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January 16, 2017 Wrestling Observer Newsletter: The conundrum of Kenny Omega, 2016 in retrospect, more

Wrestling Observer Newsletter

PO Box 1228, Campbell, CA 95009-1228 ISSN10839593 January 16, 2007



Thumbs up 534 (100.0%)

Thumbs down 0 (00.0%)

In the middle 0 (00.0%)



Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega 483

Tetsuya Naito vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi 39

Hiromu Takahashi vs. Kushida 9



New Japan Rumble 164

Cody vs. Juice Robinson 104

Tiger Mask W vs. Tiger the Dark 74

Never trios title gauntlet 44

IWGP hwt tag titles 8

Romero & Baretta vs. Young Bucks 8

Based on e-mails and phone calls to the Observer as of Friday, 1/6.


Tweets by Kenny Omega and an Instagram post by John Cena created a major stir coming off the New Japan Wrestle Kingdom show at the Tokyo Dome.

Omega wrote on Twitter that “I will be stepping away from Japan to reassess my future. The path of my journey may change, but my goals will not.”

Later he wrote, “There is no plan. My schedule is cleared and I’m weighing all options. I’ve got a lot to consider.”

The impression we were given is that Omega would be off the next New Japan tour and return for the New Japan Cup, and the feeling he was just trying to get people talking.

But what made the situation more interesting was John Cena posting an Instagram photo of Omega, in the exact same way he posted one of A.J. Styles just days before last year’s Royal Rumble. The situation was different. It was well known that Styles had given notice and was WWE bound at the time, and we’d reported his plan to debut at the Rumble even though everyone had denied it because they wanted it to be secretive. For Omega, a number of our contacts with New Japan all stated they believed he was staying with the company but taking one tour off and would be returning for the New Japan Cup tournament. He is very much at this moment in significant booking plans within New Japan going forward. But Cena is savvy enough and a total company man and it’s hard to believe he’d be helping Omega in an angle for New Japan, which is the closest thing to competition in the pro wrestling sector that WWE has at this time. In addition, a number of WWE stars tweeted about how great the match was, and it was a landmark match, clearly the most attention a modern non-WWE match has ever gotten on the inside in the U.S., and more than all but a few WWE matches in history. But still, when the Ricochet vs. Will Ospreay match from Tokyo on 5/27 was the talk of the insider world and got some mainstream pub around the world, you hardly saw WWE stars publicly congratulating them for it, or even jumping on the negative bandwagon on it. It’s not exactly a secret that in WWE you aren’t supposed to put over the rival product..

Omega’s prior New Japan contract was to end on 1/31. The belief is that he was offered a two-year new deal. There are those who believe he has signed it but that is not confirmed information, although he has denied it. An article in Tokyo Sports about the subject said he has time left on his contract which would lead you to believe he has a new deal, but technically, even if he hasn’t signed, that information wouldn’t be correct.

“I fear that everyone has taken my words too literally,” he said to Sports Illustrated. “Yes, I’m out of the country and off of shows, but I haven’t signed any new contracts yet. After such a huge loss, I didn’t want to just hang around and take part in meaningless matches. I’m only interested in changing the business, so I’m thinking carefully about what’s next.”

Omega was really banged up after the match, although he did work the next day, but took it easy on New Year’s Dash, and is taking time off to heal. Kazuchika Okada was also really banged up coming off that match, although he did more the next day and is working the Fantastica Mania shows, where he really could take time off and they’d be able to get by since the attractions on that tour is seeing the Mexican talent and an “authentic” CMLL Lucha Libre style show from New Japan for the only time of the year. The belief is that Omega has seen, from the likes of the Young Bucks and others, the power of using the Internet to keep your name in the news.

What we do know is that Omega was serious in his promos prior to the Tokyo Dome match, which aired on the Dome show, that if New Japan wants to go international, that Kazuchika Okada can’t be the top guy, basically saying if 2017 is the big expansion year, you would want him as the top guy.

That would be the case for a number of reasons. While Okada is fantastic in the ring, and while Omega’s work is what most focused on the wake of the Dome match, it takes two to tango and Okada was just as important as Omega in that match. Okada’s big show track record over the past few years, especially in 2016, was the equal to anyone in wrestling. But great matches aren’t what builds a promotion, even today, when the value of great matches is probably higher than at any time in history.

The reaction to the match outside of Japan was not lost on the Japanese side at all.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say it was a great match, or from fans relieved I retained the belt,” said Okada at the recent New Japan press conference. “That’s normal from Japanese fans, but this time I was really floored by the number of responses from fans all over the world, who loved the match. And other wrestlers from abroad saying they loved it, that’s been really special. That’s a credit to Kenny, that the match had the ability to, and did, resound all over the world. Perhaps Okada vs. Tanahashi didn’t pull in the international crowd, but Okada vs. Omega can.”

Right now New Japan has moved to a new direction, with a feud with Chaos (Okada’s group) and Suzuki-gun, with Okada vs Suzuki as the key angle. For now, Omega is the odd man out of the championship picture.

The belief is that Omega has not gotten any assurances he’ll be put back in that picture any time soon, nor that he’s getting the title at some point in 2017, and that would legitimately be frustrating if that was the case.

Omega did a Tokyo Sports interview, which was clearly storyline oriented, where he said, “As hard as I trained, as hard as I prepared, I lost. Something’s missing and until I figure out what, I can’t wrestle. I’m just not motivated now. I don’t have the confidence to guarantee victory, so I don’t have a problem with Suzuki-gun challenging next. I won’t do Fantastica Mania, and it’s possible I may miss New Beginning as well while I form a concrete plan of what to do next. I devoted all of 2016 to taking the belt at the dome. That not coming true means I have to rethink everything.”

Still, between the work he did in building the Dome show, the success of the show and the talk after the match, he is in a position where he can always be put into that mix on any big show at any time. My thought is still that 6/11 is the right date to do a switch, as it’s just a few weeks before New Japan’s Los Angeles shows so the momentum of the title win will be fresh. In addition, it’s right before G-1, and essentially Okada, Katsuyori Shibata, Minoru Suzuki, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Tetsuya Naito will all be in the tournament battling for the Tokyo Dome main event position.

But Omega’s value is at a high point not just because of the match itself and the reaction to the match, but because New Japan is heavy serious about expansion into new markets in 2017, and Omega is considered a huge part of those expansion plans. Omega could also be of great value to WWE, which has plenty of main event guys, but no larger-than-life top guy on the roster other than John Cena, who turns 40 this year. Omega has ingredients of charisma, look and promo ability, and is 33, that make him more complete as a total package than any of the other viable replacements for the Cena spot on the roster. Even more, WWE would be looking to cut off any shot at New Japan being able to increase its prominence in new markets.

If Cena was doing him a favor, given Cena’s reach, then Omega quickly returned it.

“John Cena is one of the great WWE talents that I respect most,” he said. “If I were to end up there, working with someone of his caliber would certainly be a goal and jive with my mission of changing wrestling. I’m glad to be on his radar, but I haven’t made any decision regarding my future yet.”

At the end of the day, given his age, and the injuries he has picked up from working such a hard style for so many years, even though he’s more into Japan than almost any of the regulars there–he speaks the language fluently and Japan was his primary goal and not U.S., there is money and worldwide exposure that New Japan can’t match, even as the face of the company. If one wants to be a historical figure, such as the guy who leads New Japan to significance outside of Japan, that would be an influence level on the industry that he could never have in WWE. He’s also guaranteed a spot as the top foreigner in New Japan for the time being, and there’s no guarantee of a similar spot in WWE. Still, how Styles was pushed this past year indicates a very different mentality within WWE. Three years ago, WWE didn’t even give Styles any kind of a real offer, and last year, two years older and coming off a serious back injury, he worked a full schedule, holds the company’s historical top championship belt and is generally considered the company’s 2016 MVP.

2016 ended up a monumental year with a number of themes. UFC was sold for $3,995,000,000 and key architects of the company’s success left in the wake of the sale. The company also set a number of PPV records and was, by far, the most successful promotion of its kind in modern history when it came to PPV and profit margin this past year.

But with new ownership, and in a business reliant greatly on creating major drawing stars, we’ve already seen cracks in the foundation.

WWE, the other major monster promotion, had a mixed bag but overall a good economic year. Unlike with UFC, where PPV is a huge part of the business, the WWE is reliant on steadier and more predictable revenue streams, television rights fees which are guaranteed through 2019, and its streaming network, which is growing slower than hoped for, but still has ahd steady year-to-year-growth.

Even though UFC had a monster year with huge profit margins, because of the sale and heavy debt it incurred, WWE is probably the more solid business bet in 2017. WWE’s key revenue streams aren’t going to vary or decline greatly in 2017. UFC’s television revenue will also increase, but its key is still PPV, and that is impossible to predict because of the changes in PPV buying habits, injuries and whether the right fights can be made. Even though in 2015, the profit margins were $157 million for UFC and $24 million for WWE (and UFC profits are likely higher this year with all the budget cutting and the PPV increase over the year before, while WWE profits could get in the $50 million range), it is very possible in 2017 that WWE profits end up in the same ballpark, or even higher than UFC, which is heavily dependent upon multiple fights with Conor McGregor or another fight with Ronda Rousey.

But both companies will continue to dominate their respective genres, with their biggest competition far behind.

There were more business lessons taught this past year with the plight of UFC.

The biggest news is that UFC set an all-time record for any sport with five PPV events in a calendar year that topped 1 million buys. Three were headlined by Conor McGregor. Two f them were with Nate Diaz, which were the two biggest PPV shows in company history. The other was with Eddie Alvarez, which also did an all-time arena record $17.7 million live gate in Madison Square Garden and topped 1 million on PPV, but in a sense did disappointing PPV numbers. UFC 200, presented as a landmark event, ended up barely topping 1 million (1,009,000 was the last real number out), a number well below most predictions going in. The fifth event was the 12/30 event headlined by Amanda Nunes’ 48 second win over Ronda Rousey.

The previous sport record was three PPV’s of more than 1 million in a calendar year, which took place twice, 1996 by boxing during the Mike Tyson heyday, and in 2011, when Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao were both super draws.

But PPV this past year has turned into a feast-or-famine type of business. Aside from the big five, all but two shows did 250,000 buys or less. The exceptions were the return of Jon Jones, facing Ovince Saint Preux, which did a very disappointing 322,000 buys. The other was UFC 199, a strong show on paper featuring the year’s biggest upset, Michael Bisping’s middleweight title win over Luke Rockhold, plus the end of the decade-long Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber trilogy, with Cruz winning, which did roughly the same.

The key lesson of the year is the idea of loaded shows. Both UFC 200 and UFC 205 were loaded with the deepest level of talent of any UFC shows in history. In both cases, the PPV numbers were disappointing. It’s pretty clear that, with the benefit of hindsight, the main event is what draws. Rousey in the past has done big numbers with no undercard support at all. Still, at most, your drawing power is coming from the top three fights.

Rather than load shows up, the best course of action is to concentrate on three strong fights on PPV and all those undercard fights on UFC 200 and 205 could have better been used to fortify future shows and television cards.

Another lesson, shown several times with Bellator and once with UFC, is that going live is overrated. Now, I don’t believe in this day and age you can do a taped PPV show, but when it comes to free television, Bellator ratings clearly showed that even one day delays have made no difference in the ratings. With Bellator doing more and more shows from overseas, like Europe, the experiment of airing them live vs. taped delayed in prime time shows a great advantage for tape delayed. And while there were extenuating circumstances, notably a holiday and even more, following an NFL broadcast, the UFC drew its biggest television number in five years for a tape of fights held 14 days earlier on Christmas Eve.

At UFC 100, which had been the biggest show in company history until this year, the question was always whether it was the enormity of UFC 100 that drew the record numbers, or the big three fights, at the time being Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir for the heavyweight title, Georges St-Pierre vs. Thiago Alves for the welterweight title and Dan Henderson vs. Bisping.

With all the publicity and push for 200, and the results, it appears the “100" got more credit and it was likely the dynamic of the main event in particular, with the help of the other two fights, that set the original record.

UFC 200 was loaded, heavily publicized, and had a strong top three fights with Lesnar’s return after four-and-a-half years against Mark Hunt, Daniel Cormier vs. Anderson Silva (a late replacement for the suspended Jon Jones, and the big question that we can’t answer is how that affected buys), and Miesha Tate vs. Nunes, billed as the main event but really was at best No. 3 fight when it came to interest. Yet, it was only the fifth biggest PPV number of the year.

With boxing having a bad year on PPV and WWE’s numbers dwindling down to the point the company doesn’t even report them, it’s clear the role of PPV has changed.

For a big show with super draws as headliners, more people are willing to buy PPV than ever before. But the number of people who will buy major league shows, whether they be from wrestling, boxing or MMA, because they are fans of the sport, has dwindled.

WWE for all real purposes is out of the PPV business. With hindsight, pulling Mania was a huge mistake, and perhaps pulling Royal Rumble and SummerSlam were as well. For the other shows, given the trends, it was probably best in the long run to make those shows the backbone of the streaming service.

For UFC, as things stand for the duration of the current television contract with FOX, which goes through the end of 2018, which is not all that far away, the status quo should remain with monthly PPV shows.

A huge year on PPV, like UFC had in 2015 and 2016, is dependent entirely on megastars and main events. Conor McGregor is the key star, and a real big question is whether he will be able to get an equity stake in the company because of his value. The seven figure shows this year look to be entirely dependent on the number of times McGregor fights and making sure he has an opponent that can get him there.

The problem is that as of right now, those opponents want more money.

As we’ve seen with the lack of big fights made so far in 2017, as well as the attempts at fighters rallying together that thus far haven’t resulted in much but the intent is there, is that the sale price and profits coming out has showed the fighters they are underpaid. But UFC, needing huge profits to pay off the debt, is holding the line on salaries, most notably in the decision to not bring back St-Pierre.

McGregor vs. St-Pierre is a guaranteed monster of a show, and for that fight, St-Pierre would easily be worth $10 million. But that becomes a huge precedent, because he may not be worth that for any other fight, and that would become a target price. McGregor’s other fights that would do seven figures, with either Nate or Nick Diaz, are also getting nowhere since the Diaz Brothers have made money, have a lifetime of learning how to live without money, and have no compunction to fight unless they are paid really big money.

The other prospective McGregor opponents won’t mean as much. Jose Aldo would play upon the idea that it’s a super-heated rivalry and the ending of the first fight may have been a fluke. Aldo has, with the exception of that fight, been one of the greatest fighters in company history. Aldo would almost surely move up to 155 to get a crack at McGregor. That once again puts the featherweights on freeze, particularly since Aldo vs. Max Holloway is a fight that should be made sooner than later.

Tyron Woodley, or Stephen Thompson, if he wins their 3/4 fight, going against McGregor with McGregor trying to win a title in a third weight class, is a viable story. Both fights seem unwise on paper for McGregor because of the amount of size he’d be giving up, plus Thompson stylistically would be an extremely tough opponent. McGregor, or anyone, can lose in MMA and it doesn’t hurt their drawing power–both he and Rousey set new personal records coming off losses. But at some point, multiple losses do.

McGregor defending the lightweight title against the winner of a Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson fight would do well, but I’m not sure of 1 million well.

Nurmagomedov and McGregor will talk it up, and the fight is intriguing because if Nurmagomedov can take McGregor down repeatedly, he’ll beat him up on the ground and win the fight. If he can’t, McGregor will take him apart standing.

McGregor vs. Ferguson is a battle of two “fight of the night” type of fighters and could be a war like the Diaz fights were. But even though Ferguson, by record, would be a legit No. 1 contender with a win over Nurmagomedov, something neither Diaz brother ever truly was, it’s very unlikely his fight would come close to the public interest level.

The last prospective opponent, who, because of popularity and talking, that would do well, would be for Donald Cerrone to come to 155. That requires giving him a title fight he doesn’t deserve, but with the huge debt, that’s going to be a common theme.

If Holly Holm wins the featherweight title on 2/11 and Ronda Rousey wants to come back and face her for the title, as much as that fight would make no sense from a sports standpoint, that would still be a monster fight. And Holm in a title fight right now has no “sports legitimacy,” if that term even should be used for professional combat sports that will always have the inherent battle of what the purists want vs. what the masses want and when you need huge profits like UFC does, the masses are winning that argument every time.

But aside from McGregor, Jon Jones coming off his latest suspension, and if Lesnar or Rousey would fight this year, we really can count on 100,000 to 250,000 for most of the shows. The 2/11 show will be interesting because Holm fared very well as a television draw against the unknown Valentina Shevchenko, and her name is one of the best known in the company due to the Rousey win, but PPV is a different animal.

Another lesson from UFC is that when it comes to television, where the big stars won’t be performing live, is what worked this year. The biggest successes were the T.J. Dillashaw vs. Dominick Cruz fight, the Holm vs. Shevchenko fight and the Paige VanZant vs. Michelle Waterson fight.

Cruz is unique in the sense if you look at the key parts, Cruz should be a big draw. He has a good look, his promos are brilliant and arrogant, and he’s a fantastic fighter. The problem is, he’s also a speed fighter as opposed to a power fighter, and speed fighters lose a step as they age and he needs that step to dominate. That’s still the real story of his loss to Cody Garbrandt and, just like what happened in recent years to Faber, no matter how hard he trains, that speed isn’t coming back. But Cruz is not a PPV draw. I doubt VanZant would be either. But, fortunately or unfortunately, VanZant vs. Waterson was a real lesson about television drawing in 2016.

An an idea UFC and FOX should consider is doing an experiment with airing the next McGregor fight on FOX in prime time several weeks after it happens. The PPV companies allowed UFC to air the Holloway vs. Pettis fight before the 30-day window. If Rousey were to fight again, it would probably be an even better idea since Rousey is likely to be a significantly better television draw than McGregor. It may be that Christmas Eve was a fluke based on everyone else airing Christmas shows and coming after football. But the Christmas Eve show was barely promoted, and the lure it was promoted around was seeing the potential fight of the year and knockout of the year, elements that aren’t as strong as personalities.

In the end, and this goes for every single promotion, the real game to be a major player is 100 percent the ability to garner television rights fees. For minor players, the game is different. For all the talk of ups and down in public interest, the real story is the state of the television industry in late 2018 (for UFC) and late 2019 (for WWE) and what kind of deals each can make.

The real key is if another promotion can improve its lot and be, maybe not competition, but at least a real player. The key to that is the ability to garner strong television deals and taking advantage of that.

WWE had a mixed year. While some will point to the very significant decline in Raw ratings as a sign of a bad year, that ignores the Smackdown increase. But, the Smackdown increase was also based on increasing emphasis on the show and moving to a better night and network, as well as going live, and it being the exclusive place to see Cena, the company’s biggest star.

But unlike with UFC, which saw increases in PPV and ratings, the key trends in WWE are down, with the declines heavily camouflaged because of the contractual increases in television rights fees.

What WWE has done well is increase the top price at all events, and in particular at the PPV events and Raw shows, which still draw well. The rank-and-file house show business is down, although much of that may be because Cena worked so much less this year. Declines in Raw house shows attendance can be traced directly to when Cena stopped being advertised on the shows. Smackdown house shows and TV tapings went down when he left recently and picked up immediately on his return. So the time he spends on outside projects that keep him away from wrestling will probably be the key aspect of how arena business does for the non-major shows in 2017.

The positives are that WWE has built WrestleMania, regardless of what the show is, into something UFC was unable to do with UFC 200. It’s a traditional gigantic event. It can’t be as big a live event this year, simply because they are running a much smaller building, but there’s still money to be made on network subscriptions (provided they don’t do and promote it as free, which hurt them badly this past year).

The brand split, while hurting attendance, has paid off in the sense it did open the door for new talent to shine, notably The Miz. They are working hard at making Braun Strowman and Baron Corbin into real stars, and the multi-year never-ending Roman Reigns attempt also continues. While all three have the size and physical impressiveness as their keys, the company’s MVP’s on television appear to be the comedy buddy pair of Kevin Owens & Chris Jericho on the Raw brand, and the great worker who ended up being a strong talker, A.J. Styles on the Smackdown brand.

The women, largely based on the Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks feud, have greatly increased their worth including drawing the best television rating of the fall. The plan to make Bayley the champion babyface in 2017 in a Daniel Bryan remake at least shows the company isn’t deaf to her potential and success in NXT.

The cruiserweights are a work in progress. Like with the women at first, it wasn’t clicking at all. Since Neville being brought in as the star of the group, it feels like it’s improved. But that’s just a feeling and there is no proof to back that up. The one thing key, based on rankings each week, is that the Cruiserweight Classic tournament, even though taped and not promoted every Monday on Raw with angles, was superior conceptually to 205 Live. Whether that could have sustained is a question. But the CC almost always beat NXT in viewers, while 205 Live doesn’t, and many weeks has been not even top five.

