where it’s set up where the two winners would be the logical next title match.

The show also marked the final UFC appearance of Mike Goldberg, 52, who has been the lead voice of the product since 1997. His contract expired at the end of the year and the decision was made not to renew it. To me, it came off badly when Dana White several weeks ago publicly made it clear that they were replacing Goldberg even when they hadn’t signed the replacement. White said that new guy they are hopeful of signing will start by July. For now, the belief is Jon Anik will work with Joe Rogan until the new announcer signs.

I also thought the company came off badly when, on this show, there was nothing said at any point about Goldberg leaving. He didn’t get to say goodbye. There should have been a video with the key people in the company thanking him for his work for two decades, followed by words for Rogan, his broadcast partner for most of that period. Rogan never said a word on the broadcast, which tells me there was a directive that neither could broach the subject publicly. The only hint was when reading the credits at the end of the broadcast, Goldberg mentioned some of the names of the people who he was closest with and said how they’d be friends for life.

Whatever anyone thinks of Goldberg personally, he should have at least been respected enough for turning down a six-figure one show offer from Vince McMahon to leave town at the last minute and no-show a live UFC television event and show up on Raw the same night in 2005 when both groups went head-to-head. That was a lot of money to turn down and in doing so, he turned down the job of being the lead announcer going forward on Raw as he was originally chosen that year by WWE to replace Jim Ross.

Todd Grisham, 40, the former WWE announcer who now works for ESPN, will also be starting soon with UFC. He’s not the Goldberg replacement, but will debut working at the desk on the studio show starting with the next UFC event on 1/15 in Phoenix. Grisham will also be doing play-by-play on several FS 1 shows over the next few months.

It was also the last show of matchmaker Joe Silva, 50, who decided to retire after the sale, because he got a small percentage of the $4 billion buyout, but it was enough for him to live the rest of his life. Silva’s departure was also never acknowledged all week, past insiders, but he also didn’t want the attention. Still, I was hoping Goldberg and Rogan would have at least mentioned it. It wasn’t as classless as the Goldberg thing, because Silva himself didn’t want the attention. Most in the company considered Silva, White and Lorenzo Fertitta as the three key people who built the company, but Silva almost never got any credit or attention publicly for it.

It’s a very different era with Fertitta, Goldberg and Silva gone, and recent retirements of Tate, Dan Henderson, Faber and possibly Rousey. With either four or five (depending on how this show did) PPV shows doing 1 million buys in a calendar year, something unheard of for any promotion in history, it is very likely we’ll look back at UFC in 2016 as the golden era for the company.

1. Alex Oliveira (15-3-1, 2 no contests) no contest Tim Means (26-7-1, 1 no contest) in 3:33 of a welterweight fight. This was one of the strangest moments in the UFC of the year. Means took Oliveira down and threw two hard knees to the head while he was down and ref Dan Miragliotta stopped the fight. Joe Rogan watched the replay, and Oliveira had neither hand on the ground, but his knee was on the ground, making him a grounded opponent and thus the knees were illegal. Rogan talked about how his hands weren’t down so the shots were legal. Means started screaming that he did nothing illegal. Marc Ratner, the UFC’s Director of Regulatory Affairs, said it was legal. I thought I was watching “The Twilight Zone” because the rules are very clear that if you have a knee down, you are a downed opponent, both last year’s rules and the new changes this year, and I thought I was losing my mind with everyone claiming the move was legal. Miragliotta checked with the commission and then ruled it a no contest due to accidental knees. The problem is, the knees were anything but accidental. Accidental is you’re going for the chest (legal) and the guy drops his head and you accidentally knee the head. Anyway, they all later corrected and said it was illegal. But this should have been a disqualification. Means got $35,000 and Oliveira got $28,000.

2. Niko Price (9-0) beat Brandon Thatch (11-5) in 4:30 in a welterweight fight. Price got a takedown. Thatch tried for a Kimura, but couldn’t get it and Price got his back and worked for a choke. Price then finished Thatch with an arm triangle. Price got $24,000 for the win and Thatch got $22,000 for the loss.

3. Alex Garcia (14-3) beat Mike Pyle (27-13-1) in 3:34 in a welterweight fight. Garcia landed body kicks, a punch and a takedown. Pyle escaped and got up. They traded punches and Garcia knocked Pyle out cold with an overhand right. This was one of those scary knockouts where the guy was out on impact, and fell backwards in no control and his head bounced hard on the mat. Garcia got $86,000 for the win including a $50,000 performance bonus, and Pyle got $55,000 for the loss.

4. Antonio Carlos Jr. (8-2, 1 no contest) beat Marvin Vettori (11-3) via straight scores of 29-28 in a middleweight fight. Carlos got two takedowns to win the first round. Each got a takedown in the second round but Vettori did more damage dropping elbows, working for a guillotine and landing all kinds of punches. So it came down to the third round. Carlos got two takedowns and went for a guillotine as time was running out to take the round and fight. Carlos got $42,000 for the win and Vettori got $12,000 for the loss.

5. Neil Magny (19-6) beat Johny Hendricks (17-6) in what was supposed to be a welterweight fight via straight 29-28 scores. Hendricks missed weight, coming in at 173.5 pounds. He also missed weight his previous fight against Kelvin Gastelum and his body shut down and his fight with Tyron Woodley had to be canceled because he couldn’t get to weight. The problem is Hendricks is too small to beat the top tier guys at 185. But after failing to make 170 three straight times, he said he’s moving up. The judging here was very interesting, as the fight was super close and could have gone either way. All three judges gave it to Magny as did 83 percent of media scores. But when Magny was announced as the winner, the crowd booed the decision heavily. In the first round, Hendricks got the takedown and was on top most of the round. But he did little damage. Magny, off his back, worked for a triangle and an armbar, and landed a lot of elbows from his back. Even though on his back, Magny should have, and did win the round. In the second round, Hendricks took Magny down twice and Magny did nothing off his back, so it was even at 19-19. In the third round, Magny was landing more standing. Hendricks took him down twice. In the waning seconds, Magny worked for a triangle and landed some elbows off his back. The round was very close as Magny may have won it in his flurry off his back in the last 20 seconds but it could have gone either way. Magny got $114,000 for the win. He would have gotten $94,000 with the win, but also got 20 percent of Hendricks’ original $100,000 purse, so Hendricks got $80,000 for the loss.

6. Ray Borg (10-2) beat Louis Smolka (11-3) on scores of 30-27, 30-26 and 30-26. Borg also missed weight, coming in at 129.5 pounds. Borg dominated all three rounds with wrestling. He got two first round takedowns and worked for a few submissions and landed punches. Smolka was bleeding from both eyes at the end of the first round. In the second round, Borg got a takedown. Both scrambled but Borg kept top position. Borg got mount and was dropping punches. He worked for an arm triangle and got a second takedown. This was a boring fight but the fans weren’t booing. In the third round, Borg took him down and got his back, and again worked for an arm triangle. There’s something about a guy missing weight by several pounds and then winning by being stronger and holding the other guy down when it’s two ranked fighters that bothers me. I think there should be a rule that if you miss weight, at least by a few pounds, that you shouldn’t benefit in the rankings for the win nor should the loser be punished in the rankings for losing. Borg got $30,600 for the win, because he had to give Smolka 30 percent of his purse for missing weight by more than three pounds. Smolka got $37,400 for the loss.

7. Dong Hyun Kim (22-3-1, 1 no contest) beat Tarec Saffiedine (16-6) on scores of 27-30, 29-28 and 29-28 in a welterweight fight. Interesting that in the media scores, it was 76 percent for Saffiedine, 14 percent for Kim and 10 percent even. I had the fight close, but for Kim. Saffiedine took the first round. He got a takedown. Kim did a nice hip toss but Saffiedine landed on top, and Saffiedine got another takedown. In the second round, I had Kim winning it close. The crowd was booing the fight by this point. In the third, both were trading shots. Saffiedine landed body kicks but Kim took him down and got his back. It came down to a very close second round. Kim got $134,000 for the win and Saffiedine got $40,000 for the loss.

8. T.J. Dillashaw (15-3) beat John Lineker (29-8) via straight 30-26 scores. They traded takedowns in the first round but Dillashaw controlled it more. Lineker suffered a broken jaw in the first round. In the second round, Dillashaw took him down and got his back. Dillashaw got a second takedown and was landing all kinds of punches and elbows on the ground, including from mount, to win a 10-8 round. In the third round, Dillashaw got two more takedowns and even worked for a calf slicer submission. Dillashaw got a heated promo wanting the next title shot, saying that if he doesn’t get the next title shot he knows this thing is rigged. Dillashaw got $200,000 for the win and Lineker got $43,000 for the loss.

9. Cody Garbrandt (11-0) beat Dominick Cruz (22-2) on scores of 48-46, 48-47 and 48-46 to win the bantamweight championship. Very good fight. Both traded early and Garbrandt seemed faster and started showboating. Garbrandt was landing more punches. Cruz went for a takedown but Garbrandt rolled to the top. Garbrandt also took Cruz down late in the first round. The second round was closer as both landed good punches but Cruz hurt him. Cruz was bloodied up from a kick in the third round. Garbrandt was landing the better punches and hurt Cruz even though Cruz was also landing. Garbrandt landed a good series late in the round. In the fourth round, Garbrandt knocked Cruz down four times. Somehow, judge Tony Weeks still scored it 10-9 for Garbrandt instead of 10-8. It appeared Cruz would need a finish to win. Cruz landed more and won the round close, but it was clearly Garbrandt’s fight. Garbrandt got $250,000 for the win, including a best fight bonus. Cruz got $400,000 for the loss, also including a best fight bonus. Cruz also got points on the PPV which would be life changing because at 600,000 buys that’s usually worth around $1 million and at 1 million buys that’s usually worth about $3 million.

10. Amanda Nunes (14-4) beat Ronda Rousey (12-2) in :48 to retain the UFC women’s bantamweight title. Nunes tagged Rousey with punches right away and Rousey never recovered. She just kept being hit flush in the face with big shots, never moving her head and it was over. Nunes got $250,000 for the win including a performance bonus. I don’t know if Nunes got PPV points even as champion but if she did, that would have made a huge difference. Rousey got $3 million in base pay plus a percentage of the PPV, and one would think Rousey got a bigger cut of PPV than would be the normal level.


Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada may have put on the greatest match in pro wrestling history in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 11 on 1/4 at the Tokyo Dome.

The 46:45 classic, coming at the end of a show that lasted five hours and 40 minutes, set New Japan’s all-time record for live foreign streaming viewers, peaking at about 7:30 a.m. Eastern time. A Jim Ross/Josh Barnett commentated version of the match will air on 1/13 on AXS TV, which very well could be the best one hour pro wrestling television show ever, given one match shows (Jack Brisco vs. Dory Funk Jr. from CWF in 1972; Ric Flair vs. Kerry Von Erich in Dallas; Flair vs. Von Erich in Honolulu; Flair vs. Barry Windham in Fayetteville; Midnight Express vs. Fantastics in Chattanooga; Tanahashi vs. Okada from 2013; Tanahashi vs. Styles from 2015) have been among the best and as great as the aforementioned matches were, this had most of the elements that all of those matches had, but elements they didn’t and really combined the elements they did better.

Okada retained the IWGP heavyweight title after a spinning jumping tombstone piledriver and a fourth rainmaker, featured nearly every element of a classic match, from intensity, crowd heat, tremendous psychology, off the charts athleticism, hard hitting, timing, innovation and high risk and dangerous moves. The keys to the story is that Omega never once got to hit his one winged angel finisher, and even in defeat, came out of the show being almost clearly the best big match wrestler on the planet.

While watching the show, it felt like the time and place to do the title change, but the argument was it was too early in the Okada reign. Still, based on the performance, and the performance of Omega in the build to the show, by all rights Omega should win the championship at some point this year. Part of it is that if they are going to expand internationally, Omega is the best face of the company because he can talk different languages, is ridiculously good athletically and has so much charisma at this point. But losing this way was almost better, because it’ll mean more when he wins it, particularly if it’s in June in Osaka, which will be a hot crowd and right before the U.S. push.

Another key is his future because watching him, if I’m WWE, I’d not just want him, but he could be that elusive special star that they’ve been unable to make. There is the issue that he can’t wrestle matches like this nightly, or even monthly, without having a short life span on his career. But he’s got the presence, charisma, cockiness and acting ability, as well as the look that WWE is afraid to push someone who doesn’t have. Plus with the world a smaller place and mainstream sports web sites giving Omega U.S. media exposure, he’ll walk in with a hardcore base he could build from. Plus, he’s turned into a tremendous promo, although he’s got the huge advantage of being able to use his own voice and use reality for his promos, like he did to build the Okada match.

Then again, from a WWE standpoint, having him have a couple of years as the face of New Japan, it’ll only elevate him and he’d be able to walk in like A.J. Styles did this past year.

New Japan announced several of its major shows for the first eight months of the year, which includes dates on 7/1 and 7/2 at the Long Beach, CA, Convention Center. These are not G-1 Climax tournament shows, but are being called G-1 special shows. The G-1 Climax tournament was announced as starting on 7/17 in Sapporo, and finishing with three straight nights at Sumo Hall on 8/11, 8/12 and 8/13.

After the Fantastica Mania tour from 1/13 to 1/22 (with shows on 1/20, 1/21 and 1/22 at Korakuen Hall, all on New Japan World), there will be PPV shows on 2/5 as The New Beginning in Sapporo, 2/11 as The New Beginning in Osaka at the Edion Arena, the 45th anniversary show on 3/6 at the Ota Ward Gym in Tokyo, and the New Japan Cup tournament in March with the finals on 3/20 in Niigata.

The former Invasion Attack show, now called Sakura Genesis, takes place on 4/9 at Tokyo Sumo Hall. Wrestling Dontaku once again takes place on 5/3 at the Fukuoka International Center Arena. The Best of the Super Junior finals will be on 6/3 at the Yoyogi Gym in Tokyo. Dominion, which is traditionally the biggest show between the Tokyo Dome and G-1 finals, will be on 6/11 at the Osaka Jo Hall.

Okada will likely defend his title in Sapporo or Osaka. The winner of the New Japan Cup single elimination tournament will get the title shot at Sakura Genesis. It’s possible for Omega to win the tournament and get the shot, but from a timing standpoint, I’d do the rematch at Dominion.

A number of people after the match stated that it was the greatest match they’d ever seen. Personally, I’d say the same thing. As people were leaving the Tokyo Dome the murmur in the crowd was that it was the greatest pro wrestling match ever, and at restaurants in the area after the show, and on the subway, that was the main topic of conversation. The talk backstage was also that it was the greatest match anyone had ever seen.

The match didn’t rely on crazy moves, and more relied on psychology, but had the few memorable spots built up that would be remembered. Omega did a moonsault off the top rope and cleared the barricade on Okada, in the position the Japanese announcers would have been in, but they moved themselves and their tables away. Omega took an insane high backdrop over the top rope and through a table on the floor. The scariest spot, and one I hope doesn’t get copied, saw Omega do a top rope dragon superplex. Okada landed off the top rope almost on the top of his head. While he seemed fine, announcer Steve Corino noted that when, not if, Okada has neck fusion surgery, he’ll always remember that spot. The 90s All Japan stars, as great as they were, should be the example of why taking suplexes at high angles nearly on top of your head should be avoided at all costs, and this wasn’t just a suplex but it was being nearly spiked falling backwards at a high angle off the top rope.

The Dome show drew 26,192 paid and there was in the neighborhood of 35,000 to 37,000 in the building. It was well up as far as total in the building from last year, although paid was only up about 1,100. Still, that is considered a major success because it’s the first time since 2010 that Hiroshi Tanahashi wasn’t in the Tokyo Dome main event, and Omega was unproven as far as headlining a show of this caliber. Going in, the crowd saw Okada vs. Omega as that epic championship match, and both came out of it having transformed from two of the best wrestlers in the industry to bonafide big card draws.

Because of the huge merchandise business, this was likely the most successful Dome show dating back more than a decade. It also had, by far, the most foreigners in attendance, stemming from New Japan World, the Internet in general, and the English language television show on AXS.

Still, the huge merchandise business was based more on the LIJ stable, headed by Tetsuya Naito, who retained his IC title over Tanahashi in the No. 2 bout, a match that would be being talked about as a potential 2017 match of the year under normal circumstances.

The titles being retained in the top matches came after six straight title changes underneath.

It started with Rocky Romero & Baretta winning the IWGP jr. tag team titles over The Young Bucks. Next was a gauntlet series that ended with the LIJ team of Seiya Sanada & Evil & Bushi winning the Never Open weight trios titles from Satoshi Kojima & Ricochet & David Finlay. That followed with Adam Cole winning the ROH title from Kyle O’Reilly, which had major significance.

Next saw the returning Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii win the IWGP heavyweight tag team titles in a three-way over Tama Tonga & Tanga Roa, the champions, and the 2016 New Japan Tag League winners, Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma.

That was followed by two classic matches, where Hiromu Takahashi (Kamaitachi) won the IWGP jr. title from Kushida, which looks to set the division up for a golden era starting this year with a big four of Kushida, Takahashi, Ricochet and Will Ospreay and people like Dragon Lee and Volador Jr. Takahashi in many ways, the style is different but significance, reminds me of 1981 Dynamite Kid. Both were great but that both had that extra bit of charisma that made them standout above the others of their era. Really, Takahashi has more personality than Dynamite, and unfortunately, is just as nuts in the sense he’s so reckless with his body that he’s likely to burn out. And he’s so good and charismatic he doesn’t have to be reckless. When he came down the ramp, the crowd took to him like a superstar, which is very difficult for someone who doesn’t have a long tenure of being a big name. It’s also the kind of a guy needed to take Kushida from being a great worker to being a special champion, as the era legends of the division, like Danny Hodge, Tiger Mask and Jushin Liger all had to not only standout, but have the rivalries. As great as Kushida is, he doesn’t have the charisma of a Sayama or a Liger, and needs the opponents and the great matches to be seen as something special. Takahashi can be that legendary rival, and the other opponents are so strong that these guys may be able to have a juniors steal the show era like the period when Liger, Chris Benoit, Shinjiro Otani, Great Sasuke, Ultimo Dragon and Eddy Guerrero were in their primes in the mid-90s.

The final title change was the battle of high school best friends and wrestling teammates, and roommates, who started together in pro wrestling, where Hirooki Goto won the Never open weight title from Katsuyori Shibata.

The Cole vs. O’Reilly finish was the most significant from a U.S. standpoint. It was well known going in that O’Reilly would retain if he signed a new deal. The loss means he decided against signing, which was still up in the air until this past week. WWE has real interest in him. With Bobby Fish staying with ROH and New Japan, it breaks up their tag team. O’Reilly was one of the best Americans at working in Japan because of his MMA-based style and ability to adapt it to have great pro wrestling matches, and was a particular favorite of New Japan owner Takaaki Kidani. He’d have been a key player in what is expected to be a junior heavyweight boom year in Japan, or even as a heavyweight, since his style would work well with the Tanahashi, Naito, Goto, Shibata and Okada headliners.

