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January 15, 2018 Wrestling Observer Newsletter: NJPW Wrestlekingdom 12 review, plus tons of news

Wrestling Observer Newsletter

PO Box 1228, Campbell, CA 95009-1228 ISSN10839593 January 15, 2018



Thumbs up 1392 (99.1%)

Thumbs down 0 (00.0%)

In the middle 13 (00.9%)



Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho 631

Kazuchika Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito 448

Ospreay vs. Scurll vs. Kushida vs. Takahashi 195

Hirooki Goto vs. Minoru Suzuki 96

Kota Ibushi vs. Cody 15

Young Bucks vs. Sho & Yoh 11



Never Gauntlet 447

Rumble 348

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Jay White 254

Sanada & Evil vs. Smith & Archer 104

Young Bucks vs. Sho & Yoh 18



Thumbs up 139 (82.7%)

Thumbs down 5 (03.0%)

In the middle 24 (14.3%)



Chaos vs. LIJ 10 men 97

Bucks & Omega vs. Sho & Yoh & Cheeseburger 20



Opening eight man 64

Tanahashi Team vs. Suzuki-gun 21

Based on e-mail and phone calls to the Observer as through Sunday, 1/7.


Wrestle Kingdom 12, headlined by Kazuchika Okada’s retaining the IWGP title over Tetsuya Naito and Kenny Omega beating Chris Jericho in a U.S. title match was the biggest non-WWE pro wrestling event on a worldwide basis since the collapse of WCW.

The 1/4 show at the Tokyo Dome kicked off the year with what is likely to be a strong candidate for best show of the year, just as Wrestle Kingdom had won the same award in 2015 and 2016, and was a favorite to make it three in a row in 2017.

Whether the wrestling was as good as the other years is debatable, but for a number of reasons, this show was far bigger, in both attendance, market value and overall interest.

The appearance of Jericho brought a new fan base that watched new Japan for the first time, either on New Japan World, AXS TV or through other means. It wasn’t just the idea that a WWE star was facing a New Japan star in the “Alpha vs. Omega” match, but the brilliance in which the angle played out. You could have a bigger WWE star like Roman Reigns, John Cena or Brock Lesnar face a New Japan star, and it’s extremely doubtful they’d have drawn the same money just because the angles and storylines wouldn’t have been as good. It wasn’t WWE vs. New Japan that was the main draw, although it was an underlying theme. It was more a newly-reinvented Jericho and the series of angles that built to the match, combined with Omega becoming such a strong underground draw in the U.S. It was also the work of serious hard promotion.

In many ways, it was a career climax for Jericho. He’s been in tons of big shows before, headlining many PPVs in WWE. He was a key part of several WrestleManias and in the main event position in one, in 2002, with HHH, although the real main event on that show was Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock. Nevertheless, with the show billed as a double main event, Jericho did join only Ric Flair and Brock Lesnar as men who have headlined both a New Japan Tokyo Dome show (Hulk Hogan headlined an SWS show in that building and was on a few New Japan shows, but never in the main event) and a WrestleMania.

But while on the card in a good position, he was never like Dwayne Johnson or Donald Trump or even Shane McMahon, where you could show based on his match being announced, that he drew over and above WrestleMania. In reality, in a 27 year career, Jericho is well respected a top-notch wrestler and an even better promo. While he had a hot feud at one point with Shawn Michaels that boosted PPV numbers most likely, it’s hard to really pinpoint them.

He came from an era where top guy means a guy who provably drew money, like Hogan, Flair, Roddy Piper, Randy Savage, Bruno Sammartino, The Rock or Steve Austin. In most of those cases, they were the result of a combination of talent and opportunity. In this case, Jericho created his own opportunity and really all four guys in the two main events, were part of a successful mix, and all played a part.

Okada vs. Naito was the real main event for Japan, while Omega vs. Jericho was the main event for the rest of the world. In the past, the latter moniker would be nice, but would mean nothing, since Wrestle Kingdom has been a Japanese event. But the world has gotten smaller between YouTube, social media, the Internet, streaming services and New Japan getting U.S. television.

Even though Wrestle Kingdom 9 was on PPV in the U.S., its audience was limited. Based on google searches in the U.S., this year’s show had double the interest of last year’s show over the full week, and last year’s show had all the hoopla of the Omega vs. Okada match. It had nearly four times the interest of Wrestle Kingdom 9 and 10, even with all the promotion done for PPV of the former.

What’s notable is also that outside of Japan, the U.S. was only the No. 6 market in terms of per capita interest, trailing the U.K., Ireland, Puerto Rico, Australia and Canada. Canada being No. 5 was also a surprise since with Winnipeg being where Jericho grew up and where Omega lives, Canada would have been expected to be No. 1. The most searched names, in order, were Jericho, Omega, Okada, Naito, Cody Rhodes, Marty Scurll, Will Ospreay and Masahito Kakihara. In the U.S., it was Omega and Jericho tied, followed by Okada, Naito, Cody, Scurll, Ospreay, Brandi Rhodes and Kakihara.

As far as the numbers, this is the pattern for New Japan World, which is similar but much smaller than WWE Network. Last year, WrestleKingdom 11 saw the numbers increase over the week from 45,000 to 60,000. After, it dropped back to about 50,000, so most of the increase didn’t hold. It jumped back to 70,000 for the G-1 finals and hovered at that level most of the rest of the year. It was at 65,000 in December and jumped to 70,000 on 1/3 in the U.S. It was up to 82,000 a few hours before the show started, and between the show and New Year’s Dash the next day, it was at 95,000 after Dash ended and 97,000 by the next morning U.S. time. On the afternoon of 1/9,it had increased to 99,784, so it likely topped 100,000 by the end of that day. So the increase in subscribers last year for the show was 15,000 and this year was 35,000. It still pales compared to WWE numbers, but it’s amazing growth. The key is of those 35,000 newcomers, how many continue through February? Most probably won’t, but nobody was counting on most, just an increase from what was the previous long-term base.

In theory, it should have been slightly more difficult to grow this year than last because the service is a year older, but interest in New Japan is also up. It’s probably unfair to credit Jericho vs. Omega with 20,000 new subs over and above what they’d have gotten, but 15,000 is not a stretch at all, and that’s a $128,000 value alone let alone if it adds 5,000 to the base it’s worth another $484,000 for the year.

The paid attendance was 34,995, and the total in the building was between 43,000 and 44,000. The building was set up for about 45,000 and was largely full. After winning the main event, Okada actually pointed to a few sections that weren’t full and said that next year with him on top they would fill them. Takaaki Kidani said that the company goal was to build to where they could also fill the outfield seats, which were mostly blocked off by the stage.

Legitimately, it was the largest crowd for a New Japan show in 16 years, and for that matter, for any pro wrestling show that wasn’t promoted by WWE since that time.

Last year’s paid attendance was 26,192. My gut says they were going to do 30,000 this year with the increase in popularity and the Jericho vs. Omega match added about 5,000 fans. That could be a little high or low, but it’s probably not far off. If you figure that’s at a $90 average ticket price and that the average fan is spending $40 on merchandise (and my gut is the fans added by that match were spending more than that), you get $650,000. Jericho had done interviews and talked about adding $1 million in revenue to what they would have done in talking about provably drawing money, and I’d think about $1.13 million would be a fair estimate. When Brock Lesnar came back to pro wrestling, he was able to consistently move business by $750,000 on an average show, but it’s a lot easier to do that with PPV than just live tickets and a streaming service.

Of those, more than 1,000 tickets were sold in the U.S., and many other Americans and Europeans got their tickets in Japan. The estimate was about 2,400 American and European fans at the show, a number which is totally unprecedented. When I went to sold out Tokyo Dome shows in the 90s, I doubt that figure would be more than about 200.

We got 1,405 responses over three days to our poll on the show, destroying the old record of 970 set for the WWE’s ECW One Night Stand show in 2005 and more than doubling any show in the last ten years. For a comparison last year’s three biggest shows when it came to our feedback were Dominion at 580, Wrestle Kingdom at 534 and WrestleMania at 523.

The next night, at New Year’s Dash at Korakuen Hall, and later over ice cream at a restaurant after the show, they set up a series of angles for the next several months.

The key is that Jericho is coming back, as at the end of Dash, when the show appeared to be over and Naito was doing his closing promo, suddenly Jericho attacked him. The two had been going back-and-forth with Naito going off at a press conference about Jericho vs. Omega being billed as a co-main event, saying that all his life he’d worked to be in the Dome main event, that it was taken away from him in 2014 by the fans, and now he earned it and it was the one and only main event. Jericho pushed that they were the main event for Japan, but he and Omega were the main event in the rest of the world.

Because Jericho starts touring with his band “Fozzy” at the end of the month, the Jericho vs. Naito match would either take place on 3/25 in Long Beach (as he is between tours that week) or at Dominion on 6/9 in Osaka. Jericho didn’t give specifics, although those close to the situation did say it’s right now planned for Long Beach. But he did say he would be returning and would like to work a Brock Lesnar type of schedule. That’s the right thing for him, as even an A.J. Styles type of schedule wouldn’t make sense for either side. Plus his main priority for this year is Fozzy. He made it clear he’s not interested in doing the G-1 tournament and he really shouldn’t. Essentially he’s looking for big matches, and obviously Omega, Naito, Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi, the company’s big four, would be the ones that make sense. Perhaps Bryan Danielson, if he starts here toward the end of the year, would make sense but I’m not sure would have the special quality of the others since it’s been done. Really, he probably should have beaten Omega to set up a second meeting, as well as to set up a title shot at Okada.

While he’s not like Lesnar, since Lesnar’s gimmick was being real and legitimate and didn’t have Jericho’s angle, creative and promotional skills, Lesnar’s drawing power is based on needing to win almost all his matches, Jericho doesn’t have to, but he does need at least one win here and there to remain valuable at the top level and if he’s not kept at that level, there’s no point for either side. Really, he should beat Naito to set up a match with Okada, and after that there’s still a second match with Omega and a first with Tanahashi.

But in a sense, a win over Omega at the Dome would tell people he was returning and I think he wanted the Naito attack to come at a time when people thought that he was one-and-done. The money figure he got for the Dome show, Dash and the build-up was said to be about the same as what he earned in his last six months combined with WWE. And it’s really clear he loved the fact that he largely could lay out all his angles and his matches without needing to get everything, or really, barely anything approved. Jericho was friends with and former tag team partners with Gedo & Jado (they were in a trio of Gedo & Jado & Liondo) when all were starting out in the business in the early 90s with Genichiro Tenryu’s WAR promotion. In many ways, it was three guys who were kids starting out, and now nearly a quarter century later, they’re the bookers and he’s an international star coming back to work for them.

As far as Omega goes, on 1/9, he signed his new contract so it is official he’s with New Japan through January 31, 2019, so he won’t be in the Royal Rumble this year (or next year), or WrestleMania, which no doubt won’t keep people from speculating on his role in those shows daily.

As far as Okada’s retaining the title, I would have gone with Naito. Naito was the most popular wrestler and biggest merchandise seller by far. Timing is everything and this was his time.

Okada had always been planned to win. The feeling is that for the general public, Okada is the company’s superstar. When TV-Asahi did that national poll of the biggest wrestling star of all-time, Okada placed fourth, behind only Giant Baba, Antonio Inoki and Satoru Sayama, and one spot ahead of Rikidozan, since it’s a generation later. The idea is to try and make Okada into the face of the company at the level Inoki was but nobody has ever been since.

This record-setting title reign is the one that they want people to point to for a decade like a major sports domination period ala Michael Jordan in the NBA, where he had one fantastic match after another and held the title longer than anyone.

He already broke Tanahashi’s record for most time holding the IWGP title, but there are two records left. The first is most consecutive title defenses during one reign. Tanahashi’s January 4, 2011 to February 12, 2012 reign (where he lost to the “unknown” Okada at the end) saw him make 11 successful defenses. While Okada has held the title longer, they are limiting his title defenses with the idea that the less often they happen, the more important they become.

The win over Naito was No. 9. He will be next facing Seiya Sanada on 2/10 in Osaka for No. 10. My presumption is he won’t defend in Long Beach, although that is possible. More likely the record would be tied at Sakura Genesis on 4/1 at Sumo Hall in Tokyo. That would leave the record to be broken in May in Fukuoka, but it would be bigger to have that record broken at Dominion in June. There is the natural storyline of him tying the record and then facing Tanahashi to break the record, particularly since the two had a legendary rivalry. If that match takes place in May or June, the two won’t have met in a singles match since their 30:00 draw in the 2016 G-1 tournament, or nearly two years earlier.

As far as the Dome show went, the match quality was excellent. There was no Omega vs. Okada match on the show, but most matches were great, and what made the six hour and 10 minute show so easy to watch is that every match was different. Omega vs. Naito was a classic world title match between an over champion and a legit top contender where people believed the title could change hands. Jericho vs. Omega was a brawl, with juice and a lot of good psychological spots, hard blows leaving knots on both guys, and strong athleticism. Some didn’t like Tanahashi vs. Jay White for different reasons. Some felt White should have won, but that’s just not the way it’s done in Japan (Okada’s 2012 win over Tanahashi being the exception). Tanahashi’s knee was messed up but he still did all his trademark stuff. White didn’t stand out at the level hoped for but part of this was having to follow a ridiculous four-way.

The jr. title match, the last of the five title changes, saw Will Ospreay winning over champion Marty Scurll, Hiromu Takahashi and Kushida was insane. In an incredible match that would be talked about as a match of the year candidate almost any other night, Hirooki Goto beat Minoru Suzuki to win the Never Open weight title in a hair vs. hair match. After Suzuki lost, he was dragged away by the Suzuki-gun members without getting his hair cut. Before he got to the back, he recovered, pulled himself away from his teammates, and came to the ring, like he was a man of his word. He kicked away the chair Goto had for him to sit in, and instead put his own chair in the ring, and cut off much of his hair. The next day, at Dash, he showed up shaved bald.

Sanada & Evil won the IWGP heavyweight tag titles over Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr., in another excellent match, but some didn’t like it because it had to follow an excellent Kota Ibushi vs. Cody match. A lot of people saw that as the break because it was so long with the only break between matches coming after the opening Rumble.

Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii & Baretta won the gauntlet, beating champions Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa & Bad Luck Fale in the final match to win the Never Open trios championship. But that was short-lived, as Tonga & Loa & Fale regained the ping pong ball championship at Dash the next day.

The Young Bucks won the IWGP jr. tag titles from Sho & Yoh, making it their seventh win of those belts. The win breaks the record they had previously held with Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan of holding six tag team titles in New Japan.

The gauntlet match wasn’t much. It was easy to watch, but those matches are usually quick. It was okay, but nothing more. As usual, the Rumble itself was bad. They brought people in so quickly that it never slowed down, but was also never good. However, it had a great surprise finish.

The match was disappointing because people were waiting for surprises, and there were none most of the way. The first, Gino Gambino from Australia was somebody that nobody knew. With one person left to come in, the old UWF theme song played. TV announcer Kazuo Yamazaki, one of the major stars from that promotion, stood up and acted like he was taking off his jacket and shirt, when suddenly, Masahito Kakihara came out.

Kakihara’s career ended years ago due to getting cancer and he had only done one match since 2006, on a UWF reunion show last year. Kakihara was much smaller, and wore a full long-sleeve shirt. He really looked about the same size as Cheeseburger. Kakihara threw out Tenzan and then used an STO to pin Cheeseburger for the big win which was one of the real highlights of the show. After the win, they showed Yamazaki at the desk in tears and a lot of other fans were as well. Kakihara put on a Yoshihiro Takayama T-shirt and spoke about Takayama’s plight.

Besides Jericho vs. Naito, other key angles set up on the Dash show included Cody vs. Ibushi, Cody vs. Omega, Omega vs. White, Young Bucks vs. Sho & Yoh, Tanahashi vs. Minoru Suzuki, Ospreay vs. Hiromu Takahashi, Okada vs. Sanada and Goto vs. Evil. Most of those matches will be on the three New Beginnings shows, which will be 1/27 and 1/28 in Sapporo, and 2/10 in Osaka. All three shows will have English language commentary.

The exceptions are Jericho vs. Naito and Cody vs. Omega. Cody vs. Omega started when Cody attacked Ibushi after a ten-man tag match. Robinson tried to stop the attack but Cody laid him out with crossroads. Cody then grabbed a chair and went to hit Ibushi when Omega came out and pulled the chair away. The place went nuts for Omega as a babyface, really the biggest pop of the Dash show. He then tried to do an interview but the mic didn’t work. Finally he got a mic and said he was sick of The Bullet Club in-fighting and talking behind each others’ back and that they need unity. He also said to do that, he wanted to bring in a new member, White. Omega said he could see all the potential in White and White reminds him of himself in 2015. He said White was the complete package and gave him a Bullet Club T-shirt. White put on the shirt. White went to do the “too sweet” but Omega said we don’t do that anymore and they hugged. White then laid out Omega with the blade runner, which is the downward spiral.

The next day, at a press conference, White was with Okada and it was announced that White was joining Chaos. Although White didn’t get over as big as hoped for at the Dome, he did come off as a star at the press conference noting that while he was joining Chaos, his long-term goal was to work with Okada and eventually beat him.

Later, after the show at a Bullet Club celebration filmed for “Being the Elite,” Cody and Omega got into another argument and Omega walked out on the group, mad at Cody for attacking Ibushi and the Young Bucks and everyone else for not being there when White was beating him down.

Right now the plan is for the Omega vs. Cody match to take place on 4/7 in New Orleans, but I could see them also delaying that for the All In show since the date is before they can use Bryan Danielson and they need a main event of that caliber.

At the Dome, they announced most of the big shows for the first eight months of the year. Besides the New Beginnings shows, they announced the 46th anniversary show for 3/6 at the Ota Ward Gym in Tokyo, which is where that show usually takes place since that’s where New Japan’s first show was held. The New Japan Cup will be in March, a single elimination tournament with the finals on 3/21 in Niigata. Strong Style Evolved will be in Long Beach on 3/25. Sakura Generis is being moved up a week, to 4/1 at Sumo Hall in Tokyo. Most likely the main event will be the winner of the New Japan Cup facing the IWGP champion. There will be a big show called Wrestling Hinokoku in Kumamoto on 4/29. Dontaku in Fukuoka is now going to be two days, splitting up the title matches, with shows on both 5/3 and 5/4. The Best of the Super Junior tournament opens on 5/18. Dominion, which is the second biggest show of the year, takes place on 6/9 at Osaka Jo Hall. There will also be a major show called Kizuna Road on 6/15.

The G-1 Climax tournament will be from 7/14 to 8/12, so a four-week long tournament. The first two nights will be 7/14 and 7/15 at the Ota Ward Gym in Tokyo, followed by 7/16 in Sapporo. Sapporo is usually one of the biggest shows of the tournament.

The final three days will be 8/10, 8/11 and 8/12, all at Budokan Hall. Sumo Hall is being refurbished this summer, so the move to Budokan is not a sign they’ve outgrown Sumo Hall. It’s simply that Budokan Hall, which holds about 4,000 to 5,000 more fans depending on the set-up, is the only alternative in Tokyo, since the experiment of taking G-1 to a domed baseball stadium didn’t work a few years ago.

This will be the first pro wrestling event at Budokan since Kenta Kobashi’s retirement show on May 11, 2013, which set the building’s attendance record. New Japan last ran there on June 13, 2003 for a show headlined by NWF champion Takayama beating Shinsuke Nakamura, which drew 8,500 fans.

The next thing on the agenda for New Japan is the Fantastica Mania tour which starts on 1/12 in Nagoya, and continues with smaller building shows on 1/14 in Kyoto, 1/15 in Takamatsu, 1/16 in Osaka and 1/17 in Toyama.

The last three shows will air live from Korakuen Hall on New Japan World, all starting at 4:30 a.m. Eastern time.

The 1/19 show has Fuego vs. Okumura, Kojima & Dragon Lee & Star Jr. & Hirai Kawato vs. Rush & Naito & Hiromu Takahashi & Bushi, Atlantis & Mistico & Volador Jr. & Drone vs. Ultimo Guerrero & Barbaro Cavernario & Puma & Disturbio, Angel de Oro defends the CMLL middleweight title against Cuatrero, Soberano Jr. defends he Mexican national welterweight title against Sanson and Niebla Roja defends the CMLL light heavyweight title against Gran Guerrero in a rematch of last year’s CMLL anniversary show main event.

The 1/21 show has Drone & Star Jr. vs. Puma & Disturbio, Soberano Jr. & Fuego & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Okumura & Sho & Yoh, Kojima & Atlantis & Kushida & Kawato vs. Rush & Naito & Hiromu Takahashi & Bushi, the first round matches of a brothers tag team tournament with Niebla Roja & Angel de Oro vs.; Ultimo Guerrero & Gran Guerrero and Dragon Lee & Mistico vs. Sanson & Cuatrero, plus a main event of Volador Jr. vs. Cavernario for the NWA historic welterweight title.

The 1/22 show has Taguchi & Fuego vs. Puma & Disturbio, Star Jr. & Jushin Liger & Tiger Mask & Kushida vs. Okumura & Rocky Romero & Sho & Yoh, the third place match in the brothers tag team tournament, Atlantis & Kawato vs. Cavernario & Gedo, Volador Jr. & Soberano Jr. & Drone vs. Naito & Hiromu Takahashi & Bushi, Kojima vs. Rush and the brothers tag team tournament finals.

The lineups aren’t nearly as strong as usual. Usually you can count on a few super singles matches and high flying spectaculars like Volador vs. Ultimo Guerrero or Dragon Lee vs. Hiromu Takahashi or a big Mistico singles match. The closest is Volador vs Cavernario, which should be good. In addition, they are mostly resting up Tanahashi and Okada, who for whatever reason are only working the second night in Kyoto rather than the big shows. Kyoto’s main event is Mistico & Niebla Roja & Tanahashi vs. Okada & Ultimo Guerrero & Gran Guerrero. Usually you get the New Japan top guys doing Lucha Libre and having fun with it. Still, these shows are traditionally a highlight of the year because of the fun atmosphere as the CMLL guys treat it like it’s their highlight and usually go all out.

The 1/22 show will be Kawato’s last show as he’s going on excursion and starts about a week later for CMLL. Him leaving this early, at the age of 20, pretty much tells you what everyone already knows, and that’s that he’s going to be a big star.

After that comes the New Beginnings tour.

The first show is 1/27 with a 4 a.m. Eastern start time from the Hokkaido Sports Center in Sapporo. The card is Katsuya Kitamura vs. Michael Elgin, Tenzan & Kojima & Liger & Tiger Mask & Kushida vs. Takashi Iizuka & Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Taichi & Desperado & Taka Michinoku, Ishii & Yano vs. Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens, Tonga & Loa & Fale defend the six-man titles against Togi Makabe & Toa Henare (Henare’s new ring name) & Taguchi, Ibushi & Robinson & David Finlay vs. Cody & Hangman Page & Scurll, Ospreay & Yoshi-Hashi vs. Naito & Hiromu Takahashi, Okada & Goto & Gedo vs. Sanada & Evil & Bushi, White & Sho & Yoh vs. Young Bucks & Omega, and Tanahashi vs. Suzuki for the IC title. This is the first singles match Tanahashi and Suzuki have done since their 2012 match of the year winner.

They also run the same building on 1/28 at 1 a.m. Eastern (or 10 p.m. on the West Coast, shortly after both the UFC and Takeover Philadelphia end). That card has Kitamura vs. Robinson, Liger & Tiger Mask & Taguchi & Shota Umino vs. Kanemaru & Taichi & Desperado & Taka Michinoku, Ishii & Yano vs Yujiro Takahashi & Hikuleo (the new name for Leo Tonga), Makabe & Tenzan & Kojima & Henare vs. Fale & Tonga & Loa & Owens, Tanahashi & Elgin vs. Suzuki & Iizuka, Ibushi & Finlay & Kushida vs. Cody & Page & Scurll, Okada & Goto & Yoshi-Hashi & Ospreay & Gedo vs. Naito & Evil & Sanada & Hiromu Takahashi & Bushi, Young Bucks defend the IWGP jr. tag titles against Sho & Yoh and Omega defends the U.S. title against White.

The Young Bucks, Omega, Cody, Page and Scurll are only working the Sapporo shows. Some of them will be working the Australia tour in February which at this point Omega is not scheduled for, and they’ll likely all be on the ROH shows that haven’t been announced that are tentatively scheduled for two dates in late February at Korakuen Hall.

Three more tour shows will be on New Japan World, with 2/5 and 2/6 Korakuen Hall shows with only Japanese language broadcasts, both at 4:30 a.m. Eastern time.

2/5 has Liger & Tiger Mask & Taguchi vs. Umino & Tetsuhiro Yagi & Ren Narita, Kojima & Elgin vs. Yujiro Takahashi & Hikuleo, Kitamura vs. Tenzan, Romero & Sho & Yoh vs. Taichi & Desperado & Michinoku, Robinson & Henare vs. Ishii & Yano, Tanahashi & Makabe & Kushida vs. Suzuki & Iizuka & Kanemaru, Finlay vs. White and a 10-man elimination match main event (New Japan usually does these well)_ with Okada & Goto & Yoshi-Hashi & Ospreay & Gedo vs. Naito & Sanada & Evil & Bushi & Hiromu Takahashi.

The 2/6 show has Liger & Tiger Mask & Kushida vs. Umino & Yagi & Narita, Tenzan & Elgin vs. Yujiro Takahashi & Hikuleo, Kojima vs. Kitamura, Romero & Sho & Yoh vs. Kanemaru & Desperado & Michinoku, Robinson & Finlay & Henare vs. White & Ishii & Yano, Tanahashi & Makabe & Taguchi vs. Suzuki & Iizuka & Taichi, Yoshi-Hashi & Ospreay & Gedo vs. Naito & Hiromu Takahashi & Bushi, and the main event is Evil & Sanada vs. Okada & Goto for the IWGP tag titles.

The story behind that match is that Sanada challenged Okada for the IWGP title and Evil challenged Goto for the Never title. Okada & Goto agreed to the matches if they would, in return, get a tag title match.

The other big show of the tour is 2/10 at the Edion Arena in Osaka, a show at 3 a.m. Eastern time (so late Friday night on the West Coast) with Yuji Nagata vs. Kitamura, Sho & Yoh vs. Kanemaru & Desperado, Elgin & Robinson & Finlay vs. White & Ishii & Yano, Tanahashi & Makabe & Kushida & Taguchi vs. Suzuki & Iizuka & Taichi & Michinoku, Gedo vs. Bushi, Yoshi-Hashi vs. Naito, Ospreay vs. Hiromu Takahashi for the IWGP jr. title, Goto vs. Evil for the Never title and Okada vs. Sanada for the IWGP title.

The week started with the kickoff show on 1/3 at Differ Ariake, which is a long fan festival, built around in-ring interviews with the stars of the Dome show. Everyone came out for promos except Omega and Jericho, who weren’t there. The idea is that the rest were sportsmen and could name call each other, but Omega and Jericho couldn’t be in the same ring together. They sold 1,700 tickets in a way in advance sellout. The matches, featuring people not booked for matches at the Dome, saw Tiger Mask & Narita beat Liger & Yagi in 9:28 when Tiger Mask pinned Yagi after a Tiger driver; Kojima & Kitamura beat Tenzan & Tomoyuki Oka in 9:50 when Kojima pinned Oka with a lariat and Nagata & Kawato beat Nakanishi & Umino in 11:36 when Kawato pinned Umino with an enzuigiri.

The Tokyo Dome show came next.