Still, the negative of WWE television is its making the weekly televised talents feel like a sea of mid-carders, so the only real business bumps come from bringing back people from the past who haven’t been compromised by television. The irony is that’s the exact opposite of what the television is supposed to do.

Raw had literally collapsed in the ratings when football season started. It was the return of Bill Goldberg and his program with Lesnar that steadied the ship and stopped the decline. Shane McMahon was a huge factor in the success of last year’s WrestleMania. But there are only a few rabbits left. Hulk Hogan’s return may be good for a pop, but he’s made a million comebacks and he’s probably not being put in the ring due to his age and the condition of his back. Kurt Angle feels like the last pop left, and that’s still up to Vince McMahon to green light.

If you consider NXT as a separate entity from WWE, which it isn’t, it is easily the No. 2 brand out there, far outdistancing the popularity of ROH, TNA or New Japan. It speaks to the power of the WWE Network and the value of being promoted by WWE.

Even more than before, WWE used NXT as its way to take advantage of the growing popularity of independent wrestling. The NXT brand really became a cool thing with Kevin Owens, Finn Balor and Sami Zayn in 2015, and the sellout at the Barclays Center. This year, the hottest ticket for any WWE event was the Takeover show in Dallas, where the secondary market exploded, not when Shinsuke Nakamura was announced as appearing on television, but when the announcement was made at the taping. That was more the power of the Internet in creating demand than the power of the WWE Network in that instance.

Even with the buzz on NXT as being the best product promoted by WWE, it is still a distant third among the touring brands. There have been some markets where NXT shows don’t do appreciably worse than Smackdown. But most shows in Florida do 400 or less people. Outside Florida, it’s still mostly in the 800 to 2,000 range. It did some good crowds in the U.K., and a show in Osaka built around Nakamura, Asuka and Hideo Itami (whose entire WWE run has been plagued by one injury after another) did better than anyone except New Japan or Dragon Gate could do at the Edion Arena.

NXT has really changed the mentality of what a WWE main event player can look like. While Zayn, who was a face of the brand, is still somewhat struggling in the mid-card, the NXT success enabled Kevin Owens to become the main champion and top heel on the Raw brand, and led to Balor getting a monster push as a top face, which unfortunately ended quickly due to his own injury. It led to Bayley, someone who in the old WWE mentality where the women stars had to be able to be Playboy centerfolds (even after WWE and Playboy ceased business dealings, women were told that even though you can’t do Playboy, you need to look like you could), couldn’t have gotten her foot in the door, and is now being groomed to be the top face of the division.

Similarly, Vince McMahon was never high on Samoa Joe because of his physique, but he revitalized his career in NXT. Nakamura would have been mixed due to his English, and he ended up the most over star the brand has ever had. Still, the jury is still out on how both will be used on the main roster.

Obviously the attempts were to use NXT as a home base for major attempts to get ROH talent, which thus far is still up in the air. NXT is a lot of things. It’s Paul Levesque’s practice to where he can be in charge and gain experience in running a brand with limited interference, with the ability to sign top talent, put together spectacular shows, and not have the pressure to turn a profit with it.

NXT Takeovers rank with New Japan’s major shows as the best events in wrestling on a consistent basis. It’s old school in approach, with television designed to build the predictable big matches built in a traditional manner, with a few surprises here and there.

The negative of NXT is that its original purpose, which was to give experience to WWE talent that they created from scratch, is that’s been hit and miss They’ve had successes, from Big E, to Enzo & Cass, Rusev, American Alpha, and Baron Corbin. Enzo & Cass are there mainly for Enzo’s mouth and Cass’ size, which, as the saying goes, it’s not exactly that you can’t teach that, but Enzo had that from day one, as Cass just had to change his body up. Alpha are a great team, and for the most part home grown, so they have trained guys to be tops in the ring. Braun Strowman actually almost never worked in NXT, although he was trained there. Rusev is a real complete package who probably deserves better than he’s gotten, and while he was trained before NXT in California, he’s largely their product. But most of the NXT products that have hit it big were already stars that had names before they got there.

The people currently carrying the brand are Nakamura, a legit Hall of Famer, Samoa Joe, a star for more than a decade, Bobby Roode, one of TNA’s biggest stars, Tye Dillinger, who was always good and hit on a gimmick that got over, as well as the Revival, Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano and the like who were longtime independent guys. Even more, with the signings made and others attempted, it’s going to be even more the indie stars going forward. That’s good for the growth of the NXT brand, but it means less ring time for the true rookies. It also means less time for true newer stars, because the top guys in NXT are well into their 30s. You should have a few veterans working those shows to give experience to the newcomers, but for the most part, they should be the exceptions, and mostly working with the young guys, as opposed to Joe vs. Nakamura or Nakamura vs. Roode, where everything is built around guys nearly 40 who are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, and not having the worldwide television exposure for them to make WWE main event money.

Still, WWE short-term is fine. From a popularity standpoint, the company has been slowly declining for years, but they are likely to rival their most profitable years in their history because they are ready for the environmental changes when it comes to major league entertainment. The increase in content will continue to do a few things, as with WWE, it wards off competition and makes short-term money. It creates stronger hardcore fans with so much content, and runs off casual fans because they simply don’t have the time to keep up with the product. It is a different era, but WWE and UFC are both going in the same direction that is the story of television going back to its inception, taking something popular, using it for all its worth, and then as it declines, moving to the next thing.

Now, to an extent, major sports, while they also have their ups and downs, are steady. WWE is considered a fixture, but unlike NBA and NHL teams, WWE doesn’t fill those arenas. UFC doesn’t with its secondary shows, and jacks up prices so high, because they can get it, for the primary shows. UFC doesn’t create the life-long bond of attending as a child and keeping up with it through your life, both because its appeal is still mostly 25-50, and it’ll never really be kid-oriented. Combat sports are based on individual star appeal and not brand appeal or team appeal. WWE is trying to build around brand appeal, which does work for WrestleMania, but by not having the Bruno Sammartino or Steve Austin or Hulk Hogan, they don’t fill arenas and they aren’t a key part of real public pop culture, and more just a secondary thing. And WWE at least had sort of steady PPV numbers, unlike the gigantic swings UFC has which shows the key is the stars and not the brand.

As far as the rest of the business, from a wrestling standpoint, 2016 was the year of a real underground revival of the indie scene. Much of the best talent in the world was outside the major league realm this past year, whether it be Ricochet, Chris Hero, Kyle O’Reilly, The Briscoes, Young Bucks, Will Ospreay, Marty Scurll, Matt Sydal, Zack Sabre Jr., Trevor Lee, and the recent key newcomers to that club like Jeff Cobb and Matt Riddle. They were able to get steady work all over the world and build niche names. WWE was aggressively trying to sign everyone and change that dynamic in 2017. In most cases, that’s good for the individuals. There are some where it won’t be.

TNA exists. They are at a lower level than last year, but unlike last year, seem to be on more solid financial footing. But they haven’t changed their formula at all. They have talent and the television is fine, but the key is with WWE being the major league and producing so much television, there isn’t the need for television which is just fine as there aren’t enough hours for it. In time, people will more and more be looking for streaming of really great than watching weekly average or even good wrestling on television, particularly when you’er talking about the non-main brand.

The biggest thing in TNA this past year was the Broken Matt Hardy gimmick. The gimmick is over as a cult thing to a scary degree, but TNA numbers, aside from one show, didn’t reflect it. Chants of “delete” and “obsolete” started at indie shows and have moved to WWE shows. Matt & Jeff Hardy have a major decision to make on their own over the next month or so. TNA will probably exist throughout the year, but they are not significant in competition.

ROH is another situation. They were bolstered by a working relationship with New Japan. New Japan is also running on its own in the U.S., so some question whether they will use ROH and dump them, although at this point the New Japan/ROH relationship looks strong. New Japan has historically been good about having a U.S. and a Mexican relationship, both to make its talent appear to be international stars for back home. It’s also gives them places to send talent on excursions before bringing them back as stars.

Still, with AXS, and the reaction to G-1 and the Tokyo Dome show, New Japan may be the No. 2 promotion in the U.S. right now. They already have the obvious WWE bull’s-eye on them. They survived the losses of A.J. Styles, Kota Ibushi and Shinsuke Nakamura well, not that they weren’t hurt. Obviously the rise of Tetsuya Naito and Kenny Omega were huge saving graces this past year. But in Japan, there is no such thing as resting on laurels as it’s a country where fads come and go.

Right now they feel like they have strong momentum, but no Japanese pro wrestling company, no matter how great they were, has ever gained a strong foothold in North America or Europe (past New Japan having major popularity in the early 80s in Italy on television, but that New Japan was also filled with more larger-than-life characters). New Japan does produce good wrestling, particularly on its big show main matches, and match quality to hardcore fans means more today than ever before.

If they are looking at maximizing the U.S. market, probably the best way to do it is use the AXS time using old school pro wrestling methods. A way to do it would be to put together one hour shows with matches from up-to-date shows at Korakuen Hall, and have New Japan, which gets paid by AXS for the content, work out a deal where New Japan World heavily advertises on the show. The idea would be to have an English language New Japan World site which is much more American consumer friendly, promote the service, and during the body of the show, promote the main matches on the big shows with the date of them airing on New Japan World, as well as air interviews or videos with the headliners on the television show the way a promotion promote the PPV shows. Perhaps two or three times a year, put a deal together for the shows to air on regular PPV as well. The one thing that was clear to me last week is New Japan missed the boat this year on having Wrestle Kingdom on PPV. At first I thought that Wednesday at 3 a.m. Eastern is a horrible time for a PPV, and it is, but Pride used to tape delay shows until prime time the next day and do 20,000 buys on PPV and they had no American television.

There was talk of Flo Slam becoming a major player in the North American game. The idea around it is creating a streaming service that would air smaller shows and pay promotions significant rights fees, so they’d have more money to retain talent and have a bigger budget to produce stronger shows.

But it’s very much a question. Flo Slam has made a number of deals, but its biggest coup is still Evolve. Evolve has good talent, even with much of its roster moving to WWE this past year, and Gabe Sapolsky historically has been good at spotting new talent and building them into at least underground stars.

But the best Flo Slam scenario, the idea of having ROH, as well as English language commentary on CMLL and New Japan shows, and getting PWG, as the key building blocks hasn’t happened yet and were all difficult deals for a lot of reasons. Both Flo Slam and The Fite App, a similar service but on a PPV basis, really don’t promote their content well. And both are hurt because WWE is the primary game and WWE produces so much content, that even if they have great shows and matches, there is only so much time in a day for people to sample them.

Some of the biggest stories of 2017 will be what talent WWE signs, and how that affects the independent scene and if it loses talent will that just open the door to more people being able to make names, and can New Japan make an impact, and can Flo Slam sign up the key non-WWE groups and become a significant player.

Bellator remains the UFC’s biggest competition. They had a business idea of using stars from the past to build the audience, and hope that audience sees the current fighters and makes them stars. That strategy really didn’t work, as Bellator didn’t develop any new true drawing cards this past year.

Its numbers were down even with the signing of some ex-UFC stars like Josh Thomson, Benson Henderson, Phil Davis, Matt Mitrione and Rory MacDonald. None of the new signees popped any real ratings increases. The company’s one huge success, the Houston show with Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock and Kimbo Slice vs. Dada 5000, which set its ratings record, ended up a disaster. Both fights were poor, with the latter fight among the worst ever. But the year was tragic, as Dada nearly died in the cage, as well as after the fight, and Slice, the company’s biggest draw, died of heart failure later in the year. While people continued to tune in to see Shamrock, after he lost to Gracie, even though Gracie used a low blow right before the finish, he tested positive for steroids, as did Slice, and there’s really nothing left for him as he turns 53 this year.

The Bellator ratings decline (from a 746,000 per show average in 2015 to 676,000 in 2016, a drop of nine percent) is partially due to a decline in homes that get Spike TV. Unlike the WWE and TNA declines, which are far greater than the decline in homes the showsw were in, or UFC, which increased even at a time when cable was losing subscribers, the Bellator decline was closer to what should be expected based on the percentage of homes Spike lost.

However, like TNA, Bellator has the issue that with so much UFC programming, fans have less time to follow Bellator, and Bellator’s inability to make big stars and can’t miss fights has kept it at about the same level it was last year. The big plus for Bellator is that it has television deals all over the world, and is owned by Viacom, so from a money standpoint, everything looks solid.

They open the year with Tito Ortiz vs. Chael Sonnen in the latest example of bringing in legends from the past. Ortiz drew great in a well-promoted grudge match with Stephan Bonnar. Sonnen is a bigger star than Bonnar, but the promotion hasn’t been as strong yet. Ortiz’s didn’t draw big in his 2015 fight with Liam McGeary when he challenged for the light heavyweight title. Phil Davis also didn’t draw when challenging for that title, which really shows that Bellator titles don’t have drawing power.

There have been some changes made in WrestleMania plans as noted in recent weeks, with the major thing being that the proposed Undertaker vs. John Cena match is off the boards.

Vince McMahon changed his mind on the match, which was to be one of the two biggest matches in 2016, and at one point one of the top matches for the 4/2 show in Orlando.

The card will be clearer coming out of the Royal Rumble, on 1/29 in San Antonio. Undertaker, and whoever was to challenge for the Universal title on Raw, would have been Rumble favorites if the idea was to go with tradition and have the Rumble winner challenge for one of the two the major titles at Mania.

While connecting dots can come up with a pretty good idea of the show, the key things known is that Undertaker right now is not scheduled to challenge for either title on the show. He did appear on the 1/9 Raw show, after first arriving on Smackdown, because when he was on Smackdown, it was to build for him to face Cena. Now he will face someone on the Raw roster. There was a tease of Braun Strowman on Raw, but it will not be Strowman as things stand right now.

The key matches remain Brock Lesnar vs. Bill Goldberg, which based on current hints and direction looks likely to be presented as the main event on the show, HHH vs. Seth Rollins and Big Show vs. Shaquille O’Neal.

There has been the long tease of Kevin Owens vs. Chris Jericho. With Jericho still on the books for touring over the summer, Mania seems like the place to finally do the match. They have just started teasing a split up of The Wyatt Family on Smackdown.

Roman Reigns will obviously be in one of the major matches on the show. This also leaves open spots for Cena, A.J. Styles, Finn Balor (who is expected to be back in action around March unless that date is a Rumble swerve, which it probably isn’t) and Dean Ambrose. Ambrose and Miz is just starting as a program and timing wise I could see them building to a blow-off. But there is a tradition of the multiple person ladder match over the IC title as well, although I could also see them doing the first major show women’s ladder match instead. If Jericho is to retain the U.S. title, that would seem earmarked for the Owens match, if that is the direction they continue.

There will be six or seven major main event level singles matches on the show, not including cruiserweights or women. The women’s match is not finalized, but Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Bayley vs. Nia Jax is the current proposed main woman’s match.

Both the Rumble and Fast Lane will be impacting the matches and stipulations on the show.

The Rumble, at the Alamodome in San Antonio, is being built around the idea of a monsters show with Goldberg, Undertaker, Lesnar and Strowman all in the match. Others announced thus far are Jericho, Rollins, Corbin, Ambrose, Miz, The New Day and Ziggler.

The other matches announced thus far are Owens vs. Reigns for the Universal title with Jericho in a shark cage hung above the ring, Styles vs. Cena for the WWE title, Charlotte vs. Bayley for the Raw women’s title and Rich Swann vs. Neville for the cruiserweight title.

The official announcement of the 34th WrestleMania at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans was made this past week, with the date being April 8, 2018.

The company made the decision in September as a few of the top brass internally were aware of it. According to a story in the New Orleans Journal Picayune, city officials themselves were only told about this a few weeks ago, shortly before the story broke.

New Orleans city officials went to Stamford, CT with a presentation in early 2016. Even though the Superdome hosted Mania in 2014, they pushed for 2018 stating that they would heavily promote the event as part of the city’s tricentennial year celebrations. The city officials said they would be happy to get it any year but pushed the benefits of it being in 2018, which sold company officials on the decision. The presentation also included a tape of Drew Brees, the star quarterback of the Saints, pushing for WrestleMania.

City officials met with Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, Paul Levesque and John Saboor, the WWE’s Executive Vice President of Special Events, in a small room. Saboor, who came from Orlando, and put together the bid to get the event in 2008, was then hired by WWE with the job of having cities bid for the events every year because of the amount of tourist revenue the events bring in.

In recent years, the WrestleMania week has gotten bigger and bigger. It used to be a few promotions would run shows that week, but now companies from all over the world, including the U.K., are scheduling shows and this coming year in Orlando there will be about two dozen events. For some independent promotions, the Mania weekend events are where they generate the majority of their annual income, because of the huge merchandise business that comes from running the shows.

Unlike this year, where the NXT show will be on the Saturday night and the Hall of Fame on Friday night, in 2018 the plan is for NXT on April 6, Hall of Fame on April 7, Raw on April 9 and Smackdown on April 10, all at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

An interesting note is that at the press conference on 1/10, Stephanie McMahon mentioned the name Hulk Hogan and he was shown in a graphic, which seems to confirm all expectations of a Hogan return to WWE shortly, with this year’s WrestleMania seemingly making the most sense. Hogan’s daughter Brooke had already said that in an interview, and even though Hulk denied it, she laughed off the denial.

Undertaker was at the press conference but Shawn Michaels, who was on Raw the night before, was not. The other key talent used was Roman Reigns, The New Day, The Miz and Maryse.

Vince McMahon was there, and on crutches, likely stemming from his torn quad muscle suffered in September and a recent surgical procedure.

In what comes across as a weak case, but still something of a landmark case, Mark Hunt filed suit in Nevada District Court on 1/10 against Brock Lesnar, the UFC and Dana White regarding his UFC 200 fight where Lesnar had failed a drug test but the fight still took place.

Lesnar won the fight via decision, but the result was changed to a no contest due to Lesnar testing positive for Hydroxy-Clomiphene in tests on both 6/28 and 7/9, the latter being the day of the fight.

Clomiphene is a drug often used by athletes to get their testicles to produce testosterone after coming down or off a steroid cycle. Lesnar has given no explanation as to what caused him to test positive.

The lawsuit specifically stated that Clomiphene and 4-Hydroxyclomiphene are known as PCT (Post Cycle Therapy) drugs. Hunt claimed that due to the loss he suffered severe physical injuries as well as economic and non-economic damages to his reputation, his attempts at title contention and to future earnings.

Hunt claims that the defendants “affirmatively circumvented and obstructed fair competition for their own benefits.” Hunt had threatened to sue over the loss, and has been outspoken that the penalties for cheating were too lenient. The suit claims Lesnar and UFC were unfairly enriched by Lesnar fighting at the expense of fair competition and fighter safety.

Hunt also noted that his prior two opponents (Frank Mir and Antonio Silva) had used performance enhancing drugs (Mir failed a steroid test, Silva was on TRT, legal at the time, but his testosterone levels from TRT were above allowable levels for the first fight the two had, one of the greatest fights in UFC history).

The lawsuit claimed that this was consistent with a pattern by UFC to grant doping exemptions and drug testing exemptions to known doping-competitors, leading to drug-enhanced fighters competing with clean fighters. Hunt also claimed UFC circumvented its own rules because Lesnar didn’t have to undergo four months of clean drug tests before the fight, as Lesnar was only tested after he signed the contract in the final month.

As noted at the time, that’s not really the case. The four month rule was only to prevent fighters from doing fake retirements and then coming back without being tested. Every fighter who either debuts with the UFC as a late replacement or is signed less than four months prior to their fight date would have the same exemption. While Lesnar did retire, he did so years before this program was put in place so he didn’t retire to avoid testing. Any UFC fighter who was cut or left the company for any reason prior to the USADA policy being put in place would be under the same guidelines. That is a key part of the story that a lot of media outlets covering this case have gotten wrong, that Lesnar got special treatment. Obviously as a star, he got some special treatment, but in drug testing, the guy was being tested constantly, with something like eight tests in the last month before the fight, far more than almost anyone.

What is notable is that Hunt claimed Lesnar was taking banned substances prior to signing his UFC contract “upon information and belief,” which is a very interesting claim. One can certainly look at the monster that is Lesnar and do the eye test and believe something, but you need more than the eye test in a court of law.

What is notable is the claim that Lesnar and UFC both knew more than four months prior to the fight that Lesnar was coming back. I think it’s clear from the Dean Ambrose match at WrestleMania that Lesnar and UFC had contacted each other prior to that point, so it was several months out. But the actual deal wasn’t put together until the WWE gave its approval, which was only a few days before the announcement on 6/4, five weeks before the fight.

Hunt also claimed that UFC could have expedited the results of Lesnar’s 6/28 drug test to have it back prior to the fight, and claimed they didn’t do so because they were trying to protect Lesnar’s ability to fight because it was so important to the success of UFC 200. After the situation with Anderson Silva in his fight with Nick Diaz in early 2015, where he tested positive for Drostanolone and Androstane on 1/9, 22 days before the fight, but the test came back after the fight, there was an issue made clear regarding expediting results of tests over the last few weeks. I don’t believe for a second they failed to expedite the test result for fear of losing Lesnar, since Lesnar had already passed several known tests by that time, but a failed 6/28 test should have been known prior to 7/9.

