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February 8, 2016 Wrestling Observer Newsletter: Bret Hart diagnosed with cancer, Nakamura's final NJPW match, tons more

Wrestling Observer Newsletter

PO Box 1228, Campbell, CA 95009-1228 ISSN10839593 February 8, 2016



Thumbs up 86 (82.7%)

Thumbs down 5 (04.8%)

In the middle 13 (12.5%)



Jimmie Rivera vs. Iuri Alcantara 49

Tony Martin vs. Felipe Olivieri 25

Ben Rothwell vs. Josh Barnett 16

Wilson Reis vs. Dustin Ortiz 9



Anthony Johnson vs. Ryan Bader 30

Tarec Saffiediene vs. Jake Ellenberger 10

Damon Jackson vs. Levan Makashvili 10

Rafael Natal vs. Kevin Casey 8


Bret Hart announced on 2/1 that he would be undergoing surgery for prostate cancer.

Hart didn’t give a lot of details past saying the surgery would be taking place this week.

The announcement came less than two weeks after older brother Smith Hart announced he had prostate and bone cancer (in his hip).

Bret Hart, 58, is generally considered Canada’s all-time greatest pro wrestling star. Some could argue for the popularity of Whipper Billy Watson on a national basis, a world champion in the 40s who was made bigger with the advent of television in the 50s. But Hart’s popularity on a worldwide basis was significantly greater, and he was considered among the top wrestlers worldwide of the 90s and at the top of the list of the best in-ring storytellers and ring psychologists of the modern era. At one point in a national poll he was voted one of the most popular Canadians of modern times.

“I’ve had a great lifelong dance and I’m a survivor of many hard battles,” wrote Hart. “I now face my toughest battle. With hesitation and fear, I openly declare myself in my fight against prostate cancer. In the next few days, I will undergo surgery with the hope of defeating this nemesis once and for all.”

Hart wrote about the recovery from a stroke suffered in 2002. It was thought at the time that he would likely be unable to walk, but recovered well enough to live a normal life, although in recent years he’s felt the effects of the knee and wrist injuries he wrestled with for years, having surgery on both. While he never fully regained his strength on one side of the body, he was still able to bench press nearly 300 pounds while in his late 40s, after recuperation. “I beat the odds when I suffered my stroke in 2002, but it is now, yet again, that I draw upon the many adults and young children I’ve met throughout my life who courageously fought and usually lost in their battles against this deadly disease. One year ago I watched a brave young man named Whesley fight brain cancer to the end. If I can find even an ounce of his courage to stand unafraid and face the tough road ahead of me, I will march toward this destiny with his spirit chanting in my ear.”

Prostate cancer is often slow growing and not unusual in older males. If the cancer is limited to the prostate and can be removed via surgery, the survival rate from the disease is relatively high. However, with his older brother, with the cancer having spread, it makes the disease far more dangerous.

The only details we heard that Bret Hart didn’t release was the belief that they cancer was spotted in its early stages, which is good news for Bret. For his brother, since it had already spread to his hip when diagnosed, the news wasn’t as good.

“I make a solemn vow to all of those that once believed in me, the dead and the living, that I will wage my fearsome fight against cancer with one shield and one sword carrying my determination and my fury for life, emboldened by all the love that’s kept me going this long already,” he wrote. “Love is my weapon and I’ve got much of it around me all the time, for which I’m truly blessed and eternally grateful. My children, grandchildren and my loving wife, Steph, have been and will constantly be at my side. I refuse to lose. I will never give in or give up, and I will win this battle or die trying.”

Hart also hopes to be able to use his celebrity status to raise awareness of the disease.

The majority of people who contract prostate cancer don’t die from the disease. Because it is often slow growing, the survival rate of those diagnosed in 99 percent of cases is more than five years. However, it is still cancer and very serious business. It is the fifth leading cause of death of males. Roughly 28 percent of those diagnosed with the disease do pass away from it. It is also difficult to detect because two-thirds of people who suffer from prostate cancer get no negative symptoms.

“Hopefully in the near future I can prove to people that I will overcome this battle and be n the better side of it in six months or so,” Hart said to Blog Talk Radio. “Hopefully, people will gain strength from that and use me as somebody they can look up to if someone in their family or themselves goes through it.”

After the conclusion of its second season of tapings on 1/31, Lucha Underground, Mark Burnett and MGM announced officially they would be taping a third season.

The talent was told backstage before the final episode, but wasn’t given dates. Those with the company told us the filming of the new season would start in March, a decision just changed as the original plan was for late July, a time frame talked about internally even as late as last week. The talent was of the belief they would be back filming in late April. The quick turnaround is for economic reasons, and it’s interesting because Eric Van Wagenen, the show runner and executive producer is also doing “The Celebrity Apprentice” for NBC, which starts filming this week. The third season, which would be somewhere between 24 and 28 episodes, would debut in early 2017, and once again be filmed at The Temple in Boyle Heights, in Los Angeles. The current season will air weekly episodes through the summer, and then be off for about six months.

Pro Wrestling Sheet reported that the show would be hitting the iTunes store in a few months. Those familiar with the deal note that they aren’t getting any significant advance money on the iTunes deal. We’ve had that deal confirmed, as well as a confirmation the company should be announcing another outside marketing deal shortly.

The reason there has been no major DVD release or mass market merchandising is that the company was holding out for deals that would give them larger advances with the idea they could use that to fund the upcoming season. When they didn’t make any deals, they went back to the original investors and got the money for seasons two and three. Obviously the investors see potential in the product, but it has been a huge money loser to date. Ultimately it needs an increase in revenue from television and an increase exposure levels to get the characters over enough to where they can be merchandised. While there was talk a few months ago about doing a house show tour after season two, there has been no significant movement in that direction. Ultima Lucha, the final three episodes of season two, were taped over the weekend with some wild action and plot twists, including a season ending angle with Vampiro and Pentagon Dark, the new name of Pentagon Jr.

We received a number of complaints from fans regarding the final show. About 100 fans who had confirmed tickets for the show, who stayed out in the rain for a long period of time waiting to get in, were turned away right as the taping was about to start because they had overbooked the place. Apparently they had VIP requests that they fulfilled. One person said it also hurt the atmosphere because the VIPs weren’t as vociferous as the regular fans would have been. On the flip side, with any company, you have to take care of potential business partners on your showcase event of the year, and the nature of very limited seating is a problem. But the issue is that the people turned away had confirmed tickets, and they were part of the loyal regular fan base, most of whom had been watching the season unfold and seeing the programs build, and that the promotion has had tremendous goodwill with its cult fan base leading up to this.

Among those in attendance at the shows were MVP (who walked ring announcer Melissa Santos out to the ring at the start of the 1/31 show), Blk Jeez and the entire Roldan family. Dorian Roldan of AAA is always at the tapings as one of the producers, but Joaquin (who spoke to the crowd on 1/30) and Marisela (Antonio Pena’s sister), who run the AAA business, I don’t believe have been there in the past.

Cricket was there as a sponsor giving free things out to fans.

This was from 1/30, which was a combination of the Go-home show for Ultima Lucha and the first of the three weeks of big shows:

1. Pentagon Jr. beat T.J. Perkins in Perkins’ Lucha Underground debut. This was a dark match, both a tryout for Perkins and for the live crowd to see Pentagon, who is becoming the company’s showcase performer and he hasn’t booked on either TVs. Pentagon Jr. cut a promo after the match in Spanish running down Perkins and building up his match for the title with Matanza Cueto the next day.

2. King Cuerno pinned Mil Muertes. The ref got knocked out. Muertes set up a chair in the corner but ended up running into it when Cuerno moved, and Cuerno pinned him with a schoolboy in a short match. Cuerno cut a promo building to a death match the next day.

3. Prince Puma beat Dragon Azteca Jr. Rey Mysterio Jr. was in Azteca’s corner as his coach. He was cheerleading for Azteca, who is Rey Horus outside of Lucha Underground. Puma worked as very subtle heel but it was mostly face vs. face, with lots of good athletic moves and near falls. Puma won with a 630 splash. Puma and Mysterio got in each other’s faces to build up their match.

Cage (as in Brian Cage), The Mack (as in Willie Mack), El Texano Jr. and Son of Havoc all came out. Dario Cueto announced they would have a match for a unique opportunity. He then told the four they could get a head start now on their match which would take place later. They all started fighting. Cage ended up cleaning the ring.

4. Johnny Mundo pinned Fenix. A back-and-forth high flying match. Taya, who manages Mundo, interfered freely. Morrison won with a Spanish fly off the top rope due to help from Taya. Jack Evans and PJ Black, who hold the trios titles with Mundo, came out to celebrate. They all attacked Fenix until Aerostar and Drago made the save. But they were getting beaten down. Ivelisse ran out and attacked Taya (they have a feud going on) and set up Ivelisse vs. Taya and Mundo & Evans & Black vs. Aerostar & Fenix & Drago for the trios titles for Ultima Lucha.

5. The first hour of Ultimate Lucha, which would be the first of three episodes, opened with The Mack beating Cage in another falls count anywhere match for a unique opportunity. These two tore down the house last season in a similar match. Cueto came out and talked about how great their falls count anywhere match was last season. The match, like last year, was mostly outside the ring. Cage took a number of chair shots to the head. I know guys are willing but management allowing that in 2016 is such a bad idea. The Mack then brought out several pinatas. He got a wrench out of one while Cage found candy in one. Mack hit Cage with the wrench. Fans on the floor ignored the wild match and grabbed as much candy as they could. Mack also broke a guitar over Cage’s head. Mack used a stunner and Cage found a protein shaker and did HHH’s water spit spot as well as a following up with a pedigree. Mack put Cage on a table and did a frog splash from the bleachers putting him through the table. Cage went for a curb stomp through cinder blocks in another copy WWE spot, which was the finish of the first match, but Mack rolled out of the way and pinned Cage with a roll-up.

6. Son of Havoc beat El Texano Jr. in a Boyle Heights Bar fight for a unique opportunity. A mini bar with bar stools and windows were set up around the ring. Dario Cueto came out and announced it would also be a street fight. I kind of figured bar fight and street fight would be similar. Black Lotus came out, as a waitress, delivering bottles to the mini-bar. This was mostly brawling all over the building. They went through a door. Havoc put on a firefighter’s helmet and sprayed a fire extinguisher at Texano. Texano broke a bottle over Havoc’s head, but Havoc had the helmet on so he no-sold it. Havoc threw the stools into the ring and they were breaking apart. He put Texano through them anyway after using a huracanrana off the to rope. Havoc also backdropped Texano onto the minibar. Havoc pulled out bottles from under the ring and stomped on them, breaking them. Texano took a bump into the broken glass and Havoc pinned him.

7. In the unique opportunity tournament finals, Havoc pinned Mack in a two out of three fall match. Unlike the wild matches, this was a wrestling match inside the ring aside from one brawl near the bleachers. Havoc won the first fall quickly with a roll-up. Mack evened it up. The third fall saw them kick out of each other’s big moves, but Havoc got the pin with a shooting star press.

Cueto then came out to congratulate Havoc on winning the tournament. Black Lotus came out with two cases. He said that Havoc can either get $250,000 in cash or a shot at the Lucha Underground title on the final show of the season. Havoc turned down the money for a title shot, which the crowd was cheering him to do. Most likely nobody for a second bought the money. But Cueto said he could only get the title match if he now wins another match. Famous B came out and said he had a new client. He said that Havoc has been looking sick, but fortunately, there’s a doctor in the house. Out came Dr. Wagner Jr. with a valet named Brenda.

8. Dr. Wagner Jr. pinned Son of Havoc to win the briefcase with $250,000. The actual Mexican fans in the crowd were popping big for Wagner as a legit legend, but the Americans were mad at him because he was getting the better of Havoc, who is one of the big favorites of the crowd. The whole match was about putting over Wagner, as he took most of the match and won clean with the Michinoku driver. Wagner, Famous B and Brenda all celebrated winning the money. Wagner then cut a heel promo in Spanish, which most of the crowd cheered, and that ended the show.


For 1/31, the first hour of the taping will be the next to last show of the season, and after that came the taping for the final two-hour episode.

1. Cage won a Battle Royal. Among those in were Chavo Guerrero Jr., Joey Ryan, Son of Havoc, The Mack, El Texano Jr., Pimpinela Escarlata, Cortez Castro, Mr. Cisco, Mascarita Sagrada and Dr. Wagner Jr. Famous B was out with Wagner. Havoc was the most popular guy. The match was said to have been good. It came down to Cage, Ryan, Pimpinela, Havoc and Wagner. Even though Cage had been turned during the season, he was booed throwing Havoc out. They did the Joey Ryan penis spot with Pimpinela, where Pimpinela grabbed his penis and then Ryan, using the power of the penis, used it to throw Pimpinela over the top rope. Ryan then dared Wagner or Cage to try and grab his penis. Cage and Wagner did rock/paper/scissors on who would try and grab Ryan’s penis. Cage lost and thus had to grab it, but double-crossed Ryan and instead lifted him overhead and threw him over the top rope. The finish saw Cage pick Wagner up. Famous B then jumped on Cage’s back. Cage stumbled in trying to steady both, but did slam both at the same time and threw Wagner over the top to win.

2. Sexy Star won the Gift of the Gods title (essentially the secondary title which has Money in the Bank qualities in that the holder of the title can get a title shot on one week notice). The participants, who had all won medallions during the season, were Texano Jr., Daga, Marty the Moth Martinez, Mariposa (Marty’s sister, Cheerleader Melissa in a mask), Killshot, Siniestro de la Muerte (one of the Disciples of Death) and Sexy Star. During the match, a surprise wrestler showed up. I believe his name was Night Crawl, but it was Flamita making his debut. He came out with a woman who stood on top of Cueto’s office and watched. The fans had no idea who he was and he got little reaction at first, but did get over in the match. The big spot in the match was Night Crawl doing a moonsault off the top of Cueto’s office onto everyone standing on the floor to catch him, unlike Angelico, who did similar dives last season into the ring. It came down to Sexy Star against both Marty the Moth and his sister. They worked Sexy over for a long time. I was told live this went too long as they kept beating on Sexy. Marty hit his sister when Sexy moved, allowing Sexy to pin her. This left Sexy and Marty, and she made Marty submit to the black widow armbar. This makes her the No. 1 contender for the title held by the monster, Matanza Cueto, going into season three.

3. Mil Muertes beat King Cuerno in a death match. Another good match, but said to be disappointing compared to some of the matches these guys had during the season. They brawled a lot in the crowd and on the stage. Muertes kicked out of the package piledriver. Muertes threw Cuerno through three windows at the top of the stairs. Either three or four (we’ve had different reports but I think four is the correct one) tables were set up side-by-side. Muertes put Cuerno through all four tables individually, and then pinned him after a tombstone piledriver. Cuerno never moved after the match. An ambulance came out and Cuerno went out on a stretcher. Muertes attacked him again after the match.

4. The actual final episode of the season started being taped here, with Aerostar & Drago & Fenix winning the trios championships from Jack Evans & Johnny Mundo & P.J. Black. Reports were that this was an excellent match, second only to Rey vs. Puma. Evans did a decent amount of comedy. At one point, there was a ref bump. Evans, Mundo and Black grabbed the belts and attacked the masked trio. They dragged the ref back and Fenix was covered but he kicked out. Mundo hit his Moonlight drive on Fenix, but at that point Angelico came out. He was on crutches with a knee brace. He hit Mundo with his crutch and Drago and Aero Star took out Evans and Black. Fenix recovered and pinned Mundo.

5. Next was Dragon Azteca Jr. vs. Black Lotus (Angela Fong). This was Lotus’ debut in a match after two seasons of TV being an out of the ring character. This was the big grudge match because Lotus was the protégé of Dragon Azteca. She killed him to end season one leading to the son showing up and looking for revenge. The match wasn’t very good and was kept short. Black Lotus did some early martial arts spots, which was what Dragon Azteca had been teaching her. Azteca Jr. threw her into a wall and she took a nasty bump. Pentagon Jr. then ran in and shoved Azteca Jr. off the top rope. He then broke Lotus’ arm and then broke Azteca’s arm, while Vampiro at ringside gave him a thumbs up. It’s possible they rushed to the finish after the bump, because it came across like nobody was on the same page. Pentagon Jr. then cut a promo and said he had been broken last week. He said his name was no longer Pentagon Jr., but now Pentagon Dark (there was a wrestler in AAA in the past called Pentagon Black). This was from the Vince McMahon anti-Junior mindset, also with the feeling that he’s one of the main pushed stars of the company and they didn’t want him called Jr. He said that Pentagon Jr. had failed against Matanza Cueto, but Pentagon Dark would not fail and would break Matanza’s will, and that he had no fear, and he’s an asshole with no regrets.

6. Matanza Cueto (Jeff Cobb) retained the Lucha Underground title beating Pentagon Dark. Good match. It was announced as a no DQ match. Pentagon had the early advantage and controlled almost the entire match using foreign objects. He threw Matanza into chairs and into the wall more than once. Vampiro handed Pentagon a chair and he started hitting Matanza, including a hard shot to the head. Matanza would sell the chair shots but then pop up like a monster. Pentagon put a chair into the turnbuckles, but Matanza reversed it. Matanza did a standing moonsault and a standing shooting star press. Vampiro then gave Pentagon a barbed wire baseball bat. Dario Cueto grabbed the bat from him. Pentagon teased breaking Dario’s arm, but Matanza got the bat and hit Pentagon and then pinned him with a twisting powerslam. The crowd booed a lot because they really expected Pentagon to take the title. Vampiro went to the ring to console Pentagon, but Pentagon shoved him away and stormed off.

7. Taya beat Ivelisse. Pretty good match, mostly brawling outside the ring. Ivelisse had the match won when the lights went out. When they came on, Catrina was in the ring, dressed up like a wrestler, but the referee had disappeared. She slammed Ivelisse. The lights went out again. When the lights came on, the ref was in the ring and acted all confused. Taya then used a Northern lights suplex for the pin while Catrina was on top of Cueto’s office holding the magic rock that gives super powers. The lights went out again. This time when they came up, Catrina stood over Ivelisse and said, “Death comes for everyone, including you, bitch,” and licked Ivelisse in the face.

8. Paul London debuted and pinned Daivari. This may have been a dark match, although in the promos, it came across like it was part of the Ultima Lucha show. Daivari cut a promo about how rich he was and how poor everyone in the crowd was. He talked about how he fired Big Ryck (who quit or wasn’t renewed for season two) and that Ryck was probably collecting welfare now. He said he wanted a match at Ultima Lucha and told Dario Cueto to give him an opponent. London came out. London, who had been working at recent tapings as an agent, didn’t get a big reaction and the match was short.

9. Rey Mysterio Jr. pinned Prince Puma. Super match. The reports we got were this was great, exactly what you’d hope for, but not quite match of the year levels. Some thought it was the best match of the season. The crowd cheered both guys and they did dueling chants through much of the match. It was almost all in the ring. They shook hands. The whole match was building to the 619. Puma actually hit the 619 first and followed with a springboard 450, but Mysterio kicked out. Lots of near falls. Puma missed a 630 and Mysterio hit the 619 and West Coast pop for the pin. After the match, Mysterio raised Puma’s hand and they hugged. The crowd cheered both. Mysterio wanted them to chant “323" which is the home area code of Boyle Heights, since the gimmick is Puma is from Boyle Heights. There had been “323" chants for Puma during the match. Mysterio left him in the ring and from outside the ring started clapping and leading the crowd in chanting for Puma.

After Puma left the ring and everyone figured the show was over, Pentagon Dark came out and superkicked Matt Striker and then attacked Vampiro with the barbed wire board, rubbing it across his forehead and back. It seemed to be a heel turn, but everyone cheered Pentagon doing this. Pentagon threw Vampiro into the ring and rubbed the barbed wire into his forehead and licked the blood, as well as wiped it on his arms. Pentagon said that Vampiro was no longer his master, that he was now the master and didn’t need Vampiro. He cut a heel promo, but the crowd was chanting for Pentagon and telling him to break Vampiro’s arm. Pentagon didn’t break Vampiro’s arm. When Pentagon left, the crowd started cheering for Vampiro when he got to his feet and was helped to the back.

Shinsuke Nakamura’s 13-year-run as a major star with New Japan Pro Wrestling ended with his farewell show on 1/30 at Korakuen Hall.

Because the company found out about his departure only 26 days before his contract was ending, they weren’t able to book a larger building, so the demand for tickets was ridiculously larger than the supply, leading to huge scalper prices to get in that night. New Japan announced a sellout of 1,806 fans. While they’ve sold out every Korakuen Hall date of late, with a number like that, it says they limited the comps compared to a normal show.

Nakamura’s contract expired the next day, and on 2/2, he was flying from Japan to Orlando and will be starting at the Performance Center mid-week.

The show featured an All-Star trios match with Nakamura & IWGP champion Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii facing Hiroshi Tanahashi & Hirooki Goto & Never champion Katsuyori Shibata. While Nakamura was the star of the match and the night, he didn’t do a job on the way out, and instead, the company concentrated on building the Shibata vs. Ishii Never title match with a finish of Ishii pinning Shibata clean with the brainbuster.

The crowd was decked out in Nakamura merchandise, most notably in his King of Strong Style and Best in the World T-shirts, and a sea of “Yeaoh” towels. There has been, as expected, a late run since no new merchandise is being produced by the company.

There was an in-ring celebration expected, but Kenny Omega, who was originally going to have a program with Nakamura over the IC title, came out after the match. Omega mocked all the emotion, saying that Nakamura wants to portray this as not being goodbye, but more like a graduation, “Or, that’s what you want to tell people.” Omega told Nakamura to admit the truth, and that he’s leaving so he doesn’t have to face him and defend the title against him. At that point Tanahashi, Nakamura’s longtime rival, stepped in front of Nakamura to confront Omega, and cut a promo on him. Tanahashi then said “I am X,” in reference to the Omega vs. X match on 2/14 in Niigata for the IC title that Nakamura vacated instead of lost.

After Tanahashi and Omega finished their business, everyone left the ring and allowed Nakamura to do his farewell promo. He didn’t really say much, past thanking everyone.

Then, the entire Chaos group, consisting of Okada, Ishii, Toru Yano, Yoshi-Hashi, Gedo, Jado and Kazushi Sakuraba came out. They all wore black Nakamura “Best in the World” T-shirts. Okada and Nakamura were both crying as he bid farewell.

Backstage, in talking to reporters who brought up Okada crying in the ring, Nakamura said that if it wasn’t for Okada, he’d have never left. He basically said that he wanted new challenges, and even though New Japan is getting more worldwide exposure, it’s still the same scene. He said that with Okada as champion and New Japan having grown its business so much, that he knows New Japan is in good hands.

“I never felt the love of my comrades as strongly as I did yesterday,” Nakamura said on 1/31 to Tokyo Sports. “Now I can leave with no worries, knowing everything’s in good hands here. Oh, and one more thing, try to fit Yoshi-Hashi’s name in somewhere (as wrestlers he hopes can elevate their game), even if it’s in the fine print.”

Nakamura, who turns 36 in a few weeks, was elected in 2015 to the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame on the first ballot, one of the rare wrestlers of the modern generation to be a first-balloter. He was a star college wrestler recruited by New Japan, and was pushed from the start because of the notoriety he had gotten after less than ten months into his career when he lost to Daniel Gracie in a high profile New Year’s Eve MMA match. Largely because he had success in MMA, he was pushed as the “Super Rookie,” and on December 9, 2003, became the youngest IWGP heavyweight champion in history, at 23 years old, beating Hiroyoshi Tenzan.

Nakamura and Tanahashi were the two big stars in the revived popularity of New Japan, and pro wrestling in general, in Japan, over the past several years. In watching his last match, it was really clear the charisma difference between Nakamura and Tanahashi and the other four all-stars. The company has a lot of guys who can have regular great matches and can get the crowd going, but Tanahashi and Nakamura have the superstar aura and natural charisma at the level that even Okada, the future of the company, doesn’t quite possess yet.

But Nakamura had been the odd man out over the past three years when the IWGP title was bouncing around Tanahashi, Okada and A.J. Styles. Instead, Nakamura was the guy who the IC title had been built around. The title was a secondary belt that really didn’t have any more meaning than other secondary belts New Japan has used on its big shows, until they built it around him.

The top guys weren’t challenging for the IC title, but once Nakamura had it, that changed. The IC title headlined PPVs. In 2014, Nakamura, as champion, won Wrestler of the Year. His defense of the IC title against Tanahashi was the main event of the January 4, 2014, Tokyo Dome show, above the IWGP title match with Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito.

Nakamura first won the title on July 22, 2012, beating Hirooki Goto in Yamagata, taking it from a high mid-card title to a belt that at times had more interest than the IWGP heavyweight title. His trading it back-and-forth with Tanahashi in 2014 elevated the value of the championship even more. For three-and-a-half years, Nakamura was the focal point of the championship. He held it most of the period, suffering short-term title losses, followed by later wins, in matches with La Sombra in 2013, Tanahashi and Bad Luck Fale in 2014, and Goto in 2015.

The decision was made to just have him vacate the title because his departure was already known because it was something of a mainstream sports story. Because of that, he also didn’t lose on the way out, past losing a fall to Omega on 1/5, which had already been booked to set up a singles match between the two for that 2/14 main event. With Tanahashi, who is still viewed as the company’s top star, in the title deciding match, it keeps the title as a main event belt.

The loss of Nakamura, as well as A.J. Styles, Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows, leaves far more pressure on Tanahashi and Okada. Tanahashi was originally going to rest up after the Tokyo Dome and work tags, where partners could carry the bulk of the work. Now, even with a dislocated shoulder, not only is he taking no time off, but he’s having to be in a match on 2/14 that both keeps the value of the title high and establishes Omega in his role as Styles’ replacement as the top foreigner.

Similarly, wrestlers like Shibata, Ishii and Kota Ibushi look to have stronger roles this year. Ibushi is out of action after neck surgery for a herniated disc.

On 1/30, Nakamura and Ibushi went out to lunch prior to the card. Nakamura pushed Ibushi, telling him that his time is now.

“Ibushi has something nobody else does,” said Nakamura. “And his sensibilities are pretty close to mine. He’s got an edge in him that could really take him far.”

With the exception of the Tokyo Dome, New Japan had sold out every show so far this year through Nakamura’s last match, although that’s not as impressive as it sounds since they were running all small buildings. But that string ended on 2/2, drawing only 620 fans for a house show in Koga.

The next two shows on New Japan World will be the major New Beginnings shows on 2/11 in Osaka at the Edion Arena, the home of the company’s hottest fan base, and 2/14 in Niigata.

The 2/11 show starts at 3 a.m. Eastern and midnight Pacific late Wednesday night U.S. time, with David Finlay vs. Jay White, Kazushi Sakuraba & Yoshi-Hashi & Gedo vs. Jushin Liger & Tiger Mask & Ryusuke Taguchi, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima vs. Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi, Michael Elgin & Juice Robinson & Kushida vs. Tetsuya Naito & Evil & Bushi, Toru Yano & Mark & Jay Briscoe vs. Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi & Tama Tonga for the Never Open weight six man titles, The Young Bucks defend the IWGP jr. tag titles in a three-way with Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish and Ricochet & Matt Sydal, Shibata vs. Ishii for the Never Open weight title, Tanahashi & Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma vs. Anderson & Gallows & Omega, and Okada vs. Goto for the IWGP heavyweight title.

The 2/14 show is a late Saturday night show U.S. time starting at 2 a.m. Eastern and 11 p.m. Pacific with Liger & Tiger Mask & Captain New Japan vs. Young Bucks & Cody Hall, Fish & O’Reilly vs. Sakuraba & Gedo, Tenzan & Kojima & Ricochet & Sydal vs. Nagata & Nakanishi & Taguchi & Finlay, Elgin & White vs. Naito & Evil, Yano & Briscoes vs. Fale & Takahashi & Tonga, Goto & Shibata & Robinson vs. Okada & Yoshi-Hashi & Ishii, Kushida vs. Bushi for the IWGP jr. title, Makabe & Honma vs. Gallows & Anderson for the IWGP tag team titles and Tanahashi vs. Omega for the vacant IC title.

Aside from the main event, the Nakamura farewell show was an average show. The crowd was hot and the early matches were good but short. Omega didn’t stand out at the level the top foreigner needs to, but his real test is the Tanahashi match.