Really, the first few hours of the show, while good, were hardly off the charts. But few shows in history have had the quality of four matches in a row like the last four on this card.

The angles to kick off 2017 and set up the big shows in February were to be shot at New Year’s Dash on 1/5 at Korakuen Hall.

1. Michael Elgin won the New Japan Rumble in 25:13. This is the annual Rumble event which is done mostly for light comedy as the fans are getting into the building. The idea is to use the wrestlers in the promotion not booked in other matches, and fill it up with surprises and stars from the past. There were no real Japanese superstars like the Great Kabuki, Shiro Koshinaka and Yoshiaki Fujiwara types from the past, although Hiro Saito was back and Kuniaki Kobayashi got a nice pop for his cameo. The big surprises were Billy Gunn and Scott Norton. Norton was one of the biggest stars in New Japan in the 90s, and at 56 years old, was still as big as a house and looked pretty much the same as he did 20 years ago. Elgin and Gunn opened and did the spots where they’d run into each other and not budge. Bone Soldier was next in and the whole place groaned. Next came Cheeseburger from ROH, who got a nice reaction. Soldier was the first person eliminated at 3:50 when Cheeseburger ducked a charge and Solider went over the top rope. Jushin Liger was in next, to a big pop. Elgin clotheslined Gunn over the top at 5:45. Kobayashi, who turns 61 this week, came out to a big pop. He was one of the big three rivals of the original Tiger Mask during the first junior heavyweight boom (with Rollerball Rocco as Black Tiger and Dynamite Kid). He was also Liger’s first-ever opponent under the gimmick, and that was on the first pro wrestling show ever at the Tokyo Dome. Plus he had a match of the year in the 80s with Mitsuharu Misawa and few remember it, but he also held the Americas title in California. The people popped when he used the fisherman suplex, which is the move he invented. Tiger Mask was next in, with the symbolic Tiger Mask vs. Kobayashi spot, including a terrible looking spin kick by Kobayashi. At 8:59, Tiger Mask pinned Kobayashi with a crucifix. Manabu Nakanishi was in next. He immediately speared Elgin and did his slow as molasses clotheslines on everyone. Ryusuke Taguchi was next in. Elgin splashed onto Nakanishi and five guys jumped on top for the pin in 11:59. Liger used La Tapatia, the Rito Romero special, on Taguchi and Tiger Mask crawled on Liger to pin him in 12:35. Taguchi then gave Tiger Mask a hip attack and the eliminated Liger helped pin him in 12:46. Yoshitatsu and Yuji Nagata were the next two in. Nagata used the Nagata armlock on Taguchi, but Yoshitatsu saved. The crowd booed Yoshitatsu something fierce for that. Nagata and Yoshitatsu then did the most serious and stiffest work so far. Yoshitatsu tried a pedigree, but Nagata backdropped his way out. Hiroyoshi Tenzan was next in. Everyone jumped on Yoshitatsu and pinned him in the old pileup spot at 16:26. Hiro Saito, who is 55, was next in. He’s lost a ton of weight since last year. He was the guy who got the senton move over in Japan in the 80s so really the whole idea is have him come in and do a senton. He did one on Nagata, and Tenzan and Saito both pinned Nagata in 19:20. Scott Norton was next in. He played the old powerhouse, not moving when people attacked him. Norton power bombed and pinned Taguchi in 21:01. Norton pinned Saito in 22:23 after a clothesline. Elgin then backdropped Norton over the top in 22:36. People were pretty into the idea of Elgin vs. Norton. This left Tenzan, Elgin and Cheeseburger as the last three. Elgin clotheslined Tenzan over the top in 23:37. Elgin and Cheeseburger were the last two and everyone knew how this was ending. Elgin killed him with forearms, but Cheeseburger got a comeback with a superkick and a guillotine. Elgin won by power bombing him into the turnbuckles and giving him an Elgin bomb at 25:13. Elgin issued a challenge to Naito for the IC title after the show. Elgin’s legit orbital bone injury that required surgery came in a match with Naito, so that program makes sense right now. *

2. Tiger Mask W (Kota Ibushi) beat Tiger the Dark (ACH) in 6:34. They didn’t get much time to build the match but it was athletically great. Tiger the Dark is one of the lead heels of the Tiger Mask cartoon on TV-Asahi. TTD did a Fosbury Flop dive. TMW did the usual Ibushi running moonsault off the top rope to the floor. Both reversed a tombstone piledriver until TTD planted him for a near fall. TMW won, of course, with a fast German suplex, a Tiger suplex and a last ride power bomb. If this was anywhere but the Tokyo Dome as an opener, and on any other show, people would be raving about it. But the crowd is slow to build, it was short and people popped for moves but not the match. So Kota Ibushi was in what many considered the worst match on the show, even though it would be great anywhere else. ***

3. Rocky Romero & Baretta beat Young Bucks to win the IWGP jr. tag titles in 12:57. This had a lot more heat than I expected since the early matches rarely do. The Bucks came out with four sets of tag team title belts, the IWGP Jr. belts, the ROH belts, the PWG belts and their own Superkick party belts. There was a cool early count out tease. The Bucks left the ring and were near the back. Romero & Baretta chased them down but both got superkicked. The Bucks ran to the ring to leave them to get counted out. Romero & Baretta had a long way to go, and kept stumbling, but just got in at 19 ½. Romero did a tope on Nick. Baretta did a torture rack on Matt and Romero came off the top rope with a knee for a near fall. Baretta went for the Omori driver but Nick dropkicked him and Matt turned it into a Canadian Destroyer. Baretta did a running dive over the top and the Bucks left and he crashed hard on the floor. From that point on, it was Romero on his own against both. They destroyed Romero including an elevated 450, and a million superkicks. When they set up More Bang for Your Guck, Romero pinned Matt out of nowhere with a backslide. The story was that Romero & Baretta had been teasing splitting for months and always losing the big one, but scored the upset here. ***½

4. In the first match of the trios gauntlet, Yujiro Takahashi & Bad Luck Fale & Chase Owens (Bullet Club) beat Will Ospreay & Yoshi-Hashi & Jado (Chaos) in 7:30. Ospreay was the star of the match doing a triple moonsault spot and also doing a space flying tiger drop. Page did a shooting star press off the apron on Ospreay. Takahashi pinned Jado with a DDT to advance. ***

5. Seiya Sanada & Evil & Bushi (LIJ) beat Yujiro Takahashi & Bad Luck Fale & Chase Owens in 2:06. The finish saw Sanada put a chair around Takahashi’s neck and Evil swing another chair like a baseball bat at the chair around the neck. The chair around his neck went flying and actually hit one of the ring attendants in the head by accident. Sanada then put the skull end (dragon sleeper) on Takahashi for the submission. *

6. Seiya Sanada & Evil & Bushi beat Never Open weight tag champs Satoshi Kojima & Ricochet & David Finlay in 6:30. Ricochet and Finlay opened with a double flip dive. Ricochet did just a phenomenal series of flying moves one after the other. Kojima did his hard chops in the corner. Evil threw Ricochet in the air and Bushi used a codebreaker on him. Kojima hit the diamond cutter on Evil and then the lariat, but Sanada made the save. The finish saw the referee distracted and Bushi blew mist in Kojima’s eyes and Evil used a power bomb and then got the pin on Kojima after the STO. ***1/4

7. Cody the American Nightmare pinned Juice Robinson in 9:37. This is another one that would have been considered really good on any other show, but it was just something on the show here. Cody used a springboard plancha, but Robinson caught him as he landed and gave him an overhead belly-to-belly on the floor. There was a botched codebreaker spot by Robinson. Cody used a chop block and an Indian deathlock in the middle of the ring, but Robinson made the ropes. Cody had worked over the knee and when Robinson tried a power bomb, his knee went out. The finish saw Cody block the killswitch and hit the crossroads for the pin. **3/4

8. Adam Cole beat Kyle O’Reilly to regain the ROH title in 10:14. Todd Sinclair from ROH was brought in to referee. Cole spit in O’Reilly’s face. O’Reilly got the armbar right away but Cole made the ropes. Cole attacked O’Reilly’s injured shoulder with a chair shot. This was a very physical and really good match. Because it was the second straight match with two Americans, the crowd wasn’t as into it as much as some of the other matches. But for match quality as far as solid believable hard hitting action, it was the best thing up to this point on the show. At one point both kept punching and kicking each other and they both went down at the same time. O’Reilly went for another armbar but Cole broke it with stomps to the head. Cole got near falls with a jumping knee and shining wizard. He went for a superkick, but O’Reilly caught it and did the ankle lock. Cole got out and hit four superkicks and the last shot for the pin. ***½

9. Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii won the IWGP heavyweight tag team titles over champions Tama Tonga & Tanga Roa and New Japan Cup winners Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma in 12:24. The match story is that Yano stole the tournament trophies from Makabe & Honma, and then stole the tag title belts from Tonga & Roa a week later. So he came out with the trophies and belts. Lots of swearing here by Makabe & Roa. Another hard physical match. Tonga looked really good with his unique style. Ishii was great when he was in. Yano is pure comedy with the taking the padding off the corner and throwing Honma’s back into the exposed steel and working over the back. Great action with Ishii vs. Honma. Tonga did a gun stun off the ropes on Honma that hurt my neck just watching it. Tonga & Roa hit the Guerrilla Warfare on Honma, but he wasn’t the legal man. Great finish. Yano blind tagged in. Tonga & Roa went to double suplex Ishii, but Yano gave them both a low blow. Ishii then clotheslined Roa and Yano schoolboyed him for the pin. ***½

10. Hiromu Takahashi won the IWGP jr. title from Kushida in 16:15. Takahashi got a total superstar reaction, which was impressive given he’s had almost no television. Kushida gave him a koppo kick while Takahashi was on the top rope, and followed with a flip plancha to the floor in the first move of the match. Takahashi did a sunset flip power bomb off the apron to the floor. I hate that spot. Kushida took it hard on the back of his head on the floor. They had the doctors check on him and Kushida was selling like he may have had a concussion (it was the sell) and Takahashi worked over the back of his head. Kushida did a great sell job here. Takahashi did a rolling German suplex with the idea he twice dropped Kushida again on the back of his head. The one botched spot was Takahashi flying off the top rope to give Kushida a huracanrana that was supposed to send him over the top rope to the floor. But Kushida didn’t get over the ropes. Takahashi threw him out and then did the senton off the top rope to the floor, and almost missed and connected with more of a clothesline than his back. Takahashi did the double knees off the top rope for a near fall. He tried another sunset flip power bomb out of the ring but Kushida in going over, flipped and landed on his feet. Takahashi ran off the apron with a dive but Kushida caught him on the floor with an armbar in a great spot. Kushida started working the arm and went for the hoverboard lock. Kushida was excellent here. Both guys threw one punch and sold the punch big. Takahashi did an overhead belly to belly into the turnbuckles. Kushida was on the top rope working for a hoverboard lock, but Takahashi escaped, used a reverse huracanrana power bomb combination off the ropes and a spinning power bomb for the pin. ****½

11. Hirooki Goto pinned Katsuyori Shibata in 16:17 to win the Never Open weight title. The crowd was really hot for Shibata, far more than Goto. Shibata is working with shoulder, neck and knee injuries. These guys worked the really stiff elbows, kicks and forearms. Just an awesome match. Goto used a Saito suplex and elbow off the top rope. At one point Shibata sat there and dared Goto to kick him as hard as he could in the chest and just took it. Shibata got the choke but Goto made the ropes. Shibata got the choke again in the middle, tied up Goto’s arms so he couldn’t grab the ropes and put a body scissors on as well so he couldn’t break the choke. Goto still managed to roll and get his foot on the ropes. Goto hit two head-butts but Shibata used the penalty kick. Both went down selling. Goto used the ushigoroshi and the shoten kai for near falls. They traded elbows and head-butts. The last few minutes of this match were incredible. Goto finally won clean with a clothesline to the back of the head and the GTR. ****½

12. Tetsuya Naito pinned Hiroshi Tanahashi to retain the IC title in 25:25. Tanahashi came out to his new “Ace” music. I was told it flopped live. He still got a superstar reaction but it did feel empty without his trademark “High Energy” song. Ken Yasuda (a famous Japanese actor, not to be confused with the bodybuilder who WWE tried to use 15 years ago) was the guest ring announcer. The crowd was split, but they booed Tanahashi early when he threw body punches on the break. Both men spent the match working on the other’s knees. Naito spit on him twice. Tanahashi did a sling blade on the apron and a high fly flow to the floor. Naito did a huracanrana off the top rope and went right into a German suplex. He also did a enzuigiri, flying forearm and sidewalk bomb. Naito used a kneelock that Tanahashi reversed into the Texas cloverleaf. Tanahashi did two more sling blades and a crossbody off the top. Tanahashi went for the high fly flow, but missed. Naito went for Destino, but Tanahashi blocked it and used the twist and shout (yes, named after the Beatles song). They were trading elbows and the crowd was going nuts. Then they were trading kicks to the knee until Tanahashi hit a dragon suplex. Tanahashi hit a high fly flow to the back and went for the regular high fly flow, but Naito got his knees up. The story was that Naito’s knees had been worked on, so now both guys were messed up and selling big. Naito hit the Destino coming off the ropes, but Tanahashi kicked out. He hit a second one and got the pin. After the match, Naito again threw the belt in the air and let it crash on the mat. The psychology here was tremendous and it was very different from the prior two matches but all were great in different ways at the same level. ****½

13. Kazuchika Okada pinned Kenny Omega in 46:45 to retain the IWGP heavyweight title. There was a great video feature on Omega before the match. The match videos made this feel like the biggest match of the year. The match started slow, but it had to given how long it was going and what it was following. They opened with Omega doing the bridge and backslide spot that Flair used to do in his classic matches. Okada did a draping DDT off the barricade. Okada did a sprint on the floor and dove over the barricade with a crossbody. Omega did a Frankensteiner out of nowhere for a near fall. Omega did a running flip dive over the top while the Young Bucks played the theme from “Terminator.” Omega did this ridiculous missile dropkick to the back of the head that looked like it nearly kicked Okada’s head off his shoulders. I have no idea how Okada’s neck could be in decent shape after this match. Omega worked over the neck with the camel clutch. Okada came back working on Omega’s neck with the ref ink and the neckbreaker over the knee. Okada came off the top with the Randy Savage elbow but Omega got his knees up. Omega used a backbreaker and a sliding dropkick to knock Okada over the guard rail. Okada motioned for the announcers to move the tables out of the way and cleared things out. Omega then did a moonsault off the top rope to the floor, over the guard rail onto Okada in the first of the memorable spots. Omega followed with a run along with apron into a double foot stomp onto a table that Okada was underneath. Omega got near falls after two power bombs. Okada was selling great and the crowd started strongly getting behind him. Omega used a middle rope moonsault for a near fall. Okada’s back was sliced up, probably from hitting a table when he flew over the barricade before the moonsault. Omega was on the top rope and Okada dropkicked him to the floor. Omega tried the one-winged angel off the apron through a table but Okada got away. Then came the second crazy spot, which was Okada’s high backdrop where Omega flew over the top rope and crashed through the table. Don’t try this at home. If he had landed just a foot to the left he could have been impaled. Okada hit a missile dropkick for a near fall and an elbow off the top rope. Omega kicked out and slapped Okada in the face. Then came the next crazy spot which was Omega’s dragon superplex off the top rope. Omega continued to work on the neck with a neckbreaker over the knee. Okada used a high angle German suplex. He then finally hit the dropkick and the place exploded. The key here is that everyone knows in a long Okada match, that the dropkick means they are working toward the finish. But they went several minutes after it this time. Omega started doing the jumping knees and a reverse Frankensteiner. He did another running knee. Omega again went for the one-winged angel but Okada not only got out of it, but landed on his feet. Okada used a tombstone piledriver and the rainmaker, but Omega kicked out. Okada used a running dropkick and went for another tombstone piledriver, but Omega reversed and did the tombstone to Okada. The two traded elbows until Omega did a fast dragon suplex and a series of running knees. He went for the one-winged angel again, but Okada was holding the wrist, got out and hit a desperation rainmaker. Omega recovered with kicks and knees over and over until Okada did another rainmaker. Both were selling. They got up and Omega hit a dropkick and a hard jumping knee. Omega went for the one-winged angel again, but Okada got out of it, used a jumping and spinning tombstone piledriver, and then a fourth rainmaker and finally got the pin. ******


Some key changes have been made to what was the WrestleMania show, although what those changes are isn’t confirmed.

Three of the key bouts remain Brock Lesnar vs. Bill Goldberg, Seth Rollins vs. HHH and Big Show vs. Shaquille O’Neal. Aside from a Raw women’s title match, of which there are at least two different possibilities, everything else is up for grabs.

The only other non-regular confirmed as wrestling on the show is Undertaker.

We’re told the Mania card should be finalized internally in about two weeks, as the booking of that show will determine the booking and direction of the Royal Rumble, which takes place on 1/29 in San Antonio at the Alamodome.

Goldberg and Lesnar will be the headliners in the Rumble itself. Other matches confirmed are A.J. Styles vs. John Cena for the WWE title, Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns for the Universal title, and Charlotte vs. Bayley for the women’s title.

Other current title programs which may or may not be on the show include Sheamus & Cesaro vs. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson, Rich Swann vs. Neville, Alexa Bliss vs. Becky Lynch and Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz. Ambrose defeated Miz on 1/3 in Jacksonville to win the IC championship, and also could include Nia Jax vs. Sasha Banks.

The Rumble is scheduled for a four plus hour main show.


There is a saying that justice delayed is justice denied.

That saying may as well have been put on the tombstone of Nancy Argentino back in 1983.

Lehigh County Judge Kelly Banach officially dropped all charges against Jimmy Snuka, 73, in the death of Argentino due to ruling that Snuka was mentally incompetent to stand trial.

Banach first made the ruling in June, but delayed any formal dropping of the charges hoping that Snuka’s mental condition would improve. Snuka was scheduled last month to return to court, but his attorney said he was unable to travel to Florida due to health issues, as he was in hospice care and had six months left to live.

The prosecution had claimed that Snuka was faking dementia and had wanted the case to continue. Banach said she believed Snuka wasn’t smart enough to fake it so well.

Argentino, the girlfriend of Snuka, who at the time in 1983 was one of the biggest stars in wrestling and easily the most popular wrestler at the time in the WWF, died in Allentown, PA, where WWE taped television every three weeks. She and Snuka were traveling together. A number of different stories were claimed as to her death. No charges were ever filed at the time, with the idea the death came from a blow to the head when she slipped and hit her head on a rock while going to the bathroom along the highway heading into Allentown. She wasn’t feeling well and Snuka left her to do the tapings, and she was clinging to life when he returned.