The lawsuit also claimed racketeering (the RICO) act listing Lesnar, White, UFC, WWE, Vitor Belfort, Mir, Antonio Silva, and UFC’s Jeff Novitzky and Ike Epstein. Other than Lesnar, White and UFC, none are defendants in the case, but the claim is that they all knowingly and with intent to defraud, operated with intent to defraud. Belfort’s name is listed because he had a suspicious test result prior to his UFC 151 fight with Jon Jones, and still fought Jones on the show. Belfort was undergoing TRT, deemed legal at the time. Some of his test readings were off, however, the levels one would look for, his serum testosterone level, were high, but within allowable levels. It would not have been a positive test, but it absolutely had readings that you would question. But in sports, plenty of athletes have readings you would question, as at one point when Nevada released its testing results in detail, I saw several top stars with suspicious readings on certain levels, but they were not actionable based on what the tests were there to determine.

Hunt’s request is that Lesnar’s entire purse be surrendered to him as well as asking for punitive damages from UFC’s profits on the show.

“Yes, I am suing Lesnar and the UFC for his entire purse,” wrote Hunt on his web site. “Cheaters deserve nothing.”

Earlier in the week, Hunt had agreed to face Alistair Overeem at UFC 209 on 3/4 in Las Vegas.

Hunt had been holding out saying he wasn’t going to fight unless they put it in his contract that if his opponent fails a drug test, he would get his opponents’ purse. UFC refused that and Hunt finally agreed to this fight basically because he at some point has to be fight to feed his family.

“Think about it from my position. I had no other option. I can’t work anywhere else, so what am I supposed to do, let my family starve?”

Hunt was upset that Lesnar, who earned a $2.5 million base and likely another $3 million or more in bonuses based on his getting a percentage of the PPV revenue, was only fined $250,000, arguing the fine was too little based on what Lesnar earned and that it taught people that if you cheat you come out ahead.

Lesnar won the fight via decision, but the decision was overturned and made a no contest by the Nevada Athletic Commission.

Nobody in MMA has ever sued an opponent who failed a drug test. What hurts the case is that even though many would speculate the usage of Clomiphene would have to do with coming off a steroid cycle in time to beat testing, it is not a performance enhancing drug on its own. There is no actual evidence that Lesnar was on steroids that would be considered admissible in court.

New Japan Pro Wrestling followed up Wrestle Kingdom with New Year’s Dash, a show that set up a number of new programs for February, and featured a tremendous angle with the return of Suzuki-gun.

After a ten-man tag team match where Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma & Katsuyori Shibata & Yuji Nagata & Juice Robinson beat Kazuchika Okada & Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii & Will Ospreay & Hirooki Goto, when Robinson pinned Goto, it was on.

Robinson picked up the Never title belt, setting up the biggest match of his career when he challenges Goto, likely in February. At that point Korakuen Hall exploded, as the Suzuki-gun stable of Lance Archer, Davey Boy Smith Jr., Takashi Iizuka, Taka Michinoku, Desperado, Taichi and a surprise in Yoshinobu Kanemaru, hit the ring. In an attack somewhat reminiscent of the Nexus angle, Smith & Archer immediately went after IWGP tag team champions Ishii & Yano. They used the old Hart attack on Ishii and the killer bomb on Yano. Then, Minoru Suzuki hit the ring and choked out Okada and laid him out with a Gotch piledriver. The place went insane as Suzuki cut a promo, and challenged Okada for the IWGP heavyweight title.

Angles and matches earlier on the show set up a number of other programs, including Tetsuya Naito vs. Michael Elgin for the IC title, Hiromu Takahashi vs. Dragon Lee for the IWGP jr. tag title, and Adam Cole vs. Yoshi-Hashi for the ROH title (which may take place during a February ROH tour of Japan that New Japan is helping to put together). Those matches would be earmarked for the two big February shows, the 2/5 New Beginnings in Sapporo, and the 2/11 New Beginning in Osaka.

The Sapporo show was already announced for English commentary, although the broadcast team is in question. Kevin Kelly will be back, but Steve Corino is off to WWE. Kelly will also be doing the Osaka show.

Wrestle Kingdom ended up a major success for the company. They picked up more than 10,000 new subscribers to New Japan World in a 24 hour period on 1/3 and 1/4, prior to the start of the Tokyo Dome show, bringing the total to about 60,000, an amazing one-day increase of a two-year-old business by 20 percent in 24 hours. Even more, 5,500 of those new subscribers came from the U.S. The total number of subscribers outside of Japan was about 8,500 to 9,000 on 1/3, but that’s the rest of the world, not just the U.S. Obviously that pales compared to WWE numbers, being only about four percent of those numbers which gives you an indication of just how competitive the two companies really aren’t as businesses even if New Japan puts on significantly better major shows. And in reality, when New Japan World was launched in 2015, the goal was 100,000 subscribers by January 4, 2016, so it has been a major disappointment. They have been offering more and more free content (as opposed to free periods of complete usage like WWE and UFC have offered). Leading into the Tokyo Dome they offered every January 4th show free from 1992 to 2016 (aside from matches with Naoya Ogawa and Brock Lesnar which, for legal reasons, were pulled a long time ago) as well as every championship match held in New Japan in 2016. They also gave the New Year’s Dash show away free. My mentality years ago, before the streaming service idea, was that New Japan should do Korakuen Hall shows free with both Japanese and English voice overs, and present them similar to Raw or the traditional pro wrestling television show, except on the Internet (a deal for up to date one hour shows using matches from Korakuen Hall on AXS would also be more viable for both sides than the current deal with the heavily dated shows) so people would see the angles and use those shows to promote the PPV shows. With streaming, the concept is the same, because the key is you want to air free shows where the most people see the build and the angles as possible, and then use the streaming service to pay to get the big matches.

Right now, New Japan’s service is gaining at least underground popularity in the U.S., and they are doing more and more shows with English commentary and doing regular English language videos for free with people like The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and Tama Tonga and the like. But they haven’t had an English language web site in a few months nor an English language page for New Japan World. If you really want to sign up, you can translate and figure it out, but a lot of people have told us that they’ve just given up. In addition, they really should have put the Tokyo Dome show on PPV, and granted the time slot (3 a.m. start time Eastern on a Wednesday morning) was bad, but perhaps a live showing and then an 8 p.m. showing Wednesday night which was the time slot promoted hard, plus the people that order can DVR it. New Japan World isn’t heavily known about and difficult to navigate. They did well on PPV two years ago and there was far more interest in the show this year due to mainstream sports and pop culture web sites doing stories on people like Omega and the Bucks, not to mention the awareness that A.J. Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows came from New Japan by a good percentage of the WWE fan base. The fact Styles and Nakamura were able to walk right into WWE and be among the biggest stars without any WWE television promotion was an eye opener. And while some can say that Styles was more known for his years on TNA television than his two years in New Japan (although his viability as a real top guy did not come from TNA television), and there is something to that, the fact is nobody over WrestleMania weekend was close to as over as Nakamura.

Wrestlers and fans from all over the world were talking of the Kenny Omega vs. Okada main event as the best match they had ever seen in their life. Our own poll had 534 responses, a total so completely off the charts that it beat every UFC show in history and was the largest response we had gotten to a show since the 2013 WrestleMania. That was ridiculous for a show that took place in the middle of the night U.S. time on a non-weekend night. It more than doubled the response from last year. The show two years ago got 373 responses, but that aired on PPV in the U.S. and was heavily promoted, plus it took place on a weekend night.

An interesting note regards web traffic for New Japan World. From September through November, according to a Brandon Howard article on Fightful.com, 64 percent came from Japan, 21 percent from the U.S., 3 percent from Australia and 2 percent from the U.K. However, over the period from 12/8 to 1/5, the lead into the Dome show, the percentages changed from 42 percent from Japan, 35 percent U.S., 5 percent U.K., 4 percent Australia and 2 percent Canada.

Google searches, the best metric for buy rate correlation, were 33 percent above the 2015 show, which on its own would correlate to almost 20,000 buys on PPV in the U.S., a number that is better than all but the major WWE shows do right now and more than anything TNA has done in years. Keep in mind this is without any advertising, meaning that if such a show was done and promoted as well as the 2015 show, if anything, it should have done significantly better. U.K. interest was roughly double that of the 2015 show and up 29 percent from last year’s show.

The next thing on the agenda is the annual Fantastica Mania tour, which has shows on 1/13 in Osaka, 1/13 in Ehime, 1/15 in Kyoto, 1/16 in Nagoya, and finishes with shows on 1/20, 1/21 and 1/22 at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo. They are playing small buildings, but every show except Nagoya is sold out. The lineups aren’t as interesting as in past years an it’s notable that they are keeping Lee and Hiromu Takahashi apart in singles, and only working with each other twice in tags. There are only two title matches on the tour, a 1/20 match where Lee defends the CMLL lightweight title against Barbaro Cavernario, and a 1/21 match where Maximo Sexy defends the CMLL heavyweight title against Hechicero.

The tour features CMLL’s three biggest flying stars, Volador Jr., Lee and Mistico, as well as legend Atlantis, top heels Rush, Ultimo Guerrero, Cavernario and Euforia, plus Titan, Ephesto, Soberano Jr., Raziel, Blue Panther Jr., Stuka Jr., Okumura, and Hechicero. The other interesting name is Will Ospreay.

The lineup for the New Japan World shows, which all start at 4:30 a.m. Eastern time are:

1/20: Ephesto & Ospreay vs. Blue Panther Jr. & Henare, Soberano Jr. & Jushin Liger & Tiger Mask vs. Raziel & Gedo & Jado, Maximo Sexy & Stuka Jr. vs. Hechicero & Okumura, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Atlantis & Kushida & Ryusuke Taguchi & David Finlay vs. Naito & Rush & Seiya Sanada & Evil & Bushi, Mistico & Volador Jr. & Robinson vs. Okada & Ultimo Guerrero & Euforia, Hiromu Takahashi vs. Titan and the Lee vs. Cavernario CMLL lightweight title match.

1/21: Liger & Tiger Mask & Henare vs. Ephesto & Raziel & Gedo, Stuka Jr. vs. Okumura, Soberano Jr. & Kushida & Taguchi vs. Okada & Ospreay & Cavernario, Lee & Titan & Tanahashi & Robinson & Finlay vs. Naito & Rush & Sanada & Evil & Bushi, Mistico & Volador Jr. vs. Ultimo Guerrero & Euforia, Atlantis vs. Rush and Maximo vs. Hechicero for the CMLL heavyweight title.

1/22: Blue Panther Jr. & Soberano Jr. & Henare vs. Cavernario & Gedo & Jado, Liger & Tiger Mask & Stuka Jr. vs. Hechicero & Okumura & Raziel, Lee & Titan vs. Hiromu Takahashi & & Bushi, Taguchi & Robinson & Maximo vs. Okada & Ospreay & Ephesto, Tanahashi & Atlantis & Kushida & Finlay vs. Naito & Rush & Sanada & Evil, Mistico vs. Euforia and Volador Jr. vs. Ultimo Guerrero.

The shows are traditionally very good. It’s a surprise to see Atlantis at this stage in a singles match, particularly with no title at stake, and even more against Rush. The lack of title matches, particularly on the final night, is a surprise. The 1/20 show with Takahashi and Lee in separate singles matches is clearly to give them both wins to set up their own match in February. The second night’s key bout is the tag match, to build the two singles the next night. Those matches are Mistico and Volador showcases, with two of the best heels around and making faces shine as their opponents. Usually you have the match of the super flyers back-and-forth on the final night but the only super flyer on the rudo side here are Cavernario and Takahashi. For whatever reason, Cavernario isn’t being featured that highly on this tour after he did so well last year, particularly in merchandise. It makes no sense to have Takahashi in there to make Mistico and Volador because he’s New Japan’s champion.

The next tour will start on 1/27 at Korakuen Hall, and what’s notable is that there is no Bullet Club on the tour with Suzuki-gun taking their spots.

The lineup has Yuji Nagata vs Toshiyuki Oka, Liger & Tiger Mask & Yoshitatsu vs. Finlay & Hirai Kawato & Henare, Gedo & Jado &Yoshi-Hashi vs. Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Takashi Iizuka, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer, Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma & Juice Robinson & Katsuyori Shibata vs. Will Ospreay & Hirooki Goto & Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii, Tanahashi & Michael Elgin & Manabu Nakanishi & Kushida & Taguchi vs. Naito & Sanada & Evil & Bushi & Hiromu Takahashi and a main event of Okada & Rocky Romero & Baretta vs. Suzuki & Taka Michinoku & Taichi.

The first of the two PPV shows, the New Beginning in Sapporo, which is 2/5 (1 a.m. Eastern time start) has Kushida & Kawato vs. Desperado & Kanemaru, Nagata & Kojima & Tenzan vs. Finlay & Henare & Yoshitatsu, Tiger Mask & Liger & Shibata vs. Gedo & Jado & Ospreay, Yoshi-Hashi vs. Iizuka, Tanahashi & Elgin & Nakanishi & Taguchi & Dragon Lee vs. Naito & Sanada & Evil & Bushi & Hiromu Takahashi, Romero & Baretta vs. Michinoku & Taichi for the IWGP Jr. Tag titles, Goto vs. Robinson for the Never Open weight title, Ishii & Yano defend the tag titles in a three-way against Makabe & Honma and Archer & Smith, and Okada vs. Suzuki for the IWGP heavyweight title.

The other is 2/11 in Osaka at the Edion Arena (3 a.m. Eastern time start) with Yoshitatsu & Kawato vs. Henare & Finlay, Tenzan & Kojima & Kushida vs. Desperado & Kanemaru & Iizuka, Tiger Mask & Liger & Robinson & Nagata vs. Gedo & Jado & Yoshi-Hashi & Goto, Okada & Romero & Baretta vs. Suzuki & Michinoku & Taichi, Tanahashi & Nakanishi & Taguchi defend the six-man titles against Sanada & Evil & Bushi, Shibata vs. Ospreay for the British heavyweight title, the same three-way for the tag titles with Ishii & Yano vs. Makabe & Honma vs. Smith & Archer, Hiromu Takahashi vs. Lee for the IWGP jr. title and Naito vs. Elgin for the IC title.

The only other confirmed New Japan World show is the 2/7 show at Korakuen Hall. It’s a Survivor Series like show headlined by three elimination tag team matches. The three prelims are Henare vs Oka, Kojima & Nagata vs. Yoshitatsu & Finlay and Tenzan & Liger & Tiger Mask vs. Iizuka & Kanemaru & Desperado. The elimination matches are Makabe & Honma & Shibata & Robinson & Kushida vs. Goto & Yoshi-Hashi & Ospreay & Gedo & Jado, Okada & Yano & Ishii & Romero & Baretta vs. Suzuki & Archer & Smith & Taichi & Michinoku, and Tanahashi & Elgin & Nakanishi & Taguchi & Lee vs. Naito & Sanada & Evil & Bushi & Hiromu Takahashi.

The notable stuff here is how high on the show Takahashi vs. Lee is being put in Osaka, ahead of both the heavyweight tag team title and a Tanahashi-led trios title match. That’s an example of the emphasis on the singles junior heavyweight division in 2017 and the expectation that the two will have a blow-away match.

The Suzuki-gun stuff is fresh, in the sense they’ve been out of New Japan for two years, but the truth is the Suzuki-gun juniors were dragging down that division before. Smith & Archer were a good team in New Japan. Suzuki is a different element of style and has unique charisma and is a welcome addition, but he’s also 48 years old and very much has to pick his spots. By adding so many of those guys to the roster, it means a lot of the most talented guys are off, and others are not being featured. Finlay, after such a strong showing of late as part of the trios champions, is back in the prelims, as is Kushida, the guy the junior heavyweight division had been built around.

New Year’s Dash drew a sellout 1,738 fans to Korakuen Hall. It was more of a light-hearted show, particularly for those who had the killer matches the night before. The nature of the show made the contrast of the Suzuki-gun attack come across even stronger and more heated. It puts the company filled with factions, with Suzuki-gun, LIJ, Bullet Club, Chaos, Third Generation and pretty much everyone else.

1. Ricochet & Kyle O’Reilly & David Finlay beat Jushin Liger & Tiger Mask & Henare in 6:16. Ricochet used a Fosbury Flop dive on Liger. This was fast moving. Henare (23-year-old Aaron Henry from New Zealand), who was fresh from not working the night before, looked really good here. He’s got fire and timing and already comes across as a star in the making. He’s more advanced right now than most of the NXT guys who started from scratch in the WWE system, although he has been wrestling in New Zealand on indies since he was 16). The hottest action was Finlay vs. Henare believe it or not. The fans were really into Finlay since they saw his journey from young boy to a mid-carder who can hang with anyone. Ricochet hit Henare with a shooting star press and he and Finlay jumped on him for the pin. Finlay then ran to the last row in the bleachers and hugged his mother. His father was right there as well. **3/4

2. Yujiro Takahashi & Hangman Page beat Billy Gunn & Yoshitatsu in 6:39. Not much to this one. Takahashi gave Yoshitatsu a DDT on the floor. Page used a claw to the groin. Steve Corino made a joke about what a thrill it must be for Page to grab Billy Gunn’s junk. Page dropped Yoshitatsu with the Rites of Passage (Omori driver) on the top of his head. After the match, Gunn had a confrontation at ringside with Katsuya Kitamura, a powerhouse Japanese super heavyweight amateur wrestler. It appeared Kitamura is about ready to start and maybe he’ll debut with a high profile loss to Gunn. *1/2

3. Rocky Romero & Baretta & Yoshi-Hashi beat Young Bucks & Adam Cole in 9:59. Romero did a tope on Cole right away. Romero and Baretta teased a split, but then hugged. Nick did a running springboard flip plancha. They set up the Meltzer driver but it was blocked, and the Baretta reversed the tombstone piledriver and dropped Matt on his head. Cole got a near fall with a Canadian Destroyer off the middle rope on Yoshi-Hashi. After a Cole superkick and a Young Bucks double superkick on Yoshi-Hashi, Cole went for the last shot but Yoshi-Hashi cradled him for the surprise pin. Yoshi-Hashi then grabbed the ROH title belt which signified they’re doing a title match at some point. After the match, Cole attacked Yoshi-Hashi and they beat down all three. Cole got Yoshi-Hashi up for a suplex and the Bucks gave him a double superkick and Cole gave him a neckbreaker over the knee and told Yoshi-Hashi that “You’re not in my league or at my level.” ***1/4

4. Hiro Saito & Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Scott Norton & Cheeseburger beat Bone Soldier & Kenny Omega & Tama Tonga & Tanga Roa & Bad Luck Fale in 9:57. The crowd went wild when this match was announced, more than anything on the show, because of Norton. Norton was the top foreign heel for a number of years and this was his return. He looks pretty much the same as he did 20 years ago but the injuries have clearly caught up to him as he can barely move. It was so cool seeing him come out and get the reaction, but he couldn’t do much but have guys run into his clothesline. The Norton team all came out wearing “Team 2000" gear. So it was Team 2000 vs. Bullet Club. Of course, Cheeseburger, who the fans like as a cult deal, wasn’t in Team 2000. At the beginning, they went to take a picture together and referee Tiger Hattori had to pull Cheeseburger away. The match started and Omega tried to recruit Norton to join Bullet Club. They shook hands on it and then Norton did the big squeeze. There was a hilarious spot where Norton just tossed Cheeseburger over the top rope like it was nothing and Bullet Club caught him and threw him back from the floor over the top rope back to Norton. The match was mostly comedy with Cheeseburger. Finally Kojima hit the diamond cutter on Soldier, Kojima & Tenzan did the 3-D on Soldier, Saito hit Soldier with a senton (which got a big pop) and Kojima pinned him after a lariat. *1/4

5. Michael Elgin & Kushida beat Tetsuya Naito & Hiromu Takahashi in 13:45. They really played up how Naito broke Elgin’s orbital bone. Naito was making fun of his eye early. Naito did a sliding kick to Elgin’s eye, the same move he hurt him with. Kushida was really good here. Naito tried a guillotine but Elgin turned it into a falcon arrow. The crowd was really into Elgin. He did a German suplex to Takahashi, an enzuigiri on Naito, and a German suplex into the turnbuckles on Naito. He did a Death Valley Bomb on Takahashi dropping him on Naito and a power superplex into a falcon arrow on Naito for a near fall as Takahashi had to save. Naito threw the referee out of the ring. He then gave both Kushida and Elgin low blows. At that point Dragon Lee ran in and gave Naito a German suplex and did a running flip dive on Takahashi. Elgin then nailed Naito with a left arm lariat and a burning hammer for the pin. Lee gave Takahashi a lariat to lay him out and then grabbed the jr. title to rub it in his face. Elgin grabbed the IC title to rub it in Naito’s face. Kushida then got in Lee’s face so they are going to probably do Lee vs. Kushida at some point as well. ***½

6. Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma & Katsuyori Shibata & Yuji Nagata & Juice Robinson beat Kazuchika Okada & Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii & Will Ospreay & Hirooki Goto in 14:54. The first thing in the match was Ospreay getting in Shibata’s face playing up their Revolution Pro angle. Ospreay kicked him right in the face and they went at it and the crowd was hot for them. Yano was over as a comedy figure to the point that Nagata walked out of the ring they were cheering so loudly for Yano. Okada’s back, neck and ribs were all taped up but he did his normal spots. Ishii and Honma were doing a number on each other. Ishii ended up with a bloody nose. Ospreay hit Shibata with a tope. Everyone started hitting big moves on everyone. Goto and Robinson did spots where they’d clothesline each other and not go down until Robinson put him down. Shibata went crazy on Ospreay. Shibata used a penalty kick on Goto and then Robinson pinned Goto with the killswitch. Robinson then picked up the Never title to challenge Goto. At this point the place exploded with Suzuki-gun, minus Suzuki, doing the run-in and destroying everyone. Then Suzuki came out and choked out Okada and hit him with the Gotch piledriver. Great match and angle. ****

7. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Manabu Nakanishi & Ryusuke Taguchi won the Never Open weight six-man titles from Seiya Sanada & Evil & Bushi in 13:24. Really the LIJ trio should have kept the titles. They bounce these belts around too much anyway and the LIJ team is a cool team right now. Even though Tanahashi’s new music isn’t very good, it was getting over in the sense fans were chanting “Go Ace” which is a line from the song. Very good finishing sequence as Tanahashi and Taguchi laid out Sanada and Evil with planchas and Nakanishi picked up Bushi in the torture rack and followed with a Hercules cutter for the pin. ***1/4

The traditional CMLL promotion on 1/6 did a unique show at Arena Mexico, with seven matches, three of them being singles matches.