1. David Finlay beat Hirai Kawato in 4:38. This was Kawato’s second pro match. He’s really small and thin. Aside from a nice dropkick, he concentrated on mat wrestling and was really good at that. Both looked good but it was mostly just basics, with Finlay winning after stomps to the head and a Boston crab. **1/4

2. Yoshi-Hashi beat Jay White in 6:20. White looked good. Yoshi-Hashi gave him most of the match until he ran into a lariat. Yoshi-Hashi won with a power bomb and a bridge. Match was good but the finish felt too abrupt and the crowd wasn’t ready for it. **3/4

3. Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Jushin Liger beat Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi & Tiger Mask in 10:34. Crowd was hot for these guys and it was fast paced, particularly Kojima and Nagata. Nakanishi hot tagged in and did some of the slowest running clotheslines you’ll ever see. Nakanishi seemed more motivated than usual, but he just has no speed. What he did got over. Kojima & Tenzan hit Nakanishi with a 3-D and Kojima pinned him with a lariat. ***1/4

4. Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi beat Kazushi Sakuraba & Toru Yano in 6:55. Pretty bad. Sakuraba did a few cool submissions early but that was it. Yano went for a low blow but it was blocked. The ref was distracted and missed Takahashi then giving Yano a low blow, and Fale pinned Yano after the grenade (thumb to the side of the throat). Fale then grabbed Yano’s Never trios belt and stood over him holding it, to build the 2/11 match. ½*

5. Tetsuya Naito & Evil & Bushi beat Kushida & Ryusuke Taguchi & Captain New Japan in 8:57. Naito has been getting in the face regularly of TV color commentator and former wrestler Milano Collection A.T. Taguchi was doing his Nakamura imitation and Naito kicked his ass. Kushida came off the top rope but Bushi blew green mist in his eyes. Kushida rolled out of the ring and Bushi hit him with a tope. Naito & Evil did a double press twisting slam to take out Taguchi and Evil pinned Captain after a lariat and a foot sweep. After the match, Bushi used his finisher, the MX, on Kushida. The move is jumping off the top rope and hitting a codebreaker. Bushi then cut a promo on him. He then grabbed Kushida’s IWGP jr. title belt and threw it on him. **

6. Kenny Omega & Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows & Cody Hall beat Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma & Michael Elgin & Juice Robinson in 11:43. The match started out strong with Elgin doing power moves, including putting Hall on his back and carrying Omega and doing a combination Samoan drop and fallaway slam on both of them at the same time. More and more, Hall is developing a superstar presence and his wrestling continues to improve. He also threw an okay dropkick, actually good when you factor in his size. There was a cool spot where Gallows was on Omega’s back, and then Anderson jumped on their back as they did a triple splash on Robinson. Elgin power bombed Anderson over the top rope onto Gallows, Hall and some of the ring attendants. Omega laid out Elgin with a reverse Frankensteiner. Robinson got crotched on the top rope and Omega hit him with a running knee for the pin. **3/4

7. Shinsuke Nakamura & Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii beat Hiroshi Tanahashi & Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata in 21:48. Nakamura was almost crying going into the ring. Okada and Ishii both had Nakamura shirts on. Tanahashi wanted to start against Nakamura, but Goto, who has been getting major heel reactions of late, demanded to start and got booed like crazy when he was in with Okada. He was the only one booed in the match, other than some boos for Tanahashi when he was in with Nakamura. Shibata’s left leg was all taped up. The best action was Shibata vs. Ishii. The crowd was most into Tanahashi vs. Nakamura. Nakamura did some good stuff with Shibata. Goto clotheslined Nakamura and the crowd hated him. Tanahashi was throwing all kinds of punches even with his messed up shoulder that he didn’t tape. But you can see it’s messed up by the punches. The finish saw Okada hit the dropkick on Shibata, Nakamura hit the bom a ye on Shibata and Ishii followed with a brainbuster on Shibata. ****

The talk after the first two UFC shows of the year was about controversial judge’s decisions, including in two championship fights that realistically could have gone either way.

The third show, on 1/30 at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, the post-show talk was about surprises.

The main event was anything but a shocker. Favorite Anthony “Rumble” Johnson started 2016 the same way he started 2015. He fought in the main event on FOX, and quickly blew out his opponent and established himself as the next person in line for a UFC light heavyweight title shot.

Last year it was Alexander Gustafsson who was the victim. This year it was Ryan Bader, who lasted 86 seconds before being knocked out from shots on the ground. Johnson clinched being next in line for the winner of the upcoming fight between champion Daniel Cormier and challenger Jon Jones. However, Cormier has said he doesn’t see Johnson getting the shot until 2017, saying that he would beat Jones in their next fight, and then give Jones a rematch.

The two surprises were both submission finishes. Josh Barnett, who had never lost to a submission hold in his 19-year MMA career, was tapped out by a guillotine by Ben Rothwell, who had only one submission win in the last eight years. In the other, Sage Northcutt became the second half of the “Sage and Paige” connection to fall after extensive hype and promotion, largely based on looks. Northcutt’s loss via an arm triangle executed by Bryan Barbarena, while Northcutt had him in half guard, was heavily questioned when it was over. It’s not a move from that position that is expected to be a submission. He was heavily criticized by fighters for tapping too easily. Before the fight, announcer Brain Stann was asked if Northcutt could break Jon Jones’ record as being the youngest champion in UFC history, a ridiculous question for someone so unproven. Stann reacted like it was a ridiculous question.

At 19, the feeling is, he can improve his skills. But if he’s someone who gives up quickly under duress, he will never be a championship fighter.

Northcutt, who had fought previously as a lightweight, was moving up to welterweight when his original opponent, Andrew Holbrook, dropped out due to injury. Northcutt was also suffering from strep throat, and was hospitalized two days before the fight and was loaded with antibiotics. In hindsight, he should have pulled out, and perhaps when he was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with strep throat, UFC should have made the decision for him. But he was fighting a guy who he was expected to beat, and it was on FOX, a vehicle where he’d get maximum exposure.

Northcutt won the first round, but after being put on his back in the second round, once again showed a weakness in being able to get back to his feet. This time that weakness cost him the fight.

Still, when it was over, there was more talk about Northcutt than any other fighter on the show.

The win by Rothwell creates a logjam in the heavyweight division. With Fabricio Werdum out the next several months due to assorted injuries, it’s up in the air who he should face next. He was scheduled to face Cain Velasquez, who is undergoing back surgery, but it expected to be ready about the same time Werdum will be ready. But since Velasquez was given the shot, Stipe Miocic, Alistair Overeem and Rothwell have all scored strong victories over leading contenders. Miocic stopped Andrei Arlovski in the first round. Overeem knocked out Junior Dos Santos, and Rothwell submitted Barnett.

UFC usually goes with star power, and in order, it’s probably Velasquez and Overeem, and a wash with Miocic and Rothwell. But Miocic was going to get the shot had Overeem not pulled out, and he’s coming off a big win and Velasquez is coming off a big loss. When Velasquez was originally given the shot, there was nobody except Arlovski, who most don’t consider in Velasquez’s league as a fighter, who was ready for a shot. Miocic may be dangerous for Werdum stylistically, because he’s a good boxer who Werdum would have difficulty taking down. Overeem holds a win over Werdum. Overeem is also a free agent, and someone Bellator is expected to pursue.

I’m leaning toward the idea of Werdum vs. Miocic and Velasquez vs. Overeem or Rothwell as the direction, with the other person ready to step in if there is an injury. Velasquez vs. Overeem would take precedence over Velasquez vs. Rothwell, as there would be more interest in that fight, and also because Velasquez has a win over Rothwell, although that was in 2009.

The FOX show drew 2,685,000 viewers. Last year’s Johnson vs. Gustafsson fight did 3,049,000 viewers, but Gustafsson, coming off his close loss to Jones, was going to be a far bigger draw in the main event spot then Bader.

Even though the January show usually does well because it’s promoted during football season, I didn’t see Johnson vs. Bader as much of a draw. Plus, the quick ending meant the fights ended early, so there was less time to build an audience. It’s slightly below the 2,745,000 to 2,780,000 range that the previous three shows on FOX did, and was the lowest number since the Robbie Lawler vs. Matt Brown show on July 26, 2014, did 2.5 million. It slightly beat the Danny Garcia vs. Robert Guerrero boxing match in the same time slot on FOX the week before, which did 2.5 million viewers.

On the flip side, the prelims, headlined by Jake Ellenberger vs. Tarec Saffiediene, airing from 5-8 p.m. on FS 1, did 702,000 viewers. While some FOX shows have the network airing the prelims, of the shows where FS 1 has aired the prelims, this was the best number in two years.

The live attendance was announced as 10,555, well under capacity, with a gate of $818,000. They ran the same arena on 4/19 with Luke Rockhold vs. Lyoto Machida and drew 13,306 paying $1.2 million, but UFC usually drops when running an arena besides Las Vegas twice in less than a year.

The $50,000 bonuses went to Johnson and Rothwell for their wins. Jimmie Rivera and Iuri Alcantara also got $50,000 bonuses for the best fight.

1. Tony Martin (10-3) beat Felipe Olivieri (14-5,. 1 no contest) at 3:02 of the third round of a lightweight fight. Good fight. Olivieri scored with a lot of damaging low kicks early, including kicks that put Martin down. Martin got two first round takedowns but Olivieri got up quickly from both. In the second round, Olivieri was landing more low kicks, but Martin started landing punches late. Olivieri was connecting with more low kicks in the third round, before Martin took him down, got his back and choked him out.

2. Damon Jackson (9-1-1, 1 no contest) went to a majority draw with Levan Makashvili (10-2-1) on scores of 29-27 (Jackson), 28-28 and 28-28 in a featherweight fight. A boring fight with a penalty point on Makashvili called in the third round costing him the fight. The first round saw Jackson mostly push Makashvili into the fence, looking for a takedown that he didn’t get. But Makashvili in my mind won the round as when he wasn’t stuck against the fence, he landed more. The second round was more of the same, both grappling, with no strong offense by either man. Makashvili clearly won the third round, with two takedowns. In the third round Makashvili threw a knee that looked to be aimed at Jackson’s shoulder, while Jackson was down. Had it hit the shoulder, it would have been legal, but it did hit the side of the head. A few seconds later, Makashvili poked Jackson in the eye. The ref essentially ruled that as a second offense even though it was not the same thing. Usually you don’t combine different types of fouls in docking a point.

3. Randy Brown (7-0) beat Matt Dwyer (8-4) on straight 29-28 scores in a welterweight fight. Brown was making his UFC debut after being discovered on an Atlantic City card that Dana White attended in November as part of his “Looking for a Fight” Internet TV show. These guys are 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-3, really tall for the 170-pound class. Dwyer won the first round landing more. Brown started getting untracked in the second, and scored a nice hip toss and he went for a D’Arce choke. Dwyer came back with a takedown. Dwyer went for another takedown but Brown was landing elbows while stopping it. It came down to the third round. Brown landed a punch and Dwyer complained of an eye poke, but the ref didn’t call it and the replay indicated it was knuckles and not fingers in the eye. Brown went for a takedown but Dwyer got his back. Dwyer went for a hip toss but Brown landed on top and again attempted a D’Arce choke. Dwyer tried to pull Brown down late but Brown landed elbows.

4. Alex Caceres (11-8, 1 no contest) beat Masio Fullen (10-6) via straight 30-27 scores in a featherweight fight. Caceres pretty well dominated the fight. He used body kicks, flying spin kicks and punches, as well as got a takedown in the first round. Fullen came back I the second round, but Caceres kept throwing high and low kicks, as well as knees and more kicks. Caceres landed more late to take the third round. In this match as well as other undercard fights, the live crowd was doing the Ric Flair “Whoo” thing. I don’t know why, but every few UFC shows, fans start doing that.

5. Alexander Yakovlev (23-6-1) beat George Sullivan (17-5, 1 no contest) in 3:59 in a welterweight fight. Yakovlev grabbed Sullivan’s leg on a kick and used it to take him down. He got another takedown into side control, got mount and then got his back. Sullivan got back up. Yakovlev hurt him with a left and dropped him with a right hook to the jaw, which was the key blow. A couple of quick punches on the ground and it was stopped.

6. Wilson Reis (20-6) beat Dustin Ortiz (15-5) on straight 30-27 scores in a battle of ranked flyweights. This may have been the best fight on the show. Reis dominated the fight with his grappling, and looked like a viable contender for the title. Close first round with both landing and Reis getting a takedown just as the horn sounded. The second round saw both men land. Reis got two late takedowns and was working on an armbar as the round ended. In the third round, Reis got Ortiz’s back, got another takedown and back control. Reis got three more takedowns in the third round. Ortiz reversed him once but Reis easily won the round.

7. Rafael Natal (21-6-1) beat Kevin Casey (9-4, 2 no contests at 3:37 of the third round in a middleweight fight. Casey started with kicks and a guillotine attempt, but Natal came back with two takedowns. Casey ended up on top after the second takedown and was throwing punches. Natal took the round by dropping him with a right just as the round was ending. In round two, Natal hurt Casey with a right and slammed him down, and landed punches. He got a second takedown and more ground and pound and it was almost a 10-8 round. Natal was landing big punches in the third round as Casey appeared done. Natal took him down and got mount and worked for a head-and-arm choke. Natal gave it up and started punching from the top. He landed a ton of punches and ref Gary Copeland stopped it.

8. Diego Ferreira (12-2) beat Olivier Aubin-Mercier (8-2) on scores of 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27 in a lightweight bout. Close first round but Ferreira hurt him at one point. In the second round, Aubin-Mercier got a takedown. It was another close round with Aubin-Mercier landing a number of blows late in the round. I had it even going into the third. Aubin-Mercier landed kicks and a right uppercut, a high kick and a takedown. Aubin-Mercier got another takedown, but Ferreira reversed to the top, got mount and back position and was punching from back position. Ferreira clearly won the third round with the late offense and that gave him the fight.

9. Tarec Saffiediene (16-4) beat Jake Ellenberger (30-11) on straight 29-28 scores in a welterweight fight. Not much to this fight. Saffiediene hadn’t fought in more than a year due to injuries. He looked rusty at first, as Ellenberger hurt him with an elbow and a hard right to the jaw. Saffiediene did better on the standup to take the second round. In the third round, the fans booed both men. Saffiediene landed low kicks and punches. The crowd was booing more as the round went on. Ellenberger went for a takedown, but Saffiediene sprawled and got his back.

10. Bryan Barbarena (11-3) beat Sage Northcutt (7-1) at 3:06 of the second round in a welterweight fight. Northcutt moved in with punches but Barbarena blocked his takedown attempts. Northcutt hurt him with a punch and took him down, but Barbarena got right back up and pushed him against the fence. Northcutt got a second takedown and got his back. Then he got a third takedown. Barbarena then took Northcutt down but Northcutt kicked him off. But Barbarena hurt him with a right and landed another good shot late I the round. Northcutt was slowing up. In the second round, Northcutt tried a somersault kick but that move backfired as it allowed Barbarena to get on top of him on the ground. Barbarena was landing punches and elbows, cutting Northcutt near the right eye, and then finished him with the arm triangle.

11. Jimmie Rivera (19-1) beat Iuri Alcantara (32-7 , 1 no contest) via straight 29-28 scores. Rivera was a big favorite, being from New Jersey. Alcantara got off first early, but Rivera came back late in the round with punches and scored with a big slam. In the second round, Rivera was landing the shots moving forward. But Alcantara decked him with a left. Rivera got back up and took Alcantara down and got his back. Rivera did more, but people will reward the knockdown so the round could have gone either way. The third round was even but this time Rivera dropped him with a left. Alcantara landed a lot late in the round. Alcantara looked shocked that he didn’t get the decision, but you actually could have given Rivera all three rounds.

12. Ben Rothwell (36-9) beat Josh Barnett (34-8) at 3:48 of the second round in a heavyweight fight. The first round was competitive. Barnett was landing jabs and Rothwell was bloodied up. Rothwell landed a good body shot. Fans were booing. Rothwell landed punches and low kicks. Barnett came back with a body kick. The judges all gave the round to Barnett but it was close. Rothwell landed some punches and worked into a clinch. Both were landing but Rothwell was moving forward. Barnett shot for a takedown and Rothwell grabbed him in a guillotine for the submission. The fight wasn’t much but the shock of Barnett submitting made it noteworthy.

13. Anthony Johnson (21-5) beat Ryan Bader (20-5) in 1:26 of a light heavyweight fight. Bader came out and shot for a takedown from too far out with no set up. Johnson easily sprawled, and got Bader’s back. Bader tried for a Kimura but was in a bad position to complete it. He ended up having to let go and Johnson got the mount and Johnson has unreal power and threw a few bombs and knocked Bader out. Bader woke up had no idea he had lost the fight.

Kia Stevens (Awesome Kong), 38, was sent home by TNA officials before the start of its three-day television taping in the U.K. for an incident involving Rebecca Hardy (Reby Sky Hardy), 29, in Manchester.

The incident took place in the dressing room, apparently stemming from past bad blood, but according to numerous reports, got physical, and worse, Stevens’ attack on Hardy took place right in front of her baby boy, Maxel.

Both women were assigned to the same dressing room in Manchester. At previous tapings where both appeared, they were in separate dressing rooms. Stevens got upset and threw both Hardy’s bags as well as the baby’s stuff out of the dressing room. This led to an argument between the two, with swear words involved, and Hardy saying it’s not the 80s, she won’t be bullied and F*** off.

Stevens then allegedly attacked her, driving her into a concrete wall and started choking her in front of her son, who was only a few feet away while this was going on.

A number of people in security, as well as producer Pat Kenney broke up the attack. Reports were that Hardy had visible marks on her neck from it being squeezed.

TNA then released a statement saying, “Prior to the Impact Wrestling TV tapings at the Manchester Arena, Kia Stevens (Awesome Kong) was involved in an incident involving Rebecca Hardy (Reby Sky). Subsequently, Kia was removed from the tour and returned to the United States. This matter is being reviewed to determine if any additional disciplinary action will be taken.”

A number of sources said that the heat between the two goes back to a number of things said by each, back-and-forth, over the past few years.

Mike Johnson of PW Insider did a time line, saying that it started in 2013, when Reby was critical of Sid Vicious no-showing an independent show on social media. Stevens took exception to that, and later, in a DVD released by Kayfabe Commentaries, Stevens made a mention of Reby Sky (Reby Hardy’s wrestling name) that was negative during a segment called “The Ho Bag.” Reby was asked about it in a Q&A and responded, “Not aware of this if it is true. Doesn’t make much sense, as I don’t know her on a really personal level and we have been nothing but nice to each other in passing at shows. We’ve actually texted back-and-forth a few times, so if she now has a problem with me, I can only attribute it to one thing/person. Fake as f*** to be nice to my face and talk shit to a camera if it’s true, but no shocker there. That’s 99 percent of the women in the business.”

Stevens should probably not be brought back. Stevens, who started her career with All Japan Women under the name Amazing Kong in 2002, had a number of problems on her first TNA run, which started in late 2007, when she and Gail Kim really built the “Knockouts division,” around well worked wrestling matches at a standard well ahead of what WWE women were doing at the time. In early 2010, Stevens allegedly attacked Bubba the Love Sponge backstage. Stevens had done charity work raising money to benefit the victims of a devastating earthquake in Haiti. Bubba, in a pathetic attempt to get attention, made a remark “F*** Haiti,” and when Stevens next saw him, she mentioned the remarks and started throwing punch after punch at him until Vince Russo jumped in and stopped her. She was sent home and then asked for her release. At first she didn’t get it, and then did a video where she made remarks that she was a slave. When she refused to go on tour to the U.K. a few weeks later, she was suspended. She was later released and claimed she would never work in TNA again.

There were other incidents behind the scenes with her during that run.

She later went to WWE, and was introduced with a push, with the idea of doing an angle with the Bella Twins. However, she found out she was pregnant just as the angle got started. She claimed to have given birth to a child and returned at the 2012 Royal Rumble. Later, after it came out she had lost the baby and never given birth, WWE released her. She had returned to TNA last January. Due to back problems, she wasn’t able to perform at the level she had in the past, but was pushed as Kim’s top heel adversary because of their history and her look. She was first feuding with the Doll House, but after Taryn Terrell, who was the leader of the group, quit the company, Kong went heel on Gail Kim and became the new leader of the group.

Based on TV, it appears that Kong’s spot as the top person in the group will go to Jade (Stephanie Bell).

Former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson announced on 2/1 that he had signed a contract with Bellator MMA and it was announced the next day that he will be challenging for the welterweight title in his debut.

“I think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Scott Coker to MMAFighting.com after the announcement was made. “Fighters are fighting out their contracts. They want to negotiate. They really want to see what their value is. We’re going to help them to define what their value is. It’s always good for the industry to have more than one bidder.”

Coker, in an e-mail to the Observer, noted “More to come.”

ESPN reported the next day that Henderson’s debut would be challenging welterweight champion Andrey Koreshkov in the main event on 4/22 of a show at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT.

Koreshkov is 18-1, with his only loss being dominated by wrestling in his first shot at the title against Ben Askren. He has won his next five fights, including taking the title from Douglas Lima on 7/17 at the same Mohegan Sun Casino.

“Bellator presented one heck of an offer you couldn’t say no to,” said Henderson in an interview on the MMA Hour. “They made it pretty easy on me. They opened up the red carpet. They were super nice, very much taking care of me and showing how much they wanted myself on board, wanted myself a part of their team. When you get that sort of reception, it’s hard to say no.”

He also noted that a big part of the deal was the Reebok deal, which cut down greatly on his sponsorship income in UFC. As a name fighter on television who can be sponsored, his potential income is significant in Bellator.

“For a lot of other fighters, (the Reebok deal) was not the best look for us. For me, I’ll say it definitely affected my decision in the grand scheme of things.”

Henderson also said that UFC’s offer was only the third best he received, noting a strong offer from ONE in Asia, which could have matched Henderson with Ben Askren provided Henderson fought at 185 with that company’s restriction against weight cutting. He said the UFC offer was also strong, but he said it came down to more than the base price on the contract, noting sponsorship income was a big part of the decision.

“The truth is we made him an offer that would have paid him substantially more, like not even in the same ballpark–than he’s getting now if he were to become world champion again,” said Dana White to MMA Junkie. “But he chose their deal, which offered more up front. He’s a former world champion whose ranked No. 15 now (misleading statement because he switched divisions and is unbeaten as a welterweight but has only fought in the division twice, as a lightweight he would be ranked No. 6 right now). We’re looking for top five guys, guys that are going from 15 to 1, not the other way around. But I’m honestly happy for Benson. I’m not angry. Who knows? This could be the last contract he ever signs. He got the right deal for him. He’s a great guy, and we wish him all the best.”

Bellator had signed a number of UFC major stars in recent years, but the key ones, Tito Ortiz, Quinton Jackson, Ken Shamrock, Josh Koscheck, Stephan Bonnar and Josh Thomson were past the peaks of their careers. Phil Davis was still at his peak and ranked top five in the UFC at light heavyweight, but UFC willingly allowed both Davis and Thomson to go. Thomson had lost some fights and had a high price tag. Davis was considered a boring fighter, who was very good, but the feeling is Davis was never going to be able to string up enough wins to get a title shot in the division and his mainly wrestling style wouldn’t allow him to be able to beat Daniel Cormier, Anthony Johnson or Jon Jones. Davis is now the top contender for Bellator’s light heavyweight title after winning a 9/19 tournament in San Jose. Jackson was unhappy and attempted to return to UFC, in a case currently tied up in court.

Henderson, 32, was not the drawing card or name most of the big signings have been, but he’s a quality fighter who doesn’t have to be protected in booking. He’d be a heavy favorite against Koreshkov.

Henderson, 23-5, allowed his contract to expire after his 11/28 win over Jorge Masvidal, the main event of UFC’s first show in Seoul, South Korea.

Henderson was one of Zuffa’s top lightweights since 2009, but after recent losses to Donald Cerrone (a close decision that could have gone the other way), Rafael dos Anjos (a first round knockout loss) and Anthony Pettis (a first round submission), he had moved to welterweight. While he was 2-0 in the division, he went from being a big lightweight to a small welterweight and probably wasn’t going to be able to emerge as a contender in that division.

“I’d like to officially announce my move over to Bellator MMA,” wrote Henderson. “I’m beyond excited for this next phase of my career. It’s a big move, like any move when switching employers or jobs after having worked somewhere for such a long time.”

Henderson went out of his way to thank Dana White, Lorenzo Fertitta and a number of Zuffa employees in his farewell.

“I’d be remiss to not thank Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta for the opportunities they presented me. You guys have helped me change my life for the better and to be able to provide my family with the things I didn’t have while growing up. For that I’ll always have the utmost appreciation. Thanks for all the advise you guys gave too, both business wise and personal.”

Henderson was an NAIA All-American wrestler in 2005 and 2006, who started fighting at the end of 2006. He was 7-1, with his only loss coming via submission to a fighter by the name of Rocky Johnson, when he debuted with the WEC in 2009.

The WEC was a sister promotion of the UFC, and Henderson won their interim lightweight title in one of the all-time classic fights, beating Donald Cerrone via close decision on October 10, 2009, in San Antonio. He became the outright champion by submitting Jamie Varner on January 10, 2010, in Sacramento.

In the final WEC show ever, on December 16, 2010, Henderson lost his title and what was supposed to be an immediate UFC lightweight title shot, via decision to Anthony Pettis. The fight, a classic, was even after four rounds. In the fifth round, Pettis pulled off perhaps the most spectacular move in modern history, running up the cage and coming off with a kick, known as the “Showtime Kick,” to knock Henderson down in the last minute of the fifth round, earning him a decision.

After three straight wins in UFC, Henderson won the lightweight title by decision from Frankie Edgar on February 26, 2012, at the Saitama Super Arena in Japan. He retained it in matches with Edgar, Nate Diaz and Gilbert Melendez, before losing it to Pettis on August 31, 2013, in Milwaukee.

After losses to dos Anjos and Cerrone, he moved to welterweight and beat Brandon Thatch and Masvidal.

But he’d have bigger fights and more competition at lightweight, which is Bellator’s strongest weight class, with champion Will Brooks, plus Michael Chandler, Thomson, Marcin Held and Derek Anderson.

He made it clear he expects to bounce back-and-forth between the two divisions, opening up a long list of matches.

The next person to watch out for would be Alistair Overeem, who Coker has worked with in the past, and would immediately be Bellator’s top heavyweight if he signed. Overeem, coming off his knockout win over Junior Dos Santos, had good timing for when his contract expired and can play both sides against each other. Overeem already had one of the better non-championship contracts in UFC. Coker has a long history with Overeem, using him in Strikeforce dating back to the early days of the promotion.

The California State Athletic Commission on 2/2 announced a well-meaning but problematic ban on aspects of modern weight cutting in an emergency meeting in Los Angeles.

Andy Foster, who heads the commission and has been outspoken on the belief that weight cutting is the biggest problem facing the sport, announced new rules that could go into effect as soon as 3/1, on a trial basis.

The new rules ban dehydration to make weight, and allow the commission to collect urine samples from fighters to test if they are properly hydrated during the week of the fight when weight s cut. If a fighter fails a test and is deemed dehydrated, they will be given two or three hours to properly hydrate. If they then fail the second test, the fight will be off.

The issue is for fighters in major organizations like UFC and Bellator, they fight in specific weight classes and the methods they use to make weight involves cutting water weight. While this sounds good, and it is, the only way this can work is if most fighters when fighting in California move up a weight class from the one they routinely fight in. That makes things completely screwed up for the big organizations, and in particular, championship fights.

The rules have to be adopted universally, and hopefully that is what ends up happening because a significant percentage of fighters couldn’t make their current weight class without heavily cutting water weight.

California has also banned IV usage for fighters to rehydrate. That will affect fighters with Bellator and other organizations. It won’t affect UFC, which has already banned IV use based on USADA regulations.

Foster called for the ban saying that any fighter who needs an IV to rehydrate is competing in the wrong weight class.

If an IV is necessary for health after a weigh-in, Foster said the fighter would stand a good chance of not being allowed to fight.

“I can’t imagine a time in my mind when someone needs an IV and we’ll say, `Okay, you can go on and fight,’” Foster said to MMA Fighting. “I think that would be irresponsible.”

The new bylaws also allow the state to move weigh-ins back to 30 hours before a fight, giving fighters more time after weigh-ins to rehydrate, and the commission is looking at holding weigh-ins as early as 72 hours before fight time. While this would guarantee fighters could get fully rehydrated, it also allows fighters three full days to pack on weight before fighting instead of one day.