1. Masahito Kakihara won the Rumble in 32:05. It opened with Katsuya Kitamura vs. Bushi. Bushi got a big reaction even though fans were mostly filing in at this point. Delirious was in next, followed by Leo Tonga. A spot that made no sense saw Tonga pinning Kitamura and Bushi broke it up. Why would you break up an elimination unless it was your own teammate? People were coming in at about 1:20 apart, but it was like a WWE Rumble (except far worse) and it was really just whenever. Chase Owens was next in. Delirious was the first guy pinned and Tiger Hattori totally blew the count. He counted to two, then stopped, and then counted all over again at 6:34. Don Callis said that they needed to give Tiger an Abacus. Nakanishi threw Bushi over the top rope at 7:00. Yuji Nagata was next in. Nakanishi got Nagata in the torture rack and threw him on Tonga. Taka Michinoku was next in. Nagata & Nakanishi pinned Tonga at 8:56. Nagata then pinned Nakanishi at 9:00 and everyone jumped on Nagata and pinned him at 9:03. Owens pinned Kitamura with a package piledriver in 9:19. I know the system but they really should have used this match to push Kitamura more. The people were wanting it. Yoshinobu Kanemaru and Desperado were the next two in. Kanemaru spit the booze in Owens’ face and the Suzuki-gun guys all threw him out at 12:39. This left only Michinoku, Kanemaru and Desperado in. Jushin Liger was next in to the biggest pop of the show up to this point and he hit shote’s on everyone. Kanemaru went after Liger’s mask. Tiger Mask was next in. Gino Gambino, a stocky guy from Australia was next in. That got a pop in bars all over Australia, where the show was on at a decent hour and they actually knew who he was, unlike anyone in Tokyo. Kanemaru pinned Liger at 16:44 and Tiger Mask was thrown out seconds later. Gambino pinned Michinoku in 17:11. Toa Henare was next in. So it was Australia vs. New Zealand. Yoshi-Hashi was next in and was throwing hard chops. David Finlay was next in. Finlay gave Gambino a stunner and Henare pinned Gambino in 21:06. Yoshi-Hashi dropkicked Henare over the to in 21:28. In a big surprise, Finlay pinned Yoshi-Hashi in 21:40 even though Yoshi-Hashi’s shoudler was up. Officiating wasn’t the strong suit in this match.; Yujiro Takahashi came out with Pieter or Tokyo Latina or Muffin Ass or whatever name Fale’s girlfriend is going by this week. Callis, now that he’s running a company, was far more under control. Actually, she was more clothed than usual. Yujiro clotheslined Finlay over the top in 22:44. Cheeseburger was in next and got a big pop. Next in was Satoshi Kojima. Hiroyoshi Tenzan was next in, followed by the big surprise in Kakihara. So it was down to Yujiro, Kojima, Tenzan, Cheeseburger and Kakihara. They put over Kakihara and his legendary super fast hands, but at 45 after cancer, he did his quick slaps and the fans were no longer fast. Really he was so small, he used to have this cool physique with the wide shoulders and small waist and not was covered from head to toe. But everyone understood. Kojima pinned Yujiro with a lariat in 29:27. Kojima was killing Cheeseburger with the machine gun chops. Kojima and Tenzan ended up bumping into each other and Kakihara gave them the slaps. Kojima went after Cheeseburger, who ducked, and Kojima went over the top in31:22. Kakihara threw out Tenzan in 31:29, and then Kakihara hit the STO on Cheeseburger to win in 32:05. Kakihara did an interview thanking the fans, talking about beating cancer and then put on a Takayama T-shirt. Kakihara and Takayama were together in the old UWFI promotion where both started out. Kakihara said that some day Takayama will stand here in the Tokyo Dome ring. *1/2

2. Matt & Nick Jackson beat Sho & Yoh in 18:49 to win the IWGP jr. tag titles. Yoh used the sharpshooter in both Bucks, who had to make the ropes. Sho & Yoh did double running flip dives. Yoh started selling like he had a back injury. Nick gave him a German suplex on the apron to make it worse. Matt destroyed Rocky Romero with a running power bomb on the ramp. Romero just laid there for minutes. Matt power bombed Yoh on the apron but he kicked out of Nick’s pin. Matt went to piledrive Yoh on the floor but he backdropped out of it and Matt took a bump on the ramp. Nick hit Yoh with a springboard dropkick. Nick went for a dive but Yoh moved and Nick took out Matt. Sho finally hot tagged in and Nick was giving Sho brutal elbows. Sho gave Matt two German suplexes and then German’d Matt & Nick at the same time. Lots of big spots. Yoh had a half crab on Matt while Sho had the same move on Nick. Matt was about to tap but Nick grabbed his hand and wouldn’t let him tap. The story of the match was that Matt and Sho both were working in intense pain after getting their backs destroyed but neither would quit. It was the FU to people who say they don’t sell or use psychology in their matches. Nick came back and did a crazy dive and Matt superkicked Yoh. They did the Meltzer driver on Yoh and Nick put the sharpshooter on Yoh for the submission. Excellent match, really would be the best match on most big shows. ****

3. Zack Sabre Jr. & Takashi Iizuka & Taichi beat Michael Elgin & Ray Rowe & Hanson in 6:05. This was the beginning of the Never six man title gauntlet. It was good action. War Machine went out with a great showing. Those guys always work hard and Elgin also always works hard. Hanson really stood out here. Sabre put a triangle on Rowe and then switched to a combination armbar and heel hook on Rowe for the submission. **½

4. Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano & Baretta beat Sabre Jr. & Iizuka & Taichi in :41. They had a big brawl to start. Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru were helping out Suzuki-gun. But Yano immediately gave Taichi a low blow and cradled him. 3/4*

5. Ishii & Yano & Baretta beat Togi Makabe & Juice Robinson & Ryusuke Taguchi in 3:30. It was fast paced. Robinson hit a plancha on both Ishii and Baretta. Taguchi started doing all the exaggerated Nakamura mannerisms and went for the bom a ye (Kinshasa) but Yano sidestepped him and cradled him. The finish came off great. *1/2

6. Ishii & Yano & Baretta beat Bad Luck Fale & Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa in 6:48 to win the Never Open weight six man titles. Loa gave Baretta a Death Valley bomb on the apron. They told the story of Ishii trying to suplex Fale, who is twice his size. This led to a big pop when he did it. Baretta came off the top with a moonsault but Tonga caught him in mid-air with the gunstun. That was great. Baretta pinned Tonga with the dudebuster. **3/4

7. Kota Ibushi beat Cody in 15:08. This was great as well. Brandi Rhodes came out as part of the act. She enhances Cody as far as coming off like a star, very much like Maryse did for Miz. Between Brandi, and the way Cody carried himself, he came across as a much bigger star than in his previous trips here. Ibushi did a pescado onto Cody and Brandi. The idea is that Ibushi knocked out Brandi with the dive and he acted like he was devastated. He picked her up as to carry her to the back. Cody sucker punched him and he dropped Brandi, with the idea Cody didn’t even care about his wife. Then Cody and Brandi started laughing like it was all planned. Cody hit Ibushi three times with chair shots and missed a fourth. Ibushi did his triangle moonsault to the floor. Ibushi did all his great moves. Ibushi tried a suplex but Brandi grabbed Ibushi’s legs to block it. Cody snapped Ibushi’s neck on the top rope. Cody did a crossroads off the apron and Ibushi’s sell job on it was fantastic, looking like he landed on his head on the floor. This led to a great count out tease. Cody did a springboard huracanrana for a near fall. Ibushi countered a crossroads by giving Cody a lawn dart spot into the corner. They traded shots. Ibushi went for the kawagoe (knee) but Cody ducked and hit a lariat. Cody missed a disaster kick and Ibushi came back with a German suplex, the kawagoe and Phoenix splash for the win. ****1/4

8. Seiya Sanada & Evil won the IWGP tag titles from Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. in 14:14. Archer & Smith came out fast doing the killer bomb on Evil. Smith slammed Sanada over the top rope to the floor. Smith & Archer were out there killing Hirai Kawato, Tomoyuki Oka and Ren Narita outside the ring. Archer choke slammed Evil off the apron onto the prelim wrestlers at ringside. Archer gave Sanada a brutal clothesline. Sanada was selling for several minutes including taking a Billy Robinson double-arm suplex from Smith. Archer gave Sanada a uranage. Evil hot tagged in. Archer did a combination Spanish fly and superplex off the top rope on Evil. Sanada and Smith did a great high spot and Smith moonsaulted him. Sanada came back and did a moonsault into a skull end. Archer choke slammed Sanada but he flipped and landed no his feet. But Archer hit the choke slam. Smith used the Nagata back suplex on Sanada and they did a version of the Hart attack on Evil. They hit the killer bomb on Sanada and he kicked out. Evil hit Everything is Evil on Archer and then they used the magic killer on Smith. Smith kicked out of the pin. Finally Sanada pinned Smith after a moonsault. The story and work here was great. Archer & Smith looked strong in losing and Sanada was selling like crazy before coming back to win. ****

9. Hirooki Goto beat Minoru Suzuki to win the Never Open weight title in a hair vs. hair match in 18:05. Suzuki, who probably had his best outing of the year aside from the Okada matches, decked Goto with a slap right away. Goto came back with a hard slap of his own. Suzuki got him in the choke several times. Goto sold like he was out, eyes rolled back, limp, and the doctor came in. This was kind of overkill because if it was real and he was out cold and the doctor was in, the match should be over. Suzuki threw the doctor out of the ring. Goto was out for too long for the match to logically continue. That’s about the only negative thing I could say about the match aside from a too brutal head-butt late. Goto came back but Suzuki laughed and wouldn’t sell. Goto would throw hard chops and Suzuki wold just kill him. Goto went for an ushigoroshi but Suzuki turned it into a guillotine and choked him again. Goto powered out. Suzuki got a choke and Goto finally hit the ushigoroshi. Taka Michinoku, Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru all came out. The key is that the rules of this match were no seconds allowed. This would have been the perfect time to Katsuyori Shibata to show up. Honestly, it would been the hottest thing on the show, but he wasn’t there. The ring boys went to stop them from interfering and Taichi came out. Yoshi-Hashi ran in. Goto nailed Taichi. Suzuki did an incredible slapping sequence on Goto. It was ridiculous. Goto was bleeding from the mouth. Suzuki went for the Gotch piledriver, but Goto got out of it and hit Suzuki with a brutal clothesline. Suzuki came back with a head-butt and top rope guillotine. Goto used an ushigoroshi off the middle rope. Suzuki hit a sick elbow, but Goto fired back. There was a double head-butt spot. Actually, one of the head-butts they did was not a good idea. It wasn’t Shibata on Okada but it was a bad klunk. Another head-butt was a lot safer. Suzuki hit one of the most amazing dropkicks you’ll ever see. Goto used a GTR to the front and then a regular GTR and got the pin. Suzuki was dragged off by his Suzuki-gun teammates and when he was near the back, it was like he recovered, and lived up to his word. He broke away, came back, kicked away the chair Goto set up, and put up his own chair. He then sat in the chair and cut off most of his hair. ****½

10. Will Ospreay won the IWGP jr. title for a second time in a four-way over champion Marty Scurll, Kushida and Hiromu Takahashi in 21:18. This was insane. Takahashi was really over. Ospreay came out all purple. Ospreay was the star of this match but Scurll and Takahashi were fantastic. Kushida is top ten in the world easy and did his part yet he ended up the most overlooked guy here. Just never ending big moves at a break-neck pace. Kushida did a flip plancha onto Takahashi and Scurll. Ospreay climbed up the lighting grid and did a moonsault off the grid onto everyone. Ospreay did a springboard missile dropkick into an armbar by Kushida. Ospreay did a moonsault but Scurll caught him in a chicken wing and Kushida broke it up with a moonsault. Ospreay did a shooting star but Scurll caught him with an uppercut and a neckbreaker for a near fall. Scurll used Ospreay’s own Oscutter on him but Takahashi saved. Scurll taped Takahashi to the barricade with duct tape so he was out of commission for several minutes. Scurll then did the broken fingers spot on Takahashi. Kushida broke Scurll’s fingers and did a flying armbar which he turned into a triangle. Scurll threw powder in Kushida’s eyes but Kushida still hit the back to the future on Scurll and Ospreay saved with a Paul Robinson special. Takahashi finally broke free to a big pop and used a sunset flip power bomb over the top rope onto Ospreay, then Scurll and hit the time bomb on Scurll. Takahashi did a tombstone on Ospreay and a missile dropkick on him, followed by a death Valley bomb on the apron on Scurll. Kushida did a sunset flip power bomb on Takahashi on the apron and Ospreay did a springboard shooting star press on Scurll and Kushida and an inverted 450 on Takahashi for a near fall. He missed the oscutter. Scurll brought in the umbrella and nailed Ospreay and Kushida in the face. But Ospreay hit the Spanish fly and Oscutter to pin Scurll, with the story being that Scurll always beats Ospreay in the big matches. ****3/4

11. Hiroshi Tanahashi beat Jay White to keep the IC title in 19:43. This match was flat to some but the first time I saw it I thought it was really good. The second time I watched it with the U.S. announcing, without having to follow the prior match, it was far better. I think the worst match voting was a combo of White not standing out the way people hoped he would, Tanahashi selling the knee so much which he had to, and really coming off the high of the previous match and very few could have followed that. Tanahashi missed a pescado and was selling his right knee, which is the bad one. White worked on it including an Indian deathlock. Tanahashi came back and worked on White’s knee starting with the dragon screw. Tanahashi even with all his injuries still did a great looking high fly flow to the floor. White did a great German suplex and Tanahashi rolled out of the ring. He did a brainbuster on the apron. They got lost here as White went to the top rope and waited for Tanahashi to get up. Tanahashi was still selling so he climbed down. White taunted him and Tanahashi decked him with a slap. White used a head-and-arm suplex, a Saito suplex and a Death Valley driver for near falls. He missed a missile dropkick and Tanahashi went back to working on White’s knee. Tanahashi did a twist and shout off the middle rope, two sling blades and crossbody off the top rope. But Tanahashi missed the high fly flow. White got him in the crucifix and was throwing elbows like Gary Goodridge in an early UFC with Paul Herrera. This was the spot he knocked Tanahashi out in an angle at the end of the year. But Tanahashi kicked out of the pin. Tanahashi came back to win with a dragon suplex, a hard slap, the high fly flow to the back and another high fly flow. Tanahashi’s nose was bleeding when this was over. ***3/4

12. Kenny Omega pinned Chris Jericho in 34:36 to retain the U.S. title in a no DQ match. Jericho came out to his own song, “Judas.” Omega came out with the Young Bucks dressed in an Osiris costume from Destiny. Jericho attacked him right away. They had a pull-apart. They went at a fast pace. Omega went for a springboard plancha over the guard rail but Jericho moved and Omega crashed through the American announcing table, taking out Don Callis. Jericho used the Walls of Jericho. He also threw down ref Red Shoes and then attacked Red Shoes’ son Shota Umino and put him in the Walls of Jericho after he’d taken out his father. He changed it to the lion tamer on Umino until Omega made the save. They brawled on the floor including Omega coming off the lighting structure with a double foot stomp onto a table on top of Jericho. Omega was bleeding from the mouth by this point. Jericho suplexed him on the floor. Jericho came back and power bombed Omega on the floor. They traded stiff shots. Omega hit the Terminator dive followed by a facebuster and a neckbreaker over the knee. Jericho escaped a snap dragon suplex and put Omega in the Walls of Jericho. Omega crawled to the corner and got the bottle of the freezing spray they use to numb an injury and sprayed it in Jericho’s eyes. Jericho came back and threw Omega’ head into a chair and Omega came up bleeding. Jericho was pounding on the cut. Omega came back with two snap dragon suplexes and a sin kick. He did another snap dragon but Jericho hit him with a brutal chair shot to the head. That wasn’t good. Omega was bleeding like crazy. Jericho kept using chair shots to the back and jabbed the chair to Omega’s throat. Omega dropkicked a chair into Jericho’s face and hit a V trigger, knocking Jericho off the ropes and through a table. Jericho was cut form the left eye. Omega used V triggers and double arm piledriver but Jericho kicked out. Jericho got the Walls of Jericho back on. At this point Jericho was cut near his butt and bleeding from the mouth as well. He turned it into a lion tamer but Omega made the ropes. Jericho decked Red Shoes again. He went for a codebreaker but Omega blocked and hit two V triggers and finally hit the One Winged Angel, but Jericho got his hand on the ropes. Omega went to the top but Jericho scooped his leg and crotched him. Jericho went for a top rope huracanrana but Omega blocked and dropped him on his head. Omega went for you can’t escape but Jericho hit the codebreaker. Jericho kept hitting him with a chair and telling him to stay down. He went for a lionsault but Omega threw the chair at him, and hit a One Winged Angel, dropping Jericho on the chair for the pin. *****

13. Kazuchika Okada pinned Tetsuya Naito in 34:26 to retain the IWGP heavyweight title. Okada came out with long pants for a change. The crowd live was more hyped for this than anything on the show. Both guys looked like they had cut weight, Okada more than Naito, knowing they had to be in their best shape for a bout like this. They had to start slow as fans were coming off a high of the finish of the prior match. Naito gained a first advantage with a neckbreaker over the guard rail outside the ring. He used a missile dropkick and spit on Okada. Okada did a sprint where he ran around three sides of the ring and kicked Naito in the face, then dropped him with a sick draping DDT. They traded moves, including Okada doing the Randy Savage elbow. Okada got the cobra clutch, and while Naito promised a counter, he couldn’t get out, but did make the ropes. Naito did a reverse huracanrana off the top rope and Gloria for a near fall. Naito then missed the stardust press. They pounded on each other with Naito beating him down and hitting a koppo kick. Okada came back with woo dropkick. Naito went for a superplex but Okada threw elbows that knocked him halfway across the ring. Okada missed a missile dropkick. Naito went to the top. Okada tried to German suplex him but Okada held onto the ropes to block it. Okada powered Naito off into a German suplex. Okada went for the rainmaker but Okada ducked and hit the flying forearm. Okada hit the rainmaker but Naito kicked out. Naito got out of a tombstone piledriver attempt. He missed an enzuigiri and Okada went back to the cobra clutch. Naito reversed and hit destino. They traded forearms with Naito getting the better of it. They were trading elbows with the story being that Okada was seemingly done and his elbows were weak. Naito spit on him and slapped him hard in the face. Naito went for a huracanrana but Okada turned it into a DDT and hit the rainmaker. He went for another one but Naito ducked and hit destino, but Okada kicked out again. Naito hit a step up enzuigiri but Okada finally hit a dropkick every bit as good as the one Suzuki threw earlier, and hit the tombstone. He went for a rainmaker, but Naito got out and hit destino again. He went for a second one, but Okada blocked it, hit a spinning tombstone piledriver and the rainmaker for the pin. After the match Gedo did a promo followed by Okada, with Okada thanking everyone for the big crowd and told the people how many were for Naito and many were for him but it was his night. He said that he and Naito will probably cross paths again at the Tokyo Dome in the main event some day. He said once again he’d make it rain, not just cash, but emotions and happiness. He pointed to the few empty spots in the building and said that his goal is to fill those spots and sell the building out. ****½


The final show was New Year’s Dash on 1/5 at Korakuen Hall before a sellout of 1,737 fans, which, due to the size of the venue, is New Japan’s toughest to get ticket of the year. Dash is all about setting up the new angles for both the next tour, and teasing stuff for later in the year.

1. Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata beat Tomoyuki Oka & Ren Narita & Tetsuhiro Yagi & Shota Umino in 7:09. The young boys jumped the veterans at the bell. Nakanishi suplexed two of them at the same time, which always gets over. Oka got a lot of offense in. Big pop for an Umino German suplex on Kojima, but it ended when Kojima killed Umino with a lariat. **3/4

2. Taka Michinoku & Desperado & Takashi Iizuka & Taichi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru beat Jushin Liger & Hirai Kawato & Toa Henare & Togi Makabe & Tiger Mask in 8:49. Suzuki-gun jumped them at the bell and Iizuka hit Henare with a chair. Taichi jammed the ring bell hammer into Henare’s eye. There was one funny spot where Iizuka went for a clothesline on Henare and expected him to duck, but he barely did. The fans were heavily into Kawato’s hot tag. Desperado pinned Kawato with the pinche loco an after the match, Iizuka laid out Kawato with the iron fingers from hell. In leaving the ring, Taichi spit alcohol all over Kevin Kelly. ***

3. Jay White pinned Katsuya Kitamura in 7:31. Both guys gave each other sick chops. White got out of the jackhammer, and got Kitamura in the crossface. He used the elbows from the crucifix position and won with the blade runner. **½

4. Young Bucks & Kenny Omega beat Sho & Yoh & Cheeseburger in 11:19. This was heavy on the comedy. Matt and Yoh were selling their backs huge, to the point they’d sell just locking up. Omega was also all wrapped up selling the Jericho match, with his head and ribs all taped up. The idea is Nick would carry the match, but then he injured his right knee early in the match. Matt and Omega didn’t want to tag in. Cheeseburger came in and hit the shote on everyone and they all sold it like it was Shawn Michaels with Hulk Hogan to the point of comedy. Nick pinned Cheeseburger with an elevated Indytaker. **3/4

5. Cody & Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens & Marty Scurll & Leo Tonga beat Kota Ibushi & Juice Robinson & David Finlay & Kushida & Ryusuke Taguchi in 13:20. Everyone on the Taguchi team was doing hip attacks. They also did a five-way dropkick on Owens but missed another one. The best action was Cody vs. Ibushi late. All the Ibushi team members missed pescado dives. Brandi Rhodes jumped on the apron as Finlay was going to come off the ropes. He held up to avoid hitting her, and Cody nailed him in the knee and made Finlay submit to the Indian deathlock. **½

Cody attacked Ibushi after the match. Robinson tried to stop him but Cody laid him out with crossroads. Tonga threw out Kushida. Cody grabbed a chair but this is where Omega came in and took the chair from him and they argued. This led to the angle where Omega called out White, and White laid out Omega.

6. Bad Luck Fale & Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa regained the Never Open weight six man titles beating Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano & Baretta in 14:40. Fale attacked the ring announcer before the match. Tonga then announced Fale. Yano was in a lot early and there wasn’t much to it. The crowd popped big when Ishii tagged in. It got good in the second half. Ishii built to a German suplex on Fale. Baretta used a belly-to-belly superplex on Tonga, but Tonga came back to hit the gunstun on Baretta and regain the titles. ***1/4

7. Minoru Suzuki & Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer & Zack Sabre Jr. beat Hiroshi Tanahashi & Ray Rowe & Hanson & Michael Elgin in 11:36. Sabre was great here. The focus was on Suzuki destroying the injured knee of Tanahashi. Hanson looked great at the end until Smith & Archer used the killer bomb on him and Smith pinned him. After the match, Suzuki kept working on Tanahashi’s bad knee. He hit the knee with chair shots while Suzuki-gun blocked anyone from helping. Suzuki grabbed the IC title belt. Tanahashi had to be helped to the back, limping badly. ***1/4

8. Tetsuya Naito & Evil & Seiya Sanada & Hiromu Takahashi & Bushi beat Kazuchika Okada & Will Ospreay & Hirooki Goto & Yoshi-Hashi & Gedo in 13:50. Fans were really hot for Okada and Naito, with Naito again the biggest favorite on the show. Ospreay and Takahashi started fast. They did the comedy spot of working on Gedo’s beard and pulling the whiskers out. Okada and Naito finally squared off 8:00 in. Okada got out of destino and Naito got out of the cobra clutch. Yoshi-Hashi power bombed Naito for a near fall, which was a big sot to set up a singles match. Takahashi superkicked Ospreay. Evil gave Goto a side slam. Okada got hit with a four-way dropkick. Naito pinned Yoshi-Hashi with destino. After the match it was setting up the next tour. Bushi laid out Gedo with the MX, which is a codebreaker off the middle rope. Takahashi laid out Ospreay with the time bomb. Evil hit Everything is Evil (STO) on Goto. Then they all attacked Okada and Sanada used the TKO and skull end to lay him out. Chaos was vanquished after Okada’s big win the night before. Naito was doing his post-match promo and just about done when Jericho showed up and attacked him. The big problem is all the LIJ guys were out of the ring and instead of helping Naito, they all stood there. The lay out was for them to run in, but I think they thought Jericho needed to get more heat on Naito first, and I get that, but in doing so, they had to stand there too long and look stupid. There should have been a secondary brawl for them to go to the back. Finally they did the pull-apart. Naito spit on Jericho and he came back and there was another pull-apart. Jericho was finally taken away. Naito sat in a chair as Jericho was being taken away and turned his back to Jericho, and dared him to come in, showing Jericho no respect. Jericho laughed at Naito for doing so, so it was like the two master of mind games one-upping each other. Other than the problem with the LIJ guys, this was really well done and great way to create buzz to end the week. ***3/4

With six title matches plus two Rumble matches that need to go in the range of one hour, it appears the 2017 Royal Rumble card is finalized.

For the show on 1/28 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, the six title bouts are Brock Lesnar vs. Kane vs. Braun Strowman for the Universal title, A.J. Styles in a handicap match for the WWE title against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, Jason Jordan & Seth Rollins vs. Sheamus & Cesaro for the Raw tag titles, Usos vs. Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin in a 2/3 fall match for the Smackdown tag titles, Enzo Amore vs. Cedric Alexander for the cruiserweight title and the finals of the U.S. title tournament, which is looking like Bobby Roode vs. Jinder Mahal.

In the WWE title match, the explanation is now that if Owens & Zayn win, they will become co-champions, which has happened before with the more meaningless IC title and one of the women’s belts, but never with a main event title. It’s happened before in wrestling, but the idea is ridiculous.

In the U.S. title tournament, the semifinals will be Mahal vs. Xavier Woods on the 1/16 show in Laredo, TX, and Roode vs. Mojo Rawley at the 1/23 show in Washington, DC.

There’s really not a lot new with the men’s Rumble. If the winner of the Rumble is getting a Mania title shot, and it’s not a storyline thing that will change, then it’s still possibly Roman Reigns (although his winning the Elimination Chamber match for a title shot also makes sense) or someone from Smackdown, with Shinsuke Nakamura and Randy Orton being the favorites and Baron Corbin being a longshot. John Cena wouldn’t be expected to win since he’s not getting a title shot.

Regarding the women’s Rumble, there are 19 women’s roster members besides champions Alexa Bliss and Charlotte. They are Natalya, Naomi, Ruby Riott, Alicia Fox, Mandy Rose, Sonya Deville, Liv Morgan, Sarah Logan, Dana Brooke, Asuka, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Carmella, Tamina, Lana, Nia Jax, Becky Lynch, Mickie James and Paige. Paige may not be cleared to participate by then. NXT talent has been told that nine women on the NXT roster will be in the Rumble but the decision on which nine hasn’t been made. If that’s the case, that leaves two or three spots left for women from the past, perhaps one more if Brooke isn’t booked as a wrestler since she’s been more in the manager role for Titus O’Neil & Apollo Crews, although she was in the ring as a wrestler when Stephanie McMahon made the Rumble announcement. It is clear that some will be brought in. That could include the Bellas since a return together at the Rumble would make for a good storyline and they are on the Raw leading into the Rumble, a Ronda Rousey surprise or literally anyone from the past.

They showed a clip of Angle talking to someone from the past about bringing her in for the Rumble. There are reports stemming from PW Insider listing Michelle McCool and Molly Holly (Nora Greenwald) as possible participants. McCool makes sense since she’s the wife of Undertaker and he’s training for his own comeback so they could train together for a return. Holly would be a surprise, if only because if you only had three or so spots for stars from the past, based on their name value, neither she nor McCool would be near the top of that list. Still, every surprise in the Rumble gets over easily because that’s one of the things the crowd comes to see.

Ticket demand for the Rumble in Philadelphia is at an all-time record high. The secondary market price for entry is $294.50, tying the 25th anniversary of Raw show at the Manhattan Center (which will probably only fit under 1,000 in) as the highest in history for a WWE event. This breaks the record set by the Shinsuke Nakamura debut in Dallas, but that was in a 9,000-seat building when the city was filled with wrestling fans coming in for WrestleMania.

The other shows that weekend at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia don’t have the same level demand. The NXT price for entry right now is $31. Raw is $44. Smackdown is $32. That would indicate those shows aren’t sold out and there is no great demand for tickets. For a comparison, WrestleMania this year on the secondary market is $61, but that’s also because the primary market isn’t sold out, and the others are Raw at $62 (Raw after Mania is considered a major show), Smackdown at $41 and Takeover New Orleans at $54. The price for the sold out 25th anniversary of Raw at the Barclays Center to get in is $79.50.