The experimental event was to follow up the holiday season with a show built around the idea of rematches of some of 2016's best rivalries. The show drew 9,500 fans, with a very high percentage of kids because of cheap kids tickets, and a ton of women in their 20s, which led to the camera men going crazy with crowd shots all night. It was the company’s largest crowd since the 9/16 legends show.

Because they were running one more match than usual, the show was very much rushed, to the point that instead of fighting to end by 11 p.m. local time, when the shows are targeted to end because that’s the last subway out, they ended 27 minutes earlier than usual. Besides shorter matches, they had no post-match mic work, no time between matches at all, and rushed through ring entrances.

The show was very entertaining after a sloppy opening women’s match, but should have been with the talent depth on the show. CMLL will be toned down the next few weeks because so many of the top stars are leaving for Japan for Fantastica Mania. Right now the plan is to have a big show on 1/27, the first Friday after the top talent returns, and to also include some New Japan talent as well as most likely Ray Rowe from ROH.

1. Vaquerita & Marcela & Estrellita beat Amapola & Zeuxis & Dallys via DQ in 10:54. The match was fast moving and had good heat, but was pretty sloppy. Estrellita pinned Dallys in the first fall with a backslide and a bridge. In the second fall, they were doing big moves but got lost a few times. Zeuxis pulled off her mask and threw it to try and get a DQ on the faces, but the ref saw her do it and instead DQ’d Zeuxis making it a straight fall win. *1/2

2. Cavernario Barbaro beat Rey Cometa in 13:29. This was good quality but felt very rushed. Cavernario won the first fall in just 1:50 with a reverse splash. Cometa won the second fall with a spinning backbreaker, a 450, and then an armdrag of all things and a pin. In the third fall, Cavernario ran on the apron and dove through the ropes into the ring and back out with a tope on the other side on the floor. Cometa did a running flip dive. Cometa did a tornillo in the ring for a near fall. After a series of near falls, Cavernario won clean with La Cavernaria, a camel clutch like submission. ***1/4

3. Negro Casas & Puma & Tiger beat Blue Panther & Blue Panther Jr. & The Panther in 15:19. This was Negro Casas and his two nephews, who are going to be stars, against Blue Panther and his two sons. The Panther is really good and also going to be a star. Blue Panther Jr. is more of a physically impressive bodybuilder but isn’t the worker the others are. The Panther pinned Puma in the first fall with a missile dropkick. Tiger pinned Blue Panther Jr. with La Magistral. The crowd reacted huge when Negro Casas and Blue Panther faced off. Blue Panther at 56 years old hit Cass with a tope. Blue Panther Jr. did a tope on Puma. Negro Casas beat Blue Panther clean in the third fall with the scorpion deathlock. ***1/4

4. Volador Jr. beat Mephisto in 17:12. Mephisto won the first fall quickly with the Devil’s wings. Volador evened it up with a tope, a superkick and a backstabber. The first fall went 1:26 and second fall went 2:09, so you wonder why they even do 2/3 falls past that it’s tradition. Then it became the Volador show. While the moves are completely different, this was very much like a Ric Flair match where if you watch Volador regularly, since he’s the featured star of the promotion, you know every spot. Still, the crowd loved this match. Volador did a springboard off the guard rail into a huracanrana on the floor. He did a running flip dive, an Asai moonsault and more near falls. He did a Super Frankensteiner. Mephisto’s big spot was getting a near fall with the Devil’s wings off the middle rope. Volador did a springboard plancha on Mephisto over the guard rail and into the first row. Volador won clean with a top rope Spanish fly. ****1/4

5. Marco Corleone & Maximo Sexy beat Rush & La Mascara via DQ in 10:12. Another rushed match. The women were going crazy for everyone but Maximo, since he does the Exotico gimmick. Corleone pinned both Rush and Mascara at the same time using Air Italia, which is running down the ramp and doing a dive over the top rope with a crossbody into the ring. They kept showing women in the crowd going crazy for Corleone to the point it was ridiculous. In the second fall, Mascara accidentally kicked Rush and then Maximo kissed Mascara, but Rush gave Maximo a low blow for the DQ. Because it was rush mode on the show, there was no Rush mic work after. Match was fine, good in spots, but really super heat. **½

6. Valiente beat Ultimo Guerrero in 15:17. Even though he was the heel, the crowd was way behind Guerrero and booed Valiente. Valiente won the first fall via submission with the Indian deathlock. Guerrero won the second fall with the Pulpo Guerrero submission. The third fall saw Valiente open the fall with four straight topes. Guerrero whipped him over the barricade and then did a running dive over the barricade like Okada would do. Valiente did a moonsault off the top rope to the floor. Lots of near falls and great heat. The finish saw Valiente do his tombstone into a codebreaker finish twice for the pin. ****

7. Atlantis & Caristico & Mistico beat Gran Guerrero & Euforia & Niebla Roja in 11:53. This was great crowd pleasing action but too short. Mistico did a running flip dive on one side of the ring and Caristico did the same move to the other side of the ring. The heels took the first fall with a triple stretch submission. The heels kept going until Mistico did a springboard huracanrana to start the comeback. Mistico won the second fall pinning Gran Guerrero with a Toyota roll. Mistico did a dive off the top rope to the floor into a huracanrana on Euforia. They do this move all the time but it still visually looks spectacular. Euforia is such a great base and underrated worker who is always in he right place to make the faces shine. The crowd was so hot that Caristico was running wild doing a plancha into a huracanrana himself on Gran Guerrero. Atlantis gave all three heels the quebradora (spinning backbreaker). It was a triple submission finish with Atlantis using the torture rack submission and both Mistico and Caristico using La Misticas. This was a great match with awesome heat. ***3/4

Timothy Smith, who was best known as Rex King and Timothy Well, as the tag team partner of Steve Doll, passed away on 1/9 at the age of 55 due to kidney failure.

Smith had been in a bad auto accident in 2012 and had health problems ever since. Even before that, he was in rough shape due to some major injuries he incurred during his career as a pro wrestler. His wife left him in 2014, and he had to move in with his parents at that time, and his father died shortly after that. Friends of his said he had been despondent for years, dating back to the death of Doll in 2009.

Smith & Doll were mostly known as Rex King (named after the two original Moondogs) & Steve Doll, the Southern Rockers, who were major stars in Oregon, Tennessee and Puerto Rico.

Smith replaced Scott Peterson, who retired from pro wrestling, as the new partner of Doll, as the second version of the Southern Rockers. The Southern Rockers were one of the many Rock & Roll Express knockoff teams that proliferated in the mid-to-late 80s.

Smith had started his career as Rex King in 1987, doing television jobs for Championship Wrestling from Florida and the WWF when WWF did tapings in Florida. He came to Oregon for the first time in October of 1988. He was just a young guy in the territory not doing much. When Peterson retired from wrestling, King was put in his spot at Doll’s partner in the Southern Rockers in September 1989.

The two left for Tennessee in early 1990, and held the USWA tag team titles three times before Doll went back to Oregon, while King stayed in Tennessee and formed a tag team with Joey Maggs. He then went to Puerto Rico and formed a team with Ricky Santana, before Doll came to Puerto Rico in 1992. They came back to Tennessee for another run before they signed with WWF in 1993, where they were renamed Timothy Well & Steven Dunn, the tag team of Well Dunn.

Well Dunn was a lower level team, given some wins at times but mostly used as credible solid workers to get over the babyface teams like the Smoking Gunns (Billy & Bart Gunn) and Men on a Mission. They were released at one point, where they worked in Tennessee and for Jim Cornette’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling in 1994, where they feuded with The Thrillseekers, Chris Jericho & Lance Storm. They returned to WWF later that year. They were released in 1995 and went back to Puerto Rico. After Doll left Puerto Rico, King teamed with Sean Morley (Val Venis) as part of a tag team called the Canadian Glamour Boys for a short period of team. The Canadian Glamour Boys had been Morley & Shane Sewell, and when Sewell returned, King lost his spot.

In 1996 and 1997, he worked for All Japan as a lower level foreigner, and was also used as enhancement talent in WCW.

King & Doll got back together with the Nashville-based Music City Wrestling in 1998. King continued to wrestle until suffering an injury in 2001 while in Puerto Rico, which ended his full-time career although he did some single shots on independent shows until 2004, but was in great pain by that time.

During his career he held the Pacific Northwest heavyweight title once, as well as the TV title, and he and Doll held the tag team titles four times. He held the USWA tag team titles for Jerry Jarrett five times, four times with Doll and once with Maggs, and held the WWC tag team titles five times, twice with Santana and once each with Doll, Ray Gonzalez and Morley.

In one of the more unique stories, on February 20, 2012, the WWC reported that he had passed away and it was reported throughout wrestling. His ex-wife in the early 90s, Vivacious Veronica, read about it on the Observer web site and contacted us to say he was still alive. He had been in the hospital and had been in bad shape after surgery to replace three discs, but was alive and was joking about the reports of his death, noting that he came pretty close. We had spoken to him later that week and he talked about how much pain he was in, both from the surgery, from an auto accident and from a number of injuries from his years in the ring, most notably when Nelson Frazier (Mabel at the time, later Viscera) gave him a powerslam and broke his pelvic bone in two, which put him out of action for eight months.

He claimed that at the time of that injury, while working for WWF, he was told not to worry and that the office would send him $500 per week (this was before wrestlers had guaranteed contracts) while he was out of action. He claimed the company very quickly stopped paying him at the time.

He was bitter about his time in WWF, nothing that everywhere he and Doll were successful, they were babyfaces. But there they were booked as small heels against much larger face teams like The Smoking Gunns, Men on a Mission and The Head Shrinkers (Sam Anoa’i and Solofa “Rikishi” Fatu), and noted that the one program they really enjoyed was working with The Bushwhackers. He noted that the Bushwhackers were willing to sell for them, something he complained that Men on a Mission and The Head Shrinkers wouldn’t do. He said the Bushwhackers never hurt them and he enjoyed the short program. He noted that with the larger faces who wouldn’t sell for them, it left them with no credibility with the audience.

He always told a story about his departure from the company in 1995. He had a baby son and he and Doll’s contracts expired. Vince McMahon brought them both into his office at television and “He looks us both in the eyes and says to us, `You boys got off to a bad start so we would like to resign you for two more years.’”

“Talk about happy, we said, `Great Vince, and all the ass kissing B.S.,” he noted in a letter to friend Beau James in 2013. “That weekend, we all went home. Everyone rested up before WrestleMania. That following Monday, I was living in my new home in Atlanta. Fed-Ex knocked. I opened the door to what I thought was all of our new stack of plane tickets. But instead it was a letter saying, `We are sorry but we no longer need your services anymore.’”

He actually blamed others in the company. He believed Vince would have never told them to their face that they were getting a new two-year contract if it wasn’t true. But he felt that the way they had been used, always losing, that he and Doll found it hard to believe it themselves when they were told. He always blamed others in talent relations.

Smith was one of the plaintiffs in the latest concussion lawsuit filed against WWE.

Smith was destitute and a GoFund Me was set up saying that his death was due to complications from his pro wrestling career. Chris Jericho, under his real name Chris Irvine, donated the entire $2,500 requested.

Smackdown on 1/10 was almost identical to the week before, with 2,533,000 viewers, putting it in 11th place for the night on cable.

The show did a 0.62 in 12-17 (identical with the prior week), 0.70 in 18-34 (identical with the prior week), 1.00 in 35-49 (down 5.7 percent) and 1.01 in 50+ (down 2.0 percent).

The show did 59.2 percent males in 18-49 and 63.6 percent males in 12-17.

Raw on 1/9 did a 2.02 rating and 2,894,000 viewers (1.56 viewers per home), which has to be considered a success going against the finals of the College Football championships.

The Alabama vs. Clemson game did 24,391,000 viewers, the toughest competition Raw has faced since the Trump-Clinton debate. The game was down from 25,667,000 last year with the same two teams in the finals. Last year’s Raw against the same game did a 2.36 rating (this year being down 14.4 percent) and 3,320,000 viewers (this year down 12.8 percent).

The rating was down 2.9 percent and viewership down 4.8 percent from last week, which, given the competition, I’d consider a success.

The key was pretty clearly the advertised appearances of Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker. As after they were gone, and some of this had to do with the game being so exciting, there was a huge third hour drop. The drop was strongly male oriented, when usual third hour drops are more women tuning out.

Raw was ninth for the night on cable.

The 8 p.m. hour did 3,014,000 viewers. The 9 p.m. hour did 3,019,000 viewers. The 10 p.m. hour did 2,689,000 viewers.

As far as where the audience dropped, women 18-49 from hour two to three were down four percent while men were down nine percent. Women teenagers were actually up 12 percent in hour three, but male teenagers were down 13 percent and those over 50 were down 12 percent. For the show overall, it was the 50+ audience actually being up from last week as the main reason why the decline from last week wasn’t worse.

As compared with last week, Raw did a 0.73 in 12-17 (down 11.0 percent), 0.85 in 18-34 (down 7.6 percent), 1.09 in 35-49 (down 13.5 percent) and 1.16 in 50+ (up 4.5 percent).

The audience was 61.3 percent male in 18-49 and 61.9 percent male in 12-17.

The 1/5 Impact show did 290,000 viewers, which is below what the show was doing for the taped episodes. It’s not a good sign but there is new ownership involved and it’s going to take time to turn things around. Aside from Thanksgiving, it was the lowest number for a regular episode since 10/13 (the year in review shows the prior two weeks can’t be compared). The show opened on Pop at 255,000 for the first run and 90,000 for the replay one year earlier.

The time slot seems to have made a big difference as Total Divas on 1/4 did 734,000 viewers. The show is up 32 percent at 9 p.m. from what it was doing at 8 p.m. That tells you how much a one hour time slot change means.

Lucha Underground on 1/4 did 93,000 viewers at 8 p.m. and 54,000 for the 9 p.m. replay.

Smackdown on 1/3 did a 1.78 rating and 2,596,000 viewers (a well above usual 1.57 viewers per home), down 10 percent from the high point of the previous week built around John Cena’s return and three title matches.

Smackdown was 10th for the night on cable

The show did a 0.62 in 12-17 (down 10.1 percent), 0.70 in 18-34 (down 11.4 percent), 1.06 in 35-49 (down 2.8 percent) and 1.03 in 50+ (down 10.4 percent).

The show did 59.4 percent males in 18-49 and 61.8 percent males in 12-17.

The 12/31 afternoon World Series of Fighting show on NBC with the three title matches from the Theater in Madison Square Garden did 951,000 viewers, the all-time record for the promotion.

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CMLL: The company’s U.S. television deal on Azteca America will expire shortly. No word on whether or not it is being renewed

There was heat within Mexico of the finish of the Maximo Sexy vs. Mascara Ano 2000 hair match on 12/30. It wasn’t as much Mascara kicking out of the pin before three, which made the finish look bad, but the idea that in such a big match, it would end via pinfall after two kisses. The program had been built around Maximo kissing the famed Mr. Macho Man from another era (an offshoot of a Jerry Jarrett program in the early 70s with Terry Garvin and Lou Thesz believe it or not because Jarrett thought it would be great heat to have a character play gay, and Garvin wasn’t playing, and feud with the legendary epitome of male straight men Thesz) so it was the pop everything had built toward

The 1/13 show at Arena Mexico is headlined by Caristico & Diamante Azul & 56-year-old Rayo de Jalisco Jr. (his first match back since September and they were building the card around his return) vs. Mephisto & Rey Bucanero & El Terrible and Marco Corleone & Angel de Oro & Valiente vs. Cuatrero & Sanson & Mascara Ano 2000, so the sons of Cien Caras are already up to semifinals

Negro Casas, who turned 57 this past week, beat CMLL heavyweight champion Maximo Sexy in a non-title match on 1/10 at Arena Mexico.

ELITE: Elite is scheduled to start back with television tapings in February.

AAA: There is at least consideration of booking Plaza Mexico instead of Arena Ciudad for TripleMania this year because of the interest the company believes the Psycho Clown vs. Dr. Wagner Jr. mask vs. mask match with the one year build will have. Plaza Mexico was the site of the first TripleMania in 1993, where Konnan faced Cien Caras in a retirement match (Konnan lost due to interference from Jake Roberts and ended up coming out of retirement), and Perro Aguayo’s hair against the mask of Mascara Ano 2000, which legitimately drew 50,000 fans and is still the attendance record for Mexico. Apparently they believe they can get 40,000 fans for that match

Even though Joe Lider didn’t get much of his hair cut after losing the Cage of death match on 1/1 in Naucalpan, he did shave his head during the week so that when he was working this weekend he was just getting some hair back.

PRO WRESTLING NOAH: Things remain not strong here as they are struggling to replace the Suzuki-gun group. They recently closed their dojo and are said to be looking for a new location

The first show of the year at Korakuen Hall on 1/7 did 1,077 fans, which is a mixed bag. It’s not a good number for early January, but there were a ton of shows in the market ahead of them and they lost much of their main crew. The main event saw Katsuhiko Nakajima retain the GHC title over Takashi Sugiura in 32:18 after a brainbuster. On paper, that sounds like a great match as Sugiura singles matches are often classics. Go Shiozaki & Maybach Taniguchi retained the GHC tag titles over Naomichi Marufuji & Atsushi Kotoge in 30:22 after Shiozaki pinned Kotoge after a lariat. Kenou & Masa Kitamiya then came out and issued a challenge for the 1/21 show in Osaka. In a bout for the vacant GHC jr. title (Kotoge was champion but vacated it with a move to the heavyweight division), Hajime Ohara pinned Taiji Ishimori in 18:07. Daisuke Harada then came out to issue to title challenge which also takes place in Osaka

The second Korakuen Hall date, on 1/9, did only 694 fans, which was awful, for an all-singles program. It’s pretty clear the loss of Suzuki-gun and the New Japan help is hurting them short-term and now they have to come up with new angles to rebuild. Nakajima pinned Kenou in a non-title match in 17:11 after a brainbuster in the main event. Marufuji beat Taniguchi at 7:54 when the match was stopped via knockout from hard knees. Shiozaki pinned Kotoge in 24:49 after a lariat. Shiozaki said that he wants a shot at Nakajima’s title. Sugiura beat Kaito Kiyomiya via ref stoppage from a guillotine. Sugiura said he was so impressed with Kiyomiya, who they are trying to elevate faster than usual because they need fresh blood in the mix, that he wants Kiyomiya to be his tag team partner. Kitamiya beat Daisuke Harada with the prison deathlock

Alejandro Saez, the only foreigner left in the promotion, had to fly back home to Chile due to a family emergency.