Takashi Sugiura, as the representative of Suzuki-gun, captured the GHC heavyweight title from Naomichi Marufuji, and NOAH original Yoshinobu Kanemaru joined Suzuki-gun as the highlights of the 1/31 Great Voyage show at the Yokohama Bunka Gym.

The main event was a strong match, although the finish was somewhat messed up. Marufuji hit a shiranui (sliced bread) on Sugiura when both were standing on the top rope. It was expected this would be the finish. Lance Archer was supposed to run out and pull the ref out of the ring to break up the pin. The problem was, he was way late. The crowd, seeing the ref hold up his pin, and seeing Archer run in late, started laughing at what was supposed to be a deadly serious part of the match.

From that point on, there was a lot of interference from Minor Suzuki, Archer and Taichi. Katsuhiko Nakajima attacked Archer. While this was going on, Sugiura hit Marufuji with a chair shot and pinned him in 31:21 with the Olympic slam.

Suzuki-gun was destroying the NOAH stars after the match. Kenta Kobashi wasn’t there in his usual General Manager role. It probably would have been bad for them to do the finish the way they wanted with Kobashi as the General Manager watching at ringside. He’d have had to have kicked the Suzuki-gun wrestlers out as soon as they started interfering.

NOAH President Akira Taue came out, looking disgusted, as he handed Sugiura the title belt and trophy. Sugiura kicked the trophy over. Taichi teased attacking Taue, but they didn’t do it. After Suzuki-gun had left Marufuji laying, Go Shiozaki came out. Shiozaki tried to form an alliance with Marufuji, and this time Marufuji agreed to it. Maybach Taniguchi then came out and joined them. Marufuji then handed Taniguchi a NOAH banner. The crowd reacted well to the idea of Marufuji & Shiozaki & Taniguchi as the top NOAH trio. Taniguchi is back going by his real name of Shuhei Taniguchi.

Kanemaru had turned on Shiozaki earlier in the show, which allowed Suzuki to beat Shiozaki. Suzuki then said that Kanemaru was the mystery new member of Suzuki-gun that he was talking about how when he said he had a guy who was a NOAH original who he’d reveal shortly.

The show drew 2,573 fans as the paid attendance and it appeared there were about 3,400 in the building. They aren’t knocking them dead but there does appear to be some improvement when it comes to the big shows. The daily business has not been good at all, and even the Korakuen Hall show this past weekend drew less than 1,000.

Stemming from the show, NOAH announced shows on 2/19 at Differ Ariake in Tokyo and 2/24 at Korakuen Hall.

The 2/19 show’s big matches are Yone vs. Iizuka, Daisuke Harada & Atsushi Kotoge defending the GHC jr. tag titles against the new Suzuki-gun team of Kanemaru & Taichi, plus a NOAH vs. Suzuki-gun elimination match with Marufuji & Katsuhiko Nakajima & Shiozaki & Shuhei Taniguchi & Mitsuhiro Kitamiya vs. Sugiura & Suzuki & Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Shelton Benjamin.

The 2/24 show has Sugiura & Archer & Smith Jr. vs. Marufuji & Shiozaki & Taniguchi, Taiji Ishimori vs. Kanemaru for the GHC jr. title, and a main event of Nakajima vs. Suzuki. If Nakajima beats Suzuki, he would get a shot at Sugiura’s title on the next major show, which is 3/15 back at the Yokohama Bunka Gym. Smith & Archer would likely face two of the Marufuji & Shiozaki & Taniguchi trio for the tag titles.

1. Yoshihiro Takayama & Quiet Strom & Hajime Ohara & Genba Hirayanagi beat Yoshinari Ogawa & Akitoshi Saito & Hitoshi Kumano & Kaito Kiyomiya in 9:17 when Ohara pinned Kiyomiya.

2. Yoshinobu Kanemaru, before his turn, pinned Desperado in 7:36 with a small package.

3. Shelton Benjamin of Suzuki-gun beat Mitsuhiro Kitamiya in 10:38 with the ankle lock submission.

4. Maybach Taniguchi and Takashi Iizuka first did a double count out. Taniguchi demanded the match be restarted. Taniguchi got the pin in 8:05.

5. Atsushi Kotoge & Daisuke Harada retained the GHC jr. tag titles beating Taka Michinoku & Taichi in 16:01 when Harada pinned Michinoku after a German suplex.

6. Taiji Ishimori retained the GHC jr. title pinning Kenou in 15:19 after a 450 splash.

7. Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. retained the GHC tag team titles over Mohammed Yone & Katsuhiko Nakajima in 15:51 when Archer & Smith used the double team killer bomb on Yone and Archer pinned him.

8. Minoru Suzuki beat Go Shiozaki due to Yoshinobu Kanemaru’s turn. Kanemaru laid out Shiozaki and showed that he was wearing a Suzuki-gun T-shirt. Suzuki then pinned Shiozaki at 18:26 with the Gotch piledriver. Kanemaru announced that he was the time bomb Suzuki was talking about. Suzuki and Kanemaru beat down Shiozaki after the match until Taniguchi made the save. Taniguchi then unmasked himself to a big pop. Shiozaki was still selling. Taniguchi picked him up. Taniguchi was putting him through the ropes and must have thought Shiozaki was going to hold onto the ropes and he went through. Shiozaki didn’t so when Taniguchi pushed him through the ropes, Shiozaki, not holding on, crashed to the floor. Taniguchi picked him up from the floor and helped him to the back.

9. Takashi Sugiura won the GHC heavyweight title for a second time beating Naomichi Marufuji in 31:21 due to Suzuki-gun’s interference.

Calgary and Knoxville are worlds apart, but to people who grew up in both places during the 1970s and watched wrestling, they shared the most memorable wrestling character of the era.

Of course, the same man, Archie Gouldie, was two very different people. In Western Canada, he was the toughest villain they ever laid eyes on, the man who saved Stampede Wrestling from bankruptcy and turned it into a hotbed. But more, he was the person who stunned the fans in Calgary by breaking the arm of Stu Hart, who was believed to be the toughest man in that part of the country. His interviews were classics and his angles were remembered for a generation.

To this day, the most talked about thing among fans who remember Stampede Wrestling was the night that Kerry Brown and Badnews Allen broke The Stomper’s son’s neck in an angle to set up the ultimate battle between the two great heels of different eras. But the angle became viewed as too real, and ended up doing far more harm than good. Ross Hart, the family historian, noted that people still talk about it today, act like while wrestling wasn’t real, they wanted to believe that the Stomper really hated Badnews, and didn’t want to believe that the kid who took the piledriver really wasn’t the Stomper’s son.

Gouldie passed away on 1/23 at Physicians Regional Medical Center. He had been suffering from Alzheimer’s in recent years, to the point he could no longer recognize people he had known for decades. He broke his hip in a fall, had surgery, was battling pneumonia and never recovered.

In Knoxville, or Memphis, or Alabama, Archie Gouldie at first never said a word. And when he finally did talk, he, and the people who remember him, regretted it.

Jim Cornette was a teenager in the front row at the Louisville Gardens in 1975 when Tamujan, which was purportedly the real name of The Mongolian Stomper from Ulan Bator in Outer Mongolia, would stomp the brains in of people like Jerry Lawler, Ron Fuller and Bob Armstrong during what may have been the hottest business run in the history of wrestling in that part of the country.

But the first time he heard him talk, he was devastated. When Gouldie first arrived in Memphis, booked by Jerry Jarrett for the Gulas/Welch promotion, he was put over like a monster. His gimmick was that he destroyed everyone in his path in one minute or less, stomping their brains out, until he worked his way up to the main event and the Southern heavyweight championship. The Mongolian Stomper stood behind Bearcat Wright, who did the talking for him. But bad things happened. One night a fan sucker punched Wright in the stomach as he was watching the Stomper’s match.

Edward Michael “Bearcat” Wright Jr. (who in an irony, was nicknamed “Bobo” in his boxing days) was a second generation pro boxer, a 6-foot-6 ½ undefeated heavyweight in the early 50s who became far more famous as the first black world champion of a major pro wrestling organization in the early 60s with the WWA. Wright, a foot taller than the assailant, took care of business in short order, but very violently. Wright decked him with one punch and then soccer kicked him on the ground, and the man went into convulsions. A lawsuit was filed and he left the territory, leaving Stomper to have to do his own promos. In theory, that shouldn’t have been a problem, since doing promos had been his specialty.

The problem is, Tamujan from Outer Mongolia should not have been able to speak perfect and deliberate English. Cornette noted that one of his biggest disappointments as a young fan was hearing the Stomper talk for the first time. Stomper realized it as well. Nearly two decades later, Cornette booked the 58-year-old Stomper in the same monster role in Smoky Mountain Wrestling. One thing he knew for sure is that he could never let him talk.

While Stomper was known for being very moody, extremely hard to deal with, and had a reputation for walking out of promotions with no notice, Cornette never had any problems with the older version of The Stomper.

“It’s not like he was going to be misused when one of his biggest fans is the booker,” said Cornette.

By that time Stomper was only working Friday and Saturday nights, and willing to continue wrestling for as little as $100 per night to do his short brawls around the building, since he loved wrestling and had a regular job with the Knox County Sheriff’s Department, often transporting criminals. The only thing he insisted was no blading of his forehead, because he didn’t want any of the men he was transporting see him with fresh forehead wounds.

“All I had to do was add the music, the theme from Halloween,” said Cornette. “I couldn’t make him a heel because the people were so happy to see this guy from their childhood, they wouldn’t boo him.”

The wrestling career of Archie Gouldie spanned nearly a half-century, the vast majority of it as a headline attraction in mostly smaller territories.

Archibald Edward Gouldie was born November 22, 1936. He was of Scottish descent and grew up on a dairy farm in Carbon, Alberta, about 75 miles Northeast of Calgary.

He was a big, strong, tough kid who grew up watching Stu Hart’s wrestling. Whenever the tour would come near his town, from when he was a teenager, he’d watch and study the matches. As he got older and stronger, he watched the wrestlers and thought he could take them. He just didn’t know how to get in, past he knew that the wrestlers were based in Calgary.

So in early 20s, he moved to Calgary, where he managed a gas station and ran roughshod on the football field with the North Hill Colts of the Alberta Junior Football League. He’d go to the wrestling matches most weeks and vociferously heckle the villains. A guy that size stood out in the crowd and the area wrestlers were well aware ad kept an eye on him. One night at the Pavilion, somewhere between 1958 and 1961, pegged by Ross Hart as being in 1960, he made his move. He grabbed the microphone from Ed Whalen, the voice of television wrestling, and threatened the Mills Brothers, the top heel tag team in the area, as they were walking into the ring before a match.

The brothers dared him to come to the ring. He was ready to go, but the police stopped him and dragged him out of the arena.

He kept coming back and challenging the wrestlers. Stu Hart, the promoter and policeman, told him he needed to behave himself, because if he picked a fight with a professional wrestler, he could get badly hurt. Gouldie told Hart that he’d take his chances.

Hart said if that was his attitude, he’d make him a deal. Come down to his house and to his basement, and Stu Hart told him, “I have a gym in the basement. If you can handle me, I’ll give you some of my men.”

Gouldie showed up. He was big and strong but didn’t how to wrestle. Stu gave him a brutal beating. The idea was to beat him up so badly that he’d never even entertain the idea of messing with a wrestler. Gouldie later told the story that he was twisted into so many pieces that he was in pain in almost every part of his body. He said he feared he was going to die. In his version of the story, when he got an opening, he sucker punched Hart. With Hart stunned, he ran as fast as he could out of the house, and kept running in the snow, never stopping until he got to his house, five miles away. He said he was deathly afraid that Stu might chase him down and finish what he started.

Hart figured he had learned a lesson as he never came back to the matches. Nobody had heard a thing about him, until about three or four months later, when he knocked on the front door of Stu’s house, apologized for what he had done, said he really wanted to be a pro wrestler and asked Stu to train him.

As the story went, Stu continued to punish him in the gym, but nowhere near as badly as that first night, and started teaching him. He was still being tortured, but kept coming back. Some days he was hurt so badly it would be several days before he’d return. When describing Hart years later, he spoke of him as someone who wasn’t even human, talking about how he’d seen Stu walk outside with bare feet in the snow, and carry on a conversation with someone for 40 minutes, without feeling any pain.

Hart started him in the ring in 1962, strictly doing jobs in prelims. While there, he met Joe Millich, an old-time shooter, who got him booked in the Central States territory. Pat O’Connor, the former world champion was the part owner and booker of the territory, turned him into the Mongolian Stomper. He was an instant success. He headlined in Kansas City for the next several years. In St. Louis, he never quite made it to the main event, working second from the top in late 1964 in singles matches with O’Connor and Johnny Valentine.

The Mongolian Stomper debuted in World Championship Wrestling on December 2, 1964, in Brisbane, Australia. He was portrayed as a silent but ferocious Asian barbarian with a mustache and a tassel of hair on the top of an otherwise shaved head, a stereotypical Mongolian barbarian look. WCW had just opened up on October 23, 1964, under the auspices of Jim Barnett and Johnny Doyle. It was a major feather is his cap that the best paying promotion in the world was flying him in for a top spot just two years into his career.

“Gouldie was absolutely over with the Aussie fans as a brutal, durable, intimidating and impressive heel,” said Australian historian Kirk Beattie. “Archie’s finishing maneuver was a stomp, or often a series thereof, to his opponents’ forehead, usually preceded by an atomic drop.”

On his first night with the promotion, he defeated Emile Dupre and then interfered in the main event, aligning himself with top heels Killer Kowalski & Killer Buddy Austin in a match against Dominic DeNucci, the IWA world champion, and partner Tex McKenzie. After two weeks in the territory, he got a title shot at DeNucci in Brisbane, hitting the referee for the DQ. He had a similar finish in a title match in Sydney. During his tour, the only wrestlers he lost to were the company’s top babyfaces, DeNucci, Mark Lewin, McKenzie, Cowboy Bob Ellis and Dory Funk Jr.

Stomper & Ray Stevens formed a tag team, first winning a program over DeNucci & Ellis, and then doing the heel vs. heel feud with Kowalski & Austin. In those matches, it was Kowalski, Australia’s all-time greatest heel, and Austin, who the fans cheered. After the program ran its course, with both teams winning matches but Kowalski & Austin winning the majority, Kowalski & Stomper reunited as heel. He was also the guy chosen to get over Mike Paidousis as a Greek superstar to appeal to the large Greek population. Stomper destroyed Greek prelim wrestler Clem Lakis, and continued to punish him after the match, leading to Paidousis making the save and running Stomper out. Stomper put him over in their big match but Paidousis just didn’t get over strong as a face, and a few months later Barnett tried again with more success putting Spyros Arion in that role.

Aside from the run in Australia during the peak of the promotion, where he was one of the lead heels, The Stomper terrorized the Central States through the summer of 1966, before a several month run in Hawaii, and then a stint in California.

On December 31, 1966, in a battle of heels, Cyclone Negro & The Mongolian Stomper won the American Wrestling Alliance (not to be confused with the AWA out of Minneapolis) world tag team championship from Ray Stevens & Pat Patterson at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. But Stevens & Patterson regained the titles three weeks later. Later in 1967, Stomper & Negro had a second tag team title program with new champions Pepper Gomez & Pedro Morales.

After being a long-time headliner in two of the biggest territories in the world, World Championship Wrestling in Australia and Big Time Wrestling in California, Archie Gouldie was a major star when he returned to Stampede Wrestling in 1967.

Figuring that he had family in the area and some people in town would have known him, even though he had never been pushed, the decision was made for him to be Archie “The Stomper” Gouldie instead of the Mongolian Stomper.

His persona was as a tough cowboy, with a horseshoe emblem on his trunks and big cowboy boots to stomp his opposition. His interviews became his calling card, scaring children, and adults.

In his autobiography, Bret Hart described this period, when he was ten years old, that his family was broke and his father had to borrow money from his accountant just to take out a newspaper ad in the Calgary Herald to let people know that wrestling was returning on September 15, 1967.

“Bruce (Hart) tore open the bundle of programs and there, on the cover I saw a brooding bullet head atop of muscled frame,” Bret Hart wrote. “He was the answer to our prayers: Archie The Stomper Gouldie. The Stomper was the best wrestler I ever watched, and he was the one I studied the most. He turned my father’s fortunes around that year, selling out week after week, against all kinds of different wrestlers, including Stu himself.

“Over the next three years, with the help of The Stomper, Stampede Wrestling became cutting edge in Calgary and across Canada, and through TV, its popularity spread to far-off places around the world.

“My parents pulled themselves out of debt, us kids finally had nice clothes, and Stu bought a new big black Cadillac limousine to haul us around.”

The Stomper’s biggest feuds were with Dave Ruhl, The Beast (Yvon Cormier), Waldo Von Erich, Sailor Art Thomas, Stan Stasiak, Edouard Carpentier, Ox Baker, Angelo Mosca, Jos LeDuc, Stu Hart, Abdullah the Butcher, Dan Kroffat, Killer Tor Kamata and Carlos Belafonte (Carlos Colon).

The top singles title at the time was called the Canadian heavyweight championship, but the decision was made to upgrade it. O’Connor, one of the greatest wrestlers of the era, came to Saskatoon on February 28, 1968, to put over Stomper in a match to create the North American heavyweight title. Stomper lost via count out to world champion Gene Kiniski in that year’s Stampede Week show, the company’s biggest of the year. Ring Magazine, the boxing bible which in those days also covered pro wrestling as a straight sport, named Stomper its 1968 Wrestler of the Year.

Stu Hart had retired as an active wrestler around 1963, but Stomper kept goading him to come out of retirement. Eventually they had a series of three matches in early 1969, culminating with the fight to the finish on February 7 in Calgary. Stomper not only went over, but broke Stu’s arm. Since the stories of Stu in the dungeon were well known around the city and throughout Eastern Canada, the idea that he injured the toughest man in Western Canada made people see Stomper as an almost unstoppable force. The memories of this program were so strong that 14 years later, when Bret had become a popular singles star, the storyline of his breaking Stu’s arm was used for a strong drawing program with Stomper.

Bret Hart, who was 11 at the time of the Stomper vs. Stu program, had vivid memories of watching his father get his arm broken. He said he had nightmares about The Stomper, remembering in particular an interview where he said he was going to come down to their house, and tear it apart, brick-by-brick, tear his father limb from limb, and even threatened to drag his mother out of the house, bring her onto the interstate and give her a piledriver.

Stu wore the cast at home, although Bret noted that when his father thought no one was around, or when he needed to cook, he took it off. Then one Saturday afternoon, coming out of a Corvette, in front of the house, was The Stomper. Bret didn’t know if he was going to make good on his promise. But his mom greeted him, hugged him, and handed him a check.

“I still wasn’t sure what was going on, but I never viewed wrestling in quite the same way after that.”

To show how big Stampede Wrestling had become, the Calgary metropolitan area at the time had a population of about 400,000. The weekly Stampede Wrestling television show’s average viewing rating was 114,900 viewers, only slightly trailing the iconic Hockey Night in Canada show.

In early June of 1969, NWA world champion Dory Funk Jr. came in to do a wild double disqualification with the Stomper around the territory, most notably on June 6 in Calgary. The idea was to build for a bigger rematch on the Stampede week card a month later.

The idea was that Stomper, in the weeks before Funk Jr. returned, would do a program defending his North American title against Billy Robinson, the greatest technical wrestler in the world.

Robinson was tough at a different level from almost everyone in those days, and could be very arrogant about it. Suffice to say the match had problems, to the point that Stomper, feeling Robinson wasn’t working with him, and instead was blocking his offensive moves and shooting on him by really wrestling in their June 20 match in Calgary, stormed out of the ring, and quit the territory.

The irony is how history changed from that messed up situation. Funk Jr. instead wrestled the new North American champion, Robinson, for two weeks. The idea that Robinson made Stomper walk out in a match got him over instantly, and Funk Jr. vs. Robinson, besides being remembered as the best wrestling matches of that era in that part of the country, also set area attendance records.

Stomper ended up in Eastern Canada, working in Nova Scotia against the ruling Cormier Brothers, most notably The Beast, in one of the best paying territories at the time. For the next few years, he’d work Eastern Canada and the Central States. He debuted in Japan at the New Year’s Championship Series in 1971 for the JWA, pushed as the top foreign star on the tour, and protected from losing any singles matches, going to two double count outs with Giant Baba and beating Antonio Inoki via DQ.

Gouldie didn’t return to Stampede Wrestling until 1971. The business had remained strong after he left, largely due to the presence of the territory’s new monster heel, Abdullah the Butcher. Stomper vs. Abdullah was a natural match up it seemed, and they drew some big houses for a few weeks, before Stomper again walked out.

Both guys legitimately didn’t like each other. Abdullah would pretend to not know Stomper’s name, and Stomper had even less kind things to say about him calling him “that black bastard.” Neither would sell for the other in their matches. Ross Hart noted they did great business against each other in two different time periods, but the matches were terrible.

After another run in Eastern Canada, and then Japan and Australia, he was going to work with Leroy McGuirk as the top heel, to feud with Cowboy Bill Watts. But after beating Watts, he quit the territory three weeks later.

In his final tour of Australia, he was no longer the Mongolian Stomper, but The Stomper from Alberta, as a main event heel doing cold, menacing interviews. The Stomper formed a tag team with Killer Karl Kox, the second biggest heel star in that area’s history, feuding with Wahoo McDaniel & Pat Barrett. He was also remembered for a mixed tag team match where he teamed with midget Lord Littlebrook against Buck Ramstead and midget Wee Willie Wilson in a series of matches where he used his stomps on Wilson behind the referees back. His main programs were with the top three babyfaces at the time, McDaniel, Mario Milano and Lord Athol Layton, and he also teamed with Tiger Jeet Singh and Tarzan Tyler.

He returned to Stampede Wrestling in 1972, but that was only a planned one week return for Stampede week, where he wrestled the likes of Kroffat, Kamata and Funk Jr. in a world title match. He also got his only St. Louis career main event, on November 3 of that year, losing to Harley Race in a match for the Missouri State title.

He spent almost all of 1973 (aside from a few months in Eastern Canada) and the first four months of 1974 in Stampede Wrestling, doing his best business with Abdullah and Dan Kroffat, and doing a two-week program for Stampede week with NWA champion Race.

He arrived in Florida in October 1974, where he came in as part of Gary Hart’s Army in doing a program with Dusty Rhodes. He also had several NWA title matches with Jack Brisco, and worked with the likes of Don Muraco, Watts, Rocky Johnson, Andre the Giant, Eddie Graham, Terry Funk, and two men that would end up being his biggest rivals in several other territories, Jos LeDuc and Bob Armstrong.

In May 1975, he and Wright, who had teamed some in Florida, left to work for promoter Nick Gulas in Tennessee.

He was put over like a monster, with the gimmick that he’d wrestle two men in one night, and beat everyone on his way up in less than two minutes.

When he arrived, Memphis was doing about 5,000 fans every Monday night. His first main event, on June 9, drew 7,886 fans as he won the Southern title from Ron Fuller.

The rematch the next week drew 9,368. The blow-off with Fuller the following week did 9,022. The week after that, he faced Jerry Lawler and drew 10,100. A no DQ match, where he retained the Southern title against Lawler drew a sellout of 11,500 on July 7. A week later, a rematch, where Stomper did his first job, losing to Lawler with Lance Russell as referee, they did another sellout. They sold out the next week as Stomper regained the title in a no DQ match. The week after, where he and Lawler went to a draw, with Jackie Fargo as referee, drew 10,991. On August 4, against the Magnificent Zulu, they drew another sellout (the card also featured the reuniting of Jackie & Don & Roughhouse Fargo). Even a Tuesday show on August 12, with Stomper over Zulu in a no DQ match, drew yet another sellout with the Fargos underneath. The same top two attractions drew a sellout six days later.

Wright left, he spoke and then crowds fell to 7,000. Then they dropped to back around the 5,000 they were doing before Stomper got hot, although he and Armstrong did top 10,000 once for a no DQ match.

“Archie was a powerful man and worked quite stiff, so it was easy for the fans to suspend their disbelief,” said Jerry Jarrett, who booked the territory at the time. “It didn’t take long for the fans to realize that The Mongolian Stomper was a real champion. He got over instantly, and in fact, I had to remind him that the enhancement talent would not return if he continued beating the shit out of them on television.”

Fritz Von Erich wanted him in Texas to work on top with him, as well as the likes of Jose Lothario, Peter Maivia, Mil Mascaras and Rocky Johnson, throughout the state. Gouldie gave notice, dropped a loser leaves town match to Lawler, and learned from experience.

While he had been a strong draw as the talking Stomper, the Stomper who never talked took business to a completely different level. So he called his friend James Morrison, a good talking heel who used the name Jim Dillon. The two met in the Maritime provinces a few years earlier, and teamed up some in Florida. The phone call changed Morrison’s life.

“Archie left Florida to go to Tennessee with Bearcat Wright as his manager,” said Dillon. “It must have been like oil and water. I got a call out of the blue one day from Archie. He told me that he and Bearcat had a falling out. Archie talked on TV for the first time and it killed him image in Tennessee and he needed to leave. Archie had heard my interviews in Canada and Florida and asked if I had ever thought about becoming a manager, which I hadn’t. Archie had a top spot lined up in Dallas with Fritz. Red Bastein was the booker. I decided to give it a try and Eddie Graham gave me his blessing. I bought a bunch of leisure suits and old tuxes and went to Dallas. Up to that point, I had been Jim Dillon, an Red thought I needed something more as a manager, and I became James J. Dillon. We had a hot run in Dallas and we were lucky that Paul Boesch liked us too.”

When they got there, Gouldie told Dillon to get him a workout spring that he would use, constantly twisting it so his upper body muscles would ripple while he stood behind Dillon doing a promo.

“I went looking and a washing machine repairman said that a commercial machine had a big spring in the assembly. I was able to get a spring and it was thick, heavy and the right size. I went to a machine shop and they built two handles that slide in the ends, welded in place, and then had a handle bar grip extend out, like a bike, at each end where you could slide on rubber grips. Archie was a powerful guy and he could bend this spring and do reps. I remember one interview where the interviewer asked an added question and the interview went slightly long. Archie was pumping away, and sweat was running off his face. We finished and he almost collapsed because he refused to stop while the cameras were on him. We made sure that never happened again.”

“Archie and I got along great, but the first thing not to his liking, Archie would say that the office had no plans for us, etc. In the middle of the night Archie packed up (he had a house rented with is wife Donna) and left town. He never told me. When the office couldn’t get a hold of him, I told Red that I would go by his house. The house was empty. I found out later that Archie went back to Calgary, and of course Stu welcomed him with open arms.”

He immediately won the North American title from Karl Von Schotz (John Anson), and then over the next three weeks drew big crowds for an NWA title match against Terry Funk, a Texas death match against Dory Funk Jr. and a match with Kiniski.

“I had been in Dallas a while and I got another call out of the blue from Archie from Calgary,” said Dillon. “He apologized and said that we had such a good thing together and asked if I would consider us getting back together. This time, Archie had been talking to Verne (Gagne) in Minneapolis and with (Jim) Barnett in Atlanta, and both were interested in us as a combination. Barnett got back first and we had a date. Verne called the next day to give us a start date, and he wasn’t very happy to hear that we had already promised Barnett. We went to Atlanta and business was good. I don’t remember the date or time line, but Archie did the same thing. He took a powder unannounced in the middle of the night.”

“After Atlanta, I never saw Archie again and never talked to him. I had no hard feelings. Both times I stayed after Archie left and continued to do well. Archie and I traveled together when we were together. We got along well and he was quiet, and some would say he was moody. Archie and I never talked about it, but I think maybe Archie suffered from depression. I never saw him take medication, but something triggered his mood swings. He loved to go to the gym and train. Maybe that was his release. Even when he called me back that first time after he left, I never asked him why and maybe I should have.”

“It sounds crazy, but if he had called me back that third time, I probably still would have teamed with him. He was a star in our business and I am saddened to hear of his passing. Twice he was set to appear in Charlotte for Greg Price at a Fan Fest. I was excited at the thought of seeing him again after all those years. He no-showed the first time and the next time I was told it was a health issue. I always think of Archie as someone that changed the direction of my career

If he hadn’t made that call, I don’t know where I would be today. I look at my two Hall of Fame rings and I do think about Archie Gouldie.”