The decision was made not to press charges at the time, even though Snuka had told people at the hospital a different story, actually several different stories, where Argentino and he were engaged is rough horseplay and she hit her head in a fall. The county medical examiner’s report found no gravel in her scalp or clothes consistent with a fall on a rock, and after examination, suggested it was a homicide case. But it went nowhere.

For decades in the city, particularly in the police department, it had been one of those small town secrets. In 2013, on the 30th anniversary of the death, a number of media stories surfaced on the case, and a grand jury was put together to hear evidence.

In September 2015, Snuka was charged with third degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, claiming Snuka repeatedly assaulted Argentino at the George Washington Motor Lodge in Whitehall Township, where the wrestlers would regularly stay on tapings nights, and left her in bed while he went to work, and she later died.


Anthem Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of The Fight Network, officially announced the purchase of TNA Wrestling on 1/4, a deal that actually went down in October when Anthem saved the company from likely extinction by funding Bound for Glory and its final sets of television tapings.

Ed Nordholm, the Executive Vice President of Anthem Sports & Entertainment Corporation has been running the company since shortly after the original deal was put together with the title of Managing Director of Impact Ventures.

The belief is that the former TNA Impact Wrestling, now renamed Anthem Wrestling Exhibitions, LLC, is owned 85 percent by Anthem, with 10 percent ownership by Aroluxe and five percent ownership by Dixie Carter.

The press release stated that Dixie Carter will resign from her position as Chairman of Impact Ventures, but will still be involved as a member of the Advisory Board of Fight Media Group, a face saving position where the press release stated her focus will be on the global growth of all combat sports related brands owned by Anthem.

At press time, John Gaburick still maintained his position as head of creative. We’re told Carter no longer has any decision making power with the company.


What in many ways was the most important pro wrestling television event in a long time, the World of Sport pilot that aired on 12/31 from 5-7 p.m. on ITV, did 1.25 million viewers and a 7.25 share.

The number was a disappointment, as the lead-in 15 minute national news show did 2.13 million viewers. The show that followed, Ninja Warriors, from 7-8 p.m., did 2.08 million viewers and an 11.4 share. The show averages about 4 million viewers so New Year’s Eve killed the rating. The show “Take Me Out,” a dating comedy, which followed, did 2.12 million viewers and it also usually does 4 million viewers. The BBC show head-to-head, “Peter Pan Goes Wrong,” did 2.63 million viewers and BBC’s programming last year in the time slot with a game show did 4.93 million viewers, so the major stations were way down across the board on New Year’s Eve.

The key is that the rating would determine whether or not ITV commissioned a weekly pro wrestling show, which could change the game in that country and lead to a viable national homegrown wrestling promotion. Tentative plans were for tapings in February where they’d do a number of shows at a time, not unlike what TNA does.

From what we were told going in, anything below 1 million viewers would be considered very bad. Anything over 1.75 million would be considered a huge success. So it fell into the lower end of what was expected. When it comes to ITV and modern television, it would have to show decent numbers early on to sustain itself. Because of the day, ratings were down on ITV, but a news show in the same time slot one week earlier did 2.17 million viewers (that number includes DVR viewership so it’s not a direct comparison to the 1.25 million number). Indications from those close to the situation believe they are going to go ahead with a series, but the decision has yet to be finalized.

This years’ show went head-to-head with a major football (soccer) broadcast on BT Sports, Liverpool vs. Manchester City, which did 2 million viewers, the largest ever figure for a football game in that time slot on BT. The games average 653,000 in that time slot and the largest number up to that point this season in the time slot was 847,000.

It was by far the most-watched pro wrestling television show in the country in years, but that was a lock just from being on that station in that time slot. The show was described when it was being taped to us as what a television executive who didn’t really follow pro wrestling would think a pro wrestling show should be. It was a mix between trying to relive the nostalgia of ITV’s old pro wrestling show, with Raw, with a light game-show format. The old national pro wrestling television show aired from the 1950s through 1988.

The U.K. has had a long tradition of late Saturday afternoon and early Saturday evening television with physical light entertainment type shows geared for family viewing, whether it be game shows with physical challenges, Gladiators, American Ninja Warrior, pro wrestling decades ago, and that’s the mode of what they were looking to present.

The show, taped on 11/1 in Manchester, at the ITV Studios, and was built around Grado as a Big Daddy type character, although announcer Jim Ross tried to compare him to Dusty Rhodes as well. His main adversary was Dave Mastiff, a 300-plus pound bully heel compared with Giant Haystacks. Daddy and Haystacks were the two most famous names on the old show during the late 70s and early 80s.

Reaction to the show was mixed, and it was going to be, since the mentality is that this was not a wrestling show aimed at wrestling fans, but a show aimed at getting the general public to tune in and watch a light-hearted show with good vs. evil characters, aimed at children and families. The production was very good by modern standards, similar to the old WCW tapings at Disney in the 90s. There was an over-reliance on cutting to crowd shots, including two inexplicable close-ups of Jim Ross reading his script. There was also a slip by Sha Samuels that should have been edited out. I felt the show was easy to watch, looked like a major league production, the crowd was great, reacting strongly to everything and because of that, the key talent got over like they were stars. The wrestling was largely solid, really better than I expected. The reaction to it was more positive than negative and Will Ospreay and Stu Bennett (Wade Barrett) were putting it over as they were watching it. Hardcore fans were negative because the in-ring style didn’t represent the type of style that has brought British wrestling back at the grass roots level. The studio crowd was great. In particular, Grado came across like a superstar just because the crowd reacted to him that way. The crowd was enthusiastic and that kind of a crowd with get the talented wrestlers into coming across as real TV stars if they have weekly exposure on a station like that.

The quarter hours I wouldn’t call promising since it started strong and quickly dropped, although it did come back for the last 30 minutes of the show.

The numbers were based on overnight ratings and didn’t include DVR viewership, which could be the key to whether this was a success or failure.

The first quarter, with Grado vs. Mastiff, did 1.54 million viewers. The second quarter, featuring nostalgia videos and the beginning of a ladder match with Kenny Williams vs. Danny Hope vs. CJ Banks vs. Sam Bailey did 1.24 million viewers, so that’s where the viewer drop-off was the greatest, and it held relatively steady with small drops and a comeback from there. The end of the ladder match did 1.23 million viewers. More nostalgia videos and a Viper vs. Alexis Rose women’s match did 1.18 million viewers. The Coffey Brothers vs. Rampage Brown & Ashton Smith did 1.15 million viewers. El Ligero vs. Zack Gibson, universally called the best match on the show, followed by some promos from those in the Battle Royal, increased to 1.17 million viewers. The Battle Royal for a title shot grew to 1.24 million viewers, and the second Grado vs. Mastiff match did 1.24 million viewers.

The two most recent examples of pro wrestling programming airing on a regular national station, WWE’s Sunday Night Heat on Ch. 4 in 2000 and 2001 and WCW World Wide in 1999 and 2000 on Ch. 5 never did more than 1 million viewers. But ITV is a far stronger station, second only to BBC in the U.K. The World of Sport rating was five times higher than the highest rated episode of TNA Impact on Challenge TV, and the number was about ten times the usual viewership of Raw and Smackdown on Sky, a subscription service.

World of Sport was averaging 3 million viewers in 1988, when it was canceled. During the show’s heyday, it was averaging 7 million viewers.

Trying to do pro wrestling that appeals to people outside the usual pro wrestling base and changing the product to do so is a very tricky proposition these days with so many options, and modern pro wrestling is very much a niche product, with WWE having a smaller mainstream viewing audience, but in many ways a more rabid and very loyal hardcore fan base.

It was noted that some fans were mad it was not the style that has led to a resurgence of live wrestling in the U.K. by using great workers and presenting super matches. The feeling is that wouldn’t draw a mainstream television audience. Some were unhappy it wasn’t like the old show, with matches in rounds. Some felt bigger name stars should have been used. Obviously Grado as the flagship star was going to be polarizing. Grado is a cult favorite but there’s a feeling that him on top as champion makes the product silly. The issue is television executives thinking pro wrestling and they think silly mindless fun, with cartoon faces and heels, and even if that was the formula on the show in the past when far more people watched wrestling, the world and the world of pro wrestling are very different today.

There are questions as to whether this drew as a one-time nostalgia thing, or it is a show that could build a following, or even whether any non-WWE version of wrestling, or even a WWE-version, could do regular numbers that a station like ITV expects out of its programming. The old World of Sport show worked with a promotion, and later several different promotions, airing a wide variety of stars and not weekly characters. It was the only wrestling on television most of the time (WWE came into the market in the mid-80s and almost immediately became the dominant force with the more modern production) so there wasn’t anything to compare it with like today when the hardcore wrestling fans have so many options, and non-wrestling fans don’t watch wrestling much. This will be about signing talent up to television contracts where they would be able to work their normal dates but ITV would have first calling on them.

A heavy nostalgia product won’t survive, as many revivals of things that were popular on television in the past often do well at first but usually don’t sustain, and it’s been nearly 30 years.

Jim Ross and Alex Shane did the broadcast, which featured references and taped features talking about stars of the past like Daddy, Haystacks, Kendo Nagasaki, and Johnny Saint. There were several looking back segments throughout the show, and also showed Rollerball Mark Rocco, Saint, Klondyke Kate and Marty Jones at ringside.

The show was built around Mastiff winning their world title to open the show by beating Grado due to Johnny Moss distracting the referee and Sha Samuels pushing Grado off the top rope.

The show-long storyline led to a Battle Royal to determine the top contender, and the winner facing Mastiff for the title in the main event. After a series of matches, the most impressive said to be U.K. regulars El Ligero (who may have wrestled more matches in 2016 than any pro wrestler in the world as he did nearly 300 bouts this year) beating Zack Gibson.

The Battle Royal came down to Samuels, Moss and Grado, and then there was the surprise appearance of Davey Boy Smith Jr., whose father was the most popular wrestler in the country during the WWF boom in the late 80s and early 90s. Grado won, but was injured, but overcame a “knee injury” to win the title from Mastiff to give the show a happy ending.


Gabi Garcia, marketed as something akin to a female Andre the Giant in Japan, was in the ring after destroying Yumiko Hotta. Shinobu Kandori, a 52-year-old senator who was a pro wrestler who did well in the early days of women’s MMA was jawing with her looking to promote the match that was originally scheduled for this show, canceled when Kandori suffered a broken rib in training. While they were going back-and-forth, out came the Alpha Female, Marie “Jazzy” Gabert from Germany, a large pro wrestler who appeared on several episodes of TNA Impact.

Gabert noted that she was from the Stardom pro wrestling promotion (the top women’s group in Japan) and she wanted a fight with Garcia.

They had a wild pull-apart brawl. Garcia told Gabert to go to the back and change her clothes and they can do it right now. Kandori asked Gabert “Who are you?” Garcia then challenged Kandori and Hotta at the same time. Gabert, who isn’t that much smaller than Garcia (she’s probably around 200 pounds and in her one MMA fight, competed at 185).

This felt far more like pro wrestling than UFC, and was a heated and entertaining angle that had the excitement of reality even if aspects of it were clearly set up. Gabert was experienced from pro wrestling at doing the challenge, but Garcia is almost a natural at this. Her instincts, demeanor, facial expressions and fire while this was going on were on point.

This wild and amazing scene exemplified so much that was in one way very entertaining, but more about it is scary and some of it is sad, and exemplifies Rizin and its attempt to bring back the glory days of Japanese MMA and come across as the reboot of the Pride Fighting Championships.

Japanese MMA was huge from 2000 to 2005 during the glory days of Pride. Pride lost its television due to a scandal and became a tainted brand. The K-1 organization took over with Heroes and Dream, which had a nice run of popularity for several more years, before network television dropped it due to declining ratings and people moved on to something new.

Nobuyuki Sakakibara, who ran Pride, and after Pride was sold to UFC in 2007, had a non-compete clause in his deal, like sometimes business partner Scott Coker, got back into it after the time frame ran out. Unlike last year, when Bellator and Spike worked with Rizin on its return to New Year’s Eve, this was a largely independent effort. Spike passed on covering the show, and AXS, which had covered New Year’s Eve shows from Japan in the past, also didn’t air it so it was only available in the U.S. via Internet streaming.

The only Bellator representative was King Mo Lawal, a late replacement for Wanderlei Silva. Lawal, who won the 2015 heavyweight tournament, returned to face the biggest star on the show, Mirko Cro Cop, in the quarterfinals of the 2016 tournament. Last year’s show was nowhere near as popular on television as the shows of the past, but did well enough that the Fuji Network agreed to air the show in prime time on New Year’s Eve, which, in Japan, is the biggest night for television of the year.

Now, built around celebrities, pretty women, freak shows and nostalgia acts, in many ways Rizin’s big show is a spectacle that rivals WWE when matches aren’t taking place, is more compelling than UFC outside of the bouts itself, but in other ways is kind of abhorrent from a sports standpoint.

No, I don’t mean credibility, as in no way is Rizin meant to be the best fighters against each other to prove who are the top guys. Pride rarely was about that either, although sometimes it did happen because they had some of the best talent in the world at the time.

But the world of fights inside a ring, with soccer kicks, fighters long past the age they should be fighting, and no drug testing, is a reminder of a lot that is really bad about the sport. While there was nothing resembling the Kimbo Slice vs. Dada 5000 match, which came far too close to being a tragedy that would have plagued the sport, using aging fighters is asking for trouble, as are huge size mismatches.

Garcia vs. Hotta exemplified all of that. Garcia, at 6-foot-2 and cut down to a ripped 209 pounds, has turned into quite the attraction in the sense if she’s on TV, you’re compelled to almost be mesmerized by her and not change the channel. She’s hardly a skilled fighter, although she has improved greatly over the past year as a training partner of Cris Cyborg (who was in her corner). She’s still never fought a real fighter. Hotta was the most experienced fighter she’s faced, but Hotta is also decades out of her prime.

Hotta turns 50 next week, represented the glory days of women’s wrestling in Japan. She had early 90s stars Kandori and Takako Inoue in her corner. Chigusa Nagayo, the most famous woman wrestler ever in Japan, was sitting at ringside. While she was “only” giving away 38 pounds, she was 5-foot-6, thick, and anything but ripped. It had all the elements of an Andre squash match on television in the 70s, complete with the photos of Garcia towering over everyone in Japan in the pre-match video, whether it be other fighters or just people on the street.

Thankfully the fight was short, lasting only 41 seconds. As soon as the bell sounded, Hotta started running the ropes. Fans popped for that. Garcia punched her as she came off the ropes. The two started throwing wild punches. Hotta went down, and was bleeding from the mouth. It would have been a size mismatch if she was 30, but swinging fists with someone that large at 50, and this is a 50-year-old who has gone through 30 years of physical destruction of hard Japanese pro wrestling, and it was ugly. Hotta at least didn’t appear to be seriously hurt, as after the fight, she got up and did all the post-match stuff.

Kandori issued the first challenge after Hotta lost, while Garcia talked about how much she loved Japan. Hotta apologized for her performance and asked Kandori to avenge her loss in defending pro wrestling. Kandori said that Hotta has a strong heart and promised to defend her honor. That’s when Gabert came out and noted that she was with the Stardom promotion, meaning she’s also a pro wrestler, and telling her “I wanna kick your ass.” They went face-to-face when Kandori jumped in, and they had a wild pull-apart involving all three. It turned into a three-way with Kandori going to Gabert and asking “who are you?”

It was almost fitting that the climax of both the 12/29 and 12/31 shows at the Saitama Super Arena involved Mirko Cro Cop. Cro Cop, 42, in another era, was the single most popular top foreign fighter (Bob Sapp was more famous, but he was not a top fighter) from the glory days.

Cro Cop is also on a two-year suspension from the UFC for admitting use of Growth Hormone, which he claimed he was using as a last-ditch effort to rehab a shoulder injury. The shoulder was so bad he said that he had to retire as it was simply too painful to train.

Fast forward 13 months and Cro Cop returned to the scene of his greatest successes, the Saitama Super Arena, and captured the Open Weight Grand Prix, with three straight knockouts over the smaller Mo, the 397-pound former sumo star Baruto, and a newcomer, a former world champion Greco-Roman wrestler, Amir Aliakbari of Iran, who was banned for life in his own sport for repeated doping violations after winning the 2013 world championship. Cro Cop physically looked like the Cro Cop of old, with those formerly injured shoulders being powerful and wide.

However, Cro Cop after the tournament said that his knee is very bad, with fluid accumulation and cartilage damage, and that he’s looking at either a farewell fight and then retiring, or retiring immediately. Based on the show, it appeared Rizin was looking at Jerome LeBanner as Cro Cop’s next opponent in a battle of legends from the glory days. It’s also notable that Jerry Millen, who is Fedor Emelianenko’s English language representative, is also involved with the Rizin promotion, and the idea of reenacting the legendary Fedor vs. Cro Cop battle of 2005 in the same Saitama Super Arena would be his biggest last fight possible.

“That was definitely my last tournament,” Cro Cop said to Nova TV after he arrived home. “I have health problems and this is definitely the end of my career. I know I have announced my retirement before, but this is definitely it.”

On the positive side, Rizin is very good at creating stars, whether they are giants like Baruto and Garcia, people who in some form are famous, whether it be from their family or even their wives, or are young, good looking, and hopeful they can be built for the future. Most of the fights on both shows had a purpose and some interest. And really, winning and losing didn’t matter all that much. Many fights were booked to be total squashes, with inexperienced foreigners brought in to be beaten by the Japanese stars, although that didn’t always work out as hoped for. The Yamamoto family from a sports standpoint had a bad night, mother-and-son both losing via first round armbar. But it’s likely both will be brought back and pushed anyway.

The 12/29 show at the Saitama Super Arena drew an announced 16,642 fans and the New Year’s Eve show was announced as having drawn a sellout of 19,357, although there were empty seats at the top of the arena. Those numbers were up from 12,214 and 18,365 respectively for the same shows last year, which was considered the major positive.

The show was the Fuji Network’s entree into the New Year’s Eve prime time battle. NHK dominated the night with the annual concert, which did a 35.1 rating from 7:15 p.m. to 8:55 p.m. and a 40.2 from 9 p.m. to 11:45 p.m.

From a ratings standpoint, the period from 7 to 9 p.m. did a 7.1 rating and from 9 to 10:35 p.m. did a 5.7, meaning the early stuff with Mirko Cro Cop vs. Baruto, Wataru Sakata vs. Hayato Sakurai, Gabi Garcia vs. Yumiko Hotta and Kizaemon Saiga vs. Dillin West did better than the main events. The post-show wrap-up that aired until 11:45 p.m. did a 3.6 rating.

The keys to Sakata and Saiga were each man’s celebrity wife being there, so it appeared that gimmick and the Garcia thing worked as far as getting viewers to watch. Last year the prelims did a 5.6 rating and the main events did a 7.3, so the average audience was almost identical to last year, of a little over six million viewers, which was considered successful overall.

TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) had a show that featured boxing as well as a kickboxing match with Masato vs. Shinya Aoki, meaning they were able to get the services of Aoki away from Rizin, where he’d have been a key star. That did a 6.3 rating for Masato’s fight, down from the 9.0 for a Masato vs. Kid Yamamoto match that aired on TBS last year, but Rizin overall beat the boxing matches. TV Tokyo also had championship boxing that did a 3.9 rating. The show featured all the Pride throwbacks including ring announcer Lenny “screaming banshee woman” Hardt, and 90s pro wrestling legend Nobuhiko Takada, at 54, oiled up, banging on the gong while wearing a Mawashi (essentially a jock strap, the outfit sumos compete wearing). Takada always had the great physique, and to his credit, he physically looked in great shape, as silly as he looked to outsiders.

Most of the fights, aside from the tournament bouts, had the ten minute first round and five minute second round. Soccer kicks and stomps were legal. Elbows on the ground were not. Although some matches had three five minute rounds.

They announced a next show on 4/16, with Garcia vs. Gabert strongly hinted at.

The first show on 12/29 saw:

 

1. Satoru Kitaoka beat former UFC fighter Daron Cruickshank with a guillotine in 8:19.

2. In an open weight tournament reserve fight, Vadim Nemkov stopped Alison Vicente in :55 via knockout.

3. Alyssa Garcia beat Kanna Asakura via unanimous decision.

4. Yusuke Yaichi beat Mario Susmundo via knockout in :19.

5. In a fight with elbows on the ground being legal, Tatsumitsu Wada beat former TUF fighter Kai Kara-France via unanimous decision.

6. Yuki Motoya beat Allan Nasciemnto via split decision.

7. Kazuyuki Miyata beat Andy Souwer in 4:39 via armbar. Miyata is a 40–year-old former Olympic wrestler while Souwer was a huge kickboxing star a decade back.

8. Tenshin Nasukawa, an 18-year-old with a good look who they are hoping to promote as a star of the future to draw women as almost a fighting Boy Band member, beat Nikita Sapun in 2:47 via knockout.

9. Rin Nakai, the former UFC fighter noted for soft-core porn videos in Japan, dropped weight and beat Kanako Murata, a Japanese women’s freestyle wrestling star, who fell victim to a choke at 1:16 of the third round.

10. Valentin Moldavsky beat Szymon Bajor via unanimous decision to advance in the Open Weight Grand Prix.

11. Amir Aliakbari beat Heath Herring via unanimous decision to advance in the Open Weight Grand Prix.

12. Baruto smothered 46-year-old former pro wrestling star Tsuyoshi Kosaka using his 397 pound frame to win a decision to advance in the tournament.

13. Mirko Cro Cop beat King Mo Lawal via knockout at 1:41 of the second round in what was a battle of by far the two best fighters in the tournament. Lawal, who usually fights at 205 and is smaller than a lot of the guys who fight today at 185, weighed 213 and Cro Cro was 234 pounds. Lawal, who won the 2015 tournament under similar circumstances, had just fought 13 days earlier in Ireland for Bellator. Lawal took him down off a body kick and was landing solid punches on the ground. Lawal kept landing good punches when a completely ridiculous standup was called. Referee inconsistency is part of the sport, but in Japan, it’s known that it’s geared for the helping the favorite, which in this case was Cro Cop. Cro Cop started landing body kicks and uppercuts. In the second round, Mo landed punches and went for the takedown, but Cro Cop defended well. Cro Cop hurt Lawal with a left to the body and followed with a left to the head that buckled him. After more body shots, Lawal went down, and he was taking punches to the head when it was called.

 

For 12/31

 

1. Tenshin Nasukawa (2-0) beat Kawaka Oligo (0-1) in :37 of the second round with an arm triangle. This was a late addition to the show, not announced ahead of time. Oligo was flown in to be ready as they wanted Nasukawa, if possible, on both shows. Because Nasukawa had fought two days earlier, they had three minute rounds. Nasukawa got two takedowns in the first round. In the second round, he dropped Oligo with a spinning left punch. It was meant as another squash showcase for Nasukawa.

2. Cro Cop (34-11-2) beat Baruto (3-1) in :49 in the first semifinal. Baruto pushed Cro Cop into the corner, but Cro Cop threw a hard knee to the rib and Baruto went down immediately and it was stopped. Cro Cop took no punishment here.

3. Aliakbari (5-0) beat Moldavsky (6-1) via decision. Aliakbari took Moldavsky down and kept him there to win the first round. In the second round, Moldavsky landed a few punches before being taken down three times in the round. Moldavsky stated to land jabs late in the round, but Aliakbari got the decision.

4. Hayato Sakurai (38-13-2) beat Wataru Sakata (11-14) at 2:37 of the second round. The whole deal here was Eiko Koike, a famous Japanese model and actress, is Sakata’s wife. She was brought out do to commentary. The whole idea was to get the celebrity reaction while her husband was fighting, and probably being beaten up, given the talent level. It was also advertised as Sakata’s retirement fight, which isn’t hard to believe since he’s 43 years old and his previous fight was in 2003. Sakurai is 41, and once faced Matt Hughes for the UFC welterweight title. Sakata’s record is a little misleading because they include a number of his pro wrestling matches in the 90s with RINGS. He was just an undercard pro wrestler who did some real fights and became a name when he married Koike, and then was pushed a major star in the old Hustle promotion. Sakurai took him down and dominated him on the ground landing constant punches from the top in a 10-8 round. In the second round, Sakurai dropped him with a knee and then landed knees on the ground, and was punching from the mount until it was stopped. As his wife was crying, Sakurai told her that her husband was a warrior and she should be proud of him. Sakurai said he wanted to continue fighting until he turns 50. Both hugged when it was over. Sakata wouldn’t do a promo, but bowed at everyone and left. Very one-sided but the whole idea was to get people talking about Koike crying at ringside watching her husband fight.

5. Gabi Garcia (4-0) beat Yumiko Hotta (5-5) in :41.

6. Kizaemon Saiga (3-2) beat Dillin West (0-1) in 2:03. Yu Abiru, the famous Japanese model wife of Saiga was there all dressed up and focused. West was clearly a body brought in to showcase Saiga, who started throwing punches like crazy and just overwhelmed him with punches on the ground and a soccer kick. Joe Warren, who was doing the announcing, channeled his best Hulk Hogan, talking about his own debut in this same arena before “110,000 fans.” The big mainstream spot was after the win when Saiga and his wife had a real emotional embrace with her crying. He then thanked his wife and talked about how beautiful she was, and said how small guys put on the best show and that there are so many superstars at flyweight which he said was his weight class.

7. Andy Ngueyn (4-3) beat Miyu Yamamoto (0-2) in 4:42. The Yamamoto’s are the royal family of Japanese amateur wrestling, and in the 90s, Miyu was a three-time world champion, and her younger sister Seiko was also a multi-time champion. Both were very well known because they were really good looking and Miyu also married three different celebrity athletes at different times, one of which was early MMA star Enson Inoue. Miyu is now 42, and still competes as an amateur wrestler living in Toronto. She’s extremely fit and attractive for her age. She came out with a bunch of family members, his own children as well as some nieces and nephews, as the third generation Yamamotos. Both Yamamoto and Ngueyn danced to the ring (as did Garcia), almost like they were having a dance contest. Miyu got two takedowns, but was caught in an armbar and almost a gogoplata for the submission.

8. Rena Kubota (3-0) beat Hanna Tyson (1-1) via knockout at 2:47 of the third round. Kubota is a pretty kickboxer who they are trying to push. Rena got some takedowns and there were some ground scrambles in the first two rounds. In the third round, Rena put her down with a knee and body kick. She kept landing knees, punches and body kicks until it was stopped.

9. Hideo Tokoro (34-29-2) beat Erson Yamamoto (1-2) in 1:19. This was very much pushed as a way to get to Tokoro vs. Kid Yamamoto. Kid was in Erson’s corner. Erson is Miyu’s son, who is a 2016 Olympic hopeful, although doing MMA could get in his way. Kid’s gym is called the Killer Bee’s and Tokoro was pushed as the Bee Hunter. Yamamoto decked Tokoro with a right, but in working from the top, got caught in an armbar, actually similar to his mother. His elbow may have popped and he was holding the elbow like he was hurt. Tokoro issued a challenge to Kid, who accepted, which got a big reaction.

10. Kron Gracie (4-0) beat Tatsuya Kawajiri (35-11-2) in 2:04 of the second round. Kawajiri, who is 38, was a big star but is clearly past his prime. Kron Gracie is Rickson’s son, who trains with the Diaz Brothers and Gilbert Melendez. Rickson, who was a pioneer of Japanese MMA and Pride was built around the first two Gracie-Takada fights, was there with his son. This was good action with a lot of knees and dirty boxing back-and-forth from the clinch. Gracie pulled guard a few times and nearly got an armbar in the first round, but Kawajiri escaped. In the second round, Gracie got his back and got the choke.

11. Cro Cop (35-11-2) beat Aliakbari (5-1) in 2:02. Cro Cop was fresh from his quick win while Aliakbari had to come back from a grueling close fight. They showed Jerome LeBanner, a star kickboxer from the K-1 era, at ringside, feeling like they were wanting to go to Cro Cop vs. LeBanner next. Cro Cop landed knees to the body and dropped him with a left. Cro Cop dropped him a second time with a left and finished him with punches on the ground.

Cro Cop was in tears in having won the tournament 10 years after winning the famous Pride Open Weight Grand Prix, and when his career looked to have been over as a serious fighter years ago. He got a standing ovation, and was given the oversized check, the big trophy, a Casio watch and a cruise to Spain as presents. They had a medal ceremony with Cro Cop also getting a gold medal, Aliakbari a silver, and Baruto and Moldavsky bronze medals.


The almost weekly saga of Jose Alberto Rodriguez (Del Rio) added another crazy story this past week, after two different brawls on 12/31 after appearing on a pro wrestling show the night before promoted by Chris “The Bambikiller” Raaber in Leoben, Austria.

Alberto and brother Guillermo (El Hijo de Dos Caras), were in Austria for Raaber to do a tag team match against two local wrestlers. Alberto and Raaber had become good friends when both were in WWE developmental in Florida in 2009 and Raaber worked with Alberto on his English to get him ready for the main roster.

After the show, the two were at a party at a stadl in Austria, which is a term that can be used by a barn or a dance club in a rural area.

There was an altercation with another person at the party. The two brothers reportedly beat him up so badly he had to be taken to the hospital. Police were called and both were taken to the police station.

The police in Austria would not confirm any names, but several area media sources did list Alberto and his brother as the two Mexican nationals involved in the brawl. The police said the first media story, broke by “Krone,” an Austrian tabloid, was essentially true but aspects of it were greatly exaggerated. Since that story broke, a number of other Austrian outlets picked up the story.

According to Fritz Grundnig, the press officer for the office of the Styrian county police, that police were called at 6:30 a.m. on 12/31 about a brawl at a club in Leoben between a 26-year-old Austrian and two Mexican nationals, ages 30 and 39. The Austrian received undetermined injuries, bruises and contusions, but no broken bones. He was treated at a local hospital, and was able to leave the hospital after treatment and not held.

The two Mexican nationals were then brought to the precinct “where they suddenly started attacking each other.” There was one media article which stated the fight started when Alberto was unable to calm his brother down, but police did not confirm that story. Another media report said that both blamed the other for the first fight and that led to them fighting each other.

The younger brother was slightly injured and also had to be brought to the hospital and received outpatient treatment. The younger brother was said to have been bleeding heavily when he was taken to the hospital but didn’t appear to be injured that badly.

During the scuffle, there was damage to a wooden desk, where the top board was torn and damaged, as well as damage to a wooden chair and to some plastic filings. The floor and walls received stains from splattered blood of the younger brother. The amount of damage was described as minimal.

Ten officers were needed to break up the fight, and cuffed Alberto. The handcuffs they tried to use were too small and then they tried to subdue him with zip ties, which he ripped through. They finally were able to cuff his feet with shackles to subdue him and he quickly calmed down after that. In the police station fight, Alberto reportedly knocked out his brother.

Both Mexican nationals were then arrested. After consulting with the local office of the District Attorney, charges were filed against both men for assault and for damage of property. Both men were then released on bail. There were media outlets reporting that both were held for 24 hours, but Grundnig stated that was incorrect. The charges were being forwarded to the local authorities in both men’s place of residence.

It should be noted that while Paige was originally going to be traveling with them on this trip, she stayed back in Florida.

The police station walls ended up having to be repainted and some of the furniture needed to be replaced. The two made up afterwards.

Both left Austria and returned home. Alberto was actually at the WWE Raw show two days later in Tampa. He came to the building to pick Paige up, but they left before the show started. She was called to Raw to have their doctors examine her neck to see how it is progressing after surgery.

Historically, when someone makes the kind of headlines as frequently as Alberto does in a short period of time, the story usually doesn’t end well.

Guillermo missed his scheduled 1/1 show at Arena Naucalpan, the same arena where Alberto had gotten into the altercation with Rafy the Ninja Turtle a few weeks ago. There was talk of reprisals on Guillermo, who then no-showed the next week and was advertised again for this past week.

Alberto was the top draw for Raaber (Chris the Bambikiller) on a show on 12/30 in Leoben, Austria, before 1,000 fans, a number impressive since the city’s population is only 25,000. He and his brother were in Europe for only one show.

Raaber won the EWA title from Joe Doering, returning from battling brain cancer, in the main event. Alberto and his brother beat two local wrestlers, and Alberto later came back to help Raaber in saving him from a belt shot from Doering.

He said Raaber was a real friend in a business of back stabbers and talked about WWE will try and hold you down, and said that he wasn’t a sports entertainer, he was a pro wrestler and thanked fans for supporting pro wrestling shows like this one.

Thanks to Markus Gronemann for the coverage of this story


Raw on Jan. 2 did a 2.08 rating 3,040,000 viewers (1.59 viewers per home), the best number since 11/28 and an usually high number for viewers per home..

The increase of seven percent from last week was probably a combination of Bill Goldberg, the increase in interest at this time of the year and weaker football competition against the second and third hour. The big bounce back should take place on 1/16.

Raw was eighth for the night on cable, trailing college football and college football related programming on ESPN. The Rose Bowl game with USC vs. Penn State, which went against the first hour of Raw, did 15,740,000 viewers, which was better than most NFL games. The Sugar Bowl game with Auburn vs. Oklahoma did 9,515,000 viewers, which was lower than most NFL games.

The first hour did 3,042,000 viewers. The second hour did 3,159,000 viewers. The third hour did 2,939,000 viewers.

The show did a 0.82 in 12-17 (up 7.9 percent), 0.92 in 18-34 (up 4.5 percent), 1.26 in 35-49 (up 10.5 percent) and 1.11 in 50+ (down 0.9 percent).

The audience was 63.3 percent males in 18-49 and 59.1 percent males in 12-17.

The Hardys Year in Review show on 12/29 did 224,000 viewers, well down from usual (it was above the previous week’s year in review show that did 209,000), but you’d figure that with that type of an episode. Next week will be the first show from the new regime and first show that wasn’t taped way ahead of time in months, since it’s almost live. We’ll get a better idea of where the interest level in TNA is right now with that one.

Total Divas didn’t air on 12/28.

. Smackdown on 12/27 did its biggest numbers since the draft show and second biggest of the year with 2,885,000 viewers. It was also the first time since the draft show that Smackdown outrated Raw. It beat Raw for the week, which did 2,848,000 viewers, although that’s hardly indicative of anything since Raw was going against the highest-rated Monday night game of the season and Smackdown featured the return of John Cena and three advertised title matches. The show had been doing well in recent weeks, so the storyline mix was growing, but it was the return of Cena that led to the big number, plus it says something about the value of pushing three championship matches hard for a week instead of the usual just advertising one segment usually a day in advance or occasionally a big match a week ahead.

Smackdown was third for the night on cable, beating all the news programs, losing only to college football on ESPN (4,046,000) and Curse of Oak Island on the History Channel (3,679,000).

The show did a 0.69 in 12-17 (up 11.3 percent), 0.79 in 18-34 (down 1.3 percent), 1.09 in 35-49 (up 13.5 percent) and 1.15 in 50+ up (up 4.5 percent).

The show did 60.4 percent males in 18-49 and 65.2 percent male in 12-17.

Raw on 12/26 did a 1.93 rating and 2,848,000 viewers (1.60 viewers per home, the highest in years, but that number will rise as more people drop cable, since the families that watch shows like this together are the ones who aren’t dropping cable).

Smackdown on 12/20 did 1.88 rating and 2,637,000 viewers (1.52 viewers per home).


