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January 1, 2018 Wrestling Observer Newsletter: 2017 A year in review

Wrestling Observer Newsletter

PO Box 1228, Campbell, CA 95009-1228 ISSN10839593 January 1, 2018






Period covered from December 1, 2016 to November 30, 2017. Compiled by Patric Laprade




90,000* - 4/29 HBO London, England Wembley Stadium (Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko

78,000** - 10/28 Showtime Cardiff, Wales Principality Stadium (Anthony Joshua vs. Carlos Takam)

65,000*** - 4/2 WWE WrestleMania Orlando Camping World Stadium (Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns)

57,776**** - 5/27 KSW 39 Warsaw, Poland The PGE Narodowy (Mamed Khalidov vs. Borys Mankowski)

51,052 - 7/2 Top Rank Brisbane, Australia Suncorp Stadium (Manny Pacquiao vs. Jeff Horn)

40,000 - 1/29 WWE Royal Rumble San Antonio Alamodome

36,000***** - 1/4 New Japan Tokyo Dome (Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega)

21,000* - 12/16/16 Showtime Manchester, England Arena (Anthony Joshua vs. Eric Molina)

19,657* - 3/18 NCAA Division I tournament finals St. Louis Scottrade Center (Gabe Dean vs. Bo Nickal)

18,953* - 3/18 NCAA Division I tournament consolation rounds

18,844* - 3/17 NCAA Division I tournament semifinals

18,816* - 3/17 NCAA Division I tournament afternoon session

18,533******* - 12/30/16 UFC 207 Las Vegas T Mobile Arena (Amanda Nunes vs,. Ronda Rousey)

18,252******** -9/16 Golden Boy Las Vegas T Mobile Arena (Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin

18,157* - 3/16 NCAA Division I tournament first day evening session St. Louis Scottrade Center

18,157* - 3/16 NCAA Division I tournament first day afternoon session

18,057********* -12/10/16 UFC 206 Toronto Air Canada Centre (Max Holloway vs. Anthony Pettis)

17,834* - 5/13 UFC 211 Dallas American Airlines Center (Stipe Miocic vs. Junior Dos Santos)

17,730 - 7/30 Rizin Saitama Super Arena (Kyoji Horiguchi vs. Hideo Tokoro)

17,143 - 5/6 HBO Las Vegas T Mobile Arena (Canelo Alvarez vs. Julio Caesar Chavez Jr.)

17,110 - 4/8 UFC 210 Buffalo Keybank Arena (Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson)

17,000********** - 8/26 AAA TripleMania Mexico City Arena Ciudad (Dr. Wagner Jr. vs. Psycho Clown mask vs. mask)

17,000* - 4/30 CMLL Mexico City Arena Mexico (Caristico & Dragon Lee & Mistico vs. Euforia & Niebla Roja & Ultimo Guerrero)

16,642 - 12/29/16 Rizin Saitama Super Arena (Mirko Cro Cop vs. King Mo Lawal)

16,610* - 7/29 UFC 214 Anaheim Honda Center (Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones)

16,232* - 9/9 UFC 215 Edmonton Rogers Place (Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko)

15,761 - 3/18 UFC London O2 Arena (Jimi Manuwa vs. Corey Anderson)

15,626 - 2/11 UFC 208 Brooklyn Barclays Center (Holly Holm vs. Germaine de Randamie)

15,412 - 6/3 UFC 212 Rio de Janeiro Jeunesse Arena (Max Holloway vs. Jose Aldo)

15,148*********** - 11/25 UFC Shanghai Mercedes-Benz Arena (Kelvin Gastelum vs. Michael Bisping)

15,000 - 3/17 CMLL Mexico City Arena Mexico (Diamante Azul vs. Pierroth mask vs. mask)

15,000 - 3/12 WWE New York Madison Square Garden (John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt)

*Denotes sellout crowd

**Set boxing all-time indoor attendance record breaking 70,000 for Joshua vs. Kubat Pulev

****Paid attendance was about 61,000

*****The real top draw, although not the main event, was Marius Pudzianowski

******Paid attendance was 26,192

*******Broke world MMA record and North American combat sports record for crowd headlined by a women’s fight

*******17,318 paid

*********Tickets were sold for Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones

**********14,000 paid

***********Tickets sold for Anderson Silva vs. Kelvin Gastelum



12 - Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman

9 - Kevin Owens, Bray Wyatt

7 - A.J. Styles, Samoa Joe, Randy Orton

6 - Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins

5 - John Cena

Cena, who finished 10th this year, was in the top 10 for the 12th time in his career, moving him into a tie with Bill Longson and Buddy Rogers for 12th place of all-time in that category. He still trails Jim Londos, Lou Thesz, Bruno Sammartino, Strangler Lewis, Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, Joe Stecher, Dick the Bruiser, Andre the Giant, Argentina Rocca and Killer Kowalski.

This was Randy Orton’s ninth year in the top ten, moving him ahead of Johnny Valentine, Harley Race, Perro Aguayo Sr., Antonio Inoki and The Rock. He is now tied with Gene Kiniski, The Sheik and Ray Stevens.

Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega both headlined three shows in Japan that did over 10,000 fans, the first time that has happened in Japan in many years.



4,300,000 - 8/26 Showtime/UFC Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Conor McGregor

1,300,000 - 9/16 Golden Boy Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin

1,100,000 - 12/30/16 UFC 207 Amanda Nunes vs. Ronda Rousey

1,000,000 - 5/6 HBO Canelo Alvarez vs Julio Caesar Chavez Jr.

875,000 - 11/4 UFC 217 Michael Bisping vs. Georges St-Pierre

860,000 - 7/29 UFC 214 Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones

250,000 - 3/4 UFC 209 Tyron Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson

250,000 - 5/13 UFC 211 Stipe Miocic vs. Junior Dos Santos

225,000 - 4/8 UFC 210 Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson

200,000 - 2/11 UFC 208 Holly Holm vs. Germaine de Randamie

200,000 - 6/13 UFC 212 Max Holloway vs. Jose Aldo

200,000 - 10/7 UFC 217 Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee

170,000 - 3/18 HBO Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Jacobs

150,000 - 12/10/16 UFC 206 Max Holloway vs. Anthony Pettis

150,000 - 7/8 UFC 213 Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero

125,000 - 6/17 HBO Andre Ward vs. Sergey Kovalev

100,000 - 9/9 UFC 215 Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko

95,000 - 6/24 Bellator Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva



16 15 14 13 12 11
WWE 3 3 5 3 4 10
CMLL 2 1 0 1 2 0
AAA 1 0 1 1 1 1
UFC 11 8 7 3 4 12
NJPW 1 1 1 2 1 1
NCAA 6 7 7 3 6 6

Boxing had a great year in terms of major show live attendance. Pro wrestling had seven shows with more than 15,000 fans during the year, and most notably WWE only had three of them. NCAA Wrestling had six and MMA had 15, with UFC getting 11 of the 15.

From December 1, 2016 to November 30, 2017, UFC had 4,560,000 MMA PPV buys, and if you include Mayweather vs. McGregor, that number would be a record 8,860,000, which is actually behind 2010 because that year would have been 15 shows instead of 13. Including it, you would have the record average. Not including it, for just the MMA shows, the average was 380,000, the lowest since 2014 at 318,000 and second lowest since 2007.

UFC’s 11 PPV shows in North America did $29,677,878, or $2,697,989 per show. That would be the lowest figure since 2014 and along with lines of 2013.

Complete UFC PPV and live gate for PPV charts are in last week’s issue dating back to 2007.



$55,414,860 - 8/26 Showtime/UFC Las Vegas T Mobile Arena Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor

$27,059,850 - 9/16 Golden Boy Las Vegas T Mobile Arena Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin

$14,500,000 - 4/2 WWE WrestleMania Orlando Camping World Stadium Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns

$10,631,850 - 5/6 HBO Las Vegas T Mobile Arena Canelo Alvarez vs. Julio Caesar Chavez Jr.

$6,200,000 - 11/4 UFC 217 New York Madison Square Garden Michael Bisping vs. Georges St-Pierre

$4,750,000 - 12/30/16 UFC 207 Las Vegas T Mobile Arena Amanda Nunes vs. Ronda Rousey

$4,300,000* - 1/29 WWE Royal Rumble San Antonio Alamodome

$2,662,645 - 5/13 UFC 211 Dallas American Airlines Center Stipe Miocic vs. Junior Dos Santos

$2,448,870 - 7/29 UFC 214 Anaheim Honda Center Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones

$2,400,000** - 7/8 UFC 213 Las Vegas T Mobile Arena Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero

$2,385,230 - 3/4 UFC 209 Las Vegas T Mobile Arena Tyron Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson

$2,275,100 - 2/11 UFC 208 Brooklyn Barclays Center Holly Holm vs Germaine de Randamie

$2,028,307 - 9/9 UFC 215 Edmonton Rogers Place Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko

$2,000,000 - 4/8 UFC 210 Buffalo KeyBank Arena Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson

*Approximate number, real number not released

**Both Cody Garbrandt vs. T.J. Dillashaw and Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko were supposed to headline at different times when tickets were sold


If you rank everyone in pro wrestling history based on year-by-year rankings (which factors out different levels of popularity and different types of business), John Cena would now be the 10th biggest live event draw in pro wrestling history trailing Jim Londos, Bruno Sammartino, Lou Thesz, Bill Longson, Hulk Hogan, Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Argentina Rocca, Ric Flair and Buddy Rogers. Other active wrestlers in the top 25 are HHH, Original Mistico and Randy Orton. The latter two would be the highest rankers not in the Hall of Fame. Of the top 53, the only other non-Hall of Famers would be Kane, Roman Reigns, Dick Shikat, Danno O’Mahoney, Seth Rollins and C.M. Punk.

For pro wrestling and MMA in 2017, there were a lot of themes. Both major companies, WWE and UFC, increased profitability while showing no signs of increasing its numbers of consumers.

For WWE, the key business numbers are stable but the continued increase in television rights fees and cost cutbacks have helped the bottom line.

For the WWE Network, given subscriptions seem more tied into PPVs than anything, it does appear less money is being spent on original programming, like cutting back the numbers of live events and less new reality shows and talk shows. The network is more profitable with only a small increase in actual subscribers. Live events are more profitable even with the same or fewer fans per event, owing to doing more events and charging higher ticket prices.

UFC’s profitability is tied also into contractual rights fees for television increasing and also a lot of budget cutting with the new management.

After a strong 2016, UFC’s television ratings have taken a hit this year (see story in this issue). Even with ridiculous profits, the decline in interest is a subject that has to be addressed. Even though less profitable, and being valued at significantly less, there is a feeling that WWE may be long-term healthier. One key is that WWE is carrying far less debt, so they don’t have to maintain a gigantic profit margin just to service their debt like UFC does. WWE has a larger base audience of fans. But big UFC events are far more effective in capturing fans outside the base audience and being talked about outside the niche world. UFC has been far better in recent years at creating larger-than-life superstars, which also allows them to capture fans a few times a year outside of their base. But going into 2018, with the possible exception of Francis Ngannou, who is unproven both as a draw and against the highest-tier competition, it doesn’t feel like there’s anybody on the horizon.

WWE is missing a spark, but is steady, and going nowhere.

One of the biggest stories of 2017 in wrestling was the growth of non-WWE companies, most notably New Japan (in Japan and even more outside Japan), All Japan and ROH. New Japan is the strong No. 2 group in the world, and has never been more popular outside of Japan, but outside of its home market, it can’t challenge WWE.

New Japan is still preparing to do more in the U.S., but it doesn’t appear that will be any time that soon. They had a lot of momentum in July coming off the Long Beach shows and the incredible G-1 tournament, but were quiet when it came to U.S. expansion. Right now, there is a lot of talk of Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega as far as a major match goes, but aside from a short-term bump, that will mean nothing long-term unless there is some sort of immediate follow-up.

In looking at the biggest news stories of the year, nothing comes close to Mayweather vs. McGregor. It generated almost as much money in one night as WWE and UFC did all year. Pro wrestling had a lot more major stories. I was going to try and rank them, but on the wrestling side, they are just arbitrary numbers, so instead I’ll just summarize the biggest ones in no particular order:


MATCH QUALITY THROUGH THE ROOF - While no style will please everyone, and any change from the style people saw in childhood will make some think it’s worse, the in-ring at the high end went through the roof this year. The number of top tier matches was unprecedented for a number of reasons, and reasons that will probably make this year not an aberration. Among the reasons include for wrestlers outside of WWE, that is how they get noticed, either to become independent stars, or attract the attention of WWE. Also, the new generation of wrestlers is more apt to not just study top matches much more, because of the easier accessibility, but study not just one style and don’t limit their knowledge to one style. While there are countless styles out there, they are, in time melding together where the younger talent can throw in a little U.K., Lucha, Japanese and old-school American tricks, rather than being a product of where they were geographically born. The Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada trilogy will probably be the one most remembered, as the modern version of the 1989 Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat series, with both their 1/4 Tokyo Dome and 6/11 Dominion matches winning almost every match of the year awards released so far. All three of their matches, as well as the Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito G-1 final, to me, were among the ten best matches I’ve ever seen with the Dominion match as good or better than anything. But unlike in 1989 where Flair dominated the listings with Steamboat and Terry Funk, the competition was so fierce that a number of matches that would have won in other years won’t even crack the top ten. Jim Ross said the Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii match in Long Beach was among the best live matches he’d ever seen. The Omega vs. Okada B block final in the G-1 would have easily won match of the year in almost any year, as would the Okada vs. Katsuyori Shibata match. But the year was filled with exceptional match programs, including Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tetsuya Naito, which would have been remembered as a legendary any other year. Other big ones included Kushida’s series’ with both Will Ospreay and Hiromu Takahashi, Takahashi vs. Dragon Lee, Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne, Shuji Ishikawa vs. Kento Miyahara, Tanahashi vs. Kota Ibushi and Okada vs. Minoru Suzuki. Whether it was New Japan, WWE, Evolve, PWG, RevPro, CMLL, ROH, Progress, AAW, Dragon Gate, All Japan, NOAH, Stardom and countless others, great matches are being turned out so frequently that unless it’s on a big NXT, WWE or New Japan show, they often don’t get close to the credit or have the impact they deserve. In particular, New Japan had some incredible shows during the year, particularly Wrestle Kingdom, Dominion and much of the G-1 and Super Juniors tournament, while NXT Takeovers were as good a two-and-half-hour live event on a consistent basis as pro wrestling has offered.

ANTHEM GOES THROUGH CHANGES WITH TNA: While the deal was put in place in 2016, its ramifications were this year. The key one was the heavy cutbacks on The Fight Network. Anthem saved Impact because it was its second most popular show. The company went through a number of management changes. The year saw them lose The Hardys, their hottest act, as Jeff Jarrett was made booker instead of Matt Hardy. Then came a long fight over the Broken Hardys gimmick that Matt created, but debuted on Impact programming. The public, wanting to see the gimmick in WWE, made Impact the bad guys, even though, had the roles been reversed, WWE would have done the same thing. Eventually, TNA capitulated and because they no longer had the money to offer to talent to be competitive, offered that talent could come in and whatever gimmick they or the company came up with, they could take with them to WWE or anywhere else they wanted to go. But lack of revenue led to cutbacks, and most talent on guaranteed deals weren’t renewed and won’t be renewed going forward. Then there was the end of TNA and the GFW rebirth, with a million authority figures from Jarrett to Dutch Mantel to Karen Jarrett to Jim Cornette to Bruce Prichard, all of whom were gone within a few months. Now we have another era with Don Callis, who wasn’t even in the business until getting a job as a New Japan announcer early in the year, working with Scott D’Amore in charge.

U.K. BATTLE - When the year started, it appeared WWE and ITV would be battling over who would dominate as a locally-based promotion. Both signed up different stars. ITV had the edge with reach, in the sense it could engage far more fans with its television. But after a pilot episode had mixed results, but enough that ITV commissioned at least a tryout ten week series, it all fell apart. Rather than the original plan of running itself, they looked for a promotional partner, went with Impact, and that deal fell apart. With ITV done, WWE, having lost significant money on a series of shows to crown a U.K. champion, decided to cancel its tentative plans unless it could get its series on television and get paid for it. Right now, both the ITV idea and WWE idea are still said to be alive, but for the most part seem dormant. Talent under ITV contract was last told they were going to launch in 2018, but nobody has heard anything for months. One beneficiary in all this was Jim Ross, who was slated to be host of the ITV show, and WWE made him a strong offer to pass that up and return for their U.K. show. This led to the unique situation of Ross announcing on the WWE Network as well as for New Japan on AXS. He returned to WWE calling what may have been Undertaker’s last match, the Mania main event, meaning he called some of the most talked about matches in different venues, the Omega-Okada series, the NJPW U.S. title tournament, Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne and Undertaker vs. Reigns. Another group that was the beneficiary of ITV making plans and signing talent were U.K. wrestlers signed by WWE, because it increased their star power and enabled them, with some exceptions, to still work indies. On the flip side, Dunne and Bate had three of WWE’s best matches of 2017, and easily the company’s best in-ring program. Meanwhile, 5 Star promotions, a group that started up twice and failed quickly both times, is supposed to run weekly prime time shows from major arenas on a sports channel starting in 2018. Given their track record, few expect the third time to be the charm.

FLO SLAM - Debuting in late 2016 with some fanfare including some calling it a game changer for independent wrestling, the story was similar to the U.K. battle. There was a lot of talk. It caused a major reaction from WWE, which owned a small stake in the company but had no power when it came to decision making. In fact, WWE wasn’t even aware of them going into pro wrestling until just before the announcement was made, months after the wheels were put in motion. WWE responded by quickly making verbal deals with Progress and ICW, and negotiating to figure out a way to get Evolve out of its deal. There was a lot of talk about putting indies on the network, and Vince McMahon was going back-and-forth on it. It quickly became clear that Flo Slam was not garnering many subscriptions and the service was canceled by the end of the year. Flo Slam was built on the mentality of being the alternative to the WWE Network, the same thing Impact is trying to do with its Global Network now. The mentality was that WWE had 1.5 million worldwide subscribers, and if they could only get 10 percent, that would be 150,000, a huge success. But it doesn’t work that way in the real world. A better comparison would have been New Japan at 10,000 outside Japan prior to last year’s late buys for the Tokyo Dome show (probably closer to 15,000 to 18,000 at its 2017 high point). Without any of the marquee companies they would have needed, NJPW and ROH, they came nowhere close to New Japan levels. Flo Slam’s lack of success perhaps justified WWE’s decision making in not following suit.

ANGLE RETURNS - Kurt Angle, who had left WWE in 2006 after refusing to go into rehab, returned to the company as the top star in its 2017 Hall of Fame ceremony. He then replaced Mick Foley as the figurehead G.M. of Raw and wrestled a few matches, one coming as a last minute addition when Roman Reigns missed The Shield reunion PPV match with the mumps.

ORTON WINS ROYAL RUMBLE - The 2017 Royal Rumble held at the Alamodome in San Antonio, as the 20th anniversary of the Rumble in the same building, drew approximately $4.3 million, the largest gate for a North American wrestling event that wasn’t a WrestleMania. John Cena won his 16th world title beating A.J. Styles in what was arguably WWE’s best match of the year. It was billed as tying the record set by Ric Flair, but there is no way to list Flair’s title wins as less than 18 and you could list them as up to 22. Randy Orton won the Royal Rumble, eliminating Roman Reigns when they were the last two. This led to a nothing WrestleMania match where Orton beat Wyatt for the WWE title. Orton joined Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, John Cena, Batista and HHH as multiple time winners.

CRASH TRIES TO BECOME MAJOR GROUP - The Tijuana based promotion attempted to expand throughout Mexico, with plans of the U.S., with the idea of producing the best quality of wrestling in the country. The general belief was they had the highest quality shows, using top Mexican talent and U.S. indie stars, combined with some strong undiscovered names. With Konnan and Rey Mysterio Jr., as key players, they lured a lot of talent, such as Penta 0M, Rey Fenix and Daga from AAA and got deals to get Rush from CMLL. They also got La Mascara and M-ximo after they were fired by CMLL. Their inability to get television led to them not being able to draw big for the most part on the road. By the end of the year, due to mistrust when hearing about Konnan having a meeting with AAA, he was gone from the group. Konnan ended up with Arolucha, a group headed by Ron & Don Harris, using much of the same talent with the idea of getting U.S. television and running house shows. As with every start-up, including William Patrick Corgan’s purchase of the NWA, it has shown that getting viable national television deals aren’t easy to come by.

LUCHA UNDERGROUND DOESN’T TAPE ALL YEAR - The company had a strong buzz after season two, seemed to lose interest in season three and after not taping all year was thought to be dead. But they got enough of a budget to continue, although not at the level they were at. But the idea of a television show that would build characters for an eventual movie franchise, the initial goal, seems elusive.