Gouldie went back to work for Jarrett before, starting at the age of 41, making himself a legend in Eastern Tennessee and the Gulf Coast with Southeastern Championship Wrestling. Ron & Robert Fuller were running the territory, and both were working for Nick Gulas and Jerry Jarrett, many times against Stomper, during his big 1975 run.

He was brought into Knoxville for the annual two-ring Battle Royal. To get him over, Stomper threw everyone over the top rope into the second ring, and won the first ring. Then he moved over into the second ring, and eliminated everyone all over again. The Stomper was nicknamed “The Eighth Wonder of the World,” which also set him up as the opponent whenever Andre the Giant would come to the area. Andre sold as much or more for him than almost anyone he faced in those days, which made people see him as something special. Robert Fuller gained a reputation for being a great booker largely due to a program with Stomper vs. LeDuc. He had seen a martial arts television show where somebody had stood there with a cinderblock on his head and another person hit it with a hammer, breaking the cinderlock in two while the guy stood there and took the blow. He was so impressed by that he saw, that he thought it would make for a great program. The problem was, nobody knew how they did it.

So he suggested that Gorgeous George Jr., who was Stomper’s original manager do it. They tried to gimmick it, and did it on television. In slow motion, when they showed the stunt, you could see that after the sledge hammer broke the cinderblock, it did hit Stomper in the top of the head. Most accounts have it that Stomper was really hurt, but wouldn’t sell it in front of the fans. But those kind of shots could have played a part in his developing Alzheimer’s later in life.

Stomper got over doing things like that, including head-butting a nail through a board, or breaking a bullworker exercise device.

“He had unbelievable tendon strength,” said Beau James, a longtime area wrestler and promoter.

The big angle was LeDuc saying he could do the same thing and had Stomper swing the hammer. Stomper, when doing the stunt, hit him with the hammer and legitimately hurt him. The stunt went awry, but it got mainstream media news. When LeDuc came back, after fans had been led to believe they would never see him again, brandishing an axe handle to go after Stomper on television, the ensuing matches popped the territory. Robert Fuller took credit for the angle, and landed himself several booking jobs in other territories off the success of that run.

“Other than Ron Wright, he drew more money here longer than anyone,” said James.

He mostly bounced back and forth between Fuller’s territory and Jarrett’s. He loved the Fuller territory because they worked the Gulf Coast, had the beaches, all the trips were under 200 miles and they made good money for the time.

“He was the scariest heel,” said James. “We had the Von Brauners in the 60s, and Tojo (Yamamoto) had been through here, but there was something about The Stomper. He was scarier than anyone that had ever been in East Tennessee.”

Don Carson took over as his manager in Eastern Tennessee and Alabama. They did a big gimmick where Ron Fuller hit him in the head with a shovel. The claim is he suffered inner ear injuries and it gave him a weakness, the sound of loud noise would leave him in great pain. He would wear headgear to block the sound. It was the easiest way to get heat, as fans knew he’d start selling as if he had a horrible headache if they made enough noise.

In 1980, he came back to Calgary, largely to work the Stampede show and wrestle Race to a double count out in an NWA title match.

Carson and Stomper came to Georgia in late 1980 for a run as Georgia Championship Wrestling on the SuperStation had taken off, giving him national exposure. He came in with a gimmick that he won all of his matches in four minutes or less, including beating Jack Brisco on the December 6, 1980, show at the Omni in Atlanta to win the National heavyweight championship. His big programs were with Rhodes and Mr. Wrestling II, but also had a number of matches with Andre and Tony Atlas.

Another well remembered angle was after he had turned babyface, known as a conditioning nut, he was going to train Austin Idol to win the NWA title from Ric Flair. Footage was shown of Stomper, in the role of coach, leading training sessions. But announcer Charlie Platt said he had talked with Flair on the phone and had given him the ominous message that he had found a cure for Idolmania. Later on that show, while Idol was doing a promo, Stomper turned on him, destroying him with chair shots.

He returned to Calgary for his last big run in the summer of 1983, working numerous matches with Bret Hart, largely build around the memories of the feud with Stu. In October, Stu, who was 68 at the time, came out of retirement to team with Bret for a couple of matches against Stomper and manager J.R. Foley, which ended up with Stu breaking his ribs legitimately and never wrestling again.

In November, Stomper brought in a wrestler billed as his 19-year-old son Jeff Gouldie, who was actually Tom Dalton, a wrestler he met in the Central States who later had some fame as Tommy Rogers (not the wrestler who used that name with the Fantastics) and more as Tommy Lane of the Rock & Roll RPMs tag team with Mike Davis. Dalton had worked the year before in Southeastern Championship Wrestling as part of a father-and-son tag team, using the name Stomper Jr.

Jeff Gouldie started his career in main events, teaming with his “father” on November 4, 1983, and continued to team with him until it was time for the big angle, on December 2.

Stomper and Badnews were the two top heels, but had never teamed up in Calgary until Badnews approached Stomper about joining forces to take out the “Hart mafia.”

The match was The Stomper & Badnews (who had become the area’s top heel) & Jeff Gouldie, managed by K.Y Wakamatsu, facing Bret Hart & Davey Boy Smith & Sonny Two Rivers, a Japanese wrestler who later became a star as Super Strong Machine for New Japan Pro Wrestling, playing a Native American.

Badnews already had troubles with the local commission as he was specifically told not to use a fork as a foreign object. Badnews, Wakamatsu and Kerry Brown turned on Stomper and his son. Stomper was calf roped and tied to the ringpost with Badnews bloodying him up with a fork. Badnews then, with his father helplessly tied up, piledrove Jeff either on the floor, or on the front row chairs, purportedly breaking his neck. A week later, because of all the problems, the broken neck was changed to a broken collarbone, although everyone remembers it as Badnews breaking the Stompers’ sons neck.

A riot broke out in the crowd. Stomper did a legendary interview, his eyes on the verge of tears, about how he never wanted his son to wrestle, talked passionately to all the fathers in the crowd about how his son begged him, saying, “Dad, I wanna follow in your footsteps, I wanna come wrestle in front of my gramma up in our home in Western Canada.”

“So I brought him up here, and I’m not real proud of that, Ed,” said Stomper stoically. This was a complete contrast to any Stomper interview the people had ever seen. Then, as the interview ended, announcer Ed Whalen convinced all of Alberta that it was real, saying that he refused to be part of such an ugly spectacle, and he announced he was quitting as an announcer, and hung up his microphone on the ropes and walked off.

While almost all accounts from the Hart family were that Whalen believed it was real, Bruce Hart claimed different, that Whalen was going to miss a few weeks of television because he was doing Calgary Flames hockey at the time. But Whalen didn’t come back to wrestling for years. Every other version of the story from family members were that Whalen was not in on it and was digested with the level of violence. Bruce Hart claimed that when the angle became so big and Whalen had quit over it, he felt he couldn’t come back, especially with his wife active in city politics.

In a newspaper story the next day, Whalen said, “I won’t degrade myself anymore. It used to be fun announcing this show, but now it’s obscenity. We’re starting to scare the patrons with this violence outside the ring and I will not be associated with it anymore. I feel sick.”

“Ed marked out when he saw Archie, looking deathly pale, climbing from the ambulance as they took Jeff away,” wrote Bret in his autobiography.

The angle grew in even stranger ways. It was the talk of the city, more than anything that had ever happened in wrestling. When fans called area hospitals to check on the condition of Jeff Gouldie, and there was no Jeff Gouldie in any hospital, the word around town was they rushed him out of town for fear he might die from the injuries.

The riot led to front page coverage of wrestling, and the commission suspending Stu’s promoter’s license. Badnews was fined $1,000 and suspended since he defied the commission and used the fork. Even though the newspapers had reported there would be no show, about 4,000 fans stood outside in 20 below weather the next Friday waiting to see Stomper vs. Badnews. Instead, the show was moved outside city limits to a Native American reservations, for shows the next few weeks that didn’t draw despite some remarkable promos since the fan base wouldn’t make the drive and there was no public transportation.

What was expected to be the biggest angle in the territory in years, building the monster of the 60s and 70s against the monster of the 80s, ended up costing Stu hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue. While Whalen was in many ways a poor wrestling announcer, he was a local institution and his leaving badly hurt the business.

“The angle should have been a big moneymaker, sweet relief for my mom and some long-aired peace for my dad,” said Bret. “Instead, the reckless actions of Badnews knocked the territory off course, and in my opinion, after that it never fully recovered.”

When Stu was able to promote again in Calgary in early 1984, Badnews was still suspended from the city. Stomper gave notice, dropped his North American title to Killer Khan, then lost a loser leaves town and left for the final time.

“We never really saw Archie again, the last time was 30 years ago,” said Ross Hart.

In 1984, Stu sold the territory to Vince McMahon for $1 million, although McMahon only paid him $100,000 of it before not paying the rest claiming the sale contract was breached was Bruce Hart promoted some independent shows in the area. This allowed Stu to reopen the territory in the period best remembered for the start of the careers of people like Owen Hart, Chris Benoit and Brian Pillman.

The Stomper finally went to work for Gagne in 1985 and 1986, but he had slowed down greatly. He could still get over in markets where adults remembered him as the monster of their childhood, like his 1992 to 1995 run in Smoky Mountain Wrestling, but the act wasn’t going to work in a new part of the country.

James and Cornette talked about his coming to the matches and besides his bicycle rides to and from work, he’d do endless calisthenics, free squats, rep after rep with a twister or a bullworker, and running up and down stairs before his matches. James said that he would check the lineup, and start his training one hour before he was scheduled to come through the curtains, so he would have a sweat and a pump when fans would see him charge out like a madman.

He took a job working at the Knox County jail, a job he held for the next 15 years. The most famous story regarded a tough fugitive, who had beaten up two officers badly when they tried to arrest him. Archie, at this point well into his 50s, said, “I’ll get him.” As the story went, Stomper went to arrest him, choked him half to death, and brought him in. Another story from the period was someone he was taking in, who knew exactly who he was, started arguing with him and said, “You wouldn’t be so tough without that gun belt.” Archie took off the belt and quickly ended that confrontation.

“He knew how to hurt you,” said James, who was friends with him and the last promoter he regularly worked for into the late 90s. “I witnessed him choke a man out with two fingers. I saw it personally. A guy got cute in the ring with him, Archie grabbed him and out went the lights.”





NWA NATIONAL HEAVYWEIGHT: def. Jack Brisco December 12, 1980 Atlanta; lost to Steve Olsonoski Mach 29 1981 Atlanta


AMERICAN WRESTLING ALLIANCE WORLD TAG TEAM (West Coast): w/Cyclone Negro def. Ray Stevens & Pat Patterson December 31, 1966 San Francisco; lost to Ray Stevens & Pat Patterson January 21, 1967 San Francisco


NWA SOUTHERN HEAVYWEIGHT (Florida): def. Jos Le Duc December 3, 1974 Tampa; lost to Bob Armstrong February 18, 1975 Tampa; def. Bob Armstrong March 4, 1975 Tampa; lost to Pepper Gomez May 17, 1975 St. Petersburg


NWA SOUTHERN HEAVYWEIGHT (Tennessee): def. Ron Fuller June 9, 1975 Memphis; lost to Robert Fuller June 21, 1975; def. Robert Fuller June 23, 1975; lost to Jerry Lawler July 14, 1975 Memphis; def. Jerry Lawler July 28, 1975 Memphis; lost to Bob Armstrong September 29, 1975; def. Buzz Sawyer April 16, 1979; lost to Robert Fuller June 4, 1979 Memphis


AWA SOUTHERN TAG TEAM: w/Jerry Lawler def. Jos LeDuc & Jean Louie September 18, 1978 Memphis; titles vacated when Stomper turned on Lawler


CWA INTERNATIONAL HEAVYWEIGHT: def. Phil Hickerson September 30, 1985 Memphis; lost to Phil Hickerson October 21, 1985 Memphis


NWA NORTH AMERICAN HEAVYWEIGHT (Stampede): def. Pat O’Connor February 28, 1968 Saskatoon; lost to Ox Baker March 8, 1968 Calgary; def. Waldo Von Erich May 1968; lost to Stan Stasiak September 16, 1968 Lethbridge; def. Stan Stasiak September 17, 1968 Edmonton; lost to Vic Rossitani September 24, 1968 Edmonton; def. Stan Stasiak December 17, 1968 Edmonton; lost to Angelo Mosca April 1969; def. Angelo Mosca April 9, 1969 Regina; lost to Angelo Mosca April 22, 1969 Edmonton; title held up after May 3, 1969 Calgary match with Mosca vs. Gouldie; def. Angelo Mosca for held up title May 6, 1969 Edmonton; lost to Dave Ruhl May 1969 Calgary; def. Dave Ruhl May 1969 Calgary; lost to Billy Robinson June 26, 1969; def. Abdullah the Butcher April 21, 1973 Calgary; lost to Dan Kroffat June 27 1973 Saskatoon; def. Dan Kroffat July 4, 1973 Saskatoon; lost to Dan Kroffat April 15, 1973 Saskatoon; def. Omar Atlas December 28, 1973 Calgary; lost to Larry Lane February 12, 1974 Prince Albert; def. Larry Lane February 14, 1974 Regina; lost to Harley Race February 22, 1974 Calgary; def. Harley Race March 8, 1974 Calgary; lost to Danny Little Bear April 12, 1974; def. Karl Von Schotz July 2, 1976 Calgary; lost to Dan Kroffat September 11, 1976 Edmonton; def. Badnews Allen December 23, 1983 Calgary; lost to Killer Khan January 30, 1984 Calgary


NWA NORTH AMERICAN HEAVYWEIGHT (Eastern Sports Association): def. The Beast (Yvon Cormier) August 12, 1969 Halifax; lost to Bobo Brazil September 30, 1969; def. Bobo Brazil October 7, 1969 Halifax; lost to Billy Red Cloud May 12, 1970; def. Billy Red Cloud May 26, 1970 Halifax; lost to The Beast July 27, 1970 Moncton; def. Killer Karl Krupp September 1973; lost to Harley Race February 22, 1974 Calgary; def. Bolo Mongol (Bill Eadie) September 7, 1974 New Glasgow, NS; lost to Bolo Mongol September 24, 1974 Halifax; def. Leo Burke August 1984; Promotion closed 1984


NWA INTERNATIONAL TAG TEAM (Eastern Sports Association): w/The Beast def. Eric Pomeroy & Fred Sweetan August 23, 1971 Moncton; Vacated when Stomper left territory; w/The Beast def. Great Kuma & Geto Mongol September 1974; Vacated title when Stomper left territory


NWA CANADIAN HEAVYWEIGHT: def. Dave Ruhl November 17, 1967 Calgary; lost to Ox Baker March 8, 1968 Calgary


NWA UNITED STATES HEAVYWEIGHT: def. Enrique Torres December 20, 1963 St. Joseph; lost to Rocky Hamilton (Missouri Mauler) January 31, 1964 St. Joseph; def. Rocky Hamilton May 22, 1964 St. Joseph; lost to Sonny Myers June 12, 1964 St. Joseph; def. Ronnie Etchison August 14, 1965 Waterloo; lost to Bobby Shane December 4, 1965 Waterloo


NWA CENTRAL STATES HEAVYWEIGHT: def. Ron Reed (Buddy Colt) April 16, 1965 St. Joseph; lost to Ron Reed April 23, 1965 St. Joseph; def. Ron Reed June 4, 1965 St. Joseph; lost to Sonny Myers June 28, 1965 St. Joseph; def. Black Angus Campbell June 8, 1972 Kansas City; lost to Harley Race July 7, 1972 Kansas City


NWA NORTH AMERICAN TAG TEAM: w/Cowboy Bob Ellis def. Bob Geigel & Bulldog Bob Brown May 19, 1966 Kansas City; lost to The Viking & Jack Donovan July 14, 1966 Kansas City; w/Bob Geigel def. Killer Karl Kox & K.O. Kox (Bruiser Bob Sweetan) February 16, 1970; lost to Killer Karl Kox & K.O. Kox March 4, 1970; w/Bob Geigel def. Killer Karl Kox & K.O. Kox April 13, 1970 St. Joseph; lost to Killer Karl Kox & K.O. Box April 20, 1970; w/Rufus Jones held title 1970; w/Bob Geigel def. John Tolos & Baron Von Heisinger April 9, 1971; lost to Bob Orton Sr. & Buddy Austin June 1971; lost to Rufus Jones & Steve Bolus August 12, 1971 Kansas City; w/The Viking def. Chati Yakouchi & Yasu Fuji November 19, 1971 St. Joseph; lost to Chati Yakouchi & Yasu Fuji December 8, 1971; w/Danny Little Bear def. Chati Yakouchi & Yasu Fuji April 21, 1972 St. Joseph; lost to Roger Kirby & Black Angus Campbell June 29, 1972 Kansas City; w/Rufus Jones def. Roger Kirby & Black Angus Campbell October 18, 1972 Kansas City; lost to Harley Race & Roger Kirby November 2, 1972 Kansas City




NWA SOUTHEASTERN HEAVYWEIGHT (Tennessee): def. Ron Garvin 1976; lost to Robert Fuller January 9, 1977; def. Jimmy Golden February 6, 1977 Knoxville; lost to Robert Fuller April 28, 1977 Knoxville; def. Robert Fuller May 20, 1977; lost to Ron Garvin July 8, 1977 Knoxville; def. Ron Garvin July 15, 1977; lost to Ron Fuller September 2, 1977 Knoxville; def. Ricky Gibson October 5, 1977 Knoxville; lost to Robert Fuller March 11, 1978; def. Robert Fuller April 23, 1978; lost to Ron Garvin June 9, 1978; won tournament for vacant title June 23, 1978 Knoxville; lost to Robert Fuller August 11, 1978 Knoxville; def. Robert Fuller August 18, 1978 Knoxville; lost to Robert Fuller 1978; def. Ron Garvin December 1978; lost to Ron Garvin January 28, 1979 Knoxville; def. Dick Slater August 3, 1979 Knoxville; lost to Dick Slater August 24, 1979 Knoxville; def. Dennis Condrey October 14, 1980; lost to Ron Fuller 1981; def. Mr. Olympia (Jerry Stubbs) November 3, 1981 Mobile; lost to Jos LeDuc 1981


NWA SOUTHERN HEAVYWEIGHT (East Tennessee): def. Blackjack Mulligan Jr. (Barry Windham) June 5, 1981Knoxville to become first champion when promotion opened; lost to Blackjack Mulligan Jr. July 1981


NWA USA HEAVYWEIGHT: def. The Bullet (Bob Armstrong) in tournament final to become first champion April 1, 1988 Knoxville; lost to The Bullet June 10, 1988 Knoxville; def. The Bullet June 24, 1988 Knoxville; Vacated title June 1988; def. Doug Furnas July 21, 1988 Knoxville; lost to Robert Fuller August 19, 1988 Knoxville


NWA SOUTHEASTERN HEAVYWEIGHT (Alabama): def. Mike Stallings November 1, 1978; lost to David Shults April 28, 1979; def Ron Fuller June 1980; lost to Ron Fuller 1981


NWA SOUTHEASTERN TAG TEAM: w/Jimmy Golden def. Bob Armstrong & Robert Fuller October 1981; lost to Jos LeDuc & Robert Fuller October 22, 1981 Birmingham; w/Mongolian Stomper Jr. def. Randy Rose & Dennis Condrey 1982; lost to Randy Rose & Dennis Condrey 1982


WORLD BRASS KNUX: Held title 1983; lost to Frank Savage March 14, 1983; def. Frank Savage May 2, 1983; lost to Buck Robley May 1983; as Masked Stallion def. Buck Robley July 11, 1983; lost to Buck Robley August 11, 1983


NWA SOUTHEASTERN TELEVISION: def. Ron Fuller August 26, 1977 Knoxville; lost to Ron Fuller October 28, 1977


NWA SOUTHEASTERN BRASS KNUX: won title July 1977; lost to Bearcat Brown May 1978


CONTINENTAL WRESTLING FEDERATION TAG TEAM: w/Jimmy Golden def. Masahiro Chono & Mike Davis May 24, 1989 Murphy, NC; Vacated title when Stomper quit promotion


ALL STAR CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING HEAVYWEIGHT: def. Chris Powers March 2, 1990 Knoxville; lost to Chris Powers March 1990; def. Chris Powers March 17, 1990; lost to Jimmy Golden 1990


SOUTHERN STATES HEAVYWEIGHT: def. Mike Samson May 6, 1994 Falls Branch, TN; Vacated title September 1994


NWA PUERTO RICAN HEAVYWEIGHT: def. Carlos Colon February 6, 1982 Bayamon; lost to Carlos Colon March 13, 1982 Bayamon


SOUTHWEST HEAVYWEIGHT: def. Dick Slater July 1982 San Antonio; lost to Dick Slater September 1982 Beaumont




Mario Mejia Jiminez, who was the original Espectrito, and the best working heel mini in pro wrestling history, passed away on 1/23 at the age of 49.

The cause of death has not been reported. The death was about five-and-half-years after the much publicized murders of his younger twin brothers, who were also both wrestlers, in a case that got worldwide publicity, and for the most part led to Jiminez retiring from the ring.

When the Mexican minis pretty much revolutionized what was formerly known as “midget” wrestling through adopting a style never seen before based on athletics and great wrestling ability more than childish comedy spots and often bad wrestling, Espectrito was the key to the revolution.

Espectrito, named after 60s and 70s star Espectro, and heel partners Jerrito Estrada (named after Jerry Estrada, one of the best workers of that era), as well as Piratita Morgan (named after Pirata Morgan, another of the era’s best workers) would face off mostly with the original Mascarita Sagrada and the original Octagoncito (there have been several wrestlers with those gimmicks since the originals), were the key figures in Antonio Pena’s minis division as the CMLL booker.

Pena created the concept where the minis would be featured as regular performers.

Being roughly four-foot-nine, but very heavy and with good balance, made him actually perfect to work with the tiny flyers he made shine, Jiminez had started wrestling in 1984 as Centellita. He didn’t get much of a spotlight until 1989 when Pena introduced the minis concept in CMLL.

But the biggest part of his career came when Pena formed AAA, and the minis, loyal to him for getting their break, came with him.

The tiny Mascarita Sagrada (the wrestler currently in Lucha Underground is one of many who later used the name), who had beaten Espectrito on March 1, 1992, was the babyface star of the division with his flashy moves. But it was Espectrito, as the thick and heavy base for him and Octagoncito that allowed them to shine the way they did. In the early 90s, many considered Espectrito among the best workers in the world.

His heyday would have been the early years of the promotion where the minis would regularly tear the house down as part of the complete package during the biggest period ever for the promotion.

Probably their biggest matches were in Los Angeles as undercard fixtures when AAA was drawing some of the biggest crowds in the U.S. at the time at the Los Angeles Sports Arena while American style wrestling was in a depression.

In particular, the Mascarita Sagrada win of the IWC (the name the Los Angeles promotion headed by Ron Skoler used) minis title in a match with Espectrito on March 12, 1994, was a major match on a show (headlined by Konnan vs. Jake Roberts in a cage match) that drew 13,823 fans. The match was well over **** and tore the house down and ended up being what everyone was talking about when the show was over.

However, a lesson was learned, as with the great response, an attempt was made to put the minis in the main event on the next show, in a mask vs. mask match, on August 6, 1994. It had appeared Mascarita was among the most popular wrestlers in the promotion and the gimmick was strong. Espectrito was his rival at that point for five years. There were thoughts such a big mask, as over as the two were in their championship match, would sell out or come close. But what was learned that night was the minis masks just weren’t the draw that the larger wrestlers of similar popularity would have been. Unlike the prior match, which went 25 minutes, the mask match, won by Sagrada, was a disappointment as they were rushed on time because the show went long and the promotion didn’t want to pay for overtime, and the card drew what was at the time a disappointing crowd of 8,500.

Espectrito worked the rest of his career in Mexico without the mask.

Pena later created his own Mexican national minis title, and Espectrito beat Mascarita Sagrada to become the first champion, but then lost it back. He also won the IWC minis title and the two belts were merged as the Mexican national championship.

When WWF and AAA had a working agreement, Espectrito was brought in as Mini Vader, who was to be the heel star of WWF’s new minis division. WWF didn’t go with the concept that worked in Mexico where the division had some comedy, but was more built around smaller guys being able to do cool acrobatic things. WWF wanted more child-like comedy spots like the midget wrestlers that were popular in the U.S. in the 60s and 70s, as draws aimed at children, before they started fading out. Later in WWF in 1997, he was repackaged as the original Torito. He did some matches in WWF through 1999, as the opponent for Max Mini, who was Mascarita Sagrada Jr. in Mexico as well as Tzuki, an even tinier wrestler who was the heir apparent to the role as the top mini babyface doing incredible moves with him as the base in Mexico.

He worked in Mexico as Torito through 2001, when he lost the mask to Pierrothito on November 26, 2001, in Puebla.

While there has been an Espectrito that wrestles on indie shows in recent years, we’ve been told that he has not wrestled since his two brothers were murdered in 2009, and it just destroyed him.

His younger brothers, Alejandro and Alberto Jiminez, who were twins and wrestled as Espectrito II and the original La Parkita (who was the No. 3 heel mini in the heyday), were murdered on June 29, 2009 in a case that got worldwide publicity. Both were 36 at the time of their death. Alejandro had also worked some in WWF, in 1997 as Mini Mankind and later in 1997 through 1999 as Tarantula.

After a match in Mexico City, the two picked up two prostitutes and went to the hotel room, where the belief was the prostitutes spiked their drinks with eye drops to knock them out and rob them. However, perhaps due to their size, both ended up dying. The police were able to capture one of the two women a few weeks later because she stole one of the twins’ cell phones and they were able to track it. The two women were found guilty in 2010 and sentenced to 47 years in prison.

Raw on 2/1 set yet another era low mark for a non-football season or holiday night show averaging a 2.37 rating and 3,371,000 viewers (1.49 viewers per home). It would break the non-football or holiday low dating back to 1997. The prior lows in each category were a 2.44 rating, set on 1/18, and the prior viewership low of 3,463,000 viewers, was set on 6/29.

The number was expected to be down due to the news coverage of the Iowa Caucus. But falling 18 percent from the strongest number in months the week before for the combination of the day after the Royal Rumble and the appearance of Dwayne Johnson to a record low was disappointing. Raw was only in eighth place on cable for the night, with the top seven shows all having to do with the Caucus coverage on FOX News and CNN. However, the biggest losses were between the ages of 12-34, the age group that would figure to be hit less by the election and more by it not being the day after an event that caused a lot of talk and got people who are casual fans interested in the follow-up, and also the audience that The Rock would reach stronger.

The first hour did 3,592,000 viewers; the second hour did 3,464,000 viewers and the third hour did 3,094,000 viewers. The big third hour drop points to people not being interested in what was being built up for the final segment, which was the Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose vs. New Day match.

In the 18-49 demo, the split between males and females was 65.4% to 34.6%.

In the demos, 12-17 did a 1.06 rating (down 21.5 percent), 18-34 did a 1.10 (down 22.0 percent), 35-49 did a 1.34 (down 14.6 percent) and 50+ did a 1.24 (down 16.2 percent).

As far as who was lost from hour one to three, Women 18-49 dropped 15.7 percent, Men 18-49 dropped 2.5 percent, Women 12-34 dropped 10.3 percent, Men 12-34 gained 7.3 percent and overall 50+ lost 18.8 percent.

HBO boxing on 1/30 for the show headlined by Sergey Kovalev vs. Jean Pascal ranged from 702,000 viewers early in the show and the main event did 1,179,000 viewers. HBO breaks up its coverage by matches so you don’t have an overall average, only the average for each match and segment.

Bellator on 1/29 did 566,000 viewers. Bellator numbers are likely to show an artificial decline (similar to TNA’s Pop numbers artificial increase) based on coverage areas. Spike TV was moved from the regular tier to a premium tier on Comcast, which means fewer homes are getting the station. Because the move was made in mid-January, it’s unclear how that will affect Spike’s coverage at this point other than it will decline.

Smackdown on 1/28 did a 1.87 rating and 2,720,000 viewers (1.52 viewers per home). This is the same level the show has been doing three of its four weeks on USA, and seems to indicate that the network move has helped the show about 17 percent in the ratings if you compare it to what it was doing on Syfy outside of football season.

The key for this show is the big increase in women viewers since the move to USA (which as a rule draws more women than Syfy, but Raw has a very different skew), to where the skew was 55.4/46.6 in 18-49 and almost a 51-49 dead heat in 12-34, so the big increase is younger women viewers way over prior numbers.