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RESULTS

 

12/28 Brooklyn (WWE Raw- 9,000): Cesaro & Sheamus won three-way over Big E & Xavier Woods and Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson, Big Cass b Rusev, R-Truth & Goldust & Sin Cara & Curtis Axel & Darren Young b Primo & Epico & Jinder Mahal & Titus O’Neil & Bo Dallas, Cruiserweight title: Rich Swann b Neville, Seth Rollins b Chris Jericho, Alicia Fox referee: Sasha Banks & Bayley & Liv Morgan b Charlotte & Nia Jax & Dana Brooke, Braun Strowman b Sami Zayn, U.S. title: Roman Reigns b Kevin Owens

12/28 Nashville (WWE Smackdown - 5,500): Gauntlet series: Heath Slater & Rhyno b The Ascension, Heath Slater & Rhyno b Aiden English & Simon Gotch, Tyler Breeze & Fandango b Heath Slater & Rhyno, Jason Jordan & Chad Gable b Tyler Breeze & Fandango, Jason Jordan & Chad Gable b Usos, Women’s title: Alexa Bliss b Becky Lynch, James Ellsworth b Curt Hawkins, Baron Corbin b Kalisto, Non-title cage match: Dolph Ziggler b The Miz, Nikki Bella b Natalya, Randy Orton & Luke Harper & Bray Wyatt b Mojo Rawley & Jack Swagger & Apollo Crews, Three-way for WWE title: A.J. Styles won over Dean Ambrose and John Cena

12/29 Boston (WWE Raw - 6,700): Sheamus & Cesaro won three-way over Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods and Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson, Big Cass b Rusev, Alicia Fox referee: Sasha Banks & Liv Morgan & Bayley b Charlotte & Dana Brooke & Nia Jax, Cruiserweight title: Rich Swann b Neville, Seth Rollins b Chris Jericho, R-Truth & Goldust & Curtis Axel & Sin Cara & Darren Young b Bo Dallas & Titus O’Neil & Jinder Mahal & Primo & Epico, Braun Strowman b Sami Zayn, U.S. title: Roman Reigns b Kevin Owens

12/29 Atlanta (WWE Smackdown - 8,000): Gauntlet series: Heath Slater & Rhyno b The Ascension, Heath Slater & Rhyno b Aiden English & Simon Gotch, Tyler Breeze & Fandango b Heath Slater & Rhyno, Jason Jordan & Chad Gable b Tyler Breeze & Fandango, Jason Jordan & Chad Gable b Usos, Women’s title: Alexa Bliss b Becky Lynch, James Ellsworth b Curt Hawkins, Baron Corbin b Kalisto, Non-title cage match: Dolph Ziggler b The Miz, Randy Orton & Bray Wyatt & Luke Harper b Jack Swagger & Mojo Rawley & Apollo Crews, Nikki Bella b Natalya, Three-way for WWE title: A.J. Styles won over John Cena and Dean Ambrose

12/30 Los Angeles Staples Center (WWE Raw - 8,400): Four-way for tag titles: Sheamus & Cesaro won over Enzo Amore & Big Cass, Big E & Kofi Kingston and Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson, Cruiserweight title: Rich Swann b Neville, Alicia Fox referee: Sasha Banks & Bayley & Liv Morgan b Charlotte & Dana Brooke & Nia Jax, Seth Rollins b Rusev, R-Truth & Goldust & Darren Young & Sin Cara & Curtis Axel b Bo Dallas & Titus O’Neil & Jinder Mahal & Primo & Epico, Braun Strowman b Sami Zayn, Street fight for U.S. title: Roman Reigns b Kevin Owens

12/30 Miami (WWE Smackdown - 5,000): Gauntlet series: Tyler Breeze & Fandango b Heath Slater & Rhyno, Jason Jordan & Chad Gable b Tyler Breeze & Fandango, Jason Jordan & Chad Gable b Simon Gotch & Aiden English, Jason Jordan & Chad Gable b The Ascension, Jason Jordan & Chad Gable b Usos, Women’s title: Alexa Bliss b Becky Lynch, James Ellsworth b Curt Hawkins, Baron Corbin b Kalisto, Non-title cage match: Dolph Ziggler b The Miz, Randy Orton & Bray Wyatt & Luke Harper b Jack Swagger & Mojo Rawley & Apollo Crews, Nikki Bella b Natalya, Three-way for WWE title: A.J. Styles won over John Cena and Dean Ambrose

12/30 Mexico City Arena Mexico (CMLL - 8,000): El Hijo del Signo & Metalico b Flyer & Robin, Pegasso & Star Jr. & Triton b Nitro & Sangre Azteca & Virus, Rey Cometa b Sagrado, Blue Panther Jr. & Drone & The Panther b Kraneo & Olimpico & Ripper, Angel de Oro & Marco Corleone & Stuka Jr. b Rey Bucanero & Shocker & El Terrible, Caristico & Valiente & Volador Jr. b Cavernario & Felino & Negro Casas

1/1 Mexico City Arena Mexico (CMLL - 4,500): Demus 3:16 & Mercurio & Pierrothito b Acero & Astral & Ultimo Dragoncito, Angel de Oro & Blue Panther Jr. & Guerrero Maya Jr. b Bobby Z & Polvora & Ripper, Atlantis &N Marco Corleone & Stuka Jr. b Felino & Negro Casas & Rey Bucanero, Caristico & Valiente & Volador Jr. b Ephesto & Mephisto & Hechicero, Hair vs. hair: Maximo b Mascara Ano 2000

1/02 Tampa (WWE Raw/Main Event TV tapings - 8,400): Ariya Daivari b Lince Dorado, Primo & Epico b Darren Young & Bo Dallas, Non-title: Seth Rollins b Kevin Owens-DQ, Karl Anderson b Cesaro, Last man standing: Braun Strowman b Sami Zayn, Xavier Woods b Titus O’Neil, Drew Gulak b Cedric Alexander, U.S. title: Roman Reigns b Chris Jericho, T.J. Perkins b Brian Kendrick, Bayley b Nia Jax

1/3 Jacksonville, FL (WWE Smackdown/205 Live TV tapings - 6,000): Mojo Rawley b Curt Hawkins, Baron Corbin b Dolph Ziggler, Becky Lynch b La Luchadora, Carmella b Aliyah, Non-title: Jason Jordan & Chad Gable b Tyler Breeze & Fandango, IC title: Dean Ambrose b The Miz to win title, Tajiri b Sean Maluta, Jack Gallagher b Tony Nese-DQ, Mustafa Ali b Noam Dar, Neville b T.J. Perkins, WWE title: John Cena b A.J. Styles-DQ, John Cena & Jason Jordan & Chad Gable b Bray Wyatt & Randy Orton & Luke Harper

1/3 Tokyo Differ Ariake (New Japan festival - 1,500 sellout): Yuji Nagata b Tomoyuki Oka, Manabu Nakanishi b Henare, Jushin Liger & Tiger Mask b Hirai Kawato & Ryusuke Taguchi

CMLL:

The 12/30 show drew 8,000 fans, which was up due to the post-Christmas holiday and strong because of all the tourists once again. It was a normal show as they just put over the tecnicos clean in the top two matches. The crowd was decidedly different from usual with the tourists since it was such a pro-tecnico crowd. It’s notable that the shows they didn’t put anything special on drew well over the holidays, while they show they pushed on 12/23 didn’t with the women’s cage of death. The main event saw Caristico & Valiente & Volador Jr. beat Cavernario & Felino & Negro Casas in a ***3/4 match. Lots of dives, good action for 13:35 and strong heat, finishing with Volador pinning Cavernario with a Canadian destroyer. Near the finish, Volador did a springboard plancha onto Cavernario, who was standing in the front row. The other top match saw Angel de Oro & Marco Corleone & Stuka Jr. beat Rey Bucanero & Shocker & El Terrible. The biggest news revolves around the 1/6 show. They are doing one of the most loaded Friday night shows that isn’t one of the big four in years. For a traditional promotion, they are changing things around and even doing cheap kids prices (only 50 cents for a child accompanied by an adult). The holiday shows are over so if this draws well, it’ll show that non-big shows in this day and age will draw for them with more singles matches with top stars. If it doesn’t, they’ll continue to do what they’ve been doing.

The show, built around the Three Kings Day holiday, was pushed as being built around three of the biggest programs of 2016, with Ray Cometa vs. Cavernario, Volador Jr. vs. Mephisto and Valiente vs. Ultimo Guerrero. They also announced three more major bouts, with a main event of Atlantis & Caristico & Mistico vs. Euforia & Gran Guerrero & Niebla Roja, plus Rush & La Mascara vs. Marco Corleone & Maximo Sexy, and The Panther family (Blue Panther & Blue Panther Jr. & The Panther) vs. The Casas Family (Negro Casas & Puma & Tiger). It’s the last chance for a big show as both 1/13 and 1/20 will be way down in star power because the biggest names will be in Japan for Fantastica Mania. The last time they did a seven-match show at Arena Mexico was the 2013 anniversary show, and in this, aside from the women’s trio opener, six of the seven matches are with main event stars. This ties in with a lot of rumors that the company is attempting to modernize its product. What will be interesting is if the singles matches break from the 2/3 fall tradition to one fall. One of the reasons the company runs fewer matches is because the goal is always to end at around 11 p.m. and with an 8:30 p.m. start and almost all 2/3 fall matches (the lightning match is one fall), there isn’t time for any more. In recent years, CMLL has had people come along who try and change things up, but eventually they go back to the way they always do business with all the trios matches.

The most pushed show of the week was the 1/1 show, which drew about 4,500 fans for the Maximo vs. Mascara Ano 2000 hair match. Maximo won, thank God because it would have been ridiculous for the company’s world heavyweight champion to have lost to a guy from another era. There were a lot of near falls before Maximo kissed him a few times. Mascara lifted up his shoulder at two, even though it was supposed to be the finish, which came off pretty unprofessional, like even at this stage the macho man didn’t want to do the job for the exotico.

Volador Jr. hits 900 days as NWA welterweight champion in two weeks. He retained the title on Jan. 2 in Puebla beating La Mascara. Volador won it from La Sombra on August 1, 2014. It’s the longest title run since Mano Negra in 1976-79 who held it 1,197 days. The record, that will probably never be broken, is held by Karloff Lagarde, who held the title for 2,749 days between 1958 and 1965. One of the reasons Lagarde should be in the Hall of Fame is that even though he’s best known as a tag team wrestler with Rene Guajardo as his partner, but aside from two months, he was NWA welterweight champion from 1958 to 1967, and that’s an era where titles meant far more. There are a number of Mexican wrestlers who aren’t in the Hall of Fame and belong in, probably more than anywhere else, but as much as people will mention other names, I think Lagarde is the strongest candidate of all.

AAA:

AAA announced a 2/11 show in Cuatitlan with Angelico & La Parka & Psycho Clown vs. Monsther & Murder & Dave the Clown. Dave the Clown in a main event is something really said. Also Pentagon Jr. & Daga vs. Mesias & Pagano and Apache & his daughters Mary & Faby against Averno & Chessman & Ricky Marvin. Essentially this promotion seems like it’s running in place.

The 1/1 show (this was not AAA’s show itself but the local promotion that booked AAA talent) drew a sellout of 2,000 fans at Arena Neza with a cage of death match where Joe Lider ended up losing his hair. Well, that was the stipulation. He had some hair cut off, but came about as far from losing his hair as anyone who has lost a hair match. The match included El Texano Jr., Pagano, Averno, Chessman and El Hijo de Pirata Morgan, with the last guy left in the cage getting his head shaved. There was interference from the clowns, as Psycho helped Texano escape while Monsther and Murder Clown kept Lider in the cage. It came down to Lider and Pagano, who then did a one fall match in the cage that Pagano won.

ALL JAPAN:

Atsushi Onita, who just suffered a broken leg, still showed up to defend the All-Asia tag team titles in a barbed wire board death match on Jan. 2 at Korakuen Hall, beating Jun Akiyama & Masao Inoue when Fuchi pinned Inoue after a backslide. The annual Battle Royal, which is always the main event on Jan. 2 at Korakuen Hall on All Japan’s traditional first of the year, drew 1,301 fans. In the Battle Royal, Takao Omori pinned tag team partner Manabu Soya when they were the last two left. Omori will be challenging Kento Miyahara for the Triple Crown on 1/15. The show also featured Joe Doering’s return from brain cancer, as he teamed with Suwama & Hikaru Sato to beat Miyahara & Jake Lee & Naoya Nomura when Doering pinned Nomura.

On the 1/3 Korakuen Hall show, before 1,061 fans, Zeus & The Bodyguard retained the world tag titles over year-end tournament winners Omori & Manabu Soya, who went unbeaten in the tournament. Bodyguard pinned Omori, and then Bodyguard said he wanted a shot at the Triple Crown. Keisuke Ishii retained the jr. title beating Yuma Aoyagi with a double arm DDT.

They also announced this year’s Junior heavyweight Battle of Glory tournament will be from 2/17 to 2/26, with the finals in Osaka. The A block has Atsushi Aoki, Koji Iwamoto, Ishii, Masashi Takeda and Minoru Tanaka. The B block has Hikaru Sato, Yohei Nakajima, Yuma Aoyagi, Atsushi Maruyama and Kazuhiro Tamura.

NEW JAPAN:

Ricochet on plans for 2017 from Sports Illustrated: “Right now, I’m enjoying New Japan. I want to focus on that, and that’s another reason why I’m going to take a lighter schedule in 2017 to focus on Japan. I want to do a lot more New Japan, and I’m really focused on winning the IWGP jr. heavyweight championship. I want that title so bad. I’ve always had goals, and that is my last goal. After that, I can focus on the long distance future. The guys on the 205 Live cruiserweight show are awesome. My boy Rich Swann is killing it. But that’s not the route I want to take. I want to work my way up from NXT champion to U.S. or Intercontinental champion. I have goals, and I’m not willing to settle. This is nothing against the cruiserweights on 205, but it’s just not for me.”

Right now, the only scheduled events on New Japan World for the rest of the month are the New Year’s Dash on 1/5, the three Korakuen Hall shows, 1/20, 1/21 and 1/22 during the Fantastica Mania tour, and the 1/27 Korakuen Hall show. The Fantastica Mania lineups will be out this week. The two matches that are thought to be the headliners are a Volador Jr. vs. Kushida singles match and a Hiromu Takahashi vs. Dragon Lee rematch.

OTHER JAPAN NOTES:

Besides the MMA show, there is another annual tradition in Japan at Korakuen Hall on New Year’s Eve as they had a 16-team multi promotional tag team tournament which starts at 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve and goes well past midnight so the show is listed as taking place on 12/31 and 1/1. They drew a near sellout of 1,510 fans with wrestlers from DDT, Big Japan, Basara, 666, Wrestle-1, K-Dojo and All Japan. Lots of teams had members from two different promotions. The most notable teams were Harashima, one of DDT’s biggest stars, teaming with Daisuke Sekimoto, the Big Japan star, Kaz Hayashi teamed with Danshoku Dino, 74-year-old Great Kojika teamed with Joey Ryan, and there was a second generation legends team of Yukio Sakaguchi & Daichi Hashimoto. The final match saw Kazusada Higuchi, one of the most highly-touted newcomers, from DDT, teaming with Big Japan’s Yoshihisa Uto to beat Hideyoshi Kamitani of Big Japan & Konosuke Takeshita of DDT. The idea is to prime Uto & Higuchi for big breakout years in 2017. Uto had pinned Sekimoto in a tag match in the first round of the tournament. During the show they announced the winners of the Japanese indie awards. Shuji Ishikawa was named Indie MVP. Ryuji Ito vs. Kankuro Hoshino on 7/24 at Sumo Hall for the Big Japan death match title was named best indie match of the year. Takuya Nomura was named indie Rookie of the Year.

Tokyo Sports listed its five biggest Japanese pro wrestling news stories of 2016 as: 1) Shinsuke Nakamura leaves New Japan for WWE (not mentioning his success in WWE, just the leaving); 2) Pro Wrestling NOAH being sold; 3) The huge popularity of Los Ingobernables en Japon and Tetsuya Naito; 4) Death of Hayabusa; 5) Kento Miyahara becomes All Japan’s top star as Triple Crown champion.

DDT’s first show of the year drew a sellout 1,750 to Korakuen Hall on 1/3 as Harashima retained the KO-D title beating Speedball Mike Bailey. Harashima defends on 1/29 at Korakuen Hall against Daisuke Sasaki. They are also doing a four-man tournament in January with Konosuke Takeshita, Kazusada Higuchi, Kudo and Tetsuya Endo, with the winner getting a title shot at the company’s 20th anniversary show on 3/20 at the Saitama Super Arena.

Shayna Baszler, along with Nixon Newell, Kris Wolf, Viper and Kay Lee Ray are all on a long tour of Stardom that started on 1/3 in Tokyo. Newell will start with WWE shortly after this tour.

Rizin put a women’s pro wrestling show on 12/29 as part of its fan expo before the fight night of the tour. They brought Chigusa Nagayo, the biggest woman’s pro wrestling star ever in Japan, to team with Manami Toyota & Takako Inoue to beat Dump Matsumoto (Nagayo’s big rival in the mid-80s including two huge at the time hair vs. hair matches) & Zap T (Tomoko Watanabe) & Aiger in 6:59 when Nagayo pinned Aiger. Rizin promoter Nobuyuki Sakakibara talked about perhaps doing a women’s show at the Saitama Super Arena, their home base, but told Nagayo that they would need a Crush Gals reunion to do that.

Akebono is out of action again with cellulitis, which has come back for the fourth time in the last year or so.

Zero-One opened its year on 1/1 at Korakuen Hall with a show headlined by Kohei Sato retaining their world title over Fire Festival winner Yusaku Obata with a running elbow. Sato will next defend against Kai on 2/3 at Korakuen Hall. The next day, Kai, who is a free agent after leaving Wrestle-1, went to the All Japan show and also said he wanted a shot at the Triple Crown. In the NWA IC tag title match, Masato Tanaka & James Raideen retained over Daisuke Sekimoto & Shogun Okamoto, while Shinjiro Otani retained both the NWA (not affiliated with the NWA in the U.S.) Jr. And Int. Jr. Titles over Takuya Sugawara.

Big Japan opened the next night at Korakuen Hall before 1,278 fans, in what we were told was an off-the-charts match where Sekimoto & Yuji Okabayashi won the Big Japan tag titles over Sato & Shuji Ishikawa in 21:51 when Sekimoto pinned Ishikawa with a deadlift German suplex. Ishikawa came off the ropes with a diving running head-butt that split Sekimoto open and blood was pouring like crazy over the new Big Japan canvas. People were going nuts and one correspondent called it an early match of the year candidate and another rated it just below that level. Sekimoto defends his Big Japan Strong heavyweight title against Yoshihisa Uto on 1/29 in Nagoya.

HERE AND THERE:

Teddy Hart (Ted Annis, 36), was arrested on 1/1 in Arlington, TX on charges of hazardous driving and attempting to evade a lawful arrest. Pro Wrestling Sheet reported that Annis was also allegedly operating a vehicle without consent of its owner and the police report also claimed he was intoxicated. Bond was set at $6,500.

AAW ended its year with a 12/30 show in Merrionette Park, IL, before a reported 690 fans, its record at the building. The show featured a surprise match as Matt Riddle beat Davey Richards via submission in their first-ever meeting. Drew Galloway pinned Jeff Cobb. Pentagon Jr. pinned Chris Hero with a package piledriver. ACH pinned A.R. Fox with a 450 to win the AAW Heritage title and Sami Callihan retained the AAW title over Rey Fenix. The show was the final show with the promotion of Hero, Heidi Lovelace and Kimber Lee. It was the last indie show of the latter two who both report to Orlando and WWE this month. Lovelace and Lee had a singles match and Lovelace noted it was her last show and thanked Danny Daniels for giving her a chance in AAW and said every ounce of success she had in wrestling was due to AAW. She fought back tears thanking them for allowing her to call AAW her home promotion. In the Hero vs. Pentagon Jr., match, Hero was whipped into the turnbuckles and one of the pieces of the ring post broke and then the top rope broke. This deflated the crowd somewhat. Hero and Pentagon had to eliminate all top rope moves so they instead did some middle rope moves. The ropes were fixed between matches. Hero did an interview and talked about how amazing it was the way the post broke. He thanked the fans for supporting pro wrestling and said that in spite of his lack of an appealing physical appearance, the crowd has always supported him. He said he’s never had a bad match in AAW and has never seen a bad show from the promotion. He said he was asked if this was his last show and he said he didn’t know. The promotion was of the impression this was his farewell, and that Silas Young will have his farewell with the promotion on 1/20.

An incident on the show involving Homicide got a lot of attention. After the Callihan vs. Fenix main event, the Killer Kult attacked Fenix and Homicide made the save. Homicide made some gay slurs and used the c word. The promotion said that they had Homicide cut a promo to build up a cage match on 1/20 and they gave him bullet points, but he did the verbiage. The promotion said that Homicide apologized to the staff immediately and realized it was a huge lapse of judgement, and also apologized immediately on Twitter. The promotion said they felt the interview was embarrassing and also alienated some of their fans and said that those kinds of slurs have no place inside a wrestling ring and there should be a zero tolerance policy for it. Danny Daniels (Dan Kiriakakis), one of the owners, said that after the show got derailed when the ring broke, and they had booked a heel title retention on top, he wanted to end with faces up so had Homicide make the save and told him to do a fired up emotional promo to challenge for a match on the 1/20 show. Kiriakakis said that while he didn’t script what he said and doesn’t condone it, he takes the blame for it and apologized for it and to anyone offended by it. He said that sexual preference slurs should not be used and even on their adults shows, where they have more latitude on promos that gay slurs won’t be allowed.