NEW JAPAN: New Japan owner Takaaki Kidani stated that the reason they are running the 7/1 and 7/2 shows in Long Beach is: “The reason why we decided to go to US is what WWE did to us one year ago. I’m really frustrated. That’s the reason.” I hope that’s not the reason

This is the AXS schedule for the Tokyo Dome show. The 1/13 show will be the Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega match. That will almost surely be the most-watched episode of the show in the U.S. in its history. The 1/20 show will be Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tetsuya Naito and the three-way tag title match with Tama Tonga & Tanga Roa vs. Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma vs. Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano. The 1/27 show has the trios title gauntlet series and Katsuyori Shibata vs. Hirooki Goto. The final show, on 2/3, has Kushida vs. Hiromu Takahashi, Young Bucks vs. Rocky Romero & Baretta and Cody Rhodes vs. Juice Robinson. According to AXS officials, all of the matches will be shown in their entirety with limited commercial interruptions.

OTHER JAPAN NOTES: The Wrestle-1 promotion ran 1/8 at Korakuen Hall before 926 fans. Mazada retained the cruiserweight title over Andy Wu used the Mazada driver. Seiki Yoshioka will be the next challenger. They had a Wrestle-1 vs. All Japan match where Keiji Muto & Koji Doi & Kumagoro beat Takao Omori & Naoya Nomura & Yuma Aoyagi when Muto used the figure four on Nomura. Kaz Hayashi & Kotaro Suzuki retained the tag team titles over Daiki Inaba & Yusuke Kodama. In the main event, Masayuki Kono retained their world title beating Manabu Soya with a running knee. Shotaro Ashino will be getting the next title shot

The DDT promotion ran the semifinals of a tournament for the title shot at the company’s 2/20 show at the Saitama Super Arena. Kudo beat Tetsuya Endo after three spin kicks on 1/8 in Nagoya. Konosuke Takeshita beat Kazusada Higuchi on 1/7 in Kasukabe. So on 1/29 at Korakuen Hall, it’ll be Takeshita vs. Endo, and the winner faces the winner of the KO-D title match that night with Harashima defending against Daisuke Sasaki

On 1/9 in Osaka, Masakatsu Funaki & Yukio Sakaguchi retained the KO-D tag team titles beating Speedball Mike Bailey & Takeshita.

HERE AND THERE: WrestleCon has announced a WrestleMania launch party on 3/30 that will be hosted by Jim Ross, Ric Flair and Sting, at 4 p.m. that Thursday in Orlando

The U.S. Supreme Court on 1/9 turned down the attempt by Jesse Ventura to reinstate his $1.8 million verdict against the estate of Chris Kyle. Ventura had sued the estate of Kyle when Kyle wrote in his book about an incident where he punched someone out at a California bar in 2006 where there was a Navy SEALS reunion for making negative comments about the SEALS. Ventura’s name was never mentioned in the book itself, but in promoting the book, Kyle, before his death, did say it was Ventura. Ventura claimed the entire story was made up and in 2014, was awarded a $1.8 million verdict. But the verdict was overturned by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Ventura said that he would attempt to file the case again in the state of Minnesota

Here is a little more information regarding the Alberto Rodriguez incident in Leoben, Austria on 12/31. This is from an eye witness who saw everything. Alberto and Guillermo Rodriguez were at a club after the 12/30 show. They were scheduled to be driven from Leobon to Vienna about 100 miles or more, at 2:30 a.m. that night to get to the airport for their early morning flight. Alberto was having such a good time that he asked promoter Chris Raaber if he could stay an extra day and celebrate New Year’s Eve in Austria and that he’d use his miles to re-book the flights for himself and his brother. Raaber agreed to it. At some point later there was a misunderstanding between Alberto and a 26-year-old Austrian, resulting in a scuffle and punches were thrown. Guillermo saw his brother in a fight and joined in, not knowing what the situation was. He said the other person wasn’t hurt that badly, but he was bruised up and taken to the hospital, but past a few bruises was okay. Police were called and they were taken in to the station. Alberto was very upset. Nobody knows exactly how the Alberto fight with Guillermo started since both were talking Spanish. The belief is that Guillermo was trying to calm his brother down and Alberto got mad about it. They did start fighting although the story that Alberto knocked his brother out was exaggerated. Alberto did rip through the zip-ties they put on him but the ankle shackles that they put on him were on his wrists, not his ankles, and that finally got him to calm down. There was a back of a chair broken and some blood splattered on the wall. Guillermo actually was taken to two different hospitals and then took a train to the airport in Vienna and went home the next morning. Alberto took a cab to the airport and went home. Once everyone calmed down, the police were really nice to Alberto. Part of it may have been because Raaber’s wife is a police woman and Raaber is something of a local celebrity. The police actually asked that when Alberto comes back for the promotion if they could have him come to the police station and meet with them and take photos with him under better circumstances. When someone is taken to the hospital after being hurt in a fight, the hospital is required by law in Austria to press charges for assault, but there would be no problem with Alberto returning and he is scheduled to return for a match later this year. As for Raaber himself, he had mixed feelings as the old school part of him thought it got a lot of publicity and in the end, a star wrestler was portrayed as a real tough guy in real life in the local media

The next PWG show is 2/18 in Reseda, CA. The lineup is Ricochet vs. Lio Rush, Jay White vs. Marty Scurll, Trent Baretta vs. Rey Fenix, Jeff Cobb & Matt Riddle vs. Michael Elgin & Brian Cage, Cody Rhodes vs. Trevor Lee, Dave & Jake Crist & Sami Callihan vs. Young Bucks & Adam Cole and the main event is Zack Sabre Jr. defending the PWG title against Chuck Taylor

The annual wXw 16 Carat gold tournament takes place from 3/10 to 3/12 in Oberhausen, Germany, with Cody Rhodes, Paul London, Matt Riddle, David Starr, Tyler Bate, Robert Dreissker, Ilja Dragunov, Bad Bones John Klinger, ACH, Timothy Thatcher, Koji Kanemoto, and five others to be named later. Riddle comes to Germany a week earlier and is also doing their annual UWFI style tournament

Evolve officially announced Timothy Thatcher, Drew Galloway, Zack Sabre Jr. ACH and Matt Riddle as the top names for their shows over WrestleMania weekend in Orlando

People have been raving over a six-man tag match on 1/8 in London from Revolution Pro (which would be on their streaming service) where Marty Scurll & Pete Dunne & Travis Banks beat Ryan Smile & Shane Strickland (Killshot in Lucha Underground) & Will Ospreay. Scurll and Dunne were selling T-shirts and posing for photos during the match. Scurll beat Smile with the chicken wing, and then Zack Sabre Jr. laid Scurll out with a low blow after the match.

LUCHA UNDERGROUND: The next to last show of this run ended on 1/4. There were commercials during the show talking about next week being the mid-season finale (the show is going on hiatus after next week, with no date announced for the return). This must have been a late decision since the announcers never once mentioned it or explained it. There weren’t even cut-ins during the show talking about it. They ended the show pushing a Johnny Mundo vs. The Mack in an All Night Long (Iron Man) match for the title, but that’s not on the 1/11 show meaning it’ll be a long time before that airs. It really was going more in that direction to nowhere. The show opened with Mil Muertes mad because he couldn’t understand how Prince Puma was still alive. Catrina told him it was Vampiro who brought him back from the dead. She told Muertes that if he wants Puma, he has to go through Vampiro. Jeremiah Crane later approached Catrina and hit on her, saying how he just last week beat Muertes, the one she loves. She said that Muertes is not the one she loves. Sexy Star beat Mariposa in 6:52. Sexy did a flip dive. Mariposa did an upside down giant swing smashing Sexy over and over into the announcer table. The crowd was pretty hot for this. The finish saw Mariposa miss a moonsault and then Sexy pinned her after a double foot stomp. After the match, Marty the Moth, the “brother” of Mariposa showed up. He was consoling her and then turned on her. This was so Russo-esque in the sense it was supposed to be this shocking thing that he’d turn on his sister for no reason except it was painfully obvious plus Striker overplaying it in the other direction gave it away. I guess if there’s a storyline reason for this to happen it’s one thing but it felt like a shock that shocked nobody. Marty choke slammed her. The crowd cheered Marty in doing so. Mascarita Sagrada was backstage doing curls with a supposed 100 pounds. The Rabbit Tribe showed up. They were stunned and thought Mascarita was the white rabbit, their leader and guru. They asked Mascarita to join them at ringside in their next match. Mascarita said they were nuts and walked off. Next saw The Reptile group of Drago & Pindar & Vibora beating The Rabbit Tribe of Paul London & Mala Suerte & Saltidor in 7:03. Kobra Moon was in their corner. Drago was led to the ring by a chain and dog collar. The Rabbit Tribe again kept doing the ring-around-the-rosey gimmick. Vibora is really tall. He looks about 6-foot-5 although they claimed he was 7-feet tall. At least they didn’t say you can’t teach that. Fans were chanting Luchasaurus at him. Vibora laid out London with a tombstone piledriver and Drago pinned Saltidor to win. Fenix and Aerostar ran in after the match. Drago acted like he didn’t know them, and then acted all confused, so the idea is that Drago is brainwashed by his kidnappers. Dario Cueto told The Mack that his match with Johnny Mundo, that had been announced for the title, it now a non-title match. He said Mack would get his title shot, but that this week’s match is one where the winner gets to pick the stipulation of the title match. The match was nothing special. Mack had it won with a power bomb but the referee was distracted and didn’t count the pin fast enough. Jack Evans and P.J. Black came out to distract Mack, and then Mundo used a low blow for the pin in 8:40. After the match, Mundo told Mack that he sucked and was a fat piece of crap. He said the title match would be an “All Night Long” match, which is their version of an Iron Man match. After, Mundo, Black and Evans triple curb stomped Mack and left him laying. At this point Catrina and Muertes came out. Mundo, Evans and Black left. Muertes then attacked Vampiro and was beating him down until Puma came out. Vampiro told Puma to leave, but he didn’t. Muertes used his downward spiral on Vampiro when Puma ran in after him.

ROH: B.J. Whitmer signed a new deal here after some talks with WWE about being a trainer

Several of the people whose contract expired are working on a per date basis right now

The first show of the new year is 1/14 at Center Stage in Atlanta. It’s a TV taping. Some of the matches scheduled are Cody & Adam Cole vs. ? (scheduled as Kyle O’Reilly, but O’Reilly is off the show as his contract has expired and we’re told he had never confirmed the date and is done with the promotion. He had been in talks with WWE and that is his expected destination although at press time he had not signed a contract there) & Jay Lethal, Marty Scurll defends the TV title against the debuting Juice Robinson, Young Bucks defend the tag titles (sounds like it’ll be a comedy match) against a mystery team of their choosing, Lethal vs. Jay Briscoe in the Decade of Excellence tournament semifinals and the winner will face Christopher Daniels later in the taping in the finals. The tournament winner faces Cole for the title on the 3/10 PPV in Las Vegas. Also there is Silas Young vs. Bull James, Colt Cabana vs. Bobby Fish (whose new contract we noted last week is actually a short-term per event deal and not a long-term contract so his situation long-term is still up in the air), Mark & Jay Briscoe vs. Keith Lee & Shane Taylor, War Machine vs. B.J. Whitmer & Punisher Martinez and Kennadi Brink & Kelly Klein vs Sumie Sakai & Faye Jackson.

TNA: Jeff & Karen Jarrett and Dutch Mantell were back this past week at the tapings. They didn’t appear as characters. Jeff Jarrett was hired by Anthem as a consultant and Mantell is a creative consultant. Even though she has a public title, Dixie Carter is out and wasn’t there. This was the restart week with new owners. There was very little different. They had the same talent in the same positions as it’s seemed they’ve been in for months. The television wasn’t bad, nor was it good. It felt like the same spinning of the wheels going nowhere and throughout the show all l kept thinking was the saying about how the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. When I see modern pro wrestling and sports entertainment, there are things that are working and things that aren’t. What TNA has been doing for years hasn’t been working, yet the television show was exactly the same as far as the feel and look. It’s taped in the same place. It was all the same guys. The only difference was no Dixie Carter as an authority figure. They never used the name TNA except the closing graphic which listed Anthem Sports & Entertainment and TNA Wrestling Productions. The push was for the name Impact. When the show opened, Josh Matthews and The Pope put over Anthem and talked about this as a New Beginning, which is funny because that’s the name of next month’s New Japan PPV shows

. They did three title changes at the tapings this week. Drew Galloway beat Moose on 1/7 to win the Grand Championship. I believe this will air on the 1/19 episode. They are building toward a major episode on 1/26, called Genesis, like it’s a PPV show, with all four titles at stake. Bobby Lashley regained the TNA title in an 30:00 Iron Man match, beating Eddie Edwards three falls to two. Trevor Lee cashed in his briefcase (They did a feast or famine episode) to beat DJZ and win the X title in a ladder match

Even though people presume that Galloway must have signed a new deal to get the title, that isn’t the case. As of the end of tapings, they have belts on three people (Galloway and the Hardys) whose contracts expire before the next set of tapings

The next set of tapings are already booked for 3/2 to 3/9 at Universal. They are also planning a live event or two in Orlando over WrestleMania weekend

Gabi Castrovinci, who was Raquel, paired up with the Bro Mans as of the prior tapings, who came in after appearing on WWE Tough Enough, is no longer with the company

Those who were back were Davey Richards, Angelina Love (who is married to Richards), Brooke Tessmacher and Samuel Shaw. Love and Tessmacher both have babies during their time away

Notes from the 1/5 tapings in Orlando. The show opened with Eddie Edwards out. He talked about making 2017 the year of Impact Wrestling. Bobby Lashley came out and said he was tired of fluky wins and what happened in Cameron, NC. EC 3 came out as well. They tried to get fans to chant EC 3, and it was weak as it was light chant with hard prompting. EC 3 wanted a rematch tonight. So did Lashley. So Edwards asked for a Triple Threat match. That would appear to make no sense at all why a champion would ask for a three-way. Moose retained the Grand Championship over Mike Bennett. They did three three-minute rounds. All three rounds were split decision rounds. Moose got his hand raised via decision. It was so flat. When they announced this new deal, I thought that it probably wouldn’t work for a number of reasons (judges decisions in pro wrestling were tried many times and have never worked, and TNA even went through that phase once. Like that time, this was clumsy). The problems are they play the decisions of the judges after every round (they do open scoring) and the crowd doesn’t care. If you are doing rounds, three minutes are too short (even though in California in the 70s and the U.K. when they used the rounds system it was three minute based on boxing time frames but more of the modern fans are into five minute rounds). There is no time to build momentum. I remember in the 70s talking to wrestlers who went to the U.K. and they were always frustrated about rounds saying you work to build a crowd to get hot, and then the round ends, and you have to start rebuilding from scratch. The advantage of rounds is that they are natural times for commercial breaks. The first two rounds were flat but the third round was good, but it felt contrived. Plus, they don’t even announce who the judges are, and the “Judge No. 1 scores it 10-9 Moose” comes off so clumsy because they don’t give a name. When they were reading the scores after the third round, the crowd didn’t react at all. At this point, unless they make changes, it’s time to ditch this. Matt & Jeff Hardy were backstage with Swoggle, the former Hornswoggle, wearing his “King of Small Style” T-shirt. The Hardys thought he was a spy sent by Vince McMahon. Swoggle said that he really wasn’t Vince’s son. Rockstar Spud came out. He called out Swoggle. Swoggle used a spear, a German suplex and an Emerald flowsien for the pin in 1:05. Spud did a promo saying that this company sucks and that he quit. Nobody bought it or cared. Eli Drake came out for his talk segment. He called out the Hardys. Drake said he was never invited to the Apocalypto match. Matt said that everyone in space and time was invited but maybe you were afraid to show up like Meekman’s Days of New and then talked about how the Bucks of Youth also didn’t show up. Drake said he wanted a personal invitation. The interview got weird from there, with Matt claiming he was magic. Drake wanted a title match on the PPV the next night and Matt agreed. Drake tried to punch Matt, but Matt punched him first and ran his head into the table and punched the dummy button on Drake’s desk. Edwards did a promo. Lashley confronted him. Edwards promised there would be a surprise. Lashley told him the best course of action would be for Edwards to just hand him the title. Edwards refused. Shane Helms came out with Andrew Everett and Trevor Lee. To explain that these guys turned on each other three weeks ago, Helms did an interview saying that he doesn’t remember anything after he went into the reincarnation lake and that he and Lee & Everett are all about unity. So that angle where Helms turned into The Hurricane and helped Matt beat Lee & Everett is forgotten about with the idea that Helms doesn’t remember it. Abyss & Crazzy Steve beat Lee & Everett in 3:23. This rushed stuff just means nothing. Rosemary blew mist in Helms’ eyes. Abyss then choke slammed Everett off the top rope for the pin. The lights went out and the DCC was in the ring when they came on. They broke beer bottles over the head of Abyss & Steve. Eddie Kingston had a beer bottle and teased breaking it over Rosemary’s head but she backed off. Maria came out with Laurel Van Ness and Sienna. She called out Allie. The Allie gimmick is kind of over and she plays her role great. It’s somewhat like the beginning of the Bayley NXT character and the people are into it. Maria was browbeating her and wanted her to face Sienna. Allie agreed. Sienna beat Allie in 5:05. There was a front row sign that read “Allie Bomb,” since she used to work as Cherry Bomb. They had a match that had more crowd heat than anything on the show. Allie would work like she was inexperienced and naive. Van Ness was hitting on Braxton Sutter, who is in Allie’s corner. Van Ness was be all over him and Allie, who likes Sutter, would get mad and lose focus. When Allie was distracted, Sienna used a tackle on her for the pin. Edwards retained the title in the main event over Lashley and EC 3 in 19:45. The match was fine, but the crowd never really got into it. At one point Lashley German suplexed both at the same time, which didn’t get the reaction that spot usually gets. They traded hitting finishers on each other. There was a tower of doom spot. EC 3 had Edwards in a choke when Lashley speared both into the corner exposed steel turnbuckles. Lashley had previously taken the padding off two turnbuckles. Lashley threw Edwards out of the ring, which made no sense since he just hit his finisher. Lashley speared EC 3 on the floor. Edwards hit a tope on Lashley. Lashley speared Edwards, who ended up on the floor. Edwards then hit Lashley with a tope. Lashley speared Edwards, who rolled out of the ring again. Lashley grabbed the title belt and went to hit Edwards as he was getting back in the ring. Davey Richards came out as the surprise and grabbed the belt from Lashley. Edwards then used the running knee, the Busaiku knee that Daniel Bryan uses, called the Boston knee part and got the pin. After the live show ended, they taped stuff for the 1/12 show. Rex & Spud debuted their new act where Rex is doing a Liberace like gimmick and Spud is his valet type, similar to really the Gorgeous George at in the late 40s and early 50s. They did an angle with Rex vs. Robbie E. Sutter pinned Bennett. They did an angle to set up a Rosemary title defense against Jade in a Monster’s Ball match. The Hardys retained the tag titles over Edwards & Richards which was said to be really good. They also taped a match for Xplosion with Godderz over Bad Bones

Notes from the 1/6 tapings. Before the PPV, they taped these matches for Impact. Rex & Spud beat Swoggle & Robbie E. Abyss & Steve beat Bram & Kingston via DQ when Storm hit Abyss with a beer bottle. In a match taped for Xplosion, Jade pinned Van Ness. Next was the One Night Only PPV. To show how scary things are, this past week we asked for feedback on the site and Twitter for three shows, the CMLL show on 1/6, this live PPV on 1/6 and New Japan Tokyo Dome. The number of responses were 2, 2 and 534. That speaks volumes regarding the current interest level of TNA and CMLL. This show was said to be good. Lashley beat Richards with an armbar in a good match. DJZ retained the X title in a four-way over Lee, Everett and Braxton Sutter in an elimination match. DJZ pinned Everett first. Lee pinned Sutter after a knee and a roll-up. DJZ then beat Lee with a DDT to retain. Richards was down about losing to Lashley saying that Edwards was world champion and had beaten Lashley, and he couldn’t best Lashley, so that makes him the sidekick. Bram beat Robbie E after a low blow. Moose pinned Bennett in a no holds barred match. This was said to be really good. Moose missed a flip dive and broke a ladder set up between the apron and guard rail. Moose backdropped Bennett into another ladder. Moose backdropped Bennett through a table. Bennett gave Moose a diamond cutter through a table. Bennett went for a spear on Moose who moved, and Bennett speared Maria right and Moose did his finisher for the win. Mahabali Shera pinned Marshe Rockett. Gail Kim did an interview saying she wasn’t medically cleared to wrestle but would be returning. Rosemary beat Sienna to retain the Knockouts title after blowing the mist in Sienna’s eyes. James Storm beat Jessie Godderz. Bram and Kingston were interfering. Godderz knocked down Bram and Kingston but Storm superkicked him for the win. Decay came out and they beat down the DCC. The Hardys retained the tag titles over Drake & Tyrus. Matt said they were out to prove they were the greatest tag team in the history of time and space and were defending against the LOD, the Legion of Dummies. The finish saw Matt & Jeff each hit the twist of fate on Drake and Jeff pinned Drake after the swanton. Edwards beat EC 3 to retain the TNA title. It was pushed that EC 3 was getting two title shots in 24 hours. Lashley came out to interfere. Edwards hit a tope on Lashley but also took out the ref. EC 3 hit the one percenter but no ref. Lashley then gave EC 3 a chair, but EC 3 refused to use it and flipped Lashley off. Lashley then speared EC 3. Lashley went to hit EC 3 with a chair but Richards ran in and took the chair from Lashley. Richards went to hit Lashley with the chair, but Lashley moved, and Richards hit EC 3 with it. Edwards then used the Busaiku knee on EC 3 for the pin. .. Notes from the 1/7 afternoon tapings. This was a taping for the Jokers Wild PPV show. Not sure when it will air. The concept was a series of supposed blind draw tag team matches and all the winners then meet in a gauntlet (Royal Rumble) match and the winner gets $100,000. Well, it was awesome. On TV they will show a check for $100,000 from Impact with the new logo and it lists a being for the winner of the Jokers Wild “Tournamnet.” Yes, they spelled it that way on the check. Not off to a good start. Moose & Richards beat Lee & Matt Hardy when Matt walked out on Lee and caused him to be pinned. Rex & Spud beat Bad Bones (John Klinger) & Godderz. Eddie Kingston & Bram beat Robbie E & Shera. Bennett & Braxton Sutter beat Tyrus & Crazzy Steve. DJZ & Jeff Hardy beat Eli Drake & Paradyse. Jade & Sienna beat Van Ness & Allie. Everett & Rocket beat Caleb Konley & Edwards. So all the winners went into a Rumble and Moose won by throwing out Bram