As far as age group numbers went, the show did a 0.72 among teenagers (down 5.3 percent from the prior show), 0.74 in 18-34 (up 8.8 percent), 1.00 in 35-49 (up 4.2 percent) and 1.11 in 50+ (down 6.7 percent).

What’s notable is the one down week was against the Republican debate, but this show held its own against the debate, which did 12,467,000 viewers. The sports competition was 1,517,000 viewers for Iowa vs. Maryland basketball on ESPN and 1,003,000 for the New York Knicks vs. Toronto Raptors on TNT.

The debut of season two of Lucha Underground on El Rey on 1/27 did 109,000 viewers, which is the best number the show has done to date. They also had more publicity leading into this show than any other. More impressive is that a replay of the same episode immediately after did 85,000 viewers, which means that probably a ton of people who watched it liked it enough to then watch it again. The combined 194,000 from two showings easily beat the previous high mark of 146,000 on 2/18, but that’s when they didn’t do the immediate replay and instead did the replay two hours later. Still, even with that, the total viewership would be well under what they were doing last season for every episode due to the lack of Spanish language clearance.

Week two of the new season of Total Divas on 1/26 did 939,000 viewers.

Impact on 1/26 did 339,000 viewers for the 9 p.m. show and 103,000 for the midnight show. That’s the best 9 p.m. show to date on Pop, but the combined viewership was pretty much identical to 1/19 (442,000 this week vs. 444,000 on 1/19).

Some notes on the 1/25 Raw viewership. The show stayed steady for the first hour, grew for the A.J. Styles vs. Chris Jericho match, fell after that, picked up for the 26 minutes of The Rock, and dropped from there. There was a comeback for the Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose vs. Sheamus & Rusev match after 11 p.m., but some of that is people tuning in for the follow-up show. But the keys to the expected big first hour coming off the Rumble and then a drop not happening would be Styles-Jericho and Rock.

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1/18 Columbus, OH (WWE Raw/Superstars TV tapings - 9,500): Jack Swagger b Fandango, Dolph Ziggler b The Miz, Non-title Chris Jericho ref: Roman Reigns b Rusev, Natalya b Brie Bella, Bray Wyatt & Luke Harper & Erick Rowan b Dudleys & Ryback, Big Show b Heath Slater, Becky Lynch b Tamina, Alberto Del Rio & Sheamus b Dean Ambrose & Kalisto, Big E b Jey Uso, Mark Henry & Neville & R-Truth & Titus O’Neil b The Ascension & Stardust & Tyler Breeze

1/19 Dayton (WWE Smackdown/Main Event TV tapings - 3,000): Zack Ryder b Fandango, Jack Swagger & Mark Henry b The Ascension, Neville b Tyler Breeze, Curtis Axel & Heath Slater b Dudleys, Usos & Dolph Ziggler b Big E & Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods, Becky Lynch b Alicia Fox, Bray Wyatt b Ryback, Titus O’Neil b Stardust, 1 vs. 4 handicap match: Roman Reigns b Bray Wyatt & King Barrett & Rusev & Sheamus-DQ

1/19 Kyoto (New Japan/CMLL Fantastica Mania - 820 sellout): Fuego & Ryusuke Taguchi b Sho Tanaka & Yohei Komatsu, The Panther b Okumura, Guerrero Maya Jr. b Bobby Zavala, David Finlay & Jushin Liger & Dragon Lee & Titan b Yoshi-Hashi & Virus & Hechicero & Barbaro Cavernario, Tetsuya Naito & Bushi & Evil b Atlantis & Mascara Dorada & Stuka Jr., Mistico & Kushida b Ultimo Guerrero & Gedo, Kazuchika Okada & Shinsuke Nakamura & Mephisto b Hiroshi Tanahashi & Volador Jr. & Juice Robinson

1/22 Orlando (WWE NXT TV tapings - 5,500): Manny Andrade b Rich Swann, Baron Corbin b Johnny Gargano, Zack Ryder & Mojo Rawley b Corey Hollis & John Skyler, Alexa Bliss b Cameron, Elias Samson b Jessy Sorensen, Women’s title: Bayley b Carmella, Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady & Jason Jordan & Chad Gable b Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder & Blake & Murphy, Asuka b Deonna Purrazzo, Tye Dillinger b Alex Riley, Sami Zayn d Samoa Joe, Jason Jordan & Chad Gable b Blake & Murphy, Apollo Crews b Christopher Girard, Tommaso Ciampa b Bull Dempsey, Nix Jax & Eva Marie b Bayley & Carmella, Aiden English & Simon Gotch b Hugo Knox & Tucker Knight, Elias Samson b Steve Cutler, Emma b Santana Garrett, NXT title: Finn Balor b Neville

1/22 Mexico City (AAA Guerra de Titanes - 5,000): Dinastia & Nino Hamburguesa & Pimpinela Escarlata b Apache & Mamba & Mini Charly Manson, Lumberjack strap match: Keira & Lady Shani & Taya b Fabi Apache & Goya Kong & Maravilla, Australian Suicide & Fireball & Jack Evans b Daga & Parka Negra & Super Fly, AAA tag titles: Chessman & Averno won three-way over Aero Star & Fenix and Mascara Ano 2000 Jr. & Villano IV, Trios titles: Dark Cuervo & Dark Scoria & Zorro won three-way over Electroshock & Garza Jr,. & La Parka and El Hijo de Pirata Morgan & El Hijo del Fantasma & Taurus, Mesias & El Texano Jr. b Dr. Wagner Jr. & Psycho Clown

1/23 Fort Myers (WWE - 3,700): Dolph Ziggler b Tyler Breeze, Braun Strowman b Curtis Axel, Non-title: Chris Jericho b Alberto Del Rio, Tag titles: Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods b Usos, IC title: Dean Ambrose b Kevin Owens, Alicia Fox ref: Becky Lynch b Tamina, Bray Wyatt b Kane, WWE title: Roman Reigns b Rusev

1/23 Duluth, GA (ROH - 1,000 sellout): Dalton Castle b Corey Hollis, Cedric Alexander b Mark Briscoe, Rhett Titus & Kenny King b Moose & Cheeseburger, Matt Sydal & Alex Shelley& ACH b Michael Elgin & Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly, Amber Gallows b Veda Scott, Jay Briscoe won six-way over Adam Page, Frankie Kazarian, Will Ferrara, Silas Young and Caprice Coleman, Adam Cole b Stevie Richards, ROH, TV, and tag titles at stake: Jay Lethal & Roderick Strong & Hanson & Ray Rowe b Young Bucks & Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows

1/25 Miami (WWE Raw/Superstars TV tapings - 10,000): Stardust b Darren Young, Titus O’Neil b Tyler Breeze, Kevin Owens b Dolph Ziggler, Dudleys b Curtis Axel & Bo Dallas, A.J. Styles b Chris Jericho, Sasha Banks b Becky Lynch-DQ, Bray Wyatt b Kane, Paige & Natalya b Brie Bella & Alicia Fox, Non-title: Kalisto b The Miz, Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose b Sheamus & Rusev

1/26 Tampa (WWE Smackdown/Main Event TV tapings -7,000): Mark Henry b Tyler Breeze, Kevin Owens b Jack Swagger, Dudleys b The Ascension, Rusev b Ryback, Usos & Dolph Ziggler & Titus O’Neil b Kofi Kingston & Big E & Xavier Woods & The Miz, U.S. title: Kalisto b Neville, A.J. Styles b Curtis Axel, Non-title: Charlotte b Natalya, Chris Jericho & Dean Ambrose & Roman Reigns b Bray Wyatt & Luke Harper & Erick Rowan-DQ

1/27 Winter Park, FL (WWE NXT TV tapings - 400 sellout): Adrien Reese b Billie Kay, 2/3 falls: Samoa Joe b Sami Zayn, Mojo Rawley & Zack Ryder b Angelo Dawkins & Kenneth Crawford, Emma b Deonna Purrazzo, Tommaso Ciampa b Jessy Sorensen, Bayley & Asuka b Eva Marie & Nia Jax, Jason Jordan & Chad Gable b Aiden English & Simon Gotch, Johnny Gargano b Elias Samson, Finn Balor b Rich Swann, Alexa Bliss b Mary Dobson, Jason Jordan & Chad Gable b John Skyler & Corey Hollis, Baron Corbin b QT Marshall, Dash Wilder & Scott Dawson b Steve Cutler & Tucker Knight, Apollo Crews b Alex Riley, Samoa Joe b Bull Dempsey

1/29 Manchester, UK (TNA Impact tapings - 3,000): Mandrews b Will Ospreay, Bobby Lashley b Bram, X title: Trevor Lee b Tigre Uno, Bobby Roode & James Storm b Abyss & Crazzy Steve-DQ, Jade b Madison Rayne, Drew Galloway b Kurt Angle, Mike Bennett b Mandrews, Eric Young DCOR James Storm, Mahabali Shera & Odarg the Great (Grado) b Eli Drake & Jessie Godderz, TNA tag title Monster’s Ball match: Eddie Edwards & Davey Richards b Abyss & Crazzy Steve, Gail Kim & Madison Rayne b Jade & Marti Bell, Ethan Carter III & Rockstar Spud b Matt Hardy & Tyrus

1/29 Pittsburgh (WWE NXT - 1,700 sellout): Tag titles: Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder b Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady, Nia Jax b Carmella, Elias Samson b Tye Dillinger, Baron Corbin b Apollo Crews, Sami Zayn b Johnny Gargano, Women’s title: Bayley b Alexa Bliss, Jason Jordan & Chad Gable b Simon Gotch & Aiden English, NXT title: Finn Balor b Samoa Joe

1/29 Largo, FL (WWE NXT): Levis Valenzuela Jr. b Riddick Moss, Billie Key & Emma b Aliyah & Liv Morgan, Christopher Girard b Alexander Wolfe, Hugo Knox & Oscar Vazquez & Tucker Knight b Sawyer Fulton & Sonny Dhinsa & Thomas Kingdom, Asuka b Daria, Bull Dempsey b Josh Woods, Manny Andrade b Angelo Dawkins, Zack Ryder & Mojo Rawley b Blake & Murphy

1/29 Tokorozawa (New Japan - 1,126 sellout): Teruaki Kanemitsu d Hirai Kawato, Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi & Tiger Mask & Jay White b Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima & Jushin Liger & David Finlay, Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi b Toru Yano & Yoshi-Hashi, Tetsuya Naito & Evil & Bushi b Michael Elgin & Juice Robinson & Kushida, Kenny Omega & Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows b Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma & Captain New Japan, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata & Ryusuke Taguchi b Shinsuke Nakamura & Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii & Gedo

1/29 Mexico City Arena Mexico (CMLL - 4,500): Arkangel de la Muerte & Cancerbero b Hombre Bala Jr. & Super Halcon Jr., Puma & Tiger & Virus b Fuego & The Panther & Triton, Guerrero Maya Jr. & Titan & Valiente b Ephesto & Luciferno & Pierroth, Gran Guerrero & Mephisto & Niebla Roja b Dragon Rojo Jr. & Kraneo & Polvora, Thunder b Euforia, Negro Casas & Cavernario Barbaro & Ultimo Guerrero b Dragon Lee & Mistico & Volador Jr.

1/29 Tokyo Korakuen Hall (Pro Wrestling NOAH - 920): Quiet Storm & Genba Hirayanagi & Captain NOAH b Akitoshi Saito & Hitoshi Kumano & Kaito Kitamiya, Kenou & Hajime Ohara b Taiji Ishimori & Yoshinari Ogawa, Taka Michinoku b Atsushi Kotoge, Taichi b Daisuke Harada, Takashi Iizuka & Shelton Benjamin b Maybach Taniguchi & Mitsuhiro Kitamiya, Minoru Suzuki & Desperado b Go Shiozaki & Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Naomichi Marufuji & Mohammed Yone & Katsuhiko Nakajima b Takashi Sugiura & Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr.

1/30 Macon, GA (WWE - 5,000): Usos & Ryback b Kofi Kingston & Big E & Xavier Woods, Titus O’Neil b Stardust, Mojo Rawley & Zack Ryder b Los Matadores, IC title: Dean Ambrose b Kevin Owens, R-Truth & Damien Sandow b Curtis Axel & Heath Slater, Three-way for Divas title: Charlotte won over Paige and Becky Lynch, Roman Reigns b Rusev

1/30 Chattanooga (WWE - 3,500): U.S. title: Kalisto b The Miz, Darren Young b Fandango, Jack Swagger b Fandango, Adam Rose & Bo Dallas b The Ascension, Big Show & Dudleys b Erick Rowan & Luke Harper & Braun Strowman, Tamina & Sasha Banks b Alicia Fox & Brie Bella, Dolph Ziggler b Tyler Breeze, Kane b Bray Wyatt-DQ

1/30 London, UK (TNA Impact TV tapings - 4,000): Cage match: Bobby Roode & James Storm b Eric Young & Bram, Cage match for X title: Trevor Lee b Tigre Uno, Lethal Lockdown: Marti Bell & Jade & Rebel b Gail Kim & Velvet Sky,. Cage match: Odarg the Great b Eli Drake, Cage match for TNA title: Matt Hardy b Ethan Carter III, Eddie Edwards & Davey Richards b Mandrews & Will Ospreay, Monster’s Ball match: Abyss b Jimmy Havoc, Mike Bennett b Drew Galloway, Eric Young b Big Damo, Kurt Angle b Bobby Roode, Tyrus & Jade Bobby Roode & Gail Kim, Matt Hardy & Will Ospreay b Eli Drake & James Storm

1/30 Royal Oak, MI (WWE NXT - 1,200 sellout): Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady b Simon Gotch & Aiden English, Carmella b Alexa Bliss, Elias Samson b Johnny Gargano, Sami Zayn b Tye Dillinger, Women’s title: Bayley b Nia Jax, Tag titles: Jason Jordan & Chad Gable b Dash Wilder & Scott Dawson-DQ, Four-way for NXT title: Finn Balor won over Baron Corbin, Samoa Joe and Apollo Crews

1/30 Venice, FL (WWE NXT): Hugo Knox b Angelo Dawkins, Sara Lee & Liv Morgan & Aliyah b Peyton Royce & Billie Kay & Mandy, Josh Woods b Gzim Selmani, King Constantine b Kishan Rafter, Tucker Knight & Tino Sabbatelli b Blake & Murphy, Bull Dempsey & Rich Swann & Kenneth Crawford b Christopher Girard & Steve Cutler & Sawyer Fulton, Riddick Moss b Manny Andrade, Asuka b Emma

1/31 Columbus, GA (WWE): Usos & Ryback b Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods & Big E, Titus O’Neil b Stardust, Zack Ryder & Mojo Rawley b Los Matadores, IC title: Dean Ambrose b Kevin Owens, R-Truth & Damien Sandow b Heath Slater & Curtis Axel, Three-way for Divas title: Charlotte won over Becky Lynch and Paige, Roman Reigns b Rusev

1/31 Tupelo, MS (WWE - 2,000): U.S. title: Kalisto b The Miz, Bo Dallas & Adam Rose b The Ascension, Darren Young b Fandango, Jack Swagger b Fandango, Dudleys & Big Show b Luke Harper & Erick Rowan & Braun Strowman, Sasha Banks & Tamina b Brie Bella & Alicia Fox, Dolph Ziggler b Tyler Breeze, Kane b Bray Wyatt-DQ

1/31 Birmingham (TNA Impact TV tapings - 3,500): Mike Bennett & Drew Galloway b Big Damo & Jimmy Havoc, Jessie Godderz b Tigre Uno, Street fight: Ethan Carter III b Rockstar Spud, Velvet Sky & Madison Rayne b Rebel & Marti Bell, Eric Young retained King of the Mountain title over Bram, Will Ospreay, Jimmy Havoc and Big Damo, Knockouts title: Gail Kim b Jade, Tag titles: Bobby Roode & James Storm b Eddie Edwards & Davey Richards, Bobby Lashley b Kurt Angle, Drew Galloway won Gauntlet Rumble match

1/31 Mexico City Arena Mexico (Lucha Libre Elite - 4,000): Astral & Ultimo Dragoncito b Pierrothito & Principe Diamante, Arkangel de la Muerte & Heddi Karaoui b Bengala & Robin, Argos & Karonte Jr. & Magnus b Fuego & Pegasso & Triton, Cavernario Barbaro & Negro Casas b Juventud Guerrera & Super Crazy, Ultimo Guerrero & Euforia b Mephisto & Sharly Rockstar, Titan & Caristico & Angel de Oro b Cibernetico & La Mascara & Rush-DQ

1/31 Tokai (Dragon Gate - 1,100 sellout): Jimmy Susumu & Ryo Saito & Jimmy Kanda b Don Fujii & Hollywood Stalker Ichikawa & Yosuke Santa Maria, Jimmy Susumu & Ryo Saito & Jimmy Kanda b Don Fujii & Hollywood Stalker Ichikawa & Yosuke Santa Maria, T-Hawk b U-T, Shingo Takagi & Mondai Ryu b Eita & Kaito Ishida, Masato Yoshino & Akira Tozawa b Cima & Takehiro Yamamura, Masaaki Mochizuki & Dragon Kid & Kzy b Naruki Doi & Yamato & Cyber Kong

1/31 Osaka (Wrestle 1 - 389): Yuji Hino b Shota, Ryota Hama & Daisuke Masaoka b Kazma Sakamoto & Dyna Mido, Kai b Nosawa, Andy Wu & Daiki Inaba b Hiroshi Yamato & Kumagoro, Masayuki Kono & Shuji Kondo b Manabu Soya & AKIRA, UWA trios titles: Kaz Hayashi & Minoru Tanaka & Tajiri b Jiro Kuroshio & Yasufumi Nakanoue & Seiki Yoshioka to win vacant titles

2/1 Birmingham (WWE Raw/Superstars TV tapings - 7,000): Mark Henry & Jack Swagger b The Ascension, Stardust b Zack Ryder, Non-title: Kalisto b Rusev-COR, Usos b Curtis Axel & Adam Rose, Non-title: Brie Bella b Charlotte, Big Show b Erick Rowan, Titus O’Neil b Tyler Breeze, Dolph Ziggler b Kevin Owens, Sasha Banks NC Becky Lynch, Non-title: Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose b Big E & Kofi Kingston

2/2 Memphis (WWE Smackdown/Main Event TV tapings): Zack Ryder & Mojo Rawley b Dudleys, Usos & Titus O’Neil & Darren Young b Stardust & Tyler Breeze & The Ascension, Jack Swagger b Fandango, Naomi & Tamina b Paige & Natalya, Roman Reigns b Rusev-DQ, Non-title: Kalisto b Kevin Owens, Ryback b Erick Rowan, A.J. Styles b The Miz, Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods & Big E b Adam Rose & Heath Slater & Curtis Axel, Non-title: Charlotte b Alicia Fox, Roman Reigns & Dean Ambrose b Rusev & Alberto Del Rio

2/2 Koga (New Japan - 620): David Finlay b Teruaki Kanemitsu, Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi & Tiger Mask b Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima & Jay White, Bad Luck Fale & Tama Tonga b Toru Yano & Gedo, Tetsuya Naito & Evil & Bushi b Kushida & Jushin Liger & Captain New Japan, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma & Michael Elgin & Ryusuke Taguchi b Kenny Omega & Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows & Yujiro Takahashi & Cody Hall, Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii & Yoshi-Hashi b Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata & Juice Robinson

CMLL: The first major show of the year, El Homenaje a Dos Leyendas, takes place on 3/18 at Arena Mexico. They will be honoring Lizmark at the show, as well as honoring Salvador Lutteroth (who started CMLL as EMLL in 1934), who is honored every year at the show

Raijin & Fujin (Yohei Komatsu & Sho Tanaka) debuted on 2/2 in Guadalajara in a trios match with Okumura as their partner against Rey Cometa & Stuka Jr. & Esfinge

The 1/29 show at Arena Mexico drew 4,500, headlined by Negro Casas & Ultimo Guerrero & Cavernario Barbaro beating Dragon Lee & Mistico & Volador Jr. In the third fall, Volador Jr. had Casas beat when Tiger and Puma, who are Casas’ nephews, ran down. Tiger distracted ref Tirantes and Puma power bombed Volador and Casas pinned Volador. Volador then challenged Casas to a hair match, saying he was mad that Casas beat his father (Super Parka) in a hair match on 1/1. Volador then announced he’s got a big surprise in store for the Casas family. It was the first time back for everyone at Arena Mexico from New Japan. Thunder pinned Euforia in two straight falls going about 8:20. Euforia was DQ’d in the first fall for unmasking Thunder. Thunder won the second fall clean. The finish was botched. Euforia kicked out of the suplex and ref Terror Chino counted three anyway. Thunder then got pissed when the ref counted three even though he won, because they still had stuff to do. The top matches on 2/5 are Mascara Dorada (first time in Arena Mexico in a year) & Mistico & Volador Jr. facing Cavernario & Mephisto & Casas, and Dragon Lee & Marco Corleone & Maximo Sexy vs. Kamaitachi & El Terrible & Ultimo Guerrero

Brazo de Plata is out of action due to an undisclosed health problem. Given he’s looking to be about 400 pounds at 5-foot-4, and he’s in his 50s and wrestling, health problems can’t be a surprise. .. The 1/31 Elite show was headlined by Caristico & Titan (replacing Mistico) & Angel de Oro beating Cibernetico & Rush & La Mascara via DQ when the heels wouldn’t stop beating on the faces. Rush & Mascara then attacked the referees. The show drew 4,000, which is up from the past several weeks. Ultimo Guerrero & Euforia beat Sharly Rockstar & Mephisto. Casas & Cavernario beat Juventud Guerrera & Super Crazy, when Casas pinned Crazy, leading to Crazy wanting a hair match

Atlantis pulled out of the 2/21 Elite show in Monterrey to take a booking in Phoenix, so they are debuting the original Mascara Sagrada as a replacement

The 2/1 Puebla show was up to 4,000 fans for a main event with Mascara Dorada’s first match in Mexico in more than one year, teaming with Volador Jr. & Dragon Lee in losing to Casas & Ultimo Guerrero & Rey Bucanero when Casas pinned Volador using the ropes. Volador wanted a singles match with Casas which will take place ont he 2/8 show. Rush beat Thunder via DQ for what was supposed to be a low blow. Thunder did, in fact, mess up on a kick to the groin

On 1/30, the promotion at Arena Neza had scheduled Rush vs. Ultimo Guerrero vs. Pagano in the main event. After Guerrero and Pagano came out, the ring announcer just said that Rush wasn’t there and it would be a singles match. Rush then went on Facebook and said that he was at the building but there was an issue with his guarantee, so he left.

AAA: Konnan on his radio podcast said what has been pretty clear of late, that he’s virtually out of the loop when it comes to booking and his role with AAA is being an agent. You can see that with the changes of late such as the Americans being eliminated and nothing with Rey Mysterio Jr

The reason they ended up vacating the tag team titles, which Chessman & Averno won on 1/22, is because Angelico said it would be several months before he could return from his knee injury

They announced 2/19 tapings in Queretaro which will have Group B and Group C of the eliminations for Rey de Reyes. The Group B four-way has Electroshock, Jack Evans, Chessman and Villano IV. Group C has La Parka, Psycho Clown, Averno and Zorro. Pentagon Jr. & Sexy Star will be defending the AAA mixed tag titles against the winners for a match on 2/6 which has Bengala & Fabi Apache, El Hijo del Fantasma & Taya, and El Hijo de Pirata Morgan & Lady Shani.

ALL JAPAN: Satoru Sayama protégé Super Tiger of Real Japan Pro Wrestling will be working the March tour.

NEW JAPAN: Owner Takaaki Kidani in an interview said, “I’m starting to think I should be worried every time I hear a Japanese wrestler is taking English classes.” He said that money was never a discussion point with Shinsuke Nakamura and feels he was leaving no matter what offer they made, and that he didn’t find out before anyone else

He also said that in the last fiscal year, which was August 1, 2014, to July 31, 2015, that the company had 3.3 billion yen in sales ($28 million) and 350 million yen in profits (just under $3 million). The growth was about 15 percent from the prior year. He said that New Japan World right now has 35,000 subscribers worldwide, and the goal is to hit 50,000 for the G-1 Climax tournament, and he is still saying 100,000 is the long-term goal. Originally, they had hoped for 100,000 by the end of the first year

Tama Tonga missed the weekend shows due to a Visa problem but returned on the 2/2 show in Koga

Will Ospreay starts here on the 4/10 Invasion attack show and is also scheduled for this year’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament in May and June

It’s a real bad sign that they are giving away tickets in Osaka for the 2/11 New Beginnings PPV show when Osaka used to be the company’s hottest city except for Tokyo (and hottest even including Tokyo when it came to the crowd reactions)

Announced as appearing on the 2/19 and 2/20 ROH/New Japan joint shows at Korakuen Hall are Jay Lethal, Roderick Strong, Mark & Jay Briscoe, Moose, Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, Kyle O’Reilly, Michael Elgin, Matt Sydal, Dalton Castle, Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows and Delirious. New Japan doesn’t want to release the cards until after the Osaka show. Those will be Anderson & Gallows’ final two shows in Japan. It will also be Katsuyori Shibata’s first interaction with the ROH crew

They announced the first Lion’s Gate show for 2/25 at Shinjuku Face in Tokyo. The idea is to do regular shows like this focusing on putting the spotlight on young New Japan talent, as well as talent from other promotions. A lot of the matches are New Japan vs. NOAH, running in a 500 or so seat building. The show was just announced as being live on New Japan World. Takumi Honjo, who is 6-foot-1 and 242 pounds, makes his debut. Honjo was a high level judo competitor who trained out of Animal Hamaguchi’s Gym. He’ll face NOAH’s Shuhei (formerly Maybach) Taniguchi in the opener. They also have two other New Japan rookies, Teruaki Kanemitsu & Hirai Kawato, facing NOAH’s Hitoshi Kumano & Kaito Kiyomiya, David Finlay vs. GHC jr. champion Taiji Ishimori, Jay White vs. NOAH’s Yoshinari Ogawa, Manabu Nakanishi vs. NOAH’s Quiet Storm, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima vs. NOAH’s Captain NOAH & Genba Hirayanagi, Juice Robinson vs. NOAH’s Katsuhiko Nakajima, and Yuji Nagata vs. NOAH’s Mitsuhiro Kitamiya.

OTHER JAPAN NOTES: Ray, an independent woman wrestler, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, which hopefully she can make a full recovery from

TV-Asahi 2 announced that on 2/20, they will be airing five hours of Antonio Inoki matches for his 73rd birthday

The DDT promotion sold out Korakuen Hall with 1,658 fans on 1/31 with Isami Kodaka keeping his KO-D title beating Masa Takanishi in 27:03. They announced a 3/21 show at Sumo Hall in Tokyo, the company’s big show of the year, with Kodaka defending the title against the winner of a 2/28 match with Harashima vs. Shigehiro Irie. Other matches announced include Minoru Suzuki vs. Yukio Sakaguchi (Seiji’s son) and Akebono vs. Danshoku Dino

Colby Corino is coming to Zero-One in March with his father

The new FMW is claiming in an attempt to draw that if they don’t sell out the 2/25 Korakuen Hall show, the promotion will close. The show is headlined by the return to Japan and FMW of Sabu, who first made his name in wrestling in FMW before ECW.

HERE AND THERE: There was an interesting scientific study published in the journal PLOS-ONE analyzing steroids and concussions. The idea of the study is that the authors, in studying known cases of CTE, found that a significant percentage of the football players with CTE also used anabolic steroids. I know with wrestlers, of those diagnosed that I’m aware of, Andrew Martin and Chris Benoit, both were long-term heavy steroid users. The authors figured a strong percentage of the football players who had CTE were steroid users, and Mike Webster was well known as one of the more famous heavy steroid users in the game of his generation. They studied mice and gave them various steroids and another group without steroids, and subjected both to two significant jolts to the brain. The mice in the steroid group “exhibited significantly exacerbated axonal injury and microgliosis” and the study concluded that steroids can alter neuronal and innate immune responses to concussive blows. Obviously more work needs to be done to fully establish that, but it is very relevant to wrestling, boxing and MMA

Gilberto Melendez, 82, the legendary Gypsy Joe of Japanese wrestling fame who continued to wrestle in Tennessee until at least 2011, is in rough shape. He was on a ventilator from 1/21. He’s been close to death several times in recent years but this is the most serious it has been

Ricky Johnson, 60, the uncle of Dwayne Johnson, who wrestled in the 80s, often as a tag team partner of his brother, Rocky Johnson, was hospitalized at Scarborough, ONT General Hospital after suffering two heart attacks on 1/31. He is now back home. His wife, Jeannie, said that Ricky was told he needs a lot of rest and quiet for the next week or so, needs to take heart pills and take it easy. Ricky later called himself “The People’s Uncle.