A Kurt Angle vs. Cody Rhodes cage match will headline the 3/3 Northeast Wrestling show in Waterbury, CT. They are pushing it that the two have met twice with each man getting a win, and this will decide it. Angle only has two matches booked going forward, this and the Alberto El Patron match for WCPW in the U.K. He’s been turning down other bookings.

ACH will be working regularly with Evolve this year.

Evolve is doing a program with Jeff Cobb and champion Timothy Thatcher. Thatcher, who has been out with a severe concussion, returns on 1/27 as part of the company’s shows in San Antonio for Rumble weekend. Thatcher & Cobb first challenge Fred Yehi & Tracy Williams for the tag team titles on a show that features the first Matt Riddle vs. ACH match, and then Thatcher defends against Cobb on 1/28 on a show that features Chris Hero vs. Zack Sabre Jr. .. A three-way with three of the best flyers in the world, Fenix (called Fenix El Rey since AAA trademarked not just Fenix, but Rey Fenix, behind his back for Mexico) vs. Volador Jr. vs. Flamita, which Fenix won, drew a strong crowd on 1/1 in Neza, with fans throwing money in after the match.

On the same day at Arena Naucalpan, there was a cage of death match with Imposible, Golden Magic Relampago and Pirata Morgan Jr. Imposible pinned Morgan Jr., who unmasked as revealed his name as Pedro Ortiz Jr., 35 years old with 15 years of experience. Pirata Morgan’s real name is Pedro Ortiz, and he’s 54.

LUCHA UNDERGROUND:

The show is going on hiatus after the 1/11 episode. This is to stretch things out because of how long it will be before the next season is filmed (fall 2017). The ides is that next week’s show will be the mid-season finale with some of a big angle or cliffhanger. The rest of season three that was taped would start at some point but nobody has said exactly when.

Johnny Mundo is appearing in a new Slim Jim’s ad, in a deal put together with the promotion

Notes from the 12/28 TV show. The show opened with Vampiro in the back with Puma, who is in fact still alive even after going out in a coffin. The show opened with Jeremiah Crane pinning Mil Muertes in 1:56. Catrina distracted the referee and Puma ran in and hit Muertes with kendo stick shots. Crane used a running kick and got the pin. Puma then did the Undertaker kneel but kneeled to Vampiro, so evidently he’s Vampiro’s guy until the end of the season. Backstage, Sexy Star was approached by a fan dressed up like Johnny Mundo. He told her that she was his favorite, well, except for Mundo. He talked about what a big fan he was of Mundo, but Mundo never wrote him back. She started thinking he was a weirdo. He then gave her a present. She opened it and it was a spider. She started screaming. Evidently she’s like Jericho and has arachnophobia. This was also evidently a gift from Mariposa. El Texano Jr. was lifting weights. Famous B came up to him and said that he was big and strong and a badass, but he’s not famous. While not untrue, it is something when one of the stars you are pushing on your own show and the current world champion in AAA, your sister promotion, is doing a gimmick where he’s a good wrestler but no famous. Famous B told him that he’s got all the tools, but he’s not translating to the audience, doesn’t connect with the fans and that’s why they cheer Cage over him. Famous B then said that, well, they do cheer him but they’re not invested in him and he said that he could fix Texano’s image and make him famous.

They announced next week as the mid-season show, with Mundo vs. The Mack for the Lucha Underground title as the main event. Jack Evans & P.J. Black beat Angelico & Son of Havoc in 5:46. Some good spots with Evans and Angelico, they did point out that the two of them used to be a tag team in Mexico. Evans talked about how Angelico was his old partner. Angelico was on the ground with a dislocated elbow and they went right to the finish with Evans pinned Havoc after a middle rope Phoenix splash. Sexy Star went to Dario Cueto and she wanted Mariposa in a match. She was demanding it. He was happy about it and agreed to it next week. Texano beat Cage in 2:13 with a superkick and a power bomb to tie their best-of-five at two matches each. Dario Cueto then came out and said that the ultimate opportunity is something really freaking awesome and that they were going to have the fifth match right now, an anything goes match.

Cage beat Texano in 13:40. This match was a great brawl as easily **** but there were parts of this match that felt out of touch. Cage was bleeding early. He did a running flip dive. Fans started chanting “Get your shit in” at Cage, which is a PWG chant because he likes to get his high spots in. Cage suplexed him onto the benches in the bleachers. The crowd went nuts fro that. Cage threw him into the guard rail. Texano knocked Cage off the risers. Texano then climbed up he guard rail and did a crossbody to the floor. Texano threw Cage threw three rows of chairs. This was so Memphis in the 80s which was a style that I used to love. Texano then clocked Cage with a hard chair shot to the head. That’s still Memphis in the 80s without the necessarily evolution. It’s so stupid they still do that. Texano started whipping him with his bullrope. Vampiro started talking about how Stan Hansen put Rick Martel out of the business doing that. Texano gave him a spinebuster on a chair. Cage came back with a hard chair shot to the head. They continued to brawl. Cage came back with a discus clothesline. He got the bullrope and started whipping Texano, and then used suplex into a piledriver for the pin. Dario Cueto came out and told him that he wasn’t going to tell him what the opportunity was in front of the fans because they would be too weak minded to understand it. He told Cage to come into his office. He gave Cage something to put on his fist. Evidently it’s the latest in modern Lucha Underground magic. If modern magic pro wrestling was working, ratings wouldn’t be falling and people wouldn’t be talking less and less about this company. Cage at first turned it down. But then put it on, and he got this rush of power. Cage, more than anyone, probably understood that feeling, grabbed Cueto and saw he was stronger than ever before. So he said he’d keep it.

ROH:

Jay Lethal, Bobby Fish, Hangman Page and Christopher Daniels signed new contracts. Lethal signed a two-year-deal.

Right now, ROH officials expect Kyle O’Reilly and Ray Rowe to leave for WWE, and that just about everyone else is staying. At this point, Rowe & Hanson are attempting to stay together as a tag team and make a package deal with ROH, New Japan, the combination of both or WWE all in the hunt. The belief is Adam Cole will be WWE-bound in May but from a legal standpoint he’s not even allowed to negotiate with them until 5/1.

From a legal standpoint, none of the contracted talent was allowed to negotiate with anyone else until 1/1. Quite clearly things went down very differently in real life.

Fish ended up taking this offer above an offer from WWE.

Rossy Ogawa, who runs the Stardom women’s group in Japan, which is the top women’s company in that country, said that they are working on business dealings with ROH. ROH booker Hunter Johnston was at the Stardom show in Tokyo on 1/3. Stardom is the company with Io Shirai, Mayu Iwatani, Kairi Hojo and Yoko Bito. Shirai and Hojo are probably two of the three best women wrestlers in the world right now.

Fish vs. Lio Rush is on the 2/4 show in Dallas.

Daniels & Frankie Kazarian are the highest profile opponents for the Tempura Boyz thus far, added to the 2/3 show in San Antonio.

Ring announcer Bobby Cruise has started taking indie dates.

The Young Bucks interview in last week’s issue was from a story on the Sports Illustrated web site.

TNA:

Verizon Fios will be dropping Pop TV as of 1/15, which takes TNA out of a lot of homes. However, Pop TV has made a deal where it will be live streamed as part of Hulu’s new live streaming TV service. Hulu announced that the CBS Network, as well as CBS Sports Network and Pop will all be part of the new service Hulu is looking at launching later this year.

There is a live PPV on 1/6 but there have been zero hints as to who will be on it and probably won’t be any hints until the 1/5 TV show. The tapings from 1/5 to 1/12 will cover Impact from 1/5 to 3/23. The 1/5 show will air on about a 90 minute to two hour tape delay, but the PPV on 1/6 will go live. They will be doing afternoon and evening tapings on 1/7 and 1/8 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., and then take 1/9 off, and tape Impact episodes 1/10, 1/11 and 1/12.

Matt & Reby Hardy on the 12/29 TV show said that their second child, due in the summer, would be a boy.

As of right now, Drew Galloway isn’t scheduled until 1/7 which means he’ll miss both the TV and the PPV. He had bookings scheduled with What Culture Pro Wrestling in the U.K. and he’s their heavyweight champion and he’s changed dates on them in the past several times and didn’t want to do that again because of how well that company has treated him. His contract is up in February. He’d make sense for New Japan but New Japan hasn’t been aggressive when it comes to signing new talent, because they have so many guys and Suzuki-gun in said to be returning. TNA wants him to sign an exclusive deal. ROH has interest and all the top U.K. groups don’t want him to sign an exclusive with TNA, since that would mean they’d have to go through TNA instead of him to get dates, and if TNA does start running house shows, that would make it difficult to get him. He and the Hardys are the key contracts coming up in the first quarter. Not sure Jeff’s expiration date but it is sometime in February. Matt’s contract expires on 2/27.

TNA has tried to sign both to exclusive deals, but the Hardys make so much doing indie shows that it’s going to take a lot of money to do that. The Hardys, particularly now with the gimmick, are the biggest deal in the promotion. The thing that helps is that Matt & Jeff are pretty much doing their own creative right now. Matt’s gotten a new life as a performer after starting to become a nostalgia act. Jeff was already one of the biggest indie names but it’s freshened his name up. But WWE does want them and there’s huge merchandising potential for them with the gimmick in WWE. If they were used regularly they’d make a lot more there. The schedule is much harder in WWE, and at their age (and with Matt about to have a second kid and not having any financial issues with life outside WWE) and in Jeff’s case with all his injuries, so there are advantages for both sides. Plus, in TNA, it is a lock they’ll be the most pushed or one of the most pushed acts. In WWE, they could get lost in the shuffle since WWE, rightly, is very much looking at building stars for the future rather than focusing on older wrestlers. But WWE is the place to be and Matt gets chants at WWE and especially NXT house shows regularly. So those negotiations are going to be very interesting. The description right now regarding both Hardys is that things are early in the negotiations. Matt, in particular, is likely going to try and angle for more influence on the creative end for the big picture product.

UFC:

Adam Geller, who was a stage producer at UFC events passed away on 1/4, after a two-year battle with colon cancer at the age of 39. Geller, who also worked for Showtime and the Brooklyn Nets and had worked at all kinds of major sports events including the Olympics, was a huge pro wrestling fan and probably one of the longest-lasting readers of this publication, dating back to his early teens I’d think. The guy had a great sense of humor, and produced one of the greatest videos ever of his wedding. He was a ridiculously and hilariously devoted father and one of the friendliest guys you’d ever meet.

Brock Lesnar was suspended for one year by USADA for his two positive tests for Hydroxy-Clomifene, and will be eligible to fight again on July 15, 2017. USADA doesn’t fine fighters, only suspends them. Lesnar had already been suspended for one year by the Nevada Athletic Commission and fined $250,000 for the failed tests, one coming on 6/28 and the other on 7/9, the latter right after his win over Mark Hunt at UFC 200 that was overturned into being a no contest. Lesnar has to agree to regular testing throughout the period of his suspension, or he can retire and then no longer be tested. Lesnar is still in the testing pool. If Lesnar was to retire, his suspension would be frozen and he would no longer be tested. If he were to later come out of retirement, his suspension would pick back up and he’d have to serve the remainder of the year after coming out of retirement and would not be allowed to fight until either four months, or the amount of time he had left on his suspension, whichever was longer.

Khabib Nurmagomedov claimed on the MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani that he would give Tony Ferguson $200,000 if he’d take the fight with him on 3/4 in Las Vegas. Ferguson is at an impasse with UFC money-wise, and said he wouldn’t take the money from Nurmagomedov, but wants a new higher paying contract. Nurmagomedov said that sometimes you have to do things for less money, noting he’d have made more than $1 million for a fight with Eddie Alvarez that he was offered, but it was then pulled when Conor McGregor took the Alvarez fight, and he ended up instead fighting on the same show against Michael Johnson for $100,000, one-tenth as much, but he felt he needed that fight so took it.

Fabricio Werdum didn’t get paid for UFC 207 after all that training according to Dana White in an interview. The basic rule is that if you weigh-in, you will get paid your show money. If the fight is canceled before the weigh-in, than it’s up to UFC’s discretion and because Werdum was offered other fights and turned them down, he wasn’t paid. Being a professional fighter can really suck.

They are looking at the new arena in Edmonton for a summer PPV show.

Bryan Caraway pulled out of his 1/15 bout with Jimmie Rivera in Phoenix due to an undisclosed injury. That was the No. 2 bout on UFC’s first show of the year.

Luke Rockhold and singer Demi Lovato have broken up. Lovato is now dating Guilherme Vasconcelos (8-3), a Bellator fighter who fights on the 1/21 show in Los Angeles at the Forum, and lost to Luke Zachrich in his only UFC fight on July 5, 2014 in Las Vegas. Vasconcelos had dated Lovato last year, after she broke up with Wilmer Valderrama and before Rockhold, who she started dating last summer. Vasconcelos could probably get booked in Japan now if Rizin hears about this. .. Jussier Formiga pulled out of his 1/15 fight in Phoenix against Sergio Pettis. He’s being replaced by John Moraga. Also on that show, Jordan Rinaldi pulled out of his fight with Devin Powell, and he’s being replaced by debuting Drakkar Klose, who comes in with a 6-0-1 record.

Mirsad Bektic vs. Darren Elkins and Todd Duffee vs. Mark Godbeer have been added to the 3/4 show in Las Vegas.

Josh Burkman vs. Michael Prazeres was added to the 3/11 show in Fortaleza, Brazil.

Daniel Jolly vs. Khalil Rountree has been added to the 2/4 show in Houston.

BELLATOR:

Chael Sonnen is one of the constants on the new season of “Celebrity Apprentice,” on NBC, which debuts head-to-head with Raw on Mondays and started on Jan. 2. Arnold Schwarzenegger will host the show and Sonnen, basketball superstar Lisa Leslie and Laili Ali are the stars the show is being built around.

OTHER MMA:

World Series of Fighting’s biggest show in its history took place on 12/31, an afternoon show where they had one hour on NBC Sports Network and two hours from 4-6 p.m. live on NBC, coming from The Theater in Madison Square Garden. On NBC, they had three championships fights with all three champions retaining. Bantamweight champion Marlon Moraes and lightweight champion Justin Gaethje (who is the company’s biggest star) extended their winning streaks to 13 and 17, respectively, and in both cases, this was the last fight on their contracts. WSOF pays both of them well, but they both may be in a position where they want to test themselves against the best. Gaethje (17-0) is also a super exciting fighter, but the belief is also that he would have a difficult time with the top UFC lightweights. He also seems to have lost something from all the wars he’s been in. Even at 28, he seemed slower in movement and was getting tagged with a lot of hard shots in his win over Luiz Firmino (19-8) in the main event. The fight was a back-and-forth war. By the second round, where Gaethje took a lot of punishment, and the third when he started to come back, it felt like a possible fight of the year. The fight was stopped right as the fourth round was to start because Firmino’s right eye had swollen shut and he couldn’t see out of it. He wanted to continue, but the eye looked bad and when they held up fingers and he couldn’t tell them how many were up, it was stopped. Everyone afterwards was talking about a rematch.

Firmino took the fight on three weeks’ notice replacing the injured Joao Zeferino. The other champion who retained, Jon Fitch (29-7-1), talked of retirement after his win over Jake Shields (31-9-1), which, from a name value, was the biggest fight WSOF could have put on. Fitch, 38, after winning a decision on straight 49-46 scores in a grinding Fitch-style fight over the 37-year-old Shields. The fight wasn’t exciting, with Fitch mostly outwrestling Shields and never being in trouble from Shields’ submission game, winning every round except the second. Fitch said he’d like to continue but didn’t know if he’d be able to, noting he’s been competing with a bulging disc and also got an MRI reading on his brain that concerned him. Fitch was a top-ten ranked welterweight in the UFC and he was cut, the claim being because his contract was high but it wasn’t that high and it was really because of the feeling he was a boring fighter, has gone 5-2 since leaving UFC. Shields was cut in early 2014 after a loss to Hector Lombard for similar reasons, since in his two fights previously, he scored split decisions over Tyron Woodley, who is now the UFC champion, and Demian Maia, who is the No. 3 contender and next in line for a title shot after the Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson rematch takes place.

On NBC Sports Network, David Branch retained the middleweight title beating Louis Taylor at 2:00 of the fifth round via choke. Also former UFC heavyweight Jared Rosholt, who was ranked by UFC at the time he was cut, largely for the idea his fights weren’t exciting, with the idea he could come in here and be a heavyweight force, was knocked out in 1:17 by Caio Alencar. On NBC, Marlon Moraes (18-4-1) regained his bantamweight title stopping Josenaldo Silva (25-5) at 2:30. They were having a pretty wild fight when Silva’s right knee went out and he went down and it was stopped immediately.

On the broadcast, they introduced Kayla Harrison, the two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo, who has signed with the promotion. They talked about her ending her career in judo and switching to the cage and clearly want to make her one of the company’s signature stars. She did commentary on the show. She signed a four-fight deal with the organization. While she was clearly a novice and commentary and still learning the nuances of the sport, she came across as very likeable. Harrison was a longtime training partner and roommate with Ronda Rousey and also something of a pro wrestling fan, noting of late that she would love to use a uranage or a rock bottom during an MMA fight. The uranage is a legit judo move that became popular first in pro wrestling when Shota Chochyashvili used it to beat Antonio Inoki at the first pro wrestling event at the Tokyo Dome, and then Hiroshi Hase started using it as his finisher and it then migrated to the U.S. The rock bottom was The Rock’s offshoot of the uranage. Harrison is 26, and won gold medals at 171 pounds in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics after winning the world championships in 2010. The plan seems to be for her to fight at 145 pounds. During the show they were also pushing the next card on 2/25 headlined by heavyweight champion Blagoi Ivanov defending against former UFC fighter Shawn Jordan.

WWE:

WrestleMania 34 will be held at the Superdome in New Orleans in 2018, a surprise coming back so soon to the city where they held the event in 2014. Minneapolis and Philadelphia were the two cities that had the most rumors, since both had been in the running in the past. Minneapolis was the favorite for 2017 but things fell through. Philadelphia was beaten out by Santa Clara/San Jose for the 2015 event. The announcement is expected to be made on 1/10 at a press conference. The Smoothie King Center would host Raw, Smackdown, NXT and the Hall of Fame that week. They must have gotten a sweet deal from the city to come back so quickly. Markets that are heavy tourist markets like New Orleans, Orlando, New York, etc. have an advantage in getting the show because they have strong infrastructures in place on bidding for these types of events.