NOTABLE DEATHS - Every year has them, but there were some giants in the industry, notably Bobby Heenan, the greatest manager ever, and Lance Russell, the greatest host of a wrestling show ever and as Jim Cornette put it, maybe the nicest man in the world. There is always the question of how the deaths are handled. WWE mentioned Russell on its web site, but not on television, did a nice video tribute to Heenan on Raw, but didn’t mention him on Smackdown, while lionized Jimmy Snuka, whose death came right after charges for him related to a 1983 murder were dropped since his health was so bad and the judge believed he was suffering from dementia. Other names who passed away included Hall of Fame candidates Ivan Koloff, George Steele, Fishman, Otto Wanz, Chavo Guerrero Sr., Brazo de Oro and Ruben Juarez. Jan Ross, the wife of Jim, passed away in a tragic accident while riding a moped back from the gym. Others included AAA President Joaquin Roldan, Ron Bass, Rosey (the brother of Roman Reigns), Oro, Gran Apache, Tom Zenk, Bill Kersten, Ron Starr, Rex King, Smith Hart, Mr. Pogo, Buddy Wayne, Doug Somers and independent promoter Chandler Biggins (Chris Bryan).

WWE NETWORK STAGNATES BUT STOCK GROWS - WWE Networks’ growth slowed in 2017, but enthusiasm over a rise in rights fees with the idea of bidding from both television and streaming services led to stock hitting $33.28, its highest point since shortly after it first went public, before Vince McMahon’s recent stock sale dropped it to $29.59 per share and giving the company a market value of $2.282 billion.

BEING THE ELITE - A YouTube video show with the Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, Marty Scurll and Cody led to popularity and merchandise sales never seen before when it comes to independent wrestling. Later in the year, Adam Page and Flip Gordon became more regular cast members. Officials from the Hop Topic mall stores came to Orlando for WrestleMania, and saw so many Young Bucks shirts that they contacted WWE asking them why they weren’t sending what they perceived to be the most popular item. This led to a deal with the Young Bucks at first, and later, a New Japan section at most stores that included Omega, Cody, Scurll, Adam Page, Los Ingobernables, New Japan and of late, Chris Jericho, as well other items, to where they blew away WWE in sales at the store. At many times they were the No. 2 best selling items throughout North America, and at one point in the year topped Rick & Morty for No. 1. The shirts were test marketed in many stores starting on June 14, and sold out immediately. From July and August, they were in every Hot Topic store in North America. Through the start of Christmas season, there were 414,701 Bullet Club shirts sold (Young Bucks, Cody, Scurll and Omega) and more than 24,000 non-Bullet Club shirts (New Japan, LIJ mostly). At some WWE live events, and many NXT live events, New Japan related shirts were more prevalent than WWE’s own talent. This carried over to significant growth in both tickets sales and merchandise at ROH live events. During the year, when WWE ran a taping in Ontario, CA, an episode of Being the Elite did a spoof on the famous DX invasion of Raw. WWE did not take kindly to it, and sent the Young Bucks a cease and desist for using the “Too sweet” hand gesture. The Young Bucks then stopped doing it, made it a storyline, also stopped crotch chopping, and then marketed a Cease & Desist T-shirt that became a best seller, and named their new finishing double team submission move the cease & desist. The question for 2018 is how long can this continue, since the T-shirt business is very difficult long-term, as anyone who followed Tap Out and Affliction’s business knows about.

ROH HAS THE BIGGEST YEAR BY FAR IN ITS HISTORY - Reader Lavie Margolan compiled the business figures for the company for 2017, which was by far the most successful year in its history. During the year, the company ran 42 live events and drew 46,457 fans, for an average of 1,106 per event. The average attendance per show was up a whopping 28.8 percent even though, because they ran fewer overall shows total attendance was only up 15.1 percent. Still, with the exception of All Japan, no other major company in the world showed this kind of an increase. There are still warning signs, as the New Japan relationship is a major key to the success as are The Young Bucks, who are under contract until the end of 2018. The company’s recent losses of War Machine and probably Will Ospreay hurt the big show potential because both delivered at a high level on that stage, particularly Ospreay. And ROH is still a promotion built on strong match quality. In 2016, the company ran 47 live events and averaged 859 fans, drawing 40,360 total. In 2015, the company ran 43 events and averaged 940 fans for 40,425 fans. 26 of the 42 shows were either sold out or very close to it, which is 62 percent. This would seem to indicate that they need to be running larger venues, as most of the places they run are in the 1,000 to 1,500 range. They are at the mercy of what is available in the respective markets since they are far from being able to draw 3,000 fans unless it’s a unique special show, but a lot of the sellouts this year were very quick, indicating their potential to draw was unfulfilled and that 28.8 percent increase probably could have been significantly higher if they could have run 1,500 seat buildings in places where they sold out at 1,000. Another aspect is merchandise. I would think because of Meet & Greets, that ROH does great per caps on merchandise and it would have grown this year. We have no stats to back it up other than The Young Bucks meet and greet merchandise did just under double that of 2016. The ROH meet and greet merchandise is a small part of their overall business since their key merch drivers are Pro Wrestling Tees, Young Bucks Merch and Hot Topic. But that stat would at least measure the top acts merchandise sales at the live events did just under double that of 2016, so that would indicate that the merchandise per head growth and total merchandise growth was far more than the 28.8 percent of ticket growth. Whether this growth can continue in 2018, or even sustain, is an interesting question. We’ve seen countless companies in wrestling grow significantly year-to-year and have hot runs, and sustaining historically has been very difficult

INJURIES - While WWE was beset with almost a record number of injuries during the year, the three worst injuries to major stars came in Japan. Tomoaki Honma was paralyzed from a simple draping DDT by Jado, but recovered to the point he is getting around on his own and can take bumps. However, Yoshihiro Takayama and Katsuyori Shibata were not as lucky. Takayama ended up paralyzed from the neck down from a sunset flip that went awry, and Shibata delivered a sick head-butt in his 4/9 IWGP title match with Kazuchika Okada that nearly ended his life and required brain surgery. While he made an emotional return at the G-1 finals, he will never be cleared to wrestle again. WWE had far more injuries on a percentage basis, but none that serious. Among those missing time, in many cases for surgery, included Dean Ambrose, Rusev, Big Show, Big Cass, Jeff Hardy, Bayley, Big E, Braun Strowman, Seth Rollins, Brian Kendrick, Cedric Alexander, Samoa Joe, R-Truth, Scott Dawson and Xavier Woods. Similarly, Hiroshi Tanahashi had both a torn biceps and a significant knee injury this year, but didn’t have surgery for either.

KEY RETIREMENTS - Retirements in wrestling are funny, because they are often gimmicks, and even when they are not, people change their minds. Undertaker, one of the biggest names in the history of the business, appeared to retire at WrestleMania. Of course, he could use that sentence many other years as well and with it being Mania season, the idea of a huge payday for one match is a great lure, even when hurting. In recent months, three Hall of Famers claimed they were retiring. Atsushi Onita, one of the original kings of hardcore style and a gigantic drawing card in the early and mid 90s, had retired so many times to the point his nickname became Mr. Liar for how many times he’d come back. Manami Toyota, probably the greatest in-ring woman wrestler, and one of the greatest in-ring wrestlers of all-time, did so late in the year on a show where she wrestled an unprecedented 50 different one minute matches people from newcomers to former legends. Jim Cornette, one of the two or three best managers ever with an incredible 12 manager of the year awards (every year from 1984 to 1996 except 1991), had talked about it for years. He claimed over Thanksgiving weekend, the anniversary of the Midnight Express vs. Road Warriors scaffold match on what was the biggest Starrcade up to that point in history in 1986, as well as the 35th anniversary of his 1982 debut as a manager, that he was retiring from that role. Also just retiring, and not for the first time, was the Great Kabuki, after a career that spanned 53 years.

NEW JAPAN COMES TO THE U.S. - The promotion brought most of its big guns to Long Beach for shows on 7/1 and 7/2, selling out about 2,300 tickets each night in just minutes for strong shows. The first event aired live on AXS TV and was the most widely viewed New Japan show in the U.S. market since a Tokyo Dome special with TNA talent years ago aired on tape delay on Spike. The shows were built around a two-night tournament for the U.S. title which saw Kenny Omega have two incredible matches in wins over Michael Elgin and Tomohiro Ishii, as well as a very good match with Jay Lethal. Kazuchika Okada retained his IWGP title in the first major champion vs. major champion match in the U.S. in decades, beating ROH champion Cody. Because the building was small and it was a first-time event with the vast majority of fans flying in from all over North America, it really wasn’t a good test of how what the U.S. potential of New Japan was. In addition, whatever coolness and momentum those events created somewhat dissipated by the lack of immediate follow-up. There was talk of them operating a full-time West Coast based territory in 2018. But as of now, the only thing official is running a 5,300-seat arena in Long Beach on 3/25, a Sunday, making it far more difficult for fly-ins given the next day is work and it’s two weeks before WrestleMania in New Orleans, meaning it’s at the worst time of the year to get avid fans to fly in.

RANALLO QUITS WWE, RETURNS - Mauro Ranallo, the lone announcer who crosses through every key combat sport, from boxing to kickboxing to MMA, to his first love, pro wrestling, quit Smackdown in March after a mental health crisis. Ranallo, who has battled issues for decades, had issues with a number of people. John Layfield’s name was mentioned the most, but the problems were not exclusively him or even largely him even if his statements on a WWE Network show, since they were approved by management, did set the wheels in motion. By WrestleMania, within WWE the decision was made that he wasn’t going to be brought back, but things changed as the story picked up momentum. Eventually, before Newsweek was going to release a major investigative piece, WWE and Ranallo, who had been working on a settlement for weeks, came to terms because it was imperative that they did. Ranallo publicly absolved Layfield as part of an agreed to statement , and it appeared both would go their separate ways. However, even before the statement, there were talks of bringing him back and a deal was eventually made for him to be the voice of NXT, meaning he would no longer be working with those who caused the initial problems. Ranallo signed a new deal where he answers to Paul Levesque and Michael Cole. Layfield is largely gone from the company, although the company stated one has nothing to do with the other and it was over a disagreement of him no longer coming to Monday television. But Layfield was brought back, as was said at the time he left, for Tribute to the Troops, a show that in many ways was his brainchild. Ranallo’s WWE deal allowed him to work for anyone except a pro wrestling competitor, so he also became one of the lead announcers for Bellator, and continued with Showtime boxing, meaning he called arguably the two biggest combat sports events of the year, Mayweather vs. McGregor and Joshua vs. Klitschko, along with Bellator from MSG and some of WWE’s best events with the Takeovers.

WRESTLEMANIA IN ORLANDO - The 33rd WrestleMania did about 61,000 paid attendance for$14.5 million live, and the day after the show had 1,661,000 network paid subscriptions as well as 288,000 free subscribers. The show was a mixed bag, with more positive than negative. Roman Reigns beat Undertaker in the main event, while Brock Lesnar beat Bill Goldberg to win the Universal title in an explosive match. Other highlights included John Cena proposing to Nikki Bella, A.J. Styles beating Shane McMahon, Kevin Owens over Chris Jericho, Seth Rollins over HHH in a match originally scheduled for the year before, The Hardys returning and winning a four-way ladder match to take the Raw tag titles and a disappointing match where Randy Orton beat Bray Wyatt to win the WWE title. But of the three major events, WrestleMania got the weakest reviews, behind both the Takeover show and the ROH show (featuring Hardys vs. Young Bucks in a ladder match). But WrestleMania is more than one show, and even one promotion, as tons of U.S. promotions ran as well as Progress from the U.K. In all, there were more than 70 shows in the area that week and 100 different events. ROH set its company record with 3,500 people in Lakeland. The WrestleCon Supershow did 1,750 and Progress did 1,600. Michael Elgin, in particular, worked ten shows over the weekend and other indie names worked close to that number.

MAHAL WINS WWE TITLE - One year ago, the idea that Jinder Mahal would be the WWE champion would be laughable. When Mahal was brought back to the company in 2016 with Curt Hawkins, they were designed to just be used in regular enhancement roles since more wrestlers were needed with Raw and Smackdown were having separate brands. But he changed his physique to where it was the most eye-catching in a lot of ways on the roster. Then, in a play for the 1.3 billion people in India as an emerging economic market, the idea was to go all the way with him. Mahal beat Randy Orton on May 21 at Backlash in Chicago to win the title, and held it until November 7, losing on a live Smackdown to A.J. Styles in Manchester, England. The title loss was a last minute decision, since the plan was originally for Brock Lesnar vs. Mahal to headline Survivor Series, and the decision was made to switch to Lesnar vs. Styles. Mahal was neither the failure in the U.S. market some predicted for him, as business and ratings stayed steady. Based on WWE Network numbers and total geographical business, there was no appreciable change in the India market. As of the end of September if you compare it to the year before, if you take away the contracted increase in television revenue as compared to the prior year, Asia as a whole declined from the previous year. From a match-quality standpoint, Mahal was not at the level of most champions, having a mixed bag of matches with Randy Orton, a weak with Shinsuke Nakamura, and while better results with Styles, it was not nearly the usual Styles level of high-profile bouts.

ROUSEY IN PRO WRESTLING - The woman who in 2015 was the most popular female athlete in the U.S. and biggest female drawing card in history, left MMA at the end of 2016 and has been training for pro wrestling in both Los Angeles and Orlando. Nothing has been announced as of yet, and the original Four Horsewoman vs. Four Horsewoman idea seems dead. Rousey had done two angles for the match that is no longer in the plans. Major speculation is exactly what her role will be.

RIC FLAIR BRUSH WITH DEATH - One of the biggest stars in wrestling history, Ric Flair, was hospitalized in August with a devastating pain from an obstruction in his bowel. He was rushed into emergency surgery. At the time it was considered only 20 percent that he would survive the surgery, and even if he did, the odds were against him not passing away after surgery. He was in an induced coma, but recovered, had to relearn to walk and was able to leave the hospital five weeks later, and has been back doing personal appearances. He even did a couple of appearances at WWE shows and was the subject of a highly-rated 30 for 30 special

DR. WAGNER JR. LOSES HIS MASK - 52-year-old Manuel Gonzalez, the son of one of the biggest stars in Lucha Libre history and a legend himself, lost the main event of the 8/26 AAA TripleMania show to Psycho Clown. He had been wearing the same mask that his father made famous for 31 years. Wagner received $250,000 for losing his mask, the largest payoff in the history of Lucha Libre. It was easily the biggest match in AAA in 24 years and one of the biggest in Lucha Libre history. The match aired on Televisa after the Mayweather vs. McGregor fight, on a 20 minute tape delay and did a 22.8 rating, which meant somewhere between 10.6 million and 12.3 million viewers. Even though the population of Mexico is less than half of the U.S., the latter figure would represent the most people to watch a match in North America on television in more than 25 years.

MAE YOUNG CLASSIC - In an effort to up the profile of women’s wrestling, the WWE presented a 32-woman tournament over the summer. They worked much harder at publicizing it than the cruiserweight tournament the prior year. The tournament was built around Kairi Sane, the former Kairi Hojo, and Shayna Baszler. The two went to the finals with Sane winning. The tournament was very well received. There was talk of how many of the women involved would be offered contracts, at this point, not one new woman who wasn’t already signed prior to the tournament has started with the company as contracted talent. It is believed at least one is expected to be brought in next year as Tessa Blanchard was giving indications that her most recent Shimmer taping would be her last. If WWE was the reason, she would not be allowed to say it.

ALPHA VS. OMEGA - The match isn’t until early 2018, but one of the most surprising angles of the year saw Chris Jericho appear on the screen after Kenny Omega’s win over Baretta at Power Struggle in Osaka, to issue a challenge for the Tokyo Dome. In December, Jericho came to Japan and did two physical angles, one on 12/11 in Fukuoka, the other the next day at a press conference in Tokyo. The idea stemmed from the success of Mayweather vs. McGregor. Jericho saw it as such a success because you had two people who everyone thought could never fight each other since they were from different fighting universes. Don Callis, who is friends with both, apparently had the original idea, saying it in almost joking fashion to Jericho, with the idea of three people, all from Winnipeg, putting together what is likely to be among the most talked-about matches of 2018. Jericho, who had long said he would never work for anyone but WWE, was agreeable and started working to make it happen. Callis sold it to Omega and Omega to booker Gedo, who knew Jericho well since they were part of the same trio (Gedo & Jado & Liondo, which was Jericho’s name at the time) in WAR in the mid-90s. New Japan officials flew to New York for a meeting to seal the deal. Jericho had agreed, but wanted it kept quiet, and only a few people, Vince McMahon being one of them, was aware of the angle before it happened. While nobody “knew,” it was pretty clear from a Twitter feud the two started that they were building a match. The Tokyo Dome would make the most sense as to where it would be. It felt like it would be either the Dome or on a rock/wrestling/comedy cruise Jericho was promoting for October 2018, and the hard push in October 2017 on social media seemed too early for that.

GREATEST G-1 IN HISTORY: From its start in 1991, the G-1 Climax tournament has been known for having some of the best matches of the year in New Japan. In recent years, the standard has grown but the 2017 version was unprecedented. I had 38 **** matches in the tournament (I was actually lower than most as the consensus number seemed to be 40) led to Tomohiro Ishii having seven ****1/4 matches out of nine total. Tetsuya Naito beat Kenny Omega in the finals, reversing the result of the semifinal in 2016 where Omega beat Naito in the best match of that year’s tournament. Most had the finals as the best match, with Omega vs. Okada III the other one strong in the running. In all, seven wrestlers averaged more than **** for the tournament, including Yuji Nagata, at 49 and in his last G-1, who finished third behind Okada and Omega for tournament MVP. The other standouts were Ishii, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Naito, Okada and Omega.

In a move that shows just how serious Vince McMahon is about his new Alpha Entertainment LLC, he sold 3,340,000 of his personal shares of WWE stock this past week to raise $95,791,200 in capital for the new business.

The WWE’s filing stated: “On December 21, 2017, Vincent K. McMahon (“Mr. McMahon”), Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (“the company’), sold 3,340,000 shares of the Company’s Class A common stock in a block trade made in accordance with the provisions of Rule 144 of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended. Mr. McMahon executed the sale primarily to fund a separate entity from the Company, Alpha Entertainment LLC, which Mr. McMahon established to explore investment opportunities across the sports and entertainment landscape, including professional football. Mr. McMahon has informed the Company that he has no current plans to sell additional shares of the Company’s stock and that he intends to continue in his capacity at the Company’s Chairman and Chief Executive Office for the foreseeable future.

The shares sold by Mr. McMahon represent approximately 4.3% of the Company’s total outstanding shares of Class A and Class B common stock. After the sale, Mr. McMahon beneficially owns 32,193,375 shares of the Company’s Class B common stock (with a current market value of $952,601,960) , which represents approximately 82.8% of the Company’s total voting power and approximately 41.8% of the Company’s total outstanding shares of common stock.”

In addition, Alpha Entertainment LLC took out five trademarks this past week for the XFL, which is notable because WWE had taken out trademarks for the XFL, and Alpha Entertainment in September had taken out trademarks for the United Football League, UFL and UrFL (Your Football League).

What is clear is that McMahon has considerable interest in going back into the football business after his most high-profile career failure, the original XFL, folded after one season. It should be noted that McMahon did not want to fold the league, but after the first season, no television station of any note was willing to televise the second season, leaving him with little choice.

The stock sale led to all kinds of rumors regarding McMahon’s plans, whether to bid for the Carolina Panthers, who are now on sale, or open up his own league. The trademark registrations would indicate the latter, and Brad Shepard, who originally broke the story last week, had listed 1/25 as the date of the official announcement of the rebirth of the XFL.

An NFL team would be a safer financial investment, as even if teams lose money, the value of a franchise in that league has grown greatly historically even though there are some negative signs for pro football with declining ratings and more, worries about the future due to concussion information that has led to parents being more leery about their children playing the sport.

The McMahon personality, as noted by one of his favorite sayings about running things his way, saying “We don’t play well with others,” would be tough in an NFL. He would never have anything close to autonomous power and would be in competition with owners as wealthy as he is. He’s used to being in wrestling where, with the exception of a brief period in the late 90s, his product was financially at a level far greater than his opposition. In addition, the cost of an NFL franchise would be closer to $1 billion or more, and McMahon would either have to get partners, and there is no talk he’s looking for them and as he noted, he doesn’t play well with others, or he’d have to sell a hell of a lot more of his WWE stock, which he clearly said he’s not planning to do.

McMahon sold his stock at $28.68 per share, about 9.4 percent below the actual market value of the stock at the time of the sale. It led to an expected decline in stock price, but the stock is still healthy given its value is largely tied into the idea of a bidding war between television and digital components this coming year that will greatly increase the company’s broadcast rights fees not just in the U.S., but also its other two major markets, the U.K. and India. If that doesn’t happen, as it didn’t in the last negotiations, the stock price would probably come down just like last time. But realistically, it shouldn’t drop greatly. The company is stable and overall profitability should continue to grow as long as the TV rights fees bubble doesn’t collapse. And there is no indication at all that is happening.