Notes from the 1/7 evening show. This was a taping for the 1/12 Impact and some for 1/19. There was a briefcase match where everyone tried to grab a briefcase. This was evidently the annual Feast or Fired match. Drake, Lee, DCC and Jeff Hardy got the cases. From what happened at later TV’s, Lee got the X title, since he cashed it in on the 1/26 show. DCC got the tag title shot, and also cashed it in on the 1/26 show. Jeff Hardy did a promo with his briefcase talking about getting a TNA singles title shot. Which, by process of elimination would mean Drake got the fired briefcase, but since Drake was still on TV for shows weeks later, that would seem to mean that wasn’t part of it this year. In a match taped for Xplosion, Van Ness beat Alicia. Back to Impact, EC 3 did an interview and Lashley came out and wanted a last man standing match where the winner would get a the TNA title. Lashley beat EC 3. Brooke pinned Deonna Purrazzo. This match was filmed for a TLC channel reality show a well as Impact. Sienna attacked Brooke after the match. Galloway beat Moose to win the Grand championship. DJZ retained the X title in a vie-way over Lee, Everett, Rockett and Konley. Lee laid out DJZ with chair shots to the leg. Lashley came out and challenged Edwards to come out. Lashley wanted a 30:00 Iron man match with Edwards for the title. Edwards accepted. For Xplosion, Shera pinned Spud and Richards beat Kingston

Notes from the 1/8 afternoon show. This was a taping for the 2/10 One Night Only PPV. There wasn’t much to this, just a series of matches. DJZ pinned Lee with a DDT. No mention of the title since DJZ was champion when it was taped but Lee will be champion by the time it airs. Sutter pinned Spud with a running kick in the corner. Storm pinned Mahabali Shera with a superkick. Rex pinned Godderz. Spud was in Rex’s corner. He gives Rex a big introduction. Rex’s gimmick is that he’s all about non-violence and the claim is that he’s “rexcellent.” The deal is Rex is non-violent, but his winning move is using a loaded glove, which he loaded when Spud distracted the referee. Abyss & Steve beat Kingston & Bram. Rosemary sprayed Bram with mist when he tried to bring a chair into the ring. Abyss & Steve worked as the faces. Abyss then pinned Kingston with a black hole slam. Love pinned Madison Rayne. Love worked as a heel. They don’t use the old Beautiful People music. Matt Hardy pinned Galloway with a twist of fate after Galloway missed a charge and went shoulder first into the post. Moose pinned Bennett. Lashley pinned Jeff Hardy with a spear. The big spot was Hardy dong a swanton off the top rope and landing on Lashley on the ring steps

Notes from the 1/8 evening show. It started with Richards beating Everett with an ankle lock in a match taped for Xplosion. The two shook hands before the match. Jeremy Borash came out and announced the rest of this show would be the “Genesis” show and will air on 1/26. Galloway came out and got a big face reaction and chants. He then cut a babyface promo. He talked about his neck injury and being out of action, said he was a changed man and that everything he does would be for the good of Impact Wrestling. He challenged anyone to come out and face him for the Grand championship. Moose came out. But it was a swerve. Moose won the first round and was winning the second round when Galloway kicked him low, shoved down the ref, delivered another low blow to Moose and pinned him with the Future Shock DDT. The Hardys came out. Jeff had a briefcase for a TNA title match. Matt said he had a premonition that the Hardys must acquire gold everywhere, which I’m thinking is a tease for Jeff going after Lashley for the TNA title and maybe them challenging the Young Bucks for the ROH titles. Matt used the term “gold everywhere” which would seem to mean something outside the organization. DCC came out and wanted to challenge for the titles, cashing in their briefcase. Decay also came out and Steve said that they should do a three-way match. Matt agreed to it. The Hardys retained with Bram & Kingston working as the DCC team. The finish was Matt pinning Kingston after a twist of fate. Next was the first-ever Monster’s Ball match for the Knockouts title with Rosemary defending against Jade. They used tables, kendo sticks, garbage cans, chairs and barbed wire table and thumbtacks. Jade put Rosemary on a barbed wire table and used a springboard moonsault for a near fall. Rosemary ended up getting the pin after a superplex through a table. Gail Kim then returned after the match. She was checking on Jade. When Kim left, the idea was that she was endorsing Jade as the new top star of the division. Rosemary then blew mist in Kim’s eyes, so they are probably going to Rosemary vs. Kim as a program. Lee cashed in his briefcase for the ladder match for the X title with DJZ. The deal is that DJZ had a knee injury from the chair shots to the knee on the 1/19 TV show and went into them match “injured.” Helms gave Lee a chair and he hit DJZ in the knee when Lee was climbing. Lee pinned Z’s leg underneath a ladder and Lee climbed to the top to win it. Lashley beat Edwards to take the title in a 30:00 Iron Man match. Lashley won the first fall with a spear in 9:00. Lashley won the second fall with a power bomb on the ramp and Edwards was counted out of the ring. Lashley pulled the padding off two turnbuckles. Edwards won the third fall with a roll up. Edwards tied it up with the Boston knee party at the 25:00 mark. Lashley then used an armbar to get the fifth fall submission at 28:00 to go up 3-2. Lashley went for a spear but was caught in a guillotine by Edwards and Edwards had Lashley almost out just as the 30:00 expired

Notes from the 1/10 tapings. This was mostly for the Impact shows that will air on 2/2 and 2/9. Marshe Rockett beat Samuel Shaw in a match taped for Xplosion. It appears both the 2/2 and 2/9 shows will be the old Open Fight Night concept. The Hardys were out first. Matt said that they must win every tag team title ever, and mentioned challenged the Bucks of Youth, The Day of New and The Family of Wyatts (not keeping up that they lost the titles to the Alphas of America). Jeff said he wanted to go back to singles and challenged Lashley for the title. Lashley came out and told Jeff he would destroy him. Lashley pinned Jeff after a spear. Lashley survived two swantons, getting his foot on the ropes for the second one. Match said to be very good. Edwards came out and wanted his rematch. Lashley said that Edwards only will get one chance and Edwards has to agree that if he doesn’t win the title in his rematch, he won’t get any more chances. Galloway came out to defend the Grand championship. Galloway said he was going to make this the most important title in wrestling and as far as he’s concerned, the title never existed until he won it. Moose came out and said that Galloway had to resort to low blows to beat him. Galloway said that he already has an opponent, Rob Ryzin. Galloway won the match in 2:13 of the first round with the Future shock DDT. Drake came out with Tyrus. Tyrus did all the talking as Drake was trying to get heat by saying nothing. Tyrus called out EC 3. Drake attacked EC 3 to set up a match. EC 3 pinned Drake, and then Drake hit EC 3 with bat. The lights went out and Storm, Kingston and Bram were in the ring beating down EC 3, but then they also attacked and beat down Tyrus & Drake. Brandi Rhodes returned and called out Rosemary. Decay all attacked her and Moose made the save. Rex pinned Robbie E. Helms, Everett and Lee were out next. Lee called himself the Jewel of the Helms Dynasty. Helms then called Everett the weak link and that they had to trim some fat. Everett said that he and Lee have won gold everywhere they’ve been, and that Helms is the problem. Helms and Lee then attacked Everett. Brooke pinned Sienna. Maria was in Brooke’s corner. Moose & Brandi Rhodes beat Crazzy Steve & Rosemary when Moose pinned Steve after a discus clothesline. Storm & Bram beat Drake & Tyrus. Kingston was in Storm & Bram’s corner. Tyrus wanted revenge but Drake didn’t seem like he wanted to fight, and then walked out on Tyrus, which left Tyrus to be double-teamed and pinned.

UFC: The UFC 207 buy rate looks even stronger as apparently DirecTV did 500,000 buys alone in the U.S. DirecTV has about 25 million subscribers among the total PPV universe of 98 million. Now in theory that gets you to 2 million buys and it did nothing close to that, as dish owners buy PPV at a far higher rate than non-dish owners. There is at this point no question within the PPV world that had Rousey promoted the fight and it had been on a Saturday that it would have broken all UFC records. Even with the weaker undercard, far less pub and promotion behind it, and the bad night, the number is looking to be almost identical right now to UFC 205, at 1.1 million (although there are sources who believe it could be as high as 1.3 million and DirecTV numbers, which are real buy numbers, would indicate closer to the higher number). The show did really strong numbers in Australia, so even though she lost in Melbourne to Holly Holm, that fight made her a huge star there. All the major Canadian markets were strong as well as the key cities on the West Coast.

Rousey made all her training partners sign non-disclosure forms where they weren’t allowed to talk about anything in camp. About the only stuff that has come out is that she trained ridiculously hard, but we’d heard that before the fight and you could look at her physically and that was obvious. Whether it was just she got caught or the style match-up was a tough one or she was shellshocked and couldn’t react to getting hit, it’s hard to say. There’s no much you can take out of such a short fight and that stuff does happen, as GSP had the same fight with Matt Serra and it hardly spelled the end for him. But GSP rebounded from that loss and was better than ever, and Rousey’s entire demeanor changed after her first loss and then came back and got it even worse the second time. There are still no hints as to if she’ll fight again, but within the company, before the fight, the feeling was that if she lost, it would be her last fight. The only statement she said is that, “Returning to not just fighting, but winning, was my entire focus this past year. However, sometimes, even when you prepare and give everything you have and want something so badly, it doesn’t work out how you planned.

There was a lot of talk regarding a proposed Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor fight this week when Mayweather went on ESPN on 1/11 saying he’d do the fight. Of course he would. It was brought up that McGregor wanted $100 million for the fight, and Mayweather said his company would do the fight and offer McGregor a $15 million guarantee and a percentage of the PPV revenue. Mayweather hasn’t fought in 15 months, turns 40 next month, and said he was not interested in fighting anymore unless he could do a fight where he’d make $100 million or more, and that’s the only possibility. Mayweather said they’d split on the PPV money but he’d get the lion’s share because he’s the A side. He said he has no interest in fighting Manny Pacquiao again and the only fight he’d take is McGregor

Mike Goldberg released a statement regarding his departure saying, “I wish I could respond to every single fan, fighter and member of the media who reached out and showed their support, gratitude and appreciation. It has been overwhelming and so gratifying. Thank you. Every single UFC, from Ultimate Japan (his first show in 1997) to UFC 207, my primary focus has been on just two things. First, to bring the passion, energy and raw emotion to our fans around the world, dedicated, diehard fans like none other. Second, to properly represent each and every fighter, from UFC newcomer to veterans with 20 plus Octagon battles. Our fighters work so hard and sacrifice so much. It was my responsibility to properly prepare and tell their stories.” .. . The Nevada Athletic Commission will be debating the issue of completely removing marijuana from the list of banned substances. This wouldn’t change anything at all since USADA still has it banned and USADA does the bulk of the testing, although marijuana is only tested for on the day of the fights. The big difference is that USADA doesn’t fine fighters and won’t do lengthy suspensions, and there won’t be an issue if the commission removes the ban of Nick Diaz fighting in Nevada and failing another test where, just because of the numbers of failures, they would have had to have hit him hard

Tyron Woodley said on his own podcast, The Morning Wood Show, that he will defend his welterweight title in a rematch with Stephen Thompson on 3/4 in Las Vegas. The two battled to a draw on 11/12 in Madison Square Garden in what was one of last year’s best fights. The issues with Tony Ferguson appear to have been ironed out as while the contracts haven’t been signed, Ferguson vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov is now earmarked for that show, with the winner in line for a shot at Conor McGregor’s lightweight title. Mark Hunt vs. Alistair Overeem, Ed Herman vs. Igor Pokrajac and Paul Craig vs. Tyson Pedro have also been added to the show

The death of Adam Geller from colon cancer at 39 got a lot of talk this past week. Both the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets broadcast teams acknowledged it on the air this past week. I expect the UFC will make mention of him on this weekend’s show. He was really close to a lot of people in wrestling and some of the WWE crew watched the funeral on 1/9 while at Raw in New Orleans, since it was streamed on-line. Charles Robinson even tweeted about the funeral. I first met Geller when he was a teenager at Smoky Mountain Wrestling fan week and he’d already been a subscriber for years. From what I understand, almost nobody knew he had cancer at all, although one of his good friends, who had no idea, did say that he had lost a lot of weight in the last year. He had told people that was due to going on a healthy diet. Up until a few weeks ago, he was still working a full schedule. He never let anyone know anything was wrong. He did cancel working UFC 207 and was asked about working the Combate Americas show in Mexico City this month and turned down the booking saying he was going on a family vacation that weekend, which was obviously an excuse because there were tweets he made from home with his daughter during the UFC 207 show where you could read between the lines and see the hints that he knew he was not feeling well. Up until recent weeks, he basically denied the effects and was energetic at work. When he got married, he sent me this amazing wedding video with Lennie Hardt (the Pride ring announcer, now the Rizin announcer) doing the introductions. The big question was if it was Hardt or Howard Finkel. It was Howard Finkel who did the voice-overs as the ring announcer for birth of his only daughter, Sydney, in 2015. Ian Eagle, an NFL and NBA announcer did the eulogy at the funeral. A lot of people, knowing it would have been what he wanted, attended wearing pro wrestling T-shirts. When the hearse rolled up, they played the Undertaker’s theme

The company had scheduled a 3/3 Fight Pass show, the night before the 3/4 PPV show in Las Vegas, but this past week announced that it was postponed. It’s another situation where the company has been having a difficult time putting together enough main event quality fights for the shows it has booked

Cain Velasquez had successful back surgery on 1/4. The operation was minor, a second procedure that he had done last year (and the same surgery C.M. Punk also had done last year). He should be back training in early February and probably ready to fight in April, provided he stays healthy enough

The first show of the year is 1/15 in Phoenix starting at 6:15 p.m. Eastern time with Fight Pass bouts of Cyril Akster (7-2) vs. Dmitri Smuliakov (8-1), Joachim Christensen (13-4) vs. Bojan Mihajlovic (10-4), Walt Harris (8-5) vs. Chase Sherman (9-2), and Nina Ansaroff (6-5) vs. Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger (6-3). At 8 p.m. they move to FS 1 with Drakkar Klose (6-0-1) vs. Devin Powell (8-1), Tony Martin (10-3) vs. Alex White (11-2), Viktor Pesta (10-3) vs. Aleksei Oleinik (50-10-1), Frankie Suarez (11-4) vs. Augusto Mendes (5-1), Sergio Pettis (14-2) vs. John Moraga (16-5), Ben Saunders (20-7-2) vs. Court McGee (18-5), Marcin Held (22-4) vs. Joe Lauzon (26-12) and headlined by B.J. Penn (16-10-2) vs. Yair Rodriguez (9-1). Daniel Cormier & Jon Anik will be doing the play-by-play for the show

Fight Pass is doing a free weekend for non-subscribers with all the regular content plus the Phoenix prelims, an Invicta show the night before, as well as a TKO promotion show

Conor McGregor was listed as the fifth most valuable athlete in social media for 2016. Russell Wilson, Odell Beckham Jr., J.J. Watt and Rory McIlroy were ahead of him. McGregor beat out LeBron James, Cam Newton, Stephan Curry, Tiger Woods and Tom Brady. Ronda Rousey was No. 18, which is actually more impressive since she disappeared most of the year, and No. 3 among women behind Alex Morgan and Serena Williams. What that really means, I don’t know, because as big as McGregor is, he’s not bigger than James, Brady or Curry

Cody Garbrandt was on the MMA Hour and said that he’s not looking at defending his bantamweight title against T.J Dillashaw, who is probably the rightful contender right now. Garbrandt said that Dillashaw doesn’t sell PPVs so why waste time, and said he would rather move up a division to challenge Jose Aldo for the featherweight title. Dillashaw wasn’t happy about this and made comments about him having knocked Garbrandt out when they had sparred together and teased him about releasing the footage

Rafael dos Anjos said that he was moving up to welterweight, due to having more trouble than it’s worth cutting to 155. Donald Cerrone has done great with the moving up in weight, but dos Anjos to me feels too small against the elite at 17

Frankie Edgar is recovering from groin surgery

Jimi Manuwa vs. Corey Anderson was announced for the 3/18 show in London

There is an Invicta show on Fight Pass on 1/14 from Kansas City headlined by Charmaine Tweet (9-5) vs. Megan Anderson (7-2) for the interim featherweight title. Not sure why it’s interim featherweight. The featherweight champion is Cris Cyborg, who isn’t going to fight in Invicta since she’s been moved to UFC. Plus, even if there was a chance she’d come back, with her drug test failure, she should be stripped of the title anyway

Carla Esparza vs. Randa Markos has been added to the 2/19 show in Halifax

Ricardo Lucas Ramos (debuting) vs. Michinori Tanaka has been added to the 2/4 show in Houston

The scheduled Hector Lombard vs. Brad Tavares match on the 1/28 show in Denver is off. Added to that show is Alex Caceres vs. Jason Knight, Alessio DeChirico vs. Eric Spicely. Luis Henrique da Silva vs. debuting Jordan Johnson (6-0) and Alex Caceres vs. Jason Knight

It was reported that Tom Duquesnoy (14-1), who is the BAMMA two-division (featherweight and bantamweight) champion, has signed with the company and is expected to debut on 4/15, although the info we have is that story may be premature. They are in talks, but there is no confirmation the deal has been signed.

BELLATOR: For the 2/18 show in San Jose, which will be the company’s second major event of the year, headlined by Fedor Emelianenko vs. Matt Mitrione, they’ve announced two other television matches with Cheick Kongo vs. Oli Thompson (the former IGF champion in Japan as well as British strongest man competitor) in a heavyweight bout and local star Adam Piccolotti vs. Brent Primus in a battle of unbeaten lightweights

They are crowning a women’s featherweight champion on 3/4 with a bout between Marloes Coenen (23-7) vs. Julia Budd (9-2). The two will battle in the main event of a show from Thackerville, OK. The plan was to create the championship with those two fights back in May, but Budd was injured. Replacement Alexis Dufrense then beat Coenen via submission. Coenen hasn’t fought since. But even though she lost that fight, she’s still being put in the championship match

Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos, the ex-husband of Cris Cyborg, announced his retirement on 1/9. Santos, 39, had a 21-18 record and had his skull fractured by a knee from Michael Venom Page in one of the sickest knockouts of the past year

Scott Coker made it clear in an interview that if the UFC releases C.M. Punk, that they’d be interested in talking with him. Bellator was interested in Punk even before Punk signed with UFC, but Punk was already friends with Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta from attending a number of live events so it was the natural move he’d end up there first

They also announced a 2/24 show in Belfast, Northern Ireland, at the SSE Arena, which will be headlined by Liam McGeary vs. Chris Fields. Fields is making his debut. He’s 33 and has an 11-7-1 record, so sounds like it’s a rebuilding fight for McGeary, who lost his light heavyweight title to Phil Davis on 11/4 in Uncasville, CT. James Gallagher, a 20-year-old who they are pushing as an Irish star, will be on the show

The Kansas Athletic Commission has reinstated Melvin Guillard early and he will face Chidi Njokuani on the 1/27 show in Mulvane, KS. Guillard failed a drug test taken on 7/22, on a show also in Mulvane, KS. He had beaten David Rickels, and due to the test failure, the result was overturned to a no contest. While the drug was not revealed, MMA Fighting reported it as being cocaine. He was suspended at the time for one year and fined $10,000. However, the commission and Guillard agreed that if he completed a rehab program, the suspension would be cut to six months. After completing the program, the commission unanimously voted to cut the suspension, which made him eligible to fight five days prior to the 1/27 show, saying they agreed to half the suspension because the drug he tested positive for was not a performance enhancer. The fight will be the main event of the show.