The Rumble will set the record for the most workers on a PPV show. With the 30 men and 30 women, and both title matches being with three men, two tag title matches, a U.S. title final and a cruiserweight title match, that would be 78 wrestlers. It is possible the cruiserweight title could be moved to the pre-show or even one of the tag title matches, but that’s still 72 to 76 wrestlers. There’s probably going to be at least one or two more pre-show matches since they do a two-hour pre-show for big cards, and probably one will be multiple person match. So the whole nearly six hour show will probably end with more than 80.

The all-time record for a PPV main show up to this point is 60 wrestlers, held by the World War III show from WCW which had a 60 man Battle Royal once, and WrestleMania 30 which booked 60 people. This past year’s Mania had 33 on the main show but 37 on the pre-show, for a total of 70.

With the New Year, and two of the biggest sports business stories of 2018 being the WWE and UFC television deal negotiations, there has been a lot of speculation in and out of media based around the idea of WWE moving from USA Network to a FOX deal.

It is well known that Paul Levesque had a preliminary meeting, although it was only that, several months ago with the heads of FOX Sports. The gist of the speculation is that if FOX doesn’t sign UFC, and they move to another network, that they would go after WWE because they would have so much air time to fill on FS 1 and FS 2, which relies greatly on UFC product.

There’s also talk that they may buy WWE, so they have them for good and don’t have to worry in the future about escalating television rights and losing them, similar to what Viacom did with Bellator and what a couple of networks (including FOX) were interested in doing with UFC before the bidding broke $3.5 billion and they dropped out.

Evidently Viacom has also expressed interest in pro wrestling, but as an owner, like with Bellator, for the same long-term reasons, and that talk isn’t centered around WWE. That talk is clearly as preliminary as it could be, given nothing has broken on it. To me at this point it’s the same as the 2004 story where Ted Turner, Bill Shaw and Jim Barnett had a meeting about starting a pro wrestling company when Turner’s non-compete against WWE ended. So many things had changed and Barnett told them that he estimated there would be $50 million in start-up costs and losses to try and get something off the ground from scratch, which was very different from the $9 million it cost in 1988 to buy a failing Jim Crockett Promotions, and Turner moved on.

Still, one person close to the situation believes McMahon isn’t interested in selling his majority interest just yet, feeling that the stock will soar because they will get a big increase in television rights. If the shares hit $40, he could continue to do what he’s doing, and sell small pieces of it off while maintaining full voting control. If there’s a UFC level offer, I can’t imagine WWE not selling at that price.

Some of the talk going around is that if this happens, and it’s all a big if, Raw would move to FOX, with the idea that in moving it to the big network, it would not only give it the level of exposure to make it hugely popular once again, but it would give the WWE network legitimacy. A strong positive in all this is that if Raw was to move to FOX, it would have to be cut back to two hours, from 8-10 p.m., because so many FOX stations have a 10 p.m. newscast.

Smackdown would then be put on FS 1, as a way to boost its ratings and I wouldn’t be surprised for them to try and get more content to fill time on FS 1 and FS 2 since UFC fills so many hours.

But if FOX signs UFC, which is still a strong possibility, all of that would become less likely. It’s not impossible to have both on the network, as they are different products, and there is benefit as Spike found in using the big pro wrestling television audience as a lead-in, because even if wrestling doesn’t deliver good ad rates, if you keep those extra viewers for UFC, that has much stronger ad rates per viewer so the value of the viewer is increased greatly. But on the surface that’s difficult because UFC is an established Saturday night entity and you wouldn’t want to change that often, and WWE is Monday and Tuesday.

It should be noted that this strategy dates back to talks almost one full year ago and things could be very different now past it’s known FOX is interested in WWE if they lose UFC. With FOX selling so many of its stations. They are cash rich right now.

FOX is strategizing now around live programming, news and sports. Still, even with all their cash on hand, their UFC offer is not a big increase from what they already pay. The just over $200 million per year deal that they offered UFC would not be that big an increase over what WWE is currently being paid by USA and would be far less than the stock market expects WWE to get for its new rights deal. There was one analyst predicting that the number of bidders could get WWE’s price to $400 million, although a lot of the expectations for WWE stem from what people think UFC will get. The two companies have been in the same ballpark when it comes to U.S. TV money for the last several years, with WWE slightly ahead more because it signed its last deal a few years later when numbers were higher. But while UFC has talked of $400 million and even $450 million, those close to the situation have told us they don’t really believe the deal will go that high.

“It’s getting more interesting by the minute,” Dana White said to ESPN. “ESPN buys Fox Sports’ (the regional networks, not FS 1 and FS 2) which the UFC is perfect for. And you look at FOX, they have a load of cash from the (recent sale of properties to Disney). You’ve got powerhouses like Amazon, Netflix and YouTube.”

As far as strengthening WWE business if it stays public and in the hands of the McMahons, it’s all about rights fees because things like live shows, licensing and merchandise are steady but they aren’t likely to increase much. Live shows would actually have declined without the price increases and there may be a limit to how much they could do of that, outside of the big shows where the demand remains high. Network growth has slowed greatly as well.

UFC wanted its deal pretty much done at this point, but there’s no sign that is the case. WWE wants its future home decided by May, even though the move, if there is one, wouldn’t be until October 2019


John McCarthy, the legendary referee, has signed a deal to join Bellator’s broadcast team and will debut on the 1/20 show at the Forum in Los Angeles.

McCarthy, 55, is one of the pioneers and most respected figures in the MMA world, as he was on hand at the first UFC show in Denver, and started as a referee on the second show.

McCarthy said he will not be retiring as a referee, but will surely be doing far less of it, and you won’t be seeing him in that role on UFC events any longer, which is a big part of this story, since he was the best-known referee in UFC and has been doing so since 1994.

He had talked about retiring as a referee of late. He had previously retired as a referee in 2007, when he left officiating and retired from the Los Angeles Police Department to take a broadcast job with The Fight Network, when it was first launched. But due to financial problems at that network, he left in 2008 and returned to officiating.

McCarthy has had physical problems over the past six months, suffering a stinger while teaching Jiu Jitsu back in July and needed two surgeries, which is why he looked so much smaller in his recent appearances.

“That injury made me kind of relook at things,” he said to MMA Fighting. “I don’t want to be a guy who’s holding on or stepping into the cage when there’s somebody else that can actually do a better job because I’m not prepared.”

While the Bellator schedule would have him traveling all over the world doing shows, he had been doing two to four shows a week as a referee, so from a schedule standpoint, this is winding down.

McCarthy said he was called by Scott Coker about taking the spot after the news came out that Jimmy Smith was not coming back in 2018. He then did a television audition and was hired.

He said he may do some shows internationally or small shows locally and charity events and may referee and judge boxing events as well in California. He said he would still work with athletic commissions. McCarthy is considered a major influence on Mike Mazzulli, who is the head of the Association of Boxing Commissions.

“I first want to say how grateful I am for the opportunity I have been given to work with the incredible team Bellator has assembled,” said McCarthy. “It is always so hard to leave something you love, but I have always wanted to step away (from officiating) based on my terms rather than someone else’s. My goals are to work as hard as I can to meet the expectations everyone will have for me and to hopefully someday exceed them. I cannot think of anyone I would rather be working with than Scott Coker. Scott has always been a person I admire because of his honesty, loyalty and love for the martial arts. I want to thank everyone from Bellator and Viacom for the trust you are bestowing upon me to keep the commentating of Bellator MMA at the highest levels of the sport.”

I’ve always hoped, although never expected, since I knew McCarthy’s run as a referee was probably not going to last much longer, that he’d get the major sendoff he deserved on a UFC show. It’s one of those things that should have happened but don’t happen in that sport. Obviously in this case, it’s not going to happen, just like it didn’t the last time it looked like he was leaving officiating. But at this point, it’s now been 24 years as a legitimate institution of the sport.

McCarthy’s behind-the-scenes work with Mazzulli includes being a key person behind the new rules regarding what is a grounded opponent and attempts to add new weight classes (which haven’t been implemented at the major league level) are largely his doing, working with former Bellator lead announcer Sean Wheelock.

McCarthy, Jeff Blatnick and Joe Silva were all instrumental in the original UFC rules and changes in the 90s and for years he lobbied athletic commissions around the country to allow the sport in their jurisdictions. It was McCarthy, after watching the first UFC, who demanded referees be able to stop fights, which was not in the original rules, feeling that if that wasn’t allowed, somebody would get killed. He also did an outstanding autobiography with Loretta Hunt called, “Let’s Get It On,” which talked extensively about both his life and the development of the sport.

He also teaches courses where he trains referees and judges. He’s widely considered one of the smartest people in the business when it comes to the sport and its history, and a straight shooter on his opinions.

In a bit of trivia, McCarthy in his younger days did at times consider fighting. In fact, had he not been chosen as a referee, there was a pretty decent chance he’d have fought in one of the early UFCs. He also had talks in the late 90s with Pride about doing a fight with pro wrestling legend Nobuhiko Takada, but those talks fell through because Pride only wanted him as a celebrity to lose to Takada as if it was a pro wrestling match.

Bellator is looking for a major show on 1/20 with its first under the banner of the Paramount Network, featuring Douglas Lima defending the welterweight title against Rory MacDonald, Rampage Jackson vs. Chael Sonnen in the first round of the heavyweight Grand Prix tournament, Michael Chandler vs. Goiti Yamauchi and Aaron Pico vs. Shane Kruchten.

Bellator also announced that Sonnen has signed an extension to his current announcers. Going forward, both will work as announcers with the alternating hosts, Mauro Ranallo and Mike Goldberg.

There are several NJPW vs. WWE matches taking place this month in the U.K.

The biggest, on 1/17 in Milton Keynes, for IPW promotion, is a champion vs. champion match with U.K. champion Pete Dunne vs. IWGP jr. champion Will Ospreay.

The only other time a champion from WWE faced a champion from New Japan in a singles match was on May 3, 1993, at the Fukuoka Dome, when Hulk Hogan, who was WWF champion, beat Great Muta, who was IWGP champion. It’s been noted that neither Ospreay, who was born four days after this match, or Dunne, who was born November 9, 1993, were alive at the time this match took place.

At the time Hogan had a WWF contract that allowed him to work Japan. New Japan offered him $150,000 per match to work regularly. This was a different era because one of the most memorable things is Hogan, as WWF champion, doing an interview on New Japan’s television show basically saying that anyone can win the WWF title and the IWGP title was the most prestigious title in wrestling. Because Hogan’s contract with New Japan gave him control of his finishes, if they were to book Hogan vs. Great Muta, which they did for their first wrestling show ever at the Fukuoka Dome (it was part of a double main event with Antonio Inoki & Tatsumi Fujinami winning the actual main event over Riki Choshu & Genichiro Tenryu) , Hogan could pick his finish. So the WWF champion beat the IWGP champion clean in a singles match on a New Japan show.

The Hogan statement about the WWF title was reported by us, and then WWF was furious at Hogan, so he denied he ever said it, claiming it was made up, even though it actually appeared on the television show during an interview.

Hogan quit WWF as champion right about that time, not so much because New Japan offered him so much per match, but because he was unhappy WWF wanted him to drop the title to Bret Hart. So he instead chose to pick Yokozuna to lose to (he still had the mentality of Hart because too small, although he’ll deny it now, but he said it many times at the time) and got out of WWF a few months later.

While history portrays it as WCW and Eric Bischoff taking Hogan from WWF, he was completely gone from WWF for months before the talks even started and he was a big show contracted regular for New Japan as well as doing a syndicated television show, “Thunder in Paradise,” when Bischoff made him what at the time was thought to be a crazy offer including 25 percent of all company PPV revenue for every show he was on. As it turned out, Hogan raised PPV numbers so much that from 1994 to 1998 he was more than worth what he was earning, although after 1998 that was no longer the case.

Hogan was also actually WWF and IWGP heavyweight champion at the same time in 1984 but that’s when the IWGP champion was really just about an annual tournament. Hogan won the first tournament in 1983 when he was the top star for the AWA. He then won the WWF title in January 1984. That was fine at first, and in some ways better, since AWA and Verne Gagne booked talent to All Japan including the AWA champion. Gagne had tried to get Hogan to move to All Japan but Hogan refused to make the move, and it was probably a good move since in All Japan he’d have to compete with both Bruiser Brody and Stan Hansen for the top foreigner position that he had in New Japan.

New Japan used to get its foreign talent from the WWF, and had for years based on a deal New Japan had made with Vince McMahon’s father. But then WWF pulled Hogan from some tours since they needed him in the U.S. since he was just an important part of their touring. One time they did a fake injury angle to get him out of the tag team tournament which obviously left some bad feelings.

He still went back to defend the title in 1985 against Antonio Inoki, who won the IWGP tournament (what is now essentially the G-1) in the summer. It was pretty clear Hogan was going to be done and they needed to get a win over him. As WWF champion, that was very difficult and the only finish they could agree to was for Riki Choshu to lariat both Hogan and Inoki on the floor, but Inoki would beat the 20 count and Hogan wouldn’t, so Inoki would win. That kind of a finish caused a riot. It became an annual defense until a few years later when it became a regular championship defended on major shows.

Since 1985, when the WWF and New Japan relations fell through, aside from the unique Hogan situation where he only signed a deal for the U.S. because of the power he had, there has been no interaction between the two companies. Jushin Liger did work a Takeover show, but like Hogan, he had a clause in his contract that gives him the right to work for anyone outside of Japan. But now, with the unique WWE U.K. contracts where the talent continues to work indies, the U.K. champion could work against New Japan champions. And negotiating finishes, which would have been very difficult in the past, isn’t an issue because WWE hasn’t made any kind of an issue that we know of about their talent doing jobs on U.K. shows.

Mark Andrews vs. Ospreay in a WWE vs. NJPW match has been added to the 1/20 Revolution Pro “High Stakes” show at York Hall. On paper that’s a killer of a match. The show is also headlined by an NJPW vs. WWE match where Trent Seven & Tyler Bate defend the British tag team titles against Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr., plus IWGP tag champs Evil & Seiya Sanada vs. Mark Davis & Kyle Fletcher in a non-title match and Adam Brooks from Australia debuts against Ryan Smile. Tickets were close to being sold out at last report.

Unlike in pro wrestling, where 2017 was a year of a lot of dynamic changes, between the growth in popularity of so many companies and far greater importance of women wrestling, in the MMA world, it was a down year.

As noted last week, for UFC and Bellator, it was a year of declining ratings and an audience getting older. These aren’t good signs, but what was a good sign is that when the big fights came, they did do well on PPV. There have been people trying to argue that PPV is a dying business and for that matter, television is a dying business. The reality is both are changing businesses. But for the foreseeable future, there is no way for television to support the kind of numbers necessary to put together a really big fight. And there is no way to draw the mass audience other than television. And while UFC’s probably have a lot more homes illegally streaming than watching and paying legally (I would think that those who watch legally have far more people per home and thus more overall are watching legally), when it comes to presenting a live event on television and streaming at the same time, the stats are still 98.5 percent or more are watching on television.

The reality is that 2016 was a banner year for UFC on PPV and the decline in 2017 has far less to do with cultural changes or the exaggerated end of PPV than the marquee value of the shows. You put those same shows that headlined in 2016 on in 2017, and you’re pulling essentially the same numbers.

The two key takes for this year is that Georges St-Pierre’s comeback saw him draw bigger on his own than all but one show in his career during his heyday. There were a lot of newer fans who came into the sport for Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor who didn’t know him. But, he was able to bring back fans, particularly in Canada where his fight broke the all-time PPV record with an estimated 250,000 buys. Canada had been UFC’s strongest market for years, but that changed when Brazil got hot and GSP retired, with no other Canadian that could come close to filling his shoes.

The other big take came last week, with the surprisingly good showing of the Holly Holm vs. Cris Cyborg fight.

I doubt that there will be another Rousey-level draw in UFC for a long time, maybe ever. Two many things lucked into place. She had a unique set of strengths, skills, timing and circumstances between the it factor, a pretty face, great with media (at least for the first several years before social media and bad media turned her bitter), the demeanor, the drive and athletic ability that were obvious and the work ethic and promotional ability. She crossed over in a way that no other UFC fighter could have. And, based on being ahead of the curve, her record in winning so many fights so quickly took her from one level to the next. But when she reached the ridiculous level, which was really her fight in Australia with Holly Holm, she lost. And losing wasn’t so bad. Conor McGregor lost and still drew better. Brock Lesnar lost and still drew better. Georges St-Pierre lost and still drew better. And Rousey did as well. But mentally, while nobody at that level likes losing, losing made all of them better. Rousey is just different. She didn’t win a gold medal in the Olympics at the age of 21, “only” a bronze. There were 22 women in her division and she was the second youngest, and the only one younger didn’t do anything. Of the top 19, she was the youngest and the women who placed ahead of her were all more than four years older than she was. She could have come back. Instead, she never competed again. In MMA, she lost, and did come back, but it was clear immediately that everything was wrong with how she trained. She fought a boxer and had no punch defense. She clearly trained like crazy for stamina and got her natural weight down, which sounds good, but when your forte is grappling, you need to be strong, and that’s difficult giving up 15 to 20 pounds.

Plenty of women had shown that they could be put in the main event, draw decently well, and pull solid television numbers, notably Holm and Paige VanZant. But still, that wasn’t necessarily a great thing. Holm’s fame was largely from being the first to beat Rousey and while not charismatic herself, she came across as extremely likable. VanZant looked more like an actress than a fighter, who was by no means a top fighter. But Holm vs. Cyborg being able to draw the third biggest number of an admittedly bad year on PPV shows women are not a short-term gimmick and are clearly established as a viable part of the sport.

But while this was not a big news year for MMA as compared to pro wrestling as far as changes, MMA had by far the biggest story of the year.

In no particular order, here are some of the key stories of the year:

MAYWEATHER - MCGREGOR - The numbers speak for themselves and I’m surprised that after the UFC star vs. boxing star gimmick did $600 million in revenue that we haven’t seen it done again. I’m glad we haven’t. A pure boxer going into MMA we already saw with Randy Couture vs. James Toney. It’s also been shown countless times in Japan, or in mixed matches historically. The fantasy of the boxer coming in and cold-cocking the wrestler or MMA fighter can happen, but it very rarely does. Similarly, an MMA fighter like McGregor facing Mayweather in boxing was like a world class decathlete racing Usain Bolt in the 100, even if Bolt was 40. He’s a specialist and he’s the best in the world at it.

But this fight, from the start, was never about anything but a money grab. Everyone knew the end result. Dana White knew. McGregor knew. They put out a front because they are specialists in promoting and drawing money. It was clear that McGregor didn’t do this fight to beat Mayweather, he did it to make whatever money it was that he really made, with the hope that his future drawing power wouldn’t be damaged when the inevitable happened.

But every UFC fighter saw that the biggest drawing card in their world did multiples of his biggest money UFC fight by fighting in boxing. Any UFC fighter with a name that doesn’t care about losing or being embarrassed by a boxer would love to be in the same situation. But the gimmick has been done and nobody else can pull it off like this.

Yet, UFC is now talking about getting into boxing, and some of its fighters like Nate Diaz, Cris Cyborg, Junior Dos Santos and Stipe Miocic have talked about crossing over.

Historically, when a gimmick works as far as drawing money or interest in entertainment, it’s copied. And usually copied to the point it no longer works. UFC RATINGS DECLINE - As noted last week, UFC had steep declines in ratings, and Bellator declined, although not nearly as much, even after signing more big names than ever before.

ORTIZ BEATS SONNEN - Tito Ortiz, who was the biggest star in U.S. MMA from 2000 to probably 2006, has retired many times before. But the sight of him walking out with his son into the sunset on a video wall after beating Chael Sonnen at the Forum was one of the coolest moments of the year.

RONDA ROUSEY DOESN’T RETIRE, DOESN’T FIGHT - Nobody is sure exactly what this means, but Ronda Rousey hasn’t taken herself out of the drug testing program. She’s still a UFC roster fighter. But nobody expects her to fight even though at one point there were hopes for a Rousey vs. Miesha Tate fight this year. Rousey has been filming a movie and training for WWE, but is also looking at starting a family soon enough.

UFC CREATES TWO NEW TITLES - The UFC created a new women’s championship at 145 and 125 pounds.

The 125-pound title, currently held by Nicco Montano, beating Roxanne Modafferi, was the finals of a season of The Ultimate Fighter that featured mostly fighters who had no business competing for a UFC world championship. The title fight headlined a show that did 501,000 viewers, the lowest ever for a prime time show on FS 1, and showed that the public neither bought nor cared about the championship.

The belief is, with fighters like Paige VanZant, Joanne Calderwood and Jessica Eye moving to this division, that in time it’ll have plenty of top fighters. The reality is the gap between 115 and 135 for women was far too large and from a sports standpoint, even with the weak beginnings, this in time will be a good move.

While adding new titles waters down the value of championship matches as far as drawing power goes, as a sport, such a division really was necessary.

The 145-pound division was more of an embarrassment. UFC had no fighters at that weight except Cris Cyborg, who they signed to the biggest money contracts to keep her away from Bellator, which was planning such a division. Getting her also kept alive the hope for the Rousey vs. Cyborg fight that would have set records. Cyborg was too big to cut in any kind of a healthy way to 135 so the fight never happened.

Eventually, the UFC created a division for her in February. Then, because she had health problems from her previous cut to 140, she turned down a fight with Holly Holm, a bantamweight, to create the first champion.

Instead, Germain de Randamie fought Holm, so you had two women who had been fighting at 135, one of whom wasn’t even a top level contender and the other who was on a losing streak, fighting over the new world title a weight class above. Then de Randamie won, and her camp immediately made it clear they had no intention of facing Cyborg. So de Randamie, after winning the title via close decision, was stripped of the title and Cyborg was put in with Tonya Evinger, a bantamweight who the UFC never even thought to sign in her own weight class. Cyborg easily won and took the title.

To this day, Cyborg is the only 145-pounder on the company’s roster. UFC’s next move is to sacrifice its champion at 135, who gives away significant weight, to give Cyborg a next opponent.

GSP RETURNS - In 2016, Georges St-Pierre, who has to be considered along with Jon Jones and Anderson Silva as one of the three greatest fighters in UFC history, said he was looking at coming back.

For months, Dana White shut down rumors even though Lorenzo Fertitta and GSP were negotiating. He said that St-Pierre may say he’s coming back, but he doesn’t want to fight again. Then, when Fertitta sold the company, talks broke off as for whatever reason.

The talk was for Michael Bisping vs. GSP for the middleweight title. At the time the talk first came, both had been tied for most wins in UFC history, although Bisping passed GSP with his win over Dan Henderson. The idea was clear. GSP, after four years out, would come back, one weight class up, largely because most saw Bisping as a weak middleweight champion.

The promotion was gearing for July, but GSP claimed an eye injury, which moved it back to 11/4 in Madison Square Garden, as the main event of what was UFC’s biggest show of the year.

There was a lot of talk that the magic was gone. Interest in the U.S. didn’t appear to be high, while in Canada, it was noted how little media coverage there was, which partially has to do with the fact Rogers Sportnet was the home of UFC in the GSP days and they’d treat his fights like the biggest sporting event in the country. TSN, which now has the UFC rights, never devoted that kind of coverage to the shows.

Still, the show set PPV records in Canada, beating every prior GSP fight, even the Jake Shields fight in Toronto, and 875,000 North American buys was a strong number.

GSP appeared bigger than ever in his new weight class even if his team claimed he wasn’t actually that much heavier in the cage. He wasn’t as fast, but still was able to take Bisping down early. He appeared to tire in the second round, which he admitted, and Bisping had taken over. But GSP did land a punch that knocked Bisping down and choked him out.

He did move a weight class up after four years out and win a world title. Neither Jon Jones nor Anderson Silva ever did that. But there were a lot of questions, because he clearly wasn’t meant to carry that kind of size and was in danger of losing.

During the build-up, it was pointed out that GSP had, in his contract, agreed to face Robert Whittaker next had he won, since most felt GSP wasn’t going to stay in a division that had top contenders the size of Yoel Romero and Luke Rockhold. Rockhold in particular had taunted GSP saying that he should step aside and that he wasn’t a serious contender.

GSP and his camp claimed he was ill with colitis, which they attributed to his eating so much to gain the weight to move up, and that he nearly pulled out of the fight. After the fight, he brought up not feeling with and questioned continuing in that weight class. It was only a few weeks later where he vacated the title.

While a lot of people complained it when it was over, first because he got a title shot without ever fighting in the division, and then vacating it after saying he was contractually obligated not to.

White hardly seemed sympathetic about one of his top fighters being ill, and just said that he knew it would happen, that’s why he insisted it be in the contract, but in the end, clause or not, they couldn’t force him to fight Whittaker.

On the flip side, for business, it was UFC’s biggest fight of the year and revitalized the Canadian market, which fell off greatly in 2014. There was hope of Rory MacDonald as GSP’s replacement as the Canadian star, but he never came close to reaching those levels of popularity. MacDonald, after losing to Stephen Thompson, got a big money offer from Bellator and UFC didn’t match it.

Nothing is certain what GSP will do next. While he’s made it clear he won’t call out McGregor, that is the fight that makes the most sense for him in the sense he’ll make the most money, and would be expected to win. But McGregor has so much money that he doesn’t need to take bad fights for him.

Naturally Tyron Woodley is the guy hoping GSP faces him. Not only would it be Woodley’s biggest fight, but it is a fight he has a good shot of winning in, and that win would elevate his standing greatly with the public.

But GSP presumably doesn’t need the money, but also didn’t want to be a guy who would look back and note that he retired at 32 and never looked back and accomplished all he could. At 36, while it’ll look great in history winning that second title, only he knows how he really felt in the cage in rounds two and three. And for that reason, I don’t know if he’ll ever fight again.

JONES WINS BACK TITLE, FAILS STEROID TEST - On 7/29, Jon Jones defeated Daniel Cormier to regain the light heavyweight title that he’d never lost in the cage, and said all the right things about how he was going to try and not make the mistakes he had made in the past.

Those mistakes included DUIs, running a car with a couple of women who were not his children’s mother at 3 a.m. into a telephone pole (right in front of the house of one of our subscribers in the Rochester area who recounted being woken up by it and thinking someone had driven their car and crashed into this home) and a major hit-and-run case, where he got into a crash with a car driven by a pregnant woman, ran off, then came back to get some money, and ran off again. That one could have gotten him in real legal trouble. Then there was the positive test for cocaine, but since it was out of competition, the bylaws of Nevada didn’t allow for a suspension. There was also the time when they came to test him that he was allegedly hiding under the cage at Greg Jackson’s camp to avoid the test.

In 2015, after the hit-and-run, he was stripped of the light heavyweight title. Daniel Cormier, who would likely be thought of as one of the three greatest fighters in UFC history by this point if Jones didn’t exist, went from losing handily to Jones on January 3, 2015, in their long-awaited grudge match, to beating Alexander Gustafsson in a war to become champion. Despite two wins over the scary Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, a dangerous head case of a fighter who seemingly gave up in both fights, the second by employing the worst strategy ever, nobody believed Cormier was the champion. In many ways, his holding the title helped make him a heel, because everyone had seen the way Jones beat him the first time. Compounding the weirdness is that in a test leading up to the fight, Jones had a T:E ratio of 0.19/1, a number ridiculously low, well under what people who would get off steroids and their body was producing almost no testosterone would read in at. In theory, a reading like that would make you so lethargic you probably wouldn’t want to get out of bed, let alone train, let alone be able to get into a cage and be nothing short of the greatest fighter in the history of the sport. Still, further testing showed no signs Jones had taken steroids. If that was it and nothing ever happened again, we could chalk that up to weirdness.

A rematch was delayed when each man was injured, and Jones ended up beating Ovince Saint Preux to become the interim champion, with the show down scheduled for UFC 200 in the summer of 2016.

Days before the fight, it came out that Jones had tested positive for clomiphene and letrozole, two anti-estrogen medications. Those are usually used by people coming off steroid cycles, to get their bodies to jump-start natural production of testosterone, which the steroid use would have caused the body’s production to shut down, and get a reading like Jones had before the first Cormier fight. Jones was taken off the card and for the second time, stripped of a championship, even though it was the interim belt.