New Japan Pro Wrestling celebrates its 27th year of running an event at the Tokyo Dome on 1/4, with what is expected to be, from a worldwide interest standpoint, arguably the biggest of those events in its history.

New Japan first ran the Tokyo Dome on April 24, 1989, after it became the first sports organization, even before the NHL, to make a deal for usage of the top Russian athletes to participate on their turf. A crowd announced at 53,800 fans, although the real number was closer to 43,000, was at the time the largest crowd ever to attend a Japanese pro wrestling event up to that point in time. The crowd size surprised a lot of people at the time who thought the idea of unknown Soviet wrestlers and judokas wouldn’t be able to draw at a stadium.

While pro wrestling had been big on television, the mentality was that it was a high ticket arena event, not a stadium event. Lou Thesz and Rikidozan worked a number of stadium shows in 1957, but most stadium events attempted after drew a crowd that could have fit into a large arena. The previous major success dated back to August 14, 1967, when NWA champion Gene Kiniski faced International champion Giant Baba, with only Baba’s title at stake (the NWA title wasn’t actually defended in Japan from the Thesz era until Dory Funk Jr. became a regular). The match went 66:00 to a draw, before 25,720 fans at the Osaka Baseball Stadium. But an attempt to repeat that success, on August 7, 1968, where Baba faced WWWF champion, once again with only Baba’s title at stake (in Japan they were trying to book this to show that the International title, their own title, was the biggest one in wrestling, wasn’t nearly as successful.

Baba won via count out in a match that only drew 13,000 fans.

Even with New Japan being the most powerful promotion in the world in the early 80s, drawing 20+ ratings in prime time behind Inoki, Tatsumi Fujinami, Riki Choshu, the original Tiger Mask, Hulk Hogan, Bob Backlund, Dusty Rhodes, Abdullah the Butcher and Andre the Giant, they never attempted to run a stadium event, using the old Sumo Hall, which held 13,000, for their big shows.

The signing of the Russians was the catalyst, as it was a huge mainstream news story that a Japan sports franchise beat every other league in the world in being the first to feature world class Russian athletes. The success of the show led to the Tokyo Dome becoming a fixture for major pro wrestling events.

The original show was a mixture of things, and included the debut of the new masked superhero, Jushin Liger, a tournament for the vacant IWGP heavyweight title, won by Big Van Vader over Shinya Hashimoto, who would go on to sell the building out on top multiple times. Another person in the tournament, making his pro wrestling debut, was one of the Russians, Victor Zangiev. Zangiev was the Russian national heavyweight freestyle wrestling champion in 1988. Based on his run in New Japan starting that night, Zangiev was immortalized by the character based on him, Zangief, in the Street Fighter video game series. Lou Thesz was there as a referee for the IWGP tag team title match. Martial arts legend Benny “The Jet” Urquidez was on the show.

The event, which set a pro wrestling record gate of $2,781,000, had a shocking ending. Inoki put up his world martial arts championship against Shota Chochoshvili, who had won an Olympic gold medal in judo in 1972. The match was held with no ropes. During the fifth round, Chochoshvili used a series of judo throws, called uranages, essentially inventing the move which later became a pro wrestling staple when used by Hiroshi Hase, and later, The Rock. Inoki was left unconscious in the ring, shocking the fans who had never seen Inoki beaten in a so-called martial arts match (he actually did lose once in Pakistan a decade earlier, but that result was hidden in Japan to the point that even today, almost nobody knows it actually happened).

When it was over, Thesz came to Inoki to tell him how proud he was of him. “Tonight, you showed that you were a businessman.”

In hindsight, it was the wrong guy to put over. Zangiev and Salman Hashimikov were the two Russians who had short runs as pro wrestlers as everyone else disappeared after the first full tour. Chochoshvili wasn’t very good, but he was the only one New Japan could get who had an Olympic gold medal. Inoki beat Chochoshvili in a rematch a month later, and he was never heard from again, even if his move was.

Today, the Tokyo Dome has held more successful events than any stadium of its size in the world. It’s the place where on April 13, 1990, something unthinkable happened, the U.S. and Japan Wrestling, a show co-promoted by Baba and Vince McMahon and is still the only show in history to feature WWF, All Japan and New Japan talent. As one could imagine mixing Baba with McMahon, it couldn’t last for more than one show, and didn’t.

It has housed four matches of the year, the first in 1991 with Rick & Scott Steiner vs. Hiroshi Hase & Kensuke Sasaki. In 2004, on an All Japan show, Kenta Kobashi vs. Jun Akiyama. And now it has a two year streak, with Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi winning in 2015, and Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada winning in 2016. Last year’s main event with Kenny Omega vs. Okada is a strong favorite to winning, and took all but one Japanese match of the year award (one went to the Omega vs. Okada match at Dominion).

As far as show of the year awards went, the U.S. & Japan Wrestling Summit won in 1990. A multi-promotional event put on by Weekly Pro Wrestling magazine featuring 13 main events from 13 different companies won in 1995. A Pride show at the Dome won in 2003. Pro Wrestling NOAH shows at the Dome won in 2004 and 2005. It wasn’t until 2015 when a New Japan show at the Tokyo Dome won, but 2016 made it two straight and the 2017 show would have to be one of the favorites for this year.

While New Japan is the company associated most with the Tokyo Dome, having promoted more shows there than any other combat sport, the first pro wrestling group to sell it out was the old UWF in 1989.

New Japan’s first legitimate sellout was really by accident in some ways. On February 10, 1990, New Japan promoted a unique show called “Super Fight,” with a number of themes. The main event was to be Ric Flair defending the NWA title against Keiji Muto.

But all kinds of problems late saw the match fall apart. Flair was on an annual guaranteed contract from Turner Broadcasting for about $700,000 a year. He figured he should be paid extra for headlining the Tokyo Dome, given that WCW was getting money from New Japan for its talent. WCW felt that the guaranteed contracts they had with talent gave them the right to book them for other companies. Things fell apart. With the building booked and no main event, New Japan President Seiji Sakaguchi went to Baba and asked for a truce in their long war. For the first time since 1978, All Japan wrestlers would face New Japan wrestlers, as All Japan’s Genichiro Tenryu & Tiger Mask (Mitsuharu Misawa) faced New Japan’s Riki Choshu & George Takano, All Japan’s Jumbo Tsuruta & Yoshiaki Yatsu faced New Japan’s Kengo Kimura & Osamu Kido and New Japan’s IWGP heavyweight champion Big Van Vader faced All Japan’s Stan Hansen in a match noteworthy because Vader’s eye popped out of its socket in an incredibly hard hitting match. The show also featured two U.S. vs. Russia strongest wrestler battles with Brad Rheingans (former U.S. Olympian) facing Zangiev, and Steve Williams (four-time All-American) facing Hashimikov. The main event had Inoki & Sakaguchi vs. Hashimoto & Masahiro Chono with Lou Thesz as referee. As part of the deal with Baba, his guys won both tag team matches and even though New Japan’s title was at stake, with Vader vs. Hansen match was a no contest. In addition, of those matches, Vader vs. Hansen was the only one allowed to air on television, because the Japanese wrestlers from All Japan were all under exclusive contracts to NTV, while TV-Asahi was New Japan’s network. But when the other matches aired on a several-day tape delay, largely due to the mainstream interest in the debut of sumo Grand champion Koji Kitao, who faced Bam Bam Bigelow, the show did a 23.2 rating.

It was also a big deal since New Japan drew 53,900 fans and the day before, the Mike Tyson vs. Buster Douglas fight in the same building drew 30,000 fans.

While many know that Wrestle Kingdom 9 aired on U.S. PPV, it was not the first Tokyo Dome show to do so, although it was the first to air live and is still the only one since 1993. New Japan turned down offers to air this year’s show on PPV, including an offer by FITE TV which included a guarantee for the rights. Instead, New Japan accepted a deal for the tape-delayed rights to air on AXS TV.

WCW, which partnered with New Japan during that era, broadcast Tokyo Dome events in 1991, 1992 and 1993 on PPV.

The March 21, 1991, show was billed as “Starrcade in Tokyo Dome,” and was headlined by IWGP champion Tatsumi Fujinami facing NWA and WCW champion Ric Flair in a winner-take-all match, the biggest main event to date on an international basis. Fujinami pinned Flair, but there was an over-the-top rope violation before the pin. In the building, nobody knew better and Fujinami was billed as holding all three titles. Later, it was ruled that WCW had ruled the DQ invalidated the title change of the WCW title, but Fujinami had won the NWA title. It’s an interesting historical note, because this match set up a rematch in St. Petersburg, where Flair regained the NWA title. When Fujinami was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, they pushed how he had beaten Flair at the Tokyo Dome to win the NWA title. However, in the listing of Flair world championships at 16 that WWE has used forever, Flair’s winning back the NWA title, and his losing it to Fujinami, are both treated as if they never happened. The irony is that was the largest crowd to ever witness an NWA title change and was not just on network TV in Japan, but PPV in the U.S., but it’s as if it never happened.

The January 4 tradition started in 1992, with another New Japan and WCW joint show, and they did it again in 1993

The two biggest gates for pro wrestling in history that were not WrestleMania events were New Japan Tokyo Dome shows in 1995 and 1998.

On October 9, 1995, a standing room only crowd of 57,000 fans paid $6.1 million for a showdown between New Japan and the UWFI promotion. It was this feud that WCW officials later saw that led to the NWO angle.

The match in a sense was some time in the making, one of those angles that started as something that could never happen, but did.

Thesz had switched allegiances, being hired by the UWFI largely to give his endorsement of their product. The UWFI had claimed that they were real pro wrestling, with the insinuation that New Japan wasn’t. Thesz, Billy Robinson and Danny Hodge, with the idea that they represented real wrestling, were all hired, with Robinson as the trainer. Thesz also brought his old NWA world title belt, the one he held in the 50s and brought to Japan to face Rikidozan. This real world championship belt was being fought for in UWFI. Another twist is that Thesz, when he was affiliated with New Japan, helped train Masahiro Chono, who was the IWGP champion at the time of the grandstand play, and in fact, the STF, Chono’s favorite move, was one of Thesz’s go to submissions in his heyday.

A famous story, which Paul Boesch confirmed really happened, was in a match in Texas, for whatever reason, when Boesch was challenging Thesz for the title, Boesch hauled off and sucker punched Thesz. The idea was to knock him out and claim the world title, at the time the title was controlled by the athletic commissions and thus a double-cross would have to be recognized. Boesch didn’t knock him out, and after Thesz regained his bearings, he gave Boesch a beating, putting him in the STF and as Boesch told me, he whispered in his ear, “Paul, as far as you are concerned, those ropes are a mile away.”

So Thesz said Nobuhiko Takada, the UWFI’s champion, was the real world champion and would defend the real world title against Chono, a match that of course could never happen. He went to all the newspapers, and with Thesz’s name value and credibility in Japan, this got a lot of press. Those within wrestling, knowing how the business operates, didn’t like what Thesz was doing, but since he was such an iconic figure, plus in those days you weren’t allowed to say this wasn’t real, so this got a lot of positive coverage for Takada.

A few years later, Thesz was gone, as UWFI fell into money problems. UWFI needed help to survive, turned to New Japan, and New Japan agreed to work with them, except the deal was that in exchange for doing the program, New Japan’s Choshu got full control of the booking. So even though the best thing for business was a Takada win, Choshu booked that not only would Muto, who at this point was IWGP champion, get his hand raised, but he would do so with a figure four leglock. The idea was to show Takada, the so-called real fighter, having to tap out, not get pinned, but tap to a pro wrestling move, not an armbar or a heel hook. But, in exchange for establishing that pro wrestling submissions worked against shooters who were supposed to be real, that for New Japan dominating over the promotion that for years knocked them for not being real, Takada would get the title in a rematch.

Takada worked a three-Dome sellout program, as his win over Muto, with an armbar, drew 54,000. His loss to Hashimoto drew 55,000.

After Choshu’s retirement show on January 4, 1998 drew $6 million, New Japan came back on April 4, 1998, and drew $7 million, a pro wrestling gate record that was only broken by WWE’s WrestleMania in 2009, for Inoki’s retirement show against Don Frye. A little-known secret is that Inoki was going to put over Frye in 15:00 in his last match. But Inoki changed plans, and then Frye accidentally broke Inoki’s ribs early in the match, so Inoki called for his submission finish only 4:09 into the match.

The show was also known for its unique celebrities including Muhammad Ali, Olympic gold medalists Willem Ruska (who had famous mixed matches with Inoki) and Jeff Blatnick (who by this time was an announcer for both the Olympics and UFC), as well as Kokichi Endo and Michiaki Yoshimura, who were tag team partners of Rikidozan, and Akira Maeda, Inoki’s rival who could have done giant business with him, but since neither would ever agree to put the other over, such a match never happened.

The business is completely different today, and in those days New Japan at the Tokyo Dome was largely a walk-up ticket business. It was a casual audience that would only attend one show a year who would decide to go see Inoki, or later, the big pro wrestling show of the year. This year’s advance was said to be ahead of the pace of any show since the two big retirement shows of 1998, although that doesn’t mean it’ll draw the biggest. Although most believe the paid will be the most since at least 2002.

New Japan’s popularity declined from there. There was never going to be someone who could replace Inoki. Pro wrestling was no longer big enough culturally, nor did it have prime time network television. While many knew pro wrestling wasn’t real, it did come across more that way, and people believed Inoki was a real fighter.

The decline in New Japan took place at the same time as the rise of the Pride Fighting Championships, which Inoki jumped aboard. Pride grew quickly after Kazushi Sakuraba beat Royce Gracie at the Tokyo Dome in what many consider as the biggest historic bout in the building, a real fight that went 90 minutes before Helio Gracie told Rorion Gracie to throw in the towel.

Even though it was not pro wrestling as fans knew it, Pride became the major league pro wrestling group and New Japan became secondary. Still, the near collapse of All Japan, with almost its entire roster going to Pro Wrestling NOAH, led to some changes.

Toshiaki Kawada, the company’s long-time No. 2 star behind Misawa, stayed with Motoko Baba, the wife of Giant Baba, who had passed away in 1999. Two IWGP title matches with Kawada vs. Kensuke Sasaki sold out the Tokyo Dome on October 9, 2000, and January 4, 2001. With Sasaki chosen as New Japan’s representative against Kawada, and not Muto, Hashimoto or Chono, it established Sasaki as the company’s new top star. But booking was falling apart and the company was faltering.

On October 8, 2001, 24-year-old Tanahashi, a two-year veteran, made his Tokyo Dome debut in the second match of the card. It was a handicap match with Giant Singh (Great Khali) & Giant Silva facing four-men, Tanahashi & Kenzo Suzuki & Yutaka Yoshie & Wataru Inoue. Silva pinned Inoue and Tanahashi at the same time.

While Tanahashi had a good physique and girls liked him, he was considered too small to be the company’s top star, plus he didn’t have a great sports background. But since he was good, the company put him in a tag team with Suzuki, who was a superstar in rugby, and had the size to be one of the big stars of the future. The two were put together to be a Rock & Roll Express like tag team to attract women, with Suzuki being the guy groomed to be a future star, and Tanahashi, the worker, being there to make sure the matches were good since Suzuki just wasn’t very good.

On January 4, 2002, New Japan’s last Tokyo Dome sellout as Yuji Nagata challenged Jun Akiyama for the GHC title on top, the Tanahashi & Suzuki team lost a prelim match to shooters Kazunari Murakami & Yuki Ishikawa. It was typical of the era where the guys who did MMA fighting would beat the pro wrestlers, since Inoki thought that was the only way to make people think wrestling was real again.

Tanahashi was up to third from the top on May 2, 2002, at the Dome, a special show featuring an elusive Misawa vs. Chono singles match. Tanahashi & Sasaki lost to the Steiner Brothers with Joanie Laurer as referee. Still, on May 2, 2003, Tanahashi was in the opener, losing to Hiroyoshi Tenzan.

Those shows featured legitimate fights, with Lyoto Machida, who at the time was being groomed by Inoki to be the next top star of New Japan, beating Kengo Watanabe (a former star rugby player), Shinsuke Nakamura in a shoot match beating Jan “The Giant” Nortje, a K-1 star kickboxer, former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett (who had put Yuji Nagata over in the January 4, 2003, main event in an IWGP title match), beating powerhouse Jimmy Ambriz and Kazuyuki Fujita beating Manabu Nakanishi in a shoot match. But the real reason they drew 49,000 fans was because Chono challenged Kenta Kobashi for the GHC title.

Tanahashi’s first Tokyo Dome main event was on October 13, 2003, a show that featured three shoot fights, including a Pancrase heavyweight title match where Barnett beat Yoshiki Takahashi, as well as Hulk Hogan’s last Tokyo Dome match against Chono.

The main event was an elimination match, which elevated Tanahashi to main event status. It was Yoshihiro Takayama, a pro wrestler based known for his MMA fight with Frye, teaming with Fujita, another MMA fighter, Minoru Suzuki, an MMA pioneer, Shinsuke Nakamura, who got a push because he’d done well representing New Japan in Pride fights, and Bob Sapp, the biggest foreign celebrity in the country who has also best known for his MMA fights. The other side saw New Japan regulars like Tenzan & Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi & Tanahashi & the out of retirement Sakaguchi. Tanahashi made it to the final four before Sapp pinned him.

Nakamura got his first singles main event on January 4, 2004, as IWGP champion, beating NWF champion Takayama to unify the titles. Tanahashi vs. Nakamura was the main event on January 4, 2005. Brock Lesnar beating Nakamura in an IWGP title match headlined the January 4, 2006 show, but business was way down and crowds were heavily papered.

Several matches from the January 4, 2008, show aired in the U.S. as part of a special on Spike TV. The opening match on the show, which aired in the U.S., was a six-man tag where Christian & A.J. Styles & Petey Williams beat Milano Collection A.T. & Minoru (Tanaka) & Prince Devitt (Finn Balor). It was the only time Styles and Balor were ever in the ring against each other until their last-minute match caused by the outbreak of a viral infection within WWE. The same happened on the January 4, 2009, show. Neither main event, a Nakamura win over Tanahashi to take the IWGP title in 2008, or Tanahashi winning the title from Muto in 2009, aired in the U.S., with the idea nobody in the U.S. would care. 21-year-old Okada made his Tokyo Dome debut in 2009 in an opening six-man tag.

The January 4, 2011, show when things were at rock bottom for New Japan as they were struggling to sell 10,000 tickets, had an amazing list of talent in hindsight. Among those appearing on the undercard were Kenny Omega, Bobby Roode, La Sombra (now Andrade Cien Almas), Mascara Dorada (now Gran Metalik) and Jeff Hardy (who beat Tetsuya Naito). Devitt beat Ibushi in the IWGP jr. title match. Okada & Hirooki Goto lost to outsiders Takayama & Takashi Sugiura.

In 2012, Tanahashi beat Suzuki in the main event, and then was challenged by Okada, who had beaten Yoshi-Hashi earlier in the show. Okada’s winning the title from Tanahashi the next month started the rivalry that led to turning the company around, as the company nearly quadrupled its business from that point to now.

The next year started the match-of-the-year candidate main event era, with Tanahashi vs. Okada in 2013, 2015 and 2016, and Okada vs. Omega in 2017.

This year’s show will be hard-pressed to reach the levels of the past few years as far as in-the-ring goes. For ticket sales, it will be the biggest in more than a decade with any kind of late numbers.

On Christmas Eve, they hit the 30,000 mark in ticket sales and actual tickets out were closing in on 40,000 on 12/26. With any kind of a walk-up, when it comes to actual sales, it’ll be the biggest in more than 15 years and the building will be close to full with an outside shot at a legitimate sellout. The advance itself is ahead of any show since 1998, but whether in the modern era they can do the kind of walk-up they were doing in those days is a big question.

It would be hard to believe it won’t be a great show, as Okada vs. Naito would feel like a sure thing as a great match. Their 2014 main event was excellent, but not off the charts and would easily be the weakest IWGP title match on a Dome show in many years. But Okada is a better wrestler than he was in 2014, and Naito is far more over and a smarter wrestler, and this is a much bigger match. The undercard isn’t spectacular on paper and aside from Okada vs. Naito and the four-way junior heavyweight title match, which should be great, every key match has questions.

Most expect a title change given that Okada has gone through almost everyone of note as champion, and having just turned 30, has already broken the record for longest IWGP title reign and for longest title time as champion for a career. He will be at 564 days on 1/4, with the old record being Hashimoto’s 489 days in 1996-97. He will be at 1,360 days as champion on 1/4, over four title reigns, breaking the record of 1,358 set by Tanahashi through his seven reigns. Okada is also the first person in the history of the IWGP title to have held the title the entire year without losing it.

Naito is favored to win the title. The time and place seems right. Still, no matter how popular Naito is, Gedo’s role is to make Okada an all-time great, and in this day and age, a long title reign and being established as the face of the company, replacing Tanahashi, could go the other way. My feeling is that it’s the time for the title change.