Goldberg signed a three-PPV deal on his new contract, which will be Royal Rumble, Fast Lane (3/5 in Milwaukee) and WrestleMania. He will also be doing TV fairly often through Mania to promote all three of those shows.

Diamond Dallas Page was reported by PW Insider as the first inductee in the 2017 WWE Hall of Fame. It makes sense since WWE is also releasing a DDP video in March. Given all the work he’s done in trying to turn around the lives of Jake Roberts and Scott Hall alone makes him a real-life Hall of Famer in my book.

WrestleMania Fan Axxess takes place 3/30 to 4/2 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando.

There’s a very weird story regarding John Yurnet, who worked with Mustafa Ali on the 205 Live show on 12/27 in Chicago. It was clear from the start of the match that Yurnet’s leg all messed up. They had an awkward match. I couldn’t understand the ref not stopping it since Yurnet could barely move, but he did his spots and laid down for Ali’s reverse 450, which is a cool finisher they should be trying to get over. The two know each other from the Chicago indie scene. A few days later there was a Go Fund Me set up for him, saying he was trying to raise $10,000 for medical expenses, needing an MRI and surgery. That was strange on the surface because WWE covers the costs of injuries and rehab for talent. But this is a unique situation. For a long time, WWE only used people they had under contract except for occasional people to do squashes, but they are using more local extras and used a lot of cruiserweight competitors that they didn’t have signed. This is the first time I’m aware of an apparent serious injury that took place to one of these extras, and the first Go Fund Me campaign set up for an injury that took place on a WWE broadcast. Still, if the injury took place in their ring and on their show, even if the wrestler isn’t under contract, by all rights, they should cover it. Legally, do they have to? That’s a different situation. But the big question is whether Yurnet came in with the injury and wasn’t injured on the first move of the match. Some in the Chicago scene were unhappy because they were afraid it would reflect badly on them and on Ali, with the feeling because they did know each other that possibly WWE would think Ali, who is just getting his first break, knew. The insistence is he had no knowledge at all of it. Those close to Yurnet insist he was fine, was walking around fine backstage and it took place on the first spot where his knee went out. It’s a hard story to really talk about and WWE hasn’t answered any questions about it probably for that reason, because it’s a tricky subject if the injury was pre-existing. If it was, then from a moral standpoint, WWE shouldn’t have to pay for it.

There have been claims in the past where the company has believed guys have had injuries coming in and then hid them and claimed the injury took place in the match to get the company to pay for the surgery. That’s one of the reasons everyone undergoes extensive physicals before they are signed to contracts, but the loophole now is using extras without contracts on shows that haven’t gone through that process. It used to be even more prevalent with fighters, because commissions force the promotions to carry insurance for injuries, so it wasn’t unusual for guys not making money who suffered injuries that would need surgery in camp, to hide the injury, fight, and then claim the injury came in the fight. That’s one of the reasons UFC established its insurance for all fighters is that they would be covered for an injury and wouldn’t have to take the fight if needing surgery because it was the only way they could afford the medical costs. Yurnet is a good wrestler, a star for years in Puerto Rico who was also being used last year in AAA until AAA cut back greatly on use of foreigners and he was also aligned with Konnan, who had a bad break from the company and he was one of the guys they stopped using. As of the last word we had, WWE wasn’t covering anything but they did ask to have the MRI results sent in so there was hope from the Yurnet side that they may help with the costs.

After Foley went public with needing hip replacement surgery and having no insurance, several Go Fund Me’s were set up, and he wanted them all shut down and didn’t want anyone donating to them.

Michaels and Undertaker appear on the 1/9 Raw show in New Orleans. Both will likely tease something related to the Rumble. Michaels is also on to promote “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone,” a WWE movie that he has one of the lead roles in that comes out in a limited theatrical release on 1/20. The movie is a religious comedy produced by WWE Studios where Michaels is the fourth lead.

There was a clip of Ric Flair in the gym dead lifting 400 pounds less than two months before his 68th birthday. My back was killing me just watching his form.

Flair has also given up on the podcast he was doing on the MLW Network with Conrad Thompson. No reason was given.

On the 1/10 Smackdown show from Baton Rouge, they’ll have Cena vs. Corbin, Jordan & Gable vs. Wyatt Family for the tag titles and Nikki Bella vs. Natalya.

Lesnar returns on the 1/16 Raw in Little Rock, and Goldberg and Lesnar will both be on the 1/23 Raw in Cleveland.

There was a funny sequence this past week with Owens and Reigns. In every one of their matches, Owens does the long chinlock spot. Some fan was heckling Owens in the front row and Owens said that he made more money this past week than the fan makes in a year, noting that this past week he made $35,000 in royalties. Reigns started laughing in the headlock. Later Reigns said on Twitter that he made a lot more than that from Shield royalties that were split three-ways, so imagine how much more he’s making than Owens right now. Of course that didn’t come off well for a babyface. Cena must have gotten that third hand because he then posted a photo of him doing a heavy power clean and said while Reigns was making fun of what people earn, he was in the gym training.

Balor tweeted that he’d be part of the broadcast team for the U.K. title tournament.

Dwayne Johnson gave his father, Rocky Johnson, a new car for Christmas.

Johnson’s movie “Moana” was No. 4 over the holiday weekend with about $11 million, which is a strong showing for a movie that was in its sixth weekend of release. He’s past the $210 million mark domestically and $402 million worldwide. It was the 12th highest grossing movie of the previous 365 days.

The new offshoot of PTI that we wrote about weeks ago debuted on Jan. 2 after Raw, which is a talk show with Heyman, Layfield and Peter Rosenberg as hosts. In the original idea for the show, it was to reunite Heyman with Jim Ross, but Ross is filled these days with projects.

Regarding the women’s tournament that at first was scheduled to start in January, because of the decision to do the U.K. thing coming up so quickly (even though the claim it was in the planning stages for a year, yet nobody heard anything until recent weeks while the women had been told months back about their tournament), the women’s tournament series network special is tentatively earmarked for a May start.

The stock closed at $18.24 per share at press time, giving the company a $1.39 billion market value. That’s the lowest midweek close in several weeks.

The top ten most viewed shows on the WWE Network this past week were: 1. Bring it to the Table (the new show with Heyman, JBL and Peter Rosenberg); 2. NXT from 12/28; 3. Roadblock End of the Line; 4. Survivor Series; 5. 205 Live on 12/27 (not a good showing when it’s trailing two PPV shows from weeks ago); 6,. 2016 Royal Rumble; 7. Story Time Episode 5; 8. WrestleMania 32; 9. Talking Smack on 12/27; 10. 1988 Royal Rumble.

Notes from the first TV of the New Year on Jan. 2 in Tampa. The show had a slew of singles matches and felt like the start of the WrestleMania season in the final segment, where you had Goldberg, Reigns and Strowman teasing a battle. It’s interesting because Reigns is going for the Universal title and doesn’t figure to be in the Rumble itself, while Goldberg and Strowman are in the Rumble and will probably be key monsters in it. They strongly teased Goldberg vs. Reigns and I don’t think they’d do that without some idea of a payoff. I’d think Goldberg vs Reigns or Goldberg vs. Strowman could be at Fast Lane, or perhaps a three-way with them. Clearly, Strowman is being groomed for main event bouts against the top face over Mania season, whether that be Reigns, Undertaker or Goldberg. Between the Strowman elevation and last segment intrigue, and several good matches that were given time (Owens vs. Rollins, Cesaro vs. Anderson, Zayn vs. Strowman and Reigns vs. Jericho), this was a strong show. The show drew 8,400 fans.

For Main Event, Daivari pinned Lince Dorado with a frog splash. The Shining Stars beat Darren Young and new babyface Bo Dallas when Young was pinned with the dreaded roll-up and holding the tights.

Raw opened with Foley out, with a new haircut and a much trimmer beard. He looked 15 years younger. He came out and joked that from now on he’s writing the name of the city he’s in on his hand, because he messed up his cheap pop two weeks ago. He then joked saying “Right here in Jackson” (stopping at that point for Jacksonville) as a joke since they were in Tampa, the city he had written on his hand. Jericho & Owens came out. They were complaining about the Rumble match with Reigns and Jericho in the shark cage. Jericho talked about being hung 100 feet in the air like a sexy pinata. Owens then talked about Jericho being hung like a pinata and Jericho made him say sexy pinata. Jericho made fun of Foley’s haircut. He complained that Rollins gave him a pedigree on a car and Rollins suffered no punishment or repercussions, and instead was rewarded for it and complained that he’s being punished and Foley was abusing his power. This led to Foley announcing there would be the debut of the “Kevin Owens show” with Goldberg as the guest. Jericho said that they’d ask where he’s been for the last ten years, which they ended up not asking.

Stephanie came out and in this segment she was a babyface, defending Foley saying he isn’t abusing his power, although she did wish he consulted her before making the Rumble title match and shark cage stipulation. He said he wished she consulted him before making the Strowman vs. Zayn last man standing match. She made a remark about not telling him because he missed last week’s show for Christmas. Owens said who cares what Foley did for Christmas or who consults who, and said he and Jericho were national treasures. This led to the announcement of Reigns vs. Jericho for the U.S. title, and if Reigns is DQ’d or counted out, he loses the title. Foley made a screw up and said that he and wanted Jericho banned from ringside in the match. Obviously, Jericho was in the match and he meant to say Owens. Stephanie then brought up how Smackdown beat Raw last week in the ratings for the first time ever (well, first time since July). I like them doing that because the idea is to make the shows competition and most people see Raw as the main show because it’s been the main show for so long. Although the way she said it would indicate Raw always wins. She said it made her sick.

This led to the announcement of Owens vs. Rollins in a non-title match where the loser would be banned from ringside for the Reigns vs. Jericho title match. The funny part of this is that Rollins won, and never came out to ringside anyway. Stephanie told Foley that he needed to get his act together because they have a ratings war to win. Rollins beat Owens via DQ in 11:43. It turned into a good match. The big spot was Rollins going for a pedigree, Owens backdropping Rollins to power out of it but Rollins landing on his feet. Rollins hit a tope and both were fighting on the floor when Owens hit him with the ring bell for the DQ.

Anderson pinned Cesaro in 10:49. Cesaro looked really good here and this was really Anderson’s best opportunity to show his stuff on Raw in a singles match. Sheamus was on commentary. Gallows distracted Cesaro. Sheamus came down to ringside. Cesaro set up a superplex spot. Gallows tried to interfere. Sheamus pulled him off the apron. As Gallows was being pulled, he grabbed the ropes. Cesaro lost his balance and was crotched on the top rope and fell into the ring. Anderson came off the top rope with a gun stun (called a neckbreaker as the term gun stun is banned from WWE broadcasts) and got the surprise pin to kick off the new tag title program.

Strowman beat Zayn in 15:44 of a last man standing match. This was actually the best match on the show and was as close to perfect for what it needed to be. Right now is not Zayn’s time, and it is Strowman’s time as he’d being built up for big matches including at Mania. This isn’t the time for Zayn to come close and have the monster on the run and lose a fluke and get his heat back. This is the time for Strowman to go over strong. Zayn has a black eye. They said it was from his match with Strowman last week on television. Well, the problem with that is Zayn wasn’t even on television last week. Zayn used kendo stick shots and Strowman got the kendo stick away and broke it over his knee. Zayn tried a moonsault off the barricade and Strowman caught him and dropped Zayn on the barricade. Zayn threw Strowman into the post a few times and did his dive from the floor into the ring and out, except Strowman nailed him with a forearm. They ended up backstage. Zayn got a lead pip and used it twice but Strowman threw Zayn on top of suitcases. They brawled back out and Zayn used chair shots. Zayn did a crossbody off and both flew off the ramp and through some tables. Strowman barely got up before the count of ten. Fans started chanting “This is awesome” for the only time they would do so during this show. Zayn used more chair shots but Strowman came back and gave him a running powerslam on the floor just outside the ring. Zayn got up at nine. Strowman gave him all kinds of knees to the body and head, like an MMA finish, and another powerslam on the floor, and this time Zayn couldn’t make it up by ten. They put Zayn on a stretcher, but Strowman threw him off the stretcher and threw him into the barricades again. This match did a tremendous job of getting Strowman over where you now want to see him headline with the most powerful faces.

Gallagher was backstage with New Day teaching them techniques on using an umbrella like it was a sword in a fencing contest. Actually he was teaching them how to use an umbrella in a duel. New Day came out and said all three would be in the Rumble, which means we’ll get the annual crazy Kofi Kingston Rumble spot. They were going to give New Year’s Resolutions when O’Neil came out. He wanted to join the New Day and was singing “New Day Rocks.” O’Neil looked like a giant next to the other three guys. O’Neil wanted the trombone but Woods wouldn’t let him have it. So he pulled out a whistle and blew it to the tune of “New Day rocks.” He talked about how great his face would look on the Booty O’s package and Woods joked his face would more likely be on the back of a milk carton. O’Neil said that’s a strong joke coming from the weakest link. Woods challenged him to a match. O’Neil sucker punched him and agreed to it. Woods pinned O’Neil in 3:51 with a sunset flip. Woods did a running flip dive. This was Woods’ first singles match win on television in three years.

There were loud “Hogan” chants because there was a fan dressed up in Hogan gear in the front row. I guess the people backstage felt that he was too much of a distraction, or they weren’t ready for a Hogan image on their TV yet as they made him leave his seat at ringside and switched him to another seat on the other side of the ring where the cameras weren’t shooting. Stephanie was backstage with Bayley. She complained that her win over Charlotte was expunged from the record books but then she had to face Charlotte with Brooke as referee. Stephanie said Charlotte got high powered attorneys and she was left with no choice. Stephanie then told Bayley that she never wanted her on Raw in the first place, and that Foley fought for her and that’s why she’s there. She told Foley told her that Bayley could be the face of the women’s division but she doesn’t see it, and said, “You’re just Bayley.” Bayley said that nothing will stop her from achieving her dreams and Stephanie said that she almost convinced her. They are doing the Daniel Bryan thing with her, where Stephanie thinks she’s not good enough. Unlike with Bryan, where the idea was never for him to be the top guy, but because of circumstances and fan reaction, they were pretty much forced to put him in that spot anyway, the plan is for Bayley to get the super push and be champion this year. Hopefully it won’t happen quickly because the Bayley character needs to have a slow and long climb and overcome obstacles. The chase is the key. I don’t expect her to win the title at the Rumble, and if she does, I think it would be a big mistake as it’s too early. I believe the way they have it planned is the best thing for her. Stephanie announced she’d have a No. 1 contenders match with Jax.

Alexander & Fox were walking together backstage. Dar showed up in the hallway and apologized to Alexander for his behavior last week when he used the mistletoe and kissed Fox twice. Alexander said that he needed to apologize to Alicia. He apologized to her and called her sweet cheeks, so this story will continue. Gulak pinned Alexander in 2:26. Nese was at ringside wearing a suit. Nese jumped on the apron. Fox knocked Nese off the apron. Alexander was distracted by this and Gulak pinned Alexander with a schoolboy using the trunks. Aries asked how many times is Alexander going to lose because of Fox before he smartens up.

Reigns pinned Jericho in 12:56 in the U.S. title match. There was a pretty loud “Let’s go Roman, Roman sucks” chant. Another good match. With the title being able to change hands via DQ or count out, they worked in one cool spot with each. Reigns ran headfirst into the post and they teased a count out, just barely getting in at ten. The spot worked. They were lots of escaping each other’s big moves, including a sequence with a blocked codebreaker into a power bomb into a huracanrana and then reversed out and then reversed into a Walls of Jericho spot. Jericho came off the top into a Superman punch, but kicked out. Jericho did a great sell of the punch where you thought it was the finish. Jericho undid the turnbuckle padding. As the ref was distracted trying to put the padding on, Jericho grabbed the title belt. Instead of using it, he did the Eddy Guerrero spot, where he threw the belt to Reigns and then fell down like he was knocked out. The ref turned around and saw Jericho laid out and Reigns holding the belt. They teased he’d call for the title changing DQ, but the ref didn’t. When the ref didn’t call for the DQ, Jericho hit the codebreaker, but Reigns kicked out. Jericho ended up charging into and hitting the exposed metal turnbuckle and Reigns pinned him with a spear.

Perkins beat Kendrick in 2:38 with a kneebar. Neville was watching and they then advertised Perkins vs. Neville for the 205 Live show the next day. They are following through with the original idea of angles on Raw on Monday to set up the main events on 205 Live on Tuesday. It was announced as Cass & Enzo vs. Mahal & Rusev. But they said that Enzo was injured in Los Angeles two days earlier at the house show and he came out doing his promo in a motorized cart. So they did a handicap match where Mahal & Rusev beat Cass in 1:45. Mahal slapped around Enzo. Cass went after Mahal, and turned around into a side kick by Rusev for the pin. Bayley pinned Jax to earn the title shot in 3:21. Banks came out to distract Jax and Bayley used a belly-to-belly superplex for the pin. So they are going with Charlotte vs. Bayley and Banks vs. Jax as singles programs next.

The final segment was the Owens Show. Owens was out with Jericho. He introduced the man who dominated the attitude era and only has to stand in the ring to get the crowd chanting his name, “Chris Jericho.” Owens pulled it off really well and the crowd booed a lot. Jericho then put the crowd on the list. Jericho said he was in the Rumble match. Owens didn’t like the idea. Owens said that if Jericho wins the Rumble, then they would have to wrestle each other at WrestleMania. Jericho explained how that’s the perfect scenario, because if they wrestle each other, it’s a lock that they retain the title and each remains champion, since Owens had always said as long as he’s champion, Jericho should think he’s champion as well. He said that the best friends wrestle and either way they are co-champions after WrestleMania, it’s perfect. But Owens didn’t like it, once again doing the tease that Owens really doesn’t believe in the “both champions” and only says it so Jericho believes it and always helps him out. Goldberg came out. He noted that if Jericho was in the Rumble, “You’re first.” Goldberg threw a chair outside the ring and took off his jacket. Owens then said that didn’t impress him and threw chairs and his table out of the ring. Owens got in Goldberg’s face. Goldberg dared Owens to make a move. Just then, Heyman came out. He teased Lesnar coming out but said that Lesnar wasn’t there. Goldberg said he was going to take care of Lesnar and then face the winner of Owens vs. Reigns at WrestleMania for the title. Reigns then came out. Goldberg and Reigns went face-to-face. Strowman then came out as well and said he was winning the Rumble. Somewhere in here Jericho and Owens pulled the Houdini disappearing act. Goldberg and Regina looked at each other and kind of winked, and laid out Strowman with a double spear. The show ended with Reigns and Goldberg doing a stare down until they left the ring and Goldberg took photos with kids. Nothing of note happened after Raw went off the air.