OTHER MMA: Mirko Cro Cop was on the MMA Hour discussing his retirement. He said that winning the Rizin tournament was a fitting way to end his career. “I think it’s priceless to leave the sport as a winner, with a belt. I think it’s priceless.” He said that he may do one retirement fight in Japan, contingent on how well his knee responds to surgery. He’s getting his knee done next week and said that if he’s able to do a full training camp, he may do one last a fight. “It would be nice, but to tell you the truth, I don’t know how the surgery will do.

Campbell McLaren’s Combate Americas group debuts in Mexico City on 1/19. They are on TV Azteca there with a weekly network highlights show and monthly events, which air on Friday nights. This show will air on television in Mexico on a one-day delay. The shows also air in the U.S. on Azteca America

Former UFC champion Frank Shamrock will be co-hosting a new online TV talk show called “The Bake Out,” which is a pro-marijuana legalization show where Shamrock and nutritionist Robert Ferguson will interview celebrities, doctors, marijuana activists and athletes. The show will air weekly starting 1/25 at 10 p.m. Eastern at www.BakeOut.tv.7 p.m.

WWE: There is no secondary market buzz on the San Antonio shows as compared to Toronto. You can get secondary market tickets for NXT Takeover for $25 and Rumble tickets for $40. Granted, I didn’t expect any kind of a secondary market inflation for Rumble when playing such a big building because the secondary market goes nuts when the primary market has little inventory. Rumble wasn’t going to be an advanced sellout at the Alamodome. But the key is that Rumble tickets must be selling well and it’s just a question of how many seats they are going to open up. It also means NXT has no great demand. Right now NXT has the floor section sold out but there are good seats in the 100s with great views still available. For the Rumble, 11th row ringside was still available and there were good seats in every price range I checked still available. .. Officially announced for the 1/28 Takeover show in San Antonio is Nakamura vs. Roode for the NXT title, Tommaso Ciampa & Johnny Gargano vs. Authors of Pain for the tag titles, a four-way with Asuka vs. Nikki Cross vs. Billie Kay vs. Peyton Royce for the women’s title (this may be the way to get the title off Asuka since the Kay & Royce duo is clearly being groomed to be the top two on the heel women’s side) and Tye Dillinger and Sanity in some sort of a match, likely Dillinger vs. Big Damo or Young or multiple person match. There are other programs such as The Revival vs. TM 61, Elias Samson vs. No Way Jose and Andrade Cien Almas vs. Roderick Strong that were also being teased at the tapings

Judging from the TV tapings, where Samoa Joe wasn’t used except in a dark match, and the fact he lost twice in a row to Nakamura in televised matches, it would seem to make sense to debut him at the Rumble as a surprise entrant, or if not very shortly thereafter. I haven’t actually heard that is happening, but you want those types of surprise debuts and Joe has pretty much served his purpose in NXT with Roode now being the main event heel. The WrestleMania show isn’t finalized, but there is an idea on the table where Joe will debut with a major push and be in one of the top few matches on the show, which also makes it likely he’s starting very soon and would have to have a big Rumble if he’s in it. .. A second name out for the WWE Hall of Fame is the late Rick Rude, who was really a hell of a personality and one of the most natural heels of his era. The pre-sale for tickets is 1/18 and they will probably announce the first name, which is usually the headliner, on the 1/16 Raw

The ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “This Was the XFL” which will feature a lot of Vince McMahon, who headed the league with Dick Ebersol, debuts on 2/2 at 9 p.m. The piece will be a largely positive look at the one season football league, given that Charlie Ebersol, Dick’s son, is putting it together. Jesse Ventura (who did announcing for the league) and Bob Costas will also be on the show. WWE is looking at a line of XFL merchandise coming off the airing

Chris Hero returned at the 1/5 NXT tapings in Winter Park, FL, using his old NXT name of Kassius Ohno. He came out at the end of the tapings. This may have been just for the live crowd as it appeared to be a dark match main event with Nakamura & Tajiri beating Samoa Joe & Bobby Roode. After Nakamura & Tajiri won, Hero came out in a suit and tie and the screen listed his name as Ohno (he was also announced with that name on the house shows later that weekend) and he confronted Nakamura. He worked under the Ohno name the next night in Largo beating Andrade Cien Almas

His former tag team partner, Tommy End, started with a new name on 1/7 in Largo, FL, as Aleister Black, named after the poet and novelist Aleister Crowley. Big Damo is having his name changed to Killian Dain

Universal Pictures has acquired the rights to a comedy, “The Pact,” which stars Leslie Mann and co-stars Cena. The movie will open at theaters on April 20, 2018. The film follows three parents, one of which is played by Cena, who find out that their three high school aged daughters have made a pact to lose their virginity on prom night, and attempt to stop them before it’s too late

Mark Andrews, whose TNA contract expired at the end of the year, signed a WWE deal and has been added to the U.K. championship tournament that takes place on 1/14 and 1/15 in Blackpool, England. Andrews, who is from Wales, is one of the most talented wrestlers in the U.K. and most underrated wrestlers in the world. TNA never gave him the platform of having long enough matches or important enough matches to where people could see just how good he is

The first round of the tournament has Tyler Bate vs. Tucker, Danny Burch (Martin Stone, who is actually based in Florida and is a former WWE developmental wrestler who was cut) vs. Jordan Devlin, HC Dyer vs. Trent Seven, Wolfgang vs. Tyson Bone, Mark Andrews vs. Dan Moloney, James Drake vs. Joseph Conners, Pete Dunne vs. Roy Johnson and Sam Gradwell vs. Saxon Huxley. The bracketing seems to look like a final four of Dunne, Conners or Andrews, Seven and Bate, and they are the favorites going in. The tournament will air live on the WWE Network at 8 p.m. GMT which is 3 p.m. Eastern time and Noon Pacific on both Saturday and Sunday of this coming weekend

There are long-term plans to follow this concept and do similar tournaments to create as Asian champion and a Latin American champion

While this can all change, the Terry Taylor class at the Performance Center, which is the one to groom people who will be are being considered right now for somewhat imminent main roster spots are Nakamura, Almas, Alexander Wolfe, TM 61, Itami, Ciampa, Gargano, Hero, Samson and Dillinger. The next group down, meaning right now not imminent but they are the ones who would move up when those in the top group go to the main roster would be Tino Sabbatelli, Riddick Moss, Damo, Authors of Pain, Tommy End, Roderick Strong, Dan Matha (who is 6-7 and a bodybuilder but has hardly worked in developmental), Oney Lorcan, Wesley Blake, Buddy Murphy, Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder. Bobby Roode doesn’t train at the Performance Center as his deal is different, nor does Eric Young, Samoa Joe and I believe Austin Aries so they wouldn’t be in get-ready classes

The WWE canceled its 3/18 date at Madison Square Garden as a favor to building officials who were able to get the Gennady Golovkin vs. Daniel Jacobs fight that night. Joe Fisher, the MSG Executive Vice President of Marquee Events, noted at the press conference for the fight that the WWE had to agree to move their date. “A lot of you don’t know this, but I really need to thank the WWE. Everybody says, `Why the WWE?’ Well, we had an event booked on March 18, with the WWE, and they are just tremendous partners. They realized the magnitude of this event and the fact that we needed to have it here. It had to be at Madison Square Garden. So, with their cooperation and partnership, they were willing to move off the date, and make this date possible. So I really, really want to thank all the great people at WWE.

Victor Travagliante, who had been the lead announcer for Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore promotion, has signed to start here, likely with NXT. PW Insider reported that Travagliante will use the name Vic Joseph. They had been talking with him for months, as the first we’d heard about WWE having interest in him was at the same time they were contacting guys like Curt Hawkins, Jinder Mahal and Shelton Benjamin at the time of the brand split

Shane Thorne of TM 61 will be undergoing knee surgery I believe on 1/12, which will put him out of action for several months. The injury took place at the 1/5 tapings. The plan was for a significant TM 61 vs. Revival program, so the Revival are going to need a new team to work with

Those who started this week full-time in Orlando at the performance center are three wrestlers from China, Mustafa Ali, Daivari, Gulak, Nese, Tajiri, Mary Kate Glidewell (Andrea in Florida indies), Dori Prange (Heidi Lovelace), Kimberly Frankele (Kimber Lee), Julia Ho (Julie Real, a model, singer actress with a martial arts background), Hero and coach John Miller (Johnny Saint)

They are looking for new gimmicks for TM 61 (although with Thorne injured there is no rush for this), Blake, Murphy, Steve Cutler, Aliyah, Moss, Sabbatelli and Matha, which is a good sign in the sense they see something in them, just not as they are right now

On Talking Smack, Rawley noted that with Ryder out for a long time, he’s changing his character. He’s dropping the Zubaz and the bad dancing (Thank God) and is going for a remake as a more serious singles wrestler

Enzo was on the house show run but just in the corner of Cass and was limping pretty badly. He suffered a left knee injury at the Los Angeles house show on 12/30. They had just done a worked injury angle where he couldn’t walk with him so that was some weird fate as he got an injury where he couldn’t walk just as he was recovering from his fake injury where he couldn’t walk. They will be examining him again on or around 1/23 and then determining when he can return

The new WWE Jetsons movie called “The Jetsons & WWE: Robo-WrestleMania!” will be released on DVD on 3/14 and in Digital HD on 2/28

Catherine Perry, as Lana, is on the cover of the new issue of Inside Weddings magazine covering her wedding to Rusev

The company is scheduled to release a DVD called “WrestleMania Monday is Raw,” built around highlights of the Raw after WrestleMania

Ryback on his podcast blasted Cena. “He’s been a piece of shit to me since day one. When people hear what really happened with (Alex Riley), they’re gonna lose their shit.” Ryback said that Cena buried Riley in front of everyone for no reason while Riley was in a match even though Riley was working his ass off and getting a reaction. “I swear to God, his (Riley) career is over for no f***ing reason because of John and his personal issues.” Ryback claimed that Cena was a poison to the wrestling business and hurt a lot of the new talent. He said he was speaking up for the guys on the roster because they can’t speak up about that subject. .. Rollins is apparently getting new entrance music produced by the band Downstait, which did the Ziggler and Miz themes

This week’s TV has Raw on 1/16 in Little Rock with Lesnar’s first appearance since his loss to Goldberg (to build up Lesnar and Goldberg both being on the 1/23 Raw) and Smackdown on 1/17 in Memphis with Bliss vs. Lynch in a cage match for the women’s title

A longtime regular stop for the promotion, the Nassau Coliseum, will reopen on 4/5 after renovation is completed. The WWE ran the building regularly from 1972 to 2015

After MKM Partners gave the stock a buy rating this past week, the stock rose to $18.98 per share at press time. This gives the company a $1.45 billion market value

Without a lot of new programming, these were the top ten most-watched shows on the WWE Network this past week: 1. NXT on 1/4; 2. Bring it to the Table (the talk show that got a lot of negative reviews from Jan. 2), 3. 205 Live from 1/3; 4. Talking Smack from 1/3; 5. Roadblock End of the Line; 6. NXT from 12/27; 7. 2016 Royal Rumble; 8. Survivor Series 2016; 9. WrestleMania 2016; 10. Story Time Episode 5. In the top 20 were Royal Rumbles from 2002, 2008, 2013, 2014 and 2015

After seven weeks in release, “Moana,” the anime movie featuring Dwayne Johnson in a lead role, has grossed $225,365,667 in the U.S. and topped $450 million worldwide

Notes from the 1/9 Raw TV tapings. The show drew 8,400 fans. There wasn’t much to the show past Undertaker announcing he’s in the Rumble match and very much of a tease of a program with Strowman, and Jericho winning the U.S. title in a handicap match where he and Owens beat Reigns. It made sense to get the belt off Reigns since he’s likely winning the Universal title from Owens. Jericho has now held every title in WWE but the women’s title and the cruiserweight title, and even held the WCW cruiserweight title. In WCW and through all the years in WWE, he never won the U.S. title before. I just get the feeling based on last week that the Reigns vs. Goldberg tease that it may end up with them facing off at Fast Lane with Lesnar’s involvement in some form. Kendrick beat Mustafa Ali for Main Event. The other match for Main Event saw Primo & Epico beat Darren Young & Sin Cara. Remember when Sin Cara was going to be a single and then in the cruiserweight division for like an hour. The show opened with Stephanie and Foley backstage. She said she was going to give him his Performance Review for his job as General Manager. Foley got yet another haircut. So I think the idea was that first haircut cut ten years off his appearance, so maybe he thought another one would cut another ten years, but it doesn’t work that way. Rollins showed up and said he was entering the Rumble. Strowman then showed up and wanted Reigns or Goldberg tonight. Stephanie said that Goldberg isn’t even in the state and Reigns already has a match booked. Rollins attacked Strowman and they had a pull-apart, knocking over plants and trees ans such backstage. Stephanie threatened to fire them if they wouldn’t stop. Foley then said he had a feeling in his bones that Undertaker would be there. Perhaps he read all the local advertising for the show. Reigns vs. Owens & Jericho for the U.S. title was to start the show, but this never got started. Strowman came out. Reigns jumped out of the ring to attack him. Strowman, Jericho and Owens were beating on Reigns when Rollins made the save with a chair. He hit the Van Daminator on Strowman and also hit Owens and Jericho in the gut and back with chair shots. Stephanie was out and said she was giving Reigns time to recuperate but that the match would take place later in the show. She then announced Rollins vs. Strowman right there. They went to a double count out in 11:31. Rollins hit a tope and a twisting frog splash that Strowman did the power kick out of. Rollins came off the top rope with a plancha, but Strowman moved and he crashed throat first on the barricade. They were both counted out at that point. Bayley and Banks were backstage as best friends. Charlotte showed up and told Bayley how fake Banks was pretending to care about her. I almost sensed Banks costing Bayley at the Rumble if they are still going with the Banks turn (lots of plans were changed). Jax showed up and kicked Banks in her bad knee and Charlotte hit Bayley from behind. Jax kicked Banks in the knee again. Charlotte then wanted to congratulate and work with Jax, but Jax grabbed Charlotte and shoved her into the suitcases backstage, so they are teasing Charlotte vs. Jax. Gallagher pinned Gulak in 3:13 with a running dropkick into the corner. Gallagher’s style is always fun to watch but this felt way short. Gallagher then said he wanted to propose an olive branch to Daivari. He invited him to 205 Live and sit down and negotiate terms of an agreement to end their hostilities. Gallagher said that if Daivari doesn’t agree, he may be forced to resort to fisticuffs. Stephanie told Foley that his performance review relies on his ability to produce Undertaker in the ring within the next hour. Foley was acting like he could feel it in his bones that Undertaker was coming. Michaels came out. He said that it’s January so things start to pick up and noted the Rumble was in his home town of San Antonio. Fans started chanting “One more match.” Like he always does, he made it clear that’s not happening as he said this is a lesson to all the kids about how you can stand up to peer group pressure. He started plugging “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone,” out at theaters on 1/20 (saying it over-and-over to the point of it being comedy) when Rusev, Lana and Mahal came out. Rusev said that Michaels should put his wife in the movie. Michaels noted that the movie has already been filmed and he wasn’t high enough up to make that decision anyway. Rusev didn’t accept that answer. Rusev was great here, saying that he was the Bulgarian George Clooney. He also said his wife was more beautiful than Emma Stone. Rusev said that without Lana, the movie will fail and everyone will forget about Michaels’ acting, just like they forgot about his career. Enzo & Cass came out. They started making movie jokes about the movie “The Pianist,” but said with the idea you thought they were saving “The Penis,” and Michaels was acting like you can’t say that on Raw. As great as Michaels and Rusev were here, the talking started getting too long at this point. Rusev challenged Cass. Cass accepted and Rusev said that Cass can face Mahal, who gave the reaction like he didn’t know that was coming. Enzo was limping around the ring. It felt kind of silly to have him limp around when he should have just stayed in the motorized scooter because with no crutches and him unable to put weight on his bad knee, jumping around the ring didn’t seem like a good idea. Michaels said he’d stay out there for the match. Cass pinned Mahal in 3:08. The whole deal was to build to the spot where Michaels superkicked Rusev. Cass won after a botched East River crossing and then hit the Empire elbow for the pin. Emmalina is still coming. It’s become a running joke on the audience now. Neville beat Lince Dorado in 2:57 with the Rings of Saturn. Dorado did a running flip dive. Neville put him back in it after the match until Swann made the save. It looked like Neville was bleeding from his right ear after Swann threw all kinds of wild punches. Banks and Bayley came up to Stephanie. They wanted a match next week against Charlotte & Jax. Stephanie just destroyed them. She buried Banks to make her come across as this enhancement talent. It was brutal. She wasn’t as bad to Bayley, and finally told them they could have the match, but it would be this week. The idea was that Banks was injured so Stephanie was putting them in a bad situation, which is the same thing she was doing forcing Reigns into the handicap match for the title while injured. Sheamus pinned Gallows in 10:18 with a Brogue kick. Cesaro and Anderson were both at ringside. Anderson was really entertaining talking over and over about how they ruled Japan and how he beat Cesaro clean last week. Cesaro and Anderson went at it at the broadcast position. Anderson jumped him and Sheamus was distracted, so Gallows hit the flapjack on Sheamus, who kicked out. Cesaro made a comeback on Anderson and Gallows was distracted which allowed Sheamus to win using the Brogue kick. Just the 50/50 booking. Probably stronger for the story for the challengers to get the wins in singles before the tag title match. Reigns did an interview with Charlie Caruso. Reigns said that regardless of how he feels, he has an obligation to defend the title night in and night out, and it doesn’t matter how many people it’s against because it’s one against all anyway. He said every week he’s against Owens and Jericho he spears their butts and leaves them int the ring holding their ribs and tonight won’t be any different. Foley came out and said that he and Undertaker have traveled to the depths of hell together. He said he carries scars both physical and emotional from his matches with Undertaker that will last him through the rest of his life and to the grave but he carries them with great pride. He called out Undertaker. He was almost in tears. No Undertaker. Stephanie came out and she was mad. She apologized to the audience for Foley being unable to deliver Undertaker. She said she was going to give Foley his performance review right there. She was ripping him incessantly until Undertaker’s music came out. He did the big smoke-filled entrance. They really did a good job the entire show of building his return. The crowd was chanting his name. Undertaker said he was in the Rumble. They showed Strowman watching. My gut watching it was that Strowman would be his Mania opponent, but that is not the case. So I guess the idea is to tease Strowman having a spot with Undertaker in the Rumble. Undertake noted that he’s returning to the city (New Orleans) where the streak came to its demise. By the way, the plan is for Undertaker to not retire this year and work New Orleans next year. Even though he’s had all the injuries, he makes so much for working only a few shows that he keeps going. Jericho & Owens did an interview. Jericho called Charlie Caruso “Chas” as part of his giving her a name Charles related nickname each week. Charlotte & Jax beat Bayley & Banks in 8:49 when Jax pinned Bayley after a leg drop. Jax knocked Banks off the apron and Bayley was on her own the last few minutes. This was another of those deals that teaches people results don’t matter because if Bayley is challenging Charlotte, she shouldn’t be losing on television in the weeks before the match because the idea is that she should go in with momentum. Dar was backstage fixing his hair. Fox showed up. He figured she wanted to slap him again. Instead, she gave him a huge kiss. Then she told him that Cedric was right, that Dar couldn’t handle a real woman. He had a big smile on his face. So let me get this, Cedric told his girlfriend to give some guy who has publicly said he’s got the hots for her and has been trying to undercut him, to give him a big kiss. Hopefully they don’t give him a segment where he gives romantic advice. The New Day came out. O’Neil again wanted to join The New Day. So they showed a clip of him from the old NXT television show where he was running around the ring with a beer keg, and tripped and fell on his face. That was a shoot when it happened. Boy was that old NXT television show stupid. Every week they’d have their favorites beat the fans favorites and then the fans still wouldn’t care and vote for their favorites and they’d have to figure out a new way to bury the favorites. If you think back and watch it, it’s amazing. Thankfully Bryan got over and the mentality changed a little. So they showed the clip over-and-over. The New Day was in the ring laughing as they kept showing this. But the crowd wasn’t laughing at all. It almost came off like bullying because had they showed it once it was funny, twice was okay, but by the sixth time it was ridiculous. This led to a segment where he went to carry a keg and run around the ring. This keg was obviously not that heavy and the gimmick was he ran around the ring and has 12.6 seconds to beat, which he beat, but he dropped the keg before the finish line so was disqualified. He got mad at Kingston for laughing at him which led to a match. Kingston pinned him in 3:32 with Trouble in Paradise. The match felt much longer. Jericho & Owens beat Reigns in 8:14 to Jericho won the U.S. title. Reigns tried to put Jericho in the shark cage. He had him in the cage and was about to lock him in when Owens saved Jericho. Even with all the tricks of facing two guys and being injured, the crowd was booing Reigns something fierce. Jericho was bleeding from taking an elbow to the face by accident. Reigns finally speared Jericho, but Owens pulled Reigns off him and out of the ring. Owens superkicked him. Jericho went for his springboard dropkick, but Reigns hit the Superman punch. Owens then held Reigns leg, which allowed Jericho to hit the codebreaker. Owens then power bombed Reigns into the ring frame and Jericho gave him another codebreaker and pinned him. There was no controversy with Owens and Jericho over who would get the pin nor any teases of problems, so I guess the idea is they don’t want you thinking in that direction this week. After the show went off the air, Jericho & Owens continued talking about winning the title. Undertaker came out. Owens started making fun of how old Undertaker was and then Undertaker came in the ring and choke slammed both to end the show