Omega vs. Chris Jericho has all kinds of interest to go with the questions. Jericho hasn’t worked a New Japan style match in more than a decade. Really, this match was designed more about the build, and it’s had the lion’s share of the international attention. The no DQ stipulation seems to indicate a wild brawl. Both are extremely good with big match layout but they have never been in a match with each other.

Oddsmakers are through the roof, as two different gambling services have put an over/under on this match as five stars, which to me is crazy. That would be the highest predicted rating since gambling on star ratings started earlier this year. But that changed, as Kambi has since placed the over-under on Okada vs. Naito at six stars, essentially meaning it is predicted to be one of the greatest matches of all-time, which is just a ridiculous standard to expect something of that level.

As noted, the original plan was for Jericho to just be a one-and-done.; But this issue has gotten tremendous publicity for both Jericho as well as Omega and New Japan. A Jericho win leading to Naito vs. Jericho, which is already being teased, does make sense. And that still leaves the second Jericho vs. Omega match for Omega to regain the title.

Since this is billed as a double main event, it puts Jericho in the unique situation with only Ric Flair and Brock Lesnar as somebody who has been in the advertised main event at both WrestleMania and the Tokyo Dome. Jericho was in the billed main event at the 2002 Mania against HHH, although everyone pretty much accepts Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock was the real main event. When Flair wrestled Randy Savage for the WWE title at the 1992 Mania, it was billed as part of a double main event, and Flair vs. Fujinami at the 1991 Dome show was one of the biggest main events ever due to the title vs. title situation in an era when belts meant so much. Lesnar main evented WrestleManias in 2003 with Kurt Angle and 2015 with Roman Reigns, and headlined two Tokyo Dome shows, a three-way with Masahiro Chono and Kazuyuki Fujita for the IWGP title in 2005, and a title defense against Nakamura in 2006.

Still, it’s hard to believe Okada vs. Naito won’t be great, and the jr. heavyweight four-way with Marty Scurll vs. Kushida vs. Will Ospreay vs. Hiromu Takahashi won’t also be great. With the possible exception of Okada, nobody is in the league of Omega when it comes to a big show main event, and this is either the biggest or second biggest match of his career, and it is also two of the smartest wrestlers when it comes to match layout in the business.

Tanahashi defending the IC title third from the top against Jay White, is also a big question. Under normal circumstances, you’d figure that Tanahashi on a big show in a singles match will deliver, no matter what the injury. But he did not look good in doing the angle on 12/17 at Korakuen Hall. Tanahashi, who holds the record for Tokyo Dome main events with ten (2003, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016), hasn’t been third from the top on a show since 2010. The normal thinking here would be that White is already getting a super boost being in the match, and not to beat Tanahashi, but have Tanahashi give him tons of near falls. Physically, the match you would expect may have to be changed. If Tanahashi needs surgery, his losing would make sense. And really, it’s all about the follow-up, but White is being given the best opportunity here or any foreigner without a past history as a major star in wrestling in recent memory and win or lose, this placement should indicate his role as a regular top guy.

Minoru Suzuki vs. Hirooki Goto in a hair vs. hair match for the Never title is not a sure thing. While Suzuki had two of the best matches of his career this past year with Okada, and he has the great aura, he does have a lot of limitations. That’s why his matches are often filled with so many run-ins. Goto is also a guy who can rise to the occasion on big shows, but it is not a sure thing. But hair vs. hair is a big deal, as this is considered a major pride issue similar to Mexico, as opposed to the U.S. where so many wrestlers are bald and it’s not that big of a deal in the culture. But letting another man shave your head (the stipulation is the winner shaves the losers’ head) is still considered very significant in Japan in the sense it’s extreme humiliation, far more than just the loss of winning of a championship. On most of the recent Tokyo Dome shows, it is matches like this that deliver big in making it a show of the year, so this is a key match.

Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith defending the IWGP heavyweight tag titles against Evil & Seiya Sanada should be good, but I don’t know if anyone would expect great from it. They haven’t had a Japanese team in the tag title mix since Tomoaki Honma went down, so this does look like a good chance for a title change.

Kota Ibushi vs. Cody is now a non-title match with Cody no longer ROH champion. Given its position on the show, the winner should be in line for a major singles title match. An obvious direction is that Ibushi beats Cody to set up Omega vs. Ibushi, particularly if Jericho is a one-and-done. Omega vs. Ibushi for a title has to happen at some point in 2018.

The trios gauntlet is just a way to get all the key guys on the show. It’ll be fast paced and nobody is likely to stand out.

The jr. tag title main card opener, with Sho & Yoh defending against the Young Bucks has some interest. Sho & Yoh are on the rise. And in the end, they need a big show win over The Young Bucks. But this may be early for it. It would be better for them to lose now, do a long program between these teams and they’ll get their wins. The match will be good, and it could be great. The limitations are that the Tokyo Dome card warms up slow historically and the juniors matches usually don’t get over as big. In addition, with such a deep card, the question is how much time they’ll be allotted. Still, it’s a big show and it’ll be all action and win or lose, Sho & Yoh have to look real good here.

But while this year’s show has more interest, it’s hard to believe it can match last year, when you finished with Kushida vs. Hiromu Takahashi, Hirooki Goto vs. Katsuyori Shibata, Tanahashi vs. Naito and Omega vs. Okada. They’ve got Shibata, and Tomohiro Ishii is in a less important gauntlet match instead of the heavyweight tag title.


4/24/89: Big Van Vader beat Shinya Hashimoto in tournament final for vacant IWGP title; Salman Hashimikov beat Bam Bam Bigelow; Shota Chochoshvili beat Antonio Inoki in a no ropes match to win the World martial arts championship (43,800)

2/10/90: Genichiro Tenryu & Tiger Mask (Mitsuharu Misawa) beat Riki Choshu & George Takano via count out; IWGP champion Big Van Vader double count out Stan Hansen; Antonio Inoki & Seiji Sakaguchi beat Shinya Hashimoto & Masahiro Chono with Lou Thesz as referee (53,000 sellout)

3/21/91: Great Muta beat Sting; Riki Choshu beat Tiger Jeet Singh; IWGP champion Tatsumi Fujinami retained in a three title main event vs. NWA & WCW champion Ric Flair (Fujinami won the NWA title, but not the WCW title due to the WCW ruling based on an over the top rope call before the pinfall in a Dusty Finish) (54,500 sellout)

1/4/92: Sting & Great Muta beat Rick & Scott Steiner; Lex Luger beat Masahiro Chono to retain WCW title; Riki Choshu beat IWGP champion Tatsumi Fujinami to win title (50,000 sellout)

1/4/93: IWGP champion Keiji Muto beat NWA champion Masahiro Chono to win both titles; Hell Raisers (Hawk & Kensuke Sasaki) double count out Rick & Scott Steiner for the IWGP tag titles; Genichiro Tenryu pinned Riki Choshu (53,500 sellout)

1/4/94: Hulk Hogan beat Tatsumi Fujinami; IWGP champion Shinya Hashimoto beat Masahiro Chono; Genichiro Tenryu beat Antonio Inoki (48,000)

1/4/95: Antonio Inoki beat Sting to win BVD Martial Arts tournament; Hiroshi Hase & Keiji Muto beat Rick & Scott Steiner to retain IWGP tag titles; IWGP champion Shinya Hashimoto beat Kensuke Sasaki (52,500 sellout)

10/9/95: Masahito Kakihara beat Kensuke Sasaki; Shinya Hashimoto beat Tatsuo Nakano; IWGP champion Keiji Muto beat UWFI champion Nobuhiko Takada to win title (57,000 sellout)

1/4/96: Antonio Inoki beat Big Van Vader; Shinya Hashimoto beat Kazuo Yamazaki; Nobuhiko Takada beat IWGP champion Keiji Muto to win title (54,000 sellout)

4/29/96: Road Warriors & Kensuke Sasaki beat Rick & Scott Steiner & Scott Norton; Genichiro Tenryu beat Tatsumi Fujinami; Shinya Hashimoto beat IWGP champion Nobuhiko Takada to win title (55,000 sellout)

1/4/97: Antonio Inoki beat Willie Williams; Tatsumi Fujinami & Kengo Kimura won IWGP tag titles from Masahiro Chono & Hiroyoshi Tenzan; IWGP champion Shinya Hashimoto beat Riki Choshu (52,500 sellout)

4/12/97: Antonio Inoki beat Tiger King (Satoru Sayama), Riki Choshu & Kensuke Sasaki beat Tatsumi Fujinami & Kengo Kimura to win IWGP tag titles; Naoya Ogawa beat IWGP champion Shinya Hashimoto in a non-title judo vs. wrestler match (50,500)

1/4/98: Riki Choshu beat Jushin Liger; Don Frye beat Naoya Ogawa; IWGP champion Kensuke Sasaki beat Keiji Muto (55,000 sellout)

4/4/98: Keiji Muto & Masahiro Chono beat Osamu Nishimura & Shinya Hashimoto to keep IWGP tag titles; Tatsumi Fujinami beat Kensuke Sasaki to win IWGP title; Antonio Inoki beat Don Frye (57,000 sellout)

1/4/99: Shinya Hashimoto no contest Naoya Ogawa; Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima beat Genichiro Tenryu & Shiro Koshinaka to win IWGP tag titles; Keiji Muto beat IWGP champion Scott Norton to win title (53,000 sellout)

4/10/99: Masahiro Chono double knockout Atsushi Onita in no rope explosive barbed wire match; Kensuke Sasaki & Shiro Koshinaka beat Genichiro Tenryu & Tatsumi Fujinami to retain IWGP tag titles; IWGP champion Keiji Muto beat Don Frye (53,000 sellout)

10/11/99: Genichiro Tenryu beat Kensuke Sasaki; IWGP champion Keiji Muto beat Manabu Nakanishi; NWA champion Naoya Ogawa beat Shinya Hashimoto with Tatsumi Fujinami as referee (48,000)

1/4/00: Shinya Hashimoto & Takashi Iizuka beat Naoya Ogawa & Kazunari Murakami; Masahiro Chono beat Keiji Muto; Genichiro Tenryu beat IWGP champion Kensuke Sasaki to win title (53,500 sellout)

4/7/00: Masahiro Chono beat Great Muta via DQ; IWGP champion Kensuke Sasaki beat Jushin Liger in a non-title match Naoya Ogawa beat Shinya Hashimoto (40,000)

10/9/00: Steve Williams beat Scott Norton; Masahiro Chono & Mr. T (Tatsutoshi Goto) beat Masa Fuchi & Shiro Koshinaka; Toshiaki Kawada beat IWGP champion Kensuke Sasaki in a non-title match (54,000 sellout)

1/4/01: Keiji Muto & Shinjiro Otani beat Manabu Nakanishi & Jushin Liger; Riki Choshu no contest Shinya Hashimoto; Kensuke Sasaki beat Toshiaki Kawada in finals of one-night tournament for the IWGP title (52,000 sellout)

10/8/01: Bob Backlund & Tatsumi Fujinami beat Dory Funk Jr. & Terry Funk; IWGP champion Kazuyuki Fujita beat Kensuke Sasaki in a Vale Tudo rule match to win title; Yuji Nagata & Jun Akiyama beat Keiji Muto & Hiroshi Hase (47,000)

1/4/02: Kensuke Sasaki no contest Naoya Ogawa; Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima beat Giant Singh (Great Khali) & Masahiro Chono; Jun Akiyama retained GHC title over Yuji Nagata (52,000 sellout)

5/2/02: Rick & Scott Steiner beat Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kensuke Sasaki; IWGP champion Yuji Nagata beat Yoshihiro Takayama; Mitsuharu Misawa drew Masahiro Chono (47,000)

10/14/02: Masahiro Chono beat Joanie Laurer; Bob Sapp beat Manabu Nakanishi via count out; IWGP champion Yuji Nagata beat Kazuyuki Fujita (38,000)

1/4/03: Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima beat Masahiro Chono & Manabu Nakanishi; Yoshihiro Takayama beat Tsuyoshi Kosaka to win NWF title; IWGP champion Yuji Nagata beat Josh Barnett (30,000)

5/2/03: Enson Inoue beat Kazunari Murakami; GHC champion Kenta Kobashi beat Masahiro Chono; NWF champion Yoshihiro Takayama beat IWGP champion Yuji Nagata to unify titles (49,000)

10/13/03: Kazunari Murakami beat Katsuyori Shibata; Hulk Hogan beat Masahiro Chono; IWGP champion Yoshihiro Takayama & Kazuyuki Fujita & Minoru Suzuki & Shinsuke Nakamura & Bob Sapp beat Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi & Hiroshi Tanahashi & Seiji Sakaguchi in an elimination match (37,000)

1/4/04: Yuji Nagata beat Kensuke Sasaki; Bob Sapp & Keiji Muto beat Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Masahiro Chono; IWGP champion Shinsuke Nakamura beat NWF champion Yoshihiro Takayama to unify titles (40,000)

5/3/04: Hiroshi Tanahashi beat Sean O’Haire; Musashi beat Katsuyori Shibata; IWGP champion Bob Sapp beat Shinsuke Nakamura (35,000)

1/4/05: Ron Waterman beat Yuji Nagata; IWGP champion Hiroyoshi Tenzan lost three-way non-title elimination Dog fight match to winner Masahiro Chono, with Riki Choshu as the third man; Shinsuke Nakamura beat Hiroshi Tanahashi to win the U-30 championship (46,000)

5/14/05: Hiroshi Tanahashi & Shinsuke Nakamura retained IWGP tag team titles over Manabu Nakanishi & Kendo Kashin, Mitsuharu Misawa & Tatsumi Fujinami beat Jushin Liger & Masahiro Chono; Hiroyoshi Tenzan beat IWGP and Triple Crown champion Satoshi Kojima to win IWGP title (21,000)

10/8/05: NWA jr. champion Black Tiger (Rocky Romero) beat IWGP jr. champion Tiger Mask to win title; Hiroshi Tanahashi & Shinsuke Nakamura beat Toshiaki Kawada & Yoji Anjo; Brock Lesnar won three-way over IWGP champion Masahiro Chono and third man Kazuyuki Fujita to win title (16,000)

1/4/06: Katsuyori Shibata beat Hiroshi Tanahashi; IWGP tag team champions Masahiro Chono & Hiroyoshi Tenzan beat Takao Omori & Shiro Koshinaka; IWGP champion Brock Lesnar beat Shinsuke Nakamura (31,000)

1/4/07: Triple Crown champion Minoru Suzuki beat Yuji Nagata; IWGP champion Hiroshi Tanahashi beat Taiyo Kea; Keiji Muto & Masahiro Chono beat Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan (18,000)

1/4/08: Giant Bernard (Matt Bloom) & Travis Tomko retained IWGP tag titles over Rick & Scott Steiner; Kurt Angle beat Yuji Nagata; Shinsuke Nakamura beat IWGP champion Hiroshi Tanahashi to win title (20,000)

1/4/09: Team 3-D beat Togi Makabe & Toru Yano to win IWGP tag titles; Shinsuke Nakamura & Hirooki Goto beat Mitsuharu Misawa & Takashi Sugiura; Hiroshi Tanahashi beat IWGP champion Keiji Muto to win title (27,500)

1/4/10: Hiroshi Tanahashi beat Go Shiozaki; GHC champion Takashi Sugiura beat Hirooki Goto; IWGP champion Shinsuke Nakamura beat Yoshihiro Takayama (20,000)

1/4/11: Shinsuke Nakamura beat Go Shiozaki; Togi Makabe beat Masato Tanaka; Hiroshi Tanahashi beat IWGP champion Satoshi Kojima to win title (18,000)

1/4/12: Naomichi Marufuji & Go Shiozaki beat Shinsuke Nakamura & Toru Yano; Keiji Muto beat Tetsuya Naito; IWGP champion Hiroshi Tanahashi beat Minoru Suzuki (23,000)

1/4/13: Togi Makabe beat Katsuyori Shibata; IC champion Shinsuke Nakamura beat Kazushi Sakuraba; IWGP champion Hiroshi Tanahashi beat Kazuchika Okada (29,000)

1/4/14: Kota Ibushi beat Prince Devitt (Finn Balor) to win IWGP jr. title; IWGP champion Kazuchika Okada beat Tetsuya Naito; Hiroshi Tanahashi beat Shinsuke Nakamura to win the IWGP title (35,000)

1/4/15: A.J. Styles beat Tetsuya Naito; IC champion Shinsuke Nakamura beat Kota Ibushi; IWGP champion Hiroshi Tanahashi beat Kazuchika Okada (36,000)

1/4/16: Katsuyori Shibata beat Tomohiro Ishii to win Never title; IC champion Shinsuke Nakamura beat A.J. Styles; Kazuchika Okada beat Hiroshi Tanahashi (25,204)

1/4/17: Hirooki Goto beat Katsuyori Shibata to win Never title; IC champion Tetsuya Naito beat Hiroshi Tanahashi; IWGP champion Kazuchika Okada beat Kenny Omega (26,192)

MOST APPEARANCES IN TOP THREE MATCHES ON NEW JAPAN TOKYO DOME EVENTS (career, not including the upcoming show where Okada and Tanahashi will add one more to their list ):

22 - Masahiro Chono

19 - Keiji Muto

18 - Hiroshi Tanahashi

17 - Kensuke Sasaki

16 - Shinsuke Nakamura

15 - Shinya Hashimoto

11 - Yuji Nagata

10 - Tatsumi Fujinami, Hiroyoshi Tenzan

9 - Riki Choshu

8 - Antonio Inoki, Genichiro Tenryu

7 - Naoya Ogawa

6 - Satoshi Kojima, Manabu Nakanishi, Katsuyori Shibata, Steiner Brothers, Yoshihiro Takayama

5 - Kazuchika Okada

4 - Kazuyuki Fujita, Shiro Koshinaka, Jushin Liger, Mitsuharu Misawa. Tetsuya Naito, Bob Sapp

3 - Don Frye, Hirooki Goto, Toshiaki Kawada, Togi Makabe, Kazunari Murakami, Scott Norton, Go Shiozaki, Sting, Minoru Suzuki, Nobuhiko Takada,

Big Van Vader

Starting in 2016, the Tokyo Dome attendance was announced as a real paid number as opposed to in the past when the announced numbers were usually wildly inflated. The numbers listed here would be the approximate total attendance at the shows, and in 2016 that would be about 29,000 and 2017 would be about 36,000. So while the last two years look deceptively down, really, dating back to Kobashi vs. Chono being an interpromotional dream match in 2003, due to the heavy papering, the actual paid from 2004 to 2012 was significantly lower than the last four years, which only 2016 was down a little after the comeback really started in 2013. But mainstream, even now, they are nowhere close to the 90s.

Roman Reigns beat John Cena to keep the IC title in the main event of WWE’s traditional biggest house show of the year, the Christmas week show in Madison Square Garden.

The show drew 14,000 fans, in line with what the holiday show has been doing in recent years. It wasn’t far from full for what, other than the main event, was a standard house show.

1. Matt Hardy pinned Bray Wyatt with a twist of fate, after blocking Sister Abigail. Both got good reactions. Hardy came out to piano music from Beethoven and the crowd was really into him. Wyatt cut a promo before the match and Hardy came out to “delete” chants. **½

2. Paige & Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville beat Bayley & Sasha Banks & Mickie James when Paige pinned James with rampage. Most of the match was Bayley selling. **3/4

Elias came out with Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows. He sang an anti-New York version of “Freebird.” That was all the three of them did on the show.

3. Rhyno & Heath Slater & Titus O’Neil & Apollo Crews & Goldust (back as a babyface) beat Curtis Axel & Bo Dallas & Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder & Curt Hawkins when Rhyno pinned Hawkins after a spinebuster and a gore. The match was mostly comedy. *3/4

4. Enzo Amore pinned Kalisto to keep the cruiserweight title using the Jawdunzo. The crowd loved Enzo but he kept talking until they turned on him. Kalisto looked good here and a solid match. It was said to be painfully obvious the gap between Enzo and most of the talent here once the bell rings, but he’s really over pre-match. He also badly botched a DDT spot. *1/2

5. Samoa Joe beat Finn Balor using the choke. Usually Balor wins this one at the house shows. Balor cut a babyface promo coming out. There was a “too sweet” chant at Balor regarding his days in Japan. Balor got one of the biggest pops on the show but Joe was more over once the match started. **3/4

6. Asuka & Dana Brooke beat Alexa Bliss & Nia Jax when Asuka beat Bliss with an armbar. Most of the match was Brooke selling. This was said to be a lot better than the other women’s match. Bliss & Jax have a good act with a pre-match handshake spot and Jax carrying beaten Bliss to the back after the match. It wasn’t great wrestling but it was different, which helps on a long show. **

7. Braun Strowman beat Kane via DQ for using a chair in 2:00. Strowman was really over. Strowman powerslammed Kane through a table after the match. The crowd was into Strowman but it was a nothing match. Strowman did a Hogan-like routine after the match, ripping off his shirt and cupping his ear. *

8. Seth Rollins & Jason Jordan beat Sheamus & Cesaro in a cage match to keep the tag titles. Jordan was booed but Rollins was cheered. The chants were “Let’s Go Rollins, Jordan sucks.” Rollins had escaped. That left Jordan in with both of them. He was getting beaten down when Rollins climbed back in and did a crossbody off the top of the cage onto both of them. Jordan escaped, and then Cesaro escaped. Sheamus went to escape but Jordan picked him up and held him, and wouldn’t let his feet touch the floor which gave Rollins time to escape. **3/4

9. Roman Reigns pinned John Cena in the IC title match after in 18:00. Very good match with lots of near falls. The crowd was hot for them. The first several minutes was just Cena working the crowd. Cena got a mixed reaction. Reigns got mostly boos. There was one mistimed spot where Cena mistimed bumping off a lariat. Usual good counters of the Superman punch and STF. Reigns kicked out of an Attitude Adjustment, which the crowd thought was a title change, hit the Superman punch, which Cena kicked out of, and finally got the pin with a spear. ***½

Dragon Gate finished its year with a full house of 4,500 fans (announced at 6,000) on 12/23 at the Fukuoka International Center Arena, for The Final Gate, with three title changes.