Jones claimed, and produced enough evidence that he had gotten some pills to increase his sex drive from a teammate, and when those pills were examined, in fact, they had Clomiphene and letrozole. He was still suspended for a year for being so reckless and stupid to take unknown pills while in a heavily drug tested sport. But they also believed he didn’t knowingly cheat.

The second Jones vs. Cormier fight was very different from the first. There was considerable debate who would win the first fight, even if Jones was the favorite. The feeling is Cormier was the superior wrestler, yet it was the wrestling game in the clinch that Jones dominated.

After that, with Cormier getting older and Jones moving into his physical prime, nobody gave Cormier much of a chance in the rematch. And while they were right, as Jones knocked Cormier out with a head kick at 3:01 of the third round of a fight that was competitive up to that point.

And then, it came out that Jones had tested positive for Turinabol, a steroid that wasn’t even manufactured in the U.S. It was best known for being the key steroid used by East German doctors from 1974-89, when that countries athletes were being given the drug so they could dominate in Olympic competition.

Jones’ camp has since, once again, been claiming a tainted supplement. With the failure being for a steroid itself, as opposed to a drug often used by guys who also do steroids, the consequences were deeper. A failure this time could be a four-year suspension, which would end many people’s careers. Jones is young enough and talented enough that he’d probably come back from it, but he would be losing key career years, and perhaps his key prime.

At this point, more than five months later, everything is still up in the air. Jones’ camp has delayed his hearing before the California State Athletic Commission, apparently trying to find the supplement, or as other skeptics may say, a convenient supplement, for their defense.

There is a problem, because you can have one weird thing happen and it’s weird. When it happens every year, it’s no longer weird. Every denial in the past that Jon Jones isn’t what he appears to be, in time, becomes proof that he’s exactly that.

If Jones isn’t cleared, this is a huge blow to UFC because as much as many fans are sick of Jones, they are still drawn to him. Worse, for the second time, he beat Cormier, and Cormier is still the champion, with the perception of him, unfairly in this case, that he’s not deserving of such a title. Even if we accept Jones somehow accidentally had Turinabol in his system, he was an enhanced fighter in that cage and the result shouldn’t stand, and thus, Cormier is the rightful champion.

If USADA allows Jones to come back, even if they truly believe it wasn’t his fault and he was screwed by a supplement maker, there will be a huge percentage of fans who feel he got preferential treatment and he’s a career cheater. If they don’t, people will claim USADA is ruining the sport, when, in fact, in the case of Jones, the opposite would be the case. In the end, the victim here, like in every case, isn’t Jones, but UFC, its light heavyweight title, and no matter who ends up being its rightful champion in 2018 who the public won’t accept.

KSW DRAWS 58,000 FANS - Only the most ardent followers of MMA would even recognize the initials KSW. And of those, almost nobody could tell you what it stands for (Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki for those who want to know).

Still, when it comes to a key ingredient when it comes to sports promotions, everyone, whether it’s UFC, WWE, New Japan, Premier Boxing, Top Rank and all those in between, can learn from the 13-year-old company that started when a Warsaw hotel manager met a sports expo organizer in 2002.

Martin Lewandowski was the manager of the Marriott in Warsaw. Macej Kawulski ran sports expos in Poland. Both were fans of martial arts.

On May 27, they ran a show at PGD Narodwy Stadium in Warsaw, which drew 58,000 fans, the second largest crowd ever to see an MMA show. The record was a Pride and K-1 joint show on August 28, 2002, at Tokyo National Stadium that drew an announced 91,107 fans, although the real number was about 71,000 and a lot of that wasn’t paid.

The show was described as being more like WrestleMania, except with more heat and more wacky larger-than-life characters.

A decade ago, when UFC first got hot off television, older fans described it as them doing pro wrestling, when it came to the marketing aspect, better than pro wrestling. It was an accurate description.

But KSW, with its production and building of characters, takes old-school pro wrestling, modern pro wrestling, MMA, and everything else, and leaves it in the dust. The videos in particular done to build fights are at another level, perhaps only Pride at its best could come close to matching it. For those who believe that UFC or WWE are the world leaders in creating stars and selling gimmick characters, or New Japan is the leader in building up dramatic long-term stories to lead to fights, well, KSW is far beyond.

The shows feature a combination of fights with legitimate fighters from Poland, and the unofficial freak show division, which is the money drawing part of the promotion. Among those from the former include former champions, Jan Blachowicz and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, who are now ranked UFC stars.

But the biggest draw is Polish hero Mariusz Pudzianowski, a five-time winner of the world’s strongest man contest, who was recorded music, done a reality show in Poland and sells out arenas.

Poland has a population of 38 million. One of Pudzianowski’s fights drew 6.7 million television viewers, and several others topped 3 million.

On the big show, it was a grudge match as Pudzianowski was facing Tyberiusz Kowalcyzk, a fellow strongest man competitor who had a grudge from his previous sport because he could never beat Pudzianowski. He vowed revenge, with videos where he vowed to get his revenge in the cage, which he didn’t.

Other stars include a well-known television actor, a giant bodybuilder who is twice the size of Scott Steiner or Bobby Lashley at their peaks, but wasn’t much of a fighter, and the famed Popek Monster, a charismatic tattooed up rapper who would remind you of Vin Diesel.

HOLLOWAY BEATS ALDO TWICE - Jose Aldo had for years been considered as one of the best all-around fighters in the sport.

While already regarded as the best featherweight from his introduction to the U.S. scene in 2008, he got his shot and captured the WEC featherweight title, at the time the key belt in that division in the sport, beating Mike Brown on November 18, 2009.

Aldo’s winning streak hit 18 fights, and he had made nine successful title defenses with his WEC belt becoming the UFC belt in that division when the featherweights moved over. While Conor McGregor knocked Aldo out in 13 seconds to win the title on December 12, 2015, Aldo seemed himself in his next fight winning a decision over former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar.

Holloway, at the age of 25, came into his fight with Aldo on June 3 in Rio de Janeiro with his own ten fight winning streak, with five straight wins over legit contenders in Cub Swanson, Charles Oliveira, Jeremy Stephens, Ricardo Lamas and Anthony Pettis.

Holloway became one of the youngest champions in UFC history finishing Aldo at 4:13 of the third round to take the title. He retained it in similar fashion on 12/2 in Detroit.

In doing so, Holloway took the MMA Fighting’s Fighter of the Year award.

As 2018 starts and leading into his fight with Frankie Edgar, his 12 straight wins puts him in fifth place on the UFC’s all-time list, behind only Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, Demetrious Johnson and Jon Jones.

MATT HUGHES ACCIDENT - On June 16th, 43-year-old Matt Hughes, a UFC Hall of Famer who had been talking about a comeback fight was hospitalized and for days was in a life-or-death situation with a serious head injury after the truck he was driving was hit on the passenger side by a train as he crossed train tracks in Raymond, IL.

The details of the accident were never explained. Hughes was minimally responsive at first and it was very much considered a life-threatening situation for the two-time welterweight champion. He made what was considered a remarkable recovery. Four months later, Hughes was back at the hospital honoring the two nurses, Ashley Hull and Megan Simpson, who treated him.

Hughes is considered along with Georges St-Pierre as one of the top two welterweights in UFC history. He won 41 of his first 45 fights, and at one point set the company PPV record on May 27, 2006, when his fight with Royce Gracie did 625,000 buys. That was just before his era at the top ended when losing to St-Pierre on November 18, 2006, in Sacramento. His last fight was September 24, 2011, a loss to Josh Koscheck, and he retired with a 45-9 record and was hired for a front office position with UFC.

Hughes and Chuck Liddell were thought to have lifetime positions with the company based on being key fighters in building, including Hughes turning down bigger money offers to leave when the company wasn’t doing so well. But those positions were eliminated last year when UFC was sold. At that point Hughes had talked about fighting again in Bellator, which had drawn big ratings using UFC legends from the past.

DEMETRIOUS JOHNSON SETS RECORDS - In 2017, Demetrious Johnson, the UFC’s first and only flyweight champion, continued on the same path as he’s been on the past five years.

Johnson first won the flyweight title in a tournament to crown the first champion beating Joseph Benavidez in the finals on September 22, 2012, in Toronto. At the time he was considered among the most well-rounded fighters in the game, but wasn’t much of a draw.

Now, with his status as an all-time great and future Hall of Famer long since established, he’s widely praised as technically the best fighter in the sport. And he still can’t draw. His first of two wins, where he tied Anderson Silva’s record with ten consecutive title defenses, beating Wilson Reis on April 15 in Kansas City, drew the second lowest number for a UFC on FOX broadcast in history.

His record-breaker was a win over Ray Borg with a back suplex into an armbar finish that you’d expect to see in a pro wrestling ring or a movie, but hardly in a championship fight. The move will get most Submission of the Year honors. But he was moved to the co-main event spot, below an interim lightweight title fight with Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee, that didn’t do the 100,000 buys Johnson PPVs were known to do, but still was in the same low 200s that most shows did.

Yet, Johnson won the 2017 ESPY award for best fighter, including boxers, which is a general public fan vote. The award was a shock, not that he didn’t deserve it, but he seemingly wasn’t popular enough or famous enough to win a fan voted mainstream sports award.

Johnson finished the year as the No. 1 ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC based on the company’s media-voted rankings. With no drug tests tainting his career, you could easily argue he or Georges St-Pierre as the best UFC fighter in history.

But speed, insane cardio, technical proficiency and five years of division domination has still not gotten fans to pay money to see him fight.

In 2018, it will be another year of chasing and attempting to break records. Johnson underwent shoulder surgery on 1/10, so his return to the cage will be delayed.

He is expected to face bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw next in what would be the biggest fight of his career. If that fight happens, the big question will be if Dillashaw drops to 125, or Johnson moves to 135, or they meet in the middle at 130. The 130 weight would be the most fair, but no title could be at stake. Dillashaw has agreed to drop, but his making that weight sounds tough given he shredded at 135. Johnson could move up, but when he was younger, before there was a 135-pound division, he was small in that class and lost twice in that division. But he’s a far better fighter today than he was six years ago.

He, Jones and St-Pierre are currently tied for second place in UFC history with 13 straight wins, chasing Anderson Silva’s 16. He’s one shy of St-Pierre’s record of 13 wins in championship fights. He’s two behind St-_Pierre and Randy Couture for most title fights during a career.

He entered the year as champion for five years and three months. It wouldn’t be until the fall of 2019 before he’d break Silva’s record for longest title reign of six years and almost nine months.

A correction from last week’s article on UFC business. We had a mistake on our side in the PPV number listed as 7.25 million buys for 2016 when it was actually closer to an estimated 8.21 million buys on 13 shows which would be an average of 632,000 buys per event. The decline from 2016 to 2017, where the numbers were 3.71 million buys in 12 events, and a 309,000 per event average, was 55 percent in total buys and 51 percent in average buys per event.

Even if you throw in the 4.3 million North American buys for Mayweather-McGregor, that would get the total to 7 million, which would still be below the figure from 2016. Mayweather-McGregor also had a higher price so when it comes to total revenue, if you go with a $58 average last year, the total PPV gross was $476 million, and UFC probably around got half of that. For this year, the UFC number would have been about $215 million with UFC getting half. The Mayweather-McGregor number would probably average out to about $97 or so because some people didn’t buy HD, which would be $417 million or a total of $632 million. Actually the show itself between overseas PPVs, live gate and sponsorships had a one-day take that topped $600 million. Of course when it comes to Mayweather vs. McGregor, the vast majority of that money went to the fighters and the belief was that UFC’s share of the pie would have been $40 million to $50 million, although that’s a different figure since it doesn’t include paying the fighters which the other numbers involved would include. Still, even with UFC’s share of Mayweather vs. McGregor, on PPV, this year couldn’t have come close to the level of last year.

When it comes to 2018, it really revolves around McGregor. If McGregor can be counted on for 1 million buys, and perhaps he can do more, that’s about a $58 million pie and if UFC gets half of that, that’s $29 million. If McGregor gets $10 million, everyone comes out fine, but if McGregor is fighting for $20 million, and he may easily push for that kind of money, suddenly the profit margin isn’t that strong because there are other fighters to pay, an opponent to pay, and all the costs of promoting an event that large.

And we don’t know if McGregor’s drawing power will be hurt, or helped, coming off the Mayweather fight. One would think that in 2017 that most fans recognize boxing and MMA are two different sports. But when you’re talking about 1 million and such people, that’s going to be heavily sports fans or casual fans who aren’t that sophisticated, at least in some cases. And perhaps even in losing, his notoriety and name value is clearly way up from 2016 when he was putting the big numbers with Nate Diaz and Eddie Alvarez. For people who saw UFC 219, one would think Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor should do better than Alvarez and perhaps as well as Diaz. The whole dynamic is different as if the championship and the idea of two top guys, plus two strong personalities matter, then it should do the best numbers in UFC history. But it’s not like tons of people saw that show, and while Nurmagomedov’s record is great, he hasn’t had that many big fights, he wasn’t as famous as Diaz and due to injuries hasn’t fought much in recent years.

On 1/5, Stephen Espinoza, the head of Showtime Sports, and Dana White went back-and-forth. White went off on Espinoza, saying he’d never work with him again on a promotion. Espinoza claimed that White got mad because Showtime sent out a press release that said Mayweather vs. McGregor did 4.3 million buys in North America and White had been claiming that it did 6.7 million buys worldwide and would have done 7 million except so many people who tried to order couldn’t get through. Espinoza shot back that it was weird people get mad at something that’s true. Actually, people get maddest about being things that are true.

McGregor jumped in and said that they were still No. 1 worldwide. Espinoza then said that for total revenue, they weren’t No. 1 either.

Actually, there is a good chance as much as this was contradictory, for some of it to be true. Now, there’s no way the show did 2.4 million buys outside of North America. Nor is Showtime going to release figures lower than the real numbers. So that 6.7 million figure, no way that’s accurate.

But the show probably was No. 1 worldwide for buys, but not necessarily No. 1 in total PPV revenue.

Mayweather vs. Pacquiao did 4.6 million buys in North America and 700,000 in the U.K. Mayweather vs. McGregor did 4.3 million buys in North America and 1 million in the U.K., so those numbers end up even. As far as the rest of the world, Mayweather vs. McGregor did set the record for Australian PPV, so it probably did win on total buys. But the U.S. buys were priced at $99.95 while the rest of the world was much lower. When it comes to revenue, a U.S. buy was probably worth nearly four U.K. buys, since the U.K. price was $26.31 and the Ireland price was $29.47.

If McGregor doesn’t fight, and Jon Jones’ suspension isn’t lifted, and St-Pierre doesn’t fight, it could be a worse year than this year. If McGregor, Jones and GSP all fight twice, it could be a great year depending on how they do. I think we can figure that most shows will do between 150,000 and 250,000 buys, unless you have a poor show with some injuries decimating it, and that does happen, or a big name.

Perhaps Cris Cyborg is now a big name, but I’m not sure that the surprising UFC 219 number is more Holly Holm against Cyborg and there is a question if Cyborg can come close with Amanda Nunes, and after that, there’s really nobody for her.

There are tons of great fighters out there in different divisions, particularly in the men’s bantamweight, featherweight, lightweight and welterweight classes. To a degree, the other classes don’t look to have a ton of depth.

If it happens, and obviously UFC is pushing for it, but can a Demetrious Johnson vs. T.J. Dillashaw battle of champions pull big numbers? It’s two champions in a very intriguing fight, but history wouldn’t indicate strong PPV numbers. Perhaps if it was Dominick Cruz or Cody Garbrandt in that fight it would do better, but it isn’t.

But aside from McGregor, GSP and Jones, all of whom are major question marks, the only guy out there who looks like he could join that club is Francis Ngannou. A lot depends on his fight with Stipe Miocic. I can see UFC 220 doing more than 400,000 buys, perhaps a lot more. Ngannou’s highlight knockout over Alistair Overeem and the marketing gimmick of the hardest puncher in the world (it’s not like every man, or every fighter, has punched the machine Ngannou set the record on) has something. But he also could lose to Miocic which would probably keep him from being a big draw and I don’t see Miocic as a top draw. Plus, in the heavyweight division, the depth isn’t there. If Ngannou beats Miocic by an impressive knockout, I think he and Cain Velasquez would do well. From there, outside of Fabricio Werdum, there is nobody who would be considered a viable opponent and nobody that strong on the rise. If Jones comes back and wins the light heavyweight title, and Ngannou dominates at heavyweight, two huge ifs, Jones vs. Ngannou would be a huge fight. Perhaps the marketing thing would be to convince Jones to come back as a heavyweight and do the Brock Lesnar fight. That would do some of the biggest numbers in UFC history, and Jones would likely win. After that win, the money would be for Jones going for the heavyweight title, which no matter who is the champion, would do well. But I’m not sure Jones is up for a fight with somebody like Ngannou.

There have been indications from Jeff Novitzky on some media appearances where the idea is that Jones’ positive test came from a tainted supplement and if so, while he’d probably be suspended through the summer, he may be back after that.

And from a Jones career standpoint and legacy, avoiding Miocic and Ngannou would be a good idea. But even at light heavyweight, there are very limited options. A Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson fight for the title would do well, as would Jones vs. Daniel Cormier even though Jones has beaten him twice. If Volkan Oezdemir beats Cormier on 1/20, than Oezdemir fits in as well. After that, again, the lack of depth in the division makes it tough.

No matter how much White denies he’s interested in doing it, GSP vs. McGregor is a giant fight and would be the biggest in UFC history. One would think GSP takes that one, and the question again becomes will that hurt McGregor? It’s all an interesting puzzle. But in looking at 2018, there is not likely to be another Mayweather vs. McGregor windfall, as McGregor boxing Manny Pacquiao or Oscar de la Hoya isn’t going to have nearly the interest since we’ve seen the idea that McGregor would be this great KO puncher in boxing isn’t the case. Both would do some freak show business.

The PPV business is more-and-more haves vs. have nots. It’s always been around the major group of draws, whether it was Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz in 2006, GSP, B.J. Penn, Brock Lesnar and Rampage Jackson in 2010, or McGregor, Jones, Lesnar and Rousey in 2016.

In 2006, a lot of it was the brand that was a draw as the without one of the big names did 300,000 while the average of the big names was closer to 550,000. It’s a big difference, of course, but nothing like today. But keep in mind UFC was running fewer free television shows and total events. If you wanted to watch UFC, for the most part, you got one show a month, and it was on PPV.

In 2010, a show without the big names averaged 275,000 while the big names averaged 725,000.

In 2016, with television shows most weeks, a show without the big names averaged 240,000 and the big names averaged 985,000. While 2017 looked terrible, the shows without the big names averaged 213,000 and the ones with the big names, in this case Jones and GSP, averaged 867,500. The company’s baseline peak of interest was 2009 and the baseline dropped hard in 2014 and has mostly stayed at that level. The big name shows had big years in 2009 and 2010, which was the Lesnar era. They went down for a few years with only GSP and eventually Anderson Silva as the big draws. They came back big in 2015 and 2016, the Rousey/McGregor era.

Perhaps that’s why White and WME IMG are talking about going into boxing. There is the mentality that they were able to make huge stars in one sport and get great television deals, and boxing when it comes to promoting fights and how to make them draw, is similar to MMA. But boxing still is only going to have a handful of PPV draws, and most of them are tied up elsewhere, and unlike MMA fighters, they make a lot more money and making a profit with them isn’t nearly as easy.

Certainly, it’s an easier transition than Vince McMahon into football.

White told Kevin Iole, “When we did the Mayweather fight, I just watched and took it all in. I just think that all these guys, the guys who are promoting boxing today are bad at it. I don’t think they do a good job. But I can do better. I know it sounds arrogant, but it’s the truth. I think I can do a better job than these guys do. I think we can do it a lot better.” He said a big problem in boxing is that guys already get their paycheck and has ideas on how to fix it. It will be interesting, because the pay scale for revenue moving, and even non-revenue moving main eventers is a lot higher, and the profit margin for promoters is a lot lower in boxing than MMA. Vince McMahon thought the same thing in the 80s and he didn’t last long in boxing, although White is far more knowledgeable about boxing and his style of promotion is more similar to promoting boxing.

The key to the idea, is that they would use a similar marketing with the idea that in boxing, they could promote stars, which they believe they do better than boxing. Long-term, the idea is that would open up the rights fees situation, which in the end, is what is going to be the key driver of every sport going forward. The idea is television will be more desperate for live content that people talk about, and streaming services will open up and bid to increase the numbers being offered. But that’s the game and mentality in play right now.

White talked about using their new Performance Institute, an impressive gym and facility where fighters can train for free with top-tier equipment and recuperation facilities and eat for free as a selling point for both MMA fighters and boxers.

“Whoever an athlete is, I don’t care who it is, I want to fly you to Las Vegas and we’re going to meet. I’m going to walk you through this new facility, show you the gym, the trainers, all the amenities, free supplements, physical therapy, we’ll cook your food exactly how you like it three times per day. You’ll get health insurance. Who can offer you a better deal than me in combat sports? F*** boxing, MMA, whatever it is. Who can offer you a better deal then me? The answer is nobody.”

Paul Fontaine did some research this past week which quantified that most probably expected it would, and that is that unlike UFC, that the pro wrestling audience is watching fewer hours.

The smaller UFC television audience in 2017, which has five hours most Saturday nights, is more likely to watch all five hours now than ever before. However, the WWE audience is less likely to watch all three hours. Don’t mistake that to mean UFC fans are watching all five hours, because while most are, they are not all. But UFC fans that aren’t, join late more often and mostly stay until the end of the show.

The WWE audience starts early in the winter, later in the summer, but no matter what the time of the year, are more likely not to stay until the end of the show. Some of this may be the long-term effect of three hours weekly, although three-hours weekly has been the case now six years. Some may also being the aging audience, as the number of kids, teenagers and young adults, particularly males, declines and the percentage of the audience over the age of 50 along with women continue to increase. No matter what you think, teenage boys in particular are the most likely to stay up until 11:05 p.m. than any other group, and those over 50 and women in general are the ones who are more consistently tuning out earlier. Those are also the two types of viewers that on a percentage basis are gaining (which is more meaning they are the viewers that are losing less, not gaining, when it comes to over 50, although women may actually be growing).

In 2012, the three hours of Raw averaged 3,962,000 viewers for the first hour, 4,384,000 for the second hour and 4,298,000 for the third hour. There was still some third hour decline, but hour three was ahead of hour one.

In 2013, the first hour rose to 4,121,000 viewers, the second hour did 4,246,000 and the third hour did 4,105,000 viewers, so people came earlier, and largely stayed with the second hour as the peak.

In 2014, the pattern of people leaving in bigger numbers in the third hour was just starting. Hour one averaged 4,145,000 viewers, hour two did 4,240,000 and hour three did 4,058,000. But overall the pattern was similar to the year before.

It was in 2015 where the show took the big tumble. Hour one averaged 3,761,000 and hour two averaged 3,766,000, and then it fell to 3,590,000 for hour three.

In 2016, there was another tumble and more of people tuning out as the show was going on. It for the first time reversed, as people started early and were tuning out as the show went on, with 3,341,000 in hour one, 3,288,000 in hour two and 3,061,000 in hour three.

So from 2012, the first to third went from an 8.5 percent increase the first year, an 0.4 percent decrease the second year, a 2.1 percent decrease the third year, a 4.5 percent decrease the fourth year and an 8.4 percent decrease the fifth year. That change in the way people watch Raw from 2012 to 2016 is really quite significant.

The key is that this means the viewers of Raw clearly don’t like the show as much as in 2012, because this decrease is measuring people who tuned in and stayed for a full hour. In 2012, not only did they stay, but more people joined in. By 2016, people were tuning out significantly before or during the third hour, breaking the pattern that had gone back to the beginning of the 9-11 p.m. time slot where the 10-11 p.m. hour had almost always been the highest rated.

In 2017, the first hour averaged 3,127,000 viewers, the second averaged 3,092,000 and third hour averaged 2,837,000, with the first to third hour decline hitting 9.3 percent.

One more note regarding the awards. In the listings, for match of the year it noted it should be a match that took place between December 1, 2016 and November 30, 2017, but that is incorrect, it should be December 1, 2016 through December 31, 2017.

Smackdown on 1/9 did 2,603,000 viewers, putting it ninth place for the night on cable.

The show did a 0.54 in 12-17 (down 15.6 percent from the prior week), 0.56 in 18-34 (down 15.2 percent), 0.96 in 35-49 (down 2.0 percent) and 1.09 in 50+ (up 1.9 percent).

The audience was 60.6 percent male in 18-49 and 54.0 percent male in 12-17.

Raw on 1/8 did a 1.91 rating and 2,747,000 viewers (1.57 viewers per home). It was down four percent in viewers from the prior week. The number still has to be considered good going against the college football national championship game.

Alabama vs. Georgia did 27,383,000 viewers, which, unless there is a total monster NBA seventh game on a Monday, will be the toughest competition Raw will face in 2018. Next week starts the traditional bounce-back period and the 1/22 show should be the most-watched episode of the year. In theory, the numbers should be above a three million average until we get into the basketball playoff season and should be the strongest point of the year for the show. Still, on 1/1, the Oklahoma vs. Georgia game did 25,854,000 viewers.

Raw was sixth for the night on cable, trailing only ESPN programming related to the football game and before-and-after coverage of the game.

The ratings pattern was expected, since the hour started before the game did, and viewers declined as the show went on. The third hour was down 16 percent from the first hour. It was women who declined more than men, as women 18-49 dropped 25 percent comparing hour one to three (and likely far more than that start-to-finish), while men 18-49 dropped eight percent, teenage girls were down 17 percent, teenage boys were actually up five percent and over 50s declined 14 percent.

The first hour did 2,993,000 viewers. The second hour did 2,784,000 viewers. The third hour did 2,502,000 viewers.

The show did a 0.58 in 12-17 (down 17.1 percent from last week), 0.73 in 18-34 (down 8.8 percent), 1.15 in 35-49 (up 0.9 percent) and 1.16 in 50+ (up 8.4 percent).

The audience was 61.1 percent males in 18-49 and 53.5 percent male in 12-17.

Impact on 1/4 did 309,000 viewers, up eight percent from the previous week and the best number the show has done since 8/17. The show was built around an Eli Drake vs. Alberto El Patron match and a loser leaves Impact match with James Storm vs. Dan Lambert. I think this is partially the bounce-back since they are no longer going against the NFL and a lot of the former viewers are slowly tuning in. The one thing different from the current Impact fan base and the base of five years ago is the old base was very loyal and steady, although if WWE would go head-to-head, it would kill them so the audience is still WWE fans who would rather see WWE. But the current audience just got killed during football season and has bounced back strong with no more Thursday night NFL.

Total Divas on 1/3 did 684,000 viewers. It was the show’s best number since 5/10 and third best number of the year. The big increase over previous weeks was in males 18-49.

Smackdown on Jan. 2 did a 1.80 rating and 2,720,000 viewers (a huge 1.65 viewers per home, once again indicating more families watching together than a usual Tuesday–the difference with the VPMs with Raw is likely that while more families were together on 1/1, fewer family members were likely watching Raw with the college football games on), up two percent from the prior week and its best number since 9/12. It’s pretty clear that the Shane McMahon/Daniel Bryan dynamic is growing the audience. It’s a feud of two personalities that the fans like and done in a unique fashion where they know it’s coming but it’s a slow build and the characters are given justification for their actions and while each has done heel things, neither are true heels yet.

Smackdown was fifth for the night on cable.

The show did a 0.64 in 12-17 (up 25.5 percent from last week), 0.66 in 18-34 (up 1.5 percent), 0.98 in 35-49 (down 1.0 percent) and 1.07 in 50+ (down 4.5 percent).

The audience was 58.2 percent male in 18-49 and 58.8 percent male in 12-17.

Raw on 1/1 did a 1.94 rating and 2,860,000 viewers (1.61 viewers per home).