Notes from the 1/10 tapings in Baton Rouge. Weak crowd of 3,500. The dark match opener saw Rhyno & Slater beat The Usos when Rhyno pinned one of them with the gore. Smackdown opened with the Ambrose Asylum. Ambrose noted he’s entering the Rumble, which means no IC title match on the show. He started making jokes about wanting a live Alligator on the show but he couldn’t get the permits. This felt like some bad scripted lines for him. There was an alligator head on a chair which he named Maryse. Miz came out and noted he was also in the Rumble. Miz claimed that Ambrose cheated and that the match should have been stopped before the finish and he was going to sue to get the title back. He demanded Ambrose hand over the title. That didn’t happen. Instead, Ambrose gave Miz a Participation Award. Miz threw the award in Ambrose’s face and attacked him. Maryse went to slap Ambrose, who moved, and she slapped Miz. Ambrose gave Miz Dirty deeds and then handed Maryse the participation award. Backstage, Natalya attacked Nikki from behind and threw her into an arena garage door. They had a second brawl in the ring. Natalya tried to run away into the stands but Nikki got to her and threw her on the floor. This was a real good pull-apart brawl, with them being held back and breaking away a few times. However, Natalya chop blocked her from behind and put her in the sharpshooter. Ziggler was backstage with an interview with Dasha Fuentes. The gimmick was that he didn’t say a word. Kalisto pinned Ziggler with a crucifix pin in 8:36. It came out of nowhere and was one of those big upsets that ends up meaning nothing since Ziggler destroyed him after the match. Ziggler kept pounding him on including a couple of chair shots to the back. Crews, who seems to be the guy that will be programmed with Ziggler on this turn, ran in for the save. But Ziggler laid him out with a chair shot to the gut and back, and then hit another chair shot to Kalisto for good measure. They followed with interviews with Jordan & Gable, Cena and Wyatt, with nothing major in any of them. Jordan & Gable beat Wyatt & Orton to retain the tag title in 15:14. This was different than their prior match. It was more the faces selling for long periods. It was a good match, with the solid Orton work with the basic tag team psychology. Harper distracted Jordan on a hot tag spot allowing Wyatt to give him a rabbit lariat and take over. Orton accidentally knocked Harper off the apron when giving Gable a draping DDT. Harper was on the apron and Orton was pushed into him again, knocking Harper off and Gable pinned Orton with the O’Connor roll. After the match, Orton and Harper were yelling at each other over the loss. Wyatt tried to be the peacemaker. Harper went to kick Orton, but Orton moved and Harper kicked Wyatt. Wyatt then got in Orton’s face and started yelling at him, and then got in Harper’s face and yelled at him. Wyatt ended up walking out on both of them. Lynch was talking with Bryan. Bliss came out. Lynch noted that she tapped out Bliss under the La Luchadora mask last week. Bliss said she was doing undercover work trying to find out who La Luchadora is (it hasn’t been Mickie James but I do have a feeling that’s who it’ll be revealed as, just because James is supposed to start on Smackdown soon). Bryan announced that next week would be Bliss vs. Lynch for the title in a cage match. Carmella beat CJ Lunde in 2:39. Lunde was Indiana-based independent wrestler Thunderkitty. Her gimmick is she wears a 1950s bathing suit to look like you’d imagine a woman wrestler from that era to look like (and actually very few of the women wrestlers from that era looked close to that). So this led JBL to continually call her Millie Burke (Mildred Burke, the star of women’s wrestling and perennial champion from 1937 to 1954). The Lunde name was obviously a rib on Arn Anderson, whose real name is Martin Lunde. Fans were chanting “Let’s Go Jobber.” Ellsworth tripped her once and helped Carmella get to the finish. The match was bad, topped off by the worst looking downward spiral on WWE television in probably 20 years, before Carmella won with the cone of silence. JBL started teasing Ranallo asking what they called that move (the botched one). Backstage, they did a segment where they made it clear Carmella was using Ellsworth. Ellsworth thought he’d waited a few weeks and was hoping for a kiss and she said that good things come to those who wait and wouldn’t do it. Corbin did a promo and Styles came up to him. Main event saw Cena beat Corbin in 10:56 with the Attitude Adjustment. The crowd was really hot for this one. Because of Cena’s shoulder issues, his right handed punches look bad but he was relying on them more so the match mechanically looked pretty bad. Corbin was fine and is developing good presence and he’s good enough to hang. I was shocked he lost clean, not that with Cena getting the title shot at Rumble that it’s the wrong finish but I’d think they’d have kept Corbin out of this position where he’s on the ascent and this finish tells the audience that he’s not a top guy. 205 Live suffered again from coming after Smackdown was over. It opened with Dar pinning Alexander in 12:13. With all the angles they’ve done, this crowd didn’t care at all about the program. It was so tough because they had a long match, it was pushed heavily at the start of the show and the angle has been pushed hard. At one point Dar put Alexander arm in between the ring steps and the post. Dar went to destroy the arm and Fox jumped in the way to stop him. Fans actually booed her for getting involved and booed Alexander when he gave Dar a sliding kick. For the rest of the match, Alexander was selling the arm. He yelled at her for getting involved in the math. Alexander didn’t have the power to do the lumbar check, but did a handspring into a jumping kick. Dar crotched Alexander, whose head at the same time hit the post. Alexander came back and went for a moonsault but then Fox pulled Dar out of the way and Alexander crashed. She acted confused like she didn’t know what she just did. Dar got the pin after the Busaiku knee. After the match, since she helped him win, Dar went to hug Fox, but Fox slapped him again. Alexander was furious and wouldn’t look at her and walked out. They aired a video promoting Akira Tozawa coming son. Kendrick did a interview building up a match with Tajiri. Kendrick beat Sean Maluta in 4:44 with the captain’s hook. Maluta got a good near fall after a gordbuster and a shining wizard. He went for a splash off the top but Kendrick got his knees up. Kendrick then put on his Captain’s hook for the submission. Backstage, Fox and Alexander were arguing. Alexander said that it was clear what she did and that I wasn’t an accident. He broke up with her and told her that she should get with the pervert Dar and slap him around all she wants. Alexander told her that they deserve each other. She went totally nuts after Alexander left, screaming like a maniac and throwing the furniture saying that “Nobody breaks up with me.” Gallagher was out with the idea of reaching an agreement with Daivari. Daivari said that Gallagher wants to reach this agreement showing that he is surrendering. Gallagher said Daivari was a scoundrel. This segment was getting the “What” treatment and pretty much dying. Daivari’s talking was good but the people just weren’t into this at all. Gallagher instead presented a contract for an “I Forfeit match” which is the same as an I Quit match, except the only way to win is to get your opponent to say “I Forfeit.” Gallagher pushed that this would be the end of the feud. Why they change the word from quit to forfeit, who knows? After Daivari signed, he threw down Gallagher’s umbrella (which is named William) when Gallagher went to shake his hand. Gallagher then turned over the table and attacked him. They did a pull-apart brawl. It wasn’t outright said, but the hint was the match takes place next week. Mauro Ranallo specifically said the match would take place no 205 Live. Swann pinned Nese in 7:24 with a spin kick. Swann did a few flashy spots. Swann did a promo after the match and called Neville a gargoyle looking guy. Neville came out to his new music which has a darker feel then his high energy previous music. Swann made fun of Neville’s ears and the audience started to boo Swann. Then Neville said that Swann was a typical ignorant American, and the fans booed Neville. This segment set up a title match between the two at the Rumble. In the dark match, Ambrose pinned Miz to keep the IC title with Dirty Deeds in a bout 5:00

Notes from the 1/4 NXT show. This was from the 12/8 show in Melbourne, Australia. It was another straight wrestling show. It came across like they didn’t mic the crowd well which hurt the presentation. The Revival beat Riddick Moss & Tino Sabbatelli in 11:01. The crowd was quiet most of the way. It was just a basic tag match but Moss didn’t get the crowd at all with his selling and the crowd didn’t care about Sabbatelli’s hot tag. There was a nice near fall by Moss on Dawson with a schoolboy before they won with the shatter machine on Moss. *1/2; Tye Dillinger & Buddy Murphy beat Elias Samson & Bobby Roode in 11:19. The crowd went nuts for Roode. Roode does so much less than he used to do in TNA, partially because the song carries him and he doesn’t have to do much of anything. The “10" chants for Dillinger were over as well. It was mostly Dillinger selling and he made a hot tag to Murphy. Murphy did a running flip dive and in the ring Dillinger used the Tye breaker on Samson for the pin. **½; Ember Moon won a three-way over Billie Kay and Liv Morgan in 8:26. The fans were chanting “10" here. The fans were chanting for Kay like she was Bayley, and since Kay was the only heel in this match, she didn’t want that. There were a lot of missed spots. Kay power bombed Morgan, who rolled out of the ring. Moon then used her top rope stunner on Kay for the pin. The finish got a big pop. **; Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa retained the tag titles over DIY in 15:20. The crowd was hot for TM 61. There were more “10" chants here. Nick Miller did a tope. Shane Thorne got a near fall on Ciampa with a falcon arrow. The crowd booed when Gargano saved Ciampa. There was a double knockdown spot and more “10" chants. Miller power bombed Gargano for a near fall. Gargano & Ciampa did the double-team running knee and superkick on Miller for the pin. ***½; Shinsuke Nakamura beat Samoa Joe in a cage match in 19:30. So this was the full version of the heavily edited match that aired before. It was better with the longer version. Joe took most of the offense and looked good. They did the spot out of the Nakamura vs. Sakuraba Tokyo Dome match from several years back as Nakamura rushed in for a low takedown and got kneed in the head. This crowd didn’t react to it at all, not understanding the spot that hasn’t ever been done in a WWE ring. Nakamura used a German suplex and Joe used a powerslam among the many near falls. The big spot was Nakamura doing the Kinshasa off the top rope and that may have busted Joe up. If you recall, he was kept off shows and the knee cut Joe. Nakamura was going to leave the cage, and then closed the door and delivered two more Kinshasas for the clear win and feud ender. ***½

Notes from the 1/5 NXT tapings. It opened with a dark match with Montez Ford (formerly Kenneth Crawford) & Angelo Dawkins beating Adrian Jaoude & Cezar Bononi. The first hour, which airs on 1/12, opened with a video of Royce & Kay attacking Asuka in the parking lot. Kay & Royce beat Sarah Bridges (Crazy Mary Dobson) & Macey Estrella when Royce dropped Bridges on Kay’s knee for the pin. After the match, Asuka tried to attack them but was held back by security. Kay & Royce double-teamed her until Nikki Cross made the save for Asuka. But Cross then turned on Asuka as well. Elias Samson pinned Jonathan Cruz. Almas beat Oney Lorcan with a DDT. Almas did a promo in Spanish to get heat, but called out Strong, which I guess makes Strong now a babyface. Gargano & Ciampa beat Wilder & Dawson in a great match ending with the double-team kick and knee sandwich on both guys to retain the titles. This was very clearly the blow-off of the program. After the match, the Author, it opens with Cross pinning Kennadi Brink. Strong pinned Steve Cutler with the sick kick. Strong cut a promo talking about Almas, and also saying his goal is the NXT title. So they may be going to Roode or Nakamura against Strong in a title program. Tye Dillinger came out for an interview. The idea of Dillinger as No. 10 in the Rumble has gotten out since the crowd was chanting “Royal Rumble” and “No. 10" at him. Dillinger talked about how he doesn’t know what to do next because he keeps disappointing the people when he doesn’t win the big matches. Sanity came out. Eric Young tried to recruit him to join Sanity. He offered him Sawyer Fulton’s jacket, so this should be building to Fulton feuding with Sanity when he returns. Dillinger turned him down and then Big Damo, who was not out with Young, Cross and Alexander Wolfe, attacked Dillinger so it looks like they may be doing a singles match. Damo then put on the Fulton jacket so he’s officially the new member of the group. He’d already been working for weeks as part of the group on the house shows. Ember Moon pinned Liv Morgan with the stunner off the ropes. They shook hands after the match. They did the contract signing for the Nakamura vs. Roode match in San Antonio. This went over really well. For 11/26, which would be the go-home show for Takeover, it opened with Aliyah beating Mandy Rose via submission. No Way Jose beat Kona Reeves with the half nelson slam. Samson showed up and started singing. That’s the beginning of a feud I guess. Eric Young pinned Chris Atkins with a wheelbarrow neckbreaker. Young was chanting “10" when he’d hit Atkins so this was to build up something with Dillinger. Young then said after the match that Dillinger made the wrong choice. Damo laid out Atkins with a senton after the match. TM 61 beat The Revival in the TV main event. The Revival attacked them after losing and left them laying, so this was to be the start of a program. Shane Thorne had to be helped to the back. Either Thorne was injured in this match or he came into the match with an injury, and they did a knee injury angle to cover for his needed surgery. It’ll be clear when the match airs, as if the match story is them working on his leg, he came in hurt, but if there’s a spot in the match where it goes, that’s probably where the injury happened. Regal then came out and announced a four-way women’s title match for Takeover with Asuka vs. Royce vs. Kay vs. Cross. He then brought out all four women. This turned into a big brawl. At one point in the brawl Cross did a plancha outside the ring no Asuka. Security pulled them all apart. In the dark match, Nakamura & Tajiri beat Joe & Roode when Nakamura pinned Joe with the Kinshasa and then Hero showed up to confront Nakamura

The NXT weekend house show tour started on 1/6 in Largo, FL before 300 fans. Montez Ford pinned Patrick Clark with a standing shooting star press in a good opener. Daria Berenato & Mandy Rose beat Liv Morgan & Aliyah when Berenato pinned Morgan after a spinebuster. Dillinger came out for a promo and was interrupted by Wesley Blake. Blake’s latest gimmick was calling everyone garbage. Dillinger then superkicked him. Tian Bang pinned Akira Tozawa with a thrust kick. Steve Cutler pinned Cezar Bononi with a stomp off the ropes. Oney Lorcan & Jack Gallagher beat Noam Dar & Tony Nese. The crowd loved this match. Billie Kay pinned Macey Estrella with a kick to the face. Ohno pinned Almas. Ohno got a huge pop for his debut. Great match ending with an elbow smash to the back of the head. Nakamura & Ciampa & Gargano beat Sanity (Wolfe & Eric Young & Damo) with the focus on Nakamura vs. Damo. Nakamura pinned Wolfe with the Kinshasa

The other weekend NXT date was 1/7 in Ocala, FL, before 350 fans. The show opened with an appearance of Dory Funk Jr., who is from Ocala. They did a spot where they teased that Sanity was going to attack him. Wesley Blake ran in for the save. Blake, under his real name Cory Weston, was trained by Funk Jr. and started his career wrestling on Funk shows in Ocala. Tucker Knight & Otis Dozovic also ran in, so Knight & Dozovic & Blake beat Eric Young & Wolfe 7 Damo in a good match. Blake got the pin using a splash off the top rope. Metalik beat Daivari with a Metalik driver. Reeves pinned Ali after a

missed 450 splash by Ali. Weird that a heel who they don’t even push loses to a television wrestler even with the size difference. Ohno pinned Dawkins after an elbow in a good match. Asuka & Aliyah beat Royce & Kay when Asuka made Royce submit to the Asuka lock. Aleister Black pinned Samson with a flying knee. Main event saw Strong & Dillinger beat The Revival with a double pin as Strong used the backbreaker and Dillinger used the Tye breaker

We didn’t get a crowd for the 1/6 Raw show in Columbus, GA. 1/7 in Montgomery, AL, drew 5,400. 1/8 in Mobile, AL, drew 2,700. .. 1/7 Smackdown in Bossier City, LA, drew 4,500. 1/8 in Lafayette, LA, drew 3,400. We didn’t get a figure for the 1/9 show in Lake Charles, past that it was described as soft, like most Monday Smackdown shows

The Raw opener in Columbus started with Sheamus & Cesaro retaining the tag titles over Big E & Kingston and Anderson & Gallows in 10:23. Kingston worked most of the way getting beaten on. Sheamus pinned Anderson after a Brogue kick. Swann retained the cruiserweight title in a three-way over Neville and Perkins in 9:29. Most of this was Swann vs. Neville with Perkins selling an injury. Swann ended up pinning Perkins to retain with a spin kick. Banks & Bayley & Fox beat Charlotte & Brooke & Jax in 11:52. Banks wasn’t doing anything to sell the television knee injury. Bayley pinned Brooke with the belly-to-belly. Rollins pinned Rusev in 12:57. Usual finish with the ref throwing Lana out and Rusev yelling at the ref. Rollins hit the springboard knee and the pedigree for the pin. Cass & R-Truth & Goldust & Sin Cara & Darren Young beat Dallas & O’Neil & Axel & Primo & Epico in 8:01. Both Enzo and Backlund were in the faces corner. Enzo was on crutches all weekend with his knee injury. Really, they should have just kept him home even though he is a big part of the live show thing. When you’re healing an injury that keeps you from walking, traveling and going through airports is a drag. So I guess the Dallas vs. Axel angle is forgotten about or over, not that anyone really would remember it. Cass pinned Dallas with the East River Crossing. With Jericho not there, Rollins worked with Rusev, which would have been Cass’ opponent normally. Dallas then said he was not a loser and wasn’t leaving and demanded another match. Show came out and knocked him out with one punch. Strowman pinned Zayn in 5:36 with a running powerslam. Reigns pinned Owens in 11:03 to retain the U.S. title with a spear. This was a quicker version of their usual match

Montgomery was the same show. Rollins vs. Rusev was said to be the best match. Reigns got about 60 percent cheers in the main event against Owens. It was E & Woods as the New Day team

Mobile had a few changes with Jericho on the card. It was Kingston & Woods who worked as the New Day in the same three-way for the tag titles and same Sheamus Brogue kick on Anderson finish. With Jericho back, Cass was moved out of the multiple person match into a singles match with Rusev with the running kick after Lana was kicked out of ringside. Rollins pinned Jericho after Jericho came off the top rope and was hooked into a pedigree. The multiple-person match was scheduled as Goldust & R-Truth & Sin Cara & Darren Young vs. O’Neil & Dallas & Axel & Primo & Epico. Before the bout, the heels took out Young & Sin Cara. So Goldust & R-Truth were doing a two-on-five handicap match against the heels. A few minutes into the match, Show came out and choke slammed Dallas for the pin. Reigns got a big reaction in Mobile, since he’s from Pensacola, which is the same area

The Smackdown crew opened in Bossier City, LA on 1/7. Kalisto pinned Hawkins. Hawkins then did the bit where he wasn’t leaving and called out anyone in the locker room to come out. Ellsworth came out and hit Hawkins with no chin music and pinned him. So even though Ellsworth turned heel on Ambrose and has been helping heel Carmella win, they still use him in a face spot at the house shows. Usos, who were faces this weekend based on a numbers imbalance, teamed with Swagger & Slater & Rhyno & Rawley to beat The Vaudevillains, Ascension & Breeze & Fandango. Nikki Bella pinned Natalya when Carmella’s attempted interference backfired. Natalya was mocking Nikki doing the “You can’t see me” hand gesture. Ambrose pinned Ziggler to retain the IC title. Ziggler didn’t work as a heel completely, and more as a tweener. Ziggler got some near falls before being pinned by Dirty Deeds. Bliss retained her title over Lynch using the trunks. Jordan & Gable & Crews beat Orton & Wyatt & Harper when Harper was pinned after Grand Amplitude by Gable. The Wyatts got a bigger reaction as faces. Styles retained in a three-way over Corbin and Cena. Interesting that they had Cena lose the fall instead of Corbin. Styles got the biggest reaction. Corbin got an okay reaction. Cena got a loud and mixed reaction. There was a botched spot where Styles and Corbin were on the top rope and Corbin lost his balance and fell to the floor. But Corbin seemed to be okay and got up and finished the match. Cena gave Corbin the Attitude Adjustment but then Styles hit Cena with a low blow and pinned him. Styles went for a chair but Cena ducked the chair shot and gave him the Attitude Adjustment to end the show

Lafayette was the same show. Ambrose vs. Ziggler was said to be the best match, going about 20:00

Lake Charles was also the same show.