The showing was good as it solidly outdrew New Japan in the same arena on 12/11 for their tag team tournament finals that did 3,141.

The bad news was Takehiro Yamamura, 22, who was thought of to be one of the company’s future superstars, has his future very much in question. Yamamura did an interview on the show and said that on the 10/1 show in Fukuoka, at Hakata Star Lanes, he took a bad bump on his back and he was suddenly paralyzed from the neck down. He said the first diagnosis was a spinal concussion but later his being paralyzed was diagnosed as being due to a dislocation of the first cervical vertebrae. He said even now, more than two months later, he has numbness in his hands. He said he has been told by doctors that his career is over and he needs to think about his future. He said that he’s not taking that advice saying at 22, he has plenty of time to recover. He said it may take a long time to come back, but he said he is going to fight to make it happen.

Masaaki Mochizuki remained Open the Dream Gate champion in the main event, beating fellow veteran Ryo Saito. Mochizuki, after winning, said he believes Saito will be champion at some point in the future. When the show was over, they set up an angle with Shingo Takagi against Saito.

1. Shun Skywalker & Yuki Yoshioka beat Oji Shiiba & Hyo Watanabe in 4:28 when Skywalker pinned Shiiba after a moonsault.

2. K-Ness & Hollywood Stalker Ichikawa & Yosuke Santa Maria & U-T beat Mondai Ryu & Gamma & Kaito Ishida & Kotoka in 8:14 when Santa Maria beat Ishida.

3. Don Fujii & Genki Horiguchi beat Lindaman & Punch Tominaga in 9:02 when Fujii pinned Tominaga after a super choke slam.

4. In a battle of former members of the old Jimmyz group, Yasushi Kanda won the Open the Brave Gate title over Kagetora in 11:20 due to a lot of interference by the Verserk group. Kanda said that Kagetora lost his friends and his title and has nothing left. He went to cut Kagetora’s hair but ref Yagi tackled him. Kagetora said that Kanda can’t take that as a win due to all the outside interference and the feud isn’t over.

5. Shingo Takagi & Takashi Yoshida beat Big R Shimizu & Ben K in 13:06 when Takagi pinned Shimizu with the pumping bomber. Takagi then said that Shimizu and Ben K will never become top stars in Dragon Gate because they are so predictable and everyone has them figured out. He then said that Verserk is the top group in Dragon Gate, since Kanda just won the Brave Gate title clean and that he and Yoshida won their match easily and T-Hawk & Eita would be winning the tag team titles.

6. The MaxiMum group, Naruki Doi & Masato Yoshino & Jason Lee won the Open the Triangle Gate titles from Yamato & BxB Hulk & Kzy in 17:50 when Yoshio made Hulk submit to sol nasciente.

7. T-Hawk & Eita beat Cima & Susumu Yokosuka in 22:52 when Eita beat Cima with the Grande to win the vacant titles. Cima & Dragon Kid were champions but Dragon Kid is out with a knee injury. Eita then got on the mic and noted that Cima had said that they were B level wrestlers, so that must make Cima and his old wrestlers D class wrestlers. He said that their time is over and they are done, and that Verserk will dictate the direction of the company going forward. Then Eita started in on Verserk member Punch Tominaga, who lost earlier in the show, saying he does nothing but mess up and hold the group back and doesn’t deserve to be a member. He attacked Tominga. T-Hawk then said the young members of Verserk, he and Eita and Lindaman, were taking over and that Takagi, Kanda and Yoshida will be backing them up, and said Verserk will undergo a name change in 2018, so it sounds like an older vs. newer split could happen.

8. Masaaki Mochizuki retained the Open the Dream Gate title over Ryo Saito in 21:31 with a high kick. Mochizuki said he respected Saito and talked about how the first time they wrestled for the Dream Gate title was back in 2005, and it was right there in Fukuoka. He said that Saito has come so far since then and he’s good enough to be a champion himself. He said after that match in 2005, Saito took a less serious path, but said there’s nothing wrong with that because having fun is important in life. He said he showed that he can still bring it when put in a big match and said he expects Saito to hold the title some day. Takagi backstage then called Saito a loser and complained about him having some of the ex-Jimmyz at ringside when they were supposed to be split up.



Voting is now open for the 38th annual Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards.

Voting will close on January 18, 2018 with results published later in our annual double awards issue.

Voting is only open to Observer subscribers. With the addition of online subscriptions, to vote, you have to send your name, and whether you are subscribing by print or on-line so we can double-check. If you are an online subscriber, please send a receipt from your last order. You can submit ballots by mail, e-mail or fax.

These awards cover the period from December 1, 2016 through December 30, 2017, so we are going to start with 2018 covering it as the calendar year, which also means the results won’t be up until later than most awards. So keep that in mind while voting that December 2016 counts.

If you've got any thoughts on the awards, you are encouraged to send them in to hsmeltzer@juno.com for publication on the Observer web site.

These awards every year get more mainstream coverage than any pro wrestling awards aside from the exclusively Japanese Tokyo Sports awards.

Just to clarify the major awards, the Lou Thesz/Ric Flair Wrestler of the Year award is open only to working pro wrestlers. The MMA MVP award is similar to the Thesz/Flair award in that it should combine importance to business and drawing power with success in the cage. For both MMA and pro wrestling, there is a separate award for the best in-ring performer, the Most Outstanding Wrestler and Most Outstanding MMA fighter. The MMA award is for purely who had the best year in the ring or the cage, throwing out business considerations, and the Most Outstanding is for who had the best matches over the past year and was the best in-ring wrestler, throwing out business considerations.

There are still some combined MMA/pro wrestling awards such as Best Promotion, Promoter of the Year, Feud of the Year, Best Show and Best Drawing card, because essentially business goals of both pro wrestling and MMA are the same–drawing money and putting on good shows.

In regard to actual competitive (non-worked) matches, the main categories are Most Outstanding MMA fighter and MMA Match of the year. They are open to all MMA rules promotions. Most Outstanding MMA fighter of the year should be based entirely on success in fights during the time period.

Both performance in the ring as well as drawing power, marketability, value to the promotion and significance during the year among both shoot and worked matches should be considered for the big two awards.

Most Outstanding Wrestler is purely the best in-ring, bell-to-bell performer. Anything that takes place in a legitimate match situation should not be considered.

Best Box Office Draw is self-explanatory. It's open to everyone whether participating in worked or legitimate matches. This is for the person who moves ticket sales, TV ratings and/or PPV sales.

Tag Team of the Year and Most Improved are both limited to worked promotions.

Feud of the Year is about drawing money, creating excitement and delivering in the ring. Shoot feuds and worked feuds are both eligible. Best on Interviews and Most Charismatic are also open to both worked and shoot promotions.

Best Promotion is open to worked and non-worked companies. Match of the Year is only for worked matches. Rookie of the Year is open to only pro wrestlers making a major promotion professional debut after September 1, 2016. Best and Worst TV announcer and Best and Worst Major show are also open to both worked and shoot promotions.

Because they’ve awards have gotten so big in recent years with so many responses, we’ve had to change things this year. Going forward we are very much limiting category A awards and far more awards will be Category B.




1. LOU THESZ/RIC FLAIR AWARD - This is open to pro wrestlers, for a combination of everything, being both important and influential this year in a positive manner from a business perspective, combining both box office impact as well as strong match quality in worked matches. Last year's top three were A.J. Styles, Kazuchika Okada and Tetsuya Naito.

2. MMA MOST VALUABLE FIGHTER: This is also for a combination of fighting inside the ring and importance outside in a positive manner from a business perspective as well. Last year’s top three were Conor McGregor, Nate Diaz and Michael Bisping.

3. MOST OUTSTANDING WRESTLER: This is based on working ability in the ring only. Simply, the best workers in the world on a consistent basis over the past year. Drawing power, charisma and push shouldn't be considered. Last year's top three were A.J. Styles, Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada.

4. MOST OUTSTANDING FIGHTER: This should be based on in-ring ability and wins against the top level of competition during the calendar year. Last year's top three were Conor McGregor, Stipe Miocic and Michael Bisping.

5. TAG TEAM OF THE YEAR - For the best working and most valuable tag team during the previous year. Last year's top three were The Young Bucks, The Revival and Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa.

6. BEST ON INTERVIEWS - Who has given the best interviews on a consistent basis over the past year? Reputation from previous years shouldn't be taken into consideration. It should be based on work over the course of the year as opposed to one or two memorable interviews. Last year's top three were Conor McGregor, The Miz and Chris Jericho.

7. PROMOTION OF THE YEAR - Should be based on which group put together the best live and television product on a consistent basis, and secondarily, the ability to sell that product at a high level. This means box office and marketing combined with product quality. Theoretically, the top pick should be a company at or near the top on both categories. Last year's top three were New Japan Pro Wrestling, UFC and WWE.

8. BEST WEEKLY TV SHOW - Weekly television shows are the only ones eligible, not monthly shows, specials or individual episodes of a specific program. This is for the best consistent program. The shows have to be produced with the idea they are a weekly ongoing show and not a short-term mini-series. In other words, the Friday, Monday and Tuesday CMLL shows count as three different shows and are all eligible. Ultimate Fighter or Lucha Underground, even though they didn’t run 52 weeks, are eligible. Talking Smack is also eligible as would be WWE pre-game shows for Raw and Smackdown, but not for PPVs. Something like G-1 Climax or Cruiserweight Classic are not eligible because they were not scheduled to be year-around continuing long-term shows. Last year's top three were New Japan World Pro Wrestling, WWE Smackdown Live and WWE Talking Smack.

9. PRO WRESTLING MATCH OF THE YEAR - Pick the three best matches, in order, from the time period. Remember, matches from last December are eligible, but nothing after November 30th from this year is eligible. Please list both the date and location of the match, because some matches were held many times during the year. Last year's top three were Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada from January 4 at the Tokyo Dome, Kenny Omega vs. Tetsuya Naito from August 13 at Tokyo Sumo Hall and Kazuchika Okada vs. Tomohiro Ishii on August 6 in Osaka Edion Arena.

10. MMA MATCH OF THE YEAR - Pick the three best matches, in order, from the time period listed. Again, please list both the date and location of the match. Last year's top three were Robbie Lawler vs Carlos Condit on January 2 in Las Vegas, Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz from August 20 in Las Vegas and Dong Hyun Kim vs. Polo Reyes from June 4 in Los Angeles.




1. BEST BOX OFFICE DRAW - Based on drawing big houses (or for that matter selling tickets to small houses as the case may be), buy rates and/or television ratings. Ring work shouldn't even be considered. Last year's top three were Conor McGregor, Brock Lesnar and Nate Diaz.

2. FEUD OF THE YEAR - This should be based on a combination of having a compelling storyline along with having great matches that should strengthen the box office. Last year's top three were Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz, John Cena vs. A.J. Styles an Los Ingobernables en Japon vs. Chaos.

3. MOST IMPROVED - This is based on making the biggest strides in ring work during the previous year. This should not be for someone who was already good, but was given a bigger push. Last year's top three were Matt Riddle, The Miz and Juice Robinson.

4. MOST CHARISMATIC - What person had to do the least to get the most out of it? Who do crowds naturally react to emotionally even before the person does anything? Last year's top three were Conor McGregor, Shinsuke Nakamura and Tetsuya Naito.

5. BRYAN DANIELSON BEST TECHNICAL WRESTLER AWARD - This is for having the ability to use high level technical wrestling moves within the context of building a great worked pro wrestling match. Last year's top three were Zack Sabre Jr., Kyle O’Reilly and Kushida.

6. BRUISER BRODY MEMORIAL BEST BRAWLER AWARD - This is for the wrestler who uses brawling tactics to put together the best matches during the previous year. It's not for a guy who does brawling matches that aren't any good. Last year's top three were Tomohiro Ishii, Katsuyori Shibata and Chris Hero.

7. BEST FLYING WRESTLER - This is for the wrestler who does the most innovative and solidly executed flying maneuvers within the context of putting together great wrestling matches. This is not for simply the hottest daredevil moves, which are sometimes hit and sometimes miss. Last year's top three were Will Ospreay, Ricochet and Volador Jr.

8. MOST OVERRATED - The wrestler who gets the biggest push, despite lacking ring ability or charisma. Last year's top three were Roman Reigns Braun Strowman and Baron Corbin.

9. MOST UNDERRATED - The wrestler with the most ability, who, for whatever reason, doesn't get a push commensurate with their ability. This should be based on this past year, and not a business reputation earned in prior years. Last year's top three were Cesaro, Neville and Sami Zayn.

10. ROOKIE OF THE YEAR - This is based on ring performance, not how someone is pushed or necessarily even long-term star potential. By the standards of the category, a rookie is someone who hasn't had a regular job with a full-time wrestling company before September 1, 2016. Top contenders for this award are Yuya Aoki, Tetsuya Ito, Junta Miyawaki, Yuki Yoshioka, Katsumi Takashima, Yusuke Okada, Natsuko Tora, Yuki Ueno, Henare, Naomi Yoshimura, Katsuya Kitamura, Austin Theory, Shota Umino, Ren Narita, Tetsuhiro Yagi, Takato Nakano, Myron Reed, Kid Lykos, Tomoyuki Oka, Leo Tonga, Travis Huckabee, Lacey Evans, Bianca Belair, Reina Gonzales, Taynara Conti, Microman, Zacarias and Gaillito. Last year's top three were Matt Riddle, Lio Rush and Fred Yehi.

11. BEST NON-WRESTLER PERFORMER - For the best performer on a television show who isn't a traditional wrestler, whether they be a management figure, a woman who doesn't wrestle, or a traditional manager. Last year's top three were Dario Cueto, Daniel Bryan and Paul Heyman.

12. BEST TELEVISION ANNOUNCER - Last year's top three were Mauro Ranallo, Corey Graves and Shimpei Nogami.

13. WORST TELEVISION ANNOUNCER - Last year's top three were David Otunga, Matt Striker and Byron Saxton.

24. BEST MAJOR SHOW - This should be a major show, as opposed to a TV taping or house show, although TV specials like Saturday Night's Main Event or Ultimate Fight Night are eligible. Last year's top three were New Japan Wrestle Kingdom on January 4 at the Tokyo Dome; PWG Battle of Los Angeles day two on September in Reseda and WWE NXT Takeover on April 1 in Dallas.

25. WORST MAJOR SHOW OF THE YEAR - Last year's top three were WWE WrestleMania 32 on April 3 in Dallas; TNA Bound for Glory on October 2 in Orlando and Bellator Gracie vs. Shamrock on February 19 in Houston.

26. BEST WRESTLING MANEUVER - Last year's top three were Kenny Omega’s one winged angel, Kazuchika Okada’s rainmaker and Young Bucks Meltzer driver.

27. MOST DISGUSTING PROMOTIONAL TACTIC - Last year’s top three were Bellator’s promotion of the Kimbo Slice vs. Dada 500 fight, WWE’s Brock Lesnar elbows to Randy Orton and Aldo Rose (Adam Rose) marketing his mug shot as a T-shirt.

28. WORST TELEVISION SHOW - Last year's top three were WWE Raw, TNA Impact and Lucha Underground.

29. WORST MATCH OF THE YEAR - Last year's top three were Shelly Martinez vs. Rebel on March 17 in Orlando, Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose on May 22 in Newark, NJ and Kimbo Slice vs. Dada 5000 on February 19 in Houston.

30. WORST FEUD OF THE YEAR - Last year's top three were Titus O’Neil vs. Darren Young, Yoshitatsu vs. Bone Soldier and Roman Reigns vs. HHH.

31. WORST PROMOTION - Last year's top three were TNA (for the tenth straight year), AAA and WWE.

32. BEST BOOKER - Last year's top three were Gedo, Joe Silva and Ryan Ward.

33. PROMOTER OF THE YEAR - Last year's top three were Dana White, Takaaki Kidani and Paul Levesque.

34. BEST GIMMICK - Last year's top three were Broken Matt Hardy, Los Ingobernables en Japon and the Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens best friends gimmick.

35. WORST GIMMICK - Last year's top three were Bone Soldier, The Cabinet and Mark Darren Young Great Again.

36. BEST WRESTLING BOOK - Last year's top three were Ali vs. Inoki by Josh Gross, Accepted by Pat Patterson and Bertrand Hebert and The Roddy Piper Story by Ariel and Colt Toombs.

37. BEST PRO WRESTLING DVD/STREAMING DOCUMENTARY - Last year's top three were Seth Rollins: Redesign, Rebuilt, Reclaim, Thank You Daniel and The Resurrection of Jake Roberts.

The Christmas night Raw did 2,694,000 viewers, down only three percent from the prior week and not even unusually low.

Raw was fifth for the day on cable. It doesn’t appear Christmas night was a bad ratings night since the decline is in line with the increase in the NFL number, since the Oakland Raiders vs. Philadelphia Eagles game did 11,735,000 viewers, up 24.7 percent from the previous week.

Raw did have a big drop from hour one to hour two. Perhaps there was an increase of people wanting to see John Cena, who had his interview and match in the first 30 minutes of the show, since the first hour to second hour decline was 13.7 percent overall, and 15.1 percent in the 18-49 demo, with 14.9 percent women and 16.1 percent men.

Most of the audience decline from the prior week was in the 18-34 age group as everything else was close.

The first hour did 2,948,000 viewers. The second hour did 2,620,000 viewers. The third hour did 2,543,000 viewers.

The show did a 0.60 in 12-17 (down 1.6 percent), 0.64 in 18-34 (down 14.7 percent), 1.04 in 35-49 (down 1.0 percent) and 1.11 in 50+ (down 1.8 percent).

The audience was 60.5 percent male in 18-49 and 61.1 percent male in 12-27.

The replay of three fights from UFC 218 on FS 1 on Christmas Eve did only 357,000 viewers, as compared to the 4,720,000 viewers a similar show did last year on FOX with an NFL lead-in. It’s not as bad as it sounds because Christmas Eve viewing was down and it was third in its time slot on cable in the 18-49 demo, behind a Bowl Game on ESPN and SportsCenter on ESPN 2.

Impact on 12/21 did 269,000 viewers, a number that surprised me since historically the year-end “best of “ shows are way down from usual, and this was well above what they had been doing. It was almost surreal watching this show and see interviews from only a few months ago and how outdated they are and how many changes have been made.

Total Divas on 12/20 did 612,000 viewers, up 18 percent from the prior week and the second best number of the season.

Smackdown on 12/19 did a 1.77 rating and 2,578,000 viewers (1.59 viewers per home).