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1/4 Atlanta (WWE NXT TV tapings - 650): Candice LeRase b Vanessa Borne, Kassius Ohno b Raul Mendoza, Shayna Baszler b Dakota Kai, Lars Sullivan b Lio Rush, Tag titles: Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly b Roderick Strong & Aleister Black, NXT title: Andrade Cien Almas b Kassius Ohno, Riddick Moss & Tino Sabbatelli b Otis Dozovic & Tucker Knight, Lacey Evans b Aliyah, Roderick Strong b Fabian Aichner, Authors of Pain b Montez Ford & Angelo Dawkins, No Way Jose b Cezar Bononi, Bianca Belair b Luscious, Johnny Gargano b Velveen Dream

1/5 Evansville, IN (WWE Raw - 2,000): Rhyno & Heath Slater & Goldust & Apollo Crews b Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows & Curtis Axel & Bo Dallas, Asuka b Alicia Fox, Cruiserweight title: Enzo Amore b Cedric Alexander, Bayley & Sasha Banks won three-way over Nia Jax & Alexa Bliss and Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville, Matt Hardy b Bray Wyatt, Roman Reigns & Seth Rollins & Jason Jordan b Sheamus & Cesaro & Samoa Joe

1/5 Spartaburg, SC (WWE NXT - 700): No Way Jose b Fabian Aichner, Nikki Cross b Lacey Evans, Lars Sullivan b Roderick Strong, Tag titles: Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly b Kassius Ohno & Aleister Black, Minivan at stake: Montez Ford & Angelo Dawkins b Tino Sabbatelli & Riddick Moss, Shayna Baszler & Bianca Belair b Aliyah & Ember Moon, Johnny Gargano b Velveteen Dream

1/5 Crystal River, FL (WWE NXT - 100): Raul Mendoza b Buddy Murphy, Abbey Laith & Taynara Conti b Reina Gonzalez & Sage Beckett, Cezar Bononi b Christopher Dijak, Chad Lail b Jason, Otis Dozovic & Tucker Knight b Nick Miller & Shane Thorne, Big Boa b Kona Reeves, Vanessa Borne b Jesse Elaban, Eric Young & Killian Dain & Alexander Wolfe b Authors of Pain & Adrian Jaoude

1/6 Cape Girardeau, MO (WWE Raw - 1,750): Rhyno & Heath Slater & Goldust & Apollo Crews b Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows & Curtis Axel & Bo Dallas, Asuka b Alicia Fox, Cruiserweight title: Enzo Amore b Cedric Alexander, Bayley & Sasha Banks won three-way over Nia Jax & Alexa Bliss and Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville, Matt Hardy b Bray Wyatt, Roman Reigns & Seth Rollins & Jason Jordan b Sheamus & Cesaro & Samoa Joe

1/6 Jackson, MS (WWE Smackdown - 4,200): Four-way for tag titles: Usos won over Big E & Xavier Woods, Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable and Rusev & Aiden English, Mojo Rawley b Sin Cara, Luke Harper & Erick Rowan b Tyler Breeze & Fandango, Naomi & Becky Lynch b Sarah Logan & Ruby Riott, Shinsuke Nakamura b Jinder Mahal, Four-way for women’s title: Charlotte Flair won over Natalya, Tamina and Carmella, Bobby Roode b Baron Corbin, Handicap match for WWE title: A.J. Styles won over Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn

1/6 Charlotte, NC (WWE NXT - 1,900): No Way Jose b Fabian Aichner, Nikki Cross b Lacey Evans, Lars Sullivan b Roderick Strong, Tag titles: Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly b Kassius Ohno & Aleister Black, Minivan at stake: Montez Ford & Angelo Dawkins b Tino Sabbatelli & Riddick Moss, Shayna Baszler & Bianca Belair b Aliyah & Ember Moon, Johnny Gargano b Velveteen Dream

1/6 Largo, FL (WWE NXT - 150): Big Boa b Marcel Barthel, Jessie Elaban & Abbey Laith b Sage Beckett & Reina Gonzalez, Buddy Murphy b Tian Bing, Dan Matha b Jason, Otis Dozovic & Tucker Knight b Authors of Pain, Kona Reeves b Brennan Williams, Vanessa Borne b Taynara Conti, Eric Young & Alexander Wolfe & Killian Dain b Wesley Blake & Steve Cutler & Chad Lail

1/6 Mexico City Arena Mexico (CMLL - 4,500): Fiero & Flyer & Magia Blanca b Coyote & Templario & Yago, Pegasso & Titan b Raziel & Virus, Soberano Jr. b Rey Cometa, Forastero & Cuatrero & Sanson b Drone & Esfinge & Guerrero Maya Jr., Niebla Roja b Gran Guerrero, Ultimo Guerrero & Valiente b Volador Jr. & Cavernario

1/6 Tokyo Korakuen Hall (Pro Wrestling NOAH - 1,598): Yoshinari Ogawa b Junta Miyawaki, Mitsuya Nagai & Yuko Miyamoto & Cody Hall b Mohammed Yone & Quiet Storm & Akitoshi Saito, Hi69 & Hajime Ohara & Hitoshi Kumano & Minoru Tanaka & Seiya Morohashi b Daisuke Harada & Tadasuke & Hayata & Yo-Hey & Leona, Takashi Sugiura b Jay Bradley, Katsuhiko Nakajima & Masa Kitamiya b Go Shiozaki & Atsushi Kotoge, Naomichi Marufuji b Maybach Taniguchi-DQ, Impact X title: Taiji Ishimori b Andrew Everett, GHCtilte: Kenou b Kaito Kiyomiya

1/6 Nagoya (All Japan - 476): Shinya Ishida b Yusuke Okada, Ultimo Dragon & Koji Iwamoto b Black Tiger VII & Michio Kageyama, Atsushi Maruyama b Yohei Nakajima, Kotaro Suzuki b Hikaru Sato, Joe Doering & Ryoji Sai b Zeus & Kai, Suwama & Shuji Ishikawa & Atsushi Aoki b Kento Miyahara & Yoshitatsu & Tajiri, All-Asia tag title: Naoya Nomura & Yuma Aoyagi b Jun Akiyama & Takao Omori

1/7 West Plains, MO (WWE Raw - 1,200): Heath Slater & Rhyno & Goldust & Apollo Crews b Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel & Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson, Asuka b Alicia Fox, Matt Hardy b Bray Wyatt, Sasha Banks & Bayley won three-way over Sonya Deville & Mandy Rose and Nia Jax & Alexa Bliss, Cruiserweight title: Enzo Amore b Cedric Alexander, Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns & Jason Jordan b Sheamus & Cesaro & Samoa Joe

1/7 Mobile, AL (WWE Smackdown - 4,000): Four-way for tag titles: Usos won over Aiden English & Rusev, Big E & Xavier Woods and Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable, Mojo Rawley b Sin Cara, Luke Harper & Erick Rowan b Tyler Breeze & Fandango, Naomi & Becky Lynch b Ruby Riott & Sarah Logan, Shinsuke Nakamura b Jinder Mahal, Four-way for women’s title: Charlotte Flair won over Natalya, Tamina and Carmella, Bobby Roode b Baron Corbin, Handicap amtch for WWE title: A.J. Styles won over Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

1/7 Mexico City Arena Mexico (CMLL - 2,000): Artillero & Grako b Bengala & Sangre Imperial, Pegasso & Stigma & Triton b Akuma & Arkangel de la Muerte & Disturbio, Johnny Idol & Okumura & Sam Adonis b Esfinge & Soberano Jr. & Valiente, Angel de Oro & Niebla Roja & Stuka Jr. b Cuatrero & Mascara Ano 2000 & Universo 2000 Jr.-DQ,. Caristico & Marco Corleone & Diamante Azul b Euforia & Gran Guerrero & Ultimo Guerrero

1/7 Osaka (All Japan - 650 sellout): Kotaro Suzuki b Yusuke Okada, Yohei Nakajima & Takao Omori b Atsushi Maruyama & Koji Iwamoto, Atsushi Aoki b Black Tiger VII, Joe Doering & Ryoji Sai & Tajiri & Kai b Kento Miyahara & Naoya Nomura & Yuma Aoyagi & Yoshitatsu, TV title: Jun Akiyama b Hikaru Sato, Suwama & Shuji Ishikawa & Strong 13 b Zeus & The Bodyguard & Mushuku no Sekiko

1/7 Hamamatsu (Pro Wrestling NOAH - 245): Minoru Tanaka b Junta Miyawaki, Yoshinari Ogawa b Masao Inoue, Cody Hall & Jay Bradley b Quiet Storm & Andrew Everett, Hayata & Yo-Hey & Tadasuke b Taiji Ishimori & Hi69 & Leona, Naomichi Marufuji & Atsushi Kotoge & Hajime Ohara b Katsuhiko Nakajima & Masa Kitamiya & Daisuke Harada, Maybach Taniguchi & Mitsuya Nagai b Mohammed Yone & Hitoshi Kumano, Yuko Miyamoto & Go Shiozaki & Kaito Kiyomiya b Kenou & Takashi Sugiura & Akitoshi Saito

1/8 Memphis (WWE Raw/Main Event TV tapings - 8,000): Sasha Banks & Bayley b Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville, Matt Hardy b Curt Hawkins, Cruiserweight title: Cedric Alexander b Enzo Amore-COR, Apollo Crews & Titus O’Neil b Sheamus & Cesaro, Samoa Joe b Rhyno, Finn Balor & Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows b Roman Reigns & Seth Rollins & Jason Jordan

1/8 Montgomery, AL (WWE Smackdown - 1,250): Four-way for tag titles: Usos won over Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin, Big E & Xavier Woods and Rusev & Aiden English, Mojo Rawley b Sin Cara, Luke Harper & Erick Rowan b Tyler Breeze & Fandango, Naomi & Becky Lynch b Sarah Logan & Liv Morgan, Shinsuke Nakamura b Jinder Mahal, Four-way for women’s title: Charlotte Flair won over Tamina, Natalya and Carmella, Bobby Roode b Baron Corbin, Handicap match for WWE title: A.J. Styles won over Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

1/8 Kasukabe (Pro Wrestling NOAH - 257): Cody Hall b Seiya Morohashi, Mohammed Yone & Leona b Akitoshi Saito & Masao Inoue, Hajime Ohara & Yoshinari Ogawa b Daisuke Harada & Tadasuke, Maybach Taniguchi & Mitsuya Nagai b Quiet Storm & Jay Bradley, Taiji Ishimori & Hi69 & Andrew Everett b Naomichi Marufuji & Hayata & Yo-Hey, Kenou & Takashi Sugiura b Yuko Miyamoto & & Minoru Suzuki, Go Shiozaki & Atsushi Kotoge & Kaiyo Kiyomiya b Katsuhiko Nakajima & Masa Kitamiya & Hitoshi Kumano

1/9 Birmingham, AL (WWE Smackdown/205 Live TV tapings - 5,000): Jimmy Uso & Naomi b Baron Corbin & Tamina, Becky Lynch b Ruby Riott, Luke Harper & Erick Rowan b The Ascension, Mojo Rawley b Zack Ryder, Tyler Breeze & Fandango b Aiden English & Rusev, Handicap match: Randy Orton & Shinsuke Nakamura & A.J. Styles b Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn, Gran Metalik b TJP, Cedric Alexander b Tony Nese, Usos & Bobby Roode b Jinder Mahal & Shelton Benjamin & Chad Gable

1/9 Mexico City Arena Mexico (CMLL - 2,500): Magia Blanca & Retro b Akuma & Yago, Drone & Fuego & Star Jr. b Arkangel de la Muerte & Nitro & Sangre Azteca, Puma b Disturbio, Johnny Idol & Okumura & Sam Adonis b Angel de Oro & Niebla Roja & Rey Cometa, Dragon Lee & Rush & Soberano Jr. b Cuatrero & Sanson & Mascara Ano 2000, Atlantis & Caristico & Volador Jr. b Ultimo Guerrero & Gran Guerrero & Euforia

1/10 Orlando (Impact TV tapings): Caleb Konley b Robit Raju, Grand championship: Matt Sydal b Fallah Bahh, Bobby Lashley b KM, Non-title: Kiera Hogan b Laurel Van Ness, Moose & Johnny Impact b Ethan Carter III & Alberto El Patron, Impact title: Austin Aries b Eli Drake to win title, Taiji Ishimori & Matt Sydal b Robit Raju & El Hijo del Fantasma, Trevor Lee & Caleb Konley b TECH, Non-title: Laurel Van Ness b Kiera Hogan, Hania b Amber Nova, Johnny Impact won four-way over Ethan Carter III, Moose and Alberto el Patron, Dave & Jake Crist b TECH, Rosemary b Amber Nova

CMLL: Negro Casas’ rib injury was worse than originally thought. Casas has one broken rib and two bruised ribs in his 1/1 match with Sam Adonis. The injury is believed to have taken place at the end of the second fall off a 450 by Adonis. Casas will be out of action for several months which took him off the Fantastica Mania tour. This would have been Casas’ first New Japan tour since 2012

The big show of the week was the Three Kings Day show on 1/6 at Arena Mexico. The big event moved from the usual Friday night to late Saturday afternoon. They tried to make it a family show by having an autograph session with the micro stars and really cheap kids prices. Plus it was a special show with rematches of some of 2017's biggest bouts. They drew about 4,500 fans, lower than expected. Really, the best match was the opener where Fiero & Flyer & Magia Blanca beat Coyote & Templario & Yago in two straight falls. Watching this and a lesson from of all people, Nick Bockwinkel came to mind. Bockwinkel, even though everyone remembers him as this legendary world champion, which he was, for the first 16 years of his career he was a good babyface journeyman wrestler. He noted that people will talk about psychology and such, and it does exist, but that if you are in the opener and you are in the main event, and you do exactly the same thing and have the same quality match, you will get far, far more reaction in the main event. He’d say how the main eventers would take credit for more psychology but it’s really that their match is the one people paid to see, they got more interview time to hype the crowd, and as far as work goes, a lot of times they are no better but you get the impression they are. Watching this match, and with an empty building since the micros were signing in the concourse while this was going on, it had little heat but about midway through it was like this would be a really good main event. But it’s not getting any reaction because the crowd doesn’t know these guys and are accustomed to not reacting to openers. The crowd did give them a nice hand when it was over. Fiero was advertised as Audaz, but wrestled as Fiero. After the match and he won, they had a ceremony in the ring here he announced he was changing his name to Audaz. Pegasso & Titan beat Raziel & Virus in 26:46 which was way too long. It just dragged. Then Rey Cometa vs. Soberano Jr. had to rush through their match, doing three falls in 8:01 (really 6:20). It was all big moves and fun, but it felt ridiculously rushed. Cometa did a tope and Canadian Destroyer to take the first fall in 1:36. Soberano won the second fall in 1:26 with a tope and a corkscrew off the top rope. In the third fall, Cometa did a running flip dive. Soberano did a Fosbury Flop and what was so awesome was the announcers calling it a Flop de Fosbury and actually explaining who Fosbury was (Dick Fosbury was the 1968 Olympic high jump gold medalist who invented a new style which in the last ten years became really popular with pro wrestling high flyers). Soberano won the third fall with a springboard leg drop. Sanson & Forastero & Cuatrero beat Guerrero Maya Jr. & Esfinge & Drone. The crowd booed the tecnicos, which was Drone’s team, even after they hit a triple tope. The Dinamitas came back with their own triple tope. A rematch of the anniversary show main event saw Niebla Roja get revenge on Gran Guerrero in 21:01. This was a good match with some cool moves and highlights. But in the third fall, Roja did a double chicken wing while both were standing on the middle rope and jumped off dropping Guerrero on his face. Obviously this wasn’t supposed to be the finish as Guerrero kicked out clearly at two and the ref counted to three and ruled it was over. Talk about killing the pop of a win. The crowd was more for Guerrero, which made it even harder for Roja. Early in the third fall, Roja did a springboard off the barricade and flipped, but Guerrero caught him in mid-air and gave him a running power bomb on the floor in the aisle. Roja also went after the mask. The main event was a rematch of the finals of the Parejas Increibles tournament final. Like the prior match, the team that lost the big match won here, as Ultimo Guerrero & Valiente beat Volador Jr. & Cavernario in 17:57. So it’s a tecnico and rudo on each side. But Volador has been teasing a heel turn in recent weeks and the crowd loves Guerrero. So of course, Guerrero & Valiente worked the match like the heels. Volador did a flip dive over the top and Guerrero caught him and power bombed him on the floor, pretty much what his brother did in the prior match. There were a lot of mistimed spots here and Valiente didn’t look good at all. Volador and Guerrero were good with each other. The finish was Guerrero use the Guerrero special to pin Volador while Valiente did the tombstone into the codebreaker on Cavernario so it was a double pin. The crowd then celebrated big for the win

The 1/12 show at Arena Mexico features Caristico & Diamante Azul & Marco Corleone vs. Kraneo & Shocker & El Terrible on top, which is a very weak Friday night main event. The other top bouts are Blue Panther & Stuka Jr. & Valiente vs. Ephesto & Mephisto & Sam Adonis, and Titan vs. Rey Cometa, which should be a good match. The next two weeks will be slow with so much of the top talent in Japan

Most of the guys worked 1/9 at Arena Mexico and went straight to the airport to fly to Japan

Johnny Idol, who is from New Zealand, had a story written about him in the New Zealand Herald. He claimed when he started in Mexico he was making $15.50 per match, but now gets paid as much as $260 per match

Atlantis actually made his return on 1/9 at Arena Mexico before leaving for Japan. Because it was a Tuesday, it only drew 2,500 fans as he teamed with Caristico & Volador Jr. to beat Ultimo Guerrero & Gran Guerrero & Euforia via DQ for a Euforia low blow on Caristico. Atlantis didn’t do much in the match, but you wouldn’t expect that he would

. Sam Adonis is now doing the gimmick of wearing a wig and headgear which Buddy Rose and later Buddy Roberts and Kurt Angle made famous among tons of other heels that have lost hair matches. It leads to an easy pop in every match when the faces take the wig off.

AAA: Johnny Mundo, who is scheduled to headline Guerra de Titanes on 1/26 at Juan de la Barrera Gym in an AAA Mega heavyweight title defense against Dr. Wagner Jr., has said that he’s not going to be doing the show and put the blame on Vampiro for whatever the problem is. Given that Mundo and Vampiro have also been working an angle, who knows what this means, although I can’t see him saying he won’t be at a big show on an Impact press call unless there is a problem. He said that they advertised him for the show without every contacting him. They are still advertising him and it’s the world title match main event

Dorian Roldan was on Zona Ruda and made some comments about 2018. He said they’ve got three major feuds planned for the year. He said that the next major show after Guerra de Titanes will be Rey de Reyes in March in Puebla. He said TripleMania would be in August. He said AAA would be doing shows this year in Colombia and Panama in April, Japan in October and the U.K. in November. He said that they would work together with CMLL in an instant if CMLL would agree to it. That would require a huge change of philosophy in CMLL for that to happen. He said they are working on getting a major name to the Guerra de Titanes show and he also said that he thinks both Taya and Sexy Star will be back at some point. He said the company is just waiting for both to be agreeable to return

Someone on Twitter saying they were El Hijo del Vikingo’s girlfriend said that he, Angelikal, Villano III Jr. Solaris and Angel Mortal Jr. were all given no bookings for two weeks, went to complain about it, and now have either been suspended or had their pay cut in half. She did so with some shots of AAA booking sheets. According to the Cubs Fan, Angelikal only had one booking between 12/9 and 1/15, Vikingo had one between 12/17 and 1/13, Villano had two in that period and Solaris only has had one booking, on 1/1, since 11/25. There were guys in the reality show that won contracts and then AAA hardly booked them and they tried to get dates outside AAA, so AAA punished them and booked them even less.

CRASH: Matt Riddle did tell Crash he was working AAW on 1/20 and not the show here in Tijuana, but he’s still being advertised. Crash seems to believe since they were flying Riddle to Toronto (where he’s working the next day) that he must be doing their show.

DRAGON GATE: Dezmond Xavier from Impact and Zachary Wentz, his tag partner in several indie groups, join Flamita, Jason Lee (from Hong Kong) and Bandido on the first tour of the year which starts on 1/13 in Kyoto. The first Korakuen Hall show is 1/16 with T-Hawk & Eita & Lindaman vs. Naruki Doi & Masato Yoshino & Big R Shimizu on top. Xavier & Wentz face Flamita & Bandido and Yamato & Kzy face Masaaki Mochizuki & Susumu Yokosuka

Several wrestlers from here are working a 1/11 show in Hong Kong.

ALL JAPAN: The 2/3 show in Yokohama will be held at the Bunka Gym with Joe Doering vs. Kai for the Triple Crown, Suwama & Shuji Ishikawa vs. Kento Miyahara & Yoshitatsu for the world tag titles, Yuma Aoyagi & Naoya Nomura vs. Jun Akiyama & Yuji Nagata for the All-Asia tag titles and Tajiri vs. Atsushi Aoki for the jr. title

Nagata being loaned in from New Japan is because Takao Omori had been working with a herniated disc in his neck since December, but continued to work through it since he was doing mostly tag matches and worked through his two title matches last week before the decision to make time off. Given that he’s 48, and has 25 years of wear-and-tear, he may not be back so quickly. Nagata is obviously great, but New Japan really doesn’t do much with him these days because they are pushing other talent and he had his big nostalgia run at G-1, so it’s good for him to go somewhere where he can be featured and help get experience and credibility in a program with Aoyagi & Nomura, who they are grooming as the future of All Japan

The main event on the 1/6 show in Nagoya saw a big upset as Nomura & Aoyagi retained the All-Asia tag titles beating former world tag champs Akiyama & Omori. The finish came when Aoyagi pinned Omori in 17:44 with a jackknife. That’s a real big deal to have the young guys beat a longtime veteran team

Jun Akiyama retained the TV title beating Hikaru Sato on 1/7 in Osaka before a sellout 650 fans.

PRO WRESTLING NOAH: They are looking at doing a Marufuji 20th anniversary show in August, as close to his legit 20th anniversary (which would be 8/28) as possible

The first show of the New Year was on 1/6 at Korakuen Hall before a near sellout of 1,598 fans. There were still plenty of Americans at the show. In the top matches, Marufuji beat Maybach Taniguchi via DQ in their grudge match in 11:27 due to outside interference from Mitsuya Nagai. Atsushi Kotoge then came out for the save. Mohammed Yone & Quiet Storm, who hold the GHC tag titles, then came out. This set up Yone & Storm defending soon against Taniguchi & Nagai on 2/2 at Korakuen Hall. Taiji Ishimori retained the Impact X title pinning Andrew Everett in 16:44 with a 450 splash. Ishimori leaves this week for the Impact tapings in Orlando. In the main event, Kenou retained the GHC heavyweight title beating Kaito Kiyomiya in 22:02 with a ref stoppage knockout finish after two high kicks. The heat was said to be off the charts for this one. Ths was Kiyomiya’s first match back after being sent to Canada. The crowd took great to him as a babyface to a level that surprised everyone to the point there were comments that he could be that young top babyface that they need. Kenou’s next title defense will be against Yuko Miyamoto on the 2/2 show. Kiyomiya still wanted another title shot. Kenou & Takashi Sugiura attacked Kiyomiya after. All the babyfaces came out for the save but the key guy was Go Shiozaki. Originally Kiyomiya & Kenou & Sugiura were to do trios matches together in main events but that will all be changing

Hajime Ohara pinned Daisuke Harada after a flying knee in a six-man match which looks to set him up as the contender for Harada’s GHC jr. title, possibly on the 2/2 show.

NEW JAPAN: Long Beach tickets go on sale on 1/29 priced from $200 down to $50 at the 5,300 Walter Pyramid on the campus of Long Beach State. They’ll probably announce a talent list before that date but the matches won’t be announced until the end of the next tour, unless they announce a Jericho vs. Naito match ahead of time

The company announced a four-city tour of Australia with shows on 2/16 in Adelaide at Titanium Arena, 2/17 in Melbourne at Festival Hall (the building that World Championship Wrestling ran in the city during the country’s pro wrestling heyday), 2/18 in Sydney at the Quay Centre and 2/19 in Perth at HBF Stadium. They are configuring all the buildings for less than 5,000 fans, with the goal to do 3,000 to 4,000 paid each night. Tickets go on sale on 1/12 at Destroyallliones.com. On the tour will be Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Minoru Suzuki, Tomohiro Ishii, The Young Bucks, Cody, Kushida, Evil, Sanada, Bad Luck Fale (who is helping promote the tour), Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa, Juice Robinson and Lance Archer, plus Will Ospreay for the last two nights. Tetsuya Naito will be in the U.S. that week. The company stated they want to become part of the wrestling scene in Australia. “We want to make history and we want you to be part of history. We do not want to just come to Australia, say Hi and leave. We want to become part of the fabric and culture of Australia.

For AXS TV, the 1/12 TV show will have the Young Bucks vs. Sho & Yoh and Marty Scurll vs. Will Ospreay vs. Kushida & Hiromu Takahashi. The 1/19 show will have Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. vs. Evil & Seiya Sanada, Minoru Suzuki vs. Hirooki Goto and highlights of the Never trios gauntlet. The 1/26, 2/2 and 2/9 shows will be Cody vs. Kota Ibushi and Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Jay White one week, and then they will do full one hour shows for both Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito

Taka Michinoku & Taichi are promoting a show called TakaTaichi Mania on 1/23 at Korakuen Hall, headlined by Naito vs. Taichi, Jun Kasai vs. Takashi Iizuka in a battle of brawlers and Michinoku & Kaji Tomato vs. Hiromu Takahashi & Bushi. It’s also Taichi’s 15th anniversary show (he debuted December 2, 2002).

OTHER JAPAN NOTES: Atsushi Onita, 60, will be running for Mayor of the city of Kanzaki, Japan, a city with a population of about 32,000 people. The election is on 4/15. Kanzaki is the city he grew up in. Onita recently did a free show in that city on 9/17 to raise funds for victims of a local flood. Onita served in the House of Councilors in Japan, equivalent to our House of Representatives, being voted into office in 2001. He was forced to resign due to a sex scandal when it came out that he used government accommodations to have a threesome with a female porn actress and a female government employee. Onita has also claimed to have slept with 20,000 different women, which, like Ric Flair’s figure, is likely complete B.S., and also claims to have had more stitches on his body than anyone living due to a career of slicing and dicing all different parts of his body for bloody matches

Keiji Muto announced a Pro Wrestling Masters show on 2/16 at Korakuen Hall with a 90s New Japan main event of New Japan vs Team 2000, with the New Japan team being Muto & Riki Choshu & Tatsumi Fujinami & Jushin Liger against Team 2000 of Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Hiro Saito & AKIRA, who will be managed by Masahiro Chono. Chono was around doing Japanese announcing at the Tokyo Dome show

Stardom attendance increased 20 percent in 2017, which is pretty strong considering one year ago there was significant fear regarding the future with WWE after its top talent and both Io Shirai and Kairi Hojo looking at leaving and Yoko Bito looking at retiring. Shirai ended up not being signed due to medical reasons and returned to Stardom as its top star

Bob Backlund, 68, talked to Bill Apter for his web site this past week and said that he’s been in talks with Tatsumi Fujinami about doing a match this year in Dradition, which makes sense, since that promotion is all about nostalgia from the 80s

Viper, Kay Lee Ray and other women from Stardom have gone on social media to ask people to buy merchandise from Kris Wolf to help her out with her being injured. Her injury was not been announced but she’s been out of action this past week

The D-King Grand Prix tournament opened for DDT on 1/5 at Shinjuku Face in Tokyo before 468 fans. On the first night, Yukio Sakaguchi beat Kazusada Higuchi; Tetsuya Endo beat Masahiro Takanishi, Akito beat Daisuke Sasaki, Keisuke Ishii beat Harashima, Shuji Ishikawa pinned Mike Bailey and Jiro Kuroshio beat KO-D champion Konosuke Takeshita in 23:23. On 1/6 in Osaka, Higuchi beat Soma Tomato, Harashima beat Joey Ryan, Bailey beat Akito, Kuroshio beat Takanishi and Takeshita went to a 30:00 draw with Endo

Kaz Hayashi did his 25th anniversary match on 1/8 at Korakuen Hall for Wrestle-1 in front of 985 fans. Hayashi and former partner Shuji Kondo & Dick Togo lost in the main event to Keiji Muto & Great Sasuke & Ultimo Dragon when Muto pinned Hayashi after a shining wizard. Hayashi then thanked Muto after for appearing in his anniversary match.