Jim Ross teased some significant projects he’s been in talks with on his blogs this past week. There are a couple of things in the talking stages including a potential significant sports announcing gig that he indicated could be finalized soon

Regarding the Classic Wrestling Revolution promotion out of Las Vegas that Shane Douglas was the point man with and Bill Townsend as CEO (Townsend is one of the people who was involved in the start of Lycos), the skepticism has started growing of late. Originally there was talk of them getting started in January, and then it was April. Townsend’s Linked In page lists that the company is going to be hiring a 200-person office based in Las Vegas and run shows at casinos. But there’s nothing of note. The issue seems to be funding. Some people involved were told of late that the money people wanted to see them getting a viable TV deal before they would fund it, so there’s that chicken-and-egg conundrum right now, because nobody is getting a viable TV deal without producing good looking tapes, which need money. And even if you do, like Jeff Jarrett, getting a paying TV deal is exceedingly difficult in the current marketplace. DDP was on our show talking about how Jake Roberts moved to Las Vegas as he was going to be a trainer of the wrestlers and one of the key figures with the group, that it isn’t happening and that it could have caused Roberts to fall off the wagon since he had moved for the new job, but that Roberts is okay. The idea is that they would use older wrestlers, like Roberts, Road Warrior Animal, Douglas, and others (Roddy Piper was with them as well before he passed away) as coaches or managers so they’d be on TV but not wrestling, and they’d also run the training school. One person close to the situation said that people have had trouble getting in touch with Douglas, but Douglas has been insistent it’s going forward in March but nobody believes it at this point. Douglas is still searching for investors so it’s in the same situation it’s been in for the past two years when the idea first originated. Douglas was trying to get Animal to pitch it to his sons and some of his NFL buddies

A rematch of the 1/16 London match with Will Ospreay vs. Marty Scurll was announced for the 4/2 WrestleCon convention show the night before WrestleMania in Dallas. I’ve had people tell me that the Ospreay vs. Scurll match on 1/24 in London where Scurll beat him to win the Progress wrestling title was on par or even better than their 1/16 match that I saw

Kevin Nash was over the weekend filming for a part in a movie called “House Rules.” The filming was taking place in Cromwell, CT

In the Jacqueline Moore Hall of Fame thing last week, her career start was listed as 1998, which was a typo as her career started in 1988

Abel “Juan” Reynosa, a Texas regular from 1976 to 1989 who got a couple of career pushes, passed away on 1/27 at the age of 59. Reynosa was a referee and enhancement talent for Joe Blanchard’s Southwest Championship Wrestling for years. He also did jobs on television for Jim Crockett Promotions and Maple Leaf Wrestling (which had an affiliation with Crockett) in 1982. But in 1985, he was given a makeover as Taras Bulba and worked for Jerry Jarrett, which included a brief run as Southern champion from August 16 to September 6, winning and losing the title in main event matches with Jerry Lawler. He also teamed with the Mongolian Stomper for a Mid South Coliseum main event against Lawler & Bill Dundee, and teamed with Rip Morgan of The Sheepherders in a program with The Fantastics. He then went to Mid South where, as Taras Bulba, he was used in prelims more as enhancement talent putting over the stars. In 1989, when Jarrett took over Dallas, he decided to make Bulba into a monster heel. In one of the most famous matches of the era, he had Bulba beat Kerry Von Erich in the Dallas Sportatorium, clean in the middle, using the iron claw as a finisher. Even though Kerry was long past his peak period, he was the area’s established most popular wrestler for years and he had never lost in that manner to anyone. It got Bulba a ton of publicity and shocked the fans. He worked there for four months as a top heel, including an October 27 main event on his way out where Kevin & Kerry Von Erich beat Bulba & The Punisher (a young Undertaker)

Another wrestler from that era in Texas, Manny Villalobos, passed away from a heart attack and renal failure on 2/1. Villalobos had suffered a heart attack the day before and never recovered. He was believed to be in his early 50s and was someone very well liked. He started his career with Southwest Championship Wrestling around 1984, losing television matches. He continued that role from 1984 through 1993 with various Texas promotions, including World Class Championship Wrestling and later the Global Wrestling Federation, where he as given a minor character push at one point

After selling out a 4,000 seat venue in November for Grado vs. Drew Galloway, the ICW has put tickets on sale for an 11/20 show at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow, which holds 13,000. If they fill it, they will have drawn a larger crowd than any promotion except WWE & WCW have ever drawn in modern U.K. history

Tammy Sytch was scheduled to be sentenced this past week for three DUI charges from May and June, but the Judge moved sentencing day to 3/28 as he’s waiting for results of a pre-sentencing investigation before he makes his decision

Sytch’s first porn movie with Vivid Entertainment (a company run by longtime wrestling fan Steven Hirsch) called “Sunny Side Up” was released this past week. The video box pushes her as a member of the WWE Hall of Fame, which no doubt thrills WWE to no end

Brooke Bollea (Hogan) was sued by Alexis Williams in Circuit Court in Broward County, FL, arising from social media posts Bollea allegedly published via Twitter and instagram in April where she accused Williams of involvement in dog fighting. Williams claimed to have never met Bollea, to be a U.S. army vet who loves animals and has been continuously subjected to death threats since the posts both in person and through the internet and claims to have suffered ridicule, humiliation, mental anguish and a loss of her capacity to earn a living. According to the lawsuit, Brooke Bollea currently lives in Nashville with her boyfriend, Jack Armstrong, a former baseball player at Vanderbilt University

Roger Green, a newspaper reporter who was also a pro wrestler in the U.K. in the 1960s, passed away in December. Green wrestled both Giant Haystacks and Shirley Crabtree (before Crabtree became Big Daddy). He was a reporter at the Portsmouth Evening News and also wrestled under the name The Graduate. He published a book a few years ago called, “Memoirs of a TV wrestler.

Beyond Wrestling has a prelim match that featured two former UFC fighters against each other on 1/31 in Somerville, MA. The match saw Matt Riddle beat Chuck O’Neil (who was on season 13 of The Ultimate Fighter but only had one UFC fight, but is a regular with the CES promotion that is on AXS out of Rhode Island). They did the Steve Austin/Bret Hart WrestleMania 13 finish, with O’Neil passing out but not tapping and then Riddle refusing to break the hold, and special referee Drew Gulak then suplexed Riddle to break it

Phil Davis, a referee out of Manchester, England, for Action Promotions, passed away on 1/26 at the age of 64

Charlie Plambeck, a longtime ring announcer in Hamburg, Germany, passed away on 1/20 at the age of 80.

LUCHA UNDERGROUND: Unless something changes, the idea of doing the WrestleMania weekend show in Dallas is off. TNA actually floated a proposal for a joint show in Dallas over Mania weekend but at this point Lucha Underground didn’t want to do it. There was the feeling it’s a bad mix

There was a meeting in December between Lucha Underground and WWE officials, but nothing came of it. Some things were discussed regarding talent, but went nowhere. Vince McMahon wasn’t at the meeting, but the key WWE people involved were Paul Levesque and Canyon Ceman

The Rey Mysterio contract deal is that Lucha Underground had the exclusive on him for U.S. cable television, and they didn’t want him appearing on Combate Americas on NBC Universo, even though Combate Americas had agreed to plug the promotion on its MMA shows. It turned into a pretty nasty thing between the two promotions since Combate Americas had already announced Mysterio as their brand ambassador

Some major celebrities who are wrestling fans had considered going to tapings this season, but backed out because of all the paperwork they had to sign just to attend and that was a deal killer

We were told there was a ton of time wasted at the Ultima Lucha tapings on 1/31 backstage by officials who were obsessing over Jim Cornette, who ripped the product on his podcast. We were told that the some of the people in charge came off what was described as too thin skinned to be in charge of a major television show when such criticism is a lock. Cornette said the production values were fantastic, but was negat

ive on the product itself, saying it lacked believability and knocked the intergender matches, which the company has gotten out of control with and apparently thinks they are their calling card and makes them edgy and ahead of the curve. He also complained about the in-ring and the nature of the backstage promos, which I feel is actually a strong point of the promotion. There are different issues as this is not a product than can be believable in its current form, nor does it aim to be. The idea is more it’s a television show about a wrestling promotion than a wrestling show. They are going at it with more of a television mentality, with seasonal production schedules and being far more paranoid than any other company about news and storyline reveals. As its positive, it is breaking new ground and at least has a cult following, but their numbers at this point are too small to be economically viable. Is that because of the limitations of the product or the limitations of having its only exposure in the U.S. this season being on El Rey? I’d argue the latter, but I’d also strongly argue against some of the narrowcasting of audience that they needlessly do. A key in presenting a television show is that ultimately, they usually have a short shelf life. A successful wrestling company as a touring sports entertainment vehicle can be like a sports franchise with the top companies lasting for decades

Notes from the 1/27 season debut. There were aspects of the show that were tremendous, but they are narrowcasting their audience something fierce and I’m not sure the non-WWE pro wrestling audience is significant enough that you can survive with a product aimed at a cult. They opened with a segment with Vampiro. So, apparently since the last season, Vampiro has been in an insane asylum locked up. He was getting an exam to allow him to leave. He had psychotic flashbacks but pretended he didn’t have these violent tendencies even though in his mind he wanted to beat up the doctors and everyone there. He was told he needed to take his anti-psychotic drugs and avoid the people and the places that trigger his violent impulses. He was released and showed up in the middle of the desert with Matt Striker in a car. Vampiro was absolutely awesome in the segment. So he’s going back to work with the same people in the same place. Striker told him that the place was darker this time. With Dario Cueto gone until mid-season, Catrina is running Lucha Underground with Mil Muertes in the Stephanie and HHH role. Fenix showed up and wanted to cash in his Gift of the Gods belt to get a title shot. Catrina said he would have to wait one week. That was established last season by Cueto that when you cash in your title shot, it has to be a week later so he has time to promote it. But she said he would have to still have the title, and he’s got a title defense right now with King Cuerno. Cuerno pinned him in 7:42 of a fantastic match to win the title. Muertes was on the stage in his king’s chair watching. This match was filled with crazy moves and dives. The only thing negative is it looked totally stupid when Fenix missed a springboard 450 when Cuerno had already left Dodge way early. After all the dives, Cuerno won clean with a sick piledriver. Next, Ivelisse & Angelic and Son of Jessicka Havoc showed up and wanted their trios titles back. Catrina said no, but she wanted them to fight each other. They weren’t down with that until Catrina said the winner would get a shot at Mil Muertes on this show. So they agreed. Before the match started, Cuerno showed up in Catrina’s office. It appeared the two had a deal where if he won the Gift of the Gods title he wouldn’t challenge Muertes. Ivelisse won the three-way in 6:02. They did a spot where Catrina came out to tell Melissa Santos about the rules of the match where they teased they were going to kiss each other. Havoc gave Angelico a face first suplex off the top rope. Ivelisse kicked Havoc when he was standing on the top rope and he crotched himself. She then pinned the still selling Angelico with a La Magistral cradle. The finish at least was done well. 375 miles away, some guys in a car were looking to find a local fight club and somehow bumped into Black Lotus (Angela Fong, who left the temple with Dario Cueto and Matanza last season). Then we had Muertes beating Ivelisse to keep the title. Of course this match looked stupid with the size difference. Every time I read or hear about these guys bragging about their intergender matches being something new and cool and then you watch them and realize just how limited their appeal is. During their secret meeting with WWE in December they were even bragging to HHH and Canyon Ceman about being ahead of the curve on this concept and I can just imagine their reaction. The Disciples of Death came out and beat up Angelico and Havoc and carried them to the back, so Ivelisse was on her own. She mostly got ragdolled. There was a good hope spot in the match where Muertes went to spear Ivelisse, who moved and Muertes speared Catrina and Ivelisse got a near fall with a schoolgirl that the crowd bought. Muertes won with a powerslam and flatliner. Catrina then licked Ivelisse. They were going to beat on her some more, but Prince Puma showed up and carried Ivelisse to the back. Pentagon Jr. came out and then broke Muertes’ arm. Pentagon should be in a major promotion and heavily merchandised. The show ended with the three guys in the car meeting Cueto looking for a fight. Cueto asked them all to pay him $20 and they went into the cage. I think the idea was that Matanza was going to eat all three of them.

ROH: The plans for the annual big series of joint shows with New Japan in May at this point are shows on 5/8 in Chicago (which will be a PPV show), 5/9 in Detroit, 5/11 in Toronto and 5/14 in New York. I know it’s probably impossible, but I’d hope they could do the New York show at MCU Field in Brooklyn because that was probably the single most major league looking TNA television shows they’ve done, just between the look of the show, the size of the crowd and the star power and match quality. They did 2,000 people head-to-head with an NXT show that did 13,000, so the potential is there to draw more, although my gut is that the value of the New Japan guys could be weaker this year just because New Japan right now is weaker

The promotion confirmed what was reported here several weeks ago that Hirooki Goto will be added to the 2/26 and 2/27 shows in Las Vegas, as well as confirming the other New Japan wrestler coming in as a replacement for Nakamura will be Kenny Omega. Hiroshi Tanahashi is still scheduled as well

Omega will be a semi-regular starting with the PPV show, on a similar schedule as Styles had with the company last year. Given his spot in New Japan, he’ll probably be booked strong and protected well

ROH announced this week that Jay Lethal, Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly had signed new deals. All three were one-year deals with a significant raise from their prior deals. In the case of Fish & O’Reilly, when you combine ROH with their New Japan money, it would have been well above what they could have gotten from anyone else as it’s way more than usual NXT money and ahead of what similar level guys are getting even with TNA’s new higher scale. All three are exclusive deals for North America, in that they can only work for ROH and PWG in North America, but are allowed to book themselves outside North America except Japan, where they would only be able to work for New Japan. Lethal actually signed his contract, or at least agreed to it, somewhere between 12/17 and 1/4, as he had signed prior to the Tokyo Dome show. Fish & O’Reilly signed last week. All three are expected to be heavily featured this year, with Fish & O’Reilly likely getting significant matches both as singles and as a tag team in the title picture, while Lethal will be one of the main faces of the brand

Michael Elgin hasn’t signed a new deal and is working on a per-appearance agreement.

TNA: The storytelling on TV has gotten a lot better in this new run on Pop TV. The wrestling presentation is still marred by the small and mostly dead crowd in Bethlehem, but Matt Hardy as Big Money Matt (a play off Money Mayweather) in a suit with Tyrus, a dressed up Reby Hardy and his baby, are a unique heel faction. Really, Reby as the good looking but complete bitch of a wife made the Matt vs. Jeff stuff so much better than it’s ever been. They rushed into the Matt vs. Jeff angle, essentially doing about two months worth of build in five minutes and already having the complete split and world title challenge the first TV after the turn. Perhaps it was necessary because Jeff couldn’t go to the U.K. and may be is getting his knee done with the injury angle. If that’s not the case as far as the injury angle, it would have been better to have the first confrontation, have Jeff leave (the annual injury to explain him being off the U.K. shows is getting old) and Matt run him down the entire time he’s gone and he returns weeks later and then they can do whatever. But if he’s getting time off for surgery, and I don’t know that’s the case, then they had to do the angle as soon as they could

Bobby Roode & James Storm won the tag titles over Eddie Edwards & Davey Richards on 1/31 in Birmingham, UK. Richards legit injured his knee. Richards came off the top rope into a codebreaker by Storm and his knee landed badly. The belief was that he tore his meniscus, but that what a preliminary diagnosis as he wasn’t getting it examined until he returned home. Richards, in a Facebook post, wrote that he thought he was facing surgery, but wouldn’t know until it’s looked at, and said he’s first doing college exams this week before getting it looked at. The exam I believe was scheduled for 2/1 and he was to get the knee looked at by a specialist on 2/2. Edwards worked the rest of the match since Richards couldn’t continue and Edwards was pinned. The match was scheduled as the tag title change so while they had to change the finishing sequence on the fly, it wasn’t like they saw Richards was hurt, figured it could be bad so did a title change on the fly

The main stories at the tapings were EC III becoming the main face with Galloway and Matt Hardy and Lashley as the main heels. Kurt Angle did his farewell, which was there Lashley went heel after beating Angle. Angle was all banged up after his 1/29 match with Galloway and there was some thought he may have suffered a concussion. But he worked the next two nights. There was also fear Mandrews got a concussion on the second night, but he was okay and worked the third night. .. Will Ospreay was scheduled to get a push at the recent U.K. tapings, but when they got there, they found out he had already agreed to work for New Japan, so decided against putting him on Impact for stuff planned for him the first two nights. He will appear on the 3/13 Impact show in a King of the Mountain match and on two One Night Only PPV shows, but got no push. He did a match on the first night that may have been on Xplosion where he lost to Mandrews in 5:00

Grado was “fired” in the Feast or Fried briefcase deal, but then appeared as Odarg, under a mask, on the first two nights of the tapings. The storyline looks to be, as this hasn’t come out yet but a bunch of teases of this seem to indicate something like this, Eli Drake opened his briefcase early, found out he was going to be fired, and pulled a switch. Drake came out and wanted security to take Grado away. This continued through the six weeks of tapings. They later taped a match for a future One Night Only show and did a Gauntlet Rumble match and Grado was in it as himself, so before that show airs, the story will be concluded and Grado will be reinstated

Likely because they were building up the U.K. tour, the episode of Impact on Challenge TV this past week did 147,000 viewers, so they are doing about half the number of viewers in the U.K. as they do in the U.S. That was the best number since October

T.J. Perkins, who was Manik, did an interview with Main Event Radio talking about his departure from the company. He said that his contract had come up for renewal for an option year and TNA chose not to pick up the option. He said he got a one sentence e-mail telling him that, which is pretty cool considering he’s been with the company for five years. He had a brief Twitter issue with Josh Matthews last year. He had unmasked before Bound for Glory and asked John Gaburick what the direction would be. So Gaburick’s direction was for him to put the mask back on. He said he suggested to build to that by doing a TV storyline with the idea fans would want him to put the mask back on as opposed to just doing it with no explanation. Of course, that was nixed. They suggested that he portray someone with a personality disorder. He said he wasn’t comfortable doing that gimmick because he had a member of his family with that problem in real life. So they said he didn’t have to do it. So then, on television, in his match, Josh Matthews started talking about him having a personality disorder. So he went on social media and said that he didn’t have a personality disorder, and wasn’t comfortable with it being portrayed that he did. Matthews told the creative team he was mad, thinking that Perkins was making him look bad and undercutting him as an announcer, since he was the person who said it on television. He said Matthews got too prideful and took the tweet too personally

Raquel (Gabi Castrovinci) is training at the Team Vision Dojo in Orlando

Notes from the 1/29 tapings in Manchester. The show drew 3,000, roughly the same sized crowd they’ve drawn the past two years in the building for the annual show. Because the show went so long, there were about 1,500 fans by the end of the second show, but it was a good show overall. The main goal of the show seemed to be getting Ethan Carter III over as the new top face to feud with Matt Hardy, and it worked as the crowd ended up super behind him. The show opened with what was either a dark match or an Xplosion match as Mandrews pinned Ospreay in 5:00. They had pushed on social media that due to fan demand, that Ospreay, Big Damo and Jimmy Havoc would all be on the show. Ospreay lost a quick match while the other two while they had tweeted they were in the building, never appeared on this show. Match was okay, but nothing close to what people expected from the two. For the 2/9 show (I think, they announced 2/2 in the building but there is still one show from Bethlehem that hasn’t aired) they aired an EC 3 promo from his mansion taped “earlier in the week” where he did a great face promo, saying his loss to Matt Hardy was his wake-up call and he was flying to England to get the title back. The show opened with Matt, Reby, Tyrus and Maxel in the ring. Hardy was booed heavily and demanded Dixie Carter fire EC 3. Lashley pinned Bram when Eric Young’s interference backfired when Lashley moved and Young hit Bram with a chair. Lashley then speared both and pinned Bram. Angle did an interview saying this was his last time in Manchester. Mike Bennett and Maria insulted him. Bennett challenged Angle to a match. Angle decked him and turned him down, saying that he’s only going to be wrestling people that he respects. Trevor Lee, managed by Shane Helms, beat Tigre Uno to retain the X title. Beer Money came out for an interview. James Storm is back with his beer scooter. They wanted their tag title match with the Wolves tonight. Decay, the new name of Abyss & Crazzy Steve, showed up and challenged them to a fight. Beer Money beat Decay via DQ when Abyss pulled the ref out of the ring when Steve was about to be pinned. Decay attacked them after until the Wolves made the save. The Wolves demanded their belts back (Abyss & Steve had stolen them in Bethlehem). Abyss & Steve agreed to put the belts up if they could get a tag title match under Monster’s Ball rules. Grado came out, in his gear, talking about being fired and being sad he couldn’t wrestle tonight. He claimed he had been screwed. The crowd was into this because Grado is a big cult favorite in the U.K. Jade pinned Madison Rayne. Rebel & Marti Bell joined in the attack after the match until Gail Kim made the save. Galloway beat Angle is a pretty good 15:00 match, winning via submission. The two hugged after the match. The final segment saw Matt, Reby and Tyrus out. No Maxel, which meant there was going to be fighting. Dixie Carter was out there and Matt told Dixie to fire EC 3, citing all the things he’s done that warrant being fired. Rockstar Spud came out wearing a Pop TV suit. Spud said that most of the terrible things EC 3 had done were to him, but that he shouldn’t be fired because he’s a great wrestler and said that EC 3 is still undefeated, unpinned and unsubmitted. If you recall, his loss was in a last man standing match, so he’s unpinned and unsubmitted, but calling him undefeated is ridiculous by a babyface. At best, that’s a lie for a heel to get heat. Tyrus attacked Spud. The heels teased attacking Dixie next when EC 3 ran in, decked Tyrus, but Hardy ran away. The fans were singing EC 3's song. For the 2/16 show, Mike Bennett pinned Mandrews. Bennett continued to attack him after the match until Galloway made the save. Eric Young went to a double count out with Storm. This led to a brawl all over the building with Beer Money vs. Young & Bram. Mahabali Shera & Odarg the Great (Grado under a mask) beat Drake & Jessie Godderz. Grado did the same entrance he always does and wore a singlet that read Odarg on it like Grado. Odarg pinned Drake. The crowd was into it. EC 3 did an interview and Matt & Tyrus attacked him and challenged him to a tag team match and to find a partner, with the idea that everyone in the company hated him. The Wolves beat Abyss & Steve in the Monster’s Ball match to keep the titles and get back the belts. Wild match with chairs, tables, ladders, barbed wire, thumbtacks, a barbed wire bat and barbed wire board all being used. Richards teased using the cheese grater on Rosemary (the manager of Steve) but instead kissed her, like the Ric Flair spot at the Rumble. Richards pinned Steve after a brainbuster on a chair covered in thumb tacks. Jeremy Borash called for Josh Matthews and Billy Corgan to come to the ring. Kim & Rayne beat Jade & Bell. After the match, Rebel came out and they beat down Kim & Rayne until Velvet Sky made the save. Sky asked Kim & Rayne to team with her against the other three in a Lethal Lockdown cage match in London. EC 3 & Spud beat Matt & Tyrus. Spud didn’t show up until midway through the match. The storyline is that Spud still hates EC 3 but will team with him. After the show ended, EC 3 called Spud to come out and told everyone it was Spud’s birthday tomorrow (he turned 33) and led the crowd in singing Happy Birthday to him. Spud was happy, but then said, “By the way, I still hate you.” This played into a later angle

Notes from the 1/30 tapings in London. The first show, taped for 2/23, in the annual Lockdown show. So every match was a cage match. Roode & Storm beat Young & Bram clean. Crowd was into Beer Money. EC III & Spud came out together with EC III as a babyface vowing to beat Matt Hardy for the title. EC III put over Spud as the most passionate person he’s ever met in the wrestling business. The two shook hands. Matt Hardy and Tyrus came out and Hardy vowed to keep the title. Trevor Lee, managed by Helms, kept the X title beating Tigre Uno in a rematch. The big spot in the match was Uno doing a splash off the top of the cage. Next was billed as the first-ever women’s Lethal Lockdown match. It was billed as The Doll House vs. Kim & Sky and a mystery partner. The Doll House was Rebel & Jade & Bell. The last person entering was supposed to be Maria Kanellis, but she teased getting into the cage, but then locked the door and left, and left the faces with a 3-on-2 disadvantage and they lost. There were a lot of weapons in the Lethal Lockdown cage that were used to do a smoke and mirrors match. Angle did an interview. Lashley came out. They almost went at it there but Lashley backed off. Lashley was being more heelish. Odarg the Great beat Drake. Total comedy match. Odarg couldn’t climb out. Godderz came out to interfere but Shera stopped him. The finish saw Odarg try to escape but Drake pulled him by the mask. The mask came off, revealing Grado. Grado fell out of the cage to the floor and won the match. Main event saw Hardy battle EC 3 in the cage. Lots of weapons were used. Tyrus interfered. EC III chained Tyrus to the ropes. EC III went to hit Tyrus with a chair and Tyrus begged off doing his old Brodus Clay dance. Reby Hardy came out with a hammer and tried to interfere. Spud stopped her. But Spud then slammed the cage door on EC 3, which allowed Matt to win. Spud turning pretty much took the crowd down. Next was an Xplosion match with Edwards & Richards over Ospreay & Mandrews. Mandrews took a bad bump. At first there was fear he suffered a concussion legit, but he wrestled the next day. Edwards & Richards used their regular finisher to pin Ospreay in 7:00. For the 3/2 TV show, it opened with Abyss pinning Jimmy Havoc in a Monster’s Ball match. Abyss won with a black hole slam into a barbed wire board. Havoc looked good and some fans got behind him. Bennett pinned Galloway. The crowd didn’t know how to react to Bennett, but were way behind Galloway. Decent match with lots of brawling outside the ring. The finish saw Maria distract Galloway, allowing Bennett to win with a roll-up. Young & Bram came out for a promo. Young challenged anyone in the back to come out. Big Damo came out. He, like Osprey and Havoc, got a good but not great reaction. There were pockets of fans familiar with the three and they cheered them a lot, but a lot of fans didn’t seem to know them. Young won using a piledriver. Cool that they learned how to book U.K. wrestlers in their own country the same way WCW booked Mexicans in the U.S. Angle beat Roode via submission with the ankle lock. Good match. Crowd was really into it. The crowd saw Angle as the biggest star on the show. Roode then talked about how great Angle was. Storm came out and he pulled out two beers and a half gallon of milk and gave Angle the milk. Angle drank the milk like Austin used to drink beer. Then somebody played the Wolves entrance music early. Angle managed to think on his feet and cover up for it. Then the Wolves did come out. This led to the announcement of the Wolves defending against Beer Money on the next TV show. After that, they taped several matches for the upcoming Jokers Wild PPV show. Tyrus & Jade beat Roode & Kim when Jade pinned Kim. Mostly comedy. Hardy & Ospreay beat Storm & Drake. This had partners who didn’t get along. Storm ended up superkicking Drake after Drake tried to steal his beer. Storm walked off, leaving Drake on his own. Ospreay hit a 450 on Drake, but Hardy tagged himself in to take the pin