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CMLL: El Hijo del Signo lost his mask in the multi-man Christmas cage match at Arena Mexico. The rules were that the goal was to escape the cage and the last man left in would get unmasked, in a match with lower card talent. I’m not sure why they only used undercard guys, although it came from angles in prelims, because you can put stars in there since they aren’t losing and it would make it more interesting. The order of escape was Pegasso, Nitro, Cancerbero, Oro Jr., Raziel, Fiero, Templario and Star Jr., who escaped at the 12:15 mark. This left Starman vs. Signo. At that point it became a singles match under regular rules. Templario was the only guy who stood out. Pegasso and Oro Jr. both did dives off the top of the cage. Starman and Signo both climbed out of the cage together and brawled on the floor. They went about 7:25, with Starman winning with the Air Raid Crash. Signo unmasked as Marco Antonio Sanchez Rodriguez, and said he was 38 years old. His father, El Signo, is Antonio Sanchez. He was older than I expected since he’s only been around for ten years. Even though it was built up as a special show, it was said to be lackluster from start to finish with nothing at all special happening. What was notable is the show only drew 2,000 fans on Christmas. The key to holiday shows is that they have to be extra special, and if they are, families will come. But having a blah show with a main event of underneath guys meant nothing. In fact, AAA guys were on a show nearby at Arena Lopez Mateos with Psycho Clown & Pagano vs. Joe Lider & Texano Jr., that looked to have done a bigger crowd

On the other hand, in a show that wasn’t pushed nearly as hard, they had a loaded up lineup for the traditional Friday night show on 12/22 that pretty much delivered. The show only drew 5,000 fans, or just below what was the pre-WWE coming to town normal. Even though it had a big main event, the Christmas and New Year’s shows were promoted heavier, as was the Three Kings Day (1/6) show and they’re all in the same building. The main event saw Caristico beat Volador Jr. clean with La Mistica in the third fall in 17:30 of a ***½ match. This led to challenges for Volador’s NWA Historic welterweight title on 12/29 at Arena Mexico. This match wasn’t as good as their match a few weeks ago but they were probably saving the big match for their title match. Plus, it appeared Caristico hurt his right knee. Caristico did a twisting dive over the top and it was supposed to be a miss, but it’s got to be no fan crashing on the floor with your knees and hands taking the brunt of the impact. Right after the miss, Volador took the first fall with the backstabber. Volador worked as the heel as far as being cocky and trying to get boos, but still did his usual babyface move set. In the second fall, Caristico hit a springboard flip dive off the barricade into the aisle. He got up and his right knee was hurting. It was legit as it didn’t play into the match and he never sold the right knee, plus he did all his flying spots but the knee still hurt. Volador ripped up his mask as well. In the third fall, Caristico did a great running flip dive and a plancha over the post. Volador did a top rope Frankensteiner. Caristico did springboard top rope Frankensteiner. Volador did a top rope Asai moonsault. Caristico kicked out of the backstabber and the Casita before getting La Mistica. It was the first time Caristico has ever beaten Volador in Mexico City. The semi was the all-rudo Leyenda de Azul elimination match which went 28:40. The order of elimination was Misterioso Jr., Vangellys, Mascara Ano 2000, Shocker, Forastero, Rey Bucanero, Mr. Niebla, Gran Guerrero (Niebla and Guerrero did a double elimination spot), Hechicero, Sanson, Kraneo, El Terrible, Ultimo Guerrero and Pierroth. This left Rush vs. Euforia and Rush won using his Rush driver clean in 28:40. An interesting note is that Rush during the match once battled with his father Pierroth. CMLL has an unwritten and unspoken rule where fathers and sons are not allowed to fight each other for credibility reasons but rules don’t apply to Rush. Angel de Oro & Mistico & Niebla Roja beat Cavernario & Cuatrero & Negro Casas via DQ when Cuatrero unmasked Angel de Oro

The 12/29 show has Volador defending against Caristico. Volador has held the title since August 1, 2014, meaning he’s got the fourth longest reign in history behind Blue Demon (1953-58), Karloff Lagarde’s first reign (1958-65) and Lagarde’s third reign (1967-71). I think that shows Lagarde should be in the Hall of Fame given his three title reigns totaled more than 13 years. They also have Marco Corleone & Mistico & Valiente vs. Gran Guerrero & Shocker & Ultimo Guerrero

An interesting note is that on the 12/30 show at Arena Coliseo in Mexico City, that Caristico & Volador Jr. Are teaming on top with Valiente against Cavernario & Mephisto & Gran Guerrero

Mistico no-showed the Christmas show in Puebla. He was posting pictures earlier that day hanging out with his girlfriend.

THE CRASH: The 1/20 Tijuana main event was at first Matt Riddle (debuting) & Penta 0M & Daga vs. Mecha Wolf 450 & Garza Jr. & Bestia 666,. It has since been changed to with Mazada being put in Riddle’s spot, and Riddle facing Rey Horus in a singles match. Horus quit the promotion several months ago feeling he wasn’t being used strongly enough in his hometown and the promotion didn’t like the way he did and at the time said he’d never be back, but never in wrestling has a short statute of limitations. This is the show going head-to-head with Arolucha’s show in Lubbock, TX, meaning none of those guys will be working that show. That would indicate that Rey Mysterio Jr. will be working Lubbock. Also coming in Charlie Haas, a name out of the past, and Joey Janela.

DRAGON GATE: The last Korakuen Hall show of the year was 12/20 with the usual sellout crowd. The main event was essentially a blind draw ten man match where teams drew Doi darts as Yasushi Kanda & Lindaman & Hyo Watanabe & Don Fujii & T-Hawk beat Big R Shimizu & Eita & Naruki Doi & Kotoka & Susumu Yokosuka

After the show, a lot of the wrestlers gave comedy messages with Genki Horiguchi saying that this was his 20th anniversary as a wrestler and he’s finally going to get a hair transplant. Kagetora said his goal was to defend his Open the Brave Gate title through the end of 2018. Masaaki Mochizuki noted that every show at Korakuen Hall this year was a sellout and the goal is to repeat that next year.

PRO WRESTLING NOAH: Kenou won the GHC heavyweight title from Eddie Edwards, with a big attempt to revitalize the company with new guys on top, on the final show of the year on 12/22 at Korakuen Hall. The show drew a sellout of 1,615 fans, about double what they had been doing in the building, but it was also a more loaded show, and the big thing was the retirement match of Great Kabuki. Kabuki, 69, who has been wrestling for just over 53 years, one of the longest in-ring careers of all-time, teamed with Shiro Koshinaka & Akitoshi Saito in the opener to beat Go Shiozaki & Masao Inoue & Yoshinari Ogawa when Saito pinned Inoue after an enzuigiri. After the match, they had a big celebration which included Great Kojika, who is the only Japanese wrestler who goes as far back as Kabuki, Tatsumi Fujinami and Toshiaki Kawada. Kabuki said he’s done everything he could during his career, which started in late 1964 and he went all over the world. In the big matches, Hayata & Yo-Hey beat Gurukun Mask & Shuri Joe in 13:27 when Yo-Hey pinned Joe. Mohammed Yone & Quiet Storm beat Naomichi Marufuji & Maybach Taniguchi in 14:40 when Yone pinned Marufuji after Taniguchi turned on Marufuji. Taniguchi then said he was the guy Mitsuya Nagai was talking about who was within NOAH and would be a traitor to NOAH. Takashi Sugiura pinned Moose in 12:36 with an Olympic slam. Daisuke Harada retained the jr. title over Minoru Tanaka in 18:00 with a German Suplex in a ****½ match. I’ve had people call it the best jr. match of the year, and I definitely wouldn’t go that far, but it was very exciting and felt like you were watching a hard fight with all the stiff blows and solid overall offense and selling. The two shook hands after the match. Kenou pinned Edwards in 23:50 after a double foot stomp. This was also a ****½ match. It was brutal. Edwards is really tremendous as far as the physical aspect of being a pro wrestler. Everything was solid, if not too solid, with Edwards with brutal chops that left Kenou’s chest bleeding and Kenou back with some of the hardest kicks to the chest right back. It was a combination of an old-school serious title match but using new school moves that make you worry. Edwards took a dragon suplex on the apron. Edwards delivered a belly-to-belly into the turnbuckles. There was an absolutely sick chop/kick sequence which is where Kenou was opened up. Kenou gave Edwards a top rope dragon suplex. Kenou did all kinds of spectacular looking kicks, and won with a sick high kick, a double foot stomp to the back followed by a traditional double foot stomp. Kenou did an interview noting that hew as not a student of Mitsuharu Misawa, as he came to NOAH being a national champion in kempo and he started in Michinoku Pro. Even though he won as a babyface, when he talked about it no longer being Misawa’s NOAH, the place didn’t react to it. Kenou was then confronted by Kaito Kiyomiya, who returned from Canada, for a title shot, so that’s a major changing of the main event guard, which headlines the 1/6 return to Korakuen Hall

The Marufuji vs. Taniguchi grudge match is also on 1/6 along with So Shiozaki & Atsushi Kotoge vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima & Masa Kitamiya and Takashi Sugiura vs. Jay Bradley (who replaces the injured Zema Ion)

They had a Christmas night show at Shinjuku Face featuring a Rumble match where most of the guys used Christmas outfits and names, such as Takashi Sugiura as Santa Claus, Yo-Hey as a Stewardess, Katsuhiko Nakajima as a Christmas tree. It went 43:53 ending when Panda (Hi69) pinned Shirokuma no Jun (Hitoshi Kumano).

NEW JAPAN: AXS TV is doing a New Japan marathon on 12/29, playing the three Omega vs. Okada matches from 8-11 p.m. Eastern and then 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. for West Coast prime time, and then airing Power Struggle from 2-4 a.m

Katsuya Kitamura won the Young Lions tournament by pinning Tomoyuki Oka in 11:20 with a jackhammer on the 12/21 show at Shinjuku Face in Tokyo before 467 fans. Kitamura finished 5-0 overall so this tournament was all about getting him over as opposed to Even Steven or creating a bunch of storylines. It’s pretty clear that they see him as the guy who they have to push the most based on his physique, size , fire but also his age. He’s 32 years old, so they’ve got to get him up and running. He has what they look for in a sense he was a three-time national champion as a heavyweight and was a probable Olympic team member in 2012 but he was suspended for testing positive for steroids. By the way, he did use the tainted supplement defense. He also won a fighting tournament in 2015 that was under weird rules so wouldn’t be MMA, but was on Japanese television. He is getting better but I don’t see him as ever being a great worker. Still, he’s less than a year in, as is Oka. The crowd was into the match good enough and it was hard hitting, but you could see both were green. Oka worked from the bottom and the crowd was behind him pretty well. Hirai Kawato, who is the best worker of the Young Lions, but is a junior heavyweight, finished second at 4-1, but he’s only 20, so he may have the biggest long-term, but also doesn’t have to be rushed into the main mix. I’m pretty sure in time he’ll be a top star. Oka, who took third with a 3-2 record, even though he looks older, is only 26 and was the 2012 national champion as a heavyweight. Shota Umino finished with a 2-3 record while Tetsuhiro Yagi and Ren Narita were both 0-4-1, since they went to a 15:00 draw on the 12/21 show

The 1/3 Fan Fest at Differ Ariake is sold out, but that’s really a given since it’s a small building, like the 1/5 New Year’s Dash at Korakuen Hall, which is the hardest-to-get ticket of the year in Japan.

OTHER JAPAN NOTES: The magazine Shukan Bunshun this week reported that Bob Sapp, 44, who was at one point among the most famous Americans in Japan due to appearing in so many television commercials and doing incredible ratings for his televised fights more than a decade ago, has been accused of domestic violence by his girlfriend. Photos of the 39-year-old woman, who was not named, showed large bruises on the left side of her face, near his chin, below the left eye, on her right arm, side and leg. The two met in 2010, long after his celebrity heyday. She claimed he first attacked her in 2012 and again n 2013. She said she broke up with Sapp last January. Sapp didn’t respond to questions from the magazine but after the magazine contacted, he publicly contacted the woman on Facebook and said he was sorry, that he loved her and would stop fighting

Weekly Fight listed its awards by Tadashi Tanaka, including an award for “Jim and Andy,” the Netflix documentary on the making of “Man in the Moon,” as well as listing Okada vs. Omega on 6/11 in Dominion as match of the year and I believe co-MVPs

DDT ran on New Year’s Eve drawing a sellout of 2,017 to Korakuen Hall, with Konosuke Takeshita retaining the KO-D title beating Colt Cabana in 22:23 with a German suplex. Harashima & Naomichi Marufuji kept the KO-D tag titles over Daisuke Sasaki & Tetsuya Endo in 18:47 when Harashima pinned Sasaki. They also have Korakuen Hall shows on 12/30 and 1/3

Stardom’s Yoko Bito (real name Yoko Arai, 31) had her retirement match on 12/24 at Korakuen Hall for the afternoon show in the building, called “Year End Climax 2017,” before 985 fans. Bito would be considered the No. 3 wrestler in the promotion this year behind Io Shirai and Mayu Iwatani, once Kairi Hojo left for WWE. She started in 2010 as part of the same Stardom training class as Hojo (Kairi Sane) and Iwatani. In the main event Bito & Takumi Oroa lost to Toni Storm & Meiko Satomura when Storm pinned Bito. While this isn’t always the case in the U.S. or Japan, Bito did follow what is supposed to be the protocol of losing your last match, since the idea is you’re not coming back so you elevate somebody on the way out. In the old days, that makes sense, but in today’s wrestling world, my feeling is that the big star should win their retirement match. After the main event ended, Chigusa Nagayo and Takumi Iroha gave her flowers. The big surprise is Kairi Hojo (Kairi Sane) came out as a surprise appearance to do the same. Io Shirai retained her Wonder of Stardom title beating HZK with a moonsault and cloverleaf. Rachael Ellering came out to challenge Shirai for the title so that will be Ellering’s biggest career match. Kagetsu & Hana Kimora beat Jungle Kyona & Natsuko Tora to retain the tag titles when Samire Natsu helped the challengers retain. During the show they had announced a special guest from WWE would be coming but didn’t say who. Hojo got a big response and congratulated Bito.

HERE AND THERE: To show how bad things are in Puerto Rico, WWC has still not run a show since the island was crippled by the hurricane. CWA has run two shows since the hurricane and WWL is talking about coming back in February or March. The hurricane basically destroyed a wrestling industry that had been having regular shows for about 45 years

In the Flo Sports vs. WWN suit, where Flo is suing for $1 million claiming that Sal Hamaoui and Gabe Sapolsky had provided fraudulent business information, WWN had filed a motion attempting to get the case thrown out of court in Texas claiming they are based in Florida and Flo is attempting to keep the case alive. Flo is noting that they are based in Texas. As more information is available and more, moves made with Flo shutting down the wrestling site, it’s becoming clear this lawsuit is an attempt by Flo to not pay the money due to WWN, using the lawsuit to get them to back off from pursuing the revenue due them. In the contract, Flo was able to cancel at any time, but even if canceling the deal that went through 2021, they would have to pay WWN through the end of 2018. It is believed they stopped paying WWN over this past summer, so by contract, WWN should be due approximately $760,000 before the contract could be terminated. WWN has not filed a countersuit but it is expected that will happen. The major Flo business itself just had significant budget cutbacks, and the people who were involved with Flo Slam, who were there from the start before there even was a wrestling idea, are gone, so it may be that the subscription service for streaming the other minor sports wasn’t as viable as hoped for. We do know they were paying big money at first to get UFC stars to do grappling matches promoted by Chael Sonnen, and they quickly dropped that after losing a ton on promoting a Jon Jones vs. Dan Henderson grappling match that ended up being a financial disaster. They also have an MMA channel, but I can’t imagine how it could be that successful given the level of interest in minor MMA shows is less than non-major league pro wrestling. As noted, the claims in the evidence of how many buys different shows got based on evidence released didn’t sound unusually high. There was also the claim by WWN that by releasing that information publicly, it was a violation of agreed upon confidentiality regarding those numbers. Flo then also canceled its deals with every other wrestling promotion it was working with and folded its Flo Slam service very quickly after filing the suit, and laid off all employees working on its pro wrestling news site

Hulk Hogan has a lawsuit out currently against Tampa area DJ Mike “Cowhead” Calta and a former co-worker, Matt Loyd, as well as Cox Radio (the key since they have money) seeking damages because he alleges they stole the tape of him having sex with the then-wife of Bubba the Lovesponge, from Bubba, and he’s seeking unspecified damages claiming it ruined his public reputation

Jeff Jarrett just got out of rehab and will be back working indie shows for now. He’s not scheduled to return to Impact at least as long as this current regime is in power

For this newsletter, for the first time in years, WrestleMania was not the show with the highest interest level. Our most responded to shows, and it’s hard to explain why in some cases, were: 1) New Japan Dominion (largest since 2013 WrestleMania); 2) New Japan Wrestle Kingdom; 3) WrestleMania; 4) New Japan first night in Long Beach; 5) NXT Takeover Chicago; 6) NXT Takeover Houston; 7) WWE TLC; 8) NXT Takeover New Orleans; 9) NXT Takeover Brooklyn; 10) New Japan G-1 finals; 11) New Japan G-1 A block final; 12) WWE Backlash; 13) New Japan G-1 B block final; 14) WWE SummerSlam; 15) WWE Survivor Series

Rey Mysterio Jr. did an interview with ESPN, and what his notable is that the two companies he works for Crash and Arolucha, were never mentioned. It’s more notable since he’s in the middle of the situation between the two due to his connection with Konnan, who was exiled from Crash and is the booker for Arolucha. He’s also pretty much the face of both companies and may have points in Crash. We’d been told in the past Mysterio had an ownership interest, but when the Konnan thing went down, there were said to be three owners, Konnan being one and him not being one. However, in L.A. Park’s version of what went down, in the vote to get rid of Konnan, Mysterio did have a vote and other sources noted to us that Mysterio absolutely had input when that decision was made. He said he would be willing to work for Lucha Underground but he hasn’t heard from them. One of the things is that if there are no exclusives, in the sense if he were to work for Lucha Underground he’d be able to work for other companies on TV (Arolucha and Crash if they can get TV), then there’s no reason not to work for Lucha Underground. But there’s a question if they can afford him. Mysterio had a huge deal with LU (his deal for the last season was roughly the same as when he worked WWE full-time) and it’s doubtful they can afford that kind of deal now. He said he was open to going back to WWE, but he couldn’t work full-time. The key to this is that you never say never, but as far as going to WWE right now, while he is a free agent and anything is possible, he’s got months of commitments in several other promotions and at least as of a week ago there was nothing going on regarding either LU or WWE

Taz noted that even though he’s now going to be doing a three-hour drive time show on CBS Sports Radio, he will still continue The Taz show, which would likely air two days a week in an afternoon time slot

Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore group is running 1/26, which is the Thursday night before the Rumble, at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia. They will be doing a tournament for the TV title

Ed Leslie has released his autobiography called “Brutus Beefcake: Struttin & Cuttin” with Kenny Casanova. The book talks about growing up with Hulk Hogan as a friend (the two are not close anymore) and breaking into wrestling. Leslie started as Eddie Boulder and Dizzy Boulder, Dizzy Hogan, Eddie Hogan and other names, all as the younger brother of Hulk Hogan, who was Terry “The Hulk” Boulder when he started. He started in the territorial era without much success until Hogan became the top star in WWF, and he got him his spot as Brutus Beefcake, and he became one of the biggest stars of the late 80s

Elite put out a statement regarding the stuff from Garza Jr., last week saying that no wrestler has ever claimed they were not paying them as promised and they will not let Garza ruin the name of the promotion. Garza said that they have now paid some of the money they owed him but not all of it

wXw ran its 17th anniversary show over the weekend in Oberhausen, Germany where Walter & Timothy Thatcher beat Tarkan Aslan & Lucky Kid (The Young Lions), which is where RISE attacked Thatcher & Walter and Axel Tischer & Axel Dieter Jr. (Marcel Barthel & Alexander Wolfe in NXT), who were in Ringkampf with Walter & Thatcher, made the save to what was one of the biggest pops in company history. The NXT guys were home for the holidays. The main event saw John Klinger beat Ilja Dragunov with the shadow driver to keep the wXw title

Australian historian Kirk Beattie wanted to balance the viewpoint from Graeme Cameron regarding Mark Lewin in last week’s issue. He noted that it is a fallacy that has been repeated for years that Lewin brought in John Hill as The Destroyer instead of Dick Beyer in 1966. Steve Yohe confirmed that the problems with Lewin and Beyer stemmed from 1967, as Lewin was the WWA world champion and was to defend against Destroyer (Beyer) on March 24, 1967. Beyer refused to do a job for him (which may have been because Lewin as booker used Hill as a fake Destroyer in Australia the year before). But Lewin blocking Beyer from coming to Australia didn’t happen until 1971, years after Hill came in and had the biggest run of his career as world champion. In fact, Hill came in on August 24, 1966, using the name Mr. A under a mask, against Roy Heffernan. Hill was actually brought in at first to use his best known wrestling name as the time, Guy Mitchell, as newspaper clippings from the first week he was in Newcastle, Sydney and Melbourne listed him as Guy Mitchell, but in all three cities, Mr. A under a mask substituted, who was actually Hill/Mitchell. He was the first masked man brought into World Championship Wrestling. Clearly, he was brought in to be Guy Mitchell, had his mask with him and owner Jim Barnett and Lewin decided the first masked star would be a bigger draw than Guy Mitchell. Hill had been wrestling in Indiana for Dick the Bruiser’s version of the WWA, as part of a tag team with Joe Tomasso, as The Masked Assassins (Bobby Heenan got his start as their manager). When Hill came to Australia, he brought his Assassin mask with an “A” on it. He was then called “Dr. A, The Destroyer,” before finally the Dr. A was dropped and now it’s only remembered he was The Destroyer. What’s notable is that while Lewin was booker when Mitchell arrived, he had left Australia at this time to return to the U.S. and Hill never used the name The Destroyer until after Lewin left. Regarding Lewin being remembered for holding down Australian wrestlers, the promotion debuted on October 23, 1964 and Lewin debuted four months later. No Australian wrestlers were pushed before he arrived. It was Barnett’s decision and he felt the quality of the stars he was bringing in, since he was paying more than anyone in wrestling and had access to some of the best talent, were better than the Australians so built around them. In fact, before Lewin ever arrived, on the eight previous shows in three of the weekly cities, they had no Australians even booked on the show. The first Australian to be pushed was Roy Heffernan, who was an international star in North America as part of the original Fabulous Kangaroos with Al Costello. Heffernan had main events before Lewin started booking and he continued to main event after Lewin started booking. All of the bookers held down the locals until Larry O’Day & Ron Miller, after doing decently well in the U.S., got a mid-level push in 1972, when Lewin was booking. Sheik Wadi Ayoub (who was billed from Lebanon, where he was born, although lived in Australia) got his first WCW push in 1972 and 1973, both times when Lewin was booking. The speculation is that it was a Barnett directive not to push Australians because of the idea if they got over big, they could break away and form their own promotion. Beattie, who has the best records of the WCW era, also said that in listing the people with the most main events, he did his own calculations and that Ray Stevens had 59 main events from 1965-67 and Wahoo McDaniel and 46 in 1972, so Stevens should be ranked higher. The listing we had listed McDaniel at No. 9 and Stevens at No. 10

Dragon Lee and Titan are scheduled for Pro Wrestling Revolution on 2/24 in San Jose

Another former WWE woman performer, Celeste Bonin, 31, who was Kaitlyn from 2010 to early 2014 when she left top get married to bodybuilder P.J. Braun, and they opened up several businesses together. The two split last year and their divorce was finalized in September and she spoke about returning to wrestling. Her first appearance back will be on 2/10 in Pompano Beach, FL, for Coastal Championship Wrestling.