HERE AND THERE: Johnny Evans, who played a 1970s Hippie as a Canadian pro wrestler as Reginald Love of the Love Brothers tag team, passed away this past week at the age of 90. Evans teamed with Wes Hutchings, as Reginald & Hartford Love from 1969 to 1977, mostly working a mid-card to semifinal regulars at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto and were one of the leading heel tag teams for Eddie Einhorn’s IWA in its attempt to go national in 1975. Evans and Hutchings were from the wrestling hotbed of Hamilton, Ontario, and like so many from the area, broke in training at Al Spittles Gym. They first teamed together as The Hangmen under masks. They became The Love Brothers for Johnny Powers and Pedro Martinez’s promotion based in Buffalo and Cleveland in 1969. At the time Evans was already 42 years old and only about 185 pounds legit in an era when you largely had to be 205 minimum, exaggerated to about 230, to get any kind of a push unless you were an exceptional talent. The idea was to play a Woodstock-based love child gimmick. They wore love beads and tie-dyed T-shirts as well as bellbottoms, with the gimmick stemming from the 60s Hippie movement. They claimed to be brothers from Cardiff, Wales who used the old Welsh-Cumberland style of fighting. Evans actually was born in Wales and his father was an amateur wrestler there, so he did learn that style of fighting. The family ended up settling in Hamilton, where Evans ended up in Spittles Gym, training alongside a future legendary tag team, Brute Bernard & Skull Murphy. Because of his physique, early in his career he was given the name Vic Pederson, the Swedish Adonis. The problem, of course, is he couldn’t speak of word of Swedish, and when Swedish fans would try and talk to him, he’d get out of it by claiming he was adopted. Once, in Akron, when Reginald Love was wrestling Sonny King, a fan hopped the rail and pulled out a handgun and shot three bullets at him, which fortunately all missed and didn’t hit any spectators, one going into the floor, one the ceiling and one hit the ringpost. By the time Evans was 50, his back was shot and he had to retire. He also did television and acting work including some small parts in low-budget movies with Tony Curtis and Jack Palance, after his wrestling career was over. He was also once a celebrity judge of a Miss Nude World contest. The Love Brothers won the U.S. tag team titles for Martinez on April 3, 1969, in Cleveland, beating Powers & Moose Cholak, before losing them on November 27, 1969, to Powers & Mighty Igor. Hutchings, the younger member, did most of the work in the ring, while Evans handled the interviews, and with his back problems, tried to avoid taking bumps. They were regulars in the 70s at Maple Leaf Gardens as a heel team. In 1974, when promoter Frank Tunney brought back the International tag team titles, the belts were battled over every two weeks with constant matches with the Love Brothers against the Masked Crusaders (Billy “Red” Lyons & Dewey Robertson, real name Byron Robertson, who was later better known as The Missing Link in the 80s). The Love Brothers were first made champions beating the father-and-son team of Jacques Rougeau Sr. & Raymond Rougeau on March 17, 1974. They lost to the Crusaders on June 23, and regained the titles on September 8, before losing them again on December 29. When Martinez and Einhorn formed the IWA in 1975, an attempt to run a national promotion against the NWA and WWWF, The Love Brothers were used as one of the top heel teams, and had both George Cannon and later Bruce Swayze (the uncle of Patrick Swayze) as their manager at different times. What’s really interesting is that while he was working for the IWA against the establishment NWA promotions in the Carolinas and Florida, Frank Tunney still used the team for months as regulars on his Maple Leaf Gardens shows in 1975. In 1976, Hartford Love was gone and Reginald, now Rotten Reggie Love, worked regularly through 1977 at Maple Leaf Gardens as a midcard regular, doing some singles, as well as often teaming with the likes of Ox Baker, Don Kent and Chris Tolos, constantly challenging Lyons & Robertson (who by this point had unmasked) for the International tag titles. Evans had been in a nursing home battling dementia which had taken over him in recent years. Until the age of 85 or so, before the disease kicked in, he was known for being one of the funniest men around the wrestling industry according to reporter Greg Oliver. “I’m not sure there’s a single individual that ever made me laugh more than Johnny Evans. And it wasn’t just out and out comedy, it was his delivery, his wry asides, and even his own personal quirks.” Evans, Hutchings and Swayze reunited in 2015 for a Hamilton tribute dinner for Angelo Mosca, who is also battling dementia due to Alzheimer’s

In a note from last week’s story on Larry Matysik, the finish of the 1988 Starrcade match where Ric Flair pinned Lex Luger wasn’t Flair winning by holding the trunks but Flair winning by pinning Luger with his feet on the ropes for leverage. The Matysik suggested finish to Jim Herd, which Herd ordered, but Flair tweaked in his own way, was a clean pin, because the Sam Muchnick teachings were that you could do disputed finishes and DQs in title matches during a title program, but in the final match, the world champion has to win clean. Vince McMahon’s father had the same philosophy with the idea you put the world title over in the end as the key thing, and as long as the title isn’t prostituted, you’ll keep business strong. If not, people wouldn’t respect the champion as the legitimate best in the world and value the world championship, and then it wouldn’t draw. Harley Race was the one who would be told to win clean as a heel since St. Louis in the end promoted the world champion as the best wrestler in the world and then would pull on the trunks for finishes feeling winning clean against a top star isn’t what a heel should do wanting to do heel finishes. Regarding Matysik, the only thing we know is that he was in terrible pain and was hospitalized all last week. Doctors don’t know what the cause of the pain was, but it was a bad situation and he was out of it for several days and while he would respond to voices, he could barely talk and would slur his words trying to talk. On 1/5, he was back watching wrestling, joking around, and speaking normally. The bad part of this is that now that he’s fine, the doctors have no idea what caused it, what the problem is and thus the fear that it could come back. He had a multitude of tests done but we don’t know the results yet. He was transferred to a Rehab center on 1/7. But while things are better right now than last week, things are still by no means good and he’s having a very difficult time of it

Former Diva Search winner and long-time TNA employee Christy Hemme, 37, gave birth to quadruplets with a C-section on 1/6. She gave birth on the same day as the third birthday of her first daughter, Charlie. She gave birth to three boys and one girl, named Hemme (Hemme Patterson, not Hemme Hemme), Jagger, Quinn and Sunni

Jim Ross interviewed Ron Harris on his podcast about Arolucha. He didn’t say much past that whether they get television or not, they would be touring. It’ll be very interesting to see how they do on these Texas shows on 1/19 and 1/20. Ross asked him about Vince Russo and he said that when he was in WWE, WWE was at its peak (most consider 2000 the creative peak of the Attitude Era which was the year after he left, and that was the peak attendance was, the economic peak of that era was 2001, Russo was gone in the summer of 1999), he was in Impact when they were at their peak (PPV peak was under Scott D’Amore, economic peak would be the Hogan era and he was gone during that period, but he was there for much of its history and it was certainly stronger at that time than now) and as far as WCW, he blamed that on Bischoff screwing the company up before he got there. He explained that Russo will come up with creative ideas and Konnan can be his filter to determine if they would work in Lucha Libre.

Helen Maroulis, who won a gold medal in the 2016 Olympics in wrestling and got offers from WWE, was scheduled to debut on 1/10 for the India Professional Wrestling League. The IPWL is a made-for-television league based on a team format, Maroulis will be wrestling at 125 pounds for the Haryana Hammers. It’s a round-robin, like G-1, except non-predetermined matches, where every team faces every team over a two-week period and then they have playoffs and the champion. Most of the wrestlers used are from India but there are some stars who are world-class brought in from other countries. All of the matches are taped at the Siri Fort Complex in New Delhi

Brad Stutts, who was the booker and announcer for CWF Mid Atlantic, was stunningly let go. The company released a statement saying, “CWF Mid-Atlantic recently learned that Brad Stutts has been engaging in what we believe is `inappropriate behavior.’ The behavior attributed to Stutts does not align with the standards and values of CWF Mid-Atlantic. We have reviewed the matter, and, as a result, have severed ties.” Full details are sketchy but one story confirmed is that Stutts became close with someone with a serious criminal record and led to some things that he ended up involved with where the promotion and most wrestlers felt they had to cut ties with him and that also led to some actions from Stutts that also made that decision necessary and unavoidable. Stutts is expected to publicly not complain about it and react that he believes they made the right decision and stay away from wrestling for the time being, but he’s one of those guys who has been around wrestling his entire life. CWF Mid Atlantic was one of the most highly regarded indies, built on a weekly streaming television show that was a cult favorite. They run regular shows in Gibsonville, NC, with Trevor Lee as the top star doing long singles matches which are some of the best matches held in the U.S. Stutts would be better known as “The Scribe” in the Broken Hardy segments on Impact. In addition, Stutts was booker for Modern Vintage Wrestling, and they canceled a 1/20 show that included Ricky Steamboat and Tommy Dreamer, when talents pulled off the show and then that promotion announced Stutts would no longer be working with the promotion

The Austin, TX-based WrestleCircus group that announced it was shutting down and then disappeared without much communication with talent or anyone, is now saying they are returning t their old venue on 2/17 and go back to running live shows on Twitch

Konnan did a Spanish language podcast for the first time since November. His claim that was Impact wanted to use Penta 0M and Rey Fenix and he met with AAA trying to smooth things over to allow it to happen, and Crash found out about it and believed he was helping write their TV. I did hear the story a few weeks ago about Crash thinking Konnan was helping write AAA television but that made no sense. Konnan said that it should be obvious he’s not writing AAA television considering how bad it is

El Hijo del Santo, (listed at 54 but I think he may be a couple of years older than that) who has come close to retiring before, said he’s not close to retiring and his big goal is to get his son ready to debut in Mexico City. He said that he could be ready this year

PWG runs its annual Mystery Vortekz show on 1/12, meaning nothing is announced ahead of time. The show sold out instantly. If Ricochet, the current PWG champion, is going to drop his title in the ring, this would be the only chance to do so

After last year The “Busted Open” radio show on Sirius radio that had Dave LaGreca, Bully Ray and Larry Dallas as hosts dropped Dallas this past week. He was told on Jan. 2 that he would be given a new contract for 2018, and then, after the show the next day, was told that he was done with the show. He’s likely headed for the MLW network. The show is going to be promoted heavier and be geared more toward WWE content and talk about old WWE stories with Jonathan Coachman and Tommy Dreamer being hired

Jeff Jarrett did his first match since coming out of rehab for a gimmick match with Jerry Lawler on 1/5 at the Memphis Grizzles basketball game that night. It’s funny that Lawler worked with Jarrett since using Lawler was to push Raw in Memphis this week. Jarrett hit Lawler with a guitar shot to win the world grizzlyweight championship, and then DeAngelo Williams, who is from Little Rock but went to the University of Memphis, ran in. Williams is the former NFL star running back who did one match for TNA on 7/2 at their Slammiversary show. It was one of the greatest first-time performances by a celebrity in pro wrestling history, and one of the best performances by a first-timer ever this side of Don Nakaya Neilsen. Then Williams said he was one and done with pro wrestling

Negro Navarro returned to action after being out several months due to high blood pressure

Evolve runs its first weekend of the year with a show on 1/13 in Queens, NY at LaBoom with Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Darby Allin for the Evolve title, Keith Lee vs. Jaka, Austin Theory vs. Fred Yehi for the FIP title, Tracy Williams & Dom Garrini vs. Walter & Timothy Thatcher, Matt Riddle vs. AR Fox and Jason Kincaid vs. Jarek 1:20 vs. ? vs. ? in a four-way. 1/14 in Brooklyn at St. Finnbar Church has Lee vs. Chris Dickinson for the WWN title, Sabre Jr. vs. Walter (this is a rematch of the PWG match that was a ***** match and one of last year’s best bouts), Jaka vs. Riddle, Yehi vs. Thatcher, Allin vs. Theory vs. Williams vs. Kincaid. They are also doing a Sunday at 3 p.m. show in Brooklyn with a one-day tournament with first round matches of Walter vs. Nick Gage, Joey Janela vs. Joey Lynch, Shane Mercer vs. KTB and Riddle vs. Rayo

Bar Wrestling announced a Joey Ryan vs. Candice LeRae match for 1/18 in Southgate, CA. Bar Wrestling is Ryan’s promotion and the two have worked as a team for years so they may be doing the match as a blow-off of their team with LeRae headed to WWE

Chelsea Green, Allie, Rosemary and Sienna will all be part of a balcony party on the Saturday night of Mania weekend, 4/7, at The Swamp Bar on Bourbon Street in New Orleans

Jessie Godderz, 31, who is currently not wrestling but doing acting, noted this past week that he is now the father of a baby boy named Lucas, which even got covered in Entertainment Weekly.

EUROPE: Five Star Wrestling, the first U.K. promotion to get a regular weekly national television deal in more than 35 years, held a press conference in Sheffield on 1/8 to announce Jack Swagger, who will go by his real name of Jake Hager, as part of the promotion. They had pushed that they would be introducing a former WWE world champion and Swagger was there. Swagger had also teased a big announcement for that day, and many thought that would be his first Bellator fight. The Thursday night series on Free Sports debuts on 2/1 in Liverpool with matches from a giant tournament they are planning with John Morrison vs. Rob Van Dam and Rey Mysterio vs. Zack Gibson. Free Sport is currently available in 64 percent of the homes in the U.K. (18 million of 28 million), while Sky (which airs WWE) and BT Sports (which airs UFC) are only in 21 percent of the country’s homes. The plan is to do a three hour live house show from a major arena with a big budget every Thursday night in prime time. The plan is also to sell the shows internationally to sports channels. Within the U.K., the Five Star group has a bad name, both for starting up and stopping a couple of times, leaving guys who had booked dates with them in the lurch, and spending big money to bring in U.S. talent, not pushing the U.K. talent at the top level, booking big buildings and drawing poorly. The advances for the dates so far are weak. The fear is that with this great opportunity for weekly TV that if it was in the wrong hands, and it doesn’t do well, that it will sour the TV industry on non-WWE pro wrestling. At the press conference, there was a pull-apart brawl between Hager and U.K. wrestler Eddie Ryan, to set up a match between the two of them on the 2/1 show

For what it’s worth, the people running the ITV World of Sport remake are claiming that the project is back on, that the plans are to restart over the summer (which would likely mean a rush by WWE to get its U.K. project up as well and sign up more talent) and that Anthem won’t be involved. Some talent has been contacted to be patient for the relaunch of a weekly TV show. My feeling is to be skeptical. I think that’s the feeling of much of the talent at this point

Jinny beat Deonna Purrazzo in the finals of the Revolution Pro eight-man tournament to crown a first champion that took place over the weekend with the final match on 1/7. After the match they shot an angle for her first defense on the 1/20 York Hall show in London where she’ll be in a three-way with Bea Priestley and Millie McKenzie

Fight Club Pro is doing a Dream Invitational tag team title tournament with shows on 3/30 in Wolverhampton and 3/31 in Manchester. The first three teams announced are Matt Riddle & Jeff Cobb, Chuckie T & Baretta and Rey Fenix & Penta 0M

Nick Aldis will be appearing as NWA world champion on shows 2/16 to 2/25 in the U.K.

LUCHA UNDERGROUND: Dr. Wagner Jr. is going to be working the next season without his mask and it’s said he’s telling people he’s got a prominent role.

ROH: The changing television landscape affects things here as FOX is negotiating to buy several Sinclair local affiliates. FOX is going heavily into the live sports business and they are looking for more stations in strong football markets. A Los Angeles Times story said they are looking at buying eight to ten Sinclair stations in markets with strong NFL presences, noting Seattle and Denver as two of the markets. Sinclair is looking to sell some stations to get the FCC to approve its deal to buy Tribune Media. The key is that the stations that get purchased would be markets that ROH could lose its local programming in, although it’s not like ROH has run any shows in Seattle or Denver to begin with. The expectation is that if the Tribune deal is approved, and Sinclair gets a number of stations including KTLA in Los Angeles, WGN in Chicago and WPIX in New York, that ROH may get weekend time slots on those stations in key markets it has no local television in

Apparently the name of the ROH streaming service will be HonorClub as on its television show plugging the service, the tag line was “Coming in 2018, HonorClub, It’s More than a Network.

The Young Bucks & Cody are teasing 9/1 as the date of their “All In” show at a 10,000-seat arena. It was confirmed to us that 9/1 would be the date, as they had to work it out with ROH and New Japan for a major weekend when neither promotion had anything going on and it was a holiday weekend allowing their fan base to travel to wherever the show is scheduled to take place. The two things notable about that date is that Bryan Danielson would not be available as he’s under contract until the end of September, and that’s Labor Day weekend, which is traditionally the PWG Battle of Los Angeles tournament. Actor Stephen Amell, who is friends with Cody after working a WWE program with him, and Cody has appeared a few times in Amell’s TV series “Arrow,” tweeted that he would be part of the show

New matches added to the 1/20 TV tapings in Nashville are Dalton Castle vs. Punishment Martinez for the ROH title, Young Bucks & Adam Page defending the trios titles against SoCal Uncensored of Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian & Scorpio Sky, Marty Scurll vs. Shane Taylor and a first round match in the Women of Honor tournament with Mandy Leon vs. Madison Rayne

Even though ROH is coming off its most successful year, they seem to be having a light schedule to start the year. There are only six shows advertised in the first quarter, which is way behind pace to match the 42 shows last year. The company is planning to do roughly the same number of shows in 2018 as 2017. They have the 1/20 show, another set of TV tapings on 2/9 in Concord, NC, a 2/10 show in Atlanta at Center Stage, shortly after NXT runs two straight nights of TV tapings in that building, a 3/3 show at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, the 16th Anniversary PPV on 3/9 in Las Vegas and television on 3/10 in Las Vegas. The next show after that is Supercard of Honor on 4/7 in New Orleans which may be the company’s biggest show of the year with Kenny Omega vs. Cody as the likely main event, plus Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kota Ibushi appearing

But there are two February shows at Korakuen Hall that have not been announced, and they are going to be doing two U.K. tours this year as things are currently planned, and the Chris Jericho cruise shows. The schedule is expected to pick up in April and May with some house shows including the traditional May tour with New Japan.

IMPACT: They are doing TV tapings 1/10 to 1/15 in Orlando which should start the build for the 4/22 Lockdown show. This will be the first set of tapings with input from Don Callis, who is now running the wrestling end of the promotion with Scott D’Amore. The 1/11 show will be from the last set of tapings and the new shows being taped won’t start airing until 2/1. They are taping 12 shows, through 4/19, which is the go-home show for the 4/22 Lockdown PPV show

Austin Aries debuted and in his first match in, beat Eli Drake at the 1/10 tapings to win the Impact title, which has had another name change. It’s now the Impact world title instead of the Impact Global title. Drake & Chris Adonis were doing a promo putting over Drake the greatest champion of all-time, the greatest dresser of all-time, the greatest friend of all-time and apparently the term the greatest man who ever lived was used. Aries came out and challenged him and said he’s a former champion and for Drake to be the greatest man who ever lived, he needs to beat him. Adonis jumped Aries and Drake called for a ref to start the mach, and Aries ended up winning the title

They are going back to the four-sided ring. That was a decision made some time back. Don Callis favored the four-sided ring but the decision was made before he started by D’Amore and Sonjay Dutt, but they couldn’t get it implemented in time for the last set of tapings. Impact’s six-sides, taken from AAA, was originally a way to be different and innovate and some fans clung to it. In reality, it doesn’t matter one way or the other. Nobody, statistically speaking, isn’t watching due to six rings, nor watching due to it. To me, whatever the wrestlers feel makes for better action and is safer would be the way to go. As far as action goes, when Impact had top talent, they had great matches either way, it made actually no difference at all. I’m told the four-sided ring is safer, so in the end, if that’s the case, that would be my call. There was also a Twitch banner on the ring at the tapings so they must have made some kind of a deal with them. Twitch has been in talks of late with a number of people in wrestling, seeing that as a good place for growth for their product

Another change is that for the Grand Championship, they’ve apparently dropped the rounds and judges and just to regular matches. There was no sign of Dan Lambert, Colby Covington of American Top Team since the Lashley storyline played out and the only thing left was Lashley beating KM. Taiji Ishimori from NOAH and El Hijo del Fantasma from AAA were the only foreign stars brought in so they’ve cut way back on travel expenses. Moose was injured in a four-way match to determine the No. 1 contender to Aries’ title. It was Ethan Carter III, Moose, Alberto El Patron and Johnny Impact. Impact pinned EC 3 to win. Moose needed to be helped to the back and the last we heard was that he was being evaluated

Dutt, 35, had surgery on 1/5 for a torn Achilles tendon. That injury usually puts athletes out nine months to a year. He is still working in the office as one of the bookers. Doctors would not clear him to fly so he won’t be at the tapings due to the fear of blood clots, and he’s not testing fate since he was there when Chris Candido died of blood clots after a surgery. Dutt was the lead writer for all of the television shows being filmed this week

PW Insider reported Rey Mysterio Jr. is being talked as debuting at the tapings. That is not scheduled unless something changes at the last minute but the report wasn’t wrong either. At one point there was a shot for that to happen and I suppose a last second deal could be put together but he’s not scripted into anything right now. There is smoke to the fire in the sense things could happen down the line

Laurel Van Ness (Chelsea Green), who holds the Knockouts title, is scheduled to finish up at these tapings at this point. She gave notice at the last tapings, but after she had won the title. So the company wouldn’t release her from her contract until she came back for these tapings and that they would be able to write her out

An Alberto El Patron vs. Moose match on 1/27 in Las Vegas for Future Stars of Wrestling is being taped for Impact

Vannarah Riggs (Su Yung) debuts at the upcoming tapings. She was just in the news as the wife of Rich Swann in the domestic violence case

Alberto El Patron told the Mexican media that his goals for 2018 include possibly doing an MMA fight (I don’t buy this at all, he was offered $500,000 for a fight several years back and turned it down after starting to train for it and decided it wasn’t something for him anymore), and doing a radio show in the U.S. aimed at the Hispanic audience.

UFC: UFC 219 looks to have done 380,000 buys based on first week cable estimates, which as noted, can be off to a degree but are almost always in the ballpark. That’s way above almost everyone’s expectations as most saw this is another 200ish or low 200s show. Based on Google numbers, I’d have predicted 340,000 to 375,000, so it’s not that far off there and Google numbers are a great predictor, even better than TV ratings for the prelims, which are a good, but not great predictor. It could be that the New Year’s week date helped, but that’s being too simple and it was going against major college football. It would have been the third biggest PPV of the year which granted is saying more about what a bad year this was. But in the end, while that are other factors, it comes down to the fact that a lot more people were interested in Cris Cyborg vs. Holly Holm than most expected. Whether the idea that it was the first time Cyborg would be in a fight she could lose, or that people bought it as the biggest women’s fight since Ronda Rousey left, I don’t know. But Holm didn’t draw on PPV with Germaine de Randamie in a title match, so it’s not Holm by herself but the talent mix that drew. Some interesting notes. While the fight did well on PPV, which is U.S., Canada and Australia mainly, it actually had more interest in places like Tajikstan, Kryszstan, Kazakhstan and Ireland, so from a worldwide basis, Khabib Nurmagomedov was very important. Per capita, Canada, Australia and New Zealand had higher interest levels than the U.S. From a PPV standpoint, it was huge in Albuquerque, which makes sense because Holm did become a legit local hero when she beat Ronda Rousey

UFC total attendance in 2017 was 39 shows and 453,333 fans or an average of 11,624

White said again that he thinks Cyborg vs. Amanda Nunes is the next fight to make, but Cyborg continues to push for Megan Anderson. White told Kevin Iole that Nunes wants to fight Cyborg so that’s the fight he wants to make. White also told Iole that he doesn’t think Conor McGregor wants to fight until August, which would put Tony Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov as the likely next big lightweight fight, with McGregor facing the winner. White said that if McGregor agrees to a date and fight by March, that he’ll remain lightweight champion. But if he doesn’t they are looking at making Ferguson the champion since it will have been so long since McGregor defended it and Ferguson is interim champion, and then it would be Ferguson vs. Nurmagomedov for the title

This coming year, which is the final year, UFC’s U.S. television contract with FOX will pay $168 million

White revealed that Robbie Lawler suffered a torn ACL and torn meniscus during his fight with Rafael dos Anjos, which explains why Lawler didn’t look like himself in the fight. White said that injury took place in the third round

Max Holloway vs. Frankie Edgar for the featherweight title was announced for the 3/3 PPV show in Las Vegas. That was the planned main event for 12/2 in Detroit, but Edgar was injured in training so Holloway beat Jose Aldo again. I don’t see this as a big money fight, but it’s a quality world title fight

Volkan Oezdemir pleaded not guilty of felony battery with great bodily harm from a bar fight in Fort Lauderdale in August. Oezdemir is accused of knocking out Kevin Cohen outside Capone’s Bar on 8/12. Oezdemir’s attorneys claim he was acting in self defense

The first show of the year is an FS 1 show on 1/14 in St. Louis, the company’s debut at the Scottrade Center. It used to be that the FS 1 show during the NFL playoffs would be loaded up to do giant numbers. This does have some name fighters on the main card with Doo Ho Choi, Vitor Belfort and Paige VanZant but it’s not doing the two million viewers they did when they put Conor McGregor or Dominick Cruz in that spot. The show opens with five Fight Pass bouts starting at 6 p.m. Eastern time, with Kyung Ho Kang (13-7) vs. Guido Cannetti (7-2), Mads Burnell (8-1) vs. Mike Santiago (19-10), J.J. Aldrich (5-2) vs. Danielle Taylor (9-2), Irene Aldana (7-4) vs. Talita Bernardo (5-2) and Jessica Eye (11-6) vs. Kalindra Faria (18-6-1). Then it’s a four hour FS 1 show with Thiago Alves (22-11) vs. Zak Cummings (21-5), Matt Frevola (6-0) vs. Marco Polo Reyes (7-4), James Krause (24-7) vs. Alex White (12-3), Darren Elkins (23-5) vs. Michael Johnson (17-12), Emil Meek (9-2-1) vs. Kamaru Usman (11-1), Jessica-Rose Clark (8-4) vs. VanZant (7-3), Belfort (26-13) vs. Uriah Hall (13-8) and Jeremy Stephens (26-14) vs. Doo Ho Choi (14-2)

Joanna Jedrzejczyk was selected to carry the Olympic torch for the 2018 winter games

In a weird story on the 1/8 MMA Hour, Marlon Moraes was being interviewed and said that he would be facing Jimmie Rivera on the 2/24 show in Orlando, saying he had signed and it was a done deal. Later in the show, Rivera, as a guest said that he has no plans to do such a fight. He did say that UFC sent him a bout agreement to sign but he’s not interested. Rivera had tried to get Moraes to fight him on the 12/30 show but Moraes turned it down saying he had gotten up to 165 pounds (they fight at bantamweight) and didn’t have time to make weight. Rivera said he had been approached about a fight with Cody Garbrandt, but then got a contract for Moraes. Rivera said that his honeymoon, which he moved twice for fights including the 12/30 fight that didn’t happen, is set for mid-February and he’s not moving it again. He said he wanted to rest up, enjoy time with his family, go on his honeymoon to Costa Rica, and wait for a fight with Garbrandt of Dominick Cruz. An interesting note is that Rivera was told he was not being paid for the 12/30 date, but said he was fine with that, even though it was of no fault of his that he didn’t fight on that show

Some new fights for 3/17 in London at the O2 Arena. Jimi Manuwa vs. Jan Blachowicz, Leon Edwards vs. Peter Sobotta, Rustam Khabilov vs. Kajan Johnson, Magomed Ankalaev vs. Paul Craig and Mark Godbeer vs. Dmity Poberezhets have been added. Michael Bisping is expected to headline in his retirement fight. It’s really his time to finish up as his eye has been in bad shape for some time

New fights added to 2/3 in Belem, Brazil are John Dodson vs. Pedro Munhoz, Desmond Green vs. Michel Prazeres, Iuri Alcantara vs. Joe Soto, Damid Hadzovic vs. Alan Parick, Polyana Viana vs. Maia Stevenson and Priscilla Cachoeira vs. Valentina Shevchenko

Jessica Penne has accepted an 18-month suspension for testing positive for DHEA on 3/20. However, before USADA got the results of the test, Penne fought on 4/22. What’s notable about the Penne case is that she did not test positive originally for DHEA, but her biological passport showed something was off and they gave her sample more extensive testing and a CIR test found the DHEA. Because she fought on 4/22, the 18-month period doesn’t start on 3/20 but on 4/22, so she’s eligible to fight on October 22, 2018. The usual protocol for such a test would be a two-year suspension, but Penne said that she was using the drug under the care of a physician. However, USADA would not give her a retroactive TUE for DHEA, so they gave her a slightly lesser penalty

Amanda Ribas was announced as being suspended for two years for a positive test for Ostarine from a sample taken on 6/7. Ribas, 24, tested positive leading into what was to be her debut fight with Juliana Lima a few weeks later. The suspension will end on June 7, 2019

Tonya Evinger pulled out of her 2/18 bout in Austin, TX with Marion Reneau due to an undisclosed injury. Evinger said on Twitter that she’s not ready to talk about it but has never had an injury this bad and it’s been an emotional week for her. Reneau will now face Sara McMann. McMann has been scheduled on the 2/24 show in Orlando against Yana Kunitskaya and was moved up a week

Tim Means vs. Sergio Mores and Marlon Vera vs. Douglas Silva de Andrade were both announced for the 2/3 show in Belem, Brazil. 