The final show of the tour was 1/31 in Birmingham. The show drew about 4,000 fans. They opened with another Joker’s Wild tag team tournament match with Galloway & Bennett over Damo & Havoc. Bennett and Galloway couldn’t get along. Bennett would never tag in so Galloway was beaten down. Galloway hit the double arm DDT on one of them, but then Bennett tagged himself in and scored the pin. In more stuff for the 3/2, Borash set the table for the crowd by saying that in London, Spud had turned heel on EC 3. Matt, Reby & Tyrus (no Maxel) came out and ripped on the fans. He talked about the cage match and what Spud did. The crowd was silent for this. Matt said that EC III would get no more title shots. Fans started chanting for Jeff Hardy. Spud came out. There were “You sold out” chants at him. Spud grew up in Birmingham so he still had a lot of people cheering him as well, but he said that of course he sold out after living in this dump for so long. He said the fans were bandwagon jumpers noting what EC III had done to him last year in Birmingham and how the crowd cheered him then. EC III came out and Hardy and Spud ran off. But Tyrus hit EC III with a chair and Hardy attacked, but EC III made a comeback and Hardy ran off. Spud attacked EC III, who no sold it. Spud then ran off. EC III said he wanted a street fight with Spud, and wanted it here in Birmingham so when he’s done, all the people who know him can identify the body. Godderz beat Uno with a Boston crab in a match taped for Xplosion. Borash came out and said that Kim was coming out, and that the fans who cheered the loudest for Kim could go to the Knockouts locker room. Kim came out and then got the biggest reaction of the show, so that’s the reason when it comes across that way on TV. Kim cut a promo on Kanellis. Kanellis came out but she left. Kim went after her and was jumped by Jade, who beat her down and grabbed the belt and posed with it, so Kim vs. Jade is the next title program. EC III beat Spud in a street fight. There was no ref and both were wearing street clothes. EC III power bombed Spud through a table and put him in the cobra clutch. Spud tapped out and the officials came out and stopped the match and awarded it to EC 3. Next they taped the 3/9 Impact show. Borash announced this was a going to be a special Impact celebrating Angle’s last match. There wasn’t a lot of wrestling taped, so it’s likely this show will be filled with Angle videos. Dixie Carter opened the show talking about it being Angle’s last match. She talked about how big his signing was for the company and how he’s entertained fans all over the world. Galloway came out and bowed down to Angle, saying he came to TNA so he could wrestle the best wrestlers on the planet, and Angle in particular. Angle said he had to come to TNA to find himself as a person. He said that when people retire, they become shells of themselves. But that’s not going to be him. He said he’s going to retire to be a good husband and father. Lashley came out and said Angle is not prepared to wrestle him and leaves. In a match taped for Xplosion, Sky & Rayne beat Rebel & Bell. Back for Impact, they taped a match for the King of the Mountain title with Young defending against the British wrestlers Bram, Ospreay, Damo and Havoc. Quick match. Havoc did a dive off the penalty box. Young gave Havoc a piledriver on the steps. Young came off the top rope and gave Ospreay a flying neckbreaker and Ospreay was climbing the ladder and Young won. Bennett & Maria came out. Bennett talked about Angle leaving, that EC III had his shot at the title and he’s now the No. 1 contender and would take the title and save wrestling. He called out Dixie Carter. Galloway came out. Bennett told Galloway to go get Dixie. Galloway looked like he was going to leave, but instead attacked Bennett. Bennett bailed out. The Kim vs. Jade title match was next. Kim did the Undertaker’s old school and then came off the rope with a huracanrana, but Jade turned it into a power bomb. It wasn’t smooth at all. Kim used a crossbody off the top, but Jade reversed and Kim reversed that and got the pin. They gave the impression while yelling at each other after that this was to build a rematch. Beer Money won the tag titles from The Wolves. Best match on the show. Richards injured his knee coming off the top rope into a super codebreaker by Storm. He was in a lot of pain and grabbed his knee. Earl Hebner went to him. Hebner put up the “X” sign. Richards was done for the match. Edwards worked against both and Beer Money won clean beating Edwards with the DWI. They were about to introduce Angle vs. Lashley when Grado came running out. Grado is over in the U.K. He said he had videotape evidence that he was screwed out of his job. He was about to play it when Drake and Godderz came out. They made fun of Grado and beat him down until Shera made the save. He was terrible. Drake hit Shera with one of the briefcases. Drake went to hit Grado with a briefcase, but he moved, and the shot hit Godderz. Grado laid out Drake with an RKO, and grabbed the briefcase and left. The main event saw Lashley beat Angle in Angle’s last match. They did all the near falls. Good match but it was so late in the show and the crowd was tired. Lashley won after a third spear. The two hugged and raised each others’ hands. Lashley then sucker punched Angle (leaving him a reason for a return as they do want him back). Lashley speared Angle a fourth time. He kept beating on Angle. Galloway ran in for the save, only for Lashley to spear him. Edwards then tried to make the save but Lashley speared him. EC III then ran in and Lashley smirked at him and backed off. So it looks like Lashley vs. EC III will be a major program. After Lashley left, all the faces embraced Angle. Then they left the ring. Angle said he thinks that wrestlers often don’t show enough appreciation for the fans. So he thanked the fans and told them he’d see them again someday. The last match at the taping, which was for another One Night Only show, was a 13 man Rumble gauntlet match. It was announced as a 16 man match, but only 13 were there. The order of entrance was Bennett, Mandrews, Uno, Jade, Ospreay, Bram, Young, Edwards, Galloway, Hardy, Tyrus, Spud and Grado. It came down to Grado, Hardy, Galloway and Bennett, Grado threw out Hardy. Then Bennett threw out Grado. This left Bennett vs. Galloway with Galloway winning.

UFC: Cain Velasquez underwent arthroscopic surgery on 2/1 to remove bone spurs that were pinching his sciatic nerve. The surgery was said to be a complete success. He was told he could start light training in two weeks and hard training in four to five weeks. So in theory, he should be ready at about the same time as Fabricio Werdum. They probably could get the two to headline by May or June if that’s the decision

While still not announced, the belief is that Luke Rockhold vs. Chris Weidman in a rematch will headline the June PPV show, which would be UFC 199, and C.M. Punk’s debut would be on that show

They announced that not only is the 2/6 show in Las Vegas not on PPV, but it’s no longer UFC 196. UFC 196 will now be the 3/5 show. So in other words, they are likely to add a May PPV show as UFC 198, and then June is 199 and July is 200 like originally scheduled. To hit 200 for the July show, they had decided to skip May originally

The New York State Senate, for the seventh year in a row, passed the bill that would legalize professional MMA. So for the seventh straight year, it goes to the state legislature, where there has never even been a vote on the bill. Some new items in the bill this year are requiring more insurance for injured fighters and authorizing state officials to recommend a funding mechanism for a long-term care of fighters who develop degenerative brain conditions

This week’s show from the MGM Grand Garden Arena starts at 6:15 p.m. with Fight Pass bouts with Noad Lahat vs. Diego Rivas, Ray Borg vs. Justin Scoggins (which is a sleeper of a flyweight fight) Artem Lobov vs. Alex White and Mickey Gall vs. Mike Jackson with C.M. Punk at ringside as the Fight Pass main event. FS 1 will now broadcast the rest of the show from 8 p.m. to midnight with Misha Cirkunov vs. Alex Nicholson, Mike Pyle vs. Sean Spencer, Damian Grabowski vs. Derrick Lewis, K.J. Noons vs. Josh Burkman, Joseph Benavidez vs. Zach Makovsky, Rafael Feijao Cavalcante vs. Ovince Saint Preux, Roy Nelson vs. Jared Rosholt and Johny Hendricks vs. Stephen Thompson in a five-round main event

Fights announced for the 4/10 debut in Zagreb, Croatia, are Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Ruslan Magomedov (I’ve got to think Gonzaga needs a win after the horrible performance he put on in winning his last fight), Jan Blachowicz vs. Igor Pokrajac (who is from Zagreb), Bojan Mihajiovic vs. Francis Ngannou and Bartosz Fabinski vs. Nicolas Dalby

Jose Aldo is continuing to insist that he will not accept any fight unless it is for the championship. He said the only exception is if Conor McGregor vacates the featherweight title or loses it, he would face McGregor. He claims McGregor is running scared of him and knows he’s going to lose. That’s a funny thing to say given how the first fight went

AnnMaria DeMars, the mother of Ronda Rousey, who is feuding with her coach Edmond Tarverdyan, and refused to go to Australia, has some ominous thoughts about him and her daughter. Regarding the loss to Holly Holm, she said to Submission Radio, “I predicted it in advance. Ronda trained with an idiot. She trained with an idiot who’s a fraud. I would be shocked to find out that if that guy has any record at all. I saw him fight once, and he fought somebody who had a record of like 6-20 and won a decision against somebody who had a drastically losing record.” “She needs to get away from some egomaniac fraud and be herself. And Ronda as herself can beat anybody on the planet. So I’m sad about it, but you become an adult and you make decisions and sometimes you make mistakes, and hopefully you learn from those mistakes.” “I hope that he loses his license or goes to jail, because either of those are a possibility. So yeah, I think if she changes, if she changes her training camp, she has an outstanding chance of winning. If she doesn’t, you know what, as a statistician, one thing we tell people all the time is, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If you do the same things with the same people, you can expect the same results.

The California State Athletic Commission suspended Tarverdyan from cornering for three months and fined him $5,000 on 2/2 for falsifying his license application. The commission had threaten to revoke his license because they found out about a 2010 arrest on identity theft and resisting arrest charges which he had not put on his license application when asked if he had ever been arrested. He pleaded down to a misdemeanor, served one day in jail and paid a $610 fine on the charge

Abdul-Kerim Edilov, a UFC fighter from Russia, was announced on 2/2 as being investigated for a possible doping violation based on a recent out-of-competition test. Edilov had been scheduled to face Francimar Barroso on the 1/17 show in Boston but pulled out due to injury. USADA informed UFC of the potential violation. When the B sample is tested and if it comes back positive, USADA will then announce the specifics of the violation and punishment

Add Lyoto Machida vs. Dan Henderson and Bethe Correia vs. Raquel Pennington to the 4/16 FOX show (no location has been announced) which also features Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson

Ilir Latifi, after his quick knockout win over Sean O’Connell on 1/17 in Boston, returns on 3/5 in Las Vegas to face Gian Villante and Cub Swanson vs. Hacran Dias is also on the show

Evan Dunham vs. Leonardo Santos has been added to the 5/14 show in Brazil (no location yet announced). There are also reports of Nate Marquardt vs. Thiago Santos on that show

Names who are no longer under contract are Steve Montgomery, Akhbarh Arreola, Steven Kennedy, Mike Pierce, Konstantin Erokhin, Marcin Wrzoek, Marcio Alexandre, Valmir Lazaro, Hayder Hassan, Leo Kuntz and Danny Castillo.

BELLATOR: With him being released by UFC, Scott Coker has said that he’s very interested in using Wanderlei Silva, but that depends on what happens with Silva’s hearing and suspension in Nevada

Bellator has also signed Sergey Kharitonov, a star in the Pride era, for the heavyweight division

The first show of the year was 1/29 in Fresno, which was really the Paul Daley show in Fresno. It was as if Daley was booked in a TV squash match (which he pretty much was) so he could cut promos on Josh Koscheck to build for a match down the line. Koscheck was scheduled as the headliner on the show, but got hurt in training. He was there at cageside. Daley cut a taped promo on him, calling him “Crotch Check” before his fight, won his fight, then talked about how he came to entertain the fans unlike their home town guy who “sat it out like a bitch.” Daley was tremendous as the crowd booed the hell out of him before the fight. He knocked the guy out quick, and then heeled on the crowd and Koscheck after the fight. The two fought in Montreal in 2010. In that fight, pushed as a big grudge match, Koscheck outwrestled him for three rounds and won an easy decision. He was also verbally taunting him as he was holding him down the entire fight. After the fight, Daley threw a sucker punch at Koscheck, so egregious that Dana White fired him and vowed he’d never be back. He did work for Zuffa after as he had signed with Strikeforce and then Zuffa bought Strikeforce, but they fired him in 2012. Bellator is building Daley vs. Koscheck for later this year, perhaps at the London show

Daley (38-13-2) beat Andy Uhrich (11-6) via knockout at the 2:00 mark in the main event via right uppercut. The other main bout also had a quick finish as former Iowa wrestler Paul Bradley (23-6) knocked out Chris Honeycutt (6-1) in :40, a protégé of Koscheck, who now lives in Fresno and was one of the guys Bellator was looking at. Patricky Pitbull Freire (15-7) knocked Ryan Couture (10-4) with a face plant knockout in 3:00 was the other top fight

The next show is the 2/19 card in Houston with Ken Shamrock vs. Royce Gracie and Kimbo Slice vs. Dada 5000. There was a change in that card as Mike Bronzoulis, scheduled against Melvin Guillard, pulled out due to injury, and is being replaced by Derek Campos.

OTHER MMA: Chael Sonnen will be one of the cast members of the new season of “The Celebrity Apprentice” on NBC. The start date of the season wasn’t announced, but Sonnen will be one of 16 celebrities for a season filmed in Southern California and hosted by Arnold Schwarzeneggar. Joining Sonnen on the show will be Laila Ali, Brooke Burke-Charvet, former NFL star Eric Dickerson, Boy George, American Ninja Warrior host Matt Iseman, Actress Carrie Keagan, TV star Carson Kressley, WNBA legend Lisa Leslie, comedian Jon Lovitz, Vince Neil of “Motley Crue,” Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Kyle Richards, Real Housewives of Atlanta star Porsha Williams, former Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams and singer Carrie Wilson of Wilson Phillips

Don Frye, now 50, revealed in an interview with Submission radio that Rizin had contacted him about fighting Tsuyoshi Kosaka on their first show. Frye has had a lot of injuries over the years, but was a post 9/11 American hero in Japan and one of the most popular fighters in the Japanese MMA heyday because of his never-quit mentality, plus his crossover fame from being a top star and Tokyo Dome headliner with New Japan. The money offer made was also far too low in his mind and nothing came of it. “They don’t have the money or the respect,” said Frye. “I talked to them a few months before the New Year’s Eve show. They don’t have any respect towards the fighters, so they don’t have a chance.” “They were so far away on the money situation, partner. It was disrespectful. The whole conversation was disrespectful.

A planned fight between Jake Shields and Jon Fitch on 4/1 with the World Series of Fighting welterweight title is off for a unique reason, which appears to be that Shields doesn’t want the championship. Instead, Fitch will now face Joao Zeferino. Ray Sefo, the public face of the company, said on 2/2 that he thought everyone was on board, but Shields told the promotion that he would not sign the bout agreement. Shields then told MMA Junkie that his issues had to do with the championship clause in the contract, which meant that should he win the title, his contract can be extended for one year. Shields said that right now things aren’t on the best terms, but they’re working on it. He said they weren’t far off on money. Shields wanted to renegotiate, but WSOF said he was coming off a loss and they weren’t going to, but Shields said that if he just lost, why are they pushing him into a title match? Shields contract expires with his next fight, but if he were to win the title, the contract would automatically renew due to the championship clause. The title is vacant because the promotion dropped champion Rousimar Palhares after too many examples of holding submissions too long, as well as eye gouging in his last fight with Shields. The compromise seems to be that Shields will fight a different fight, and then become a free agent.

WWE: For Fast Lane, they haven’t done a good job so far of building an undercard. Aside from the Reigns vs. Lesnar vs. Ambrose three-way and Kalisto vs. Del Rio for the U.S. title, nothing has been announced. There are no other obvious programs they are building past something with Show and the Wyatt Family, which could be Show & Kane & Ryback against them, although that sounds much better as a television match. The Divas title looks like Charlotte vs. Brie Bella. Brie Bella, Banks and Lynch have all been booked in a manner where they look to be getting upcoming title shots at Charlotte. My thought is the Charlotte vs. Banks singles match should be at Mania, but right now, it appears Lynch is the most popular of the three to the masses and most over at the house shows, so that could be the three way. Ziggler getting a win over Owens and in a program with him right now may be a way to set up a match on this show, and they are definitely building Styles vs. Jericho for a rematch, although right now the next TV match between the two of them is scheduled for the 2/9 Smackdown tapings in Portland, OR. They also had Tamina and Naomi attack Banks, so I can see Banks & Lynch vs. Tamina & Naomi as either a TV program or a match here. It’s pretty clear they want Banks as a pure face going forward so they are taking her away from Team BAD and linking her with the most popular women who gets a push on the roster. Linking her with Lynch is the idea that it makes her a face to the masses to go with the hardcores who already chant for her

As of one week ago, there were no plans in the direction of Undertaker vs. Strowman in a singles match at Mania. There have been reports that it is under consideration but we’re told that as of press time it is not close to being finalized, nor as of TV was it the prime direction, although we don’t know what is. Nothing has been locked in for Undertaker. If Cena can recover in time that will likely be the match. If not, when you look at the roster, it would appear Strowman, Owens, Rusev or Sheamus to be the most likely foes. Owens and Rusev losing on Raw, while not a big deal depending on where they’re going, does make both seem not in the plans as of right now, because if Undertaker at Mania was the planned direction today for either of them, they would be booked stronger right now. Strowman is the one most protected

Raw had to be changed at the last minute because Robert Windham (Blackjack Mulligan), 73, the grandfather of Wyatt and Dallas, as well as father-in-law of their father, Mike Rotunda (who works as a producer), got very seriously ill and was hospitalized on 2/1. It was bad enough that all three flew from Birmingham home to Tampa to see him before TV started. On the show, nothing was said about Wyatt not being there although he was conspicuous by his absence, and Dallas not being there was mentioned when the rest of the Social Outcasts came out for a match and they acted like he was in studio recording a rap. On Raw, they mentioned Bret Hart fighting cancer prominently as well as gave an update on Nikki Bella after her neck operation, which went very well, but said nothing about Windham/Mulligan. The company has a lawsuit out against Windham, essentially a pre-emptive lawsuit against him first that resulted in his not filing a lawsuit against the company as part of the Billy Jack Haynes and company series of suits on the concussion issue

The League of Nations has nothing but bad luck. Sheamus was injured last week, perhaps on the 1/25 Raw match since that was the last bout he did. He’s got tendinitis in his left arm, which was in a cast. The injury isn’t serious. He’s not expected to be off doing matches for very long

Del Rio suffered a lower back injury from either taking a vertical suplex from Lesnar during the Rumble or a German suplex on the 1/18 Raw show. The vertical looked pretty normal, but he did seem shaken up by it. The German was a nasty looking landing on the back of his head, but he did continue to wrestle for another week. Del Rio didn’t wrestle at TV last week and was pulled from the weekend tour, but returned to action on the 2/2 Smackdown tapings in Memphis and he’ll be on the upcoming weekend house shows

The top two matches at this point scheduled for the 3/12 WWE Network special from Toronto are Reigns vs. Sheamus and Lesnar vs. Harper. Paige, The New Day and Usos are also scheduled on that show, as well as a Highlight Reed with Jericho. WWE is running a show in Atlantic City that night, so it won’t be a full crew, and as of the last word, those in Atlantic City, meaning they won’t be on the special, are scheduled as Ambrose, Owens, Show, Wyatt, Dudleys, Strowman, Harper (who at this point is booked in both places so I’m guessing he misses the show here), Rowan, Charlotte and Lynch

WWE and Take 2 Interactive have signed a multi-year contract extension covering the annual WWE 2K games as well as WWE SuperCard

The reason Raw is allowed to be on Hulu in edited form when NBC Universal pays so much for the exclusive U.S. rights, is because Hulu is a joint venture of NBC Universal, ABC Disney and FOX. .. This probably isn’t setting too well with Vince McMahon, but Styles and Gallows had both signed deals with Figures Inc. for action figures. The action figures are both scheduled to be released soon. McMahon was furious when the same company beat WWE to the marketplace with Kevin Steen action figures, and even worse, Styles will be marketed with the figures under his WWE name

The official 4/1 lineup for the NXT Takeover show in Dallas is Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe for the NXT title, Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, Austin Aries vs Baron Corbin, Bayley vs. Asuka for the women’s title, Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder vs. Jason Jordan & Chad Gable for the tag team titles and Apollo Crews vs. Elias Samson. They are probably going to need more than two hours for that show, which on paper should be great

The secondary market exploded with the announcement of Nakamura on the show. At press time, tickets priced at $20 are now going for $300 and up

Based on this lineup and other things we’ve heard, if the decision is made to put Joe over and prolong the feud, then Joe won’t be starting right after WrestleMania. If Balor wins and the decision is made to end the program with Joe with that match, Joe will move to the main roster fairly soon afterwards. Zayn will almost surely be starting on the main roster imminently. On the TV taped this week, they outright talked of him leaving for the main roster, so it could be before Mania or right after Mania. On the NXT show that airs on 3/16, they talk about him leaving so he may start on Raw right around that time. They strongly indicated the 4/1 show is his last big NXT match

Nakamura is earmarked for the main roster but there is a transition period they are looking at doing first, which really is best for all concerned. It’s best that if there is anything he doesn’t know or they don’t like, that it’s taken care of before his main roster debut. The fact they are using his real name on the NXT show is not a sign that he will be using his real name on the main roster. Regarding rumors that WWE purchased the rights to his “Subconscious,” those in WWE state that is not correct and he is expected to be given new music. There is the argument that for the Japanese market, given his level of star power, it’s best he uses his real name. They didn’t do that with KENTA or Kana, (Hideo Itami and Asuka) and KENTA was a big star there, although not at the level of Nakamura. The problem is they don’t want to merchandise someone with a name that they don’t own, nor make a star out of someone who can leave and then use the name elsewhere

Announced for 3/25 in Madison Square Garden is Reigns vs. Sheamus with HHH in Sheamus’ corner (that indicates no house shows for HHH, because if he was going to do any shows between now and Mania, it would make most sense to be Fast Lane, the Toronto special or MSG), Ambrose vs. Owens in a 30 minute Iron man match for the IC title, Kalisto vs. Del Rio for the U.S. title, Show vs. Wyatt, plus the MSG debut of Styles and an appearance of Ric Flair

Flair on his podcast said that Vince had offered Michaels a ton of money to do an angle at the Rumble, but obviously that didn’t happen

As noted, Batista was at the Rumble and offered a spot at Mania, which would have been as the guest referee of HHH vs. Reigns, with the idea of putting more strong odds against Reigns winning with one of HHH’s best friends in the spot. That was the role he turned down. I could see Michaels in that spot or even Rollins (who may not be able to wrestle but perhaps could be good enough to ref) or Flair (which I can’t see happening) if they want HHH to have a “best friend” as ref. Austin doesn’t fit the bill, although the idea of Reigns vs. HHH with Austin as ref and Rock in the corner and the closing scene of Austin & Rock (and Rousey if she’s available) in the video with Reigns is a strong mainstream media bite to build Reigns to sports fans

Bret Hart said he had heard from family members closely tied with WWE that Owen Hart won’t be inducted this year into the Hall of Fame. He blamed it on Owen’s widow, Martha, being an obstacle because she’s negative on it due to blaming the company for Owen’s death in 1999

Adrian Jaoude, a former five-time national champion in wrestling in Brazil, who is training in WWE as they are looking to have a Brazilian star for the market, is looking at representing Brazil in the 2016 Olympics. The belief originally is that the guys WWE trained, including Sunny Dhinsa, that were of Olympic wrestling level, in signing, would have given up any thoughts on continuing in amateur wrestling because the training is so different and in wrestling, you get rusty really fast. Jaoude is originally from Beirut, Lebanon and is already in his mid-30s. Jaoude weights about 220 pounds, but his wrestling competition weight is 187. He’s going to be doing his strength and conditioning training in Orlando at the Performance Center with the WWE coaching staff. Please, no obvious jokes about shoulder injuries. Clayton Jack, who was Cal Bishop in WWE and was cut a few months ago, had talked about trying out for the 2016 Olympics, but he’d be a real longshot. The only time I can recall a pro wrestler going back to amateur and doing something in the Olympics was Alexey Medvedev, who did some early 90s pro wrestling in Japan, then won a silver medal in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta

Lesnar will be working the 2/6 house show in San Jose and Raw on 2/8 in Seattle. People who were at the Smackdown tapings in Memphis were saying they were advertising Lesnar for “next week’s” show which would be Portland. Lesnar isn’t advertised for Portland and it’s possible the push was a two-week build for his first live Smackdown appearance in almost 12 years which is 2/16 in Ontario, CA. He isn’t scheduled at this point for the go-home Raw for Fast Lane on 2/15 in Anaheim, but only for Smackdown at this point

Tough Enough winner Sara Lee and runner-up Amanda (known as Mandy who is at this point primarily a character on Total Divas) both had their first matches on 1/30 at a house show in Venice, FL. They were on opposite sides of a trios match. Lee & Liv Morgan & Aliyah beat Peyton Royce & Billie Kay & Mandy. It’s notable that from the last season, that makes three women who have had their first match (Daria Berenato, as just Daria, debuted two months ago. None of the guys from the show have had their first match, although the competition on the men’s side in NXT is a lot tougher and deeper

Gabi Castrovinci, another member of that Tough Enough cast, also made her debut on 1/30, in Orlando, but it was for I Believe in Wrestling. Castrovinci was signed by TNA to be Raquel, but was not on the U.K. tour. In her debut match, she lost to Santana Garrett for the Wonder of Stardom championship in just 2:28

The originally booked Rumble plan was for Ambrose to eliminate Styles, but it was changed to Owens. That’s for the best, as they didn’t realize going in the kind of reaction Styles would get and it was better for Owens to be the one responsible

There are plans in place to do a WWE Network multi-week series built around lighter weight wrestlers. The very sketchy plans, meaning these details are likely to change, and this also easily could not happen, were told to me about producing ten episodes, built around a tournament for “unknown” wrestlers (meaning those who haven’t appeared on WWE or NXT television) who are less than 205 pounds. The idea is to do something similar to a Japanese tournament, although that could change. The idea is for something in the summer. Multiple people in wrestling have confirmed the idea in the planning stages, with one idea apparently being all indie guys with the idea that if they get over they’ll be signed. The other is to mix “hot indie” guys with some WWE developmental talent, perhaps as a vehicle to debut Manny Andrade (La Sombra) in a big way

Linda McMahon donated $200,000 to an anti-Hillary Clinton political action committee called Future 45. She was the third largest contributor to that PAC

Tye Dillinger looked like he blew out his right knee on the 1/30 show in Royal Oak, MI. He was facing Sami Zayn. Zayn went to suplex him, Dillinger escaped and landed on his feet and the knee went out. He collapsed on the ground in tremendous pain and the match was stopped. He couldn’t even get up to work into a quick finish. At press time, there was no official diagnosis of his injury

Styles won’t be at the house shows this coming weekend, but he’ll start as a full-time doing house shows on 2/13 in Fresno and 2/14 in Bakersfield. Styles’ last indie date will be 2/5 for Premier Wrestling in Georgia, against Corey Hollis. Styles had agreed to this date a long time ago, and give him credit for fulfilling all advertised dates even though a few other recent WWE signees didn’t do that

Coming into this week, the Smackdown main event finish has been a DQ or count out in ten of the last 13 weeks

Dwayne Johnson’s schedule is that he’s filming the TV show “Ballers” in Miami until the end of February. At that point he goes immediately to filming “Baywatch,” from March through late May. So he’s going to have very limited time to promote WrestleMania or appear on Raw. When he was in Miami doing Raw last week he gave the “see you at Mania” vibe like that was the next time he’d be around. He might be able to get a Raw in but it’ll be close. In June, he goes to shooting “Fast and Furious 8.” He’ll be doing that until the end of August. He’ll then be going to San Diego and Africa basically for research for his role in “Rampage,” a movie from the same people who did “San Andreas.”