EUROPE: The Lucha Forever promotion that Ryan Smile was running has folded. Smile wrote that simply put, their business plan and product proved to be unsustainable. He said they never expected it would get as popular as quickly as it did, got immense traction but started to run before they could walk, and ran so many shows that once the company showed down, it had worn itself out

Brian Pillman Jr. makes his U.K. debut on a 3/25 show in London for the Wrestle Club Pro promotion, in a tag team match teaming with Davey Boy Smith Jr.

ROH: Young Bucks Merch is now a subsidiary of a new parent company called Killing the Business, and they’ve filed for trademarks on “Being the Elite” and “Killing the Business.

Steve Bryant, the owner of the SoCal Uncensored web site noted to us that ROH contacted him ahead of time and he okayed the deal for them to use that name for Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian & Scorpio Sky

The Kingdom has apparently signed exclusive U.S. contracts here as they did their final date for Northeast Wrestling on 12/17

The Women of Honor tournament will have 16 competitors in a single elimination.

IMPACT: Another person let go was Bob Rosen, who built and transported the rings, headed the ring crew and did various other functions.

They will be taping some matches on 2/3 in Rahway, NJ, at the WrestlePro show that will feature Bobby Lashley, Eli Drake, Sonjay Dutt, Moose, Alberto El Patron, Allie, Braxton Sutter, KM, Matt Sydal, Eddie Edwards and others.

UFC: The last show of the year is 12/30 at the T Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. It’s another show that looks good on paper but I’m not sure what kind of business it will do. The one thing is the Cris Cyborg vs. Holly Holm main event is probably the biggest woman’s match from a PPV standpoint that UFC can put on. Cyborg is the most dominant woman fighter of all-time, but I still have an issue with it because it’s bad enough with men, but it’s worse with women to play pretend on the steroid issue. Of course, she isn’t the only one, but her changes are so much more than any other women that have used steroids in the past on the roster. Plus, every fight she has she goes in with a huge size advantage. Holm, because of her boxing experience, is probably the most interesting fight, as this is really skill for Holm against size and power for Cyborg. We saw when Cyborg fought Jorina Baars in kickboxing that a skilled standup fighter can beat Cyborg in a pure stand-up fight, but it’s still a contest. If there is a fight Cyborg can lose, on paper, this would be it, but she’s still got the huge size and strength edge and Holm also has not looked great really in the past few years except in the Ronda Rousey fight where her trainers had given her the perfect battle plan and Rousey’s trainers hadn’t changed her or given her a backup plan if plan A wasn’t working. Cyborg said making 145 will be easier this time because she’s walking around at 170 where previously she was walking around at 180-185. Holm is probably closer to 150-155 so they’ll probably go into the cage with a 15-20 pound weight differential, perhaps more when all is said and done

Jimmie Rivera was to face John Lineker third from the top but Lineker suffered a tooth infection that required emergency surgery over the weekend and had to pull out. Rivera had canceled his honeymoon to fight on the show since it was a big fight for him and a win over Lineker would put him in title contention. After Lineker pulled out, the attempt was to make Rivera vs. Marlon Moraes. Lineker said, because of the late notice, he’d move the weight up to 138 since Moraes wouldn’t have much time to make weight. Then he moved it to 140. He claimed Morales wanted 145 and he agreed to that but Moraes turned it down. Morales is coming off wins over John Dodson on 11/11 and Aljamain Sterling on 12/9, and even though he suffered no damage with Sterling, realistically that quick of a turnaround again and fighting a guy as tough as Rivera without training probably wasn’t the smart move. Lineker came to Las Vegas the week of the fight. He said he first went to the dentist at home and was treated, but the pain got worse. Lineker said that he hoped UFC would book him against Rivera as soon as possible

The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on Fight Pass with Mark De La Rosa (9-0) vs. Tim Elliott (14-8-1). FS 1 at 8 p.m. has Omari Akhmedov (17-4) vs. Marvin Vettori (12-3), Matheus Nicolau (12-1-1) vs. Louis Smolka (11-4), Rick Glenn (20-4-1) vs,. Myles Jury (16-2), and Michal Oleksiejczuk (12-2) vs. Khalil Rountree (6-2). The PPV has Marc Diakiese (12-1) vs. Dan Hooker (14-7), Carlos Condit (30-10) vs. Neil Magny (19-6), Cynthia Calvillo (6-0) vs. Carla Esparza (12-4), Edson Barboza (19-4) vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov (24-0) and Cyborg (18-1) vs. Holm (11-3)

MVPIndex rated Conor McGregor was the Most Valuable Athlete on social media in the U.S. in 2017. They claimed the value of McGregor’s social media accounts at $616 million which is as fake a statistic as they come. While not ranked because they were not considered athletes, by the same standard, John Cena would have been No. 2 and Nikki Bella, Roman Reigns and Randy Orton would have been in the top ten, means Cena would have been ahead of LeBron James and Nikki Bella and Randy Orton would have been ahead of Tom Brady and Serena Williams

Dana White, evidently ignoring GSP suffering from colitis, said this to ESPN about him and fighting again: “There is no status. I knew what he was doing. That’s why I put (the fight with Robert Whittaker) into his contract. We both knew what was going on. I don’t know, man. I don’t think the guy wants to fight. I think he jumped in, grabbed some cash and went back to Canada.” Regarding GSP vs. McGregor, which would be the biggest money MMA fight of all-time if it was to take place, White said, “He ain’t fighting Conor McGregor. If he wants to come back, Tyron Woodley or Robert Whittaker is waiting for him. They’re both waiting, if Georges wants to come back.

The UFC and Reebok made a slight change to the Reebok sponsorship program. There were no changes for fighters with six or more fights. However those under six, who used to get $2,500 per fight, will now get $3,500 for their first three fights and $5,000 for fights four and five

Donald Cerrone, who was saying he was going to move to 155, looks to be facing Yancy Medeiros in what would be the main event of a 2/18 show in Austin, TX. Tonya Evinger vs. Marion Reneau and Sage Northcutt vs. Thibault Gouti was also announced for that show. Northcutt is from that area

Mark Hunt told Submission Radio that after his next three fights, his contract will expire and he’s leaving. He said he’s still planning on fighting with other promotions in Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

Tecia Torres vs. Jessica Andrade tops four fights announced for the 2/24 show in Orlando. The others are Ben Saunders vs. Alan Jouban, Gilbert Burns vs. Olivier Aubin-Mercier and Jake Collier vs. Marcin Prachnio

Ross Pearson vs. Mizuto Hirota has been added to the 2/11 (2/10 U.S.) PPV from Perth, Australia. Pearson has lost his last four fights so he badly needs to win to stay in UFC. Also added to that show is Jeremy Kennedy, who is 11-0, against Alexander Volkanovski, who is 16-1 and has looked great so far in UFC

Charles Rosa pulled out of his 1/20 Boston fight with Dan Ige due to an injury

Joe Soto vs. Iuri Alcantara was added to the 2/3 show in Belem, Brazil.

Nasrat Haqparast vs. Alex Reyes has been added to the 3/17 show in London.

BELLATOR: Chael Sonnen, who was trying to talk his way into a money fight with Chuck Liddell, said that the issue is now dead. He told MMA Fighting that when he saw that Liddell was back training, he tried to angle for the fight. But he said he’s since found out Liddell is not going to fight again

Aaron Pico had asked to get on the 1/20 show at the Forum in Los Angeles, and it was granted. Pico will face Shane Kruchten (12-3), who has won 12 of his 13 fights and most recently fought in WSOF.

OTHER MMA: Rizin’s big events of the year come up this week, which are the annual 12/29 and 12/31 shows at the Saitama Super Arena, both of which will be iPPV’s on FITE TV and 12/31 will be available as a regular PPV on U.S. cable systems as well as Dish, but at least as of last week, not DirecTV. In particular, New Year’s Eve at the Saitama Super Arena has been a theme dating back nearly two decades. The first night is built around the quarterfinals of a bantamweight tournament. The fights are Ian McCall (13-5-1) vs. Manel Kape (8-1), Kyoji Horiguchi (20-2) vs. Gabriel Oliveira (10-0), Takafumi Otsuka (23-13-2) vs. Khalid Taha (11-0) and Shintaro Ishiwatari (23-6-4) vs. Kevin Petshi (12-3). The bracketing will be that the McCall fight winner faces the Horiguchi fight winner and the Otsuka fight winner faces the Ishiwatari fight winner, both on 12/31. The finals will also take place on 12/31. If there is an injury, the reserve tournament fight has Anthony Birchak (13-5) vs. Jae Hoon Moon (9-10). Among the other fights on the show are Satoru Kitaoka (40-15-9) vs. Kiichi Kunimoto (18-7-2), Seiichiro Ito (12-1-2) vs. Kai Asakura (2-1) and the freak show fight of Gabi Garcia (4-0) vs. 53-year-old Shinobu Kandori (4-1). So that fight is really happening, with Garcia not only having a giant size advantage over the former judo champion and pro wrestling star, but the ridiculous idea of a 53-year-old doing her first fight in 17 years

The New Year’s Eve show will feature the semifinals and finals of the bantamweight tournament. It will also feature a four-woman one-night super atomweight tournament with Irene Cabello (7-4) vs. Rena Kubota (5-0) and Kanna Asakura (9-2) vs. Maria Oliveira (10-2) as the first round matches. Kubota is a big Japanese favorite and ratings draw. The show also has two of the glory days major stars in featured matches with Mirko Cro Cop (35-11-2) vs. 47-year-old former pro wrestler Tsuyoshi Kosaka (27-19-2). It should be noted that Kosaka goes so far back into the 90s that his listed record includes a number of pro wrestling matches with RINGS. For those unfamiliar, RINGS, run by Akira Maeda, was a pro wrestling promotion that purported to be real, and on occasion had real matches in its early years. Then it went through a transition where they had both works and shoots, and in their final years, they no longer had worked matches. But for reasons that nobody has ever explained, fighters like Kosaka and Kiyoshi Tamura and others from that era have their RINGS pro wrestling matches on their MMA records, probably because they were so good at it that it’s not easy (although it’s not that difficult either) to watch and figure out which was which. Takanori Gomi (35-14) , after his long run in UFC, returns to a Japanese-based promotion against Yusuke Yachi (18-6).

WWE: The Nationwide Arena in Columbus, OH, is advertising for tickets for Fast Lane, the last PPV before WrestleMania, listing a five-way for the WWE title as the main event with Styles defending against Orton, Nakamura, Owens and Zayn. They wouldn’t have that ad unless that was the plan this week, and while Mania plans are usually locked in early, every year something changes. If you are handicapping this, it would seem to eliminate Orton, Nakamura, Owens or Zayn from winning the Rumble, although not for sure, as it makes no sense to put someone challenging for the title at Mania first into a multi-person title match at Fast Lane. There are still a lot of ways it could go, but there was a lot of Nakamura speculation, but only speculation, going around. Reigns could always win the Rumble given the planned Lesnar vs. Reigns direction, but he’ll get booed out of the place if he wins in Philadelphia unless they’ve got some great ideas up their sleeves

On Raw they announced that Ambrose would be out of action for nine months after surgery for his partially torn triceps. Sometimes WWE exaggerates how long the big stars will be out, but triceps surgery is usually more than six months and this isn’t a Strowman situation where the time frame was short but they wanted to make him this monster, so we should take the nine months as a probable and cautious estimate. They are totally snake bit in trying to do the Shield Reunion house show tour that may never happen given by the time Ambrose is back, Reigns will likely be champion and doing singles programs. It also likely greatly changes plans post-Mania since Ambrose was heavily figured into things. Ambrose had been immune for years from having the major injury, unlike most of the guys who worked the most dates who often followed by suffering a major injury the next year. Rollins & Jordan were immediately given the tag titles over Sheamus & Cesaro on Raw with Jordan pinning Cesaro, which they really had to do. They needed someone in the tag title program and the two choices for the spot would have been Jordan or Balor (who doesn’t appear to have much going on). To do so they had to drop, or at least slow down, the Jordan heel turn and turn his character around from a guy who comes close but always loses to the top guys, whines about losing and his injuries (the whole knee injury storyline was dropped) and begs his father for chances because now he has to be booked as a top babyface

This happened right at press time but Paige was injured at the Nassau Coliseum on 12/27 in a trios match with Absolution vs. Bayley & Banks & James. It appeared to be a rib injury or a head injury from a missed dropkick, although another source said it was a hard kick to the back from Banks that she wasn’t ready for and it stunned her. The match was immediately stopped. They got a stretcher for her but she left the ring under her own power and walked to the back with a little bit of help. The early belief was it was just a mild stinger and she was at the hotel bar feeling better after the show. No word if she’ll have to miss any shows

The new “Happy Rusev Day” shirts were virtually sold out in arenas and at WWE shop, and while that could mean a low number were first made and they didn’t anticipate the demand, it sounds like the shirt is a big hit.

New TV dates for Lesnar besides the 1/1 show we mentioned last week, are 1/8 in Memphis, 1/22 (the 25th anniversary Raw) in Brooklyn and 2/26 in Anaheim

Lesnar has also been added to the advertising of the 1/27 show in Baltimore and will defend his title against Kane. It is billed as their first match ever. I think somebody did find evidence of a match about 15 years ago between the two but they’ve never had a major match together. Right now the Raw house show matches unless there’s somebody like Lesnar or Cena on the show, will be Reigns defending against Joe, Strowman vs. Kane and Rollins & Jordan vs Sheamus & Cesaro. Lesnar was not put on this show because Ambrose was injured, as he was doing the date, but he had not been advertised until 12/25

Kendrick suffered a broken orbital bone and a broken nose from the brutal looking GTS from Itami on the Christmas Raw show match finish. He’s estimated being out of action for two months. Itami used a Rings of Saturn like submission rather than the GTS as his finisher the next night against Gallagher

Although there are rumors about Styles vs. Cena at Mania, I’m told that right now that is incorrect, and Cena is in a much bigger match than Styles. The only thing I was told is it will be clear within a few weeks what that match is. Bigger than a WWE title match seems to limit it to a non-regular or surprise guy and the only names I can come up with would be Undertaker, Batista, Goldberg or Hogan, and at Hogan’s age with his back problems, it would surprise me if he could get cleared even if the sponsors were okay with his returning. My guess is the top of the Mania card will be shot largely on the 25th anniversary Raw because that will be the show with the largest viewing audience of the year most likely

Cena was not advertised as being on the Rumble show in an ad I saw, but it was probably an older ad since Lesnar and Balor in Demon gear were prominently featured. But the most up-to-date headliners listed for that show also doesn’t include Cena

Bryan was on a New York radio show and noted the company was standing firm on not clearing him. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not impossible they will clear him, but right now the Bryan/Shane stuff is not planned to build to a match nor will they plan that unless he’s cleared, and that’s a medical decision, not a decision based on booking or WrestleMania coming up. Bryan noted that while he loves wrestling, he doesn’t love everything about wrestling, noting he doesn’t love the travel, and said that in his role now he still does the travel but doesn’t get the fun part of actually doing the wrestling. He said he trains in kickboxing and Jiu Jitsu, but is constantly thinking pro wrestling. Bryan said that if there is any test that shows there is something wrong, he won’t wrestle. But he said the specialists he’s dealt with all say he’s fine to wrestle

The movie “Mile 22,” that Ronda Rousey stars in, will be filming in Colombia this month. While not impossible, that would make the Rumble difficult

“Jumanji,” starring Dwayne Johnson, was estimated at doing $53 million its midweek release through 12/24. The actual weekend estimate was $36.4 million, but it opened most places earlier in the week. It was second to “Star Wars.” “Ferdinand,” the animated movie with John Cena doing the starring role did $7.3 million for a two-week total of $26.8 million. On a $111 million budget, that is not a success at all

Bob Bowman, who for years was on the WWE Board of Directors and was considered one of the most influential people behind-the-scenes in baseball, in particular for the development of MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM), which also handles the WWE Network, as well as streaming for the NHL, HBO, ESPN and Hulu. He was forced to resign in November with word of more than a decade of inappropriate behavior toward subordinates. The Wall Street Journal reported that Bowman shoved a member of the Boston Red Sox ownership group in July and cultivated an atmosphere toxic to women employees including propositioning them, engaging in relationships with subordinates and that Bud Selig was aware of all this but did nothing because Bowman was building MLBAM into such a money-making property. Bowman also was strongly considered to run for Governor of Michigan years ago

Angle did an interview with CBS Sports and said he expected to wrestle more going forward. He also that good things are coming with the Jordan storyline, but did admit he’s getting the wrong kind of heat right now. He said Jordan is a great in-ring performer but the company wasn’t sold on his character performance. I always felt that was weak until he hooked up with Gable, but without Gable, who was the personality of the team, it’s tough for him

Gerald Brisco, 71, one of the company’s longest tenured employees was given the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum Outstanding American award as chosen by the Florida chapter. Lee Roy Smith, the Executive Director, wrote to Brisco saying, “This award acknowledges that your life has been significant and you are leaving behind a benchmark and legacy that others may follow. The sport of wrestling is better because of your accomplishments. You will have a special place in wrestling history and that place is the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum, Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Kalisto (Emmuel Rodriguez) was injured on 12/19. During the 205 Live show in Newark, a fan threw a water bottle at him which hit him in the head. Apparently he needed stitches and an MRI, but didn’t miss any dates

The Enzo vs. Alexander cruiserweight title match will be on the 1/1 Raw in Miami, which also includes part two of the Lesnar, Kane and Strowman angle

Because March is the best time to draw with the Mania hype, the plan is to run several major arena shows that month. A key one is 3/3 in Chicago where they are moving from the All-State Arena to the larger United Center. Part of that is because they wanted to run Chicago but the All-State Arena was booked that week with Monster Jam so they couldn’t get a date. They also have an MSG show on 3/16 with Lesnar

As was the case last year, Lesnar will be working his heaviest schedule of the year the closer they get to Mania

Velveteen Dream (Patrick Clark) is listed on the NXT booking sheets for early January. He hasn’t been seen since his loss to Aleister Black in the Houston Takeover match. He hasn’t been at the Performance Center since that time as well

Zayn raised $10,000 for his Sami for Syria drive on Christmas day. He went on social media with the goal of raising $5,000, and then he would match it, which he did. The money is being used to provide mobile health care in Syria to people who otherwise due to transportation issues and where they live, wouldn’t have good access to such health care

With NXT down this past week, a lot of the talent flew home for the holidays. I believe Shayna Baszler appeared at a Nick Dinsmore promoted show in South Dakota, where she is from. Kairi Sane made the Stardom appearance reported on. Alexander Wolfe (Axel Tischer) and Marcel Barthel (Axel Dieter Jr.) went back to Germany and appeared on wXw’s big year-end show. The Rise heel group was beating down Walter & Timothy Thatcher, and Wolfe and Barthel made the save. That drew one of the loudest pops they’ve ever had in that promotion. Kassius Ohno went to Japan and was in the crowd for a DDT show. He was there because his girlfriend, Rachael Ellering, is currently on tour with Stardom. Andrade Cien Almas was back in Mexico City and he was at several different shows there hanging out with friends

The next NXT show will be the 1/4 TV tapings at Center Stage in Atlanta and they go full-time back on schedule after that point