Alexander Volkanovski vs. Jeremy Kennedy has been added to the 2/11 show in Perth

Julio Arce will replace the injured Charles Rosa in a fight with Dan Ige on the 1/20 show in Boston

James Vick vs. Francisco Trinaldo has been added to the 2/18 show in Austin

Ariel Helwani reported Aspen Ladd vs. Leslie Smith on a 4/21 show

Added to the 2/24 show in Orlando is Renan Barao vs. Brian Kelleher, Mike Perry vs. Max Griffin, Sam Alvey (who replaces an injured Jake Collier) vs. Marcin Prachnio (debuting after winning his last four fights in One) and Aleksander Rakic vs. Gadzhmurad Antigulov.

OTHER MMA: Former NFL star Greg Hardy makes his national TV debut in his third pro fight on 2/16 from Dallas for Legacy Fighting from Dallas. Hardy (2-0) faces Ryan Chester (2-1).

WWE: Right now, the two top matches for Mania are scheduled as Lesnar vs. Reigns and Cena vs. Undertaker. So unless Undertaker changes his mind, and given how hard they promoted him for the 25th Raw and his being backstage at TV in Birmingham on 1/9, it makes that seem unlikely, one would expect the angle for Cena vs. Undertaker to be shot in two weeks on the 25th Raw

Samoa Joe was injured on the 1/8 Raw show. According to Dr. Chris Amann, during his match with Rhyno, he felt a pop at the bottom of his foot. The early diagnosis was a plantar fascia rupture, which is a thick tissue rupture under the foot. He’ll be getting an MRI to confirm the diagnosis. The treatment looks to be crutches, a walking boot and platelet rich plasma injections. He could be out for as little as two weeks or as long as two months, so he shouldn’t miss WrestleMania but it’s touch-and-go for Royal Rumble, which he was heavily figured into. He was pulled off the Mixed Match Challenge series where they could have delayed his first match for up to seven weeks from now. The timing for an injury for a WWE top guy is never good but he was scheduled for a house show run with Cena, as the Raw house main events in major markets after Rumble were to be Reigns vs. Cena vs. Joe for the IC title. Joe was voted in by fans to be Bayley’s partner in the mixed match challenge in a three-way vote with Elias and Jordan. With him out, the second place finisher, Elias, will team with Bayley

Joe was also hired to do the voice of Predaking for the animated “Transformers” series

Matt Hardy posed for a photo with Impact President Ed Nordholm that he posted (the photo was actually taken weeks ago) with the idea all is forgotten and they are fine with each other once Nordholm gave Hardy the rights to the Broken gimmick

It has been reported here (first reported by Brad Shepard) that Goldberg was going into the Hall of Fame this year but we’re told it’s now confirmed that he will be the main eventer of the 2018 class, which should be announced very shortly. The Dudleys name that we had heard and was on Shepard’s list is notable since they were just announced for the 25th anniversary of Raw show on 1/22. That show will likely be the highest rated show of the year, so they should shoot some big angles that night including start teasing Mania matches. The names announced as appearing as guests are Undertaker, DX (Michaels & HHH), The New Age Outlaws, Lawler, Jim Ross (who are likely announcing from the Manhattan Center meaning Ross in the same month will be doing the highest rated Raw and the NJPW Tokyo Dome show), Dudleys, Flair, Hall, Nash, Bella Twins, JBL, Ron Simmons, Ted DiBiase, Sgt. Slaughter, Charles “Godfather” Wright, Teddy Long, Bruce Prichard, Boogeyman, John Laurinaitis, Eric Bischoff, Sean Waltman and Steve Austin. Reigns vs. Miz for the IC title will be on that show. I could see a title change since Reigns is going for the big belt and teases of Joe costing Reigns the title to lead to Reigns vs. Joe as a house show program made sense, but with the Joe injury, that could be off the table. There are a lot of other names batted around including non-wrestlers like Howard Finkel and Lilian Garcia types who were regulars on the show in its early days but those names haven’t been confirmed for the show yet. The key guys on the Smackdown roster will be on the show since they aren’t booking a Smackdown house show that night. Austin was last on Raw on October 26, 2015

NXT Takeover on 1/27 in Philadelphia will have as the top bouts Andrade Cien Almas vs. Johnny Gargano for the NXT title, Ember Moon vs. Shayna Baszler for the women’s title, Adam Cole vs. Aleister Black in an extreme rules match and Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly vs. The Authors of Pain for the tag titles and perhaps Lars Sullivan vs. Killian Dain, Sullivan vs. Roderick Strong or a mix between the two. Another possible match with Riddick Moss & Tino Sabbatelli vs. The Street Profits as they did angles at the house shows over the weekend where the Street Profits won Sabbatelli’s Maserati (which they’ve been showing on television) and the next night won Moss’ minivan. If they show those match finishes and tell that story on TV, then it would make sense to do a match on Takeover and the start of that program has aired from the last tapings in vignette form. That’s really something for Baszler to be put in that position so new into the game, particularly since it looked like Kairi Sane would be put in that spot. Unlike with a WWE PPV where it’s about stories and a lot of the matches aren’t necessarily good, the NXT Takeovers are built around hot matches as the product. Baszler is a student and a good athlete, but that’s a high position to be put in this soon in her career. On TV, it had appeared the direction was Moon vs. Kairi Sane, and Sane is banged up and was still out at the TV this past week when the Moon vs. Baszler match was announced. I don’t know that this was a booking change due to injury since Baszler did choke out Sane at TV when Sane looked to challenge

The Miz reality show that was talked about during Raw will be called Miz & Mrs., largely about Miz and his wife, perhaps building to the birth of their daughter. The big surprise is that it’s on USA and not E! It really shows how desperate USA is because for years they didn’t want to be the wrestling channel and only wanted one show, but then took Smackdown because they needed it to stay No. 1. But that’s five out of 21 prime time hours per week. The Miz show would only be 30 minutes and it’ll be six episodes. Ziggler is supposed to be a regular on the show as well. A key is that not only did USA look to add prime time wrestling programming, but the ratings for shows like Total Divas and Total Bellas, while successful as prime time programming for E!, would be well below what is considered successful in prime time for USA. Every time USA has added a WWE reality show, with the attempts to bring back Tough Enough, it’s always dropped after one season because the ratings are below network average, as on USA you need 1 million viewers for a prime time show to be a success, and Total Divas and Total Bellas delivers 500,000 to 700,000

Paul Levesque was reported as being in Los Angeles at Republique Restaurant meeting with Ronda Rousey and her reps. TMZ reported it and talked about it like they are trying to work out a deal, but obviously she’s been training for months and while things may need to be finalized, they didn’t shoot those angles last summer and do storylines that have already been in place for some time without an understanding that they are doing business. It’s believed this was a planted story by both sides as they sometimes do and not just some coincidence where they happened to be there with cameras as Levesque was walking out of a restaurant after meeting with Rousey

. In actuality, the reason he was in Los Angeles on a taping day was because he and Stephanie were doing a panel for the Television Critics Association that day. Among key stuff they said in interviews there included that if Swann was convicted of his domestic violence charges, he will be fired, which is really common knowledge. Swann is right now suspended until either his case is dropped or it ends somehow. Levesque was also asked if they could do a one-time exemption to allow Bryan to wrestle on a big show: “There can be no exception medically if the belief is that he’s not healthy enough and there’s a risk to perform. I don’t know why you’d allow him to step into the ring unless it can be proven otherwise. There will be no exceptions. We have some of the best medical people in the world that work for us. Our Wellness policy, our concussion programming, our protocols, I’ll be put them up there against any on the planet. That is a new science in a way. So we’re gonna look at it from all aspects. But the medical experts will make the determination as to whether he can ever step into the ring or not. Look, personally for him, I know it would be something he would love to do, and part of me feels like I hope he has that opportunity. But at the same point in time, he’s married and has a child.

Regarding that, first, as we’ve written many times, the entire situation with Bryan will be determined by Dr. Joseph Maroon, who heads WWE medical, not Vince McMahon and it will be determined by whether Maroon believes he should be cleared. Other doctors’ opinions may or may not matter to him but it’s not their decisions that will determine the WWE’s decision. There are questions and there is no sure thing answer, just as for Bryan himself. If there was a sure-thing answer that he shouldn’t wrestle, there would be no discussions of him wrestling outside WWE either because he wouldn’t. He wants to wrestle, believes he can do so and has been given the clearance by other experts to do so

I’m sure their concussion policy at this point is similar to legit sports, and should be given this is high contact theater, the drug testing policy is nothing close at this point to that of Olympic sports or UFC. At this point it’s more an IQ test because there’s knowledge of what can and can’t be done within the realm of the limits of their testing

Stephanie also noted what is clearly obvious, that WWE is distancing themselves away from President Trump. She was asked why in a video they put out showing celebrities that have done WWE, that Trump wasn’t in it. She said that the company made a strategic decision to stay away from partisan politics. It was the only move they could make that makes sense. While Trump appointed Linda McMahon to a cabinet post, Trump is a very divisive character. He’s beneficial to the company in many ways. Trump has spearheaded legislation for tax cuts on businesses like theirs, which is one of the reasons the stock price has grown. But while they support him, their fan base leans heavily the other way, as WWE fans skew heavily Democratic, heavy Mexican-American and heavily low income and there is no logical point in doing anything to alienate your fan base.

WE will be testing out NextVR (Virtual Reality) at certain 2018 shows. The virtual reality experiences will be ten minutes and available for free to fans on a new WWE channel within the NextVR app after each event. Fans will be able to see highlights from the biggest events in virtual reality as if they were there live with a Samsun Gear VR headset or Google Daydream View, along with a compatible smartphone, PlayStationVR or Windows Mixed Reality to download the Next VR app

WWE and Astro Malaysia Holdings Berhad have inked a new deal for their 17th year together. They will continue to air Raw, Smackdown, NXT, Afterburn, Bottomline, This Week in WWE and Main Event on their various sports channels. They will also continue to offer the WWE Network as a premium television channel

Dwayne Johnson and daughter Simone were prominent on 1/7 at the Golden Globe awards. Johnson was out as a presenter, and shown at the head table in a lot of shots. Simone was there leading a lot of the celebrities of stage and later in the show Dwayne introduced her and she gave a speech. It was the first time Dwayne and his daughter have worked together in any public capacity. The funny thing is, that those close to the situation expected some day they would work together, but it would be on WWE television since her goal is to end up as a wrestler first before going into business later

Due to a remarkably small drop from week two to week three, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” was No. 1 for the weekend at the box office with $37,233,653. It’s rare that a movie is No. 1 in week three when it wasn’t its first two weeks (Star Wars, which fell to third place at $23,728,944 beat it the first two weeks). The movie is a big success, as it was done with a $90 million budget and has grossed $245,606,319 in North America and $279,387,680 outside North America for $524,993,999. Of the last 365 days, it was the ninth highest grossing movie. “Ferdinand” was No. 6 at $7,697,773 and has hit $70,406,891 in North America

Johnson will also be on a special version of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on Super Bowl night

The 1/19 205 Live show tour opener in Kingston, RI, was canceled, claimed for logistical and routing issues, which, with no new date scheduled and refunds being offered rather than a new date, means poor advance. They already had to add Matt Hardy vs. Wyatt for the weekend because the 205 Live shows didn’t get off to good starts. The 1/20 show in Lowell, MA and 1/21 show in Poughkeepsie are still on. Poughkeepsie is traditionally one of the best markets for wrestling and if it doesn’t draw 1,500 people for a 205 Live show, I’d say that’s a really bad sign for the concept. The fact that we haven’t heard about the planned February dates is also not a great sign. A 1/19 NXT show in Jacksonville was also canceled, but that was because the national guard needed the armory that weekend

Cena is being advertised now for a special appearance at the 3/11 Fast Lane PPV in Columbus, OH, which is still advertising a Styles vs. Orton vs. Nakamura vs. Zayn vs. Owens title match as the main event. He’s also scheduled for the 2/25 Elimination Chamber PPV which is a Raw brand show

Cena will be working mainly Raw house shows starting in February. He was booked for a few shows in three-way IC title matches with Reigns and Joe (which obviously changes with Joe’s injury and would change again if Miz wins the title). He’s on selected shows including the 3/16 Madison Square Garden show. Lesnar will also be doing more house shows during the lead to Mania including MSG. They are also advertising dark matches for Raws during Mania season. Cena is scheduled for every Raw TV show from 1/29 through Mania, and they are advertising Cena & Reigns & Strowman vs. Miz & Joe & Kane as the dark matches in a number of cities

With Tessa Blanchard now pushing for indie dates for 2018, it’s pretty clear she’s not coming in any time imminently

New teams announced for the mixed match challenge are Balor & Banks, Miz & Asuka, Goldust & Fox, Bayley & Elias, Crews & Jax, Jimmy Uso & wife Naomi, Nakamura & Natalya, Zayn & Lynch, Rusev & Lana and Carmella & Big E, who won a fan voting to be Carmella’s partner over the other two members of the New Day team. There was a suggestion on the Goldust & Fox team as it being Fox trying to get back with Alexander by teaming up with his new friend and tying that old storyline in, but last we heard that was rejected for being too complicated for the audience. They join Strowman & Bliss and Charlotte & Roode who were announced last week. Charlotte & Roode were put together so they could call them the Robe Warriors. That really was the reason. They did a test run for the series on 1/9 in Birmingham, before Smackdown. They appeared to be taping a first round match with Jimmy Uso & Naomi beating Corbin & Tamina. The thing is, there are all 12 teams announced as Corbin & Tamina weren’t one of them. It was actually a dry run for the announcers, who have never worked together, and the production people to get used to the format before they go live on 1/16 in Laredo. They introduced Michael Cole, Corey Graves and Beth Phoenix as the announcers. Renee Young and Byron Saxton did post-match interviews on the ramp. The story of the match is that Uso & Naomi were happy to be teaming and giving each other high-fives while Corbin & Tamina weren’t happy but reluctantly did so. Then Uso & Naomi kissed, and Corbin went to kiss Tamina and she blew him off. Jimmy pinned Corbin in what was described as a standard average match with a superkick. They also shot to a promo video of Charlotte & Roode and talked about them wrestling “last week.

A lot of the reactions of wrestlers finding out who their partners were in the tournament were legit. Some obviously knew. For example, the spot with Lynch & Zayn, obviously Zayn knew. Lynch was told to go outside as they wanted to film her signing autographs, and then hid Zayn as a fan for the reveal. The series is a test to see whether both companies can do more together going forward

Most likely the original idea would have been Enzo & Jax but for whatever reason they wanted to not go in that direction

The current plan at the TV tapings is that Mixed Match will start on Facebook at about 10:05 p.m. and do one match per week, and the end time would be 10:20 p..m. 205 Live would be cut back with the current plan being from about 10:22 p.m. to 10:55 p.m. each week until the Mixed Match series is over

NXT will be announcing its 2017 awards at the Philadelphia Takeover show. The categories are Takeover of the Year (all of them nominated, San Antonio, Orlando, Brooklyn, Chicago and Houston), Female Competitor (Asuka, Ember Moon, Nikki Cross, Ruby Riott and Billie Kay & Peyton Royce), Male Competitor (Roode, Drew McIntyre, Aleister Black, Andrade Cien Almas and Roderick Strong), Overall NXT competitor (all the male and female nominees are open to it), Tag Team (Authors of Pain, Sanity, Revival, DIY and Undisputed Era), Breakout Star (Black, Almas & Vega duo, Underground Era, Deville, Riott, Velveteen Dream and Lars Sullivan), Future Star (Street Profits, Heavy Machinery, Shayna Baszler, Kairi Sane, Fabian Aichner, Cesar Bononi, Lio Rush, Bianca Belair and Lacey Evans), Feud of the Year (Nakamura vs. Roode, Moon vs. Asuka, Tyler Bate vs. Pete Dunne, Sanity vs. Undisputed Ear, Black vs. Dream, Kassius Ohno vs. Hideo Itami and DIY vs. Authors of Pain), and match of the year (Johnny Gargano vs. Almas in Brooklyn, Asuka vs. Moon in Brooklyn, McIntyre vs. Almas in Houston; DIY vs. Revival vs. AOP in Orlando, Bate vs. Dunne in Chicago, War Games in Houston, Asuka vs. Cross last woman standing on 6/28 TV show, DIY vs. Authors of Pain ladder match in Chicago, Strong vs Roode on 7/5 TV show, Women’s championship qualifying Battle Royal on 10/25 TV, Black vs. Dream from Houston and Gargano vs. Ohno from the 12/6 TV show). Best Takeover is really tough as all were good. Female still should be Asuka. Male is tough as Strong was great but never won the title and wasn’t featured as a top guy, Roode only worked three months, so I’ll go McIntyre, Overall competitor Asuka, Tag team DIY since Revival went up early in the year, Breakout star I’ll go with Dream since the rest either were already real stars elsewhere or haven’t yet broken out, Future Star is tough because everyone knows Rush can be a superstar but the question is if they’ll let him, Sane is great already and Street Profits have an act that should be huge this coming year. Match of the year to me is Dunne vs. Bate and also rivalry of the year

The WWE appears to have no awards show planned

Cena and Lesnar are both being advertised to appear at the Barclays Center as opposed to the Manhattan Center for the 25th Raw on 1/22

Naomi, The Usos, Bayley, Crews and Kalisto are appearing this week on the game show “Paradise Run” on Nickelodeon for WWE week, taped in Hawaii. The wrestlers will team up with kids in the game show that includes an obstacle course and puzzles. The show airs at 7 p.m. Central time

Regarding Neville, the situation is unchanged at this point. He quit the company but is still under contract and they aren’t giving him his release. If he were to publicly talk about it, it would be a contract breach so I don’t expect you would hear more. He was wanting to go elsewhere but right now is in a state of limbo. I don’t know where things stand as far as his wanting to come back, because the idea is you can only go so long in the freeze zone on suspension without being paid and his choices are to return and be paid, or be suspended for not working. Enzo Amore said that he didn’t know the situation but put Neville over as the key who built 205 Live and said he’d love for him to return

Kavita Devi, the woman from India in NXT who did a ridiculous number of YouTube views for her match in the Mae Young Classic, was back in the country over the holidays and did a story in the local Hindustan Times where she complained that her husband continues to live by the old male-dominating ideology and can’t handle that she is more famous and most successful than he is, and she said she gets mad at her when people recognize her. Devi, a weightlifter, apparently had some fame doing local pro wresting under the name Hard KD. She said she grew up so poor that she once stole money from a temple to buy toothpaste

Gabe Sapolsky has confirmed he will be signing a contract to be a consultant to NXT. Sapolsky has been very good at finding new talent and figuring out how to market and make good usage of them. He had been working at the NXT tapings for some time. WWN will continue and Sapolsky will remain in charge of the wrestling end of Evolve and several of the related promotions

Eddie Hall, 29, the winner of a recent World’s Strongest Man contest, said he was considering an offer to join the WWE. He won the 2017 contest in May. After the contest, Hall announced his retirement from competing in that sport. The bad part is he blamed that sport for leaving his body and his marriage on the brink of collapsing. He said WWE approached him and he’s looking at it. But he also said he’s not rushing to do it because he has appearances, endorsements and potential TV work coming and he’s looking at what would be the best offer. Hall is 6-foot-3 and competes at 440 pounds and said that he feels he’ll endanger his health keeping such a heavy bodyweight

Mark Henry, 46, WWE’s previous world’s strongest man winner, who hasn’t wrestled since the Andre Battle Royal and did only three matches last year (Rumble, a TV loss to put over Strowman, and Mania) is pretty much considered retired without any fanfare. Henry is still under a WWE contract. He’s listed for a date with Northeast Wrestling, on 3/2 in Waterbury, CT, for a show that also includes Rey Mysterio, Tenille (formerly Emma, and with that name it’s too bad Lou Albano isn’t around to manage her), Flip Gordon and Matt Riddle. It’s a unique situation. The event is for charity and he’s doing it, but he’s not looking for outside dates and he won’t be wrestling on the show, but will be doing something on the show itself as well as the usual autograph signings that WWE talent often does prior to their shows

PW Insider reported that Serena Deeb, 31, was in Pittsburgh, evidently getting her medicals done for a return. She had retired in 2015 and even did a retirement match in Japan, but did come back for one match, losing in the first round of the Mae Young Classic. Deeb worked on the main roster in 2009 and 2010 as a member of the C.M. Punk Straight Edge Society

Gallows has opened up a wrestling school in Jenkinsburg, GA

The company stock closed at press time at $31.59 per share, giving the company a market value of $2.436 billion

The top ten most-watched shows of the week on the WWE Network were: 1. 2015 Royal Rumble; 2. NXT year-in-review show on 1/3; 3. Clash of Champions; 4. Royal Rumble 2017 5. Royal Rumble 2016; 6. Photo Shoot-Cesaro (this is the second week in a row the Cesaro feature beat Miz); 7. Survivor Series 2017; 8. 205 Live from Jan. 2; 9. WrestleMania 2017; 10. Photo Shot-Miz

Raw on 1/15 is in San Antonio. No Lesnar on the show. Jax vs. Asuka was announced and the tease at the end of the show seemed to indicate Reigns & Rollins & Jordan could face Miz & Dallas & Axel, but that hasn’t been announced

Notes from the 1/8 Raw show in Memphis. The show was really about promoting lots of different things over the next three weeks. They drew 8,000 fans. The show opened with Reigns out. He said that last week Joe got silenced and he’s still IC champion. He said it’s not that he’s better than anyone, it’s because he was fighting with a purpose and fighting for his brother, Ambrose. He said if you mess with one member of The Shield, you mess with all of us. That line didn’t get nearly the pop I would have thought. Jordan came out. He said that when you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us, with the idea he’s this guy who now thinks he’s part of The Shield. Jordan then said how Reigns proved last week that this was his yard, but the idea is he was a geek. He went to fist bump Reigns who just stared at him while fans chanted “Whose your Daddy?” Rollins came out and told Jordan he had a lot to learn. He said that Jordan means well, but he stepped on Reigns’ time. Jordan said we all have legit issues with Joe and Reigns took care of Joe like he and Rollins took care of The Bar, and that they’re all champions and they run this show. Reigns said “enough of we.” Reigns said he was the guy. Jordan said that they’re not The Shield, but they all have the belts and they’re pretty damn good. Balor came out with Gallows & Anderson and challenged them to see who the most dominant three-man group was. Balor said that 2018 would be the year of Balor Club. They were doing the “too sweet,” so I guess the response is too jump on the “too sweet” stuff and Balor Club for merch purposes, which is the luckiest decision for Anderson & Gallows, since they’d been going nowhere. Gallows called Jordan a nerd and Jordan slapped him. Angle came out and set up a six-man tag as the main event. Bayley & Banks beat Deville & Rose in 10:54. Banks was worked on for a long period of time, and then out of nowhere hit the back stabber and bank statement on Rose. They tired to glamour up Deville more than before and push her as being very pretty rather than just a woman who is a real fighter. Match was boring though. Goldust & Alexander were backstage. Goldust was pretending to be Mickey from the Rocky movies giving Alexander a pep talk for his title match right out of Rocky II, although Goldust said it was from Rocky I. Who would have thought when they started 205 Live that it would become a vehicle for them to give Goldust another shot at the spotlight and a vehicle for Enzo to carry a show? Matt Hardy, with his new music, pinned Hawkins with a twist of fate in 1:55. Hawkins’ losing streak they are pushing is more than 150 matches. After the match, Wyatt got in the ring. Matt started laughing at him. He started laughing at Matt. So you had two guys laughing like crazy where nothing funny was happening. In other words, just like WWE announcers when ordered to put something over by Vince when a comedy segment fell flat. And then the segment just ended. Elias came out to sing a song about the return of Miz. Miz came out with Axel & Dallas. Axel & Dallas were dressed differently. Dallas also had his hair different and looked almost exactly like the brother of Wyatt, which of course he is. Fans chanted “Welcome back” at Miz. He asked the fans if they missed him and they cheered, but not a lot. Axel said that 2017 was the best year of his life. He said that every day was Mizmas, which I guess means Christmas with no horrible lines at the checkout stands. Dallas echoed his thoughts and they tried to get the fans to chant “Thank you Miz.” I think the idea is the fans were supposed to turn on them and get heat, but instead, nobody booed, and a few people chanted. Dallas gave Miz a present, which was a framed photo of Miz. Axel then tried to one-up him by taking off his sports jacket and giving it to Miz. Dallas then took off his watch and gave it to Miz. They were fighting over who could give Miz more presents. Then it got silly. So Miz did a promo and said that since he was off doing the movie, he allowed Reigns to borrow the title because he didn’t want the title not part of Raw. So he was saying that he lost the title match on purpose since he was leaving to do a movie as opposed to the idea Reigns actually beat him. Didn’t anyone learn from the last two years of WCW? Miz said he would get the title back in 2018, that his daughter would be born and he’d become the longest reigning IC champion of all-time. He said that when he grew up, people thought of Michaels, Hart and Ultimate Warrior as the unforgettable IC champions and that kids growing up will think of him and only him in the same terms in the future. Maybe Honky Tonk Man is a better comparison. Backstage, Anderson & Gallows & Balor were talking about their times together in the past, and brought up Tama Tonga & Bad Luck Fale in the promo. Anderson talked about his hot Asian wife and they went heavy on the “too sweet” stuff. Alexander beat Amore via count out in the cruiserweight title match in 8:47. Enzo cut a promo first thanking Jax for bringing him chicken soup and soda. He said he was in the hospital and thought he was hallucinating when he saw Alexander & Goldust as a tag team, but said that was the closest Alexander will get to gold in 2018. Alexander decked him right away. Enzo got busted open by a kick to the head. That was hardway and he was bleeding from a cut over the right eye and there was a bruise under the cut. Enzo ended up needing several stitches, with both four and six having been reported as the number in different places. The finish was Alexander hitting a running flip dive. Enzo sold like his ankle went out from the move. He was selling big. The doctor came out which was funny because I guess the doctor was supposed to come out to get the ankle injury over, but since they don’t like blood on TV, he started wiping the cut. But wrestlers do like blood on TV (“fortunate juice”) with the idea it adds to the drama of the match, so Enzo was trying to stop him from wiping off his face. Enzo was counted out. That rule is so preposterous in 2018. Backstage, the doctor said that Enzo would need X-rays and an MRI on his leg, which is a weird coincidence since an hour later Joe would in real life need the same stuff. Jax came in to check on him. He acted like a tough guy and said that he was fine. After she left the room, he started screaming in pain. Angle was backstage on the phone talking to a mysterious woman who he was bringing back for the Rumble. Sheamus & Cesaro came in. Sheamus said that Angle put Jordan in the six-man tag tonight to save him from us. They started sniffing and Cesaro said it smells like favoritism. They wanted a rematch for the titles. Angle said it would be at the Rumble and they were happy about that. Mis came out and talked about his reality show. Angle said Miz would get his title shot at Reigns in two weeks. They cut to a Miz promo in the parking lot. Asuka told Miz that she was his partner in the Mixed Match Challenge. He was thrilled to hear that, figuring that they were going to win the whole thing. Bliss approached Asuka and said that when Jax hears what you called her she’d be in trouble. Crews & O’Neil upset Sheamus & Cesaro in 5:20. It felt like a typical squash match when suddenly Sheamus went to Brogue kick Crews off the apron, but Crews instead did a moonsault block off the apron onto Cesaro. Sheamus missed his kick and O’Neil schoolboyed him from behind. O’Neil didn’t look good in the ring at all. He looks like he’s probably hurting and can’t train. It’s cool to do surprises like this in the sense it does set up Crews & O’Neil as challengers if Sheamus & Cesaro win the titles. Heyman & Lesnar came out. Heyman came out and did a marketing lesson about the business of pro wrestling. While he enjoys what it used to be, wrestling is always evolving and changing and you have to keep up with it. But he said he thinks that wrestling has gotten away from something very old school and it’s not for the betterment of the product, and it takes away from the historical nature of the tenure of Lesnar, which is putting the title up in a three-way. That’s all well and good, but they just did a four-way for the title at SummerSlam without all this. He said the old way is to find the top challenger and give him a shot at the champion. He said this main event isn’t marketed as if the challenger can beat Lesnar for the title, but if Lesnar can survive being put into a predicament. He said he didn’t like it and that Lesnar thinks it sucks. He said that last week Lesnar took Kane’s best shot and laughed in Kane’s face. He said that Lesnar was the most dominant champion ever and the baddest dude on the planet. They left the ring and it looked like there wasn’t going to be a physical angle. But then Kane attacked Lesnar as he was leaving the ring. They ended up brawling to the back. Strowman then ran in and knocked both down and threw Lesnar into some large cases. Strowman hit Kane with one of the cases and threw it on him. Strowman then found a grappling hook and threw it to the top of a steel structure that looked like a lighting grid. He then pulled the giant structure down to where it crashed on the ground onto Kane and Lesnar. Those kind of angles usually work in WWE like special effects and people get a kick out of them. But I’m not sure a title reign built around Lesnar and building Lesnar for Mania and set for the big Reigns win should have this element of Roadrunner cartoon stuff. Lesnar was stunned and put on a stretcher and put into an ambulance, although he said he didn’t want to go. Kane got up under his own power and limped away. Joe beat Rhyno in 2:44 with the choke. This was where Joe got hurt although you couldn’t see exactly where it happened. Joe did an interview with Charly Caruso after the match. He said that last week’s match with Reigns wasn’t a loss, and said Reigns had a pyrrhic victory. He explained that means it’s a win that comes at such great cost that it’s really in the big picture a loss. The irony is that later in the show Joe was in his home pyrrhic victory. His explanation was that Reigns may have won, but he took years off Reigns’ career in their series of matches. He said that Reigns now has cracks in the foundation. Joe then said he would be in the Rumble and talked about how he’s known Cena for a long time (they started together on Southern California indies) and vowed to eliminate Cena in the Battle Royal. Bliss and Jax then had a silly segment. For one thing, the delivery of lines by both came across so fake. Bliss asked how Enzo was doing and Jax said, “Not like you care.” Bliss said that she cares, but she thinks Jax can do anything and she’s worried that Enzo is holding her back. Jax said that Enzo motivates her and that she wants to be a champion just like him. She said she’s entering the rumble to get a shot at the title. Bliss started trying to manipulate Jax against Asuka to cut off Asuka getting a title shot. She claimed Asuka said something bad about Jax but she didn’t want to repeat it. Jax demanded she tell her and she didn’t want to, but finally whispered something in Jax’s ear. Jax was mad, but then said that she knows that Bliss doesn’t know Japanese, and Asuka can’t speak English. Wait a minute, Asuka has been doing interviews in English for two years now including on this very show. Even saying all that, Asuka came to the ring for a match. There was an opponent in the ring. Jax came out and put Asuka on her shoulders and laid her out with the electric chair. The opponent ran off. Jax then followed doing the old Carpentier somersault onto Asuka. This led to an announcement of Asuka vs. Jax for next week. Balor & Anderson & Gallows beat Reigns & Rollins & Jordan in 15:25. The match was good. Reigns sold most of the way. Rollins made a hot tag and went wild. Rollins went to tag Reigns, but at that moment, Jordan distracted the ref and missed the tag. So Anderson & Gallows laid out Rollins with the magic killer. Reigns hit the Superman punch on Anderson and threw Gallows into the post and speared him on the floor. Jordan went to help Rollins but screwed up and it led to Balor giving Rollins a woo dropkick and the coup de grace on Rollins for the pin. After the match, Miz & Dallas & Axel came out and they beat down Reigns & Rollins & Jordan. All three beat up Reigns in the ring and Miz gave him a skull crushing finale and then the three of them gave Reigns the Shield triple-team power bomb spot