Notes from the 1/3 Smackdown tapings in Jacksonville. The show drew 6,000 fans, which is better than they were doing in markets that size when Cena was out. Rawley pinned Hawkins with a running punch in the pre-show match. The show opened with Miz & Maryse out. Miz said that his New Year’s Resolution was to be more forgiving. He said that Renee Young owes him an apology for slapping him and wanted her to come out. Instead, Ambrose came out. Miz hid behind Maryse and Maryse slapped Ambrose. Ambrose said that the toughest part of his night was over because she hit harder then he does. Corbin pinned Ziggler in 13:35. The crowd was quiet most of the way but picked up toward the finish. Ziggler kicked out of a strong clothesline. Corbin kicked out of the Zig Zag, which the crowd popped big for. Corbin then got the pin with the End of Days. The match was average. Corbin grabbed a chair and went to attack Ziggler with it. Kalisto made the save and dropkicked the chair out of Corbin’s hands. Kalisto grabbed the chair and Corbin backed off. Ziggler then turned heel and superkicked Kalisto. Ziggler had to turn heel after the way he’d been killed as a face and portrayed as a guy whose career was going nowhere. So of course, when he did the turn, there was a gigantic “Yes” chant for his turn.

Carmella and Ellsworth were backstage. Ellsworth was doing the deal like he was all nervous around a pretty girl, messing up by saying things like “Kind you for the thank words” and such. He gave her an Ellsworth T-shirt. She asked him to come to the ring with her. Backstage, Rhyno, Rawley and Crews were hanging out with nothing to do. Ziggler showed up in the dressing room and starting throwing things all over the place. Crews got in his face and said that Kalisto was his friend. Ziggler head-butted Crews and the two rolled around on the ground until Rhyno and Rawley broke it up. So it looks like the Ziggler heel turn will give Crews a role. Lynch beat La Luchadora in 2:03. There were two La Luchadoras. The first may have been Deonna Purrazzo again, but it was impossible to tell. Whoever it was, she and Lynch didn’t work well together. She then crawled under the ring. A different La Luchadora came from the other side of the ring. She worked much better with Lynch. She then missed the twisted bliss, which was the spot where everyone was supposed to know it was her. Lynch made her tap out to the disarmer. Lynch then unmasked her. The other La Luchadora came from under the ring and both beat down Lynch and Bliss laid her out with a DDT. Next was the contract signing segment with Styles and Cena. These segments are way overdone, but due to Cena, this was quite good. Bryan was in the ring, and Styles noted how he and Bryan were cut from the same cloth, noting they wrestled in small buildings before small crowds and “this guy (Cena), he’s not like us.” Styles complained that Cena left for four months and walked right in and got a title shot, and how does that make sense. Bryan said that last week we beat Raw for the first time (it was the second time, but I guess the rule of thumb everyone has to say is it was the first time) and Bryan said that Styles headlined the show and Cena made his return, and that we have to keep the momentum. To keep the momentum, they have to put on the biggest match possible, Cena vs. Styles. If the goal was to win the ratings, why would you put that match on a show with Raw talent and not on a show to win the ratings? Not saying that’s what they should do, just that the way it was explained made no sense.

Styles said that Cena has been gifted a title match from the guy who is basically his brother-in-law. Styles noted that a few months ago Cena said that if Styles couldn’t beat him, he was just an overrated indie guy. New Japan is now an indie promotion to the WWE. Styles said now things have changed, and if Cena can’t beat him, Cena doesn’t belong in WWE. Styles said that Smackdown won the ratings for the first time because he was champion, not Cena. Styles made of how Cena apologized for what he said about Rock and saying he was wrong about it. Styles said that Cena was right all along when he said Rock was a phony who lost his passion and left the company high and dry. Styles said it was the truth about Rock and it’s the truth about Cena, and called Cena a has-been. He said that Cena will never be as big as the Rock in Hollywood never be as good in the ring as him. This got kids chanting really loudly for Cena in a way he hadn’t gotten a response in a long time. Cena told Styles he made the biggest mistake in his life because he pissed him off. He said he does need a win to prove he belongs because of chumps like Styles who think he already left. He said that Styles walks down the aisle every night because he has to. He does it because he wants to. He talked about how when Styles goes home, Cena is still working. He said people say he’s gone Hollywood because everyone else in his position would have been gone already but he’s still here. The crowd was chanting his name by this point. Corbin then came out and said he was winning the Rumble and going to beat Cena or Styles at WrestleMania and take the title. Cena said that Styles won’t fight so he wanted Corbin. But before they could go at it, Styles sucker kicked Cena and laid him out.

Maryse was backstage and confronted Renee Young. Maryse slapped her in the face. This is so set up for a mixed tag team match. Carmella beat Aliyah in 2:51. They positioned Aliyah as being from NXT. Ellsworth was at ringside and interfered, pulling Aliyah’s leg and Carmella superkicked Aliyah and made her tap out to the cone of silence. The idea is that Carmella is totally using Ellsworth to help her win matches. Jordan & Gable beat Breeze & Fandango in :30 when Breeze was pinned by Gable after Grand Amplitude. The Wyatts then appeared on the screen and Wyatt said that sooner or later reality would hit them and that they haven’t really won anything. Wyatt said next week they are coming to reclaim her titles.

Nikki and Natalya had an in-ring debate. Nikki said that she and her sister have worked hard to make the Bella name while Natalya is trying to live off her family’s legacy. She called her the nothing of the Hart family. Natalya said that she was better than Bret ever was and nobody works harder than her, and that Nikki used sex appeal to get where she’s gotten. She said that Nikki was beautiful but in time her beauty will fade and that John will leave her and she’ll die alone. Nikki then decked Natalya and stormed off. Dasha Fuentes robotically stumbled over her words trying to interview Ambrose.

Gallagher did a promo. His umbrella is now named William. I wonder if he named him after Bill Dundee. Ambrose pinned Miz to win the IC title in 14:15. Miz spent the first few minutes running away. Maryse distracted Ambrose so Miz got the advantage by throwing Ambrose into the steps. Ambrose did the elbow standing off the top rope to the floor. Miz came back with a cool move that hyperextended the left knee. Ambrose came off the top rope into the skull crushing finale but kicked out. Miz did his bad looking kicks. Ambrose did a tope. Finally Maryse interfered and got booted out. Miz used the distraction to hit a belt shot, but Miz kicked out of that as well. The finish saw Ambrose escape from the Skull crushing finale and hit Dirty Deeds for the pin. Lots of people left after this. They made an announcement that Cena would wrestle Styles for the title, but it came well into 205 Live and people had already left. 205 Live opened with Tajiri pinning Sean Maluta in 2:47 after a buzzsaw kick. Tajiri looked better here than he’s looked in Japan. Really he was damn good given his age. Kendrick came out and wanted to join forces with Tajiri. He said that Tajiri hadn’t lost a step, and that he’s even better now then he was when they were both together on Smackdown years ago. He said it was good to see an old friend and a pioneer of the division. He went to shake his hand and Tajiri blew green mist in his eyes. Kendrick did an awesome sell job for the mist. Dasha interviewed Neville, who said that Perkins never would have won the cruiserweight title and tournament if he was included in the division from the start. Neville claimed he had been discriminated against ever since he stepped foot in this country and that he’s never been taken seriously because of how he looks and how he talks. He said he’s sick of hearing about the hardships Perkins went through, because he’s gone through worse hardships and struggles.

They did a video package for Nese. Gallagher beat Nese via DQ in 2:14 when Daivari interfered and gave Gallagher a chop block. Gallagher did all kind of cool moves in the brief time they had out. Fox & Alexander were backstage. Alexander noted to her that he’s been losing a lot. Fox said that it was all her fault. He said it wasn’t her fault he lost, but to be more careful and let’s make this work. Mustafa Ali beat Noam Dar in 6:29. These two had a good match. Ali did a cartwheel into a tornado DDT coming out of the corner. Ali came off the ropes and was caught with a Fujiwara armbar, but Ali got out. Ali used his cool looking inverted 450 for the pin. Dar then said, after losing, that 2017 will be a big year for him. He said that Alexander may not be man enough for Fox, but she’ll always be welcome in his corner. There was a video on Akira Tozawa. Neville pinned Perkins in the main event in 11:33 after a top rope superplex. The best move they’ve made in a long time is using Neville as the top heel in this division. This match was ***3/4. These guys work so well together and even got the crowd going a little bit, even with the handicap of being more than three hours into the live show and the crowd is almost inherently going to be dead for 205 Live. Really, when they add Aries, Metalik and Tozawa, they are really going to have something here after the less than auspicious start. In the advertised dark match main event, Cena beat Styles via DQ in the title match when Corbin interfered. The Wyatts then came out and attacked Cena, and Jordan & Gable made the save. This turned into Jordan & Gable & Cena over Harper & Wyatt & Orton which the faces won to end the show.

Notes from the 12/28 NXT TV show. This was a two-hour special airing the 12/3 show from Osaka. They didn’t air all the matches, as they skipped The Revival vs. Riddick Moss & Tino Sabbatelli and Elias Samson vs. Tye Dillinger vs. Bobby Roode. The show was okay other than the tag title match which was very good. Osaka is usually the hottest city in Japan for crowd reactions and that wasn’t the case here. For up and down the show, this was weaker than a lot of the secondary promotions in Japan would do and the crowd was mostly quiet. They weren’t not into it, just didn’t react nearly as much as you’d think. Oney Lorcan pinned Andrade Cien Almas in 10:05 with a half nelson German suplex off the top rope after Almas went to the top rope for a moonsault and got crotched. The crowd was quiet most of the way. Almas came out wearing his La Sombra mask, I guess figuring fans would think he was a star since he was pushed in New Japan under that name. Having him lose here made no sense since he’d beat Lorcan everywhere else. It felt like they were either booking for a surprise pop, which it didn’t get, or trying to put over the idea that their prelim talent was at the level of New Japan regulars. **; 2).

Billie Kay & Peyton Royce beat Liv Morgan & Aliyah in 8:28 when Royce threw Morgan into Kay’s knee for the pin. Kay & Royce have a good heel act. Crowd wasn’t into it as this version of women’s wrestling is so different from what they’re used to in Japan. ½*; 3) Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa beat Akira Tozawa & Tajiri in 17:51 to retain the tag titles. This was a fun match. The heat wasn’t super, especially at first, but the match was so good they got the crowd into it. All four looked great. Tozawa seemed to stand out as far as them making him look good since he was losing at the end. He did two tope’s and got lots of near falls. He did German suplexes to both and a delayed German on Ciampa for a near fall. Ciampa did a power bomb into double knees on Tozawa but Tajiri saved. The finish saw the usual DIY finish with the Gargano superkick and Ciampa running knee on Tozawa for the pin. ***3/4; 4).

Asuka beat Nia Jax in 15:54 to retain the women’s title. Before this match, Tom Phillips noted that they were in Osaka which has a population of 19 million which even for pro wrestling was quite the statement. New York doesn’t even have half that and New York is a hell of a lot bigger city than Osaka. Actual population is 2,665,000. I was kind of surprised they put this on the show since Jax is on the main roster being pushed as a monster and she lost clean here. This was mostly Jax dominating with them putting over how Asuka was hitting her with blows that would knock people out and she was walking through them. The crowd wasn’t much into this even though this show was sold around Nakamura, Asuka and Hideo Itami (who is still injured and only did a promo that didn’t air here). She powered out of Asuka’s regular moves. Asuka used an armbar an a triangle but Jax powered out of both. Asuka got a choke and Jax turned it into a powerslam. Asuka finally hit a spin kick and a German suplex. The crowd did pop for the suplex and Asuka got the pin after a kick to the head. The match did tell the monster vs. smaller gutsy and tough woman story, so from that standpoint it was good on paper. But even though she sells for long periods of time and technically sells well, crowds very often die during Asuka’s sell spots. With Jax, because of the size, that should have been different, but it wasn’t. This match was way too long for Jax, especially since she was on offense most of the way, and wasn’t good. *3/4; 5).

Shinsuke Nakamura beat Samoa Joe to win the NXT title in 20:27. This was the unedited version of the match that aired a few weeks ago. Again, technically good when it came to a certain style which was Joe working on the left knee most of the way. Joe was very good. After the huge reaction to Nakamura’s entrance, it’s not like they weren’t into the match because they were, but the reaction was maybe 20-30% of usual Nakamura in Osaka and Nakamura did far less. There was no mention of Yoshihiro Takayama in the front row. Even if most viewers wouldn’t know him, it’s kind of hard to miss a bleached blond giant sitting in the front row. Nakamura worked for an armbar and a triangle and Joe made the ropes. There was some good stuff but it never got great and lack of crowd heat hurt it. Joe teased a uranage on the ring steps from the angle, but Nakamura fought out. Nakamura used a Kinshasa to the back of the head which knocked Joe’s head into the ring steps. At another point Nakamura was doing a regular sequence that was to include a missed crescent kick that Joe would duck. Joe didn’t duck enough and actually was hit with it but because it was supposed to be a miss and part of a sequence, they just continued going with it. Nakamura had Joe on his shoulders and then collapsed under the weight. Nakamura came back with Kinshasa to the back off the middle rope, and second Kinshasa for the pin. The crowd did react well to the title change, but nothing like they would for a major title change. ***

The Raw crew drew 9,000 fans on 12/28 in Brooklyn. 12/29 in Boston drew 6,700. 12/30 in Los Angeles at the Staples Center drew 8,400.

The Smackdown crew on 12/28 in Nashville drew 5,500 fans. 12/29 in Atlanta drew 8,000 fans which is a very healthy crowd for a Smackdown show. 12/30 in Miami drew 5,000.

Brooklyn opened with a three-way as Cesaro & Sheamus retained the tag titles over Big E & Woods and Gallows & Anderson when Sheamus pinned Anderson after a Brogue kick. Cass pinned Rusev in a short match after Lana got kicked out and Cass used the running kick. R-Truth & Goldust & Sin Cara & Axel & Young beat Shining Stars & Mahal & O’Neil & Dallas when R-Truth pinned Dallas. Dallas then did the big where he

refused to leave. Big Show came out and knocked him out. Swann pinned Neville to keep the cruiserweight title in a fast paced but short match, but best thing on the show up too that point. Neville beat him down after the match. Jericho did an anti-New York promo. Rollins pinned Jericho with a pedigree in what ended up as the best match on the show. Banks & Bayley & Morgan beat Charlotte & Jax & Brooke. They actually introduced Morgan last since she’s from New Jersey. But she got the least reaction as most didn’t know her past a light “NXT” chant. Banks beat Brooke with the bank statement. Match was clumsy in spots. Fox was referee in the match. Strowman pinned Zayn in the worst match on the show, which is saying something when Zayn has the worst match. Reigns pinned Owens with a spear to keep the U.S. title. Reigns did a big comeback that the fans booed. Fans didn’t get into the match

Boston was the same show except it was Woods & Kingston as the New Day team. Sheamus did a lot of smiling and working with Cesaro. The idea seems to be that he’s a guy you boo because you’re supposed to but it’s all good-natured. Women’s match said to be very good. Swann vs. Neville said to be the best match on the show. Dallas may have been injured because he got pinned out of nowhere and the ref did put up the “X” sign. However, they still did the spot where Show came out and knocked him out. And he was fine to work the next night. Because it was Boston and they figured Reigns may get booed, they had Owens cut an anti-Boston promo. They may have overdone that since it was the third heel of the night to do it. There were people leaving during the match. Every Reigns-Owens match has the Owens called long chinlock spot which lasted several minutes here.

Los Angeles was mostly the same show. Kingston & Big E worked as The New Day. Jericho was off Los Angeles so they added Enzo & Cass to the tag title match and Rusev worked with Rollins. Cesaro & Sheamus over Enzo & Cass, Kingston & E and Anderson & Gallows saw Sheamus pin Anderson with a Brogue kick in 9:33 of a **½ match. Swann pinned Neville in 8:22 in a **½ match. Banks & Bayley & Morgan beat Charlotte & Brooke & Jax in 10:46 of a ** match with the Bank statements on Brooke. Rollins beat Rusev with a jumping knee in 12:46 after Lana was kicked out in a ***1/4 match. Sin Cara & Axel & Young & R-Truth & Goldust beat Dallas & O’Neil & Mahal & Primo & Epico in 6:41 of a * match. Dallas did the same post-match challenge with Show knocking him out. Strowman pinned Zayn in 5:13 with a powerslam in a *3/4 match. Strowman go a lot of cheers. Reigns beat Owens in 14:04 of a U.S. title street fight match with a spear through the table to retain the U.S. title in a ***½ match. Reigns wasn’t booed at all according to the reports we got.

Nashville opened with a tag team gauntlet match. Slater & Rhyno beat The Ascension with Rhyno over Viktor with a gore. Slater & Rhyno beat The Vaudevillains when Slater pinned Gotch with a roll-up. Breeze & Fandango beat Slater & Rhyno when Fandango pinned Slater with a roll-up. Jordan & Gable beat Breeze & Fandango when Gable pinned Breeze with a German suplex. Jordan & Gable won over Usos with Grand Amplitude on Jey. Bliss pinned Lynch with a roll-up using the tights to retain the women’s title. That was the third roll-up finish on the show. Lynch got a post-match comeback and laid out Bliss with an exploder suplex. Hawkins cut a promo challenging anyone in the back to come out. Ellsworth came out in a neck brace. He then hit no chin music and pinned Hawkins in seconds. Corbin pinned Kalisto with the End of Days. In a non-title cage match, Ziggler pinned Miz after a superkick. Nikki beat Natalya with the TKO when Carmella cost Natalya the match when they collided. Orton & Harper & Wyatt beat Crews & Rawley & Swagger when Orton pinned Crews after the RKO. Styles won a three-way over Ambrose and Cena. Styles used chair shots no both and pinned Ambrose with a low blow, and, get this, a roll-up. Usual post match where Styles first took the Dirty Deeds, and then the show ended with Cena giving Styles the Attitude Adjustment.

Atlanta was the same show. Orton was super over as a babyface but got the crowd to turn on him when he refused to tag in and would only come in briefly.

Miami had a different gauntlet as the entire idea was to put Jordan & Gable over. It started with Breeze & Fandango over Slater & Rhyno when Fandango pinned Rhyno after Rhyno had given Breeze the gore. Jordan & Gable were next in, even though they were champions. They beat Breeze & Fandango using the Steiners sky high bulldog. It should be noted that the Steiners were a favorite team of both of them growing up. They beat The Vaudevillians when Jordan pinned English after an Olympic slam. They beat The Ascension when Gable pinned Viktor after a German suplex. And they beat the Usos with Grand Amplitude. The last match got a good reaction to the near falls. The Ellsworth-Hawkins match went 11 seconds. Neither guy got much of a reaction but the crowd did get into the comedy when they were out there. Ziggler vs. Miz went 24:00 in the cage, ending when Maryse went to slam the door on Ziggler, who moved and she slammed the door on Miz. Ziggler used the superkick for the pin. Really good match. Wyatts vs. Crews & Swagger & Rawley saw the crowd completely behind and chanting for Orton to the point they didn’t care much about anyone else. Styles over Ambrose and Cena went 19:00 with the same finish they’ve been doing in a really good main event.