Canyon Ceman told the Los Angeles Times that in 2016, WWE was focused on signing people from China, but in 2017, it was the Middle East. The reasoning is he claimed they had 11 million Facebook followers in Egypt. Ceman claimed that the Performance Center gives wrestlers ten years worth of experience in three years. I’d love to see who is farther along, ten year vets working for legit promotions or guys who have had three years since starting at the PC. Ceman also noted that WWE could no longer do stereotypical Middle Eastern heels like the Iron Sheik and General Adnan. “Now you neither want to nor can you get away with that so easily,” he said. “There is evolving complexity over how to portray someone’s cultural heritage in a way that is respected, interesting and creates love or animosity in the audience.” Granted, they’re not Middle Eastern heels, but exactly how is Mahal or the portrayal of Rusev until a few weeks ago any different from the stereotypical Anti-American heels that date back to the beginning fo time

The most-watched shows on the WWE Network this past week were: 1. Clash of the Champions; 2. NXT on 12/20; 3. Beyond the Ring Holiday special with Mick Foley; 4. Survivor Series; 5. Best of Ride Along; 6. Table for three with Hardys and Balor; 7. WrestleMania 2017; 8. Royal Rumble 2017; 9. Ride Along with Rusev, Breeze and Fandango; 10. 205 Live from 12/19

Notes from the Christmas Raw show in Chicago. Even though people knocked the idea of it, it was the first legit Raw sellout in a long time with 11,000 fans. So even though companies in the U.S. and Japan for the most part give their talent Christmas off, it’s still a great date for a big event. Main event opened with Kalisto pinning Nese. The Revival beat O’Neil & Crews. Only week two of their return and they’re on Main Event. Raw opened with Cena out. He said some Merry Christmas stuff and then Elias came out. Elias said that WWE stands for “Walk with Elias.” That brought out a loud “C.M. Punk” chant. Being this was Chicago, fans didn’t try to boo it out as they do in most places now. Elias said he wasn’t going to let that interrupt him. Cena then put over the chant, saying Chicago loves fellow Chicagoians and said to let them have fun. The crowd decided to have fun as now they were chanting it really loud. Elias blamed Cena for that, and by putting it over, that’s why they did it so loudly. He ripped on Chicago in his song and Cena said to turn on the lights and stop the song as he stuck up for Chicago. The crowd was completely behind him at this point as Elias called the crowd jerks. Cena said the crowd weren’t the jerks, Elias was the jerk. So Elias wanted to make it up to the crowd and started singing with Cena. He praised Chicago, and then sucker punched Cena which led to a match. Cena beat Elias in 16:07. The match went too long and was klunky. Really, it was as bad a long Cena match in a long time. Cena was off and Elias has poise in the ring but he’s very limited. I’m sure they felt it was Cena and Chicago so this was the spot to try and put Elias over and he’ll come across as a major player in losing a long match that he was competitive in. I don’t know that it hurt him because one match doesn’t hurt anyone, but if they were predisposed mentally with the idea that Elias isn’t top level, they would use this match as proof. Elias hit his drift away and Cena kicked out to barely a reaction. Cena won with the Attitude Adjustment. I think Cena was hurt by the Survivor Series where it was his comeback and he was portrayed as just a guy instead of somebody special, but maybe the lack of reaction here is simply it was a boring match. They showed a Joe video. Jordan & Rollins were in with Angle. Rollins wanted Joe tonight for what he did to Ambrose. Jordan wanted him as well, saying he’s been waiting for weeks for them match. Angle suggested them as a tag team. Rollins didn’t want to team with him. Jordan said that he wasn’t the one pinned last week. Jordan also said he just got out of a tag team and he didn’t want to move backwards. Well, that’s a great mentality to portray. Rollins got mad that Jordan said teaming with him is moving backwards. Angle said that when they figure it out, they’ll be an unstoppable team, but they have to figure it out now because they’re wrestling for the tag titles later in the show. Reigns showed up and was booed. Angle told him that Joe was all his tonight, but that it would be a title match. Charly Caruso interviewed Kendrick and Gallagher. Itami pinned Kendrick in 3:59 with a GTS. The crowd was dead for this one as well. Itami did kick Kendrick hard in the back. Even though he was the face, it felt like a heel tease because he kept screaming “You all have to respect me.” There was no pop when he hit the GTS in Chicago aside from fans at ringside who were jumping up and down. The knee nailed Kendrick hard in the head at the finish which injured him. Backstage, Dallas & Axel, dressed in Christmas-wear, were singing “Joy to the World” in front of Banks, Bayley and James. The idea was that fans would hate it and the women would blow them off. The idea is the women thought they sucked singing, but wouldn’t tell them and they were so clueless they thought they were good. Problem is, the fans liked them. It started the Merry Mizness theme. Between Elias and these guys, they way overdid it on the singing this week. Paige & Rose & Deville beat Bayley & Banks & James in 10:13. It was mostly Banks selling. Bayley made the hot tag and hit the belly-to-belly on Paige, but Deville and Rose pulled Paige out of the ring. Bayley chased her and they had a six-way brawl on the floor. Eventually Paige kicked Bayley and hit the rampage for the pin. Renee Young interviewed Joe. Joe said to Ambrose’s wife that he had no remorse and now Ambrose can be home with the ones he loves the most enjoying the holidays. I guess this was meant as a knock since Renee wasn’t at home on Christmas day. They never outright said that Young was married to Ambrose but it was spoken like you’re supposed to know and Cole said how this had to be uncomfortable for her. Kane pinned Slater in 2:23 with a choke slam. Slater said that his kids didn’t get anything for Christmas because he was afraid to buy presents because Angle threatened his and Rhyno’s jobs. Rhyno said he never threatened his job, he just wanted to toughen him up. There was a funny sign when Kane was out at ringside that read “Don’t you have any mayor stuff to do?” After the match, Kane went to choke slam Rhyno. Rhyno came back on him in the battle of attempted local politicians. Rhyno set up the gore. Rhyno ran into a choke slam and he was left laying. Hawkins did an interview. He said 2017 wasn’t his hair and mentioned he’s lost 146 in a row. He felt a Christmas miracle in the air and issued an open challenge. Balor came out and pinned him with the coup de gras in 1:28. Dallas & Axel came out singing more Christmas Carols to Goldust. The fans cheered them even louder this time even though they were supposed to be heels. They gave Goldust a DVD of “Santa’s Little Helper,” which was a movie Miz starred in. O’Neil & Crews & Brooke showed up. So it looks like Dallas & Axel vs. O’Neil & Crews is a direction. Wyatt did an interview. Then when he was in the ring Matt Hardy attacked him and ran him off. There were loud “Hardy” chants but they had cut off the scene so you didn’t see that scene. Instead they were backstage with Sheamus & Cesaro, but you could hear the chants for Hardy. Sheamus & Cesaro were trading presents. Poor Cesaro has to do that promo with his mouthpiece in, which just kills his promos dead. Sheamus gave Cesaro an Ambrose action figure with one arm missing. Sheamus noted it was lifelike. Cesaro gave Sheamus a Rollins figure. Sheamus said he can’t wait to break it like he’ll break the real Rollins later. Cesaro also gave him a Jordan doll. Sheamus said he didn’t want that doll. Cesaro said that Rollins didn’t want him either as a partner and Angle doesn’t want him as a son. At this point they were putting Christmas trees and present boxes around the ring. That is usually not a good sign as the gimmick cartoon street fights on Raw are usually awful. Enzo & Daivari & Gulak came out with Enzo as Santa Claus and Daivari & Gulak as elves. Enzo talked about how the babyfaces got nothing but coal as presents, unlike the unfortunate gift of Michael Cole that everyone received today. Enzo did the SAWFT and the whole building did it with him. The crew was bringing out Christmas trees and gift boxes and putting them around the ring for a Miracle on 34th Street fight. As a general rule, when you have a holiday and think you have to do a holiday themed match, it usually ends up being awful. This wasn’t, but most of the time it would be. Alexander & Ali & Tozawa beat Enzo & Daivari & Gulak in 7:46. Enzo & Daivari & Gulak wrestled in their Christmas outfits. I guess because of the gimmick, or maybe because Ali is from Chicago, it got a better reaction than most of the cruiserweight bouts get. Ali and Tozawa did dives together with Ali doing a flip plancha to the floor and Tozawa a tope. They came back from a commercial break and Daivari body slammed Tozawa on an empty Christmas gift box. Enzo whipped Daivari into a Christmas tree in the corner. Ali hit the inverted 450 on Daivari but Gulak saved hitting Ali with a garbage can lid. Enzo used a giant candy cane as a weapon. Alexander got it from him and used it on him. Alexander pinned Daivari with the lumbar check. Backstage, Enzo was with Jax. They were doing the same nervous stuff and suddenly there was a mistletoe above them. They stalled and were about to kiss and the crowd was doing “Yes” chants. Bliss then showed up and broke them up telling Jax that they have to talk about the Rumble. Reigns did an interview and said that if you hurt one of my brothers, I will hurt you. Joe beat Reigns via DQ in 12:42 in an IC title match. The bout was good. The crowd was really into this. They were way more hyped for Reigns than they were for Cena, which surprised me. It was almost as if they felt Cena was yesterday’s news. Or maybe it was just Elias. Joe hit the elbow suicida, which is supposedly the move that first hurt Ambrose. To get it over, Reigns started selling like his arm was hurt. But he came back and wouldn’t stop beating on Joe and shoved down the ref for the DQ. After the match Reigns took him apart, doing a Superman punch after the match. He threw his shoulder into the post twice, threw the shoulder with the ring steps twice. They showed Rollins laughing about Joe being hurt. Rollins told Jordan to listen to him. Jordan said he was excited to team with him. Jordan said that Rollins had to admit he made a good replacement for Ambrose. Rollins said that he will never be Ambrose. Jordan said he was right, that he will be better than Ambrose. Axel & Dallas were in the ring with their Christmas outfits singing “Jingle Bells.” They had a surprise match. It was Strowman who came out and destroyed them. He powerslammed Dallas for the pin in :58. After the match, he gave Axel two powerslams and Dallas two more powerslams. Bliss did an interview and took credit for every women’s breakthrough. The lights went out and Asuka was in the ring. Asuka said she was entering the Rumble. Asuka kicked Bliss in the head and laid her out. Jordan & Rollins beat Sheamus & Cesaro to win the titles in 15:05. Good match. At first they tried to put in your head that Jordan & Rollins wouldn’t work as a team. Rollins was selling for a long time. He went for the hot tag but Jordan had been taken out. He finally tagged out at 11:20. Jordan does a strong hot tag, even though everything he used to do with his hot tag in American Alpha he didn’t do here. Jordan survived the sharpshooter by Cesaro and the cloverleaf by Sheamus,. The finish saw Cesaro hit an uppercut on Rollins on the floor. Cesaro got in the ring and Jordan hit a neckbreaker for the pin to take the titles. After Raw went off the air, they did a test bout of Strowman beating Kane in a last man standing match, winning in 7:00 with a powerslam through a table

Notes from the 12/26 Smackdown tapings. They were back at the All-State Arena for a show that was almost sold out with 10,500 fans. The key things on the show is that there is a tournament for the vacant U.S. title that Ziggler gave up. The Ziggler thing is the latest angle to try and restart him, just a short time after a previous angle taking him off TV to try and restart him. They set up a tag title match on the Jan. 2 show with Usos vs. Gable & Benjamin, who beat them last week and then won a top contenders match. They also set up Styles vs. Owens for the WWE title at the Rumble. It opened with Rawley pinning Ryder. Smackdown opened with Bryan out to a big reaction. Locally the show was advertised around his being the guest referee for the main event, which ended up as a dark match. Bryan talked about Ziggler leaving and said he’s been trying to get in touch with him but Ziggler hasn’t responded to him. He said Ziggler has given up the U.S. title. Fans started chanting for Rusev. He said he and Shane both agreed to start a tournament. This would seem like Rusev’s time. He announced a Roode vs. Corbin first round match in an eight-man tournament when Gable & Benjamin came out. They wanted to know about getting a tag team title shot. Bryan said they already lost in a title match. They said they should get a title match without any other teams. They were treated as heels as the crowd continued to chant for Rusev. Rusev & English came out with English singing about getting a title shot and said they had also beaten the Usos. English said there is a holiday after Christmas and Gable said “boxing day” (a Canadian holiday on 12/26). Rusev said it was Rusev Day. The New Day was next out. Big E called Benjamin “Old Jason Jordan.” Bryan announced a three-way for the title shot. Gable & Benjamin beat Big E & Woods and Rusev & English in 13:59. Woods did a flip dive. Gable German suplexed E & English at the same time. Rusev got a big babyface hot tag. Tons of near falls. English did a frog splash and looked to the sky. Eddy Guerrero, if he was alive, would be English’s father-in-law since he married Eddy’s daughter Shaul. Rusev put the accolade on Woods and Gable at the same time. Gable & Benjamin did their double team power bomb position flying clothesline on Big E for the win. Shane and Bryan were backstage. Shane was upset that Bryan acted like he may turn into his father. Shane said his father was a crazy SOB, but he did reinvent the business and he’s his father. Shane said he thought the U.S. title should have been decided by Corbin vs. Roode and not in a tournament. Bryan said everyone deserves a shot. Shane also didn’t like the Styles vs. Owens match, saying he knew Zayn would get involved. Bryan said that he made the match because Styles vs. Owens was one of the best rivalries of 2017 and he wanted to see them wrestle one more time. They did another Fashion Files where The Ascension gave Breeze & Fandango a Christmas present which was a rematch with the Bludgeon Brothers. Harper & Rowan beat Breezango via DQ in 2:06. They hit the crucifix power bomb on Breeze. Rowan picked him up at two. The Ascension then attacked Harper & Rowan. Breeze & Fandango were bot destroyed. The Ascension then said Breeze & Fandango were their best friends and they were issuing a challenge for their best friends to get another match with the Bludgeon Brothers next week. Riott pinned Naomi in :54. Naomi went after Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan and Riott attacked Naomi from behind and pinned her with a high kick. They all beat on Naomi after until Charlotte made the save. They all beat down Charlotte as well. Natalya, Carmella, Tamina and Lana all ran in and the Riott Squad backed off. Natalya & Carmella & Tamina & Lana attacked them anyway and the Riott Squad ran off. Renee Young interviewed Styles. Styles said he didn’t care if Zayn was at ringside in his match and that Owens couldn’t beat him. Roode pinned Corbin in a first round tournament match in 8:51 with a roll-up. Mahal pinned Dillinger in another tournament match in 5:58. Mahal won with the Khallas. Dasha Fuentes was backstage with Owens & Zayn. Owens had a champagne bottle and said they would celebrate after he beats Styles. This was the gift they had last week for Bryan when Bryan said he didn’t drink. Owens said the last time he faced Styles, it was Shane McMahon who cost him the match. Renee Young interviewed Orton. Orton said he’s been worrying about other people’s issues but no more and that he’s focused on winning the Rumble. Nakamura came out and said he would win the Rumble. Owens pinned Styles in 16:28 in a non-title match. Styles hit a pescado Zayn. Zayn distracted Styles and Owens superkicked him for a near fall. Shane came out and told the referee to throw Zayn out, which he did. Styles had Owens in a small package but the ref was occupied by Shane. Styles let go and told the ref to turn around. Owens then put Styles in a schoolboy for the pin. Owens poured the champagne on himself. Styles glared at Shane. Shane apologized to him. 205 Live opened with Alexander with Gulak. Alexander asked him if he was waiting for his boss to call. Gulak said why would he be waiting for Sasha Banks to call him. Gulak said he was waiting for his best friend to call. They established that Amore wasn’t there because he was wrestling in Madison Square Garden. But no fear, they showed several video packages of Enzo interviews so you never had to go long between them. Alexander said that Enzo called Gulak a “sugar-plumb fairy.” Gulak said that Enzo was his George Bailey, he’s shown him a wonderful life. Alexander said that a 205 Live without Enzo as champion is a better 205 Live for everyone, especially Gulak. Itami beat Gallagher in 7:37. Itami won with a new submission, somewhat like the Rings of Saturn. Even though Itami worked the match as the face, after every move he yelled at the crowd “Respect me,” so it would appear he’s going heel. He also did some of his heel spots from NXT. Nese did an interview. He asked if he was still in the Zo Train after they had all turned on him. He said they did all turn on him, but that Enzo was a global superstar and that his career has only gone up since he joined the Zo Train. Tozawa came out and made fun of him and he sucker punched Tozawa. Nese pinned Tozawa in 6:45. They traded near falls until Nese used the running knees into the corner for the pin. The crowd wasn’t interested in this but the wrestling was fine. Gulak & Daivari did an interview. Gulak was good as usual and once again nobody works harder with his “Power Point Presentation” build to get so little live crowd reaction. Alexander came out and noted that Gulak & Daivari would never be friends in real life because Daivari is an arrogant rich guy who looks down on blue collar guys like Gulak. He also noted they were in Ali’s home city, Chicago. This woke the crowd up and they started chanting for Ali. Alexander then asked them how do they think Enzo would choose if he had to pick between the Zo Train or Nia Jax. Ali & Alexander beat Gulak & Daivari in 8:49. Usual good match. It got more crowd reaction than most because the crowd was behind Ali. Alexander did a missile dropkick with one foot on each guy during his comeback. Ali did a great twisting dive. The finish saw Daivari on the middle rope to deliver a back superplex on Ali. Gulak started yelling at him to get down because of his campaign against no moves off the ropes. While they argued, Alexander gave Gulak the lumbar check and Ali knocked Daivari off the ropes and hit the inverted 450 for the pin. The post-show dark match, but around Bryan as referee saw Orton & Nakamura & Styles over Zayn & Owens & Mahal. Orton threw Zayn through the Christmas set up. Nakamura got the biggest reaction of the three faces. Orton did a double draping DDT on the Singhs and Bryan kicked them out. Bryan and Zayn did a cris-cross spot and Bryan whipped Zayn into an RKO by Orton. Nakamura then hit the Kinshasa on Zayn for the pin

Notes from the 12/20 NXT show. They went well over 70 minutes because, well, they can, to allow them to give Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate time to have a classic match. From a technical standpoint, I thought this was the best of their three bouts, even more than Chicago, as Chicago was more just moves with super heat and this was more storytelling, although the lack of heat would keep me from listing it as a match of the year candidate. Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly beat Eric Young & Killian Dain to win the tag team tiles in 12:53. Dain played monster early. Most of the match was working over Young. Adam Cole interfered and caused Young to be crotched on the top rope. Nikki Cross made out and did a crossbody off the apron on Cole. The referees dragged Cross away. Cross did a good job fighting off the refs believably. Young hit a tope on Cole, but Fish & O’Reilly hit total elimination on Young and pinned him in a good match. They did a promotional video on Shayna Baszler arriving. They gave you the impression she’s supposed to be a big star. There was a vignette where Heavy Machinery saw Tino Sabbatelli’s Maserati and I guess it was blocking something. So he decided to lift it up and move it. He was about to when Sabbatelli & Riddick Moss came out. It was classic rich kids making fun of less rich strong farm boys type of a movie scene. Moss is really good at playing that role. They acted like they vaguely knew them and said “pork and weights,” and Otis Dozovic said “steaks and weights.” Dozovic wanted to fight them but they got in their car all dressed up and drove away. Hey, at least the car moved. Sonya Deville did a promo for her title match next week with Ember Mon. She was fine with it. Lars Sullivan pinned Roderick Strong in 5:40 in a match to get into the final-four in the title contenders series. This was pretty much a squash. Sullivan’s facials are getting better. He still feels to me like somebody who gets over more at a live show than on TV. TV fans really don’t care about size anymore and somebody like him, with the freaky proportions, you can’t really see t unless you’re live. Strong got one comeback but lost clean to the freak accident. There was a Street Profits vignette. Between the music and Montez Ford, this is a main roster star act. Bate and Dunne did promos. Dunne is closer but both need to be somewhere practicing promos because work wise they are so far ahead of the curve but promo-wise they don’t stand out. Dunne beat Bate in 22:48 to retain the U.K. title in a ****½ match. It’s almost incredible how good they are, especially when you consider Bate is only 20 and Dunne is 24. Dunne is so creative in doing little things that are realistic modern heel moves like fish hooking and small joint manipulations. Bate was bleeding from the left ear. Bate went for the Tyler driver 97 but Dunne turned it into a triangle. Bate used a one arm power bomb to break it but Dunne claimed the triangle right back on. Bate did his world’s greatest-ever airplane spin spot, including doing a full squat, spinning in both directions and then doing the fastest spin ever. The work was exceptional but it was held down by lack of crowd reaction. Bate kicked out of the bitter end the first time. They had a great wild punch exchange that led to Nigel McGuinness referencing Frye and Takayama. Bate hit a big right that knocked Dunne down, but Bate started selling the hand since Dunne had been working it over, but not in the usual carton selling way. Bate did a dive over the top and threw Dunne back in the ring. He hit the Tyler driver 97 but Dunne kicked out. Bate did a twisting splash for a near fall as well. The crowd was quiet by this point I guess because they were fading due to the length of the match. Dunne won with the bitter end. But when it was over, you could see that the fans knew they were watching a classic.