Notes from the 1/9 TV tapings in Birmingham. There was nothing overt, but it’s still built around the slow-build of wherever they are going with Shane and Bryan. The show drew 5,000 fans. The opener was the Jimmy Uso & Naomi win over Corbin & Tamina in the run-through for the Mixed Match Challenge. Raw opened with Renee Young in the ring with Styles. The story here is that she was trying to get Styles to say it wasn’t fair that he was being put in a handicap match for the title by Bryan while he was trying to be political. But he said that when he asked for a handicap match against both of them, he was trying to be sarcastic, not serious, but he can’t change what has happened. He said that he has to get at them early, but that the more time the match goes, the more the advantage goes to them because they can tag each other in and out and stay fresh. He said that he didn’t think it was fair, but life isn’t fair. He said that they do both have non-title wins over him but that doesn’t mean they deserve a title shot, but he would face them separately and actually said he didn’t think it was smart booking to put both in one match instead of spread it out over two singles matches. When he was asked if Bryan was playing favorites, the fans started chanting “Yes,” but he said he didn’t know what Bryan was thinking. She then asked if he thought Shane was playing favorites and he said he didn’t want to go into this. Owens & Zayn came out. They led the crowd in chanting “yep.” Shane came out. Shane said he didn’t think it was fair Styles had to defend the title in a handicap match and said he’s puzzled why Bryan booked that match. Shane then said he’d book a handicap match for the TV main event with Zayn & Owens having to face Nakamura & Orton & Styles. Backstage, Shane met with Bryan. They were kind of cautious with each other and Bryan told Shane, somewhat sarcastically, “You made a hell of a main event.” They then shook hands. Lynch beat Riott clean with the disarmer in 8:06. Charlotte and Naomi were at ringside to keep Morgan and Logan from interfering. Morgan and Bliss are doing a social media angle, I guess trying to make Morgan more high profile. The idea is Bliss is mad at her for copying her pink pigtails, and Morgan said they were purple, and Jax (who is legit best friends with Bliss) got involved and Morgan said how Jax is after her castoffs. The idea is that Enzo is Morgan’s castoff as they legit dated in NXT. I wonder if in the real acting world that people after a legit breakup then go after people put in a storyline relationship and claim they are after their castoffs. It is amazing how much they do the same thing on Raw and Smackdown. In this case you had the new women who were pushed and protected get beat clean on each show like they were green girls against vets, and the same exact tag team upset with the team that never wins beating a top heel team that’s been pushed in the title situation. They showed the segment where Lynch was signing autographs for a fan in a ski mask and he took his mask off and it was Zayn who he told her he was her partner. She legit got all excited and hugged him, which within the TV show makes zero sense since Lynch is pushed as one of the most babyface of babyfaces and Zayn as the most obnoxious heel on the brand. But it’s all fake anyway. That was the excuse I used to hear from people in wrestling in the 80s who didn’t bother to worry about holes in storylines, all of whom weren’t any good at actually getting fans to attend in the first place. Harper & Rowan beat The Ascension in :37. The story here is The Ascension wanted their best friends, Breeze & Fandango at ringside. But Breeze & Fandango backed off saying they had their own match with Rusev & English. The idea is The Ascension were catching on that Breeze & Fandango really aren’t their friends. Even weirder is The Ascension are being portrayed sympathetically. The finish was Harper pinning Viktor after a power bomb. After the match, they did the double choke slam to lay out Konnor. Rawley beat Ryder in the U.S. title tournament in 3:29 with a running punch. This was pretty one-sided. After the match, Rawley and Roode (who he meets in a few weeks) had a staredown. Ryder left so they could play Roode’s music. Mahal did a promo noting he had a tournament match next week with Woods. Natalya was surprised by Nakamura and said she was so happy she didn’t get Zayn but got Nakamura. Gable & Benjamin did a promo. They were total heels insulting the fans saying that the fans don’t know what it’s like to be winners. Gable said that just because Alabama won the national championship, that the fans didn’t win anything, they just sat on their couches and stuffed their faces. Benjamin said that Georgia was robbed for easy heat. Fans were chanting “Roll Tide,” which is a chant at Alabama football games. They said how the ref who restarted the match was jealous and like all the fans, he doesn’t understand how to work hard and be a winner. He said the other ref who told him about the illegal guy being pinned was a tattle tale and Benjamin said that snitches get stitches. They wanted the ref to come out. Bryan came out instead. Gable said that Bryan of all people would understand about working hard and getting something taken away from you that you’ve earned. Bryan said that in wrestling, the referee’s decision is final. Benjamin said he agreed, and that they won. This arguing went too long but the end result was that Bryan announced a 2/3 fall match at the Rumble with Usos vs Gable & Benjamin for the title. Orton and Styles were backstage. They talked about teaming and Orton said that after he wins the Rumble, he doesn’t care who has the title, he’s coming after it. Nakamura then said basically the same thing. English said that he and Rusev were going to win the Rusev Rumble. Breeze & Fandango beat English & Rusev in 5:17 when Fandango pinned Rusev after a schoolboy. I wonder who it was who told Fandango to start doing the really stereotypical effeminate walk and mannerisms as a change. As far as the upset went, it was cool on Monday. Doing the same thing two nights in a row was just stupid. It doesn’t matter because Rusev will be over either way but there’s no real purpose to it since Breeze & Fandango aren’t getting pushed, so it just emphasizes wins and losses mean nothing. Bryan & Shane were backstage again. Bryan said how it’s great how much Breeze & Fandango connect with the audience. Shane said he was worried about Bryan’s judgment, saying that the Usos won the match last week and for no reason Bryan gave Gable & Benjamin another title shot in a 2/3 fall match. Shane said they didn’t deserve another title shot and said Bryan is acting unstable. Bryan said that he could say the same thing about Shane, and then said look at your gene pool. Nakamura & Orton & Styles beat Owens & Zayn in the handicap match in 12:51. Styles went to hit Zayn with the Styles clash, but Owens pulled him out of the ring. They were walking off and taking a count out when Shane came out and said there are no count outs in this match. Owens then hit Orton with a chair for the DQ, and then hit Styles with a chair as well. Shane came out again, contradicting Bryan’s talk about how the referee’s decision is final, as he restarted the match as an anything goes no DQ match. Styles that started hitting Owens with chair shots. Zayn tried to run away but Orton and Nakamura threw him head first into the post. Orton hit Zayn with the ring steps and back suplexed him on the announcers table. Orton pinned Zayn with the RKO to end the show. 205 Live opened with Gran Metalik pinning TJP in 9:05. The crowd was dead for this. Metalik jumped off the ring steps with a huracanrana on the floor. He also stood on top of the post and gave TJP a sunset flip bomb into the ring. They traded near falls. Metalik did the ropewalk elbow drop which is Woods’ finisher. Metalik won clean in a surprise with the Metalik driver. But the segment was more about getting TJP over as Metalik won and he was forgotten about. TJP threw a big tamper tantrum and was the one focused on throwing chairs and tables around. TJP did get the fans to boo him a lot doing the tantrum, which isn’t easy on 205 Live. Enzo was doing a promo when Nese came out. Nese said he was out of line with what he said a few weeks ago and wants back in the Zo Train. But he said he wanted to be the No. 2 guy, as in if Enzo isn’t around, he’s the one in charge. He said he’d make a statement tonight by beating Alexander. Gallagher did a promo and said Itami wasn’t there because of the beating he gave Itami last week. But he said Itami would heal and be back soon while Kendrick won’t be around for a long time, so the scales of justice still aren’t even. He said he’s there to ruin Itami’s life for what he did to Kendrick. Itami came out and attacked Gallagher. Gallagher went to hit Itami with the umbrella, but Itami blocked it. Itami got the umbrella and Gallagher ran off. Alexander was doing a promo talking about how he’s getting a rematch with Enzo for the title. Goldust came up and told him “awesome interview.” Friends shouldn’t lie to friends like that. Goldust was acting way too close to him. It looked like a turn was coming. Enzo came to the ring limping on his bad ankle. Alexander pinned Nese in 8:58. Enzo was at ringside and yelling and pretty much was the center of attention and the match was the backdrop. Both of these guys are solid workers but they weren’t the center of attention to the crowd. At times Enzo was walking on the floor forgetting to sell the ankle. Alexander did a running flip dive. They traded near falls. Suddenly Alexander flipped over and landed on his feet. He began selling the left knee out of nowhere. Nese went to attack and Alexander cradled him for the pin. Alexander was limping and then gave the impression it was a ruse and he had outsmarted Nese and Enzo. Alexander started dancing. That’s kind of a heel spot. Then Alexander kicked Enzo in the bad ankle in what was clearly a heel spot and it came across like a double turn was coming. Alexander laid out Enzo with the lumber check. With Enzo knocked out, he picked Enzo’s head up, put the belt under it like Enzo was sleeping on the belt and told Enzo, “Don’t sleep on this.” In the dark match main event, Usos & Roode beat Mahal & Benjamin & Gable

Notes from the 1/3 NXT TV show. This was the two-hour year-in-review special. It was all old material covering highlights from the year, with the new thing plugged being a Drew McIntyre vs. Adam Cole match for the NXT title with Shawn Michaels as referee from 11/17 in San Antonio. It was the night before McIntyre tore his biceps and lost the title to Andrade Cien Almas. When you have Michaels as referee, you have to feature him so the match was more booked around that. The crowd did all the “NXT” and “This is awesome” chants. Both yelled at Michaels at different times for not counting fast enough. Michaels looked a lot older and smaller since he had dropped a lot of weight for his ab-off with Gargano. Cole tuned up the band and went for sweet chin music for easy heat, but McIntyre blocked and used the future shock DDT, but Cole kicked out. Cole went to superkick McIntyre again, but he moved and Cole laid out Michaels. McIntyre used the Claymore kick but no ref. Finally Michaels recovered but by then Cole kicked out. Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly came out and were beating down McIntyre. McIntyre threw O’Reilly into Michaels, putting him down again. Michaels was selling like he was knocked out. Michaels recovered and superkicked O’reilly. Michaels ducked Cole’s superkick and McIntyre used a spinning future shock DDT followed by the Claymore kick for the pin. It was what it should have been given the gimmick. It never felt like a serious title match

Notes on the 1/4 NXT tapings at Center Stage in Atlanta. They debuted in the former home of WCW Saturday Night. ROH has been selling the place out every time they went. NXT did about 650 fans, just shy of a sellout. Candice LeRae debuted already, pinning Vanessa Borne with a tornado DDT. Crowd was into LeRae chanting “Candice Wrestling.” There are a lot of angles this opens up since much of the fan base knows she’s married to Gargano and Gargano is one of the most popular wrestlers here. Kassius Ohno pinned Raul Mendoza with a spinning elbow. Baszler beat Dakota Kai. Baszler was stomping on Kai’s arm. The idea they wanted to convey is that as a former UFC fighter she took out Kai’s arm and the match was stopped due to “injury.” Medical personnel came out as they were selling like Kai was injured. Baszler attacked Kai again until Moon made the save. Lars Sullivan pinned Lio Rush. Believe me, everyone there knows what they have with Rush, but they are going with the idea they can beat him and start pushing him whenever they want to. For now, it’s like an attitude adjustment. Sullivan won with a running powerslam. After the match Sullivan called out Killian Dain. The Undisputed Era laid out Sanity in a backstage attack. Then they came out and asked how come Sanity isn’t coming out for their title match. Nikki Cross ran out and was furious and the referees had to drag her away. William Regal came out and said that the Undisputed Era would still have to defend the titles. Roderick Strong came out and wanted in the match. Aleister Black then came out and also wanted in the match. Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly retained the titles over Strong & Black. Adam Cole distracted Black and they brawled in the crowd, which allowed Fish & O’Reilly to double-team Strong and pin him. Then Fish, O’Reilly and Cole all beat down Black. Regal came out and ordered a Black vs. Cole singles match and since they are in Philadelphia he ordered it to be an extreme rules match. Andrade Cien Almas retained the NXT title beating Ohno with his hammerlock DDT. Riddick Moss & Tino Sabbatelli beat Heavy Machinery when Moss pinned Knight with his feet on the ropes. Lacey Evans beat Aliyah. Evans worked as a heel (she’s been a face) and won in 4:00. After the match she said it’s time for a classy lady to clean house in the division. She challenged Cross and Moon. Baszler then came out instead and Evans backed off and left. Baszler then beat Aliyah in a submission. Moon again went for the save and dares Baszler to bully her. She challenged Baszler to a match. Baszler said that she didn’t bring her gear. Moon said she was going to get a match with Baszler and beat her ass. Atlanta fans chanted “beat that ass.” Regal then announced Moon vs. Baszler for the title at Takeover. Zelina Vega came out and told Regal he should make the Gargano vs. Velveteen Dream match for Gargano’s title shot. Regal said that he sees no reason Gargano had to put up a title shot that he’d already earned. Strong beat Fabian Aichner with the Stronghold, which is a Lion tamer like move. Strong then challenged Sullivan. Gargano did an interview and said how people don’t believe he can beat Almas for the title. He said that nobody should doubt him and that his win in the four-way that got him a title shot wasn’t a fluke. But he said he’d put the No. 1 contender position up against Velveteen Dream. Authors of Pain beat The Street Profits in a match where the winning team would face Fish & O’Reilly at Takeover. AOP used a super collided power bomb for the pin. No Way Jose returned from being banged up and pinned Cezar Bononi. The crowd wasn’t into it. Jose won with an uppercut. Belair beat an area independent wrestler named Luscious. Cauliflower Brown and another independent wrestler came out and AOP destroyed them withe the super collider. I don’t think the match even started as they didn’t go for a pin. AOP said they would destroy the Undisputed era the same way. Gargano pinned Dream. There were dueling chants

Gargano worked over the arm. He once told Gargano “You took my spot.” That was an inside reference because they were doing the losing streak gimmick with Gargano and abruptly dropped it and decided to put him in the title match because Dream was originally booked for the four-way to determine the top contender and that’s when he was gone. Lots of near falls and the fans were really into this match. Seriously, when people talk about the best workers in the company, nobody mentions Gargano, but look at his record in almost every major match he’s in. With the exception of Styles and maybe Pete Dunne or Strong, who has his track record between those great DIY tag team matches (that continued long after The Revival program ended) to his singles run. Gargano used a tope. The story is Dream had him set up for his elbow drop, but hesitated because of the arm injury, which gave Gargano time to move. Gargano hit a superkick and the Gargano escape. Almas came out and they did a staredown and a brawl. Almas attacked him and threw Gargano out of the ring and held up the belt. Gargano came back with a springboard DDT and then he held up the belt. HHH then came out and thanked the crowd and talked about wrestling’s history at Center Stage. Gargano did the water bottle spot that HHH does

NXT’s road tour opened on 1/5 in Spartanburg, SC, before 700 fans. No Way Jose pinned Fabian Aichner with the pop up punch. Nikki Cross pinned Lacey Evans with a spinning neckbreaker. Match was said to be good. Sullivan pinned Strong with the freak accident. Fish & O’Reilly kept the tag titles over Black & Ohno when O’Reilly pinned Ohno with a roll-up. After the match Ohno did a speech about how it was just the beginning for he and Black as a tag team going after the titles. In a match where Tino Sabbatelli put up his Maserati that they’ve shown on television, The Street Profits beat Sabbatelli & Riddick Moss when Ford pinned Moss after a splash off the top rope. Baszler & Belair beat Aliyah & Moon when Baszler choked out Aliyah. The main event saw Gargano beat Velveteen Dream. Dream came out wearing a Johnny Wrestling T-shirt that he had cut ribbons into and threw it on the ground

The 1/6 show in Charlotte drew 1,900 fans. There was an issue in getting people in the building as most of the crowd missed the first two or three matches. Jose pinned Aichner in 10:00 with the pop up punch. Jose is a great opening match guy. His stuff is good to start the show with some entertainment. Aichner is one of those guys who may get lost in the shuffle here but he’s really good and I don’t think fans know it at all. Cross pinned Lacey Evans. Crowd really liked Cross, who won with her spinning neckbreaker. Cross did a great job of selling her left wrist, as people thought it was really injured. Sullivan pinned Strong with the freak accident. The crowd loved Strong here. They had a longer match than most Sullivan bouts. Fish & O’Reilly kept the tag titles over Black & Ohno in 12:00. Fish & O’Reilly did a lot of stalling early. Fish used the term “Hero” when talking about Ohno. Fans started chanting “Who is Hero?” Ohno hit Fish with the rolling elbow, but O’Reilly was the legal man and he rolled-up Ohno. Said to be the second best match on the show and exactly what you’d expect from these four. Ohno then, after the match, said that even though they lost, would you like to see him and Black as a team and that led to a “yes” chant. The Street Profits beat Moss & Sabbatelli in a match where if the Street Profits won, they’d get Moss’ minivan. Before the match, they ran a video from Spartanburg showing The Street Profits beating Moss & Sabbatelli to get Sabbatelli’s Maserati so they played up an angle at the house show the night before for a match here. Since it is angle-laden, both of these finishes may end up on the TV show over the next few weeks. So this was for Sabbatelli to get his car back, they had to put something up. Sabbatelli said they’d go double-or-nothing and put up Moss’ minivan which Moss was not happy about. Moss got the pin on Montez Ford about 5:00 in but Ford got his hand on the ropes, so the ref restarted the match. The Street Profits won with a double figure four in 8:00, and the crowd went crazy with the “Whoos” in the Carolinas for the finish. It was the easiest pop of all. The Street Profits got the keys to Moss’ minivan and celebrated with the crowd. Baszler & Belair beat Aliyah & Moon. Baszler used a suplex into a choke on Aliyah in 11:00. Baszler wouldn’t break the hold after winning and had to be pulled off. The match was said to be okay but the crowd popped whenever Moon was in with Baszler, so there is at least interest in those two for a singles program. Main event saw Gargano beat Dream in 18:00. Fans cheered both guys until Dream started waving around a New England Patriots shirt. Gargano took the shirt wiped his ass with it and gave the shirt an elbow drop which got a big reaction since that was a Ric Flair 90s TV spot. The pre-match was so loud that most didn’t even hear the bell ring. They started the match and fans were chanting “Ring the bell,” even though the bell had rung. Gargano looked annoyed at that chant so went outside the ring, and then rang the bell several times. It turned into a great match with “This is awesome” and “Fight forever” chants. Gargano won via submission with the Gargano escape. Fun show overall, but it was noted that no Adam Cole, Billie Kay, Peyton Royce or Andrade Cien Almas, all of which were advertised

The first weekend Florida show was 1/5 in Crystal River before only 100 fans. Raul Mendoza pinned Buddy Murphy with a Spanish fly. Abbey Laith & Taynara Conti beat Reina Gonzalez & Sage Beckett who was a huge women team. Cezar Bononi beat Christopher Dijak via submission. They were doing that with Dijak some and Lio Rush even more on house shows which is likely to test them out and also tell fans and them that being an indie name means nothing once you’re in the system. Marcel Barthel did a promo saying he will be NXT champion. Chad Lail

pinned Jason. Heavy Machinery beat TM 61 in what was described as a wild comedy match. Big Boa pinned Kona Reeves. Barthel then attacked Boa after the match. Vanessa Borne pinned Jesse Elaban. The team of Eric Young & Killian Dain & Alexander Wolfe beat Authors of Pain & Adrian Jaoude on top

The other Florida show was 1/6 in Largo, FL, before 150 fans, which is about half of usual in that building. Big Boa pinned Barthel. Laith & Elaban beat Beckett & Gonzalez. Murphy pinned Tian Bing. Dan Matha beat Jason. Heavy Machinery upset the Authors of Pain. The Authors of Pain are currently earmarked for the main roster, but nobody knows exactly when, but that’s why they had been downplayed here, and lost here even though they are getting the title shot at Takeover. Reeves pinned Brennan Williams. Borne pinned Conti. Main event saw Young & Wolfe & Dain beating Steve Cutler & Wesley Blake & Lail

The Raw crew had probably the worst weekend ever for attendance. The 1/5 show in Evansville drew 2,000, which ended up being the biggest number of the weekend tour and barely beat NXT’s biggest show of the weekend in Charlotte. The 1/6 show in Cape Girardeau, MO, drew 1,750. The 1/7 show in West Plains, MO drew 1,200, which would be one of the two smallest crowds for the Raw brand in recent years

The Smackdown crew opened on 1/6 in Jackson, MS, before 4,200 fans. 1/7 in Mobile drew 4,000. 1/8 in Montgomery, AL, drew 1,250 fans. That looked empty in a major arena but not unexpected given the show went against Alabama going for the national championship and Raw. I’m guessing a lot of people who bought tickets probably decided to stay home and watch football on television

In Evansville, the opener saw Rhyno & Slater & Goldust & Crews beat Axel & Dallas & Anderson & Gallows. So even though Anderson & Gallows worked as babyfaces on Raw and against Axel & Dallas, they were heels here teaming with them. They didn’t play up a turn or anything on the heel side. Rhyno pinned Dallas with a spinebuster. Asuka beat Fox with an armbar. Amore was back in action after the flu and retained the cruiserweight title over Alexander, obviously getting ready for their TV bout. He won with a thumb to the eye and the jawdunzo. Bayley & Banks won a three-way over Rose & Deville and Jax & Bliss when Banks beat Rose with the bank statement. Paige was in the corner working as a manager. Matt Hardy pinned Wyatt with a twist of fate. Elias came out and did a song. Strowman came out and laid out Elias with a powerslam. Kane then attacked Strowman. They didn’t do a match but did a short brawl that ended with Strowman powerslamming Kane through a table. The main event saw Rollins & Reigns & Jordan over Sheamus & Cesaro & Joe when Reigns pinned Sheamus after a spear

Cape Girardeau the next night and West Plains the night after were the same show.

For Smackdown in Jackson, it opened with the Usos keeping the tag titles over Big E & Woods, English & Rusev and Gable & Benjamin. Kingston wasn’t at the show. A fan yelled out where he was, and Woods said that he was moving. Rusev was really over, and at one point after Woods was being worked over, he tagged Rusev who acted like a babyface taking the hot tag. Rawley pinned Sin Cara with the running punch in the corner. Rawley continued to beat on him after the match until Ryder made the save. That was all Ryder did on the show. Harper & Rowan beat Breeze & Fandango in a pretty one-sided match. Naomi & Lynch beat Logan & Riott when Naomi pinned Logan. Morgan was at ringside. Nakamura pinned Mahal with the Kinshasa. Charlotte won a four-way to keep the women’s title over Natalya, Tamina and Carmella when Charlotte made Natalya tap too the figure eight. Lana was in the corner with Tamina. Roode pined Corbin with the glorious DDT. Main event was to help get down the Styles vs. Zayn & Owens handicap match for the title. The crowd was really into it and this was said to be the match of the show. The finish saw Zayn go for the helluva kick on Styles, who moved and Zayn nailed Owens and then Styles hit Zayn with the Styles clash for the pin

Mobile the next night was almost the same show. The Usos were super over since the fans know they are from Pensacola, which isn’t far away. The only difference is it was Riott & Morgan that lost to Lynch & Naomi, with Logan being the one in the corner.

ontgomery was also mostly the same show. There were so few people that they didn’t even bother checking if people had tickets when they came in. This time it was Logan & Morgan who lost to Lynch & Naomi with Riott on the outside when Naomi pinned Logan after the rear view. Mahal cut an anti-University of Alabama football team promo for easy heat before his match with Nakamura.