Shad Gaspard and JTG did an interview with TMZ and said they both would like to return to the company

WWE Studios along with Blumhouse Productions purchased the worldwide rights to a thriller movie “Sleight.” Those at WWE Studios saw the movie at the Sundance Festival and then bid for it

I don’t know that Hogan is coming back for Mania (although everyone knows it’s a question of time when he does), but he was asking for a shockingly low amount of money to do other things in Dallas that weekend, as in like one-tenth or less of what I’d think his asking price for that weekend would have been. That said, those who have been interested in using him have gotten the vibe they think he thinks he’s headed back shortly if not that weekend

The NXT at the LC Pavilion sold out immediately after tickets were put on sale. The combination of the small building and being the weekend of the Arnold Fitness Expo, where tons of tourists are in town, made that pretty much a given

WWE Films and Lionsgate will be releasing a straight-to-DVD movie called “Countdown,” which will star Ziggler and Kane, and also feature Rusev and Lana. It will be released on 4/5. The movie is about a mad man who kidnaps a young boy. Ziggler, who is the lead star, plays a police officer who lost his own son. When the mad man threatens to blow him up with explosives, Ziggler tries to save him even though his commanding officer, played by Kane, has told him not to

For the February tour of Germany, the shows are 2/10 in Bremen at the OVB Arena (almost sold out, first time in the city in nine years), 2/11 in Cologne (so-so ticket sales), 2/12 in Mannheim (so-so ticket sales) and 2/13 in Madgeburg at the GETEC Arena, which is sold out in a 4,800 set setup. As things stand, the shows have Reigns vs. Del Rio, Ambrose vs. Owens for the IC title, New Day vs. Usos for the tag title, plus Swagger, Show, Ziggler, Rusev, Lana, Paige, Charlotte, Goldust, Breeze, R-Truth and Dallas. Ric Flair is being promoted as the show of the tour as the Guest General Manager

For the deal on the 1/25 Raw show with the fans dressed up like Savage, Hogan, Undertaker and Rock (well, the Rock guy just wore a Rock T-shirt) at the show in Miami, a report we got from someone seated right behind them said they were annoying and obnoxious from their arrival and smelled of liquor and spilled beers on people. The Undertaker guy kept falling off his chair. The WWE security had their eyes on them right away. The Rock guy tried to constantly calm the other three down, telling them they’re all going to get kicked out. The Undertaker and Savage guys replied, “Who cares, at least we’ll get noticed and be remembered.” There was a kid sitting behind them who was having a bad time because of their behavior, but the Rock guy, I guess feeling bad, bought him a replica title belt. They got really bad during the Kane vs. Wyatt match, which is also where the “Randy Savage” chants in the stands got the loudest. They stood on their chairs and reached over the guard rail. They were warned on several occasions by the venue staff and WWE personnel, but didn’t listen. In the ring, Wyatt, Harper and Kane were pissed because the fans were ignoring the match and watching the Savage guy leading cheers standing on his chair. Wyatt actually yelled at them. Kane just shook his head while it was going on. Harper walked toward them with the look of death in his eyes. When the Savage guy stood on his chair the second time, that’s when security took them out. Of course the live crowd booed that heavily, which also took away from the match in the ring. They for some reason let the guys back to their seats so they were at ringside when Dwayne Johnson was doing his promo and he jumped out of the ring and started talking to them. As you can imagine, given WWE didn’t want them to get any attention, and it wasn’t scripted, you can imagine the reaction backstage. Johnson wrote about it saying, “Ha, well at WWE events, going off script is what I live for. So much fun for the fans. Nightmare for Vince.” If they are doing Rock in one corner and Vince in the other at Mania, they actually could use that in the storyline, but my gut is they won’t

There are teases of reviving the Stardust vs. Stephen Amell program. If they do, it would be for a Mania cameo, but they are doing nothing in booking with Stardust to make you think he’d have anything at Mania past the Battle Royal

There was a report going around that WWE security confiscated a sign at Raw in Birmingham that read, “If Roman wins, we complain online,

The 2/15 Raw in Anaheim has sold almost 10,000 tickets. They are 2,000+ shy of capacity at this point, but Anaheim is a good walk up market

The stock closed at press time at $17.08 per share, leaving the market value of the company at $1.30 billion

Not official, but there have been teases in the U.K. of a June NXT tour

Notes from the 2/1 Raw show in Birmingham. There wasn’t really much to the show. I would describe the show as a treadmill in the sense you were on it for three hours and ended up in the same place you started. The show drew 7,000 fans, so unlike last year we aren’t getting the string of Raw sellouts during Mania season. For Superstars, Henry & Swagger beat The Ascension when Swagger made Viktor tap to the Patriot lock in 7:00. Swagger got a nice reaction. Henry got less of one. Stardust pinned Ryder with the Queens crossbow, the old crossroads, in 10:00. Raw opened with Lesnar & Heyman out. JBL called Lesnar the “most decorated athlete in combat sports history.” I guess pro wrestling is a combat sport on Raw this week. Heyman said that at the Rumble, Wyatt and his disciples unleashed a conspiracy to remove his client from the WWE title picture. But he said the conspiracy failed and Lesnar, when he wants to, and at his convenience, will invoke the 11th commandment, thou shalt not intentionally provoke Brock Lesnar. Heyman said that at Fast Lane, Lesnar would stack the two best friends, one on top of the other, and then will go to WrestleMania and beat the billion dollar trophy husband to win the WWE title. That’s the first time I’ve heard HHH called a trophy husband. He then started talking about how Ambrose used to ride the short bus to school (a reference Roddy Piper used to make and Heyman was a big Piper fan), and said he was a nut job and wacko. Ambrose came out, called Heyman “Porky,” and got in Lesnar’s face and said he’s not crazy and he’s not scared of Lesnar. He said he wants the title and will fight his own brother to get it. Ambrose said he’s well aware of the beating Lesnar will give him and the beating Reigns will give him. He said Lesnar can throw him through a wall and suplex him all over the ring. Lesnar mostly snickered at him while he cut the promo. Kalisto beat Rusev via count out in a non-title match in 10:07. Del Rio was at ringside doing commentary. He never touched anyone. They worked well together. Kalisto’s springboard corkscrew off the middle rope looks so great and he always hits in perfectly. The only negative was Kalisto’s short huracanrana, and Rusev didn’t go over for it and just stood there, but sold it anyway. The finish saw Kalisto use a huracanrana off the announcers table outside the ring and flipped Rusev into the barricade. Kalisto then jumped into the ring to beat the count while Rusev didn’t. Del Rio jumped in but Kalisto left the ring. Reigns and Ambrose were backstage. The WWE title belt was in a case and both were looking at it. Stephanie came out and talked about the belt in the case, and used the word “belt,” which had been banned for years. Hopefully that silly ban is over because it led to tons of awkwardness for announcers and wrestlers over the years. When Vince was on a few weeks ago, and Reigns had the belt over his shoulder, Vince called it a belt, but apparently on some replays the word was edited off. Reigns told Stephanie that HHH’s days as champion are numbered. Stephanie talked about all the great friendships in wrestling that had broken up, mentioning Michaels & Marty Jannetty, Orton with Evolution and Rollins with The Shield. She then said that “absolute power corrupts absolutely, it’s just a matter of when .” What a weird thing for someone with almost absolute power to say. She asked Ambrose how long he wants to be known as Reigns’ sidekick. Reigns was calm through this saying they know what she’s doing and it doesn’t work. She announced Reigns & Ambrose vs. New Day as the main event. New Day in the main events hasn’t worked well a lot of the time. Brie Bella was out talking about the WWE Network show “Ride Along.” Charlotte came out and told her to give Nikki her sympathies, but then bragged about beating Nikki twice and had no idea about her injuries. Charlotte took credit for hurting her to the point she needed surgery, and said she should apologize but she’s on her way to being the longest reigning Divas champion of all-time and Nikki is starting a new chapter in her life, sitting at home enjoying on-line shopping. Usos beat Rose & Axel in 5:11. Lilian Garcia was supposed to introduce the Usos as Slammy Award winning, but instead said “Grammy Award winning.” The people in the company had way too much fun make her look bad. They replayed it, and JBL as the voice of Vince brought it up over-and-over. It felt like a funny mistake beaten so into the ground is was almost like bullying. The Social Outcasts were minus Dallas. Slater said that Bo Rida was in the studio. JBL called Slater “Bear Bryant,” since he was outside the ring coaching. Bryant was a famous college football coach of the University of Alabama from another generation (1958 to 1982, but he was one of the legendary football coaches of all-time) and Raw was in Birmingham. JBL made more fun of Garcia. Match was boring. Jey hit a superkick on Slater, nailed Axel with a superkick coming off the ropes, then used a double superkick on Rose and Jey pinned him after a splash. Next was Miz TV with Styles. Miz did the Piper gimmick of asking a question and then pulling the mic away before Styles could answer. They tried to tell a story that Styles was a small guy but always overcame it, like in high school they told him he was too small to play on the football team but he ended up as the best player on the time. He said that they told him he was too small to make it in wrestling but through hard work he made it into the Royal Rumble, lasted 28 minutes and then beat Jericho on Raw. Miz said that Styles reminded him of Daniel Bryan, and said due to his mentoring Bryan, that Bryan became a big star. He noted that Bryan was a tiny guy with a big heart who didn’t do anything of relevance until Miz became his mentor. Miz then called himself “The Father of the Yes movement.” I think that would be Tony Robbins, or Diego Sanchez. Miz noted he’d been in WWE for ten years, had won 12 championships and main evented WrestleMania, while Styles was a big fish in a small pond, who was now entering an ocean filled with sharks. He called Styles a “rookie redneck” and said without his help, Styles has no chance in hell of making it in WWE. Styles then attacked Miz and beat the hell out of him. Brie Bella pinned Charlotte in 4:35. Brie needs new music badly. Charlotte went for the figure four on advice of her father, but Brie turned it into an inside cradle. Show pinned Rowan in 1:18. Show knocked Strowman off the apron with a tackle and then choke slammed and pinned Rowan. Strowman then got in the ring and went face-to-face with Show. Strowman knocked him down. Show went for a comeback but was triple-teamed with Harper & Rowan & Strowman. Rowan did this bad looking spin kick that Show went down from. They all beat on Show, threw him into the ring steps and then Harper and Strowman double body slammed Show on the ring steps. O’Neil pinned Breeze in 2:38 with the Clash of the Titus. Nothing much to that other than they gave Breeze his full ring entrance, which they haven’t done for a while. HHH was backstage with Heyman and Lesnar. HHH told Heyman to leave. He then told Lesnar that Ambrose got right in his face earlier in the show and Ambrose lived to tell about it. He asked if Lesnar was getting soft. Lesnar said that we’ll find out at WrestleMania. Ziggler pinned Owens in 11:29 when he escaped an attempt at a pop up power bomb, and hit the Zig Zag. Good match. Hopefully this finish makes sense two weeks from now and there are reasons to do it based on direction. But so often WWE does things just for 50/50 purposes, and that wouldn’t be a good idea if that was the reason here. Banks came out for a promo, saying that she’s now on her own. She said that Lynch and Charlotte can’t hold a candle to her. Naomi and Tamina came out. Naomi was dressed in wrestling gear. They had a conversation where Naomi and Tamina said that they understand and that they can break up as friends, while making it clear neither side believed what the other was saying. Naomi said that they were veterans and knew the moment would come, and that partnerships don’t last forever. She said no hard feelings; they can co-exist and still be friends, and said they still have her back. Naomi said unlike the other groups, they still have unity. Banks vs. Lynch ended in a no contest in 3:39. The crowd was totally dead for this. Naomi and Tamina attacked Lynch outside the ring behind the refs back. Banks went outside and told them not to, saying she doesn’t need their help or want it in this match. So they attacked Banks and were beating her down until Lynch made the save for Banks as they fought together to clear the ring. Fans started chanting “NXT” at this point. Jericho was being interviewed by Renee Young. Jericho quoted “Everybody’s talking about the new kid in town,” in reference to Styles and a song by The Eagles. He put Styles over, saying that Styles beat the hell ot of Miz earlier in the show, said Styles beat him last week but he’s a fighter, can’t wait to see Styles vs. Miz on Smackdown and made it clear he and Styles would wrestle again. R-Truth went to the bathroom and Goldust was waiting for him in a stall. Goldust wanted R-Truth to be his tag team partner. R-Truth turned him down, saying Goldust was a weirdo. Goldust then said that R-Truth’s last tag team partner, Little Jimmy, was an imaginary character. R-Truth got mad and walked off. Goldust said he meant to say interplanetary, like his brother, and he didn’t mean imaginary. This had the requisite Vince McMahon toilet humor with R-Truth telling Goldust that he had “doo doo” on his foot and Goldust making a face. It appears they are going to be called Golden Truth when they finally team up. Reigns & Ambrose beat Big E & Kingston in 17:19. New Day cut a promo on The Rock. They also went to ringside and showed a child and apparent father both wearing Bullet Club T-shirts, which was interesting because WWE never ever puts T-shirts from another wrestling company on its TV. New Japan owns the worldwide rights to the shirts. The New Day said that tonight they are going to beat The Rock’s cousin and The Rock’s cousins’ friend. You’d get the impression from this that Rock’s Mania appearance may involve the New Day. They also called Ambrose & Reigns, “ambrains.” Solid match. Big E missed a splash on the apron, landed on the apron and fell to the floor. E was playing New Day Rocks while slapping Ambrose on the ass. Woods got involved and Ambrose clotheslined him. E gave Reigns a belly-to-belly suplex on the announcers table, which didn’t break. Reigns hit the Superman punch on Kingston, and Ambrose used Dirty Deeds on Big E and Ambrose scored the pin. After the match, Lesnar came out. While Reigns & Ambrose were distracted by Lesnar, The New Day jumped them from behind. Lesnar then laid out Ambrose with an F-5 and laughed about it

Notes from the 2/2 Smackdown and Main Event tapings in Memphis. This was Lawler returning to his home town, but they didn’t appear to do any angles built around that. Lawler is trying to be a heel now anyway. In a dark match, Ryder & Mojo Rawley beat The Dudley in a surprise. All four shook hands after the match. Main Event opened with Usos & Prime Time Players, being put back together, beating The Ascension & Stardust & Breeze. Naomi & Snuka talked about their upcoming match with Paige & Natalya. Swagger beat Fandango with the Patriot lock. Naomi & Tamina beat Paige & Natalya in the main event. Smackdown opened with Reigns beating Rusev via DQ when Del Rio interfered and Ambrose made the save. This set up a tag match, in lieu of Smackdown’s other angle which would be Reigns doing an interview, being attacked by Del Rio & Rusev, and Ambrose making a save to build to a tag team main event. Barrett was also out there for the beat down on Reigns. Kalisto pinned Owens after interference by Ziggler. After the match, Owens laid out both Kalisto and Ziggler. The Miz did a promo about his match with Styles later in the show. Ryback pinned Rowan. After the match, Strowman attacked Ryback. Ryback has ditched the singlet and is now wearing black trunks. I guess he wants to make sure the public believes WWE has unbeatable PED testing. Young interviewed Lynch. Banks came out. Banks told Lynch that she didn’t want her help on Raw. Lynch said the two of them aren’t friends, so they are doing the slow build of making them a team. Styles beat Miz clean with the calf killer. Jericho was at ringside. Jericho wanted a rematch with Styles on Smackdown next week. They made the Lesnar announcement for Smackdown next week. Reigns did an interview talking about the main event. There was another Goldust and R-Truth vignette. New Day was doing a promo and confronted by Slater & Rose & Axel (no Dallas or Wyatt in Memphis). This turned into a six-man which the New Day won. Charlotte beat Fox with the figure eight submission. Brie Bella was at ringside for his. Main event saw Reigns & Ambrose beat Rusev & Del Rio clean

Notes from the 1/27 NXT tapings which are the final four shows before Takeover. Adrien Reese beat Billie Kay with a stunner off the top rope in a dark match. Kay was managed by Sylvester Lefort. The first show, on 3/9, will be a one hour show devoted to the Joe vs. Zayn match for the top contendership. Most responses I’ve heard was that it was a match of the year candidate going about 40 minutes, but I’ve had several strong dissenting views on that. The crowd was super into Zayn. Joe won the first fall with the muscle buster. Zayn won the second fall via submission with the Koji clutch after a running flip dive. Joe was busted open legit from a head-butt early in the fall. Joe won the third fall clean with a choke, so they wanted him to go in strong. Joe did a post-match interview that he was winning the title. From what I’ve heard, that is a possibility. The second hour for 3/16 saw Ryder & Mojo Rawley beat Angelo Dawkins & Kenneth Crawford with the Hype Ryder on Crawford, who was making his TV debut. Emma beat Deonna Purrazzo with the Emma lock. Tommaso Ciampa beat Jessy Sorensen with the armbar in a physical match. Bayley & Asuka beat Nix Jax & Eva Marie. Jax accidentally squashed Eva and Bayley pinned Eva with the belly-to-belly suplex. Jax carried Eva to the back, which left Bayley and Asuka in the ring. Regal then announced the Bayley vs. Asuka match for Takeover. The two had a staredown. Jordan & Gable beat The Vaudevillains in a No. 1 contenders match. This was either the main event for 3/16 or the first match for 3/23. Was told this was a very good match, probably the second best thing at the taping. The finish saw them use the double-team back suplex on Aiden English. Zayn came out for an interview and did what looked to be a promo about saying farewell, when Regal said that Zayn deserves to leave NXT with the biggest match possible and they showed a photo of Nakamura on the screen. The crowd went nuts for that. I was told maybe the biggest pop in the building when Nakamura’s face was on the screen. The rest of this was for 3/23. Johnny Gargano pinning Elias Samson with a roll-up. Samson beat him up after the match until Apollo Crews made the save to set up their Takeover match. Balor pinned Rich Swann with a Bloody Sunday DDT after the double foot stomp. Swann got over good to the live audience and another good bout. Alexa Bliss beat Sarah Dobson, better known on indies as Crazy Mary Dobson, using the sparkle splash. Bull Dempsey vs. Danny Burch (Martin Stone) was next, but Joe hit the ring and destroyed both. Asuka beat Emma in the TV main event. They taped what appeared to be a dark match with Austin Aries pinning Riddick Moss. The 3/30 show opened with Asuka over Emma with the Asuka lock in more than 10:00. This was the point where the crowd was tired. Jordan & Gable over John Skyler & Corey Hillis with the double-team back suplex. Corbin squashed QT Marshall with a side slam. Corbin then used the End of Days after the match. Looks like they are trying to establish a secondary finish for Corbin and Balor both. Dawson & Wilder beat Tucker Knight & Steve Cutler. Crews pinned Riley in a squash match. Samson played guitar and sang to Crews. The TV main event saw Joe beating Dempsey in what essentially a squash match. Joe didn’t let go. Regal sent people into the ring to stop him, but Joe was beating on everyone until Balor ran in. The two brawled. Balor dove off the desk and they brawled for a while which is the final angle airing two days before Takeover

Notes from the 1/27 NXT TV show. The opener with Jordan & Gable over Blake & Murphy was tremendous, even better than the main event. Gable was so unreal and even did the Red Bastien flying head scissors that I haven’t seen in forever. Murphy did a fake knee injury spot and then gave Gable a chop block to lead to the head spot. Gable pinned Blake in 7:23 with the double-team back suplex. Emma & Brooke did a backstage promo. Emma said that Carmella couldn’t beat Bayley and couldn’t beat her, to set up a match for the next show. They made fun of Carmella, saying she even lost to Blue Pants, who doesn’t even work here. Nia Jax pinned Liv Morgan in a squash in 2:11. Carmella & Enzo & Cass did a promo. Most promos in NXT are usually so-so, but Enzo, Zayn and Joe are the exceptions and Enzo was on fire here. Carmella called Brooke “Miss Piggy” because she had gained some weight with her time off. Riley pinned Dempsey in 2:05 with a jumping knee. Dempsey was clearly the face. Riley has the look of a star but given future results, it doesn’t look like things are going his way. Riley did a promo and is doing the role of the bitter guy. He said he was off and watched a lot of the WWE Network and NXT. He was mad that they had spent all this time on TV pushing Zayn’s return and never said a thing about him. The deal was that nobody knew Riley was coming back. Riley said he’d kept the office informed all through his recovery from knee surgery and they never told the public. He said that he watches TV and he knows what Crews ate for breakfast but there’s nothing on him. He talked about how hard work and eight years in the business got him nowhere. His promo was very good. Samson pinned Skyler with a neckbreaker in 1:55. They are pushing Samson, but as of now the drifter guitar player gimmick isn’t getting over. The Bro Mans did a backstage promo. They pushed a match with the Vaudevillains, Ryder didn’t like that Rawley was still wearing Zubaz pants and they argued over who got more women. Main event was the bout for the No. 1 contender which ended in a draw with Joe and Zayn over Corbin in 12:35. It was a good match, particularly as far as story and being put together. Highlights were Zayn doing a flip dive on both, Joe choking out Zayn on the floor and leaving him out cold. Corbin then gave Joe the End of Days, but Zayn jumped in for the save. This was done too quickly as Zayn popped up too fast after being choked out, even though “if it was real” he would have recovered by then. Zayn had Corbin pinned after an exploder into the turnbuckles but Joe broke up the pin. The finish saw Zayn put Corbin in the sharpshooter and he was struggling. Joe jumped in and put Corbin in the crossface while Zayn held the sharpshooter and Corbin tapped. So the idea was, who won the match. This was really done well. Zayn argued that he had the hold on first and had it won and Joe just jumped in. Joe claimed that Zayn’s sharpshooter wasn’t effective as Corbin hadn’t even tapped, and it was his move that made him tap. Regal came out and said he had to review the tape. The crowd was chanting “We can’t hear you.” As far as a finish to build a return, it made sense and was very well executed

The NXT touring crew drew a sellout 1,700 (sold out first day tickets were put on sale) in Pittsburgh on 1/29. The show opened with Dash & Dawson retaining the tag titles over Enzo & Cass when they pinned Enzo. The crowd gave Enzo & Cass a standing ovation after the match. Then, they did that for almost everyone who lost. Nia Jax pinned Carmella. Crowd pretty silent for this one. Elias Samson pinned Tye Dillinger. Since they bill Samson from Pittsburgh, he was cheered at first. Then he sang a song ripping Pittsburgh and Dillinger worked as the face. Not very good. Corbin pinned Crews. Fans chanted “Boring Corbin.” Crowd didn’t like Corbin but that didn’t mean they liked Crews, who really didn’t get that big a reaction to his comebacks, although they liked his plancha and the finish got over. Clean win with the End of Days. Zayn pinned Johnny Gargano. Both were pretty over with loud “Johnny Wrestling” chants. Very good match with an excellent last few minutes. Zayn won with the Helluva kick and Gargano got a standing ovation and lots of chants after the match. It’s Bayley pinned Bliss with a Bayley-to-belly. The crowd loved her of course. Jordan & Gable beat the Vaudevillains. Jordan & Gable were over huge. Great stuff. Balor pinned Joe to retain the title in the main event. Good match ending with the double foot stomp

The 1/30 show in Royal Oak, MI, just outside of Detroit, drew a sellout in advance of 1,200 fans. Enzo & Cass beat the Vaudevillains. Lots of comedy. The faces won using the rocket launcher. Carmella beat Bliss with her triangle submission. Samson pinned Gargano after a neckbreaker. The crowd was really into Gargano. They gave him a standing ovation after the match. Zayn beat Dillinger in the match where Dillinger got hurt. The match ended when Dillinger collapsed when his knee went out and they stopped the match. Zayn then led the crowd in cheering for Dillinger and chanting “ten” at him. Zayn thanked the fans. They sent Samson out to attack Zayn to allow Zayn a comeback and get his big pop at the end and hit the planned Helluva kick finish. Bayley beat Jax. Bayley won with a Bayley-to-Belly. After the match, a fan threw a “Bayley Club” T-shirt into the ring and she put it on. Jordan & Gable beat Dash & Dawson via DQ in a tag title match. Crowd was super hot for Jordan & Gable. They used the double-team back suplex on Dawson, but Wilder pulled the referee out of the ring for the DQ. Main event saw Balor keep the NXT title in a four-way over Joe, Corbin and Crews. Joe was choking out Corbin. Crews then hit a standing moonsault on Joe and went for the cover. Balor then used the double foot stomp on Crews and then Balor pinned Corbin. Great match

They also ran two events in Florida which really were developmental shows. Apparently there was negativity from the loyal Florida fan base at the weekend shows over the lack of stars and it’s under discussion that instead of doing the stars touring outside

Florida and running Florida shows with the developmental talent and a few of the bigger stars, that going forward when they are doing split crews, to split the star power more evenly. We’ll see how that turns out the next time they have two shows a night booked. The way they do it now is logic because they charge higher prices and draw bigger crowds outside of Florida, but those fans are a lot less patient with talent that aren’t the stars they see on TV or are green. The Florida fans are more accepting of people not on TV and who aren’t as good, but in time, they are also regular fans who will resent getting weaker shows

On 1/29 in Largo, they had Levis Valenzuela Jr. beating Riddick Moss in the opener. Billie Kay & Emma beat Aliyah & Liv Morgan. Kay & Emma had both Sylvester Lefort and Dana Brooke in their corners. Christopher Girard pinned Alexander Wolfe. Oscar Vasquez (who was Magno on El Paso/Juarez Lucha Libre shows and formerly worked with the current Sin Cara) & Tucker Knight & Hugo Knox (who have been working as a tag team at the house shows) beat Sonny Dhinsa (former Canadian amateur wrestling champion) & Sawyer Fulton & Thomas Kingdom (a big bodybuilder). Asuka beat Daria of Tough Enough. Bull Dempsey pinned Josh Woods, the former college wrestler and MMA fighter. Manny Andrade (Sombra) beat Angelo Dawkins. Main event was Zack Ryder & Mojo Rawley over Blake & Murphy

The 1/30 show in Venice saw Knox pin Dawkins with a moonsault. Sara Lee & Morgan & Aliyah beat Royce & Kay & Mandy when Morgan pinned Royce. Both Tough Enough women were tentative and Lee more than Mandy, but the live crowd really got into Lee. Woods pinned Gzim Selmani. King Constantine pinned Kishan Rafter (one of the Indian wrestlers who worked the tour there). Knight & Tino Sabbatelli beat Blake & Murphy in a surprise. Dempsey & Swann & Kenneth Crawford beat Girard & Steve Cutler & Fulton when Dempsey pinned Fulton. Dan Matha, a former football player, did a promo in the ring as a heel. Moss pinned Andrade by blocking a sunset flip and holding the ropes. This was probably them testing Andrade, with the idea that since he’s been a superstar in his home country, how will he react to being asked to put over a nobody on a non-TV card. The main event saw Asuka beat Emma with a sin kick, which was the best match on the show

The Reigns tour opened on 1/30 in Macon, GA, drawing 5,000 fans. We didn’t get an attendance figure for the 1/31 show in Columbus, GA

The other tour, headlined by Kane vs. Wyatt, opened on 1/30 in Chattanooga drawing 3,500 fans. 1/31 in Tupelo, MS, drew 2,000

In Macon, it opened with Usos & Ryback over Kingston & Woods & Big E. Ryback used the shell shock on Woods and Jey pinned Woods after a splash off the top rope. O’Neil pinned Stardust with the Clash of the Titus in a quick match. Rawley & Ryder beat Los Matadores in a fast match. Ambrose pinned Owens to keep the IC title in the same match they’ve been doing. Ambrose kicked out of the pop up power bomb. Ambrose won clean with Dirty Deeds. R-Truth & Sandow (claiming to be Sandizzle) beat Axel & Slater. Axel came out and said he was sick because he ate bacon in Macon. The two then ripped on Macon. R-Truth came out with Sandow in a do rag and sunglasses acting like he was a rapper. Sandizzle worked the match wearing his sunglasses. Rusev did a promo and said he was booked in this match for the title (actually it was Sheamus booked) and claimed he cost Reigns the title by putting him through the table. So what does that make him when he’s bragging that he cost himself a title match. Charlotte won a three-way to keep the Divas title over Lynch and Paige. Lynch was super over. Lynch had Charlotte in the disarmer but Paige broke it up. Charlotte then rolled up Paige for the win holding the tights. After the match, Paige, who I guess is now friends with Lynch again, announced it was Lynch’s birthday (she turned 29). Main event saw Reigns pin Rusev. Reigns was by far the most popular wrestler on the show. Rusev then said since this wasn’t a title match, he wasn’t fighting, and went to leave. Reigns ran up the stage and threw him into the ring. Reigns powered out of the accolade and hit a Superman punch and spear for the win

They did the same show the next day in Columbus, GA. The only funny thing is they played what was supposedly a backstage promo (these are actually taped at TV the earlier in the week) with Owens talking about his match coming up with Ambrose, but he talked about it being in Macon, which was from the night before. In Columbus, the Ryder & Rawley vs. Los Matadores match got little reaction

.In Chattanooga, it opened with Kalisto pinning Miz to keep the U.S. title with Miz as the replacement for Del Rio. Kalisto won with the Salida del Sol. Darren Young pinned Fandango in 2:00. Fandango was a heel here and did the bit where he refused to leave and wanted another match. Swagger came out and put Fandango in the Patriot lock right away. Rose & Dallas beat The Ascension. Rose & Dallas were the faces here. Show & Dudleys beat Strowman & Harper & Rowan. Banks & Tamina beat Fox & Brie Bella. Lots of “Yes” chants for Brie. Ziggler pinned Breeze. They had the best match of the night, but that’s not going to help either of them. Main event saw Kane beat Wyatt via DQ due to interference from the rest of the Wyatt family. The Dudleys and Show then ran in for the save. The Dudleys gave Rowan a 3-D, and Kane then choke slammed Rowan through a table. Much of the main event was Wyatt stalling

The show in Tupelo was the same as Chattanooga..